My latest game is inspired by Scrooge and It’s a wonderful life. A story game of the possibility of redemption, no matter how bad someone is.
Expect Three Visitors was inspired by a good friend asking me whether it might be possible to use similar mechanics to the ones which I use in A Cool and Lonely Courage to power a game inspired by the story of A Christmas Carol.
It turns out you can!
The game runs best with 3-5 players. Each player is primarily a spirit charged with giving someone the opportunity to find redemption. They also play the current ‘client’ of the spirit to their right. During the scenes with one spirit and their client, the other players take the roles of the client and other people who appear in the visits.
The client is living a life dominated by one of the seven deadly sins - wrath, sloth, gluttony, envy, pride, lust, or greed.
For each client, we see a present day scene indicating the horrible effect of their behaviour on people around them. Then we narrate how the spirit appears to them, and leads them into their past, present, and future.
Each Spirit is dealt a hand of four cards, and those are used to frame each of those past, present, and future scenes - giving them an emotional hook which must be used in the scene.
Once each of those visits has taken place for each of the clients, the spirits have an important decision before them. Who will they donate their remaining card to? Considering what they have learned about each client and their situation, which of the other clients to they want to see rescued?
My first two playtests have gone well so far. This is an account of what happened in the most recent playtest:
Envy (Sally, playing Michela)
We see Michela with her daughter Arrow, who has just returned home after a school test. The daughter is proud of her grade B which she worked hard for, but Michela wants to know how her schoolmate Charisma did. Upon hearing that Charisma got an A grade, Michela castigated her daughter for not being as good as Charisma; suggesting that she arrange coaching sessions with Charisma or something. We can see trouble brewing here.
The Spirit Arrives
(I forgot to note this one down!)
The spirit takes Michela to a hospital room. She sees herself sitting up in bed, holding a little baby. It is the day of Arrows birth. Her husband is delighted, and thinks this baby girl is the most wonderful thing he has ever seen. She has a few doubts though - is her skin colour quite right? Why is her head that shape? The spirit asks Michela to remember how she felt that day, and Michela grudgingly admits that she was happy, even with Arrows little flaws.
Arrow is in a sports competition, Michela pushes her to go faster and faster, in order to catch Charisma. Arrow misses a hold, falls and dies. There is silence in the room.
We see a stark room. Her husband is here with his lawyer, because he is divorcing her. He blames Michela for Arrow’s death. If she hadn’t kept pushing Arrow, withdrawing her approval from Arrow, it would never have happened. Arrow loved her and would do anything for her mother, but could never win that approval. Her husband speaks with a mixture of anger and disappointment, and we can see Michela in this future upset and almost ready to fall to her knees to plead. She recognises her mistakes and desperately doesn’t want her husband to leave her. But he signs the papers and walks out the door.
Michela receives no votes and is completely lost.
She never reconciles with her husband. She withdraws from all of her old friends, overcome with bitterness at how well everyone else children are doing, and she was robbed of that chance to be happy. As an old woman we see a kind of shrine in one corner off the room, filled with newspaper cuttings following the life of Charisma, with whom Michela always remains obsessed.
Greed (Marsha, playing Lisa)
Her greed is expressed in her love for cats. She is greedy for cats. All the cats. She has 17 and is dedicated to them. We see her pottering around feeding them, talking to them by name when she has a phone call from her mother. Calling from the care home, her mother wants to know why she hasn’t been to visit; her father is so ill now, and Lisa keeps on putting off visits that are planned. Lisa explains that her cats need her and cat sitters are so hard to find and promises that she will come to visit real soon now. Then has to hang up because one of the cats has done something.
The Spirit Arrives
Lisa is feeding her cats when something very unusual happens. A fluffy tom cat looks up at her - and speaks! “Lisa”, it says, “Your immortal soul is in danger. Come with me”. It holds out a paw which she takes, and then she is pulled into a series of visions.
Lisa is very young, out on a walk with her mother. They see a lost little kitten and her mom encourages Lisa to feed it something and care for it. It is important to be generous with our things and look after others, her mom says. The kitten was so fluffy. Little Lisa loved that kitten.
We see Lisa and a visitor from the care home. Her father has died and she never went to see him. The care home administrator explains how much her mother needs support right now, but we see Lisa prevaricate, pointing again to her cats and her need to look after them. The administrator points out that the cats can look after themselves for a short while, but Lisa is unmoved. The spirit asks Lisa whether she regretted missing that last opportunity to see her father before he died, and what is she going to do with her mother.
We see a generous future. Lisa walking arm in arm with her elderly mother, supporting her as they come into Lisa’s house. She has given away some of her cats to other neighbours who would be comforted by them, and made space to have her mom at home with her. Lisa shows generosity of spirit to her mother, and receives a tender kiss in return.
Lisa receives no votes and is completely lost.
The lovely future which was seen in the vision never comes to pass. Lisa’s mother dies in the home with a broken heart, and Lisa mourns a little in her own way, but never abandons her cats. She acquires more and more as she grows older. Then one day, unsteadily walking down the stairs she slips on a cat’s toy and tumbles down the stairs, breaking her neck. As she lies there, the cats come and feast on her body.
Gluttony (Cris, playing Tom)
His wife is not happy with him because he is wasting so much money on storage units and the house is full of rubbish. He just doesn’t know when enough is enough, and he wants to keep so many of his memories. School books. Report cards. Comics. Magazines. Newspapers. Stuff.
The Spirit Arrives
(I forgot to note this one down too!)
We see Tom and his wife as newly weds, outside their new house (this house) bright and clean. Making a fresh start. He has agreed to get rid of a lot of his stuff (there was not nearly as much in those days) but after some discussing asks if he can keep his old school cleats and his wife agrees. Arm in arm they walk into their new house and new life.
We see the impact on his son Paul. who has been abandoned by most of his friends because of his weird dad. Paul is talking with his last friend who wants to come and play at their house even though Paul is embarrassed himself because of his dad’s hoarding. Then the friend has a call from their mom, who tells the friend that he must stop seeing Paul because of his weird dad.
A pile of old things tipped over, and Tom’s wife has found an old photo album of hers. She and Tom sit on the floor laughing at the old pictures of them meeting, going out, getting engaged and married. It has been lost under garbage and accidentally found. She recognises that some memories are worth keeping, he realises that his pile of things was hiding what was really important. Together they start to rebuild their love and relationship.
Tom receives 3 votes and is saved.
Tom and his wife have cleared out masses of garbage. One of the rooms is now completely clear and has been made a games room for Paul. Along the way they found his old school cleats which turned out to be a perfect fit for Paul, who goes on to become successful in school sports and becomes popular again. Tom and his wife together decide what they keep and what they let go from their past, and their house becomes happy, light and airy. The happy future which he had seen comes to pass and more.
Wrath (Cindy, playing Sylvia)
We see a job interview for a new junior developer, who is excited to be working on Sylvia’s new game “Knights and the Mountain”. The young developer is enthused and has lots of ideas for how the series could go, and Sylvia and loses her rag at the thought of this young whippersnapper giving suggestions to her about her game.
The Spirit Arrives
She is called down to HR. When she arrives she is told to come in, but instead of the desk she is expecting there is a robed figure at the entrance to a tunnel. “Sylvia”, the spirit says, “Your immortal soul is in danger. Come with me”. Hand in hand they proceed down the tunnel.
Sylvia sees a younger version of herself sitting at the table, struggling over an exercise book. Her brother is helping her with a math problem and encourages her, reminding her that ‘she can do it’, and not to believe all those idiots who say that math is too hard for girls. Her brother always had her back and always believed in her, even when others didn’t. And there were so many people who put her down.
Calls her brother, worried that she is going to be written up by HR. He calms her down and helps her see how she might be able to mend her ways.
it is late at night, a few weeks in the future. Sylvia is stuck on a problem and she can’t get her code delivered, but tonight is the deadline. The new hire that she was horrible to in her intro is there, and in desperation Sylvia asks him for some help, which he willingly gives. Her acceptance of his help gets her across the deadline just in time, and they smile at each other.
Sylvia receives no votes and is completely lost
She leaves and forms her own games company which is successful for a while, but her angry tirades end up driving everyone away from her, and the company collapses. She never spoke to her brother on the phone again.
Pride (Alex, playing Rupert)
We see Rupert interviewing someone for a position at his stately home. He is condescending to them, snobbishly dismissing them because of their working class background and ‘comprehensive school’ education. They storm out and it is just what he snootily expected.
The Spirit Arrives
Rupert is in a drawing room, enjoying a nice class of high quality port, glancing up at the portrait of one of his forebears. Then suddenly the portrait animates and starts talking to him! “Rupert”, it says, “You are a disappointment to your ancestors and your immortal soul is in danger. Come with me”. The portrait holds out his hand which Rupert takes, and he is pulled into a series of visions.
We see him as a young man, with his best friend Jake. Rupert is good at hunting, fishing and riding, but Jake teaches him to love reading and books. But Jake is the gardener’s son. Rupert’s mother appears and throws Jake out, berating Rupert about mixing with the ‘lower orders’. She later has the gardener and his family dismissed.
Rupert is at a royal event, the prince and princess are just about to arrive when a shabbily dressed man jostles him from behind. “Thief, police, thief” he cries, and the bloke is swiftly arrested and carried away despite his protests of innocence. The spirit points out to Rupert that he hasn’t recognised his old friend Jake, now grown up and who was just trying to say hello. But Rupert’s pride wouldn’t let him admit his mistake and back down.
Rupert is looking at a freshly dug grave. The headstone has Jake’s name on it. Beside the grave are Jakes grieving widow and daughters. Weeping, the children ask why daddy isn’t coming back, why did the police take him away? The spirit points out that Jake died in custody as a result of rough treatment by the police and other prisoners. Rupert is horrified; he had forgotten how good a friend Jake had been to him growing up, he didn’t recognise his friend and caused him to be arrested by the police and now this? He grieves for his lost friend and their family.
Rupert receives 2 votes and is saved.
Rupert went to see the police and got all the charges against Jake dropped. They rekindled their friendship and Rupert learned about about the charity children’s work which Jake was engaged in. Rupert re-opens a closed wing of the ancestral home and gives it over to Jake’s work with the refugee children. Jake and his family come to live in the grounds, and Rupert humbly receives all who come to him.