A playtest of a game inspired by Scrooge and It's a wonderful life. A story game of the possibility of redemption, no matter how bad someone is. This playtest involves Pride, Envy, Sloth, Gluttony, and Greed.
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. This uses a variant of my Retrospective SRD as the basis for the rules. It is currently in beta testing.
- Max- Chester
- Jen - Ellen
- Rebecca - Zinnia
- Scaz - Jake
- Me - Jeff
Max - Chester; Pride (Instagram influencer)
We are in the maternity unit in a hospital. In the background we can see Chester’s young wife, in the middle of giving birth to their first baby. In the foreground we see Chester, holding up his phone (in selfie mode, of course) and giving a running commentary on the number of likes and faves he is getting. Pretty sure that he is going to be one of the top streamers today!
The Spirit Appears
One of the midwives, whom he doesn’t really recognise, appears next to him. “Chester” she says, “You shouldn’t be thinking of yourself right now. You should be thinking of someone else”. She smartly whisks the phone out of his hand and as he turns round the room dims around him. She says “You run the risk that your soul is doomed. Come with me”
Vision of the past ❤️
The mists clear and Chester can see himself sitting at the table, a younger version of himself across from his wife Annabeth. It was when they were students - he studying english literature and she was a film major. He wanted to go to the movies with her, and she had suggested some arty French film, but he was going to go anyway because he enjoyed her company so much.
“So,” said the spirit, “Can you remember how much she meant to you back then? I think at that time you were seeking approval from one person in front of you, not the invisible masses who you pander to right now. How did that feel?”
Chester looked without saying anything. Remembering
Vision of the present ♣️
The room darkens again, and Chester finds himself in the maternity unit again - right now! but he is floating with the spirit looking down into the room. He can see Annabeth crying with pain, and calling out to him, but his back is turned and his eyes are glued to his phone. The likes are racking up as he streams his face, and the sounds from behind him, but he doesn’t look round.
“Your wife needs you RIGHT NOW!” the midwife shouts, but Chester sees himself absorbed in the online likes, and deaf to the pleading of his wife.
The spirit looks at Chester glumly, and shakes his head. The scene fades.
Vision of the future ❤️
As the scene clears again, we are seeing a possible future. Not the future, but a possible future. It is eighteen years on, and he has a daughter - Bridgett. She has just opened an official looking letter and has been accepted into the college she had set her heart on!
Chester looks on as he sees the whole family jump up and hug, delighted at the news.
“Thank you, daddy” Bridgette says. “You’ve always been supporting me, and lifting me up. I couldn’t have done it without you right there beside me!”
Annabeth smiles and hugs him, and there is such a look of pride on Chester’s face. Not the pride he currently finds in his own achievements as an influencer, but pride in his family.
“This is a future which could be” says the spirit. “Soon we will find out what will be”.
Jen - Ellen Cheneweth-Whitebridge-Moye; Envy (serial weddings)
We see Ellen with Celine, a woman friend who was about to buy a beautiful dress that she wanted, and there was only one left on the rack. While Celine was in the dressing room, Ellen contacted Celine's boyfriend, telling him that she was cheating on him. He immediately confronted Celine, and during the confusion, Ellen snuck in and stole the dress for herself.
"It looked much better on me anyway!"
The Spirit Appears
A florist appears at the door. “Ellen, You run the risk that your soul is doomed. Come with me”
The fragrance from the flowers swirls out and everything fades into grey around them.
Vision of the past ♣️
Ellen is reminded of a major, public breakup she had back in high school. Her boyfriend at the time was absolutely crushed by their separation, and shortly afterward, disappeared and was not seen again.
The ghost asks Ellen if she ever found out what happened; she absentmindedly mentions that she never bothered to find out. There were bigger and better fish to fry.
The ghost then hands Ellen a note, which she begins to read. It is a suicide letter, addressed to her.
Led to believe that his worth was directly tied to her approval, the boy had hung himself in a nearby forest. The letter speaks directly to Ellen, wishing her all the best in her future, and hoping that she will eventually find happiness and satisfaction.
Ellen reads this, looking slightly troubled. Then, she rights herself, sniffs haughtily, and says something to the effect of "well, it wasn't my fault he made a decision like that."
Vision of the present ♣️
Ellen is at a restaurant, taking tea with her good friend Shelly Cheneweth.
“Oh Ellen , please help me with your clever advice. I fear that my husband’s wandering eye has got worse. What can I do to keep him?”
Ellen in the past smirks a little “Well, he is a very handsome man you know. You’ll have to expect him to play away from home occasionally”
Shelly puts her wine glass down “don’t SAY that Ellen!” She remonstrates. “You know my lifestyle, I DEPEND on my hubby”
“I’ve noticed how wealthy he is” Ellen in the past purrs. “Perhaps I can do something to get his attention in the right place”
The spirit gazed at Ellen Cheneweth-Whitebridge-Moye “You had already been doing a lot to get Mr Cheneweth’s attention, weren’t you Ellen?”
“Well, he was a much better fit for me!”
Vision of the future ♣️
Ellen sees herself in the corner office of her increasingly successful business, “Inspire”. Then with barely a knock a burly FBI agent enters.
“Mrs Cheneweth-Whitebridge-Moye - you need to come with me. There are… irregularities with some of your earlier marriages and you have questions to answer”
“Well I’m quite sure that I don’t” Ellen replies huffily.
“Ma’am, you can walk out of here under your own steam, or you can be marched out in handcuffs. I’m giving you the choice here, but one way or another you are coming with us”
She is very resistant, so true to his word he handcuffs her and marches her out through the front door of the office block. The street outside is crammed with reporters and the flash of cameras.
Even second hand Ellen feels the shame of it, and she turns to the spirit and complains that it all seems very unfair, her business was just helping people who needed it.
Rebecca - Zinnia Mayweather; Sloth (bored teen)
We see a 17 year old, on her phone. Four year old Jimmy runs in from the kitchen “I think the brownies are burning!’ He cries. Zinnia grunts. “I’ll deal with it later” she says, listlessly. Jimmy knows the drill and turns the oven off himself. Zinnia continues on her phone until the parents return. “Thank you for babysitting, it’s so comforting to know you are looking after Jimmy”. “Sure” Zinnia says as she leaves and drives home.
The Spirit Appears
Zinnia’s parents are calling her down to dinner, but she can’t be bothered to go down despite their pleas. Then the room darkens and this spirit a bit like a skater dude appears next to her. “Hey, man, like, you need to listen up” it says. “No biggie, but you run the risk, like, that your soul is doomed man. Anyhow, you ought to like, take my hand and, uh, come with me”. Intrigued just a little bit, Zinnia stands up, takes their hand, and steps into the past.
Vision of the past ♠️
Zinnia can see her with her older sister Dahlia, ten years ago. She remembers the evening well - Dahlia was going to cook with her later, but first had promised to do her nails and hair. Zinnia remembered that she adored her older sister - but this was a horrible evening and she didn’t really want to watch it. However, the spirit wouldn’t let her turn away.
Dahlia’s boyfriend Roger arrived, and Dahlia jumped up and left against the protests of disappointed little Zinnia. “Laters” Dahlia called out over her shoulder. Then the spirit and Zinnia drifted out into the night and we hear the squeal of brakes, a terrible noise and Roger’s car crashes into a tree and we see flames.
Vision of the present ♠️
Suddenly Zinnia is in the present day. Her parents are excited and it is a day when Dahlia comes to visit - paralysed from the neck down for the last decade, present day Zinnia is angry that her older sister is getting all the love and attention and she is getting none. Dahlia is bitter about her life, Zinnia is bitter about the way she felt that she was overlooked by her parents. Her parents clearly desperately love both their daughters. “C’mon bumblebee” her dad pleads, “You know we love you both”
“I hate you!” Zinnia says to her sister and storms upstairs.
We then see the reason why Dahlia was visiting on this day - her ruined body was finally giving up, and she died with her father and mother next to her.
“Hey man, I don’t want to judge but hey, how are you feeling about this?” Asks the spirit.
“I can’t believe that those were my last words to her” Zinnia replied. “What was I thinking? I hate this. I don’t want to see anything else, spirit”
“Well, if you want to give up it’s cool. But if you want to go on that’s cool too. I’m not going to push you, y’know, but we ought to see what might happen, right, if you don’t y’know, get straight, uh?”
Reluctantly, Zinnia pushes on to the last vision.
Vision of the future ♣️
Zinnia sees the near future. It’s dark and her mother is on the porch. There is genuine sadness in her eyes. Her father is calling up to her in her bedroom. “Bumblebee, come on down for supper! It’s ready on the table, and it would cheer your mother “
Zinnia hears her voice call back “I don’t want to. I’ll Uber a pizza or something and just eat up here”
“Please bumblebee, it would make such a difference to your mother and me… especially now. I’m no god in the kitchen but your mum is feeling so down”
But Zinnia has tuned him out and it’s absorbed in her phone again. And out on the porch her mother silently weeps.
Scaz - Jake R; Gluttony (alcoholic)
Jake is at his usual spot at the bar. He has empty glasses in front of him. How many? It’s difficult to tell. His phone beeps - it’s a message from his wife, and he knows his son’s event is tonight. But there’s time for one more drink eh? One for the road?
The Spirit Appears
Jake orders another round, takes a swig, and stares down into his beer, blinking blearily. As his vision fuzzes in and out of focus, he swears he almost sees something like a face in the foam, and rubs his eyes. When he opens them again, there is clearly a face in the head of his beer.
He blinks at the face, which blinks up at him, and asks, "Jake, can you hear me?"
"I. Uh. Um."
"Jake, I need you to listen to me. You run the risk that your soul is doomed."
Jake chugs the entire beer in one go.
Slamming the glass triumphantly down on the bar, proud to have dealt with his issues, he is about to order another round when his vision swirls and he feels incredibly dizzy. He topples backward off his barstool, smacking his head into the floor, and everything goes black.
Standing in the void, Jake looks up at the same face from the beer foam. It sighs, resigned, then speaks.
"Alright, let's try this again. Jake, you run the risk that your soul is doomed. I need you to come with me."
"...Sure, I'm Schlitz Dude. That is my name. I need you to stay with me, here."
"Alright, Schlitz Dude!" Jake slurs. The face from the foam sighs again, and the entire void ripples like liquid into a scene from Jake's past.
Vision of the past ♣️
Jake is transported back and sees his sixteen year old self at a school party. He’s with his girlfriend but all eyes are on the beer glass in front of him and the chant from his friends…
“Chug! Chug! Chug!!”
“Do it! DO IT!”
The younger Jake messily downs the pint, spilling some down his front. His friends cheer and put another glass in front of him. His girlfriend seems doubtful “that’s enough Jake, give it a rest” she says.
Jake is consumed with anger and grabs her blouse “you’re not my boss!” He shouts. She struggles to get free and he slaps her hard. She cries and runs off, while Jake struggles back to his next drink.
The spirit looks down at Jake. "This was the start of everything. Do you remember this?"
Jake shakes his head and pinches the bridge of his nose. "I don't remember much of anything from that night, honestly."
"Are you proud of what you're seeing?"
"Would you be?"
“Let’s see your son this very night”
Vision of the present ♦️
Jake wakes up in bed alone, incredibly hungover on a Sunday afternoon. The clock reads 2PM, and through the fog of his pounding headache, Jake vaguely remembers that his ten year old son Timothy has a soccer game in half an hour.
Looking at the ceiling, he weighs the pros and cons of drinking off his hangover. Then, in an uncharacteristic turn, he rolls over, and walks out to the kitchen to make himself some coffee instead.
At Timothy's soccer game, things aren't going super well. Tim's gotten into a few scrapes, and has received enough warnings that one more will have him sitting on the sidelines. In the stands, his mother cheers resignedly for him, urging him to keep playing and do his best. She looks sadly at the empty seat next to her.
With his headache ringing in his ears, Jake arrives at the game and makes his way slowly to his seat. His wife looks up at him, shocked, then softly smiles. She fills him in on how everything's been going, and he looks out at his son on the field.
Tim looks angrily out at the crowd, but his expression changes when he sees his father sitting in the stands. He breaks into a grin, waving excitedly, and begins to play with renewed fervor. Jake watches him play, pondering just how much of his son's childhood he's missed.
Ultimately, Tim scores the winning goal, and beams out at his parents. His mother is cheering excitedly, and his father (grimacing through his pounding skull) is also clapping.
The spirit turns to Jake. "Do you see how much being here for him in this moment meant? You know how much he looks up to you, right?"
"It doesn't matter. He knows what his father is. One day is just a fluke."
"But knowing moments like this happen, doesn't it make you want to change? To be better?"
"It's not that easy. It doesn't matter. I can't change. I just can't."
Vision of the future ❤️
The scene swirls and Jake finds himself standing next to the giant smiley face made of bubbles at his son’s school. There is a party there tonight, and someone has just put a row of drinks in front of his son. The familiar chant rises up again.
“Chug! Chug! Chug!!”
“Do it! DO IT!”
For a moment the son pauses, but then he stands up away from the table.
“No” he says firmly. “I’ve seen how much my dad struggles because of drink, and he wants to do better. And I know he struggles for me. So I’m not going down the path he took”
“See?” Says the spirit. “You despise yourself for messing up, but your son sees your struggles and it is helping him”
Alex - Jeff Archer; Greed (corporate raider)
We see Jeff in his smartly tailored suit at the head of a boardroom table. He surveys the diverse group of people who have been running the hostels in the city.
“You’ve been doing an ok job, but frankly you are sitting on a mint. I’m closing down all the hotels and selling the prime real estate to developers who want to build a chemical factory”
“You can’t do that!” One of them says
“Oh, are you mistaking this for a discussion? I’m just telling you what is happening as a small courtesy” says Jeff. “Anyhow, it isn’t your concern any more. You’re all fired”
They look shocked
“Leave your phones and passes on the table, and collect your belongings on the way out”
The Spirit Appears
A happy Jeff strides to the lift and punched the down button. The executive lift isn’t supposed to stop for anyone but it does and a well dressed man gets on. Jeff noticed he has a fabulous watch.
“Excuse me, but can I buy that watch? Price no object!”
“Aha”, says the spirit “there is something more valuable at stake than a mere watch. “You run the risk that your soul is doomed. Come with me”
The lift door opens and they step through
Vision of the past ❤️
It is a room in the past. Jeff’s mother is there. It’s a happy day.
In this vision, Jeff's mother is making cupcakes in the kitchen. Little Jeff comes into the room with absolutely filthy hands.
"Oh Jeffery– were you out playing with the dog again? You silly boy." She smiles warmly down at him. Jeff sees the cupcakes on the counter, and makes grabby hands up at them. His mother chuckles, motioning to the sink. "You'll have to wash up before you can have any!"
Just then, the family dog, Cheddar, bounds into the kitchen. Absolutely covered in mud, he runs to Jeff's mother and jumps at her dress. She laughs, bending down to tend to him.
In that moment, something in little Jeff's expression changes ever so slightly. He sees the unattended plate of cupcakes on the counter, and sneaks a glance at his thoroughly distracted mother. Then, in one swift movement, he swipes the plate off the counter. He begins to shove an entire cupcake in his mouth as the spirit pauses the scene.
“Well, spirit, thank you for showing me that happy time. I was really blessed to have such a start, wasn’t I?”
They step back into the lift
Vision of the present ❤️
The lift doors open and they step forth into Jeff’s favourite eating place. He can see himself seated at his favourite table, but the spirit draws his attention to a mother coming in with two small children. She leaves the children gazing at the cake display while she goes to try to arrange something. The children debate which cake they should ask mom for, knowing that nothing will be possible.
The Jeff at the table calls his waiter over and whispers something to him. When their mom returns she finds a waiter has arrived with a big box
The scene pauses
“Why did you do that?” Asks the spirit “doesn’t seem to be any profit in it”
“I guess I thought it might be a little treat” Jeff replied. “Hey, I’m a pretty great guy, aren’t I?”
The scene resumes and happy children devour the cake and Jeff in the room looks delighted with himself.
Jeff Archer with the spirit is equally delighted. “Thank you spirit - you have shown me so much to be pleased about - my life growing up, and little generosities now that have helped people”
Once more they return to the lift. “About that watch?”
“Wait” says the spirit.
Vision of the future ♠️
The door opens and they are in a decrepit building which smells of blood and sick. Harried and tired nurses bustle too and fro, while too few doctors try to help the desperately ill in this under funded establishment that is on its last legs. A woman in an oxygen mask gasps for breath and is hooked up to monitors.
The administrator seems vaguely familiar - is it the boy from the cake shop, now grown up?
“I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it is” he says.
“But what are these poor people going to DO” shouts the nurse. “Without this facility these people have nothing, nowhere to go” she gestures around at the patients.
“Not my call” says the administrator. “Mr Archer is the boss, and he’s decided to close the site down and sell the land off”
The scene pauses. The spirit turns to Jeff Archer. “You never have concerned yourself with the people affected by your decisions, have you Jeff?”
The scene resumes. Some repo men arrive and start turning off the equipment in the hospital for the needy.
Jeff asks the spirit “so this is what you have brought me to see? That the boy I helped has become a kind of right hand man to me, and I’m supposed to be ashamed of that?”
“No,” said the spirit. “There is someone else you need to see here”
The woman in the oxygen mask appears stressed by everything that is going on. Her heart rate spikes violently, then flatlines. The nurses look for the crash cart but it is nowhere to be found. The woman dies.
As they remove the oxygen mask, Jeff suddenly recognises his own mother!
“This is what may happen, not what will happen. It all depends upon whether you can change”
“What, but…” Jeff’s voice is cut off by the closing lift doors.
The Council of Judgement
The spirits are now gathered, looking at one another. They have seen the lives of each others clients, and now each has to decide whether any deserve to be saved. They each have one vote they can cast for one of the clients apart from their own. Each secretly decides, then their votes are revealed.
Chester receives one vote - a Red card.
He is saved, but at a cost. He does give his wife and family the attention that they deserve, and they have a happy family life together. But he has moved the whole family out into the mountains, in a village with no internet service. He gave up his life as an influencer, along with all the other appealing things about using the internet. On his monthly supply run into the nearest town he sometimes looks with regret at the people walking around with their phones. But he knows what he has given up for his family, and they are enough.
Jake receives two votes!
He is saved, but at a cost. He signs up with Alcoholics Anonymous and joins their twelve step programme. He has good days, and he has bad days. He never becomes the perfect father he would like to be, but he does enough to help his son make better choices than he did, and that is enough.
Ellen received no votes!
Ellen decides that the best way to turn her life around is to reconnect with Shelly. She gets back in touch with her, takes her through the company process for self improvement, and it works! Shelly praises Ellen, calling her her best friend, and thanking her for everything Ellen did for her.
But it's not enough. Ellen meets another woman she feels is in need of help. She builds her up, and receives the same praise. It's still not enough. So she finds another woman, and helps her, and is praised even more. But it's still not enough... and that date with the Feds is approaching.
Jeff received no votes!
Jeff determines that the only way to save his mother is to hire a local mafia. He pays them to take out all of the people who may provide competition and cause the hospital where she dies to have to pull the plug. This, of course, lands him directly in jail.
Things go poorly for him from there. In a mugshot, he doesn't look nearly as sharp in an orange jumpsuit as in his snazzy work suit, haggard and worn, and without a watch to speak of.
Zinnia recieves three votes!
We see Zinnia in the kitchen, baking with her father. They are both a little inept but they are helping each other and having a wonderful time. Zinnia is smiling and fully engaged. As she pulls the piping hot brownies from the oven, perfectly cooked, he father calls out to her mom “Darling, bumblebee and I have got supper ready - are your coming?”
Her mum comes in from the porch, wipes a tear from her eye and says “Always” and gives them both the biggest hug.
And their family life was changed forever.
Huge thanks to the playtesters who brought the characters to life - whether playing as the despicable clients, the kindly spirits, or all the supporting characters in the visions of the past, present and future.
Two of the additions to the rulebook as a result of this particular playtest are
- Encourage the spirits to take additional forms apart from the typical victorian figure. Having a skater dude talking to the slothly teenager, and a face made from bubbles in the head of a beer really brought the game to life.
- Encourage a de-role-ing session at the end of the game, to give people the option of 'shaking off' some of the mean spiritness which they had been embodying.