🎵 The song for this post is Five Tango Sensations: Fear, by Kronos Quartet. 🎵
Been a while since I posted one of my tabletop characters, so here's one for a campaign we just finished! This was technically a Fate campaign, but we only used its mechanics; the setting was pulled from the game Cold City.
Cold City describes itself as:
A game of hidden agendas, trust and monster hunting.
Berlin, 1950: While the Cold War rages, the secretive agents of the multi-national Reserve Police Agency creep through the shadows, hunting down the remnants of bizarre technologies and twisted wartime experiments.
But the RPA is driven by paranoia, fear and suspicion. Everyone works to their own hidden agendas, the different nationalities look at each other through a haze of mistrust. In the darkness, faced by horrors beyond your worst nightmares, will your comrades watch your back or treacherously stick a knife into it?
The great battles may be over, but the war carries on.
So a bit like being members of the BRPD in Hellboy, in the setting of The Third Man, with a lot of Lovecraftian horror.
Meet Vincent Ortega, cast in my head as a young Edward James Olmos!
Vicente "Vincent" Ortega
Vicente was born in 1916 in Cuba to a wealthy family, his father being a rum producer for Bacardi. Raised on a palacial estate with multiple stables, he was the youngest of three, to an older brother Matías and sister Alma. The family's fortunes changed dramatically in 1933, after the Seargant's Revolt, where all their property was confiscated and his father imprisoned. Grabbing whatever they could hastily, his mother and two siblings fled to Miami.
Going from opulent wealth to existential struggle, his mother and siblings turned ugly. The crisis led Alma to crime, stealing the family's little cash and running away with con artists. Their mother became ill and asked Vicente and Matías to find food or shelter any way they could.
Coming back from a laboring gig having collected $2, another desperate man assaulted him, stealing the money and running. He chased the man into an alley, where the man was expecting him and beat him further, trying to squeeze anything else he could out of him. At this point, a third man entered the alley and incapacitated the robber, and gave Vicente back his wages. Vicente went to the incapacitated man and left one of his dollars, "he seems to need this as much as I do. Maybe this can save the next person."
Seeing this, the third man introduced hiself as Michael McNally, a reverand of the Gesu Church. Touched by Vicente's charity, he assisted in arranging housing for Matías and their mother. He noted Vicente's potential for a life in the cloth, and took him under his wing. He also taught him basic self-defense techniques. He started going by "Vincent."
When the US entered the war in 1941, he'd already been training for a life in the priesthood, and was employed as a military chaplain in the European theater. He tended to many wounded soldiers, did some closet baptisms for soldier's "away babies," administered first aid, and learned a bit about the new technologies that were in use (Morse code via teletype, how to read radar, etc.). But one day, a German POW demanded a chaplain, yelling frantically. He claimed that one of the other POWs was in need… of an exorcism? He and another chaplain, Eric Adams, went to see what it was about.
Vincent was confused; he'd obviously never performed an exorcism nor had any understanding of what to expect. This man obviously needed psychiatric help, not spiritual? But they humored him. "Part of being a man of the cloth is a bit of theater, after all," so he and Eric "improv-ed" a ceremony that caught the attention of the German. It seemed to be going well, but Eric wasn't letting the scene wind down; as Vincent was ready to end the act, Eric started going in harder. Vincent got a little worried, saw the German prisoner starting to convulse, when the electricity went out and the bulbs in the room popped. The German prisoner lay dead, Vincent was shocked, and Eric looked… affected. The initial screaming prisoner looked relieved, Eric and Vincent retired for the night and tried to continue their duties through the war.
Eric never seemed quite the same after that, and after the war, Eric stayed in Europe, with Vincent returning to Miami. Only a year later, Vincent got a letter from Eric asking him to return, since "they were both required to finish what was started. This is for the good of your church, as well." The next day, one of his parishioners collapsed during a service, and died with their face misconfigured in the same position the exorcised POW did. Vincent accepted the invitation and took a boat out to Europe.
Personal Goal: Affirm the goodness of God, especially in light of the mysteries he encounters and the presence of Evil.
National Goal: Increase the RPA's dependence on the USA by finding opportunities for the USA to provide materials, provisions, and supplies for RPA use.
Cold City has a notion of a "draw scene," one which introduces how your character got into the RPA, ending with a decision and a roll that impacts their adventures. Vincent's was his reunion with Eric. I wrote a little script for it:
"Vincent, my boy! Come here, you heathen!"
Eric embraced Vincent, and for a moment, Vincent forgot that anything was amiss at all; Eric was, after all, his friend as a military chaplain, and they really did share a lot of memories helping people.
"Eric… it's good to see you. You almost make me miss Europe."
They went to a bar to have a few drinks. Vincent gave Eric a carton of American cigarettes, and they exchanged stories of their last few years. Vincent's time in Miami has been a relief, but the new paster Rev. McAtee was still finding his footing. His mother was ill, and still insisting they were going to go back to Cuba someday.
Eric didn't return to the States; he took his rudimentary German and stayed in Berlin. His German got pretty good, expresses opinions on a few local churches ("the Reformed are worse than the Anglicans, let me tell ya."). Eventually, he looks Vincent in the eyes.
"I'm terribly sorry about Alice."
Alice was one of of Vincent's parishioners. She was in her mid-fifties when she suffered from what looked like a heart attack in the middle of a sermon. In her last moments of life, she was reaching for Vincent, who was clearing people to give her space while others were practicing first responder techniques. She was obviously in pain and struggling for most of it, when her head suddenly turned, eyes got big, and had a wicked smile on her face. A nervous crowd of the church was suddenly abjectly terrified.
Vincent: "I've never seen anyone in my church that frightened. And I had cause to be more frightened than the rest."
He pulls out his postcard from Eric.
"We never did debrief that night appropriately. I'd like to know what you know."
Eric: "It's a big part of why I'm still here. I think about you, and that night, often, brother. I think we're well-served by switching from glasses to flasks."
The two men walk, affected but not stumbling, out into the streets, with Eric leading further and further away from the city square. They ocassionally converse, but the words don't come out as smoothly. A lot more cigarettes get smoked. Eric offers some jerky, and they chew on it. Dusk falls, and by now they're surrounded by as much dirt as rubble.
Vincent: "Where are we going?"
Eric: "To see the man we saved that day."
They come upon a graveyard. Eric walks towards a mausoleum, Vincent following. The air contains a slight chill. Eric tosses Vincent a flashlight, and they make their way in.
Vincent: "He got buried in a mausoleum?"
Eric: "He sure did"
Vincent: "And it's important we go there… to see…"
Eric: "Soon, my friend! Soon."
Eric continues, "this city, for the record, has not made it easy to follow-up on that night. It's half-rubble, everyone's denying their role in government or functionary roles, and everyone is taking advantage of this situation, including out-of-towners like us! Crimes happen daily, which would be a major, citywide scandals back home, but there's so much happening, and so few people to witness it, a lot slides under the cracks."
He points the flashlight at a name "URLICH PETTUS" -> "He was one of my first friends in the city. Taught me great slang. I think it was the stress."
He points at another: "ERIC ADAMS" -> "Eric was saved that day."
Eric snatches the flashlight out of Vincent's hands.
"DON'T RUN. WE HAVE A LOT TO TALK ABOUT."
Vincent: "Eric, please, to remove agency is not a Godly choice. Our choice to follow God is what gives our faith our power. The same is true in our bond. Please, give me back the flashlight, I will not leave you."
"Eric": "Vincent... we've been given a gift. You need some help to find it. And I only have half of mine. I'd like you to join me."
"In a greater power. God is in this world. And he is not alone."
The sound of cracking. The swinging bulb in the flashlight, Vincent sees what looks like… Eric's joints are bent the wrong way. His face is hanging… strangely off his skull. There's a guttural sound coming from the creature.
Vincent clutches his cross. "Is Eric still within you?"
"Eric is where he's been since that night. This body was buried 3 weeks ago, but it contained enough mass to climb out."
Footsteps are heard coming behind them. "RPA! We've been following you, come peacefully!"
Neither Vincent nor Eric knew it, but the RPA had been investigating Eric since the incident. When they enter, guns drawn, Vincent needs to make a choice: does he try to "save" "Eric," reasoning with the RPA to spare him and take him alive? Or does he collaborate with the RPA to take "Eric" down, dead or alive? Either of these can succeed or fail, even after he's set his intention.
Vincent's "riches to rags to riches" story was based on Desi Arnaz. I've watched hundreds of hours of I Love Lucy as a kid, was cool getting to pull on this.
Rejected character ideas include: Rasputin-like old-timey alchemist, very mathey proto-computer person (still very early for this), Poe Dameron pilot/machinist type, or the George Smiley "boring-looking master spy."
The group and I concluded the game yesterday, and I (as I usually do!) had a hard time disengaging from being a reckless smartass, the way many of my characters do. In more "RP" scenes where I was engaging an NPC, I did the Calm Loving Priest thing very well, but when deciding how to engage with that scene, I sometimes let my smart-assery run a little loose.
Towards the end I was able to tap into the strengths of his religion more. He wasn't good at combat, or wasn't much of a healer either, and rogue-ish tendencies, but eventually I learned to pilot him a bit better to make use of his primary stat (Lore).
We barely got out of the final boss, so I might write a scene or two of the Life After, which we did a bit as a group in the game with Ángel.
Thanks for the read! Disagreed? Violent agreement!? Feel free to drop me a line at , or leave a comment below! I'd love to hear from you 😄