In writing Project Cassandra I’ve been heavily inspired by the rules and design philosophies of Lady Blackbird. One of the central tenets of that game is that the GM should be ‘listen and ask questions’ rather than planning everything out in advance. As each of the characters in Project Cassandra possess precognitive abilities the game provides an ideal mechanism to let not only the players define the events of the game but do so in a way that the characters are also aware of certain future events. The first piece of advice for the GM is therefore to start at the end, by defining the shared premonition (assassination of the President of the United States of America) that they are out to prevent. The game proper begins a few days after they have reported this premonition, as they awake to another premonition, that somebody is coming to silence them by burning down the unit.
Defining the end scene and the setting of the game as a whole is handled through a series of questions, at the moment I’m working with 6-8 being the right number. In preparation for the first playtest of the game I recently sat down with my players to run through the questions, the results of which are as follows:
- What era are we playing in?
- How will the President by killed?
At close range, approach by the assassin, possibly using a small calibre silenced weapon.
- Where will the assassination attempt occur?
At a public event, possibly a campaign rally as it’s an election year.
- Are the Russian’s really involved or are they just scapegoats?
Scapegoats, being used in order to keep the cold war from fizzling out.
- Who betrayed you? (Referring here to who saw the report of their initial premonition and has decided to burn down the unit)
A prior candidate who believes the premonitions are all lies being used to justify arresting / killing people who haven’t yet committed any crimes.
- Where will they catch up to you? (With they not being defined and could be the prior candidate, the secret service, the conspirators etc)
At a truckstop diner with roller-skating waitresses.
- What are the consequences?
Political opponents gets into power, uses the assassination as a reason to declare martial law, the cold war goes hot.
- Who is the President?
Thomas J. Whitmore from Independence Day (and still played by Bill Pullman). Reimagined as a former Air Force pilot who served in Vietnam.
Through these questions the players have defined quite a large chunk of not only the final scenes (the assassination) but the rest of the game as the characters try to work out what is going on and how to stop it. As the GM the answers to these questions have already provided me a firm idea of what the players want to see while also forming a jumping point for the rest of the game. Why, for example, are the characters spending time at a diner? How does the assassin get close to the President? If the Russians are just scapegoats does that mean evidence has been planted to frame them?