Critical Hit: Hays of Shadows – Murder In Hobo Alley

tl;dr Most of the necessary moves are taken to move towards a direct confrontation between Alanna’s coalition and The Proxy. Good, direct role play that works both from player-to-player and character-to-character. One major crossover of player knowledge that feels like a cheap shot. A listenable episode.

Title: Murder In Hobo Alley
Episode: 442
Season: Hays of Shadows
Season Episode: 18
Podcast: Critical Hit
Gamemaster Brian Bergdal
Rodrigo Lopez as The Proxy
Matthew Peterson  as Ian
Sam Nelson as Alanna
Rob Rasmussen as Klaus
Stephen Schleicher as Dr. J.D. Higginsbottom III
Game systemUrban Shadows

“Congratulations on making yet another game where Rodrigo tries to kill everybody else,” says Rodrigo to the GM, Brian, about halfway through this episode. And, really, it’s pretty true: Brian was the person who brought about a deal between the Proxy and some bad fairies a few episodes ago, and he was also the one who made the stakes of that deal be the souls of 10 innocent people. It really was a push of Rodrigo’s character in a particular direction that didn’t seem to be backed up by the character’s choices — at least not on mic.

Then again, it’s made this a really, really interesting arc. It’s great as an examination of how Powered by the Apocalypse games drives player-versus-player interaction. And it’s great to see the Critical Hit team, who have literally hundreds and hundreds of hours of on-mic time together, deciding which side they’re on and working against each other while sitting at the same table.

The plot points in this episode are OK. The axis of wizard Alanna and her undead brother Ian drive most of the story forward, by taking some definite moves to advance their attack on Rodrigo’s Proxy. Klaus is barely heard, if at all, which is fine — he’s a powerful character and probably deserves the spotlight if he’s going to be in an episode.

Alanna and Ian’s first move is thwarted pretty quickly. They recruit a ghost to tail the Proxy. Almost immediately, Rodrigo does a Let It Out move to try to find if he’s being followed, makes the tail, and traps her in a mirror. This felt a little cheap, actually — although technically the Proxy is probably being quite paranoid, Rodrigo used a lot of player knowledge to make this roll. He didn’t have to let the tail go for at least a little while, but he probably should have. I think he’s feeling a little cornered by having four other PCs arrayed against him.

Probably the most wasted time in the show was not one but two visits to the Hays Police Department. One of the detectives at the department is an open member of Alanna’s coalition, and said at the meeting that he’d be doing investigation and organization of the PD to help out. And yet both Ian and Professor Higginbottom arrive at the HQ to quiz the police about The Proxy. Neither of the players seems to have grokked that the detective is already working on their side, which makes for some awkward roleplay.

The play of the game, however, was The Proxy’s call to Alanna, in which he probes to find out what she wants and see if there’s a way they can make a deal. The character is full of braggadocio, which I’m not sure Rodrigo actually feels, but he conveys it well. I think Alanna gets a lot of confirmation of her suspicions about the Proxy’s next moves, which is also helpful.

The sweet part (I mean, the sweetest part you can get in a threatening phone call between a wizard and a demon-human synthesis) of this conversation is how the characters speak about each other. They clearly have mutual respect and admiration, and they somewhat regret having fallen on opposite sides in this battle. When the Proxy tells Alanna that he’s glad he’s had a chance to work with her, you can also sense the sub-text: Rodrigo is telling Sam that he’s glad that they’re playing together, and that there’s no hard feelings about the PvP. It’s a well-done scene on multiple levels.

(Do I take this opportunity to quibble about having a roll during this scene? Clearly Chap is trying to Figure somebody out and maybe Mislead, Distract or Trick. There is a lot that a demon could offer to a powerful wizard. It would be interesting to see the dice have some influence on the outcome of this discussion, but that didn’t happen. It also felt very much like a moment of intimacy; it would have been nice to see that triggered.)

We’ve now seen The Proxy directly confront two members of the coalition (he called Rob’s Klaus last week). The two weakest links, Ian and the Professor, haven’t yet been probed. I’m not sure if there’s going to be time to see this happen, which is too bad. Both characters have strong drives that don’t necessarily align with the rest of the coalition — it’d be interesting to see how they would respond, and what it would do the power dynamic.

The other aspect of this episode that I found interesting was Alanna and Ian’s plan to clear his revenge list of its remaining human members, devil worshippers who killed Ian in a botched human sacrifice. This plan two good upsides: first, it’s lowering the demonic temperature  in Hays, which shifts the balance towards the coalition. Second, it makes even more debt between Alanna and Ian, which she may need to keep him on side.

The title of the episode comes from an exchange between Sam and Matthew as she’s figuring out which is the next safehouse to move Alanna to. Matthew’s Ian offers to let her stay with him, and Sam replies, “I don’t want to sleep in your murderhobo alley!” I don’t think Stephen Schleicher got the reference to the term murderhobo so he misquoted? Maybe? Anyway, Ian is very much a murderhobo, albeit an undead and melodramatic one.

Overall, a really good episode. Fine audio quality, not a lot of rules banter, although there does seem to be a little too much table chat figuring out exactly how many members there are of the HPD. (My online research shows about 15-20 people and yes I am learning way more about Hays, KS than I ever thought I would.) The convo between Alanna and Chap really makes this episode shine, resolving some of the metagaming tension that’s been on the podcast for the last few episodes, and so I give it four stars.