One last Daily Trumpet, and one pressman’s take on a wonderful, crooked, zombie-infested, cracked and flooded mess of a megagame. If you’re only here for one last issue of the Daily Trumpet, scroll right down! Otherwise, read on…
On 12 September 2015, I participated in my first megagame, an event called City of Shadows. What’s a megagame, you ask? Well, it’s a kind of roleplaying game on a huge scale, usually involving multiple teams of players adding up to tens or even hundreds of people, which takes place over most of a day. City of Shadows was run by the Megagame Makers, a team who’ve been designing and organising these events since the early 1980s.
Does that give you any sense of what a megagame is actually like? Probably not! I quail at the thought of trying to encapsulate my experience in words, let alone the megagame as a whole. Each one is an astounding achievement, a collective experience greater than the sum of its parts, and a testament to the expertise and flair of the Megagame Makers team. I’ll give it a go, though.
Like many others, I suspect, I came across megagames via analogue gaming site Shut Up and Sit Down, which has twice filmed the megagame experience (these videos are actually a great window into what playing one is actually like – you can find them here and here). I was really excited by what I saw – megagames looked like they took ideas I’d toyed with (roleplaying, collaborative story telling, layering of systems) and ramped them not just to eleven but way beyond. So a booked myself in to one.
Reporting for the Big City Daily Trumpet
Billed as “The Megagame of Crime, Corruption and Weird Science”, City of Shadows took me to the pulpy 1930s setting of Big City, where politicians, policemen, organised criminals, masked vigilantes and self-proclaimed scientific geniuses all rub shoulders while scrambling to push their own agendas. As editor-in-chief Jameson, I was tasked with running Big City’s foremost newspaper, the Daily Trumpet, keeping the city up to date on every scandal, rumour and terrifying scientific monstrosity.
And it was amazing. Amazing and quite overwhelming (although not as overwhelming as Laurence Kirby’s plunge into the deep end). There is an incredible amount to keep track of as the Press, a great deal of time pressure, players clamouring for interviews and photo ops, endless rumours and more news than you can ever report.
Fortunately I was blessed with an incredibly talented press team: Freelance Photographer Gareth Evans was a gleeful newshound who gracefully got the paper up and running during my floundering first hours; Fearless Reporter Paul Holman kept the presses churning with a conveyor belt of scoops; and Determined Reporter Dave Smith was heroic in his dedication to copy that delighted, entertained and informed. They made the Daily Trumpet, in short, but indulged my scattered attempts to set the agenda with great patience!
Having aimed to print and distribute a single sheet of news every 30 minutes to an hour, and despite initial difficulties with the printer (damned commie printers’ unions and their strikes!), we ultimately dashed off more than eleven issues, and received some lovely feedback from other players at the end of the day.
I was also lucky in regards to my personal goal as editor-in-chief: to ensure, as far as possible, diverse representation in the Daily Trumpet. This could have been a challenge in a room with many more men than women, but I was blessed by a city where prominent women set the pace: from Professor Gorgunza, greatest mind of the age, to the criminal queenpins of the Griežti Vaikinai (the Lithuanian mob), to vigilante turned politician, City Redeemer.The coverage might not always have been positive (looking at you, Griežti Vaikinai) but it was fair!
Get me Judge Jeffries! I want pictures of Jeffries! And the Lithuanians! Incriminating pictures!
In terms of the game itself – what a saga! The gangs (sorry, “legitimate business interests”) jockeyed for position as the most notorious crime outfits in the city, paying scientists to unleash zombie plagues on their enemies and infiltrating City Hall with insouciant ease. Some Police lined their pockets while others resisted all corruption, some courted the papers and followed politics, others kept their heads down and focussed on their precinct. The Vigilantes were all over the place: pursuing murderous vendettas against the Sicilian Mafia; spawning supervillains; promoting themselves via toy lines, government mascot deals, and feature films; running protection rackets and robbing banks; some of them were even humanely and efficiently fighting crime (we didn’t report on that). The Scientific Geniuses, meanwhile, were quietly beavering away – before unleashing a slew of “wonders” on the city, from the aforementioned zombie plague to giant robots of various shapes and sizes. The Mayor and his team had the unwelcome task of surfing this madness while angling for reelection…
The election campaign in the latter part of the day was great, injecting a huge amount of energy into the game and looming larger than earthquakes and giant robots. A three way race emerged, between the incumbent Mayor Firefly, the absurdly corrupt Judge Jeffries, and the flamethrowing vigilante known as City Redeemer, on a platform of crime fighters and disgruntled police captains.
My own goals shifted several times during the day. At first, I was determined to expose collusion between City Hall and organised crime (the gangs were walking in and out like they owned the place), especially after Judge Jeffries started mentioning libel charges and newspapers getting closed down! I was convinced Mayor Firefly was taking money from the Sicilians at the very least, Judge Jeffries seemed to be in bed with the Lithuanians, and if the Police Widows’ and Orphans’ Fund wasn’t a front for money laundering I’d’ve swallowed my pipe.
Once the elections started to ramp up, and the true extent of Judge Jeffries’ corruption became plain (his running mate – set to be Deputy Mayor if he won – was the Underboss of the Lithuanian mob!), my priorities changed – I needed to do everything I could to ensure he didn’t win. Any candidate was better than the mob candidate.
The smear campaign that followed was, if I say so myself, of near Corbynian proportions.
However, I wasn’t sure who the Daily Trumpet should back against Jeffries. Mayor Firefly, certainly corrupt but not so much? Or City Redeemer, righteous but potentially unstable (she once burned a man alive and he turned into a supervillain). In a fit of democratic feeling, I asked the Press team to vote on which candidate the Daily Trumpet to support. Rightly or wrongly, I voted for Mayor Firefly, who seemed the least bad option. Fellow newby Dave voted for City Redeemer and change. Our two veterans, however, both voted Jeffries, I can only assume out of a mixture of confusion and despair.
This was unacceptable, of course, so I sent the three of them on reporting errands, figuratively locked myself in the newsroom, and wrote a rogue editorial throwing the Trumpet‘s weight behind Mayor Firefly. I regret nothing!
It was with immense relief that I listened to the election results. Jeffries trailing in third place, Mayor Firefly second, and City Redeemer the shock winner. We had done it! Realistically, huge amounts of campaign funding had done it, but we had done it! City Redeemer was immediately mobbed by excited supporters, scientists and vigilantes claiming their place in the new City Hall, and of course reporters for the Daily Trumpet.
I was genuinely, deeply excited to be interviewing City Redeemer at this point. Her election felt gamechanging, she was outlining truly exciting policies to fix our beloved, crime-ridden, zombie-infested, cracked and flooded mess of a city, and this interview felt like a career-defining moment. And in a way, I suppose it was. A few minutes into the interview, a member of the Control team (like Games Masters for the megagame) announced that my signature pipe had exploded – a dastardly attempt on the new Mayor’s life that killed me and from which she barely escaped.
Mere moments later, continuing the interview as my late character’s son (No one can stop the free press! There are always more journalists!), the assassins struck again. This time, no handy pipe being available, the bomb was planted somewhere inside me (gross)… and this time, there was no escape for City Redeemer.
And that was a wrap.
This is a mere sliver of the City of Shadows experience, so if you enjoyed this and want to know more about what was going in Big City, I’d recommend these other great accounts:
Incorruptible: The Diary of Captain Holden – a policeman’s take
The Misadventure’s of Edwin R. Scott – a scientist’s notes
Bad Justice – a vigilante’s confession
Professor Gorgunza – memoirs of the age’s greatest scientific mind
The Red Skull Rises – a villain is born
A Henchman’s Tale – a crime lord’s testimony
If you’re really keen, you can find fragmentary back issues of the Big City Daily Trumpet on the Megagame Maker’s Facebook page: Issue 1, Issue 2, Issue 4, Issue 6, Issue 7, Issue 8, Issue 10, Issue 11. Alas, many were lost in our hurry to get copies printed.
And finally, here’s one last Daily Trumpet, written after the event, largely as an apology to City Redeemer, in whose tragic death I was unwillingly essential.
RIP City Redeemer, you were rad.