Monday, March 10, 2014

RPG night: A Tragedy In Five Acts

Tonight we played A Tragedy in Five Acts. This was a first for everyone at the table -- I knew of the game because the designer is a friend, but I had never played it.

Our setting was a farm in Quebec in the late 1960s. The Canadian government has decided to try to beat the Soviets and Americans to the moon, and to that end has funded the building of a rocket.

Our characters were:
Rosie, the Daughter -- a competent engineer whose talents are overlooked because she is a young woman in a low position in the project hierarchy. (Fatal flaw: Fortune's Fool)
Dougal McGuire, the Lover -- an aspiring astronaut whose true love is the Moon. (Fatal flaw: Arrogant)
Farmer Pierre, the Foil -- on whose land the Canadian space program is building its rocket. (Fatal flaw: Jealous)
Werner von Grupp, the Parent -- a German janitor who pretended to be a rocket engineer so he would be pardoned at the end of World War II. (Fatal flaw: Ambitious)
Clarence Bishop III, the Authority -- an overly-trusting government bureaucrat overseeing the space program. (Fatal flaw: Overly Trusting)

With appearances by Frank the real engineer, Jacques the cow, and Francois the cow.


Scene i: Farmer Pierre comes to the rocket-building site to inquire what is happening, as he is afraid his cows will fall into the giant hole that the rocket team is digging. Clarence arrives to check on the project, concerned about where the government's money has gone. He is given an order for steel tubes in a confusing mix of metric and imperial units that suggests they have no idea what they are doing.

Scene ii: Rosie and Dougal have lunch next to the tanks of corrosive acid that are being used in the rocket construction. Rosie insists that Dougal needs to read the astronaut training manual she has prepared for him, but he demurs.

Scene iii: Werner calls Pierre into his suspiciously opulent office. Because Pierre has some practical engineering experience from repairing his farm equipment, Werner wants him to join the rocket team. Appeals to patriotism fail, but Pierre is convinced by the opportunity to defraud the government of more money.


Scene i: Clarence goes to check on the receipts for the project, and instead comes across some correspondence between Werner von Grupp and his hero Werner von Braun. Unable to read German, he takes them to Rosie for translation. In the letters von Grupp shares his rocket ideas and von Braun assumes he must be a rather dim third-grader. Rosie is alarmed, but lies to Clarence and says they are merely social correspondence.

Scence ii: Werner proposes building a 1/16-scale test rocket. Pierre insists a certain connection needs 10 wires (to bilk the government out of more money) while Rosie explains it only needs three. Pierre concludes from this that he misunderstood the numbers in English -- 10 is actually 3 and vice-versa.

Scene iii: Pierre and Werner launch the test rocket, which crashes into the paddock where most of the cows are -- leaving only Jacques and Francois alive. Dougal is upset at being left out of the launch.


Scene i: Having realized things are not quite right, Clarence has called in a competent engineering team, led by Frank. Dougal is upset that they are making him do real training and eat real astronaut food, Pierre is upset that they won't let Jacques and Francois be his interns, and Werner is upset that Frank is upstaging him.

Scene ii: In his office, Werner cuts and pastes to swap the authors' names on his and Frank's rocket schematics. Then he goes to Clarence's office and shows him all the flaws in "Frank"'s schematics. They agree that Frank needs to be fired for his incompetence.

Scene iii: Pierre and Rosie are working on the rocket while the new team takes their union-mandated lunch break. He tells her he is jealous that Dougal is going to get to go to the moon. He shows her how, if they upgrade from "10" fuel tanks to "3", they will have enough thrust to add an extra pod to the rocket that will hold himself, Jacques, and Francois.


Scene i: Clarence confronts Frank, who calmly explains that the names have been switched on the schematics, then tears them up so nobody will mistakenly use them. After Clarence leaves, Werner lures Frank outside with a fake apology. While he's distracted, Dougal (on Werner's orders) sneaks up behind him and, after some hesitation, kills him with a wrench. Werner and Dougal dispose of the body in the acid tank.

Scene ii: Rosie finds the correct set of schematics, but seeing Werner's name on them she thinks they are the old plans and rips them up so that nobody will mistakenly use them. While she is doing this, Dougal -- who has been drinking heavily to dull the guilt from murdering Frank -- wanders in and begins to babble to her.

Scene iii: Werner panics upon finding both sets of schematics have been destroyed. He calls Pierre in to re-draw the plans from memory. Pierre does so, adding his cow pod to the design.


Scene i: Dougal drunkenly confesses the murder to Rosie, and tells her "von-not-supposed-to-tell" put him up to it. She goes to confront Werner. He manages to talk her down.

Scene ii: Pierre convinces Dougal that they should launch the rocket early (so Dougal can escape to the moon, and so that nobody can stop Pierre from loading Jacques and Francois on board). Pierre plans to surprise Dougal when they get to the moon. He counts down (3, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 10, 2, 1, liftoff!), then pushes the launch button and the rocket takes off. But because it is unbalanced (from the udder-shaped cow pod attached to the side), it comes crashing back to Earth and explodes in the acid tanks, killing Pierre, Dougal, Jacques, and Francois.

Scene iii: A month later, Werner, Rosie, and Clarence appear before a parliamentary inquiry. Their incompetence is laid out for all to see. Werner loses all credibility as a scientist and has to go back to being a janitor. Clarence and Rosie are exiled to the USA to work on the US moon landing program.

Our winner, with a score of 210 (to second-place's 88), was Pete, playing Werner von Grupp. He named this monstrosity "Maple Moon Cows: The Untold Story of the Canadian Space Program."