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Orpheus: Project Flatline
An Orpheus chronicle set in the World of Darkness in 1994, and an intro to TTRPGs that deal with heavier topics.
One major goal for In a World… of Darkness… is to have an outlet for my Post Game Day Excitement. We usually play on Wednesday or Sunday nights, so expect a lot of Thursday posts and probably a fair amount of Monday posts.
If you want some music while you read this and after, here’s the Orpheus: Project Flatline chapter 01 soundtrack. (ADHD hyperfocus on making soundtracks is one of my superpowers, and a topic for another post.)
Our current game in the Chicago Chronicles is Orpheus: Project Flatline.
Orpheus is a role-playing game that came out in 2003. It was the last game in the original run of the World of Darkness, a sequel of sorts to the earlier Wraith: the Oblivion.
Where Wraith is a game about ghosts and dealing with the afterlife, Orpheus is about playing Projectors who work at the Orpheus Group. Projectors are people who can temporarily leave their body as ghosts, usually in giant cryogenic freezers. Orpheus has a fantastic balance of haunted house horror, action thriller, and slice of life workplace dramedy.
I ran an Orpheus chronicle back when it was new, that lasted a few years and was absolutely one of the best games I ever ran.
Four years ago, I ran an Orpheus prequel miniseries as part of the Chicago Chronicles, set in 1992 at Loyola University, and it was the rare game that really went off the rails and became something much goofier than I had intended. (But that is a story for another time.)
So even though I really love Orpheus, it took me a long time to get back to it. And I wanted to make sure I really took the effort to properly set things up so that I and the players are on the same page.
I’m happy to say this chronicle has been an absolute success so far.
In a World… of Darkness…
A normal Orpheus game is set “now”, in the early 2000s when it was written or the 2020s if you pick it up today. In the books, there’s mention of an earlier experiment at the Marion Federal Penitentiary involving death row inmates. In a normal Orpheus game, this is the sort of dark secret hidden backstory the players might learn about and have to deal with the aftermath of.
Since I’d already run a great normal Orpheus chronicle ages ago, and since our last game was a prequel set in 1992, I really liked the idea of exploring this inbetween chapter, of doing a limited series chronicle centered around this extremely unethical prison experiment.
Orpheus: Project Flatline is set in the summer of 1994, where the Orpheus Group has set up their first large scale experiment in Projector technology. Through a shady deal with a contact in the Pentagon, the Orpheus Group has set up a lab in Marion Federal Penitentiary with a dozen death row inmates as their volunteers/lab monkeys.
(In the real world, there is no death row at Marion Penitentiary, as far as I found via google. But RPG writers aren’t paid well and online research was much harder 20 years ago, so I’ve said that in the World of Darkness federal executions were much more common and that’s why USP Marion has a death row.)
We have two groups of PCs. On Sundays, 3 players play death row inmates turned mad science experiment volunteers. On Wednesdays, 3 other players play Orpheus Group employees dealing with the fact their job involves mad science and ghosts and serial killers.
Orpheus: Project Flatline is a limited series chronicle. As opposed to an open ended, ongoing game, this is meant to be played over a couple months and then we’ll say goodbye to these characters and move on to something else. Think of a tv show like Midnight Mass or Mare of Easttown that’s only meant to have one season, or a novel that isn’t planned to have sequels.
Because O:PF is part of the Chicago Chronicles, elements of it will impact future games. Villains or storylines might reappear, but I don’t have any plans to return to these PCs or directly follow this story.
As you can imagine, a game where half of the players are pretending to be death row inmates is not generally what people think of as fun.
Our usual World of Darkness games tend to fall much more into the Superheroes With Fangs or Supernatural Soap Opera categories. But after the last couple of years I was really in the mood to explore a darker, more serious story. I’m just not feeling light and fluffy these days.
I have a large pool of players for the Chicago Chronicles, including a handful of players who have been in most everything the last few years, and a larger group who cycle in and out.
I pitched the game to my players as a sort of horror story meets HBO drama. Somewhere between The Ring and Oz/the Sopranos/the Wire/etc. A story that’s not heroic or silly, but scary and dramatic, with room for slice of life humor or black comedy.
I made sure to go over all the Content Warnings I could think of before anyone signed up. This would be a game with both death and the afterlife, and the institutional horror of being locked up in a supermax prison, where many/all of the PCs are bad people who will probably do bad things.
I made sure to explain that if any player did not want a game that’s darker and heavier, that they should sit this limited series out, and return for the next game in the Chicago Chronicles.
We ended up with six players, split evenly into the two groups. We did character creation on two nights, with the Orpheus Group employee PCs all making their characters together and the Inmate PCs all making their characters together.
I took special care to add a few new Content Warnings, Lines, and Veils. None of the inmate PCs had committed sexual crimes, and none of them were involved in any real life true crimes.
We took extra time to talk about the various heavy topics that a game set in a prison would include, and I think we did a pretty good job of getting everyone on the same page.
We’ve done a very thorough job with setting up Lines and Veils and Content Warnings, and haven’t actually had anyone use the X-Card yet. So far all of the awful things that have happened within the story have been within the bounds of what I and the players agreed to. I’ll try to keep it that way, but if we need to use them we have the X-Card and other safety tools.
We had Chapter 01 back on Wednesday, June 15th, and just played Chapter 08 last night. This Sunday is Chapter 09, the big turning point where our Sunday PCs finally go into the cryo chambers to explore the afterlife!
The game will end around Chapter 20, although I don’t know exactly when yet.
There’s a lot here already, so I’ll save the further details for next week.
I just want to say that I’ve been really happy with how this has gone. I feel like my work setting things up has really paid off, and we have a fantastic, scary, dramatic, and surprisingly still funny story we’re telling together, that is going to end in horrible tragedy.
Last night one of the players said something really cool when we were chatting after the game. He mentioned that this story felt very believable. Not so much in regards to the sci fi ghost stuff, but with how the characters acted within that story.
That was really cool to me, that we’ve taken this very fantastic premise and created something that feels grounded and real.
Alright, that’s more than enough from me for now.
See you fine folks next week!
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