The very next thing in the script, of course, was the appearance of a title card reading SIX MONTHS EARLIER...
I knew it was a big risk starting off the game with a scene from the end of the game -- effectively suggesting that this was where the story would end up, no matter what the players did from that point. The players would either love it or hate it. If they hated it, this might've been the shortest game I ever ran.
My reasons for starting with such an incendiary prelude were partly to signal to the players that the stakes for this story would be high, and also to telegraph to Megan what I had in mind for her character Rosa. (And yes, to drop their jaws a little bit. It's always a good idea to start with your best Sunday punch.)
Rosa was a character careening heedlessly into danger, and what I wanted to do was change up the dynamic -- give her someone she cared about, something she might worry about losing, something to fight for.
The love interest who appeared in the second episode was a psychic named Eric Macon, a visionary who sought Rosa out because he'd been having visions of her death. (The scene from the prelude, in short.) This changed things in an important way, because now it wasn't just the players who had knowledge of the way the story was heading, but the characters as well. (The awareness of everyone at the table participating in scenes both as audience and actor would later come to be an important element of HTHD.)
This cast Rosa's story in an entirely new light. Now she had foreknowledge of her own death, and every action she took brought her closer to that moment. As Joss Whedon would have it, heroism is defined by the sacrifices you make, and Rosa went into the final battle knowing she would lose it all. In the last episode, she visited the church from Eric's vision, where she knew she would be killed. What had been a cool but bland character at home in nearly any RPG adventure became an unforgettable tragic hero caught up in the tides of fate.
Megan is fond of telling people that the end of this game -- American Nightmare -- was the first time (but not the last) that I made her cry during a roleplaying game.
To be continued...