We proceeded with me asking questions about the characters and letting the players come up with answers that gave us useful details in building stories.
What was it that the journalist and the cop did for the big aircraft industrialist? Frank, the cop, was clearly his fixer -- and muscle when he needed it. Pat, the journalist, worked both on PR for his boss and also was plugged into the elaborate web of secrets and scandals that ties L.A. together.
Sure, cops in L.A. are corrupt in the 20's... but just how corrupt was Frank? What had he done in the line of duty? Did he have any enemies? (Yes, a lot of 'em.) What was the line he couldn't cross? (We agreed this was a good distinction to explore in play.)
If Pat was a journalist, what kind of journalist? Was he a crusader against political corruption and social problems, or did he make his dough selling dirt to the scandal sheets? It turned out, a little of both -- Pat came up selling juicy scandals, and now works at the edges of the political beat. He's using his position to go after big fish like Hearst and Howard Hughes.
How did our Howard Hughes type, Vaughn, get so rich? Jeff suggested that his family had made money in shipping, and owned a cruise line. Vaughn had invested his own money in air travel as the future of shipping and travel. And although he operates in rarefied circles, he's also interested in progressive politics. Partly as an image thing, but also because he sincerely believes in it.
I asked if there were important locations to serve as "sets" for our series, and someone suggested that Vaughn should own a nightclub. This could serve as the glamourous backdrop for a lot of scenes, and sounded great to me. It's a glitzy place with a big "Old Hollywood" stage that hosts the best jazz bands in the country, and has private rooms in the back for intrigue... and secret tunnels for moving illicit booze.
I suggested that we should start with a big event that couldn't be ignored, something that implicated all of the characters. I'm not sure who first threw out the idea of a body turning up on the rich Howard Hughes type, but it's such a classic bit of film noir business I knew it would be perfect.
The body belonged to Gretchen; she had worked in Vaughn's nightclub, and once upon a time they had been close. Vaughn had proposed, but she had turned him down. They had parted on good terms, and he had set her up in a plum position as hostess at the club. She had been dating a young actor. Gretchen had come to L.A. with her sister, who was trying her hand at being an actress.
Having squeezed some details about Gretchen out of the players -- with Jeff supplying most of the important details about their relationship -- I turned on the other players. I asked Steve if he also had a connection to Gretchen, and he said that Pat had a fling with her that the boss didn't know about.
"Dave," I said, "you never got along with her. Why? Did you know something about her?" Dave thought on that for a moment, and said that Frank had never trusted her. "She was too nice," he said. And Frank didn't know anything much about her background. "It was like she came out of nowhere."
Lastly, I asked about the discovery of the body. Who had found it? When? Where had it been found? We decided that it needed to be somewhere that implicated Vaughn -- his country estate in Malibu. A servant had discovered it in the gardens, near a pond, and Vaughn's faithful lieutenants had sent the whole staff away on vacation when they arrived to deal with the problem.
I asked for details on the body. She had no visible wounds, except for some scrapes on her hands, and was wearing an evening dress. Pat had noticed that some of her hair had been pulled out at the roots, leaving some blood on her scalp. Frank had turned her over to discover that her eyes were eerily blood-red. She had a locket clutched in her hand.
I hadn't come to our online session with any notes or ideas about what kind of game was going to happen, so all of the above was invented on the spot. I think you'd be hard-pressed to do better than that as a setup for an adventure filled with mystery and intrigue.
Tomorrow, I'll reflect on the process and the whole idea of collective creativity in roleplaying.