An Introduction [They Came From Beneath The Sea!]

They Came From Beneath The Sea!

This excerpt comes from the Introduction chapter. There’s less than a week left on the Kickstarter for TCFBTS!

They Came From Beneath the Sea! art by Aaron Riley

You are about to land in a lonely zone of terror… on an uncharted atoll in the Pacific! You are part of The Second Scientific Expedition dispatched to this mysterious bit of Coral reef and volcanic rock. The first group has disappeared without a trace! Your job is to find out why! There have been rumors about this strange atoll… frightening rumors about happenings way out beyond the laws of nature…

— Opening Crawl, Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957)

There are few better ways of opening a game about science fiction, fantasy, monsters, horror, and comedy, than a quote from Attack of the Crab Monsters. The above snippet from a 1950s B-movie classic tells you so much about what this game contains. Your Director will introduce mystery, your characters will find adventure, and a communal story of daring deeds, bold feats, and heroic deaths shall unfold. In They Came from Beneath the Sea!, all these things are possible.

The stage is set at a nebulous point in the 1950s. A new Chuck Berry record swings into place on the jukebox turntable. Greasers walk in and take their seats at the diner counter. Everyone enjoys a frosty milkshake and a juicy hamburger while Big Jim, the diner owner, shakes his head at the lackadaisical attitudes of youths these days. Oh, while Roy can fix up a hotrod and charm the skirt off that plucky girl Suzie (she’ll make it as a top reporter one day, just mark Jim’s words), Jim’s just satisfied wiping down the counter and tapping his foot to the refrain from the machine in the corner. He enjoys the beat but can’t help but think of how easy these kids have got it. He was in a war just a decade ago. A war he’ll never forget. He lost friends. He lost….

And then the sheriff walks in. Diane takes her hat off and sits next to Roy, cramping the young mechanic’s style as he makes moves on Suzie. Big Jim smirks and winks at Diane, serving up her usual pot of coffee. The Saturday morning ritual goes as normal, until that kook Professor Tamborne busts in, waving papers in one hand and a fish in the other. “What the heck, Tamborne?” shouts Diane, jumping from her stool. “They’re here!” he replies, waving the eviscerated fish. “This is just a warning! They’re going to invade from beneath the sea!”

Most of the diner’s patrons laugh, but Roy and Suzie suddenly look afraid. Big Jim knows Tamborne from many years back, when they served in the same unit. And Diane? She knows a liar, and the Prof ain’t a liar.

By the time noon rolls around, all five are exploring the caves on the shoreside, discovering evidence of Tamborne’s “invaders” and looking at each other in a mix of disbelief and common cause. They have to stop whatever’s about to happen.

In short, that is the game you’re about to play. These characters are heroes, but they’re also you and me. They’re humans living in a time of geopolitical uncertainty, still reeling from the greatest war humanity has ever known. Big Jim is a Survivor, a veteran of war. Roy is an Everyman, just wanting to protect his patch of land. Suzie is a Mouth, capable of getting into any exclusive event and prying a story from any target. Diane is a G-Man, a sheriff of a small town with responsibilities to powers she does not fully understand. Tamborne is a Scientist, as prone to madness as to brilliance, in this atomic age. The characters you play in They Came from Beneath the Sea! are like Big Jim, Roy, Suzie, Diane, and the Professor, but they can be whoever you want them to be.


Is this a Comedy or a Horror Game?

There’s the crucial question. This game wouldn’t work if it was pure comedy. It is impossible to prescribe comedy to a wide audience and expect everyone to laugh at the same thing. Rather, this is a science-fiction game with comedy elements. It provides you with the tools to make things amusing for you and your group, but how often you use these tools is up to you. They Came from Beneath the Sea! is a balance of horror and farce. Some groups will make every scene a playful caper, while others will pull out the jokes at crucial junctures, like punchlines after a lengthy wind-up.

TCfBtS! contains a system device called Quips (see p. XX), which helps facilitate the humor element of the game. Characters come equipped with Quips from the point of their creation. These one-liners are to be used in dramatic situations for mechanical bonuses, as described in the Cinematics chapter. Likewise, the other Cinematics covered in that chapter all lend to the comedic feel of the game. Despite this, elements such as Quips, Directorial Control, and Tropes can be dropped if you feel they’re inappropriate for your group. TCfBtS! is a toolbox, and you can choose to use the whole set or just the big hammer, depending on the task at hand.

On the subject of comedy and horror, good Directors should ask their groups before running the game what kind of game they want to play. Test the waters, find out what works and what doesn’t. If things need scaling back or ramping up mid-game, that’s fine. Adjust to suit the group, so long as everyone is having fun!

Metagaming

In many RPGs, “metagame” is a dirty word. The concept of metagaming in the context of RPGs is applying player knowledge to a character situation. For instance, you (as a player) may know Centopus’ weakness from a previous scenario of They Came from Beneath the Sea! However, your character does not. If you (the player) use your knowledge to allow your unknowing housewife character a way out of Centopus’ maw, it can erode tension and hamstring drama, as well as making you look like a know-it-all.

Metagaming in TCfBtS! is encouraged via certain paths. The Cinematics listed in the chapter of the same name allow players to step back from their character roles and affect scenes from a directorial perspective. Replacing your character with a stuntman to achieve a better outcome on a physical challenge, fading to black on a scene to avoid a harmful combat, or revisiting a scene to achieve a better outcome, are all metagaming — a little like a cheat mode on a video game. This kind of behavior is encouraged in They Came from Beneath the Sea! as these powers are designed to further increase the fun (and farce) of the game, as well as to make it more cinematic.

You are reading and will hopefully soon be playing a rare game, in that metagaming in this way is rewarded. Just be aware that metagame actions you take as the player are not known by your character. Your character does not believe they’re the character in a B-movie, or an actor playing a character. You are a god, or at the very least a director or editor when you use powers like this. Your character will never be aware of the subtle or heavy hand you place on their shoulder when you give them a push.