Alas Vegas Preview

Vegas, Baby, Vegas

A preview by James Wallis


The desert is cold at night, but not quiet. Things move, rocks crack, the stars wheel, the horizon shimmers and the earth shifts. A hand—your hand—thrusts up through the loose soil, grasping for air, for freedom, for more life. Slowly you haul yourself from this shallow grave. You are naked and you have no idea how you got here, or where you are, or who you are. There are others in the pit with you, also naked, also stirring. Off in the distance are lights, elemental patches of sodium and neon punctuating the darkness, dark buildings with strange geometries shimmering on the horizon. There will be answers there.

I hate Las Vegas. It is my least favourite city on Earth. One of the reasons I got out of games publishing ten years ago was the terror-inducing prospect of having to head to Vegas every spring for the GAMA Trade Show. It’s a deeply unpleasant place, steeped in the worst of human nature, and celebrated for all the reasons it should be reviled.

This makes it an amazing background for an RPG.

Alas Vegas isn’t a conventional RPG, as you’d expect from the guy who wrote Baron Munchausen and published Nobilis and Interactive Fantasy. It’s a GM-and-players game, but a different person is GM for each session, and the campaign plays to completion in four sessions. Most RPGs are open-ended, with no idea where they’re going or how long it’ll take to get there—in short they’re soap operas. By contrast Alas Vegas is an HBO miniseries with a cast of big stars. Very big stars.

The game is an attempt to make something I’ve wanted to do for ages: a pick-up-and-play RPG. This is instant-access: the GM only has to read a few pages and everything is ready to go. There’s no character generation to take the punch out of the start of the first session, you’re straight in with a sheet of paper that starts off so blank that initially it doesn’t even have your character’s name on it.

When your PC needs an ability or an area of knowledge, they can have a flashback to their previous life that not only gives them the skill they need, it also reveals something about who they are–or who they were, at least. And over the course of the game the flashbacks start to knit together to reveal… that would be telling. This is a game about discovery, revulsion, regret and redemption. And the desert.

It’s a horror game. Did I mention that? It’s a horror game. This isn’t the Vegas you know, or even the Vegas you don’t. It’s… what it is exactly is a card I’m keeping close to my chest right now. But when I tell you that the game mechanics are driven by a stripped-down version of Blackjack played with Tarot cards, where the imagery on every card forms part of the unfolding narrative, you’ll get a hint of its atmosphere.

Alas Vegas began life as a novel I never finished in the mid-90s. For some reason I never thought of it as an RPG until last year. Now it’s mostly written, and the final stages of development and design will be funded by a Kickstarter campaign. The game will be illustrated with cards from a notional Vegas Tarot throughout, and if the Kickstarter goes well then we may spin that off into a standalone deck of cards. (If it goes really well I might finish the novel too.) It’ll be released by Pelgrane towards the end of the year.

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