The Gauntlet is currently running a Kickstarter for the Codex Volume 1 Hardcover Book. One of the new stretch goals, to be written by me, is Calamity Raccoon’s Good Time Pizza Farm, a small setting for mystery horror games. It’s inspired by my time working at a Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurant in high school and, to a lesser degree, the video game Five Nights at Freddy’s. You can check out all the details on the latest Kickstarter update, linked at the bottom of this post.
I want to talk a little bit about why this setting is so important to me, how it originally developed in Gauntlet spaces, and what I hope to accomplish with the stretch goal.
Chuck E. Cheese’s: Where a Creepy-Ass Kid Can Be a Kid!
I also remember it being scary. But it wasn’t the kind of scary that made me freak out and cry. It was a good scary. I knew the animatronic characters weren’t actually talking to me, but I loved the idea of them doing so. I imagined them turning their heads, saying my name out loud, and telling me secrets. The Mouse Hole tunnels beneath the stage were lit with strobe lights, and crawling inside them was terrifying—there could be murderers or dead bodies in there, after all—but I still did it, because I wanted to see. And while all the other kids were running around playing games, collecting tickets, and being monstrous shits, I distinctly remember wanting to know what happened after the place closed; I wanted to know what happened when you were alone in there.
My memories of those early visits are also stuck on two Chuck E. Cheese’s characters who were retired in the early 1980s: Dolli Dimples, a piano-playing hippo, and The King, an Elvis-inspired lion. Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurants used to have smaller, lounge-style dining rooms—separate from the main dining room—which is where these two animatronics performed. When the chain ditched that concept, they also ditched Dolli and The King. But we’ll get back to that in a bit…
Years later, my first high school job was working at a Chuck E. Cheese’s. At first I was in one of the shiny, newer stores (this would have been around 1993). They still had the animatronics, but everything was much slicker and much brighter than the dark, cavernous restaurant of my childhood memories. Everything was neon pink and green, and Chuck E. was a cool, friendly dude, rather than the smarmy, pizza-hustling rat jerk of those earlier years. It was a little disappointing.
But then I got transferred to an older location. This location was very much like the one five-year-old me remembered. It was always dark. It was a little cavernous (five-year-old me wasn’t completely off base with that detail). The animatronics… didn’t work well. They moved a little funny, a little gingerly. Sometimes their mouths would hang open while the recording just talked. And it had the little lounge dining room with Dolli Dimples, except Dolli was mothballed. They put a partition painted with a Chuck E. skateboarding scene around her so guests couldn’t see her and aired TV shows in that room instead. Sometimes, when I was closing the store, I would boost myself up and look over that partition, and see Dolli just sitting there, frozen forever. It was creepy as hell, to be honest, but also weird and sad in its way.
And the urban legends! The cast members at that location (employees were called “cast members”) had a story for every weird detail about that restaurant. Our Mouse Hole, for example, was boarded-up, and the story was that a little person crawled in there and molested some kids, and so it was just safer to close it entirely. That story was obviously bullshit, but there was a part of my brain that loved having all my creepy thoughts about the Mouse Hole validated in some way. Another urban legend involved the walk-in freezer, which had some very distinct scratch marks on the inner walls. As the story went, a cast member got stuck in there over a holiday weekend and froze to death, but not before trying to desperately claw their way out. And every cast member had their own weird story about Dolli Dimples, from hearing her randomly turn on at night, to old Dolli merchandise turning up in weird places, and so forth.
I really loved that job. I have always had a fascination with the dark and surreal, and that old Chuck E. Cheese’s really hit all the right notes with me.
The Rise of Calamity Raccoon
The set-up procedures in the game had players answering questions about the restaurant their game would be set in, and we came up with Calamity Raccoon’s Good Time Pizza Farm. We named the Calamity characters, invented details from the restaurant’s seedy past, created urban legends that surrounded the restaurant, and so forth (many of these details were informed by my own history with Chuck E. Cheese’s). In fact, as we played, a whole Calamity’s mythos started to take shape. The game never really got far out of playtesting, but the idea of Calamity Raccoon’s stuck with me.
Two years later, I published "Pizza Time!", a Lovecraftesque scenario set in Calamity Raccoon’s. This version of Calamity’s had some of that basic structure from the Chuck Eat Cheese playtest, but had a much stronger horror flavor: the fortune telling machine gave dire prophecies, video games were filled with over-the-top pixelated violence, long-missing children could be seen wandering around on the evening’s security camera footage, and so on. "Pizza Time!" is a fairly short document (as most Lovecraftesque scenarios are) but the seeds of Calamity’s as a horror setting were planted in my head.
Later, I ran a special session of Cthulhu Dark in the "Pizza Time!" setting, and it was fantastic (you can hear me discuss it right here). The players in that session really brought terrific details to the game that not only helped ramp up the idea of Calamity’s as a horror setting, but also fleshed out the history of the restaurant—down to unique menu items, games, and retired animal characters. I was, frankly, in love with our version of Calamity’s and was determined to continue exploring the idea.
Calamity’s Next Act
The second part will be system-agnostic and contain setting details for the restaurant. It will have historical notes about the chain and its animal characters, descriptions of unique arcade games and attractions, a full menu, and more. The idea here is if you wanted to play a longer-term game using Calamity’s as your backdrop, or if you wanted to do something that wasn’t strictly horror, you’d have all the information you need to make it come alive. For example, I could see Calamity’s being used as the setting for a game of Unknown Armies or Damn the Man! Save the Music!, or the location a team of Call of Cthulhu investigators frequently return to.
Calamity's has come to really mean a lot to me. It's an idea that is just desperate to claw its way out of my head and onto the computer screen. When it's done, it should be a fully-realized expression of this dark-yet-kitschy setting that is absolutely infused with my sensibilities and experiences. But I can’t do it unless we hit the stretch goal. My time is so limited, and I need the pressure of a stretch goal obligation to get it done. Also, I'd like to be able to get a bunch of art and graphics made up for it, and the stretch goal will help pay for those things.
So please help us get there!