“Tender lumplings everywhere
Life’s no fun without a good scare!
That’s our job, but we’re not mean
In our town of Halloween”
This is Halloween” from “Nightmare Before Christmas”
Given that this post falls on Halloween, I figured it would be good to talk about horror, as it applies to gaming. My opinion may differ from yours so please let me know what you think. I started writing this like a week or two ago, trying to get ahead of the topic because it needed some work. I mention that because some of the examples I talk about the difference of horror and the idea of horror that sticks with you were done in the first of a multi-part episode of Extra Credits
I feel there are two kinds of horror in general, the kind that use jump scares and the kind that use mind screws. The former is your slasher flicks and Resident Evil games where things pop into a scene and are gruesome and horrible and then things quiet down and then suddenly here’s the killer again, while the latter is more where they spend the time building the suspense as you see or hear things just out of reach and your brain spends the time constructing horrible ideas about what it is.
I was talking adventure design with a friend, specifically challenging players without expecting specific solutions. Their design method would make linear events that X is done then Y then Z. Great for some things, but it can require a bit of laying tracks for the GM Railroad.
I mentioned an idea they might like is the tableau. It is a dramatic style where actors would assume a stationary position like a picture had been taken. Then the curtain would come down, actors move to next mark and when the curtain opens it is another image in the scene. This tells a story when all put together.
They say everyone gets 15 minutes of fame in their life, doing something special that gets them noticed. With television and internet, that fame can be longer than 15, and sometimes more often than once. Just look at reality tv, especially Amercian Idol type singing shows. People go crazy for these things and as it is tryouts, you can see all sorts of weirdness than the previous gameshows.
However, what about in the fictional world your game takes place in? Do people have their own way to acknowledge those who are famous for something or other. Bards singing songs, museums having galas of famous artists, top ten lists in magazines, popular videos in Youtube and so forth.
I have a Yes/No die in my dice collection and I love the thing. It is a great way to allow me to randomly determine an event without it being GM fiat. For example, the group approaches a door in a building and tries to open it, I can on the fly use that to see if it is locked. Also it is great for things like ‘Does this person know anything about the topic’ or ‘Is there a trail in the woods’ or the like.
However, sometimes a simple yes/no does not cover it, as there are exceptional outliers like a critical success or failure, and these can influence the result. ‘Does this person know anything on the topic’ critical failure can have a widely inaccurate story being told, while a critical success includes details above and beyond, to the point of giving other avenues of pursuit.
Indiana Jones is irrelevant is the statement made in The Big Bang Theory. The character does nothing in the Raiders of the Lost Ark movie that would not have happened without him. Some people have even said if Indiana had not intervened then the Ark would be brought before Hitler and opened as was planned.
I don’t know if I agree or disagree but it is a compelling argument that also should be made around RPG adventures. Does the players presence change the events in some way, for better or worse. If the story would play out the same way with or without them, consider changing things about.
“In a roleplaying game, game balance does not matter” is a quote from John Wick in an article talking about roleplaying games. It may sound like a usualy ‘John Wick’ statement like some of the things he’s done before. I think that it is the way he works, sure, and it makes it for some people. A sensational headline used to get people to buy newspapers because they wanted to know more, and the process has continued in the field of teasers like movie trailers.
Revenge is sweet when the enemies have memories, so says Shadows of Mordor. I saw some bits of this, but I think what caught my interest the most was highlights of a playthrough done by Tim Buckley of Ctrl+Alt+Del Comic. He encountered an enemy who killed him and thus gained more power by doing it. Later in the game, he ran into him again and again, sometimes he would die and other times he would beat the target. Of course, a great villain doesn’t get beaten once, so this nemesis would come back a few times, scarred or otherwise changed from the experience and recounting things that had happened in the game. This gives the game a great replayability because the stories will be different.
I have given a friend of mine an apology recently for doing something that a lot of gamemasters can be guilty of. Realisticaly, I know better of but in the heat of the moment it just comes out. I was watching them play Watch Dogs helping out occasionally with hints to try and help, and when multiplayer started I tried to offer more hints and tips. However, as the timer got closer to being completely full and the opponent getting away, I was to the point of almost screaming at them what to do as the time was approaching and I was caught up in the moment of high tension. While I was trying to be helpful, it ended up causing moments of indecisiveness as they tried to sort through the provided information as well as their own thoughts on how to proceed.
Take a look at the fictional icons we like, be they in film and television, literature like novels and comics or video games. James Bond to Frodo to Solid Snake are all pretty fleshed out characters, with interactions in both the combat and non-combat arenas. We can see them as whole people, to the point where we can relate with them. Its why we enjoy Spider-man scenes with Aunt May because we relate to them before enjoying seeing the hero go kick some ass.