During my long time of watching lots of movies, I saw something that returned in most of the movies. It's actually a simple thing, and a really cool and useful one. The thing is that the place from where the characters come is closely related to their role in the movie. Role as in good or evil, that is.
When characters enter from the left of the screen, they are usually the good guys. When they enter from the right, they are usually the bad guys.
I think that this simple fact can be really useful, in two ways. Firstly, creating this pattern, or another one, can be really useful in making connotations and thus make the players feel differently for things, maybe even without knowing it.
Secondly, is the ability to break this pattern, thus making things that seemed certain much less certain and much more frightening. "What will s/he bring next? What pattern s/he will break next?" The surprise and shock of a pattern well built being broken can be really useful, and breaking that of characters? well...
Over at Elthos RPG, they ran a blog carnival on the subject of GMing for a ship of fools, or moments where the characters did something so stupid, that the game ended. This is my most memorable incident, from my GMing career.
It was a D&D one-shot (of 9 hours), with my players being 3rd level characters (paladin, cleric, wizard, rouge and a barbarian). They were guests of the Paladin's father, in a little village. During the first night of the session, a werewolf attacked, killing one of the villagers. The mayor came to the party, as the only adventuring party in the village, and the party agreed to his terms, promising to help clean the village from the werewolf.
They started to investigate, meeting all the village people, talking with them, trying to get some information. During the days, they investigated, and during the nights they were on the walls (a wooden one, of course...), watching to see where the werewolf comes from, looking to ambush him if he comes.
A few days passed, and the werewolf attacked, they missed him, coming when he was running away, finding a little girl killed, her body torn apart. They swore they would kill him, but they did no other action, but returned to the wall.
They continued to investigate, following the footprints all the way to the nearby forest, where the prints disappeared, and returned to the village. The streets at this time were very empty, shops being close, pubs managing with a smaller crew, and a lot less of buyers.
After a few nights, and a lot of info that they got, they finally met the werewolf. They tried to stop him, but he defeated them, and then disappeared in the shadows, and they were there, all beaten up and losing.
The following day, they came back to the mayor, and asked for a higher payment. The mayor said no, and the barbarian killed him. I looked at him, my eyes widening with shock, and then he just said: "What? That's just what a barbarian will do. I need money, no pay- I kill him."
The village of course wasn't sure of what to do after it. Some were angry, 'cause he was a good mayor, and he did his best in solving this problem. Some agreed with the party, saying that if they killed him, the reason was probably right, like maybe he holed them or something. All of them, agreed though, that the problem hasn't been solved, too long of a time has passed, and they released the characters from their service. The game ended with that. A long time passed before I GMed for them again.
Yesterday eve, I've watched the director cut of the 1984 movie Amadeus, directed by Milos Forman. What really caught my attention is how the movie introduced Mozart. We all know who he is, and yet, the movie takes 5 minutes to utter his name, 8 to show his back, 10 to show his legs and 15 to show his face. In the meantime, we hear a lot about his greatness, the movie creates a lot of anticipation, and when we finally see him, he's so far from our expectations, that he just disgusted me.
I'm not here to talk that much about the movie, though, but about what we can learn from this. And the truth is, that the effectiveness of this way of introducing is just overwhelming. To make long things short, what I'm here to talk about, is a way to introduce characters, mainly NPCs, in the game.
The way is quiet simple: 3 sessions before the PCs will encounter the NPC, they'll hear rumors about him/her, about the greatness of this particular NPC, and they'll see him/her near the end of the session ,surrounded by admirers, from afar. They won't see the little details, but they'll know it is the NPC.
Two sessions before the encounter, they'll continue to hear about the NPC, and they'll see one of his/her actions. May be he'll save a little girl, or she may save a little boy. May be they'll see him killing a dog, or her killing a lion... Again, all of this from afar, although a little bit closer this time.
The last session before, they won't see the character. The townsfolk will say that s/he is rehearsing for something, or that s/he was called by the emperor to gain a reward.
When the characters finally meet the NPC, they'll be eager to meet him/her, to learn from him, and to talk with her. In this stage, you the GM must make the character as humane as one can, as not only what is commonly known, may be even a little far from that, if one sees fit.
Of course, all that is written is based around the belief that this character is a major character for the plot or for the kingdom or whatever. If the characters is only a background character with no real importance, why spend so much effort on this character?
Last week, I went through uses for isolation, and how to create it in the first place. Today, I'm going to talk about a closely related subject, which is the Discovery Plot.
The Discovery Plot is one of the two most common plots in horror cinema (the other one is the overreacher), and it can be seen in such movies as Jaws, Dracula and the like.
There are 4 stages for this pot:
- The monster shows that it's there by attacking. The shark takes its first victim, the werewolf kills the sheriff, the vampire bites Harker and so on… nobody knows of this, in this stage, except for the audience.
- The monster is discovered by a person or a group, usually young one(s), but because of some reason or another, nobody believes them or understands the full danger. The policemen say it's a joke, the mayor says it's bad for business to close the beach, and so on.
- The third stage is where the person (or group) tries to find a proof for their claims and for the danger the monster encompasses. This is usually the longest and most elaborate stage in the plot, and it also the tensest one. During this stage, the monster grows stronger and/or advances to complete its goal(s). This is the stage where the weaknesses of the monster are explored, as well as the monster's abilities. The info, in this stage, comes mainly from words. Karras understands that exorcism can help Regan, Akeley sends Wilmarth the recording…
- The final confrontation, in which humanity is standing face to face against its eternal doom and the monster. Usually, the monster loses, but not always. Wendy stands against Jack Torrance, Karras defeats the demon by sacrificing himself, Wilmarth runs out of the house after discovering the awful truth.
Two key points make this plot so powerful. The first one being the tension that is created by the time that passes between the discovery and the confrontation. The second is the knowledge differences between the viewers and the characters, thus making the fear for them much more frightening (they don't know what really is happening). Also of note, is the tension that is created between the young discoverers and the "parental" authority figures.
Applying it to RPGs
To show how it can be applied let's take the short story "The Whisperer in Darkness" as an inspiration.
- A person goes missing, and when he returns he behaves quite differently. He no longer fears for his life, he's expecting death to come, and he doesn't go out of his house any more.
- The characters, on a normal day, discover unintentionally the body of Jacob, ripped open, with his hands and brain missing. They rush to the police, bringing them to the scene, but the police officer says that this is a lousy joke.
- The characters search in the library for similar incidents from the past, learning that every few years, some people go missing, returning to their homes without ever going out. For some, bodies were found, but the people were known to live years thereafter. In the meantime, more people are missing with every day that follows. The characters decide to go into the house.
- The characters meat Jacob, but the room where they talk with him is dark. "The light does bad things to me, I'm really weak", he says. One of the characters, accidently turns on the light, and the hands and head of Jacob are seen, lining on the table. One of the hands waves to them, and they run out of the house, vowing to never come again.
Somehow this disappeared from my blog, so I'm uploading it again:
I've participated lately in a great game of Fiasco. We used the Cthulhu playset found in The Unspeakable Oath 21. We had three characters: Robert Geldof (me) who is a little bit crazy teenager, Benjamin Geldof who was Robert's father and lastly Elizabeth Richards who was the family neighbour living next door.
The game started with Elizabeth returning home from work, only to see Robert dissecting her mother's body, tearing out organs and putting them in a bag. Elizabeth's mother abused her as a child, and Elizabeth who is happy for her death says nothing about Robert's actions. She does talk with him about himself, though, and learns his name.
Robert returns home and he's caught red handed by his father. Benjamin is angry, but he's relieved when he's convinced that Robert didn't tell his name to Elizabeth.
Ben tries to protect his son by calling Elizabeth and trying to convince her that her mother is abroad, but he fails. The following day, Liz tells Robert that his father is dead, and he reacts with a strange mixture of extreme happiness and extreme depression, switching between these 2 moods. Liz suggests to him that he'll move to her house, so she'll be able to put an eye on him, and he agrees.
Ben calls Liz, trying to warn her from his son, but she hangs up. Disappointed, he calls the police. Meanwhile, Liz talks with Robert and almost succeeds to get a confession from him, but then takes a break to buy some groceries. She's caught red handed by the police who come to her house and tries to run away. The police catch her and accuse her. Robert then takes his dissection knife and stabs his arm with it. Then, he runs out of the room screaming and blames her for this.
Liz is taken to jail, and he's taken to the hospital. His father comes to visit, a few days later, and blackmails him. Robert, in a panic attack, rushes out of the hospital, while killing a cop in his way out, and returns to his home. When he comes in, his father hands him to the police after pointing a shotgun at him.
When Robert goes to jail, he finishes in the same cell as Elizabeth. There, she tells him the truth: Robert and Elizabeth are a brother and a sister, and Benjamin is only a phony. They start to plot together on how to incriminate Benjamin.
The game then continued to a few trial scenes. In the end, Robert was sent to a psychiatric hospital; Ben became a murderer after all of his unsettling experiences and Liz... She ended the way she started it, in her house, with her dead mother's body on the floor and the bag with the organs.
So I'm taking my dog for an evening walk. We go to the fields, the sun sets k the distance, and the twilight rules the sky, with blue and yellow and pink and orange and purple, a truly magnificent picture. She pisses, and we continue. Then, I see a little dog, that is waiting for us to continue, and when we finally do so, he goes to where she urinated, and pisses on the same spot… and so he does time after time. Who said the dogs don't have their own sense of humour, or the need to make other dogs angry?
This week I came to a decision: Saturdays are for horror things. As an avid reader, viewer and GM of horror books, movies (and TV) and games (respectively), I decided that I want a weekly "column" of horror stuff. This week, I'm gonna write about Isolation in games.
On the Power of Isolation
There's a reason that most horror books, movies and TV series take place in isolated areas: The horror is much more powerful when there's no one to help you, when there's no familiar face to look for, or familiar place to search for. Isolated places, like a cabin in the woods, or an exotic hotel during winter are far from society or people, and those who are there are exotic, thus were seen as barbaric and deranged people, connotations that still can be utilized today.
Much more terrifying than that, is of course being in the barbaric city yourself. Lovecraft utilized this fear in "The Shadow over Insmouth", where the protagonist is there by himself, surrounded by all of the inhabitants, not to mention the monsters. The loneliness is much stronger, when there are people to talk to, but they work for the other side. To that there are two reasons: First is the believability of the situation- the chance for a really deserted place is really low, and as such, places with people are more believable. The second is that it enhances the Paranoia of the players ("Did they hear us? Are they following us?"), thus powering another fear, and making them wish for the first option.
This is the trickier part. After the feel of isolation has been created, using it is really simple, but how can we create this feeling? Especially since the characters usually work alone, in deserted places already?
To this question I found a couple of solutions:
- The easiest thing is of course making all the happenings in the deserted places. The tomb is deep in the forest, the shrine is on the top of the mountain, etc... Take into account that the deserted place can be in the far end of the city, or even in the middle of it.
- There is no proof to what they are saying. Without proof, the scientific world won't believe them, not to mention the police, the army or even the federal agencies. Always make any proof disappear, or of questionable believability and use. The footprints aren't there any more; the creature doesn't appear on the picture...
- No one believes to the characters. As a continuation for the last trick, make sure that no one believes them, or even better, make them work for the other side. The policemen they gave the proof to disappear; the news reporters say its rubbish... Put in mind, that whatever the characters say, it will probably make them sound like lunatics. Make the policemen suggest a "more suitable place" for them, so as to make things really nasty...
- Ordinary people are suspicious near them. PCs usually act differently from ordinary people. The common folk don't want to deal with such strange persons, and thus try to be as far from the PCs as they can, both physically and mentally, and if they are caught in a conversation with one of the characters, they'll probably want to finish it as fast as they can.
- The people talk in a different language. Outsiders and people from abroad are always in their own groups. It's much easier to communicate with your own kind, and it may even be impossible to communicate with the natives.
- When the group split up, I usually split the players to different rooms according to the groups they made. That way there are no suggestions from other players, and always the fear that the other group failed, or even died.
So after we went through how to create it, how should we use it? Well, the answer is quiet simple: we let the players feel the isolation, we make them more and more isolated from society as the campaign unfolds, and when breaking the isolation, making a great deal out of it, thus making it a strange, alien feeling.
One thing to take in mind, when playing in the modern or future eras, is the famous cell phone problem. Although the easiest trick is of course to take the cell phone or the ability to use it, making it a device for the enemies to get info from about the characters is much more terrifying. More than that, fabricating calls and calls that state ultimatums are other ways to use the phone effectively, thus making the cell phone a tool of horror, of great necessity only.
A long time ago, in a game that I ran about 2 and a half years ago, my players played some adventurers trying to figure out who unleashed a kobold attack against them (it was a game of D&D). They fled from city to city, trying to stay alive, always fearing from the next attack (they were attacked twice already when this happened), until they arrived to a city called "Bira" (both capital and ale in Hebrew). There they heard from an innkeeper about the house of the villain (the one who controls the kobolds), where he has his wife and three children.
Unknowing of what was to come upon them, they went to the house, meeting a young, innocent, naive woman, who is just trying to raise her 3 children without her long-time-abroad-little-time-here husband. They immediately felt sympathy for the young woman, and tried to help her with the children. Money was not the problem, you see... When a few days later, while they were suspicious (no kobold was seen for days), the innkeeper came to the house, changing shape to the husband. Except for the shock of such a revelation, the understanding that this man, this villain, is a family guy, who just tries to live his life, made this revelation much more surprising and the villain much more of a human, of a three-dimensional character.
Since then, each and every villain that I have has a family, or relatives, or something else of the like. It creates sympathy for the villain, it makes him/her a deeper character, and it makes the villain look less evil, and more in the grey area in the middle.
Like all GMs, I like to run mystery games. Actually, my horror games often do start as mystery one, as well as most of my fantasy ones. Like all GMs, I do have a problem with the clues: How many clues are enough?
There is no clear and definite answer to that, at least not that I'm aware of. One great solution came from the blog "The Alexandrian", which stated that for every bit of information that the players should find, there should be three clues: 1 that they'll miss, another that they'll understand poorly, and the third for them to understand and to add to their tally.
Another solution came from the "Gumshoe" system, in which finding the clues is not the challenge, but a commodity. The clues that they must have are given to them (if they have the right skill, that is) automatically, with using skills for extra info, that may help, but won't be necessary.
I'm somewhere else, a little bit closer to the one Gumshoe uses, although I used a lot the three clues model. For me, finding the info is not a problem, whether they succeed with the roll or not, the clue will be there, in one way or the other, but there is no one solution to the mystery. In my games, the players, using the clues they have, give me the next clues to give them (based on their assumptions and theories), or in other words, giving me the solution for the mystery.
I GM a lot of horror games, I watch quite a bit of horror movies, read quite a lot of horror stories and novels, but I've got a little problem with the modern horror genre: the heavy use of gore.
Maybe it's just me, but when I go to horror movie (or to read a horror book, etc...), I want to be scared, not disgusted; I want to scream out of relief or of fear, not out of revulsion; I want to be afraid for the character, not to worry about what next loathsome chopped appendage will I see.
Now, don't get me wrong. I know the power of a great gore moment when it arrives, I know how it helps to achieve the great and wonderful dread, but please, don't use it all too often, all too much, everywhere on the screen or the story or the like. After the 40th severed head, the next one isn't that much frightening, or revolting, it's just funny, or even campy.
King explained it much better in his wonderful and insghitful book "Danse Macabre": "I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I'll go for the gross-out. I'm not proud."
I'll start with a disclaimer: I don't RP as a player that often, I'm almost always the GM, and although I really enjoy GMing, I do want to sometimes switch roles.
I like playing with newbie GMs. here, I stated it, and it's even bolded. I like it, I really do. I think there are no more original thoughts about the ways things should go, than from a person who doesn't know how the action should take place. I think that as a source of inspiration, they are one of the best pools existing. Consider for example my last game with a newbie GM: We had a lot of doors, each one opened differently, some with keys, some with feathers; We had a lot of intra-party conflict, written on the character sheets, with a lot of logic in it; And so on...
Now, I'm not saying that they GM perfectly, or that I want to play more than a one shot with most of them, but seeing new people try GMing is fun and exciting, seeing the sudden understanding of how hard it is to be GM can be (sometimes, but you know...)... And as source of inspiration, when could I use my door-opener-feather?...
I've been watching a lot of movies lately, almost 1 a day. It's just amazing how many good movies have been made back then.
Ideas for games to run still pop in my mind, waiting for the group to try them. The last one I had was about a group of policemen trying to figure a murder mistery, with a twist. Instead of me telling them what happend and how, I give them the premise for a scene, and they continue it from there, thus playing in both times. I should use this idea sometime, maybe as a one shot after the "ConspiComedy-with-Blowing-Heads"...
I played today 3 hours of Fluxx, and as it seams, even good and changing games can start to be less of a fun when the players are the same, and enough time has passed...
Those who know me, know that when I write, I describe a lot. That's where I really shine, and that's where lies one of the greatest differences between the short story and the RPG session.
In a story, even in a short one, there's a lot of time and space for describing things. It's everyone for himself after all. In a story, the writer has to give the reader all the description s/he can, in order to make the reader feel the story, without crossing the line of too much description. In "Song of Ice and Fire" there is a 6 page description of a meal. A single meal. Tolkien's LOTR is being ridiculed as 200 pages of events, and 700 pages filled with little but descriptions of trees. But in a story, it works, and the reader does get into the story, does feel all that happens, all the events, does feel a part of the world.
But in RPGs, it's a different story. It's a collaborative media, where the protagonists are created and used by others, who are keen to act, who look for the acting, and to them, too long of a description and they're just... A nice rule that I once came across said that each description in an RPG should be no more than 20 seconds of length. Another important rule stated that each description should have three things to examine within it.
And if it's not enough and you want to say something more? You can always return to the tea party in Alice: "... And everything else you might find in a tea party..."
So a friend of mine is going to start GMing a D&D campaign, using a module that I helped him write about a year ago (Helped him by adding a few twists, it was mainly his work). Anyway, he decided to go back to this module, as an introductory module for the campaign while he creates the last bits of the world. He came to me for help with creating an NPC who hired one of the characters and who may become the villain.
All I had to work from, was a line that sates that she's an elven duchess, who hired the character to be her spy and assassin, and of course the potential. From these things I came with four ideas, and somehow he preferred the fourth one...
So let's take a look the ideas:
- A bitter ex-paladin, who lives under the impression that the gods have betrayed her. She now tries to find her new identity, while unintentionally goes to dark places. She is addicted to something (not a good thing, of course), and a few superstitions, that she tries to hide- she lives in a lie, trying to convince herself that it's not her who is guilty, and she almost managed in that. Almost, because then she met an anti-hero (who is based around Nicholson's character in Chinatown) who tries to fight crime by impersonating himself as a criminal, although he's too good in this job...
- A woman from a good house, who got bored from the role of women in society. She was the perfect female role model- 6 children, a great cook... And she has had enough of that. In addition to trying to cope with what society expects from a woman of her standing, she tries to manage a secret identity of a sportswoman in a very dangerous sport: Chariot racing, using this to show that she's not a noble woman. Lately she found a new sport to try her luck within...
- An old prophesy, from hundreds of years ago, stated that a noble woman will save the world. It also stated the date of her birth, which was just like the one of the duchess. But she's a clumsy woman who can't do a single thing on her own. She's full of herself, she talks a lot about how she's going to save the world, about her being the chosen one. Lately, to her ear came the whisper that there are a few other noble women with the same birth date...
- There's nothing that equals a family event, except maybe the funeral of an enemy. Life in the highest ranks of society isn't easy, but without a doubt they aren't a challenge for her. She knows every trick of her enemies, and there is only one solution: making "holes" in the high ranks, so new, more interesting contenders will take the fallen ones' places. But "nobles- their work is done by others"...
So, I thought about it before I fell to sleep, while watching a movie (Mutiny on the Bounty, thx for asking...), and I just understood what a beautiful language we have in here. It's true, the sound isn't all that great (but it is a nice sound, though), but the sheer amount of conjunction words or phrases is just astonishing. And I find it beautiful, that one can express the conotation of things, only by the conjunctions s/he uses. Isn't it beautiful?
"But", youre going to say, "aren't you writing in english?" And for that there is a clear answer: "English is for comunication, but hebrew is for the mind".
So, I'm watching classics. Alot of classics actually. Project "AFI 123" is after its middle point. So many classics have been watched and analyzed, and so many are yet to come. I think that these is the place to go over this project, 'cause it uses so much of my free time.
The "AFI 123" project is an attempt to watch all the movies that made any one of the lists, realesd by the American Film Institution, of the 100 greatest movies of all time till the end of June. That means 123 different movies, that differ in length and in genres, in time periods and in everything else.
I don't know if I'll succeed in that attempt. I certainly hope so, and I do belive that there are a lot of benefits to this idea, to this project. some of them are of seeing great movies, some of them are developing understanding of stories, of character advancement, of inspiration.
So, after the Paranoia campaign I run is over, without any chance of returning, there are a few things I've learned, about suggesting campaigns and about the taste of my players.
- The fact that from 10 suggestions, Paranoia comes only forth, doesn't mean that the three campaigns I planned for would go as planned. As it turned out, the first three places moved aside, as their biggest followers terrorized me to replace what they chose, before even trying, to a campaign that they didn't chose.
- The fact that they were full of hard things against Paranoia in the first run, 2 years ago, didn't have a thing in common with this campaign. They fought for it, they made me feel that they want it, and boy, they did enjoy it.
- The Prestige of the perfect Campaign idea can't stand before one person with enough of a will.
- I think that they actually learned to appreciate my work a little bit, after they were given papers to fill after every session. They filled "Accusation Papers" and "Final-Report Papers" and a lot more, I recieved about 6 different types of papers, all of which part of the game, all of which made them think about the game between sessions, and filling my mail with thoughts about the game...
- If there is a single thing players prefer for playing the mutant conspirator with all the power and the ability to kill other PCs without feeling guilty, is doing so while everything else is in chaos: Protestors on a faked-fake-train, camps of traitors which goes boom and the like.
- Actually, when thinking about it, they were probably the only group I ever heard of, who finished the missions they recieved. I still don't know if it's good or bad. Its just strange.
- The published missins for Paranoia are just great. They are far better than anything I could have thought about.
- GMing dark comedy and GMing horror are not that different. At least not with dark-comedy-Paranoia-style. Characters died, in dozens, a lot of them, and I didn't have to do a thing, they created it for me, just like they create the horror for themselves in horror games...
So here it is, yet another attempt of creating a blog, possibly the first to have a post within it before deleting it.
Anyway, this blog is a kind of a public diary, something that's gonna replace my past weeks using Facebook for just that.
I'm going to probably post here at least once a week, without a common theme, whatever pops into my mind will see the light out of my brain-tunnel in here, on this electronic paper. I see it as a strange mixture of thoughts about movies, RPGs, music, and anything else I might (or might not) find interesting or amusing.