4 emotions are already there, and only three are left to go. Today, in our series, we're gonna talk about surprises. Surprise is the thing we use to prevent our stories from becoming predictable. A predictable story will lose its appeal and interest much faster than would a surprising one.
Surprises need not change the outcome (although it's fine) but the way we get there. The heroes will ultimately defeat the adversary and restore peace into the realm, but the way they do it can be somewhat twisted and surprising.
It's important to remember, though, that in order to create surprise we have to first establish anticipation in our players' minds. Surprise is related to dismay and amusement.
So, how can we create surprise in our players' minds?
The first and most straightforward technique is by creating unexpected complications and obstacles. They should be surprising in where they are, and in what they are, but they should not stop the PCs completely, just hold them for some time when they try to cope with this sudden change of plans. They can be flooded roads or giant rocks, having to take the trip by car and not by airplane, etc. What's important is that they'll be unexpected, or in other words- no formulae to when, where and what.
Another way to create the surprise is by using secrets. They can be a secret that's kept for a scene or for an entire story arch, but they should be there and should be revealed. When the moment of reveal finally comes, and the secret goes public, there will be a surprise.
Another way of using secrets is with reversals. Think about Some Like It Hot, When Joe and Jerry appear at the train station dressed as women; or think about the moment when the nice fella who the characters always bought groceries from turned out to be the serial killer they've been looking for. If reversals are done right, there's no higher degree of surprise that can be achieved than that, but if done wrong it can really cause some problems. Take into account, though, that these reversals don't have to be character reversals but can also be an event (like when Lester in American Beauty bribes his boss instead of being fired) or when Louis tells to round up the usual suspects after Strasser has been shot.
Reversals are a particular type of revelations and discoveries. The main difference between revelations and discoveries is that discoveries are an active process, while revelations are passive processes as information is revealed to the characters and players. The reason that I'm making this distinction is that these 2 types should be balanced, and not too much to only one of them. Both discoveries and revelations are usually learnt by both the characters and the players at the same time, like when finding a clue. Revelations, on the other hand, also have the benefit of being able to learn only by the players with the characters unknowing. This benefit can be used to great lengths in horror GMing.
Discoveries and revelations can also come at the end, usually by using twist endings. These endings usually alter the perception on what we thought about the all game, and if done right can really change the way the players think about the game (an example of this in use can be seen in this post).
Another way to surprise the players is by shocking them. Hitchcock proved how useful it can be when he killed the main protagonist in the end of the first act. It's suggested to make the shocks completely unexpected, sudden and most of all extremish. Shock can also be used in non horror games, like in the comedy film Tootsie when we Michael in drag, or when at the end of Some Like It Hot the playboy says "well, nobody's perfect".
Before we'll finish for today, a little thing to take in mind: All of the surprises should come with the appropriate setup. It shouldn't reveal the surprise, but it should make the surprise seem logical. A good setup is a one that, when the players look back at it, the surprise is seen as a logical continuation. Think about the Boxer who fails to lose a fight on purpose and has to skip town because of that (in Pulp Fiction), the decision to skip comes as a surprise, but it does seem like a logical continuation considering the situation.
So, that's it for today. How about you? How do you surprise your players?