I've watched yesterday the original Frankenstein movie (yeah, the one with Boris Karloff...). It's a nice movie, but what really caught my eye was the opening of it. You know, this movie has 2 openings. The first one being done by the Dr. who warns us from the movie, the second is a funeral. This made my brain engines work: "What is there, in these 2 openings, which is so spectacular?"
The answer didn't wait long before coming: They create interest and curiosity. More than that, though, they conveyed the mood of the story, of the movie all the way to me. Add to these 2 things that these 2 openings were far from normal, and we get a thing that just waits for an exploration into the dark mind and world of the story. So, let's look at a few openings, won't we?
"This story may even horrify you", or starting with a warning.
The first opening of Frankenstein is a warning from the Dr. about the movie: How frightening the movie is, what lies in the middle of the story, what is the experiment and so on. 3 things are achieved by this: The first one is the building of the expectations. We now wait to see what this movie is gonna be about, and how frightening it really gonna be. Will we be frightened? Horrified? Not affected? The expectations are already there, waiting for the story to unfold and to unravel the things that we expect.
The second is that we know to what we enter. The easiest way to destroy our horror movie is by bringing an audience which doesn't know to what it enters. So it is with our games, where we must make sure that the players don't only look forward for a few things but also know what type of story they're going to participate within.
The third one is the conveying of the mood. The dark tone, the costumes, the veil, the close-ups and the manner of speech, all give us a sense of the mood. This story is going to be dark and grim and terrifying, so beware. It's a great easy and dirty way to get the atmosphere that we need.
"Midnight, a funeral, the priest is blessing", or starting with the funeral of one of the characters.
This one is far more interesting than it seems. Starting with the funeral of one of the characters gives us so many things to play with, from the sense of dread to the ability to use flashbacks and to the knowledge that no one is safe from death.
The sense of dread comes naturally. We Begin with the death of one of the characters, and the macabre is there, dancing between the graves and tombs. There's almost no work that needs to be done here, as the prayers and the tombs does their work almost by themselves.
So is the knowledge that no one is safe from death. Starting with a funeral makes it justified to kill characters in the game, 'cause after all, it's gonna happen or there won't be any funeral. Starting with the funeral of a minor character, like the mentor of one of the characters can be proven useful too, as it can be considered a foreshadowing if we plan to do something with the dead mentor's body for example.
The ability to use flashback is important. Going for a nonlinear game can be proven quite hard and demanding, but it's far easier this way. It also gives an excuse to skip all the uninteresting stuff. "What, when telling legends, we never learn what the protagonists did between adventures or during their trips from one place to another..."
"Once upon a time, in a world not unlike our own", or starting with a storyteller that tells the story.
This is also very interesting. It is very similar to the funeral example, but creates a lesser sense of dread and a greater sense of innocence and epicness. It means, after all, that a legend is being told. If it's done by one of the PCs, who grew old since the adventures, it's even better. A few things to consider:
It means that (at least) one of the characters will survive the adventures, so it's preferred to not reveal the storyteller 'till the end of the story arch. Otherwise, there will be no sense of wonder about who is the storyteller. If it's being told by a storyteller that is not from the group, this problem is solved but it will be less powerful.
Another thing is that it gives an epic or a fairy tale feel, mainly due to its connotations, so it might not be always useful to horror gaming (although it can surely be useful to other types of games).
And, that's about it. How about you? How do you open your games? How does it affect the mood? The game itself?