And the third instalment of our series is finally here. Today, our topic is the dreaded anticipation, or the feeling of looking forward to something that will happen in the future. It can be a good thing, a bad thing, or even a certain flashback scene.
Once we set the information, the anticipation engines start to propel as we look forward to the next bit of info, to the time when it will be useful. A higher level of this can be seen in the famous Hitchcock's movie "The Man Who Knew too Much", where we know that the murder will be done during the cymbal note. He's the one who said that "there's no terror in a bang, only the anticipation of it".
Like with the other emotions, there are a couple of others that are connectod to anticipation: Hope, worry and fear.
So, how do we create and use anticipation in our games?
The first technique is by establishing the traits of our characters, whether they are NPCs or PCs. Establishing these traits helps us to anticipate certain courses of actions or events. More than that, it can make us want to meet someone, for example. Look for example at 2 examples from The Silence of the Lambs: The first is the famous escape scene of Lecter. We knew by this stage that he's a fearful cannibalistic maniac, and that there's no limit to what he can do. When he gets captured, we want to know how he will escape, and when he does escape, it fulfills our anticipation. The second is when he says at the end "I'm having an old friend for dinner" we anticipate what will happen, and how he'll try to eat this fella.
Another example is by talking about the future. When we talk about the future, we create anticipation for a future event. It's the knowledge of what will happen during the cymbal crash that makes us look for the cymbal clash, not the clash itself. Take into account, though, that this future doesn't have to be a chronological future. It can also be a future of a flashback, like in the movie Sunset Boulevard, where we begin by being told the story of our dead protagonist, told by him after he died.
The third technique is by plans and daydreams. When Ugarte says to Rick that "after tonight, I’m through with the whole business" we anticipate to the night when he'll finally set himself free from the dreaded city of Casablanca. Secret plans are even more useful to creating anticipation. It creates a double anticipation, one for knowing what the plan is and another to know how it will turn out. But don't make every plan secret, or it will feel like a parody of spy movies...
Another way to create anticipation is by setting up goals. When we do that, the players anticipate the event of the goals fulfillment. If one of the characters has a goal of becoming the new prince of the vampire society, he looks for the event of his coronation. Goals make us look for a certain event, or the other way around of not looking forward to a certain event, feeling us with fear and worry for our beloved characters. If we know that the villain plans to kill Robert Geldof, we fear for Robert Geldof's life, thus making us anticipate this event to see him emerge victorious.
Always have the characters (PCs and/or NPCs) want something, and don't ever fulfill a goal before giving the players and their characters something else to look for.
As you've probably guessed, most of the techniques here are connected in one way or another by making the players want something for their characters (goals) or fearing for their lives from a bad thing that is gonna happen. This is no mistake, and it can be further developed to contain omens, warnings, appointments and so on. Also the MacGuffin fills this spot- the characters and/or the villains are trying to get something, and we look forward to the point of finding it.
A little trick with MacGuffins: The MacGuffin doesn't have to be an object all the time. It's much more interesting when it's a place or even a person (fictitious or real).
2 last techniques for today: The first one is to state the mood of the game from the very beginning. This way, we give the players a suggestion: Stay with me in the game, and you'll get more of those. If this thing is something that this particular player really likes, he will probably stay within the game and will look forward to these moments.
The last technique is by using dramatic irony. This is revealing info to the players that the characters don't know. An example of that can be seen in my Yale Hotel mini-campaign, where the last player knew that Bob Luchiano can be in a few places at once, and that he'll lie and tell her that the other characters released him. Another example of this can be seen in North by Northwest, when we the audience discover that Kaplan is a fictitious character, but Thornhill and Vandamm are unaware of this fact.
Another way to create this is in the opposite way: The characters know more than the players. Using this way makes us look forward to the point when we'll discover the truth behind it. Think about Chinatown for many examples of this in action.
Dramatic Irony can be created in 2 main ways, deception and misunderstanding. Both of this ways make us anticipate the moment of truth to come, when we'll discover what really happens, what was hidden from us, and what did we misunderstood.
And... That's it for today. How do you bump up the anticipation levels in your players?