In all role-playing games there is a time to kill and a time to die, but often we have time to celebrate too. These celebrations are created by the GM, and Players just seem to show up for the encounter. But what is the point of all this killing and dying if we are not living? What do you live for?
One way we express the desire for living is by celebrating!
There are thousands of ways to celebrate, from the basic hug at a birthday party to the multi-world celebration of the founding of the empire. Obviously I can't cover all of these―even in a series―but I will try to talk about them in the general contexts of character creation, playing, meta-gaming and settings.
We create characters to send them on mighty and terrifying adventures. Whether designing for action adventure or deep knowledge, we strive to use the rules to make these characters the best they can be. In earlier posts we have discussed ongoing character development, and even the possibility of character death and its impact on the setting. So what about the tradition of retiring characters?
The first distinction to be made is between player retirement and character retirement. Player retirement is when the player leaves the game group, and is thus a metagame issue, whereas character retirement is when a character leaves the campaign for reasons other than death.
The world is a visual place, and the same is true of your campaign world. Speaking as a game designer, art is one of the most important aspects of a game. Don’t believe me? Crack open a Monty Cook game or your PHB: high-quality art is everywhere, and it brings up immediate responses from viewers. Set pieces like Horror on the Orient Express and most of the popular Pathfinder games also come to mind. At the campaign level, if you have access to good art you can convey a better story. I can't even think of a character that I haven’t tried to draw at the gaming table.
I could pull out a book on visual culture to bore you, but I think all humans realize that art conveys complex ideas quickly in ways that prose may not. In the gaming world, this helps create immersion and supports verisimilitude in the game world. In general, game art is used in three key ways: you have cartography (maps), encounter sketches, and character sketches.
What goes into a good horror story or game? Good question. After much internet research, I have come to a general theory of how one should create the horror story, as well as the various roles PCs might play within it. This article will explore this theory from a player's perspective, to help you help your GM with the game.
Stages of Horror
As we start to embrace horror as a roleplaying genre, we also start to teeter on the edge of our own personal fears, and lines we do not wish to cross. This brings up the subject of two meta-gaming tools that are very important to the game: the Social Contract and the X Card. Many of you are already familiar with these tools, so we will just go over them briefly here.
First the Social Contract should be established, such that all the players realize they will be playing in a horror game and agree to play in the genre. The game system should be chosen thoughtfully, because different games approach horror in different ways, and that decision is also part of the Social Contract. The S.C. should inform the players of the overall length of the game, because a one-shot plays out with a different tempo than a campaign. Lastly, the players should establish the limits of exploration; for example, they may agree to have no child abuse or rape scenes of any kind.
When playing in a horror game we often rely almost entirely on the GM to set the stage and indicate the emotions that our superheroes must fight through. I'll talk more about horror stories when we get to the system blogs, but right now I want to talk about playing in a horror game. I think the ultimate goal of the player in a horror game is to help the GM by playing into the fear instead of ignoring it. To do this, we must understand fear.
Fear is a feeling that occurs in situations of perceived danger, which has disruptive effects on the body and leads to a “fight or flight” reaction.
With Halloween approaching we are often tempted to play a one-shot horror scenario, or even a campaign horror game. There are many RPGs and supplements out there―from Call of Cthulhu to Ravenloft―to facilitate your horrible needs. Unfortunately, most of them focus on creating heroic characters that are ill-matched for a horror game. While we all want to be heroic as players, we need to play into the genre. With that in mind, below are some basic archetypes you can choose to play in a horror game.
When I first started following APs, I began with a CoC game of Horror on the Orient Express, and earlier this summer I watched Encounter Roleplay do a video stream of the same campaign on Twitch. Both showed how horribly things can go downhill as people encounter the horrors and insanity of the game. Other podcasts, like Happy Jacks, have complained about the failures of running the Malkavians in Vampire games. Insanity, it seems, is problematic.
This got me thinking about ways to play insane characters. I am not a psychologist, nor do I want to go into the scientific studies. What I want to do is just think about how to have fun when we play.
As part of a gaming shopping spree, I picked up a book I'd heard was great as a GM's tool, Robin D Laws’ Hamlet’s Hit Points. I finally got around to reading it and instantly wanted to share my thoughts about Laws' ideas.
I genuinely like the book. I only wish for more explanations, especially related to role-playing, in exchange for one of the analyses that’s not Casablanca. I also feel this book would be a great guide for players, and it's these last two points I want to talk about.
A while ago I created a podcast list in effort to produce a topic outline of many, many shows and episodes. I haven’t had the time to complete that outline, so I think I'll try my hand at podcast reviews!
With what I've got assembled, I'm all set to do reviews of Actual Play games on Youtube or Twitch, plus book reviews and yes, game reviews.
In general, I see these items divided into three categories: (1) Talk Shows/Advice Columns, (2) Actual Plays, and (3) Mixed Shows. My bias is toward talk shows and advice, although I have found a few APs (Actual Plays) that are worth watching. I'll first post these reviews as part of my blog, and they will then find their way into the forums for community discussion. Game reviews will find their own topics so they can be discussed in terms of mechanics and settings.