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'You're the heroes' vs 'You're mortal too'

Started by droog, December 09, 2005, 03:52:52 AM

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Hi folks

I have a question put to me by a friend via email. He is a very experienced GM in the illusionist vein, but has never encountered the BIg Model.

QuoteHow do you send your PCs off on a "You're the only ones that can save the world" quest yet still make them fear that you're gonna kill them?

My ordinary way of tackling this would be to sit down and have a chat, due to the limitations of email as communication. He is, however, 3000 km away and I won't be seeing him for at least another year. So I need to be more efficient.

The question seems to bring up a host of ideas that have been talked about here, so I was wondering if people could help me (a) tease out the issues involved (b) point to any old threads that might be helpful.

My immediate reaction is 'Talk about it with your group and settle whether death will be permitted.' Is this the best advice I can pass on?
AKA Jeff Zahari


Check this link out  Scroll down to "A small thing about suspense" and "A small thing about character death".  I think Vincent has it nailed pretty cleanly and concisely.


Yeah, I read that. The larger question that lurks is whether I should just say, 'Here, look at this.' There's been talk about a Forge for Dummies document--is this it all along? Or is Vincent's text only understandable after having read and absorbed much Forge discussion? Like the way you understand the Communist Manifesto better after having read all Marx's other works.

Should I just lead the horse to the trough?

AKA Jeff Zahari


I'd say that the section "A Small Thing About Suspense" is pretty obvious, really. No big Forge-terminology that  I can see (Escalate I don't think counts.) You don't even have to show him the page, just point out the same things that Vincent does with regard to movies and how suspense is not generated by uncertain outcomes, but by putting off the inevitable.

Sydney Freedberg

Yup, no "Forge for Dummies" yet, but the Gospel of Vincent comes pretty close.

I'd boil Vincent's principle* down to "you can only die if you decide to put your life at risk." The flipside, of course, is that there are some things you can't accomplish without risking your life. Which (a) means your character is never hosed by random mischance, which is what your friend is probably trying to prevent, but much, much more importantly, (b) means every conflict is asking your character, "Is this worth risking your life for? Is this worth dying for? Can you live with losing this one? Really?" And how you answer that question is the true measure of a hero.

* Although Ron Edwards's Trollbabe actually did it even earlier, and is one of Vincent's big influences..


As an additional idea, I Iike to make heavy use of special effects to talk up the dangers, even if I am pulling my punches.  Systems tend to prdouce pretty dry outcomes, especially whene the attack is missed.  I take those opportunities to narrate what would be a shot in a movie where the cleaver comes down on something solid after missing the heroine.  So even if the characters don't suffer many injuries I like to play up the inherent dangers of weaponry.
Impeach the bomber boys:

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci

Josh Roby

QuoteHow do you send your PCs off on a "You're the only ones that can save the world" quest yet still make them fear that you're gonna kill them?

Jeff, I'm actually kind of confused at the question itself.  There's no conflict at all between "only you can save the world" and "you might die."  There is a conflict between "only you will save the world" and "you might die before you do it."  I don't know your friend, but is he actually asking the latter instead of the former?
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Callan S.

I second Joshua's question!

Is he asking something more like "I've got this story where I will orchastrate all of you saving the world. Of course there will be no chance of death, because that would destroy my story. Soooo, how do I make the players fear I'm going to kill them?"

I think you get that only when the player has chosen a goal and fears death before meeting it. It's impossible thing before breakfast stuff, because the GM wants to choose 'save the world' for the players. But for the players to be afraid of dieing before achieving something, the need to have chosen what that something is.

I think good advice would involve, during play, presenting lots of things that will go wrong with the world. Keep presenting them during play and he should NOT expect players to take up on any of them. The player needs to make the first move here in terms of what issue each of them adopt, the GM shouldn't be making the first move by hard selling an issue to them.

From some of my own actual play account, players will seem unresponsive to this at first - which will prompt the illusionist GM to get back to old habits. But he shouldn't let himself be fooled...what the player is doing, is playing possum. They are being unresponsive as the issues are presented, because they are experimenting to see whether they really do have a choice about adopting one. They might even go to adopt one, but then withdraw from it. Just advise the GM it's like taming a wild animal out in the forrest. You leave some food out for them - and then you just have to wait until the animal decides to come up and eat it. Keep doing it, and it'll keep coming to you to eventually eat out of your hand! But once you get to that point, never ever punish it on the rare occasions it doesn't come in to feed. Just keep humbly offering the different types of food.

Side note: I think for those with runaway/strong imaginations, the actual threat of death doesn't need to be there. It's like a branch scraping against the side of your house when you were a child in bed. It doesn't need to be a monster, to scare the crap out of you.
Philosopher Gamer


Josh and Callan - I think that he is asking the second question. It is the contradiction of illusionism; therefore it would seem that the answer is to give up illusionism. One way or another.

I sent him this last night:

QuoteYour RP philosophy question is a bit tricky. It's a question I've pretty much answered for myself after a lot of thinking, but maybe my answers won't suit you or the way you want to run games.

First, I need to know what game system you're thinking of and who's playing to give you a straighter answer. Just as an example, you can't accidentally kill characters in HQ. The player or GM has to decide to kill the character.

Are the players going in with their eyes open or are you drawing the curtain so they can't see what's really going on? Are they going to be fooled? Are they going to be angry? What do they really want?

Second, have a look at this link:
particularly the sections 'A Small Thing About Suspense' and 'A Small Thing About Character Death'. Let me know what you think. Are you after fear or suspense?

Is this a good start or have I confused the issue?
AKA Jeff Zahari

Josh Roby

A good start.  I know he's not physically close, but can you actually show him how it can work through PBeM or something?
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I don't know. I've never done online play before, and I'm pretty sure he hasn't either. Maybe I'll phone him.

Thanks for your advice, everybody. I'll let you know how it all goes if you're interested.
AKA Jeff Zahari