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Author Topic: [Little Fears] Room 9  (Read 1963 times)
W Alexander
Member

Posts: 8


« on: October 03, 2006, 11:57:25 AM »

Okay, I'll begin this post by noting that I don't typically recount my games in forums.  Me, I've never found reading the exploits of other groups that engrosing, but I am doing it here to bring some attention to the fact that there are still people to be found playing Little Fears.

While I have owned the game for some time (three years I think) and done a good amount of preparation for such, this week was the first time I actually got to run through a session. 

My primary obstacle in running this game has been a certain reluctance in my group do to what I've dubbed "Classic gamers syndrome" - that is, an aversion to playing in anything but fairly classical formats - such as sword and sorcery, epic fantasy, etc. While the group is by no means simple in their style (we play some very deep games filled with politics, characterization and intrigue) their tastes in setting tend to be rather limited.  Indeed, one of my players outright stated that he did not like the idea of playing a child and would only do so because he typically enjoyed my games and the others had conceded to do so.

Thus, I am going into the session with a fairly tough crowd from the outset.  It did help that I gave players two weeks to prepare and answer the questionaire provided on the LF character sheet. (Questions like: "Who is your favorite person?" "What is your home life like?" and "Who can you always talk to?" to name just a few)  I made certain to stress that the answers to these questions were very important - more important than their stats, qualities or drawbacks.

Do to varied levels of interest in the game I didn't receive the final character until the day of the game itself - this presented a small problem.  An obstacle I had already forseen when looking at the character creation process was the very likely possibility of overlapping qualities and drawbacks. (called "things I like/don't like about myself")  The text recommends limiting players to ten points in either, but I went one step further and limited them to six; hoping that would reduce the chance of recurrance in my group of five players.  Additionally I printed some qualities and drawbacks from a fan created list, in order to expand the options.  Ultimately it didn't matter, three of my players had chosen identically in at least half of their Q&Ds, while the others had no fewer than two overlapping choices in each.  This might not always be a problem, though the qualities they almost unanimously chose were "guided" and "visions", while almost every one of them included "haunted" as a drawback.  This certainly opened the door to make the game much more "spiritually influenced" than I had intended.

Another problem I encountered was that, having come from a different type of game, some of the players were looking at these abilities like "spells" or "magical abilities" rather than story elements.  I'm sure this lead to at least the one character "death" which occured.

I won't bother listing the characters here, unless someone specifically asks, as I don't see it means much to this synopsis; the only significant detail should be that the characters are all 7-8 years old -- 2nd-3rd grade.

The adventure was set in a small-medium midwestern town (population of about 5000) in the late 1980's.  I chose that time period because it is the era in which most of the players grew up (aged 28-35) and I didn't want computers and the internet to play a large part in the setting.  The town is a well established community with deep roots running back many generations.  It is not uncommon to see buildings from the early-mid twentieth century and the schoolhouse is old enough that its basement was once outfitted as a bomb shelter. 

The adventure begins Holloween night, a Friday, in which the local parent/teacher school board has decided to throw a sleepover for the grade schoolers in order to keep them off the streets after dark. (this was quite common in my home town)  Thus every kid 6th grade and younger in town has been crammed into the school gymnasium and subjected to games of "pin the tail on the donkey", "bobbing for apples", etc. and movies like "Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin". 

I began the game by setting up the night's activities.  I had purchased 1980's type candies (ring pops and candy necklaces) to pass out as "prizes" to help create the appropriate mood.  We rped the games for about half an hour, after which it had been my intention to draw the characters aside so an npc might tell them an appropriate ghost story to set up the adventure.  As it so happens, one of the pcs decided to jump ahead of me a bit and (before I ever got to the story) started suggesting the group sneak away from the party to go trick or treating in town. (many of the businesses in town had not been informed about the sleepover and as such had purchased large quantities of candy which would just be "going to waste" if no kids showed up)  Since I had intended this to happen eventually, I went with it and let the characters sneak off during the first movie.  (one of them had a "skeleton key" which can open any key lock - as every kid knows [belief magic at work here]) 

Once out of the gym they do some snooping about in the near empty schoolhouse - which I presented as deeply spooky as I remember my own school to be when the halls were vacant. (much of the town is patterned after where I grew up, though significant changes have been made)  Eventually, they make their way to Room 9, which has a plethora of stories associated with it.  According to school legend Room 9 once served as a detention area, though something happened and now it remains always locked.  Some say a teacher went madd and killed a kid; others claim the room is still used for the worst kids, keeping them locked away from the general populace - forever.  While there are a dozen varients on the myth and everyone "knows someone who knows someone who got sent to room 9" there are no hard facts and the kids decide this is their perfect opportunity to learn something they can use to make them more popular.  Thus one of the children produces his skeleton key and they slip inside the darkened room - the door closes behind them. 

The room is dark as the shadows under you bed and the first thing the cast does is search for a light switch, only to discover the lights aren't working.  Since one of them has a pen light (you remember those?) which puts off a week beam about three inches wide at its furthest end, she flips it on - which causes the temperature in the room to drop significantly - and they begin to glance about.  Already the atmosphere is tense and the characters are huddled together for protection ... eventually they get up the nerve to start looking about.  They discover the far wall is lined with tall cupboards for coats, the right side of the room is lined with desks and the left ... on the left is a chalkboard with writing.  As they draw close they see, scrawled in slanting rows down the length of the board and even onto the wall beneath, the words "I can never go home, I can never go home, I can never go home ..."

At this point things start to pick up, the sounds of muttering can be heard in the room, the doors to the cupboards rattle and the kids bolt to the entrance - only to discover it is locked and there is no keyhole on the inside.  It would seem they are trapped.  As they scan about, frantically, one of the players - the 2nd grader - inexplicably decides she wants to open one of the doors on the coat cupboard and succeeds in squeezing past the other players who attempt to stop her - kicking one and biting another to get through.  With no one holding her and no one willing to chase her down, she reaches the trembling door by herself and opens it up - to find herself staring into the moon white face of a child dangling from a rusty coat hanger.  Horrified by the sight, one of the children begins to scream, another fails his fear check and faints outright, the third grabs his slingshot and turns to hide behind a desk -- only to discover the desks are not so vacant as they once were; each and every one now occupied by milky eyed children with spider web hair. (note this is also a type of "belief magic", the fear of the children is feeding the illusion .. the worse they expect things to get, the worse they are)  Naturally full panic has overcome most of the group now, all save the second grader who - once again inexplicably - decides to approach the hanging, bloated corpse in order to "help him".  Quite expectedly, the corpse snatches out and drags the girl into the cupboard with him, the door closing.  At this point one of the characters (whom has the "guided" benefit) screams for help and has his eyes drawn to a piece of chalk on the floor ... snatching it up he runs to the blackboard where he now notices the second half is covered with a list of children's names ... five of which match those of the party.  Quickly, he scratches out four of the names only to discover the now vanished second grader's cannot be chalked off ... having no time to ponder it, he yells to the others to try the door again ... which this time, opens.  Immediately the remaining three dash for the door, though they do remember to grab the kid who passed out by the collar as they go.  As they turn to close the door, they witness the rooms ghostly occupants decending upon them - though they stop at the door ... which closes with a sense of terrible finality.

Now away from the room, the group screams itself horse and rushes outside (after quick struggle with the skeleton key - which refuses to work on the first try [the character failed his "belief" roll, but they decided it must be a newer lock and tried the second door]) where it huddles around the corner, panic stricken and uncertain what to do next.  They've snuck out of school, broke into the forbidden room and lost the second grader ... they dare not tell a teacher ... but what?  but what?

That is pretty much where I left everyone.  I had wanted to end the adventure, but things came up and we were forced to stop early.  Now I have to decide what to do next week.  The second grader is more or less dead ... if the party can find a way to rescue her she might be saved, but that is far from guarenteed.  As we left off, most of the characters have agreed to go back and try ... though they're not certain what they can do.  Me, I'm tempted to simply have the player make another character ... this is the second time she's done something like this in as many weeks ... ignoring every bit of reasoning and putting herself in obviously deadly situations.  If it had made sense for a 2nd grader to decide she wanted to "help" the bloated, fish eyed corpse hanging from the coat hook, I might be more forgiving - but I just can't see how something like that can be justified.  Perhaps I'm being too harsh ... but I have a problem with ooc behavior and blatant stupidity in my games.

So, I guess, if I had a question - aside from general input - it would be "what should I do about the lost character?"  As it sits the other players could go after her ... but I don't want to make it a simple process ... nor do I want to leave the player out of the game all night.  I could have her write up another character to play until they save her original ... and if they push the "rescue" I'll have her do just that. (they'll have to enter closetland, I'm thinking, to actually save her)  Or, (an idea which just occured to me) I can have her play the stuffed monkey her character talked to. (the monkey was her "guide")  In which case she'd be able to talk and offer ideas, but not actually move on her own. (unless they enter closetland, in which case that might change)

Aside from that, my only commentary on the session is that the players were occasionally too "adult" about some of their reasoning and decision making.  That, however, should smooth itself out as they get into their characters more.
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JasperN.
Member

Posts: 41


« Reply #1 on: October 03, 2006, 11:35:30 PM »

Hi -
 

thanks for the writeup. Little Fears is one of those games I always wanted to play, but never actually got around to, so your report serves as a nice reminder to dust off my copy.

It seems that your group tried to emphasize the "roleplaying kids" mode a lot, or at least you hoped they would. I'd like to know a little more about that. Do you think childhood memories played an important part here for everyone involved? You mentioned bringing actual sweets to the table and purposefully chosing a setting that resembled the actual time and circumstances of the group's childhood during the late 80s. Was there any sharing of childhood memories during prep or gaming time? Did that have an effect to the game, and if so, could you describe that effect? Did it work - for you, for the group?

I am asking this because the way you approached the game seems very different from what I would have done. Somehow I always thought that if I ever played LF with my group, we would not "be there" and "play kids" a lot, but assume a half-ironic, distanced stance, from which we could work with what we remebered from 20 years back, while still being conscious of our adult selves. Not that you could ever forget about that entirely, but If I read you correctly, you were aiming at playfully reliving some aspects of childhood for ongoing periods of time at least. That`s interesting, I'd like to know more about it.

As concerns your question about the second - grader, do you think it would be fun for the player to act the part of the corpse - monster that abducted his or her former character? The monster could blackmail the other characters quite effectively into doing some truely horrible things: steal from their parents, bully someone at school, lie to their friends...it's got their pal, after all. You already have the theme of how the kids feel they can't tell anyone right there, and this would make for a great turn of the screw. On the other hand, you seem to have a pretty well - developed idea of what's to happen during the scenario, so this kind of player - driven game might not match your preferences.       

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Ricky Donato
Member

Posts: 156

Just chillin'


« Reply #2 on: October 04, 2006, 07:12:57 AM »

Hi, Alexander,

You've done an excellent job of describing the in-game events. I'm now interested in the player responses: the reactions of the real people around the table, including yourself. Specifically:

1) Overall, did you enjoy the session? Why or why not?

2) Overall, did it seem to you that the other players enjoyed the session? How could you tell that they did or did not enjoy the session? For the purposes of this question, ignore what their characters did in-game. I'd like to focus on things like the looks on their faces, their obvious interest in the game or lack thereof, and other indications in the real world.

3) When the 2nd Grader Player performed the two inexplicable actions ("opening the closet" and "trying to help the hanging corpse"), what were the reactions of everyone else (including yourself)? Again, focus on reactions in the real world that you noticed and that you think she noticed.

I would like you to take the time to really think about these questions. It will be easier to discuss this for both of us if we take a slow pace.
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Ricky Donato

My first game in development, now writing first draft: Machiavelli
W Alexander
Member

Posts: 8


« Reply #3 on: October 04, 2006, 08:04:13 AM »

Okay, I have to head to class soon, so I may not get to all the comments right now.  If I fail to answer something, I'll attempt to get back to it later this evening.  I do want to thank those people whom have responded thus far, there is nothing worse - in a forum - than to spend ones time writing a post and not receive a single comment.

Quote
>>It seems that your group tried to emphasize the "roleplaying kids" mode a lot, or at least you hoped they would. I'd like to know a little more about that. Do you think childhood memories played an important part here for everyone involved? You mentioned bringing actual sweets to the table and purposefully chosing a setting that resembled the actual time and circumstances of the group's childhood during the late 80s. Was there any sharing of childhood memories during prep or gaming time? Did that have an effect to the game, and if so, could you describe that effect? Did it work - for you, for the group?<<


This is a good question and something I had considered prior to running little fears.  The most important thing for me, initially, was making certain the players could identify with their characters.  During the initial rules discussion I attempted to convey ideas by drawing parallels to their own childhoods - using what I knew of those players to emphasize certain ideas.  I encouraged them to draw further parallels on their own and made certain they had a strong grasp of the concepts (if not the actual rolling conventions) before letting them begin character creation. 

For two days prior to this first session I had those players who could come to my house and watch some 80's horror films involving kids - particularly "Monster Squad", "The Gate" and "The Gate 2".  While the protagonists in these films are a bit old for little fears (just try finding a good horror film with 7-8 year old protagonists) the movies did serve the purpose of reminding players what life was like in the 80's. (monster squad, in particular)

The actual day of the game I, first, moved the group from their accustomed gaming table downstairs (which I knew they'd associate too readily with our usual game style) into my bedroom, which I'd set up by spreading blankets on the floor and leaving "squeeze juice" out as place markers.  Thus the players were forced to sit, or lay on the floor all throughout the game.  This, I think, served as a very effective method of reminding the players that this game would be different. (and, in a way, more "innocent" in that we didn't start with the table and the "down to business" mindset that tends to evoke)  Then, while waiting for everyone to arive, I described the setting, making certain to leave out details children would be completely clueless about - which prompted reminiscence about the players' childhoods.

The addition of the candy seemed to delight most of the players, who recognized the sweets from their youth, and during that first half hour I heard the phrase "god, I feel like I'm reliving my childhood." more than once.  While not everyone went to the school I used as a foundation for the one in the game, I did hear comments to suggest the atmosphere I created was very indicative of what they recalled.  (I made a point of defining the school in terms kids might - describing every empty place as larger and more ominous, deliniating the school into "their side" and "our side", etc.)

For most of the players (and myself) I think this worked quite well. 


Quote
As concerns your question about the second - grader, do you think it would be fun for the player to act the part of the corpse - monster that abducted his or her former character? The monster could blackmail the other characters quite effectively into doing some truely horrible things: steal from their parents, bully someone at school, lie to their friends...it's got their pal, after all. You already have the theme of how the kids feel they can't tell anyone right there, and this would make for a great turn of the screw. On the other hand, you seem to have a pretty well - developed idea of what's to happen during the scenario, so this kind of player - driven game might not match your preferences.       



While these are good ideas on the surface, they don't really work for what I need in this game; for varied reasons.  First, as this is a horror game, (especially a horror game about kids)I don't want to put any of the players in the role of monster - since the other players will subconciously change their expectations based on the knowledge that I'm not handling such. (and they are far more likely to be frightened about the unknown of what I might do, than what I might have another player do - plus if one of the other "kids" is playing the monster it might break immersion)  As for blackmailing the group, that won't work merely because the monsters in question aren't really "intelligent", but rather a manifestation of the fear and belief that has been built around this room. (and an evil energy which does cling to the school - an effect of attrocities committed there over the decades [ie: child beatings, molestations, cruelties, etc.])  As to allowing for a player driven adventure; I don't mind this in most circumstances but do to the fact that the players aren't as comfortable or certain about this game (since it is so divergent from what they're used to) I've not left it as open as I might otherwise; for fear the players would have no idea where to go or what to do.  Later adventures will likely offer more freedom. 

Okay, I guess that's all I have time for at the moment.  I'll address the second post when I get back.  If there is anything specific I didn't touch on in Jasper's response, which you'd like me to give more attention to, please let me know.  I'll be back again late this evening.

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GreatWolf
Member

Posts: 1155

designer of Dirty Secrets


WWW
« Reply #4 on: October 04, 2006, 08:32:23 AM »

Hey, I have a quick thought for you re: the second grader.  You said:

Quote
Me, I'm tempted to simply have the player make another character ... this is the second time she's done something like this in as many weeks ... ignoring every bit of reasoning and putting herself in obviously deadly situations.  If it had made sense for a 2nd grader to decide she wanted to "help" the bloated, fish eyed corpse hanging from the coat hook, I might be more forgiving - but I just can't see how something like that can be justified.  Perhaps I'm being too harsh ... but I have a problem with ooc behavior and blatant stupidity in my games.

Are you sure that this was blatant stupidity on the part of the player?  Sometimes a player does things like this out of spite simply to spike the game.  However, perhaps the player has a good reason for this.  For example, was the character trying to show compassion to the child on the coat hook?  From where I'm sitting, the character's actions don't necessarily seem stupid.  Even working from horror tropes, someone always opens the door.

Punishing off-the-wall input into the game, just because it's unexpected, isn't a good thing.  Instead, incorporate this input into the game.

So, assuming that the player wasn't trying to be intentionally disruptive, why not continue on with the character?  Now, suddenly, the second-grader is trapped in Closetland.  Play that out!  Some of my favorite Little Fears moments involve gameplay inside Closetland.  So what the character is separated from the rest of the group?  Play up how the child is alone and scared in an ever-shifting landscape of evil.  Cut back and forth from this character to the rest of her friends, desperately trying to rescue her.  Think of this like a movie.  The tension is mounting.  The Boogeyman is coming for the second-grader, who is pounding on a free-standing door in the middle of an empty plain.  On the other side of the door, her friends are desperately trying to overcome the ghosts of dead children so that they can unlock the door.  Will they make it in time?  Roll the dice.....

By embracing off-the-wall input into the game, you actually broaden the possibilities.
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
W Alexander
Member

Posts: 8


« Reply #5 on: October 04, 2006, 05:32:45 PM »

Quote
Are you sure that this was blatant stupidity on the part of the player?  Sometimes a player does things like this out of spite simply to spike the game.  However, perhaps the player has a good reason for this.  For example, was the character trying to show compassion to the child on the coat hook?  From where I'm sitting, the character's actions don't necessarily seem stupid.  Even working from horror tropes, someone always opens the door.


Because I don't want anyone thinking I'm punishing the player for her IC actions, I'll answer this question first.  While I can certainly see how one who is unfamiliar with the player might jump to the conclusion that it was her character making the mistake in this situation, you have to understand that the player in question is known for acting without thinking. (in real life, as in the game)  She has freely admitted that her previous gms never held her responsible for her actions and while she has been playing in our group for a few months, she has yet to demonstrate any understanding of the fact that -- in my games -- every action has a consequence.  (a lesson which has been demonstrated and explained to her in the past)  Part of the problem, though, is that I've been a little easier on her than the other players - precisely because she is fairly new to my game and has to work through some "culture shock".  There is a point, however, when she has to learn to play by the same rules the "big kids" use.


Quote
Punishing off-the-wall input into the game, just because it's unexpected, isn't a good thing.



I always encourage my players to do the unexpected; so long as they consider the repercussions.  Creativity is rewarded, thoughtlessness is not.


Quote
why not continue on with the character?  Now, suddenly, the second-grader is trapped in Closetland.  Play that out!  Some of my favorite Little Fears moments involve gameplay inside Closetland.  So what the character is separated from the rest of the group?  Play up how the child is alone and scared in an ever-shifting landscape of evil. [snippeed short for space]


I do like the imagery you painted here and may make use of some of that.  As I stated in the initial post (I think) the remaining players do have the option of trying to rescue her ... thus, how far things go from here depends upon their choices.


Quote
You've done an excellent job of describing the in-game events. I'm now interested in the player responses: the reactions of the real people around the table, including yourself.

Fair enough, shoot.

Quote
1) Overall, did you enjoy the session? Why or why not?


I did enjoy the session.  I fealt the scenario evolved well and that the atmosphere stayed fairly consistant throughout.  I have a particular fondness for the underlying theme of the game anyway, so went in with the expectation of enjoying myself.  The players -- for the most part -- got into their characters and portrayed them quite effectively and the energy in the game was good.


Quote
2) Overall, did it seem to you that the other players enjoyed the session? How could you tell that they did or did not enjoy the session? For the purposes of this question, ignore what their characters did in-game. I'd like to focus on things like the looks on their faces, their obvious interest in the game or lack thereof, and other indications in the real world.


Most of the players seemed to enjoy the game.  When I described scenes they leaned forward intently, pantimimed the actions of their characters enthusiastically and quite eagerly adopted the props I'd introduced.  When one of the players (the party's attention monger) started speaking over my description, she was promptly hushed by the other players, so I could continue uninterupted.  The only player who seemed bored was he whom had previously stated his disinterest in playing LF.  That player actively avoided getting involved with some of the scenes, until he action picked up near the end.


Quote
3) When the 2nd Grader Player performed the two inexplicable actions ("opening the closet" and "trying to help the hanging corpse"), what were the reactions of everyone else (including yourself)? Again, focus on reactions in the real world that you noticed and that you think she noticed.


This is a difficult question for me to answer.  When I get into particularly intense scenes, in game, I tend to stop seeing the players and start seeing their characters.  Thus, if the body language of the players changed in reaction to her choice, I would not have seen it.  As for myself, I've developed quite a skillful poker face in the gming career and rarely give anything away to the players.  By this point I was leaning well forward "into the scene" with the players and had eyes only for those who were actively doing something.  If I had to guess, based upon my knowledge of the players, I can fairly guarentee one of them slapped his forehead when she narrated her choice, another likely pursed his lips and the third rolled her eyes. (couldn't say about the forth, his reactions are more difficult to predict)



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Ricky Donato
Member

Posts: 156

Just chillin'


« Reply #6 on: October 05, 2006, 07:12:36 AM »

Hi, Alexander,

Based on your responses, I think that your best course of action regarding the 2nd Grader is to follow Seth's excellent suggestion. Have the player portray the character trapped in Closetland, surrounded by the horrors of that place. This is not what you expected to happen, and it may not be what the player intended to happen either - but even if she acted without thinking, she has provided the group with a prime opportunity for a really scary situation. That's AWESOME.
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Ricky Donato

My first game in development, now writing first draft: Machiavelli
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