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Author Topic: [Lendrhald] Hostile fantasy setting  (Read 30636 times)
Carl Bussler
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Posts: 14


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« Reply #30 on: June 14, 2006, 07:03:16 PM »

David - It's late and I'm a newb so this post may fall flat.

When I think about what it might have been like to live in a dark ages Europe, I think there was always a 'fear of the uknown'. What people didn't understand, they feared, and most likely destroyed.

This is how myths and religions were started, long before science explained certain things. (I'm not supporting or denouncing Creationism or Evolution, that's not the discussion here.) Magnetism was magic. Thunder was Thor crafting in the sky. The world was flat and dinosaur bones were dragons.

A question: What is the Evil Threat's purpose? Maybe I missed it in the posts. Is it trying to hide something? Prevent mankind from discovering something? To prevent mankind from growing spiritually, socially, economically, etc. Is the Evil Threat mankind's first mistake? First nightmare? Is it simply trying to keep mankind in the dark, ignorant and in fear? Does it feed off of that fear?

Here's another little idea before I log-off: Maybe give the player's very little information on what lies beyond their borders. Historically speaking, people didn't roam far from home. They hear rumors, but can't verify it without seeing for themselves.

Watch the movie The 13th Warrior for a good visualization of this concept.

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Carl Bussler
Anders Larsen
Member

Posts: 270


« Reply #31 on: June 15, 2006, 12:49:06 PM »

I have been thinking about how to make horrors outside the character work. Even though I have never GMed a horror game, I will typically have elements of horror in my games, so I will draw on these experiences.

A monster taken from a monster section, from whatever rpg that is used, is never scary, because the players know what it is, and you can only get this horror feeling, if the player don't know what it is (horror is about what you don't know). It may work the first time, but there can only be so many monsters in the book, so at some point you have to reuse a monster. At most you can make the player fear for there characters life, but that is really not the horror feeling.

A list of element that the GM can put together to form a unique monster will work better (I guess it is what you are going for), but even here there can be a problem. If you show this monster too directly too early, you will risk degrading it to just another weird monster; and the horror feeling is gone. So the trick is the process of how to reveal the monster.

On thing that is interesting to work with is how the monster affect its surroundings. Maybe it will make people go insane, maybe it will cause weird mutations in animals (They grow human arms, or begin to sound like crying children). Maybe strange phenomenas happens like tree begin to eat each other or water turn to blood. All these things can happen without anyone have seen the monster yet.

Another interesting thing is if there is some strange reason for why the monster has appeared. Maybe it is something that happen once a year, on the same day that some evil wizard died. Maybe the monster have a mission - something it tries to accomplice. Maybe it is drawn to certain emotion, like jealousy or hate.

For some reason patterns in chaos can be scary. It is much more interesting if the monster leave behind a recognisable pattern, than if it just leave chaos.

In general, it is better to think about what a monster do, that think about what it is.

 - Anders
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David Berg
Member

Posts: 612


« Reply #32 on: June 15, 2006, 11:30:15 PM »

When I think about what it might have been like to live in a dark ages Europe, I think there was always a 'fear of the uknown'. What people didn't understand, they feared, and most likely destroyed.
Here's another little idea before I log-off: Maybe give the player's very little information on what lies beyond their borders. Historically speaking, people didn't roam far from home. They hear rumors, but can't verify it without seeing for themselves.

Good call, expanding the domain of "the unknown" is a good way to ratchet up the fear level.

(I am beginning to realize that allowing my players to create characters who are well-traveled and from all different parts of the world is demystifying it somewhat... same for providing them with a useful map.)

Right now, known vs. unknown is (I think) divided between lands humans live on and lands they don't.  But most of the land they don't live on is just forest, and forest, while capable of housing all manner of monsters, doesn't really evoke "fear of the unknown" as a general rule.  The Orc lands to the south are unknown, but no one wants to go there anyway; same for the Dimwood, a central forest formerly occupied by Orcs before a human military effort mostly exterminated them.  It'd be nice if I could find a way to drive home "fear of the unknown" when players aren't deliberately wandering into danger...

Maybe something happens at night that somehow effects even folks in the middle of heavily-settled lands...

This is how myths and religions were started, long before science explained certain things.

Indeed.  Lendrhald inhabitants understandings of the world are based largely on myths.  The world is flat, the Western Sea goes on forever, the stars are daemon ships, etc.  Thus far it's provided good intro flavor, but hasn't affected play at all.

A question: What is the Evil Threat's purpose?

To destroy all physical reality and erase this obnoxious bubble of Human life and meaning. 

Individual agents of the Evil Threat may have more worldly perspectives, and enjoy things like Human suffering and fear and insanity.  Mostly, though, their thoughts are alien and reflect the Evil Threat's purpose as accurately as possible.
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David Berg
Member

Posts: 612


« Reply #33 on: June 16, 2006, 12:07:45 AM »

A list of element that the GM can put together to form a unique monster will work better (I guess it is what you are going for), but even here there can be a problem. If you show this monster too directly too early, you will risk degrading it to just another weird monster; and the horror feeling is gone.

My intent is to make a long-as-possible list of creepy-as-possible elements (I hope to get more feedback on that!*), but you are probably right about this.

So the trick is the process of how to reveal the monster.

In addition to the separate physical signs you mention below, it might be cool to have some other way in which the monster is revealed only partially... 

Striking from darkness, or from somewhere where you can't see it, for instance...  Sight should be the last sense to apprehend a monster whenever possible.  I wonder if any particular properties of a physical monster could lend themselves to achieving this... it's black, it's invisible, it's the color of the forest, it has chameleon powers, it's very small, it moves faster than the eye can follow...

On thing that is interesting to work with is how the monster affect its surroundings. Maybe it will make people go insane, maybe it will cause weird mutations in animals (They grow human arms, or begin to sound like crying children). Maybe strange phenomenas happens like tree begin to eat each other or water turn to blood. All these things can happen without anyone have seen the monster yet.

I need to start yet another brainstorm list: Creepy Signs That Something Is Amiss!

I already have a certain effect planned.  It's caused by Orc ritual desecration of a holy site.  It involves the site itself getting nasty (fog, bog, smells, monsters) and also infecting any creature who eats or drinks there with a specific curse.  The curse causes inability to eat and fills the victim with violent energy, causing emaciated lunatics of all species.  Running into such a creature is a sign of a Nasty Site, as are harsh birdcalls, swarming insects and snakes, black water, faint odors of decay, and unnatural silence.

Orc groves, freakish daemon-monsters, and maybe certain types of mutants, should have various signs that indicate them.  Probably there should be partial overlap, but some signs reserved for one type of Evil only.

Another interesting thing is if there is some strange reason for why the monster has appeared. Maybe it is something that happen once a year, on the same day that some evil wizard died. Maybe the monster have a mission - something it tries to accomplice. Maybe it is drawn to certain emotion, like jealousy or hate.

I'd think that attaching some sort of reason or motivation to the monster's behavior would make it less horrific, not more.  Unless the motive itself was particularly horrifying...

In any given situation/adventure, I could see using any of the ideas you mentioned.  I don't see any reason to make any of them widespread characteristics of monsters in general, though...

For some reason patterns in chaos can be scary. It is much more interesting if the monster leave behind a recognisable pattern, than if it just leave chaos.

More interesting?  Sure.  Scarier?  It would depend:

If the pattern is mundane or benign, probably not.  Chaos will likely be creepier.

If the pattern is creepy but unthreatening, maybe, maybe not.  Chaos could be creepier.  Depends on specifics.

If the pattern is threatening (it'll be back! it's getting more powerful! it's getting more aggressive!) then we definitely have something.

In general, it is better to think about what a monster do, that think about what it is.

Agreed.  The "capabilities" parts of the brainstorm lists will help with that.  But I like your idea of also working on some behavior patterns, especially those that would convey an evolving threat.  (Alas, I am too tired to generate great ideas at the moment.)



*anyone interested, see posts 9, 26, and 27 in this thread for what we've got thus far
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Sydney Freedberg
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Posts: 1293


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« Reply #34 on: June 16, 2006, 06:55:40 AM »

Right now, known vs. unknown is (I think) divided between lands humans live on and lands they don't.  But most of the land they don't live on is just forest, and forest, while capable of housing all manner of monsters, doesn't really evoke "fear of the unknown" as a general rule....

Dude: You gotta read some fairy tales, right now. Little Red Riding Hood. Hansel and Grettle. Snow White. In the medieval consciousness these stories convey, human civilization consists of tiny, fragile islands -- villages and towns -- isolated from each other by a sea of forest: dark, chaotic, hostile. As long as you stay in the village, you're safe (probably). As long as you stay in the cultivated fields, you're safe (probably), as long as you get back before nightfall. But as soon as you walk more than a few hours in any direction from your home -- maybe a few minutes, if you live on the margins; lots of fairy-tale characters are woodcutters' children -- then you are cut off, alone, in an alien environment where you cannot see more than a few dozen yards in any direction, where man-eating wolves and witches lurk, and where no one can hear you scream. You're on your own.

"Don't go into the woods!" Look at movies like The Village or Blair Witch. The fear still resonates today.

Of course the woods can house "all manner of monsters." But most of the time, they should be appallingly empty. Maybe a bird sings, somewhere (only to cut off abruptly just before things get really bad). Maybe a creature scurries away, just at the edge of your peripheral vision. Maybe there's a long, strange cry in the distance -- what the hell was that? A crow? An animal? A person? Don't ask, just keep going, going, maybe we can get through the woods and into the next village before nightfall...

And when the monsters do show, don't think D&D: There should be no "routine monsters." A single wolf should be scary -- a serious threat to the player-characters. And threats can be more than physical injury, or even insanity: One of the deepest horrors is that of being put in a situation where the only way to survive is to do something wrong -- let the monster feast upon the wounded while you take the opportunity to run away, or promise the fairy queen your firstborn child if she'll only let you go.

To go even deeper: I don't think you get "horror" simply by scaring people. The quality of nightmare -- of a waking nightmare -- comes from something else: from the erosion of the boundary between our internal world and the external world, between what we fear and what we experience, between what we imagine and what exists. Little children stumble into horror all the time: If I dream about pirates in the house, how do I know they aren't really there? If I get angry at my friend and wish she would die, and then she falls down and twists her ankle, how do I know that I didn't make that happen? Adults, over time, learn a bit more about cause and effect, and realize that before something in your head can become something in the real world, you have to do something to make it happen. Horror occurs when what you fear (or desire...) manifests in external reality without any apparent cause, just because you thought about it.

The scariest answer to "Oh my God -- what was that?" is always "What do you think?"
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Adam Dray
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« Reply #35 on: June 16, 2006, 09:11:27 AM »

It seems you need your game to create suspense. Poke around for books and web pages focusing on techniques for writing horror. Other useful subjects are film treatments of horror. What makes a movie or book scary? If you want your game to be about dread and horror, your design should help make that happen. Don't just leave it to the GM and players.
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Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
Verge -- cyberpunk role-playing on the brink
FoundryMUSH - indie chat and play at foundry.legendary.org 7777
David Berg
Member

Posts: 612


« Reply #36 on: June 16, 2006, 10:19:52 PM »

In the medieval consciousness these stories convey, human civilization consists of tiny, fragile islands -- villages and towns -- isolated from each other by a sea of forest: dark, chaotic, hostile.  . . .

This is exactly the sort of feel I'm attempting to achieve.  My comment about what forests evoke "as a general rule" was regarding the players, who (in my experience) will require lots of stuff to actually happen in forests before they become leery of them.  So, that's the question: what should happen?

Of course the woods can house "all manner of monsters." But most of the time, they should be appallingly empty.

With my players, this would only work after it was demonstrated to them that being in an appallingly empty forest is actually bad news.  Cut-off birdcalls, strange cries, and scurrying, will not do it in and of themselves.  I think these are all good suggestions, but only after forest-fear has been driven home by some near-death, near-insanity, near-capture or near-losing-prized-possessions experiences.

And when the monsters do show, don't think D&D: There should be no "routine monsters."

Agreed.

A single wolf should be scary -- a serious threat to the player-characters.

Agreed that there's no point in throwing easily-defeatable opponents at the players and hoping them to be deeply terrified.

One of the deepest horrors is that of being put in a situation where the only way to survive is to do something wrong -- let the monster feast upon the wounded while you take the opportunity to run away, or promise the fairy queen your firstborn child if she'll only let you go.

The only way I can see of encouraging this to happen is to invent opponents who are:
1) capable of putting characters completely at their mercy
2) disposed to let characters live given certain conditions

This could work for:
1) an impossible-to-beat monster whose disposition is to retreat from a fight if it can drag an easy meal away with it (possible capabilities: Grab, Stun, Poison, Inflict Crippling Wound, Swallow Whole, run away fast, tough to hurt or kill, massively damaging attacks)
2) a large throng of bandits who outnumber the characters and want to embarrass or torture them
3) monsters with mental powers who want to inflict psychological damage ("I have your mind, Human!  Now knife your comrade, or I'll devour it!") (possible capabilities: Project Thoughts/Images/Sensations, Cause Fear, Cause Insanity, Drain Intelligence, Erase Mind)

The quality of nightmare -- of a waking nightmare -- comes from something else: from the erosion of the boundary between our internal world and the external world . . . The scariest answer to "Oh my God -- what was that?" is always "What do you think?"

Granting the PCs unknown or uncontrollable abilities to do bad stuff is a great idea.  Some ways this could happen:
1) lasting alterations to the characters
1a) Now that you've emerged from the Ghoul's tomb, you can curse people.  It seems to have something to do with directing a negative emotion their way.  Or perhaps fearing for their safety.  You're not sure.  You can't consciously do it or avoid doing it.
1b) When bad things happen in your dreams, you wake up and find they (or something analogous to them) have happened in real life.
2) monsters with mental powers
2a) It makes you hallucinate, ranging from subtle and odd to intense and horrific.
2b) It looks like what you're most afraid of.  Its attacks correspond to the fates you're most afraid of.  It acts in the ways that frighten you most.
2c) It attacks your dreams.  If it hurts you in dreams, you will wake to find no physical marks, but be hurt anyway.
3) places with the same effects as the aforementioned monster powers

I suspect I haven't nearly mined your suggestions for all they're worth...
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #37 on: June 17, 2006, 06:03:40 PM »

Those are all good ones. It's also very potent (look at how many stories do this) to have the monster go "let's make a deal" -- just this once, it'll help you out, or let the girl go, but you have to do this one little thing. And it's also very potent for the monster's goal to be to enslave the heroes -- not kill them, not brainwash them, not mind-control them, but put them in a situation so bad that they agree to submit to it forever.
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Threlicus
Member

Posts: 35

aka George Heintzelman


« Reply #38 on: June 18, 2006, 06:35:04 PM »

Hi, newbie poster here though I've been reading Forgeish stuff for a while.

From the tone of what the OP has been telling us, I get the feeling that he is naturally inclined towards the 'keeping secrets'  methodology of GMing. In an individual game, for some GMs and groups this works, for others not; that's not what I'm going to address here. What I am going to say is that trying to keep 'metaplot'ish secrets from the players, as a matter of Game Line Policy -- like the true nature of Orcs discussed above -- is simply not going to work. Period, full stop. The players will know the metaplot 'secrets'.  There are any number of reasons for that, some innocent, some not -- they may be GMing a game themselves, they may have already played one campaign in this world, they may have read the rulebook because it was interesting before they could persuade the rest of the group to play -- but to you, the designer, the motives and reasons aren't important. What's important is that it's not going to work beyond your personal playtest group, and even then firewalling from version 2.2 characters the secrets that haven't changed since 1.4 is going to be hard.

Therefore, you can't make the creepiness and horror of the setting derive from secrets, or at least, not from secrets that are spelled out in the setting description of your RPG.

If you want to make some of the horror derive from the fact that the characters don't know what's going on, I think you have a relatively small set of options::
1) Have a set of mysteries which you don't provide the answers for. Exalted is an example of a game with a very, very detailed setting which nevertheless leaves some canonical mysteries explicitly unanswered. The only problem with this is that the player involvement with the secrets not in this category is still infected -- e.g., players in an Exalted Solars or Dragon-blooded game are usually well aware of the existence and nature of the Sidereals, even though their characters supposedly do not (at least, as a rule).
1a) Expand the set of mysteries and provide some sets of possible answers to them, without constraining a GMs choice in an individual campaign.
2) Make your description of the setting more sketchy, and provide tools for expanding on it. Makes lots of work on the GM, though, and depends on that 'one person's creativity'.
3) Make tools for the players themselves to create mysteries, and leave the answers unknown at the start to all, including the players creating them. Not all mysteries need to be handled this way, of course, some can be determined ahead of time by either category 1 or 2, but this greatly expands the possible scope of the unknown available to you. I also think you can look at a lot of media for inspiration -- mysteries develop along with TV shows but (usually, anyway) the writers do a pretty good job weaving it all together at the end. Does anyone believe that the writers of Alias knew exactly what was in Rambaldi's prophecies until the very end? Or that the writers of Lost even now know the true nature of the Others? Or that the writers of Battlestar Galactica know whether No.6 really is in Baltar's head or not? I don't. And yet there are clues scattered. Make tools for the creation of the mysteries, the accumulation of clues, and the decision of mysteries -- whether revealed to the characters or not -- and I think the level of fear of the unknown will go up.
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greyorm
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My name is Raven.


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« Reply #39 on: June 18, 2006, 08:08:51 PM »

Lendrhald inhabitants understandings of the world are based largely on myths.  The world is flat, the Western Sea goes on forever, the stars are daemon ships, etc.  Thus far it's provided good intro flavor, but hasn't affected play at all.

You have great material to mine here to answer the question "what do the players DO?" Make all those myths REAL. Make that the way the world really works. The stars really are daemon ships, the Western Sea really is endless (or maybe it drops into eternal night at some far, terrible boundary where giant serpents swim, and the Siren Queens live in a golden castle whose halls are littered with the bones of men).

Next, put those myths right into play, as the things characters are expected to encounter. This is a grim fairy tale, of sorts, and thus what the players do is create grim fairy tales in play, by wandering into the dark forest and encountering realities that don't make sense. A daemon ship comes down -- a falling star -- and maybe it lies at the center of horrible things creeping into the village at night...and...oh my god...what are they doing to the children they abducted?!

And even when and if the characters beat back this invasion of daemons and triumph, all those stars -- all those stars! -- could come down...at any time...

But the trick is to abandon modern, scientific, materialist views of the world and make the myths real. The gods really do live up on that mountain there, and they really do require blood sacrifices, and thunder really is the gods fighting the daemons in the sky. Etc. So what do the players do? They stumble into the middle of all of this.

Just a suggestion, hope you find it helpful.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio
David Berg
Member

Posts: 612


« Reply #40 on: June 19, 2006, 09:39:03 AM »

It seems you need your game to create suspense. Poke around for books and web pages focusing on techniques for writing horror. Other useful subjects are film treatments of horror. What makes a movie or book scary? If you want your game to be about dread and horror, your design should help make that happen. Don't just leave it to the GM and players.

Hi, newbie poster here though I've been reading Forgeish stuff for a while.

From the tone of what the OP has been telling us, I get the feeling that he is naturally inclined towards the 'keeping secrets'  methodology of GMing. In an individual game, for some GMs and groups this works, for others not; that's not what I'm going to address here. What I am going to say is that trying to keep 'metaplot'ish secrets from the players, as a matter of Game Line Policy -- like the true nature of Orcs discussed above -- is simply not going to work. Period, full stop. The players will know the metaplot 'secrets'.  There are any number of reasons for that, some innocent, some not -- they may be GMing a game themselves, they may have already played one campaign in this world, they may have read the rulebook because it was interesting before they could persuade the rest of the group to play -- but to you, the designer, the motives and reasons aren't important. What's important is that it's not going to work beyond your personal playtest group, and even then firewalling from version 2.2 characters the secrets that haven't changed since 1.4 is going to be hard.

Therefore, you can't make the creepiness and horror of the setting derive from secrets, or at least, not from secrets that are spelled out in the setting description of your RPG.

If you want to make some of the horror derive from the fact that the characters don't know what's going on, I think you have a relatively small set of options::
1) Have a set of mysteries which you don't provide the answers for. Exalted is an example of a game with a very, very detailed setting which nevertheless leaves some canonical mysteries explicitly unanswered. The only problem with this is that the player involvement with the secrets not in this category is still infected -- e.g., players in an Exalted Solars or Dragon-blooded game are usually well aware of the existence and nature of the Sidereals, even though their characters supposedly do not (at least, as a rule).
1a) Expand the set of mysteries and provide some sets of possible answers to them, without constraining a GMs choice in an individual campaign.
2) Make your description of the setting more sketchy, and provide tools for expanding on it. Makes lots of work on the GM, though, and depends on that 'one person's creativity'.
3) Make tools for the players themselves to create mysteries, and leave the answers unknown at the start to all, including the players creating them. Not all mysteries need to be handled this way, of course, some can be determined ahead of time by either category 1 or 2, but this greatly expands the possible scope of the unknown available to you. I also think you can look at a lot of media for inspiration -- mysteries develop along with TV shows but (usually, anyway) the writers do a pretty good job weaving it all together at the end. Does anyone believe that the writers of Alias knew exactly what was in Rambaldi's prophecies until the very end? Or that the writers of Lost even now know the true nature of the Others? Or that the writers of Battlestar Galactica know whether No.6 really is in Baltar's head or not? I don't. And yet there are clues scattered. Make tools for the creation of the mysteries, the accumulation of clues, and the decision of mysteries -- whether revealed to the characters or not -- and I think the level of fear of the unknown will go up.


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David Berg
Member

Posts: 612


« Reply #41 on: June 19, 2006, 09:40:35 AM »

Clicked the "Post" button by accident on that last one, sorry...
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David Berg
Member

Posts: 612


« Reply #42 on: June 19, 2006, 11:10:13 AM »

Poke around for books and web pages focusing on techniques for writing horror.

Good call.  I'm already using some such techniques, but having a better grasp of a broader palette would be good.

The players will know the metaplot 'secrets'. 

Maybe, maybe not.  I think that's a "publication and sales" design issue, not a "setting content" design issue, so I don't want to get into that here.  But I think the most important point here is:

you can't make the creepiness and horror of the setting derive from secrets, or at least, not from secrets that are spelled out in the setting description of your RPG.

Agreed.  "The unknown is good at being creepy" was a reference to things like monster encounters, not meta-plot secrets.  The meta-plot secrets aren't there to contribute to any initial or short-term impression, and the correct initial and short-term impressions must be achievable without them.

1) Have a set of mysteries which you don't provide the answers for.

There are several mysteries in the world (a giant, collapsed tower built by unknown means; an island only visible in the full light of the second moon; an abandoned Orc ziggurat on the border of human territory from which chanting can be heard on solstices), but I don't have a ton of them per area, and not all of them are creepy. 

More are always welcome.  That's part of what this thread is for, brainstorming such things.  Any more specific ideas?  The players will frequently be:
a) passing through small villages
b) on roads between small villages
c) in the world's largest cities
d) poking their heads into the forest when something catches their attention
So, types of creepy mysteries appropriate to those settings would be particularly useful.

1a) Expand the set of mysteries and provide some sets of possible answers to them, without constraining a GMs choice in an individual campaign.
2) Make your description of the setting more sketchy, and provide tools for expanding on it.
3) Make tools for the players themselves to create mysteries, and leave the answers unknown at the start to all, including the players creating them.

Good idea.  However, a "design your own mystery" game is not inherently creepy.  So, for now, let's focus on the kinds of mysteries to use.  Perhaps we can generate a list of elements like I've been doing for monster capabilities and appearances.  With that in place, designing a system to enable GMs (and/or players? probably not) to generate new mysteries shouldn't be hard.

Make tools for the creation of the mysteries, the accumulation of clues, and the decision of mysteries -- whether revealed to the characters or not

All good ideas.  Let's get some elements out there, and I'll come back to these.

You have great material to mine here to answer the question "what do the players DO?" Make all those myths REAL. Make that the way the world really works.

Already done.  :)

It should be noted, though, that I have chosen to keep a certain level of complexity here.  The true nature of the cosmos is not perfectly described by the mythology of any one culture; rather, various cultures' myths include bits and pieces of the Truth, and various individuals believe these myths to different degrees.

A daemon ship comes down -- a falling star -- and maybe it lies at the center of horrible things creeping into the village at night...and...oh my god...what are they doing to the children they abducted?!

I already have plans for falling stars, but the more general category of "bad things coming out of the sky" could probably stand some embellishment.  The night sky is kind of like the ocean and the bowels of the earth: you don't really know what might be lurking up there.  Maybe something the Sun God's power keeps at bay during daytime.

Abducting children is a good starting point too.  Maybe as a lure to get adults to wander into someplace they otherwise wouldn't?  Maybe to infect the children with a disease and return them?  What about children makes them easier or better suited for abduction?

Next, put those myths right into play, as the things characters are expected to encounter.
So what do the players do? They stumble into the middle of all of this.

One complicating factor is that I want human beings and human culture to feel familiar and real.  Thus, if the PCs had the same experiences as everyone else, they would be in the middle of some daemonic struggle etc. only very infrequently.  So, why do the PCs have different experiences than regular folks?  To date, my answers have been:
1) because the PCs are more risk-taking and thrill-seeking than regular folks  (I've been operating under the assumption that the players are curious and the characters will go poke at anything supernatural-seeming.)
2) because given an undefined inch of the world, the GM is more likely to put something interesting there if the PCs are entering it

I am getting the sense that many posters here believe this list ought to be supplemented in some way, perhaps via:
3) a Character Creation process that demands change and encourages exploration
4) a suggestion that GMs start games with some dramatic event (possibly related to larger cosmic forces and plots)

Other ideas are welcome...
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #43 on: June 19, 2006, 11:24:21 AM »

Unknown Armies (not an Indie game! Oh no! Unclean! Unclean!) has a really great approach to this issue: Every character is defined as having a "trigger event" -- some utterly shattering experience where they stumbled across the supernatural reality underlying our everyday world, and after which they can never rest easy with "normal" again. The characters aren't living in a world where the supernatural is obvious and all over the place; but they're not seeking it out because they're adrenaline junkies, either: They seek it out because some deep, personal need in them has been awakened.

There are some great examples in the rulebook: a cave-diver (someone who takes SCUBA gear down into underground lakes and swims around... very dangerous) who came across a sunken temple, unimaginably ancient; an abused kid, taken in by an older woman who ran a sort of informal shelter, who saw the woman get shot in the head by a child-beating dad and keep on fighting him until all the kids were safe; a gay college student who had a one-night stand with a tremendously charismatic stranger with chains running through his flesh and wants to find him again; a paramedic at 9/11 who found the head of a mannequin in the ruins, took it home, and discovered it started talking to him; a girl who discovers her parents aren't really her parents and that her name is an anagram of a cult leader's....

The really brilliant thing in Unknown Armies is that the "trigger event" is made up as part of character creation: The player comes up with it, not the GM (although the GM has input), and it's already happened. So instead of the player making up a "normal" person and the the GM guessing at what might make an interesting "welcome to the world of adventure" kick-off, the player makes up something that he (or she) finds interesting and the character's already in motion when the game starts.
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Threlicus
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Posts: 35

aka George Heintzelman


« Reply #44 on: June 19, 2006, 12:31:38 PM »

Agreed.  "The unknown is good at being creepy" was a reference to things like monster encounters, not meta-plot secrets.  The meta-plot secrets aren't there to contribute to any initial or short-term impression, and the correct initial and short-term impressions must be achievable without them.

As a player, I would find it cool if there *were* big-picture things that were meaningfully unknown. This is a tall order to combine with a detailed setting, I agree, but no harm in thinking about how to try to do it. And to me, because I stand by my contention that "the players will know the metaplot secrets", that means things that are NOT spelled out by your setting. Since you clearly have a strong vision for the setting, to me that means giving tools so that individual GMs and groups can create and answer mysteries while staying within the style and mood of what you present.

There are several mysteries in the world (a giant, collapsed tower built by unknown means; an island only visible in the full light of the second moon; an abandoned Orc ziggurat on the border of human territory from which chanting can be heard on solstices), but I don't have a ton of them per area, and not all of them are creepy. 

See, this is emblematic of how you're approaching the problem -- please, give me more lists of weird things to stick in the setting. What I'm saying is, don't give lists, give examples, and then when the GM (or a player!) creates a cottage, abandoned but obviously only recently so, in a border area thought uninhabited -- that mystery and the details created to go along with it will properly fit. It also allows mysteries to be dynamic without having a 'metaplot timeline', something that old World of Darkness games ought to make you wary of.

Good idea.  However, a "design your own mystery" game is not inherently creepy.  So, for now, let's focus on the kinds of mysteries to use.  Perhaps we can generate a list of elements like I've been doing for monster capabilities and appearances.  With that in place, designing a system to enable GMs (and/or players? probably not) to generate new mysteries shouldn't be hard.

(I'm being a bit non-responsive below, ignoring your request for lists of elements, because I honestly don't think it's all that useful, and because it sounds to me like you already have plenty of good examples created to throw at your future game-buyers. I'm going to talk a bit about the generation system, which I *do* think will be hard to get right, and will actually prove to be the crucial part of the system. Please bear with me.)

Why probably not the players? As long as their contributions fit with the tone and style of the game, I don't see why they can't be welcomed. Oh, actually I do see one argument -- giving the players power over the setting can detract from a particular feeling of powerlessness that may contribute to horror -- but I'm not fully convinced by it. I suspect that allowing the players to add mysteries should be fine, as long as you make things much harder to resolve and answer than to create. So if the players create an underground bunker which they stumble upon while being hunted by flying abominations, fine, let them escape the threat in exchange for the mystery. Resolving the mystery as to why this bunker is here will be at least as interesting as fighting the flying things. This could tie nicely into those 'Expediency Points' discussed in another thread...

Capes -- a completely GMless game -- has a mechanism which you might take a look at in this regard. As long as a conflict is on the table and not resolved mechanically, it is *not allowed* that any player may make a narration which would resolve the conflict (i.e., to make either outcome impossible). This is the Not Yet rule, and in Capes applies only within a scene (because that is the duration of a conflict). For your purposes, I'm proposing that you might want a kind of longer-term Not Yet rule for mysteries --  until the characters have accumulated a certain level of knowledge about a particular mystery, no one is allowed to actually resolve the 'true' answer. it also comes with a corollary -- once a Conflict is mechanically resolved, it *must* be narratively resolved. Something similar to that corollary can help with what I think RPG.net called 'pixelbitching' -- GMs who require players to figure out their one preconceived idea of 'the solution' in order to make progress -- which I find can be a particular problem in games involving mysteries.

Anyway, My feeling is that, as long as everyone is on the same page *stylistically*, allowing player contributions will only add to the richness of the environment. And, as long as you make world consistency be an important priority by which such contributions are judged, you don't necessarily lose any of your Sim values in the process.

I've snipped a bunch more that suggest to me that, hey, you already have answers for a bunch of (most? all?) the mysteries that you present in your setting. I'd like to encourage you to try to give up the feeling of ownership that you obviously have of the setting, scale back the level of detail that you present, and present some of your answers as possibilities and choices of alternatives, rather than truths. Not only will that address the player knowledge issue, that will also allow GMs and groups who don't like some piece of your setting (and there *will* be some, if not all except you, who do) to tweak things to their liking without breaking the integrity of the whole.

One complicating factor is that I want human beings and human culture to feel familiar and real.  Thus, if the PCs had the same experiences as everyone else, they would be in the middle of some daemonic struggle etc. only very infrequently.  So, why do the PCs have different experiences than regular folks?  To date, my answers have been:
1) because the PCs are more risk-taking and thrill-seeking than regular folks  (I've been operating under the assumption that the players are curious and the characters will go poke at anything supernatural-seeming.)
2) because given an undefined inch of the world, the GM is more likely to put something interesting there if the PCs are entering it

I am getting the sense that many posters here believe this list ought to be supplemented in some way, perhaps via:
3) a Character Creation process that demands change and encourages exploration
4) a suggestion that GMs start games with some dramatic event (possibly related to larger cosmic forces and plots)

My feeling is a very meta one -- these are the characters that, for whatever reason, we players have chosen to tell stories about. That means they will turn out to have been different from the average -- even if they didn't seem so at first -- because the really average ones are boring and turn out to lead average lives that we don't tell stories about. Some people think that this attitude breaks Sim, but frankly I don't see how you can avoid playing Shopkeepers and Storefronts if you insist that the PCs be truly average people. So even if I think of things from the most diehard Simulationist POV I can, I don't have a problem with a certain level of improbable events occuring -- it just turns out that we were telling the stories about people to whom these improbable events occurred. It is only when the level of improbability gets to where it's highly unlikely that *anyone* could have such a series of improbability that it breaks my Sim. IMHO, anyway. So I don't have a problem with this.
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