Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Villainous Intent

If we look at the basic struggle of Good versus Evil, every Dudley Do-Right will inevitably face his Snidely Whiplash, usually tying Nell Fenwick to the railroad tracks before twirling his mustache. Now at the game table, that would hopefully be your players (a stretch of the imagination from Dudley I'm sure...) preparing to stop the Evil Lich/Vampire/Wizard/Tyrant from feeding the Distressed Damsel/King/Loved One/MacGuffin to the Volcano/Dragon/Vermicious Knid/Sloar. Granted not every plot will feature a villain, or otherwise distinguished antagonist, but those that do may remind us of an old saying: A Hero is only as good as his Villain. 

So what goes into a villain? Every DMG will have some advice on this, but I still want to explore this idea. Perhaps maybe construct a thought process for this, or at least ask a bunch of questions that I don't intend to answer. (note: I'm going to keep using the word villain even if/when the term antagonist is a bit more appropriate. It'll be the more likely case when talking RPGs, so I'll just go with it.)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Recommended reading for sure.
This will probably be a short post as I've been a bit preoccupied the last few days. Over the course of the last week, I've been doing some musings on the nature of horror and comedy and how they work. Nothing major or comprehensive, but light food for thought. This is also raw musing and I can't say it'll read well. You've been warned.

One other point. If you are looking for good tips on running horror, read anything by Kenneth Hite on the subject. Nightmares of Mine is particularly good.

We have two elements here that possess numerous commonalities, and seemingly are anathema to one another at the same time. The presence of one does not necessarily preclude the other, but the combination of the two may not be preferable. Should the two be combined, a careful hand is needed. Tricky to pull off, but plausible.

In order to make use of these elements in storytelling and gaming, there are several key parts that they share.
 As Mr. Hite points out in his book, hysteria is a common component: a loss of self control triggered by an emotional response. Fear in one case, laughter in the other. It could easily be said that this state of hysteria is the intended goal, but that is a case by case kind of thing. 
Setup is also important. For comedy this would lead into a 'punchline'. In the case of horror, this would be the buildup of atmosphere. The idea being that the mind of the audience is being lead to a necessary point in the psychological process, such as a false sense of expectation, or being set on edge. 
Timing is also crucial for both to achieve maximum effect, most often through the element of surprise. It's the moment between the setup and the point of impact. 
The unexpected causes the audience to have to readjust suddenly to that which they were unprepared for, thus upsetting mental balance and inducing hysteria. Catching the audience off-guard is more than just trying to startle them, though. It's using the setup to create a blindspot of sorts in the targets mind. Misdirection is incredibly useful.

Combining the two has some interesting effects. Either has a decidedly sobering effect when following the other. Humor is often a coping mechanism for traumas such as terror or anxiety. Likewise, people tend to stop laughing when suddenly faced with something terrifying. 
The darker side of comedy is black humor and gallows humor. Humor that utilizes bleak and solemn subject matter, often employing a sense of cynicism. Not everyone finds these kinds of things funny, but plenty of people like to indulge from time to time. This type of humor can also be used to further enhance a horrific scenario if timed well. Horrific things done with a sense of irony or a villain making inappropriate jokes might be some examples. In combining horror and comedy, care must be taken to ensure the desired tone is not compromised, nor is the audience turned off by the ordeal.

There it is folks, raw and unpolished. Merely food for thought. Eat well, and stay classy!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Away From The Table

The session has ended for the evening, and everyone is wrapping up to go home. It'll be another week or more until the next one and that's it for the game for this week, right? Not necessarily. Some of us like to keep things in mind for a tad longer and may go out of our way to do something extra. Something special. If you're like myself, you may want to go the extra mile and bring just a tad more depth to what's already been done, now that you've been left to your own devices.

So how does one go about this? What would you do and why would you bother? Excellent question. I'm glad I asked it. Time to explore the notion of going above and beyond.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Idea Mill: Vend-o-Matic!

You shall not plush!
Sometimes in the course of running a game, we want something else to add to it just for fun. Not for mechanical benefit but something just to make players interact with things instead of killing them. In most books and equipment guide there are tables and tables of things with little or no mechanical components that theoretically can be used for some purpose or another. Some things are just there to add flavor or color. This week I want to propose something like that. Something made entirely for the purpose of giving players something to roleplay with.

Let's say, for sake of hypotheticals, that instead of killing things to take their stuff, there were a way to pay something to take it's stuff. In normal circumstances that'd just be a shop. What if for instance you wanted something a touch more...  random? Normally you wouldn't find a shop in dungeons or wastelands and what you see is what you get. Instead, why not throw in something a touch more modern just for the sake of fun (or WTF factor)? Like a vending machine? Let's see if I can conjure up something, shall we? Gentlemen! I give to you... The Vend-o-Matic!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Unexpected Development part 3: With a Vengeance!

As was expected, what followed during this weekend's game really drove home what was started the previous session. I feel it only right to report in my findings and cap off this particular triptych of posts with the culmination of the theories therein. I'm going to try to be somewhat oblique about certain details mostly because this may have been, nay, is the squickiest moment of my gaming career thus far. I'm sure what happened would have some people leave the table in a hurry, but keep in mind two things: 1) my choices in the game inadvertently asked for this and 2) it really was a lot of fun!

In any case, Syrinx is definitely swearing off of calamari and actively avoiding things that wriggle. It's been that kind of a weekend.