Wednesday, 31 October 2012

One of those "that's pretty good" moments

Emphasising horror in Vampire.

Most of my suggestions are classics, but this one came up while I was typing:

Another idea would be to start every session with a short recap of what happened previously - but instead of framing it as a neutral "previously on..." sequence, emphasise all the horrific things that happened, especially the ones the players' characters did. You could also bring this into the ongoing chronicle plot, with a pair of homicide detectives investigating crimes that the players know the Kindred - possibly including their own characters - were involved in. It might keep the players on their toes and careful about the Masquerade, and also remind them of what happened in the previous sessions, as well as showing the mortal view of what they and their contemporaries did.

So I've now added that to the section on mortals for my next possible Vampire game.

Need some spare freakouts?

Cracked have you covered.

Ancient Roman poltergeists, turn of the century killer dolls, B.C. zombie apocalypses...

Archaeologists in the Yucatan have found something interesting: the literal entrance to hell.” (Warning: so many photos of mummies and skeletons it’s not even funny.)

Happy Hallowe'en!

In case you needed reminding, there’s a rather lovely Google Doodle for the day.

Have I not done a big post about Hallowe’en? Well then, this is as good a year as any.

Hallowe’en has long been a favourite holiday due to its combination of horror and sweets. It goes back to a tangle of old beliefs, All Hallows' Eve put on top of the end-of-summer fire festival of Samhuinn and a bunch of others piled on top. These days it's mostly the straightforward American version (trick or treat rather than guising, pumpkins rather than turnips because they're much less of a pain in the arse to carve) but the roots, some local, are still there. Particularly nice because it's often far too bloody cold around here to enjoy going out.

It's a geek national holiday because of all the game-friendly things going on:

Monsters. (Duh.)

Costumes, masks, disguises, pretending to be a monster. Or not to be.

Occult rituals, both rooted in ancient traditions and totally made up.

The thinning of the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead.

Dios De Los Muertes.

Horror media. New and retrospective.

And special Hallowe’en episodes.

Depending on Weird Level, an ongoing game can get away with a slight spike in Weird for the season. e.r. had a ghost story one year, of all things. It turned out to be nothing, but still... Of course if you have the required Weird, you can aim for seasonal kinds of Weird. Buffy had a Hallowe’en episode every other year. One of the handful of adventures for the Ghostbusters RPGs was Pumpkin Patch Panic.

It’s probably a bit late to start planning one now unless you have a weekend session coming up, but of course a sudden outbreak of scariness might work better when the players least expect it.

Heh, heh, heh...
Among this year's Hallowe'en programming, BBC Four had a history of depictions of the Devil in art. The first possible example was a blue angel, but the first definite Devil mentioned is this charmer. In the basilica in Torcello, the longest inhabited island of Venice.

Is that you, Augustus Giovanni?

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Star Wars: Episode VII

Thanks to a four billion dollar deal with Disney, it seems those four long-imagined words might really roll up screens in just three years' time. What could it involve? Hell if I know.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Setting and horror

West of Arkham the hills rise wild... "From the deserted strands of MR James to the Danube of Algernon Blackwood's "The Willows", there seems to be a deeper resonance to those stories in which location is a junction between the mundane and the weird."

Monday, 22 October 2012

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Angel Vs. Cthulhu

I'm sure that exists as fanfic somewhere (I’ve run Buffy Vs. Godzilla as a one-shot before, with the Big G as the magical summoning of a pop culture icon by an angry sorcerous nerd, following opening Season Five of The Watch House with the more traditional Milli Vs. Frankenstein) but WHEDONesque links to an article in which the existential and humanist subtext of Angel in particular relates to Lovecraftian horror’s cosmic indifference to humanity.

How much of a setting’s underlying philosophy does a reference, an influence or a full-on crossover bring to the table?

I’d say it depends how much the GM and players decide it does, and how much the effect matters to the game as a whole.

The “home” setting probably wins out, if only because that’s the one the players have signed up for. As the old joke goes, the answer to “who would win in a fight...” depends on whose comic the fight happens in. Or Batman.

It might take it in as an adaptation, be troubled by it as an influence, repudiate it (Angel proves, like the investigators in Call Of Cthulhu, that we do matter, even if “if nothing we do matters... then all that matters is what we do”) or casually shrug it off, depending. Particularly if it breaks one of the fundamental rules of the setting.

Mythos monsters guesting in Doctor Who are just another bunch of pseudo-occult aliens, because the Whoniverse has plenty of those already and has proved repeatedly that humanity absolutely matters. As noted before, the Whoniverse can swallow entire settings whole and solve their fundamental problems in a single episode.

Whereas time travellers are powerful and dreadful things in the Cthulhu Mythos with at most academic interest in humanity, and a mercurial, capricious, charming alien who looks human is probably Nyarlathotep. Although then again, it was always the odd one out among the major Mythos players anyway, because it does take an interest in humans... even if only on the level a cat does with a toy. Hmm. Is the best way to defeat Nyarlathotep to distract it with shiny things?

To explore strange new worlds

A poster depicting every major character and just about every significant guest star in the original Star Trek. It’s big. Because space, the final frontier, is big.

Friday, 19 October 2012

LARP mainstreaming

A Guardian article partially about LARP but partially about the run-from-zombies offshoot that doesn't require character sheets and the like, but the horror LARP with the lake monster grabbing an NPC off the boat sounds awesome.

Delusion: The Blood Rite - a hybrid of a haunted house event, a play and a murder mystery party? Hmm.

Villain Audit

Via Patrick O’Duffy: Peter Ball on Running A Villain Audit

- in superhero series in particular but suited to other games with varied and potentially recurring enemies.

“It’s easy to get stuck into a rut when it comes to bad guys. As GMs we have a natural inclination towards certain times of opposition, usually because they’re either statistically easy to prepare and run (in complex game systems) or the kind of antagonist who resonates with us in more traditional narratives. Either way, in the back of our brain, GMs have a short set of Ur-villain archetypes that they reach for out of habit. So when I started looking the combat problems in my superhero games, I figured this was one of the culprits...”

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Pushing at the edges of a format

One thing using published settings teaches you to do is look at their boundaries and the plot possibilities those suggest.

What works in the Old World doesn’t necessarily work in Ravenloft, but could it be tweaked to? Running Buffy and The World Of Darkness I’ve gotten (I hope) a fair sense of the differences as well as the overlap. There are some things I would do in one but not the other, and some that would feel different just by the change in the setting.

And doing this for so long means I tend to do it to all kinds of things...

For example, wanting to find a good shot of a body bag going into an ambulance, I’ve been looking through Tru Calling, the Eliza Dushku vehicle where she plays a med student working at the morgue - who discovers she can hear the newly and prematurely dead call for help, and then goes back in time to when she woke up, to save them from dying. Once she’s done, her life carries on so she can go to bed, wake up and it’s a new day.

It’s pretty good at ringing the changes on that format. Sometimes her mission is to help them do something important before they die. She finds four at once - all with no I.D. so she has to figure out who they are before she can help them. An undiscovered body calls to her from the woods. Saving one life leads to another death and she has to relive a day over and over. And someone else can do this... and has a very different perspective of what needs to happen.

But I immediately think... “does it have to be only as far as when she woke up?”

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Cutscenes: A GM’s Guide

Cutscenes are one of those narrative tricks that a story-heavy GM like me enjoys.

The WEG version of Star Wars pushed them in published adventures, and they tend to pop up in media-emulating games in particular. So how do they work, beyond going “meanwhile”?

Keep it short.
Actually, keep anything non-interactive short.

(One option for a really big meanwhile sequence would be to make it interactive - hand out temporary PCs. Not all players like this, though - they’re here to play their characters, not a parallel team or a previous group of victims or the assassins out to hunt down the regular PCs. Sound them out in advance about the idea.)

Consider how much mystery and how much spoiler you and your players want. Err on the side of caution.
Too much can really affect future events, unavoidably, even for players highly adept at separating IC and OOC knowledge. As for mystery, I can manage the occasional clever plot twist, but I’m often bad at showing my hand too early. I’ve never managed a “no... I am your father” moment. (And consider how the prequels totally change the effect of that moment on fresh audiences.)

Consider genre as well.
In a pulp adventure game, revealing that the villains are laying a trap should encourage the players to send the heroes straight into it. In a horror game, the reaction would be rather different. A horror game might stick with the PCs’ point-of-view almost entirely... perhaps with the occasional cutscene of the PCs being watched by something out in the dark... A mystery game should probably not reveal things ahead of time - it turns a whodunit into a howtoproveit, and only Columbo really makes that work.

An example:

Cutscenes and Metagaming, Mystery and Secrets

Raised by Chris Jarvis here, and addressed on the DWAITAS forum afterwards:  

Where does IC knowledge end and OOC knowledge begin?
Hopefully this should be obvious, but you never know.  

How good are you at separating IC and OOC knowledge?
Hopefully pretty good, but nobody’s 100%. I’ve seen more honest mistakes than active cheating here, thankfully.

When would a surprise or mystery be more fun than a spoiler?
marnal suggests when the player gets to work something out and gets a sense of accomplishment as a result. Likewise, I’ve had players request less spoilers so they can react more naturally in-character.  

When might spoilers be necessary?
I’d consider things like game premise here - few players appreciate a “bait and switch” campaign once, let alone again. The characters might be surprised to be whisked off into space, but the players better not have been looking forward to an Earthbound game with lots of contacts and connections featured strongly.  

When is metagaming a good thing?
The classic example is “letting a new PC join the party” but there’s more to it than that. In the discussed example of mysteries and cutscenes, a player knowingly sending a PC into danger is a kind of metagaming which may well be encouraged, and indeed may be vital.

How do you construct a cutscene?
Click here for my ideas.

Playercharacterons - UNITE!

A new UK genre show called Switch started last night on ITV2. Back in the day, “a new UK genre show” would be the mark of a freak conjunction of the planets, but nowadays we have a few scattered about here and there. This one in particular is not built with geeks like me in mind, being a light comedy-drama about sisterly bonding for a coven of four twentysomething witches where magic appears to be a way to cause amusing misunderstandings.

One thing I’ll take away from it, though, is that the four “elements” (building on ideas of power multiplication seen in The Craft and swiped by Charmed) apparently can’t do anything magical unless they’re all involved and in agreement.

Which would be an interesting complication for the Big Gun of a setting, as long as the players were willing to play fair with it and kept to character conflicts. You can only shoot fireballs if everyone thinks it’s a good idea. Or if everyone holds hands. Or...
A Tragedy In Five Acts by Matthew McFarland, nearly Kickstarted.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Conpulsion 2013

Conpulsion 2013: Espionage. 12th-14th April.

As RPG coordinator... anybody want to do something with an espionage theme?

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Short horror

Looking over previous years’ Dead By Dawn award winners, there are some that are game-friendly... which aren’t online. Drat.

The Ten Steps is wonderful, although not relevant to gaming at all. No gore, rather amusing, but... brrr.

On the other hand, we’ve probably all had horror games that ended up like Demonitron: The 6th Dimension. Accidentally or on purpose.


Google Hangout game of Vampire The Masquerade with Mark Rein-Hagen among the players.
Dear Esther - But is it art game?
Horror Theatre outlines some tricks that would also befit LARP and even tabletop RPGs.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Video editing woes

Hmm. Need (well, want) two-second clip of closeup of just a vampire's mouth showing fangs, possibly smiling.

 I'm sure such clips exist, but have yet to find them in Being Human s1 or 2, Blade 1 or 2, the BBC's recentish Dracula, Underworld, Sangre Eterna, Interview With The Vampire... And I used the one from Queen Of The Damned last time... Buffyverse vamps are too likely to show bumpy foreheads. Don't have all of True Blood handy.

 Current leading contender is Kelli Ali in a Sneaker Pimps video...

Monday, 8 October 2012

Of Gods And Men trailer

A year after I considered actually running it, I finally finished the trailer for Of Gods And Men.

Footage from The Day After Tomorrow, Transformers, Independence Day, Stargate, Superman Returns, Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer, Percy Jackson, Heroes, Highlander (TV), Angel, Fellowship Of The Ring, Reign Of Fire. Music by Murray Gold.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Mayan Supreme Warrior’s Tomb Unearthed.


Hunted: Spies Like Us

Hunted from the BBC and HBO is set in the world of private security contractors - spies for hire. All the complexities of modern espionage, and not even the comfort of knowing who you’re working for.

“Never ask who the client is. Speculation leads to assumption. Mistakes can get you killed.”

Mercenary PCs tend to be the straightforward go-in-and-shoot type. So do spy PCs, really - espionage RPGs tend more to Bond than Smiley. But there’s plenty of room for shifting allegiances, moral ambiguity and doubt in games, if the players and GM are so inclined. See Cold City for an example of multiple agencies working together... badly.

(I was there for the screening this interview preceded, and asked series creator Frank Spotnitz “is it a nice change having a hero who can solve problems by hitting people?” He laughed and said “Absolutely! Of course, the trick is keeping her hitting people interesting.” I assured him that he was off to a good start.)

Orcs in the Senate!

Political candidate tries to suggest opponent playing WOW makes her a bad choice.

Via Steve D: For a game that isn't generally played LARP (although it can be) Call Of Cthulhu has the best props.

(Archive has the odd pulp rocket pack, Space Marine helmet and illuminated Silmarillion as well.)

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Weird bragging rights of the day: first edition Mage: The Ascension developer Satyros Phil Brucato liked my suggestion for a playlist for it.
Via Angus Abranson: Silver Gryphon Games looking for adventure writers.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012


Werewolf: The Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition Kickstarter is nearly at its first goal having gone live this morning.

A shopping suggestion that is in no way biased.

Maelstrom: Tales Of Madness And Horror. A new collection of Lovecraftian stories, in aid of victims of Hurricane Irene. Two stories by friends. I am in no way biased.

Boldly go for variety

Ron Moore considers what a new Star Trek series should have.

Agents Of SHIELD

Casting call sheets for SHIELD.

Our very first hint of what the house of Whedon's new show will look like. And yes, it sounds like it could be a group of player characters.

Want a copy of deluxe V20?

Justin Achilli has a spare. I imagine the bidding will get a bit high though.