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Saturday, 3rd December, 2011, 01:53 PM #451
Grandmaster of Flowers (Lvl 18)
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I'd like things to go back and forth from "ARGH!" to "WOOO!" more frequently. - Kamikaze Midget
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Saturday, 10th December, 2011, 11:36 PM #452
Novice (Lvl 1)
Wow, Fantastic Read!
I've spent the last several days reading every page in this thread (and it was worth it; I must have ten pages of notes). Thanks to everyone!
I'll be running "Beneath the Full Moon" on the 16th for a few friends and their girlfriends, the latter of whom were up-sold into playing and are not gamers. As has been the case with many a first-time Host on this thread, I have a few questions for the more experienced among you:
I'm going to have 4 hours, MAX, to run BtFM, with five players. Further adding to my time crunch, I want to keep things casual for the non-gamers, so I won't be sending the questionnaires out early. Up until three or four pages ago, I didn't think I'd have a problem, but there's been a lot of recent discussion about how long questionnaires take and now I'm getting worried.
I plan to split each questionnaire into four sets of 3-4 questions; they can hand each set in when they're done, so that I can start integrating answers on a rolling basis. I plan to do round-table introductions after the third set, leaving the interpersonal questions to the fourth set, after the players know each others' characters.
I really don't want our time to come to an end before reaching a satisfying conclusion, though of course I'm very aware of this possibility given the difficulty of pacing this game for a first-time Host. To that end, there are two main areas in which I'm looking for advice:
1) Aside from my "rolling answer sets" plan above, can you suggest anything else I might to do accelerate the whole questionnaire process (questions/answers/character intros/follow-up interpersonals/integrating into the plot)? Are there any pitfalls you see with my divide-and-conquer plan of attack? How much of those four precious hours should I use before cracking the whip and starting the game?
2) After that whip has cracked, is there anything you can tell me that might help me keep the game on schedule? I've read a lot about pacing, but I'd love it if someone would attempt to loosely explain the general "flow" of a three-act Dread game, especially when run with new players: I'd really like to be able to gauge "where I am" throughout the game in terms of timing. Are there parts of the game that typically go faster than others, or times where the game slows down? And just as a loose ballpark figure, how much time should I leave for a satisfying Act III? But forget those questions: Absolutely any general advice on reaching a satisfying ending within my time constraints would be greatly appreciated!
3) ... okay, so I just thought of a third. Imagine the worst possible time for the tower to fall, in terms of pacing towards a satisfying climax (I'm thinking shortly before that climax, when I've got precious little time to bounce back, but maybe there's an even worse time than that). What would you do if the tower fell at precisely that moment? How might I recover from that untimeliest of untimely tumbles, get the game back on track, and still reach that satisfying ending I so desperately crave?
Thanks in advance (and I will of course post results after I've run it)!
Sunday, 11th December, 2011, 09:59 AM #453
Scout (Lvl 6)
1. I'd suggest knocking out some of the "Fluff" questions, maybe taking each questionnaire from a dozen or so questions to eight or nine. Lose things like "Tell me about your favorite pet" in favor of making your four stages of rolling answers into three. The depth of character creation might suffer a bit, but you really want to be sure to get them into the game ASAP and let them try out the visceral feel of being prey, because that's what'll get 'em hooked.
I really like the idea of the rolling answers, and may try to incorporate that into my future Dread games.
2. The timing of the game is very fluid, and lots of good advice has been put forward throughout this thread. I'd say that the whip should crack after about 30 or 40 minutes, maximum. Then plan on each act taking about an hour, that way when they run long you still have a few minutes to play with. I'd say get them moving towards the final showdown at least 45 minutes before time's up.
3. I had nearly the same thing happen the last time I ran that game. Worst case scenario, if they knock down the tower and you need to quickly set them up for a harrowing finale, have the monster jump them, and make them make "x" number of attack pulls to put it down, while making them pull to dodge "y" number of attacks, where "x+y" is equal to the number of pulls you think the tower has before falling minus one or two, so there's a good chance one of them will have to make a sacrifice to save the day.
Here was my response to a game where they were stubbornly refusing to make pulls. (Some people would rather hike on a sprained ankle now then have to fight a werewolf with a rickety tower later. Wimps.)
I spread x+y over several fights. They would injure it and run away (they had made contact with a helicopter pilot, but they had to meet him down river a few miles, where he could land safely due to less wind shear) and it would heal and catch up to them. They finally got some canoes in the water and were making good time, after one of them with a bad ankle had decided to stay behind and buy them some time.
Instead of letting him just knock the tower over and win the day for them, I passed him a note that said something along the lines of "I'll owe you one if you just let me narrate your fate for them and don't make a pull. Roll with it. You'll live, and you'll love it. Just work with me at the end."
He nodded, so I spun his tale of sitting with his back against a tree between the last fight and the river with a lighter and one of the girl's hairspray.
Then I completely cut scenes to the launching of the boats, and told the party they heard a scream from back in the woods.
I had the final wolf battle in the water. It was epic and in the end one of the players rolled against another player to steal their handgun(they were unwilling to pull against him since the tower was already so raggedy), then knock the tower over.
He explained how the next time he caught sight of the wolf he was going to leap onto it's back. It was waiting for him and snatched him out of the air by the throat, and he stuck the pistol into it's left ear and pulled the trigger. It's skull opened up like a tube of refrigerated biscuits, his throat opened up like a shaken can of soda, and they both disappeared into the river.
There was a short round of applause.
Any way, they made it down to the helicopter, and as they were boarding they saw the friend who had stayed behind running out of the woods towards them.
I had just handed him a note that said, "the werewolf got behind you without you noticing. It knocked the can out of your hand before you could react, then slowly bent down and bit you hard on the leg. As it raises it's head it winks at you, then it runs towards the river. Your leg starts to heal..."
He boards the chopper with his friends and a new gleam in his eye.
You can make a satifying ending happen even in the worst conditions if you work well with your players.
"The only thing worth writing about is people." -Harlan Ellison
Sunday, 11th December, 2011, 07:53 PM #454
Myrmidon (Lvl 10)
Re: tower falling at the wrong time: Most of the time, this isn't a problem in my experience. Remember that if the tower gets rebuilt, there are some autopulls to get it going again--3 per time it has fallen. The other thing is, have some tricks to get a lot of pulls going. Things that make everyone pull are great for this--things that make people pull competitively are even better. So, the tower falls shortly before the werewolf attacks. Throw in a bit where the werewolf howls, inspiring paralyzing and embarrassing fear in anyone who doesn't pull. For that matter, a friend has just died--you can totally have them pull to not lose their cool about that. Since the tower is fresh, you should get lots of pulls if people have motivations like looking macho. You can then have them pull to look totally cool. And then have the werewolf attack, and anyone who wants to stay in the boat/not fall off the wall they're climbing/whatever has to pull. Now you've got like 3+4+2+4 pulls (=13, a pretty stable tower but one that's starting to feel dangerous), and you're going into the final fight. It'll be fine.
If it happens later than that--you're in the final fight, and the tower falls for the first time, then it may be time to basically wrap it up. The wolf turns to flee, carrying off Betty's dead body, and the rest of the PCs can escape with one pull. If they want to turn it into a chase, great--that will chew up enough pulls to get scary again. If you want to go denoument right there, it will be fine.
I ran a Dread game (with modified rules, giving each PC one tower fall without dying) last weekend, and the tower fell 8 times in 4.5 hours (killing one PC and using up every other PC's free fall). The key was competing against each other and "everyone has to pull or something bad happens to their character." That plus 7 players really chewed through the tower. It was kinda awesome, and kinda horrifying.
Storyhour plugs: Aphonion Tales, a storyhour that I write (mostly) about a campaign in which I'm a player.
The Journals of Konrad Jagger, Licensed Diabolist, a storyhour I write set in the same world as Aphonion Tales, but about different characters.
Orichalcum's Way Cool Roman Storyhour, in which I'm a player.
Welcome to the Halmae, a nifty storyhour about a campaign for which I occasionally Council of Evil.
Tuesday, 13th December, 2011, 04:27 PM #455
Novice (Lvl 1)
Thanks for the great advice!
Just a quick thank you to the fantastic advice, some of which (not to slight its helpfulness in the least!) was so obvious I kick myself for not thinking of it first, e.g., "reduce the number of questions to reduce question & answer time", duh!
I've also created a TON of little props and handouts and whatnot, and I'd love to make them available to give something meager back to the community for this amazing thread. I've attached the initial handout .pdf I sent to my players to help them choose characters* (replete with Anasazi ruins red herrings/clues?), just by way of example, but I'm not sure where I should submit the rest for others to enjoy. Much of it is BtfM-themed, but as I play more scenarios, I'll create more, as I love graphic design. Includes:
- cave-painting stickers to write complications (injuries, etc.) on, including a sick (if I do say so myself) "dead man walking" sticker, all of which affix to ...
- ... Grand Canyon-themed ID-badges, hung by lanyards around the neck (with the button-clip extending out the bottom so they can clip it to their clothes, avoiding unfortunate dangling-card tower-topples): they'll write their names on each, and the idea is each player will stare across the table at the ever-mounting list of complication-stickers around each player's neck
- equipment cards for all of the personal/portable equipment listed in the scenarioŚthey're 2.5"x3.5" (half that for flares/matches/etc), so they can be sleeved if you have old CCG sleeves lying around; includes a backpack for each player: they'll keep their equipment cards under the backpack card, so that if the backpack is lost, so is everything under it...
- larger cards, designed to be folded and stood, for things like tents, rafts, food supply, shredded tent: they'll cluster around the tower, a clear list of the shared/bigger equipment the group needs to worry about transporting
- 4"x6" theme/scene templates in word for printing out (two to a page) the pulls/host-advice for each scene or theme, with about 1/3 saved for integrating notes from questionnaires; used by the host in a small binder as s/he walks around the table behind the players (love that idea, PirateCat!)
- an excel spreadsheet of over 1200 questions, gleaned from every available supplement and scenario I've found** Ś and that's 1200 EXCLUDING those from the core book, which I haven't found an easy way of adding yet; includes columns for rating/flagging the best questions, as well as columns for flagging interpersonal questions, strengths/weaknesses, basic establishing questions, questions for adding conflict/trust, fears, etc...
- a sorted summary of the notes I took from reading through this thread, as well as the one at tiltingatwindmills.net
So yeah, a bit of boasting, I admit: Sometimes I end up neglecting game prep for projects like these, lol But if I can find somewhere to host it, you won't have to!
* locations I cite in the itinerary have no relation whatsoever to their actual placement in the Grand Canyon; my players have never been!
** Because I tried to keep entire questionnaires intact where I found them, this number includes repeats (though I've been flagging them as "Repeat" where I can, so they can be filtered out). Also, copyright issues, but I've marked each question's source, so I can remove everything that isn't public domain before submitting.
Last edited by Eunomiac; Tuesday, 13th December, 2011 at 05:04 PM. Reason: to remove "unnecessary" air-quotes; alas, my parentheses-fixation is something I'll never beat. Also, edited a bit of the text in the .pdf, and made sure fonts were embedded.
Tuesday, 13th December, 2011, 11:34 PM #456
Scout (Lvl 6)
That handout is great. Just the thing to start them off right.
Have you thought about what to do if more than one person shows up only wanting to play the philosophy major?
The amount of work you've put into it is inspiring. I'd like to steal, err, see all the other goodies that you've got lined up for your players, too.
Attach it here or set it up somewhere on the internets (have a look at obsidian portal) and link to it.
I have round about a dozen games of Dread under my belt (sadly never as a player).
I'm always interested in other people's approach to the storyteller side of things. Your equipment cards and stand-ups are amazing, and that sort of thing is easy to forget in a standard roleplaying game with equipment lists, much less in a Dread game.
Keep us appraised of the game, I'm always exited to read about a Dread game (just look at my status), especially when it involves something that is new and innovative to me.
"The only thing worth writing about is people." -Harlan Ellison
Wednesday, 14th December, 2011, 07:10 PM #457
The Grand Druid (Lvl 20)
I love the itinerary!
Saturday, 17th December, 2011, 09:52 AM #458
Novice (Lvl 1)
Session Report: Beneath the Full Moon
Well the 16th has come and gone, as did our game of Beneath the Full Moon with me as first-time Host. As promised, here's my session write-up! I also have some observations/tips/ideas/brainwaves, which I'll post immediately after.
Spoiler Note: This is a full session report for Beneath the Full Moon, the first scenario in the Dread core book. If you anticipate playing through it in the future, please stop now -- there are spoilers even in the character descriptions.
Cast of Characters:
Chad (Economics): A cold-hearted fellow who killed his parents for his inheritance, and abuses oxy and cocaine to overcome his "physical limitations." Since I sent out the questions in rolling sets, I was able to tweak later ones after getting answers for earlier ones: The guide dumped his oxy supply (not his beer), and I had him give me oxy withdrawal symptoms AND an unexpected benefit of that withdrawal. Result? A restless, jumpy psychopath with occasional hallucinations... but a hyper-alert, light sleeper.
Chantal (Philosophy): Aside from being the sharpest and most rational of them all (CON: wouldn't believe in the supernatural even when glowing red eyes were staring her in the face), she was a cake decorator by trade (PROs: steadiest hands in the group---icing is finnicky work). Had a crippling fear of water, which was... well, crippling
Crystal, pronounced "Cri-STAHL" (Fashion Design): A lazy, whiny, leather-clad princess, convinced that she'd be saved by the throngs of people sure to miss her absence. Cared not a whit for the group, but did take a motherly liking to the Freshman. Her "MOST useful member of the group" question gave her an unexpected background in hunting---she got into fashion quite unexpectedly, by hunting, skinning and tanning her own leather.
Darryl (Freshman): Player loved knowing the werewolf secret, so I was happy to arm him with a silver pendant, which turned out great in the climax. Considered geology/archaeology as majors, and read Darwin's "Origin of Species" 20 times, so I fed a lot of information about the beast and the canyon through him. Fierce independent streak, so I had him make pulls whenever people disagreed with him to avoid him going off on his own in a huff.
Eric (Engineering): (Formerly "Casey", but I vetoed a fourth C-name for my own sanity.) Became a chemical engineer to go into vengeful chemical weapons manufacturing (!) after his father was wounded in Desert Storm. Blew off a project dealing with phosphorous to go on the trip, so he got to do some fun things with those flares. Paranoid of strangers and suspected everyone else in the group (PRO: better able to spot sneaky shenanegans of others). Hated insects and was afraid of the dark (PRO: driven to keep that fire going!)---more fun phobias!
This may be one of the shortest run-throughs of Beneath the Full Moon, because of the time crunch I mentioned above, people showing up late, and the fact that the first scene was so damn slow.
Before I got a feel for the pacing of the game, I asked for too many pulls in the opening scene (e.g. check the guide, stabilize the guide, keep your cool, search his tent for the backpack, create a stretcher, carry the stretcher, avoid injury on the rocks, avoid dropping the guide...). When you multiply many of those pulls by the 5 players making them, I quickly noticed two problems. First, the game was draaaaaaagging: a wounded guide and an empty campsite does not an hour's entertainment make. Second, I found myself ramping up to a treacherous tower before they'd even hit the rafts: Chad knocked it over while carrying the guide down the path. Unwilling to let him out of the game this early, I shattered his leg and made him Dead Man Painfully Limping. He'd play an instrumental part in the story, which I've learned is the redeeming feature of the initially-unappealing "Dead Man Walking" rule.
Taking advantage of the release of tension following the tower collapse, I bamfed them into the rafts and onto the river without many more pulls, setting them up for some easy rapids with a fairly stable tower. (I introduced them to the stalking wolf the minute they hit the river, because the game had gone far too long without the beast turning up.) But as I switched to my second playlist (Playlist 1: "Isolation", Playlist 2: "Dread", Playlist 3: "Panic" <-- very useful divisions!) and turned up some rapids sound effects, the atmosphere got a little too intense for "easy rapids." So, out came the crazy pull-fest: Pull to avoid capsize! Now everyone pull to avoid going overboard! Now pull to avoid losing your pack! To avoid vomiting! To not break an oar! To avoid losing broken-legged Chad! ... Now, raft two, repeat!
Amazingly, EVERYBODY made EVERY pull, never declining, and the tower was teetering by the time they were out. They all risked death to avoid sea-sickness. I must have scored 20 pulls out of the rapids alone.
Looking at the time, I realized the game was running long. So, I quickly accelerated to a Friday-night climax: I had the wolf appear on the opposite side of the rapids, scaring them with its impossible ability to keep pace, and offered Chantal the Philosopher (with the map/compass) a pull to find a good campsite, where they built a fire with a flare. Amazingly, despite Chad and I both making no secret of it, no one noticed Chad's shattered leg had apparently healed all on its own. I didn't even offer them a pull to notice this, since I was all but telling them for free, and besides, you can't buy this sort of "gotcha" foreshadowing. Chad and Daryll spooned with the guide in a tent to keep him warm (aww) while Eric and Chantal took the other tent. Princess Crystal took first watch... which was a terrible, terrible mistake, since she promptly declined the pull to stay awake.
The result? "Fight Around the Bonfire" begins with everyone asleep in their tents, and Crystal asleep on a stump in the middle of the camp site. I cackled, and Crystal... oh, poor Crystal.
I changed my playlist to "Panic", made some (remarkably Werewolf-sounding) Lion noises with my speakers, and terrified Princess Crystal by regailing her with how completely exposed and unconscious she was. I even positioned myself over the teetering tower so she couldn't look away from it; I hoped she was deciding which of her limbs was her favorite.
Even though I fully expected to take Epidiah's advice against running "round-by-round" combat, this scene fell quite naturally into it just given the dynamics of things, so pardon the detail I go into as I think it's a nice counter-example of how it can work in chaotic situations (i.e. not where everyone's surrounding something and whacking it with sticks). Starting with the Werewolf, everyone got a free action, and they could pull for each additional action (e.g. you can grab your knife, leave your tent, OR pull to do both).
Werewolf: Makes a beeline for Crystal, who's still asleep. I offered her four pulls: Wake + React + Dodge Full Hit + Avoid Side-Swipe. She made three of them, taking a brutal "Savage Shoulder Gash" major injury complication from that side-swipe.
Crystal, in the open: Declines a pull to avoid panicking, and already had a "Haunted By Blood" psychological complication, so she was on the verge of snapping. She did little more than crab-walk away from the beast, sobbing and weeping, as it vaulted off the cliff face, came full-circle, and bore down on her again. Everyone else? Still asleep in their comfy tents!
Daryll, in the guide-sandwich with Chad: He wanted to wake up, leap from that tent, and hurl his silver pendant at the beast. I offered five pulls: Wake + Exit Tent + Grab Pendant + Throw Pendant + Telling Blow. But I stopped him as he went for his "Exit Tent" pull, and offered him an immediate pull to "notice something." I was CERTAIN he wouldn't take it, given the three/four pulls ahead of him and the ridiculously tall tower, but he DID, and noticed something... BEHIND him.
Chad: It was Chad---frothing-at-the-mouth Chad, with red eyes, standing on an unbroken leg, lunging for Daryll's neck. Ooops! Dead Werewolf No-Longer-Limping! (Must have caught something from the guide's blood...) Daryll abandons his original plan, pulling to dodge Chad-wolf instead, careening out of the tent and into the open. Now there are two werewolves in our "round-by-round" combat. Huzzah!
Chantal, in the tent with Eric: She pulled to wake up and grab her combat knife. Her questionnaire described her as unrelentingly rational, so I demanded she make a pull before she'd believe she was facing anything other than a big animal seasoned with hallucinations brought on by exposure and/or exhaustion. She declined, so was happy (relatively speaking) with stainless steel against this "rabid grizzly."
Eric: He pulls to wake up and grab the flare gun. (Both Eric and Chantal declined to pull to leave the tent.)
Werewolf: Poor Crystal; she's still the only one in the werewolf's sights! Another three pulls: Shake Off Panic + Dodge + Avoid Side-Swipe. She declined the first, but made the other two. I swear we must have been at about 40 pulls by now. My "Panic" playlist was not helping their nerves.
Chad-wolf: Pursues Daryll out of the tent and lunges at him again, trying to grapple him. Daryll declines to pull to dodge (after I confirmed it was a grapple attempt---Chad-wolf was trying to protect his master and, as a not-quite-werewolf-yet, he lacked those lethal teeth and claws). Daryll gets tangled up in Chad-wolf, this time with no guide between them.
Crystal: Declines ANOTHER pull to avoid panicking, making it her third. Three strikes, you snap: She scrambled to her feet and fled headlong into the brush. I immediately asked her if she was stealing a raft: She answered yes, so I wrote her a note saying she had ... survived! (I have a soft spot for selfish princesses in horror movies; they have an unfairly high death rate for their crimes.)
Daryll: Grappling with Chad-wolf, he wanted to shove that silver pendant down Chad-wolf's throat. It took him three pulls (Resist Grapple + Grab Pendant + Down the Gullet), and Chad-wolf's throat exploded. Typical zombie-movie logic applied as to why explosive head-gore did not infect Daryll.
Chantal: A bit of a Jenga-show-off, this one. I offered her four pulls, on a tower that was almost as tall as she was: Exit Tent + Get to Wolf + Hit Wolf + Telling Blow, despite (as a player) knowing it would do little harm. She makes them all, and our werewolf takes his first real injury: A six-inch serrated blade neatly impaling one blood-red eye. Of course, this just makes him angry, and now the biological equivalent of a freight train is bearing down on Chantal and, directly behind her, the tent still housing Eric.
Eric: In a PERFECTLY climactic moment, his knowledge of phosphorous comes to the fore as he recalls that flares also include silver nitrate (do they? hell if I know). He takes his "free" action to leave the tent, then actually rolls his eyes at the tower before announcing his heroic sacrifice: charging the one-eyed, one-knifed werewolf and jamming that flare down its throat (still wide open, screaming in pain---1 pt. assist from Chantal... GOAL!). CRASH goes the tower, Eric looses his arm and most of his torso, and the werewolf's upper body explodes in molten red and orange fire, to match the brightening sunrise on the horizon.
And that's that! All-in-all, a fun ride... with the exception of the first scene---my criticisms of which, I think, would also apply to many of the scenes I left out due to the time crunch. (I call them criticisms, but as I'm a first-time Host, I think a lot of these concerns will evaporate as I find my sea legs.)
(Specific to Beneath the Full Moon)
- I found a lot of scenes seemed to beg for more pulls than they were "worth" in terms of the fear they'd instill or plot they'd advance. Pulls dragged out these scenes, and delayed the introduction of some truly frightening themes (the beast). Of course one can cut some of the pulls, but I'm talking specifically about scenes where a lot has to happen that really should require a pull.
Take the opening scene, where the guide is discovered and carried back to the rafts. You've got psychological pulls, pulls to stabilize the guide, pulls to build a stretcher, pulls to carry him back over the rocky terrain, pulls to secure him into the raft... all with very little "dread" beyond what the players know immediately upon hearing the introduction: guide is incapacitated, we're screwed. Throw in even a bit of interpersonal conflict over leadership and, unless it involves ALL of the players, you're going to have some people getting restless for something to happen.
- I also found a lot of the listed scenes were repetitive in tone: "You see a wolf." "You think you see a beast." "You think you hear a beast." "You think you hear a splash." My motive for shortening the game was time crunch, but I think it was better for it: opening scene, one set of rapids with the stalking wolf on either side, then right into a Friday night (not Saturday night) climax. I think the scenario would benefit from some more variety: perhaps seeing evidence of a campsite from a distance, only to discover it's been torn to pieces; or multiple werewolves, with an emphasis (in the questionnaires or scenario) on splitting up the group.
One thing I had difficulty with was in fitting the story/roleplay in between the pulls: So much of it was "make three pulls: one to do this, another to do this, and a third to do this. ok you succeed and now you need to pull to do this, and ok, and now you need to..." It was almost as if narration/roleplay had to interrupt the game -- a "wait, let's roleplay what just happened" sort of thing. Any advice on how to knit the pulling/roleplaying together a bit more tightly?
Last edited by Eunomiac; Saturday, 17th December, 2011 at 10:02 AM.
Saturday, 17th December, 2011, 10:16 AM #459
Novice (Lvl 1)
Tips from a Newbie Host
Okay, here are some of the tips/advice/ideas/etc. I picked up while playing through my first game as Host.
Given the time it takes to fill in questionnaires, the value of filling in questionnaires at the table instead of handing them out in advance, and the difficulty for the Host to meaningfully fold so many answers into a scenario, I think there's a solid argument to be made against including "fluff" questions that aren't going to be incorporated into the story.
Casual players especially are going to struggle over something like "Did Shakespeare really write all his plays?" only to get frustrated when all their struggling "doesn't matter" because there wasn't a Shakespeare-zombie to make their answer relevant. Sure, there are reasons in favor of them, but overall I just think the cost/benefit ratio is against them in a game with so little time for character development.
Three things that worked really well after my experience with the questionnaires:
- As much as possible, use the actual language in each players' answers, particularly unique turns of phrase that stick out. These verbal cues are subtle yet effective ways to alert them that their answers are mattering. E.g. my Economics Major, Chad, regretted murdering his mother when it was only his Dad he was out to kill (swell guy, really). His answer ended with, "she wasn't supposed to be there... she wasn't supposed to be there... she wasn't supposed to be there...". So, when the Fashion Major was in danger, I turned to Chad's player and said "she's got a two-year-old waiting for her at home... she shouldn't be here... she isn't supposed to be here..." It was great to see his eyes light up upon realizing the connection to his answer; that surfacing awareness packs more of a punch than the more direct "she's a mom too, and here's your chance for redemption" or some such. Simpler cues work too, of course: the Freshman didn't want to die a "coward", so any time I used the word "coward" he knew exactly what I was getting at; the Engineer went into chemical engineering for chemical weapons design to "Make. Them. Suffer."---so I'd encourage him to go chasing after monsters after a hit-and-run "...to make. It. Suffer."
- This one's perhaps obvious, and goes with my advice in the first paragraph of this section: Try to find something meaningful in each answer, however strange. Kind of like Aspects in FATE, I was always looking for both a benefit and a detriment. I struggled over "cake decorator" for awhile, until I came up with "steady hands" and "focused" -- which was very useful when it came to suturing up wounds or keeping watch. Equally obviously, this doesn't have to come from the answers: failing a botany exam implies some knowledge of plants, whatever the answer given.
- RELATIONSHIP MAP. So useful. Write each character's name down on a piece of paper, including key NPCs, in a rough circle. As interpersonal questions come in, draw connecting lines labeled with things like "hates" or "stole money from" or "played prank on", etc. Not only does it make a very easy reference, it helps you set up PvP when you need tower attrition, and it can give you big-picture insights into group dynamics you might otherwise miss.
One thing I noticed about the tower has to do with "pull thresholds" (i.e. the level of complexity/difficulty at which you would ask someone to make a pull). At first, I thought it was best to keep this consistent: If it would take two pulls to suture up a wound with a stable tower, it should always take two pulls. But then I realized that this game is about pacing and feel. As long as you aren't being inconsistent (e.g. reducing something that once took two pulls to a single pull), I think it's perfectly fine to reduce the pull threshold when the tower is more rickety, especially if you're trying to preserve the tower for an imminent climax. My rule of thumb is that, as long as my players are fearing that tower and dreading my pulls, then all I need to worry about is pacing: not having the tower fall immediately before a satisfying climax.
It. Is. WORTH IT.
Music: Grab some solid horror/sci-fi/surreal movie soundtracks (Donnie Darko, 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later, Dog Soldiers, Inception) and/or video game scores (BIOSHOCK, BIOSHOCK 2), load 'em into your iPod, and rate them 1, 2 or 3 for three levels of "Dread". I use "Isolation" (light fare, with a surreal or creepy twist, for most of Act 1), "Dread" (dark fare, but still fairly ambient -- pretty much anything obviously horror but not heart-pounding fits here -- for most of Act 2), and "Panic" for climactic scenes, as well as high-energy scenes in earlier acts (e.g. rapids).
Sound Effects: Even moreso than music, my players responded VERY well to ambient sound effects: campfires, running water, insects & birds, wind, etc. You can run multiple versions of WinAmp simultaneously, for an impromptu layering of sounds: have owls hooting in one WinAmp, crickets in another, a campfire in a third and you have a perfect night scene. A fourth WinAmp can include short cues, like monster sounds or snakes rattling or what have you. Then run iTunes for your music, with three playlists for each of your three categories of music, then switch between those playlists when the mood shifts -- all on a single laptop screen, which you can set aside and move over to whenever someone's making a pull. You might need to fiddle with the volume balance a bit, but it's not hard to do that in-game from your laptop while people are pulling.
I can't emphasize enough how effective this is, and how worth the effort it is to put it together!
Saturday, 17th December, 2011, 10:22 AM #460
Novice (Lvl 1)
Finally, A Variant Idea
I thought about this while I was getting all frustrated that Economics Major Chad hadn't fought harder for the group leadership role: For some scenarios, I'd want a real incentive for players to go a certain way. Sometimes I'm going to want to do a scenario that depends on certain player actions, or just as a way to have some control over PvP. So, I thought about introducing a new type of question: the "agenda."
Unlike typical questions, agendas come in two parts. The first part, in bold, sets a condition that the player can satisfy during the course of the story. The condition should be as clearly-defined as possible, so there can be no doubt whether it was satisfied or not. The second part is your basic question, typically regarding the condition to be satisfied. At the end of the game, whether people survive or not (though either could be part of the agenda's condition!), they're also recognized for satisfying their agenda. You could do all sorts of things with this -- even include multiple agendas, with point values for scoring:
- [You are formally elected as the leader of this group by a majority vote at least once before the end of the scenario. (10 pts.)] How do you intend to do this, and why do you expect the rest of the group will follow you?
- [The group is divided and in at least two separate locations by the end of the scenario. (5 pts.)] Why do you want to keep the group separated?
- [You publically and correctly accuse at least one other character of murder. (5 pts for each correct accusation; -5 pts for each false accusation)] As a bounty hunter in search of a killer, what evidence led you here?
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