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Idea for a genuinely horrifying horror campaign...

Huh. I must be odd. I totally don't mind bait and switch.
I mean, as long as it's done well, it's fine with me.
Of course, there would be huge potential for it to be done really badly and become annoying, but I really trust my regular group, so I don't think it would be obnoxious.
For a stranger group game I might be apprehensive.

I agree. Honestly I'm kind of surprised that the primary reaction to this idea was to think of it as "bait and switch". If I were a player in this scenario I would love it. Done well, I would find it incredibly immersive.
 

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prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
I agree. Honestly I'm kind of surprised that the primary reaction to this idea was to think of it as "bait and switch". If I were a player in this scenario I would love it. Done well, I would find it incredibly immersive.
Pitched as one thing (Western), run as another (Horror). If you don't pitch it as at least like a Weird West thing, there'll be some people who'll feel as though they're not in the game they signed up for. I think you can take from the reactions you're finding puzzling that ... some gamers have had worse experiences with that than others.
 



Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Huh. I must be odd. I totally don't mind bait and switch.

It isn't like everyone always reacts the same way to it, or something.

To present an example of one issue - in a live-action game I once played NPCs for, one person I know was playing, and her character build was significantly based on engaging with the economic development aspects of the game. Then, on the third session, the entire game traveled a couple thousand years back in time. All her build investment, and relevance to the game vanished, without her knowing it would happen. Meanwhile, all the people who had put together combat builds were just fine. The historians were in amazingly positive positions. The commerce folks? Shafted.

In the OP's example, you're in the Old West. You expect lots of high noon shootout action. You invest in being the fastest draw in the West... and it turns out to be a horror game with mostly slow zombies that are effectively immune to bullets. Everyone is faster than the zombies, and the bullets do squat. Much of your build is wasted, and your character concept not relevant to the current situation.

And that's only considering the mechanical build issues, and not other expectations.
 

It isn't like everyone always reacts the same way to it, or something.

To present an example of one issue - in a live-action game I once played NPCs for, one person I know was playing, and her character build was significantly based on engaging with the economic development aspects of the game. Then, on the third session, the entire game traveled a couple thousand years back in time. All her build investment, and relevance to the game vanished, without her knowing it would happen. Meanwhile, all the people who had put together combat builds were just fine. The historians were in amazingly positive positions. The commerce folks? Shafted.

In the OP's example, you're in the Old West. You expect lots of high noon shootout action. You invest in being the fastest draw in the West... and it turns out to be a horror game with mostly slow zombies that are effectively immune to bullets. Everyone is faster than the zombies, and the bullets do squat. Much of your build is wasted, and your character concept not relevant to the current situation.

And that's only considering the mechanical build issues, and not other expectations.

Ok, sure, but maybe it's possible to plan a campaign with a surprise twist AND help work with the players to prevent that kind of scenario.

In general I don't think playing whack-a-mole with examples is a useful form of discussion, so I hate to shoot down your example, but using it as a placeholder:

1) If the campaign starts off as traditional Old West, then there will still be lots of shoot outs. And even when it gets Weird(tm), it would be most effective if the theme still bounced unexpectedly between the supernatural and mundane. Sometimes the bad guy is really just a bad guy. (I'm thinking of the scene in Blue Velvet where the protagonists are being chased at night by a car and you're convinced it's the criminals, and it turns out it's just jealous high school rivals.)

2) Supernatural monsters aren't all slow-moving zombies, and in fact I imagine terrifying eldritch monsters springing out of the darkness so fast-draw could be awesome. But if that were the theme of the campaign, a GM could nudge players away from that ability without giving away the surprises. And if the player insisted, a (good) GM would make sure that ability played an important role.

In some ways this (surprising) debate reminds me of the discussions about metagaming, where some people constantly invoke "but what if a player or DM is a jerk?" arguments.

Instead of, "Oh, man, that could be really fun if it were done right" there's all this jaded/cynical "Oh, man, that could be really awful if it were done wrong." WTF?
 

Well, you asked for "thoughts", and this was apparently something that people immediately thought of. QUite possibly because they actually experienced it happening.
Even in a "regular" campaign you can discover that players are not deciding that their original ideas didn't work out due to the way the campaign developed, and be disappointed and frustrated. Suggesting the game is one thing and then it ending up being something else increases your chances of that happening.

So you should look out for ways to reduce the chance of that happening.
Look at what characters were actually build. If someone is building a card sharper that has been taking out various casinos, it is likely the player wants this to be a relevant part of the campaign where his character gets to shine. So have a plan for that when you turn to a horror game - maybe Death plays poker, too. If someone is playing a Marshall in pursuit of criminals, how does this stay relevant when beasts from the Far Realms invade the town? You hopefully know your players, so you should have a better guidance on what they find important about their characters and what they don't.
You could soften the "shock" by starting it off as a Weird West scenario and focusing on some goofy weird tech in early adventures and sneak in the supernatural and horrific later.
 

Look at what characters were actually build. If someone is building a card sharper that has been taking out various casinos, it is likely the player wants this to be a relevant part of the campaign where his character gets to shine. So have a plan for that when you turn to a horror game - maybe Death plays poker, too.

Yes, exactly! That's the spirit.

(Or maybe Death plays Twister and Battleship...)
 

MGibster

Legend
n some ways this (surprising) debate reminds me of the discussions about metagaming, where some people constantly invoke "but what if a player or DM is a jerk?" arguments.

Instead of, "Oh, man, that could be really fun if it were done right" there's all this jaded/cynical "Oh, man, that could be really awful if it were done wrong." WTF?
You know your players better than any of us do. If you think they'll go for that kind of bait and switch campaign then go ahead and give it a shot. (And I don't use bait & switch in a derogatory manner here.) I can appreciate that it's difficult when someone posts something and a lot of people end up telling you not to do it or it's a bad idea. So I apologize for adding on to that pile up. I wasn't trying to be a jerk about it. I see what you're trying to do and I do think it might be kind of cool if you can pull it off.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
If someone is playing a Marshall in pursuit of criminals, how does this stay relevant when beasts from the Far Realms invade the town?
I’m thinking that could play out a bit like Tremors. Whatever differences the protagonists and major NPCs might have had gets put aside…for now.

Of course, a truly twirly-mustached, black-hat wearing BBEG would still be thinking about seizing an opportunity to do away with the Marshall if the right opportunity presented itself…

”Lands o goshen! I do believe the Marshall has run afoul of that…THING that was chasing us.”

saloon door swings open

”I did when that barn door somehow got locked behind me, but I bamboozled thar monstrosity with a little trick I learned from an Apache scout a while back, and escaped out of the 2nd story window. Good thing it can’t climb ladders!”

sotto voce “Curses, foiled again!”
 

Spot on, @Dannyalcatraz.

If someone is playing a Marshall in pursuit of criminals, how does this stay relevant when beasts from the Far Realms invade the town?

Also, the character concept "a Marshall in pursuit of criminals" describes what they expect to be doing in the campaign (which they might still be doing, when things get Weird) but the traits/abilities the player chooses for that concept are different. That might include leadership, nerves, investigation, toughness, diplomacy, etc. And those things still play an important role when the world goes all Lovecraft (or Gothic, or Voodoo) on them.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Besides my suggestion about using a toolkit system, I want to ask: do you have an idea of what kind of horror tales you want to tell in this? Zombie plague? Lovecraftian? Native American rituals calling up spirits to rid their lands of invading white men?
 

Besides my suggestion about using a toolkit system, I want to ask: do you have an idea of what kind of horror tales you want to tell in this? Zombie plague? Lovecraftian? Native American rituals calling up spirits to rid their lands of invading white men?

Well, as I said, I don't think I personally am going to actually do this. I was really just ideating on something that I think could be fun. Mostly because I really miss that feeling, when I first started playing D&D, of surprise and wonderment. It just doesn't exist anymore; I know how RPGs work, and I know what to expect. Even as a player, the experience is more like that of an author writing a book, or a director making a film, rather than that of the audience. So this was an idea of how to bring back that old feeling.

And, I have to admit, the negative reactions I got in this thread make me think that not only are other veteran gamers in the same boat, but they've also completely forgotten about what it originally felt like. Like Robin Williams playing a middle-aged Peter Pan in "Hook" who can't even remember who he used to be. The wonder is gone, and they don't want surprises they want to be in their comfort zone of being expert gamers.

So, no, I didn't have a specific idea of which flavor of horror genre to use.

I mean, it doesn't even have to start in the Old West. It could be any non-magical, non-supernatural genre. Pirates, Spies, "Twilight 2000"? The only real goal is that the players, without even realizing it, try to find mundane explanations, so that when the reality hits them it's truly a shock.

(I'll add that I'm really not a fan of toolkit RPGs. I tend to most appreciate systems that have been designed from the ground up to support specific genres/settings.)
 

J.Quondam

CR 1/8
Well, as I said, I don't think I personally am going to actually do this. I was really just ideating on something that I think could be fun. Mostly because I really miss that feeling, when I first started playing D&D, of surprise and wonderment. It just doesn't exist anymore; I know how RPGs work, and I know what to expect. Even as a player, the experience is more like that of an author writing a book, or a director making a film, rather than that of the audience. So this was an idea of how to bring back that old feeling.

And, I have to admit, the negative reactions I got in this thread make me think that not only are other veteran gamers in the same boat, but they've also completely forgotten about what it originally felt like. Like Robin Williams playing a middle-aged Peter Pan in "Hook" who can't even remember who he used to be. The wonder is gone, and they don't want surprises they want to be in their comfort zone of being expert gamers.
Man, this really strikes a chord.

I mean, I understand that a surprise twist can be off-putting, especially given limited time to play and given systems with a lot of upfront investment in character concept/build. (I'm like that sometimes, or used to be.) I'd say go with Deadlands or something, but that gives the twist away; whereas something like Aces & Eights (I've never played it) doesn't seem to leave a lot of room to implement a twist. So maybe the best bet would be to just use a fairly lightweight system with fairly quick char gen? But generally, I'd hope that it would be enough to tell the group, "Hey, let's not take this too seriously; let's trust each other, roll with the punches, and just enjoy!"

If it's any consolation, when you posted this thread a few days ago, it got me thinking, too. I had been looking back over Boot Hill recently anyway, just for fun. But now it's got me thinking about trying something X-Files-ish with it, or "Werewolves at the O-K Corral", or a shoggoth marauding prospectors in a gold mine. Or something, who knows?

Anyway, I hope you manage to pull it off. Sounds like good fun!
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
I'll add that I'm really not a fan of toolkit RPGs. I tend to most appreciate systems that have been designed from the ground up to support specific genres/settings.
A dedicated system is usually going to do a better job of modeling the source material than a toolkit RPG, but as soon as you start genre-melding, the weaknesses of the dedicated system will start to show.

Imagine a long-established Western game suddenly dealing with an alien invasion. The power level of the alien warriors‘ arsenal might be so much greater than the Colts & Winchesters that the game models well that you might not have enough die at the table to resolve things by the rules as written.

I mean, think of a western sharpshooter who has to account for wind, leading their targets, recoil, etc., facing off against foes with energy weapons with laser sights. Range increments would be virtually meaningless- if they can see it, they can hit it.

(Just look at how easy it is for untrained jackasses to successfully hit moving aircraft with laser pointers.)
 

A dedicated system is usually going to do a better job of modeling the source material than a toolkit RPG, but as soon as you start genre-melding, the weaknesses of the dedicated system will start to show.

Imagine a long-established Western game suddenly dealing with an alien invasion. The power level of the alien warriors‘ arsenal might be so much greater than the Colts & Winchesters that the game models well that you might not have enough die at the table to resolve things by the rules as written.

I mean, think of a western sharpshooter who has to account for wind, leading their targets, recoil, etc., facing off against foes with energy weapons with laser sights. Range increments would be virtually meaningless- if they can see it, they can hit it.

(Just look at how easy it is for untrained jackasses to successfully hit moving aircraft with laser pointers.)

Yes, that's valid. It's not really designed from the ground up to support the genre if I'm changing the genre, right?

So maybe the best way to do it, solving for all variables except effort required, is to home brew an entire game, and then say, "Hey, gang, can we try the new Western game I've been designing?" That way:
a) It's built from the ground up to support the genre
b) They won't, and can't, know anything about it so the bait & switch (I'm co-opting that term) can't be anticipated. Unless they are on Enworld.

P.S. And I kind of like the idea that there's a "secret RPG" circulating privately on the Internet, GM to GM.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
So maybe the best way to do it, solving for all variables except effort required, is to home brew an entire game, and then say, "Hey, gang, can we try the new Western game I've been designing?" That way:
a) It's built from the ground up to support the genre
b) They won't, and can't, know anything about it so the bait & switch (I'm co-opting that term) can't be anticipated. Unless they are on Enworld.
That sounds good, but if you have a player who asks "What kind of Western? Some sort of Weird West stuff, or what?" I kinda think you'd better be honest.

(And as a player I'd probably ask, just because depending on the kind of Western, I might find some character ideas will work better.)
 

That sounds good, but if you have a player who asks "What kind of Western? Some sort of Weird West stuff, or what?" I kinda think you'd better be honest.

(And as a player I'd probably ask, just because depending on the kind of Western, I might find some character ideas will work better.)

It may very well be that the only way to make this work is to invite relatively new/novice gamers, who just don't know to ask those questions. Veteran gamers may just not have the right mindset.
 

J.Quondam

CR 1/8
A dedicated system is usually going to do a better job of modeling the source material than a toolkit RPG, but as soon as you start genre-melding, the weaknesses of the dedicated system will start to show.

Imagine a long-established Western game suddenly dealing with an alien invasion. The power level of the alien warriors‘ arsenal might be so much greater than the Colts & Winchesters that the game models well that you might not have enough die at the table to resolve things by the rules as written.
To be fair, a game of switcheroo doesn't have to involve a complete shift. It doesn't have to evolve into a full-scale alien invasion, when a suitable scenario might just be some bandits who found a couple nearly empty laser pistols on some desiccated alien corpses in some wreckage out in the desert. It doesn't have to be a zombie apocalypse, if it's just a crooked undertaker raising a lone zombie to scare folks and steal their stuff. And so forth. A western campaign where the supernatural is intermittent and mixed in with the mundane wouldn't have to require too many outre rulings beyond the scope of the regular rules. Seems to me like the main bone of contention might just be how focused the system is on pure gunfighting versus everything else.
 

J.Quondam

CR 1/8
It may very well be that the only way to make this work is to invite relatively new/novice gamers, who just don't know to ask those questions. Veteran gamers may just not have the right mindset.
You might be right, but you're also right that it's very strange and sad that that's the case.

I mentioned earlier that I happened to be reading Boot Hill 3rd ed (1990). There's a very brief section about inserting weird elements into the game. A quote pulled from that:

No doubt role-players who sit down for an evening’s BOOT HILL® game expect something in the classical Western genre: cattle drives, gunfights, bank robberies, gold rushes. Imagine their surprise when they encounter .. . a vampire! Or a werewolf, or creatures from beneath the Earth. No, these things are not typically Western, but they can be the basis for a very enjoyable role-playing session. The sense of wonder that is so essential to adventure gaming is strongest when encountering the unknown or the unexpected.

It was that last sentence that struck me, and reminded me of this thread. At least of 30 years ago, incorporating unexpected elements into a game was a perfectly normal way to do it among "veteran gamers."
 

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