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Narrative Control


Feb 13, 2009

Hi and welcome back to Narrative Control. This episode is a long one.  Justin and I are talking about Horror elements in stories and how to bring those into your games.

Hosts: Sean Nittner and Justin Evans

Length: 53:23 - Told you it was a long one

Show Notes

[00:28] Introduction: Horror in RPGs.  Breaking down the horror genre, distilling the elements and then talking about systems that back up those themes
[01:33] Sean trying to scare Justin.  Can you just make a fear check?
[02:10] Are we trying to scare the character or the player, or both?
[02:40] Call out to Rich, who asked us to talk about genres and the games that fit into them.
[03:30] What makes a horror story?  Different types.
Definitions: Horror Genres.
[04:00] Splatter horror.  Buckets of Blood!  Going for shock value.
[05:35] Haunted House.  Alien: A Haunted House in space.  Suspense horror, hidden from the audience as well as the protagonists.  Excitement of piecing the clues together and the edge of the seat suspense.
[06:50] Psychological Thriller.  Getting into the mind of the killer.  Warning: Spoilers.  Looking into the protagonists.  External conflict serves to spotlight the internal issues. 
[08:18] Pimping the Dresden Files one more time!
[08:49] Monster hunter story.  Action/Suspense vs. Horror?
[09:53] Survival Horror.  Hunted by the monsters.  The end is never certain.
Elements of a Horror Story
[11:27] Suspense. Will we make it out of here alive?  Not a very interesting question.  Only relevant in games where death is possible.
[12:30] Spiral into insanity. Getting into the mind of the killer.  What happens to you?
[13:12] Investigation.  Following the trail of clues.
[13:44] Paranoia. Who can you trust?
[14:50] Inevitable doom.  The story is about the struggle.
[16:08] Hope and Despair.  Balances the story, give the protagonists a reprieve or a allow them to accomplish something important.
Systems that support Horror Stories
[18:08] Justin’s game in the Fate System.  This Modern Death said this wasn’t possible.  How will Justin use Fate’s internal mechanics to tell a horror story? “Cuts himself to feel alive” is still an aspect!
[20:20] Making the story personal to the characters.  Players handing out aspects to each other, using back story, etc.
[23:13] Sanity decks.  A consequence for failing a resolve roll.  The cards give an aspect that reflects you’re loss of Sanity.  (Available at sinstergames.com soon).
[25:29] Dresden Files RPG will be much grittier than Fate.   There are fewer Fate chips and the GM is given license to really pound on the protagonists.  Not quite horror.
[26:35] Call of Cthulhu. One of the first games to offer a mechanic around sanity loss.  Sean has to get over his dislike of percentile system, but the sanity system was novel in creating consequences.
[29:25] Unfortunately Cthulhu became an inside joke.  Ryan Macklin talked about this on Master Plan on his episode on emergent play.
[30:55] Gumshoe. A game system designed specifically to facilitate investigation.  Each clue is found and then leads to another scene.
[33:32] Roanoke.  Uses a Doom Counter to measure the final endgame.  Allowing players to put nails in their own coffins.
[37:08] Dread.   The “pull” created an increasing level of danger… for everyone.  This makes the danger present visible to everyone.    Also, allows for a brief reprieve after someone dies.  Models survivor horror very well and creates a pacing system.
[41:18] Don’t Rest Your Head.  Uses Despair to make bad situations worse, but that fuels Hope, which can buy a brief reprieve.  Creates an economy of despair and hope.
[43:58] Don’t Rest your Head… again.  Players also have the ability to bring in horrific elements: Exhaustion and Madness.   Trading power for self destruction.  Players have to balance success against risking their character’s sanity.
[46:55] World of Darkness.  How unimpressed Sean is by the lack of Horror on WoD games.  Very hard to create suspense.  Can work when playing mortals, but much less so than when playing monsters.  There is some support from the system: Willpower, Virtue, Vice, etc. 
[52:00] Wrap up.  Looking for other suggestions for shows. Email us or get on the forums. 

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