Monday, 31 August 2009

building tension

Tension is a vital element of any story arc. It builds anticipation in the mind of the audience by uncertain or delayed outcomes, provokes curiosity by asking questions, creates hopes in their mind that disaster can be averted, raises the stakes by introducing suspense or springs surprises on them. The impact of an incomplete timeline or interrupted resolution draws audience attention - psychologists attribute this to people better remembering interrupted or incomplete tasks than those resolved immediately.

Curiosity and mystery
Raising questions in the mind of the audience provokes their involvement - not only in terms of providing a trail for them to follow but also in leaving an incomplete task for them to consider; even if the story provides the audience with superior awareness to the protagonist. Mysteries offer an incomplete picture and clues to it's resolution, though misdirection and obscurity serve to muddy the water. Ravyn at Exchange of Realities offers a fuller analysis of the mystery plot.

Anticipation and hope
Anticipation is a key emotional state and probably deserves it's own post. Balancing fulfillment of a pleasant or rewarding event (e.g. with frustration of that event can build effective tension. Overall, this must deliver fulfillment. Building anticipation can be done by outlining plans in the plot, introducing problems and solutions and moving forward towards fulfillment or resolution. Drip-feeding anticipation in bite-size chunks is perfectly fine as fifteen minutes tension has greater impact than fourteen minutes boredom and one minute of shocks.

Suspense and worry
This is the dark side of anticipation; the end result is danger or loss to the character. Where there is suspense, there is risk - the chance of something significant happening. Empathy with the character involved is vital otherwise the audience will just see stuff happen to someone they don't care about. Outcomes can be made uncertain by providing opposition to the character and their actions. Other methods of inducing uncertainty include creating disadvantage whether it's by an unfamiliar environment, attrition, a loss of refuge or escalation of threat.

Surprise and excitement
In dealing with the unexpected, the setup must always carry less weight than the payoff; if you are going to play a surprise then it must have an impact (or why bother?) on the character or the plot. Whether by reversal of situation or fortune, coincidence or shock the intent is to change the scene in an unexpected yet anticipated way. Beware the deus ex machina, where solutions come from an unheralded external agency (usually divine). Ideally the surprise is within the scope and means of the character or plot. Methods of foreshadowing a surprise includes the hoary tradition of Chekhov's gun (sometimes he hands over an entire armoury) which leads to audience panic as they try to anticipate that somehow, everything is significant in an incomplete pattern.

Evidently, there is a danger of using too much spice. Yet tension can make a good story great and even a weak one breath-taking.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

spare me: ye olde magick shoppe?

An oft-repeated 'requirement' of certain fantasy games, the magic shop greets those with excess coin to burn with the cheery glow of pixellated candles and the promise of kewl powerz out of the necessity of explanation from computer RPGs. Lame and lamented, the presence of 'ye olde magick shoppe' makes it convenient to gain items of power essential to continued survival of your character. Convenient and cheesy.

Think carefully. Going down this route is making magic a commodity with all it implies. I have no problems with the cunning magician making an enchanted weapon for a hero. What I object to is his selling it onto the inscrutable shopkeeper. What kind of relationship exists between the two that making a magic item becomes commonplace enough to become a stock commodity; can you imagine the shopkeeper shouting about the fact his magic swords are selling like hotcakes?

And when did a magical sword become cheap or obsolete? Free Excalibur with every kingdom? "Ah but!" the objectors cry. There's time-honoured traditions behind these things. Making the magic sword obsolete first appears in Beowulf (book only) when Beowulf shatters his sword on the hide of Grendel's mother and it forces him to use the shiny magical sword in her hoard which then melts due to her blood. Spring that on a player sometime and see what happens. :-)

So no room for Ollivander then? In the right setting, yes. Most heroic fantasy treats magic with a bit more... mystery. Shopping isn't heroic (even for magic swords) yet. Being given weapons by a mysterious benefactor (including your father-in-law) or the Gods to perform deeds is. Maybe having to do the hard work first is much more appropriate don't you think? Of course this may give your game a bit more of a mythic quality than McMagics.

Convenient and cheesy. Something you want in your game? Spare me!

Saturday, 22 August 2009

the ancient city of brass

Lots 566- 578
Twelve brass jugs sealed with lead found by a local fishing community off the coast of Algeria; the seals stamped in the lead have been confirmed as Solomonic by our scholars in Jerusalem and in Cairo. The seals are identical to those with confirmed provenance as prison jugs for ifrit; known for their hostility to humanity. The bidding starts ladies and gentlemen at £100,000 Sterling per jug.

The sheikh who purchased them seeks to fund an expedition to find the city where they had been cast. This expedition will yield a fascinating opportunity for explorers and scholars of antiquity, even if local guides mutter that the journey will take the expedition into the most inhospitable and ill-omened parts of the Rub al-Khali. Yet there's always those guides for whom money forgives almost any peril.

What treasures and perils await such explorers and their followers? Stories of great tombs that warn of the futility of wealth and tell of wars between jinn and humanity, mechanical horsemen, half-petrified jinn and of course the fabled city itself, said to hold temptations and death in equal measure. Of course others seek the prizes of the City of Brass - as not least the fabled libaries and the seas beyond where Solomon imprisoned hundreds of ifrit in brass jars...

Friday, 21 August 2009

inns and taverns: the wayside

A roadside tavern just inside the edge of The Great Forest, a solidly-built three storey circular tower of oaken beams 40' across using a pair of trees for structural support with a first floor balcony that views the road which is often guarded by someone with a signalling horn and a longbow. It is surrounded by a low wooden fence and gate that can be vaulted by the athletic and climbed by the drunk. A lean-to adjacent to the building and in the shade of one of the trees provides rough-and-ready stabling and pasture for five horses. It is possible to climb onto the inn from the trees and get into a top floor room from there.

Entering from the east, the first two storeys form a massive common room and tavern around a central slate hearth where chicken and suckling pig roast on spits and a sizable cauldron bubbles with stew. Long tables and benches are arranged like wheel spokes from the hearth On the west side of the room is a bar where eight wenches and two barmen pour from kegs behind them and a slate hangs with prices. There are staircases to the north and south leading up to balconies on the first floor where people gather and the staircases lead higher. Under the balconies are discreet alcoves for business but getting served can be a problem for those sat there.

The top floor is a collection of rough-and-ready rooms frequented by secretive patrons willing to pay a bit extra and a pair of local working girls popular with the local foresters. The ale is rough but strong, wine is sold from the keg. The food is plentiful and good quality though sleeping on straw is the only option for guests - requests for baths are laughed at. Ale is brewed and food is prepared for cooking in the cellars where staff have slightly better accommodation than the guests. The Wayside is usually busy with foresters, tinkers and itinerant travellers and turns a tidy profit as the door lintel is marked as under protection of a local scout and ranger fellowship.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

the cold hunter

"I remember the forest... before the winter, before the witch-girl, before the deaths, and now... the ice, wind, cold. The hunger. One brings the other, so sit and eat my friends! Outside the ice and wind will flay you and wear your skin. In here you can fill your hungry bones - I am the best hunter here and my hearth is never bare!"
-- Vonn Gutturke, hunter.
Vonn Gutturke lived in Neraive's village for years. Then as she became a woman, she changed. With the snows, her hair turned white, her skin grey, the cold shone from blue eyes and as she sang, icy winds keened with her. Spring was long returning and her powers grew so none could control her in the dark months. With that realisation came fear. Elders and wives muttered and she became their scapegoat. One year some bullies beat her with birch rods, then she screamed and the wind threshed them like corn. After that, they left her alone.

Vonn didn't care, he had mouths to feed. Desperate beasts ran through the woods, seeking food depleted by ever-lengthening winters. Vonn and the other hunters fought wolves, bears and even each other. When Neraive vanished, it was one less. Yet the winter would not relent and shapes were seen in the trees, one even looked like her. The bullies took to the woods with sword and spear. They were seen among the trees that spring, icicles forming spiked armour around their joints and hoar-frost crusted on their grey skins.

Vonn got lost chasing a deer. The wolves found him with it and his axe killed four yet they tore open his flesh. As he lay dying, her voice called his name to him and her hands cooled burning wounds. Snow and ice patched torn skin and sinew as damned hunger pressed into his wounds and he rose up, dead yet moving, his axe ready. Then he saw her, a perfect figure of ice and knew no ordinary axe would bite. Helpless and ashamed he fled her laughter and his hunger - greater than any mortal man can bear - into the winter woods, seeking his prey.

Now he dwells in a lodge apart from the village, amidst woodsmoke, cured meats and hunting trophies. On the hunt he is dead silent. His arrows and axe bring needed food, while people go missing in the deep woods, the village is thankful for Vonn's skill. He visits the village to trade jerky, bonemeal, meat and furs for axes, pots and spices, he is boastful but well-received for his much-needed supplies. If he finds lost travellers he will offer them a meal but lone travellers learn too late that this is their final meal. Their bodies become a feast, then jerky and bonemeal.

Vonn seeks to maintain his hunter's lifestyle. As undead he must feast on human flesh to retain his corporeality. He keeps his limbs hidden for the white ice that patches his flesh traces strange glyphs on his skin. His face is often touched with hoar-frost yet the gleam in his eyes and vulpine smile with sharp, crooked teeth belie the cold shadows of the forest. He dislikes fires, keeping his hearth burning low and steady and constantly cooking or boiling something that can smother the hearth quickly so it can't be used against him.

Sometimes the figures in the trees pass close by his lodge but they do not bother him - his heart is as cold as theirs and his punishment already meted out. Now he need only feed himself yet his life is lonely so he feeds the others out of habit and to keep them from suspecting him. Yet his boasts will surely condemn him as young hunters seek him out to learn his craft for is he not the best hunter they know? He cannot eat them all and should one survive, the village will have no choice but to hunt the hunter. And so it goes.

This post refers to The Sleepless Drift, Neraive from Nevermet Press

Monday, 17 August 2009

toolkit: visceral, vicarious, voyeuristic

Jon Boorstin's The Hollywood Eye proposes a three-layer model for the craft of movies where there are three distinct aspects of each film. Where one or more are lacking, the film will fail to engage or please it's audience. These ideas have made their way into studies on other media and computer interactive design.

Visceral - This deals with instinctive morality, gut and adrenaline responses, what some call 'earthy' or 'unreasoning'. It offers thrills and attractions by sensory experience. The physical response to the situation is where the visceral aspect has power bordering on the addictive or traumatic as they rely on subconscious cues augmented by body chemistry.

Sometimes socially inappropriate or unconventional - the laws of misrule and carnival apply, as outsiders teach and share experiences to transcend taboo. The visceral layer can toughen emotional sensitivities of the audience so they can handle the story's horrors or the reality they return to. It can also raise awareness by engendering sensitivity depending on intent.

Visceral responses can be as diverse as arousal, disgust, horror or laughter - all precursors to . to behavioural or cognitive responses. The payoff is the audience has an intrinsic sense of being validated or valuable at the end of the story by a release of tension by integrating the experience having integrated the story or something in it that is important to them.

Vicarious - The emotional hold of the film; how the film evokes and shifts emotion in individual scenes and how it adds up to make an overall emotional experience. The audience is curious about the human condition (even if characters aren't human!) and story events experienced by the characters offer potential insights into behaviours or social dynamics.

Characters must be engaging. The audience needs to build rapport with and identify with them. By shared emotional intensity, the audience connects with a character and their struggles (and so, the story) gaining emotional experience by doing so. The detachment of a film means that this emotional experience occurs in a controlled environment (usually).

Working emotion into the story is one of the two tasks that any author is faced with (the other is telling the story itself). I've referenced David Freeman but also need to mention Karl Iglesias whose Writing For Emotional Impact has helped disseminate Boorstin's ideas to a wider audience as well as giving formal examples of how craft can elicit these effects.

Voyeuristic - Boorstin defines this as the 'logic' of the film; the cognition of it's story and the associated elements. It's also the joy of experiencing new things - the excitement of something daring, imaginitive, spirited or relevant - and possibly learning from them. The curiosity of the audience is a tool you can use, the objective is to encourage the audience to learn of your story.

Audience curiosity must be piqued or rewarded in some way - either by new information, bonding with a character, the resolution of conflict, completion of a sequence of events or by being entertained by the emotional impact of a situation. These events are structured in a way that supports individual elements and engages with the audience.

Distance from the character or situation can work to your favour, shielding the audience from the consequences of being caught eavesdropping on lovers or watching a serial killer at work as the audience learn things that reveal more about the characters or the situation. This helps to meet the needs of audience curiosity and provides a controlled environment.

The three elements have cross-over points; awareness of each layer in turn will help to craft stronger and more rewarding stories. Combining the impacts of each layer make great ones.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

standing on the shoulders of giant automata

For those of you who crave a little more steampunk in your life (and my that's a lot of you!) this humbly-submitted post may be the panacea you desire. So without further ado, my lords, ladies and gentlemen an octet of links for your research and edification... please share in the comments!

Aether Emporium Steampunk Essentials - An essential collection.
Brass Goggles Steampunk Name Generator - A lot of fun.
Christian Lorenz Scheurer - eye candy in deluxe jars.
NAGS Society - free version of Terra Incognita (FUDGE RPG setting).
Steampunkopedia - A truly massive resource.
The Linacre School of Defence - Instruction on how one defends oneself.
The History of Costume (1861-1880) by Braun & Schneider - An excellent reference.
The Steampunk Timeline of Futures Past - A history of technology and pulp literature.

Friday, 14 August 2009

of poppies

An alchemical item and a classic magical trap for 4E gaming pleasure.

Blame the Wizard of Oz - it was his idea.

Field of Magical Poppies (Level 4 Obstacle, 175xp)
Found in areas where the Feywild has taken root, these poppies are brightly red and softly scented - so softly scented that those attracted to the scent become dazed and drowsy before falling into an enchanted sleep.
Hazard: Certain magical poppies have a scent which attracts living things and which makes them sleepy. Fields of these poppies provide an effective non-lethal barrier but also provide a useful hunting ground for monsters not susceptible to their wiles.
Perception: No check required.
Additional Skill: Arcana DC20 to recognise these as magical poppies.
Trigger:On entering the field, the scent and pollen from the poppies combine to make a magical cloud which lulls people into sleep.
Attack: Standard Action. Close Burst 1. +8 vs. Fortitude.
Hit: Target becomes dazed and suffers a secondary attack.
Secondary attack: +8 vs. Fortitude. Target falls asleep for 1 hour. During this time, attempts to awake will work but risk an immediate secondary attack.
Miss: No effect.
Countermeasures: Effects that protect against magical sleep, enchantments or poison protect their users from magical poppies. Setting fire to the field will destroy it but create a noxious cloud of vapours covering the area which attacks any within it +12 vs. Fortitude or take 2d10 damage. Those within the cloud gain concealment.
Upgrade to Elite (350xp)
* Increase the Knowledge (Arcana) DC by 2.
* Attacks vs. Fortitude increase to +12.

Tincture of Poppies (Alchemical recipe)
Level: 4.
Category: Curative
Time: 30 minutes
Component Cost:40gp
Market Price: 120gp
Skill: Arcana, Nature, Heal (no check needed).

This pale pink tincture must be taken orally. If used before a short rest, any healing surges used during the rest heal an extra 4 hit points. After the rest the user takes an attack of +12 vs. Fortitude to becomes dazed (save ends) and has an identical attack at the start of every encounter afterwards until an extended rest is taken or the user becomes bloodied at which point the dose of tincture expires. The healing benefits of the tincture are not repeated unless another dose is used. Cumulative doses do not stack the number of attacks against the user per encounter.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

questing kanban and character development

Blame Justin Achilli and Capuchin Captions at Dice Monkey for linking in my mind kanban and player handout cards. Everyone does quests to achieve items or benefits. Unless the DM has told you exactly what you need, you may not get where you need to go. And how do players learn of prestige/paragon classes/paths/epic destinies or that specific feats or rituals exist?

Unless a DM is kind and prepared enough to give NPCs with relevant abilities and opportunities to meet/share their knowledge, your character has a hard time knowing of such things. Doing so adds to prep time and may lead to conflicting agendas between players. Unless you're willing to collude with players, it's inevitable somebody will lose out.

Some games may not need (or want) that focus/preparation so it's handwaved you learn about such things in downtime or by dice rolls. Nice if you know the books (prestige classes in 3.xE are found in the DMG or other sourcebooks) but some players don't have/want to read them. There may also be a matter of timing - the campaign may have secrets dependent on those classes.

Kanban is a Japanese method of boosting efficiency. You say what you need and it's supplied - the default method uses signs or cards (kanban) that convey what's needed often using graphical notation for example 4E power icons or a picture representing a particular attribute. Even if you don't have killer artwork or a perfect representation, you can just use words.

Godeckyourself earns its recession-proof gaming tag. I've mentioned other card creators - this one doesn't require you to download software and provides ready-made PDFs of your deck and shares others people have made. There are even ready-made quest cards you can adapt for your own game. A tangible reminder can keep your players focussed.

Put them together and you get cards to convey what's needed and how you might get it. The DM controls what cards are handed out and players can choose from those options what's available. Smart players may see routes to their objectives that can spark off adventures and the element of choice is still preserved. And you get to re-use the cards for future games.

Monday, 10 August 2009

the cenobite of the crags

"Once I was as you. Then I met a blessed man who teaches of a hidden kingdom where physical needs are set aside for spiritual contemplation - he healed me and bade me spread his message, that we can all find that kingdom through discipline and service to others. It is a worthy quest my friends - I do not regret it. "
-- The Cenobite of the Crags
The Cenobite of the Crags is a relatively new arrival in the area; his red robes and golden mask hiding bandages and dark red wrappings around hands missing the odd finger. Once a leper, tormented in body and spirit, he keeps a leper sanctuary and offers shelter to the poor and the desperate in the name of a hidden kingdom where suffering will end.

Once there was a man called Japher. He was a soldier cursed with leprosy by a vengeful priest; he could not return home so he wandered the roads and became a lone bandit filled with hatred for priests and hunted by the law. By chance he noticed Brother Ptolemy and three Red Monks travelling back to their dwelling after their work in the city. Japher saw a target and threatened them. Brother Ptolemy began to speak to him - offering him the hidden kingdom. In return, Japher stabbed him with a sword and saw him fail to bleed. The Red Monks fell on him and he was swiftly subdued and taken to the dwelling where Ptolemy worked and Japher left his life to join the Red Monks of the Hidden Kingdom.

Japher was sent out with orders to create another dwelling - Ptolemy could not afford his hatred of priests to prejudice his work in the city. Knowing that other lepers would desire this new state; Japher built a leper sanctuary at the border of three baronies, knowing full well that none of the barons would accept a sanctuary solely on their land. The sanctuary rests among some lonely, craggy hills. A lone bard seeking shelter from a hostile goblin audience found him and a handful of lepers and so Japher was named The Cenobite of the Crags. Half-frozen and blinded by the smell, the bard warmed his bones there then to visit each baron in turn, telling of the compassion of the red monk and his leper charges.

The barons were suspicious of talk of a hidden kingdom (it seemed treason) but the odd figure kept the lepers safe, fed and off their lands. They saw wisdom in charity and sent surplus food and small amounts of coin to the cenobite as lepers travelled the crags to find sanctuary; despite the occasional desperate goblin raid, the sanctuary remains secure and undisturbed. Yet should priests seek to cure the lepers, they will find a rude refusal. Japher and the lepers believe that their leprosy was sent by the gods to test them, who are these priests to tempt them away?

The lepers are devoted to Japher who believes that Ptolemy will come to redeem them as he has been redeemed. Japher faithfully changes his bandages and notices that his disease has not gone any further yet he doesn't know the ceremony to cure the lepers himself, being a warrior he has no knowledge of such. Brother Ptolemy sometimes sends a Red Monk with messages of support and a little extra coin. Japher maintains an effective out of town bolthole if the Red Monks ever need one - and one known to the neighbouring barons as a place of mercy.

This post refers to Brother Ptolemy and The Hidden Kingdom by Nevermet Press.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

recap: dungeon construction

If you need to design a dungeon and you're stuck for ideas; these posts can help you break down the problem into things to consider and details that give additional flavour to another 20'x30' room and it's associated corridors and dressing. 2009 is the Year of the Megadungeon and now there's the one page dungeon template you really have no excuse!

elements (& alternatives) - how the four elements can shape a dungeon.
character - what purpose does it serve, and what do you want players to experience?
organisation - who's in, who's out, who's who?
legendry - are there good stories about the place and who's telling them?
ordnance - traps and other ways the dungeon hurts intruders.
gimmicks - set dressing, recurring themes and phat loots.
you - a key ingredient and a noble tradition of self-referential humour.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

toolkit: zero sum

Zero sum is where loss or gain is exactly balanced between all participants. If one person gains, then one or more others lose out. This posits a finite resource e.g. a magical sword that must be wielded by a king confers kingship on it's wielder (even if it's no basis for stable government) or a hierarchy (beauty contests or asking a magic mirror to find who's the fairest of them all).

Competition or conflict occurs if there is a need for the resource or to be top of the hierarchy - how the competition or conflict takes place and who wins depends on factors like location, timing, individual or social attributes and opportunity. Inclusion and providing frontiers provides explosive growth as exclusion and barriers lead to loss and recession.

Where there is a finite resource but enough for others to achieve their objective, zero sum may lead to a social trap as multiple parties exploit an available resource for short term gain but then loses out in the long run as that resource vanishes; this can be simulated with a bowl of snacks. When they're gone, they're gone unless they can be renewed. Then the game starts over again.

Making zero-sum situations enjoyable depends on a social contract - perhaps the prototypical social contract. Participation may provide benefits and more often the cliche of 'it's the taking part that counts' and experience through failing to gain those benefits. A zero-sum game where everyone wins assumes limited benefit for all participants leading to the prisoner's dilemma.

Where there are a multitude of new frontiers and niches for self-expression and advantage, there is a shift in values and a sudden wealth of opportunities to gain social capital. Evaluation of such gains challenges previous perceptions of social capital and the lines have to be re-drawn; one example of this is Elizabethan England where new frontiers changed how things were seen.

I've touched on discovering new frontiers before though some would argue that exploitation of those new frontiers means it's just a bigger zero-sum proposition. While it could be argued that if you're going to win, win big there is a cost in doing so. By expanding the winner's circle there is greater gain for others though it means you have to redefine success along the way.

One way is to celebrate the accomplishments of other participants. Another is to positively recognise what is done well and compassionately suggest successful strategies. Yet another is to increase the intrinsic value of participation so those who take part gain something more from it than just the taking part.

Friday, 7 August 2009

inspiring stuff

Courtesy of Scott Kurtz of PvP Online and for those struggling with the worthwhile goal of being creative - Elizabeth Gilbert on nurturing creativity.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

hiroshima and hibakusha

Hiroshima was the first city subjected to nuclear warfare on 6th August 1945 at 08:15am when the atomic bomb Little Boy was dropped by the US aircraft Enola Gay and detonated about 600m over the city with the force of 110 kilotons of TNT in a 1 mile blast radius and a firestorm that spread over 4.4 miles caused by heat, light and radiation.

The estimated population of Hiroshima was 250,000. Of that, 80,000 died instantly from the blast and another 70,000 injured. Burns, radiation and related diseases led to a death toll exceeding 90,000 by the end of 1945. Last year the toll was over 258,000 deaths. 69% of buildings were destroyed with 6.6% more severely damaged by the explosion.

Sixty-four years later, the city continues to campaign for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

The hibakusha ('explosion-affected people') were those survivors of the nuclear incidents at both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They face discrimination due to ignorance about radiation sickness and it's related conditions, often being declined employment due to their status and some hibakusha prefer not to declare their status to receive benefits for fear of discovery of their status since there are erroneous beliefs about contamination through the blood.

The average age of the hibakusha is about 73. Their descendents are also considered hibakusha and their legacy of radiation-related conditions continue so the number of dead now exceeds the original population of Hiroshima. The recollections of Miyoko Matsubara, a hibakusha who refused to go to the States for surgery is a chilling account of the explosion. Others can be found on the web but all are not easy to take in.

Not all hibakusha were Japanese either. A surprising number of Korean and Chinese were also affected by the explosion - about one in seven of those killed as a result of the Hiroshima explosion were Korean. They faced difficulties in getting recognition for their suffering until recent lawsuits began to address this. Unlike people, the bomb didn't discriminate.

The Hiroshima Maidens were twenty-five young women among the hibakusha whose bodies were affected by the blast. The dark patterns on their clothes were burned into their skins, their faces twisted by keloid scarring and hands crooked into claws. Ten years later they travelled to the United States for extensive reconstructive surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital, New York which helped to rebuild their bodies.

During this time their public appearances raised awareness of the impact of nuclear weaponry; one of the most shocking was the NBC show 'This Is Your Life' where two hibakusha were hidden behind screens 'to prevent embarrassment' and compere Ralph Edwards brought out Lt. Robert Lewis, co-pilot of the Enola Gay to give a brief speech. He later committed suicide after being institutionalised due to guilt and depression.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

in dreams

A popular method of suspending the usual rules so that a different story can be told; dreams have a number of narrative purposes and provide a source of images, connections and messages that inspire and fascinate.

As an environment to experience in itself dreams can offer a number of advantages over more conventional locations...
  • Antagonists with fewer restraints. An example is Dreamscape where an assassin kills their target in a dream and it translates into reality. The proverbial example is of course Freddy Krueger and the Nightmare on Elm Street series.
  • Symbolic associations. Dreams can often contain symbolic references to situations and events - Salvador Dali often used dreams to inspire his art. Care needs to be employed - symbols can mean very different things to different audiences.
  • Unusual environments. From the baroque fantasy of H.P.Lovecraft's Dreamlands to the structured psychodramas of Werewolf: The Apocalypse, the realms of dream let you kick the jams and portray settings that juxtapose environments.
Prophetic dreams are a particular example of how dreams can provide information to characters which have direct application. One of the particular problems is saying enough without saying too much or being obtuse. Interpreting dreams is something which has always been of value, from shamanic visions to psychotherapy (more on that later).

Dreams not only offer foreshadowing but also insights into a situation or a character; this is close to the real world experiences of Einstein and Kekulé. Recurring insights often take the form of a message to be acted on - for example Stephen King's The Shining where the Torrance family are plagued by the ghosts of the Overlook and Jack Torrance's own demons.


A link found at H.P. Lovecraft & His Legacy discusses lucid dreaming in psychotherapy and this reminded me of the dreamscapes of Quiet sufferers in Mage: The Ascension. Getting into a shared dreamscape with an insane person may be risky (one example is The Cell) and possibly infectious. Walking in such places requires caution.

How have you used dreams to inspire game events or tell your stories?

Monday, 3 August 2009

toolkit: maslow's hierarchy of needs

Abraham Maslow described a model of behaviour based on a humanist point of view and was innovative in that it was one of the first models for positive mental health rather than for ill or aberrant personalities. This hierarchy of needs is prioritised by five levels of need.
  1. Physiological (breathing, food/drink, environmental comfort, sex)
  2. Safety (body, family, health, morality, property, resources)
  3. Belonging/Love (family, friendship, intimacy)
  4. Esteem (achievement, confidence, respect, self-esteem)
  5. Self-Actualisation (acceptance, creativity, morality, problem solving, spontaneity)
People put things at the top of the hierarchy at a greater priority to the ones below. Also note the presence of morality in both self-actualisation and safety. The former shows a proactive approach, the latter more reactive and in context dealing with a situation where that morality comes under threat. his model can be applied into two obvious areas:
  • Character Motive - These needs feature significantly in human behaviour and can be applied to your character (writing from an alien or non-humanist perspective can skew these priorities) and why they do what they do. It takes some significant threats for enemies to work together; any/all of the physiological needs will do so.
  • Plot Hooks - Attracting the interest of your audience (who are usually human) means giving them something they can relate to. These hooks can prioritise perspective and even colour participation. The safety of family can cause someone to turn against a lover, especially if they're the ones threatening them.
The interface between plot and character can lead to that sweet spot of engagement with both character and plot. The hierarchy of needs provides a handy point of reference if you wonder if something is going to matter. Obviously like all tools, there are things it's good at and things where other methodologies apply. That said, most people work from a humanist perspective.

(Inspired by this blog post.)

Sunday, 2 August 2009

observing the lustrum

The lustrum was a ceremonial sacrifice performed in ancient Rome. This was performed by one of the censors (a Roman magistrate) every five years after the census was taken. New senators were elected to office after the ceremony. After this rite, the magistrates would pledge to the gods that the people would repeat the offering in five years if they protected the people.

The rite itself was simple. The people would gather on a field dedicated to Mars in his aspect of fertility god. A sheep, a pig and a bull were chosen and led in a circuit around the people by individuals with 'blessed' names like Felix (lucky) or Dives (happy). After this circuit the animals were sacrificed to Mars and completely burned.

The lustrum was intended to cleanse the slate for the people, and it's use of people with blessed names to ward them against evil. Similar ceremonies can be found in Persia and Macedonia though Roman observance could be spotty; use of the lustrum lapsed for a period of 41 years until Octavian decreed it's restoration.

Such purification rites can be inserted into any story where populations with connections to the divine occur (few don't). Characters may have to officiate at such ceremonies (census taking offers it's own risks & rewards) or take part. The consequences of such a ceremony may offer respite from a curse or disease or even offer a very minor protective boon.

Those games featuring politics may use the lustrum as a method of purging the populace of any crimes it may have committed; purifying the people and their elected officials of any evil they may have brought upon themselves in doing state business. Such a performance may merely salve some consciences, others may have more practical or mystical consequences.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Greatest Hits