Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Power of the Uncanny

Imagine you're walking down the a lonely sidewalk in the dead of night, a full moon peaking out from behind the dark clouds as cold rain cascades down to the ground. As you walk across the concrete, you notice one of the many street lights that line the flicker slightly with a homeless man sitting beneath it, leaning against the pole.

The man is dressed in a dirty clothes and wrapped in a soaked jacket, the hood pulled over his head, obscuring his face. Strangely, he doesn't seem to notice the rain at all, like it wasn't even there. Although you find it strange, you decide to just ignore it, tossing a few coins down into the wet hat sitting before him. As you walk past, you hear a voice from the man, one faint and slightly muffled, telling you, "Thanks." When you look back, you see the man staring at you, his eyes wide with a crooked smile pasted upon his lips, which sends a shiver down your spine for reasons that you can't seem to figure out. 

This peculiar feeling is known as the "Uncanny". The Uncanny is a psychological concept where you mix the familiar with the unfamiliar, which creates a sense of oddness within an individual. The reason why I decided to bring this up today is because the Uncanny can be a very useful tool for those attempting to run a horror game. 

You can use the Uncanny to help you set the tone for your session, allowing the players to see a small hole within their reality, one that seems rather innocuous at first, maybe just your mind playing tricks upon you. Achieving this is relatively easy. The trick is to take something that's a normal part of the player's world and subtly twist it to make it come off as weird or not right, causing them discomfort or dread. A great example of this is Twin Peaks, with a majority of the performances coming off as stilted, but not stilted enough that you can just write it off as bad acting, making the people of David Lynch's little town come off as strange and not quite right.

However, you need to be careful that you don't overdo the inclusion of the Uncanny. The reason being that it will slowly sap away the strange uniqueness away from the Uncanny elements, making them just normal parts of the world. You need to only include them at the right times when your players least expect them, especially when they think they are safe if you want to build that horror.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Ghoulish Games - Ultimate Werewolf

GHOULISH GAMES is a mini-series of posts where I spotlight a board or roleplaying game I feel is perfect for October and Halloween. This series will be posted every Monday.

Ultimate Werewolf is a party card game published by Bezier Games and designed by Ted Alspach. It's based upon Andrew Plotkin's lycanthropic-themed reinvention of Dimitry Davidoff's social game Mafia. The game can be played with 6 to 75 players of all ages, making it one of the best games to pull off the shelf at a Halloween party or a family get together.

The game's rules are pretty simple. At the beginning of the game, each player is dealt a particular card by the moderator. This card give each player a particular role within the game, with certain roles having special powers or requirements within the game. The game itself is then played in two phases, the Night phase and the Day phase.

During the Night phase, players with certain roles wake up and perform a special action. The Werewolves wake up and select one other player at the table to devour, the Seer wakes up and discovers whether a player is a werewolf or something else, the Witch wakes up and can either save or kill another player once each per game, and so on.

Once every role with a special ability or action has performed it, the Night phase ends and the Day phase begins. During the Day phase, the players wake up and learn who was killed by the werewolves. Afterwords, they discuss among each other who they believe is a werewolf and eventually vote on someone to execute at the end of the phase.  Once this has happened, another Night phase begins and the everything starts again.

The game ends when either all the werewolves have been killed (meaning those aligned with the Villagers have won), or only the werewolves are left alive (meaning they have won).

Ultimate Werewolf, as the name implies, is the ultimate version of Werewolf. The game has 40 unique roles, different scenarios you can use to liven up your game, 78 fully illustrated cards, a useful pad which makes the moderator's task of tracking the different roles within the game much easier, and a comprehensive game guide. Ted really knocked it out of the park with this one.

I only have two major criticisms of Ultimate Werewolf, and they are the same criticisms I have with normal Werewolf. First, you need a good moderator to have a good game. A crappy moderator can ruin a session of Werewolf unbelievably fast. The second one is that the really isn't a game per say, but more of a social event with some rules. While that's not a bad thing, it might turn away those who are looking for something with a little more structure or mechanics.

With that being said, I still feel like Werewolf /Ultimate Werewolf is one of the best party games out there, especially if you have a large group of players. Also, the theme makes it perfect for a Halloween party. Just turn out the lights, set up some candles,and have some fun with your friends.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Frightful Features - Nightbreed (1990)

Based upon the director's novella Cabal, Nightbreed is a dark fantasy film that follows Aaron Boone, a seemingly normal human being who's been having strange dreams. Every night, he finds himself whisked away to a place called Midian where a race of monsters called the 'Nightbreed' live. However, Boone quickly learns these dreams are more than figments of his imagination and he might not be as normal as he thought.

I'll admit, Nightbreed is by no means a perfect film. Hell, one could argue that it's not even a good one. The plotting is somewhat haphazard and the majority of its characters receive very little development outside of a handful of traits and admittedly pretty cool designs.

With that being said, I can't help but have a fondness for Nightbreed. I understand why a cult of genre fans have formed around this movie. The concept of having these strange creatures existing right under our noses and being the truly persecuted ones is very intriguing, the make-up work is excellent and the creature designs are visually interesting, and the climatic third act is a special level of awesome. You can also sense the amount of love and heart Clive Barker put into the film, which causes Nightbreed to possess this odd charm to it.

While it might not be the best movie in the world, Nightbreed manages to sustain itself with a cool concept and utterly awesome third act. Give it a try if you like Barker's work, looking for something with some cool monsters, and an interesting secondary part played by a certain beloved horror director.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

'Tis the Season to be Eerie

I'm going to share something about myself that's probably very obvious to most of you: Halloween is my favorite holiday. I love having an excuse to dress up as something else and eat a shitload of candy, I love the fact that I can flip to almost any channel and find a horror movie to watch, and I just love the macabre spirit of the holiday. Christmas is cool and all, but Halloween will always be 1st in my heart.

Because I love Halloween so much, I like doing something special on the blog to celebrate the holiday. This year is no different. Throughout the month, I'll be making numerous posts to honor this horrifying time of the year. Every Monday, I'll be doing a series called "Ghoulish Gaming" where I recommend horror games for everyone to check out and play during the month. On Fridays, I'll be posting another series entitled "Frightful Features" where I spotlight a particular horror film. On Wednesday, I'll be posting either advice for running horror games, concepts for terrifying scenarios, or something else depending on my mood.

With that, I hope you all enjoy the month of October and the awesomeness that is Halloween.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Fantasy Age Musings - Non-Randomized Character Creation

Fantasy Age's character creation process is almost entirely randomized. Players roll to generate their abilities, certain aspects of their race, their social class and background, and a few other things. Personally, I really dig this element to the game. I love letting the dice fall and seeing what kind of character I end up with.

However, I know some people would like a process that is a little less random, one where they could have a little more control over how their character turns out in the end. With that in mind, I thought I'd work out a method to achieve just that. Here's what it looks like:

  1. Players should use Option 2 for generating their abilities. This method gives each player 10 advancements to spend on generating each ability's score. The only restrictions are scores can't start above 3 and you can't lower one ability to gain more advancements. 
  2. Players may select two benefits from the table associated with their chosen race. However, you may only select one benefit that actually raises the score of an ability. For example, a player creating a dwarf could not select the two benefits that increase their Fighting & Willpower.
  3. Players may select one of the 4 social classes: Outsider, Lower Class, Middle Class, and Upper Class. Furthermore, they will also select one of the backgrounds tried to their selected social class, receiving one of the focuses associated with said background. 
  4. Mages receive 20 + Constitution + 6 Health, Rogues receive 25 + Constitution + 6 Health, and Warriors receive 30 + Constitution + 6 Health at 1st level. Characters receive their Constitution + 4 Health from levels 2 to 10, then just their Constitution every level thereafter.
The only element of randomness that I decided to keep with this system was the generation of starting wealth, mostly to prevent people from solely picking to play Upper Class characters because they receive the most silver pieces. However, everything else has been reworked to allow each player to select the different parts of their character.

Friday, September 25, 2015

What are Your Gaming Scars?

A few weeks ago, I learned that my friend David has an extreme aversion to the inclusion of steampunk elements in fantasy games. The mere mention of the idea is enough to turn this usually jovial person into an incredibly angry person, especially if you mention skyships in any capacity. Being a curious person at heart, I felt the need to find out why he seemed to have this really peculiar reaction to something so harmless.

The origin of this strange hatred, like most things within this hobby, seems to be a particularly bad experience with a previous group. David was preparing to run a Pathfinder campaign and decided to create the game world with his players, but they apparently made some inclusions that ended up causing the game to collapse, with one of those inclusions being steampunk skyships. Hearing him tell this tale of woe makes me believe the skyship was the straw that broke the camel's back, hence why its the focal point of his hatred.

Initially I found this somewhat irrational, but I quickly began to think about certain subjects that immediately cause a metaphorical red flag to spring up within my mind because one utterly awful experience. For example, I will automatically veto any Drow characters that are brought to my table. The only exception to this is if we're playing an evil campaign where everyone's playing Drow. The cause of this extreme reation are, pardon my french, dick-waffles who wanted to play Drizzt Do'Urden clones with the Marty Sue levels turned WAY passed 11.

Yes, it's irrational. Yes, it's kind of silly. Unfortunately, I can't help it. Like David's hatred of mixing some steampunk peanut butter into his fantasy chocolate, my disdain for players wanting to be Drow characters is like a scar that won't go away and occasionally rears its ugly head when you least suspect it.

With that in mind, I'd like to ask you a question, dear readers. Do you have any gaming scars? What are they? Leave your answers in the comments below.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Fantasy Age Specializations - The Alchemist

Lurking within smokey laboratories, experimenting with strange chemicals and incredibly unstable concoctions, the alchemist hopes to gain either knowledge or power by delving into the scientific art they draw their name from. These individuals are willing to go where no mortal has gone before in order to obtain their goals, even if they risk blowing themselves up to do so.

Classes: Rogue
Requirements: You must have Accuracy and Intelligence scores of 2 or higher, and Alchemy (Novice)

Novice: The alchemist has become very adept at fighting with his grenades. He receives the Accuracy (Grenades) focus if he doesn't already have it and adds his Perception to damage rolls with grenades. 

Journeyman: While delving into this unpredictable science, the alchemist has most likely experienced is fair share of explosions. When subject to the Kaboom! stunt, the alchemist only takes half the amount of damage (rounded down).

Master: The alchemist knows the recipes for his grenades like the back of his hand and can make brew a new one at a much faster rate. Once per encounter, the alchemist can use an Activate action to make a TN 13 Intelligence (Brewing) test. The alchemist creates one kind of grenade they can normally make on the spot on a successful result.