Thursday, 28 August 2014

#RPGaDAY: Day 28 - Scariest game played

It's hard to be truly scared playing an RPG; at least the way I've tended to play them. There's tension, if the game is a good one with plenty of risk and consequence, but fear - even horror movie, ghost train fear - is hard to generate.

LARP does it better, and my friend James explains that better than I can, having run many more LARPs and in particular a load of Cthulhu Live games. I've never quite managed that level of horror in my Geist games, in part I suspect because I no longer have the commitment to run a graveyard slot and it's really hard to do scary in the midday sun.
The game uses locks and keys as major
symbols, but the art is more about the chains.

The game I have played that had the most intention to be scary is Wraith: the Oblivion, one of White Wolf's more conceptual efforts. In it, each player takes on the role both of their own PC - like a classic ghost, but part of a neo-feudal, highly predatory society of dead people and still possessed of a complete set of human desires and drives - and of the darker impulses of another player's Wraith, the Shadow.

The idea was that as the Shadow you would tempt the Wraith to act within your Passions, rather than their own, strengthening your control over them. You did this both by goading and by offering bonus dice in exchange for complicity. Each offer accepted moved the Wraith closer to a period of Catharsis in which the Shadow became briefly ascendant. The fact that Catharsis happened due to a build up of Angst, and that your energy reserves were called Pathos never really helped people to take the game seriously, and the problem was that it would only ever be scary, or indeed compelling in any way, if you took it very seriously. Wraith was not a game that could realistically survive a Monty Python reference, and was so unremittingly serious and grim that it was hard to want it to. It was like the RP equivalent of poetry written on black paper in silver ink.

On the few occasions where I have managed to elicit a fear response in game, it hasn't come from anything outrageously grisly or bleak, but from subverting expectations of the ordinary. It has also come more from implication than overt statement. On learning that the water in a small town was contaminated with Mythos-stuff, my Delta Green investigator definitely would have got less reaction by warning people not to use the toilet than he got by bringing in an ice bucket and a waste paper bin and announcing: "Number one, and number two." (Although I'm not sure if that works for an American character at all).

Tomorrow, we continue the downhill tumble towards completion with Day 29 and Most Memorable Encounter.