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[Dead of Night] Werewolves! Men with guns! Mom!

Started by Ron Edwards, October 28, 2006, 11:53:00 PM

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Ron Edwards


Last week, Tim A's household was laid low by kid crud, so Tim K, Chris, and I met to play a one-session game in the interim between Shadow of Yesterday sessions. That meant I could play the must-play game I'd been carrying around in my pocket for a couple of weeks and showing to everyone. It's even called a "pocket RPG" and it's perfectly sized for that purpose. I'm not kidding - it is literally fun simply to carry this thing around, because you can.

It's Dead of Night, and you should play this game. I first ran into it, and fell provisionally in love, while judging the Indie Awards, the infatuation was complete when it arrived in my mailbox, and at last, sweet consummation fulfilled all my hopes as of this game session.

I don't know which author came up with the term "campfire horror," but it's an excellent term for how the game plays, as I hope to illustrate in a minute by talking about the system. Upon realizing that when I read it, I knew that I didn't want to play it as Buffy in any way, shape, or form. This isn't soap opera with special effects, or anything about figuring anything out, or drama with geek-candy vampires, or anything like that. I wanted campfire horror, with a strong dose of the seminal excessive movies made on a shoestring budget, before they became fandom-faves with self-referential sequels.

One of my favorite horror movies is the Spanish-British "Let Sleeping Dead Lie," and that's what I'm talkin' about. If you've seen it then you know what I mean. It's smart without being about much, sufficiently dramatic based on only a couple of key decisions, excessive in every way, totally unpretentious, doesn't mind its own cliches when it uses them, perfectly reasonable and believable effects, and has no kewlness whatsoever. Plus it's actually pretty fucking scary.

So even before knowing when I'd play or whom I'd play with, I was prepping. I'd written up the werewolves for the scenario a week or two earlier, while eating lunch. It struck me that they'd be just right as an American nuclear family (I was thinking a little bit along the lines of The Howling, actually). So h'mmm, American military action in some war-torn foreign city, but it would be plausible that American civilians might be there. OK, that works.

The main thing that came to mind was to get away entirely from "normal folks on a picnic" and have the player-characters be wholly-equipped, locked-and-loaded, bad-ass American soldiers. But they wouldn't be monster hunters, they'd be in some kind of military action and they'd get blindsided by monsters. Pure B-movie schlock without any self-referential humor, lots of fear.

[Note: the game offers many variant structures, as with the players running a monster each and the GM playing a bank of victims/protagonists, but for purposes of this thread, I'm sticking with the default one-GM structure, the default mode.]

I'm providing all the numbers for people who might be inclined to run something similar. Don't try to figure out the point-scheme of things by readind these; you have to know the rules. Also, the specialties (third and further terms in a row, if present) are not named as clearly as the ones in the book, but the rule is that they act as subsets - usable in a more limited situation than their root score. So for instance, the Mom only has a 2 in general Persuade, but if she's acting specifically as a nice lady (think of it as a context-dependent skill, like driving a speedboat), she uses an 8.So, three werewolves:

Identify 4 Obscure 2 Shapeshift 7
Persuade 3 Dissuade 5 Curse of Lycanthropy 8
Pursue 4 Escape 6
Assault 4 Protect 4 Rend Prey 8

Identify 5 Obscure 3 Shapeshift 8
Persuade 2 Dissuade 4 Curse of Lycanthropy 8 Nice lady 8
Pursue 4 Escape 6
Assault 2 Protect 6 Home & Cub 8

Identify 2 Obscure 6 Shapeshift 8
Persuade 4 Dissuade 2 Curse of Lycanthropy 8 Good kid 7
Pursue 4 Escape 6
Assault 4 Protect 4 Rend Prey 7

They all had the Allergy to Silver and Wolf Moon vulnerabilities, too. I toyed with the notion of giving the mom the Indestructible or Formidable advantage as well, but didn't.

Not much later, I also made up a few soldiers, because I wanted to see how they'd turn out by the rules, and I also suspected that the game would be easier to get off the ground if we didn't bother with the step-by-step character creation process. I left that up to circumstances, though, thinking that if players wanted to make their guys up from scratch, that would be OK too.

The Old Hand
Identify 5 Obscure 3 Stay Low 8
Persuade 4 Dissuade 4 Teamwork 7
Pursue 4 Escape 6
Assault 4 Protect 4 The Right Shot 7

The Street Kid
Identify 5 Obscure 5
Persuade 3 Dissuade 5 Blame the Other Guy 8
Pursue 4 Escape 4 Scatter! 7
Assault 4 Protect 4 Trapped Rat 7

The Hot-head
Identify 4 Obscure 4 Ambush 7
Persuade 2 Dissuade 6 Persuade with Prejudice 8
Pursue 6 Escape 4
Assault 5 Protect 3 Gunbunny 8

The Idealist
Identify 6 Obscure 4
Persuade 4 Dissuade 4 Do the Right Thing 8
Pursue 4 Escape 4 Lock on Target 7
Assault 3 Protect 5 Guns of Wrath 8

All right, now for the important stuff. The core of the game is the relationship between Survival Points (each player-character starts with 5 and they are altered from there, usually decreasing) and Tension Points (the GM typically starts with 5 and they wax and wane from there). Survival Points are simultaneously hit points (when you have 0, then lose another, you die) and privilege-spending points, like finding a much-needed item, getting a re-roll, and lots more. When a player-character spends a Survival point (not just loses it as damage), then the GM adds a Tension Point. The GM gets to spend Tension Points for a variety of effects.

And therein lies the most important technique of the game. When and how the GM spends Tension Points is not set in stone. In fact, it must be decided upon, choosing from a bunch of options or making up new ones, before play. This more than anything determines the fundamental features, and in fact the emotional experience, of play.

I mainly wanted the other people to choose, but I stated that I did not want both the option to spend points to favor player rolls and the option to spend points to penalize them. One or the other would be OK, but I didn't want both at once.

Tim and Chris thought it over carefully and decided on the following:

The GM cannot spend Tension Points until the Tension Point total is 10; after that, he may spend them regardless of current level
The GM must spend at least one Tension Point to penalize player-character Obscure rolls
The GM may only penalize rolls with Tension Points; he cannot favor them

All right, you can see that means that once Tension Points hit 10, the GM turns into a meanie and can penalize any roll, as well as being forced to penalize any kind of hiding. They clearly wanted late-stage badness, and that's what they got. Imagine instead if I'd been constrained to providing (say) bonuses for all combat checks, no matter what, or something like that.

Tension Points also play a key role in narration and Color, but the rules for that (including the distinction between Points and Rating, and the role of monster Survival Points) are easy; I won't go into them here.

There is one more feature of play that I did not understand well until we were reviewing the rules right before play. It's really important, too. And it's also unique in RPG design, to my knowledge, so if you're interested in such a thing, then you should pay attention.

First, the basic resolution system: you roll 2d10 and add the relevant number. You are trying to beat 10 + the other guy's relevant score. Or, conversely, he is rolling, using your relevant score + 10 as the target number. More on this in a minute.

Second, a key point about that, best illustrated when damage is involved. You succeed, he loses a Survival Point; you fail, you take a Survival Point. In other words, in rolls of this kind, both parties are considered to be active. That's important! So if you fail your Obscure check using 10 + his Identify as your target number, then he successfully Identifies you. He doesn't have to roll a new action.

Third, now the payoff point. It breaks into several interrelated rules.

1. All else being equal, the player rolls, not the GM
2. No one may roll twice in a row (i.e. if the next action involves him, the GM rolls using 10 + his character's value as the target number, or perhaps another player if that's what's happening)

[So, for us with two players and a GM, rolling typically went, player, player, GM, player, player, GM, player, etc]

3. Creatures always get initiative in a combat/confrontation scene, which means the GM rolls first in such situations
4. Order among the players is either agreed upon based on in-game logistics (usually easy, usually the case) or in order of current Survival Points
5. Players may spend a Survival Point to get the right to roll "out of order" (overriding all of the above)

If you're going to play this game, everyone should know these rules well. They aren't like anything in any other game. Once you get them, they're easy. Their impact is huge in application.

Onwards, about play. We played out a whole scenario in one evening. As it turned out, Chris and Tim preferred to go with the pregenerated characters anyway, which is why I provided them above. We casually decided to have each player run two of the soldiers (which was significant, actually, as I'll discuss later). Chris took the Idealist, naming him Doc, and the Hot-head, naming him Tex or Idaho or something like that. Tim took the Street Kid, naming him (can't remember), and the Old Hand, naming him Ralph.

I preferred to keep the actual location and even the specific date of the setting totally unstated. This is one of those things you can do with role-playing that you can't with visual media like movies. I said, "You're in a foreign city, it's torn by bombs, but people are still living there, the U.S. military has invaded and is sort-of occupying." Any of you who think that I'm saying, "Iraq, just veiling it," are wrong. I'm saying it was unstated and thus not in the SIS.

What happened?

The soldiers were ambushed by the enemy and after a good fire-fight, took cover in a beat-up old city building, whose first floor had clearly been used as a barricade in the recent past. Some good rolls and defensive actions gave them some breathing space. However, the street kid had gone in first and explored deeper into the building, finding himself assaulted by what appeared to be a family of werewolves, but circumstances and failed Identify rolls led him to think some crazy kid had turned wild dogs on him. He, uh, did get bitten. That's what the "Curse of Lycanthropy" ability is, and that meant I got to apply the cool Becoming a Monster rule in a bit.

To continue with the story as it developed, basically, the street kid / new werewolf escaped, but Doc (who'd gone to find him) got himself killed really horribly. Then the other two tried to escape but were eventually killed. I totally played up the whole family-orientation of the werewolves and they were really disturbing, actually. All the soldiers were role-played incredibly well, and Tim pointed out that for practically the first time in his role-playing history, he was experiencing a kind of panic but not ever losing his grip on actual play-procedures. We closed, of course, on the street kid being rescued by well-fed, confident soldiers who told him he was "safe now."

I think the players were a little shocked at how vicious the system became once I was penalizing their rolls with Tension Points, but they did manage to pull off a couple of awesome actions. The kid werewolf almost got killed. I'd say they had a bit of a chance, but not much, and I can predict they'd pick slightly less screw-me-over rules for Tension Points next time, or at least for a story with (say) little-kid protagonists.

Overall, it ran smoothly as hell, with the give-and-take communication becoming entirely natural; I should also point out that the resolution system leads to lots of narration by anyone and everyone, but without any confusion about who has to roll and why.

I can't state strongly enough that "campfire horror" is a perfect term for the shared, breathless, and above all inevitable shock-and-chills in the game. This is not just another pseudo-LARP, freeform-horror spinoff. It is not derived/streamlined Call of Cthulhu or Chill. It is a fabulous Simulationist-favoring game, one of the best I've ever seen and far better than anything I could have imagined as such. It is also physically cool, well-written, clear, interesting to read, and full of useful points as opposed to same-old same-old pablum. I typically don't make commerce-oriented comments in my posts, but a hell of a lot of people in the Forge community would beneit from buying and playing it. They'd learn something about how their hobby works.

Best, Ron

Ben Lehman

Thanks for posting this. Ever since I got a copy of this game in the mail as an Indie RPG Award prize, I've been stewing over it, so it's cool the see some AP.  The initiative system seems really interesting, but I can't figure out what its effects on play are.  Can you elaborate a little more on how that plays out?


Ron Edwards

Whoops, I forgot to follow up on that, didn't I?

Well, with the caveat that I don't think a verbal description will do the actual experience justice, it goes something like this.

Two healthy soldiers are up in the front room of the first floor, with the new-werewolf soldier too, all wounded and beat up. The idealist soldier has plunged into the depths of the building to search for "the kid" the wounded soldier was raving about.

(This is also going to be confounded by the fact that we had two players with two characters each. Try to factor that out of the point I'm making, so it doesn't interfere)

Tim K (old hand): hold on, you're gonna be OK! (GM calls for him to roll Identify [unspecialized] against the Curse of Lycanthropy to spot anything funny about the wounded soldier; he fails) - point: Tim K rolled, as he would have against any NPC or PC

crucial moment: who goes next? basically, any other player should speak up now or else the GM will roll into his turn - there's a bit of pressure, not because the GM can interrupt you (he can't), but because if no one says anything, then it's the GM's go

Let's say Chris speaks up with his idealist - "I'm totally finding that kid now," and so there's another Identify roll, - here, Chris rolls

Since both players have done something, now it's the GM who can drive things with an NPC action, and then after that, it'll revert to the players (all of them), again, in no particular order.

OK, with that settled, the next point is that it gets incredibly exciting when all the characters are in the same spot engaged in crucial actions. Because you have to understand that just because character A is being rolled for, that means that character B opposing him is doing something - that something might have in-game effect if/when character A fails. So the characters are doing a lot more than just taking turns with actions.

That means announcement is a big deal - (a) do you step up fast to get something done or wait to see what happens, (b) do you suddenly spend a Survival Point to leap to the fore, (c) when is the GM's turn coming up ('cause it's always bad), and (d) what are you opposing someone else's roll with, legitimately?

(our version got a little interesting because the rule applies to players, not characters, and that meant that only two soldiers out of the four would get an announcement for every one of mine - another reason things got awful carnage-heavy, especially at the end)

I'm going to hold off on trying to explain that a "roll" isn't the same as an "announcement," partly because they usually are one and the same, but also partly because I'm pretty sure I won't be able to articulate it well. But if everyone understands the basic principle of when you get to say, and when you get to roll, and how important it is to pick the right oppositional score (if it works), then it'll work - you won't need my muddled attempt to explain.

As I say, the net result is ... unique. Breathless, active, attentive, and utterly appreciative of how well the game is emulating the kind of horror/shock/fun that the Tension Point parameters set up for it. It ain't Narrativist - we expressed the themes that were pre-set into our game (e.g. my prep, as part of that), rather than created any theme. It's hard-core, rockin' Sim, with not a minute of wasted time.

Best, Ron

Brennan Taylor

I'm really glad to read this, and I am going to give Dead of Night a try sometime soon. I am actually glad for your prep comments, Ron. It seems like some upfront prep is really good for this game. I read through it, and I knew it was something special, I just didn't know how it might play out. Looks like my initial suspicions were correct, though. I'll post an AP when I get the chance to play as well.


Hello Ron,

I'm sleep deprived, taking care of a 2-year old with chicken pox, and myself nursing a migraine, so if I've missed something obvious or sound off kilter it's because I am.

However, how does Dead of Night promote simulationist CA over narrative CA? I see flags in your character write-ups, the whole initiative mechanic seems to promote Story Now immensely, albeit in a manner consistent with the horror-themed setting. Is it a sim favoring game simply because it has a set theme, is that what the sim definition boils down to, or does narrative CA equal being able to freely address any theme?

Regardless the game sounds very cool, and I am a sucker for the horror genre. Some of the best games I've run were horror-themed, including Ravenloft I6 for D&D.



Ron Edwards

Hi there,

Narrativist play means that Premise is addressed. It has nothing to do with whether there are flags, whether there are metagame elements, whether there is improvisation, or whether there is a GM, and so on.

Specific combinations of techniques, especially including reward systems, promote a given Creative Agenda. That is what system does matter means.

But single techniques do not. Flags for a character make the character potentially more playable; they do not "make the game Narrativist." In fact, if you really consider it, even pointing out and naming flags represents a remedial discussion. How the hell was anyone supposed to play at all, unless flags of some kind exist? It's a helpful topic for people who are floundering, but it's not useful once we get past that stage. Flags. Yup. Interest generated; I'll use yours and you'll use mine and we'll use our own as well. That should be a given for basic play of any kind, not some kind of whee-whoooo a-may-zing insight.

More generally, just because a game is well-designed, lean, efficient, fun, creative, functional, and not based on 100 sourcebooks, does not make it Narrativist. That is a common error of understanding that is widely promoted only because it gives malcontent individuals something to fight about on other websites. As I just said, and as you accurately stated, it's about addressing Premise and thus producing a Theme that was not understood or agreed-upon out the outset by one or more people - not even non-verbally.

Our game of Dead of Night, and I think pretty much any game of Dead of Night that sticks with its wonderful combination of techniques, did not need any such thing or process, and I think it would probably have swerved over into a different game through Drift if we'd tried. Hey, maybe someone will play it and do a whole Narrativist thing and have a great time too, I dunno. But I don't see any reason to, given what's there, and I also don't think the unique "breathless" elements that I described would be there. The whole point of campfire horror, as I see it, is that we know what's coming and what it means, and then - gasp - it only gets worse. Eek!

Best, Ron


Thanks Ron. I see the difference now, and am excited about reading Dead of Night for myself and later playing it.

My misconception regarding flags comes mostly from running tons of published D&D adventures, where I didn't pay attention at all to any such notion. I played out the adventure not caring to adapt them - at least not much - to the characters.




Thanks for the great actual play post Ron - that sounds like a fantastic game, and one that must have been genuinely, pant-wettingly scary!

I have some questions:

1. It's interesting to see the options the group picked for spending Tension Points. How and why did they decide on these options? We usually play Tension Points as written, sometimes stating that they can only be spent after reaching a certain level. To what extent do you think the groups' decisions made the game play as it did, and how do you think it would have played if you'd played Tension with different options?

2. Did the group need any encouragement to spend their way through their Survival Points, or did they horde them up? I'm guessing from the way you describe Tension mounting up that a fair amount of them were spent.

3. I'm really excited by your line about Tim's panic and fear, as well as your description of the game as a "breathless" experience. Were I being skeptical I would comment that surely that has more to do with the GM than the game itself, but I'll try to be more charitable to myself here - how do you think the game contributed to this breathlessness, how did it make your job as a GM easier?
Andrew Kenrick
Dead of Night - a pocket sized game of b-movie and slasher horror


Quote from: BrennanI am actually glad for your prep comments, Ron. It seems like some upfront prep is really good for this game.

That's an interesting observation, and I'd be interested whether those of you have run it before agree? I always think of Dead of Night as a game that can be grabbed and played pretty much straight off, using as many or few of the readymade monsters, archetypes and scenarios in the book as you see fit. Or is that just because I wrote it, so have an unfair advantage?
Andrew Kenrick
Dead of Night - a pocket sized game of b-movie and slasher horror

Ron Edwards

Hi there,

I confess I'm puzzled by your comment, Brennan. The prep I'd done was only personal musing and a bit of character creation, and it could have been scrapped and replaced with a novel runnable scenario in about 20 minutes, I think. I know I could, this minute, come up with just as much playable material (and it would be enough) in that time. The last thing Dead of Night needs is prep time.

We probably ought to distinguish between actual prep time and teaching time. I think these are often confounded when people talk about role-playing. Dead of Night required some definite teaching time, but relatively little compared to most games. I harped on it a lot in my post because it's important to realize that what's taught, in order to make this game really fly, is not what's taught or pseudo-taught for 90% of the RPG titles out there. So a little bit of time needs to be spent on that, but it's the specificity of the content which should be emphasized, not any particular length or difficulty of the teaching.

If everyone knew the game - so, say if the three of us reconvened to play, then full setup would be about twenty minutes. Prep, as opposed to teaching, is incredibly easy in this game.

Levi, everyone keeps asking the same question and I am despairing of answering. The breathless quality I talked about arose directly from the textual rules about who goes when and who rolls when. All I can do is point to that and say, to people, if you follow that, then a very functional effect emerges from knowing you get to talk, but not necessarily knowing if you're next, and not knowing whether your character will be taking action even when it's not your go. So everyone is kind of half-inhaling, half-about to speak at any given moment. Granted, the three of us are skilled at evocative narration and communication (i.e. back-and-forth narration without speechifying), but as far as I'm concerned that was frosting on the cake of the system.

As for Tension Points, I might have to remind you (not every author remembers everything about his own book, all the time) that the rules explicitly say "do not use all the options for Tension Point spending at once." In fact, I'll go look at the text and transcribe some. (For the reader: where the following says "use," it means "GM spends")

QuoteCircumstance refers to the specific situations [in which] Tension Points can be used. Without circumstantial considerations, Tension Points could be used on a whim - at any time, for any effect, and either for or against player goals. When Tension Points are used in a haphazard or inconsistent manner, players never know what to expect. The consequence is often chaotic, unfocused stories.

OK, OK, it doesn't say "do not." But I call that as close to "do not" as one can get if one's disinclined to order readers directly.

That paragraph is followed by a fairly hefty list of independent circumstances of how to spend Tension Points (only when they reach a certain level, only during a fight, and so on). After the list, the text quite clearly states that the group must sit down and decide which (or which like these; they're just example) will actually apply during play.

I think I described above what I told Tim and Chris. I didn't want to have the option, as GM, to spend to favor player rolls and to penalize them. I was OK with one or the other, but not both at once. Aside from that preference, I left it totally up to them. Basically, they wanted a long "leader" of spending Survival Points on stuff, and then after that point, they wanted hiding to be damned difficult, and they wanted me to be able to penalize any other rolls as I saw fit (and could afford).

What did they have in mind by picking these? I have no idea, although I think they were not picking randomly. The choice certainly made our story pacing-coherent and thematically-clear; any other combination would do the same, I think, yielding different results.

As for Survival Points, they spent them pretty steadily from the outset, based on the military conflict and scary-place they found themselves in. I had emphasized that they'd have to know the rules about that, and Tim printed out the download and kept it on the table for that purpose.

Best, Ron


First of all...THANK YOU for the writeup and commentary. I enjoyed reading it, and more importantly, it felt good to have the design vindicated. You hit the nail on the head a number of times. In no particular order: 

1) I am, in fact, "disinclined to order readers directly." People use/abuse RPG rules however they like, no matter how strongly the author dictates desired behavior. I opted to offer information on potential consequences rather than waste ink writing stuff people would likely house rule into oblivion. The firm instructions are so few one player likened his demo experience to a boardgame earlier this year.

2) "'s the specificity of the content which should be emphasized, not any particular length or difficulty of the teaching." Couldn't have said it better myself. Reading the rules carefully WILL pay off, and there are so few that it's actually a realistic expectation for players to be able to process them all. There are also many nuances to gameplay that are not evident unless you actually play the game. The rules on initiative are of particular import, as you noted.

For two or more players outside of direct creature conflicts, the order is often: 
Player1, Player2, Player1, Player2... with the GM picking up any slack as needed.
It might be player1, GM, player1, GM, player2, player1... and anything else that keeps any one person from rolling twice in a row.

The initiative structure you used is absolutely valid, but definitely not fixed. With games of 3+ participants, no player can roll twice in a row, but there is no implication that the GM ever gets a chance to roll -- that is, until a creature becomes directly involved, or people usurp initiative with Survival Points.

Initiative changes dramatically during creature conflicts, to:
player1 or 2, GM, player1 or 2, GM...

Creatures are DANGEROUS. They get to dictate the variables used to drive the adventure on every other roll, in every direct conflict. You get a boisterous player who wants to "dish out the hurt," or one who wants to "take one for the team," and some of the other players may be able to sit on the sidelines while the targets get torn apart.

There are, likewise, some very fine differences in how players, creatures, and players-as-creatures spend Survival points.

3) Speed, speed, speed. We lose so much time ordering pizza, talking about family and what we did on our summer vacation, the latest episode of Battlestar Galactica, and just plain joking around. My design priority was a game I could teach more quickly than I could distracted. :)  I wanted to be able to design adventures on a whim, or even on the fly, with a minimum of paperwork. That's why the teaching time is so short, "new" rules are so few in number, and prep time approaches zero for all participants.

For the record, Tension is actually an advanced option, and the gateway to a very rich experience with DoN.

Managing Survival Points is tricky enough for most players. Some payers look at me oddly when I offer them the option to use a Survival Point to gain initiative. I can almost hear them thinking, "Those are my hit points, right? Why would I spend one if I'm going to lose it to a hit next round?"
My experience is that most fledgling players will spend their Survival Points as "luck" earlier in the game, and hoard them iin the climactic scene. It's a workable approach, but there are many significant benefits to taking initiative away from the GM during combat. Of course, that assumes your dice don't turn traitor. :)

Again, thanks for your writeup, and I hope to see a few more here in the coming months!
"I don't get mad. I get stabby.
--Fat Tony, _The Simpsons_

Ron Edwards

Hi Merwin,

Nice to see you posting here again! I hope it will demonstrate that threads like this - and your participation in them - are better promotion than financial schemes of any kind.

I urge you and Andrew to post Actual Play threads of your own demonstrating the virtues of the game.

It was a little tricky posting about our specific use of the rules relative to all the options the rulebook offers. Given the variety of ways to organize GMing, I decided to stick with what we did rather than say "but you can do it like this too ..." all the time.

Regarding our ordering: player, player, GM, player, player, GM, is how it worked out because I made damn sure to leap in whenever it was legal to do so. We didn't stick with that structure in a by-the-numbers approach; that's how it turned out due to my determination to get werewolf-savagery or whatever in there, whenever possible. It's awfully hard to articulate that on-line, actually.

I second your statement that knowing and following the rules is very fruitful in this game. Don't go in thinking "oh, horror role-playing, well, I've played Call of Cthulhu and LARPed Vampire, so I know how to do this, how do I roll?" It's a unique and original rules-set.

And yeah, it's not surprising that it was the hot-head and the idealist player-characters who got savagely rent apart most decisively, for exactly the reasons you outlined.

Best, Ron


Nice to see you posting here again! I hope it will demonstrate that threads like this - and your participation in them - are better promotion than financial schemes of any kind.

I urge you and Andrew to post Actual Play threads of your own demonstrating the virtues of the game.

Case in point: on the strength of this very thread, my copy is on reserve at my FLGS.



Hi Ron,

I am fascinated by the pre-arrangement of Tension Points that you describe.

Quote from: Ron Edwards on October 28, 2006, 11:53:00 PM
When and how the GM spends Tension Points is not set in stone. In fact, it must be decided upon, choosing from a bunch of options or making up new ones, before play. This more than anything determines the fundamental features, and in fact the emotional experience, of play.

It seems to me that the choice here will have a profound effect on how the game pans out. Effecting pace, story structure, tone,  genre conventions, relative competitiveness and potentially overall outcome.

How much advice is given in the text to inform the choice of these options? Do you think your players chose the "none until a threshold and then undermine us" option with the overall story structure in mind? Do you think their choice was informed by an intuitive grasp of how the rules work, or was it an experimental choice based on gut instinct and how certain horror films work?

It seems to me that this early part of the game is the players main chance to effect things.

Do you think that it is sensible to do a certain amount of the prep (such that there is) after this decision has been made, to make sure that it reflects the chosen tone, pace etc? Or, is the horror genre flexible enough to handle all possible options?

This sounds like the kind of game that, to use a computer game term, has good replay potential, running through the same scenario with different options, effectively retelling the story with a different style. It could even have a teaching tool use, if the options can be easily mapped to different styles.

Ron Edwards

Hi there,

The text is explicit and constructive regarding all the points you're raising.

There really isn't any need for processing back-and-forth, I think. The game is fun and workable with any combination of the options (although I recommend keeping the number of them down). Pick some, play, and it'll be fun. It's painless to do it again. pick some other options, and have fun again in a different way.

Best, Ron