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Horror Games

Started by Paganini, March 31, 2003, 11:48:56 AM

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Paganini

So we're playing SQUEAM again over at Indie Net-gaming. So far it's going real well, I learned a lot about how to use it in the last game we did way back when.

But there's one thing about the rules that was bugging me, and it got me thinking about horror games in general. This is basically an issue of protagonization coupled with narrative priorities.

It'd be very easy to make SQUEAM a really short game (in fact, the text encourages this) because the GM can pretty much kill the PCs at will. The feel I get from the game is that Jared intended every roll to be a life or death situation, and every failed roll indicates death unless there's Fate to keep the characters alive. This means characters will be dropping like flies.

But the thing is, narrative satisfaction requires resolution. It wouldn't be much fun if all the PCs die, and no one ever finds out what's really going on. SQUEAM itself claims to be about telling a good story. It's trivially easy for the GM to whack the PCs, so it's not any kind of Gamist thing. As a result, I spent a good part of last night's game trying to figure out how to keep the PCs alive as Bob and Chris sent them hairing off to do incredibly stupid things. (Like when Bob's character failed a Naivete roll and went chasing off after an undead doberman pinscher into the dark woods, by himself, armed with some bubblegum on a stick.)

These activities were hillarious, and absolutely appropriate for the tone of the game, but the situation creates a dillema. I want there to be a real chance that the PCs won't survive the game. But at the same time, there needs to be some way that the *players* stay involved - even if every PC bites it - so that a resolution can be reached that satisfies all the participants.

So, this is where it moves to general horror gaming. How can the *players* be protagonized, even if they lose their characters? I guess I could just do character bumping... when one character dies the player immediately gets the next one. I was also thinking about a rotating GM thing... when a character dies, that player gets to be the GM, and the previous GM has to spawn in a new character. But this might be kind of *incoherent* for reaching resolution.

I was thinking that, since the situation now is basicaaly the players trying to kill their characters while the GM tries to keep them alive, it might be a good idea to have a system that formalizes this into the focus of the game. I think Mike mentioned a game that does this on IRC once, but I can't recall the name of it.

Does anyone have any other ideas?

Mike Holmes

Um, that would be to assume that Jared intended Squeam to be really Narrativist. To paraphrase the man, "I don't make games that tell stories, I make games that portray some sort of action." Does it really say that Squeam is about making stories about characters in the text? Or did you read that in?  

If you want a horror game that has protagonists and stoies with complete resolution, it's not hard to do. Just have rolls indicate how much of a character's "story power" is being eaten up as they go. Then, when they resolve, using up all their story power, they must either die, or defeat the horror.

Scott Knipe's Human Wreckage had some rules that were headed in that sort of direction (the protagonists were rated in terms of how many other NPCs had to die before they were toast). I can't recall what game you're refering to me refering to, but I doubt it was It Came From the Late, Late, Late Show. That game only succeeds if the players adhere closely to the textual suggestions about how they should act, and those suggestions do not include trying to bring character stories to a conclusion.

Remember, these games (Squeam, ICFTLLLS)are both about trying to mimic bad horror movies. As such, it's often quite appropriate for a character to die for no really good reason. Personally reminds me of the way Samuel Jackson's character dies in "Deep Blue Sea". Hilarious and shocking in it's pointlessness.

I thnk it's fun, BTW, to be the first person out of a game like this. Then you get to sit back and become a spectator. As long as the game is short, players don't mind, IME.

Mike
Member of Indie Netgaming
-Get your indie game fix online.

Ron Edwards

Hi there,

My quickie reference for this thread is the game Dead Meat and the Destroy All Games forum.

Best,
Ron

Paganini

Quote from: Mike HolmesUm, that would be to assume that Jared intended Squeam to be really Narrativist. To paraphrase the man, "I don't make games that tell stories, I make games that portray some sort of action." Does it really say that Squeam is about making stories about characters in the text? Or did you read that in?

Nope, it actually says it in the bit about how to use the system.  On page 2: "SQUEAM 3 is primarily a Narrative RPG. That is to say that the goal of the game is to tell a story in a dramatic and entertaining matter..."

Quote
Scott Knipe's Human Wreckage had some rules that were headed in that sort of direction (the protagonists were rated in terms of how many other NPCs had to die before they were toast). I can't recall what game you're refering to me refering to, but I doubt it was It Came From the Late, Late, Late Show. That game only succeeds if the players adhere closely to the textual suggestions about how they should act, and those suggestions do not include trying to bring character stories to a conclusion.

Did I mention It Came From the Late Late Late Show? Well? Did I, punk? :) I will check out Human Wreckage, thanks for the pointer.

QuoteRemember, these games (Squeam, ICFTLLLS)are both about trying to mimic bad horror movies. As such, it's often quite appropriate for a character to die for no really good reason. Personally reminds me of the way Samuel Jackson's character dies in "Deep Blue Sea". Hilarious and shocking in it's pointlessness.

Yeah, but that was kind of what I was getting at before. Pointless deaths are great, but protagonists don't die pointless deaths. They always make it until the very end. Of course, it just struck me that one often doesn't really know who the protagonists *are* until the very end. You can identify them because they're the only ones still alive. Maybe it would work to give every player a whole bunch of PCs, and "find out" which of them are the protagonists by seeing who survives.

Paganini

Hey, all of Scott's websites seem to be down. Does anyone know where I can score a copy of Human Wreckage?

Jared A. Sorensen

Quote from: PaganiniNope, it actually says it in the bit about how to use the system.  On page 2: "SQUEAM 3 is primarily a Narrative RPG. That is to say that the goal of the game is to tell a story in a dramatic and entertaining matter..."

It's not an Edwardian "narrativist" game. If anything, it's...Sim? Scratch that...Sim doesn't exist. It's a 90 minute diversion -- like the movies themselves -- so don't read too much into it. Squeam characters aren't really protagonists. They're cannon fodder.

I suppose that using the word Narrative was a poor choice (much like the "Storyteller" part of "Storyteller System," I think).

Glad to hear it went well, though.

- J
jared a. sorensen / www.memento-mori.com

Mike Holmes

Quote from: PaganiniNope, it actually says it in the bit about how to use the system.  On page 2: "SQUEAM 3 is primarily a Narrative RPG. That is to say that the goal of the game is to tell a story in a dramatic and entertaining matter..."
As Jared points out, Narrative != Narrativist. It sounds like he's trying to promote a lot of actual description instead of die rolling.

You simply believe that "story" has to equal the Ron definition, when people use it to mean all sorts of things.

QuoteDid I mention It Came From the Late Late Late Show? Well? Did I, punk? :)
No. It's the only horror game I can remember talking about on IRC. So I guessed that you might be referring to it.

QuoteYeah, but that was kind of what I was getting at before. Pointless deaths are great, but protagonists don't die pointless deaths. They always make it until the very end. Of course, it just struck me that one often doesn't really know who the protagonists *are* until the very end. You can identify them because they're the only ones still alive. Maybe it would work to give every player a whole bunch of PCs, and "find out" which of them are the protagonists by seeing who survives.
Again, that sounds like Human Wreckage. The game was in development, and Scott took it down because he wanted to fix certain problems. It's not seen the light of day since, unfortunately.

OTOH, there's his werewolf game. Not sure if that's available or not.

But, what Ron said. How could I have forgotten Dead Meat?

Mike
Member of Indie Netgaming
-Get your indie game fix online.

hardcoremoose

Hey everyone,

I hate to post like this, but my reputation's at stake!  ;)

Human Wreckage, plain and simple, was my attempt to create an homage to one brand of horror: The escalating body count flick (which seems to be what we're talking about here).  But I also attempted to formalize certain other elements of the genre, including the shadowy villain who is never completely revealed until the last reel, the final showdown with the main character (whose protagonism is established by virtue of the fact that they are probably the only survivor), and even camera tricks and whatnot.  I never completely got the resource management to work the way I wanted it to, although I know of people who play and enjoy it.  If anyone wants to see the game, I have an unformatted text file I can send, so just drop me an e-mail at hardcoremoose@yahoo.com.

Lapdogs - the aforementioned werewolf game - can also be had, but that's an entirely different sort of carnage.  

Someday I'll get all of this stuff back online.  I hope.

- Scott

Paganini

QuoteYou simply believe that "story" has to equal the Ron definition, when people use it to mean all sorts of things.

I don't always, but I did in this case, cos Jared gave it a big "N."

Anyway, I'm eagerly awaiting Human Wreckage now.

Christoffer Lernö

Let me get back to what you talked about Pag. How do one protagonize the players even if the characters get killed?

Well, the feeling I get from the little Squeam I played is that again what is happening isn't horror. It's creating scenes like in horror movies, but not the feel of being scared.

These are two different things and seem to require quite different approaches. If we see it as "creating scenes", then there is no actual identification with the characters intended, they are more ways to create a part of the narrative, much like the GM is running the rest of the events. Although the GM has special previlegies, the players are "mini-GMs", so immediately picking up another character would seem to work.

I think it's useful to see what the intent of the game is. The genre is horror, but "SQUEAM" in play seems very different from say "The Evil" (despite some superficial similarities).

I think that playing another character because your original character got killed, is totally against the pacing of the game in "The Evil" (which strictly forbids the GM to kill the characters before a certain stage in the adventure), but it works fine in Squeam.

I just want to point out that to me this doesn't seem to be a problem that has anything to do with horror as a genre. It's more about a type of game where the player characters are supposed to easily be able to die. How to continue play despire character deaths. The horror angle on the question might obfuscate the question.

There ought to be non-horror games with the issues. Or am I wrong?

In any case, analyzing it as a "early character death" problem, it seems the "short story", "play multiple character" etc are all workable solutions. I actually see this bordering on games with truly shared narrative or where players might take turn GMing.
formerly Pale Fire
[Yggdrasil (in progress) | The Evil (v1.2)]
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talysman

I'd like to point out that Jared really answered the question: SQUEAM isn't about protagonizing the characters, and it isn't about Narrativism. if some people are bothered by the use of the word "story"... well, Jared is welcome to use the same terminology I'm starting to use: creating a group fiction. in some games, this may require characters who are actual protagonists, but not every form of fiction fits that pattern. what if you wanted to create vignettes?

it sounds to me like the players in SQUEAM are the actual "protagonists", while the characters are more like equipment in other rpgs. sometimes, you have to use all the charges in your magic wand to get the kind of fiction you want, but you can always get more magic wands...
John Laviolette
(aka Talysman the Ur-Beatle)
rpg projects: http://www.globalsurrealism.com/rpg

dragongrace

While I ducked out before the onset of mass carnage, i wondered what prevented people was leaping off cliffs like lemmings just to make the GM describe random bits of death and destruction.

If you tried to turn a session into a serious game, one might consider a small inclusion of a hat with bits of paper.  Everyone draws out a slip and only one or two slips have the words protagonists, the rest have victim.  There is a card game to this affect in which each person gets a card and the one that gets the jack fo spades (or desiganted card) is the killer the rest are either inspectors.  The killer tries to kill the rest with a wink of an eye without getting caught.

The same could be done in the game in which someone is designated the protagonist, someone the killer and the rest are victims.  You can't kill the protagonists but the protagonist tries to narrate his way through the story saving as many victims as he can before he narrows in on the monster.  

just adding to the pot
JOE--
happily wearing the hat of the fool.

Paganini

Quote from: Pale Fire
Well, the feeling I get from the little Squeam I played is that again what is happening isn't horror. It's creating scenes like in horror movies, but not the feel of being scared.

Well, yes, SQUEAM is writen like a parody, and that's how we played it. But, keep in mind that a lot of horror movies are writen like parodies of themselves. Not intentionally, but that's how they appear out to the viewer. A movie like The World Beneath is really, really scary. A movie like Evil Dead, Final Destination, or that one out west I was talking about last night, is not.

QuoteI just want to point out that to me this doesn't seem to be a problem that has anything to do with horror as a genre. It's more about a type of game where the player characters are supposed to easily be able to die. How to continue play despire character deaths. The horror angle on the question might obfuscate the question.

Yes, any game with a high PC mortality rate. But it applies in a special way in the horror genre, because in most horror movies you don't actually know who the "PC"s are (I.e., the protagonists) until the end . . . cos they're the only ones who survive. This is what Mike was describing in Human Wreckage (hope I get mine soon ... hint, hint ... Scott ... ahem)

So on the one hand you might say that each player controls one character, say that that character is a PC, and try to figure out some way to keep the PCs alive until the end. On the other hand, you might give each player a whole slew of characters (or replace characters with NPCs one at a time as they die) and "find out" who the protagonists are by virtue of being the only ones to survive.

I'd actually talked this over with Bob and Chris a bit last night, after posting here, but before you showed up.

For me, a game like this requires narrative resolution to be enjoyable. As a player, I want to find out What The Heck Is Going On before the game is over. I don't really care if I do this with my original character, or with a whole bunch of character, or even with no character at all, as long as I'm still involved in the game some way.

SQEAM seemed to give the GM an arbitrary level of control over character life and death (this isn't quite true in retrospect, but more on that in a second).

So, it seemed like the GM could just kill off the characters at will, meaning that it's real easy to get rid of everyone before any kind of resolution is reached. The first session (Sunday evening) I was trying my best to get the characters out of situations alive so we could "finish the game."

Talking to Bob and Chris (Edwards) yesterday, they didn't like this approach. Chris especially, and I think Bob agreed with him, said he didn't care if his character died in the first scene, as long as the death had some dramatic oomph . . . even if it was only dramatic in its triviality and pointlessnes. (Garage door death.)

So I spent the second session (Monday) trying my best to kill the characters in interesting, dramatic ways. It was harder than I thought it'd be. Fate is really the empowering factor. As long as you got Fate, you survive. But, they kept making rolls too. Jessie, the Punk's Slut girlfriend, had zero fate the entire game, but she kept making rolls (until the very end when she failed a couple of squeam rolls, and got so freaked out that she didn't even resist when the zombies came for her . . . heheh! :)

Christoffer Lernö

I guess it boils down to personal preferences and social contract. Jumping into the Squeam game with Bubba the Jock, I was kinda disappointed to be offed (for no special reason at all) in my first encounter with zombies. I mean I had tons of annoying stuff to play out with Bubba and I didn't get a chance. :'(

About running multiple characters - why do I keep thinking about Paranoia?

Anyway, it strikes me (and this is probably what you're saying) that when play becomes less focused on individual character the play actually shifts up into a meta-game where the characters are simply expendable tools for the players to influence the in-game event much in the same way the GM has NPCs. The same game could be viewed as a game without PCs where the GM occasionally allows the players to play out the roles of some of the NPCs.
The point is that play is definately shifted up one abstraction-level.
formerly Pale Fire
[Yggdrasil (in progress) | The Evil (v1.2)]
Ranked #1005 in meaningful posts
Indie-Netgaming member

Bob McNamee

The level of GM-like power over Pawns playstyle made for an easy transistion from playing Bobby Drayton and Brandi Eakins (Nerd and Bimbo) to playing them as Evil Bobby and Evil Brandi. Which was fun too! I liked the scene where they turned, I could picture that scene in an Evil Dead movie really easily.
Bob McNamee
Indie-netgaming- Out of the ordinary on-line gaming!