[Dead of Night] Nice Mr. Fitzgerald

Started by Ron Edwards, November 13, 2008, 05:48:50 PM

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David Berg


Yeah, the strain of using my brain to track a bunch of stuff at once sometimes makes GMing less fun, so I totally see the value in lightening that load.  The more I can focus on the SIS now (as opposed to the SIS that was, or the SIS that will be), the more I can get my player-like fun of dumping in portrayal and other color.


"Just play the monster" sounds like a blast.

Your clarification about how the genre expectations simplify GM responsibilities is well taken.  I'm actually relatively ignorant of those expectations, which probably contributes to my fuzziness here (I don't often watch horror movies).

The fact that the players' attempts to do stuff are also simple for the GM to handle (Suvival Point expenditure = get what you wanted) is big too; I hadn't thought about that.

Regarding Tension Points, I think I knew that they go up and down, not just scene-to-scene, but also in response to how actively the GM is trying to screw the players.  That wasn't one of the things I took away from the AP threads, though, so I guess I kind of trivialized it.  Thinking about that now, though, it sounds interesting and fun.

I find it hard to infer from your explanation how scene framing, and prep to inform that, is impacted by all this.  I guess with a little fleshing out of the monster beforehand, it's just a matter of "ad lib some genre-appropriate locations & NPCs" (and play the monster), and a halfway-decent GM can't really go wrong?

Do the monster types in the book come fully loaded with, "Just play THIS, and it WILL create interesting situations," or does the GM have to build that in by detailing backstory, methods, signals, schemes, etc.?  I'd imagine there's a bit of an art form to the latter.


P.S. I'm still curious about direct player contact with the Tension Points.  If anyone can speak to whether, "Uh oh, Tension 10 means that subtle thing the GM mentioned is probably deadly!" happens, I'd appreciate it.
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David Berg

Joel, I'm a big fan of talking stuff out pre-game.  Here are some of the bases I try to cover (though some of these only pertain to games that are brand new to the players).
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development

Joel P. Shempert

Dave, yes--I'm a big fan of it too, except that I still haven't hit my stride regarding how to get there. That is, I've had games (many, many games) with zip communication, and they had mismatched agendas and sucked. And I've had games where I tried to communicate from the get-go. . .and they had mismatched agendas and sucked. I've also had games that didn't suck, but from where I'm sitting I don't see any consistently effective methodology for communicating what play's about and the standards for input thereof. Which is why I pounced on this here. I'm trying to get a handle on what bits of communication to focus on, and how much to frontload into the game startup.

If you look at my post here, you can see that such issues are rife: I thought we had communicated sufficiently, and I tried to be delicate WRT communicating too much right off and spoiling actual play. But it turns out we didn't communicate enough, or at least not in the right ways. Fortunately we had robust enough communication in the group to recognize this and rectifiy it (in this case, by scrapping the game and planning for a new one), but I'd l;ike to figure out how to better address the issue from the get-go.

Apologies if I'm tangenting too much from the meat of this thread.

Story by the Throat! Relentlessly pursuing story in roleplaying, art and life.

Ron Edwards

Hi David,

This would be so much easier if you had the book.

I reorganized your questions and points, which I hope will make sense.

Genre and GMing

Whoa, wait, you don't know, or aren't into cinema horror? Then, um ... uh, what can I tell you, except that all game design is predicated on Color and Reward, and that you must at least understand those two things in order to understand a given game at all? Especially for Simulationist-in-your-face, which Dead of Night most certainly and wonderfully is. We're talking about Reward mechanics (Survival/Tension), but Color is the necessary partner. I sort of thought you had that nailed down. Huh ...

That changes my answers to your questions a lot. OK - well, in horror movies, there are specific plot and ability tropes, but they aren't utterly stereotyped. They are instead fixed in a way which allows nigh-infinite variations. You can flip sympathy for the monster from full to none, or do it right in the middle. You can define a monster as twisted-human or human-appearing non-human (I'm talking thematically). You can even tweak the whole thing to be confirmatory toward familiar values, or to challenge/disturb them. You can mess with both how the abilities and weaknesses look, and how they relate to the monster's emotional state. I'm speaking here about monster/horror movies; this is a big part of why people like them, in addition to certain victim-empowerment issues which aren't relevant to this thread.*

Anyway, in playing Dead of Night, generally people get that stuff without any need to articulate or analyze it. What I'm saying is that the monster types in the book do come fully loaded with "grab and go," but that is embedded in the expectation that the reader knows what I wrote above. It's up to me as GM to play it as pure menace (like I did with Mr. Fitzgerald, albeit fully masked) or some other way. In fact, the very fact that I might say "mummy" or "werewolf" incites others who like this genre, or set of genres, to be interested in which way I'll be doing it.

So how do I, as GM, do that? It's not so much building a whole scenario-book full of clues and signals and encounters, as simply how I present things and play them. Does the werewolf try to kill his lover, or does he avoid her frequently and try to direct his uncontrollable other side toward people she dislikes? It's really not about planning how to convince the players of this or that. It's just, you know, what he looks like, what he does, what he says, and what happens. I play him, and that's my part; the players will do theirs. That's the Color bedrock in action. Given an equally solid Reward in action, you have a game.


OK, I think you got it pretty much, but I'm overreacting slightly to a given phrase you used. The length of what follows is perhaps misleading; I'm not saying you missed any major point. It's a quibble.

"Screw the players" isn't quite right. If I'm not mistaken, you're talking about how Tension goes down when the GM diddles with dice rolls. OK, I can see that perception ... although again, what we're describing is a limited resource for tossing in a penalty best described as Bad Fucking Luck. And since it is a resource as opposed to the widespread application of that idea through fiat in a lot of traditional Sim-horror play, that also seems to me like not being screwed. Hammering the character, absolutely yes; screwing the player, no.

Plus, don't forget that Tension decreases when a GM helps a player's dice too. I don't happen to do that often if at all, but Eero does, and the rules are very explicit that either way is OK (unless of course the group customizes the Tension rules otherwise).

QuoteI'm still curious about direct player contact with the Tension Points. If anyone can speak to whether, "Uh oh,
Tension 10 means that subtle thing the GM mentioned is probably deadly!" happens, I'd appreciate it.

That's straightforward in the text. Tension Points are written to be closed to the players. It's not a secret so much as unnecessary. And play is so, well, happening that a statement like you wrote doesn't occur - at Tension 10 and above, stuff is already being described appropriately; it's not like they have to guess. I get the idea that you're conceiving of play as being very numerically structured, almost like a board game ... it's not, it's very dialogue heavy, even blurt-heavy; the SIS is thick enough to be cut with a knife.

Andrew has written that he's played demos with a big steel d20 sitting out, partly as a teaching method and partly for physical reinforcement of tension (the phenomenon, not the mechanic, but via the mechanic). I've done the same in one of my games. My take is that for purposes of teaching the game, revealing Tension makes sense, but in simply playing with others, it doesn't matter whether the players see the number or not.

Andrew and with any luck Merwin, can you guys help out? I feel like I'm repping the game to the degree an author should be doing, and it's getting out of my comfort zone in terms of speaking authoritatively. I'm only a practitioner who likes the game, and it's hard to tell whether I'm expressing my interpretation and preferences, vs. representing the text responsibly.

Best, Ron

* Interested people, see Men, Women, and Chainsaws, for my money the only rational book about gender and horror movies ever written.

P.S. Joel, I think that Color and Reward business is going to help you. Let's talk about it over in your new thread, though.

Joel P. Shempert

Story by the Throat! Relentlessly pursuing story in roleplaying, art and life.

Ron Edwards

I just re-read Eero's "Hair" thread (see my first post for link), and glory be, he always spent Tension against the players' rolls too. I guess we were both inclined the same way, despite the default rule that permits it to be spent either for or against.

It'd be interesting to customize that aspect of Tension spending in one of either directions:
- always against the player in a fight, but for the player out of a fight
- vice versa

Best, Ron

Callan S.

Hi Ron,

It took me awhile to get an idea of what you were describing, I think because the horror movies I know of (which isn't alot, I don't really pursue them) usually do an escapist sort of horror (with the blood and gore level ramped up to compensate for that). The sort of 'close to home' horror your describing I just haven't really seen in general. Maybe its a form of art that, given commercial circumstances, will be nurtured more in the roleplaying medium than anywhere else?

But...I'll say I am reluctant to talk about the following because I 'get' the art to a degree. But I'm noting that reluctance in itself, for future reference.
Quote from: Ron Edwards on November 18, 2008, 06:28:37 AMTechnically, doing damage (using the Assault score) by saying "boo" isn't something that character is capable of by the rules, if it came right out of nowhere or were part of the ordinary-if-evil course of actions he'd conduct casually. However, with Tension racked up to 20+ (well past the threshold which allows, even requires surreal descriptions), with the history between the two characters (as Mrs. Florin had made the awful mistake of trying to engage and challenge him on a moral, community plane), and with the point-by-point history of accumulating physical and psychological damage he'd done to her which placed her at 0 Survival Points,* it was exactly the way to kill her, with color & rules & in-game fiction all firing at once.
He's not technically capable of doing damage with it? Is there a rule somewhere where the GM can decide it does damage? Like either in general, or when there's a high tension? If that's the case, cool - no worries. That relies on more sympathy structure, but I don't see any problems raised by that and it's all fully answered.

Otherwise...she isn't dead. I hate to say it because I get the story building up (or atleast partly getting it, given I wasn't there) and see that as a really strong fictional outcome that I don't want to naysay against. But without some way of making her dead by the rules, you've obviously skipped the rules.

Hoping it's just there's some GM rule on damage and this isn't applicable and we can move quickly on...

Ron Edwards

Nah man, you're misunderstanding me. Everyone has an Assault score; use it successfully, and the other guy's damaged. He used Assault, so it's all cool by the rules.

What I was talking about was the in-game method. If Tension = 4 or something, and since he's in the scene, ambient Tension would be amped up to 9, then if I had Mr. Fitzgerald use Assault, I'd still be constrained to have it be relatively non-horrific. A brass candlestick, perhaps. A ditch dug across her walking-path, then loosely filled in. If he wanted to do something non-mundane when Tension is still relatively low, then he's (I'm) constrained to use his Evil Eye ability, or spend a Survival Point to use his Sorcery ability.

However, at the time of that scene, Tension had topped 20, which is insanely high for this game; 15 is the signal to wrap up the story. I've never seen it rack up so high in previous play. In those conditions, I was equally constrained to blow off the top with arcane, scary, witchy, hellish stuff. Hence the "boo."

Contrary to your perception, I was following the rules very, very closely, especially in terms of what sort of descriptions were utilized for every damage-inflicting circumstance. What I've described illustrates one way the rules work so well.

Best, Ron

Eero Tuovinen

We played a game of Dead of Night a week ago in Oulu ("Hair II", incidentally; I'll compose an actual play post when I have time), and I again spent Tension only against the players.

My point about this, though, is that the reason I spent against players both times I've played DoN was that it was the genre-appropriate choice. I don't know if it'd be very common, but I could well imagine spending for the players as well, just like the rules tell you to. Perhaps the game should be somehow different from how Hair runs to make that a sensible choice - violence is so rare in this brand of slasher flick that when it hits, it has to hit reliably and hard. Mike Montgren never misses.
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Callan S.

Hi Ron,

Ah, now I get what you were conveying in terms of mundane damage with assault. Also for some reason my eyes kept skipping over '(using the Assault score)' in "Technically, doing damage (using the Assault score) by saying "boo" isn't...etc, etc' or I might have already guessed that. Dang!

Though I'm inclined to think rather than showing how it fit within the rules and color, your more celebrating how it fits within the rules and color. To me the terms 'assault' or 'mundane' ask for sympathy to the users cause rather than strictly define anything. But as I understand the sympathy those words ask for and with the actual play you described, your build up not only fit snugly into them snugly, but came to a powerful conclusion within those words. If those rules called 'assault' can do damage and can be applied at this point, then they can do damage. However, you didn't just activate that rule - the narrative was in sync with its activation. And I wouldn't say that's just following procedure here. In this game that's actually a cause for some celebration. Just being pedantic in adding that - doesn't impact on anything here.

Ron Edwards

Hey Callan,

That precise combination you describe, of narration (or better, fiction as a whole up to this moment) and activating rules-mechanics, is how I and my groups play anything, all the way through. I don't say that to brag. I say it because it's baseline, a given for us, and I consider it a starting point rather than a goal.

I pose it as a contrast to either (a) essentially a mess of jockeying around for fiction-creation with some embedded, out-of-place feeling mechanics that usually disrupt things; or (b) a wind-up toy that delivers insta-fiction while the group is privileged to act it out or, as they say about the Renaissance painter apprentices, to color in the nipples.

Most traditional role-playing (not all) appears like (a) to me, and I specifically include my own history. Many post-2005 so-called story games in action appear like (b) to me, and I see that as no particular improvement on (a).

Dead of Night fits right in with the boom of ideas and application that is mainly seen in 2000-2004, with only a few real representatives since then (but they do exist). That's why I'm describing my own experience of role-playing over the past eight years or so, in contrast to the 21 years before that, because I'm trying to get across that in playing Dead of Night, what you're describing is expected and normal and above all easy, rather than exceptional or shoehorned in.

Best, Ron

David Berg


Thanks for spelling stuff out for me.  It's not that I have ZERO familiarity with cinema horror; I just don't have enough to feel confident ad-libbing it and doing it particularly well.

I get "Color + Reward = game" (I think), and I get (at least partially) how the Reward mechanics assist and enable the GM's color-providing duties.

The part I'm blanking on is much more small-scale, and possibly specific to the AP I've read here.  I'm sure I'd do fine deciding what my monster does, and giving it good color.  What I'm less sure of is how to get the characters to see it.  Do I open every scene by saying, "Now you're in an alley," or whatever, because that's where I want the monster?  Do I open every scene by saying, "Where do you want to go now?" and then put the monster there?  Do the players take care of this for me by relentlessly pursuing the monster?

I'm not looking for actual answers in a "Dave, do it this way" format.  I'm just curious about whether the game guides this or leaves the GM to his own devices, based on his own genre understandings.

I don't mind if you'd rather say, "Play the damn game and find out for yourself!" at this point.  All I can say is that you've grabbed my attention with statements like this:

Quote from: Ron Edwards on November 24, 2008, 05:26:47 PM
It's not so much building a whole scenario-book full of clues and signals and encounters, as simply how I present things and play them.

and I'm eagerly trying to wrap my brain around how and why that succeeds.

As for the other stuff:

1) Yeah, by "screwing the players", I actually meant "hammering the characters".

2) Glad to have it confirmed that the game works fine with player ignorance of Tension level.

here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development

Callan S.

Hi Ron,

That's how you play anything? Dead of night is sim focused, right? I'd have thought the amount of effort/enthusiasm for getting the play to fit snugly within the words, etc would be higher than the effort/enthusiasm to do that in, for example, a narrativist game?


Hi David,

I played the Mrs. Florin character that died in the game Ron described. I'll try to answer a couple of your questions from a player perspective. I will not be able to answer specific rules questions because I have not read the text.

First, some context. This group has been playing together a long time and were very excited to play this game. We are also avid horror movie fans, some more than others, but we are very familiar with the genre. I specifically requested the rule that tension points could not be used by the GM in fights. I had in mind a Stepford Wives kind of horror which I don't think I stated out loud, but it was readily understood by the group.

You asked about the players' awareness of tension points and its affect on game play. Ron has already answered that he did not indicate the tension level to the players. I just want to add that I was fine not knowing the precise tension level. It became abundantly clear that tension was high solely through the description of scenes and effects on the characters. It's the interaction of the survival points with tension that had a greater effect on my experience of play. As the survival points drop (with the assumed increase in tension), the use of that resource has a greater degree of desperation with the increased vulnerability of the character. It nicely emulates the horror dynamic of mere character survival versus taking action that will likely be fatal.

As for this,
Quote from: David Berg on November 25, 2008, 03:02:36 AM
The part I'm blanking on is much more small-scale, and possibly specific to the AP I've read here.  I'm sure I'd do fine deciding what my monster does, and giving it good color.  What I'm less sure of is how to get the characters to see it.  Do I open every scene by saying, "Now you're in an alley," or whatever, because that's where I want the monster?  Do I open every scene by saying, "Where do you want to go now?" and then put the monster there?  Do the players take care of this for me by relentlessly pursuing the monster?

I'd say it must be both the GM and character players that make this work. And a lot has to do with wanting to make a horror story. It starts at the very beginning with Ron saying, "I want the game to be set in a neighborhood just like this one, maybe a couple blocks that way," and the remaining players creating characters that have good reason to be there and care about what happens. Thus, the noisy Mrs. Florin that has only the best intentions for her neighbors. When Ron described a moving truck at a recently sold house, I, of course, had Mrs. Florin arrive with a casserole and attempt to be invited inside.

Does any of this help?


David Berg


Actually, that's perfect.  That helps me tease apart game contributions, player contributions that any group could handle, and player contributions that your group made beyond that baseline.

It seems like you guys effectively mined a ton of shared, out-of-game references, and your ability to do so was based on:

1) the game explicitly said, "this is cinema horror", and you all knew what that is

2) your group used the game's instructions (to customize Tension use), plus plain old communication, to further whittle "cinema horror" into something even more specific, which you all also were quite familiar with

3) Ron was able to choose "a neighborhood like this one" because it worked well within the chosen subgenre -- and, whaddaya know, you're all familiar with the neighborhood too

In terms of making my GM duties easier and more spontaneous, I think that last one would be a key, and I feel silly for not taking that away from the opening post.  Picking "the docks of a lonely fishing village in Nova Scotia", for example, would tax my brain a lot more -- that's a mistake I'd likely have made, because, y'know, it sounds cool.  "Strive for the familiar" might be a good mantra if I wanted to make my job as easy as possible.

I still wonder how much "covering the bases"-type prep I'd need.  So, I'll ask you, if you played another Dead of Night game set at a campsite, and the site was being stalked by a monster, would you have your character just leave?  Not that that would be easy (most likely), but if you came up with a really slick way to get out of it, would you stop yourself, or challenge the GM to be resourceful and stop you?

I get the impression the player's job to uphold genre-celebration is paramount, and I wonder how far that extends and how natural it is to fulfill.


P.S. In case it helps to know where I'm coming from: most of my Sim play has prioritized "run a simulation to see what happens" and high-concept/original conceits.  I've never just grabbed onto a specific shared reference as overtly and explicitly as DoN does with Cinema Horror.
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development