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Jul 25 2013

Ambiance is all about Presenation

So this post is my friend A.G. Smith’s post from over on the pinnacle forums. You can see the original post here. It’s a prefect example of how to use presentation to create the ambiance you want in your game. It’s also a great lesson on how the GM is the eyes into the world surrounding the players, ala Vincent Baker saying Vomit forth Apocalyptica. Thanks for giving me permission to re-post this.

My group is just recently returning to our Deadlands campaign (which is not entirely unlike The Flood). Up until this point, I had not fully utilized Fear Levels. Our campaign was mostly gunfights and weird science, not many Fear modified Guts checks being made.

After getting some cool creepy background tracks from the Plate Mail Games kickstarter, I was inspired to do a heavy horror session and really ham it up with a soundtrack. So last nights session the players tracked down an escaped “freak” from a carnival sideshow. The freak was sort of like an ever-consuming Faminite or Hunger Spirit, which had been caged displayed to horrified customers. It got out in ShanFan, and the players followed it’s trail deep into Stinktown where it broke into a slaughterhouse and started devouring the slabs of meat. 

I hadn’t really used Fear Levels in my Deadlands games because I couldn’t really conceptualize how they worked in play. I understood mechanically, but never really though on how to narrate them.

So as the PCs closed in on the abattoir, I started making comments to the Priest PC, and the Huckster PC, about how things felt “different”. Started just using the book examples (longer shadows, queezy feeling), and as they went inside closer to the monster, I upped it locally to Lv4. More Guts checks followed. Fear started changing Reality in a very obvious way then (seeing things in shadows, air grew cold, etc). As they went deeper, lanterns began to dim to near darkness, and the hallway stretched (like a vertigo camera zoom). In the final encounter, which of course took place on the slaughterhouse killing floor, I upped the immediate Fear Level to 5, with Guts checks to reveal the Monster. By this point, it was full on horror show. In the near darkness, The hanging slabs of meat where bleeding, others saw hallucinations of them breathing, or covered in maggots, or even mistaking them for a more sapien-like species. It wasn’t a very tough combat, but there were new things to roll Fear checks for almost every round while avoiding meat-hooks that swung wildly around. The Faminite was crawling on the ceiling like in a Japanese horror film. It was an excellent time. Eventually the PCs got it together and whomped it dead in a single round (like they do). Immediately, the local Fear Level washed back like the tide, and they were left in a damp and naturally smelly meat-packing plant.

So that was my attempt to dig into Fear Levels in my campaign. Creepy music and lots of nightmarish details that escalated until it was hideously clear how important it is to push back Fear and servitors. My enjoyment of Deadlands just doubled tonight, I can’t wait to ramp up the horror again soon.

So how do you folks at home use presentation to ramp up your games? Do you make the game you’re trying to go for obvious to your players and if so how do you do it? What makes your game Epic Fantasy? Steampunk? Noir?

 

1 comment

  1. A G Smith

    Thanks for the shout out, Chris.
    A lot of what I’ve been trying to focus on is advice from books like Play Unsafe, and indie games like Apocalypse/Dungeon World. I have to continually force myself out of the habit of trying to be too subtle or clever in my presentation. That sort of thing might work in a novel or a good movie, but the gaming table is neither. Tabletop RPGs are a different medium and require a different method. The best advice I’ve gotten is to BE OBVIOUS and plentiful with details and description. Players will never pick up 100% of what you’re saying, so pour it on heavy for moderate and tasteful result.

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