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Most of this week, I have been focusing my attention on "A Race Through Dark Places," my GenCon Online blog set in Fioracitta. This weekend has been a real test of all those principles I've been using, especially the hypnotic storytelling. Welcome to Fioracitta This map is a detail from a region map created by Jim Abbott for Fioracitta, The Heart of Power. The adventure takes place in Escharro (bottom centre left). The six player characters are:- Amares - Adventurer / Entertainer, who works in The Painted Mask in Lascha East District. Loves to scout ahead while adventuring. Keeps their adventuring and professional lives separate. Kepina Chauput - Bestia Adventurer. Originally from the Chauput Valley in Fourche, but has been hearing a psychic Call for years, originating somewhere here. Literally walked from Fourche to Itarra, following The Call. Maghe' Piccuri - Adventurer / Celebrity. Brash, charismatic, larger than life, this renowned actor from Lascha East may be hiding a few secrets behind his in-your-face persona. Padana di Sottibo - Adventurer / Rescue Worker, this sleek Longane is equally at home in the waters of the River Cariccia and Lake Lascha as she is the streets of Fioracitta. Currently employed by the Guardia, and is also a member of The Lakeside Warriors (a rescuer and mystic). Turan Charesi - Adventurer / Family Man about town. The best-dressed member of the party. On call by the Family he belongs to (the Charesi) to take care of matters which require his unique brand of diplomacy. Zurhan al-Turaph - Adventurer / Benedittara Animist, Zurhan is a typical magician with piercing eyes, whose flowing, graceful movements almost make him appear like one of the spirits he interacts with. The Prompts "A Race Through Dark Places" was a one-shot adventure run twice over the course of GenCon Online 2021, on a dedicated Discord server. Both sessions were, in effect, the same story. The initial prompt was this image:- In the end, some of the unused prompts included these images:- # The Adventure "A Race Through Dark Places" opened with the player characters boarding the ferry from Vindia to Birigna, stopping at Escharro before heading off to Teldatta, Orchudo Island, and Birigna, before making its long journey back to Vindia. There had been disappearances around Escharro, coinciding with bizarre phenomena surrounding the Magetti Estate, which was only accessible via a lakeside boat dock cut into the native rock of Escharro. Rumours included a possible hidden Venea temple, a secret meeting place of the Dragons of Shadow (a secret society set up during the Bragoni Conquest of Fioracitta), and brigands. The characters met the owners, Aldo and Genti Rubeno, and their majordomo and factotum, Pilor Garic, a Macenti. For this mission, I bought some mansion floorplans from DrivethruRPG rather than create my own Villa Magetti. This was the ground floor plan which greeted the players. Hypnotic Storytelling Tips Here are some of the hypnotic tips used to immerse the players into the action. Revivification Have you ever described something so vividly that you find yourself losing all sense of where you are, and immersing yourself in the memory as though you were living it? This is known as revivification, and it is the workhorse of all hypnotic techniques. The basic principle here is "Where attention goes, energy flows." Second Person Narrative Addressing each player as "you" is a powerful narrative technique. Don't be afraid to use "you" in the in-character chat. Your players' unconscious minds quickly pick up that it's they who are being addressed, not the players. This leads to revivification, and players living out the adventure as though they were there. Appeal to The Senses Sense memory is your best friend. Allow evocative details to fill the narrative - the rich floral scents of a garden, the cool of the lake water on bare feet, the taste of cool clean drinking water going down your throat, the sounds of ravens overhead; or the scent of blood (those who've smelled blood will flinch, and others will just imagine), or fire, or the sounds of movement in a corridor which is supposed to be empty, dusty soft scraping and swishing, coming closer down the dry floorboards ... You Are The Problem Solver The NPCs are not the problem solvers. The players are. Or rather, the unconscious minds. The mind is a natural problem solver, and if there is a situation where there are two disparate clues, the unconscious will put them together and find a connection, somehow. Newbie GMs, here's a hint from an old GM. Let them make the connection. You'll find that most of the time, the adventure takes a sharp turn away from your plotted narrative if the characters (i.e. the unconscious minds of the players) solve the problem in their heads, talk about it, and come up with a rough idea of what is going on. Nine times out of ten, if you've laid down a carefully-scripted narrative, whether it is a mystery, a conspiracy, or a room full of monsters, the unconscious minds are going to figure it out. They are going to look right through any schemes you come up with. Figuring it out is the point. It's half the fun. Want to know what the other half of the fun is? Letting the players come up with a plan that saws your plan into little bitty pieces, then executing it. Last Thoughts On "A Race Through Dark Places" Everything I described above came true. I felt it happen, right before my very eyes. Remember - your players are going to be smart. A lot of them have been GMs before, and want to run characters rather than run games because, deep down, they want to win something. It's got to be meaningful. It's got to justify the characters' being there. Most of all, they want to feel like the heroes. Which they are. Being a Games Master is a hard job. Deep down, you've got to love one thing - the looks on the players' faces, the sound of their voices, when you present them with a story they can sink their teeth into. They can put in a personal stake in the adventure. They will want to get to a happy ending, where happy endings are not guaranteed unless they make it happen. The rewards are there. Hard won, sometimes with deep personal losses - injuries, Tenacity loss, fatigue - but when they can come away feeling that they have won every single Experience Roll, where they have spent those Luck Points and it has made all the difference, then you will have done a great job, and brought smiles to the players' faces. And if the game's more than a one-shot, but a multi-session story or even part of a campaign, that will bring them back to the table to see how it turns out next time. And in the end, that's the best reward you can live for, as a Games Master.
No character exists in a vacuum. One of the most important, yet overlooked, aspects of Mythras gaming is connections - Allies, Contacts, even Rivals and Enemies. Much old school gaming tends to focus on player characters being self-contained agents of their lives, yet life doesn't work that way. Connections are part of every Session Zero. Every character should go through the process of creating a possible family, background events, and their Connections. This might seem like a waste of time to some players who might be champing at the bit for the chance to get into that dungeon and start slaughtering - but in fact, Connections can make the difference between a page full of empty, meaningless statistics, and a person whose achievements and accomplishments in adventures have meaning. Catalysts Connections can galvanise the player characters into action - problems arising in their lives can lead the characters into an adventure. Examples: - An old military buddy usually meets the characters every Monday afternoon to go bowling. On this Monday, he's not at his usual rendezvous, and the characters find that he is in the hospital with a stab wound in the back, and his home has been ransacked. The assailant was after something. There is one clue - their friend gave good fight, and landed a few telling blows, so they're looking for some guy who's as badly injured as their buddy is. - A younger family member has gone missing, and the characters have to track down her skeevy new associate, an older man. They track them down to a martial arts studio, where the older man discloses that she has been training under him to take on some college bullies. Now she, and the bullies, have gone dark. Nobody knows where they are, and the trainer hopes she won't get too much in trouble because she has been training with illegal kubotan melee weapons. - An old friend's father is dying, and his last words to the friend turn out to be a cryptic clue to a literally haunted treasure. Anchors Connections can keep the adventurers grounded. No matter how wild their adventures are, or where they go, the characters need someone to come home to, to share their lives and weird exploits. Apart from the characters themselves, their Connections might be the only people who are willing to entertain their wild war stories. - Some ex-service buddies hang around in a bar near the barracks, swapping war stories with some of the raw recruits who are allowed off base during furlough. - Former Banevio fighting school mystics gather around a fountain in a piazza in Semmi West and reminisce about the bouts they fought, and their old mentor, gone but not forgotten. - University alumni meet up once a month in one another's homes and talk about their urbex exploits in reputedly haunted houses, including an abandoned hospital where at least one of them can confirm that there is a definite presence, and it isn't some crook on the run, wearing a rubber monster mask to scare away the casuals. Networks Connections extend the characters' reach into places where the adventurers themselves cannot go. - A character with an Ally in one of the Familiar in Fioracitta could find a lead on a case which could drag the adventurer into a world of Fiorese organised crims or the Shadow Society. - An informant working for the Department could slip an agent a note under the door of the hotel she is staying in, with a warning that her cover's been blown and mercenaries are on their way to get her. - An associate of a notorious sorcery cabal can ask a Connection to deliver an invitation to haul them halfway across town to the cabal's chantry to talk about a possible job offer. - A friend of a friend of one of the Curators of The Occhiadero in Lascha District has obtained a copy of one of their tomes, teaching some vital Folk Magic the characters need. Backup Sometimes, the characters get into something they cannot handle. The Games Master can either have some of their Connections turn up (or pull strings and have some heavies go in to haul them out), or they can get the players to roleplay their Connections themselves, investigating the disappearance of the main characters. - That old buddy with the Family ties can call on the services of some friendly enforcers to back the characters' play if they are up against an overwhelming antagonist force. - The Banevio gym can send their finest students to help the characters to win a sporting contest for the honour of Little Fourche District against those Gioconda snobs. - That nice lady with the poison garden in Outer Gioconda can send spirits aplenty to help one of her Maledittara sisters on the spirit plane. Found Family Connections provide the adventurers with a found family, a place to belong, and a sense of involvement in a community. - The Department's teams are often closer than friends; closer than family. - Family is the place where nobody keep score or counts the favours owed. - 'ohana means family ... - Your mission, should you choose to accept it ... - It's time! Suit up, boot up and mask up! Brigadier Bay needs us! In The End The Connections forged during Session Zero should not be an afterthought. Whether they are the initial hook, the steadying influence, the backup, the found family, or the extension of the characters' reach, the Connections represent the ordinary people around whom the characters' lives revolve. As non-player characters controlled by the Games Master, the presence of Connections gives the Adventurers opportunities to communicate with the Games Master in character, in a way which avoids breaking the fourth wall and allows the players to remain in character. The Games Master can use the characters' Connections to help steer them towards answers when they are clueless; to warn them if they are about to try out something dangerous and stupid; and to give them roots into the background community they belong to. It's all about making the characters' stories meaningful and memorable, and giving the players something to really talk about at gaming conventions.
This blog is about settings. And immersion, and getting a sense of belonging. And rejection of the hack'n'slash mentality of gaming. It is also about hypnosis, and hypnotic language, and high weirdness, and the ocarina. Everybody here got into gaming for their own reasons. Give me five minutes, and I bet I could draw out your reason for playing d100 games, or for playing tabletop games at all. What do you get out of your favourite d100 game / setting? What's the payoff for you, that brings you back to this specific game, world, or setting, or even makes this your go-to place for adventures? This blog will explore that payoff. In my case, those payoffs plural. By exploring the things that bring others to the table, you might find the things within you which motivate you to game. And I'll reveal my payoffs, the reasons why I do what I do - writing game material, playing the ocarina, and hypnosis.