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Last week's post covered the quest of the Games Master to stay relevant, and the introduction of hypnosis as a tool of Games Mastery; immersion; and the capabilities of the conscious and unconscious minds. This week, we move on to actual use of hypnosis in storytelling and in gaming, as used by the Games Master. The ABS Formula The crucial element of hypnosis is called the ABS Formula. It can be broken into three parts: Engage the Attention; Bypass the Conscious Mind; Stimulate the Unconscious. Engage The Attention The initial stage of hypnotic storytelling, this involves drawing the players' attention to the task at hand - beginning the game, allowing the story to unfold. You know that this stage is complete when all of the players are fosucing on you, and at that point you can begin to draw them into the game. Bypass the Conscious Mind This is the stage where you are bypassing the conscious censor and getting through to the unconscious mind to prepare it to create the inner environment In regular hypnosis, this would be the stage where the hypnotist engages the subjects in a formal trance induction. However, this is hypnotic storytelling, and the objective is not a trance state but the engagement of the players as their characters, living out the scenario. Bringing The Players Into Your Dream One way to begin the process of revivification is to ask the players a single question about their character; one which is designed to increase their focus, and to concentrate their unconscious' attention that they exhibit revivific Stimulate the Unconscious This is the part where you and the players' unconscious work together to create the inner environment in the players' minds to match the environment within your own. Here is where the players' minds are sufficiently focused for immersion to take place and for play to begin. Prep Work Strange New World This is an exercise from the Hypnosis Training Academy. Its aim is to encourage creativity, a vital ingredient in Games Mastery. Start with a random object - an egg, a book, a cup - and start imagining its environment. Is it in a nest? How big or small is it? Where is the nest? In a hedgerow? On a cliff ledge, or high atop a tall building like a tower? When I started with this exercise, I imagines a peregrine falcon's nest, and a pair of falcons, in the crenellatioins of a tower - the tallest tower in a city. I began to work out the details of what the tower looked like - it was square, made of brick, with a building below it, and a massive public square. That public square became populated with people, brightly coloured in Renaissance-style garb, reminiscent of characters from the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck (in particular the II and III of Wands, the Queen and King of Cups, the Knight of Pentacles, the IX of Pentacles, and the VII of Swords. I furnished this august public square with fountains, added sex workers hanging around them, and placed a church across the way - facing a brothel directly opposite. Thus was born Piazza Derisola, the so-called Hanging Garden in Fioracitta. Part of this exercise involved me going first, entering a light trance (easy enough, once you learn self-hypnosis) and putting myself in the mind of a Magnate, perhaps the artisan from the II of Wands, holding a globe in his hand, gazing out at the Piazza Derisola, thinking of the business he had in hand, and the person he was expecting to meet there for a clandestine meeting ... Revivification This is another advanced hypnotic technique. Revivification is a state of mind where the mind is so engaged in something - remembering, usually - that they lose awareness of their surroundings. Hypnotic Games Mastery begins by including revivifying elements into your world building. Make your world setting compelling enough, through including sensory elements from the players' memories, that they can't help but be drawn in and practically feel the cobbles of the street beneath their feet. Describe a riot of scents of various cooking meats from the vendors preparing hot foods on the periphery of a market; the singsone voices of the stallholders hawking their wares; the seagulls' cries overhead, competing with the turbulent human babble below. Chances are, every player will have some sort of scent memories to draw from - and in your worldbuilding, strive to bring those memories to life by fanning the embers of their memories to bright flames with your words. Drawing The Players Into Your Dream So now you have the elements in place to induce revivification, you need to catalyse the players' focus. Annd you do this by asking each player one question. What makes your character happy? Once they begin answering the question, keep the ball rolling for each player by encouraging them to delve deeper. You can do this very simply, through support sounds - "Mm-h'mm," "Ah," "Cool," "Excellent" - and with the simple phrase "Go on." Observing Signs of Increasing Focus As the players get more involved in their characters, perhaps to the point where they are living their lives, walking a mile in their shoes as it were, observe their body language. If it looks as if they are not paying that much attention to you, but rather focusing on the character; and if they are making little gestures from picking up an orange to the act of drawing a polishing cloth across a blade; then you can begin the adventure. Maintaining Focus Maintain focus in the game by investing in the characters, and giving them plenty to do - and that means breaking the old habits of "team leader / party tank / cleric healer / mage artillery / rogue backstabber / ranger for the ranged combat" everybody seems to fall into. Give your characters advance knowledge. Have them encounter people who possess knowledge about their destination. Don't make every single encounter about combat - make them memorable by having the players engage with sentient beings as people. Many times, the unconscious mind will help by conjuring up the people your characters encounter. Throw the stereotypes out of the window. Your orc encounter in the wilderness - they're going home laden with fish and birds from a successful bit of foraging, and they are singing a victory song to let their husbands know that tonight, they dine like kings. That wandering beast is following a trail left by a wounded animal: it has no interest in the characters. That sorcerer is heading for the players' town, with their retinue of male and female acolytes. They recently cast an enchantment to permanently become non-binary, and they are going into town to avail themselves of their spells to the townsfolk who need them - Enhance CHA, Sculpt Flesh, and Shapechange (to non-binary). Make the encounters into stories. The unconscious informs the conscious mind through stories. Stories are about conveying meaning - and your unconscious can grasp your intent as Games Master, and actually help you to carry out your job of delivering an engaging and rewarding game. Their unconscious minds can manifest these encounters, and the players will perceive them with their mind's eye. This is engaging their imagination hypnotically, and if you exercise your imagination and leave the combat section of the core rulebook to gather a little dust, you'll be able to engage the players' imagination and keep them immersed until the moment you bring them back in the room to hand out the Experience Rolls.
Intuition is a great guide for players in a scenario. Reason and logic are good, useful, solid tools for unlocking puzzles - but a player's intuition, the ability to induce rather than deduce, allows the characters to unlock understanding of what is going on in a story. An example: The city of Fioracitta. The Adventurers are sitting around a fountain in Piazza Centimani in Carbo District, carousing with soldiers and civilians, when they hear a loud boom in the distance - specifically, Old Town, where the Senate, Parliament, Hall of the Arti, San Tamaggia Temple and government bureaux are housed. A column of smoke rises into the air. They begin to hear the sound of many people screaming. The screams get closer, and louder. The soldiers, of course, run back to their units and get ready to receive deployment orders. What do the Adventurers do? Hopefully, your Adventurers' first reactiom should be to jump in and help; and then let their curiosity kick in. After all, it'll be they who solve the mystery and bring a miscreant and saboteur to justice. The Six Big Questions Every adventure scenario should have some element of investigation to it. Even if the adventure is not a whodunnit, there must be clues left around for the players to piece together a picture of what exactly is going on. Activity is what differentiates a mere dungeon crawl from an actual adventure. In a dungeon crawl session, your characters have little to do but to destroy the static, nameless, faceless opposition and carve their way through the ranks until they get to the boss fight - after which, the session ends with little else to do but to divvy up the treasure and hand out the Experience Rolls. In an adventure, the characters are not faced with static random monsters to fight to the death, an endless Hit Points grindhouse where the monsters and boss level beasts have no other purpose but to stand there and wait for the party to turn up. The adventurers are faced with beings who have something to do, and are often doing their jobs right in front of the player characters. In an adventure, the player characters might stumble across an orcish kitchen and hear the chef cussing out their subordinates - the adventurers can lend a hand and fetch more vegetables from the pantry, or become part of the meal if they displease the head chef too much. Out in the corridor, they might see orcs and assorted creatures scurrying along to and from the pantry, carrying heavy sacks. Again, they can try and figure out what it going on - sniffing the raucous riot of clashing spices coming from that noise-filled room at the end of the corridor, and perhaps deducing that it must be chow time for the orc barracks. It is the adventurers' job to ask loads of questions, if they are to make heads and tails of what is going on all around them. The questions are: What, Who, Where, When, How, and Why. To go back to the opening scenario:- What just exploded? What building was the target? What floor? What room? Who is injured? Who is missing? Who is dead? Who is responsible? Where is the source of the detonation? Where are the survivors? Where is the miscreant? When did they manage to sneak an explosive into the building? How did the miscreant sneak an explosive device into the building? How did they make their escape? Why did the miscreant target this building? To what end? As a Games Master, your job should be to be able to supply those answers to your players' satisfaction at any time. Whether they are asking all the right, mundane, questions, or they are using magic, they have got to know the answers, in order that they can come up with some sort of a cool idea of their own. Players' Intuition The best player character tool is their intuition - the characters'. and the players'. The more savvy the players, the better able they will be to come up with a half-decent plan, whatever that plan might be. Games Masters, if you are running sessions of longer than an hour - I recommend at least two hours, if not three or four - make sure to arrange for pauses in the action, particularly in the runup towards combat scenes. Five minute or ten minute breaks, at least one per hour, and a five minute break at the end of Session Zero, and another one between the last scene and the session or scenario wrap. At least one ten-minute break. These are, theoretically, for comfort breaks. But most players will likely wander off and huddle in a corner somewhere, or drop into a breakout room, and hatch a plan. This isn't cheating. In fact, it's the opposite. The players will want to plan something. Let them carry out their plan and let them win at it, with a few nailbiting setbacks of course. The objective of the breaks is to give them time to think of something they can do, to achieve the scenario's objective. If they feel they can pull it off, go for it. Cheating You might wonder if this is cheating, or that you might be giving the players an undue advantage. It isn't. They are supposed to enjoy the adventure, which means letting them work things out, letting them come up with a plan, and letting them earn their victories. The only time they can truly fail is for them to do nothing. Even Leeroy Jenkins' doom is better than doing nothing. You don't have to let them have their own way 100% of the time, mind you. That's why you need to have a few aces up your sleeve, to drop a few surprise roadblocks along their road to victory. The unexpected moments when things did not run smooth will make their victories taste all the sweeeter, and they'll be telling the stories to newbies for years. Games Master's Intuition Players are not the only ones to need intuition. As Games Master, you are responsible for the adventure to run smooth, even if the players' perception of the adventure is the opposite. Remember, you can also ask the Big Six Questions at any time, such as:- What would be the worst thing to happen to the adventurers right now? Who would be the least welcome non-player character to drop in on the characters unannounced (pick a Rival or bitter Enemy) Where are their exits? When would be a good time to drop in inconvenient reinforcements? How can the bad guy escape from a hail of arrows touched by Bypass Armour? Why is there a need to have the boss monster just stand there, when they can use their superior knowledge of nhe ins and outs of this place to set up traps to incapacitate the adventurers? How can I bring this battle scene to a swift close? What can I do to incapacitate them rather than kill them? As Games Master, you need your intuition to help you make the best decisions at any given time to keep the narrative and immersion going smoothly, even if all your plans and theirs just fell to bits through a few lousy die rolls on both sides. You must be able to go from Plan A to winging it, in such a way that the players can never see the join. Conclusion Both the players and the Games Master must make good friends with intuition - the players, to figure out what's happening and to work out plans; and the Games Master, to make decisions intended to keep the game running smoothly and remain entertaining for both the players and themselves as Games Masters. Don't be afraid to let the players work out plans and not include you. See, the thing is, if they're coming up with a scheme, whether it's whip-smart or dumb as rocks ... they are doing most of the heavy work for you. If they have a plan, be prepared to ditch yours in favour of theirs, because they will be entertaining themselves - and you. And who can find fault in that?
What rewards are you handing out to your player characters? Have you given a thought that maybe "gold coins, drop treasure, and magic items" might not be enough for your player characters? Rewards are an incentive for players to continue playing, to see the session, scenario, or campaign through to its end. Games Masters have to balance the quantity of the rewards with their quality, and also their variety and suitability for the players as much as for the characters. Short scenarios can be rewarded with small, immediately-gratifying rewards such as coins and drop treasure; but Games Masters may seek out more ephemeral, yet more lasting, rewards for longer stories, as well as interim rewards throughout a campaign to keep the players' interest, or to offset temporary losses sustained in the course of play. Here are some of the kinds of rewards which Games Masters can offer to player characters. These all have positive effects and drawbacks. Money Coin is the most obvious - but give a thought to the nature of cash in your setting. Metal coins are not the only form of currency - currency can take the form of anything from compressed salt coins to cages full of chickens, to sacks of grain or salt, to promissory notes. Give at least some thought to the local economy and what the locals consider to be a fungible currency. Art Artworks are a larger and bulkier reward than bags of coins. Some art can be worth millions of coins: others can be virtually worthless. A gold ring and a massive marble statue might both be worth the exact same price on their respective markets - but one cannot exactly slip the statue into one's pocket (unless the setting has access to the Shrink sorcery spell). Other than the knowledge that artworks are a lot more of a risky sell than bullion coins, the process of gaining wealth apply to artworks from jewellery to paintings to statuary. Connections A new Connection can be a marvellous tool for the Games Master. Connections can be the catalyst that sends the characters into an adventure. Connections can also become a reward when they become a part of the characters' lives during the course of a campaign - whether as a healer, a majordomo of the characters' home, a savvy Contact with her ear to the streets, or "the guy who knows a guy" who provides the inrroductions to rich patrons, Connections are a valuable asset to everybody. Property Like cash and art, but this is more solid and much more expensive. Having real estate changes a character. For one thing, the character now belongs to the "landed classes," and people pay them more respects. For another, ad owners of a deed to some property, that household can provide a steady source of income if properly managed. An estate run by a majordomo is much more likely to be a source of positive profits, particularly if that majordomo is as competent as they are loyal. Pets Having a pet also changes a character, whether they are a Besti who acquires a hunting hound as a puppy and has to train it to hunt with him, or a magician who acquires an animal familiar. The character has an animal companion to look after. Company Sometimes, a significant other turns up in a character's life - a friend, a family member, a lover, a loved one. They may not be Allies or Contacts - but, like pets, they give the character reason to want to come home. Mundane Treasures Coin can only go so far. Artworks are bulky. Sometimes, a character can be allowed to receive material treasures such as books, new weapons, armour that fits, decent shoes, and so on. Magical Treasures Mythras is geared more towards personal ability than magic items. Actual magic items are rare in Mythras. The Enchant sorcery spell is designed to create magic items which are temporary: the enchanter creates it to serve some purpose, usually to allow them to cast a powerful sorcery spell very quickly, and items tend to be unwoven after their purpose is served just to allow the enchanter to get their Magic Points capacity back. This makes magical treasures the most ephemeral and fleeting of all the reward types, because inevitably they are only a part of the reward - a tool by which means the character can complete a task and gain access to more tangible rewards, such as the rewards above. Answers Some characters are brought into the game world asking questions: Who murdered my father? Why did my mother leave when I was nine? Where is my brother, missing for two years? What destroyed my entire village while I was away up in magic school in the mountains? Who is the out-of-towner who visits my mother every year on my birthday? Their game's story can be centered around them answering those deep-seated questions. Either they can receive full answers, in which case they'd better come up with new questions, or their campaign story arc can be brought to an end if all of their questions are answered, allowing the player to retire them out of the game. Achievements Some characters can bring with them, not so much unresolved questions, but unresolved aspirations - to topple the king, to rise to the top of a criminal empire, to become the world's greatest artist / scientist / mage / general, or whatever. They want something. Their character has a definite goal. Well, give it to them, even if it takes them out of the game. And sometimes, remember Seneca's advice - "You can't always get what you want; but if you try, sometimes you'll find you get what you need." Resolution Some characters have unresolved issues - to seek revenge on their parents' killer, or to stop an Enemy from ruining everybody's lives, including their own. The reward here is that the character does get to do something which makes a difference - justice for one's parents (so they don't have to go out at night and fight criminals in their pyjamas any more), or stopping a runaway enemy before they inflict irreparable damage. Again, if they can achieve resolution, they can either develop new unresolved issues to resolve or, for one-shots or short single adventures, they can drop out of the game at that point. Status / Recognition / Reputation Status can mean so much in campaign play. Characters' status may or may not be listed as a number, but the character can accomplish a lot more than before. Their earned status can open doors for them, including bringing in a better (read: wealthier) class of Patron. A campaign can revolve around the characters trying to get as much pull as possible back home. Reputations can also be made, including bad reputations cleared, through one's actions during the adventure. Advancement Similar to status, if a character is involved in a brotherhood, guild, church, or order, their reward can take the form of advancement in rank, particularly if the adventure they just completed involved them defeating an enemy of the group which gives them shelter and an identity. Evolution Magic-oriented characters can receive a magical reward. More than just learnin new spells, a magician's evolution takes the form of improvement in their magical skills, and the increasing power and responsibilities which come from increasing their Folk Magic, or Invocation and Shaping, or Meditation and Mysticism, or Binding and Trance. Apotheosis Theists and animists can, likewise, develop their relationship with their favourite spirits or deities, through increases in Devotion and Exhort, or through divine Gifts. Tragic Ending The ultimate reward, literally, is for the character not to make it back home alive at all. There can be something ennobling and uplifting, even in a bittersweet way, for a character to give their absolute all, and to lay down their lives to save others and to complete the task with a resounding success. Everybody else's happily ever after, bought and paid for by the character whose ever after is in PC heaven. To go back to Apotheosis, this would be the ultimate in Apotheosis for a theist or animist character, as their soul ascends to its final reward in a blaze of light, or the ghostly figure of the animist appears before the rest of the party, thanking them before they open a portal and walk through it into a visible portion of the spirit realm. In the end, there are many different ways to bring characters decent rewards for their efforts. Some of these are more suited for short game play, others better suited for campaign play and story arcs - but in the end, the most important reward is to the players. A Memorable Game This reward does not benefit the characters in the least bit. The reward is to the players. A Games Master can think long and hard about the best way to reward each character - but the final reward is to the players, who can take home cherished memories of memorable settings, memorable challenges, memorable colleagues, memorable team play, memorable events, and stories about what their characters did, as well as praise for the Games Master whose games can be unforgettable.