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One of the most potent storytelling techniques in anybody's arsenal is immersion. Without it, your players cannot really appreciate the setting you have laid out for your characters. Immersion is, in short, a state of mind in which the players are so invested in the unfolding game that they can forget they are in a game at all, and actually live out the adventure in character. Immersion is the reason why some game settings just take off, and others fall flat on their face. The Power of Immersion The most important point about immersion is that it starts with the game author - whoever is designing the scenario for the players. This might not becessarily be the Games Master who will be running the game, but often enough it is. If the writer of the game creates a compelling enough setting, or campaign, or even just a single scenario, for the game, they will feel the power of immersion while writing it. It can be so powerful that writers who immerse themselves in the setting can become lost in it - whether they are writing fiction, designing a setting, or creating a game within that setting. The secret to immersion is to present that feeling of being drawn in and lost in the setting, in such a way as to draw in the Games Master (if they are not the game setting's creator) and also to draw in the readers or players. Creating Immersion Engaging Characters In a work of fiction, a character must be presented as sympathetic, somehow, possessing qualities of heroism or benevolence which mark that character as a protagonist to the reader. In a Mythras game, the character can be created with appropriate powers and abilities - but more importantly, they must come across as being the sort of exceptional person to whom the community turns; a member of the only group of characters who can solve the problems presented to them by the Games Master. Similarly, a character is more likely to be an enjoyable figure to work with if their abilities and personas jibe with the rest of the group. A combat-orientated character might not get along with a team predominantly composed of investigators or social climbers in a game of political intrigue. Engaging Setting Likewise, the setting must be something that is not only appealing to the players, but a place worthy of being defended. Immersion in the setting, in a game, is pretty much the same as it is for a written work - the players must feel as if they are living there, letting the place surround them and bring them to life. The players must want to live in the setting, whether it is the setting of Perceforest, or Lyonesse, or Worlds United, or Fioracitta. Sensory Immersion This is probably the aspect of gaming immersion that most strongly involves hypnotic elements. It is not enough to tell; you must show. Examples:- 'You've been marching through this forest for so long. You come across a tree which looks so familiar, and you feel a chill of apprehension as you begin to suspect you may have been walking in circles.' 'You can't identify the stench coming through the now-opened door of the laboratory. Perhaps you don't want to.' 'Candlelight, and incense, and a low, indistinct choir singing somewhere nearby. The sandstone of the walls feels pitted, smoothed down - countless hands must have rubbed off on this darkened spot on the wall, smoothing down the stone. This is the place all the pilgrims wanted to come to; the smooth spot on the wall, supposedly the place where their Saint laid their hand and performed some miracle. But it just feels like smooth, cold, eroded stone to you.' Sustaining Immersion Once you've created a sense of immersion, you must sustain it throughout the adventure, possibly the campaign. Engaging Plots What makes a plot engaging? For the players, it could be the promise of treasure, or a desperate need to stop some bad guys. Which means you have to make the antagonists compelling, too. This does not mean that you have to add new tricks to old undead, making zombies leap about and climb walls for instance. It means having an antagonist whose scheme poses a credible threat, if not to the characters, then to their way of life. The protagonist is doing something bad, and only the player characters can stop them. The plot becomes engaging if the characters want to stop the antagonist, possinly without needing to be prompted by the Games Master. Plausibility There is no greater power of verisimilitude in a story than plausibility. Is the antagonist believable? Are their goals achievable? The fact that they are not remotely desirable is irrelevant; if the antagonist can destroy the characters' whole town and only home, and they demonstrably want to do so, the Games Master can ramp up the threat by having to characters work out how and why. Stakes The most important hook to keep the player characters in the game is stakes. The characters must have a stake, and they must want to do whatever it takes to protect that stake. Examples of stakes include family and loved ones living in the characters' town; the characters' town or neighbourhood; a neighbourhood which will pay for the characters' protection from some marauding force; a rich financial reward from the patron who needs the characters to see a task through which they cannot do. Or something less tangible, such as the characters' reputation, or a rescue or escort mission, or the completion of a diplomatic, trade, or courier mission. Sometimes, the stake can be something owed to oneself, and a need to know that a character can still perform a task they once could do routinely - for example, Athletics after having been injured during a fumbled Athletics check. The Payoff of Immersion The whole aim of immersion is to draw in the players with the promise of a memorable experience that is as much lived and enjoyed as a real life experience. The Games Master must be able to immerse the players into the game, and the only way to do this is to immerse yourself into the game; to run the game out in your own mind, both from the viewpoint of protagonists and the antagonists. The best sort of immersion is so deep that players can find themselves dreaming about the characters and the setting. Of course, as the Games Master you could find yourself dreaming out the adventures yourself, living in the setting, running the scenarios in your dreams. But that's all part and parcel of giving the players a memorable game, one which will stick in their memories, possibly for years to come.
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.