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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.
In the world of 2021, between the lure of video games and the rise of solo roleplaying where game engines have been developed to emulate the Games Master's role, the role of the Games Master can sometimes feel precarious. A tabletop game dies if the players desert - but even a single player can enjoy a solo game if they have a solo engine / GM-in-a-box book to automate the GM's role. Games Masters need to up their game, nowadays, more than ever. This is where the fine art of storytelling comes in. In he earliest days of tabletop roleplaying, where all the Games Master (who used to be called the Dungeon Master before DM assumed a different meaning nowadays) had to do was just randomly create a dungeon and moderate technical queries about what a player could or could not do, their job was relatively simple and involved consultation of the Dungeon Master's Guide for what could, and could not, be done. However, you can now consult all sorts of online resources yourself for answers, meaning that the Games Master's role of provider of technical feedback is now redundant. That leaves them with the role of story creator / adventure creator, and the market demands a lot more effort nowadays. Fortunately, the Games Master has access to storytelling tools, which have existed for a long time, unnoticed and generally unused. One of those storytelling tools is hypnosis. Hypnosis You may be feeling a little disconcerted right now. Hypnosis is a scary topic for some of you here. Your characters probably suffered at the hands (or the gaze) of some vampire or sorcerer whose commands were laced with a sorcery spell such as Dominate - or even worse, Enslave - forcing Hard Willpower checks to resist the glare of their dread hypnotic eyes. However, it is not so bad. Every person has the capacity to go into a trance. Everybody can be hypnotised. In fact, you are likely to have experienced hypnosis personally, every time you picked up a game core rulebook or supplement, and found your mind going through an adventure or just taking in the scenery if it's a compelling sandbox environment you end up in. Have you ever been interrupted while you've been totally immersed in a thing, and had to experience waking up from reading such a book in depth, and blinking, and staring in a state of shock trying to work out what the person who interrupted you is saying? Congrats. What you got woken up from was a trance, and the person who interrupted you was an insensitive clod. Hypnosis is like that, and it is so easy to learn storytelling tools to keep the players engrossed and immersed in the setting, and make Gamesmasters relevant. Immersion When you are creating a setting for an adventure or a campaign, or establishing a setting for sandbox play, you are setting up something for the players to immerse themselves into. Each player has an unconscious mind working behid the scenes; and it is when the unconscious mind is engaged that the players become immersed in the world, the scene unfolds about them, and they become their characters. Your job, as Games Master, is to learn to do this consistently. And yes, it is a skill. Fortunately, it's a skill you can learn really quickly. Put your granddad's fob watch away. You won't need it. Unconscious Mind It is not the "subconscious mind," no matter what you heard or read from whatever sources. It's the conscious and the unconscious. The conscious is what you're probably using right now to argue with me. The unconscious is the bit you use all the time, but are unaware of - that's why it's called the unconscious. The term subconscious implies that it is somehow beneath the conscious mind, perhaps even subservient to it. It is nothing of the sort. Modern psychology uses the model of the iceberg to describe how the conscious and the unconscious work. You remember the old myth that humans only use 10% of their brains? Any medical surgeon could tell you that humans use 100% of their brains - but any competent psychologist will tell you that they use only 10% of their minds for conscious thought. The other 90% is the unconscious mind. The unconscious is where your imagination comes from. Literally. It builds up images and crafts sensations from your memories, and then runs them in your mind, creating from scratch things which only exist because you have remembered something similar in the past. Example: Imagine you're walking up towards your front door. All the familiar sounds, sensations, sights from memory are running in your mind. Describe what you see to yourself. Now when you open the door and step inside, you're not in your home any more - you're inside a glowing palace of stained glass windows and ceiling, a cathedral with a vast floor, a flat plain dappled with a million colours of light filtered by the glass, a light which comes from the sun far above you. There are scents: incense, burning orange blossoms, wine ... Now come back here, and remember what you just experienced. The unconscious constructed that for you. Your job, as Games Master, is to work with the unconscious mind to create such scenes for them. The players' unconscious mind ... and your own. The Conscious Censor and The Power of Perversity Some of you might have just asked "But what if I don't like the smell of orange blossoms?" or "What if I've never smelled orange blossoms?" Fear not. That's the conscious mind talking. The conscious is, literally, a shield against all the data impacting on the unconscious mind. If the unconscious had to process everything all at once, it would break down. Nothing would get done. The conscious mind, the bit that responds when someone says "you" to them, the bit that thinks it is the main part of the mind: that's just a buffer, capable of holding no more than between 5 and 9 things in short term memory at one time. When someone mansplains, or when they are being an insufferable smart alec - they're dwelling in their conscious mind. That is not "the highest expression of human or civilised thought" that rationalists think it is. In fact, it is a staggeringly illogical mindset, because it can hold so few facts, like having a supercomputer which you can only access through an interface whose core is a Raspberry Pi. The conscious' main job is literally to censor and delete the imagination. You cannot live in an imaginary world all the time, and sooner or later you have to disengage from that and focus on the boring day to day minutiae of the here and now, such as washing the dishes and filling out the tax forms. Or arguing over inerpretations about a trivial ruling in the back pages of some core rulebook. Continued next week
The thing I love about a roleplaying game is the ability to tell stories in it. Some systems are explicitly built around storytelling: the Chronicles of Darkness and its satellite settings are billed as "The Storytelling System." I am finding Mythras better suited to general storytelling than an awful lot of contemporary roleplaying systems. I found myself wondering why this is so. I can think of a few things that stand out. Character Generation: Your characters are not constrained by class. Some farm boy could grow up to be a sorcerer, sure: or he might find a calling as a physician, alchemist or entertainer, and seek out adventure according to his skills and gifts. Connections: Your character is not alone. Unlike, say, Traveller, where your Travellers can leave all your Allies and Contacts behind with the next Jump out of the system, your connections are never far away in Mythras, because what is implied is that your Adventurers have to come back to their locus of operations if they are to advance with their people. Speaking of people ... Cults and Brotherhoods: Your characters really are not alone. There are Cult and Brotherhood memberships, as well as duties and responsibilities, to take care of. It looks as if half the time, the Adventurers are doing the classic dungeon crawling, and the rest of the time they're learning, reaching, advancing or deposing scheming Rivals, or warring against rival Brotherhoods out for the same goal as the Adventurers' faction. Those are the three that stand out. How about you? What makes Mythras outstanding for you?
2015 saw the release of the Swedish roleplaying game Järn (Iron), written by Krister Sundelin. The game takes Basic Roleplaying as its starting point, but goes off in an entirely new trajectory for BRP. When an English version was planned, I contacted Krister to ask him about the game. The interview will be published here on the forum, one question at a time. Krister may also drop by at the end of the interview, to answer any additional questions from you. Krister is a well-known RPG writer in Sweden. He's got many games, scenarios and sourcebooks on his CV, and a reputation for writing high-quality products. Järn is his latest offering and the Swedish version has been very well received, both in media and by the RPG community. Warning: This thread contains some explicit criticism of BRP. It does not mean Clarence Redd or Krister Sundelin dislikes BRP - on the contrary. Keep in mind that this is a creative discussion about how RPGs can develop and change over time, depending on the needs of writers, GMs and players. If you find some tidbits that inspire you in your gaming I will be very happy. If not, that's ok too.