Sunday, September 27, 2015

Feeding Me Lines - Talking RPG Talking, Not Blow

Last year on our way to Con on the Cob, my friend Marty and I began saying things like:
"Wait where is the hotel?"
"Ahh, it lay past yond eldritch tower."
"Yes, just through the twisted bramble."
It cracked us up. So we decided every time we said one of these phrases, we'd get a point. While being teenagers plagued by Krampus traipsing through a dark wood in an event run by the great folks of Rogue Cthulhu we were sure to point out the blood was dripping from yond eldritch tower and that the only route for escape was through the twisted bramble. And we'd mark hashes on our sheets, and add up the points in the Marty-Beckett extra fun time game.

This gave me an idea to apply to games I run, give the players lines for their characters to say and give them an equivalent of a Marty-Beckett extra fun time game point when they do. It helps to build theme and atmosphere through player engagement and interaction.

The Dying Earth RPG has a similar mechanic, the Tagline. At the beginning of each session of The Dying Earth, the GM assigns each player two taglines, and each player selects one. They reflect a particular Vancian locution to conjure that convoluted whimsy of the end of Earth's days. Taglines also give experience points.
Artwork by John G for the forthcoming Crawlspace scenario Gimme Shelter

The first scenario I used this mechanic is in Gimme Shelter, an event I ran at Gen Con and am running again in a couple of weeks at this year's Con on the Cob. It uses the Crawlspace ruleset, a rules light horror game that uses ordinary playing cards for the resolution mechanic. It is fast and fun and I recommend checking it out. Gimme Shelter should be published by Peryton sometime in the near future.

The scenario follows a group of marginalized people that may or maynot have secret information about demons or aliens. Kind of a Save the Green Planet! but on the street and in shelters. Before we start playing, I give everyone a card with a phrase, and once they work it in, they get a "fame card" (allows a second attempt on actions) and another phrase. I run it as player driven as possible, and the cards go a long way in setting the tone without me having to do much talking.

Here is part of Gimme Shelter's "script":
  • Oh, do we have something on our face?
  • Who do I look like? Ratso Rizzo on the bus man?
  • Those boys are following me on a speaker phone.
  • Oh, you don’t understand. That isn’t me, he’s our husband.
  • Is your soul not poverty and pollution and wretched self-complacency?
  • We’re just actors in a dream. It’s all an illusion.
  • Plate. Or Shrimp. Or plate of shrimp.
  • The puppet show of sight and sense.
  • Well of course they couldn’t have let me stay there, I’d have just crapped on the floor again.
  • She’s not a crackhead. I met her before she smokes crack.

I think using a tagline type mechanic can work in all sorts of games, and can really help to establish a tone. Before the next session of DCC R&PL I will create a list to use for that. I think one XP is about the right scale for DCC.

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