Calibrating the Game

Machinery of Mystery Nameplate

Here is an excerpt from my upcoming release, “Machinery of Mystery,” a Fictive Hack game about investigating the supernatural with basic humans.

These rules support a spectrum of play. Before you make characters, it is good for the DM and the players to be on the same page with expectations. Here are some ways to think about your preferred style, and to communicate to your players so together you can decide what kind of game the group wants to share. Shared expectations can help manage mutual fun, and they can also set up the group to swerve into unexpected territory in a horrific thrill ride. Your mileage may vary with the trust level of the group.

Mood. How scary is this game? Is the focus more on fun, or on fear, terror, horror, and disgust?

  • Camp. Ideal for one-shot games, play for laughs. Win or lose, things will likely be alright.
  • Spooky. Horror makes itself felt, there are unsettling characters and events. Losing is a real threat.
  • Gothic. Expect shivers as you recoil from awful ideas and images. This gets dark, and it’s not likely to all be okay by the end. No one is innocent, at least not by the end.
  • Grimdark. Images and plot twists are likely to be gruesome. Your characters are going to be put through awful situations, sanity is at risk, and this game is not for the faint of heart.

Complexity. How much note-taking should I expect? How twisty are the plots? Can I trust appearances?

  • Romp. Play for fun, the plot is an excuse to gather around the table and make believe. Relax.
  • Puzzle. The plot has some neat twists and turns, probably a surprise ending. Pay attention, it matters.
  • Subplots. There’s a lot going on. Plots may extend over multiple sessions. Clues may be subtle.
  • Labyrinth. Bring your “A” game and don’t play tired or distracted. Winning involves teasing out a devious bunch of plots all wound up together, and if you lose the thread, you’ll go down.

Realism. Could it happen? How much fantasy is likely to crop up in the game?

  • Human Enemies. Expect supernatural trappings on very human conflicts, or normal mysteries.
  • Human Monsters. You don’t need powers to be a mass murderer or a horrific villain. The mood is likely to go dark, because humans are capable of impossibly inhuman cruelty and savagery.
  • Borderlands. Maybe the supernatural is real, maybe it isn’t. The question is not answered before you start, and it is likely not answered by the time you have finished the scenario. Questions remain.
  • Monsters Among Us. Monsters and magic are very real. Ignore them at your own peril.

Violence. Do the characters need to know how to fight? Can the foe be defeated with violence?

  • Won’t Help. The scenario is not likely to be solved with physical violence. Combat is not expected. If the bad guys attack, it is overwhelming, or a swift knock-out, and death is unlikely to follow.
  • Self Defense. You must defend yourself long enough to solve the puzzle of how to defeat the enemy. Violence alone will not bring victory, but it will keep you alive and get you to information that will.
  • Tool in the Toolbox. One skill set among many expected to be available to apply against challenges.
  • Kick Down the Door. Expect violence, combat, and death. This always gets messy before it’s over.

Example: Consider the original Scooby Doo at the bottom of each spectrum, and Supernatural at the top.


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4 Responses to Calibrating the Game

  1. Edward W. says:

    Nicely laid out. My usual DMing style is about in the middle of those. I avoid grim and nasty games because I see and hear enough of that every day in the news.

  2. fictivite says:

    Thanks! I think an advantage of this game is to be intentional in thinking about what kind of game you expect to make. As I work on this, I’m focusing on how to make this game viable and interesting with minimal combat, if that’s the preference of the group that’s playing.

  3. fictivite says:

    I consider Sherlock Holmes story baselines to be mostly #2 across each spectrum. My games tend to be Gothic, Puzzle, Monsters Among Us, and Self Defense. Of course, specific games vary.

  4. Pingback: Ravenous Role Playing » Blog Archive » Friday Five: 2012-01-11

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