Monday, 9 November 2015

The Bucket List 2015 (Part Three)

Every once in a while you'll pull the plug on a game just before you play. Sometimes you do some mental arithmetic and decide the group isn't right for it, for some reason (TRIBE 8 leaps to mind, and I'll discuss that one another time). Sometimes you're not in the right mental space yourself to run the game in question, and that was the problem with our next game, STRANGERS.

Virtually every game I run has threads of horror that wind their way through it. It's a genre that I like a lot, and I find that many other genres look a lot like horror if you think of them through the eyes of their characters: A goblin attack in pitch darkness. Aliens who have quietly invaded the planet and now live among us. The terrible things that live in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The closer you get, the less they feel like rousing adventure. 

STRANGERS was an idea that was intended to marry a straight-up modern horror game with the more dramatic style that our group has developed over the years. On one level, it's about monster hunters, which describes a lot of modern horror games, but the protagonists of STRANGERS are not your typical heavily-armed band of heroes. They are all profoundly damaged individuals, people who have survived encounters with "things" in their lives and found their lives never properly healed. They may have survived personally, or lost someone close to them, but they've been haunted by that encounter the rest of their lives. 

The protagonists are approached by a secretive foundation called The Hamelin Group, an organization created by a wealthy patron who lost someone in his own family to one of the creatures. Now he gathers other, like-minded individuals for a quiet crusade to protect others from a threat that the world doesn't believe in. Can the protagonists find closure acting as the only line of defense against the things that poisoned their lives? Or oblivion...?

STRANGERS is intended as a game that's about post-traumatic stress, grief, and really screwed-up heroes. Part of the framing device for the series would be a support group where the player characters talk about their encounters and their past traumas, with the featured character each episode "sharing with the group" a piece of their backstory. Narratively, the character could be saying one thing while we flash back to the "real" past or their damaged recollections, giving us an opportunity to tell stories with narrators who are unreliable at best. This could create a nice dramatic irony between the players and their characters, as the players begin to realize their characters really shouldn't be depending on these fucked-up people for their own survival.

The monsters would be unusual creatures springing more out of local folklore, urban legends, creepypasta, and internet memes than your typical roleplaying game monster. 

The problem with STRANGERS was also the thing that made it the most interesting: it was dark as hell. I was riding the wave of having just run a very successful game when I pitched it, and I thought the group was ready for something really serious, boundary-pushing, deep. The group liked the idea, even though it was the most challenging thing I proposed. 

In the end, it was too heavy for me at the time.

I am just beginning to realize that I've been battling depression and mental health issues for some time in my life, and although I was excited for this game, and I would still like to run it at some point, I thankfully realized it would be too much for me. If you're dealing with issues as serious as this in a game, you owe it to yourself to treat them with respect. Do the research. Be ready to visit parts of yourself that are difficult, frightening, bleak. I knew that I wasn't in a place where I was able to do that at the time, even if I couldn't quite articulate my reasons to my players. I'm not sure I would be able to do it today, if I wanted to.

One day, I hope to be in a good enough place that I can tackle this pitch-black passion project and really make it sing. 

No comments:

Post a Comment