Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Feelings and Planted Emotions

By Shannon Phantom
Feelings and Planted Emotions
by Tobie Abad
Originally published Oct 27, 2009

A short sampler, as usual:
Storyteller: With a final painful shove, you feel the wood splinter and give. The door breaks open with a loud crash and, off-balanced, Yves Deveraux falls face first against the damp carpeted floor. (rolling some dice) The flashlight spins out of your hand and goes out.

Player 1 (playing Deveraux): "Ow, did anyone see where that flashlight went?" I slowly get up.

Storyteller: Irene Montgomery, the Toreador Harpy who asked for your presence, looks around carefully. Her eyes shimmer in the darkness, as if glowing with some hidden power. With her heightened senses, she looks around for the flashlight but sees instead the inside of the room. (as Irene) "Oh god..."

Player 1: I move to her side. "What is it?"

Storyteller: Irene doesn't answer with words. Instead, she slides away from you and walks into the room. Almost hypnotically or perhaps detachedly, she reaches for a chain that hangs barely visible and pulls at it. The harsh light from the bulb blinds you for a second, and as your eyes adjust, you wish you remained blind. The horror of the carnage that was within the room becomes apparent to you...

By GanMed64
"Tsk tsk... You cheated."

That's what another storyteller told me when I related to him this scene. In his opinion, as a Storyteller, I cheated by telling the Player what the character FELT instead of simply allowing him to come up with his own emotional response. By directing the player that his character "wished he was blind" upon seeing the carnage, the other storyteller believed that I broke one of the major unwritten rules in storytelling: I took control of the character.

Personally, I don't believe so.

Storytellers are present in a role-playing game to represent not just the whole world with all its non-playing characters and events, but also the character's senses. And to give the player suggestions on what the character feels at a given moment, in my opinion, is just as valid as telling a character "The gunshots are ringing over your head. You think they're coming from the western side."

It is not as if I said, "You see the horror of the carnage in the room. You run away in horror and decide no longer to investigate on such matters." No. That would be taking CONTROL of the character. All I really did was offer an "expected human response" to the character. Whether or not the character applies it remains in his control.

Dropping such guides can be useful as well to "hint" that the player is touching on an important part of the scene (see Routines and Scenes). The guides can be very beneficial to new players as well, who have yet to fully familiarize themselves with the game.

A few examples:
"You stare into his eyes and realise, that perhaps this is the first time in your entire life you felt satisfied just to look at another person's smile."

In this scene, I wanted the player to get the hint that this character was someone who can develop into a main NPC. I also wanted the player to realise that this NPC was a hook for future stories. Just to add, of course, I molded this NPC to what I believed the player wanted his character to fall in love with. If it didn't work out, then it didn't. The player chose to take the bite and started a conversation. The characters ended up eventually getting married.

"The decision makes you think twice. What if the Prince finds out?"

A "thought" I had the player's character think of when he was contemplating on diablerie. As a storyteller, I didn't care whether he did or didn't. But I was concerned if the player was really willing to complicate his undead life further. He still committed the Amaranth.

"Her stare cut deep into your soul. You found fear creeping into your heart. It felt much like the fear that assaulted you the first time you learned you were undead. Your body refuses to move. Your lips feel frozen together. All you can think of right now is that you wish she'd ignore you and walk on."

This was when a character met the Prince who was using Majesty. Again, the approach links with disguising Disciplines as traits of a person and makes the player realise what his character is thinking. The player still chose to have a willpower point spent and attempt to act, as per classic WOD Vampire: the Masquerade Presence rules.

Some storytellers believe that the player's emotions should be shaped through mere words and not through direct guides, the way I approach it.

For example, you want the player to realise his character is in pain, describe the wound in detail and gore until he gets it. Sadly, not all players see things that way. I've had times when I'd describe a leg wound to be "a large jagged tearing of the skin with blood oozing out like sweat. The cut begins just under the knee and extends to the inner thigh. Bone had broken and muscle had torn away, to dangled like small ropes" only to get the response, "Can I still run?"

Where as, when I mentioned to another player, "The blade had cut deep, slicing to the bone. You feel the pain shoot through your leg and rebound, as if unwilling to leave. You are hurting bad. In fact, hurting is an understatement. The terrible pain is far more than anything you dreamed. You don't even want to put your weight on it." I got the player roleplaying his character's groans and declaring that he needed time to heal his wound.

By Anna Guttermuth
Such guides are also used to give the impression of certain stats. If a Cainite has Charisma at 5, how does one express that the player should role play his character as trusting the fellow?

[ "He sounds trustworthy and very humble. You believe he can be trusted."]

Can be seen as a direct stamping on the player's choice, but it is a valid declaration considering the NPC's stats.

As Storytellers, we should not be afraid to act as the character's senses. And that includes the unconscious voice of reason, worry, love and doubt. So long as this is not abused, nor taken to a level where the player is merely a spectator and controller of merely the character's motor control, then the game becomes a more interactive and realistic encounter.

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