Friday, December 16, 2011

Keeping the Mystery

by stevendepolo
Keeping the mystery
by Tobie Abad
Originally published around 200

Let's talk about: THE GOLDEN RULE

That would be the biggest gripe many would have about the White Wolf Gaming Studio products. The ability for a Storyteller to call upon the "Golden Rule" whenever he can't adequately explain something.   But then again, is this "Golden Rule" really something negatively added to the game?

In a game where intrigue, mystery and back-stabbing secrets reign, shouldn't there be some rule that states the Storyteller has the right to change whatever he or she wants for his or her game to work.  And further to the point, is this rule even necessary when it should be understood that all Storytellers DO change a little bit of this or that in the rules presented?  Name me a storyteller or GM who never made slight changes to anything in his games.  Everyone always fudges one thing or another.

This article focuses more on "How to Keep the Mystery" when playing a White Wolf Gaming Studio Game. With the numerous books published, it can be hard for a Storyteller to create an atmosphere of mystery and fear when the players already know what creatures of the night exist in the game.   The ideas presented here, however, can be applied to practically any game out there.
TERMINOLOGY
Drop terminology. As I have mentioned in a previous article, if one immerses oneself into the setting, the use of terminology like "Blood points" or "Disciplines" may cause the game to become too systematic-sounding and unreal. Divorcing oneself from using these terms in game can help. Even better if you push the use of terms to an absolute minimum. Consider a scene where a man is forcibly dragged into a clocktower then embraced naked against the oily gears of the machine. Just as he comes to his senses, he finds himself nearly crushed by the meeting gears and pulled into safety by his Sire.

"You're awakening before the gears devoured you shows you are worthy and acceptable. I welcome you to my Brood. My blood is yours now and we are family. As our Founder was blessed and chosen, so now are you, by the uncaring jaws of fate and time."

Got an inkling to what Clan the Sire is from yet? Hard to tell, eh? A simple approach like that gives a great deal of mystery to a game extremely common.

By the way, that Sire was a Toreador. Had a thing with poetic license. 

LIES
Everyone lies. Its a fact. (Was that a lie?) We all have our lies, from small white ones to huge family-shattering ones.Why shouldn't there be in the game.

When the Sire spends three years telling you the Prince is MAD and best avoided, and that the Church down Broadstreet is best ignored since that's where the Sherrif would "erase" those who have breaced the masquerade, its not impossible for the Sire to actually be an Anarch who is making sure his mole-of-a-childe will not break his cover. Or that he's a Tzimisce infiltraitor who is setting up the childe for "new ideas".
And in the game, the best lies are those carried, supported and reinforced for many game years.
(Like Caine, for example. Or fear of sunlight?) 
by monkeymyshkin

MISTAKES
And even pushed further, everyone makes mistakes. And even the best in a field of expertise makes them.So when your PCs try to ask an Elder for answers, or interrogate a henchman for clues, never underestimate the power to use reality to your advantage and have these people make a mistake.

Perhaps they give the wrong name by accident. Or perhaps they truly don't know who they work for and mistakenly hint at someone else the players trusted.

Imagine the scenario unfolding after then. Who can the players truly trust. 

MYTHOLOGY
Keep things of mythology coming into the scene as myths. After all, the players are characters that aren't supposed to be real either. During a meeting between Garou in one of the Caerns, have one npc talk about some horsemen that supposedly run the Gauntlet in the Philippines. Or of the stories about someone meeting the Sphinx in Egypt. Keep the background rich with possible mythologies.

And be sure to spring such when you can, even just to get the Players wondering.

"That's the mark of the Old Elder Gods from those novels isn't it? But this Caern hasn't been inhabited for hundreds of years, you said... How can that be possible?" 

LASTLY
Don't be afraid to change things on the fly. Especially when you want to show how multi-faceted the world can be.Its best to illustrate what I mean.

In one game, I had the PCs fight against a major villain who eluded and escaped their vengeance for many game years.

There came a high point in the game (but not high enough to make it a chornicle ender) when the PCs got to her and finally decapitated her.

For them that was the end of her.

For me, as their Storyteller, it was too soon. And even if the original scene had the real villain fighting against them, I decided to change things on the fly and make it some other flunky that looked like the villain. Of course, I didn't reveal this until later.

When the PCs started learning that they were still under attack indirectly. Herd would be found dead. Their Havens would be broken into (but left undamaged. Imagine the psychological warfare that was like) Their friends and allies threatened, if not killed outright.

And to add, I began spreading rumors of the Antedeluvians. And of Demons that posses vampires. And of Soul eaters (yes, from the Dirty Secrets of the Blackhand.)

By then, the players were arguing amongst themselves off game as to what the villain really was and how she could have survived decapitation.

Finally, I spring the clincher when the villain reveals herself and her schlacta minions, all of them fleshcrafted like herself.

For my players who read almost all the books from cover to cover, the game was a major intrigue fest and was filled with so many questions, that even nowadays at times they ask me some of those they have yet to have figured out.

Building mystery and shrouding truth is a must for White Wolf games. And learning to do that without having to CHANGE what these creatures are is possible. Perhaps a bit hard. But in the long run, worth every ounce of effort if you want to make your games gain more mood and depth.
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