Monday, January 21, 2013

Catchphrases Made Easy

Catchphrases Made Easy
by Tobie Abad

We've all seen them done in movies; characters who throw their verbal quips at the perfect moment.  Swashbucklers assaulting their foes both with steel and wit at the same time. Or iconic lines being thrown that resonate far long after the movie had been seen, whether it be about going with the terrifying inhuman robot from the future to live, or needing a bigger boat to face the Great White Shark.  Even comics have their fair share of wonderful catchphrase crazy characters.  From the verbal barrage that Spider-man uses to antagonize his enemies, to the amusing expressive declarations of shock that either Colossus, Conan or Cosmic Boy would state in ways only they would know how.

So why is it, in a table top role-playing game that is typically run and played by people who love comics and movies, there is so much difficulty in giving games the dance of a verbal assault?   Sad but true, for the most part, the most basic reason is the biggest truth we don't want to think of:  We just aren't witty writers who can come up with lines on the spot.  Yes, there are those who are blessed with a vicious vocabulary and a wild wonderful wit who can throw a memorable mantra on manhood as they impale the their foes to foil their plans.  But what about those like us who might have a few cool lines we have in mind, but never seem to find the right way or moment to throw them in?

Assuming the game you are in is intended to celebrate wit and fun moments, here are a few suggestions that you can try:

Firstly, Stop Worrying.
Many players opt not to throw a catchphrase or two simply because they are afraid of ridicule.  While yes it is true that there always is the possibility of having a player who'll laugh at, rather than with, you you have to realize that such is a fact in life.  The real world will always have its share of jerks and insensitive players who at times might not even be aware they're being that way.  Some groups would make this a good example of why a clearly defined "Social Contract" is needed between players and game masters.  But I personally feel one should just accept the fact that sometimes, people laugh, and whatever the reason is, just keep in mind, you're doing what's fun and you're not harming anyone.  So go for it!

Script It!
Hey, there's nothing wrong with trying to script things ahead of time.  Game masters and dungeon masters do it all the time before.  (Or maybe even until now.)  Have a small sheet of paper and write up a number of short quips you'd like to use.  One way to do it is to keep the list of quips generic ones.  For example, have a page all about Insults.  Maybe a second page for quips about Romance.    A third page for quips meant to be declarations before or after a battle begins.

And as the game plays, just choose one to throw out and deliver it will all the gusto you can!

Slight Alterations Are Acceptable.
Don't worry too much about trying to come up with a unique line to throw.  Just give a new twist to some of the old ones you already love and you should be good to go.  There was one game where I had a hoot having a character mutter to a group, "Have the sheep stopped screaming!?!" as a retort when the police were trying to arrest her.    The players knew it was a steal away from Hannibal Lecter's line from The Silence of the Lambs.

In a pulp game, I had a player mutter to a woman he was rescuing, "Take my hand if you value living!"  It clearly was a take on the Terminator's line but hey, it nicely added to the scene and kept the game going.

Pull Inspiration From Cool Stuff From Your Own Game or the Real World.
The best catchphrases you can throw out would be lines that nicely relate to your game.  Draw ideas and inspiration from key scenes or characters in your stories.  Does your game focus on dragons and similar creatures?  Then come up with a nice line that talks about reptiles, scales or fiery death.    Does your game have a mad despot ruling in the shadows?  Then come up with a nice catchphrase that explores the idea of fearing that which you cannot see.

You can imagine lines to be like utterances towards deific characters.  Or twists to existing modern day expressions to fit the fictional setting of your game.  "Rolling on the floor," can be twisted into "Clawing up the floor," for a fantasy setting expression.

Adjectives can be Enough.
Just make a list of a bunch of adjectives you like to use to say what you want to say, and list it out as an expression.  For example, in a superhero game you might describe your character as strong, dangerous and indestructible.   With that list of adjectives, just transform it into a catchphrase by drawing on the root of the adjective.  "I am Strength.  I am Danger.    I am beyond Destruction."

Formulaic works.
Consider these options/formula for creating your catchphrases:
Name + Action
"I am Weyworth.  Trust in me."
Name + Description + Warning
"My name is Weyworth.  I am your only hope.  Trust in me, or death shall find you."
Name + Descriptors + Call to Action
"I am Weyworth.  Death incarnate.  Bow."
Descriptors + Name
"Death without warning stands before you.  Weyworth is my name."

Hope these suggestions help you out!
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