Monday, January 2, 2012

4: Using Maps and Apocalyptic Logs to your Best Advantage

Ha! I may not have posted the 4th installment last Monday but I just slipped it in just before Tuesday this week. I did it. I managed to do a post just after spending the day after the day after New Years with my family. And just after a four hour bus ride home in a bus that had no air conditioner on a 40 degree day. Boy were all of those curtains quickly shut over the bus windows. You gotta worry when the emergency hatches are all cracked open to allow in some warm air just to ensure that something is circulating other than sweat-based humidity. Whoo boy! But my troubles aside, onto the article.

Well, we all know what a map is (hopefully). So what's an Apocalyptic Log? Well, TV Tropes describes it well over here but the bare summary is that it's something written by a person now dead that documents either their reactions to something terrible killing them off or simply detailing their life leading up to the catastrophe (sometimes ending mid senten

These are often used by scientists detailing their life's work up to the fateful incident but can also include astronauts documenting their take off through a tear in space (Event Horizon) that ends with flashes of horror that are only decoded later on in the piece.

An Apocalyptic Log is a good way of introducing the plot to them as it gives a bit of a before and after shot of the terrible incident. It's also a fun way of getting across exposition. Nothing encourages players to read little tidbits of pseudo-science then the hints of something terrible about to happening. It's like a mini-story with its own pacing. They can lend themselves to some very good props, too, if it's written, though remember to keep it relatively brief and snappy. Each hand out should ideally be no longer than five paragraphs. If the entire log is handed out at once, that's five paragraphs of hints and growing terror. If it's handed out piecemeal, then you can have multiple pages of up to five paragraphs but try to include something juicy in each one. The longer each page and the more pages they have to get through, the juicier the details. In truth, though, short and sweet tends to be key here. The moment the players feel bored is the moment all your hard work is wasted.

You can also do audio-logs or video, though unless the author is reading off a script, try to ad-lib it. It's just like roleplaying any NPC only this time it's an NPC that doesn't react to the players' actions (which should make it easier). If they talk, and don't pause it, then continue on your talking. If they miss the juicy bit, that's their problem. It's a good idea to keep a cheat sheet of important dot points, though, in case they want to re-watch it and just hand over the dot points rather than attempting to re-create the entire thing. Don't worry. It won't break the fourth wall to go to dot points. It's basically just like when you skim a car trip and give them the bare essentials before moving on.

As for maps, if you're going to make one for yourself, see if you can justify making one for the players and then finding a way for their characters to get their hands on it. That way they can cross off locked doors, indicate left behind treasure or puzzles, and point out doors that do open or walls that are broken down. It also helps cut down on the 'how big is this room?' and 'how many doors were there again?' This is vital in any sort of tactical game where barricades may be an issue. The best use of a map I've seen is in the videogame, Silent Hill, where it indicates in red ink all of those details. It helps you figure out which doors you've tried and which you haven't, which really cuts down on the to-ing and fro-ing.

So, hope that was helpful to you. Ever used an apocalyptic log in your game? How'd it go down with your players?

And also, whoopee! 4 minutes to midnight. Hooray for broken sleep patterns!

Oh yeah, you can find a list of the other articles in this series here.

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