Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Game Translation: Haunting Ground

Haunting Ground is a game that follows Fiona when she awakens in a cage in a mysterious castle and has to find her way out of it.  Her only companion is Hewie, a white German Shepherd, who helps her deal with the antagonists that try to attack and kill her for a mysterious substance known as 'Azoth' which is thought to bring life to the dying (or the unalive).  While Hewie can distract the enemies by attacking them, Fiona must generally flee through the castle and find hiding places while the antagonists chase after her.  If she evades them for long enough, she will have a set period of time free to explore the castle, solve puzzles, and try to get to the bottom of all of this.  Fiona must also cope with Luminescents that float after her and provide a shrieking alert if they touch her.  The other are small homunculi that grasp at her legs and yell if they manage to get to her.  These sounds alert the antagonistic staff.

Haunting Ground is an interesting sort of game to translate into roleplaying games and I wouldn't suggest running it for more than one character.  You might be able to get away with two players, maybe, but it would be difficult because where one player character runs, two will scheme, and any more than that are bound to hatch complicated and tactical plots that can overwhelm the enemy.  Besides, unless they're all children (and even then) it can be hard for one human(oid) enemy to frighten several player characters into running all the time.  Increasing the number of enemies removes some of the eerieness of the assailants and replaces it with a more action feel.

While it is true that Fiona does use tactics to permanently incapacitate, or even kill, some of her antagonists at times these occur in set locations.  With a higher number of PCs, you are going to find many of these tactical moments coming up.  While certain player styles, like Tacticians, are bound to try to come up with tactical ways to incapacitate the enemy, they are going to have to be supremely clever to draw out an antagonist and dispatch them on their own rather than with a number of others available to play bait, hack through ropes, and push the enemy beneath the chandeleir.  Add to this the fact that you can't prevent PCs from picking up knives and other oddments that are placed into the scenery and you've got a recipe for disaster for this vulnerable Run Away gameplay style.

So it should be a solo game.  Excellent.  There are few enough games that can be easily translated into a single player game (Deus Ex requires a lot of experience points to pull off if you're on your own).  What else?

Well, the main character is vulnerable and confused and these are also important plot points.  Whoever they create should be rather ordinary and with a fairly bland skill-set.  This is a game of the mind rather than a game of acrobatic daring or even academic study.  Requiring the player create a teenager would certainly help with this as high school expertise is quite different from an adult's expertise.  Having said that, it wouldn't destroy your game to have a Latin professor hiding in wardrobes from bad people.  Whoever they design, they should be normal people who fear getting hurt just like the rest of us.  Spending the entire game eager to flee the castle and not look back is perfectly fine.

What can help with this is if you include a panic meter.  This isn't the same as your average sanity mechanic where sanity is steadily whittled away and you gain insanities and occasionally it might be repaired by certain actions.  A panic meter is an automatic slider where the more horror you see or the more the enemy harasses you, the more frightened you become until the character runs, slides, and crawls away in terror.  Given time to calm down and draw a few deep breaths, and the panic subdues and they regain control of themselves.

I would generally suggest counters for this.  Perhaps three or four.  In Pathfinder you might be fine one three counters, nervous on two, shaken on one, and panicked on none.  In World of Darkness you might be largely the same but you'll have to define mechanics for shaken and panicked.  This could be penalties to certain actions, inability to do certain things, roleplaying expectations and, when the last counter is lost, they might lose control of their characters to the Storyteller who then simply has them run fast and have the players roll to see if they can navigate past any obstacles or find a hiding spot.

"I'm starting to wonder if dinner
The other main thing to consider is if you want to create a canine companion like Hewie to assist your player character.  If you do decide to do so, I would suggest that the player character be allowed to give orders but the Storyteller decides on his reactions depending on how well he's been treated by the character.  I wouldn't give Hewie to another player character to play as his limited set of interactions may bore a player. 

So what does a solo character do in Haunting Ground?  Well there's plenty of notes, letters, excerpts, and clues to pick up that can indicate why the character was there and what's going on.  Granting opportunities to eavesdrop on the various antagonists in conflict with each other can also spice things up.  However, there must be plenty for the character to do. 

You could include:
  • Locked doors that require keys to be located, stolen, or which can be picked.
  • Torn notes that need to be pieced back together.
  • Puzzles that need to be solved.
  • Traps that need to be turned off, circumvented, or used to best advantage.
  • Chase scenes (obviously) with places to hide.
  • Social encounters with the antagonists before they decide to carve you up.
  • Collapsed hallways or other obstructions that must be climbed over or crawled through
A campaign based around Haunting Ground, or including elements of it, should appeal to Explorers due to the interesting environments and the need to take a look at everything - particularly potential hiding places.  Investigators have all the more motivation to get involved as they like a good mystery and, if you're doing your job right, a game based on Haunting Ground will center on a fantastic mystery involving the human, the inhuman, and the occult.

Action Heroes might enjoy all the running and hiding to begin with but will quickly habituate to those action segments and will want to try something new.  After awhile, they'll want to be able to strike at the enemy.  Some might not even get an adrenaline fix from escape sequences, particularly when playing a vulnerable character, and might not enjoy it from the very beginning.  Your best bet is to ask them if this is something they're interested in and to perhaps run it as a one-shot adventure which only takes a few hours.
The same goes for Communicators who generally get their kicks out of social and political situations, of which there are very few in this particular game.  They might well enjoy getting a glimpse at the rather, well, unique psychologies present in this style of play and are most likely to enjoy getting into the mind of a weak and vulnerable protagonist.  It's just that they might not enjoy the general aspects of the game.

Tacticians could go either way.  That Eureka! moment when they figure out how to incapacitate an enemy despite their own character's limitations could well invigorate them.  They may even enjoy carefully venturing out and then rushing back to their hiding places when chased.  On the other hand, they could also find their limitations a little too limiting and might grow bored of the same rinse and repeat actions. 

With all of the player styles, it really boils down to whether they're a fan of horror games.  If they're not, then they probably won't get a kick out of the eerie locations and vulnerable protagonists.  If they are, then they're likely to get something out of it for a few sessions, at least.

You can find the trailer for the game over here. If you'd like to read the sort of tropes that Haunting Ground used, you can find them here.

For the next Game Translation, you have a choice of these: Left for Dead, Clocktower 3, Project Zero, Gears of War, Dracula: Origins, Realms of the Haunting, Silent Hill: Downpour, Castlevania 64, Zelda: Ocarina of Time, or In Cold Blood. If no one picks anything by next week, it might be Silent Hill: Downpour as this time I'll likely have finished it.

If you want to see the list of games I've done thus far, you can find the Game Translation series starter over here.

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