Friday, January 4, 2013

Insylum: Day One

James Tyler awakens in a white room with no memory of himself.  He discovers the intercom but learns from a nurse that it's not 7:30 yet so it's not time to get ready.  As he is an amnesiac, he has no reason yet to be anxious about the situation.  Instead he makes a pillow body and dresses it in spare clothes out of boredom.  He also notices that the windows have been replaced by paintings of the outside world with light bulbs placed around the frame behind the glass.  The orderly arrives and takes him alongside five other men to Bath 2 for a group shower and then into the room adjacent to Bath 2 to brush their teeth.  James noticed he had a blurred reflection in the mirror and muttered: "The mirror's not working."  No one else seemed to notice.  He learns that he's an amnesiac on a schizophrenic ward from the orderly whom he stirs up a little.

He goes to the Day Room for Breakfast but isn't hungry.  The food smells nice in the same way that sawdust smells nice.  Not a bad scent but certainly one that doesn't make him hungry.  An attractive young woman comes to sit next to him and he discovers that he never eats because he thinks he's a vampire.  This young woman introduces herself as Molly and states that she has Al Capone as a boyfriend and has been put here because her mother doesn't like the relationship.  Apparently she has a direct phone line to him in her bedroom.  Other than that little detail, she seems just like a fun loving ordinary woman from what he can see.  She encourages him not to take his pills when they're handed out and once the breakfast tables are packed away, she takes him over to a couch and turns it to face the corner.  She then proceeds to talk him into letting her give him a hand job.  He blushes of life instinctively.  It gets all the more tawdry when an orderly notices just as he, err, finishes.  Molly is returned to her room for a week as punishment.  

Two of the women gossip, one of whom is known as Hester, is totally outraged and bitches about James to another woman who seems more disappointed that she didn't get to perve at him.  James, feeling deeply ashamed and therefore doubly defensive, confronts Hester as a prude and the other woman walks away. The two have an argument with Hester reinforcing how stupid and vulgar he is though luckily James' defensiveness doesn't give way to a frenzy.  

James also meets Nora, a catatonic schizophrenic who just moves where she's taken and sits where she's placed, who nonetheless is brought out daily and gently moved around by the other patients.  He also plays cards with a paranoid schizophrenic who thinks the government has inserted robot neighbours to watch the civilian populace so that they don't realise that the Nazis infiltrated America when the Third Reich temporarily collapsed in Germany.

Just before bedtime he is fed a blended meat shake due to his psychological issues surrounding food.  In truth, it's luke warm blood but the orderly and nurse swears that it's not.  It's alleged to be simply blended meat with vitamin supplements.  It tastes good but not fantastic.  Drinking it makes his fangs slip out but when he shows the orderly and the nurse both of them say that he has normal teeth.


The first in-game day took up about half of the first session and was mostly filled with conversation and introductions to the various NPCs.  I hadn't done much preparation on the NPCs but was quite proud with how I wove in symptoms of schizophrenia into human personalities - even if the individuals were a bit stereotypical at first, such as Molly the sexually rebellious flapper-style girl and Hester the prude. 

With each character I would start with rather two-dimensional individuals and slowly added new aspects to them as the session progressed which kept them interesting and the conversation engaging.  This led to the player keeping his character in conversation with them in a bid to learn more about the human inconsistencies that started arising and how it all melded together, such as how Hester wasn't just prudish but insightful and goading her led to tiny revelations about himself. 

This was important as I wanted to hold the game's secrets close to my chest and I wanted to keep the supernatural elements quite subtle, almost invisible, at first.  As action heavy plot-focused games keep a players' attention more easily, I had to make do with some of my weaker storytelling skills of characterisation and conversations.

As a back up, I also could capitalise on the fact that it was a whole new world that the player was exploring.  The player had never been into an asylum but he'd encountered a lot in fiction.  The fact that this one was a clean and well-funded location with mixed-gender Day Rooms and lots of (kinda dull) activities that varied from day to day ended up being more interesting to him than if it had been a creepy place full of cruel psychiatric treatments.  The more he talked to people, the more the asylum defied the player's expectations.  Even by today's standards, the place was pretty nice and progressive (if dull, rigid, and highly scheduled).

The final element that kept things interesting was that he played with a character who shouldn't be there (a vampire in an asylum should raise eyebrows and how did he become an amnesiac anyway?).  Since the core mechanic of the game involved gaining fatigue tokens that could be spend on lucidity tokens (promising dreadful hallucinations) that could be spent on memory tokens (giving him answers), simply by experiencing the game world he could progress his character, in effect, leveling it through conversation and exploration toward his ultimate goal: Understanding.

So yeah, hope the day breakdown helps you if ever you choose to run a social and subtle session, or part thereof.  See you next week with the rest of that day's session.

You can go back to the main article here for the Insylum mini-campaign within the James Tyler campaign.

No comments:

Post a Comment