Monday, March 17, 2014

Horrors: Light & Shadow

Darkness rules are always funny beasts.  Humans can't see too well in the dark so it makes sense that as the world gets darker, the character's chances to see or do certain things should become progressively worse but, well, how often do people use those rules to give a mechanical crunch to it - even when such rules are provided? 

Worse still, how often do GMs (who're sitting around in a brightly lit room) forget that the characters are roaming through a building with no light sources?  I know I've been guilty of it and I've certainly been in plenty of games where no one recalls issues with lighting until a darkness spell is used.  Sadly some of these instances include times where the character would be effectively blind without a light source.

Considering that this is a game set in World War II where the black out is a pretty big part of the game, the GM may be more prone to recalling the darkness inherent in the setting but how to help them along with it?

And what are some of the better darkness modifiers you've seen?  We've all seen games where it increases or decreases difficulties or simply modifies the dice rolls but regrettably I've rarely seen a game where players will request such modifiers - even when it would dearly help them!  I've also seen games where it creates a percentage chance of failure, which works well in combat, but perhaps not so well in other situations.

What about you guys?  How do you remind yourself about issues surrounding lighting?  It's a pretty nifty descriptive tool and can make for a great obstacle so I find it a shame that neither I, nor most of the people I game with, ever remember to invoke it.


  1. This might be unworkable, but how about implementing a darkness meter (a la Thief)? You could have a general ambient light meter, and/or characters could have their own on the sheet to reflect where they're standing and what light sources they're using. The difference between two meters would be interesting. Rather than just degrees of light, list types of lighting: fully-lit, shadowy corners, deep shadows, dim light, flickering firelight...

    For a stuff-heavy game, you could have pretty lighting tokens instead.

    Combine this with your Alan Wake translation for maximum effect. Use the combination of ambient lighting plus any light used by the PCs as a kind of override for enemy damage resistance, or to make enemies vulnerable at all. So the murk-wraith is invulnerable until it's in three levels of light, for example, or rolls one defence die for each level of resistance that isn't countered, or something like that.

    Maybe it would be interesting to judge the effects by the kind of task?

    * Some things are flat-out impossible. You can’t read in pitch darkness.

    * Some tasks should just take longer, and if the character spends the time, they succeed as normal. Reading is tough in dim light, navigating a dark room is tricky. You can try to skim-read or chance rushing it, but then you need to roll to see if you miss something or stumble.
    *One likely effect is misidentification. Providing you’re somewhere that isn’t completely off-limits, passers-by or guards are less likely to realise you shouldn’t be there. This works well in dim rooms, but less well in dark ones, as it’s suspicious not having the lights on! More broadly, people should be a lot more hesitant about attacks when it’s hard to be sure you’re attacking the right target - including the PCs. In a dark brawl, maybe introduce rolls for identifying the right target, ideally rolled by the GM so players are genuinely unsure how accurate their judgement was.
    * Noises often seem louder in the dark, maybe because there's less visual input to occupy your brain. Perhaps it's easier to focus on sounds (bonus to Listen rolls).
    * Concealment could be a simple percentage chance - whether or not you're actively hiding, there's a chance the NPC won't notice you (or the bloodstain, or the footprint, or the way the door's been forced) due to the darkness. I'm not sure this is mechanically any better or worse, but if you want to emphasise the importance of lighting then having an additional roll will do that.
    * Steadiness or flickeriness of light makes a huge difference, particularly if anyone is anxious. Firelight makes lovely lively shadows, and combined with creepy trees, wind-stirred vegetation or rooms full of junk, offers perfect nightmare fodder. Candles are unreliable and very dim. Industrial lighting often casts stark shadows in harsh white light.
    * Colours of light make a difference too. Single-colour light really messes with perception. Human eyes work well in daylight, but find it hard to work in blueish twilight. That might not affect your movement detection, but spotting shapes or colours gets much harder.

    1. Ever seen the Werewolf: the Forsaken character sheet? If not, go Google it. I'll wait. Okay? Back now? I'm now imagining those werewolf-forms as light-meter readings. Not sure if it'll work but it's definitely worth play testing.

    2. Oh, very nice! Yeah, that could work well. I might have a bash at that.

    3. It turned out too big for a comment, so here ya go.

  2. I always forget lighting unless it's important or integral to the encounter.