Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Game Translation: Deadly Premonitions


this rather wacky comedy horror game where you control FBI Special Agent Francis York Morgan through his investigations into the "Raincoat killer" who has been blamed for a murder in small town Greenvale. 

Firstly if you are running this with several players you should have them select one person to play the kooky one.  Everyone else can have mild eccentricties but you really need a mostly "straight man" group.  Too many kooks spoil the plot and will likely cause them to bounce off each other in plot killing ways.  While you can pull off a party of very serious and highly functional York-type people, it would be hard to get the alchemy right in a way that lets the group work well together.  If you've got 2 players, sure, give it a shot - though get the players to comment on how their character's deal with each other's strangeness. 

If you've got 4 - 6 players, well, I wouldn't recommend that player size for this type of game but if that's what you've got then no -- the odds that their issues won't clash and derail the game are very low.  You'd be better off creating a locked room with a few puzzles and letting them spend a session wrestling with each other's unusual behaviour rather than expecting them to semi-sensibly navigate the plot.

Also be sure you talk the kookiness through with the designated player so that they create someone who is highly functional in society.  It doesn't matter if they should likely be kicked off the force (since the FBI have high mental health standards).  What matters is that their off-putting social mannerisms should make them seem slightly unpredictable, make sense according to their own internalised logic, and not completely shut down all conversation with NPCs. 

In other words, occasionally talking to an invisible friend, talking about how you get assistance from someone who isn't there (and that you'll explain more about him later) as well as going off into a slight trance as your lips move (indicated that's what he actually does when he speaks to Zach) as well as telling people that you can find clues in your morning coffee is fine.  Screaming in someone's face, pouring cereal in your hair and accusing random people of being aliens from outer space is not.  Less is more.  Pick a couple traits and stick to them.  Think *functional*.

On that note, reward the one picked to play the York-like PC by giving him the occasional tidbit that makes sense according to his delusions.  Let him hear a hint in the television static or read a vague clue in the coffee.  Try not to use this to generate leads unless they're really stuck - instead be indirect enough that they're likely to only put it together after the fact (or shortly before it).

This game also requires you complete the mundane actions of life which adds a bit more of a human and realistic touch to an otherwise strange game.  The character has a hunger meter and tiredness meter, gets puffed out quickly when he runs too long, stinks out his clothes when he wears them too long and starts growing a beard as the days progress if you don't make him shave.  These little touches keep things human.

They're also easy things to enforce in the game world.  Most systems you could use to run a game has some form of penalty system.  Just whack on a -1 penalty or remove a dice if they go a certain amount of time without eating or sleeping.  Alternatively just keep pointing out how hungry / tired they're getting and if they leave it beyond a certain amount of time you can start stripping health levels.  The latter option is more in keeping with the style of game and adds extra tension.  Just be sure to give them opportunities to eat. 

As for stinkiness and beardiness, they should have no real penalty though the former issue might draw comment from people stuck in the car with you.

When entering the Other World, feel free to have the sensible characters go with the York-style one.  Here is where things are likely to get very trippy as York can adapt quite well to the strangeness (which he only partially believes is real, ironically enough, as seen when he confronts the second-to-last boss at the end).  The normally straight-edged characters get to shine by being out of their depth, confused and confronted.  Their sanity may fray, tempers may snap, and the normally kooky guy they have to guide and assist through the real world can suddenly become a core character able to help them muddle through. 

After the second or third time in the Other World, they're likely to have it all figured out but the first time should allow for some real roleplaying gold.

Pay attention to the time and call it out to the players so that they know that timing is critical.  Know when stores open and close.  Have a vague idea about NPC routines.  Tell the players if it takes them an hour to get to the hospital or that it's 10:30 by the time they locate the park.  Have a vague idea on timelines too.  If they take too long, people die and the plot progresses.  This adds an extra bit of tension.

"Zach, how do I heat up this coffee with my mind?"
As with any investigative game, it's best done with smaller player groups since having more than 3 people interview one witness tends to get pretty crazy and overwhelming for the witness.  You can get around this by having the witnesses surprisingly unfazed by having larger groups turn out *or* if the party splits, get really good at hitting things in a nut shell.  Get the players in tune with it, too.

A good starting point for this is to grab a 10 minute timer and get it going.  The scene ends when the ten minutes are up.  Forgive the absence of any social niceties and think of it more like a movie interrogation.  Things escalate quickly and wasted words are minimised. 

In a split party combat you should certainly do the same with rounds by asking the person on highest initiative what they do and if they don't answer within 5 seconds, go to the next one initiative down.  You don't have to skip their turn entirely unless they take so long that everyone else has their turn first.  If the person on the higher initiative figures it out by the third person in the queue, then they can go first.  Just don't let them interrupt the latest announced action otherwise it becomes it's own power and the players will make a point of waiting (unless that's a mechanic you want to have in your game).

Basically, most folks don't want to sit on their hands with nothing to do.  They're happy to watch if the gameplay is entertaining but long drawn out conversations, heavy with social niceties, and convoluted combat sequences with plenty of book references and umming and ahhing aren't very entertaining.  If you want the long drawn out psychological roleplay, wait until the spots where everyone can be involved.

As for how to plot for this kind of game ... well, go with something strange and esoteric and try not to make it too comprehensible.  It should be overly convoluted with a reasonable number of contrivances and some of the leads should be downright bizarre.  Once they have enough information to confront a witness, if the witness also happens to be on the hit list they should die.

One option (don't tell your players) is to avoid plotting it all out as you normally would do and wing it by swinging the plot in the most entertaining fashion possible.  Flesh out the town, have a map, know the general NPC schedules, but don't decide on the bad guy or their motivations until the moment of unveiling.  This requires a bit of finesse on your part but if you're good at winging things you'll likely find a meandering route to the most logical culprit anyway.  Does this mean that certain aspects won't add up?  Absolutely!  But that's kind of the point.  Things should feel slightly off-kilter in a surreal horror.

Anyway, a campaign based around Deadly Premonitions or including elements of it, should appeal to -

Investigators who will enjoy collecting clues, interviewing witnesses and basically being a cop.  There is a mystery to solve and so long as they can piece it together, they're happy.  If you've got any of these in your team, I'd recommend using both handouts and tapping into their own ideas.  If they want to search the sofa but you had the clue in the garden, is there anyway the dropped clue could be under the couch?  They may also have ideas for other sorts of clues - searching out tyre tracks in soft soil and other details.  Go with it.

Explorers will love the switch between Other World and Real World, as well as the odd and strange situations they will find themselves in with the somewhat eccentric NPCs that live within the town.  Often explorers like to feel like they're really there, so having to eat / drink / sleep / shave will certainly add to that so long as the process doesn't become laborious.  Make the food interesting.  Make when to sleep a choice.  Enrich the story with these requirements.

Communicators will love a game that has such rich psychological diversity within it and that really encourages strong roleplaying with vividly drawn NPCs.  Flash them some intriguing insights into the NPC minds and draw them into kooky conversations.

Action Heroes will probably enjoy it so long as they like their action relatively sensible.  This isn't a hi-octane yippee-kay-aye car chase type of game but plenty of action heroes are happy so long as they get to do something cool.  Stabbing and driving over monsters certainly qualify.  The slightly off-beat nature of everything else will likely keep their attention as well and allow more enjoyment.

Tacticians might not find enough to do here.  They may get frustrated seeking out the perfect use of time and hoard items that are better off spent.  They may also get irritable in any serial killing case if they give themselves the parameter "Keep everyone alive" and then beat their head against the wall trying to come up with a successful plan.  While a tactician may enjoy it, they'll need to relax and go with the flow a little, focusing on immediate tactics and techniques to deal with more obvious problems.

So if you want to check out the trailer, you can find it here. If you want to read up on the TV Tropes you can find them here.

For the next Game Translation (which will be in a fortnight's time), you have a choice of these: Wastelanders 2, Wolfenstein, or Vampire: the Masquerade (Bloodlines).  If no one picks anything by next fortnight, it will be the latest Wolfenstein.

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

1 comment:

  1. I definitely agree about balancing the amount of kook. I tend to feel there's usually only room for one or two larger-than-life characters in most games, before they start getting stuck in RP feedback loops and not leaving much room for other aspects of the game. It's not so bad if they're all different kinds, though.