Serious RPG in a serious world

Posted on 16/01/2009

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Here’s a neat little idea for an RPG. It should be used with a rules engine that allows quick character generation and more of an emphasis on storytelling than heavy crunch. I’d use White Wolf’s World of Darkness rules for this, together with the Armory and probably the Dogs of War sourcebooks, but other rule sets might work just as well.

I call this the Weekly Twighlight Foxtrot (WTF). How does it work? First, the Gamemaster looks at a recent event in the news. Let’s do that right now, and visit CNN. There we pick a single event. Let’s take the plane crash. Plane crashs are pretty easy to work with, as they offer an all too familiar fear and a very familiar (to most of us anyway) situation. Now: The task for the GM is: 1) Invent a story around this event. A story that lets the players take part in it directly. 2) Invent this story in a way, that it’s easy to incorporate player characters into it.
So, we do have this plane crash. In which direction do we want to go? Plane serious game where the PCs have a part in averting desaster? Right-Wing funded action movie, where the plane is hijacked by smelly raghead terrorists, and the PCs are comprised of ex-SFOD members, who are on the plane by chance and now have to use their skills to topple the plan?
Or something else entirely, something weird and supernatural, twighlight zone meets Lost style?
Me, I’d probably do something like the latter, have the crash as the opening. Cut to a week later, where all of the characters are plagued by nightmares, which usually would be ignored as “post traumatic stress” or something, but there is something more to it. The plane didn’t crash because of a flock of geese. It crashed for some other reasons. One of these could be, that it – maybe just for a blink of an eye – went over, to the other side. Depending on how far you want this to go, the story could go something like “one person on the plane was some kind of agent for a supernatural, extradimensional force beyond human understanding. Some would call him a Devil. Or an Angel. Or an Alien. An opposing supernatural force tried to get rid of him / apprehend him. Other Angels / Devils / Aliens. But for some reason this went horribly wrong, and due to the nature of the whole supernatural / extradimensional event, the plane’s engines burst when it came back from The Other Side. Due to some affinity to extradimensional wavelengths (insert weird thaumarto-babble), the characters did witness the whole thing, and their conciousness begins puzzling it all together. The passenger who was the target of all this remains a dangerous Alien agent – only the characters know of this, and only the characters can stop him.” Now, the PCs should just be regular everymen in this scenario. Just people on a plane, who accidentally get drawn into this. Something like characters that have 3 – 5 conceptual background terms describing them.
Admittably, I might have read too many KULT books, and this idea does actually work pretty good with KULTs mythology, but especially the weireder supernatural elements in RPG are best when you don’t actually expect them.
Which is why Weekly Twighlight Foxtrot needs more than just that, if I were to actually play this on a regular basis, I’d see to it, that I’m not constantly hand out the uber-weirdness, or even anything supernatural at all. Iraq, the Gaza War, the whole Middle East, the Somali Pirates, that’s all good stuff for some very real, down to earth scenarios.

Might not be an RPG method for everyone’s liking, it’s a little short on actual escapism. I know people who for example won’t do Cyberpunk RPGs because they’re too “real” for their liking.
I tend to do this just as an GM’ing excersize, to sort of train myself to use the most mundane influences and sources to come up with a quick, easy to play and easy to finish one shot scenario.
Which is another rather important characteristic of WTF play: One scenario shouldn’t take longer than one evening. Which might actually be the hardest thing to do in the whole excersize.

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Posted in: gaming, RPG