A guest post by James Mullen. Part 2 can be found here.
One thing can be said about the Endangered Species campaign (inspired, you’ll recall, by the Walking Dead and World War Z): it went in some surprising directions. One of the characters started as a notorious criminal, but by the end he was hailed as a spiritual leader for Europe and had tens of thousands of followers… then he lost it all and sacrificed himself to save the world. All of that emerged through the game play, as PCs responded to the initial situation and their responses created new situations, in a recursive cycle. The story boot-strapped itself from one episode to the next and we never had to insert a new plot line or force a change in the characters’ lives. Even when the story drifted from pure survival horror to political intrigue and conspiracy for an entire episode, we never broke the system and Dead of Night supported us all the way.
Risk Checks, or life & death situations, can be about more than just injury or capture; anything a character values can be placed at Risk, whether that is their reputation, their ambition, their authority or their sanity. For example, if your PC climbed to power on a ladder of lies and murders, then any threat to expose their past can be a Risk for them: they might have to use ‘Obscure’ to hide the truth or ‘Dissuade’ to put the investigators off the trail. Also, just because there is no ‘sanity check’ mechanic in Dead of Night doesn’t mean you can’t make the equivalent in your game, if it seems appropriate: push Risk Checks on players when they encounter the unworldly so that they have to use ‘Identify’ to find a rational explantaion for their experience. In a long game, it’s important to make sure that phyicial rolls (Pursue, Escape, Assault & Protect) aren’t the only source of Risk or else players will become wise to that and only create characters that focus on those attributes at the expense of everything else.
Breaking up the horror with episodes of mundane life is a good tool for keeping things fresh and avoiding ‘terror fatigue’, where the PCs just accept the situation and adopt it as the new norm; don’t be afraid to let the horror fade in & out of the story over the course of a campaign, or even a long one-off scenario. The system supports all kinds of tension and by exploring other types of threat or loss, you can give the scenes of horror more impact and significance.
The next plan, for 2011, is to run a campaign styled as a series rather than a serial: the same PCs from episode to episode but facing a new threat every week against the backdrop of a consistent world, such as Kolchak, The X-Files or Buffy the Vampire Slayer.