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Fill In The Gap

Step 3: Prophets!

by Matt Turnbull
Apr 27,2005



Welcome to Fill in The Gap, a column devoted to individual, "one-off" scenarios, that any GM can run for his/her group.

This month's scenario is another one to run with the group you've already got. It's a disturbing foray into the mind of a character, with possibly catastrophic results!

If you need to know more about the FITG(Fill in The Gap) system/column, please check out the first (and second) of these monthly columns. Without further ado, I bring you today's scenario:

Step 3: Prophets!

As always, if you're going to play in this scenario (run by your favorite GM) then please read no further, for fear of spoilage.

Today's is a scenario for your players (however many you have!) and their characters. It's important to note: For this scenario at least one of the player characters has to one of the following qualites; they're psychic, have visions, sensitivity to the universe, etc.. Something that would give them visions.

The Premise

This month's scenario is similar to last month's, in that it isn't designed to be a break from your campaign, but a part of it.

This scenario is an occurrence entirely in the mind of a "gifted" character in the form of a prophetic vision. The characters go to sleep, when they awake their in sort of a dreamy-haze, and a series of events that are just slightly impossible occur, revealing some mystical truths to the players that pay attention. This vision should be tailor-fitted to your campaign, and as such we won't be laying out the details for you, just some guidelines and ground rules, plus some ideas for you to grow the scenario on.

What's the point of this? It can be really fun, and really rewarding for the character with the couple of points on his sheet spent on "prophetic visions". It gives you a tool to help drive a wayward campaign a more controllable direction, and it allows your other players to leave their standard role of being in the dark in favor of getting a look behind the curtain. In short, there are myriad reasons to run a prophetic sequence as an encounter outside of the 'ol 'I hand the player a sheet with the details of their prophetic dream, and run everyone else through a short encounter while they read it.'

The toughest part of this scenario is the prep-work. There are a lot of steps that can be taken (almost all optional) that can make this scenario really memorable. You have to decide how wierd the world is going to be, how different the situations, what kinds of hints and revelations will occur, and how horrifying/tragic the events will be. There are steps you can take to ensure things swing the way you want them to, however.

My favorite method, is to let all of the players who aren't playing the "seer" character in on the truth of the campaign in advance, because it gives you fun options. For example: Having each of the other characters represent a stereotypical view of themselves, instead of the nuanced characters they usually bring to the table. This lets your "rogue" for example, represent cowardice in the vision, your "barbarian" represent rage, etc.. This, if handled with a bit of elegance, and some agreed upon occurrences (the death of one or more characters) can really shatter the seer's players view of what they thought was going on, and helps to reinforce the "something is NOT right" feeling they should be having.

Another method, (helpful to have pre-warned the characters who aren't the seer in advance) is to kill one or more (or all) of the party. This is especially fun if it's done slowly, horror-movie style. It's a bit rough, but definitely off-putting for the seer. Depending on the kind of vision they're having, it can absolutely help provoke them into action next time your real game is on.

The scenario begins once the characters have gone to sleep for the night (or day, if they haunt the night). When they "wake up the next morning (night, whatever)," everything is slightly off. Change the color of the sky a little bit, describe trees differently, or other things that weren't nearby before. If there's a map in your game, swap it out for one that's been slightly skewed. Basically put: Drop hints that something is wrong, which should put your "seer" character on edge.

There are still some important setup elements to decide on. Are you going to include your previous NPCs? Will the whole world be entirely different from when they went to sleep (I.E. they wake up in a strange new world) or will they wake up, and simply resolve some outstanding plot thread, either for better or for worse, then having the conclusion swept out from under them? These are important choices to make, and they should absolutely revolve around what sort of players you have.

After it's all set up, you need to decide what's going to happen. I'll forward in all my suggestions in the "Events" section of this column.

The Characters

Your Characters!

Your characters in this situation are the same as always, but there are some interesting things you can do. If you let the players who aren't partaking in the vision know that what's happening isn't really happening, that gives them a lot of leeway to throw caution a lot further to the wind than they usually would. Some careful direction can let the players really mess with their compatriot's head, which is pretty desirable if you like that sort of thing. If you don't like that sort of thing, this scenario might not be applicable to your group.

The Theme

The theme of this scenario is Warning. A character is being given a chance to have a warning of possible futures, however cryptic. The mood should generally be horrifying, as that's the best type of warning, but make sure that the mood/theme fits the purpose of the prophetic vision.

The Setting

Obviously, the setting is going to be pretty darn specific to your game. If you're running a space opera, and the setting for this was relegated to a medieval castle, I doubt you'd use it. Here's some suggestions as to setting elements:

The dead and the dying - For a portent of possible doom, showing people the character knows and cares about (the player too, if that works) dead, or dying, is extremely helpful. It reinforces the danger they're feeling if the things they love are taken away one at a time, and they can't do much about it. Just make sure you're not frustrating the player too badly. The point where this stops being fun is the point where it's revealed.

Out of place elements - House Cats after the apocalypse. A floating jar of honey cracking on the hull of the ship, and then sinking beneath the waves. A corpse floating through space before gently bonging off the energy shields of a starfighter. Wierd inane elements that will help reinforce that something is wrong.

The Events

As stated earlier, this won't be a list of specific events, just ideas on how to craft the events of this scenario in your game. Here's a list of things you should think about.

Overstatement. A character that's normally a little prudent is now ultra-conservative in their willingness to take actions. The minorly reckless are now out of control. Take things to their extremes to show the dangers of these minor flaws in the people around the character, if allowed to grow.

Metaphor. Describe a cat being chased by a mouse. A Shepard being eaten by a wolf. Events considered outside the norm, that might display some deeper meaning to the players. This is almost the entire purpose of the scenario, cryptic clues that players will later think about and see the real meaning behind.

Absurdism. Prior to the big reveal, I like to let things get really crazy. Time starts acting funny, events play out in multiple different ways, the kind of stuff that really starts to get the character and player confused/worked up. The point where they start convulsing and yelling "I WANT TO WAKE UP!" (hopefully the character, not the player) is the point where the veil is lifted. Or maybe a second after that, just to give them a tiny shade of doubt.

Secrets the character shouldn't know. Reveal something big, something that makes this whole scenario worthwhile. Give it a reward, so they'll feel like their survival of this mind-destroying experience was worthwhile. Just make sure you're not picking on them for picking on them's sake. The biggest thing to remember about this scenario, is that like all scenarios, you've got to make sure the players are having fun or it's just not worth it.

I know this must seem like a cheap "it was all a dream..." cop-out, but it can be pretty effective if it's well planned out. The main purpose is to take a bullet-point on a character, maybe a trait or advantage they picked up for some points at character generation, and using it for bonus story affect, and what I like to call "subtle herding."


Let me know what you thought of this scenario by E-mailing me at Msturnbull@comcast.net

See you next month!

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