I was considering a Halloween game. Based on an old The Dragon magazine enclosure, about a group of scouts in a Haunted House. I considered it, then discarded it, as i didn’t think any of my players would like the idea. (Also, I didn’t have the time to play) But…it definitely got me to thinking about playing characters who might do something that experienced players would be unlikely to have their characters chose to do…
When setting down to a gaming table and working out the social contract as well as what you are playing, it might be needed to consider the genre tropes you would expect. For instance, there is that recent GEICO commercial where the kids are hiding in the woods and one of them suggests getting in the running car a drive away, but the others decide to hide behind the running chainsaws…This commercial is obviously poking fun at a great number of the slasher flick tropes. The one character is the voice of common sense…Most players would normally play this character. But, if the game you are getting ready to play is the Jason Vorhees story line, the players need to accept that their characters are blind to, or completely accepting, of the trope of this kind of story. There are many fairly obvious examples of this, and some that may not be so obvious. Lets consider this, As well as the player types and how they might be convinced to play these genre appropriate characters!
OK…Slasher horror flick, pretty obvious. Your character need to not think about the general survival rules of these shows…never have sex, never separate, never go downstairs to investigate the noise or look for a weapon…Because, to play in this game, it needs to be understood that most of the characters will die. Of course, the GM can just force them into the kill situations using tricks or just saying “after smoking the weed, you find yourself in a dark bedroom upstairs in just your underwear…roll to see if you notice the closet door opening!” What about any zombie story since George Romero? Every person who has the slightest understanding of modern fiction knows that they need to have their brain destroyed! Again, the ref can change that by saying that his zombies need to have the heart, or the left pinkie toe destroyed…so the players are as clueless as their characters. How ’bout we consider a favorite setting of mine: Deadlands. Once the players have played for a few session, and likely from the moment you set down to discuss this setting, the players will know that evil is afoot. And, If they finish a story arc, they will have a very good feel for what is going on. But what about their next characters? The classic Will-o-the-Wisp: How many experienced players are going to go traipsing off in a swamp to check out the oddly flickering lantern? On the other hand, if the character is youthful, and has heard that some treasure hoarding fairies can be spotted at twilight in the same swamps…The wisp becomes an obvious threat again. (Unless of course they have heard the legends or had an ex-adventure that took an arrow to the knee tell them about when they lost the thief when he went after a thief’s light in the swamp…
Horror type stories are obvious for this type of acceptance, but any setting, like superhero, or exploration need to have this acceptance. So, to make these game better reflect their source material, or to maintain the replayability of a setting, players need to be willing and able to accept this. Like the difference between Player and Character knowledge, this is a matter of suspending disbelief for the sake of playing the game. The player may know that going into the rat infested cellar is actually a way to get them into the cellar and trapped in a caved in sewer, they may avoid it, unless that is the way the story starts. It may seem that experienced players would be hard pressed to fall for some of the genre tropes that a new player might, even if they are playing the young and inexperienced new adventurer. But take hope! Experienced players will likely willingly embrace these tropes even easier than someone who does not have much practice at suspending their dis-belief, if appropriately
If that’s the case, how do we lay the groundwork. Well, let’s go back to our player types! The Bestest character type may be the hardest to convince to play with a handicap, such as not being aware that zombies are only vulnerable in the head. How can they be the best if they have to wait like everybody else to learn that? These characters need to understand that they can BECOME the BEST, but need to start behind the power curve like everyone else. Once the characters start learning the secrets, then they can become their goal. Until that point, they may become the mad experimenter…the best at figuring out how to deal with the issues…But in general, for the good of the game, they will have to delay their gratification. Sorry. The rule about a lot of things for them to do can keep them distracted!
How bout the escapist? They are pretty easy! Because they are often not at the forefront of action, they can easily accept that they don’t know that crossing the streams is really not as bad as expected! Weather a tag-a-long or a dabbler, let them play the character who is there just to learn how the story turns out!
The Active explorer, profiler and storyteller may be your easiest to convince. They play the game to explore the world and/or their character…so it is just natural for them to separate what the player knows or doesn’t from her character. When you discuss with them the tropes of the game, particularly the latter two, they will likely embrace the challenge and the entertainment they derive. The exceptions are probably the troublemaker and the avatar. The troublemaker tries to break the setting, or at least test the boundaries. For them, the ref and the other players will simply need to remind them that breaking the trope is not the same as breaking the boundaries. As long as they keep that i mind, they should be controllable. The Avatar is probably as difficult as the Bestest for this, maybe more so. No body want to play a different version of themselves that has obvious dangerous flaws. The avatar player is likely to be one of the least likely to embrace a character’s death or major flaw, and by defining their character with this weakness will be nearly anathema to them.The best way to deal with them is probably bribes! The other option for the Avatars and Bestest might be for them to play the more sensible characters. The Stick-in-the-mud virgin in the horror story, or the grandparent who doesn’t “ken to no nonsense” or the nerdy scientist type.
All of these thing considered, this really is just a form of Player vs Character knowledge. When playing any game, part of the enjoyment is transporting everyone to some-PLACE else. If you bring a modern player into a medieval setting, the player may know how to make gunpowder, rendering most of the armor useless. You don’t let them do that, because it goes against the spirit of the theme. This is exactly the same issue. Most players know that getting in the running car and driving away will keep their character alive to fight another day. But if the trope of the game is we need to tough this out and survive til morning, then hiding behind the running chainsaws might seem a perfectly viable plan! Of course, no one would want to WIELD one as a weapon, (Too dangerous, I’m sure) until they are the last one standing and must face down the machete wielder! (Lets hope they haven’t run out of gas!)