Promptober Day 21: Folklore

Folklore stories are super useful in RPGs. I totally recommend looking up history and lore in your own area. Sometimes it’s very enlightening outside of TTRPG contexts. I also recommend checking out some creepypasta stories on YouTube or other video app for inspiration and shivers.

Folklore has a lot of meaning in RolePlaying Games.

The strongest common feature of both Folk stories the RPGs is oral tradition. Stories of yore become folklore, passed down from one storyteller to the next. For example, my father told a story about a ghost raccoon that seemingly vanished into thin air in roughly the same place every time hunters got close. That story has passed down for three, maybe four generations now for certain.

The main difference is in RPGs, is we have oral tradition and storytelling, but purely based on fictional events that we create ourselves. Which is not to say the stories we create will never be passed on. Any time a gamer starts a story with “This one time in ____ game, we ran into …”

Every major RPG celeb I’ve ever met always starts the conversation with, “I don’t want to hear about your character.”

Let’s face it, every gamer has a favorite character that they usually default to talking about. I have campaign stories I love to tell, but I kinda read the room first. But I know game designers and TTRPG writers have heard a lot of stories and have tons of their own.

The Internet has kinda spoiled us.

Cell phones, laptops, social media, and search engines have sort of modified modern folklore. It’s not as much an oral tradition any more. The stories of everyday life throughout spreads and short videos have replaced longer oration and gatherings around the campfire. Prior to the Internet, it was TV and Radio.

Our #TTRPG stories still show up on blogs from time to time. I use many of them for two things. I create tons of folklore when I’m worldbuilding my fantasy campaign. I also do research on local history/folklore for Monster of the Week RPG to base various bizarre events upon.

Fantasy RPGs come alive with mythical folklore.

I know a lot of worldbuilding advice tells campaign creators, “Don’t go bonkers with pages upon pages of backstory.” However, I don’t believe that is totally correct. Even if I jot down one or two lines about a town or a landmark as my group encounters it, I still come up with some kind of local lore for it. In the real world, everything has a story behind it. Some are just more exciting than others.

Modern Horror games benefit from some research.

Almost every horror movie makes mention or even creates a story about some kind of Urban Legend. Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, Jigsaw, and so on all have stories surrounding them, their creation and their misdeeds. Halloween is the best time of year for local folklore because a lot of people have stories about the haunted house up the block or that thing they saw in the woods.

Even better is this lovely folklore-esque invention of Creepypasta. I know it’s a big thing on YouTube and elsewhere. People love scary stories. That’s why I love games such as Monster of the Week and SCP. They give us an excuse to pull out the scary stories in a way that doesn’t make people poop themselves and stay awake all night while camping. RPGs also don’t require a massive special effects budget and stunt actors the way horror films do. Creepypasta stories come to life in RPGs. I haven’t even mentioned Call of Cthulhu.

If I were to ever use Randonautica, I would be doing a lot of research on where this thing was taking me. A lot of freaky things are usually discovered at the end of a Randonautica adventure and I don’t like being caught completely off guard. I hear Rando is pretty much the next Ouija board, something else I don’t want to randomly fool around with. (*And advise everyone to use their own discernment as to whether or not Randonautica and/or Ouija are safe.)

Folklore stories are super useful in RPGs. I totally recommend looking up history and lore in your own area. Sometimes it’s very enlightening outside of TTRPG contexts. I also recommend checking out some creepypasta stories on YouTube or other video app for inspiration and shivers.

I hadn’t intended for this to become an entire article, but it’s an interesting subject. Folklore and story hooks/prompts go hand in hand. Thank you for stopping by. I appreciate it. Have a great week.

Dead Wood in Des Moines for Monster of the Week RPG.

That night’s stakeout of the cemetery was manned by Dan and Brenda while Tom somewhat illegally wrangled his way back into the Fair with some surveillance gear and provisions. (The cemetery investigation is detailed elsewhere.) The next morning, the entire team reviewed Tom’s bizarre, inexplicable footage

The Des Moines Remote Viewing Society picked up their second “case” much sooner than expected.

It was a dark and stormy night at the Iowa State Fair on the Monday after the fair opened. The Des Moines Remote Viewing Society snagged their second unofficial case. They were walking around the fairgrounds together discussing the cemetery case, eating funnel cakes, and not taking anything too seriously. They stumbled upon an unusual flyer on their way by the Frontier Village.

The Strange Case of AJ Sutton, Wood Carver.

The Case of the Missing Chainsaw Carvings.

The crew wandered down to the Chainsaw Artist’s booth and took in the 1:30 show. The crowd peered on as a man turned a fairly ordinary hunk of log into a statue of an old farmer wearing a straw hat and holding a corn cob pipe. The artist’s only tools were five sizes of chainsaws and his imagination.

He buzzed and grinded away for over an hour and a half, taking a few breaks for water and to talk to the crowd. The artist, AJ Sutton, said the statues just appeared to him in the wood. It was almost as if the statues wanted to make an appearance on their own. Most statues were polished and stained after the show, then given to whomever commissioned them or sold at the Woodcutter’s Tent.

Birds, wolves, cats, as well as school mascots like Cy the Cyclone and Herky the Hawkeye were popular. The statues usually sold for around $65.00 or more.

After the show, Dan and Brenda talked to AJ backstage while Tom poked around the scene of the crime under the pretense of buying a statue. The empty bases of where the Cy and Herky statues were on display remained intact, almost as if the statues had walked off on their own.

“It happens almost every year.” AJ explained.

“Usually it’s just some college kids playing a prank,” he continued. “Watch. They’ll turn up trying to milk the Butter Cow in a photo later or magically show up at a concert on the last night of the Fair. Happens almost every year.”

Tom discovered one anomaly that didn’t make a lot of sense. Usually the statues were stolen with their bases. The statues weren’t balanced well enough by themselves to stand on their own. Yet there was no sawdust on the grassy ground near the scene. Tina, the girl in charge of selling the statues said there had never been an incident where the bases were left behind before. There was bare wood under where the mascots had been posed.

Further investigation revealed one of the Fair sanitation workers had seen two “young kids in what looked like mascot costumes” running away from the scene.

Dan’s “command center,” a 2012 Dodge Caravan loaded up with cameras and electronics for the cemetery stake out was pressed into service as soon as the group rounded out their day. A quick Internet search revealed several pranks from years past as AJ had described them. In every photo, the statues were still on bases and many appeared to be heavy enough to require two or more people to move them.

That night’s stakeout of the cemetery was manned by Dan and Brenda while Tom somewhat illegally wrangled his way back into the Fair with some surveillance gear and provisions. (The cemetery investigation is detailed elsewhere.) The next morning, the entire team reviewed Tom’s bizarre, inexplicable footage.

No obvious signs of tampering. The camera aimed into the statuary sales area turned itself off and on three times during the night.

It got freakier from there. A lawn gnome and the farmer in the straw hat appeared to move around the area random during the night. Each time they moved, they reappeared in different poses. Each time they moved, they were still on their bases in a different pose!

Tom said he didn’t see anything strange at the time. No EVPs. Thermal was normal. He also did not notice the camera shutting down for half an hour at a time. The next morning he observed the statues back in their original places as if nothing had happened.

Closer to morning two “kids in mascot costumes” were seen climbing the fence on the University Ave side. A state trooper followed up on the report, but did not find anyone matching that description. There was some damage to the fence where someone heavy had climbed over and apparently used a piece of wood to get around the razor wire at the top of the fence. No blood or serious damage, however.

Donut Hut across the street on University from the fairgrounds also reported a break-in and vandalization during the night. The only anomaly was the presence of wood splinters in the broken glass of their front window, but no bat or other piece of wood found at the scene.

To be continued…

Disclaimer: People and events depicted herein are fictitious and intended for entertainment use only. Any similarity to persons living or deceased is unintentional. There is no Des Moines Remote Viewing Society. This is a work of fiction. No one was harmed in the making of this blog.

Legal Stuff: For use with with Monster of the Week by Michael Sands. Monster of the Week is copyrighted by Evil Hat Productions, LLC and Generic Games.

It’s Friday the 13th!

What happens if Buffy Summers and her crew runs into a guy wearing a hockey mask and carrying a machete?

I think we all know what that means.
Monster of the Week RPG!

Monster of the Week by Michael Sands, Evil Hat Studios.

MotW Cover.

What? No, I promise I’ll behave this time and not get all gory and violent. My new trigger warning graphic is posted at the end of the article. I’ve tried to make the warning as obvious and broad-reaching as possible, but I’m still not 200% sure about the wording.

How much is too much in Monster of the Week? I think serious Session Zero conversations need to be had and the players most assuredly need to know where the Keeper stands on certain topics. Obviously it’s best to make sure things aren’t too gory, too many jump scares, or too disturbing for sensitive players. I’ve seen plenty of horror games fall apart because it just plain got too dark for one or more players. Nobody wants to show up every week just to get more depressed or creeped-out. Most of us can probably relate.

I think MotW is more geared for the high-flyin’, butt-kickin’ Buffy the Vampire Slayer style game. At least, that’s sort of what I imagine running as opposed to the dreary World of Darkness style game. No, not all Storytellers run a dreary game, but WoD has that tone sorta built into it IMO.

Knocking down “scary” vampires and kicking monster butt is great, but what happens if they run into that one guy?

I think we all know which guy I’m talking about. Yeah… Michael Meyers. Ha! No, Freddy Krueger. Wait, Chucky? Leatherface? Hannibal Lecter? No…

How was this guy not going to come up?

Most of us get the idea of the iconic Urban Legend serial stalker. That guy with the kitchen knife, machete or weed eater that literally tries to go after the whole cheerleading squad. I think it makes for awesomesauce bad guy material in MotW. Others may not. As a player I might be a bit unnerved by getting chased by our favorite hockey mask wearing psycho.

Guys like Michael Meyers and Jason Vorhees just keep coming in the standard issue slasher flick. There’s no stake through the heart or tranq dart that’s going to stop them for long. Some are far worse than others, having their own dimension to hide in when things get rough (Freddy, Pinhead.)

Buffy Summers- Jason Voorhees. Jason- Buffy. There, now we’re all introduced.

The heck with Freddy vs Jason. I want to see Buffy vs Jason. Some guy that’s short of needing locked and chained in a locker and drowned. In game terms, hes seemingly unkillable. Or at least permanently unkillable. MotW even mentions letting baddies come back if the group fails to use the monster’s weakness.

Personally, I think it’s frustrating for players to get their butts handed to them every week by the same bad guy. On the other hand, most Keepers love having a recurring villain that literally everyone dreads. The Keeper starts hinting that we might be dealing with a situation similar to one we’ve seen several episodes back.
Jack: It- it can’t be. We killed him. We literally watched him burn.
Keeper: What if he wasn’t human?
Serena: Copycat crime, maybe?
Keeper: Maybe. Some supernatural beings can come back, though.
Bob: He did eat three bullets, a shotgun blast, a sickle, two tranq darts, a katana, and got pushed off a cliff before the fire. Maybe he survived? Somehow?
Keeper: Bwah ha-ha. Did anyone actually find his body?
Group: <gulp!> Uh-oh. (In unison.)

Sometimes the best way to get rid of it is to change campaigns before the next session.

I hope it never comes to that. Jason is a villain that has survived any number of atrocities that should have killed a regular human being a few dozen times over. The MotW doesn’t have to be quite so durable. What if it’s a demon that can be cleansed? What if he actually has some sort of wolfsbane, cold wrought iron, garlic, or some other substance that can kill it. Has anyone tried a simple circle of salt? What about legit magic?

The point is, just because something seems unkillable, doesn’t mean it is unkillable. Personally, I like villains that have more lives than a Batman villain. But the players have to have a chance to come out ahead or break even. MotW villains mean business and not putting one down could spell disaster for the characters and innocents alike.

So, here’s to treading that fine line between safe and unsafe, sane and insane, here in the Twilight Zone…

Thanks for stopping by. Have a great weekend! Stay safe. Be back soon.

Too much or not enough?

Nightmares of Mine

Short commentary on an old horror reference book that is a mainstay in my collection of GM advice reverences. I absolutely love GM guides.

I loved reading this book in High School.

It’s a good read even now, but you may have to find the pdf.

I remember this fondly because it was one of the first treatises on game mastery I ever read. I read a lot of books on game mastery back in the day. I still do, but not as frequently. Nightmares of Mine by Kevin Hite and John Curtis. You can find it on Goodreads here. It’s still around in pdf and print anywhere fine rpg resources can be found. I still retain my dog-eared, well-loved, physical copy. It sits on my reference shelf next to my Heritage English Dictionary and my Book of Stagecraft. I still look back at all of the above from time to time.

It’s listed under Rolemaster, probably because both were produced by Iron Crown Enterprises. I loved Rolemaster’s critical tables, but the games themselves weren’t usually at the top of my list. No lie, I had a character die while being created more than once… Spacemaster was fun as a one-shot though. Anyway, Nightmares of Mine really isn’t entirely a nuts-and-bolts RPG book.

It is chock full of good GM and writer advice and I recommend anyone starting any kind of a horror project to give it a once over before you start, especially if you’re new to the genre. This little gem of a book got me through a couple of Call of Cthulhu games, Beyond the Supernatural campaign, and running things in old school Ravenloft. My favorite Storyteller game, Werewolf the Apocalypse benefitted heavily from this as well. That game was so fun…

It’s helpful advice for GMs looking just to improve their technique, especially when it comes to horror, but running games in general as well. Advice on description, pacing, embracing the genre/subgenres as well as safety tools all come into play here. There are also tips and tricks for dealing with different horror subgenres. Be forewarned, a lot of what we have in the RPG community now, wasn’t really discussed as much back then. A lot of the modern horror games we have now hadn’t even been written yet, save Call of Cthulhu. Even if you want your dungeon crawls to be a little scarier, this book is a good catch.

I’ll be curious to see how the advice from Nightmares stacks up with the FATE Horror Toolkit one of these days. I’m still contemplating a Space Horror game one of these days. Probably a one-shot, but maybe a short campaign, depending.

Just wanted to do a short bump for this cool little book. More things to come. Have a great week. Game on!

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