Have you ever done something you truly regret? Does that something always come back in a flash of unwanted memory, no matter how many years have passed? Maybe you’ve mostly forgotten about it but every now and then you have a dream about it and can’t quite shake the memory when you wake. Maybe it wasn’t something all that terrible but for whatever reason you can’t quite rid yourself of the feeling that you should have handled things differently. This is a game about characters with just such a past and a frightening supernatural town determined to punish them.
Silent Sound is a “role-playing game” which means that the majority of players will determine the actions of fictional protagonists confronted by a situation created and presented by a special player called the Game Master. The rules of the game govern the outcome of this confrontation and the result is hopefully a story that everyone in the group can enjoy.
This particular role-playing game is about protagonists who have questionable pasts visiting a quiet lake-shore town called Silent Sound. Silent Sound is a supernatural nexus determined to punish the protagonists for their crimes. Over the course of the game the players will come to judge their own protagonist as well as the protagonists played by the other players. Ultimately the question, “does the punishment fit the crime?” must be answered.
This text takes a “need-to-know” approach to explaining how to play the game. Everything is presented in a minimalist fashion to get across the basic concepts and procedures of play. It starts with an overview of the fictional setting in which the game takes place and follows with a walk-though of the procedures of play. The last section is dedicated to working through some of the more advanced concepts of the game and explains exactly what the procedures of play are designed to accomplish.
Terms Used Throughout This Text
Players – All the real people at the table playing a game of Silent Sound.
Protagonist – A fictional character whose actions are dictated by the player who created the character.
Game Master – A special player who does not own a Protagonist but instead creates the situation the Protagonists will be facing.
Supporting Characters – All the remaining fictional characters whose actions are dictated by the Game Master.
Silent Sound – A Town of Two Worlds
On the surface Silent Sound resembles a quiet New England lake-shore resort town. Everyone has heard of it, some people even remember going there once, but no one can quiet recall where it is. In truth Silent Sound does not exist at all. It is a supernatural nexus that takes shape after it puts out a “call” to those with guilty pasts that have gone unpunished. Whether this is a manifestation of an external supernatural entity or the creation of the protagonist’s own guilty conscious is deliberately unspecified.
The nexus takes form on two planes of existence. The first plane is where it touches reality. Here, Silent Sound appears relatively normal. Although Silent Sound is a resort town, it is always the off season. It has local residences which go about their daily lives. The large hotel is mostly closed down, the motel has vacancies, the diner serves its blue plate special and the rare and used bookstore is open for business. This is the plane where the protagonists first enter Silent Sound. Protagonists can also meet and interact on this plane. Despite the normal appearance there is no way to actually leave Silent Sound. Roads mysteriously turn back on themselves, trees have fallen on the hiking trails, and the bridges are out.
The second plane of existence is called The Shadow. Everything that exists in Silent Sound also exists in The Shadow. However, The Shadow is a symbolic nightmare version of Silent Sound. A priest in Silent Sound could be a demonic cult leader in The Shadow. The ghost of a dead lover can be seen wandering the streets. The terrain itself is physically warped from that of Silent Sound. The hotel is a labyrinth of identical corridors and rooms, the motel is a sacrificial temple, the blue plate special bites back, and nothing but arcane tomes are to be found at the bookstore. Also, protagonists always face The Shadow alone. Entering The Shadow is usually the result of a traumatic experience in the “normal” Silent Sound.
Travel between the two planes is both possible and will happen frequently over the course of the game. However, the purpose of the two planes is identical. They are both constructed to force the protagonists to face their crimes. Indeed the seemingly normal residents of Silent Sound are themselves a weapon in the town’s arsenal against the protagonists. The town has already brought in a verdict of “Guilty” but do the protagonists deserve it?
Setup The Protagonists
Anyone playing a protagonist needs to create his character. This should be done openly with everyone present, probably in a dedicated session separate from the rest of play. Every detail created at this stage is public information. For now, the Game Master need only observe and take notes. He has a separate setup process which will be explained in the next section.
Before creating individual protagonists the group needs to decide on a theme that all the protagonists’ crimes will share. This can be something abstract like jealousy or loneliness or something more concrete like murder or money. Whatever theme is chosen the players must incorporate this element into their protagonist’s crimes. In practice this provides a basis of comparison between the protagonists’ crimes.
Everyone playing a protagonist needs to think up a crime their character has committed in the past and gotten away with. It is important to note that the word “crime” is used very loosely. The action in question need not actually be illegal but must be ethically and morally questionable. This is the most important aspect of the character. Everything else in this game is designed to get the players thinking about and judging these crimes.
Name & Concept
Now give the character a name and a general background concept. Silent Sound protagonists should come from relatively normal and everyday backgrounds. These are people you could meet on the street of any major city. Special training backgrounds such the military or police are okay but something rare like Special Forces or Black Ops CIA are out of the scope of this game. Also it is important to note that none of the protagonists are actually from Silent Sound. A good detail to add at this point is a sentence or two about the character’s outward appearance.
Each protagonist remembers visiting Silent Sound before. Each player should think up a relatively positive memory his protagonist has about the quiet lake shore town of Silent Sound. The protagonist should be at least a few years removed from this memory. The memory should also be of something the character pro-actively participated in and not something he merely observed in passing. Also this memory should be an ordinary everyday type of event, no supernatural dealings yet.
Now each player should create a reason for returning to Silent Sound. The reason should be rooted in something external that has happened to the character recently. At this point it is okay for the players to start hinting at supernatural events. Letters from dead lovers, weird dreams, and mysterious phone calls are all good lures.
At this point the group should have a pretty good idea about the character make-up of the protagonists. Each player will now create two supporting characters associated with his protagonist. The first supporting character should be derived from the information described in the protagonist’s memory of Silent Sound. Also, this character must be a resident of Silent Sound. The second character should be derived from the information about the lure bringing the protagonist to Silent Sound. This character does not have to be a resident of Silent Sound.
The creation of these supporting characters is much simpler than creating a protagonist. For each of these characters a name, a brief description of background, outward appearance, and the nature of the relationship with the protagonist will suffice. Also the relationship between these characters and the protagonist should be relatively positive.
There are five numerical statistics associated with each protagonist. These statistics allow the players to influence the outcome of conflicts their protagonists face. The first two statistics are the base statistics used in every conflict.
Exertion – Used whenever the protagonist is in a conflict involving physical stress.
Influence – Used whenever the protagonist is in a conflict involving social dynamics.
Players should divide seven points between Exertion and Influence. Both statistics must be at least one. Over the course of the game these statistics will go up and down but they cannot fall below one.
The next three statistics are resources used to augment the base statistics in various ways. All three of these statistics start at zero. The specific uses of these statistics are described in the body of the rules but a brief description of their general nature is given here.
Shadow – Used whenever supernatural methods are aiding the protagonist.
Absolution – A resource pool spent to aid the protagonist.
Judgment – A resource pool spent to aid or hinder other protagonists.
Look & Feel of The Shadow
Now that the players know who the protagonists are, what their crimes were, and what their relationship with Silent Sound is like. The group now needs to decide on a look & feel of the shadow world. This is a visual aesthetic the town transforms into when a protagonist is in the shadow world. Is it all rust and rot or the deepest of jungles? Remember that everything from Silent Sound retains its basic function in the shadow world so even if the aesthetic is vines and weeping willows, the players may find old family portraits nailed to those tress and paved roads flooded beneath those bayou waters. This is okay, it’s meant to be a dreamscape.
Transform the Secondary Characters in the Shadow
The secondary characters that were created a few steps back exist in the shadow world too. Once you have the look & feel for the shadow world each player should complete the phrase “In the shadow I am…” for the two secondary characters they created for their protagonist. Like objects, people retain their basic societal role from Silent Sound in the shadow world but in an exaggerated metaphorical form; a priest may be a cult leader or an orphan matron may be a tribal princess. If the player doesn’t know the societal role of the secondary character in Silent Sound he should just make up something that interests him and the GM will reverse the process (i.e. taking the metaphorical form created by the player and coming up with a more normal role for Silent Sound) during the Situation creation process outlined below.
Setup the Situation
Once the protagonists have been created the Game Master will need to take that information and create the situation that the protagonists will be facing in Silent Sound. This chapter describes a process for creating the state of affairs among various residents of Silent Sound. This process is designed to yield situations and conflicts that reflect the crimes of the protagonists. This process is done in private and the results are not disclosed immediately to the other players. Over the course of the game the protagonists will be confronted with these reflections and are expected to deal with them. In dealing with them the players will be expressing their judgments of these crimes and their reflections.
Step 1: The Perpetuator and The Rejector
The Game Master should go over each of the crimes created for each protagonist. For each crime the Game Master should create two supporting characters. The first, called the Perpetuator, is victimizing someone by having committed a similar crime. The second, called the Rejector, is victimizing someone because they refuse to commit a similar crime.
For now the Game Master can go ahead and give these two characters names, backgrounds and descriptions but he should leave the victims in their lives faceless. It’s okay if these situations imply or require the involvement of other supporting characters. For now, the Game Master should focus on the perpetuator, the rejector and the victims.
Step 2: Victimize the Supporting Characters
At this point there should be four supporting characters associated with each protagonist: The Memory, The Lure, The Rejector and The Perpetuator. The rejector and the perpetuator each have a situation attached to them with an implied victim. Now assign one of the four non-protagonist characters associated with a different protagonist to the role of this victim. The rejector and the perpetuator must be victimizing supporting characters created from different protagonists and cannot be victimizing supporting characters from the protagonist they themselves were created from.
Step 3: Add Relationship and Situational Links
For purposes of this process a Relationship Link is a familial or sexual connection between characters. A Situational Link is a descriptive state of affairs that connects two characters. The lines of victimization created in the previous two steps are simply special situational links. Situational links will often imply the existence of other supporting characters that have not yet been identified. Note: It’s possible for a link to be both a relationship and a situational link.
Step 3a: Add Links within Each Group of Supporting Characters
Look at the four supporting characters associated with each protagonist. Add two relationship or situational links among them.
Step 3b: Add Links between Groups of Supporting Characters
Look at each supporting character with fewer than two links. Add links according to the following rules:
If the character has no links, then add at least one Relationship Link and another link of either type.
If the character has one Situational Link, then add a Relationship Link.
If the character has one Relationship Link then add another link of either type.
All links added at this stage should be between supporting characters created from different protagonists.
Step 4: Complete The Phrase “I want… but…”
This step is about creating motivation for each of the four major supporting characters associated with each protagonist. Each of these characters wants something but something is getting in his way. This might be the character’s own internal problems or the actions of another character. For each of these characters complete the phrase, “I want… but…” Like situational links these may imply the presence of new supporting characters.
Step 5: Identify the Minor Supporting Characters
The four supporting characters associated with each protagonist are called the Major Supporting Characters. As mentioned in previous steps the links and the “I want… but…” phrases probably imply the existence of other supporting characters. These are called Minor Supporting Characters. Make a note of each of these characters. They are probably already connected via some kind of implicit situational or relationship link but if not, add one. Give them motivation by completing the simpler phrase of “I want…” There need not be an explicit obstacle to these character’s personal goals.
Step 6: Monsters
By now Silent Sound is a network of complex activity. It’s time to look at that activity through the lens of the supernatural. Revisit the behavior of the perpetuators and the rejectors. Look at the extended situation around them by following the links from them and their victims. Identify or create something that is really putting stress on this situation. It could be a symbolic object that constantly plagues one the characters. It could be an idea in one of the character’s heads, perhaps something from the “I want…” sections. It could be another character maybe someone from the “but…” phrases. It doesn’t have to be something that already exists in the setup. It’s okay to create something new. Whatever it is it must heavily reflect or stress the crime of the perpetuator or rejector from which it comes.
In the normal world of Silent Sound this thing stays exactly what it is, an idea, an object or a person. But in the shadow world this thing is given life and is turned into a monster. These monsters are the primary antagonists on the shadow world. Because they reflect the crimes of the perpetuators and the rejectors they reflect twisted versions of the crimes of the protagonists. Describe what form these monsters take in the shadow.
Step 7: Complete The Phrase “In the shadow I am…”
The shadow is a nightmarish reflection of everything in Silent Sound. All the supporting characters that exist in Silent Sound exist in the shadow. However, they take on a more symbolic dream like role. They should be identifiable as themselves but are in some way twisted. The more they are twisted to reflect badly on the protagonists’ crimes the better. For each supporting character (major and minor) complete the phrase, “In the shadow I am…”
Finally, there are three numerical statistics which the Game Master will use over the course of play. The details of these statistics are explained in the following section but a brief overview is given here.
Guilt – Used whenever supernatural forces are central to the conflict.
Town Influence – Used whenever the normal town is central to the conflict.
The Shadow Pool – A resource spent by the Game Master to influence the outcome of conflicts.
Both Guilt and Town Influence have starting values of four. The Shadow Pool begins at a value equal to three times the number of protagonists.
Procedures of Play
Turns and Scenes
Each player takes a turn except the Game Master who instead has special duties on each player’s turn. On each player’s turn the Game Master frames that player’s protagonist into a scene. The GM describes where the player’s protagonist is and what is going on around him. A good scene presents the protagonist with decisions and opportunities for conflict. A scene ends when either the protagonist has achieved what the player wanted him to achieve or when a conflict has arisen and been resolved via the rules.
Early on the GM should be aggressive with scene framing as a way to get the other players familiar with what is going on in Silent Sound. On a player’s turn, a player may request a scene be framed around something specific. In general the GM should simply accept these requests unless there is something really pressing that the GM wishes to see addressed first.
The other players are free to have their characters enter and exit scenes on other player’s turns (except scenes taking place in the Shadow). However, a scene is always about what the current player wants his protagonist to achieve. If a conflict arises that is clearly centered around the wants of another player’s protagonist the current player’s turn and scene should end immediately on a kind of confrontational cliffhanger. The GM can then simply re-frame the scene right where it left off on that other player’s turn.
When a conflict of interest arises between characters in the fiction dice are used to determine the outcome. In general conflicts are resolved by rolling two pools of dice against each other. Always remember to roll when a conflict of interest arises between characters.
However, before the dice are rolled the player needs to clearly articulate what his protagonist’s goal is in the conflict. If the outcome of the dice is in his favor then the goal will be achieved. If not then the goal is thwarted by the actions of the character he is in conflict with.
After the goal is declared determine if the Exertion score or the Influence score is being used. Exertion is used for physical conflicts and Influence is used for social conflicts. The player rolls a base number of dice equal to the statistic being used. From here the resolution system is different depending on whether the character is facing a conflict in the normal town or the shadow.
In the normal town the Game Master rolls a base number of dice equal to the Town Influence score regardless of what or how many represent the opposition in the conflict. If the Town Influence is currently zero then the Game Master rolls the Guilt score instead.
The Game Master can then add to the number of dice rolled by spending points out of The Shadow Pool. If points are spent from the Shadow Pool then the GM must narrate elements into the scene that hint at the supernatural. Only if the Town Influence is zero can these be outright supernatural horrors, otherwise they need to be subtle and in the realm of eerie coincidence.
At this point the other players decide if they wish to spend points of Judgment on either side of the conflict. A player can not spend Judgment on his own protagonist’s conflict. Each point spent on a side adds a die to that side.
The player then decides if he wishes to spend points of Absolution on his side. Again, for each point spent a die is added to his pool.
Finally, the player decides if he wishes to use Shadow. Unlike the other resources Shadow points are not spent. Instead, for every point the player wishes to use up to the full Shadow value a point is added to The Shadow Pool. Every point used adds a die to the player’s die pool. Like the Game Master’s use of the Shadow Pool the player must narrate hints of supernatural influences into the conflict. Again, these can not be overt unless Town Influence is zero.
This process is done exactly in this order. Once the die pools are fixed both sides are rolled. Whichever side has the single highest die is the winner. Die size is irrelevant, however d10s are recommended. If the highest die is tied then those dice are discarded and the next highest pair is compared. If those are tied then they are discarded and the next highest pair is compared, and so on. In the unlikely event that there is a tie all the way down the line then roll again. The following mechanical consequences are then applied depending on the outcome.
If the die roll was in the player’s favor then the player must subtract a point from Guilt or Town Influence and add it to Judgment. Guilt cannot be less than one. Town Influence cannot be less than zero. If Guilt is one and Town Influence is zero then the player simply gains a point of Judgment.
If the die roll was in the Game Master’s favor then the protagonist’s player must choose to do one of the following:
Subtract a point from the statistic being used in the conflict and add it to either Guilt or Town Influence. The statistic cannot be less than one. If the current value of the statistic is one then the second option below is mandatory.
The protagonist immediately enters The Shadow as a consequence of his failure.
In the normal town, just before a conflict begins a player has the option of narrating a flashback to the protagonist’s life before coming to Silent Sound. The details described in the flashback should be relevant to the statistic (Influence or Exertion) about to be used in the conflict and should concern events surrounding the commission of the protagonist’s crime. The mechanical function of flashbacks is to raise the value of the statistic in question.
After narrating the flashback scene the player should declare how many points the player wishes to add to his statistic. The player rolls a number of dice equal to the current value of the statistic. The GM rolls a number of dice equal to the statistic plus the number of points the player is trying to gain. Compare the results in the same manner as other conflicts.
If the player succeeds his statistic is increased by the number of points he stated and the flashback ends where the player left it. The scene then returns to the town and the pending conflict is resolved as normal.
If the player fails his statistic is still increased by the number of points he stated but in addition he also gains the same number of points of Shadow and the GM adds a complicating detail to the flashback the player narrated. This complicating detail should reflect negatively on the player and his crime.
Protagonist Aiding Protagonist
A player is free to narrate his protagonist aiding another protagonist in any conflict. However, there is no mechanical bonus or penalty for doing so. The best way to reflect this fictional event is to accompany it with an expenditure of Judgment in favor of the acting protagonist.
Protagonist vs. Protagonist
There are two conditions under which two protagonists will come into direct conflict. The first is straightforward. Two protagonists come into conflict when a conflict of interest arises between them in the fiction. However, two protagonists also come into conflict whenever one protagonist is in a conflict with something normally represented by Town Influence and another player wishes to have his protagonist side with that something.
In either of these two cases the second protagonist’s appropriate statistic is used instead of Town Influence. The rules for Judgment, Absolution and Shadow apply to both sides of the roll and the consequences for success are applied to the winner and the consequences for failure are applied to the loser.
Multiple Protagonists in Conflict
In the case of multiple protagonists facing off in direct opposition to each other, the player whose current turn it is rolls against the player involved in the conflict whose turn would come up soonest in the turn sequence. All other players simply add narrative detail for their protagonists as in the protagonist aiding protagonist section above.
In the case where you have multiple protagonists trying to achieve different things simultaneously resolve each goal as that player’s turn arrives. If more than one of these goals is opposed by the current player then that player gets to choose which conflict to confront on his turn. The remaining conflicts are then dealt with on the other players’ turns.
In the shadow the Game Master rolls a base number of dice equal to Guilt. The Game Master can then add to the number of dice rolled by spending points out of The Shadow Pool. Unlike in the town proper there is no limit on supernatural weirdness here in the shadow. Let the walls bleed, the dead walk, and the stars travel backwards.
At this point the other players decide if they wish to spend points of Judgment on either side of the conflict. A player can not spend Judgment on his own protagonist’s conflict. Each point spent on a side adds a die to that side.
The player then decides if he wishes to spend points of Absolution on his side. Again, for each point spent a die is added to his pool.
Finally, the player decides if he wishes to increase his Shadow score. For every point the player increases his Shadow score by the player can add a die to his pool. The player must narrate how his protagonist is drawing on the supernatural nature of the shadow to achieve his goal.
This process is done exactly in this order. Once the die pools are fixed both sides are rolled and compared in the manner described in the previous section. The following mechanical consequences are then applied depending on the outcome.
If the die roll was in the player’s favor then the protagonist’s player can choose to do one of the following:
Subtract a point of Guilt or Shadow and add a point of Absolution. If Guilt is one and Shadow is zero then the player simply gains a point of Absolution.
Leave the Shadow. The player can not leave the Shadow if Town Influence is currently zero.
If the die roll was in the Game Master’s favor then the protagonist stays in the Shadow and Guilt is increased by one. The protagonist’s statistics are unaffected.
Multiple Protagonists in the Shadow
Protagonists can not meet or engage in conflicts with each other in the shadow. Every protagonist faces his own nightmare alone.
Regardless of whether the scene is taking place in the town or in the shadow if the roll is in the player’s favor then his protagonist achieves his goal. If the roll is in the Game Master’s favor then the protagonist fails to achieve his goal and the Game Master should describe how the situation is the worse for it. Once the outcome is decided and described the scene and the current player’s turn ends.
Ending the Game
Note that protagonists cannot escape the shadow if the Town Influence score is zero. If all the protagonists are trapped in the shadow then endgame occurs. Each player gets one more turn. On that turn the GM frames the protagonist into a climatic confrontation in the shadow most likely involving one of the monsters. The scene should embody the full weight of Silent Sound’s judgment.
As with all other conflicts the player states his protagonist’s goal. The goal should be stated in full knowledge that this will be the last conflict of the game and that it represents the protagonist’s final efforts against the supernatural forces of Silent Sound.
Unlike other conflicts the player will be rolling three separate pools of dice simultaneously. Each pool has a number dice in it equal to the player’s Exertion, Influence and Shadow scores. Keep track of these pools individually.
Like other conflicts in the shadow the Game Master will be rolling a number of dice equal to the current value of Guilt. The Game Master can then spend points from the Shadow Pool to increase the number of dice rolled by the same number of points.
At this point the other players decide if they wish to spend points of Judgment on either side of the conflict. If they spend points on the protagonist’s side they must decide if they are adding dice to the Exertion pool, adding dice to the Influence pool, or subtracting dice from the Shadow pool. If the player spends points on the Game Master’s side they must decide if they are adding dice to the Game Master’s pool, adding dice to the player’s Shadow pool, subtracting dice from the player’s Exertion pool, or subtracting dice from the player’s Influence pool. Again, a player can not spend Judgment on his own protagonist’s conflict.
The player then decides if he wishes to spend points of Absolution on his side. For each point spent a die is added to the Exertion pool, added to the Influence pool or subtracted from the Shadow pool.
The dice are then rolled and each of the three pools is compared individually against the single Game Master pool. For purposes of determining the success or failure of the protagonist’s goal, only the Shadow pool counts. However, the outcome is the reverse of the usual standards of play. The protagonist succeeds if the Shadow pool fails against the Game Master’s pool. If the Shadow pool was reduced to zero the protagonist automatically succeeds.
However, after all the final conflicts are resolved the protagonists’ journeys to Silent Sound are at an end. Each player gets to narrate an epilogue for his character but the content of the epilogue is constrained by the outcome of the three die pools rolled in the final conflict. There are two broad categories of epilogue constraints and then four separate constraints within each of the categories.
This category is what happens when the player’s Shadow pool fails against the Game Master’s pool or if the Shadow pool was reduced to zero. All of these outcomes should be colored with the idea that the protagonist has been absolved of or otherwise atoned for his crime. It should be noted that because all players start with a Shadow score of zero all protagonists are innocent until proven guilty.
If both the Exertion and the Influence pool beat the Game Master’s pool then the protagonist returns to his former and normal life.
If only the Influence pool beats the Game Master’s pool then the protagonist returns to his former life but has been physically maimed in some way by his visit to Silent Sound.
If only the Exertion pool beats the Game Master’s pool then the protagonist partially returns to his former life but loses a valued aspect of that life.
If neither the Exertion pool nor the Influence pool beat the Game Master’s pool then the protagonist ultimately commits suicide.
This category is what happens when the player’s Shadow pool succeeds against the Game Master’s pool. All of these outcomes should be colored with the idea that the protagonist still lives in the shadow of their crime and that in some ways Silent Sound has followed them home.
If both the Exertion and the Influence pool beat the Game Master’s pool then the protagonist returns to his former life but finds himself surrounded by constant reminders of his crime.
If only the Influence pool beats the Game Master’s pool then the protagonist is murdered shortly after returning from Silent Sound.
If only the Exertion pool beats the Game Master’s pool then the protagonist quickly becomes a social outcast after returning from Silent Sound.
If neither the Exertion or Influence pool beat the Game Master’s pool then the protagonist never leaves Silent Sound becoming a permanent resident of the quiet little lake-shore town everyone remembers visiting but never quite remembers where it is.
Although players with protagonists can request scenes it is always the Game Master’s job to frame the scene. Framing a scene should always answer these questions. Where is the scene taking place? Who is present? What are they up to? The answers to these questions should always present the protagonist with choices to make and opportunities to engage in conflict.
Remember that the protagonist’s crimes are central to the game. Scenes should be framed around things that reflect, reference, question or otherwise allude to the protagonists’ crimes. Scenes should be a good mix of references to their own crimes as well as references to the crimes of the other protagonists. This provides opportunities for the players to express the actions of their protagonists in situations that are similar to the crimes of the other protagonists.
The Town as Character
It might be helpful for the Game Master to think of the town and everything in it as a single character. Remember that ultimately the town doesn’t exist. Everything from the people that inhabit the town to the buildings to the headlines printed in the newspaper are part of the elaborate mousetrap built to confront the protagonists with their crimes.
When portraying the townspeople it is a delicate balance between playing them genuinely so that the players may express their characters honestly and remembering that the only reason the townspeople have personal problems is to test the protagonists. The easiest way to achieve this balance is to have every townsperson try to rope the protagonists into his personal problems. The residents of Silent Sound see the protagonists as potential catalysts for their personal struggles.
This idea is behind all the mechanics that are in play when the Town Influence score is greater than zero. However, when the Town Influence score is zero the facade of Silent Sound is temporarily torn away. Either the facade is restored through the actions of the protagonists or the true purpose and horror of the situation is revealed and endgame occurs.
The situation creation system in Silent Sound results in a lot of secondary characters loosely connected through situations of varying complexity. This is intentionally soap opera like because the Game Master needs fuel to continue adding to the fire until endgame occurs. Endgame is entirely in the hands of the remaining players.
It is entirely possible that by the time endgame occurs much of the situation involving the townspeople will be unresolved. This is fine and expected. In the end the game is about the players addressing the crimes of their protagonists and the townspeople are merely mirrors with which to express that conflict. In fact the Game Master should treat the situation among the residents of Silent Sound as a rolling soap opera. As parts of the situation resolve new complications arise from the consequences.
However, some players may not want end game to occur until certain elements of the situation have been resolved. This is also fine and expected. Players should drive towards endgame only after they feel they have adequately expressed their characters relative to the situations presented in the town.
Monsters in the Shadow
The monsters created by the situation creation system are not intended to be simple obstacles or physical threats. Notice that regardless of success or failure the Exertion and Influence scores are never affected by conflicts in the shadow. This is because the shadow is simply a nightmare illusion designed to taunt and torture the protagonist.
The Game Master should play the monsters as antagonists relative the protagonists’ crimes. They should attack things the players demonstrate the protagonists care about. The motives of the monsters should be tied into the crimes of the protagonists as often as possible. Monsters assign blame for the havoc they cause onto the protagonists themselves whenever possible. Be ruthless and unforgiving.
Silent Sound has already judged the protagonists and the verdict is guilty. The Game Master is responsible for pushing that verdict through the situations presented in the town and through the horrors presented in the shadow. However, the ultimate point to playing the game is for everyone to decide if these protagonists deserve this judgment. Is the supernatural punishment fitting the crime?
The primary mechanic for answering these questions is the players’ individual Judgment scores. Note that during play Judgment can be spent on either side of a conflict and during the endgame spending Judgment can have a significant impact on which of the epilogue conditions a protagonist ends up with.
Notice that Judgment is earned when conflicts are resolved positively with the situation existing in the normal town. By demonstrating his character’s influence on the lives of the townspeople a player earns the right to express judgment over others.
The flip side of this is Absolution which a player can spend to influence the outcomes of his own conflicts. Notice that Absolution is earned when conflicts are resolved positively in the shadow. By demonstrating his character’s struggles with his own inner demons a player earns the right to express judgment over his own character.
Some people looking at this game and looking at the epilogue conditions in general might observe that this game has the potential to be emotionally painful. The potential for emotional pain in this game is intentional. The supernatural weirdness is meant to be a buffer against that pain. However, this game is also meant to be fun. Getting a particularly painful story out of this game is intended to be fun in the same way that a tragic movie or play is fun to watch. It can be both cathartic and enlightening. It can be a way to engage life by the horns.
But also players of this game shouldn’t discount their own narrative spin on events. Remember that even the suicide ending is meant to be colored with a tone of absolution. Sometimes the only way to win is to quit the game. The damnation endings usually carry an implicit question mark. Ultimately the value of a story lies in the hearts and minds of those who created it. If even one player sheds a tear for his protagonist, then the game has done its job.
Silent Hill – If you have any familiarity with the Silent Hill video game series then its role as primary inspiration for this game is self-evident. So much so I hope that I’ve filed the serial numbers off finely enough. Obviously the game’s setting and its existence in two realities is lifted directly from the games. However, it was the thematic of Silent Hill 2 that interested me the most and those have been blown up to be the central focus of this game. While the video games are excellent survival horror monster shooters, I hope that Silent Sound will be more about personal confrontation with inner guilt.
My Life with Master – The majority of the mechanics in this game owe themselves to this wonderful Gothic Romance game. The impact of conflicts on individual scores, the two non-protagonist characters created by the players, an explicit turn order, and endgame and epilogue conditions are central in this game. In fact Silent Sound can almost be viewed as a My Life with Master game where the whole town of Silent Sound is the master.
Dogs in the Vineyard – This is the first game I encountered with explicit situation creation mechanics. Dogs does it better than I do here in Silent Sound. Also the idea of strangers entering a town and involving themselves in the problems of the inhabitance is central to this game. Finally, Silent Sound is in some ways an inversion of Dogs in the Vineyard’s basic premise. Instead of the characters bringing judgment to the town, the town is brining judgment to the characters.
Full Light, Full Steam – A fun Victorian adventure romp in space seemingly completely unrelated to anything Silent Sound is about. However, its situation creation mechanics (also inspired by Dogs in the Vineyard) helped clarify some of my thinking with regard to how the The Rejector and The Perpetuator characters relate to the other non-protagonist characters.
Sorcerer – This game introduced me to many of the concepts that permeate this entire design and indeed many things about this game influenced my life as a whole. The Relationship Map technique described in the supplement The Sorcerer’s Soul was a major impact on the situation creation mechanics in Silent Sound.