Passionate Game Design

Silent Sound Playtest #1: Character Creation

So I finally got over my terror and pulled together some people to play test my game Silent Sound. The game is inspired by much of the color and thematics of the Silent Hill video game series and in particular the storyline of Silent Hill 2. However, while the video game is largely about exploration, surviving monsters and solving puzzles, my game is about addressing guilt. That’s much more fun.

Basically, the PCs are characters who have all committed a moral crime (which may or may not also be illegal). Silent Sound is a supernatural place of judgment that has lured the PCs there to face their crimes. The game is about whether or not these characters come to terms with their crimes through the metaphor of whether or not the town metaphorically devours them.

Last night we did character generation and it went very, very well. The players I have assembled are Christopher Kubasik (CK!), Eric and Colin. The first step of character creation is picking a Theme for the character’s crimes. These guys don’t pull their punches and went with: Kids. From that CK created a man who lost his son while he wasn’t playing attention. Eric created a school teacher who when he was a kid took one of friends out into the woods and then left him there, never to come home. Colin created a priest who broke his vow of celibacy and then abandoned the child that came from that.

The next step of character creation is for the players to create Memory of a time when they visited Silent Sound before and Lure which is something that has happened and compels them to come to Silent Sound right now. Both of these must imply a character who is effectively a player created NPC for the GM to play with. CK’s Memory was of playing in the sand with his son and his Lure was a letter from someone in Silent Sound claiming they have his son. Eric’s Memory was of his first kiss at the Silent Sound carnival and his Lure was that the brother of the kid he abandoned in the woods and who has been looking for him most his life thinks he may be in Silent Sound. Colin’s Memory was of fishing on the lake with his dad, and his Lure was that the mother of the child Colin abandoned has called asking to meet him in Silent Sound.

The final step of character creation involves discussing The Shadow. Silent Sound exists on two planes of existence. The normal world which may be odd or weird but not overtly supernatural and The Shadow Plane which is can be a full on nightmare. The mechanics of the game involve the characters shifting back and forth between these planes. During character creation a Look & Feel for this shadow plan is decided upon. The group went with: Rundown Coney Island-esq Amusement Park.

From that the players take the NPCs they’ve created and describe how they appear in the Shadow Plane. CK’s son appears normal except with a broken jaw, and the mysterious man who sent the letter appears as a clown. Eric’s first love appears as a doll, like you’d win at a carnival game, and the brother he’s catching up with appears as a security guard for the amusement park. Colin’s father is a carnival barker and the mother of his child is a lion tamer.

I’m very pleased with how it all went and Colin said it best: “Before I was interested in the game, and now I’m *excited* about the game.” And so am I.

Points of Consideration

One of the questions I asked was, “Do you think your character feels guilty for what he did and do you think that’s important.” There was a unanimous “YES!” heard round the table. Everyone thought it was super important not only for their character to feel guilty but that the Lure directly scratches the “itch” of that guilt. This was very interesting to me as I had intended the game to be neutral on whether or not the character felt guilt.

Last night I couldn’t quite properly articulate why but today I have clearer thoughts. First of all there’s a mechanic in the game called Judgment. Judgment is a resource pool that can be spent on *either* side of a conflict your character is NOT involved in. I’m curious with such sympathetic characters if Judgment is will ever be played against one another. I obviously won’t know until play.

Second, what the three guys created last night was three characters struggling to come to terms with what they did. I had originally intended to support a second kind of character who believed there was nothing wrong with what he did but Silent Sound has a different opinion. Such a story would be a character struggling to *defend* what he did. A character who stands up and says, “Fuck you, Silent Sound, I don’t give a shit what you say there’s nothing wrong with what I did!”

Question: Is that second idea workable?

That second character (theoretical) character concept dovetails with my second thought. The players were really excited about these characters and so am I but as I was driving home something was gnawing at me. Something seemed “off” about the characters and finally realized what it was.

In all my thinking about the game it has always been about character’s who have a crime in the past *that they have no way of ever dealing with in an external manner.* It’s over and done, with no hope of ever going back. But that’s NOT what I have with these characters. With these characters people *directly* related and involved in the original crime are still present and active in the situation.

This is an issue because I’m not 100% sure my situation creation process as formulated supports that. The basis of my situation creation system is predicated on the idea that the situations are *reflections* of the character’s crimes without actually *being* the character’s crimes. Essentially the game as originally formulated was about people confronting their crimes over and over and over again from an objective and ultimately *outsider* perspective.

That’s where that second character type above comes from. Silent Sound constantly confronting the character with situations similar to their crime and forcing them evaluate, “Would you do the same thing in this context? How about this one? How about that over there? What about NOW? Would you? Would you? Would you?!”

Now what the players did was so easy and natural and exciting I WANT to support it. In fact I’m pretty sure what they did was BETTER than my original idea. I’ve never been happy with my situation process and I think perhaps that’s because I knew this was going. In fact even BEFORE things started I knew CK in particular was probably going to do something I hadn’t anticipated because of his passion for creating these uber-focused characters. Notice: Crime: Missing Son. Memory: Missing Son. Lure: Missing Son.

Here’s the basis for my situation creation. Right now the GM is expected to create two NPCs from each of the player’s crimes. The names are dumb but I call one The Rejecter and one the Perpetuator. The Perpetuator is victimizing someone because they are committing a crime similar to that of the PC. The Rejecter is someone who is victimizing someone because they are *not* committing a crime similar to that of the PC.

So each PC has 4 NPCs associated with them. You basically then take the Perpetuator and the Rejecter and have them victimizing one of the 4 NPCs associated with a different character. Next you create a stressor which is someone or something that is putting pressure on that victimization. This yields essentially two micro-situations per PC that are reflective of their crimes. At this point you combine and collapse any of these characters. The only rule is that the original Memory and Lure characters must remain distinct but they may be combined with Perpetuators, Rejecters or Stressors.

Finally, you transform the whole thing into the The Shadow like you did with the two Memory or Lure characters during character creation. In particular at this stage Stressors become Monsters, truly horrible demonic things that are making things really bad for the situation.

I’m going to more or less stick to this process for now and see where it takes me with these characters. But all this was created with the idea that the players would be facing only *reflections* of their crimes, not actually engaging elements from their crimes.

Another thing I noticed was that the players were leaning towards making pretty much their own Monsters during character creation, the clown, the security guard, at one point Colin proposed having his father be a huge spider like thing which I clamped down on because of the Stressor to Monster mechanic during situation creation. Perhaps I shouldn’t have done that instead, simply noting the fact that the players have handed me monsters and that I should simply endeavor to reverse engineer them into Stressors in the normal town.

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