Jonathan Walton On The Extraordinarily Horrible Children of Raven’s Hollow
Jonathan Walton, the originator of the Murderland contest, has kind words to say about The Extraordinarily Horrible Children of Raven’s Hollow. Thank you Jonathan!
“Premise: Players take on the roles of children, adults, and ravens in a Edward Gory picture book. The children dare each other to do things that are potentially deadly for either the child attempting it or the adult it’s attempted on. Dice are rolled and gradually move around the table between various children and the pools representing the adults and ravens (who intervene in these proceedings). The endgame is triggered when only one child is left alive.
“Thoughts: Brilliantly conceived and executed. While the dice mechanic most likely needs to be playtested thoroughly, to ensure that the endgame doesn’t come too soon or too late and that there’s a nice amount of give and take, the rules are simple, direct, and very clear. The only thing lacking — in my mind — is more formal descriptive guidelines, since the Gory tone seems as important as having children die in horrible accidents (which might not otherwise be amusing). More closely limiting players to storybook phrasings, very short, terse phrases (“So Saul placed his head in the alligator’s mouth”), seems like it would be more effective than the florid descriptive passages Jesse recommends. Honestly, I feel like the visual details of the Gory-esque landscape might be best left to the imagination. Still, that’s more of a personal preference than a problem with the game. However the events of play are described, I can’t wait to play this one.
Mechanics Flowing In The Wrong Direction
Last night we played the first session of Silent Sound. It went well in terms of the fiction and in terms of productive play testing. It didn’t go so well in terms of the mechanics doing their intended job. Such is the perils of trying to move a game from Alpha through Play-testing.
First off I made a GM blunder in terms of starting the game off. Part of the intention of the design is to get the characters to interact with reflections not only of their own crimes but of the other character’s crimes as all. The idea is to get a cross pollination of behavior across the characters. I think my situation setup is fine in creating an interlocking web of characters that have overlap between elements of the character’s crimes.
The problem is, that in order to foster a creepier or more subtle tone I started off two of the characters encountering material relevant to their Memory rather than their Lures. It turns out that Memory and Lure do NOT carry equal resonating weight with the players. It was suggested that I reverse my thinking. My attempt at “subtle” instead turned into the players feeling a little lost and disoriented. I should hit the players immediately with stuff relevant to their Lure and their own crimes and then introduce elements form their Memory to draw them into the cross pollination. Fortunately, I think situation I created is fine for that I just have to use it differently. As I put it last night, “The instrument isn’t broken; I just have to play different notes.”
The mechanics on the other hand are not working as intended at all. They aren’t driving the fiction forward in any way. If anything they’re grinding it to a halt. Colin felt the mechanics actively support turtle-ing. I’m not sure I agree fully with that but what I did observe was that the players were very eager to engage certain aspects of the mechanics much earlier than were “necessary.” Engaging with those mechanics carry a risk and thus the players felt they were being punished for engaging in something they thought was cool.
In particular I’m referring to the Flashback mechanic. In the game you can frame Flashback scenes to situations involving your crime. Mechanically this allows you to increase your base stats. What you’re risking is an increase to your Shadow score which is bad for you come endgame. The intended dynamic was that the GM would hammer the players with opposition which decreases their base stats thus *forcing* them into Flashbacks to recover.
Here’s the thing, doing that would take probably six or seven scenes and the players, fictionally, wanted to introduce flashbacks much, much sooner. Hence they seemed like a punishment because now they were risking Shadow for no reason other than introducing cool content. I have to think about this because I like the idea of a reflective “refresh” but if that’s the case then stats need to go “down” much, much faster or I have to decouple Flashbacks from “healing.”
Possible Solution: Instead of being fixed numbers, players spend their base stats like a resource.
With regards to the GM providing opposition the system has a serious problem here. There are two scores called Town Influence and Guilt. These two scores specify the base number of dice the GM rolls in a conflict. These numbers go up and down based on conflict outcomes. From day one of my design I saw the problem of the game becoming a death spiral for the GM so I added this mechanic called the Shadow Pool. The Shadow Pool is basically a resource the GM spends to add dice to his pool.
I’ve NEVER liked the Shadow Pool. First of all, it’s always been a tacked on hack to prevent the death spiral. Second of all, I’ve never really known how large to initially set it or a good way to refresh it. If I could, I’d get rid of it and last night it became apparent that I HAVE to get rid of it.
Here’s the thing, it is providing one thing that isn’t just about the death spiral hack. I like to be able to lend “emotional weight” to my die rolls. The limited resource allows me to demonstrate how much something is “worth” to me mechanically. Even if I fix the death spiral problem I’m not really sure I’d be satisfied with a static number that I had no way to influence.
Possible Solution: The GM can just add dice to his pool, but has to give the opposing player Judgment on a 1-to-1 basis. Judgment is currently a resource players can spend to influence the outcome of other player’s characters.
Another observation is that the endgame is WAY too compelling. The game has epilogue constraints based on the outcome of the final conflict die roll. I don’t mind glancing at the state of the mechanics to decide when to shift tone or direction or how to play your next scene to setup something else. But the players were looking at the system in a way that looked like eight or nine moves ahead like a chess match and that’s getting too “gamey” for my tastes. I want mechanical choices to be about the state of the fiction and what the player wants to express in the short term.
This is largely because the system as currently formulated is a giant machine which is clearly too complex. In fact, I’m pretty sure it computes logarithms as a side effect of play. I need to reformulate the machine so that (a) the long term effects are still present and visible but are a back burner concern and (b) the immediate short term decisions are more interesting.
Part of the problem is that there are a lot of levers that I deliberately put in the player’s hands because as GM I wanted to focus on playing the components of the town and not have to worry about certain pacing concerns. The problem is that these levers when pulled set off a series of gears that have layered consequences. It was my intention that the levers were to be pulled based on the immediate emotional desires of the players and that the machine would happily do its job unregarded. Turns out this is a little bit like me placing the lever of a guillotine into someone’s hand and saying, “Pull this when you fall in love.” Their rather natural response is, “But it will cut my head off.” And me saying, “Never mind that, just pull it when you fall in love” probably isn’t going to cut it.
There are NUMEROUS examples of this through out the system and is probably the biggest design flaw. The largest is the way Shadow works. You don’t want Shadow because it reflects on your character badly in the endgame. There are two ways to gain Shadow and both are entirely voluntary. The first is the Flashback mechanic I described earlier. The second way is by taking on Shadow to earn bonus dice on conflicts while in the Shadow world.
This is where Colin’s “turtle-ing” comment is probably most appropriate. I assumed that the conflicts at hand would eventually take on such importance to the players that doing these voluntary things would become worth it. Turns out they don’t. Or at least don’t fast enough (again see my problems with pacing and opposition above).
Possible Solution: I have been considering swapping the labels of the GM stat Guilt and the player stat Shadow for some time because that more accurately reflects their function. I mentioned this and it was suggested that rather than having Shadow thrust upon the player through opposition (which was the intent) make Guilt something the player starts with and has to proactively “burn off.” I like this idea.
It goes along with that discussion in the first thread about whether or not fictionally it’s important for the characters to feel guilty about their own crimes. I realize that I setup the whole Shadow mechanic with the assumption that the character’s had largely forgotten about their crimes and now Silent Sound has shown up to “remind” them by thrusting it in their face.
Oddly, I think this comes from me misinterpreting my source material, the video game Silent Hill 2. In the game James’s crime is a reveal that happens about 3/4th of the way through the story. For some reason I had gotten it into my head that James is in denial about his crime. That effectively he blocked out what he did and the ordeal of Silent Hill draws it out of him.
But that’s not right. I’m mistaking the audience experience of not being fully in the know regarding James’s motives with James himself not being in the know about his motives. I’m further mistaking his eventual admission with remembrance. On reflection it’s clear that James’s guilt is driving him the whole time. I think that confusion comes from the weird identity confusion that can happen in third person video games. If I don’t know something James must not know something because I am James, right?
In any event, I include that as a note to other designers basing games on the thematics of established source material. Make sure you really understand the thematics of your source material.
The group is taking a two week hiatus to give me time to think all of this over and retool the system and then we’re going to take another stab at it.
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.
Misunderstood: Friendship Against The Harsh Cruel World
Misunderstood: The RPG of Friendship against the Harsh Cruel World.
Misunderstood is a game about members of various fringe interest cultures trying to salvage their friendships as they seek understanding from the harsh cruel world. The game is GM-less so everyone will create a character. The game uses d6s.
First the group must decide on a peer group age range for the characters to fall into: High School (14-17), College (18-21), or by decade 20s, 30s, 40s, etc. The truly brave may want to take on Jr. High (12-13) or Elementary School (5-11).
After that, players each pick a Fringe Cultural Interest that “No One Really Understands.” No two players may share the same Fringe Culture Interest. There is at least some truth to the statement that not even your friends really get you.
Next, each player distributes 10 points between the three main stats of “I Feel Your Pain”, “I Get Where You’re Coming From” and “WTF man?”. No score may be less than 1.
Each player then writes down the names of the other characters and puts three points next to each name. These points are referred to as Friendship Points.
Finally a pool of dice is put in the center of the table. This pool is called The Harsh Cruel World and has a number of dice equal to15 times the number of players. If you don’t have enough dice just write the number down and keep track of it.
Play starts with the player whose character has the highest value in “I Feel Your Pain”. Ties are broken with “I Get Where You’re Coming From”. Double ties are broken with “WTF man?”. Three way ties are broken by whichever player is willing to take on more of The Harsh Cruel World in their first scene (see scene types below). Turns then proceed in strict order to the right of the first player. The Acting Player or the Acting Character refers to the player whose turn it currently is.
On his turn a player chooses one of three types of scenes to have his character participate in. The three scene types are “Taking on the World”, “Friendship”, and “Outreach.” However, Outreach scenes may only be chosen if the player’s previous turn was a Taking on the World or a Friendship scene and MUST be chosen if the previous turn was a Taking on the World scene. Note: As a consequence no player may choose an Outreach scene as their first scene of the game.
Taking on the World scenes are about the acting character either interacting with members of his Fringe Culture Interest or non-members about his Fringe Culture Interest. The acting player first describes the general locale and situation of where his character is and a sketchy outline of what his character is trying to achieve. Then the acting player declares how much of the Harsh Cruel World he wishes to try and take on and pulls that many dice from the Harsh Cruel World pile. Another player must then volunteer to introduce adversity into the seen by introducing something that stands in the way of what the active character wants to achieve. The active player hands the Harsh Cruel World dice to this player.
The acting player then decides if he wishes to tackle the adversity with “I Feel Your Pain” (genuinely knowing and feeling what is required of him socially), “I Get Where You’re Coming From” (understanding what is required of him socially but not really feeling it or even resenting it) or “WTF man?” (having no idea what is appropriate and acting with 100% awkwardness).
Note: For Taking on the World and Friendship scenes a player may not choose his highest score two turns in a row.
The acting player then rolls a number of dice equal to the stat they chose and totals the result. The other player rolls The Harsh Cruel World dice and totals those. If the acting player’s total is higher then he achieves his goal and is generally well received by the social environment. The acting player narrates how this comes to pass. The rolled Harsh Cruel World dice are removed from the game and the acting player gains a number of Understanding Points equal to the number of dice. If the other player’s total is higher then he narrates how the acting player’s character fails at his goal and is generally poorly received by the social environment. The rolled Harsh Cruel World dice are returned to the pile plus an additional die.
Friendship Scenes are about interacting with everything not related to the character’s Fringe Cultural Interest. Like Taking on the World scenes the acting player describes the general circumstances and what he is trying to achieve. He also decides how much The Harsh Cruel World he wants to take on and grabs that many dice out of the pile.
However, he also chooses a second player to be involved in the scene. A player who has zero Friendship Points with the acting player can not be chosen. This second player then briefly narrates how he is involved in the scene.
Similar to Taking on the World scenes a third player must volunteer to narrate adversity into the scene. The acting player then decides if he will respond with “I Feel Your Pain”, “I Get Where You’re Coming From” or “WTF man?”. Again, the acting player may not use his highest score two scenes in a row.
The second player now has the option of siding with the acting player or subverting the active character’s goals with his own goal. If he sides with the acting player the second player contributes a number of dice equal to his Friendship Score with the acting player to the active player’s die pool. If he wishes to subvert the active character’s goal with his own goal he chooses which of “I Feel Your Pain”, “I Get Where You’re Coming From” or “WTF man?” he will roll himself.
If the second player has chosen to subvert the active character’s goal with his own, the first player now has the option of spending points from his Friendship Points with the second character to add dice to his roll.
The two or three pools are rolled, totaled and compared. If the acting player’s total is highest he narrates how he achieves his goal and thwarts whatever obstacles were put before him. If the second player had sided with the active player he narrates how his actions play into the active character’s success. The Harsh Cruel World dice are removed from the game and either the active player adds the equivalent number to his Understanding Points or if the second player aided him the two players split the points between them.
If the second player chose to subvert the active character’s goal and his total is highest he narrates how his character’s actions subvert the active character’s goals to his own end. The Harsh Cruel World dice are removed from the game and the second player adds the equivalent number to his Understanding Points.
If the third player’s total is highest then he narrates how the active and second characters fail in their goals with attention to whether the second player was attempting to subvert or not. The Harsh Cruel World dice plus one are returned to the pile. Another die is added to the pile if the second player tried to subvert the active character.
Outreach scenes are the active character venting about the outcome of the active character’s previous scene (the one that occurred on their last turn) to another character. First the active character picks the character they wish to vent to. Both characters must have positive Friendship scores with each other. The active character then narrates the surroundings in which the venting is taking place (it should be somewhere relatively secluded) and summarizes the venting.
The active player then secretly chooses a Venting Mode, either Save Me (if the character is genuinely looking for advice and understanding from the second character) or Hate Me (if the character is being self-destructive and is looking to just be a pain to the second character). Then the second character openly chooses if they responding with “I Feel Your Pain”, “I Get Where You’re Coming From” or “WTF man?”.
Apply the mechanical result from the following chart:
Save Me + “I Feel Your Pain” = Active and Second Character both gain a Friendship Point.
Save Me + “Get Where You’re Coming From” = Active Character gains a Friendship Point, Second Character loses a Friendship Point.
Save Me + “WTF man?” = Active Character loses a Friendship Point, Second Character gains a Friendship Point..
Hate Me + “I Feel Your Pain” = Active and Second Character both lose a Friendship Point.
Hate Me + “I Get Where You’re Coming From” = Active and Second Character both gain a Friendship Point.
Hate Me + “WTF man?” = Active Character gains a Friendship Point, Second Character loses a Friendship Point.
Once the Outreach Scene is mechanically resolved both players involved narrate how their characters exit the scene.
The game ends when either The Harsh Cruel World is completely wiped out or a player is forced to frame an Outreach scene and can’t (due to having no mutually positive Friendship Scores with the other characters).
If the game ends by wiping out The Harsh Cruel World then the player with the highest Understanding narrates how he achieves recognition and understanding within his Fringe Cultural Interest. Each other player then narrates an epilogue for their character. If the character has a Friendship Score with the character who has the highest Understanding greater than the number of players then that player may opt to give up his own Fringe Cultural Interest and join (and gain minor recognition and understanding within) the Fringe Cultural Interest of the player with the highest Understanding. Otherwise they remain misunderstood among their own pursuits.
If the game ends because a player must and can not frame an Outreach scene than that player must narrate how his character is responsible for the disbanding of the peer group as friends. The player with the highest Understanding then narrates and epilogue for his character and has the option of abandoning his Fringe Cultural Interest for the pursuit of something else. Each other player then takes turns narrating an epilogue for their character, most likely involving how they end up alone and still misunderstood.
The Extraordinarily Horrible Children of Raven’s Hollow
The Extraordinarily Horrible Children of Raven’s Hollow
The primary inspiration for this game is Edward Gory’s “The Gashlycrumb Tinies” with a dash of the comic “Lenore.” The game is intended to produce a quick grim fairy tale about horrible children who bully each other into dangerous acts that likely lead to their demise. Enjoy!
A Quick Word on the Setting
Raven’s Hollow is located in a kind of Gothic fairytale landscape. Imagine dense rickety trees, rapidly flowing streams, caves in the hills and maybe the odd swamp or two. The village itself is mostly hovels inhabited by simple people but maybe far up the path is a lonely manner house or even an abandoned abbey. Hopefully this gives you enough flavor to get started.
This game has no GM so everyone should envision the child they’d like to play. You need little more than a name and a gender but it helps to have a fairly strong image of what your child looks like. You also need a bunch of six-sided dice. Each player needs three dice of one color (I like green). Three dice of another color (I like white) sit in the middle of the table and these dice represent the adults. Finally a single die of a third color (I like black) sits on the table and this die represents the ravens.
Some Social Advice about Narration
The game is intended to be fairly visual. So when the game says, “describe” or “narrate” you should do so in as florid and creepy a manner as you can muster. Remember the drawings of Edward Gory. And if you’re not familiar with the drawings of Edward Gory… get thee to the Internet, you’ve been missing out.
Someone needs to go first. It doesn’t matter who. This player is the Active Player. On an Active Player’s turn he does the following.
Describe where their character is.
Describe what their character is wearing.
Describe what their character is holding.
Describe what activity their character is doing.
All this describing must be solitary. The character can not be engaged with anyone else. They are alone.
Next, determine which player has the least dice. If there is a tie (like there is at the beginning of the game) everyone with equal dice rolls and the player who rolls lowest is chosen. If the rolls tie, roll again. This player is called the Bully Player. Note: If at this stage there is more than one player with NO dice, then the player who has least recently been the Bully Player (among the no dice players) gets to be the Bully Player.
The Bully Player then narrates how his character enters the scene just described by the Active Player. The two players can role-play out any interaction they like but eventually the Bully Player’s character must demand that the Active Player’s character engage in a risky activity that either endangers the Active Player’s character or endangers the adults.
The Active Player then has a choice. He can either have is character attempt the risky activity or give the Bully Player one of his dice. If he chooses to give over a die then the Bully Player describes how his character either takes what the Active Player’s character was holding or somehow spoils the activity the Active Player’s character was doing.
If the Active Player chooses to carry out the risky activity the procedure is different depending on whether the activity endangers his character or endangers the adults.
Endangering The Character
Demands that endanger the character are things like, “go put your head in that crocodile’s mouth” or “cross that old log at the top of the waterfall.” The Active Player should narrate any details he wishes leading up to the actual moment of performing the risky activity.
Then the Active Player rolls his dice and sums up the values. If his dice exceed ten (i.e. rolls eleven or greater) then his character survives the risk. The Active Player should narrate his character accomplishing this feat and The Bully Player should narrate his character’s reaction.
If the Active Player’s dice fall short of ten then his character dies performing the risky activity. The Active Player should narrate this demise. The Bully Player does NOT get to narrate his reaction. At this point the Active Player swaps his dice out for black dice and adds them to the collection of raven dice.
Before rolling the Active Player has two choices that might help him out. First, he can take a SINGLE die from the adults (if there are any dice left) and roll it with his own dice and add in the result. Second, he can take a SINGLE die from the ravens and roll it with is own dice and add in the result. He can do both of these if he wishes.
When taking the adult die nothing new need be immediately narrated. However, if a raven die is taken the Active Player must narrate a raven somewhere into the scene passively observing. In either case a successful roll is exactly the same as a successful roll without having taken any dice.
If the player takes either or both of these extra dice and still fails then his character doesn’t die and the the risky activity is interrupted by the intervention of the adults (if an adult die was taken), the raven (if a raven die was taken) or both (if both were taken). The Active Player narrates this intervention.
If an adult intervenes the Active Player’s character gets punished for doing such a foolish thing. The Active Player narrates this punishment and then gives up one of his dice to the adult die collection.
If a raven was part of the intervention the raven steals part of what the Active Player’s character was wearing in the process. The Active Player gets to narrate the intervention but the Bully Player gets to decide what was stolen. The Active Player then gives up a die to the raven die collection.
These lost die are separate from the original adult or raven dice taken which go back to their original collections regardless of the outcome.
Note: This means the Active Player could lose two dice if he took both modifier dice. However, if he does not have two dice to lose from his original pool then he can not take both dice to begin with. He must choose one.
Endangering The Adults
Demands that endanger the adults are things like, “go kick out the ladder from under Mr. Thatcher while he’s fixing his roof” or “go pour rat poison in Mrs. Baker’s pie filling.” The Active Player should narrate any details he wishes leading up to the actual moment of performing the risky activity.
The Active Player then rolls his dice and sums up the values. The Bully Player then picks up and rolls the collection of adult dice and sums the values. If the Active Player’s dice exceed the Bully Player’s dice (i.e. ties go to the adults) then his character performs the risk and doesn’t get caught. The Active Player should narrate his character accomplishing this feat which should include the demise of an adult as a consequence. The Bully Player should NOT narrate his character’s reaction. The active player also gets to take one of the adult dice as his own.
If the Active Player’s dice fall short of the Bully Player’s dice then his character is caught by the adults who are so horrified that they send the character away from Raven’s Hollow. The Active Player should narrate where his character gets sent off to. The Bully Player does NOT get to narrate his reaction. At this point the Active Player swaps his dice out for black dice and adds them to the collection of raven dice.
Since this action is against the adults they can not help you and thus taking a die from them is not available. However the Active Player can still take a SINGLE die from the ravens. Again, upon doing so he should narrate a passive observing raven into the scene. Again, the consequences of successful outcome are unaltered.
If the Active Player takes a die from the ravens and still fails then the raven intervenes in some manner such that the character does not succeed in his risk but is not caught by the adults either. The Active Player gets to narrate this intervention, however no clothing snatching happens. The Active Player loses a die to the raven’s collection and returns the borrowed die.
After this sequence is resolved the player to the Active Player’s right becomes the new Active Player and the process is repeated.
If at the top of his turn the Active Player has NO dice his character is lost forever to the surrounding environment. Instead of picking a Bully Player the Active Player should simply narrate where his character becomes permanently lost to the environment. “Little Johnny lives with the bears in a cave” is a good example. A single black die should be added to the raven die collection when this happens.
If the last die is ever removed from the adult collection then the risky action taken by the Active Player’s character has caused a chain reaction that wipes out all the remaining adults. The Active Player gets to narrate this calamity. The children are now Orphans.
First of all, Bully Players may no longer demand actions that endanger the adults (there are none to endanger). Also, during actions which endanger the character no adult dice may be taken as modifiers (there none to intervene).
However, an even more significant thing happens when the children become Orphans. Without adult supervision the already cruel children of Raven’s Hollow become even crueler and may attack each other direction. The Bully Player may simply choose to have his character attack the Active Player’s character instead of making an endangering demand. Also the Active Player may choose to have his character attack the Bully Player in response to an endangering demand instead of surrendering a die.
It should be made clear that when two children attack each other one of them WILL meet his demise.
When two children attack each other, each player should narrate briefly what his character is doing. The player who instigated the attack narrates first. Then the two players simply roll their own dice and sum up the values. The character of the player with the lower roll meets his demise in the attack. The player of the defeated character gets to narrate what form his demise takes. The player of the defeated character replaces his dice with black dice and adds them to the raven collection.
In the event of a tie the struggle goes on for another round. The player who narrated second in the previous round gets to narrate what his character is doing followed by the other player narrating what his character is doing. The dice are then simply rerolled, round after round until no tie happens.
A Social Note About Direct Attacks
It is advised that the demise of a character during a direct attack be the result of an accident that occurs during the struggle. For some reason, children dying in absurd accidents is morbidly funny. Children murdering each other is not so funny. This is not a rule. Simply an observation for consideration.
You might have noticed that the ravens of Raven’s Hollow are keen observers and occasionally intervene in the affairs of children. The ravens are also fiercely judgmental. When a player has his character permanently removed from the game they become a Raven Player. Raven Players stop getting their turn as Active Player (as they have no character) but they still get to influence the game.
Just before ANY die roll and AFTER the Active Player has had his chance to take the single raven die modifier (on rolls where that is allowed), starting with the Raven Player closest to the Active Player’s right each Raven Player may take a die from the raven collection and contribute it to any die collection being rolled. The Raven Player should narrate how a raven is pro-actively intervening on that sides behalf. Continue going around the Raven Players until all the Raven Players have declined to contribute a die once or the raven collection runs out of dice. Once the situation is resolved all raven dice are returned to the collection.
Endgame occurs when there is only one child left. One of two things happens depending on whether the child is an Orphan or not.
The Adults Endgame
If the remaining player’s character is not an Orphan the adults of Raven’s Hollow finally wake up to the fact that something is not right with the children and go to confront the last child. The player who lost his character first gets to narrate what form this confrontation takes and rolls the dice in the adult collection. The player of the surviving character rolls his own dice with no chance at modifiers.
Before the roll the Raven Players take turns contributing dice to either side and narrating how the ravens intervene for that side again until they have all passed once or the raven collection in empty. The player rolling dice for the adults still gets to contribute as usual including contributing a dice against the adults. He is simply rolling for them.
Finally the dice are rolled. Ties go to the adults.
If the player of the surviving child wins the roll he gets to narrate a warm and fuzzy positive outcome of some kind for his child. Maybe the adults think it was all some kind of misunderstanding.
If the adults’ roll wins the players of the Ravens (like a jury) decide the negative fate of the child. Be as grim as you like.
The Orphan Endgame
If the remaining player’s character is an Orphan he suddenly finds himself alone in a forest full of judgmental ravens. At least SOME of these ravens aren’t going to like this child very much and decide to take action against him. The player who lost his character first gets to narrate what form this confrontation takes. He also picks up HALF (rounding down) the raven dice and rolls them. The player of the surviving character rolls his own dice with no chance at modifiers.
Before the roll the Raven Players take turns contributing dice to either side and narrating how the ravens intervene for that side again until they have all passed once or the raven collection is empty. The player rolling dice for hostile ravens still gets to contribute as usual including contributing a dice against the hostile ravens. He is simply rolling for them.
Finally the dice are rolled. Ties go the ravens.
If the player of the surviving child wins the roll he gets to narrate a warm and fuzzy positive outcome of some kind for his child. Maybe he somehow dominates the ravens and becomes some kind of raven master hermit.
If the ravens’ roll wins the players of the Ravens (like a jury) decide the negative fate of the child. Be as grim as you like.
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.