Thursday, April 21, 2011

Becoming Something More

We've been talking all week about theatricality, how to use it, when to use it, and what is needed for it to become a factor. Today, I want to talk about the end game of theatricality, the benefit you reap from using it. The title of this post is not an accident, a proper use of theatricality on a person's part changes them from being a mere person, a mere man (if you will excuse the gender neutral term), and turn into something more. As Ra's Al Ghul says in Batman Begins "You have to become a terrible thought...a wraith. You have to become an idea!" Let's look at how you may want to do that, and what may come from that.

Inspiring Hope
This has been on my mind a lot lately, and Halo is to blame. Being in a Halo game, has the universe on my mind, and the story of the games is very much based on the idea of how the Master Chief inspires hope in those around him. How does he do this? By winning, constantly winning, but there is more to it as well. No one ever sees the Chief's face, instead they see a blank mask. This means that no one can see him cringe in pain, flinch in fear, or otherwise react to the situation. He is stoic, passive, and capable. He casually dispatches Covenant forces single handedly. Forces large enough that entire groups of Marines would not be able to do this. While doing this, he makes it look easy, makes it look casual, and keeps coming back. As such, he inspires hope in all those around him.

While the Chief is alive, and fighting, those around him will continue to do so as well. He inspires them to greatness, and lets them believe that they have a chance to win despite all the odds. PCs in your game can do this as well if they work at it. If they get the job done, make it look easy, and keep coming back, eventually they will get this reputation as well, and could see similar responses.

However, it isn't necessarily as easy as all that. The PCs, to do this, not only need to win but need to come back. More to the point, they need to bring others back as well. For example, if the PCs go out on suicide missions, lose two of their members, and get everyone else with them killed...then they are less likely to be as inspiring. After all, they get people killed. If anything, they may get a reputation for being heartless, and winning at all costs. By contrast, if the PCs all come back, and manage to bring back a good number of NPCs constantly, then they'll reap the rewards faster. They are, after all, the group that does the impossible and brings everyone home.

You can start doing this in your war game (or any game with action really) even without your PCs acting into it. Pay attention to the win/loss record of your PCs, but more importantly, pay attention to how they're winning and losing. Have the NPCs start reacting to it, and acting based on it. It can be as simple as a "We've got a chance with those guys on our side!" but the impact it can have on your players is huge. It can make them feel like something bigger, something more, and thus they'll play into it more.

On the other side of those though, is the fact that the enemy will also be gunning for the players a bit harder. After all, if the players can single-handedly bolster morale, than their death will be a blow to it, right? After all, to the bad guys, the PCs are...

Inspiring Fear
This is essentially what Batman is doing. He is going out of his way to terrorize the criminals of Gotham. To make himself into more than a man, into a demon of vengeance that haunts the night and preys on those who would use fear on others. You can see the effect he has everytime he shows up, that "oh crap" moment I discussed in length on Monday. He builds this up by acting, pretty much how I described on Monday. You don't see Batman until it is too late, but you will see him just before it is all over for you. He makes sure that you know just who is taking down your operation, because he needs you to know it was him, and that there is nothing you can do to stop him.

In many ways, inspiring fear is just the other end of inspiring hope. Odds are your enemies will come to fear you, while your allies will feel bolstered by your presence. This isn't always the case, but it isn't hard to pull off both when you really think about it. Now, as a GM, what is important to note here is how people react when they're scared - and make no mistake, fear is what they'll be feeling if the player has done their job right.

People who are scared tend to be twitchy. They jump at shadows, maybe even shoot at them too. They also tend to hesitate at the wrong moments, because they're too tense. Finally, they don't make the best decisions. The reason for all of this is because when we're scared, our body kicks into over drive. It is called Fight or Flight Syndrome, and to prepare for either  a fight, or to flee, our body pumps us full of adrenaline. The problem here though, is that people can over ride their fight or flight response. We want to run, but we seldom do. Our curiosity gets the better of us, or we take solace in the fact that we have a big honkin gun. This doesn't ease the tension, it just keeps us in place while our body is screaming Run you fool! He'll kill you!

So, what are these bad guys likely to do when faced with that Fear inspiring PC? Well, for one thing, they're not likely to work very well together. Teamwork takes focus and presence of mind, neither of which is really there when someone is terrified. Odds are they'll come in small clumps, or hesitate and look for a way out or something bigger to bring to bare. As each goes down, the feeling of inevitability grows worse, and real panic can set in. Most of the time, the fight is won before the PC is even through half the group. The die rolls are just a formality, assuming the PC can maintain appearances.

This, also, is going to make the PC a target however. They inspire the most fear, and so most people are going to want them dead. Once they die, or perhaps even properly injured (if they show it) a morale boost may be felt by the opponents. After all, they hurt/killed the big scary thing. It is kind of natural, ain't it?

Riding The Edge
That last point is something to keep in mind. the more the PC marks him/herself as an inspiration point, the more that will be riding on them. Yes, everyone loves a hero. Everyone fights harder when a hero is around. However, everyone also feels it more when a Hero goes down. All that morale boosting that they did, is suddenly a crash as the Hero is taken out right in front of the inspired's eyes. So, just keep that in mind as well.

As a player, the good you can do through inspiration outweighs the cost. As a GM, the short term costs can definitely make up for the "easy mode" things may seem to fall into while the PCs are going full steam. Try not to fight it, just ride the edge and see what happens.


  1. I could also see inspiring anger, either by being the victim of an atrocity or expanding awareness of it. To go WAY back and use an example from the 2e phb, regarding the neutral good alignment, perhaps a local ruler has struck some deal with hostile forces. The forces are given free rein to pass through the ruler's lands, but they have both a history of atrocities committed against the people and a seeming inclination to commit more. Players rally the citizens out of complacency into action, but I think in a way that is very different from "hope," because it's more "We HAVE to act, and they've shown us the way!"

    I could also see inspiring sorrow or contemplation, but that seems like it would require a Hero-style sacrifice on the PC end.

  2. oh, Definitely. Any emotional response really.

    Actually, if you like mech anime, Code Geas has great examples of someone using their various statuses to do pretty much all of the above as means towards manipulating people.

    Anger and Sorrow are generally shorter term things. Anger can easily lead to hate though, which could be good in the right light.

  3. I love the breakdown of the NPC panic process. Too few GMs allow for this. It can lighten the mood a lot and give the players a deep sense of satisfaction. Even if it happens only once in a game, it's usually indelibly stamped into the player's minds.

    I have a mechanic for this (roughly) called Fame Points. The points boost the PC's charisma for allies but only helps them to intimidate enemies.