Monday, January 6, 2014

The Fine Line: Speak No Evil

By Scott Bingham

Happy Holidays! For our final week of writing wizardry for the year we shall be diving into the depths of The Evil Dead, a Christmas classic…. Well not really but there’s still a lot to be learned from both the 1981 film featuring Bruce Campbell and the 2013 blood-fest remake when it comes to gaming. As has been my pleasure we’ll go over a very important point of the Game Master’s part in the table top role playing experience.

In The Evil Dead (2013) five friends, a fairly standard-sized party, decide to spend a few days in an old, rickety cabin in the woods miles away from anyone else. Good decision. As the party half-heartedly explores the cabin a majority of them fail their Perceptions checks with only one member picking up on a foul smell emanating from somewhere in the house. Finally one hero’s animal companion scratches at the carpet drawing the attention of the party and soon revealing a bolted trap door with a trail of blood leading into it.

Now this is a great interest hook placed by the Game Master. The party investigates, going down into the basement and discovering the source of the foul scent of death. Animals wrapped in barbed wire hang from the ceiling and a wooden post is blackened from fire and blood. A book similarly wrapped in barbed wire and covered in a trash bag sits on a table across the room, a double barrel shotgun halfcocked lying in the dust by the book. The party decides to simply bury the dead animals in the back yard and take the book upstairs. I get the feeling that there are some fairly low Wisdom scores in this particular party. Either that or this is these players first experience with tabletop gaming due to the lack of History and/or Knowledge checks being made.

The merry mayhem continues as one of our heroes, the one who supposedly has the highest Intelligence score, helps himself to reading the book they found without using Detect Magic or Spellcraft. He did however make a successful Linguistics check and proceeds to read the book aloud. Red flags everywhere for a long time gamer like myself and as a Game Master I’m shaking my head ever so slowly at such an action.

Subsequently a demon is summoned and a member of the party is possessed leading to a bloody jumble of self-mutilation, violent attacks by party members upon one another, and the eventual death of every member of the group. A demon known as the Abomination successfully comes to the physical plane and blood rains from the sky, leaving one recently resuscitated hero to contend with the creature on her own. She manages to defeat the Abomination and return the demon to Hell but at the cost of her entire party and her left hand (and probably a good portion of her sanity).

So what can this unfortunate party’s experience teach a Game Master about running a role play? It’s a fairly simple lesson to be learned and one that I’ve used on more than one occasion.

I don’t have to tell my players jack shit.

If my party doesn’t ask the questions, if they don’t make the checks, if they don’t roll the dice they will not be coddled or catered to. I can press them every now and again to make a skill check for me but when a player does not use the resources that they’ve poured into creating a character for such a campaign then there will be consequences both good and bad.

As a Game Master I am a creature of consequence. My player’s innovative solutions, their successful skill checks, their out of the box responses are rewarded. Their carelessness, their poor decisions, their mistake at thinking they are someone important in the world, in my world, gets them punishment. This is not me saying that I rule my little kingdom with an iron fist, dishing out curses and blessings simply because I feel like it. The players decide the outcome of the story and when bad decisions are made, bad things happen.

                Such it is with The Evil Dead. Some very poor decisions are made by the party and their Game Master deals with them appropriately. When a player will not do their part and play the game it is not uncommon for the story, the game itself, to play with them whether they want it or not. That can be a bit scary and it is a good idea before starting a new campaign to have a sit down with your players. Explain to them your expectations, what you promise to do for them as their Game Master, and remind them to play in character. Overall it will make the entire experience a better one with the ground rules set and both player and storyteller prepared for the journey ahead.

                And yet keep in mind that very simple rule; speak no evil unless evil is asked about, questioned, or skill checked. If dice aren’t rolling my tongue isn’t talking and it’s not because I’m a wicked Game Master out to destroy my party. It’s because I am a resource that is open to my players and if they don’t utilize me, use me, or ask me questions with some measure of thought or creativity or interest, I don’t have to tell them a thing. They’ll find out one way or another. I just hope it’s not through the use of a nail gun or other fun innovative toy found lying around a rundown cabin housing a possessed party member. The story will go on with or without my party’s participation.

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