I was reminded of a favorite bit of stagecraft I really enjoy doing. It’s a trick I indulged in running Trophy Dark (longer review coming next week) for a couple very new gamers at a recent local convention. They were all in on the storygame elements, they hadn’t had enough training to make assumptions about what a session “should” be.

Anyway, the trick. In Trophy Dark you’re running against exactly one clock: can you get to the innermost “circle” (stage, scene, set, whatever, there’s always 5) before The Forest takes you as its trophy. Each time your Ruin stat goes up, you pick up a new condition. It’s all purely fictional positioning stuff and mood creation, right? But the scenarios (“incursions”) all have suggested tables of conditions that impose themselves as The Forest slowly takes you over.

Each time they’d earn (!) a new condition, I’d have them roll on a table. Now the table is GM-facing, they have no idea what’s on them. But they would roll, I would look up the result, and I would prime them to receive the bad news. “Oh. Oh yikes, wow. Okay, ugh, well so here’s how it goes down. A tooth falls out, with a little blood, then another. You almost choke on a molar that wiggles loose way back there. And … what’s this? You feel something new pushing through the gum where the tooth was. It feels soft. Is it…wait, let me go back and make sure I read this right…” And so on.

Seems bad!

The “trick” being: sympathizing as hard as I can alongside the players and treating myself as much a victim of circumstance as they are. No wicked cackle, no gleeful sadism (I mean yes of course both of those things are happening but only inside my head!), just a very sincere I am so sorry, look at what the game is making me do. I think maybe it helps them embrace what’s happening, whereas a mean guy being mean evokes more confrontational vibes.

My new folks I think/hope were new enough that they weren’t all arch and ironic at my shenanigans. But it’s a lot of fun to, like, get them worried before I even tell them what to be worried about! It’s like the “they’re gonna get got” music in a horror movie letting you know it’s time for badness.

What are your favorite theatrical bits you enjoy using?

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