Friday, April 4, 2008 - 11:33 AM

It's been a while.

I tend to be ambitious about running my games, and unfortunately, my ambition got away with me this time. Due to impending schedule changes, I have to postpone my Dark Heresy game until further notice. This gripes me a bit; I was looking forward to it, but my other two games are going really very well, so I don't feel I have much room to complain.

Speaking of which, I've been mentioning some peculiarities of pacing in one of those games. Specifically, the game is Kult, which for those not familiar, is in the 'personal horror' genre. I've run a good many Kult games up to this point. The base system is not particularly good, in my opinion, but the way the game handles sanity (itself very subjective in the game) is quite elegant, and there is a strong mechanical impact on facets of the character's personality... or vice versa. I believe that this touch is one of the keys as to why Kult games tend to go through the same stages, regardless of the player base or the story the GM is running.

In Kult, at least, stages of the game are defined by character development, and they come at particular break points. Though the break points might be spaced differently from game to game, they follow the same order, and in my current game I was able to predict them to the very session they occurred. The curious might define these stages as follows:

Exploration: Upon discovering something not in the world view, the PCs start edging out of their normal environment. This brings them closer together as a group, often regardless of differences. Their curiosity pulls them forward.

Attachment: At this point, the PCs have attached their desires and ambitions to events. This is usually where the players themselves have gotten a better feel for their characters, which I believe is a strong contribution to this breakpoint. This is the place where directions are decided upon, which invariably leads to:

Conflict: The world isn't what they thought it was. Now, the PCs are finding that THEY aren't who they thought they were, and neither are their friends. I describe this moment as me putting guns on the table, and the PCs all pointing them at each other. Part of this is certainly a deeper understanding of the characters being played, but it is also a natural reaction to something else that tends to occur by this point in a Kult game... which is, PCs lose control of themselves and their uglier sides tend to show.

Them Against Us: This is where it gets tricky. The isolation gets to the PCs. They don't have anyone to turn to except themselves... better the familiar enemy than the unknown, in the worst case. In a way, the party turns inward to try and deal better with the outside influences. It doesn't tend to be the least bit comfortable.

There are a couple other points, but my Kult players read this, and I don't want to spoil the surprise.

Each Kult game I've run (and been in), these happen, right on schedule. This doesn't come from any attempt to steer the players. They react to story lines and situations, and this pattern just ends up happening. I find it fascinating to consider why, and chatting with my players about this got me to thinking about patterns that happen in other RPGs. In My Life With Master, this sort of irrevocable progress is actually mechanically supported, which is one reason I regard the game as utter genius, but in Kult the process is far more organic. I do believe that those games which provide mechanical support for character personality elements are those which might have a stronger set of patterns (Humanity in Vampire, Mental Balance in Kult, Sanity in Call of Cthulhu, etcetera, though the CoC pattern seems to be 'investigators go mad/die').

I'll be looking at my games closely. You should, too. You might be surprised at what behavioral models you find at the table.

LARP dynamics? That's an entirely different beast. I'm not going there.

Well, not this time.



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