Monday 2 April 2012

Local Flavor: Creating Mood in a Sandbox

One of my goals as GM is to create a mood for the setting. Published adventures often help you out with this by providing descriptive/evocative passages to read aloud, but what if I'm running my own on-the-fly sandbox-style setting? Tables like this one for Sandbox Weddings can help, but they're not very general purpose, and you can only use it once or twice in an entire campaign.

I've been playing with some of the In a Wicked Age Oracles over at Abulafia and having a lot of fun. For the uninitiated, In a Wicked Age is a story game which provides Random Sentence Generators, or Oracles, as part of it's setup. The sentences are generally quite evocative, giving a full dose of mood along with quite a few potential adventure hooks.

So here's my idea for creating mood in your RPG setting:

  1. Make a table of Oracles that apply to your game setting from here
  2. When the PCs arrive in a new town/landmark/hex etc. choose an Oracle at random
  3. Use the first sentence or two generated by the Oracle to create your mood element

Example for Polish Resistance
For an example, I chose the following Oracles for my Polish Resistance game, which I see as having a sort of Post-Apocolyptic/Noir/Occult mood:
  1. Casblanca Oracle
  2. Pulp Oracle- Weird Science
  3. Noir Oracle- Down These Mean Streets
  4. Pulp Oracle- I Love a Mystery
  5. Modern Occult
  6. Demon City Blues
  7. Cascadian Folklore
  8. Pulp Oracle- Rip-Roaring Twenties

Now let's roll up a few examples:
Scenario 1: Party enters a small village
  • Roll: 5/A violent demon passes from host to host by touch.
  • GM Says: You see a few villagers peering into the front door of a small farmhouse. A young man turns around, his face pale, and vomits on the ground.
Scenario 2: Party is walking along a long forest road
  • Roll: 1/A Limousine, delivering a beautifully-dressed couple to a fashionable address.
  • GM Says: A fancy horse-drawn carriage passes by. Through the window you glimpse a beautifully-dressed couple.
Scenario 3: Party enters a Large Town
  • Roll: 2/A gyro-jet pistol, found at the scene of a crime.
  • GM Says: You overhear two Polish Policemen talking "...and then we found this!" he says, brandishing a strange chrome pistol.
Scenario 4: Party checks into an Inn
  • Roll: 7: Once a Great Lake, full of voices, now a hot Desert, where the spirits meet
  • GM Says: From the window in your small third-story room you can see the outskirts on the East side of town, where the forest stops abruptly and the ground slopes down into a deep bowl. Not a single tree can be seen growing in that abrupt valley.
*Note that the first and third roll also present a potential adventure hook, without shoving it down the players' throats i.e. NPC X says "I'll give you 100GP if you solve the murder".

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