Thursday 26 April 2012

The Naive Victim

We recently discussed the importance of building up an atmosphere of foreboding in creating Horror.  One of the common literary techniques for doing this is the Naive Victim.  The author foreshadows approaching danger to the reader, while the soon-to-be victim continues on, brushing-off any apprehensions.  The whole time, the reader must watch Cassandra-like, in growing horror, as their worst fears are realized.

This is a classic and effective technique.  Lovecraft uses it a lot, especially with his his narrators, recounting their tale post-facto.  It can also be seen in some Poe stories, for instance, in The Cask of Amontillado.

Naive Victim in Gaming?

The problem with applying this technique to gaming is that, unlike in literature, the rift between player and character is much more tenuous.  Whereas in a passive medium the reader must watch as the character continues towards their doom, in gaming, when the player senses danger, the character acts with caution.

So my question is this:

(Feel free and post your own experiences/opinions in the comments)

When the Party Wants Something

I recall the following scenario in the OSRIC PBP game I ran a couple years back:

The party crossed swords with a rather notorious bandit game a couple times.  In the second encounter they actually took out the bandit leaders and found a map on one of them.  Suspecting it might be the map to the bandits' treasure trove, they followed it to some remote ruins a few days' trip from civilization.

While exploring the ruins they began to sense danger: finding strange footprints, seeing furtive figures, etc.  Finally they found a ruined staircase leading down into the earth.  As they climbed one-by-one down into the hole, they were pretty nervous.  And indeed, they had reason to be, as they were quickly ambushed by a tribe of Rabies-Crazed Dogmen.

So is this a case of Naive Victim?  I would say no.  It is a case of building up a sense of dread.  But I would claim that, since the players are in control, it's still not quite as powerful an experience as the Naive Victim.  The players know they are taking a risk, not watching helplessly a character who is oblivious to the risk.

In their Footsteps

I think that "Naive Victim" can be used in gaming when the party stumbles on the remains of previous explorers.  This could take any number of forms:
  • Townspeople tell you about someone who visited the ruins years back but didn't return
  • Old Man tells you about the time he and his brother visited the ruins and only he returned to tell the tale
  • Party finds physical remains of previous group--where they camped, where they buried a party-member, signs of a struggle, bodies, a journal page, etc.

Of course, it needs to be kept brief.  Gamers don't want to sit through a long narration, they want to play.  So I would say that the Naive Victim is still less important in Horror Gaming than in Horror Literature.

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