In this episode of Character Evolution Cast, we welcome Christine Prevas of the Unexplored Places podcast to discuss bringing spookiness to your game!
In this episode of Character Evolution Cast, we welcome Christine Prevas of the Unexplored Places podcast to discuss bringing spookiness to your game!
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Christine Prevas @cprevas
Unexplored Places @unexploredcast
Character Creation Cast:
Ryan Boelter 0:23
Welcome to Character evolution cast a show where we discuss what to do with all those characters we just made. I one of your hosts Ryan and today my co host, Emily and I are joined by Christine of the unexpected places podcast to talk about plane and spooky games.
Amelia Antrim 0:40
Christine, welcome to Character evolution cast. Thank you for joining us. Thank you so much for having me. Do you want to tell our audience a little bit about yourself and some of the cool stuff that you're involved in?
Christine Prevas 0:50
Sure. Um, my name is Christine. I. Well, my life sort of revolves around spooky stuff. So seeing as it's currently October, I'm at the height of My power. I am the host and gm of the unexplored places. And in addition to that, I also do some game design which appropriately to the season once again, much of which is harder, and monster and ghost themed. I'm also a PhD student with a research focus in queer horror.
Amelia Antrim 1:26
Unknown Speaker 1:27
Ryan Boelter 1:31
Fascinating. Absolutely. Well, thank you for joining us.
Amelia Antrim 1:35
Ryan Boelter 1:37
One of our goals on Character Creation Cast aside from making amazing people is to introduce our audience to people who are doing awesome things in the RPG world. And we would be remiss if we didn't do that here as well. So let's start by getting to know you a little bit better. Christine. Um, let's start with your podcast unexplored places. Could you tell us a A bit more about what it's about and how you got into doing it.
Christine Prevas 2:03
Sure. So the unexplored places is an actual play podcast. Our first season, which just recently finished up was game of monster of the week. Set in a fictional town in rural Ohio. It was a spooky monster hunting game about a sect of monster hunters that was disguising itself as a non denominational youth group. And we're currently about to begin our second season which is going to be a sci fi game set in scum and villainy. How did I get into doing it? I, let's see. So the group that I do the unexplored places with is a bunch of friends from college that I did theater with. And a couple of years after graduating from college, we had kind of lost touch a little bit and we're looking for a reason to sort of get back into, you know, doing some stuff again together, but we're all in vastly different places, and theater is expensive. I had recently got into tabletop RPG. And so it seemed like the sort of natural evolution out of doing theater together and into collaborative storytelling together. That's awesome.
Amelia Antrim 3:23
What is your favorite thing that has come out of making your podcast?
Christine Prevas 3:28
My absolute favorite thing is I love being surprised. I love when I have no idea where the story's going. I love when the players that I play with make like totally unexpected choices, or take vastly different paths that I anticipated or have like wildly different reactions than I expected. I always find that the moments where I don't know what's about to happen, or think something's about to happen and the opposite happens are always the best moments.
Amelia Antrim 4:01
How long have you
Christine Prevas 4:02
have you all been playing together? We've been playing together. But two and a half years. Okay?
Amelia Antrim 4:09
Just wondering cuz I know like, the longer you play together, I don't want to say the less surprising it gets. But I think the better you're able to kind of anticipate some of that, but I still love having those moments when you play with people for a while. And you're still like, I have no idea where that came from. But
Christine Prevas 4:24
I think in a way, part of it is, I know better that I will be surprised, but I know less well what the surprises will be. Because as much as we play together, we not only get to know one another better, and each other's play styles and habits and things like that. But we also like get more comfortable, and so we're better at taking bigger risks. Yeah. And so we do surprise each other more because we're just like swinging wildly because we're used to it, you know it. We're at a place where we're comfortable enough to make these big, sort of really shocking or their choices.
Amelia Antrim 5:01
Yeah, I really like those moments where you think to, that isn't what I thought you were going to do, but it's way better than what I ever would have come up with myself.
Christine Prevas 5:09
Yes. And it always is. And that's why I love collaborative storytelling so much. Because the story is always better than the thing I would have written if I'd been writing it alone.
Amelia Antrim 5:17
Ryan Boelter 5:20
So what would you say then, is your favorite spooky trope to play around with in an RPG?
Christine Prevas 5:26
Oh, okay. I have to. The first is I'm absolutely obsessed with haunted houses. We only had one haunted house in the first season of unexplored places, but I've played other haunted house games with these friends and other friends since then, and I'm absolutely obsessed. I love houses where weird things are happening. I love everyone getting separated and happy to find each other while bad things happen. I also really love the trope of like someone knowing everything about themselves or their past or their identity, and that coming back to haunt them. That's a really big one for me. And then one that I've been like, I haven't yet, but I desperately, desperately want to find some way of using like the found footage horror trope in an RPG. Ooh, I don't know how it would work. But I that's like, the big thing on my to do list is to try to figure out how I can do that.
Amelia Antrim 6:29
Because you'd almost have to do it like a series of vignettes or something like that, but I don't know how I mean, without just like narrating a game for players, that's unless you can get them to like, come up with their own. Oh, that's interesting. Because Yeah, it's a thing that's I mean, is really prevalent in horror, but it's really hard to do in that sort of, like narrative sense.
Christine Prevas 6:50
Yeah, that's my big puzzle right now.
Amelia Antrim 6:55
Right, I love that in this outline, you continually just use the word spooky is like the most Ryan thing to do it's like a little bit naughty like I mean I know that spooky and maybe we should get into that to like the difference between spooky and horror. But I just love that you continue to use the word spooky. I gotta lean into it.
Ryan Boelter 7:15
I'm leaning to the spooky spooky I at least at least enter into spooky.
Amelia Antrim 7:20
My my son at one point kept saying Scooby which cracks me up Is there anything spooky or horror related that you'd like to explore that you haven't gotten to already aside from like the found footage thing that we just talked about? Are there any other hacks that you'd like to try out? Yeah, one of the things that I've been working with lately in some of my thinking some of my design
Christine Prevas 7:49
is is thinking about the way memory works in horror. I have a monster of the week. mystery that I've written and published. for other people to play, because I don't have enough friends to play with, based on it by Stephen King, which is a story that's very much all about memory. Thinking about Miss remembering things or things that you block out of your memory because they were too scary too spooky. And thinking about the ways that fear can bring back certain memories, things like that. That's one thing that I'm thinking about. I want to do a lot more like in person spooky games. My, you know, the cast of unexplored places plays remotely, we're all in vastly different places. And I just moved to a new city where I don't have a lot of friends to play games with yet. So I've been I've been longing after games like dread that are like games you have to play in person.
Unknown Speaker 8:54
Christine Prevas 8:56
And then I guess the other thing that I've been wanting to explore later Lately, I've been re watching Netflix is haunting of Hill House, which I is my new October tradition. Only a year old and yet, it's already a tradition. So thinking a lot about that sort of like melancholic, Family Centered horror. In addition to obviously the haunted houses, which I said already, I'm obsessed with thinking about the way horror works and sort of family circles, and I've been really looking forward to I backed, quietest, melancholic horror game on Kickstarter that should be coming out soon. So that's my life. Once I get my hands on that this is the thing I want to think about.
Ryan Boelter 9:39
That's amazing. Awesome. Well, now that we know a bit more about you and unexplored places, let's get into the core of this episode. Our goal with these episodes is to help people become the best players possible at the table.
Amelia Antrim 9:52
With Halloween right around the corner. We want to kind of keep the theme going. So we are going to talk about playing in You heard, whether you're running the game or not, and then what we can do as players and jams and what we can bring to the table to enhance that experience for everyone involved.
Ryan Boelter 10:13
So let's start really basic and build from there. What can people expect when diving into plane a spooky or horror RPG?
Christine Prevas 10:23
Yeah, I mean, I think sort of the foundational thing here, which is going to sound like a really obvious like a really cold to take and yet I think is not something that people necessarily think about. We can expect to be scared, right? Like, we that's what we want. That's what we go into the game wanting and that is so different. I think from the mode in which people often play games. You know, we want to be surprised that's pretty typical. We want to be excited. That's pretty typical, but like wanting to be scared as a separate thing. And I think You know, and a lot of everyone plays tabletop RPG differently, of course. And I you know, I like to say that I've never played any game in my life to to win. But I think that even more so than with normal RPG, you can't go into a spooky or horror RPG wanting to win because characters don't win in horror. Even even when you know someone makes it out alive, they haven't won, they're still in a spooky maybe this is where we differentiate spooky and harder and harder, you know, characters leave traumatized or even when they escape it The story is complicated that success into something that isn't victory. And so I think it's important in horror games to be conscious of the fact that you can't be playing to win in that way if that makes sense. Yeah, absolutely. It those two things work at cross purposes, the desire to be scared, and the desire to win. Hmm.
Amelia Antrim 12:06
Yeah, I think that's a thing that you have to acknowledge in basically, I think any kind of game that isn't sort of like a silly or light hearted, it's a thing that you know, with, with more dramatic games, which are the kinds of games that I like to play is recognizing that you're putting your character in situations where bad things might happen. And you have to be okay with those consequences, because otherwise those decisions don't feel meaningful. And I think going into a horror game with that kind of knowledge to have like, things are going to happen to my character and they're going to come out of this experience fundamentally changed and being okay with that, not only as a player like being scared, but as as for your character to recognizing that they're going to come out different to is really important.
Ryan Boelter 12:54
Yeah, I would say you almost basically quote unquote win at spookier hard Games if you get scared, yeah, while you're playing. Cuz that's kind of the goal. And when you reach that goal, you you basically win. whether or not your character is fine at the end. You know, that's different story. Yeah,
Amelia Antrim 13:15
yeah, you as a player winning is very different from your character winning, absolutely.
Unknown Speaker 13:20
good way of phrasing.
Amelia Antrim 13:21
differentiation is very important. One of the things that we like to highlight very often on this show, like in pretty much every episode, is the use of safety mechanics and a good session zero. So you think even if you are doing a one shot, at least having that conversation at the beginning, what do you think people should focus on during that session zero or that discussion at the beginning of the game, when they're playing horror games that they might not normally do in a regular session? Zero?
Christine Prevas 13:52
Yeah, I think I think it's less than there things you think about that you wouldn't think about in a normal session zero as that the things that are struggling in that conversation might be slightly different. I think in most sessions years we talk about what's the tone of this game? how light hearted Do we want it to be? how dramatic Do we want it to be? That kind of thing. And I think because there's so many types of horror, that that's an important thing to be pretty upfront about, you know, horror can be anything from like, what we do in the shadows, which is really funny and not that scary, but very light hearted to you know, something pretty serious like haunting of Hill House or like, you know, I'm actually going to rattle off a list of horror films be you know, yeah, there's
Amelia Antrim 14:37
a difference between like body horror, psychological horror, you know,
Christine Prevas 14:42
is it more of a thriller or is it more of a melancholic dramatic horror is it it's where that let where you want that lens to be? Do we want the focus to be on the scary things happening on the characters reaction to the scary thing that's happening on the emotional relationships between the characters is They're going through those scary things or their individual journeys as they try to get through it or is it on the the spectacle of it? Is it on how much blood and guts can we throw on our metaphorical screen? So I think tone is really key because everybody at the table needs to be buying in at the same level. And so being upfront about that, I think is key. Another thing is when you when you know what type of horror you're working with, whether this is horror comedy, whether this is is you know, suspenseful thriller, psychological thriller, whether this is a ghost story, there's a way in which every every horror Character is a certain kind of, I feel like the phrase trope gets treated like a dirty word. And I want to be clear that when I say trope, I don't mean like a cliche. I mean, like an and a specific type that gets used and that that could be cliche, but could also like when when wielded with care can be like a really compelling tool to use. I think that all Character all harder characters are in essence, the series of tropes and you want the tropes that you have to fit the tone of the game and the type of the horror game that you're playing. You wouldn't want Scooby Doo to be in saw. Oh, no. But by the same token, you wouldn't want jigsaw to be in Scooby Doo. You know, there's a big difference between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and say, you know, one of the characters from haunting of Hill House. I'm going to reference haunting of Hill House a lot because again, I'm currently re watching it. So apologies in advance in your mind, if you haven't seen it, you should go watch it. It's excellent. So So thinking about what type of horror you want to play lets you create characters in a way that will make them well suited to that story. If you're telling like a, you know, a final girl kind of story, you want to have the right characters for that or You're going to run into places where you hit roadblocks. Because the thing that your character is interested in isn't the thing that's getting focused on or getting played out. And I think the third thing that's really important, as with all sessions, zeros, you know, safety, setting boundaries, things like that. It becomes especially prevalent and harder because horror as a genre where things that are often triggering or upsetting for people come up. We're talking about fear. We're talking about anxiety, we're talking about trauma, you know, but I think that specifically, what's important is not just knowing, here's what scares me. Let's not put this in. But it's it's knowing the difference between knowing the difference between safety and comfort. Yeah, yes, because you want things that are going to make you uncomfortable. Yes, you want things that are going to scare you, but you don't want things that are going to make you feel unsafe. I tend to find That, like, I know there are a lot of safety mechanisms out there. I tend to find it for harder lines and veils system is super keyed into that because you can say, this is something I'm scared of, but it won't be unsafe. So I don't want to linger on it. You know, I don't want us to spend an entire scene in a pit full of snakes. But if there are snakes, and I'm scared of them, that's okay. But, you know, I really, really, like I will shut down if we broach the topic of certain kinds of abuse or something like that. And being able to differentiate between those so that you can keep yourself safe but also not remove the possibility of discomfort from the game I think is really key.
Ryan Boelter 18:40
Yeah, sometimes it's a very fine line to walk because when you're talking about horror and talking about getting into that really uncomfortable, like scary place, it's hard to differentiate sometimes between what's what's really traumatic, and what's just going to make you uncomfortable. Yeah, I noticed a lot of good things to you, you could try covering as much as you can in a lion's unveil sort of way, but having kind of what sometimes is called like a landmine thing in play, where during play if something gets way too intense and you didn't anticipate it, yeah, absolutely, you can trigger that mechanic and, and kind of say, Okay, let's let's pause for a second.
Amelia Antrim 19:24
Yeah. Yeah, I think having that ongoing discussion. I mean, in any game, this is the thing that we've hounded to death on this show, I think at this point is that, you know, communication is important to your group is a relationship, talk to each other, all of those things, but just a speaking up for yourself, I think becomes all the more important in a situation like this, where you are playing with things that are potentially uncomfortable. And, you know, the session zero is not the end of that discussion.
Christine Prevas 19:51
Ryan Boelter 19:53
I mean, we like I really like taking part of the session zero and highlighting things that you know, are Very scary. And you want to experience those sorts of things in the game, knowing that that you'll be prepared and be scared for them. Yeah. Like I am personally afraid of heights. If I had to deal with like heights and in picture myself in those sorts of situations, I would be very uncomfortable and very scared, but it's nothing that would be traumatic or anything like that for me, I would highlight that as something that you could use, quote unquote, against me in the game to to basically like instantly, like, get me into that sort of mood.
Amelia Antrim 20:37
Yeah, yeah. I think being aware of those like, bad uncomfortable and good uncomfortable things too. Because I think that is an important thing to say like, these are the things that do bother me and a good way to and sailings or, you know, to give your GM those tools to, yeah,
Unknown Speaker 20:54
Ryan Boelter 20:56
So, also in the same vein as a good session, You know, prepping for the game sometimes means controlling the ambience in the room where the game is being played to help set the mood. So what sort of things can we do to help set a mood for a spooky game?
Christine Prevas 21:15
Yeah, um, so as I mentioned, I don't frequently play in person, especially with with the unexplored places, which is my really my big my big spooky game. But I've played a lot of board games and done a lot of other spooky things. So this advice is coming less from a place of like getting your table set up and more of a place of like, just generally creating like a good spooky mood. First of all, I mean, I think that that music can be great. One of my favorite board games in the world, which is called last night on earth, and it's a zombie game comes with a CD. Yeah, and just like having that like appropriately scary music can be excellent. I love candles and like getting the lighting You know, light enough that everybody can see but still dimmer but I think that being in a space that is traditionally has some association with spooky things, basements, campfires even just like instead of being at the table sitting on the floor sort of creates this feeling of like being like children telling spooky stories that I think can be really effective that way.
Ryan Boelter 22:27
Oh, man, I just pictured like, covering your dining room table with a big sheet. And underneath the table
Christine Prevas 22:33
this sounds perfect.
Ryan Boelter 22:36
All that would be all Can Can you imagine how spooky that would be? Not knowing not being able to see beyond the sheet. But like
Christine Prevas 22:44
lights or lanterns? Yeah.
Amelia Antrim 22:47
You like put the candles like outside of your table 10th thing too so like that. It's casting shadows and stuff outside then
Ryan Boelter 22:53
they'll be the worst. Pets like cats walking around and
Amelia Antrim 22:58
Ryan Boelter 22:59
I'm talking What look the shadows on the sheets? Not your cats turn it on for you. But yes, please save your candles, five lanterns, perhaps?
Amelia Antrim 23:11
Yeah. Burn your candles responsibly.
Christine Prevas 23:15
The other thing that I think could be helpful is like props. I mentioned flashlights just now. But I think even like, again, I think about dread, I think about how having that the physical thing to represent the scary ness, like the Jenga tower can be really helpful, but also like, having a have like as a player having a prop that like maybe your characters, a photographer and having a camera or, you know, just having something physical to ground yourself, I think could be like a really fun way of heightening that that aura and that ambience. Yeah, absolutely.
Amelia Antrim 23:50
Yeah, I think it keeps you more connected to what's happening in the game to which I think anything that sort of prevents distraction in a situation like this where you're trying to build tension. It's going to help Yeah. So you've had a good session zero. You've talked about your safety tools. You're in a spooky basement with your candles and your pets are doing fine. No fire. No one's on fire. We mostly focused on the player side of things here. But I think it would help to give some context for our player advice to know, kind of how the GM is putting things together. So what sorts of tools do you as a GM use to kind of provide some of that horror in a game?
Christine Prevas 24:31
Yeah, I think for me, the major thing is that her there's such a wealth of things to draw on. There's such a there's such an incredible vocabulary of horror, visual vocabulary, you know, thinking about storms, thinking about dark woods, thinking about abandoned houses, thinking about creepy basements, bathrooms where the lights are flickering. There's so many Like, just there's so many tools in your arsenal to draw on that sort of immediately set that mood. It's a great starting place for trying to figure out how to get people into the right sort of mindset for being scared. I think especially bringing in all of your senses not only what have you seen, but what are you hearing? Are there wolves howling in the distance is the wind you know. creaking through the slightly open door I lost I lost myself on that one. Does it smell like rot? Does it smell like blood? Does it you know, Is it cold? digging about sort of all of those sensory experiences I think is always a really great because of horror is a genre that I think more than most others is so embodied. It's so much about being in your body and and the feeling of adrenaline rushing in your heart pounding and and getting sort of all the senses involved in that really heightens and sort of sets the body up for experiencing fear. And I think that improv is huge for me in horror. I started out as a GM who liked to know what was happening. And I very quickly realized that games are much better when the GM does not always know what's happening. But especially with this because players will flag their interest and flag their fear. And, and it helps to be able to play into that when they're doing that. If if, you know, they say, Well, I don't want to go into the creepy basement, then your whole thing shouldn't be prepared to start in the creepy basement. But also when you know when a player indicates that something they're afraid of might be lurking behind that door, whether or not it's they're being able to play to that anticipation is huge. And then even if it wasn't meant to be there, because able to put it there or put it somewhere else that they don't expect. Can I get can be like a really, really good tool. Um, let's see, oh, dramatic irony is probably my favorite thing to use I love especially in horror characters who are in different rooms and different scenes. And, you know, two people are having an intense conversation about their emotions on the porch and they don't realize that like 20 feet behind them in the room someone else is being attacked is like one of the greatest, especially if you've got players who can buy into, like, accept the fact that they that their character doesn't know everything good player knows. Having having those separate conversations, inform each other and having the player knowledge that of something the character doesn't know inform the way they're playing the character or not playing the character. I is great images. Other thing that I definitely want to flag is the Use of humor in her because horrors so tense. I think the best horror movies and shows and you know things like that. And also games use horror. I mean use humor really well. It's sort of paired alongside fear. Being able to break the tension can be a really important part of horror. If, if we're scared the entire time, it's like running a marathon. It's not going to be as effective as the tension breaking and everyone coming down and feeling safe and then something Starling them again. I think when I think of great moments in horror, they're often the funny ones. I think about Have either of you seen us, Jordan Peel's most recent horror film we haven't. So good is it and I'm gonna paraphrase the line because I know we're a family friendly show. This character is being attacked, is be about to be killed. And she shouts to her. They call it ofili. Oh, but it's basically an Alexa device. she shouts ofili a call the police
Christine Prevas 29:14
and the the smart device says, Okay playing f the police and starts playing the song because it's misunderstood her and it that when I was in the movie theater, everyone started laughing. And then something scary happens. And it's scarier because we've had that moment of relief. I think about characters who sort of function as that tension breaking comic relief. I think about Richie toes here from it or I think about Marty from cabin in the woods are some of the most memorable characters in horror for that exact reason. And, and I think that you need the relief to balance out the adrenaline.
Ryan Boelter 29:51
That's like a bunch of peaks and valleys, like slowly working your way up to higher and higher peaks and like, little bit higher valleys as Well, yeah, so it's not as releasing of the tension over time, until you get to that really big climactic moment when everybody's just, you know, scared out of the pants, basically. Yeah,
Amelia Antrim 30:11
yeah. But that juxtaposition I think is really is really important to have like, okay, we're here, we're like, down here and we're chill and then it feels like so much more sudden when it does happen. And like that moment of horror kind of hits you out of nowhere because you were like lows into your false sense of security.
Ryan Boelter 30:34
And I also, when I was kind of doing some research for this, I was seeing talk about, like, actual character harm versus the looming threat of character harm and how actually harming the player characters in the game is, quote unquote, less scary than the threat of potential harm coming at any moment. Yeah. Because if if you make that harm quantifiable, it's not a mechanic, and not something super spooky and psychological.
Christine Prevas 31:10
I haven't thought about it that way. But I think that's absolutely true. I think it's one thing to to stop the game and say, oh, okay, let me mark off to harm out of the eight boxes that I have here. Yeah. Rather than that sort of visceral. When a character gets hurt in a horror movie, it's hard to tell how badly they're getting hurt. Is that going to be a deadly wound? Is that going to like stop them from being able to do something important later? Yeah. Is this person getting an axe her arm? Like, how bad is that? One of the other types of harm that I think we don't think of as harm when we usually play RPG that I think can be really effective is that not to be like, but like psychological harm or emotional harm. Putting characters in situations where their their body is not the one at risk, but someone they care about, or in a situation where they have to make a difference. And the the mental harm that that decision is going to have on them. I think about the scene in the game until dawn, where one of the characters is given a gun and told that are given a lever and he's told that that this saw blade will either cut his the girl he has a crush on in half or his best friend and he has to do something with that lever that is scarier than the monster bites you in the arm takes three harm.
Amelia Antrim 32:28
I also think about just I mean, I I have always loved games that play kind of with that moral gray area and sort of that feeling of like there is no good decision. That's, that's an area that I really like to explore in games that can is not necessarily singular to horror, but like has that feeling of like tension and anxiety. But I also think about me as a person and one of the things that gives me the most anxiety is the unknown, right? It's not knowing what's going to happen and not being Prepare for it or understand it or whatever. I think that that translates really well into games because I think that that's the thing that a lot of people get kind of tense about is like, not knowing what's coming. Yeah, you know, it's why like, jump scares and like a like that music that sort of like builds the tension. Something's coming, but I don't know what it is. And like, those kinds of things are really scary.
Christine Prevas 33:24
Yeah, I think that that sort of those trope like setups for moments like that where you know, something is coming, but you don't know what is one of the best things I think about, you get that shot in the movie where characters looking in the mirror, and then you get a shot of their face, and then you know that the next thing is going to be another shot of the mirror and there's going to be something behind them, but you don't know what the something is. That kind of thing. Again, it's that like ramping up of the adrenaline, you know, something's going to be there. And I think that again, I think that true, I think that you have to love tropes to play a good game. I think you have to be super willing to play into tropes, sometimes to the point of cliche, but sometimes to the point of like, their common language that helps us all get on the same page. Especially, I think a lot about space in these kind of games. I think even, you know, in a fantasy game, the dungeon space with the tavern space becomes really important. In a sci fi game, the space of the spaceship or the, the space station becomes important, but I think that space is, there's a way in which like, the architecture of a space works on the body is this sort of effective archive you you walk into a space in real life or you imagine walking into a space in a game and you feel things based on your experience with that space or hearing stories about that space. Again, the dark hallway, or the the bathroom with the flickering light or the city street at night time. These are like Is that already Primus to feel certain things and I think that that again with the idea of expectation when you walk into a space like that you expect to be scared and so you're ready to be scared. So I think there can be a lot of fun playing with when to like when to run reward that are going to play into that and like give the player what they're expecting or just off what they're expecting and then also when discovered it when that creepy basement is just totally empty but the scary thing is actually in the like pleasantly lit well decorated kitchen upstairs. I think playing with expectations that way is like one of the best ways of doing horror. Absolutely.
Ryan Boelter 35:41
Yeah, I really love the like having the the big threat or whatever it is that's that's causing most of the horror in these games be very unseen until later on in the session or later on in the campaign. And you just see coming The the effects that it has on the world. Yeah, like, Oh, well, we're in this forest. And now there's all these animals that are dead everywhere. And we don't know what caused it. And then half an hour later you hear noises that shouldn't be in a forest. And now you're like, oh, we're in the forest, where all those animals were. And now we're hearing this noise. Oh, that's not good. Yeah, yeah, that sort of stuff is just amazing to lean into. When you're when you're playing in these sorts of games.
Amelia Antrim 36:37
I think one of my while we're just like talking about all of these trips. I think one of my favorite ones is things that are just ever so slightly off. Likes, yes. Things that are like they're just so close to what they should be, but they're not. And oh. So good. It's so good. Oh, I love it.
Ryan Boelter 36:57
That's amazing. So what sort of Things can we do them as players to add to the suspense and horror instead of just letting the the GM for lack of better word, direct the horror?
Christine Prevas 37:12
This is an excellent question and I think it's a really important one. Because again, the buy in on all parts is like necessary you cannot you cannot be impassive and expect someone else to scare you. It's like having the hiccups and knowing that someone's gonna try to scare you. It never works.
Ryan Boelter 37:28
Christine Prevas 37:30
I think the number one thing is like being willing to put your character in risky, dangerous situations, letting them do like the dumb thing. Like Of course if there's a good creepy staircase that leads down into a seller you as a genre aware human being who has probably seen a horror movie No, no world you ever live your friends. Of course you can't have sex in the woods. Like, why would you do that? Yeah, but your character has to do. If you're trying to play smart, you can't play into that you can't be afraid if you're trying to outsmart the GM or the monster or right, you know the mystery of the setting.
Ryan Boelter 38:19
Well, not to say that you can't, but it's going to be a lot more difficult.
Christine Prevas 38:23
Yes, at that point, you're being contrary for the GM who's also a player and probably, you know, ideally, someone you also want to be having fun. I think a lot about knowing what your character would put themselves into a risky situation for and being upfront about that. Your character has a boyfriend that he he really loves. And if that boyfriend's put in danger, you're going to jump into danger, like flag that make sure that the other people at the table know whether that's just through the way that you interact with that other character. When it's what whether it's just flat out being like this is a relationship that is can be leveraged against my character. Knowing what your characters sort of tragic flaws are? Is it hubris? Is it cowardice? Is it selfishness? And how does it hump them the thinking about, you know, if your character flaw is, if your hair just flies hubris, they're going to jump in because they think they're the person who can save the day. If your hair just was cowardice maybe they want to stay in the safety of the cabin while everyone else explores the noise in the woods. But then maybe the horrifying thing is still in the cabin. Oh no, if your character is less selfishness, maybe they put someone else in danger to save themselves and maybe that comes back to haunt them. Because the character who died because they were being selfish, comes back and attack or you know, that kind of thing. So being upfront with that, and knowing it yourself and also like articulating It whether through action or through just saying it is a great way to like, cue to the to the GM. Like, here's the thing that you can do to put my character in peril. Yeah, these are the buttons, you can Exactly. These are, these are the tools I'm giving you for your toolkit. I think another another big thing, in addition to that is like, not just being honest with everybody at the table about those kinds of things, but also being honest with yourself about, about why you're there about the fact that you're there to be scared, and like respecting your own embodied reactions to play. You're the only buddy you're the only person who can tell if you're scared. And you have to learn how to recognize I mean, most of the time we think like Oh, I know when I'm scared, but like being able to pick up on like, oh my heart's racing now. Or, or or like, physically grimace reactions like when the GM describes the ego Oh, like that, like indulging those physical reactions will help in a lot of ways because on one hand again it flags to the GM that what they're doing is working. Yeah. On another note, those reactions can be kind of contagious. When someone when you're in a horror movie and there's a jump scare and someone else screams, like that ques everyone else. It gives everyone a sense of companionship in their fear that can be used to help heighten that fear. So I think that's a part of it as well is like not only knowing what your character, like What can your character do, to be afraid to be put in dangerous situations to be in peril, but also knowing what things are affecting you And not just letting it scare you, but like, acknowledging
Amelia Antrim 42:06
it's so it's, I feel like it goes back to like a concept that we talked about in therapy all the time because you guys I go to a lot of therapy, but it's just like sitting with your discomfort and just letting yourself like recognizing that you are uncomfortable and then just letting yourself be there for a while, like not trying to downplay it or pretend that you aren't or, you know, so like this physical Yeah, things like, you know, like leaning forward or like, I know for me, like, my shoulders will get tight, or in any of those kinds of physical signs. You haven't just like letting yourself feel those things recognizing that like, that's part of what you are there to do.
Christine Prevas 42:44
Yeah. The other thing is, I think a lot about the difference between going to a haunted house and like an attraction heart haunted house and go into a haunted house with friends. Yeah. And how the presence of other people In the room with you, changes the way you experience fear because it gives you an excuse to perform that fear. When you're alone and something startles you, you often won't scream but if you're with friends and something startles you you'll probably screen you'll probably play up oh my god, I'm so scared or grabbing onto your friends arms, you guys walk through like a creepy dark hallway. And I think that playing RPG with people that are about that can can bring that out as well. And I think embracing the the way that your fear manifests differently in the presence of other people is another good way of sort of thinking about that, and approaching that. Mm hmm.
Ryan Boelter 43:47
Absolutely. And I love the the thought of like using that meta knowledge of the horror genre, the horror tropes and Just kind of at a meta level what you're kind of supposed to expect in the the adventure that you're going through, and kind of forcing your character down the bad paths. Yeah. Is is such a, like a key thing to playing in a horror game especially because, you know, a lot of people say, oh, meta knowledge, that's not the greatest thing. But if you're playing with the meta knowledge of like, Okay, I'm going to go into that creepy basement because it's going to be creepy. You know, just do it. Even though it's not logical. Just do it.
Amelia Antrim 44:37
I think that's a thing, though, that we kind of have to do in all games in certain ways. Because if you stay home, nothing happens. Yeah, yeah. Right. So like, even when you're going out to, you know, go on your d&d dungeon crawl adventure, like, you have to leave home you have to go do the thing and nothing happens. If you don't You so in horror, it's the thing that you're doing is never really like the good choice. But you have to do it or a game won't happen and recognizing that like you have to buy into it. Even if you know it's a bad decision. You got to make a decision. Yeah,
Ryan Boelter 45:17
I wouldn't even argue that doing nothing in a horror game is inviting bad things to happen.
Amelia Antrim 45:24
Also bad. Yeah. Yeah, people don't go into the house because nothing, you know, like, nothing's going on as high as like,
Ryan Boelter 45:31
yeah, I'm just gonna wait on here by the car. You guys go into the haunted house? It'll be fine. It'll be fine. No worry. Yeah, there's something that bad is gonna happen at that car, guaranteed.
Christine Prevas 45:40
I think it comes back to this idea of like, you just can't be trying to outsmart anything. And it's again that idea of like, that you can't be trying to win. You can't be trying to make your character look like the coolest or the smartest or like be the one that lives like genre awareness can be a really good again tropes a really good tool if you're using it the right way. But it can also be a trap. You know, if you're if you have the wrong intentions, then using your your meta knowledge and your genre awareness can put it in a position where you're stopping other people from having fun, whether that's the other players, or whether that's the GM who is now trying to put your character in a situation that you keep trying to outsmart them out of. Mm hmm. Yeah, don't be that. Yeah, it's just a matter of investment if you want to be scared let your character do the scary thing.
Unknown Speaker 46:37
Christine Prevas 46:38
Yeah, it should be that easy. But sometimes it's really hard.
Ryan Boelter 46:42
It is especially when you're used to playing games to when you're playing games to figure out the puzzle, figure out the traps and outsmart the the GM you know, like intricate plot, and everything like that. So you can survive and your friend can survive and you can get the treasure at the end. Whereas treasure in this game is to be scared. And if you're not playing with everybody if you're playing against anybody, then you're kind of ruining it for at least one person. Yeah,
Amelia Antrim 47:12
it's yourself. That
Christine Prevas 47:16
brings me back to the driving your characters like stolen cars kind of thing. We're like your your character can still be precious to you and also die. You can love your character to pieces and also not demand that they have a happy ending. You can be invested in your character and not be like, well, I can't go down the spooky hallway because my character I don't want my character could die. Like, right, it's harder you some of the characters gotta die. Nobody dies. Maybe that's not entirely true. But
Amelia Antrim 47:50
yeah, bad things don't happen or there isn't even the chance of them happening. You. You haven't bought it and I think that's really what this most of the genre comes down to is that you have have to buy it. You have to. You have to know what you're there for. Let yourself be there. Yeah,
Ryan Boelter 48:04
I would say that horror more than any other genre. suspending your disbelief is key to getting that to that feeling of uncomfortable goodness.
Amelia Antrim 48:19
Yeah. I'm comfortable goodness. My business card.
Christine Prevas 48:26
Amelia Antrim 48:29
Another thing that I want to talk about to that kind of goes along with that buy in is letting yourself kind of maintain some of that tension and not constantly trying to defuse the situation. We've, we talked a little bit about meeting those moments of levity to kind of balance things out and to make that contrast more stark. But I think you have to allow yourself like I said before, to to sit with that discomfort a little bit and let yourself kind of Be present in that horror. That's one of the reasons that a game like dread works really well is because you constantly have that tower in front of you sort of simulating that tension, right? Like that constant worry about knocking it over, translates a little bit into some of your own personal anxiety about the story. But letting yourself feel those things and be present in that without constantly trying to break it up with a joke, which is the natural response for a lot of us. I think when something is tense or dark or unhappy, there's, there's a tendency to kind of change that but to kind of remind yourself that this is not the time or place for that.
Christine Prevas 49:36
I think it can be a matter of just checking your impulses that way. Do I feel the impulse to make a joke here because we need to break this tension? Or is it because I've hit a level of discomfort that is actually productive and interesting here, and should I should I resist the urge and dwell in this discomfort or, and I think that can also be a matter of reading the other players at the table. Everyone is is So if we've all been uncomfortable for a while, maybe it's time to break the tension. And maybe that impulse is right. But if things are just starting to ramp up, you know, you don't want to cut the GM off every, you know, 30 seconds with another joke, because things are starting to get intense.
Amelia Antrim 50:18
Yeah, and that's one of the situations I think is is hard to feel out and probably does get a little bit easier the more of these kinds of games that you play. I don't think that there really is a right answer, necessarily, for when is a good time to do that. You kind of just have to feel it out. But it's more of a thing to kind of be aware of, like I said, that's your natural reaction to those kinds of things is to try and ease that. But to just consider whether whether Now is the time?
Christine Prevas 50:43
Yeah, that's definitely something that was a learning process for us on Season One of unexplored places, was at the beginning, everyone's jumping in with jokes and it's it's really hard to build up that tension and to let that tension ramp up. But that is the natural reaction and then as we kept going sort of figured out, figured out how much it was breaking that tension, we all got a lot better about finding the right moments to insert humor and break tension. Rather than just doing it every time we thought of a funny joke to break the tension.
Amelia Antrim 51:14
Mm hmm. Another question that I want to ask here, because I think this does apply a lot to some of the concepts that we've talked about. Do you think that there's a big difference in the way we approach things as a GM or a player in a one shot versus a campaign?
Christine Prevas 51:32
Absolutely. I think there's a huge difference. And I think it's primarily and again, this is going to sound a little obvious, but primarily a matter of pacing, and matter of intensity. When you think about a Harvard TV show, the big bad doesn't show up in the first episode. Again, it's that idea of like, there are hints, you know, all of the animals in the woods are dead, weird things are happening, and that builds up but in a one shot. You really want to get in there. I wouldn't say as quick as you can, but pretty quickly, you know,
Amelia Antrim 52:06
Christine Prevas 52:07
like, minute 10, they should be finding the haunted artifact and reading the Latin that's going to summon the demon that's going to kill them or, you know, the ghost should be appearing. Like, the quicker you get in there for a one shot, the more room there is to explore what happens once the monsters there once the heart is there. Whereas that slow build with a campaign, you know, you don't want to reveal your hand too quickly. Because once you hit that peak, there's nowhere to go. So it's, it's, you know, you have to slowly work your way up to the scariest moment so that you can keep getting scarier. Yeah.
Amelia Antrim 52:48
Do you think that that I would think then in that case, a one shot would present a particular difficulty because you don't have time to build up that tension the way that you do in a campaign you can play like one or Two Sessions of just like things kind of feeling off before you reveal like what's really going on whereas in a one shot I don't think I don't know if you have the time to really like, ramp things
Christine Prevas 53:12
up like are you just think it's a matter of scope? Yeah, I'm trying to puzzle through this I think it there's a ramp up, but each step is not exponential, but each step is is taller for imagining a staircase. You know, you're ramping it up, little, little, little, little, little, little little in a campaign, whereas you're still ramping it up in a one shot, but they're much larger steps. Yeah, it goes from someone who's a weird noise outside. someone sees a creepy shadow in the mirror behind them. Something breaks a window rather than like, there are rumors that animals have been turning up dead and then like, oh, someone found like Animal corpse, or is this? Not it? I don't know where this example is.
Amelia Antrim 54:06
Totally. Yeah, you have like multiple steps to each scary thing rather than having the scary thing. It's
Ryan Boelter 54:14
kind of getting to that that final level of like, at the peak of the horror in the adventure at different times because in a campaign it ramps up slower. But it's kind of if you look at the differences between the peaks and valleys, it probably is all kind of like averages out to a straight line toward the top in both a one shot and the campaign is just the the angle of that steep line. Yes, much higher, steeper staircase much steeper in a one shot for sure.
Christine Prevas 54:49
It's like you took the same graph and you just skewed it to wildly different ways on Photoshop. Yep.
Unknown Speaker 54:57
When it's very, very tall when it's very, very long.
Ryan Boelter 55:02
Although I've been watching Stranger Things for the first time, within the past seven weeks or so, I know
Christine Prevas 55:14
I always envy people the opportunity to watch the thing I loved for the first time. Uh huh.
Unknown Speaker 55:19
Because I always wish I could have so
Christine Prevas 55:22
I'm glad please enjoy it for me. It's wonderful ever watch it for the first time again side
Unknown Speaker 55:27
Ryan Boelter 55:30
I'm so it reminded me like minor spoilers for season two for anybody that's listening. That hasn't seen it yet. They kind of reveal the big bad in the I think the first episode of season two. And it's just like the
Amelia Antrim 55:46
pacing of that season was like it was
Ryan Boelter 55:48
it was a little bit but it still worked for me. Because I'm really big into the Eldridge sort of horse sort of thing. So getting like this like faraway glimpse of this Saying this gigantic thing and then not being able to interact with it until much later on. was creepy as heck.
Unknown Speaker 56:09
Ryan Boelter 56:11
Yeah. And and I, there's something to be said about like, yeah, you can see the big bad in the first episode of your campaign effectively as long as it's not like an ever present threat
Christine Prevas 56:23
yeah you don't be fighting the big bad in the first race
Amelia Antrim 56:29
that is there
Ryan Boelter 56:31
Yeah. I can imagine that being especially if it's only one character and now that Character actually interact with everybody else and knowing that this thing is out there and everybody that doesn't believe them. Yeah. Yeah,
Unknown Speaker 56:42
I was gonna I was gonna say something but I don't wanna I don't want to spoil season three for you, so I won't.
Ryan Boelter 56:47
I'll thank you. We're halfway through that one.
Amelia Antrim 56:52
That was good.
Ryan Boelter 56:55
All right. Alright. Um, is there anything else or any final advice? You want to add about playing in a spooky game or a horror game before we finish today's discussion?
Unknown Speaker 57:06
Christine Prevas 57:08
I mean, I've 1,000,001 things to say about horror, which is why I'm doing a PhD on it. So I don't want to like sit here and lecture on the genre or anything like that. But I'm training if there's anything I really wanted to flag discussion that I missed. I don't know that there is I think we kind of hit on everything. Good job. Excellent. Well, moderated discussion. Thank you. Yeah, I just think like, being scared is is fun. being in control of being scared, being scared in a controlled situation is, I think the best feeling in the world. And I think that that game plays such a fun, interactive way to do that can often be even more rewarding than just watching a horror movie. And so I love Games. I guess the only thing that that we didn't, that didn't come up with was the issue of character control. that a lot of games Yes, harder games have sanity mechanics or things that cede control of the character to the GM from the player. And I dislike this personally. So just I guess just like a thing to be conscious of if you're running a game is like, making sure to give the players full agency of their characters and then as a player, making sure to use that agency wisely. There should be times when your character is too afraid to move and the GM shouldn't have to take your character from you to enable those to happen. Yeah, you can let those happen. If something if your characters were spheres right in front of them. It is like a totally valid move for you to make to say like, I can't do anything. I'm frozen to the spot. Yeah, and sometimes those can be the best moments that come up and play like this.
Ryan Boelter 59:02
Hmm. I have seen, I believe a couple games that handle the the quote unquote mind control thing. Well, it's always a matter of the player gets to choose that from a list of consequences. You have the agency to say, Okay, in this situation, this, this makes sense narratively, and I'm going to trust you with this.
Christine Prevas 59:26
Yeah, I like that a lot. Because it's again, it can be a really useful it can be interesting Sunday give the GM control of your character for whatever reason, but it shouldn't be the default. It should be a choice as much as anything else is neutral. And it definitely shouldn't be locked. Very true. role with mental illness.
Ryan Boelter 59:48
Yes. No. Looking at you palladium.
Christine Prevas 59:54
You every flu related game ever.
Ryan Boelter 59:57
Oh, yes. That's true, too. Yeah.
Amelia Antrim 59:59
Yeah. No, I think there's some Anybody said for it almost feels like you have more agency when it is your choice to hand those things over. Like you are saying, I am okay with this, I will allow this. Yeah. And you know, don't I thing that I want to reiterate about the genre as a whole is don't feel compelled to do anything that you don't want to do either. You know, we talked about the difference between being scared and being uncomfortable. And, and I think that's a really important thing to sort of understand about yourself and to just vocalize for yourself. Like I think playing these kinds of games is definitely worth a try. And I, for one, love games that are very complicated and messy and allow us to explore emotions and situations that we can't do in real life in a safe space. But part of being in that safe space is advocating for yourself. And so I think that that's really important. Yeah, to do and to make sure that you're playing with people who respect those lines for you. Absolutely, but we say that like
Christine Prevas 1:01:03
Amelia Antrim 1:01:08
and I will die on
Christine Prevas 1:01:09
so many hills. It's a wonder I'm not dead yet.
Ryan Boelter 1:01:15
Awesome. Well, thank you so much for sitting down with us. We really really appreciate this
Christine Prevas 1:01:20
course. Thank you guys again for having me this was amazing.
Amelia Antrim 1:01:23
Do you want to remind everybody where they can find you and your progress?
Christine Prevas 1:01:27
You can find me on Twitter at see previous PREVAS You can find the games that I've designed h.io slash see previous. Currently for the month of October, all of my spooky hardware games are on sale in a bundle for $6 and 66 cents. So pick those up before the end of Halloween if you have the chance. I think they're very good. And then you can find my podcast the unexplored places at unexplored cast and our email@example.com slash unexplored cast.
Ryan Boelter 1:02:02
Awesome. Well, thank you again and thank you so much to everyone for listening. Definitely check out unexplored places for some really great actual play. And also Tune in next week where we start diving into character creation for yet another game that we are both really excited about covering.
Amelia Antrim 1:02:23
Character evolution cast, like Character Creation Cast is a production of the one shot Podcast Network, and can be found online at www dot Character Creation cast.com. head to the website to get more information on our hosts and guests, or even find some of our character sheets. Character Creation Cast can be found on Twitter at Creation Cast. I'm one of your hosts Amelia interim, and I can be found on twitter at ginger reckoning, or other host Ryan bolter can be found on twitter at Lord Neptune. Music for this episode is used with a Creative Commons license. Or with permission from the podcast that originated from. Further information can be found within the show notes. This episode was edited by Amelia and from further information for today's guests can also be found in the show notes. Thanks for joining us. And remember, we find that the best part of any role playing game is character creation. So go out there and create some amazing people will see you next time.
Amelia Antrim 1:03:39
Now we got to read some show blurbs show blurbs.
Unknown Speaker 1:03:44
Show by show.
Ryan Boelter 1:03:47
Character Creation Cast is hosted by the one shot Podcast Network. If you enjoyed our show, visit one shot podcast com where you will find other great shows like a woman with hollow eyes.
Amelia Antrim 1:03:58
A woman with hollow eyes is a podcast adaptation of one shots livestream dramatic invisible son actual play discover a world of magic secrets and supernatural civic disputes in our unique take on Saturday in the first season James d'amato cat cool and SNL writer Alan lyric, our lead on a mind bending adventure by GM Darcy Ross. Even if you already saw the streams you want to listen to this podcast for the incredible soundtrack, composed and edited by will Leventhal get it by searching for a woman with hollow eyes or Darcy Ross on iTunes Google Play or your favorite podcast app.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai