Covenant – Atlas [Lyrics]
///Feyishly thin and with straight, hard features. Wearing almost form-fitting clothes. Wearing them with class and with style, they add to her striking looks most advantageously. Making her look most captivating.///
The characters enter a room. Someone is sitting at the table, looking up at them. Smiling. STOP SCENE. FOCUS. ZOOM. RESUME SCENE.
The first thing that hits you is the smell. Strong tea. Sweet. Spicy. Mingled with the smell of “old”. Just a slight hint of mold.
You turn your heads to get a better look. The walls are cracked. Oh so slightly cracked. The wallpaper is starting to fall. Behind it, you catch a glimpse of a curious pattern.
The person at the table coughs politely. You look at them. They smile at you and take a sip of their tea. Their eyes close and they ingest the smell, savouring it. It’s now that you realize that you can’t really tell if that person is male or female. If they’re old or young. They’re just… A person. They sit at the table, sipping tea, smiling. They must be a person.
They cough politely. A raspy sound. But not unpleasant. As if someone was scratching… That itch you can’t quite reach inside your ear.
The smell of exotic spices grows stronger. Something is not right. Something does not make sense here. Your eyes dart toward something moving at the edge of your vision. The wallpaper. Now freely falling of the wall, now gives a clear view at that pattern you noticed earlier. It’s the stars. You’re looking at the stars. Unfiltered by atmosphere. Not weakened by light-pollution. You’re looking at the stars.
There is no room. There are no walls. No windows. No table. No… Person.
Another polite cough.
An ancient being looks back at you. Still clasping a mug of tea.
A voice, impossibly loud, yet not hurting you, chuckles a single question: “Where do you think you really are?”
To make something seem really alien, it’s best to let it start out as mundanely as possible.
It also doesn’t hurt to retain some mundane icon, even when the weirdness has fully set in.
Entering a spirit’s sanctum and finding yourself in space is one thing.
Seeing that same spirit drinking tea while it chuckles at you in a friendly way? Not only did you just give that spirit something of an implied backstory, you also made it a very memorable scene because it wasn’t just simply “weird”. It actively provided the divider between “Weird” and “Mundane” for your players to grasp on.
Don’t make it the murder-addicted redcap. Make her the murder-addicted redcap who always listens to Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” album, on a Mini-Disc player.
Don’t make it the hulking, ponderous grove-guardian. Make it the hulking, ponderous grove-guardian that likes to hum a particular set of notes which, when researched, turn out to be a very old drinking song from Imperial France.
Don’t make it the sensuous Vampire. Make him the sensuous Vampire who’s utterly brand-conscious and obsessed with twitter, make him follow some truly mundane, boring people.
You don’t have to have an immediate reason as to WHY. And you will be able to gloss over many of those as simple quirks. But sometimes you might just surprise yourself with a really great idea that connects with your game. And sometimes, more often than you’d think, your players will latch on to that and give you a few theories. Many of which will be golden.
Yes. Yes, this is partly one of the older GM tricks in the world.
But its other part is something that really helps to give Urban Fantasy games that particular “Our world, but… Off.” feeling that makes them really shine.
Neil Gaiman is a master of this. The Serial Killer convention? The old Slavic god who loves to play chess? The two Angelic&Demonic spies who love to feed ducks/drive vintage cars? Hell… Death? (Death! Not DEATH. Although, well, DEATH also qualifies.)
Making something supernatural being 100% “out there” has its uses, yes, of course. But when you mix something mundane and normal with the supernatural, you give it more texture. And you can reinforce your world’s/game’s themes with it. Amusingly enough, I still find Shadowrun to have the best example of this with Dunkelzahn. He was an ancient, great Dragon… Who hosted his own talk show (Wyrm Talk) and ran for the UCAS presidency. Those two things really helped drive home that, yes, he was a Dragon. But no, it was not just a Fantasy Setting Dragon in the future. Dunkelzahn was a MODERN dragon in the future. He interacted with it. He influenced the world around him, but was also influenced himself.
The next time you create or just describe a mystical/supernatural NPC, keep in mind to give it a truly mundane feature/tic/quirk/hobby. Something your players will have a chance to witness. Show them that the NPC isn’t just there because they meet it. It’s there because it exists in the world.