Sense of Loss. Sense of Dislocation.


Massive Attack – Dissolved Girl [Lyrics]


“City Lights” by Susan Coffey

///A tattoo made out of geometric forms and symbols, Triangles. Squares. Connected by Lines., drawn in light-red on sun-bathed skin, decorating the whole of the arm from shoulder to elbow, looking almost like scars, almost but not quite.///

There are times when the city the characters inhabit should be a strange, mystifying, haunting place. Not immediately dangerous, not scary, but… Strange.

They might have lived there their whole life, but one night they will find themselves in an area that’s alien to them. They are looking for someone. Or chasing someone. Or fleeing from someone. And they turn around a corner, and then another one. Or maybe they step out at a bus-stop they never used before. And they look around and… They feel that they don’t quite belong.

A sense of disorientation within the familiar should emerge. They know that they’re in the right place, yet… Still. Something isn’t quite right.

The buildings seem slightly off. The streets are strangely empty and the few pedestrians who still walk them avoid eye-contact, keeping to themselves. There is something about this district that lets the PCs question some established preconceptions.

  • Perhaps a long-ago shut-down school, with heavy chains on its gates, that still draws them towards it.
  • Perhaps a regional or national organization they haven’t dealt with as of yet has an office here, currently closed to the time, but with some windows still curiously lit.
  • Perhaps a cemetery looks slightly older and weirder than the ones they have driven past in the last few years.
  • Perhaps a store stands out, selling some obscure/arcane/occult/foreign pieces they would have never expected to find in a local shop.
  • Perhaps a building that looks strongly out of place, but they can’t quite put a finger on WHY.
  • Perhaps a historical location or building with connections to an important event in the regions past that they never heard before.


  • The City (and I will try to talk about the city as a quasi-NPC later…) should be large enough to hide something weird. Something strange. Or just something quirky. Something to be built up into a sub-plot later down the line, to spark the players creativity and curiosity.

    ///
    This is influenced by something that happened to me almost 15 years ago. I was pretty tired after a night out, and kind of slept through my bus-stop. When some kind passenger finally woke me, as they couldn’t remember me ever taking that bus so far, I half-panicked asked the driver where I could get out to catch the next best bus back. I got out at the station he indicated, but had to wait for 30 minutes for the next bus back, as it was after midnight on a work-day.

    And I wandered around a bit. It was autumn, and while not particularly cold, I preferred to move around. When I turned a corner, I didn’t believe my eyes: A WW2 bunker. Almost squarely inside city limits. Not 3km away from my home, not 2km away from my school. Standing there. Rotting away, stacked with “danger” signs. I explored a bit and nearly had a heart attack when a cop tapped me on the shoulder a few minutes in. I was listening to my walkman and hadn’t heard him approach. They were looking for someone and harshly reprimanded me to at least not go exploring a dangerous structure at night.

    The next day, I wanted to go there again, but couldn’t find it. Because I was so tired and panicked the night before, I misremembered the stop I got out at, and the area looked utterly different during the day. A few days later I asked my history teacher, and he gave me the address. Still, for a few days I actually had one of those “Did that really happen…?” thoughts going through my head.
    ///

    ##########################


    Godsmack – Serenity [Lyrics]


    “***” by invisigoth88

    ///Twins in matching black tops and burgundy skirts. Beautiful. Striking. Their hairstyle the only difference, yet it is enough to set them apart. Their smiles, when focused, melt the coldest heart.///

    It’s all too easy to concentrate on the weird creatures, insidious antagonists and otherworldly affairs. But it’s crucial to remember the personal side of it all. Even with a cosmic war being fought between two power-blocks inside the shadows of the world, there should be those moments where this all takes a harsh back-seat and the PCs innermost thoughts come to the fore-front. It doesn’t even have to be something as drastic as a Quiet in Mage.

    While modern RPG wisdom seems to strongly favor “skipping to the meaty bits”, I always like to give something that’s basically “downtime” its own place and focus. It helps to build the mood you and your group are going for.

    Troupe Style really shines here. Look at the PCs you are working with. Think of a personal, intimate moment for each of them. Then scribble down some NPCs for each of those moments and assigns behaviour, mood and goals to each of them. As succinctly as possible. Then build towards one of those moments as naturally as possible. (Alternatively, you could just reserve a session for a “A day in the life of…” session)

    Then give each of the non-focused players one of those NPCs to play and… Yeah. Play it out. Try to not to create rules-using moments and/or fudge the rules for a seamless experience. Don’t force anything. Let the situation develop. Don’t shy away from incorporating plot-hooks, -seeds, -advancements or -resolutions into those moments, either, if they fit the bill!

  • Perhaps one of them will be snowed in a diner during a heavy storm, and share a moment of interpersonal connection with total strangers. (Think Frasier)
  • Perhaps they spend an evening at their favourite coffee place and talk about books, coffee and music with some other regulars, baring some of their fears and anxieties in the process. (Think Friends. … And, well, also Frasier.)
  • Perhaps they’re having a fun night out and get to dance and drink and flirt and get some stress-relief that way. Meeting interesting people and interacting with others who want to dance away /something/.

  • Whatever fears or problems a character is experiencing, try to focus on them in a slow, dedicated session. For each player. The more comfortable the players are with each other, the looser the scenes can be and the deeper into characterization this can go. But you’ll be surprised how much you can learn about a characters motivations and goals even from “game-night buddies only” gamers if you give it a strict enough framework for them to fall back to.

    For me, games like Mage and Vampire (and even Shadowrun, to be honest…) always shined when the PCs got enough chances to interact with more than just the setting’s premise. Just think about it: Sometimes you sit at a Starbucks, scribbling some notes into your laptop or notebook, drinking some coffee, listening to the store’s or your own music and watching strangers, perhaps flirting, perhaps even striking a conversation. And those moments are often very… Personal. Very intimate. And they often help you to deal with some thoughts. Or just help to relax and focus and regain strength and purpose. Let the PCs experience those moments too, don’t just gloss over them. Don’t brush them away to get on with the action.

    ///
    The inspiration for this come, entwined, from two sources. A theoretical and a practical one. The theoretical one was that one Babylon 5 Episode where a space battle was being fought outside the station, but the episode focused on smaller stories inside the station. Just characters interacting with each other. … It was one of the more emotionally powerful episodes.
    And it led me to once do something similar during a Rogue Trader game three or four years ago. During a warp-storm, the PCs were each confined to their areas of the ship. And so I focused on each of them in turn, letting the other player’s be the “local” NPCs. The Rogue Trader had his ship-crew, the Enginseer had his engine-deck crew, the Navigator her entourage, the Void Master had the ship’s Armsmen with her. The session lasted about six hours, and we had more than one hour per PCs. And in this hour, they actually developed and advanced relationships with their underlings which lasted until the campaign’s end. It made the rest of the campaign so much better, as many NPCs evolved from “background figure” status to actors with their own emotional weight for the PCs. It really helped with immersion and involvement.

    If it can work in a 40k RPG, it will work in the Urban Fantasy/Horror game you’re running. ;)
    ///

    Matt’s bag of Urban Fantasy/Horror Inspirations, Ideas and Ideals.

    tl;dr: This thread will be filled with music, pictures and text snippets which mean to help people run games in the wider Urban Fantasy genre (which for me right now is oWoD, nWoD and Dresden Files when it comes to games owned and actively played) as well as/or at least giving already seasoned GMs some more food for thought.

    Right, let’s expand this short explanation.
    Because I’m preparing for a M20 chronicle in the, hopefully not too far off, future with players whom I consider worlds more familiar and mature than I ever was with any players when Mage was actually a new and current game, I’ve started preparing for it. One part are the, slowly growing, playlists I keep on Spotify and my own harddrive. (It’s sad how much of music which I’d love to have available fully online still aren’t cleared by their labels. And it’s doubtful they ever will be, too. *sighs*)

    Another part is a very slowly growing archive of pictures. Photographs I’ve taken myself, taken by friends as well as stuff that I find online. Most of it I will be able to attribute and credit properly. For some, even reverese GIS failed me.

    Yet another part are text snippets. During the last few weeks I found enough free time to visit several cities near me, sit down somewhere in their busiest parts and, well, take “textual caricatures” of people who struck me as impressive and memorable in some way. With a clear focus on “What a cool NPC I could craft out of them!”. I will continue doing so for the foreseeable future, and do so at various points in time (Morning, afternoons and nights) to get a really good, broad selection.

    And the final part is having general thoughts about the themes, moods and ideas I want to explore in that game. And as those often grow very broad, they sparked the idea of recording them in their full, broad state instead of just distilling them down for later use.

    Also, writing this stuff out in the open often helps me get some more focus. Feedback/Reflection by others often helps too, so if something strikes you, please comment on it.

    To bring some underlying biases and foundations to the forefront:
    Musically, I listen to a broad array of stuff. From avant-garde Jazz to Extreme Metal. But my most intimate focus is on various styles of “goth” music. Dead Can Dance, Depeche Mode, VNV Nation, Cr├╝xshadows, Grauzone, New Order, Joy Division, Nitzer Ebb, Deine Lakaien, Sister of Mercy, Front 242.

    As you can see, it’s very much 80s/90s focused. And I admit, at times I’m stuck in those times. Which doesn’t mean that I’m already calcified. Far from it, thank the old gods. So expect more modern artists, too. But those acts were, and still are, formative to the moods and images and ideas and themes and scenes of the game I’m thinking about running.

    I was listening to “Winter Fish Testosterone” by Deine Lakaien on my trusty Walkman when walking, at night, across half the city which was covered in snow, to get to a Mage game, carrying nothing but the Mage 2nd Ed core book, a notebook, some pencils, d10s and a TPB issue of Sandman in my messenger back, dressed in black boots, black jeans, black shirt, black leather jacket, smelling of patchouli and grinning widely into the lamplight reflected by the snow because I’d get to see some cool people, two crushes and one best friend very soon, and we’d begin a Mage game set to last for three days. / I also had my very first, extremely intense, relationship pretty much underscored by going dancing twice a months to clubs playing New Order, Joy Division, The Cure, Nitzer Ebb, Goethe’s Erben and others, for over three years. … Such experiences really help forming you.

    And living in Germany, I can (and do!) still get to see all those bands live regularly, still visits clubs where they are played on heavy rotation, and can still dress in all-black, smelling faintly of patchouli while also being a responsible adult. So they stuck with me. Hard.

    If I ever start sounding like an authoritative asshole because of… Please disregard. That will be just my underlying experiences colouring my writing when I lose myself in it a bit too much.

    As this is a pretty “spur of the moment” decision, the first post I will make today will be on the shorter side. The next few will probably also remain slightly “thin”. But they should gain more “meat” with time, when I get more comfortable actually taking comprehensive notes for a change, instead of just relying on my brain. (Heh. Early 30s and it’s already starting to get problematic. )

    Nevertheless… I have no idea how much this will interest and/or help others. I hope that at least some people will get some use out of it.

    And if you like the music here, and do use spotify, consider subscribing to those playlists. They should start growing more and more the coming weeks.

    (I’m aware that most people here will probably now 90% of the music that I’m about to post. But still, even if you know the song, it might be nice to listen to it with a different frame of mind, which I’m hoping to achieve here, through the incidental media.)

    (Also: I, mostly, suggest to look at the picture and listening to the music at the same time, as I often chose them to compliment each other. If they’re independent, I’ll (hopefully!) remember to state so.)

    Let’s keep things in-theme for this weekend.

    To put it shortly, my day today sucks. I have no time to enjoy Skyrim as I have to go to work in the evening and the night through, and am now being kept busy by family-related work which I can’t push away even when I really, really, really want to. Quite aggravating, really.

    But still.
    At least I can keep up the Soule goodness here.

    Oblivion is now five years old. And five years ago, this theme pushed me into exploring the probably least-populated Imperial capital this side from Arrakis.

    Jeremy Soule – Oblivion Theme [The Elder Scrolls IV – Oblivion Soundtrack] | 2006 | Orchestral

    For some reason, many people don’t seem to like Soule’s compositions, but I thoroughly enjoy them. They manage to summon this particular feeling of grand majesty that once was and of a world trying to hold on to its former glory. When you wander around in Cyrodill you can’t help walking past a field of grass with a lake running besides it, with the mountains to the North and the capital city somewhere on the horizon. No person in sight. It’s just you and a grand vista. And the music always fit. Even when then some wolf jumps out of the woodwork and starts biting your face off. The battle music also helped create some tension.

    Many people consider Oblivion to be boring. For me it’s still one of my most favourite games, especially because the pace isn’t always set to 120%. And because you can tell the plot to bite you, if you so desire. I’ve played countless hours of it. I think I never “finished” it. And I still had great fun.

    Let’s go to the Edge of the world.

    Or at least… A virtual world.

    [expand title=”Lyrics + Translation”]
    Dovahkiin Dovahkiin
    Naal ok zin los vahriin
    wah dein vokul mahfaeraak ahst vaal
    ahrk fin norok paal graan
    fod nust hon zindro zaan
    Dovahkiin fah hin kogaan mu draal

    ahrk fin kel lost prodah
    do ved viing ko fin krah
    tol fod zeymah win kein meyz fundein
    Alduin feyn do jun
    kruziik vokun staadnau
    voth aan bahlok wah diivon fin lein

    ————

    Dragonborn Dragonborn
    by his honour is sworn
    to keep evil forever at bay
    and the fiercest foes rout
    when they hear triumph’s shout

    Dragonborn for your blessing we pray
    and the scrolls have fortold
    of black wings in the cold
    that when brothers wage war come unfurled
    Alduin bane of kings
    ancient shadow unbound
    with a hunger to swallow the world
    [/expand]

    Jeremy Soule – Dragonbornd [The Elder Scrolls V – Skyrim | OST] | 2011 | Orchestral

    It’s been… Ages since a videogames pulled me in as much as Skyrim now does. I don’t think that even Oblivion managed it. I know that Mass Effect 1/2 and Dragon Age 1/2 tried, but also didn’t manage to. I think it was something in the late DOS/early Win98 era. Perhaps a Wing Commander title. Perhaps even Mechwarrior 2:Mercenaries. Ultima 6 is the game before THOSE that I remember sucking me in as much as Skyrim now does. And, strangely, for many of the same reasons.

    All I know is that the atmosphere of this game (Err… Skyrim, now and for the rest of the entry…) is utterly amazing.

    Simply slowly walking down the path in a wintery forest, huge mountains to one side, wide snow-fields to the other, two moons and Aurora Borealis above me, in a sky filled with sparkling skies, snow-dust being blown from rocks, the rustling of leaves sharing the sound-scape with a distant wolf-howl and Jeremy Soule’s take on nightly, travel ambient composition… I just stood there, for a second. Marveling at it all. How far we’ve come. How much resources Bethesda invested in atmosphere alone. How immersing a game can be, when it’s not just about the next huge reveal or action scene.

    I’ve spent a whole hour just… Taking walks. Taking in the scenery. Exploring. Hunting deer and elks and defending singular hunters from wolfpacks. I could then go back to the first explored town and craft weapons and enhance the ones I already have. I can cook, I can create potions, I can brew poisons. I can even hunt and collect butterflies!

    And away from this all, the side-quests and parts of the main quests I’ve indulged myself in taking part were great. Much tighter written and designed than in Oblivion. Stealth is wonderful. Stealth+Archery+Poisons is even more wonderful.

    If you PC can handle it, I highly suggest it!
    If you have a 360 or PS3… I’d still suggest the PC version, simply because of all the beautiful, functional and amazing mods that will be swarming us in the coming months. … As well as access to the in-ga,e console to fix one or two of those typical Bethesda bugs. ;)

    If you have 30$ and want a great christmas gift for yourself or someone you know who would enjoy such a thing, get them the 4CD Soundtrack. It’s filled with epic, serene, long, short, upbeat, downbeat and simply amazing music. And every order placed until the 23rd of December will be hand-signed by Mr. Soule himself. :) So! Get Crackin’!

    http://www.directsong.com/mobile/productdetails.php?productid=2240