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RPG Saturday: The Serial One-Shot – Coraline 2: Electric Boogaloo

February 13, 2010 1 comment

RPG Saturday is a weekly feature which discusses issues related to role-playing games using movies, television, etc. as examples.

Note from Michael: It’s still Saturday for one hour (Pacific Time), so this still counts as an RPG Saturday post!

In my last RPG Saturday post I made a passing reference to the serial one-shot, and I want to talk about that a little more.

Unlike most RPG campaigns, a “one-shot” adventure is not an ongoing story. When the adventure ends, the story ends too — which opens the game up for all kinds of situations and outcomes that a GM normally wouldn’t include in an ongoing campaign. Character deaths, for example, are more acceptable in one-shots, as are games where the characters are the villains or are ridiculously overpowered. Many movie plots work great as one-shot games but not as extended campaigns — Jurassic Park was a good one-shot movie, but an ongoing campaign would be difficult.

A “serial one-shot” is a bit of a hybrid between the one-shot adventure and the ongoing campaign. The story doesn’t necessarily end at the end of the adventure, but each adventure is self-contained enough that if the story does end the players won’t feel like anything was left unresolved. Going back to the movie example, a serial one-shot would be a movie and its sequels.

One good thing about a serial one-shot as opposed to an ongoing campaign is that months or years can pass between adventures, and instead of role-playing that time the players simply update their characters for the next installment of the game and keep going.

…and that’s where my Coraline idea comes in.

The Setup

So you were able to keep your characters on track. They explored the Other World, learned some of the history of the Pink Palace Apartments from Wybie and ultimately defeated the Other Mother. Now years have passed. The characters have grown up. They have jobs, homes and families of their own.

The Hook

One day a character’s home is strangely quiet. Little Emma is gone! The character searches the house frantically, screaming Emma’s name…and then finds a doll dressed just like Emma, staring out from under Emma’s bed with black button eyes.

-OR-

Each of the characters goes to answer a knock at the door. Sitting on the porch is a small package wrapped in brown paper. There are no return addresses, no postage stamps…no sign of a letter carrier. They each take their packages inside and open them to find a little doll, dressed just like them, staring up from the box with black button eyes.

No matter how you set it up, that kind of cool opening scene is tough to do with an ongoing campaign — largely because it’s really hard to role-play all the time between adventures. It can be especially cool if the players weren’t expecting a sequel to the first adventure, and since they aren’t expecting a sequel to this adventure, their tension levels will be lot higher.


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RPG Saturday: How to Keep Your Players on Track – Coraline

February 6, 2010 1 comment

RPG Saturday is a weekly feature which discusses issues related to role-playing games using movies, television, etc. as examples.

Button Your EyesHave you ever wanted to play something entirely different than a standard RPG scenario? Not just getting away from the hack-and-slash, but something outside the whole larger-than-life character thing? Ever think up something quirky and fun that would totally be blast to play, but were afraid that your players would totally ruin it?

Those are the kinds of thoughts I was having when I finally rented Coraline from the RedBox. Sure, it would make a great one-shot game (possibly even a serial one-shot), but let’s face it: the story just wouldn’t go the same way once you involved players. While Coraline happily wolfs down a turkey dinner her first time in the Other World and eagerly returns the next night, players will start looking for a way to kill Other Mother the first time they see her button eyes.

So how to keep things from devolving into a race to see who can a kitchen knife fastest? Your first and best bet of course is to feel out your players ahead of time, sketch out your hopes for the game  (without giving away too much) and see if they’ll agree to go along. However, there are some elements built into the story itself that help keep things from going completely off the rails:

The characters are children

With 11-year-old characters, your player won’t have the stats to mount a physical attack on Other Mother. You also take away a lot of other in-game considerations: the characters obviously will have no weapons, no vehicle and no real influence over NPCs who aren’t their age or younger.

Helpful NPCs

Coraline’s apartment complex is full of bizarre characters who can point any but the most wayward players in the right direction. Wybie is a source of hints and rumors (things he hears from his grandmother), Miss Spink and Miss Forcible know some folk magic and Mr. Bobinsky delivers messages from his mice. Any of these NPCs can suggest courses of action for the players and subtly urge them to action, or help them get back on track if they’re totally lost. Once in the Other World, you can use the Cat, the Other Wybie and even Other Father in much the same way.

Other Mother’s Endgame

What if the players never go through the little door in the first place, or run back after going through the first time and refuse to return? To give them a little incentive, we can have voices whispering in the characters’ rooms at night and items disappearing. If they’ve decided not to go through the door, they probably still won’t, but it’ll be really creepy. When they still refuse, that’s when Other Mother grabs their parents.  If you want to build the suspense leading up to the parents disappearing, you can have other people in the apartments disappear first.

In fact, one option would be having all the above happening before the first time the players meet Other Mother. If she already has all the people they care about by the time they meet her, it’ll give them incentive to play along with her nice act at first — and make the encounter a lot more tense.