Thursday, November 15, 2012

Player Stories

We just had an amazing game of EPOCH playtesting the new scenario, Road Trip (released in early December).  What was especially interesting; the scenario itself was only a small part of the game experience.  It was the story the players wove about their characters that was truly fantastic.  The players deserve all the credit.

A group of friends travelling to an isolated cabin for a getaway turned into a story about how two war veterans were failing to adjust to modern life, how their friend-of-a-friend who seemed to be a well meaning hippie, was a drug baron working with a major cartel, and how another of the friends was an undercover FBI agent sent to gain his confidence, obtain information and apprehend him.  In one scene we had four interwoven flashbacks leading to an inception style sequence where it turned out that the drug baron was also planning to eliminate the FBI agent via her old school friend. Meanwhile the micro-brewer, who used some illicit substances to spice up his products, revealed how a bungled robbery had turned him into a murderer.

This was a fantastic story – so funny in places it made people cry with laughter, and also fairly haunting and shocking.  It was entirely created by the players and far more interesting than the scripted scenario. This has been a fairly common experience in running EPOCH – so why does this seem to be the case? 
Here’s my theory.  The way that characters are created in EPOCH really allows the players the time and space to feed ideas off one another, and slowly bind things together into really tight, awesome character stories.  But it’s not just about the generation, it’s also about pressure.  The challenge round mechanic, which encourages people to strive to make their characters interesting, and then rewards one character each round, really drives character development.  It’s an extreme incubator process, and each player seems to draw energy and ideas from the others to make their characters story even better. 

The fact that voting for the most interesting character is anonymous seems to take the sting out of the contest element, but heightens competition nonetheless, manifested through ever more poignant and creative flashbacks.  Using the complications really seems to drive more outlandish stories, yet these are unarguably interesting – which makes me think  it would be interesting to experiment with other decks of complications.

These elements put into a framework of horror via a scenario, which threatens both the lives and sanity of the characters with regularity provides the necessary texture and the extreme circumstances to keep things moving for the characters, without forcing the players to step out of character and problem solve or investigate as they might in other such games.

I never designed the game to deliver this particular experience, but I’m hugely gratified that it has.  Of course, as I’m the common element at all the games I’ve run, it could just be me.  That said, I was extremely flattered, and honoured, to receive the following review from a complete stranger on DriveThruRPG.  This, for me anyway, is the kind of feedback that makes all the hard work worthwile:

“Played this for the first time last week. Amazing!!
As with the previous reviewers comments, the system really encourages over the top characters and roleplaying. It was my fault as GM, but the game did turn into a bit of a comedy horror extravaganza.
Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the game, though one player had a gripe with the rules ( maybe because he was the first to die. :-) )
This game has encouraged the players to roleplay more in our regular games ( Call of Cthulhu, Delta Green and WFRP), which makes it worth much more than $7.”


  1. It was a very fun game, and reinforces the idea for me that over-the-top characters are a great thing in a 120 minute story.

    As the characters revealed themselves in flashbacks, the stakes became ever larger to create the most interesting character and win the vote.

    At first horror genre takes almost second place to the character yarns being spun, but serves to be a familiar springboard to launch our characters from.

    The genre quickly comes back into focus before each vote, as players realise the stakes are serious, and mean life or death for our character which they have invested in.

    EPOCH pushes players in just the right amount to contribute and have fun, without being tyrannical.

    Fantastic mechanic, and a great success, congratulations!

  2. Shucks, thanks. The real test is whether another GM with only a surface read of the quick-play rules, and some skeptical players, is likely to reliably get the same experience...