Saturday, April 6, 2013

Surviving EPOCH

Character survival is the aim of the game in EPOCH.  The scenario will remorselessly eliminate characters, so the pressure is on to make your character one of those that will survive the horror right through until the end scenes.  While is true that EPOCH is guaranteed to eliminate characters, it is equally true that there are guaranteed to be survivors so long as there is a basic level of engagement with the scenario.  So, how to make it through to the end? 

Because eliminations are the result of collective decision making, there is no guaranteed method, and every group will be different – but here are some methods I’ve observed as a GM that are often the hallmark of characters that go full distance:

1. Start with an interesting backstory 
Okay, this sounds like unhelpful advice because, of course, you are going to create an interesting setup for your character, but how can you get others to judge this as interesting enough to vote for your character?  Use the opening scene and consider some of the following:
  • Introduce conflict, things aren’t going great for the character, be it relationship, career or otherwise.  You don’t need the detail yet, just establish that the character is feeling some pressure because of competing agenda.
  •  Hint at something dark or secret.  You don’t necessarily need a lot of detail, but hopefully you might have an idea for a secret that you could hint at in the opening scene which you can develop later – or even ignore completely, but if you do some basic groundwork now you are likely to look clever later as you weave things together.
  •  Embrace the conflict.  In the opening scene you should get an opportunity to show the audience how your character responds to some minor conflict or challenge.  Milk this camera time for all it’s worth and try and avoid ambivalent or run-of-the-mill responses.
2. Use the flashback for maximum impact.
As the scenario develops you will receive flashback cards – these represent a golden opportunity to have some dedicated camera time to develop your characters backstory.  I have observed that the difference between people who have played EPOCH before, and those who are playing for the first time, is the use of flashbacks.  Veterans understand that a well crafted, clever flashback is a major factor in deciding the winner of a ballot, and use them accordingly.  When using flashbacks: 
  • Clearly establish the scene and time as it relates to current events as while it may be clear to you, the rest of the audience may be confused without this explicit framing.
  • Use it to increase audience empathy, or intrigue about your character – ideally revealing more about the secret you have established, or a major motivation for your character.
  • Again, be as clear as possible when framing this scene to avoid confusion.  Everyone needs to understand what the scene has revealed, and how it relates to the character in order for the flashback to increase your chances of survival.
  • As the game goes on, play flashbacks sooner, and the time between challenge rounds is likely to diminish and you don’t want to miss an opportunity for that spotlight time.

3. Play your Hero/Zero card for maximum effect. 
The Hero/Zero card allows you to have an important and direct impact on another character.  If you do this in an interesting enough way, it may secure you some enhanced interest value.  This is particularly true if you Zero another character.  If you Hero another character, your chances of survival may be increased by a reciprocal act of heroism, but this is only likely to happen if you back it up with some bonding during the next tension phase.  Be sure to milk this for as much as you can to try and secure some additional support.

4. Play up your injuries or trauma. 
Be sure to emphasise the impact of the outcome card you played during the previous challenge round.  The more you emphasise the wounds, the more the other players are visualising the character, and the greater chance you have of making an impression in their minds when they vote. 

5. Add a twist 
Some of the most successful characters add a twist half way though the game.  Often this is something completely out of left-field.  A sudden agenda, secret or history which makes their character undeniably interesting.  The complication card deck is designed to offer a suggestion for this twist, if you are having trouble thinking of something (and it can be hard, once you have a clear idea about a character).  While a complication card often, at first, seems impossible to weave into your characters story – if you think about it laterally there is almost always a way to make it work.  This should instantly give you some new material for a flashback and enhance the interest level in your character.