Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Tales of the Scarecrow, An Interesting Risk/Reward Mechanic

Recently I got to play LotFP's module, Tales of the Scarecrow, and it made me realize I am a gambler at heart: riverboats, Kentucky fried chicken beards, little black bow-ties, stupid booties, and the whole hammed up shebang. Turns out I like taking risks. It's not just the thrill, but the aesthetic, the foolishness, and the down right humor that ensues when it blows up in my face.

Raggi facilitates the hell out of this, especially in this particular module, which offers the players a dangerous gambit. A meta-gambit!

In the opening of a corn field there is a cabin. Inside the cabin, there is a bunch of Sam Raimi shit going on, but probably not in the way you are expecting. There are some dead bodies and a starving cannibal, but the place is overall welcoming, at least in a creepy Mr. Rogers sort of way. What really catches your attention though are two strange books, a harpsichord, and a magic sword. One of these artifacts, a book titled 'Tales of the Scarecrow,' sets into motion the showpiece of the module: the great gambling fiasco.

"Klaatu Barada Nikto!"

When a character opens up that musty old book, and open the book they shall, the DM steps outside of the game and starts a player dialogue. He, she, or they solicits stories from their table: stories about a scarecrow that gets up to no good with various super natural powers and malevolence, stories that range in spirit from Stephen King to Rob Zombie, and perhaps most of all, stories that put the party in some degree of danger. The choice is ultimately the players on how dark and perilous they make their stories, but the DM has crafty tools to make them greedy. The best is a competitive aspect built in to the exercise, where the best story submitted by a player gets chosen to become the game's reality, and that player gets a large experience reward for writing it; that is, IF THEIR CHARACTER CAN SURVIVE.

You see, the DM informs the players that the more dangerous their story paints the scarecrow, the more likely they are to win, but the more dangerous that the scarecrow story is that wins, the more likely the party is to die. Stories are submitted and chosen privately, so right away, the exercise turns into Star Trek holodeck poker; hilarious attempts at bluffing, super philosophies involving Machiavelli and Sun Tzu, and ultimately, the Riker: soulful staring with the intent to fuck over the party!

What are you willing to do to get that bonus experience? It is a delicate balance between being sadistic enough to submit a winning story, but not being so sadistic you create a no win scenario, ala the Kobayashi Maru.

I tied my Kentucky fried bow-tie tight and went full hilt. I figured, win the experience, then win the right to keep it. This resulted in creating a scarecrow who could animate the corn field, turn into a 100 foot tall giant, and throw lightning bolts by controlling the weather. This was the equivalent to pushing all my chips to black 20 and telling the house, "Fuck it, let's ride."

The wheel spins and sometimes you get lucky. Despite the heinous monster I created, a monster that won the contest, we lived to fight another day, and I got that sweet, sweet, high.

Looking back at it, Raggi nailed this particular idea in the best of ways. It was an 'innovative' exercise for me, because it did something out of the norm, though I am begrudged to use the word 'innovative' because it seems to imply some sort of arrogance or general BSery. It was collaborative storytelling, but it was fresh and it had a very fun, very palatable mechanic that made us all scheme and throw smoke. It was some damn good gaming.

If you haven't checked out Tales of the Scarecrow, head over to your favorite pdf delivery system or the lamentations store and check it out. It is lean, mean, and well worth your time and money. I highly recommend it.

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