Emotion in Gaming – Part 3 – Internal Machinations

This is Part 3 of a Series on Emotion in Gaming. You can see the rest of this series here:
Most GMs have a basic knowledge of how to describe a scene. But to describe emotion is something else.

I will never pretend to have a full grasp on this, so if you are looking for a full account, you will be left wanting by this post. What I can give you however, is some tips I have picked up that will help you in evoking a few select emotions.

One of two of our strongest emotions, and probably the most difficult to create. Fear can be used to motivate your players when nothing else can. Generally to create fear, you need to first have the ability for loss, and therefore something for the players to lose.

Fear can be created by threatening to take away, or completely removing something that the players have become attached to and/or depend on. Their favourite sword (Fighter), their magical abilities (Mage), their house and home (Nobles), their reputation (Rogue) and so on. This is at its base, a selfish thing, so you will need to observe where your players place their faith.

Or you could use some of the emotions below to evoke connections with NPCs – but we will get to that in a second.

Whilst separation is a good method of evoking fear, another is the Unknown and the Uncanny. The Unknown is that which utterly confuses us, and places us in an alien situation (think Chaos/the Warp in Warhammer). This method is useful, but if overdone, it will be largely ignored whilst your players look for the easiest way to turn things back to normal. The Uncanny, however, is truly disturbing. Take something the players know to be a fact, and change it. Suddenly, and seemingly inexplicably change it. Perhaps their ally the whole time who has proved his innocence starts acting erratically and wont explain why. Perhaps the city starts rounding up magical types who disappear and are never seen again. Perhaps the sun doesn’t rise one day. The Uncanny is where things that should play out as normal do not, and that is where the fear comes from.

Obviously you could combine all three methods mentioned, like so: One day, the sun fails to rise. Suddenly, all magic users seem unable to use their powers, and as the day progresses, the five senses of everyone in the city begin to cross over (the smell colours, hear smells, see tastes and taste sounds).

Love is the other of the two powerful emotions humans have. Love can be used to anchor the PCs to the world, and give them motivation to save it (or to do whatever your campaign entails). Generally to create love, you have to have willing PCs.

Start off by making NPCs (who you know they will be involved with for a while to come) likability. Have them help the PCs out in ways they wouldn’t expect. Have them have some love connections to the world (which are put in dangers and therefore create fear in them). If you make your NPCs emotional, you might be able to get a sympathetic response from your players.

This is by far the most difficult thing to pull off as a GM. Make sure you talk to your players before hand to ensure they are willing to give it a try.

That is all for now. I might make a Part 3.5 should other tips come to light.

I hope to talk to you again soon,

Ben Scerri