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Subject: Ghostel Design Blog 3 - The Phobias rss

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Bevan Clatworthy
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This week I thought I'd look at one of the more thematic elements of Ghostel; the Phobias.

Update: Since the writing of this blog, the Phobias have been renamed as scare tactics.

The Phobias started as an evolution of the ghost theme, and were a clear candidate for thematic shoe-horning: I knew I wanted Phobias in the game but I didn't know where. It was during a long drive that the idea percolated through my hind brain, and I thought 'What if the ghosts could ’transform’ into what a person fears the most? How could I represent this in Ghostel? And what would it do to the person who feared them?'

All of the Phobias (clockwise from the top, Spiders, Clowns, The Dark, Snakes and Dolls) art by Tyler Johnson.

The best answer turned out to be the simplest. Since the terror dice are used to represent how scary a ghost has been, it seemed clear the Phobias should affect how the dice work. At first I wanted them to increase the pips on the dice, but what if you'd rolled ones and twos? An extra pip wouldn't make much difference. So how about if the score was doubled? Suddenly the Phobias become useful, even key to scoring big. This moved the Phobias from 'why bother' to 'what would I do without them?!'

The 2nd version of the phobia icons by Kat Orford.

The cards played to determine which Phobias a player can use were pretty straightforward from here. The list came first (Clowns, Dolls, Snakes, Spiders and the Dark all seemed obvious choices!) then the use of a pentagram to add that spooky extra touch was a natural progression of the ghost theme.In the first version of Ghostel, only one Phobia was on each card, but the lack of flexibility meant Phobias could be difficult to use, especially if none of the people in the house are scared of what Phobia cards you're holding. Again the solution was simple; chuck two Phobias on each card! Now each time we played, players weren't holding on to fistfuls of Phobia cards until the end of the game, waiting in vain for the right person to turn up in the house.
Little side note: the prototype versions of the Phobia icons were custom made by a talented lady called Kat Orford. The first versions of these icons were my own scrawling, and looked pretty naff. Kat's icons added some much needed polish to the current prototype.

Do the Phobias work for you? Good thematic choices or just confusing? Does doubling the score make sense? As always, I'd love to hear from you!
 
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Ken Lewis
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BlueCatGames wrote:
Do the Phobias work for you?


I'm having a bit of theme disconnect with the phobia choices from a design point of view.

You pose the question "What if the ghosts can transform into what a person fears the most?"

The first problem I have with that line of thought, in relation to design, is that it essentially leads you to picking "things" as the phobias since you want it to make sense when you say the ghost can transform into it. There is nothing wrong with that except you only chose 4 things, with the other being, as best as I can describe it, an environment (the dark).

I also think snakes and spiders are a bit too close in terms of phobias (both are creepy crawlers in a sense).

I don't see the phobias as a problem, and in fact I really like the idea of them, I just think the choices need a little more work to make them feel less tacked on and a little more integrated into your theme.
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Jeff Warrender
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To me -- and this is not to criticize your game, which sounds like it's at a pretty late stage -- the addition of phobias to a game about ghosts seems to be a case of gilding the lily; the whole point of the ghost theme is that ghosts, themselves, are scary.

I can't help but quote Lewis on the subject:

C.S. Lewis wrote:
Suppose you were told there was a tiger in the next room: you would know that you were in danger and would probably feel fear. But if you were told "There is a ghost in the next room," and believed it, you would feel, indeed, what is often called fear, but of a different kind. It would not be based on the knowledge of danger, for no one is primarily afraid of what a ghost may do to him, but of the mere fact that it is a ghost. It is "uncanny" rather than dangerous, and the special kind of fear it excites may be called Dread. With the Uncanny one has reached the fringes of the Numinous. Now suppose that you were told simply "There is a mighty spirit in the room," and believed it. Your feelings would then be even less like the mere fear of danger: but the disturbance would be profound. You would feel wonder and a certain shrinking—a sense of inadequacy to cope with such a visitant of prostration before it—an emotion which might be expressed in Shakespeare's words "Under it my genius is rebuked." This feeling may be described as awe, and the object which excites it as the Numinous.


I'm not a horror movie buff, but the general idea of ghosts inducing fear seems to be this numinous quality, this sense of dread -- it's a thing-that-should-not-be, not so much a thing that will morph into your personal phobia. Although one assumes there are horror movies that do work that way...
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Robin Armstrong
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Beings that turn into that which you fear most (at least in the Harry Potter world) are called Boggarts. Dunno about your game (are players playing ghosts trying to scare people?) but maybe Boggart could be one type of Ghost available instead of what every Ghost can do...
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Ken Lewis
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Maybe instead of having a ghost reflect a person's phobias you can instead have people be more afraid of the different things that ghosts typically do.

For example:

Noise: People with this aspect become more afraid when they hear ghostly noises.

Apparition: People with this aspect become more afraid when they see a ghost

Objects: People with this aspect become more afraid when they see things moving for no reason.

Possession: People with this aspect become more afraid when they encounter a possessed person.

Environment: People with this aspect become more afraid when their environment is manipulated. (such as a room getting very hot or cold or dark.)

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Bevan Clatworthy
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Hmm, some very interesting points here.

@Ken: I see what you mean about 'the dark', maybe this should have been something more tangible like 'the thing under the bed' or 'the thing in your closet'. Although, that would stray into the realms of monsters rather than ghosts... something for me to think about! The 'phobias' have now been renamed as Scare Tactics, which gives them a bit more of a 'ghosts doing scary stuff' kind of vibe. What do you think?

@Jeff: I love this CS quote! Whilst I agree the ghosts themselves should be headlining the show, I've so far found during playtesting that players have an easy time 'recognising' and sticking the two ideas of 'ghosts' and 'scary phobias' together. It's quite a light, family friendly game from the prospective of the ghosts instead of the people being scared, so a sense of dread isn't really what I'm aiming for. That said, I really think you're on to something; maybe a different game where the idea is to increase the sense of dread and fear amongst some explorers or a maybe a few house visitors (like the movie House on Haunted Hill)? A much darker theme, but one I'm finding very intriguing.

@Defcon64: Individual ghost powers for an asymmetrical start would be pretty cool, I'll look into a possible addition/expansion that would include these, thanks!

All: Thank you for your comments, it's why I love this forum, you get honest notes that are most often constructive and even educational (I'm having ideas for new games with much darker spooky themes too). Much appreciated!
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