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Weird Things In A World Where Weird Is Normal


Advice


I'm wondering how people insert truly strange things into their games. In a world where everything is unusual I feel like I'm having trouble introducing things that my players find weird. For example, if they find a house that's bigger on the inside than it is on the outside they don't bat an eye...cause magic. There's a plane or dimension that has everything, why would anyone be surprised by anything?


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I have always found it's as much the players as it is the world itself. Players are super-jaded and most can recite the powers of common monsters, effects of common spells, etc. by memory.
Very few understand that their 1st level characters are actually wet behind the ears, and even fewer respond as their characters would to weird, scary or just plain evil things.


I agree with Jos here. In a prior game, I rewrote adamantium as not being a mineral, but was created with having substances linked across planes, but physically present on only one. There were several varieties with different special effects, depending on substances and planes involved. I had one player that I originally thought was playing a brilliantly smug and self involved character, shut down the party crafter/engineer/wonk's exploration of the subject because, "I don't care about some stupid Unobtainium cheese." He kept that stuff up and really helped that game go down in most impressive flames and explosions.

It isn't All players that are jaded disrupters, but it only takes one.

Remember, truly strange things are often rather hard to meticulously stat up.


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I think a lot of it is in presentation. In my experience, players are a lot more likely to think of some new experience as weird or bizarre if they have to figure out how it works for themselves, rather than simply listening to a description. It would be easy, for instance, to wave away the idea of an extradimensional space as one more magical gimmick, but much more disconcerting when you actually have to navigate a manor full of doorways that loop recursively into one another without warning.


I like coming up with weird things, not really creatures, but like the example I gave, things that are bigger on the inside than the outside, but things like that are a dime a dozen in the pathfinder world. But the problem is you can just chalk everything up to magic. One thing I tried to do was make things that seem magical but are really technological...basically stealing things from Numenera. But the problem with that is its an unsolvable riddle and therefore basically uninteresting.

Grand Lodge

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It might help to know a little more about the specific feeling that you're trying to create in your players. Are you hoping that the weird things will scare them ("I'm never heard of a monster like that before, what the hell is that thing?"), enthrall them ("whoa, that tree made of crystal you just described sounds awesome - I wish I could see it for real"), or something else?

Regarding the problem of player familiarity with monsters, I haven't had much occasion to try it myself, but I've heard from other GMs that they've had a lot of success re-skinning existing monsters. For example, one GM used the statistics for a gorgon, but presented it as a red-furred yeti thing.

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 16

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JosMartigan wrote:

I have always found it's as much the players as it is the world itself. Players are super-jaded and most can recite the powers of common monsters, effects of common spells, etc. by memory.

Very few understand that their 1st level characters are actually wet behind the ears, and even fewer respond as their characters would to weird, scary or just plain evil things.

That is why I like playing spontaneous casters. That moment after leveling where you unleash a brand new spell for the first time and have that "Holy $#!+, how did I do that?" moment is always fun to RP. And it tends to draw others into that as well.

It really is the players. Having started at level one, now at level 12 the vast majority of the group exhibit signs of some form of PTSD. Not being able to sleep through the night without someone else there, paranoia, wearing a sword even when at home, having to resist the urge to check food for poison...stuff like that.


Despite my players having gotten used to the weirdness of things like villages run by ghouls, positive energy causing organic terrain-types, seeing cannibalistic religions as mundane, having to deal with playable races like seven foot tall spider people with half their legs pointing up to deal with subjective gravity and have tron-lines to display emotion and spawn tiny males which they control as minions through psionic power... they still got weirded out by a ghoul parrot.

I think even if you have weird things be common, players still have to develop an understanding of what's "common" in the environment and have a regular state of affairs for something new to be weird.


Try your best to describe things without referencing their name. For instance, everyone knows the abilities of a troll but few know the effects of a "towering grinning mossy-skinned beast with four-foot long claws"

Bolts of arcane energy rather than Magic Missiles, etc etc

Another thing you can do is describe something strange and then follow it up with a toneless "all is as is should be". For instance: "The Sun is up, the birds are singing, and a hoard of tiny men feast upon a freshly butchered corpse. All is as is should be."

If you are having trouble delivering the right atmosphere, I'd suggest listening to a few episodes of "Welcome to Nightvale" which is a wonderful podcast. The story is that the whole town is just an average western/middle american town where everything is subtly wrong.

Listening to how they subvert our expectations and introduce fundamentally strange scenarios is a good starting place to practice your own attempts at producing strangeness.


ShroudedInLight wrote:

Try your best to describe things without referencing their name. For instance, everyone knows the abilities of a troll but few know the effects of a "towering grinning mossy-skinned beast with four-foot long claws"

Bolts of arcane energy rather than Magic Missiles, etc etc

This is also known as "Rules as Written". Since the characters shouldn't know what the creatures are unless they succeed at the appropriate skill checks.


When I wanted to introduce something weird, I went REALLY out there. I was running a campaign taking place in the dimension of dreams and the last one I ran was a train car ride that was about to be robbed by a gang of Oni. One of them had a tommy gun.

Sometimes, you can use a player's expectations and knowledge of the game against them.

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 16

Albatoonoe wrote:

When I wanted to introduce something weird, I went REALLY out there. I was running a campaign taking place in the dimension of dreams and the last one I ran was a train car ride that was about to be robbed by a gang of Oni. One of them had a tommy gun.

Sometimes, you can use a player's expectations and knowledge of the game against them.

heh. Reminds me of this


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Make an effort to describe the mundane aspects of your setting. Most will not be blood and thunder. Establish the difficult aspects of travelling in winter, negotiating with stronger enemies, lack of food, and how to judge which risks to take. When they start, their magic is at best stop-gap. By doing this, you a)make the fantastic just that, and b)make them grateful when they can sidestep more of the common problems.

TL;DR: The magical needs the mundane as a baseline to compare it to.

Grand Lodge

Weird is in the juxtaposition of the mundane with the incongruous.

If you only detail the weird and wacky, thats the new normal.

If you want to make something weird, play uo the normality of the surrounds leading up to it.


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A weird element is one that makes the players go "huh?".

It sounds simple, but think about it. For a player to find something in a setting strange, that player finds that to be a break with what is expected. That means you need to make the setting predictable somehow. It has to, plainly put, make some SENSE. Coherence.

PCs are trudging through a swamp. Suddenly, they emerge from the swamp into a desert environment. They could react in a few ways:
"Oh great, now we switched random encounter table."
"Now we're in the desert, how much farther was it?"
"What a sucky setting. It really makes no sense."
"Guys... this is really weird. Can I roll a Knowledge (history) to see if I've heard anything about this?"

Which it is will depend on what you've done with the setting before this happens.


Check out the Fortean Times Forum for oodles of idea.


Thanks to everyone for the replies I really appreciate it. This is the first time im running a game thats completely of my own making. After thinking about it for a while i thought of another way of putting the problem. If I, in the real world, came across a bag of holding, it would be crazy, a thing that cannot be, an impossibility. But in the Pathfinder world, what is impossible? I feel like there is no way to achieve that feeling of finding the thing that should not be because there are no things that should not be.

Shadow Lodge

Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

if you are trying to introduce the unexplained... don't explain it. Lol... it's a hard lesson writers have to learn.
If you want an air of mystery, describe things in an outre fashion, take your vocabulary out of the ordinary (Lovecraftian). Describe incongruous components without explanation (trees with thin red streaks and reddish leaves, but it's not fall... upon examination it seems the trees are bleeding... why???!) You have to let the players try to discover the reasons why... it's like a mystery novel... kill off some NPCs. Read Call of Cthulhu, Chill, some silly horror games...
For size differences, draw the house on a map... then when they go in pull out a different map... wait for them to ask or notice. (hey, this doesn't match!)

I'd suggest running a Miss Marple Mystery! Just change the setting to PF and have magic... don't explain things or give away the mystery... doppelgangers are fun. On the lighter side, Midsomer Murders are amusing and play that silly music in the background...


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I'll admit that after 30+ years of gaming it's hard to instill a sense of wonder and awe into my players. Sometimes I still manage to, but it's often quite difficult.

Liberty's Edge

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Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

In one of the introductions to an AD&D Spelljammer book, the writer tells a story about how he managed to make the brand new "D&D in Spaaaace!" setting feel appropriately weird and different after his players had already been fighting poison-breathing stilt-chickens (achaierai) and stump-bunnies (wolf-in-sheep's-clothing) for years.

The players landed on a new planet and encountered a race of savage, cannibalistic, land-dwelling squids that were immune to blindness and seemed to possess blindsight. None of the players knew what they were and tried a mix of tactics to defeat them. What they didn't know is the DM had just re-skinned some grimlocks, evil, cave-dwelling humanoids they'd encountered a dozen times before.

It just shows that evil squid monsters might not be weird to people actually living in a world of space-traveling elves and lizardfolk, but it can really mess with your players' perceptions when those evil squids aren't behaving in expected ways.

Shadow Lodge

Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber
Chrion wrote:
... I feel like there is no way to achieve that feeling of finding the thing that should not be because there are no things that should not be.

the game is a story, setting is imaginary. Imaginary things have no bounds and aren't restricted by reality. Believability is the issue.

* Some people feel internal consistency is the key (it helps).

* Sticking closer to Reality and just changing a few things also helps. It makes it more consistent with experiences the players have. You have to rely on characters, plot, and devices for the mystery.

I dunno... lol... have at it!

We do know from Physics that there are bounds (darn you Thermodynamics and gravity!). Given that it takes space & time and energy to accomplish an event and there's just a finite amount of those in this universe, not everything is possible (in the sense that it will occur or the probability of the event exceeds '1' in the lifetime of this Universe).

Grand Lodge

Chrion wrote:
...But in the Pathfinder world, what is impossible? I feel like there is no way to achieve that feeling of finding the thing that should not be because there are no things that should not be.

I'm about to suggest some things that could have a significant impact on your game world, so you might want to think hard before implementing them...

The detect magic can provide something of an opportunity here. When I played the first part of Iron Gods, we went with the idea that our characters didn't understand why several pieces of technology we encountered didn't register as magical. After all, the overhead lights clearly had to be some variation on the continual flame spell, right? You could do something similar, either not having things register as magical at all, or show up as magic that doesn't match any of the known schools (i.e., it's some kind of weird combination or otherwise doesn't fit well into the normal classifications that wizards use).

If you don't want to use technology, you could borrow an idea from the Forgotten Realms setting of Faerun. Magic in Faerun is generally based on a sort of energy field called the Weave, but my understanding is that it wasn't always that way - the Weave was created in the distant past to replace an earlier system of magic. Very old artifacts in Faerun could have been created by a kind of magic that is literally no longer possible. I believe detect magic works equally well in Faerun regardless of the kind of magic (now, anyway - the history of Faerun is weird), but there's no reason that has to be the case in your adaptation - whatever form of "alt-magic" you would use could be completely undetectable by detect magic, or appear as something very strange and unexpected.

Of course, if you introduce such a thing, be aware that your players may want to learn to wield alt-magic, so you'll need a reason why that isn't possible. That's one of the concerns I was alluding to at the beginning.


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Another option is to end the description of your "needs to have a sense of weird and wonder" thing with the phrase "and then you die."

Be sure to pack up and leave afterwards so it really sinks in.


Sissyl wrote:

Make an effort to describe the mundane aspects of your setting. Most will not be blood and thunder. Establish the difficult aspects of travelling in winter, negotiating with stronger enemies, lack of food, and how to judge which risks to take. When they start, their magic is at best stop-gap. By doing this, you a)make the fantastic just that, and b)make them grateful when they can sidestep more of the common problems.

TL;DR: The magical needs the mundane as a baseline to compare it to.

This is good advice for writing and world-building in general, regardless of genre! Verisimilitude--the appearance of bring true or real--is critical for making your readers or players believe in the setting. Achieving that requires a lot of attention to detail on the author or GM's part. Once they've bought into what's normal in the setting, the audience will be primed to react appropriately when the weirder stuff creeps in.

Sovereign Court

There's different levels of weird. There's creepy weird (Freddy Kreuger, Evil Dead, Tim Burton). There's Avant Garde weird (Steve Martin, Wes Anderson, Yuppies from NYC). There's offbeat weird (Monty Python, Douglas Adams)

It all depends on what you want to go for.

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

I like China Mieville weird.

It's a good combination of the unexpected and an interesting combination of disparate features, or using something common to a unique re-purposing.


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Neal Gaiman has an enjoyable approach to wierd as well.

Liberty's Edge

I just change the weaknesses and advantages of creatures to keep players from operating off of memorized monster stats. For example, a rare fire troll with flaming sword. instead of needing fire to bypass regeneration, they are vulnerable to cold that bypasses regeneration.

Adding psuedo organic mineral deposits to increase natural armor on creatures and is incluede in the dm description.


Avoron wrote:
I think a lot of it is in presentation. In my experience, players are a lot more likely to think of some new experience as weird or bizarre if they have to figure out how it works for themselves, rather than simply listening to a description. It would be easy, for instance, to wave away the idea of an extradimensional space as one more magical gimmick, but much more disconcerting when you actually have to navigate a manor full of doorways that loop recursively into one another without warning.

^This.

and you don't even need to resort to magic.
i had once pulled a thing on my players that really cunfused them.
they tanded to spread out and split the party a lot, so i made the maps layout to take that into acount.
nothing bad see, but the area they were at was a VERY big square corador underground with rooms on the outer side of the square. after going up ahead one eventuly came to the start of the corador, where he 'should' be able to see his teemate up ahead, but i informed him he does not see him. that made him to run forward in search of the party(who were clearly marked on the map) only to be told they are not there. and what is more rooms they have cleared from enemies were full again. the rest soon started to spread out going back and forward in the corador only to sometimes meet up or loose sight of someone else. when chaked for magic they could sense nothing.

it took them a while to find out (luckly for me they had no dwarf in the party) the simple fact was the corador ws not level but took a light decline so that once you go a 'full circle' you ended up a floor below the one you started and each floor had the same amount of rooms lockated conviniatnly in the same area as the ones from difrent levels. they actouly onlt found this by accidant as one throw a bottle contaning liquid at an enemy and missed and he noticed the liquid go down the corador.


If most of the world is relatively normal (i.e. like the real world in the time & place that your setting resembles) then weird stuff stands out by contrast. If weirdness is everywhere, then nothing is weird.

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

Or just make things kind of bizarre or gross, like a leopard with crawling spiders for spots, or an elephant with silent screaming faces in its wrinkles, or competitive fingernail cutting, or flowering rooftops used to draw swarms of shade-granting butterflies.

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