Saturday Seeds – 2 (World of Darkness)

WoD (any): The Embedded Journalist~

A good part of any World of Darkness game is in having the characters always a little worried about what else is out there in the darkness being more angsty, spooky, and manipulative than they themselves are.

Over the years, I have found it helpful to incorporate a character I call by a host of names, my favorite being Leon Philbin, (although that is not his/her/its real name) and his pirate radio broadcast. The set-up is really very easy and quick, but provides a disproportionate response for that minimal effort. In other words, you get a lot of bang for your buck.

I first tried this in university when running Beyond the Supernatural, after seeing Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead. It began as a late-night show on cable that people disregarded, but the characters came to learn had surprisingly accurate information on the things which ailed and assailed them. I later refined it into its present form (Pirate Radio) after watching Forever Knight, and liking the intrusive nature of the Nightcrawler’s broadcasts into Nicholas’ life, and the resulting obsession to listen evoked in Nicholas. More recently it has been referenced in WW’s Europe Sourcebook for the Aesculapians in the Trinity RPG called Shattered Europe, and in Fallout 3, but these are less relevant examples than what you see in Forever Knight.

I use a lot of music in my games, and it is simplicity itself to slip in the voice of DJ Leon Philbin wherever and whenever I want it or need it. Using the most basic of recording software, such as what comes free with any Creative product, you can alter your voice in a variety of ways so that it no longer sounds like you. All you need to remember is to keep the false voice consistent, so that the players recognize it when it comes on, and to make certain statements by your DJ be relevant to and useful for the PCs on a fairly regular basis. You want the PCs to want to hear more, you want them to wonder how the DJ knows what he knows, and you want them to suspect that they are being watched.

To give the shows the right feel, the DJ should be something that the characters would normally disregard. For example, in a Mage Chronicle I ran, Leon Philbin sounded like a smooth-talking ladies man interested in very simple, physical pleasures. He reviewed restaurants, various shot offerings at local bars, massage parlours, etc… and in between those ramblings, mentioned details about a serial killer that was plaguing the lives of the player characters. This Chronicle was a cross-over from an earlier Vampire Chronicle. Leon was also surprisingly accurate in his warnings about which bars might leave a patron feeling so light-headed upon exiting that they might almost believe they were a pint low…

How did he know that?

In one sense, it doesn’t really matter how the DJ knows what he knows… you have myriad approaches to making the character. It is important to keep him somewhat ephemeral, and of course – extremely important to keep him from seeming omniscient. He doesn’t know or broadcast everything… just important things, sometimes.

As the station is a pirate station, it is never on the same channel, and comes and goes as it pleases. It overrides other stations some nights, on CB or other forms of personal radio communication from time to time, and it comes through on weak tv stations on other nights. It reaches the player characters often enough to be a part of the setting. If they look for the station, it is rarely to be found. It finds them more often than not.

Incorporating this element into a setting allows you to give them information subtly, in the background, while something else is going on. If they get it, great. If not… no problem.

Elements:

Station Identification (voice 2) – prepare several station IDs to have pop up randomly in your background (not mood or atmosphere) music. PCs might hear these when in the street from car stereos, stores, loud earphones, etc. Choose a memorable and (to the characters) slightly unappealing station name and tagline. Leon Philbin chose to broadcast from KISS… the Loooove station. Not even the ’70s reject vampire in the coterie could stand him… but they all hung on his every word.

Advertisements (voices 1, 2, and or 3) – Despite being a pirate station, have it broadcast ads… unpaid and unsolicited. Perhaps one of the PCs owns a club or other business. Have an ad for it be heard, perhaps normal, perhaps supportive, perhaps mocking – depending on the effect of that business on the local community. Have ads for places like O’Tolley’s or any Pentex subsidiary be darkly humourous or contemptuous in some subtle way that might not stand out at first listen. As an example, I did an O’Tolley’s ad featuring a customer comment from a renowned local serial killer with the background music being ‘I am my own god’ by the Dayglo Abortions. It went by unnoticed the first two or three times, but when it did get picked up, it sparked a whole series of interesting things, eventually leading to a break in a mystery they had been struggling with.

News and Commentary (voice 1) Keep things short and to the point. Never come out and say anything directly, imply, and use terms that do not violate any particular splat’s need for secrecy. Those in the know get what the DJ is talking about… or think that they do at any rate.

Bury good details in some inconsequential blather about your setting… use it as a tool to add further depth and detail to your setting.

Make some reports as vague and applicable to everything as the newspaper horoscopes. Really stretch yourself to see if you can make your DJ say something that at least two of the characters will be convinced applies directly to them. It can be fun and addictive to prepare.

Caveat:

Do not let the DJ steal the show, become the sole source of information, or know too much. That bears repeating to yourself regularly… like station identification notices. Make his contributions additive and mysterious. Have a clear idea about what sorts of things he will be interested in, and some means for him to get the information. Think of this element as a Storyteller assistant running an NPC whose purpose is to add extra colour and detail to your setting and enable and empower players to be more proactive in their activities within the Story. Make sure that there are gaps in his knowledge… make the player wonder, does the DJ know more than he is saying? Am I being watched? Am I going places which are being watched? How did he know that?

Purpose: Why would  you use this tool?

  • It definitely can help influence the mood and provide another layer to your setting.
  • It can help redirect stalled groups,
  • It can help misdirect groups who find things to be too easy
  • It can amplify fear and caution in a group when it is lacking
  • (Most importantly for me) it can allow a group much more freedom to roleplay through a solution to a mystery, problem, or plan without having to confirm or glean all details directly through you.
  • Props rock.
Comments
2 Responses to “Saturday Seeds – 2 (World of Darkness)”
  1. Murderbunny says:

    I enjoyed your use of Leon Philbin and related broadcasts. Even if they had nothing to do with what my character was doing, they were fun to listen to and added to the overall atmosphere of the game.

    By the way, did you ever play the Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines video game? Both the TV news and the late-night radio broadcast (The Deb of Night) served such a purpose. Deb’s broadcasts were usually pretty irrelevant to what was going on in the game until late in the game where the Masquerade begins to unravel and “crazy” people start phoning in to ramble about vampires.

    The news broadcasts would often refer to events that the player character either was involved with, or would soon become involved with (the player hears about the “Southland Slasher” long before they encounter him, while the news reports on a mysterious warehouse explosion the night after the player character caused that mysterious explosion), as well as things going on that never touch the player character at all (such as a giant squid/sea monster washing up on the beach).

    Even more amusing was that the broadcast would change if the player character were a Malkavian. For instance, when reporting the warehouse explosion, the anchorman would say something like, “Police are investigating an explosion at the warehouse, though they have no suspects at this time.” If the player is a Malkavian, the anchorman says instead, “Police don’t have any suspects at this time, but they’re pretty sure that it was you.

    Anyway.

    I am in full agreement with what you wrote.

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