Friday, October 28, 2016

Five or So Questions with Alessandro Piroddi on Touched by Evil

Today I have an interview with Alessandro Piroddi on the new game Touched by Evil! It sounds really interesting and seems like just the right kind of game for Halloween weekend. Check it out on DriveThruRPG here and give the interview below a read!

Tell me a little about Touched by Evil. What excites you about it?

I love horror stories.
But the word "horror" can refer to wildly different things.

The specific brand of horror I love is the one that is all about a dreadful atmosphere, a creeping sense of unease, an indefinable sense of wrongness that has no obvious or rational source. One type of narrative that draws heavily on such elements is the Lovecraftian one, with its old fashioned rhythm where tension builds slowly but surely, inexorably crawling up to a final horror.
Traditionally this kind of game experience is considered to be very difficult to achieve even by veteran roleplayers.

What excites me about Touched by Evil is that it manages to deliver exactly this, and that it does so by virtue of system design rather than personal player ability or knowledge of the horror genre.

Can you tell me a little about the mechanics used in Touched by Evil? Are they strictly narrative, or are there tools you use? Why did you choose those mechanics?

First of all the rules outline a clear and specific structure in regards of "who can say what when and how". It is not as articulated as some of my other games, like FateLess, but it's definitely not a game where you just freeform-chat your way through the session. Everyone has clear tasks and procedures to perform such tasks.

That said, there is next to no crunch involved.

Most of the structure is focused on achieving the right kind of scene framing and story rhythm; here the main inspirations are Montsegur 1244 and Psi*Run.

Dice are rolled when the fiction demands it, with simple and minimalist mechanics inspired by Cthulhu Dark.

Overall things are set up just so that the Players can feel safe and in control, right up to the point when they are not anymore and realise how safety was always just an illusion. This feeling of being powerless before something you don't fully understand while at the same time being an obvious protagonist and active agent that CAN get much accomplished, is a focal element in how the game drives home its emotional point.

Where did you pull inspiration for the horror concepts put forth in Touched by Evil?

The first and most important source is with no doubt Graham Walmsley's essay Stealing Cthulhu. It sparked the idea of doing a horror rpg, to begin with. It revamped my old love for Lovecraftian literature. And gave me the basic tools to build something that FELT like Lovecraft ... this is pretty obvious in the name and structure of the five Chapters that make up the story's Path.

Another hugely important source of inspiration and technical help has been the YouTube series Extra Credits. I found out that most of the video game design concepts they present could be applied verbatim (or almost) to tabletop rpg design. Plus, in time they have built a pretty amazing selection of videos focused on horror games, unpacking and analyzing things like the structure an nature of protagonists, locations, monsters and narrative tropes in the horror genre ... with a even a full episode specifically on Cthulhu!

Which, I would like to highlight, says lots of things that would go hand in hand with the concepts expressed by Graham in his own analysis of Lovecraftian literature.

Another important helpful hand came from the book by Kenneth Hite Nightmares of Mine as it put into focus the difference between different kinds of "horror", helping me discern what was it that I wanted to aim for. I actually talk more about this in an article on my blog, here.

How does an instant setup for Touched by Evil work?

The game presents a default setup that is both the fastest and most effective in terms of emotional impact: you play in this city, in this day and age, a normal person. That's it.

Then a single Touched Character needs to be generated. This is the one protagonist moved, in turn, but all the players. The procedure is also quick and easy: pick a name, a profession and three "loved ones", three people that the TC cares about and that are part of their current life.

Finally, a "catalyst event" is generated. This is the event that "touches" the protagonist and kickstarts the whole story. A brief chat, moderated by the game procedures, is all that is needed here.

Done. After that the first Moment of the story is played.

What kind of experiences do you think players will get out of the game, and why should people play it?

The reason to play is the same one for watching a horror movie : you enjoy being frightened (in a friendly and controlled environment).

It is effective because, although by the end of the game you might have a taste of the kind of horror you dismiss easily as "obviously impossible" (monsters, gore, supernatural stuff), the main part of the experience is built on a creeping sense of unease we all can face in real life: something feels off but you don't know what, something completely normal starts looking weird and menacing but you don't understand why, everything is as usual but you feel unsafe or even threatened. And then you get isolated, nobody believes you. 

That stuff gets under your skin. 


Thanks so much to Alessandro for answering my questions about Touched by Evil! I hope you enjoyed the interview, and that it's piqued your interest enough to check out the game on DriveThru! Have a good time creeping yourselves out. :)

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