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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Blog Carnival: Carnival of Souls The RPG

I decided to try joining the Blog Carnival for the first time. The topic is "festivals and carnivals". Since I've been writing about InSpectres recently, the only game I ever ran at a convention, and since I've also been writing about surrealism and "eerie gaming", I thought I'd combine the three ideas into "Carnival of Souls The RPG".

Carnival of Souls is a semi-obscure horror movie from the '60s. It looks and feels a lot like a Twilight Zone episode: the sole survivor of a fatal car crash tries to forget about it and get on with her life, but weird things begin to happen to her... This game starts with the same basic concept: the characters have all been involved in a catastrophic accident and escaped.

The base rules are the UnSpeakable variant of InSpectres. Disregard the "UnSpeakable Skills" (they're too Lovecraftian.) Keep Sanity. Each character has one talent, something they care deeply about, either their job ("church organist") or a hobby ("mystery novels") or activity ("chatting up strangers".)

Start with a Pit of 10-20 dice. In addition to the Pit, there's another pool of dice that starts out empty, called The Carnival. Every time a character loses Sanity, add one die to The Carnival. A high 1 roll for physically dangerous actions means death, but only if the character's Sanity is lower than the Carnival dice. Otherwise, the character nearly dies, but miraculously survives; the unsettling nature of their escape from death requires a Sanity roll against Dark Despair.

There is also a real abandoned carnival or amusement park at the outskirts of town. It, too, is unsettling, and requires Sanity rolls: 1 die for first daytime and nighttime encounters, half Sanity dice for actually entering the carnival, further rolls for unsettling events that occur there. Any time the character walks, runs, or drives anywhere, roll at least 1 Sanity die. If they lose a point of Sanity, they somehow wind up at the abandoned carnival.

Any time a character uses their talent (plays the organ, for the church organist,) they are in danger of entering an eerie trance. Roll a Sanity die; the character is entranced on a 1; they will behave oddly or even sinisterly while ignoring their surroundings. Any PC who witnesses an entranced character must also roll for Sanity.

If a player needs an extra die to roll for an action, they can use one Carnival die. However, any high 1 or 2 result when using a Carnival die means that The Man shows up. He is a mysterious, sinister-looking figure who cannot be seen except by the PCs. His appearance always requires a Sanity roll against Dark Despair, at the very least. He will not communicate or interact directly with the characters the first time he appears, just stare. He becomes more direct each time he appears; if he appears when there are at least 3 Carnival dice remaining, from now on he will pursue PCs when he appears. The first time he appears at the abandoned carnival, he will begin to openly communicate. A roll of 6 on any action will cause him to disappear.

When a character loses all Sanity, the Man appears again. From that point on, he can be temporarily evaded like any other pursuer, but he will mysteriously catch up any time a 1 or 2 is rolled on an action. Remember, rolling a 1 on a dangerous action at this point will mean death.

The PCs are supposed to be dead, of course, but something is keeping them in the world of the living unnaturally. For one, their dead bodies weren't recovered. There may also be something they need to finish. The exact task is left open, to be investigated like a mystery. Every roll of 6 while investigating the mystery earns one Mystery point. Once 10 points are earned, any characters who are still sane get a second chance on life, while those who have lost all Sanity vanish; their dead bodies are then found, and their spirits join The Carnival.

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