Sherri pushes past the throng of bodies at the bar area. The thumping music and strobe light effect slows time down to a crawl. She can’t see her friends from here but knows they are only the other side of the dance floor.
The brilliant light catches her in eyes, blinding her for a few seconds.
Time has now stopped for everyone except Sherri.
She pushes her way through the statuesque clubbers.
A dark figure makes its way towards her, through the still crowd.
Sherri gasps as she spots the figure.
The figure raises its head and stares with its blank eyes at Sherri.
As the figure speaks water gushes from its mouth.
“Remember me?” It asks in a gurgling voice.
The music blears back on, the people on the dance floor re-animate. Dancing bodies bounce around Sherri and the figure has gone. Something dark crawls around the back of her mind. She did recognise the bloated, blue figure but Sherri is unsure of when and why.
Obscure is a collaborative story telling game. Revolving around a central protagonist, who is part of the world around him/her but who doesn’t quite fit.
The reason they don’t fit is because earlier in their lives something went wrong. This ‘something’ was of such a nature that they have blocked it from their minds and are now unaware it ever happened.
What is this something? I hear you ask. Well we won’t know that until the game is played out. This is the main goal of ‘Obscure’.
Through a series of conflicts, pressure situations, flashbacks and indeed a flash-forward or two we will find out what this something is. What happened to our protagonist to disconnect them and what will happen if nothing is done?
Remembering all the time that this event was so bad it has stopped the protagonist from functioning as a normal human being and something so bad that they have blocked it from their mind.
How will our protagonist cope with unearthing this hidden secret?
What steps will they have to take to uncover it?
Do they really what to know what happened to them?
Do they really want to know what they saw?
Do they really want to know what…they… did?
Obscure is a GM’less system played with 2-4 players each sharing the responsibility of framing scenes, taking the protagonist reins, playing the NPC’s and coming up with meaniful conflicts.
The players set scenes and conflicts that challenge the Protagonist to explore their past and find out a certain point in their life where they became detached from the world.
The game should last between 2-6 hours and at the end we find out if the protagonists are strong enough to first uncover their hidden secret and cope with it and move on once they are aware of it.
Feel of the game:
The feel for Obscure is important. From the protagonists point of view the story created should be terrifying, frustrating, dangerous and confusing. Obscure is based on how humans cope in extremely stressful situations and pushing them towards madness. In Obscure it is common place that supernatural events happen to help uncover or hinder uncovering that dark secret. However these events happen only to the protagonist and to re-iterate these events should be terrifying, frustrating, dangerous and confusing…NEVER silly or light hearted.
You will need a few scraps of paper or post-it notes. A couple of pencils and an ‘Obscure’ character sheet. Lastly you will need a handful of six sided dice around ten would be good.
What is there name? Who is the protagonist? What do they spend their time doing? Do they have friends, family or any contacts? What are their strengths and weaknesses? How are they detached from the world?
These are all questions we need to ask when creating a protagonist. Make sure the correct column in the character sheet is filled out with each question.
What are you called?
Between your group of players feel free to come up with a name for your protagonist.
Who are you?
This should be a couple of sentences, no more than a paragraph. Think about these questions: Are you male or female? How old are you? What’s your state of health? Do you have certain mannerisms? Are you confident or shy? Etc. Again think collectively about who the protagonist is. You could go round the table asking for one feature from each of the players to complete this.
What do you spend your time doing?
Are you employed? What is your job? Do you have hobbies? What are they?
Friends, Family and Contacts
Do you have any family? Do you still see or speak to them? Have you got a friend you can trust? Do you owe anyone a debt? Do you live in a block of flats opposite a young single mum whose kid just keeps crying? Does that tramp outside you workplace stop you every day asking for spare change?
Strengths and Weaknesses
Toad: I didn't like the rules for Str's/Weaknesses. I was thinking have the players draw one weakness card each at the beginning of the game and one strength card everytime they take control of the protagonist. The weakness cards are placed face up so everyone can see and frame scenes/conflicts around the weaknesses. Where as the strength cards are kept secret until played. So imagine the conflict is a bar fight and the protagonist has a weakness card 'physically weak' showing the antagonists can use this against them. Now imagine the same situation but our protagonists drew a strength card (at the beginning of their scene) 'wolf in sheeps clothing'. Does this make sense?
How are you detached from the world?
To finish off think about how you as the protagonist are detached from the world. Have you lost your sense of humour? Have you stopped feeling pain? Have you stopped sleeping? Do you sleep all the time? Or is it a combination of a number of these? Feel free to think of more ways you as a protagonist could be detached from the world this is just a list to get you started.
Example of a protagonist:
What are you called? Greg Docker
Who are you? I’m 32, a low paid office worker who has trouble standing up for himself.
What do I spend my time on? I’m currently working for an insurance company 9-5. My boss is an arsehole who doesn’t appreciate me. In my spare time I often visit the local pub where I sit at the bar and get drunk on my own.
Who are my family, friends and contacts? My parents live out in the country, my mum often phones to find out how I am but I never speak to my dad because he is a hardarse who doesn’t like to show his feelings towards me. I have a friend at work called Pete who is really into computer games and I think the only reason he really speaks to me is because no one else will speak to him. The barmaid at my local is called Sally, she always has a smile but I find it very difficult to speak to her as I don’t want to appear stupid.
What are my strengths and weaknesses? I find it difficult to deal with aggressive people (-). I would describe myself as a logical thinker who puts solid plans in place (+). I’m really not a fighter (-). I can never tell others what I really feel (-).
How am I detached from the world? Life has lost its fun for me I find jokes vulgar and mostly offensive. Which is odd because I find myself laughing at the most inappropriate times and places. For example when my mum’s uncle died I tittered like a school girl through the funeral. I often find that time passes at a lightning pace and I’m unaccountable for large periods of my day.
Structure of Play:
We now have a protagonist its time to find out what went wrong in their life.
If I never know what happened to me?
The first scene should take place around what happens to the protagonist if they never find out what went wrong it their past. The players must frame a flash forward in time scene to reflects this. The scene should be of a terrifying or miserable nature that spurs the protagonist into action. To really dig into the dark corners of their mind to find answers. The scene should be fairly short with each player having the option to add details as they feel appropriate. It should also contain at least one hook or NPC to the protagonists present or past so it adds colour to the story to come.
An example of a ‘If I never know what happened to me’ scene
Using our protagonist ‘Greg’ from before.
Kev: Okay the scene opens in a gloomy funeral parlour. It’s empty apart from a priest who stands at the front of the room above a coffin. On the coffin it simply reads ‘Greg Docker 1977-2011’. The priest finishes a quiet prayer and then the coffin is moved along a belt and into an incinerator.
Pete At first look it seemed the funeral parlour was empty but in the back row sits a hooded figure. Rapped in a large coat the figure grins as the coffin disappears.
Ric That all sounds good, but surely the protagonists needs to know this is going to happen as its their main drive, right? So lets say while Greg’s sat at work during a normal day he sees the scene play out on his pc monitor?
Kev I’m good with that. Dave you got anything to add?
Dave Nope I like the scene and have nothing else I want to see in there.
Pete Cool, lets roll with that then.
Notice from the example above there is no conflict within that scene. This is how the introductory scene should be. One last thing we need to do before we move on is add a sentence or two to summarise this scene on the character sheet.
We have a protagonist; we have a drive for them to uncover a secret they are hiding from themselves. Its time find out what that ‘something’ is, if they are strong enough.
From here out each player will take it in turns to become the protagonist in the up and coming scenes. For the first revelation scene a player can step up as the protagonist. For every scene afterward the protagonist is past to the player on the left. Play continues until each player has been the protagonist at least once. For small number of player games it might be appropriate to past the protagonist around more than once. But you shouldn’t really be playing out more than six revelation scenes.
Techniques for framing revelation scenes
As discussed previously there are certain techniques players can use when framing scenes for ‘Obscure’ this could include:
- Supernatural events
- High pressure situations
- Or all of these
When framing a scene there are certain rules that must be adhered too. They are:
- The protagonist must be present
- All players excluding the protagonist should be given the option to add to the framing
- When framing do not tell the story, imagine the framing only being seconds of game time
The purpose of revelation scenes
Once the scene is framed it is the onus of the players to drive toward a meaniful point of conflict. This can be done by introducing NPC’s or pressure points to challenge the protagonist. The scene should put the protagonist in situations where they risk parts of themselves, physically and most definitely mentally. Conflicts if lost should cause the protagonist become even more separated from the world. Where they hide within themselves not wanting to face the past.
Breakdown scenes occur when the protagonist fails conflicts consecutively or a certain amount of times. This is discussed later in the ‘Mechanics’ section. But as a note breakdown scenes happen as soon as the breakdown occurs. The breakdown scene could but doesn’t need conflict but it must push the protagonist toward the ‘If I never know what happened to me’ end.
The epilogue scene happens after all the revelation and breakdown scenes have taken place. The epilogue scene is explained in greater detail in the ‘Mechanics section’. As a high level overview this scene would be where our protagonist either fails to learn of their dark past and thus the ‘If I never know what happened to me’ scene comes to pass. Or they succeed in finding out their dark secret and this scene goes on to explain what happens to our protagonist as a result of that.
When finding themselves in a conflict the players collectively (including the protagonist) must set and agree the stakes.
An example of conflict within ‘Obscure’
Greg finds himself standing at a crowded bus stop waiting for his ride home. As he is checking the time table for buses the numbers and letters begin to re-arrange themselves. They form a strange twisted language that Greg is sure he has seen before. As he holds tightly onto his sanity the other people around him begin to twist into dark shadowy creatures. Greg feels he must read this sign as it’s important to help him re-establish his grip on the world. However to correctly decipher the words Greg must succeed a conflict. The stake the players feel appropriate for this conflict would be Greg having a fear of crowded places.
Ric says: This seems relatively balls…<snip>
Toad: Yep! thats I why I have (after some thought) ditched them all together.