Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Robert Aikman-style Encounters

I only have one book of Robert Aikman's stories, but this is a shortcoming I'm going to have to correct. The back of my book has a great blurb from Neil Gaiman that I think captures Aikman's style beautifully: "Reading Robert Aickman is like watching a magician work, and very often I'm not even sure what the trick was."

Aikman stories are decidedly on the supernatural scale, but they emerge out of the characters neuroses. One of my favorites is The School Friend—the main character meets up with a friend of hers from school whom she remembers as being quite brilliant, but is surprised to find how much she has changed. The more the character investigates, the greater the wrongness grows, with the supernatural only emerging at the end of the story. 

If neuroses is one side of the Aikman equation, mystery is the other. A secret can be put into words. A secret can be shared. A mystery is metaphore of the truth—it is the truth, but one step removed. It can only be experience or felt intuitively and can't be put into words. The trick as a GM is not to make things so surreal that players have no agency. Even though the supernatural doesn't follow natural law, players should (hopefully) be able to feel the supernatural intuitively and be able to make decisions around their feelings.

Here are two ideas for encounters inspired by that Aikman-esque mix of neuroses and mystery (at least I hope so):

1. The door

The party is hired to guard a particular door and told they must never open it. The owner of the building is a fat man who surrounds himself with books. Each night, soft noises can be heard from within. The noises grow louder and more troubling with each night. If the door is opened before the third night, the room is empty. The owner of the building will be able to tell immediately, demanding double the wages he paid the previous nights. 

If the door is not opened by the third night, the noises become a loud pounding and the door bursts open, a skeletal parade storming out and filling the whole building with eerie, discordant music. They march up to the owners room as he screams "you came! you came!" He is bound by the skeletons and dragged down through the door.

2. The cane

The GM casually mentions an old man with a ornate cane sitting in the corner of each inn the party stops at. When the party finally speaks to him he says nothing, only smiles and nods his head. If the party asks anyone else about him, they won't be able to even see him.

At the next inn, the man won't be there, but his cane will be. The cane is monogramed, so the party might be able to track down a possible owner to a crumbling estate. The last owner, a confirmed bachelor on the brink of bankruptcy will instantly recognize the cane as belonging to his uncle, now passed. The last owner hated the old man and refuses to talk about him. The uncle's grave is out back. It appears to have been recently dug up. Inside the uncle's coffin are a colony of teeming worms and a medalion worth 700 sp. 

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