“For each of us as a woman, there is a dark place within, where hidden and growing our true spirit rises, “beautiful/and tough as chestnut/stanchions against (Y)our nightmare of weakness/” — and of impotence. Within these deep places, each one of us holds an incredible reserve of creativity and power, of unexamined and unrecorded emotion and feeling”
— Lorde, Audre. (1984). Poetry is not a luxury. Sister outsider (pp. 25–27)
In Moore’s essayUnderstanding Villainy: Splatterpunk Villains and More Subtle Antagonists, he highlights the importance of understanding the various levels of fear and horror that can be evoked in horror storytelling. Moore argues that horror, terror, and splatterpunk each have their place in creating memorable moments for players in horror games, and that villains play a crucial role in evoking these emotions. In the context of affect theory, Moore’s concepts of terror, horror, and the gross-out can be understood as different affective states that can be used to evoke emotional responses from players.
Affect Theory suggests that emotions are not simply internal states that we experience, but rather they are socially constructed and shaped by our environment and experiences. In the case of horror storytelling, the goal is to create an environment that evokes fear, disgust, and other negative emotions to motivate a greater narrative. This can be achieved through the use of well-crafted villains, such as those described by Moore, who are not simply mindless monsters, but have their own motivations and goals. By understanding the different affective states that can be evoked through horror storytelling, and by carefully crafting villains that tap into these emotions, storytellers can create truly immersive and memorable horror experiences for their players.
Silvan Tomkins was an American psychologist who developed the theory of affect, which is the study of emotions and their expression. Tomkins proposed that there are nine primary affects, which are universal and innate to all humans. These affects are the building blocks of our emotional experiences and include: joy, interest, surprise, anger, contempt, disgust, distress, shame, and fear. Tomkins’ work has had a significant impact on the study of emotions and has influenced the fields of psychology, sociology, and anthropology. In the context of horror storytelling, Tomkins’ affect theory provides a framework for understanding the emotional impact of different storytelling techniques and can help creators craft more immersive and impactful stories.
In the World of Darkness, horror, terror, and splatterpunk methods of storytelling are used to create a sense of fear and unease in players. These methods can be used to evoke Silvan Tomkins’s nine affects, which are innate emotional responses that are triggered by certain stimuli. Later on in this section, we will examine each of Tomkins’s nine affects, and how they can be used in horror, terror, and splatterpunk storytelling.
Gorechord storytelling is a term that takes its origins from the word gore, and three of it’s meanings:
- Verb, to pierce or stab with a horn or tusk.
- Noun, blood that has been shed, especially as a result of violence.
- Etymology., germanic gor, muck/filth
This word is combined with -chord, to represent the harmony of all three aspects represented in storytelling.
The function of a gorechord for a Storyteller is to create a sense of dread and unease in the audience, while also delivering moments of shock and awe through building scenes that encapsulate Moore’s depictions. Gorechords are structured according to a trilithon framework, which consists of three distinct parts.
The first part sets up the scene, introducing the characters and the situation. This is where the audience becomes emotionally invested in the story, and where the atmosphere and tone are established.
The second part is the turning point, where the story takes a dramatic shift. It is where the horror, terror, or splatterpunk elements come into play, and where the characters are put to the test. This is often the most intense and memorable part of the story, as it can make or break the characters’ fates.
The third and final part is the resolution, where the story comes to a close. This is where the consequences of the turning point are realized, and where the characters reflect on their experiences. The resolution often leaves a lasting impression on the audience, as it ties up loose ends and provides closure to the story.
Gorechords follow this structure in a unique way, incorporating affect theory and Gorechord storytelling to create a visceral and immersive experience for your players. The arcs are interconnected, with each chapter building upon the previous one to tell a greater tale of horror and intrigue.
Gorechord storytelling takes the dark path of consciousness to convey the story through revelation. In short, we are speaking directly from the perspective of the limbic cortex to inform the players of what’s going on at their tabletop. By carefully crafting each part of their trilithons, Storytellers can create a story that is both emotionally engaging, narratively compelling, and terrifyingly immersive, but to fully understand how to apply these in each scene, and when, we have to look inward.
Whether conscious of this relationship or otherwise, we are very much passengers in our own bodies, living a life of receiving information, and then sending instructions to parts of our body to respond to the world around us. Consciousness in many ways relies on this bilateral relationship in order to really form ‘the person’. When the body needs to respond to the world around it faster than the mind can, it has a way of overriding our instructions and responding for us. It’s the reflex to shield one’s eyes from a blinding light, to dive for cover in an explosion, and to yank one’s feet out of the way of a falling knife.
In a more scholarly sense, the exploration of this system of response is Affect Theory, and Gorechord storytelling is the application of this theory in the way Storytellers interact with their players in the World of Darkness.
An example of affect theory is the way one can’t help rolling their eyes at things that annoy them, or the way their heart races when they feel fear, or the sense of dread that fills them when they sense danger. These are all examples of negative affects, or emotional states that are experienced as unpleasant or uncomfortable. Negative affects can be powerful tools for storytellers, allowing them to create a sense of urgency and danger in their narratives. By tapping into these emotions, storytellers can create a visceral, immersive experience for their players, drawing them into the world of the story.
In order to convey affect in their narrative voice, storytellers can use a variety of techniques. They can describe the physical sensations that characters are feeling, such as the pounding of their heart or the sweat on their brow. They can use vivid, descriptive language to create a sense of atmosphere and mood, such as describing the sound of a distant storm or the smell of burning embers. They can also use pacing and structure to create a sense of tension and urgency, such as by gradually building up to a climactic moment through an evolution of a neutral or positive affect, to a negative one, or otherwise by using abrupt cuts and changes in perspective to disorient both the perception and positioning of the players.
Affects as Shown in Horror Storytelling
Interest/Excitement: Novelty and the anticipation of an outcome
- Horror: A suspension of disbelief, like a moment of bonding with a protagonist on a road trip
- Terror: A false sense of security before the terror sets in, like heading to bed
- Splatterpunk: Suspense and anticipation, two men arguing over a spilled drink at the roadhouse
Enjoyment/Joy: Achieving a desired goal
- Horror: The characters wax nostalgic and start laughing at the shared story.
- Terror: You fall asleep and have a dream that’s really slow and peaceful.
- Splatterpunk: One man offers to buy a new drink and reaches for his wallet.
Surprise/Startle: Unexpected stimuli
- Horror: Wiping tears of laughter from your eyes, you look in the rearview mirror and see someone sitting in the back seat.
- Terror: Something interrupts your dream and you wake up.
- Splatterpunk: One instant the characters see this unfolding, and then there’s a shattering of glasses and everyone flinching away from the condiments and bits of gunk that was everyone’s food.
Distress/Anguish: Loss or unfulfilled desire
- Horror: Feeling your heartrate rising, you don’t remember entering the car with anyone other than the driver.
- Terror: You feel a sinking twisting in your stomach as you realize you’re leaning to the side slightly. Something is sitting on the bed beside you.
- Splatterpunk: While clearing condiments from your eyes, you hear gasps and sounds of disgust. You think you hear someone scream, but you can’t see them, because you can’t seem to be able to take your eyes off the head that landed in the middle of the table, and the blank stare of its eyes.
Anger/Rage: Frustration or thwarted goals
- Horror: You turn around, ready for a fight.
- Terror: You open your eyes only to be greeted by your dark room.
- Splatterpunk: You realize in a flash of recognition, that head belongs to the Brujah you’ve been stalking all night that offered to buy the offended stranger a drink.
Fear/Terror: Perception of danger or threat
- Horror: You don’t see anybody in the backseat.
- Terror: You feel the thing beside you move, and you cannot see it.
- Splatterpunk: Whatever did this to this kindred, can do this to you.
Shame/Humiliation: Social disapproval or failure
- Horror: Your friend driving doesn’t seem to notice.
- Terror: You put your hand where you feel it’s weight and find nothing.
- Splatterpunk: You hear a voice from among the crowd speak with a growl, “Oops. Looks like he lost his head.” in Garou Tongue, and a scream erupts in the crowd.
Disgust/Dissmell/Contempt: Repulsive or offensive stimuli
- Horror: You turn around, and a hand suddenly thrusts out of the mirror and grabs you.
- Terror: With a sudden sick feeling of panic welling your gut, you feel yourself start to sink into the mattress.
- Splatterpunk: Feeling a growl of your own rising in your throat, you recognize the voice of that Black Spiral Dancer
Incorporating a Gorechord into your story:
Determine the overall narrative arc of the chronicle.
- What is the main story you want to tell?
- What are the major events and conflicts that will drive the story forward?
Divide the story into chapters, each of which should tell a complete story while also advancing the overall narrative arc.
- Each chapter should have its own trilithon and should be a self-contained story that contributes to the larger narrative.
Identify the horror, terror, and splatterpunk elements that you want to include in each scene.
- Determine how you want to deliver sensory information to emphasize these elements and create an immersive experience for your players.
Use trilithons to structure each scene.
- Start with a promise to your players about what they will experience in the scene.
- Then, create a turning point that subverts that promise and introduces a new element of horror, terror, or splatterpunk.
- Finally, deliver on the promise of something extraordinary that resolves the scene and leaves the players wanting more.
Connect each scene to the larger narrative arc by introducing new characters, conflicts, and plot twists.
- Each scene should contribute to the larger story while also being a self-contained horror story in its own right.
Use All Senses in Your Descriptions.
Players often receive nothing more than a visual description of the room they’re in, leaving a lot to the imagination. Simply using adjectives to describe the indescribable may not convey the intended emotion. Instead, try to immerse the players in the character’s perspective. For instance, a character may be unable to comprehend a creature’s physical form or may be affected by its presence. Describing the sounds, smells, and physical sensations that the creature evokes can create a more immersive experience for players, making even mundane encounters more memorable. By activating the senses, players can feel like they’re experiencing events in person, allowing for deeper immersion within the session.
Creating an immersive experience for players in a game involves activating all their senses. The following paragraphs detail how the six senses can be utilized to enhance the players’ experience.
Sight: Visual descriptions are crucial in creating a mental image for the players. Adding details about the lighting, colors, and textures in the environment can make the players feel like they are truly there. For example, describing the flickering shadows created by a nearby torch, the vibrant red color of a bloody blade, or the ethereal glow of a magical artifact can create a lasting impact on the players’ minds.
Sound: The things one hears can add depth to the environment, providing clues about what’s happening around the players. Whether it’s the clinking of chains, the screeching of bats, or the distant sounds of battle, each sound can help to paint a vivid picture of the scene. Playing sound effects or music can further enhance the players’ experience, creating a truly immersive atmosphere.
Smell: From the metallic scent of blood, the musty odor of old books, or the pungent stench of decay, each scent can evoke a visceral reaction in the players. Using scented candles or essential oils can further enhance the players’ experience, allowing them to fully engage their sense of smell.
Touch: Describing the texture of rough stone walls, the chill of a frigid wind, or the warmth of a comforting fire can transport the players into the scene. You can also use props or textures to add a physical element to the game, such as handing players a cold, metal key or a soft, furry animal pelt.
Taste: While taste may not come up as frequently as other senses in a game, it can still add a layer of immersion to the experience. Describing the metallic taste of fear, the salty taste of sweat, or the sweetness of a delicious meal can help players feel more connected to their characters. You can also use food and drink as props, such as providing the players with a feast that matches the one their characters are eating in-game.
Affect: Finally, it’s important to consider how the environment affects the players on an instinctual level. Describing how the hair on the back of the players’ necks stand up, their hearts race, or they get a sick feeling in their stomach can create a visceral response in the players. If you’ve ever been in an accident or other disaster, your body will respond faster than you can comprehend what’s going on. This form of narrative is a perspective from the players’ own body. By tapping into their instinctive reactions, you can create a truly immersive experience that they’ll never forget.
Don’t Lose Sight of the Story
Create a rough, bulleted outline of what kind of story you’re telling, the scope of the story, and the storytelling mechanisms you hope to employ. List who the main actors are, and if needed, create a brief note on how they relate to each other. Reference this list often, especially every time you’re working on your chronicle. It helps you keep your sights set on an ultimate outcome that you’re hoping to guide your players through. Take this a step forward by creating a timeline of events to ensure the story has a believable timetable while placing NPCs at appropriate times and places.
Essentially, you have to write a short story. Establish a status quo, disrupt the status quo, set antagonists to hinder the plot, protagonists to accelerate it, design your climax and the aftermath. Now, expand it into multiple arcs that are building towards something big. Along similar lines, decide how much and what kind of power you want the players to have. Is this going to conclude in a high powered kaiju battle, or will it be a skin-of-the-teeth experience the players keep barely surviving?
Write Your NPCs For Quick Lookups
When creating NPCs for your Gorechord narrative, it’s important to consider the pacing of the story and the players’ need for quick reference. A well-crafted NPC can add depth and complexity to your chronicle, but too much information can slow down the gameplay and hinder immersion. To keep things simple and effective, follow the W5 formula:
Who are they?
- Provide a brief description of the NPC’s physical appearance and personality traits. This can help players visualize the character and form an initial impression.
What are their goals?
- Every character should have a reason for being in the story. What motivates this NPC? Are they trying to achieve a specific goal or fulfill a certain purpose?
Where are they in meeting their goals?
- It’s important to give the players a sense of progress or urgency. Is the NPC close to achieving their goal, or are they just beginning their journey?
When are they planning their next steps in these goals?
- Provide context for the NPC’s actions. When will they make their next move? Are they waiting for a specific event or opportunity?
Why are they doing this?
- This question delves deeper into the NPC’s motivations. What drives them? Are they seeking revenge, power, or redemption?
Optional: How will they accomplish this?
- Depending on the NPC’s goals, it may be helpful to include a brief description of their methods. How do they plan to achieve their goals? What obstacles will they face?
Don’t Write Yourself or Your Players Into a Corner
That is, have some concrete components that motivate the plot forward without making the players’ decision a lynchpin in your story. Give your players a clear end-objective, and then be prepared to make the person and circumstance delivering that narrative something that can be interchangeably used depending on location and NPC. Nothing is more frustrating than dedicating all of your narrative to specific locations or times only for the players to diverge completely from your aim and plan. At that point you either have to railroad players into the plot (frustrating for players), or become a hostage to your players and abandon the module entirely (frustrating to the Storyteller). There’s a few ways around this:
Remember that the players are the driving force behind the game. While it’s necessary to have a clear story and world in mind, it’s equally important to allow players to make choices that align with their characters’ personal interests and motivations. When the players’ agency is taken away and they are forced down a predetermined path, the game becomes a railroad. This not only takes away from the fun and excitement of playing, but it can also lead to frustration and disengagement from the players. By writing the players into the world and allowing them to make meaningful choices, the game becomes a collaborative storytelling experience that is more immersive and engaging for everyone involved. Steering your players down such a course stops being a railroad if it aligns with their character’s objectives and personality.
Storytellers should aim to reward player curiosity and make use of new NPCs or interactions as sources of information that the players need. This can be achieved by designing the narrative to allow for multiple avenues of exploration and discovery, and by creating NPCs and scenarios that are flexible enough to adapt to unexpected player actions. Additionally, you should be prepared to improvise and adjust your plans on the fly, in order to keep the game engaging and responsive to player input. By following these guidelines, you can ensure that your chronicles remain dynamic and adaptable, and avoid the frustration of being trapped by your narrative decisions.
Don’t become overly attached to NPCs, including the main antagonist or villain. If your intended villain unexpectedly dies, it’s possible to salvage your story by reimagining them as a pawn in someone else’s game. This can add depth and intrigue to your chronicle, while also keeping your options open for future plot twists and turns. Flexibility, and the willingness to adapt to unexpected outcomes will keep players engaged and invested in the story, no matter where it leads.
When starting a gaming session, it’s crucial to have a clear goal in mind. Summarize that goal in 3 sentences or less to keep yourself on track. However, be flexible and adaptable as players often come up with unexpected ideas or actions. Use these as opportunities to incorporate their choices into the overarching narrative while still working towards the session’s goal. Continuously seek ways to motivate players towards that goal, but also allow them the freedom to explore and create their own paths within the story.
It’s important to strike a balance between overplanning and under planning. While you don’t want to script every detail, it’s essential to have enough prepared to prevent being caught off-guard. Having multiple maps and locations on hand, even if they are not fully fleshed out, can be helpful in avoiding a narrative dead-end. A basic rough map of a location the players can reach in a session can provide structure and give the players a sense of direction, preventing them from feeling lost. Ultimately, players will always have the ability to surprise you, but having a variety of maps and NPCs prepared can help you adapt to their decisions and keep the story moving forward smoothly.
Incorporate Elements of Greek Tragedy
Tragedy is an intensive, greatly misunderstood, and underutilized narrative tool that can add a layer of depth and complexity to any story, including tabletop RPG chronicles. Life would be but a fevered dream if not for the adventures that turn it upside down. It is through tragedy that one confronts and reconciles their own uncomfortable truths; in short, the realm where true inner strength is forged!
A common element of Greek tragedy is Hubris, or excessive pride and self-confidence. By introducing characters with hubris, such as powerful villains or overconfident allies, players can be challenged to overcome their own flaws and weaknesses in order to defeat them.
The Tragic Flaw is a character trait that ultimately leads to their downfall. This can be a powerful tool in storytelling, as players can be faced with the difficult task of recognizing and addressing their own flaws in order to avoid a similar fate. Tragic flaws can be especially tense and dramatic, when utilized effectively.
Moral Dilemmas can introduce choices that force players to consider their own values and beliefs. For example, players might be forced to choose between saving innocent lives or pursuing a personal vendetta, or between following the law and protecting their friends.
Urgency and Dark Fates can make the stakes feel higher and increase the emotional investment of both the characters and the audience. Urgency can come in the form of a looming deadline or a pressing danger, forcing the characters to act quickly and make difficult choices. Meanwhile, dark fates can create a sense of dread and anticipation, hinting at a tragic end for the characters or a catastrophic outcome for the world they inhabit.
Deep Villains Motivate Players
A villain the players will frequently interact with needs to be given the same attention and consideration the players give to their own characters. They need to be dimensional and relatable; in short, they need motivation. More importantly, this makes them memorable. It’s always underwhelming to be pursuing a villain and not even know why you’re doing it. You could show up to a confrontation, and they’re there with all their mini bosses, but something spectacular needs to occur to make it more than just ‘another fight’. If your player decides to try something creative to find a solution you weren’t expecting, try rewarding the behavior and seeing where it takes you.
Consequences Over Punishment.
As a storyteller, it’s essential to remember that players should always have agency in the game. The choices they make should have consequences, but these consequences should not feel like punishment. Also, it’s lazy storytelling to respond to unforeseen player actions with punishment! The things happening in-game are meant to be happening to the characters, not the players, so instead, consider consequences that take time to be realized. The players can see how things could have gone differently, and they can apply this knowledge to future scenarios, better developing their characters. When consequences are appropriately utilized, players are more invested in the game, creating a memorable and immersive experience for everyone involved.
For example, suppose the players were asked to find someone prominent who had gone missing in town. The players decide to do personal jobs and interact with NPCs around town instead. Instead of punishing the players, introduce consequences for their actions (or lack thereof). On the fifth night of carousing, one of the NPCs finds the corpse of the missing person and brings the players to it. This is a moment of heavy gravity that can turn into a narrative component. This type of consequence usually reveals if a party member is a “murder hobo,” willing to cast aside altruism for personal gain. A victory for the antagonist such as this could also give them more sway over the town or affect how NPCs interact with the players.
When consequences are used instead of punishment, players are more engaged and immersed in the narrative. It creates a sense of agency for the players and allows them to see how their actions affect the world around them. Consequences also allow for the development of the story and the characters within it.
Players can become disheartened and resentful when they feel inferior, or believe they are being punished for their curiosity or actions. As Storyteller, it’s important to avoid deliberately harming players in response to something they do. This response can come across as petty and targeted, and the results are seldom beneficial to the narrative.
Gorechord Bibliography 2003–2019
Each of these films feature elements of horror, terror, and splatterpunk storytelling, as well as strong narrative arcs and well-developed characters. By studying the techniques used in these and similar films, storytellers can gain valuable insights into how to create immersive and terrifying worlds in their Gorechord chronicles.
Oldboy (2003) directed by Park Chan-wook: A man is kidnapped and held captive for 15 years, and upon his release, he embarks on a quest for revenge against those who wronged him.
The Descent (2005) directed by Neil Marshall: A group of female friends go on a caving expedition that goes horribly wrong when they become trapped and are hunted by a group of monstrous creatures.
Black Swan (2010) directed by Darren Aronofsky: A ballerina’s pursuit of perfection becomes an obsessive descent into madness as she prepares for the lead role in Swan Lake.
It Follows (2014) directed by David Robert Mitchell: A young woman is plagued by a supernatural entity that is constantly following her and is only visible to those who have been affected by it.
The Witch (2015) directed by Robert Eggers: A family in 1630s New England is torn apart by suspicion and paranoia when their newborn baby goes missing and strange occurrences begin to happen around their farm.
A Cure for Wellness (2016) directed by Gore Verbinski: An ambitious young executive is sent to retrieve his company’s CEO from a mysterious “wellness center” in the Swiss Alps, but soon discovers that the facility has sinister aims.
Get Out (2017) directed by Jordan Peele: A young black man visits his white girlfriend’s family for the weekend, only to discover their horrifying true intentions.
Annihilation (2018) directed by Alex Garland: A team of scientists enters “Area X,” a mysterious and deadly zone where the laws of nature are distorted and mutated, in order to uncover its secrets.
The Lighthouse (2019) directed by Robert Eggers: Two lighthouse keepers on a remote New England island in the 1890s descend into madness as they are trapped together by a storm.