The Art of Graphic Violence

Posted: March 26, 2012 by pointyman2000 in Advice, Articles, Mage: the Awakening, Roleplaying Games, World of Darkness

When it comes to gritty games or horror games, one can never underestimate the value of perfectly described violence.

I’m not a violent person, but in order to highlight the mood of a given game, it becomes necessary to be able to tap into a certain portrayal of violence that should evoke a certain spectrum of emotion appropriate to the type of game you’re running. For example, in my current Mage: the Awakening Campaign “Endangered Species,” I’ve been working on making sure that violence of any sort is the type that will leave my players uncomfortable.

I feel that the World of Darkness setting requires that violence still be stomach-churning at any level. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Vampire, a Hunter, or a Mage… hurting someone else is inherently wrong. I want my players to react to scenes of violence with the same gut-punch feel of seeing someone actually being attacked in real life.

To that end, I drop the standard D&D-ish descriptions of combat by the wayside when I run World of Darkness. Gone are the flowery “You run him through with a great cry of victory, before kicking him off your blade and turning to face the next goblin” descriptions, replaced instead with a more graphic, and perhaps medically accurate description of what happens.

For example, a World of Darkness game might have something to the tune of, “The man falls backwards from the blow to the head, his eyes crossed as he lands on the pile of trash. Your arm is still tingling, echoes of the feedback of the lead pipe to the crown of his head still there, blood rushing in your ears as you raise the pipe high over your head and bring it down again and again…”

The point of this sort of violence is to paint the act as a non-heroic and certainly undesirable behavior that offends basic human decency. There’s nothing glamorous about ripping someone’s teeth out with a claw hammer, and there’s certainly nothing noble about using a pair of pliers on someone’s testicles. While this might seem amusing to some players (trust me, I’ve met a few) framing the violence in the right way can make the necessary difference to stop them from chuckling and make them cringe.

Ultimately, graphic violence is a technique that is of significant use in any horror or gritty campaign. When used sparingly, and using carefully considered language, violence becomes something that adds to the game rather than detracting from it.

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