Designer Diary: Disaster Strikes! : The Doomsayer

My personal favourite mechanic from working on Disaster Strikes! is the Doomsayer, aka the Cassandra. They’re there in every disaster movie[*]. The person who repeatedly warns that everything is about to go belly up, only to be ignored until it is far too late. Charlton Heston in The Towering Inferno, Ripley in Aliens, Dustin Hoffman in Outbreak!.

DS! turns this into part of the game rules. One person has the job of being the predictor of the doom to come.

Special: Prediction. During the first Act, your protagonist makes dire predictions which will come true, but which everyone else will ignore. At any time during the first Act you may make an In Character statement pointing out a risk, a weak spot or possible threat. Your statement is true. In this way you can help foreshadow the threat and what will happen in the second and third Acts. Don’t forget to stay consistent with what’s already agreed – no fair turning the volcano into a flood, or whatever. And of course, you must not use this ability to weaken the threat – your role is to enhance it.

Note: during the first Act, nobody except the person with the above special is permitted to attend to the threat. They either fail to notice it, ignore it, discount it as not as bad as it seems, or focus on other priorities. Meanwhile the nature of the disaster will be such that if the Doomsayer tries to stop it by themselves they will certainly fail. On the plus side, the disaster is only embryonic and certainly not out-of-control at this point.

Meanwhile the DM and the players have a perfect view of what is coming – just as they would in a disaster movie. The Doomsayer is handing opportunities to the DM for dramatic situations in later Acts, and to the player to figure out how they might deal with them. Not to mention getting to take part in the creative process like no other player – apart from the DM.

In DS!, Act I is for introducing the setting, the characters and their relationships, and foreshadowing the disaster. The doomsayer plays an important role in that. The remaining specials are chiefly concerned with Act II – when the threat kicks off in earnest. More on this soon.

[*] Possible hyperbole alert. I haven’t watched all or even most disaster movies. Yet.

Josh Fox

Rabalias grew up wanting to be a pirate. But a band of evil bureaucrats kidnapped him and forced him to work for The Man. Even so, Rabalias was patient and cunning. He escaped by gnawing his way through the walls of his prison and concealing the hole behind a picture of cthulhu. He fled to the coast, and stowed away on the Black Armada, where he worked his way up to the rank of Admiral.

4 thoughts to “Designer Diary: Disaster Strikes! : The Doomsayer”

  1. How about a game in which one player plays the role of the “Chekhov”: his role is to point out various “guns”, which must inevitably be used in Act III?

  2. Another good idea here.

    Comment – what’s the incentive for the player to play this card? Unlike “you’re dead!” which gives a player incentive to continue playing even after their PC has kicked the bucket – and can benefit the rest of the party – this one seems to work against the party and the only benefit to the player is to get smug points.

    Since the player is enhancing the danger, maybe they can get some sort of “plot credit note” for later use? If you watch disaster movies the Cassandra is often a survivor, so it would make sense.

    Another example of the Cassandra – Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park.

    1. I guess it depends on your agenda for the game. DS! is about creating a major threat, setting up a situation where lots of people could be killed by it, and then struggling to save those people as the disaster rages out of control. Part of the enjoyment of the game is to watch helplessly as the threat accelerates to boiling point. So there’s entertainment value for everyone else coming from the Cassandra’s role; and in effect, they’re a mini-GM for Act I.

      Since by definition the disaster would indeed rage out of control in Act II and III there’s no incentive not to use it – you’re adding colour and detail, not making it happen per se. The risk if anything is that nobody will want to take this special (you only get one, and the others are all “do this awesome in character thing in Act II”).

      Interesting idea about the plot credit, I shall ponder that. Just want to make sure the Cassandra isn’t like “you get an awesome special ability and you can take part in narration in Act I as well!” or else conversely, there’d be no incentive to take anything else.

      Jeff Goldblum: YES. In fact Jurrasic Park has to be in my list of “inspired by” movies, it so clearly follows the same formula.

  3. I would see the Cassandra as upping the ante – they make the disaster worse by their presence, so they get to do something to balance it out.

    I don’t think a narration credit is the same as a game winning credit though. The You’re Dead! special is compelling because there’s a game effect – but I assume you get to narrate as well.

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