The Imaginarium of Mr. Moreau (tremulus)

It is funny that Aki should mention the gaming immersion in his recent post. I encountered some of the problems discussed while I ran tremelus last week.

I had done my homework and read through the rulebook. I had played the game a few times and I had build a framework for the session. But still something was missing. And that was the confidence that is required to run this kind of a game.

Having just recently found the Apocalypse World engine I did not have the same amount of experience from it as Aki did when he ran tremulus. He made it seem quite easy. I found it anything but that. I had to constantly browse through the book to find what moves I could use and how exactly I could do that. I had to consult Aki during the session to get a confirmation that I was doing the thing right. It was a big hassle. At the beginning.

Then I did what I should have done the last time a ran a one shot. Threw to rules out the window so to speak. I wasn’t going to let the rule system ruin yet another session and just lead the game as I usually do. By guiding the flow of events just the way I damn please.

The players where familiar with their end of the system. They new what they were doing but I lost total track of all the tracks and moves I had in my disposal. I just let the things happen the way I thought they might improve the narrative. Was this done according to the principles of tremulus? Maybe not but at least to my knowledge the players had fun and enjoyed the game.

If you want to check out the framework (and maybe give pointers of how to improve it?) you can download it HERE as a pdf.

Sequel to Bell End

Tomorrow is the third time we are going to tackle tremulus. But this time I will be running the game instead of Aki. As this is again one of our random sessions it sets the score of games run to a tie between me and him (hopefully Ville can take this hint as he is now left behind).

I’ve been working with my own rpg system for a couple of years now (more of that will follow at some point) and wanted to brake away from it for a bit. After two sessions I think I have some idea of how to run a game of tremulus. Not enough maybe but that is besides the point of trying things out.

As a fan of intertextuality I wanted to take elements from the stories Aki ran and build something from them. A sequal was exactly what I wanted to do. Something that fits the horror genre like a hockey mask to a serial killer.

Primrose Path didn’t offer much in the way of continuity. It could only work out as a “Return to the Mansion” but if you have played it through you know the problems this kind of approach could present.

Bell End was a far better choice. My character survived it and painted a master piece (though it happened during the debrief stage). There were some unsolved elements too which helped me to form the basic idea behind my own framework. Some Red Bull and Midnight Syndicate was everything else I needed to write it.

The first thing I noticed was the lack of clear examples of writing a framework (from my experience with WFRP I gather this is a major problem as fan material is quite a boost for any game). So I worked with Aki’s framework and that from Primrose Path.

It was interesting to notice how the guidelines of frameworking for tremulus guided my ideas. I had thought it to only take moment to write down my ideas but the restrictions, examples and guidelines refined them. It wasn’t so easy to write it in a compact form but as a writing exercise it was a good one.

We’ll get back on this after tomorrow’s game. So session debriefing and the downloadable framework will follow at some point.


Continuing with the major theme of one shots in this blog, lets talk a little about tremulus (yes, that’s a lower case ‘t’) and how it handles these.

First, I find it great that a game has this aspect of focusing on one-shots in it. On top of that, the way they are handled encourages improvisation, but helps with keeping things together, which probably helps new GMs with their confidence, which is a huge part of GMing this way (or GMing in general).

To facilitate this, tremulus introduces the concept of frameworks. A framework consists of a few hazards, usually three or four. Then you just give them hazard tracks, which basically means things these hazards will do when certain things are triggered. Hazards can be lots of things, like people, objects or the setting itself, as long as it presents dangers or obstacles to the characters.


So, yesterday we had a session of so-called “random rpg” and I was going to run a game of tremulus. The night before I sat down and thought about it for a while. First, I decided I was going to use an old idea of mine, which never came to fruition, where a young girl murders her employers. There was one hazard behind that, which became the “linchpin” or the hazard everything else revolves around. Then I thought maybe the townsfolk aren’t that interested in helping the characters, but I decided against making them townies, and made the village a landscape instead, and a maze at that. I separated the sheriff from the rest, who became and elder, or protector to be more precise, and then I decided to put a painting with extraordinary powers in to the picture. That’s a weird.

All these terms (townies, landscape, maze, elder, protector, weird) are shortcuts to a set of moves they can make, if players fail rolls.

The end result: Bell End

Note that lots of things are left open. That’s the point. You have something to rely on, but mostly you have to think on your feet. The game itself is almost completely player facing, meaning the GM never rolls anything and in this case, the GM can’t even act unless given a chance (the players ask something, the players fail at something, a hazard is triggered from the track, the GM expends a hold, or the players remain quiet for too long).

This results in players as the driving force behind the story. In our group, this usually means intense conflict, which ends in someones death. As Lauri / doc_cthulhu mentioned yesterday in his post, all you need is a few PC in an enclosed space and the story will emerge. That’s pretty much what happened.

I highly recommend tremulus. I enjoy it, as I have enjoyed Apocalypse World and MonsterHearts before it. Different emphases, but its still great and lots of fun for me as the GM, as I try to find places where I can mess with the players. Most of the time I don’t have to. They’ll mess with themselves and each other plenty.