As I prepare for this vivisection of sorts, let’s consider: What is a Threat? I think that what a Threat is at its heart is an embodiment of what we fear. This could be anything, but what we fear more than most things is change. To me, Threats in The Between shine brightest when they give our hunters, and Hargrave House as a whole, the potential to change: to define themselves, to shape their identities through their choices, like stones against the chiseled grain of a diamond blade. Hargrave House reveals its identity by how its members choose to handle the scenarios that come its way. That is the role of a Threat. In a game where our backstories are explicitly occluded, our choices in the game matter far more than in others to show who we are. Threats are the voices that whisper, “WHAT DO YOU DO?”. When a hunter hears this, they must decide—and God save the queen if there is no answer.
In this post I am going to go through what I have learned about writing Threats so far, from studying other writer’s Threats, engaging in the discourse on the Gauntlet Publishing Discord and of course struggling with my own. I will go in depth on the anatomy of a Threat and a little about how I think about their role within The Between as a whole. I will demonstrate my points with examples from The Between Writing Contest entries. This post is intended for folks who are writing Threats for their home games. You might not agree with everything here, and that is perfectly okay. Take everything with a grain of salt. And if you don’t agree with me, please let me know your thoughts in the comments! I am just glad you can join me through this reflection and would love to continue the discussion with you.
My goals for this post are the following:
- To break down a Threat into its minutiae so writing your own is more approachable.
- To highlight the strong points of a variety of Threats from the Contest.
- To mention a bit about why I value the community on the Gauntlet.
Who I am
Hi! My name is Ben Bisogno. I am a student in design and media planning at Kyoto City University of Art. I wrote three Threats for the contest: The Beadle, The Child Thief, and The Nutcracker. Let me know how they go if you choose to pick one up for your game! I would be thrilled.
You can find me @kyoto_ben on Twitter or contact me at benbisogno(at)gmail.com
I want to thank the Gauntlet community as a whole for always giving respectful, constructive criticism on fan designs, Jason Cordova for giving general writing tips to everyone on the Discord, the contest judges Sherri, Jammi, and Lowell, for taking the time to pour over all 45 entries, and David Morrison for his thoughts on Dangers, among others.
OUR FIRST INCISION
Considering a Concept
Choose a big idea or theme before you start writing. When you do so, consider seriously how these ideas can be expressed within or relation to the Victorian era itself. In my opinion, Threats are at their best when they are not aberrations in London so much as expressions of it. In my view, the great arc of The Between shows the hunters are fighting against the age of the day they live in itself, which is an all encompassing context that enables Threats to fester.
Even when a Threat is a literal alien entity—like Gesod, High Imperator of Venus—the reason why the Venutian emperor fits perfect for The Between is in the way his tactics mirror those of the British Empire itself: he will divide and conquer the capital city, by force if necessary, just like how Britain does in other countries. Below is a quote from the text:
Gesod wishes to add Earth to his territory and views the British Empire as his greatest potential opponent. He believes that if he can topple the seat of British power via subterfuge rather than direct attack this will put him in an advantageous position to begin his conquest of the entire planet, at minimal cost to his own forces.
Is there any difference between these indirect tactics and periodically direct annexations, and the ones used in forging the British Raj under Queen Victoria? The horrors Gesod brings to bear are simply sci-fi reflections of the harms the British Empire caused during the period. Underlying the Threats are the Masterminds, but underlying the Masterminds is the Victorian age itself—an age as different to us today as the surface of Venus. The Victorian age itself, the time and culture, is the only villain Hargrave House is unable defeat.
Many interesting threats choose an aspect of the era and simply reframe them to fit the mood of The Between. Even the contest winner, Gabriel’s sweeping The Drowned Guardian of the Docks, is a reimagining of three events during the era: the sinking of the SS Princess Alice, the sinking of the Blackadder, a ship that set out with known but poorly repaired construction errors, and the conditions leading up to the London dock strike of 1889. The threat draws a great deal of its sweeping power from these real life narrative anchors.
The Victorian Era is full of strangeness and horror, even removing any reference to the supernatural. This was an age in which the demand for certain fashion accessories made of dead animals was so strong, species were hunted to extinction; it was an era where unwrapping real Egyptian mummies was used as an exotic entertainment; body modification became increasingly popular with tighter lacing and the spread of tattoos; body snatching was common, and arsenic was used liberally in makeup. Relate your Threat to aspects of the period and I am sure your Threat will be at home in the setting.
When considering a Threat, consider its scale. Will your Threat extend across the breadth of London, or will it crawl around the confines of a tiny apartment? The more specific you write your Threat, the more power it will have, so you really need a sweeping idea—or a good deal of craft—to prevent a Threat that may appear anywhere in London from becoming thin. The Queen of Ur takes place at the British Museum. It is a powerful Threat in part because of that focus. At the same time, The Drowned Guardian of the Docks, is more expansive, encompassing all of London’s docks and the various establishments around them. However it backs this up by undergirding it with a high attention to detail and modular bits of drama.
A Threat does not necessarily need to be a horror show, that is, an immediate danger that needs to be dealt with haste. A Threat can be quite small and apparently harmless, as long as it forces Hargrave House to make a defining choice about how it interacts with it. In the Threat “The Reaver’s Last Victim”, the Threat is merely the imminent death of a mother who may never get closure; how our hunters handle this situation defines who they are. Do they act on a sense of guilt, feeling beholden to the actions of past generations of hunters? Do they decide to not act at all? It’s up to the table. The physical stakes are low, but the emotional stakes are high, because our hunter’s choices will reveal who they are. In another example, “The Shoreditch Slugger”, the Threat is simply a supernaturally strong wrestler, and the lives they have damaged or even ended inside the ring. If you let the situation remain as it is, the Slugger will simply become the Mastermind’s henchman. This is not material deserving of a front page spread of the Morning Chronicle, but despite its scale, or perhaps because of it, it is effective, because it has, in this case literally, real punch. Both The Reaver’s Last Victim and The Shoreditch Slugger are Threats who know who they are.
Additionally, your Threat does not have to be supernatural. Hargrave House simply handles cases that the London’s police unit, Scotland Yard, cannot themselves. The Between is built for Hannibal-esque baddies and deserves them. As long as you tie the hunters to the situation, with a good establishing question, Hargrave House will jump on the scene. Welcome to the Brimstone Society is mostly a Threat about a society of murderous elites. The Nutcracker’s villain is simply a former dancer who is creating frozen art out of fellow dancers in the company, gelding them in the process. This is nothing magical, but it is nonetheless gripping.
Though the core threats do not exceed 2300 words, there is something to be said for even more depth. For a Keeper with the time to savor a Threat, the more specific and immersive you can make your Threat, the more the Keeper can absorb what you are giving and deliver the atmosphere you want at the table. The Drowned Guardian of the Docks is nearly 2500 words, and has a nearly teleporting quality about it. You can clearly picture London's docks when reading it.
At the same time, there is something to be said for concision. The Reaver’s Last Victim is only 700 words, but its power is undiminished by the count. Cut the fat of your Threat to what you think is most powerful, and if you still need more pizzazz, you can always go back afterward to tack more drapery on the scaffolding. Be aware, it is always a kindness to be able to glance at the page and not have to read a lot to get the gist of what you want to say.
Quite simply, getting involved in the Gauntlet community on Discord was a blessing. Without the discussion that was generated on the Discord during the contest, I would not have been thinking as deeply about the elements of my Threats as I had, or question as deeply the components that made them up. The Gauntlet is a healthy community with respectful and engaged peers who all have a great deal of expertise, so it was really wonderful to be supported by all of them. To everyone from there who is reading this, your advice and questions are always generous, insightful, and deeply appreciated. Thank you everyone!
Useful Links Drawn from the Discord
Here are a few resources shared on the Gauntlet Discord that helped me write my Threats:
All of the public Contest Entries:
Fashion in the Victorian Era: https://vintagedancer.com/victorian/victorian-fashion-hisory/
A General Primer on the Era:
Maps of Victorian London:
An Already Developed Supplement of the Victorian era for Games:
PEELING BACK THE SKIN
Come either first or last. It is perfectly fine to give yourself a working title and then change it when you are finished to better reflect the Threat’s final form. Most Titles so far have started with “The” at the beginning, so extra points if yours doesn’t! Titles do the following:
- Titles Inform Place. The Kensington Killer, The Miasma of Miswell Hill both let us know where in London they are.
- Titles Set The Tone. “Calico Jenny's Curious Clowder” sounds very different than “Deadly Art.”
- Titles Imply Scale. The Guardian of St. Paul's Cathedral implies a single setting.
- Titles Detail Subject-Matter. “St. Cecilia's Gargoyle” makes the Threat clear.
- Titles Express the Pulpy Quality of The Between. Puns and alliteration are welcome. Mean Times in Greenwich, The Nutcracker, The Beadle, Fairy Dust all hit the mark.
The Big Sync
One of the major pitfalls when writing a Threat is having either 1) an incoherent Big Sync or 2) an uninteresting Big Sync. Either could leave your Threat wanting. However, if your Big Sync is logical and compelling, that itself can launch your players into a satisfying scenario, even if the rest of the text is thin, as long as you have a skilled Keeper.
The Presentation of the Threat
There needs to be a logical throughline from the presentation of the Threat, to the Questions and the manners in which the Threat can be resolved. My advice is to work backwards. Set a bullet point list of what information needs to be related to players in the italicized presentation. Then work on the Questions and Opportunities (including their resolutions), then follow up with the Establishing Question, and finally rework the Presentation again to fit what you have created below. Your presentation at a minimum should include the basic information players need to know: Who is key to the investigation? What is the situation? Where will the hunters be investigating?
The presentation of a Threat need not be long, but it should be impactful. It needs to set the tone of the Threat. For example, The Child Thief’s presentation is entirely in rhyme and verse in order to prepare us for the storybook nature of the Threat. However one problem with The Child Thief's presentation is that it is seemingly directed toward a specific playbook. This limits its potential. The Threat asks the Keeper to “Direct the following verse to a hunter with a curse (or anyone of your choice)”. Not all campaigns have an American with a blood curse, so it is not as actionable, as say when directing the Presentation of a Threat to a more universal feature of the playbooks, like Abilities. Of course, The Child Thief’s opening is set entirely in rhyme, and uses the word “curse” for its sound more than its meaning, but even so, this detracts from the power of the Threat.
I do suggest interacting with Abilities when directing the presentation. This is because not only are they universal to all the Playbooks, each ability has certain themes that they bring to the table and they recognize hunters who have chosen to add points to them. “Sensitivity” is related to emotional maturity, vulnerability, and magic. “Presence” refers to the space a character takes up and the force of their personality. “Vitality” can be interpreted to imply not just physical capability, but youth and beauty. “Composure” is related to physical and psychological stalwartness. And “Reason” refers, of course, to the analytic abilities to form carefully considered judgments or to disbelieve and ignore the uncanny. Although for these reasons Abilities are attractive mechanics to focus upon, do not feel limited to just the Abilities when directing your Threat. Aspects of the Mask of Past and Future work just as well. There are also possibilities beyond these. Just be careful to not limit the presentation too much, in order to keep your Threat evergreen for whatever playbook may interact with it.
As a whole, your presentation should foreshadow the Questions and Opportunities. It should demonstrate why Hargrave House is interested in the given situation. And it should hint at why the Threat needs to be dealt with or at least appears to hold the potential to cause more problems (even if just internally) for Hargrave House. For example, in Sap In Their Veins, a monstrous plant ala Little Shop of Horrors is making botanical zombies out of corpses; left to do his bloody business, the murderous Gardener at the center of the Threat would probably not pose a direct threat to Hargrave House, but they would still sow chaos. This is implied in the presentation of the Threat: a corpse was moving and “buds were growing out of the body.” It is clear in the eyes of Hargrave House, that this can become a bigger problem.
The Establishing Question(s) (The Hook):
Sets the tone, and emphasizes whatever information you want the hunters to know for sure before entering the Threat. Each Threat is a new reality in London and it is this Establishing Question that propels the hunters over the threshold into the given reality of the Threat. The Establishing Question focuses the hunters on what you would like them to consider.
As Jason Cordova said at one point during the contest, the establishing questions you ask players at the beginning are “vital”.”‘How do we know this is a ghost?" or "How do we know this vampire is in a small body?" A basic set of information needs to be established before the investigation actually commences or the Hunters will be stuck in the morass of getting started. The Establishing Question functions to empower hunters as well, because they act similar to mini-investigations.
In Black and White and Red all over, there are in fact two establishing questions, one to a hunter with the Most-Beloved Condition, and another to a hunter with the Moss-Covered Gate marked. Both emphasize the themes of the Threat. This first establishing question reads, “You were recently the target of a poison pen piece in one of the papers - how did they smear you, and what element of the story was true?” The reality it pulls us into is one of callous journalism. The other establishing question, “You know Süleyman the barber, and that he is a preferred destination for djinn and other supernatural beings. What unprompted act of kindness did he do for you?” makes clear the identities of the entities at play in the narrative, Djinn, but also relates our hunters personally to characters at the heart of the Threat. A deft stroke of writing.
Questions (Not the Establishing Questions—the Other Ones)
We know that Threats are chances to define the hunters through their choices, that Threats should encourage the table talk about motive and approach. The questions and opportunities section is one possible place for Hargrave House to define its character. Two points that need emphasizing with these questions is that, 1) You do not need to have a complicated Questions and Opportunities section and 2) The layering of Threats in the game makes some simple questions quite welcome, especially when at times a group may be juggling as many as 4 or 5 Threats at once.
If you want to have a more ambiguous presentation, you may use a Threshold Question to focus the story partway through the investigation. For example the contest Threat The Dimensions Eclipsed asks the following threshold question: "Is the phenomenon the result of a spell or scientific experiment?" At the beginning, the presentation was a tad vague, but the nature of the Threat subsequently becomes obvious.
As a rule of thumb, the Mastermind Threat’s complexity adds up to be no more than 10 and a regular Threat’s complexity adds up to no more than 8. However, do not feel compelled to follow that pattern. Often a Playbook Threat has a complexity of 6 or less. Complexity just implies the time you want us to immerse in the atmosphere. Less is more sometimes. In the spider themed Threat, Eggstravaganza, for example, there is a maximum complexity of 6 on display; a smaller Threat, but one that is still worthwhile.
You should have at least two Opportunities; this is the glaive that will reveal the inner personalities of the Hunters. What do they pursue? What are their ends? There may be multiple Opportunities per Question. In the Queen of Ur, there are three opportunities that give the hunters a wide degree of freedom to resolve the Threat, who is a restless spirit of a queen housed in a museum. Hunters can choose to pursue any of the following:
1) Resolve the Threat by luring the queen out of her hiding place (be it a physical or a metaphoric one), then killing or dispelling her.
2) Resolve the Threat by destroying or disenchanting the artefact or by banishing her spirit from it.
3) Resolve the Threat by researching and eliminating the reason for her vengeful behaviour, then granting her peace in the sands of time.
To reiterate, how hunters choose to handle the situation tells us a great deal about who they are and what type of organization as a whole Hargrave House is in their specific campaign.
The only real difference between an “Reward” and an “Opportunity” I think is that generally Rewards are only revealed after a Threat has been resolved. Opportunities, by contrast, are eye candy that coax the hunters deeper into the scenario. Any Reward you can think of could also serve as an Opportunity. One of the opportunities for my Peter Pan themed Threat, The Child Thief, is a single wish the players must agree on:
“The [Threat] is afraid of tears. What memory is he avoiding? (Complexity: 8)
Resolve the Threat by confronting him with the memory, making him cry for mercy, and granting it in exchange for 1 wish. (Agree on this as a group, so it doesn’t break your story.)”
I wrote this fanciful Opportunity because it was pitch-perfect on theme. When writing your own Opportunities, seriously consider whether they appropriately fit your own big idea.
You may have Opportunities that do not resolve the Threat. These provide for some of the most interesting character choices in the game. An Opportunity is anything that would draw the players to answer a question—it could be a reward of some kind, like a desirable Custom Move or event—but it need not actually resolve a Threat.
In The Brute of Kensington, one of the Questions given reveals an Opportunity where the hunters can receive a strength serum that allows them to transform into a “hulking version of themself.” Afterward, the hunters may just leave the situation as it is to rot and putrefy, having got what they wanted.
Not all Threats need “destruction” as a method of resolution. The theme of The Beadle is “Cocoon”. It’s about domestic love and love lost. Although the Threat is a human transformed into an insectoid creature who is in fact very vulnerable, there is no option to resolve the Threat by destroying it. The reason for this is that the Threat is about how we deal with the situation, not putting it out of mind—just like the characters at the heart of the scenario had to deal with their feelings. There are two manners given that hunters can pursue to resolve The Beadle: one way hunters can resolve the Threat is by reversing the process, welcoming Harshe Oomen back to humanity. Alternatively, the hunters can resolve the Threat by arranging new accomodations for the creature to live in contentedly. Both resolutions fit with the nature of the Threat and its core idea: the cocoon-like nature of love.
One of the most enticing Opportunities you can present to a group is a wicked Custom Move. But a good one is hard to make. When creating a Move, keep in mind that if you include rolls you may include serious costs in misses, because hunters have aspects of the Masks of the Past and Future to bump up low rolls. Alternatively, you do not need to include a roll in a Custom Move at all. When creating a Move, be aware of the Currencies of the game, that is the things that the player might value, to earn or sacrifice in pursuit of their ambitions. Below are The Between’s mechanical “Currencies”. If something is missing, let me know in the comments!
- Dawn Questions.
- Mastermind Clues.
- Insight into backstory.
- Conditions and their Effects.
- Features of Hargrave House.
- Relationships with Side Characters.
- Possessions for Personal Quarters.
- Abilities, their points, and their caps.
- Aspects of the Masks of Past and Future.
- Rerolling dice and other second chances.
- Rolling with advantage and disadvantage.
- Moves—and when a hunter can use them.
- Control of the Day/Night Cycle and its features.
- Raising or lowering the degree of complexity of Questions.
- Fictional positioning. (Appearing badass, ability to act in two scenes at once, etc.)
Here are some shapes Moves can take, quoting Brandon Leon Gambetta:
- When you [act in a way that is fictionally disadvantageous], [interact positively with a game currency].
- When you [spend a currency], [get a specific fictional outcome without Keeper or other mechanical interruption].
- When you [fictional trigger to effect a character choice], [interact with mechanics]. On a hit, [Side Characters do it, hunters either do it or spend currency]. On a 10+, [gain a currency yourself].
- When you [fictional trigger], [interact with mechanics]. On a hit, you [do what you wanted] and choose one. On a 7-9, [pay a fictional or mechanical cost].
- When you [interact fictionally to change someone], [interact with mechanics]. On a hit, [they are changed]. Pick one: [They give you something], [You learn something], or [You gain a fictional currency] On a 7-9, pick one-[You spend a currency] or [You spend a different currency]
- When you [fictional trigger], [interact with mechanics]. On a hit, they choose one. On a 10+, [gain currency]. Choose [They give you something now], [They promise you something later], or [They spend mechanical currency to avoid the situation]
- Whenever [you enter a phase of the Day/Night cycle], [interact with mechanics]. On a hit, [gain an immediate fictional advantage]. On a 7-9, [a situation is set up that will cause problems in the short term].
- When you [fictional trigger], [interact with mechanics]. On a hit, [trade Currencies]. On a 7-9, choose 1. On a 10+, choose 2: [Don't lose currency], [Gain fictional positioning], [Give fictional positioning to an ally]
Custom Move - Dance of the Nutcracker
When you take one step of the Dance of the Nutcracker, mark it off and upgrade any roll using Vitality or Composure to a 10+.
- Step 1. Narrate a scene in which you prepare the body of a Threat for sculpting.
- Step 2. Narrate a scene in which you groom an innocent for sculpting.
- Step 3. Narrate a scene in which you transform the body of the Sculptor themself into one of your own creations. Pick a new vice: (Puppetry/Nights at the Theater/A Living Collection/Something Else that Warms the Heart). Once you take Step 3, tell the other hunters that they can no longer use The Dance of the Nutcracker.
Custom Move – Metamorphosis
When you mark the Blood-Soaked Portal, you enter a cocoon state, incubating live young. Roll with Vitality.
On a hit, you are born anew, ejecting larvae from all orifices; unmark the Blood-Soaked Portal and three other Masks of the Future of your choice (even the Gilded Door). Remove all Conditions (even Most-Beloved), but then take the permanent Condition: Transformed.
On a 10+, your children do not become roaming Dangers within the city. Rather, they are now a Gang called the Brood that brings you a Clue in the form of a special meal each Dusk.
On a miss, your children consume you and become servants of the Mastermind.
DIGGING INTO THE HEART OF IT
The Mask of the Threat
Comes last. The Mask of a Threat is not in fact necessary, but if you choose to include one, it is a statement you are making about the underlying themes you want the hunters to consider. During the process of writing the Threat, your big idea may come into focus more clearly, or an aspect you did not expect may make itself known. As such, only when you have completed your Threat as a whole should you include this, if you want.
Mean Times in Greenwich, although it deals with “time” as a theme, is specifically concerned with “divergence”—a mood that was in the zeitgeist during the second industrial revolution, the period in which The Between takes place. It’s Mask reflects this:
The Mask of the Clock Face: Each hunter narrates a flashback to a pivotal moment in their past. Say what would have been different if you had made another choice, and if you regret the one you made.
In the Mask hunters reflect back on how things might have been had events had gone differently, and indeed what they may or may not regret. This perfectly fits the author’s perspective and the themes they want us to explore.
Need not necessarily be an explicit villain to quell, but rather may simply be a strange situation that appears to Hargrave House may become a problem. The Beadle does not necessarily have a real “villain”, depending on how the hunters answer the Threat’s Question. If you do have a villain, a nice juicy quote is one option you can go with, especially if you have roleplay direction provided. For example, in The Dahlia Murders, the Threat is a Puppet Master with the following quote: “The most beautiful things must die young, so that the rest of us can cherish their beauty in memory, rather than live to see them wither”. It’s gorgeous. At the same time, some Threats have more abstract forces at play. In The Drowned Guardian of the Docks, the nature of the eponymous guardian is ambiguous:
Some perceive him as a giant with a vast kelp beard and a single glowing eye like a sunken lighthouse. Others know her as a skeletal maiden who walks the ocean floor with limbs like driftwood trees, trailing ragged robes of torn sails and netting. Still others describe it as a miraculous vision: swirling fish of every shape, clusters of crustaceans and drifting, luminous jellyfish all moving together to form the face of the ocean itself, as it speaks with the primal voice of the deep.
Gabriel leaves the description open to possibilities, because such a description fits the Threat, given its themes of diversity and the presence of a plethora of cultural perspectives. Do not feel bound to just one approach. A variety of Threats is welcome, because The Between is like a feast with many dishes to be enjoyed at once. Abstract, small, voiced, questionable: these are all forms Threats can take. And they are all just as delectable.
If Hargrave House Ignores the Threat...
This section is included for a reason. The game is designed for Hargrave House to be contending with numerous Threats at the same time, so one is bound to fall by the wayside. You should write a description that indicates hard moves a Keeper may make at a Golden Opportunity, a moment when the Keeper is fictionally free to act with a fierce reaction. A good example of a consequence is in The Ash Can Man. The Threat at play is a vengeful spirit. If Hargrave House ignores it, the Threat notes: “blocks may burn, and murders will shock and enrage the populace, likely ending in riots.” Fire and rioting are helpful, specific outcomes that are tools for a Keeper to have on hand. Providing the details is generous.
Have the following attributes. However, do not feel limited by them. Moments are a playground for your creativity to shine. You need 6 Moments. That is a finite number to show us what you can imagine, so go big and be expressive.
1) Moments illustrate the theme. The theme of Outrageous Fortune is evident in the title: uncanny luck. As such, one of its Moments is: “A coin flip results in a tie when the coin lands on its edge.”
2) Moments bring out the character of London itself and give a sense of place. They may even portray scenes where the hunters aren't even in the frame at all. From The Drowned Guardian of the Docks: “A crowd gathers around an astonishing catch—a bloated shark hangs from a hook and chain, it’s ruinous maw gaping to the sky. A grizzled fisherman boasts he has ‘caught the demon at last!’”
3) Moments use all 6 senses: sights, sounds, smells, touch, kinesthetic-sense, and taste. From The Reaver’s Last Victim: “An old dead man is carried out of his home. On one side of the street, his family and neighbours mourn in silence; on the other side drunk men sing a raunchy song in front of a bar.”
4) Moments may be used by a skilled Keeper as a Clue in a pinch, so it pays to make them evocative and curious. From The Night Belongs to the Horde: “A large rat runs across the street in broad daylight carrying a meat pie.” This is hilarious, but also draws our interest. We might wonder, “Is this related to the Threat?”
5) At least one may illustrate a Keeper reaction during a Golden Opportunity.
These Moments are useful demonstrations of what can go wrong for a Keeper. From The Lords and Ladies of Weymouth House: “You are filled with sudden vertigo as you see yourself tumbling down a set of stairs, your legs twisted and neck broken.”
6) Moments can be small stories unto themselves that we catch glimpses of, like fragments of inchoate Unscenes. They further shed light on the dramas contained within London.
From Mean Times in Greenwich: “Glimpse of the Future: Looking towards the docks of London, shipping dwindles, the docks fall into disrepair, and giant glass towers are birthed from them like crystals.” I just love this cut away scene.
7) There are not enough events in The Between. Put more party scenes, wakes, bat mitzvahs, and the like for our hunters to watch—and perhaps—participate in.
For example, there is a Moment in The Corpseflower Circus, where a hunter could potentially join in on a circus act: “Your arms pulling you up onto a rope, your mind whirling as you cannot remember intending to climb.” How exciting!
You need 2 to 3 Dangers. But let’s first define the difference between a Danger and a Threat.
To me, a Danger is anything that may cause the hunters concern or inner turmoil of some kind during the investigation of a Threat. It need not necessarily be physically dangerous.
A Threat is an unusual situation that the hunters are interested in engaging, or is a danger of imminent concern, that cannot be immediately resolved. A Threat is something the hunters necessarily need to make decisions about. It also may not be physically dangerous.
I was talking to David Morrison about this and he said that the difference between the two isn’t always clear, but rather it's a “question of intention”. Importantly to David, the “Threat has more agency and will continue to do its thing, as indicated by the ‘what happens if Hargrave House does nothing’ section. Dangers exist as obstacles to overcome but fundamentally are just tools of the Threat (in a game mechanical sense, if not within the fiction of the Threat). They are only Dangers because of the Threat, otherwise they wouldn't cross Hargrave House’s path.” He continues:
I think this manifests in a couple of different ways: Dangers that are extensions or servants of the Threat: the Limehouse Lurker's blood magic, Sally No-Face's Dapper Boy. You have Dangers that are in opposition or conflict with Hargrave House because of the nature of the Threat, but aren't working for it: eg, in Black & White & Red DI Pettigrew is listed as a Danger because his desire for a quick solution might put him in conflict with Hargrave House, but without the pressure of the Threat he wouldn't be. And then Dangers that aren't directly connected to the circumstances of the Threat at all, but might pose a risk to Hargrave House because of how they are investigating: eg, a gang of thugs Hargrave House might run into because they are poking around in the back streets of Whitechapel which is their turf.
For David, Dangers are extensions of a Threat itself or the obstacles we encounter while investigating them.
In my view, a Danger can be explicitly included in a Threat, but they can also first be found in an Unscene (for example, the swine god Mo’ch), and then be emergently come out in an investigation; or, alternatively a Danger can arise out of a Custom Move (for example, the Metamorphosis Move in The Beadle). What’s clever about The Between, is that depending on circumstances Dangers may become Threats if they are given an appropriate context.
In the case of a Threat a Danger is usually an extension of the Threat itself or is related to the themes you want present and that hunters may stumble into during their search for Clues. In The Death of Sardanapalus, the Threat is a rogue spirit related to a piece of art of someone who immolated themself. The following Dangers are listed: “Where Sardanapalus goes, fires follow. The Hunters may find themselves caught up in a blaze.” “At any moment a sumptuously dressed foreigner may lunge out of the shadows with intent to kill.” The first Danger is a direct extension of the Threat itself. The second Danger reflects the theme of style at play in the Threat—the importance of the Danger is less the blade than the look of who holds it: a sumptuous dressed foreigner.
In The Voice of London, a renowned phonograph manufacturer will defend her business “whatever the cost.” In the Somnambulists, a Threat about the ills of industry, Dangers includes a chemist armed with weapons such as “acids, poison gases and the like” and a “Phosphorescent Fog” that “creates chemical burns, lingering illness, and a propensity for sleepwalking”. In The Spirit from the Vial, djinn will grant harmful wishes. In the Pilfering Phantom, the eponymous trickster will stab you with “blades in the dark” out of seemingly nowhere. All of these Dangers reflect in some way the core themes of their Threats.
In The Reaver’s Last Victim, there is no explicit Danger noted—which is a deliberate choice of the author, underlying the point that the true danger, Roger the Reaver, is gone—but I would bet the remorse the hunters may contend with is the real Danger at the center of it all.
THIS IS HOW THE INSIDES WORK
You need 4 to 6 locations. As noted in Part I, Our First Incision, London is a character unto itself, and the locations you choose reveal aspects of its nature. Locations in this game imply personality, especially given how much liberty hunters have in describing them via Paint the Scene prompts. Wealthy districts suggest different Dangers than poor districts; the docks perhaps put us in different conceptual frameworks than the halls of cathedrals do. Each place is a stage for different casts of characters and our story changes alongside them.
The personality of your Locations should sing through your Moments, Clues, and Side Characters to a degree that you could delete the section called "Locations" and we would still have a vivid impression about where we are. To me, "Locations" section isn't really about detailing “place” after all, though of course it should do that.
The Locations section in my view is actually about expressing the underlying themes of your Threat in the setting itself. It’s about what message do you want to get across to the players. Like the Mask of a Threat, our Locations’ descriptions and Paint the Scene prompts direct the kind of atmosphere and headspace you want hunters to be thinking in, and by interacting with these themes, provide the opportunity to make potentially consequential decisions in relation to them.
In The Beadle some of the ideas I was working with were domesticity and religion. In an effort to tease these concepts out, I only featured Locations within the apartment the Threat takes place in. I framed them as little vignettes in which hunters could immerse in. Here is one example of the Locations, portraying one personal belongings of one of the cohabitants the apartment, a practicing Hindu:
The Puja Shrine
A small bell waits to be rung. Lit incense wraps you in layers of aroma. Prashad offerings, including lilacs and today’s bread fetched at first light accent the air with hints of hominess. The elephant-headed relief of Ganesha, Remover of Obstacles, looks down kindly upon you. Direct to a player with the Cosmic Passage marked (or anyone of your choice): Paint the Scene: The Hindu god Ganesha is actually with you right now. How do you know this? Special Rule: If you ring the bell or pray at the shrine, remove one Condition.
The description of the shrine isn’t really about the literal place; we already know we are in an apartment. Rather, the Location is about bringing out the intimacy and warmth imbued in the Threat.
You need between 4 and 10 Side Characters. To me, writing good Side Characters is a real task. This is because Side Characters are complicated; they have lots of facets that need polishing. They need to have a voice of their own. They are living their own lives with a purpose unrelated to the hunters, a purpose perhaps related to why they are in the scene. They need verisimilitude, with at least 3 compelling sensory details to help us grasp them. Their descriptors should show the author’s perspective on their role in a Threat. And if you have a Threat with a wide scope you need to have some Side Characters who can fit almost anywhere in the city. This is a lot of checkboxes to mark and is therefore a tall order. But you can do it. Even someone who struggles with this like I do can improve.
One of my major writing problems in my Threats is that my Side Characters fall flat. For example, let's take a single of my one-note Side Characters from The Child Thief:
Elena Small, A Headmistress
Hulking and robust. Carries a well-used ruler at all times. Makes a strong, fortifying, coffee. Quote: “These citizens aren’t raising themselves. Someone must do it. Do it right, I shall.”
Elena’s name is simple, indicating her status as a commoner. Her descriptor is functional, indicating perhaps how she sees herself, as the head of an orphanage. Her description shows three things about her: 1) she is a big woman, with 2) a weapon she uses against children, but will 3) show some hospitality to visitors, affording them coffee. Her quote is punchy, and suggests she believes in her work and is perhaps a nationalist. However, while she is a serviceable Side Character, she doesn’t have depth. There’s nothing about her that would make a hunter, in the words of a friend, think "hmmmmm, what's going on with this person?"
Side Characters need to be surprising. They need to arouse our curiosity. The interesting bit may be something that hints at a link to the Threat or something strange or evocative that players can instantly react to. Side Characters are not Moments (although there may be background characters, indeed, within Moments). That is, they are not just curiosities. They are alive and should be respected as such—with accurate details and evocative dialogue, and a cloying quality that pulls us in. The Drowned Guardian of the Docks features Side Characters who nip at the eye and ear. Here is how one simple dockhand is portrayed:
Sebestyen Varga, a dockhand. Handsome face, glowering expression. Youthful swagger. Stylish cap. Speaks passionately on the conditions of the working class. Collects new songs at every port. Quote: “I never had any misfortune on the water. None of my family. Know why? We listen to what the waves are saying. Not to that stuffed cabbage in a suit up there, thinks he owns us.” (spits)
The dockhand listens to the sea?! Has antipathy for the powers that be?! We of course might wonder, “Perhaps this character is related to the Threat.”
An aside: the way the author writes the character allows us to be free with how we gender the character. This is very generous.
In Mean Times in Greenwich, there are three Side Characters of the same person from different timelines: James Allardyce, the Royal Hospital School pupil, James Allardyce, the Royal Navy Lieutenant, and James Allardyce, the retired sailor. Even without the full description and quotes, the names and descriptors themselves draw us in and tell us something crucial about the Threat itself: there is an anomaly in time! This is *Chef’s Kiss*.
Something theoretical that you might like to consider is to try using establishing questions as Special Rules or even devoting a Paint the Scene prompt to a Side Character to add more interest. Both mechanics might be effective at giving depth to characters, because our hunters might thereby be more invested in engaging with them.
One difficult aspect about writing period characters in general is finding fitting names from the era; I have been using Wikipedia entries of people from the period and taking the names of their family members for my Threats. If you have any links to census data from the era, or lists of graduates from the period, please put those in the comments. It would be a big help to everyone writing a Threat.
Are simply mechanised Moments. You need 20. They may tell small stories just by themselves. Importantly, they should bring out the themes of your Threat. Here are some great Clues:
- From The Drowned Guardian of the Docks: “A group of scrappy youths squabble over their fishing line, arguing excitedly over their catch—a deformed fish and with extra eyes and flailing crab-like limbs.”
- From Strands of Black Magic: “A scruffy preacher shouts from a street corner about the perils of greed while no one listens.”
- From The Grinder: “A pocket watch, the internal mechanisms have been partially replaced with tendons.”
Don't be afraid to use absence as a Clue.
- From The Nutcracker: “An absence of all warmth.”
- From The Time of Your Life: “A Location is avoided every night at a certain time”.
- From The Child Thief: “The absence of light.”
Simple Clues are sometimes the best in the game because they are so versatile.
- From The Nutcracker: “An unusual gift (Pick one: candle that reveals an invitation within/sweet bun with a snowberry filling/ice skates with your name inscribed/a broken toe/something else).”
- From The Nobody: People witnessing a person changing shapes and faces.
- From Hiring Hollow Johnny: “Evidence that someone has been spying here (peephole, secret door, etc...)”
You need 5 Rewards. Rewards are a part of the game where you have freedom to be ambitious, as long as the Rewards you give support the big idea of your Threat. The reason they should fit your idea is because these will be the way hunters carry the themes of the now resolved Threat forward into the future. They are momentos. What you create for Rewards do not have to only be objects. Consider using a range of The Between’s “Currencies”, as mentioned in the Custom Moves section of Part II, Peeling Back the Skin when crafting a Reward. This is because a Reward can be any kind of carrot.
Below are a few ideas for Rewards, but by no means should you feel limited by them!
- Events! The Between needs more events. Masterminds need more events written in and Rewards should include them. Why? Because often, the only real moments for hunters to connect are the Vulnerable move and events bring their disparate story-lines, which tend to splinter, together for memorable moments. In The Beadle, I included the following event as a Reward: “An open invitation to share an “aural-sensory” meal of live cicadas and other sound emitting insects with Norma Eastwood. When you take up the invitation and spend a Night phase with her at her table, all guests remove one Condition. Only one use.”
- Aspects of the Masks of the Past and Future. Be careful with this point, because it disturbs the structure of The Between itself, given how the playbook Masks have the function as a countdown clock. However, especially if tied as a carrot to a crucial character choice that can change the trajectory of hunters’ destinies, additional aspects of the Masks of Past and Future can create quasi-character-classes or side stories. You can use them as devil's bargains for second chances.
- Evocative and daring Unscenes. London is a central character of The Between. The more we can bring it into the play space, the better. Unscenes can be great to show themes, interesting side stories, real snippets of historical events, and may even introduce entities that may become Dangers Hargrave House may cross paths with.
- Opportunities for hunters to reveal aspects about their pasts. This could take the form of an aspect of the Mask of the Past.
- Unusual or “beneficial” Conditions—that rather than detract from a hunter’s efficicity, make them too good.
- Ongoing Side Character contacts, encounters with which may lower the Clue threshold of a Question of a given Threat. In Mean Times in Greenwich, there is one example with an unusual twist on this kind of Reward. Hunters can choose which version of a James Allardyce, a Side Character, they want to “preserve” in their timeline. Each grants a different boon for Hargrave House. Pupil - If a hunter spends an entire Day phase acting as surrogate parent to James, they clear one Condition at Dusk. They may participate in scenes during the Day, but James must be present. Roll with advantage if he is able to assist. Lieutenant - recovered from his mania, you may carouse with Allardyce. Once per Day/Night cycle, a single hunter may indulge their vice with Allardyce to clear a Condition. The Keeper will ask a question about their past and grant a Mastermind clue. Retiree - If you make an Information roll consulting old James, increase the result by one step. If you roll 12+, clear a Condition.
- Possessions with real personality. In The Drowned Guardian of the Docks, there are veritable magic items listed, which is wild: Preserved eel in a dull green bottle. Grants protection from drowning. Single use. / Tarnished bell, wrought in the shape of a crab. Summons a swarm of crawling sea scavengers to dispose of organic matter—has no means to dismiss them, however.
- Post Credits Scenes. In The Nutcracker, I added the following to fit the ideas of “festivities” and “perfection” present in the ballet themed Threat: “A Post-Credits Scene in which the hunters host a Hargrave House holiday meal. The hunters may invite any guests they wish to appear. If the Mastermind is invited, they will bring a gift that counts as a Mastermind Clue. Each hunter may name 1 Possession in their Personal Quarters and give it to another hunter, who may add it to their Personal Quarters, unmarked. Paint the Scene: What here is imperfect but entirely good?”
You can do anything you want with Special Rules—even importing features from other role playing games. If you do so just be careful they fit within the tone of The Between, one that is dark and sensual. What Special Rules do is make a statement, a point that reveals something important about the nature of your Threat. When you craft a Special Rule, consider interacting with Aspects of the Mask of the Future, because all playbooks share them. I suggest this because their themes may inspire you. The following is a partial list of those themes and how various Threats have engaged with them effectively.
1) The Gilded Door and its associate Condition, Most-Beloved. Its themes include uniqueness, favor, and attraction. In The Queen of Ur, the “the queen will free themselves from the boundaries of the museum and start searching for the Most-Beloved to reincarnate into them.”
2) The Darkened Threshold. Its themes include guilt, violence, and filth. In The Shoreditch Slugger, if a hunter has The Darkened Threshold marked or the condition Most-Beloved, a bouncer named Brick will “recognize something kindred in them and spare them the interrogation at the door.”
3) The Moss-Covered Gate. Its themes include death, yearning, and memory. In The Child Thief: A hunter with the Moss-Covered Gate marked is thrust into a vision of the past.
4) The Cosmic Passage. Its themes include magic, the occult, and the supernatural. In The Lords and Ladies of Weymouth House any “hunter with the Cosmic Passage marked will feel an incredible sense of deja vu when looking at Lady Agnes.”
5) The Blood-Soaked Portal. Its themes included death, birth, and transitions. In The Nutcracker: “If a player has checked the Blood-Soaked Portal on a previous character, Urmi will approach you and offer a miniature of the Virgin Mary she has plucked from the manger. You may add it to your Personal Quarters.
Breaking the Frame: Outside of London and Bottle Mysteries
Two of the core assumptions of The Between are that 1) Threats are set in London, and 2) Threats will interlace with one another. In The Between, Threats are not episodic. Your Threat may break some of these conceptual components of The Between, and that is great, if done with care.
Before taking a big risk, consider some of the reasons why Threats are assumed to take place in London. You will need to address them. One is that Victorian London itself is a quasi-character that inspires the general milieu of the horror The Between is steeped in. Threats draw their narrative power from the darkness teaming in the city. Additionally, London as a backdrop also allows hunters to confront multiple Threats at once and allows Threats themselves to interact with one another. Another reason Threats are assumed to take place in London is that a number of Dawn Questions are designed with the hunters staying relatively local in mind. Moreover, being in London also allows us to frame Unscenes set nearby, giving us a more emotional connection with them—if only because what transpires within them occurs not too far away.
Bottle mysteries are self-contained investigations that are unrelated to other Threats or any surrounding context. They break the core rule that Threats happen concurrently. Theodora Brathwaite’s Mastermind Threat is a bottle mystery of a sort. Before her Threat comes into play, all active Threats need to be resolved so the hunters may focus on the investigation with their full attention. You can do so similarly: simply state in your Threat, something along the lines of: “Special Rule: During this Threat, other Threats are not in play.” Just know that if you choose to go this route hunters will not be able to use Moves that trigger at Dawn or Dusk.
I can imagine joyful Threats with holidays for our hunters to go to the shore, or have them all stuck in a time loop, or bound within a haunted subway car. The possibilities are plentiful. These Bottle Mysteries could be used between campaign arcs, after having subdued a Mastermind, as one-shots, or may simply be used as palate cleansers. When you do make one, address the standard play structure and the changes you are making. Here is an example of something you might write to clarify game mechanics: “This Threat is set during the Day Phase for the sake of play structure and the Keeper may simply call for Night Moves when appropriate.”
What I’ve provided above are just a few ideas for how you might break the frame or write your Threats in general. The contest Threats were incredibly original, and with a bit of reference reflecting on the extent of the daring material that has been written so far, give yourself the permission to be as clever, creative, and take risks. As long as you create a space in which hunters can define who they are when reacting against what you have written, I trust you will make a stunning Threat that will leave your table shivering.
And that’s it! All in all, that’s what I learned about Threats from The Between Threat-Writing Contest. Thank you for joining me on what turned out to be a wandering ramble. Please let me know if you disagree with anything or have something you want to share about what you learned when you wrote your Threat in the comments. I am looking forward to reading them!
All the best,