• Ian James

Holotapes, Radios, and Background Exposition

This is the second post in a series of Fallout 2D20 blog posts, the sole intention of the blog is to help the community fill the content void and help provide a strong community with all sorts of media coverage about the game. If you’re interested in the game, I strongly urge you to check it out and join the unofficial Fallout 2D20 fan community and let me know your thoughts on the system. You’ll find that I am destructively good at taking time out of my day to read feedback from others and I have a growing list of contacts if you’re organizing play for the game.


I’m writing on an assumption that you, the reader, have played enough games — TTRPGs, video games, or otherwise — to realize that sub-plot is used to fill the spaces of the main narrative and enhance the story of most large-scale, story-driven projects. But largely we’re all just trying to fit in exposition in whatever way we can, and that means conforming to the game and it’s setting to convey that information. If you’re on the creative end, maybe you aren’t a fan of written deliverables or in-game texts, but many games are packed to the brim with content and must use them to tell stories that don’t quite fit on the screen or tabletop. Remember, though, that when we exposit this way we can use any means that the setting allows. The classic “torn journal page” approach to plot carrying is effective in that it provides just enough information to the player without leaving behind enough context to spoil the plot undercurrent early on. NPCs are an effective way to deliver, however sometimes a living, breathing NPC is *too much* information to provide. Audio logs are a great way to allow the player to exist in a scene without forcing them to stop what they’re doing and without forcing the narrator to stop what they’re doing to record them. Unexpected interruptions in the audio file, background sounds, and clues hidden in the tone of the narrator are great ways to deliver information just subtle enough to be intriguing. Here’s a spoiler-laden example from The Last of Us where audio logs are used in a way that productively blends into the story and without forcing us, the audience, from de-immersing ourselves to lend attention to it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WxXy64Prfs

But my point isn’t that other games should be praised for doing this, my point is that you should be doing this in games you run, write, and design. In-game and out-of-game text and information is a tool to build bridges in your world. Between lore components, players, and timelines, it’s important that you use whatever media your world would reasonably have to convey these messages. Some GMs in TTRPGs would use the classic handwritten note, going as far as to wax seal parchment letters, but I think the bar isn’t quite that high for delivering carefully crafting content for your audience and players. The Fallout 2D20 system is a TTRPG I’ve had the fortune to play and I would love to see more people play, so please consider getting the game (here: https://www.modiphius.net/collections/fallout-the-roleplaying-game?utm_source=twitch-falloutrpg&utm_medium=livestream&utm_campaign=weavetale&utm_term=fallout2d20) and joining the community (here: https://www.reddit.com/r/Fallout2d20/) to become involved. The main reason it’s so fulfilling is that it allows for the self-realization and customization you see with a typical Bethesda game, except with the added bonus of collaborative play to allow players to show off their build and work into niches that allow for cooperative party management. In a single-player game I seldom enjoy myself as the niche build or situational style character, as those roles never seem adequate to cover the sheer volume of gameplay opportunities in the world. But with a party of four or five it suddenly becomes viable to pick up accessory skills and maximize on them for the good of the overall group.


The stories that we tell in Fallout 2D20 aren't formulaically the same as the stories we’d tell in a game of Dungeons and Dragons, nor is it the same as the stories we’d see told in a single-player game like the Fallout series, so where does that leave us? Perhaps with collaborative, and setting-sensitive dialogue and information seeded largely by the actions of the players. Here’s an example.

Recently at my tables, I’ve found that Fallout players seem to convey information really well over audio logs or “holotapes”. This wouldn’t be very different from using a fake web blog or a series of back-and-forth “dear diary” entries to tell a story, but it’s been an extremely immersive way to throw character depth around the table.


Here’s an example of a recent dialogue, a holotape recording.


[in a coarse, ghoulish voice] Lexington Settlement, Day 119. 3:46 am


Those thoughts are creeping into my head again. Why bother with all this? The Jet, trying to find a cure... I've lived a damn sight longer than any person has any right to, and here I am trying to keep going. It feels really selfish, when I think about it.


But then... Maybe it isn't.


Look at James, for example. Who knows how long he's got left? 60 is the new 80 in the wasteland. Any day now, there could be an attack, and he might not be able to get to safety. Or he could fall ill - incurably so - and that'd be that. And yet... He's out here trying to help us build Lexington. He's putting in the work to make something he might not even see even a modicum of the success of.


And then laying down and dying feels selfish by comparison. I have the potential to live even longer, to put even more work in... To see his vision to full fruition on his behalf. To just give up on it... Thinking about it in this frame of mind becomes unthinkable.


...Part of me wants to tell him. I'm not sure what he'd say, but I still want him to know.


I want him to know that when that voice in the back of my mind asks "What's the point?"


He's the answer.


Hyde.


We can infer things and that the narrator might not want to admit. For example, it’s 3:46 AM in a farming settlement, which means that the narrator is tied up in some serious business brooding, cooking chems, or both. Further, we’re not being walked through the dialogue (or monologue, rather) as you would a letter, because it’s our job to piece together the subtext rather than expect to be given only the information that the narrator *wants* you to know. When I played Starfinder from Paizo, my character was an investigative reporter and as such the entire journal of play was formatted as audio tapes recorded from his earpiece. If you were to play Dishonored by Modiphius, likely you’d see to it that similar recordings were made on wax cylinders. But this doesn’t necessarily mean audio recordings is the way to go, but the media that the people in your setting use to do knowledge work *should* be the media of choice for documenting your game. The point is that you’re telling a story in a way that is discovered instead of taught, because you cannot capture on written material what the world sounds like.


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