Over the past three days, I’ve been listening to recordings of Francois Truffault’s interviews with Alfred Hitchcock. I read the book based on those interviews a decade ago in college, but it has been enjoyable revisiting them.
Hitchcock, at one point, discusses the concept of suspense in film. He stresses that it is important for the audience to be aware that a momentous or terrible event is going to occur and when it is going to occur, and, of course, for the characters to be unaware. Simply blowing up a bus generates surprise, which fades fairly quickly for the audience. Letting the audience know the bus is going to explode – and that the people on that bus have no idea they’re about to die or be injured – creates a suspenseful situation that can last for several minutes.
In role-playing games, the players are both the audience and the characters. I think Referees mostly use surprise – “Black Dougal gasps ‘Poison!’ and falls to the floor” – with a bit of mystery thrown in by some of the old stand-bys – will the statue come to life and attack? does the lock contain a spring-loaded poison needle? etc.
My question is: Has anyone ever used suspense as Hitchcock defined it? For example, letting the player’s know that in 5 rounds the ceiling is going to collapse, but reminding them that their characters are unaware of this and must proceed with their fight against a gang of hobgoblins. I’d be interested to know how such a situation worked out.