At the end of last session, Sjoerd and Doortje had had a great date that lasted far into the night. (They ended up with 2 points of attraction, and the compatibilities "they like hanging out in nice bars" and "they understand about each other's unhappy childhood".) Doortje's conflict ("feels guilty when she claims time for herself") and the fact that she had a small child didn't feature in that first session, and I was determined to change that.
- We started the second date by narrating how Doortje, unwilling to leave her baby alone for another night, had asked Sjoerd to meet her some afternoon in the Vondelpark, where she would come with the baby in a pram. Sjoerd didn't object, although he was less than happy when it turned out that Doortje was 45 minutes late because (among other things) feeding the child took more time than usual. Anyway, when she finally arrived she looked radiant, the sun shone, and the baby smiled. His heart filled with joyous expectation, Sjoerd leant over the pram to take a good look at the child. The 10-month old girl, Sophie, promptly started crying. Sjoerd's feelings sank. (Failed rolls.)
- Luckily, Sjoerd had brought a basket which contained not only a blanket, but also a great self-made pick-nick. They sought a place near the water, and enjoyed the meal and some small talk. After a while Sjoerd spied a frog among the reeds, caught it, and showed it to little Sophie, who was quite delighted. (+1 Attraction)
- Doortje and Sjoerd then launched into more substantial conversations. First, Doortje talked about her fashion shop -- but she suddenly worried that she was talking too much, and maybe about a subject that didn't interest Sjoerd, so she asked him about his band. He spent a couple of minutes explaining the beauty of the Beatles to her. But then they both fell silent; just looked at each other; the tension was palpable; and at last they bent towards each other and kissed. The baby slept, the sun shone, and the lovers kissed -- what could possibly go wrong? (+1 Attraction)
- When they had been kissing for a while, Sophie woke up. Sjoerd got some old bread from his basket, and, with little Sophie helping him, he fed the ducks. This idyllic scene led to a conversation about happy and unhappy childhood memories; Sjoerd bemoaned his own lack of happy ones, while Doortje told him that she worried about not being a good enough mother. Absorbed in their own and each others' troubles, neither of them watched the child. Splash! Sophie, perhaps a little too fascinated by the ducks, had fallen into the water. Sjoerd jumped in after her, stumbled, fell, and finally rescued the child. (+1 Attraction.)
- Doortje pulled the crying child, now soaking wet and covered with mud, from his arms. "I'm sorry, but my child is more important than my date," she said. "I must go home. We'll be in touch." She took the pram, and walked away. Sjoerd just stared for a while, stunned by what had happened. Before she disappeared from sight, he ran after her. "It wasn't my fault!" he explained. "I'm not blaming you," she answered. "I just need to get home." And so she went off. (New compatibility: "They both want to take care of Sophie.")
- After a week, Sjoerd finally works up the nerve to call Doortje again. His first question is: "How is Sophie?" Pretty bad: she has been ill for a week, and Doortje has spent all her time at home taking care of the child. Sjoerd offers to come around, and Doortje accepts, though somewhat hesitantly. He comes to her tiny apartment, bringing a bunch of flowers and a toy for Sophie. She is touched; they embrace; and then Sjoerd starts to explain once again that Sophie's falling into the water really wasn't his fault. Somewhat exasperated, Doortje cuts him short: "I never thought it was." (+1 Attraction)
- When they sit down, he on the couch and she on the only chair, beneath a Rocky Horror Picture Show poster, Sjoerd notices how tired and worn out she looks. "Is everything all right? I mean, apart from the baby? Your work?" It turns out that her work definitely isn't all right: she has been keeping her shop closed for the entire week because she can't bear the thought of leaving the sick Sophie in someone else's care -- wouldn't that be tantamount to neglecting her? But this is causing her big problems, including financial ones. Overcome by tiredness and worry, Doortje breaks down and starts to cry. (+1 Attraction)
- Sjoerd is very comfortable in the role of "shoulder you can cry on," so he kneels down next to Doortje, hugs her, and suggests that maybe he can help her by running the shop for a while. "But you don't know anything about fashion!" she exclaims. "Yes I do!" he objects. "What brand of clothes am I wearing?" He makes guess, which is wildly wrong. "Sjoerd, you're very kind to offer assistance, but you don't know anything about fashion." "Well, maybe I can help you by baby sitting Sophie for a while?" Doortje agrees that this might actually work, at least for the few hours she needs to get the most essential things in her shop done. She calms down a bit. (New compatibility: they can help each other stop worrying.)
- "These are the weirdest dates I've ever had. You must think me some hysterical madwoman. And yet you're still here." Sjoerd smiles and says that, yes, these are the weirdest dates he has ever had as well, but, no, he doesn't think she's mad. She bends towards him, and like a classic film shot (except that she comes from above, since he is kneeling) their lips slowly come together, touch ... and at that moment Sophie starts crying. Doortje jumps up, surprising Sjoerd so much that he loses his balance and falls over. She runs towards the baby, sees that nothing is the matter, turns back, and says, embarrassed: "Sorry, I shouldn't have...". But Sjoerd starts laughing, seeing and enjoying the absurdity of the situation; and Doortje can't help but laugh as well. "Shall we turn this into a more normal date, and act like we're at the cinema?" she asks. He agrees, and they sit down on the couch and put on The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Of course, they never get to see the end of the film, since by that time they only have eyes for each other. At the final moment of the game, we see the pair kissing passionately. Suddenly, Sophie starts crying. They stop kissing for a moment; then smile and continue. (New compatibility: they like humour and kink.)
Will they stay together? Remko and I found this a very difficult question. We were tempted to answer in the negative. Sjoerd and Doortje seem to have found each other mostly in (a) understanding each other's problems, (b) supporting each other when things are difficult, and (c) caring for the child. Those are important things. But what seems to be missing is something positive, something that will energise their relationship. The most likely scenario, I said, is that Sjoerd throws himself into the role of supporter and gives up most of his own life; that Doortje comes to understand this after a couple of months; and that she then ends the relationship. Remko didn't disagree, but pointed out that perhaps they might find new and more substantial compatibilities; or perhaps Doortje would become pregnant again, and they would stay together because of a shared feeling of responsibility for the children.
In the end, we decided to roll dice; and it turned out that our lovers will stay together happily! We decided that Doortje teaches Sjoerd about fashion, and that he turns out to be a great salesman, since he can tell enthusiastic stories about almost everything, including clothes. She selects the collection and takes care of the business side. The shop thus becomes their joint life project, and turns out to be very successful.
The first and third date went quite well, but the first part of the second date felt like hard work. Nothing interesting seemed to happen, and we kept falling into patterns that had been established during the first date. We only managed to get out of this by consciously seeking ways to increase the drama.
I'm almost certain this problem came from the characters we developed. Sjoerd and Doortje were both rather insecure and passive, prone to hesitate and to not seize opportunities. Obviously, those are not the easiest protagonists to tell a compelling story about; considering that, I think we did quite well. Breaking the Ice is certainly easier (if not necessarily better) when the characters are full of energy and creativity.
You must have some 'chemistry' between the protagonists. If they don't like each other, or are too insecure to approach each other, the dates will feel flat. This is, of course, realistic; such dates would be flat and unsatisfying. But it is good to keep this in mind when playing the game: your goal should be to make something happen, not to stay "in character" using some predefined notion of what that character is. You must develop the protagonist to fit the story, not just the other way around. In this case, that meant ramping up the drama and the protagonists' ability to change.
Change: there you have the aspect of the system that Remko and I were less satisfied about. It is something that will not come up in the majority of the games, because it is only truly important in a non-comic game where the protagonists are somewhat inhibited.
The problem is this: you cannot lose or change traits, and, a fortiori, you cannot gain dice for doing so. Why is that a problem? Well, it's not a problem for comic characters (who don't change much) or for non-inhibited protagonists (who don't need to lose traits for the story to proceed). But when you have a trait like "conforms too easily to the wishes of others," that just begs to be not just used and affirmed, but also overcome and abandoned. The same is true for a conflict like "feels guilty when she claims space for herself".
So I would be tempted to add the following two rules when playing a serious game in the future:
- When you abandon or rewrite a trait, you can get 2 dice that cannot be rerolled.
- During the third date, you can get your conflict dice not just by acting out the conflict, but also by acting against that conflict (that is, by taking a step towards overcoming it).