Sunday, October 27, 2013

[Breaking the Ice] The teeth of Mugabe

Another week, another Breaking the Ice session using Google Hangouts. This time I played with Sam Kabo Ashwell, prolific author of interactive fiction and reviews of works in that medium. We once played a game of Gloom together, which is almost a role playing game; but that's the limit of our shared gaming experience. However, we are both veteran RPG players, and years of contact in the online interactive fiction community have given us a good idea of each other's tastes in fiction.

Character creation

We therefore jumped into the game without much ado. Sam had read the rules once, but long ago. That wasn't a problem. Breaking the Ice works well as long as one of the participants know the rules.

As a switch we chose "being an immigrant" (Sam being an Englishman living in the U.S., and I being a Dutch guy living in the Netherlands). I would play an immigrant man, he would play a non-immigrant woman.

Sam's web of words contained: orange, [hothouses, false safety, firearms], [soccer], [paperbacks, publishing], [monarchy, [family, strife], [revolution, France, cheese]]. (The brackets show the tree structure. Ignore them if you don't understand them.) Yes, that's my Dutch background showing through there in association "orange" with "soccer" and "monarchy". His character became an aristocratic woman who despised her family and was active in anarchist publishing.

NAME: Ada
SELF: estranged aristocracy
WORK: artisan cheese maker; editor for Black Flag publishing
PLAY: Napoleonic re-enactment
CONFLICT: is going on this date to outrage her parents.

My web of words contained: black, [Africa, [dust, death], [nepotism]], [nocturnal, [vampires], [dance clubs, [XTC, water], [turntables]]], [sophistication, Oscar Wilde]. We decided that he was an immigrant from the Central African Republic:
NAME: Mwata
SELF: has seen war; wants to move up in society
WORK: tries to make is as a horror writer; voluntary fire brigade
PLAY: knows the best clubs in town
CONFLICT: my dealer thinks I cheated him.
My first impulse was to choose the conflict "is going on this date because he wants to move up in society," but we felt that that was too symmetrical with Ada's conflict. So I chose something completely different instead -- a source of distraction and possibly comic relief coming from outside, namely, a paranoid XTC dealer.

First date: her parents' birthday

Ada and Mwata met each other when he tried to sell her his manuscript. ("Sure, it's a vampire story, but it is also a symbolic critique of capitalism in central Africa!") Now Ada is taking Mwata to her parents' birthday party. That is not a usual choice for a first date, but, frankly, she is taking a black man to her parents' place just in order to outrage their racist sensibilities.

Mwata doesn't suspect this, and their first meeting is quite cordial. (+1 Attraction.) When they meet her parents, Ada's mother immediately sees through her game, but her father doesn't and is not amused. Mwata compliments him on his nice mansion and is generally oblivious to being disliked. Meanwhile, Ada is having second thoughts about her ploy, and not enjoying herself half as much as she had hoped she would. Relief comes when a torch falls down, starting a minor fire, which Mwata coolly smothers with a tablecloth.

Still not enough successes. I then got some rerolls by having Mwata go on about how he really liked Ada's father, which Ada didn't want to hear; but it wasn't enough, and I gave up. The date is not going well.

When they're sitting on a bench in the garden somewhere away from the other guests, Ada talks about Mwata's manuscript. She explains that it is too good for her minuscule publisher, and that she'd like to help him get a better contract somewhere else. He is happy with this, but also notices that she's not really enjoying herself. At last (Conflict dice needed) the truth comes out: Ada confesses that she took Mwata here just to outrage her parents. He is understandably upset, and they get into a hastily arranged cab in total silence, planning to separate as soon as they're back in town.

+1 Attraction. With this game, you have to accept that attraction is not always obvious. In this case, let's assume that Ada's honesty will turn out to be attractive to Mwata, even though he is currently upset. And read my thoughts about Attraction at the end of the post.

When they arrive at his appartment, Mwata gets out of the car -- then turns back towards Ada, and says: "Let's forget what happened and start this date again. There's a great pub down the street, and we can both use a pint of bitter." Ada is surprised and relieved, and they go to the pub. He asks her about her hobbies, and she explains that she is into Napoleonic firearms. He then displays knowledge about how to keep firearms working in the wet African jungle, and she is suddenly like, wait, this guy has probably been a child soldier. She feels stupid for playing at war when other people experience it for real.

Got some rerolls for showing this huge cultural gap between the characters. It was enough for a Compatibility: "We like a pint of good bitter.".

Later, they go to an off license and buy a bottle of cheap whisky, then break into the local castle ruins, climb to the top, and lie down to look at the stars. (+1 Attraction.) On the way down, Mwata saves Ada from falling down the stairs -- they're both very much pissed by now. Outside, they stop to kiss under a street light.

I didn't get enough successes, so I threw in my Conflict.

Suddenly, someone runs at Mwata with a knife, screaming: "Now I've got you, you double-dealing bastard!" Mwata runs away, with the dealer after him, and the date ends somewhat unexpectedly. (+1 Attraction.)

We talked about Ada's conflict a bit at this point, and decided that it should be changed if we wanted it to remain relevant. So we changed it to: "Has trouble with her family." Of the three Attraction gained in the scene, two became permanent.

Second date: the most anarchic club in town

On the next date, Mwata takes Ada to a club in the neighbouring town. It turns out to be an anarchic collective running a tekno club in a squatted building. Obviously, Ada loves that stuff. She's less enamoured about Mwata going off to dance alone. (+1 Attraction.) After a while, she takes him to a side room, where they talk about his book some more. She convinces him that he ought to make it more literary, and should change the title. Neither "Vampires in Africa" nor "The Teeth of Mugabe" is going to go over well with the critics, she explains. (Compatibility: we want Mwata's book published.) Mwata then impresses Ada with his knowledge about the weird blue drink she's been having -- it contains a small amount of soft drugs -- and they finally decide to go back to Ada's place and do an XTC trip together. (+1 Attraction.)

Back at Ada's place, they prepare the scene with soft music and enough water not to dry out, and take their pills. Up till now, most of their conversations have been very shallow -- indeed, the only topic they have talked about without feeling a sense of disconnectedness was Mwata's book. Now, under the influence of drugs, they finally open up a bit. Ada talks about how she hates her parents and everything they stand for. Mwata answers with a lecture about how you should never let yourself be ruled by hate; he tells about his childhood, about how the one thing he learned from all the killing around him, from his parents being killed, is that hate destroys everyone, including the hater. The only answer is love. (New Compatibility: they are political utopians.) Some more, less coherent, talking follows; they smoke a joint together, and finally the date comes to an end as they both fall asleep. (New Compatibility: We like getting high together.)

The characters didn't seem to connect at a deeper level. They can talk to each other when they're drunk or high, but otherwise they're living in very different worlds. Well, let's see where it goes! One attraction became permanent, so we're at 4 attraction dice and 4 compatibilities. That's going very well. But our rolling during the last date would turn out to be terrible.

Third date: London

The third date happens in London, after they've been to see a publisher who has agreed to publish Mwata's book. This calls for celebration, and they go to a very good restaurant. Unfortunately, one of Ada's cousins, a Tory backbencher, is also there, and when he sees Ada, decides to make her life a misery with sarcastic comments about her new lover. Our pair soon flees the restaurant. (Atrocious rolls do not give Sam 3 successes, not even after using the Conflict, so no Attraction gained.)

Looking out over the Thames, Mwata manages to calm Ada down. (+1 Attraction.) The two go into a bar, where they drink some pints of bitter. Ada attempts to explain her abandonment issues to Mwata. Again, they fail to connect on any but the most shallow level. (Sam managed to get only 2 successes out of 17(!) dice rolls.) Mwata in fact goes on to say that, sure, it will be very hard to have a relationship if he is living in London and she still in the small town they're living in now; a conversation which only feeds further into Ada's fear of being abandoned. After some more drama, they do manage to at least temporarily settle this issue. (+1 Attraction)

They both feel that it's time for a change of scene, and in what seems like a deliberate attempt to relive their successful first date, they break into an enclosed garden. Ada bends towards Mwata to kiss him, but he is surprised and pulls back. Once again, they manage to have a completely different feeling about the situation, and have to explain themselves to each others before they can proceed. Finally, they do kiss. (+1 Attraction, after many rerolls.)

Mwata then opens up about his crazy XTC dealer, and she chastises him for hanging out with the wrong people. They talk about how to deal with this guy. He suggests running him over with a car. Ada is somewhat shocked. Mwata tris to justify himself by pointing out that he doesn't really believe that the police will help him (she agrees), and that his experience in the Central African Republic has taught him to be self-reliant. When his father was killed, the government wasn't there to help him; he had to kill his father's murderer himself! Ada is rather freaked out by that confession, but still has enough presence of mind to tell Mwata that he should never ever talk about this with an immigration officer. She also convinces him to tackle the dealer issue in a less violent way, and he agrees with her. (New Compatibility: Don't trust the government, be self-reliant.)

That's when we end the scene, the unlikely pair trying to kiss mostly because they want it to be a situation where kissing feels good.

Aftermath

We roll dice, and two new points of Attraction become permanent. That gives us 6 Attraction (or 5, the book seems to be a bit confused about whether the level of attraction you start the game with counts) and five compatibilities. Quite a lot!

But not for a moment do Sam and I believe that Ada and Mwata will stay together. They just don't connect; communication between them is rubbish, unless they are under influence. We decide that they'll keep trying for six more months, both afraid to be abandoned and even more afraid to hurt the other person, until even they cannot deny that it's not working out. At all.

Mwata will settle down, work out his violence issues, and will find someone else. He's only 23, and can change. But Ada, who was somewhat older, is too set in her ways; the only possible happy future we see for her is one where she gives up on her anarchist principles and becomes a sour old reactionary who inherits her parents' estate.

Thoughts on the system

Something very interesting happened in this game. We rolled very badly during the last date, but consistently pushed for more dice and more rerolls. Thus, we had to bring in loads and loads of disadvantageous situations and complications, which led to the characters constantly miscommunicating, constantly alienating each other, constantly failing to connect. So much so that, even though we got attraction levels and compatibilities, the fiction made it painfully obvious that these two people were not meant for each other.

Suppose we hadn't tried to get attraction and compatibilities. Then the third date would have been much happier, and we might have believed that the characters would come together. So attraction and compatibility, which are supposed to be a measure of how well the characters fit, turned out to be anti-correlated with what they are supposed to measure.

That is the sneaky secret of Breaking the Ice. Attraction and Compatibilities do not matter. You just have to play as if they do.

Attraction and compatibilities do not matter, because when you answer the final questions at the end of the game, you're going to base your judgement on the fiction, not on the mechanical results of the game. They may seem to matter during the game -- if you fail your rolls, you'll narrate the date not going well -- but they don't, not really. A date can go badly on the surface, while it still becomes obvious to the audience that the two lovers are suited to each other. (Romantic comedies often work this way.) And, as our game amply demonstrated, a date can go well on the surface while the fiction nevertheless makes it clear beyond a doubt that these people do not belong together. Ada and Mwata were having a great time when they got high together during the second date, but we, the players, realised that they were fundamentally strangers. And the attraction during the third date felt very much like attraction that they wanted to be there, but that deep down didn't exist.

Still, you must play as if the mechanics matter. The mechanics are what force you to bring vulnerability and disconnectedness and awkwardness into the game. If you're lucky, you'll only have to bring in a little, and this will make it more believable that the lovers get together than if everything just went swimmingly. (After all, there's no love without vulnerability.) But if you're unlucky -- or rather, if your characters are -- you'll need to bring in so much that the characters are revealed as utterly mismatched, or as just not ready for any serious kind of commitment.

I love this game.

I love how you always end up with characters completely different from what you would have thought up alone. I love how they always feel real at the end of the game -- even if you've played for just three hours, like we did. I love how this game makes you and whoever you play it with talk about relationships, about connection and disconnection, about the difference between true love and imagined love; and makes you do that with all the subtlety a complicated fiction can give you.

Friday, October 25, 2013

[Trollbabe] System analysis, Lida and the spirits AP, and questions

Remko van der Pluijm and I got back online on Google Hangouts this week. We decided to play Trollbabe, a 2002 role playing game by Ron Edwards. I played one or two sessions with Jasper Polane once, way back in 2004 or 2005. Remko had never played it before.

Introduction to Trollbabe

Trollbabe is set in a fantasy version of medieval Scandinavia. There are islands, wooden ships, forests, mountains, villages that raise sheep, men bearing axes, women bearing children, ghosts, magicians and, of course, trolls. Trolls sometimes eat humans, and humans sometimes hunt trolls, but they mostly live together in uneasy peace.

It is a setting full of conflicts. Humans versus trolls, humans versus humans, trolls versus trolls, humans versus humans with trolls caught in the middle -- you name it, and it's there.

That's where trollbabes come in. They are big women with horns, not quite humans and not quite trolls, but half-feared and half-trusted by both species. As a player, you play a trollbabe. Wherever you go, you will get caught up in conflicts, and will help determine their outcome.

So, why trollbabes? There are at least two reasons:
  • Their special place between the races make them eternal outsiders. A game of Trollbabe is very much about getting caught up in troubles that aren't yours, making them yours, and then leaving behind whatever it is that you accomplished -- whether it be happiness or ruin. Note that there are no male trollbabes; the prospects of your character ever settling down to form a family are slim. (Perhaps trollbabes can bear human or troll children, but would they themselves fit into either community?) Also note that the rules encourage players to not be in the same location for an adventure. (They can be, and that's fine, but it is clear that trollbabes do not usually form adventuring parties.)
  • You get to play hot warrior women who are not objectified sex fantasies. Read this topic if you want to know more. I'll quote: "Trollbabe is much like the work of many sex positive feminists, who try to create pornography free of sexist assumptions. It's also a challenge to those in the gaming community that find [hot warrior women in chain mail bikinis] offensive on their face. It's like Ron is saying: 'This game is clearly not sexist. But it's chock full of hot warrior women. So, either your opposition to hot warrior women in gaming is satisfied or you must admit that it is not fear of sexism, but pure prudery, that drives your opposition.'"
Recovering a form of fantasy where sexuality is important, but not used as cheap pornography, is one of Edwards's preoccupations as a game designer. It's an interesting topic that I might want to return to; if you are interested in it, go and read his essay Naked went the gamer.

The Trollbabe system is very simple, which is one of the reasons Remko and I chose it for no-preparation internet play. Your trollbabe has one number, the Number, which lies between 2 and 9. In conflicts, you choose a skill to use, and roll a d10. To succeed at fighting, you need to roll below the Number. To succeed at magic, you need to roll above it. To succeed at social: if the Number is 5 or less, you need to roll at or above it; if the Number is 6 or more, you need to roll at or below it. (So social is always your best skill. This has been changed in the new rules, see below.)

Conflicts can be declared by either the GM or the player. They consist of rounds in which you can succeed or fail, and are defined to be best-of-1, best-of-3 or best-of-5, depending on how interesting and important you think the conflict is. Each round involves the trollbabe rolling a die for the appropriate skill.

If you fail a roll, you can reroll, using one of a predefined set of once-per-session backup options ("a sudden ally", "a found item", and so on) or one of your relationships. Rerolls give you the opportunity to succeed where you would otherwise fail, but they also make it possible to become injured or even incapacitated. As in Vincent Baker's 2004 game Dogs in the Vineyard, the only way to get hurt in Trollbabe is by deciding that a conflict is important enough to risk being injured for.

Relationships are gained by role playing them (i.e., non-mechanically), and may be with allies or with enemies. Gaining relationships is the only way to make your character more powerful. They allow you to make more rerolls, though they do not decrease the risk of those rerolls.

Old versus new rules

Remko and I used the 2002 PDF version of the game. When writing this post, I found out that a new and much longer version of the game was published in 2009. I haven't seen it, so I can't say much about it with authority, but from what I read on the internet I gather that the following rules changes have been made:
  • There are no modifiers on rolls.
  • You cannot use multiple skills at the same time.
  • To succeed at social, you now need to roll at or above your number if it is 6 or more; and at or below it if it is 5 or less. So instead of always being your best skill, social is now always your average (or joint-best) skill.
Remko and I never made use of the modifiers or multiple skills, so the only real change to our game would have been the third. I must admit that I liked the fact that you were always tempted to try talking first; but I haven't got enough experience with the system to disagree or agree with Edwards's redesign choice here. We might want to try it next time.

Actual play: Lida and the spirits

I wrote down Lida, with a Number of 7 (fighting 1-6, social 1-7, magic 8-10). She prefers hand-held weapons and troll magic, and is fun-loving. I chose to start in Utgarth, a place randomly picked on the game map, which offers almost no details.

Remko thought up some stakes for the scenario. They turned out to be -- as I got to understand them as events unfolded -- whether or not the young priest Balder had any success with his attempt to introduce a monotheistic religion in the region.

The scenario starts when Lida walks into a small troll village, where a human on a cart (Balder) is preaching about "the One" and about how everyone should stop worshipping spirits. He is especially adamant about the need to destroy the village's totem pole.

Lida dislikes these attempts by humans to convert trolls to their beliefs; but she's also worried about things turning ugly. So in order to stop the priest without harming more than his dignity, she starts making fun of him. This has mixed success, and goes all awry when she tries to bring the totem pole to life. The priest's magic turns out to be more powerful than hers, and she is forced to leave the village as the trolls become hostile to her. Only one, unconvinced by Balder, follows her, while the rest smashes the totem pole.

Near a mountain stream, Lida and the troll Lars talk about their plans. Lida makes sure Lars will do as she says (1-roll social conflict), and they set out to the nearby human village. She expects it to share Balder's beliefs and be monotheistic, but no, there's a totem pole prominently in the middle. Just when she has arrived, the priest arrives as well with a small group of trolls. "Look at the power of the One!", he tells his fellow villagers. "Even these trolls follow me. Do you finally see that we must abandon our worship of the spirits?" Once again Lida starts a social conflict, with more success this time: she makes Balder look ridiculous to his fellow villagers. Some of the trolls try to silence her, but she beats them off, and Balder and his followers are forced to depart.

At this point, Remko and I realised that we needed a twist to make things interesting. "Let's make it so that the spirits of this village are actually evil," I said, "so that Balder turns out to be the good guy, even if his methods and his worship of this newfangled deity are not to Lida's tastes." So that's what we did, and Remko described how, during the big party that followed Balder's temporary defeat, a chained troll was suddenly brought forward. "What are you going to do with him?" asked Lida. "Sacrifice him to the spirits!" said the villager next to her. "What do you mean, sacrifice?" "Well, we'll burn him at the stake."

Of course, Lida isn't going to let that happen. She proceeds to cause a big row, during which the chained troll escapes. Then the oldest woman in the village starts channelling the village's ancestor spirits, who soundly defeat Lida in magical combat. As her last chance of success, Lida calls on a relationship -- I asked Remko whether I could have Balder as a relationship, and he agreed -- and Balder shows up. He tries to defeat the spirits with his own magic, but alas: failure results, and Lida, Balder and the trolls are all blown from the village by a magical whirlwind.

When Lida wakes up, she has been tied up by Balder and his friends. Not a big problem: he wants her as an ally, and they soon reach an accord. It doesn't hurt that the young, inexperienced Balder finds Lida attractive. As the nights falls, they spend some time kissing. But while he's a nice boy, he is not really Lida's type, and things don't proceed beyond this stage.

The next day, Lida leads her troops to the village for a final confrontation with the spirits. The village seems to be deserted, except that the old woman is in her hut, next to a magical cauldron, invoking the spirits. When Lida enters, these take the form of a big red manlike creature that jumps from the cauldron. Combat ensues, in which everything goes wrong for our trollbabe. Defeated and incapacited, I used a final reroll ("a found item") to get to describe my own defeat: there's a bottle with an invisibility spell lying on the floor in the old woman's hut, which Lida uses at the last moment to escape from the spirits. As she crawls away, she sees and hears how Balder is killed and devoured by the spirits of his ancestors. (These were the stakes of the conflict: the spirits are defeated, or Balder is sacrificed to them.) Half-dead and utterly alone, Lida falls asleep in a nearby forest.

Lonesome trollbabes riding off into the sunset

The sessions went smoothly, and the mechanics are certainly easy to use. Still, Remko and I both felt that a certain "oomph" was lacking. It was a fine story; but at no point were we particularly engaged.

What went wrong?

I suspect that the problem is that nothing much was ever at stake for Lida personally. Sure, she had some ideas about how the situation needed to be resolved, but she wasn't truly part of that situation. In a game like Breaking the Ice, your character is deeply involved in the dates you're playing out. In My Life with Master, the need to find love and get rid of the awful master is the essence of your character. In 3:16, you are part of a group of people that you cannot escape from. But in Trollbabe, you are the outsider, and your personal stakes in the conflict aren't obvious.

Let's think about that for a moment. Perhaps the stakes of our scenario should have been different? The original idea wasn't too engaging for Lida, but then we made the wise decision of giving Balder a good motive for his crusade against the spirits. The resulting stakes were pretty good, I'd say, especially since they required Lida to either overcome her earlier prejudices and apologise to Balder, or end up defending the sacrifice of trolls. The resulting relationship to Balder was quite nuanced.

Perhaps there is no real problem, and we just need to play the game more often, so that Lida can grow a network of relationships? That would make her get more caught up in the situations around her. Though if that is what is needed for memorable play, why wouldn't the creation of relationships be part of character creation?

Perhaps Lida should have a need, something that she wants for herself and which gives her some drives of her own. But, again, if that is what a successful Trollbabe character needs, why wouldn't it be on the character sheet?

Perhaps it is just that the kind of story Trollbabe is designed to tell doesn't appeal much to Remko and me. I prefer stories where the characters are completely caught up in whatever is happening, to stories about outsiders who, in the end, always go their lone way. The cowboy riding off into the sunset (what I think of as "Clint Eastwood style," though I've seen almost no Clint Eastwood films) doesn't strike me as an especially interesting character. Those who have no attachments are condemned to be shallow. If a trollbabe is supposed to be such a character, it's not a character I'll have much fun with.

But, looking at the game rules, a trollbabe is not supposed to be such a character. The formation of relationships is one of the central elements of the game. If anything, Trollbabe seems to be designed to explore the tension between being different and an outsider on the one hand, and being part of the world and having relationships with people on the other hand. Trollbabes are not just in between trolls and humans, they are also in between prototypical male and female roles; the prototypical male role being that of the loner who survives through his own skills, and the prototypical female role being that of the social person who survives through her bonds with others.

I'd love to hear other people's thoughts on our session, and on how we could make things more engaging in the future. Or you could just point out that things will get more engaging automatically as we develop more relationships for the trollbabes.

One thing I certainly want to do next time is to drop the 1 GM and 1 player set-up, and GM it for each other. Having two trollbabes whose adventures are different, but somehow linked, sounds like a good way to go about it. Maybe the adventures are set in the same place, but thirty years apart. Maybe one trollbabe is the mother of the other. There are interesting possibilities there.

And perhaps I should get the new book?

[IF Comp 2013] Second thoughts on "Captain Verdeterre's Plunder"

The Interactive Fiction Competition is back! Spoilers behind the break.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

[3:16] First session -- Picasso and Titiaan

Saturday, I played my first-ever session of Gregor Hutton's space marines RPG 3:16 -- Carnage among the Stars. It was a blast. The game delivered everything I had hoped for.

The players

There were four of us. I was the only one with extensive experience of different RPGs, including indie narrativist RPGs. Partly for that reason, I chose to GM the game. There were three other players: Michiel, Erik and Annet. All of them had role played before, but only Dungeons & Dragons. (With the exception of Michiel, who once played a single session game of My Life with Master with me, and took to that quite naturally.)

The fact that most of them had only played D&D was exactly why 3:16 seemed a good choice to me. Just like D&D, it is built around combat scenes in which trying to be effective -- either for the good of the party or for that of yourself, which in this case is not always the same thing -- is the expected behaviour. Death is always a possibility, and the reward of fighting well is surviving and getting stronger.

Of course, 3:16 uses this for very different purposes than D&D does. The combat system isn't complicated enough to be truly interesting as a tactical game. But combat, the reward system, the special abilities, and so on, are all designed to create tensions between the players and the army, and also between the players themselves; and then to give the players the tools to play out these tensions in an interesting way.

Preparation

I read the manual about 3 times, asked some rules questions online, read through a few Actual Play reports, and created a four-page summary of the things that are most important for the players to understand (the combat rules, a list of all weapons and requestables). I also prepared two planets in some detail, and a third in almost no detail, which turned out to be great, since we only played two.

Planet Picasso
Ooze creatures with "stop technology"
AA = 5

A world of blue and purple stone, where the arid landscape is filled with large rocks and lakes of tar. Thick clouds hang over the world at all times, and electrical storms rage continuously. The only living creatures are slimes the size of bulls. They come from the lakes and attack with caustic matter. When they use their special ability, electricity strikes all the troopers' weapons, rendering them useless for a single round.

The mission is to find lieutenant Frederiks. She has been sent out to test experimental weapons that (unfortunately) explode when the oozes use their special ability. Even when most of her troopers have died from these explosions, she insists that they continue using the new technology; finally, her men see no other option but to kill her.

Suggested scenes: Are dropped near the drop pods of Frederiks and her troops, where they find one of the experimental energy cartridges. (Can be put into any weapon, dealing +1 kills, but exploding and dealing 1 kill to the trooper when aliens use their special ability.) Find dead bodies of troops with exploded weapons. Find Frederiks, evidently killed by Terran weapons. Find the remaining troopers, weaponless, being assaulted by oozes.

Planet Titiaan
Artificial life forms with "exploding bodies"
AA = (average of highest and lowest NFA) + 1, which turned out to be 6

A dead, lifeless planet; nothing but brown desert. Huge metal doors in the surface lead to underground complexes filled with combative spheroid robots that explode when killed. Long, dark corridors; halls full of weird machinery, lots of copper spheres and coloured glass circles. The machines can be meddled with, and may activate and do something useful on a successful NFA check, but will explode when a 10 is rolled.

Deep within the complex is a chamber full of aliens in stasis vats. These are the real aliens, which the artificial lifeforms have been designed to protect. They are in a deep comatose sleep, and can be killed one-by-one, or all at once if their life support machine is destroyed. (This is worth approximately 200 kills.)

Character creation

I explained the setting and some of the rules to the players, and then we went straight to character creation. We discussed names and reputations openly, then assigned FA/NFA scores in secret so that it would be a surprise who got which rank. The results were:

1. Annet plays 'Dolle' Mina ("mad Mina," which was a Dutch feminist group in the 70s), with reputation "recalcitrant," FA of 4 and NFA of 6. She is the Sergeant of the group, and takes the heavy MG.
2. Michiel plays 'Iron' Sue, with reputation "Rambo," FA of 7 and NFA of 3. She gets the rank of Private, and chooses the energy rifle.
3. Erik plays Sektor, with reputation "by the book," FA of 4 and NFA of 6. He is the Corporal of the team, and chooses the E-cannon.

Erik changed his reputation at the last moment (from something like "gambling addict") to make sure that there were more potential conflicts between the characters -- "recalcitrant" and "by the book" obviously being near antonyms.

Planet Picasso

I started the game by having the PCs come together with about a hundred other fresh soldiers to listen to Lieutenant Jansen. "We are the elite 16th brigade!" he said. "Some people think we are an elite unit because only the best are allowed to join. Well, just look around you: that is false. No, we are the best because any soldier who isn't one of the best will die on their first mission! It's called natural selection. Welcome, men. Today is going to be your first mission."

He then took all the Sergeants apart, and told Mina that her job was to find and rescue Lieutenant Frederiks, who had disappeared. "I'm not sending you because I think you will succeed. I'm sending you because I have no one else. Make sure you find Frederiks. She is a better soldier than any of you." Mina ungracefully accepted, and the squad was on its way.

I took a lot of control of external events, so the overall story of the planet played out much as I had laid it down in my preparation. After a rocky flight to the planet, the team found the missing Lieutenant's drop pods near a tar lake. Investigating them, Sektor came across a weird energy cartridge, which he dutifully showed to his Sergeant. At that moment, the oozes attacked, and the players had some fun with the combat system. I used the "stop technology" trait almost immediately, but Sue got some hand-to-hand kills and the fight was over soon. Sue then volunteered to try out the experimental cartridge, and the team confidently followed the tracks leading away from the drop pods.

The next group of oozes used stop technology twice to make things difficult for the characters. Sue's energy rifle exploded immediately, and she had to run forward and make do with hand-to-hand. Meanwhile, Sektor scored some good kills, while Mina was singularly ineffective -- the highest ranking PC would get exactly one kill on this entire planet.

They soon found dead troopers with exploded rifles, and then they saw, in the distance, the corpse of Lieutenant Frederiks. The officers decided that one of the soldiers should go and check it out, and they naturally chose Sue; who thought this was the natural choice, since she was, after all, the ablest fighter. When she saw the dead officer, shot with bullets and with an energy cartridge stuffed in her mouth, she immediately understood what had happened. She reported back, and her superiors took rather different views of the matter.

"We must report this to the ship immediately!" Sektor announced.
"No, we'll go and finish our mission first," said Mina.
"But Sergeant, we already finished our mission."
"No, we must find the survivors, if there are any."
"Are you sure that was part of the mission briefing?"
"Yes corporal, I'm sure. Let's go."

So they went, and soon enough found the surviving soldiers, weaponless and trapped by a bunch of oozes. Mina tried to shoot them from a distance, with little success. Sue heroically sprinted forward, and interposed herself between the oozes and the survivors. But it was Sektor who carried the day, using a Strength and telling us about his life as a rodeo on the ranch --

-- which allowed him to jump on a big ooze as if it were a rodeo bull, and ride it towards the other oozes, waving his guns, yelling, and killing them all. Those were the final threat tokens of the planet.

As soon as the fight was over, one of the soldiers from Frederiks's squad approached Sergeant Mina. "We didn't do it. The aliens shot her. Right?"
"Right." said Mina.
But Sektor disagreed. "Surely, you don't believe that story?"
"Yes, Corporal, I do believe that Lieutenant Frederiks was killed by the oozes."
"But she was killed by bullets."
"The aliens used their weird power to take control of these soldiers' guns. So I'm sure we can all agree that Lieutenant Frederiks was killed by the oozes."
"Serge, I'm sure these sons of bitches did it themselves! They should be court-martialled!"
"Corporal, I'm telling you that the aliens did it. And that's an order."
"Yeah," Sue broke in, trying to intimidate Sektor with her imposing physique, "I'm sure you don't want to suggest that our brothers and sisters would kill one of their own. Would you?"
Sektor remained silent.

So that was the story that Mina told to Lieutenant Jansen when they got back on the ship. But when she was gone, sneaky little Sektor went to tell Jansen the real story; which Mina and Sue found out about soon after. Thus we ended the first planet with Mina and Sue hating Sektor's guts.

But Sektor was promoted to Sergeant! He also got most kills, and Sue won the roll between her and Mina, so the two of them went level up. Both increased FA. Sue and Mina both tried to get a rocket pod; Mina succeeded.

Planet Titiaan

Lieutenant Jansen sent two squads of soldiers, one under Sektor and one under Mina, down to Titiaan to investigate some very weak life signals. "It's gonna be easy," he claimed. "We detect almost no life signals. Oh, and they're probably underground." He then gave overall command of the mission to Sektor. "But I am the more experienced officer," Mina complained. "I believe Sektor has a bright future ahead of him," countered Jansen.

Sektor took his new command very seriously, and made his men bring a lot of flares for use in the underground tunnels. But Mina was perhaps a bit smarter, and took a life scanner that would allow her to find life forms.

They land on the desert planet and soon find a metal door leading underground. After some shenanigans with an elevator that doesn't work, they find themselves in a huge system of underground corridors and rooms. As soon as they step out of the elevator, spheroid robots toting big guns come from the walls. Encounter at Close range -- and these aliens have exploding bodies!

Mina makes an NFA roll to get to Near range, but Sektor fails his roll. Sue chooses to throw a grenade -- killing some aliens which then blow up. That's two points of damage to Sektor: one from Sue's grenade, and one from the exploding bodies. In the second round, Sue throws another grenade, and this happens again! That's right, 1+1+1+1 = 4 damage for Sektor in two rounds, which means that even after using his armour he is about to die ...

... which Sue's player definitely saw coming, but hey, what did Sue care about Sektor ...

... so Sektor uses a weakness to escape. A childhood trauma about explosions makes him crawl away on all fours from the exploding stuff around him, crying and embarrassing himself in front of his troops. His later attempts to order Sue to hand over her grenades are met with scorn, and he silently decides to have her court-martialled later.

They explore the corridors and rooms, turning on some of the weird machinery with successful NFA rolls. Lights go on; and at one point a couple of the robotic aliens are blown up by lasers the PCs just activated. But the second encounter once again doesn't go Sektor's way: the aliens get to Close range, some get killed, and they are going to explode and kill Sektor. So he uses his last remaining way out, his second Strength. He tells us more about his time as a rodeo rider, and describes how he now grabs two guns and goes "gunzerking".

The aliens are dead, but more will be coming, and Sektor is all out of escape routes.

Finally, the band of soldiers make it into a huge room where the real, humanoid aliens are sleeping in transparent containers. Mina uses her rocket pod to blow up the machine that is connected to these containers. Before she can ascertain what effect this has on them, a final group of robotic guardians appear at Far range. Sektor and Sue run towards them, to Near Range; the robots also get closer, and so Sektor and Sue end up at Close range. Not a smart move by Sektor, because, well, he's at Close range and these guys still have exploding bodies. So, sure enough, they explode, and he dies...

... at which point I tell the other players that they can either use a Strength to save Sektor, or let him die ...

... and Michiel, who was already planning to do this, makes Sue use a Strength. He tells how one day when she was a little girl, she got into an awful and violent row with her big sister. Afterwards, she ran off into the woods, where she was surprised by a bear. At the last moment, her big sister suddenly appeared with a gun, rescuing her. From this, she learned that "You always help your family". And her fellow soldiers are her new family. So even though she dislikes Sektor -- who betrayed his fellows to higher officers -- immensely, she still won't let him die. Sue gets between him and the aliens, and kills them all off. Sektor is surprised and grateful.

By that time, Mina's kill counter is raking up the 208 kills she got from blowing up the life support machine.

Back in the ship, Sektor and Sue both get a promotion. Sektor is now Lieutenant, but he is all out of Strengths. Also, he managed to get his e-cannon to 1d100 kills at Near range, which will presumably not endear him to the other characters. Mina had most kills -- almost none through fighting -- and increases FA; while Sektor also increases FA. Mina improves her rocket pod at Far range, Sue her grenades at Close range. So they now all have a different preferred range.

Conclusion

A lot of good drama from the character interactions! I'm eager to see what will happen in the future. Will Sektor learn the importance of loyalty, or will he become an intolerably arrogant officer? If the latter, will his fellow soldiers let him survive the next mission? Sue seems the perfect soldier; but what will her weaknesses turn out to be? How will Mina react now that Sektor will be the one to give her orders?

And what happens when, on the third planet, Sektor will be told to have his soldiers test a new generation of experimental energy cartridges?

I'm planning to do less preparation next time. I'll print out the planet creation sheets, and roll on them where the players can see it, so that everybody knows I don't have anything planned out in advance. I'd like to get a little more shared world and scenario creation going.

I really enjoy how the system creates situations where you have to choose between your own good and that of your fellows; how it creates tensions and competition between the PCs; and how it creates situations where the life or death of your fellows is in your hands. This session also showed how easy it was for the players to see this and use it to the story's advantage.

And I also realised I really enjoy systems, like 3:16, where the GM can go all out. As a GM in 3:16, you can and should bring as much hurt to the players as the rules will allow you to do. This is completely different from a system like D&D, where the GM has to find a balance between making the game too easy and making it too difficult, and thus has the weird double role of (a) balancing the game, and (b) being the adversary. Here, you just go all out, and the limited number of Tokens ensures that it's always fair.

Looking forward to the next session!

Friday, October 18, 2013

[Breaking the Ice] Sjoerd and Doortje come together

This is the second part of an actual play report that began here. Remko and I got together on Google Hangouts to play the second and third date of Sjoerd and Doortje, using Emily Boss Care's game Breaking the Ice.

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.

Second date

  1. 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.)
  2. 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)
  3. 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)
  4. 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.)
  5. 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.")
We rolled three dice to see how many points of attraction would become permanent. None! But you can reroll those dice if you let something bad happen to your character. I narrated how Sophie got sick from falling in the water. Success! Then Remko let something bad happen to Sjoerd, but I can't at the moment remember what it was. He too got a success.

 Third date
  1. 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)
  2. 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)
  3. 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.)
  4. "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.)
This time, we got to roll seven dice, and both new points of attraction turned permanent. The end result: 6 points of attraction, 5 compatibilities.

Aftermath


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.

Conclusion


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:
  1. When you abandon or rewrite a trait, you can get 2 dice that cannot be rerolled.
  2. 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).
Anyway, it was a good game, and I'm happy to be role playing again!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

[Breaking the Ice] The first date of Sjoerd and Doortje

I'm finally getting back into role playing. I've been doing far too little of this for far too long, and it feels great to be back in business.

Back in 2005, I played my first online RPG sessions ever, using IRC, with Remko van der Pluijm. We played Breaking the Ice, and I wrote up an actual play report here. So what better way to get back into role playing than by meeting up with Remko again -- who is by now a very good friend of mine -- and play Breaking the Ice again, this time using web cams and Google hangouts?

Breaking the Ice is an RPG for two people written by Emily Care Boss and published by Black and Green Games. Two characters, one controlled by each player, have a series of three dates; by the end of the game, they either stay together or stop dating. I concluded my original actual play report as follows:
This game is brilliant. There are no two ways about it.

It is an ode on human vulnerability. [...] In this game, you do not overcome obstacles by strength. Instead, it is about people feeling their way towards mutual understanding and appreciation, and they have to have the courage to be vulnerable, to be ashamed, to be afraid, to make mistakes, or they will never find each other; and it is not so much in spite of, but rather because of their shame and fear and vulnerability that they find each other, if they do.
So, let us experience this brilliance again! Character creation starts with the "Switch". You identify a difference between the players, and use this as a difference for the characters -- except that you reverse it. So if a man and a woman play the game, they might choose gender as the Switch, and the man would play a female character, the woman a male character. Remko and I decided to use the fact that he has a small child while I am not a parent. I play a female character with a baby, and he plays a male character without children.

Next is the "web of words". You start by writing down a colour for your character, and then take turns using free association to come up with more words or phrases. When this is done, you use the resulting web as inspiration for the traits of your character; and also come up with a conflict that will make the dating process difficult. This is what our characters looked like. Remko played:
Name: Sjoerd

Traits: has a shoulder you can cry on; tries to be hip; performs in a Beatles cover band; is an amateur sushi chef; knows about whisky; loves amphibians.

Conflict: fear of abandonment
Sjoerd has no real job. He plays in a cover band, but earns very little. He comes from a home where he was mostly just ignored by his parents. He would love to raise children, but is afraid he'll not be up to the task.

I played:
Name: Dorothea (called Doortje)

Traits: has never known her parents; has a strong sense of justice; conforms too easily to the wishes of others; runs a hip clothing store; her favourite movie is the Rocky Horror Picture Show; loves flower arrangement and feng shui.

Conflict: Feels guilty when she claims space for herself.
Doortje is an orphan who has lost her parents at a very young age. She has a small child -- who the father is, and why he's not around, has not been established yet -- to whom she is very devoted. Too devoted, many would say, since she only feels comfortable when she sacrifices most of her own life for the sake of her child.

Breaking the Ice allows for a wide variety of tones. The running example in the game rules is a light-hearted comedy; but as you can see, and as everyone who knows me and Remko will have expected, we went for something far more serious.

We decided that after several meetings in Doortje's store, and with a mutual acquaintance edging him on, Sjoerd finally worked up the nerve to ask Doortje on a date. He suggested going to a sushi place, so that's where out first date starts. Remko was the active player and I the guide for the first scene; and we switched every scene, as per the rules. I won't go into the details of the rules; but you should know that the active player gets dice for doing things that make his character look good, and re-rolls for doing things that make his character vulnerable; and that you generally need to do both to create attraction or compatibility.
  1. Doortje arrives at the sushi restaurant, where Sjoerd -- who is a friend of the owner -- has been preparing the first dish. She sees him still wearing an apron, and he explains to her that he has made a dish suited to her. "Suited in what way?" "It is very delicate and refined." She is pleased, of course, but there is an awkward moment where she expects him to offer her a seat, but he just sits down himself. When Sjoerd realises his faux pas, he blushes and tries to apologise. Doortje finds this endearing. (+1 attraction.)
  2. Doortje praises Sjoerd's cooking skills, but he wonders whether she really means it or is just trying to be nice. Not knowing what to talk about, she goes on to tell him that she has never eaten sushi before and doesn't really like fish -- but, she hastens to reassure him, the food he has made is really good. He is understandably not reassured. (Failure.)
  3. We skip forward to the end of the dinner. Sjoerd has been ordering Japanese whisky to go with the dishes. He tells Doortje at length, and with much enthusiasm, about the relationship between sushi and whiksy. She doesn't particularly care about (or for) sushi, but loves hearing him talk with so much passion. Sjoerd gives a secret sign to the waiter, who puts on Love Me Do by the Beatles. The scene ends with (borrowing our conventions from film for a moment) a zoom out shot of Doortje listening with rapt attention to Sjoerd, while Love Me Do slowly drowns out the sound of their voices. (+1 attraction)
  4. They leave the restaurant and walk to the bus stop where Doortje's bus will arrive. It won't be here for 20 minutes, so they have to wait. Doortje clothes are beautiful, but also somewhat revealing and not very warm. Because she is cold, and also emboldened by the whisky she drank (new trait: becomes tipsy easily) she presses herself against Sjoerd. He didn't expect this, and reacts by taking a step back (a move he immediately regrets). Doortje -- conforming too easily to what she perceives as the wishes of others -- also takes a step back, and turns away from Sjoerd. An awkward silence follows. Then she suddenly turns back towards him, and says: "Forget about the bus. Let's go to O'Malley's whisky bar." Sjoerd eagerly accepts. (New compatibility: they like hanging out in nice bars.)
  5. While walking to O'Malley's bar, Sjoerd puts his arm around Doortje. They arrive in a very good mood; but it turns out that the bar isn't exactly what they expected. There's a rough biker crowd, one of whom soon approaches Doortje and asks her what a beautiful chick like she is doing with a sissy like Sjoerd. Sjoerd isn't amused and steps in to 'protect' Doortje, trusting that his correspondence course on karate (new trait: correspondence course on karate) will serve him. The biker guy throws him out into the street. Doortje is near tears and tells him that it's all her fault, that she shouldn't have suggested going to a bar she'd never been to before, and so on. He dusts himself off, and they go to the classy wine bar down the street. (+1 attraction)
  6. While they drink wine, Sjoerd tells Doortje that he has quite a bit of first-hand experience with biker culture, since his father was a biker. This soon turns into the story of his unhappy childhood. He explains how his parents basically ignored him; the injustice of which makes Doortje quite angry. At some point, Sjoerd decides that he shouldn't hog the spotlight, and he asks Doortje about her parents. This turns out to be a painful subject; but after a short silence, she decides to tell him about the car accident in which both her parents died. She herself, only two years old and in the rear of the car, survived. Doortje doesn't find this an easy story to tell, but Sjoerd is a good and supportive listener, and by the end of the evening they have shared a lot of personal details. (New compatibility: unhappy childhood.)
The date ends when Sjoerd brings Doortje to the bus. They don't kiss, but they do embrace forcefully. Both feel very positive about the date.

Of the 3 points of attraction, 1 turned out to be permanent, and will be transferred to the second date.

We had a lot of luck with the rolls, so we were never forced to bring up the conflicts. There was quite a bit of drama, but the biggest sources of drama -- Doortje's unhealthy, self-effacing relationship with her child, and Sjoerd's fear of abandonment --  didn't come into play. This is not necessarily a bad thing. There are two more dates in which they may take centre stage!

The session lasted a little under two hours, with approximately one hour spent on the first date and the rest on character creation. It wasn't very immersive -- you spend quite a bit of time talking about ideas, and looking for ways in which you can earn dice or re-rolls -- but that's normal for Breaking the Ice, and I don't consider it a problem. We had fun, and I'm looking forward to the second session!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

[IF Comp 2013] Second thoughts on "Dad vs. Unicorn"

I've been thinking more about the competition game Dad vs. Unicorn, and I want to write another blog post about it. Here is the earlier post. Spoilers, as usual, after the break.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

[IF Comp 2013] "Their Angelic Understanding" by porpentine

The Interactive Fiction Competition is back! Spoilers behind the break.

[IF Comp 2013] "The Wizard's Apprentice" by Alex Freeman

The Interactive Fiction Competition is back! Spoilers behind the break.

[IF Comp 2013] "The Challenge" by Emilian Kowalewski

The Interactive Fiction Competition is back! Spoilers behind the break.

[IF Comp 2013] "Saving John" by Josephine Tsay

The Interactive Fiction Competition is back! Spoilers behind the break.

[IF Comp 2013] "The Paper Bag Princess" by Adri

The Interactive Fiction Competition is back! Spoilers behind the break.

[IF Comp 2013] "Mrs. Wobbles & The Tangerine House" by Mark Marino

The Interactive Fiction Competition is back! Spoilers behind the break.

[IF Comp 2013] "Captain Verdeterre's Plunder" by Ryan Veeder

The Interactive Fiction Competition is back! Spoilers behind the break.