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Archive => Indie Game Design => Topic started by: matthijs on May 07, 2005, 08:24:03 AM



Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: matthijs on May 07, 2005, 08:24:03 AM
This is based on ideas from an earlier game, electrified spikes through the soles of your feet (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=14831). I keep writing these games when I'm badly hung over; brings out the cynical and dark side in me, I guess. But it also brings out the moron-who-can't-write-properly side as well, so please ask if any of this is unclear.

In We All Had Names, players create the story of one Jewish family's struggle to survive World War II.
  This is not a role-playing game. It's a game of narration. You will, hopefully, feel for all the characters. You won't own any of them.

- - -

Character generation

Create the pre-war family. Use an entire evening on creating the characters.
  These characters belong to everyone, like the characters in a book belong to every reader. You will make them together.
  First, you talk a bit, getting a vibe for what kind of family you're making. Then, make a sheet for each character. Write their names on top. You should each grab a sheet at random. Write down stuff you know or make up about the character, a line or two. Put it into the pile, grab a new one, do the same thing.
  After each of you have done this with five characters, read them all aloud. Talk a bit. When you're ready, do the writing again.
  Make sure they all relate to each other. Provide them with a common history. Make sure they're all real people, with good and bad sides.
 
Play

In the game, you'll take turns being Holocaust. Holocaust wants to kill the characters. It's the coldest and most inhuman thing there is.
  Holocaust will frame the scenes. Each scene must have a threat to several of the characters, though the treat may not be apparent at start. Players will have to choose which characters they most want to make it.
  Some threats will be small, some will be deadly.
  Those who aren't Holocaust will be narrators - they say what the characters do. When you talk about a character, you never say "I". You will describe his thoughts and sensations, not only his actions.
  Holocaust will control everything that isn't the characters.

Mechanics

Players start with four dice each.
  Framing scenes: Holocaust says what characters are/can be in the scene.  
  In a scene, the first time a player describes a character in one of three specific ways, that character gets a die of the corresponding colour. These ways are:
- Thought/emotion: green die
- Action: red die
- Sensation: blue die
  When the hammer comes down - when the threat is revealed and it's time to resolve - all participants start assigning dice to characters present in the scene.
  Holocaust first assigns dice secretly from an unlimited Holocaust pool; never from his personal pool. Assign like this:
- Calculate your Max Threat Level: 6 minus number of dice in your pool. (Max is 5).
- Assign that many dice to one of the characters. One less to another, etc.
(So if you have 2 dice in your pool, your Max Threat is 4. Put 4 dice on one character, 3 on another, 2 on another, and 1 on another).
  The dice he assigns to a character are called that characters' Threat Level. Then he says the highest number of dice he's placed on any character. It shows how dangerous the threat is, and dictates the worst results Holocaust can narrate if a character loses the conflict.
  Narrators assign dice together; though they can only assign dice from their own pool, they're allowed to plan together.
  Show dice. Roll. Narrators roll the green/red/blue dice on the characters as well.
  Each even number is a success. For each character, find out if Holocaust or narrators win. Do this in order of Holocaust dice assigned, lowest first. If narrators win, they narrate escape. If they lose, Holocaust describes the horrible outcome, based on Threat Level (Holocaust-assigned dice on that character). If it's even, narrators narrate escape, but Holocaust narrates horror at 1/2 the Threat Level, rounded down.
  Narrator-assigned dice are spent; you don't get them back.
  After the scene, Holocaust refreshes back to 4 dice.

Threat levels

1: Personal - humiliation, panic etc.
2: Social - ostracism, kristalnacht etc.
3: Wounds that may heal with time.
4: Death, disfigurement, permanent damage.
5: Horrible death - by torture, starvation or similar.

Questions

I'm having trouble putting them into words - the right questions here would have the answer in'em, and if I could ask them properly, I wouldn't have to ask them, see?

Basically, they're all aspects of this: Will the system help players create an experience of love and desperation?


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: matthijs on May 09, 2005, 12:12:00 PM
ON THE GAME AND SETTING

The purpose of the "game"

First of all, to provide a strong emotional experience for the players.
Second, learning - about history, about things that matter such as love for your family - through personal immersion.
Is it a "game"? I don't know. It is what it is. It certainly isn't a pastime for fun.
I believe it could be played in an educational setting, with 16-18-year olds, once a week for three or four sessions.

The role of the players

Players should experience and express the love and horror of the setting through their narration.

The purpose of the setting

The reality of WWII and the Holocaust forces players to personally relate to the theme of the game. A fantasy game will make distancing yourself easy.

The purpose of the family

The reasons for having a family as a central element are: Giving the players many opportunities for identification and attachment. Showing how different peoples' fates could be. Focussing the theme on love and family relations. Making threats more real - threats to loved ones are horrible.

The role of history

Historical events will take place as they did in the real world. Holocaust must take this into account when narrating threats. Trying to get characters into a place where death is guaranteed is a level 5 threat, even if that threat isn't apparent to the characters at the time.

MORE RULES

Refreshing dice pools

A player does not automatically refresh his pool after being Holocaust. He has to earn his dice - one die each for the following activities:

- Describing a location in detail
- Describing an NPC's morally ambiguous actions
- Describing an act of love, kindness or help from an NPC
- Bringing a historical event or character into the scene

Character generation

After chargen, one session of normal family life should be played out in freeform. Scenes should involve as many characters as possible - weddings, funerals etc. The aim is to establish how life was before the war.

Example of play

Players are A, B and C. It's A's turn as Holocaust. A has one die left in his pool - threat level is (6-1=) 5, horrible death. The group knows that when the hammer comes down, Holocaust must assign 5 dice to one of the characters.

Holocaust frames the scene: Krakow Ghetto. Characters present are Aaron, Paul and Anna.

Narration starts. Players work to narrate inner life, sensations and actions of characters. This will make the characters more likely to survive the threat. Holocaust describes places, events etc. This gives him more dice to use when he's no longer Holocaust, to save characters.

The characters are lined up by a pit they've been forced to dig. SS men come out with pistols. Holocaust assigns threat dice: Aaron 5, Paul 4, Anna 3.

Players discuss and assign dice. They only have 4 left altogether, and assign 3 to Anna, keeping the last one for later. Through narration, they've earned 3 bonus dice for each character.

They roll dice. Anna has the lowest threat level, and is first; players win, and narrate her escape. Paul has second lowest; Holocaust wins, and describes the horrible outcome at threat level 4. Finally, Aaron; players win, and narrate his escape.


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: Adam Dray on May 09, 2005, 12:23:14 PM
The bolded topics are subjects matthijs asked me to address:

Initial gut reactions to the concept

Ack! It's not a role-playing game!
But cool! It's about the Holocaust.
Waitaminute... Why do you think this isn't a role-playing game? I think it is.

Thoughts about how the mechanics will work in actual play

Overall, the game text needs a lot more exposition to be ready for play. It's just too wide open. I'm sure you know this (it's a single, short Forge post, not a complete game). Most of the comments below are of the "this needs more stuff" variety.

There's not any system for /how/ to describe these characters.

Also, this game explores the WWII period but doesn't provide me with the setting material I need. I could go check out a book on the subject to supplement what I already know (a little), but I'd want the game to give me a good start.

What incentive does the Holocaust have to be truly cold and inhuman? A second ago, this person was cheering for the Jews. I can't see this working very well.

The game offers no System or advice for creating threats.

Which player controls which character? You said they're everyone's characters.

The players start with 4 dice. What kind of dice? The text doesn't say. How many sides? What colors? Each player has 4 dice or there are 4 dice for the entire player group? There are only three colors, but four dice? I'm confused. So a player starts with 4 dice then can add green, red, and blue dice when they describe a character in one of three ways. Only the first time though. Does this mean they only get one additional die, or up to three additional dice?

I'm not clear what the IIEE is. It seems to be: Holocaust describes a threat. Players immediately get four dice in a pool. Don't roll yet. Players describe characters' reactions. As they bring in thought/emotion, action, or sensation, they supplement their pools with additional dice. Then how does the Holocaust get to the part "when the hammer comes down"? Wasn't "when the threat is revealed" earlier when the Holocaust described the threat? Or are we talking about narration and when the narration actually cannot go further without resolving the threat? At that point, dice are rolled. Then more narration happens. The system doesn't really explain what kind of narration happens at any given point.

The Holocaust's dice pool is confusing. On one hand, you say it's unlimited, but it isn't. It's maximum 5. Right? And it refreshes to 4 after a scene. But the rest boggles me. Can you show an example of play?

Two best / two worst things about the game's mechanics and setting

Worst:
1) I can't understand the mechanics.
2) They don't help players create an experience of love and desperation -- that is, there's no support in the system for any of that. I'd say the system does create an experience of dread.

Best:
1) I think stories of the Holocaust are a great medium for really fantastic storytelling.
2) I like the thought/emotion, action, sensation thing you started. You should do more with it.

How to get people to play it; what angle to present it from

Dude, this is totally a role-playing game, isn't it?  Players create characters and use them as a vehicle to explore the setting of the plight of the Jews in WWII. Awful things happen to them and they somehow survive, their love and desperation keeping them going. This is a classic story that is rife with opportunity.

One twist you might make is to have each player roll dice or draw straws at the beginning of the game to determine which side he will play: Jew or Nazi. The game will then be able to better explore people doing horrible things to each other and explore both sides of play. What does it take to be a monster? What does it take to survive one?


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on May 09, 2005, 12:39:12 PM
Quote from: AdamDray
One twist you might make is to have each player roll dice or draw straws at the beginning of the game to determine which side he will play: Jew or Nazi..


Or to make it bearable, everyone plays both. (I know I'd feel like hell after 4 hours of sending my friends' fictional alter egos to ghettoes and starving them, let alone gas chambers). And then to really drive the screws home, make a player resource-accumulation mechanic whereby playing your Nazi viciously against other people's Jews gives your own Jew a better chance of survival.

This could even manifest in giving your Jewish character an opportunity to collaborate, or just to save himself and the people he cares about at the expense of others: "The Germans want the ghetto council to provide 100 persons to go on the train 'to the east' -- you get to pick" or "Rations are being handed out -- you're given the allocation to take back to your blockhouse -- does the food for the other prisoners ever get there, or do you eat it all yourself?" or "congratulations, you're a sonderkommando, clean those bodies out of the gas chambers and bring us all their gold teeth and we'll let you live a little while." (All real examples, miserably enough).

Because the greatest evil isn't what makes you suffer and die. The greatest evil is what makes you decide to inflict suffering and death on others just to survive a little longer yourself.

Damn, though, I'm not sure I could play this game. But it's a worthy project.


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: Ben Lehman on May 09, 2005, 12:45:08 PM
If you use Sydney's excellent idea, there, I suggest you name the game "The Best Amongst Us Did Not Survive."

yrs--
--Ben


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on May 09, 2005, 12:57:12 PM
Basically the rules are OK, meaning that you can go to playtest stage. I suggest considering a parallel rules system that defines some kind of progress through the reality of holocaust - some way for the game to end, that is. But that's something you have to find through playtest, I should think. You could plug in the MLwM theme about love breaking through horror almost unchanged, I think.

More importantly, your chosen pace is horribly too slow for my tastes. One session of chargen and another of freeform play for this kind of light, formalistic endeavour? I don't think so. I find this more appropriate for single session play all told. How come? It's all because of the lack of mechanics: I play to the mechanics of the game, essentially. If there's no chargen or peaceful life mechanics, I'll certainly go straight to the subject matter and invent all that freeform stuff when it's needed. No help to it, at least with these rules. I simply won't do it. Better stuff to do than sketching sentimental family fiction all night long. There's a real reason for my dislike, too. As you've outlined the chargen and first session, there won't be any kind of drama included. It's all just empty color in preparation for the holocaust.

Whether the above is a problem, that's your call. I don't think that I'm the only one to react this way, though, so you might want to address this abhorrence towards freeform play somehow. I suggest preconstructed characters or a phase of email preparation instead of wasting session time in it. I don't think that spending excessive time in chargen/development will anyway be the most efficient possible way to bring forth love and horror; if you consider how fiction achieves this stuff, it's not usually through a couple of hundred pages of preparation. Consider: what you're trying to do is invest the players in the characters, but don't you see that they won't do it just because plenty of time is spent on it? Everyone knows that the meat of the game will be in the holocaust, so the first couple of sessions are just warmup.

About mechanics: your chosen die-mechanic is linear. You might want to consider diminishing returns, instead. Something like high die winning (in the manner of Sorcerer) or something. Just a hunch, and probably the current thing works fine, too.


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: Larry L. on May 09, 2005, 02:03:29 PM
Gut reaction: Done well, this could create very powerful opportunities for catharsis. Done poorly, it would just be depressing, or worse, in bad taste.

I have a hard time understanding the incentive for the player of the faceless Holocaust to be antagonistic (other than that the game needs that antagonism to happen.) On one hand, the player's personal revulsion may cause them to pull punches and go easy; on the other, if he comes up with something particularly awful, the player may face a seriously unpleasant sort of remorse for his zeal.

I rather like Adam's suggestion of using Nazi PCs. If the "Holocaust" player is forced to work through the lens of individual Nazi soldiers, this brings a whole new level of human drama into the game. Really, it just requires a subtle change in emphasis; not a change to mechanics or stance.


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: Adam Dray on May 09, 2005, 02:59:25 PM
matthijs, my apologies. We crossposted. I didn't see your clarifications before I posted. I'll read them later and add my additional thoughts.


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: Sean on May 10, 2005, 04:22:24 PM
I recommend getting some books or websites with Roman Vishniac's photographs to the players before they play, so they can get a mental image of the culture that is being destroyed.

I'm not sure about the Nazi PCs idea. I think that having players be 'the holocaust' in a more abstract sense, being the ones who break down and humiliate the family they have created, is maybe more productive of pathos. When you have individual Nazis you have to deal with their humanity too. Some of them had such humanity, to be sure, but to put it on the table in play undermines what seems to me to be what this game's about. Or what I'd want it to be about if I played anything but old-school fantasy RPGs.


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on May 10, 2005, 05:34:47 PM
Quote from: Sean
I'm not sure about the Nazi PCs idea. I think that having players be 'the holocaust' in a more abstract sense....


I'd actually agree, on second thought; playing individual Nazis really diffuses the focus.


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: Bill Masek on May 10, 2005, 06:16:55 PM
matthijs,

I liked the ideas behind Electric Spikes The Soles of Your Feet and this game uses a lot of the same elements.  Even though I'll miss the big squeaky boots, I think this game has the potential to be very powerful.

Currently your dice mechanics works on a fairly linear scale.  The bad things happening to players do not seem to get any worse necessarily as the game play progresses.  So consider this variant:

When the players loose, the consequence are dire.  At least one character is going to die.  Players start with a small base number of dice with which to protect their characters.  This base never grows.  The Holocaust also starts with a set number of dice which will grow as play progresses.  Players may opt to have their character (who they are playing in the scene) to Suffer.  When this happens the player describes the embarrassment, pain, disfigurement, etc that they are enduring as a result of this threat.  When a player suffers they gain a temporary bonus to their roll against this threat based on the type of suffering they endured.  (There would probably need to be a cap on the total dice a player can gain for Suffering.)  The Holocaust will gain a permanent bonus.  Thus the scale of suffering will go up and up and upů until it all comes crashing down.

Also note that the Holocaust would be forced to assign all dice in the Holocaust pool.

Best,
        Bill


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: matthijs on May 10, 2005, 09:40:16 PM
I've been quiet on this thread lately, but it's because I'm reading and thinking. I want everyone to know that your input is very much appreciated; I'll post more in the week to come.


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: Emily Care on May 11, 2005, 05:39:16 AM
Matthijs,

Great concept, and good ideas.  In contrast to Eero's response, I especially like the playing out of scenes from before the war--creating memories for the characters and creating a contrast with the stark (un)realities of the prison of war (why don't we call them dungeons?). However, he's quite right that it could fall flat due to a lack of dramatic direction.

These scenes could instead be used as char gen to flesh out the issues and aspects of the characters that would inform life in prison. If I was playing this freeform with my group, that's what we would be doing instinctively. If you want to be sure that others get the same value out of it you might want to include guidelines that make clear what the players can get out of it, so that theydo.

Another approach would be to have flash-backs to the past during the time in prison.

Tangential: It occurs to me that rpg offers many interesting possibilities:  a scene from the past could be played out once prior to prison, then again in flashback, with scenes changed, emphasis different, stretched and warped by the traumas and attrocities.  Or the prison sequences could be played out in flashback, with overlapping and contradictory versions of the same events as is often the case in stories passed down.  

What I'm seeing as missing is more guidance for the Holocaust player and structure for scenes.  Would there be scenes focusing on each character a la PtA? Or free play with conflicts arising as they will? And how would adversarial characters be represented?

And, of course, what Sydney said:
Quote
Because the greatest evil isn't what makes you suffer and die. The greatest evil is what makes you decide to inflict suffering and death on others just to survive a little longer yourself.


best,
Emily


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: Emily Care on May 11, 2005, 05:41:05 AM
I forgot to comment on the emotional distancing of using third person narration. Good choice.


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: matthijs on May 11, 2005, 10:00:52 AM
Okay - thanks for helping me out! All this is really helping me getting the game into focus. It's like I already know what I want, but need to talk about it to see it clearly. (Like having a block of marble and chipping away all the bits that don't look like a statue).

This post is mainly a set of definitions on how the game should end up in actual play.

Playing the Holocaust/Nazis

Nobody's going to have Nazi characters. There will be no competition mechanism between nazi and jew characters. Nor will there be any reward for doing evil deeds in the game. I see how mechanisms like this could be fun in a game, but not in this one. Playing the Holocaust should be a cold experience.

Nor do I want the characters to face insanely tough moral choices - to collaborate or not, for example. The characters are good, normal people, who just want to live their lives. They want to do business, make babies, have religious discussions, etc etc. The Holocaust is trying to destroy all that. The conflict isn't inside the characters; it's between the characters and the setting.

I'm thinking that the Holocaust needs very strict rules - to the point that whoever is the Holocaust at the moment has very little choice of action. This is to free the player from any moral responsibility for what he describes. If there's too much choice, and the players like the characters (which they will if I do my job right), the Holocaust will have a really hard time giving the characters a hard enough time.

Character generation

This must be in the form of a pre-game. Not just loose talk, but actual engaging play by its own right. I'm thinking something like DitV accomplishments - but perhaps focussed on relationship building rather than character growth.

Pace

I don't envision this as a 'light, formalistic endeavour' - if that's how it reads, my point has come across incredibly poorly. People have different tastes in pacing. This will not be a fast game, rushing from cool conflict to cool conflict. It's supposed to be a game where we get to know the characters through and through, and dread the conflicts that have to come.

I believe that trying to run a story like this in one night would make it impossible to experience the story like I want. The escalation from a fairly normal life to an insane and murderous world would be too quick, so quick that player identification would be lost.

Linear die mechanic

Yeah, I know. In electrified spikes through the soles of your feet, I had a different version. I'll have to test this out to see how it works. I like Bill's idea of getting a temporary bonus at the cost of giving the Holocaust a permanent bonus. But I want a strict division of responsibility: The Holocaust describes suffering.

It would be good to have a mechanic that doesn't allow for death early on - social humiliation, material loss etc should be the start of the horror. Later, however, death would be almost inevitable. I would like the game to show a family of 10-20 people before the war, with only 2 or 3 survivors.

Flashbacks

This could be a great last-session technique. The escalation to complete horror must be slow enough to allow players to hang on; and then, at the end, they're presented with the extreme contrast to their earlier lives.

Other stuff

Sean, thanks for the tip on Roman Vishniac! Yes!


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: matthijs on May 11, 2005, 10:47:06 AM
Quote from: matthijs
I'm thinking that the Holocaust needs very strict rules - to the point that whoever is the Holocaust at the moment has very little choice of action.


That means there must be clear-cut rules for:

- At what time the scene is taking place (i. e., what historical event we're witnessing)
- How many and what characters are in a scene
- How the scene starts
- How the scene progresses - especially: who narrates what when (imo, good rules for structured buildup of a scene are few and far between)
- When and how the hammer comes down
- What threat levels will apply to what characters

What else?


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: Walt Freitag on May 11, 2005, 12:27:34 PM
I have a problem with this game, and I can't tell if it's a real design issue or mere personal taste.

The problem is the apparent contradiction between your stated intent to create an emotional experience, and the many steps you've taken to distance players emotionally. You're calling for no tough moral choices; no "personalizing" of the Nazis; no first-person character identification. It's like turning up your stereo because you like it loud, then wearing ear plugs because the loud music would hurt your ears. Why bother?

Conflicts that are purely between characters and setting are inherently limited in interest. If I'm not mistaken, you could play using the very same rules, but the scenario could instead be about people trapped in a burning skyscraper, or on a lifeboat with dwindling supplies and no hope of rescue, or in a terminal cancer ward, or any other setting where people face annihilation from implacable impersonal forces. I have a moral objection to portraying "Holocaust" as such a force (that part clearly is a personal taste issue), but accepting that that's what you want to do, it appears to make the exercise rather meaningless. The players do not (and cannot) experience what it's like to be a holocaust victim or survivor. They do not compete to test their survival skills. They do not explore why the Holocaust happened or what to do to prevent it from happening again, let alone emotionally challenging questions like "how far would you go to survive?" Players aren't confronting their own hidden depravity as in the torture RPG "Twisted Sicken" (aka Chamber) discussed here last year. The Holocaust player is to be bound by strict rules, so as to limit his choices (and responsibility). The outcome is completely predictable in its broad outlines, and completely random in its details (e.g. who survives). So, what are the players there for? That is to say, what makes players' decisions (including Holocaust's) during play at all relevant or revelatory?

Ron's current characterization of Simulationist play within the Big Model seems particularly penetrating here: "confirming one's input, via the output." That appears to be what you have here: Holocaust in, Holocaust out. If the players know different historical anecdotes of the Holocaust (or if one knows the history well and the others don't) then they can convey that knowledge through play (especially when acting as Holocaust), which might be useful for some educational purposes. But it appears to me that a book on the subject (many are available that tell the stories of actual victims and survivors rather than invented ones) would serve those purposes better.

I've designed and run far more games that push (or outright fall outside) the boundaries of many definitions of RPG, than I have conventional RPGs. So I'm the last one to care whether or not a game is "really a role playing game" by any particular definition. I also try not to let what I personally do and do not enjoy affect my critical judgment of a game design. But in this case, I don't see the point at all.

- Walt


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: matthijs on May 11, 2005, 01:58:12 PM
The aim of the game is not primarily to educate. It is to provide a specific experience of empathy with characters that suffer and love.

I believe that immersing totally in the subject matter is impossible, and trying to achieve that would be counter-productive. A game in this setting must be very clear on the distinction between player or character; otherwise the players will, after a while, completely refuse to identify. To rewrite your metaphor, it's like deciding to go into a blast area, wearing ear plugs to avoid going permanently deaf.

Quote
Conflicts that are purely between characters and setting are inherently limited in interest.


I don't think I understand what you mean; I'm pretty sure I disagree, but could you give an example of other setting vs character games?

Quote
That is to say, what makes players' decisions (including Holocaust's) during play at all relevant or revelatory?


That's a tough one. I'm glad you asked it. I'll have to sleep on it.


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on May 11, 2005, 02:26:03 PM
As the person who first suggested a"screw over others to survive" temptation mechanic, I have to say: Matthijs's clearly got a different design goal, and it's totally valid.

Matthijs, correct me if I'm misreading you, but I see your goal as elegaic, a game where players are asking is "how would I feel if it were me and my family?" and the answer comes from "trying on" the perspective of the victims. And, in response to Walt, I'd say creating your own characters, inventing their story, and living, albeit at a remove, through their/your experience gives a very different experience from reading a book about someone else's experience, however well written.

Now, you could also make a great game based on a "collaboration and betrayal" mechanic of the kind I suggested, but it'd be a radically different game. You'd gain tension and moral dilemmas, but I really think you'd lose moral clarity and the sense of elegy.

Even take Matthijs's title vs. the one Ben proposed for a betrayal/collaboration game. "The Best Amongst Us Did Not Survive" is an Egri-style Premise slam-bang right in the title and right in your face; that'd be a game about people making brutally hard decisions. "We All Had Names" clearly focused on memory and empathy; that's a game about people having a certain experience [EDIT: specifically one that is erasing their identity -- their names -- which the players then try to recover or recreate].

I think the difference is in fact Simulationism versus Narrativism, interestingly (which I finally began to understand in this thread (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=14661)), but that may be straying too far in theory to discuss here.


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on May 11, 2005, 03:45:39 PM
Hi Matthijs, looking good. When you know what you want, it's half the design right there.

However, I'm still seeing a big problem in your conception, and am a little sceptical about the game working as long as it's not addressed. Here's the problem:

Quote from: matthijs

I don't envision this as a 'light, formalistic endeavour' - if that's how it reads, my point has come across incredibly poorly. People have different tastes in pacing. This will not be a fast game, rushing from cool conflict to cool conflict. It's supposed to be a game where we get to know the characters through and through, and dread the conflicts that have to come.

I believe that trying to run a story like this in one night would make it impossible to experience the story like I want. The escalation from a fairly normal life to an insane and murderous world would be too quick, so quick that player identification would be lost.


I know what you're trying to gain: player immersion and investment in the characters and the situation. I just don't think that this is how you get it, especially in a no-GM game. You're assuming here that the players will immerse and invest when given enough time to do it. This is actually something I see pretty much in Finnish immersionist designs. And the goal is important: if the designer manages to cause immersion, that's a tremendously powerful tool.

However, in my experience pace does not equate immersion. You need something more. From observing rules-light immersionist play I'd say that usually committed Finnish immersionists get this something from mutual, definite orientation towards immersion as a play goal. It's also enforced in all kinds of ways socially. Usually the players write character diaries between sessions and such, too.

This is a valid method of play, but I don't think that it's very good design. I don't think that this immersionist method of play is very common, or easily grokked by the majority. Your game will play just fine if the players accept and go for nearly systemless immersion, but the game won't even start if the players aren't on to that wibe. That kind of immersionism requires that the players are already invested in the idea of playing this particular setting/situation. They have to be enthusiastic. All that character detail has to just... spring out of their little heads like water from a fountain. It's possible, but I don't think that it's certain in any way.

So: the question you should be answering is, "How do I get the players to invest in the characters?" And that that can't be answered by "I'll force them to play those characters for a couple of sessions, so they learn to love and cherish them." Not likely, IMO. What you're doing here is hoping that immersion and character investment flow in when there's nothing else to do. No system to fiddle with, no defined adventure goals or anything, and when players are thrust in this situation they just start immersing and investing because there's nothing better to do? Will it work out like that?

That's the key to your design, right there. Work out how the player investment happens, especially as the player knows there's much unpleasantness coming for his character, and you have something pretty strong. This is not trivial, and it can be done through rules. Many games concern themselves with this kind of thing. Somebody already mentioned DiV and it's initiation challenges, which serve a similar role. Other possibilities are Sorcerer kickers, that saga writing bit in Questing Beast, Cyberpunk random past tables and so on.


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: matthijs on May 12, 2005, 12:45:26 AM
Quote from: Sydney Freedberg
Matthijs, correct me if I'm misreading you, but I see your goal as elegaic, a game where players are asking is "how would I feel if it were me and my family?" and the answer comes from "trying on" the perspective of the victims. (...) I think the difference is in fact Simulationism versus Narrativism, interestingly


Sydney, yes and yes! This is definitely a sim game - at this point, at least. It's about identifying with the family.


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: matthijs on May 12, 2005, 12:55:59 AM
Quote from: Eero Tuovinen
That's the key to your design, right there. Work out how the player investment happens, especially as the player knows there's much unpleasantness coming for his character, and you have something pretty strong. This is not trivial, and it can be done through rules. Many games concern themselves with this kind of thing. Somebody already mentioned DiV and it's initiation challenges, which serve a similar role. Other possibilities are Sorcerer kickers, that saga writing bit in Questing Beast, Cyberpunk random past tables and so on.


I think you're absolutely right - this is a crucial part of the design. (What I found in "electrified spikes through the soles of your feet" was that the mechanics worked OK, but without player investment in characters, it became a Monty Pythonesque dice game).

Thanks for your game tips - in fact, I'm the one who mentioned DitV. I'm thinking something like Accomplishments, but something that focuses more on character relationships, and less on a character's inner life/personal growth... though perhaps the latter would make identification easier?

This might be a writing-intensive game; I definitely think character backgrounds and session writeups are mandatory. (That fits in nicely with possible educational use). Loose idea: Perhaps even parts of the narrative in a scene could be written, and the role-playing occurs when the hammer comes down...


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: Walt Freitag on May 12, 2005, 04:49:47 AM
Sydney and Matthijs, thanks for addressing my concerns about the game. "I don't get it" is harsh criticism and difficult to answer, but I think Syndey's single word "elegaic" goes a long way toward clarifying the game's purpose for me. For other kinds of Sim play I accept "celebration" (of the imagined content) as an attractive aspect of the Creative Agenda, but for obvious reasons I couldn't see "celebration" in this case. "Elegy" fits right into "celebration's" place.

As for this:

Quote
Conflicts that are purely between characters and setting are inherently limited in interest.


Oops! Wildly overstated point. I'm talking about conflict between characters and aspects of the setting other than characters. Such conflicts are rare in literature and difficult to maintain, because we tend to character-ize even inanimate forces of nature and abstract conditions when they come into conflict with characters. Fire becomes a pursuing ravenous beast; poverty a stalking killer, and so forth. So two questions arise about Holocaust in this game: One, is it possible to sustain, over time, treating Holocaust as an impersonal abstraction without local villains (whether Nazis, citizens sympathetic to the Nazis, or citizens just going along) arising in the narrative? (Because once they do arise, then they must be portrayed somehow -- whether as mindless evil automatons, or as more complex human characters.) Two, is it appropriate to portray Holocaust as an impersonal force even if it proves possible to do so, given that in fact it was not "Holocaust" that broke shop windows and forced people onto trains, but people. You seem to want to convey the experiences of the persecuted while leaving the persecutors as much out the picture as possible, but I doubt this detachment can be sustained during play.

- Walt


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: matthijs on May 12, 2005, 05:24:00 AM
"I don't get it" is perfectly legitimate. It means I have to keep working on presentation and design; it also means that the game isn't for everyone.

Quote from: Walt Freitag
You seem to want to convey the experiences of the persecuted while leaving the persecutors as much out the picture as possible, but I doubt this detachment can be sustained during play.


I've been very unclear. When I wrote "nobody's going to have Nazi characters", it was in response to a suggestion that players actively portray both Nazis and Jews.

What I meant was: The characters we describe, play and care about will not be Nazis. They will be a Jewish family. Nazi NPCs will only be tools for the Holocaust player.

A Nazi NPC may have a name and a personality. He will not, however, be portrayed in a sympathetic fashion (unless it is to provide a contrast to his bestial actions). Nor will he become a nemesis to overcome. Nor will he be used to put the characters in difficult moral positions ("But how can you kill that young soldier? He didn't choose this war! He has three children!"). He will emphatically not be used to give the Holocaust a human face, or show any moral grey zones.


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on May 12, 2005, 05:25:49 AM
Quote from: Walt Freitag
....is it appropriate to portray Holocaust as an impersonal force even if it proves possible to do so...


Now, I personally tend to see evil not as an abstract force but as something  inextricably mixed with good in every individual. But part of the Holocaust's horror was how impersonal it was, how much of it was people "just going along" or "just following orders." And I'd suspect that, from the standpoint of many individual Jews, very few individual persecutors stood out from the grey mass.

In fact, imagine the horror of someone newly relocated to a ghetto trying to (for example) apply for ration cards, and every single time you go to the appropriate office in the German occupation government, there's a different bureaucrat there who's never heard of your case and has a different reason why he can't possibly help you. While your kids are starving.


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: Sean on May 12, 2005, 10:43:35 AM
Matthijs - glad to be of help! Those are some powerful photos.

I can see this game as heartbreakingly interesting to play - actually, I'm not sure I could play it, given my family ties - and agree with this:

"I'm thinking that the Holocaust needs very strict rules - to the point that whoever is the Holocaust at the moment has very little choice of action."

But the issue about character identification is absolutely key. How do you get people to like this family? In the classic RP setup, they would do something together first to build a group identity. One way to do that here would be to play several pre-holocaust sessions with the family doing positive things together, under the shadow of the Nazis, but that's turning into a big time investment for the game. I think several sessions is appropriate, but like ten or twenty? You'd need to give people more structure for that to work out in that case, I think.

The thing is, you need buy-in to make the elegy or tragedy work, but how do you get that buy-in without giving the group something they can invest in together to accomplish? I think that's the trick. (I'm sort of following Eero and Walt in my ruminations here.)

I have this idea that playing a short PTA campaign using the holocaust as a background might help you fill in what you want to do with the game. Set up the family and their issues and episode importance in advance, the way it happens in PTA, and then play it out from there.


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: Valamir on May 12, 2005, 12:03:12 PM
I'd like to see some sort of stat for the family...call it "Ties" or something.  Each family member (and sketched out extended family) might be worth a point, the family business might be worth a few points,  the family home and any additional affluent property would be worth points, each of a list of Jewish Traditions / Customs would be worth a point, positions in German society would be worth points etc.

Then the ultimate goal of play would be for the family to preserve as many of these ties as possible in the face of a force dedicated to erasing their very existance.

The Holocaust player would then be attempting to destroy these Ties, essentially erasing the family as if it had never been.  First the business and the home and the property and the occassional distant relative who disappears.  Then the traditions, the memories of loved ones seperated, etc. etc. until everything that an individual could identify as belonging to or to them is gone and they are lost and alone.

Something that mechanically represents desperate efforts to preserve as much of their family, their identity, their culture as they can.


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: Larry L. on May 12, 2005, 12:11:49 PM
Quote from: Valamir
The Holocaust player would then be attempting to destroy these Ties, essentially erasing the family as if it had never been. First the business and the home and the property and the occassional distant relative who disappears. Then the traditions, the memories of loved ones seperated, etc. etc. until everything that an individual could identify as belonging to or to them is gone and they are lost and alone.


This would certainly better convey the pathos implied by the name of the game. I strongly prefer this angle to "Holocaust doles out violent atrocities."


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on May 12, 2005, 04:39:25 PM
Ralph stole my thunder, I was going to write about the mechanics next. You see, my take on the identification/investment issue is that you can't get the identification to happen through pre-holocaust play, because the players know what's coming. That makes all the difference. It could as well be subconsicious, the way the players would shy away from real investment, when they know that nothing there ultimately matters: the point of play is still to come, and it will be to debase anything they care to build now.

Now, Ralph has latched onto the key solution here: what the chargen/preplay phase needs to generate is not lots of detail, but instead something to defend. There needs to be something for the family to protect. I suggest that Ralph's solution is elegant, powerful, and easy to latch onto the mechanics as they are. (Each Tie bestows dice to characters expressing that Tie in the scene, but also sets up that Tie as something to potentially get destroyed. The strength of the holocaust in this scene is secret, so the players won't know whether they should invest their Ties in defense of themselves, or whether it'd be pointless here, now. Give in now to defend later, or not? And characters die only when there is no other Ties to remove. Holocaust of course removes one Tie per success.)

The primary goal here would be to realize a couple of player drives:
1) the motivation in the preplay phase is to build a family strong enough to survive in some form through the holocaust.
2)the motivation in the actual play is to draw on the preplay to survive.
I don't think that this approach is antithetical to the sim focus, but some might disagree. The point is, you have to motivate the players in the preplay, and that doesn't happen without setting goals, unless they're hard core simmers with a fetish for Jewish family life. This way you give meaning for the pre-holocaust events, and IMO also the holocaust; I think that the players are much more likely to distance themselves from the events if there is no rules for "winning", if there is no hope to save even a little scratch of what the family was. Many jews in RL lost all their hope in the holocaust, but we don't want the players to fall into the same apathy, because then they just stop playing. Like MLwM, you need to have mechanics in place for carving out a victory, even if it's a small, pointless and bitter one.
[/i]


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: Sean on May 12, 2005, 05:38:10 PM
I'm really diggin' what Ralph and Eero are saying, a lot. I'll be curious to see if it's going the way Matthijs wants to go or not.

I did want to add this, though: when I was thinking about this game this afternoon I thought "now, that's actually a game where in a sense you could 'win' by quitting early or not finishing this. Where saying 'I just can't go on playing this' might itself be a pretty meaningful thematic statement by the players about the content of the game."

Although the ideas that are on the table now give the players something to 'play for', not just leaving them there watching a train wreck, could make this less important, I still think it's worth considering. Like a rule that lets the group end the game at the end of any session with a majority vote, if they feel that things have gotten too hopeless to continue. This could do two things: let groups get out of a situation that's gotten too wrenching to continue with (lines/veils), and give players a real-world interaction over the content of the game and whether they want to go on.

I still have this gut feeling that playing a PTA game, with one of the players playing 'the Holocaust' as a character along with the others playing the family members, might help sort out some of the possibilities here.


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: matthijs on May 13, 2005, 01:07:20 AM
Ties: Yes! This is really good. It gives players something specific to do in the setup session, it emphasizes the theme of the game, and... it's just neat. I have a vision of the family as a set of rafts tied together on a shark-infested sea, and the Holocaust cuts off the lines between the rafts one by one.

I'm thinking this: The fewer ties a character has left, the more exposed he is to being lost. So the players should want to make new ties to characters at risk. However, while they're making one new tie in one place, Holocaust cuts off two ties in other places.

Family generation is essentially sketching out a map of ties.

Perhaps too abstract: Characters can have ties to concepts. When concepts lose all their ties, does that represent something? (If many family members have ties to the family business, and all those ties disappear - should there be additional consequences, mechanically?)

It's about time to start drafting an example of how I want a scene or two to play out. I'm hoping to get the time tonight.


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: matthijs on May 13, 2005, 01:43:41 AM
Hang on, I think I misinterpreted Ralph and Eero. What I'm seeing is this (http://home.c2i.net/w-461581/Untitled-1.jpg).

Ovals are characters. Rectangles are concepts. Lines are ties. Numbers next to lines are strengths of ties.

Isaac and Alte are married.

Isaac has many ties - most importantly to Alte (3), but also to his religious practice (2), his business (1) and his political status (1).

Alte has fewer ties. She's tied to Isaac (3) and her religious practice (3), and to her childhood friend Baila (1).

I'm thinking this:

- Holocaust can destroy ties.
- To begin with, Holocaust only has the strength to destroy the weaker ties.
- It's hard to destroy characters; they have the strength of all their ties.
- A character has a strength equal to all ties leading to and from him.
- Holocaust must destroy all ties between two characters simultaneously. To separate Isaac from Alte is to cut a 6-point tie.
- When a character is destroyed, all ties to and from the character go.
- Characters with no ties are lost. If Holocaust destroys Alte, Baila will die.
- Only ties leading to or from characters in a scene can be affected in that scene. If only Isaac is present, Alte and Baila can't be affected directly, but the ties between Isaac and Alte can be broken.


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: matthijs on May 13, 2005, 05:08:02 AM
Rules for personal safety

This may seem pretentious etc, but I think it's a good idea to have rules that help the players feel safe and taken care of. The safer they feel, the more willing they will be to let go and immerse, which is an absolute must for this game.

The "Stop!" rule

At any time, any player can say "stop!" for any reason. Everyone stops narration and immersion at once. A person who's not the Holocaust or the player invoking "stop!" reminds everyone that the characters are just pieces of paper lying on a table. Everyone is encouraged to feel their feet touching the floor, their hands on the table, their bodies in the chairs. We're here, now. Then the players can talk about what happened. If/when everyone's comfortable - this must be asked explicitly of each player - the game commences.

Debriefing before and after

At the end of each session, players are encouraged to talk about what happened and what they think and feel about it. Make sure there is time, so end the game at least half an hour before everyone has to leave. Make sure this time is agreed on before the session starts.

At the beginning of each session, talk about last session and what you've been thinking about since then. If there's anything you want to be different this session, make sure to tell the others.

Fun time

It might be a good idea to do something relaxing and enjoyable together after each session. Play a light-hearted game, have a beer, go for a walk, whatever. If the last thing you remember is being depressed or sad, chances are you won't return next session.


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: daMoose_Neo on May 13, 2005, 06:48:58 AM
Wow.
I knew when reading "electrified spikes" that this could have a lot of potential for some heart wrenching play, and turns out I was right!
I really really really dig the "Ties" mechanics. Gives a little more goal oriented play and relieves a lot of the stress on Holocaust of imagining the terrors to befall the family. When assailing direct ties, you know whats at stake as a player and what is likely to happen.

When you're done with this, seriously consider handing it over to a local High School's history course. One of my old HS teachers could get some much milage out of something like this. Cavets in place, of course.


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: Valamir on May 13, 2005, 08:43:19 AM
Quote
I have a vision of the family as a set of rafts tied together on a shark-infested sea, and the Holocaust cuts off the lines between the rafts one by one.


Yup, that's how I was envisioning it.

I'd even get more into the details of Jewish life and tradition as practiced by the typical German Jew in the 30s.  I don't know how orthodox those families tended to be in their observances (most of my Jewish friends think nothing of eating a bacon cheeseburger or working on Saturday), but I'm sure that there are some uniquely Jewish observations that German Jews in the 30s identified strongly with (might take a little research to find out).

To me, each of those would be a tie as well.  A tie to what it means (to them) to be a Jew.  The Holocaust isn't just taking away property, and life, and communication with loved ones.  That would be horrible enough.  But it also takes away those other ties...the traditions, the observations, the little things that Jews living in a Jewish community take for granted but which mark them as having a unique identity seperate from their gentile neighbors.

I think you'd want to be sure to highlight how Holocaust breaks down those as well.  From my perspective death and torture and concentration camps are so big and so horrific that its hard for the horror of it to even register on an individual personal level.  But a little scene of a small circle of dirty unrelated men trying desperately to observe as much of Passover tradition as they can (preserving a Tie) in the midst of all of that...now that is an image that is immediately impactful to me.


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on May 13, 2005, 09:03:15 AM
This is very powerful stuff indeed.

One quibble:

Quote
....the typical German Jew in the 30s...


Remember the vast majority of Holocaust victims weren't German, because there were relatively few German Jews to begin with, and they got a decade of build-up before the "Final Solution" was decided on at the Wannsee Conference in 1942, by which point a lot of them had managed to get out of Germany. (And at times the Nazi bureaucracy actively encouraged them to leave, usually after it had stripped them of their property). Plus at least some German Jews had gentile German acquaintances intercede for them -- I recall reading that SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler bitterly complaining that if people kept insisting their neighbor was "the one good Jew," he'd never get anything done.

The worst horrors were in Eastern Europe, especially Poland with its huge Jewish population, and the Final Solution was only decided on after the invasion of the Soviet Union -- which had a tremendous Jewish population of its own, plus had conquered the eastern half of Poland, plus Jews from western Poland had fled the Nazis and relocated to Soviet territory. The Nazis had formed einsatzgruppen (sp) ("special action groups," I believe) to follow the front-line units and use mobile gas vans and machineguns to kill off entire Jewish settlements, but this close-up-and-personal process proved inefficient and psychologically taxing for the executioners, leading to the 1942 Wannsee Conference and the decision that the "Final Solution to the Jewish Problem" would be a series of extermination camps.

Full disclosure: I'm not Jewish, despite the name "Sydney Freedberg." My father's parents were assimilated Jewish immigrants, my father was agnostic, and my mother is Episcopalian (Anglican), as am I. Now, by the Nuremburg Laws, having two Jewish grandparents makes me a "First Degree Mischling" (mixed-blood) and thus eligible for all sorts of persecution.


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: Valamir on May 13, 2005, 10:42:53 AM
Quote from: Sydney Freedberg
This is very powerful stuff indeed.

One quibble:

Quote
....the typical German Jew in the 30s...


Remember the vast majority of Holocaust victims weren't German,


Good call.

I suspect that it would be most effective to pin down a realtively small geography (Jews from Krakow, for instance) to use as the setting, and concentrate on researching the local ethnic, cultural, and religious nuances of that region extensively to capture all of those little details as authentically as possible.


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: matthijs on May 13, 2005, 01:22:17 PM
Play: A thought experiment

Please note the title - I'm writing this up to see whether a certain approach works.

I'm thinking of using half-prepared scripts, to make the Holocaust player's job very clear. The game has changed significantly since this thread started.

Note: I'm no expert on Jewish pre-WWII culture in any way, nor a historian. When reading, imagine more details on history and culture being narrated.

Setup

Players have a big blank sheet on the table in front of them. They draw a few ovals on it - characters will go here. They put male and female names in the ovals.

Someone suggests: "This man Fayvel can be married to this woman Beylke." They draw a line between the two and make a note (mentally or on the sheet) of what the relationship is. "Gittel can be his mother." Another line.

Someone says: "Gittel and Beylke share a sense of humor." They make a box and write "Jokes & humor" in it. Lines are drawn from the wife and the mother to the box.

Someone says: "This is a religious family, right?" They agree. New box: "God". Everyone has lines to God.

After a while of this, they've filled out some ovals and boxes and drawn some lines - ties. Now, they assign weight to the ties. They talk briefly about each character: What tie would be the last that person would break, if given a choice? That one gets a 5. Next one gets a 4, all the way down to 1. All ties after that get a 1 as well.

Character notes

Now they talk about each character in turn, mostly in term of the ties and what they mean. They say how they see the character - what does he look like? What type of person is he? When they get to Fayvel, it goes like this:

"He has a close, very intimate relationship with Beylke, his wife. They're perhaps in their fifties? I see them sitting and just holding hands at night, not saying anything much, just being together. He's kind of short, balding, has a grey beard. His brother, Itzhak, is older and much more strict. Fayvel and his mother sometimes make little jokes at Itzhak's expense, he's so sober and single-minded. Itzhak runs the business. He's taller, has a deeply carved face, always looks into the distance when he talks."

They make notes on sheets, one for each character. Itzhak's looks like this:

"Itzhak. Runs tailor business. Tall, carved face. Sober, single-minded."

First scene: Framing and initial narration

The Holocaust player is picked at random. She reads the instructions for the first scene, rolls some dice and says: "The main character for this scene is Fayvel." That means all his ties, and the people he's tied to, can be narrated in this scene, and are at stake. This includes Itzhak, Gittel and Beylke, his ties to them, and his tie to the tailor business and God. Other things, like Beylke's tie to music, or the character Asher, can't be affected.

Holocaust narrates from the scene-starting script, inserting names as necessary: "It's a quiet evening. Fayvel is walking home from work. These last few days there's been a lot of negative writings about Jews in the paper. Yesterday, there was this article: (...)"

The script says that in this scene, the tie with the lowest weight is under attack. That's Fayvel's tie to his Tailor business. Holocaust doesn't tell the other players this, but will use this tie in narration from the script.

Player narration alternates with Holocaust...

The player to the Holocaust's left says: "Fayvel is trying to put it all out of his mind. It's just talk, he tells himself. People have always done this in troubled times - found someone to pick on. I shouldn't worry." He puts a green die on Fayvel's oval on the big sheet for narrating thought.

The next player to his left says: "Meanwhile, back home, Beylke and Gittel are cooking. Beylke is trying out a new recipe which is coming out pretty well. She's holding up a spoon filled with broth so Gittel can taste it. Gittel makes a sour face. The women look at each other for a second, then start giggling like little girls. 'It's wonderful, Beylke', says Gittel." He puts a die on the space between Beylke and Gittel, where there's no line yet.

...until the hammer comes down

So it goes. Each time it's Holocaust's turn, she narrates from an adaptable script, which makes it pretty clear what kind of scene this is going to be. After two or three narrations, which include a threat to the Tailor business, the script says the hammer comes down.

The Holocaust thinks, and comes up with this:

"When Fayvel wakes up the next morning, two men from the police are knocking at the door. They claim that he owes back taxes. They also claim his part-ownership of the tailor business is illegal. Fayvel knows this is untrue. The smiles from the policemen show they don't care."

Now the Holocaust can reveal exactly what is being threatened. The script states that the threat level is three dice. The players have narrated two dice to Fayvel, and after getting some hints from the script, one to the Tailor business.

These three dice, plus one from the strength of the tie, are rolled; two dice come up even - two successes. Holocaust rolls three dice; one comes up even - one success. The player to his left narrates how the scene ends.

(If the Holocaust had won the roll, the tie would have been reduced by the difference in successes (i. e. 3 vs 1 success: Tie reduced by 2).)

End of scene

"Fayvel says he must check his papers and sends for Itzhak. Meanwhile, Beylke serves the policemen tea and tries to keep them occupied. When Itzhak arrives, he carries a big trunk full of papers. 'Here,' he says. 'We are respectable businessmen. All taxes are paid. This business has been in the family for four generations.'" The policemen mutter something about the new laws, but Itzhak is well versed in the law and quotes big chunks of it to them. Finally, they leave, taking some of the papers with them."

At the end, they roll the die that lies between Beylke and Gittel. If the number of successes is greater than the weight of the existing tie, the tie increases with one. Since the tie doesn't exist, it has weight 0; one success on the die means it's raised to 1 - they've created a 1-point tie between Beylke and Gittel.

Later scenes

The first scene is quite soft. Low threat level, least important ties affected. As time goes by, threat levels will rise to very high numbers, and threats will potentially kill characters. Since a character's weight is equal to all his incoming and outgoing ties, a character at the start of the game may well have a weight of 20-30 points. Towards the end, this will be significantly lower, perhaps down to 10. At this point, a 20-point threat to every single character could eliminate the family outright.


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: matthijs on May 13, 2005, 01:26:54 PM
Forgot to post a link to the illustration: Here (http://home.c2i.net/w-461581/mandelstamm.jpg).


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on May 13, 2005, 01:43:59 PM
I love the idea of the players creating their emotional map of the world together.

Instead of trying to write a flexible script, why not draw from a deck of cards? With suit indicating, say, what character is threatened and with number indicating, say, degree of escalation from the previous scene. (Maybe a joker allows you to de-escalate; but unless you draw that rare card, it's a relentless march into greater badness).

An interesting model for using decks of cards plus a pre-structured "escalation" and story arc is to be found in Marc Miller's superhero game "With Great Power..." by the way. His rules keep changing to make it easier for the heroes the more they're defeated, in essence, to replicate heroes being beaten down and coming back to prevail at last; you'd probably want the opposite.


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: matthijs on May 13, 2005, 09:52:10 PM
Thanks, I might check out WGP.

Having a fixed script makes it easier for Holocaust players to stick to the historical facts and to guarantee that certain key events are covered. It also provides threat levels in a completely objective fashion. I thought about using cards, but figured that might produce some bizarre jumps in time.


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on May 14, 2005, 01:45:22 AM
Quote from: matthijs

I thought about using cards, but figured that might produce some bizarre jumps in time.


... which need not be a problem at all. Both cinema and literature use time jumps to good effect, and it's been amply demonstrated that it works for many narrativistic rpgs, too. I don't think that I've seen spontaneous time jumps in sim, but controlled ones... been there, done that. What is important is that in this case you're not simming on consequence chains, but on moods. The players already know the score, so it doesn't perhaps matter if you play things out of order. In the best case it'll give you an opportunity to reanalyze given situations again and again. If the imprisonment scene, for instance, is only played near the end, and you'll end up playing it three or four times... that might give some interesting insights to the moment.

But anyway, that's a minor matter. More importantly, about giving numerical scores to Ties: how about if instead of measuring the strength of Ties, you'd allow several ties between components A and B? And require the players to specify each separately? This way the stronger ties would automatically be more detailed. Like, instead of just having "Loves Johan 5" you'd have five different vignettes of interaction, or aspects of the relationship, each equal in value.

That would make the game seem simpler, as there wouldn't be numbered statistics. The end result would however allow for more or less robust ties, as some of them would have more back-ups than others.


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: matthijs on May 14, 2005, 02:16:48 AM
Quote from: Eero Tuovinen
What is important is that in this case you're not simming on consequence chains, but on moods. The players already know the score, so it doesn't perhaps matter if you play things out of order. In the best case it'll give you an opportunity to reanalyze given situations again and again.


Hmm... well, yes, I see that, but I'm not sure how it will work out. There are consequence chains, after all; it makes little sense to play out a scene in 1944 where Itzhak still has a 2-point tie to his business, and then the tie (and the business) gets destroyed in a scene from 1933.

Quote
how about if instead of measuring the strength of Ties, you'd allow several ties between components A and B? And require the players to specify each separately? (...) That would make the game seem simpler, as there wouldn't be numbered statistics.


So Holocaust would destroy the ties one by one, then, or perhaps several at one time? I'll give it a think. I don't see how it simplifies things; it does add more depth to the ties, but gives players a lot more to work on. (I envision the families as being at least three times as big as the example; making up 20 characters with 10-15 ties each can be a bit much).


Title: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust
Post by: Larry L. on May 14, 2005, 10:43:42 AM
Ties to God, Humor, Music? Love it.