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Shoujo Story: Actual Play

Started by Tony Irwin, October 06, 2004, 06:35:06 PM

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Tony Irwin

Shoujo Story is a playing card based roleplaying game centred on the world of shoujo manga and anime. The game's influences include Universalis for Gm responsibilties flowing back and forth between the players, Paladin for rhythmic play that doesn't focus on character skill resolution, and Sorceror and My Life with Master for intense and probing narrativism. My participation at the Forge has been really helpful in writing this game - below are some links to discussions that have influenced its design. Robert McKee's book "Story" on screenplay writing was also a tremendous influence.

Men are from Universalis

4 possible outcomes

Stephanie Morgan, girl of adventure

I played Shoujo Story at the weekend and had a lot of fun with it. Jules picked out "Miya" from the rule book as a character she'd like to play. We wanted a Magical Girl game so she said that Miya could shoot ice and fire beams from the palms of her hands, provided that the temperature of the area Miya was in was conducive to it. I created a character "Kuro", a Magical Girl with a transformation ability, able to disguise herself to look like anyone else.

The big day was exam day, Miya and Kuro's futures would be decided by their results for this final exam. With two players, exam day was two days away. Both girls were involved in hunting a criminal gang that had killed their family members as retribution for the girls' super powered interference.

We tried a new rule I'd been thinking about, each player has to narrate a reason why the other player's magical girl wouldn't want to attend the big day. We both came up with something simillar, I said that the gang didn't know where Miya had been hiding recently but they knew she'd have to come out to sit her final exams. She could be killed if seen anywhere near the school on the big day. Jules said for Kuro that there were rumours of a bomb plot to assasinate her, Kuro would be putting a lot of people in danger by coming in on exam day.

The highlight of the game for me was when Jules had Miya following leads to a government building and finding out about a top level meeting that could be of interest to her. Jules used a Time Together play to have Miya interacting with an unfortunate secretary, first interrogating her, then knocking her out with an ice beam. I played a Time Together response bringing Kuro into the scene. Miya explained what she had discovered and asked Kuro if she would use her transformation powers to disguise herself as the secretary and infiltrate the meeting.

I had been holding a set of clubs for an "It all happens at once" play for a while and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. Kuro was going to discover something that would bring her closer to her seeing her hopes realised, but take Miya further away from hers. But what?

I made the play and narrated how Kuro, in disguise, got to watch the presentation by some government scientists. They had been working on some regeneration chemicals, capable of restoring dead humans back to life. For this purpose they had co-ordinated gang hits on citizens to provide them with suitable dead subjects for the experiments. Flipping through a dossier Kuro sees that both her and Miya's families had been involved. The good news was that Kuro's family had been restored to life by the new science. The bad news was that the chemicals had some bad effects on some subjects. Miya's family had been restored to life as monstrous zombies.

Jules had a floating card in her hand and so immeadiately made an "It all happens at once" response. That let her narrate a decision Miya makes upon hearing this news. She narrated Miya standing outside the slightly opened door peeping in watching the presentation. When I asked Jules what Miya's decision was she said without hesitation "I'm going to kill every person in that room!".

I had finished my turn so Jules started with a "Time Together" play. It was only a pair so she could only focus on Miya interacting with one person. She handled the limitation great – Miya stands in the middle of the room, beating the head scientist in front of everyone else and berating him for playing with people's lives. She's so enraged that she keeps hitting him in the belly to the point that he starts to throw up.

Jules' turn ended, I did a quick "Body, Mind, and Heart" play for Kuro concentrating on her terror as she sat there watching this. Jules was out of cards so that was the end of the first day.

Jules started the second day with a "Body, Mind, Heart" by having Miya waking up in a cell, battered and bruised and recalling how she had been over-powered by guards the night before in the meeting room, a nice way of finishing off what had happened in a previous scene. Later on Jules has Miya hear a tortured voice from another cell. It's her father – he and the rest of the family and some other citizens have been turned into zombies that feed off the life energy of other humans. Miya now has to decide whether or not to let her family live as monsters...

Anyway, the big day soon arrived with both girls going to their exams in good spirits. The government funded gangs have been thwarted and rounded up. Kuro has been reunited with her family, Miya has hopes that science might eventually cure her family and the other people that had been turned into zombies. The future looks bright for both of them. Great game!

This lasted about half an hour which seems typical for a two player Shoujo Story game. We only had one "It all happens at once" play in the game but it was a real turning point for the story and the dead family members was powerful thematic material. I think the "All happens at once" responses work brilliantly – they cut right to the moral heart of it – "You've just discovered your family was killed in a government experiment. What matters now?". Jules' instant answer was "revenge". Then she surprised me by purposefully pushing her character too far: beating the scientist in front of his colleagues until he throws up. I had fun running with this and amplifying the horror of what she was doing by looking at it through Kuro's shocked eyes. There was no justice in the scene, just humiliation and terror. It was a good thing for the heroine Miya to be overpowered and locked up at that point.

Also I'm pleased with the "Time Together" plays, previously I'd been worried that they were the weakest of the three plays but we used them a lot, and when I made a response, having my character enter Jules' scene, Jules was able to immeadiately incorporate her into her own story and give Kuro a great role to play.

GNS wise this was my favourite brand of narrativist fun. GM powers are dispersed among the players, the content was all improvised without prep, it's drama resolution with heavy story structure. Constant contact with system means the player has to master the "gamey" elements in order to get satisfying play. It most resembled previous Universalis and Theme-Chaser games for me except the conflict came from the characters rather than the setting. I think its best defined with a phrase from this thread started by Ron Edwards, "What happens? And, then given that the answer to this question is not randomized, What am I trying to say?"



Apart from the all-important pacing, what effect did the looming 'Big Day' have on our heroines?  Your description seemed to concentrate mostly on their difficulties with the research labs and gangs and such.  Was the upcoming Exam a critical part of the game?  Did they, for instance, spend time cramming?
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Tony Irwin

Quote from: TonyLBCool!

Apart from the all-important pacing, what effect did the looming 'Big Day' have on our heroines?  Your description seemed to concentrate mostly on their difficulties with the research labs and gangs and such.  Was the upcoming Exam a critical part of the game?  Did they, for instance, spend time cramming?

Great question, something we discussed ourselves after the game. No, several times we had the girls fretting over the lack of studying that was getting done, but that was really an in joke for ourselves - we were laughing at how far the story had moved from any thing to do with the exams!

It did work out nicely in the end and seem "right", sitting the exams brought a bit of happy normality back to their weird freaked out lives. We both agreed after play that a different big day, perhaps a memorial service for their families, could have worked much better at feeding the story and being shaped by the story. Family death was a theme for both the characters at creation stage, in retrospect the Exams was a strange choice.

Its tempting for me to stick in a mechanic that rewards faithfulness to the Big Day material, but I think its probably better just to leave it as saying that this time we didn't really take advantage of what the Big Day offers, but next time we will.