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Author Topic: [Seventh Seal] GNS Frustration  (Read 1811 times)
timfire
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« on: November 29, 2004, 07:57:29 AM »

This last weekend I had a chance to demo the game The Seventh Seal by Creative Illusions at the Chicago Gaming Conclave. The game is pretty much a WOD/Whitewolf heartbreaker. The game takes place during Biblical End-Times. You play 'Sentinals', people from broken backgrounds who are awkened to the dark and morally ambiguous reality of demons and angels. There are, of course, kewl powerz that accompany this awakening.

Like most heartbreakers, the game does have potential. Alot of biblical/scholarly research went into the setting, and I thought it had alot of potential for pushing religious/moral questions. "Why is a supposedly good angel protecting a person who may cause pain?" - that sort of stuff. But this setting is mired in the typical Sim-by-habit with Gam-y crunch.

What actually surprised me most about this demo was my own reaction. Most of my recent playing has been with very player-driven games, and mostly Nar. I knew the demo was likely to be heavily railroaded, but I didn't foresee my extreme frustration with that style of play.

Anyway, this 3.5 hour demo (which was only suppose to 2 hr, Grrr!) started with the GM handing out characters. These characters were pre-gen except for one fact. We had to decide on a 'crisis point' for our character. This was some event in our lives that caused us each to hit rock-bottom. My character was a former priest, so I narrated that my wife had died of a sudden and unforseen illness, and I turned my back on the church because of it. "Cool!" I thought. I envisioned these crisis' becoming a cornerstone of the character. But alas, these facts only served as background, and didn't effect play at all.

The demo was mired in the dysfunction railroaded Sim approach to GM'ing. That is, "You can do WHATEVER you want... except only my thing will advance the plot... but I'm not going to tell you what to do." [edit] If the GM wants to take a hands-off approach, he needs to swing with whatever the players want to do. [/edit] We all tried lots of stuff to 'solve' the mystery, but were constantly told the equivalent of "Sorry, that didn't work". Eventually the GM (and everyone at the table) would become frustrated and artifically drop a clue our way.

The plot revolved around this orphan girl who could mysteriously heal people, but was also somehow connected to all of these 'random' deaths. I desperately wanted to have this intimate moment with her, where my character could connect with her and share the pain of losing my wife. I kept trying to get near to her, but alas, the GM never let me. At one point I had the opportunity to have a 'moment' with a dying man. I had this 'hope' ability and I wanted to use it to connect with the man and give him hope in his dying seconds. But the GM said, "You can give him hope... or you could try and heal him." Obviously my moment was lost to the others at the table, so I just healed the man and let it go.

Despite his Sim habits, the GM was obviously a closeted Narravist. He kept talking about the thematic elements of the game, like this 'Grace' stat. The 'Grace' stat, which basically was an excuse for re-rolls and whatnot, was suppose to be representational of the person's connection to God. Anyway, he commented mid-way thru that we needed to "stick around to the end, it's a douzy!" Or something like that. And sure enough, the end of the scenerio gave us our one good bang. It was confirmed that this little girl who could heal people was also somehow responsible for all of these 'random' deaths. We were given a choice: We could let her live - in which case people would continue to be both healed and killed - or we could kill her.

While everyone else debated about the advantages and disadvantages of various possibilities, I answered from my gut. Let her live.
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--Timothy Walters Kleinert
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: November 29, 2004, 10:22:15 AM »

Hello,

You can probably anticipate any major points I'd make about this experience, Tim, so I'll stick with a couple of observational details.

1. You've paralleled our exact experiences with Purgatory, from Atomic Hyrax games. I could have sworn I'd posted an Actual Play thread about it, but apparently not. Given the subcultural similarities between Seventh Seal and Purgatory, I'm not surprised at all.

2. I have noticed many times that GMs who favor "weighty moral decisions" are prone to railroad players through multiple combats, clues, and interviews, for hours or even multiple sessions, and only provide the opportunity for the Big Decision in the last five minutes of the entire scenario or even series of scenarios. Like the one you describe, they often beg players to stay through the ostensibly-necessary mulberry-bush process by promising them that such a thing is coming. I'm especially interested that he seems to have blocked you from getting ethically involved (as a fellow author) before this point.

Best,
Ron
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Matt Wilson
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« Reply #2 on: November 29, 2004, 10:51:12 AM »

Quote
While everyone else debated about the advantages and disadvantages of various possibilities, I answered from my gut. Let her live.


Hey Tim:  I keep thinking about this last bit. What do you mean by them debating advantages and disadvantages, and why did you disapprove of it? I actually would prefer a moral/ethical dilemma where I couldn't just make a gut decision. If I don't debate it, it's because it's not as interesting to me.
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timfire
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« Reply #3 on: November 29, 2004, 11:45:22 AM »

Quote from: Matt Wilson
Quote
While everyone else debated about the advantages and disadvantages of various possibilities, I answered from my gut. Let her live.

Hey Tim:  I keep thinking about this last bit. What do you mean by them debating advantages and disadvantages, and why did you disapprove of it? I actually would prefer a moral/ethical dilemma where I couldn't just make a gut decision. If I don't debate it, it's because it's not as interesting to me.

Oh, I didn't mean to imply that deciding from your gut was better. It's just how I make decisions sometimes. It was just that the discussion had a very... Gam-y tone to it. They were trying to reason out which was the 'right' answer, as in which answer was 'right' and which was 'wrong'. When I announced that she should live, someone said in a nudging tone, "Maybe he just can't bear to kill a seven-year old?" Yeah, so?

I don't mean to make assumptions, that was just the impression I got.
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--Timothy Walters Kleinert
Matt Wilson
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« Reply #4 on: November 29, 2004, 12:00:39 PM »

Quote from: timfire
When I announced that she should live, someone said in a nudging tone, "Maybe he just can't bear to kill a seven-year old?"

Ah, now I get what you're saying. Bleah.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #5 on: November 30, 2004, 07:15:00 PM »

Yeah, I often find a narrativist premise is addressed in gamist terms because that's how people are used to thinking in these games.

I recognise now that Bill Coffins bit in the Rifts adventure guide introduced me to address of premise first. I thought it was worth the cost of the book at the time, but the idea didn't flourish with me because I'd present problematic issues...get confused looks from players and then they'd try and diffuse the problem by asking probing questions. The type of questions which are good to determine which is the optimum choice to make. Good investigative gamism, but at the time but at the time I'm just like 'Why don't you answer this like the column said you would...okay I'll answer some of your questions. Oh crap, now I've said something and you've decided that must mean X is the correct answer. I'm confused!'

Matt, have you talked with the guy? It can be hard to figure out how to pitch a nar question (or to be precise, to have it recieved and answered in the correct light).
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