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Author Topic: [We all had names] The story of one family in the Holocaust  (Read 12010 times)
matthijs
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« Reply #30 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.
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matthijs
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« Reply #31 on: May 13, 2005, 01:43:41 AM »

Hang on, I think I misinterpreted Ralph and Eero. What I'm seeing is this.

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.
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matthijs
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« Reply #32 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.
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daMoose_Neo
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« Reply #33 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.
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Nate Petersen / daMoose
Neo Productions Unlimited! Publisher of Final Twilight card game, Imp Game RPG, and more titles to come!
Valamir
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« Reply #34 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.
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #35 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.
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Valamir
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« Reply #36 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.
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matthijs
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« Reply #37 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.
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matthijs
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« Reply #38 on: May 13, 2005, 01:26:54 PM »

Forgot to post a link to the illustration: Here.
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #39 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.
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matthijs
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« Reply #40 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.
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #41 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.
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Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
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matthijs
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« Reply #42 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).
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Larry L.
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aka Miskatonic


« Reply #43 on: May 14, 2005, 10:43:42 AM »

Ties to God, Humor, Music? Love it.
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