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Author Topic: Soap in action  (Read 2312 times)
Paul Czege
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« on: June 03, 2001, 05:56:00 PM »

I have to say that our two sessions of Soap on Saturday, separated by pizza in between, made it painfully obvious to us how very stunted our Narrativist skills are. I don't even have language to describe just how amazingly hard it is for us to play without fear, not cautiously, and to not build up elaborate cause and effect sequences just to say what we want to have happen. And I think it likely that if you haven't played, in Ron's words, "a Narrativist jet engine" like Soap, that you probably have no idea what I'm talking about.

But maybe I'll step back and ask some rules questions first, and then get more into the stuff that was so challenging to us.

First question: If I use my turn to create a scene between two NPC's, does it cost another player a token to enter that scene on his turn? Can I create a scene with just NPC's?

Second question: How do I decide if I'm entering a scene and need to pay a token? In one situation, the player of Rock Ingersoll, a real-estate mogul, was in front of a strip mall that he was renovating, talking to his general manager about the project, and the player of wealthy socialite Evangeline Parker had her limousine stop at the intersection nearby. Does she need to pay to be part of that scene, since Rock can react to her presence? Or only if she approaches the action in an active way? Later in the game, Rock used his cell phone to call Sean Miro, his building contractor, and threatened to fire him. Does Sean Miro's player need to pay a token if he wants to respond? Or is he in the scene for free, since Rock put him there?

Third question, related to the one above: If Sean's not part of the phone call unless he pays to be, can Rock's player just use a call to threaten to fire Sean, or does he need to assume that his sentence will be contested and bid tokens on it?

Fourth question: Does a player have lattitude to put words in the mouth of other characters? Can it be done at all, or is it just a contested sentence if the other player disagrees with what you had his character say? Similarly, can you move other characters around?

Fifth question: Is there more significance to the character goal than just that the character has one? It has no connection to earning tokens. What happens if a character accomplishes his goal, or if he's irrevocably prevented from ever accomplishing it?

That may seem like a lot of floundering, but those aren't the things we really struggled with as players. We worked out solutions to those things. But we absolutely choked when it came to secrets, hints, and saying what we wanted to have happen without prepending some elaborate causal justification.

At one point the player of Sean Miro had the character tell his date to "order me something from the menu...I'm going to use the phone," and the player claimed five tokens for hinting at his secret, which was that he can't read. Subsequently we revealed our secrets to each other, and most of the players were unhappy with that hint and thought it didn't warrant the five tokens. At another point, Rock Ingersoll's player had him receive a phone call, and cryptically say to the caller, "I'll be at the hearing tomorrow." The player claimed five tokens. When it was revealed that Rock's secret was that he had slept with a friend's wife to prove she was a cheater so his friend had cause for divorce, some players were upset and didn't think the phone call was a good hint. Basically, every player thought he had given significant hints about his own secret, and that the others had not. How does a player know if he's really giving up the goods, and that what he's had happen is worth the five tokens?

Evangeline Parker's secret was that her daughter Margaret was actually her granddaughter, from when her dimwitted older daughter Meredith was raped fourteen years earlier. When I described the secrets from the Soap game session to Ron, his reaction was that Sean and Evangeline didn't have secrets that were from them having done anything. Do you see that as part of the rules, that the secret has to be something immoral that the character has done? In retrospect, the examples in the rules seem to point in that direction.

See how both of those things, giving lame hints and having secrets that don't really compromise the moral integrity of the character are an outgrowth of a cautious and fearful psychology as a player?

And you should have seen me struggle to use my last turn of the second episode to create a cliffhanger. I described Meredith wandering through the back yard of the family estate, finding a tree-house that had fallen into dis-use, climbing the ladder and discovering a chest that shouldn't have been there, and opening it. The players repeatedly made me redo the way I described it. I literally couldn't make my brain frame the scene right to the drama of opening the chest. Two times I tried to condense the description of Meredith wandering the yard and finding the tree-house, before the other players ultimately told me how to frame that final scene and we ended the game. For someone with my RPG history, overcoming the need for complex causal justification before you say what you actually want is horribly difficult.

I think soap probably is a jet engine, but I don't think any of us can be considered pilots after that performance. And it's apparent from the number of scenes where we had our characters eating at McDonald's and using the bathroom that we don't understand the soap genre very well either :smile:

Paul


[ This Message was edited by: Paul Czege on 2001-06-03 21:59 ]
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Logan
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« Reply #1 on: June 03, 2001, 06:46:00 PM »

Hey, Paul.

I played a session of Soap tonight with a small group of mostly non-gamers. It was pretty damn cool, if you want to know the truth. We had assassins running around sniping at party guests, bombs going off in private offices, poison... You should watch more soap operas. You can have Satan emerge from the underworld, help characters get demonically possessed, drop characters off of cliffs... Real soap operas are MAYHEM. I'll also take 5 tokens for giving you a clue to one of my many secrets now. :razz:

Anyway, we decided that next time around, we need to have some sort of limits on scene interference and allow for longer sentences (maybe more like short paragraphs) in order to build more scene continuity. That's a social contract issue, I think. Also, the tokens are useful to a point, but beyond that point, they're just props. When everybody has a big pile of them, the expenditures don't mean much.

I found it was tactically useful to do something unpleasant to another character, let them put up a pile of tokens, and then let them win. The way the rules are written, they spend their tokens, but you don't spend yours. I also found that frequently interfering is a good way to erode the token supply, but great fun.

>First question: If I use my turn to create a scene between two NPC's, does it cost another player a token to enter that scene on his turn? Can I create a scene with just NPC's?
-----------------
It seems that the by-the-rules answer is no. Your turn is supposed to involve your own character. Yet, many soaps include scenes which involve interactions primarily between NPCs, extras, bit-players. It seems to me that the fair way to add a scene like that would be to add a 1-token charge for doing it during your turn. After all, you have to let your own character act, but then you could pay the fee to set up the second action. I would also think that it should cost a token for a PC to enter that scene, unless it's just a quick scene that occurs all at once and then ends.

>Second question: How do I decide if I'm entering a scene and need to pay a token? In one situation, the player of Rock Ingersoll, a real-estate mogul, was in front of a strip mall that he was renovating, talking to his general manager about the project, and the player of wealthy socialite Evangeline Parker had her limousine stop at the intersection nearby. Does she need to pay to be part of that scene, since Rock can react to her presence? Or only if she approaches the action in an active way?
-----------------

This is actually a fairly common soap opera ploy. You have a mall or public set where small groups of characters interact in essentially separate scenes. These should be free until it's time for a character to leave one scene and enter the other. Example: 2 characters are having a conversation at the mall. A third character is shopping. The 3d character can eavesdrop for free, but to join the conversation costs a token. If one group sees the other group and invites them in, then it's free.

>Later in the game, Rock used his cell phone to call Sean Miro, his building contractor, and threatened to fire him. Does Sean Miro's player need to pay a token if he wants to respond? Or is he in the scene for free, since Rock put him there?
--------------------------
I think he's in the scene for free because Rock put him there. Of course, Sean can always decide not to answer...

>Third question, related to the one above: If Sean's not part of the phone call unless he pays to be, can Rock's player just use a call to threaten to fire Sean, or does he need to assume that his sentence will be contested and bid tokens on it?
-------------------------
Rock can leave a message on voicemail. Should still be free. Methinks there is no reason to assume the statement is contested until somebody contests it.

>Fourth question: Does a player have lattitude to put words in the mouth of other characters? Can it be done at all, or is it just a contested sentence if the other player disagrees with what you had his character say? Similarly, can you move other characters around?
----------------------
This is a matter of social contract. I mean, any character can say, "This character said thus and such" in relating the conversation, but to actually speak for another character in the scene seems kind of rude to me. That's one of those things that would take a little OOC negotiation, but this game doesn't really cover OOC anything.

>Fifth question: Is there more significance to the character goal than just that the character has one? It has no connection to earning tokens. What happens if a character accomplishes his goal, or if he's irrevocably prevented from ever accomplishing it?
---------------------
I guess he has to set a new goal, revel in the glory of achievement, or something like that. Actually, moments of achievement in soaps are short-lived. The sweet taste of victory usually turns to ashes in the character's mouth after only a brief respite. You always just know when a couple says something like, "we'll love each other forever," rough seas lay ahead. Something else to hash out in social contracting, I guess.

>That may seem like a lot of floundering, but those aren't the things we really struggled with as players. We worked out solutions to those things. But we absolutely choked when it came to secrets, hints, and saying what we wanted to have happen without prepending some elaborate causal justification.
--------------------------
Watch soap operas. Play again. The thing about soaps is, they're distortions of life. Nothing is ever really banal. The cliffhanger was pretty easy. We just went around the table until somebody had one. Some scenes make it easier to find a cliffhanger than other scenes.

Hope that helps.

Best,

Logan

[ This Message was edited by: Logan on 2001-06-03 22:49 ]
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: June 04, 2001, 05:38:00 AM »

Most of what I have to say is already in the review and in my post in the "Effects of Soap on other games" thread. However, a couple of the rules & resolutions questions that Paul mentions played out differently for my groups.

1) We agreed very swiftly that a turn could be more than one sentence, as long as it wasn't more than one actual event or "moment" in TV terms. In practice, most of us used a run-on sentence, but not containing more than two sentences' worth of information. Kind of a short Henry James sentence.

2) Hints were generally taken on good faith, but a rule of thumb that I followed was that a hint should give the listener grounds to guess SOMETHING, and that a subsequent hint should give grounds to guess SOMETHING MORE, and so on. In practice, I don't think anyone was able to give two hints without someone trying to guess, and no one made it one turn around the table after giving three hints.

3) People over-rated the "now I can die" rule, almost to the extent of thinking that the character MUST die, once the secret is known. Given good trait-playing and hinting, most of us had well upwards of 10 tokens at any given time - that's going to take a lot of killing.

4) Still, as Logan points out, you can get run out of tokens pretty fast if your opponent is clever, and if that happens, and if everyone else has twice as many as you, then you can be in trouble. I'm rambling slightly, so my point is, it's no big deal to die. It's more fun, after all. In my last game of Soap, the game turned into a gaudy fest of the most spectacular death contest.

5) My main advice to Soap players is this: do not futz about with "I drive to the party," or, "I stop for a cup of coffee," or any such thing. In most role-playing, players do that because they are resigned to reacting only to what the GM throws at them - they know that any actual initiative on their part gets them a brick wall. When this behavior becomes ingrained and IDENTIFIED with the very act of role-playing, then we've got dysfunction.

Soap is, in my opinion, an excellent diagnostic for such problems. It can let a GM know how much players can contribute, given half a chance; or conversely, it can widen players' horizons regarding what they can have a character do.

Best,
Ron
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Ferry Bazelmans
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« Reply #3 on: June 04, 2001, 09:15:00 AM »

As the author, I suppose it would be pretty stupid not to answer a few questions... *grin*

>First question: If I use my turn to create a scene between >two NPC's, does it cost another player a token to enter >that scene on his turn? Can I create a scene with just >NPC's?

As it says in the rules, when you open a scene, you start by painting a picture of the scene and then place your character in it. You could construct scenes between NPCs and I suppose they would have to be free to enter.

>Second question: How do I decide if I'm entering a scene >and need to pay a token? In one situation, the player of >Rock Ingersoll, a real-estate mogul, was in front of a >strip mall that he was renovating, talking to his general >manager about the project, and the player of wealthy >socialite Evangeline Parker had her limousine stop at the >intersection nearby. Does she need to pay to be part of >that scene, since Rock can react to her presence?

I'd say definitely, since Evangeline Parker is in the same locale and can be indeed by approached by Rock. Use common sense here. A house rules is easily established.

>Later in the game, Rock used his cell phone to call Sean >Miro, his building contractor, and threatened to fire him. >Does Sean Miro's player need to pay a token if he wants to >respond? Or is he in the scene for free, since Rock put >him there?

If an active player involves another player in a scene he or she creates, then that other player does not have to play a token.

That said, I want to thank you for pointing me towards these small oversights. I'll add them to the rules as soon as possible.

>Fourth question: Does a player have lattitude to put words >in the mouth of other characters? Can it be done at all, >or is it just a contested sentence if the other player >disagrees with what you had his character say? Similarly, >can you move other characters around?

Soap is all about moving everyone and anyone. It's just that whenever you do something with or to someone else's character, you are asking for a Contested Sentence, right?

>Fifth question: Is there more significance to the >character goal than just that the character has one? It >has no connection to earning tokens. What happens if a >character accomplishes his goal, or if he's irrevocably >prevented from ever accomplishing it?

I thought about granting tokens for attaining the goal, but I decided that it had to serve more of a directive role than a mechanical role. I didn't want people concentrating solely on their own goal to get tokens. So, the goal is purely to provide a bit of direction to your personal plotline in the soap.
 
I think the biggest problem anyone can have with Soap is the idea that anything has to be logical, realistic or in any way explainable. It doesn't. Just have fun...

Crayne
http://www.crayne.nl" target="_blank">The BlackLight Bar

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Paul Czege
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« Reply #4 on: June 05, 2001, 01:07:00 PM »

...it's no big deal to die. It's more fun, after all. In my last game of Soap, the game turned into a gaudy fest of the most spectacular death contest.

This is a good point, and in retrospect it's obvious. With the protections afforded by the Soap system, flirting flagrantly with death would be a lot of fun. I'm certain to do it next time we play the game.

Interestingly, these two episodes were my girlfriend's first time playing an RPG...and despite her greater familiarity with soap operas in general, she handled Evangeline Parker with as much caution as the rest of the players handled their characters. Even to a newbie, a "secret" is something you protect and "only then can you die" is a situation to be determinedly avoided. Perhaps a skilled Narrativist easily spots that a more reckless play tactic will be the most dramatic and fun, and plays for the death scene. But I think in his life, an average person harbors fear of having his secrets exposed and his happiness rendered forever unattainable by untimely death.

I bring this up because I think that learning to play for story is hard! Your operating psychology opposes it. In life, people play to keep playing. They play to keep their options open. It's one of the reasons that system does matter...because a nascent Narrativist needs a system that will help him overcome a psychology that fears drama. Perhaps what prospective players of Soap need is some language about playing for the death scene and a medium-length play example that features the fun of a group escalating the execution of each other and enjoying the drama of death scenes? Or something else?

Paul
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: June 07, 2001, 06:38:00 AM »

Hi Paul,

I think this is what boggles me all the way back to my beginnings as a role-player.

The character is not the player. I remember being irked when my very first D&D character (who I blush to recall was named "Rhon") was killed in the first twenty minutes of play by giant rats. I also remember, distinctly, WHY - because it was stupid.

Mechanically, it was an exercise in highly-likely-death probabilities. There was no element of tactical error on my part; the system as played simply killed 1st-level PCs. Socially, it was all too obvious that the GM took great delight in his power to kill (and everyone else took on the foxhole-mentality of "well, it's HIM being killed, not me, so that makes it fun").

So as a specific activity (dice, character creation, fighting rats) it was stupid, and as a social experience, it was stupid.

Still, though, *I* had not died. Should "Rhon" have been killed in any relevant context, with any intrinsic entertainment value for me and the group as a whole, I'd be cool with it, yes, even as a newbie, even back then. My conclusion was easy - avoid these idiots and go find my own game.

What is it about your group that makes the notion of a role-playing character so vastly, vastly different? (And I suggest that the new player was using social cues to determine her priorities, rather than expressing "essential" priorities of her own.)

Best,
Ron
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Valamir
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« Reply #6 on: June 07, 2001, 11:06:00 AM »

Quote

On 2001-06-07 10:38, Ron Edwards wrote:

Still, though, *I* had not died. Should "Rhon" have been killed in any relevant context, with any intrinsic entertainment value for me and the group as a whole, I'd be cool with it, yes, even as a newbie, even back then


In my very first RPG experience (4th grade IIRC) I was introduced into an existing high level D&D game as a low level magic user.

The party got captured by an insanely high level Druid in the 20th level of a dungeon (yeah I know) and no matter what they did they couldn't escape.  So to pass the time, they killed me...chopped me up...buried me...dug me back up...resurrected me...killed me again.  All just to pass the time because the DM was being a prick and wouldn't let us out.

I was hooked completely, and have been roleplaying ever since.

Pretty twisted I know.
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #7 on: June 07, 2001, 12:40:00 PM »

What is it about your group that makes the notion of a role-playing character so vastly, vastly different?

I truly don't know the answer to this. If there's one single insight I've been straining to gain through participation in G/N/S discussions and actual play, this is it. It's the key to player engagement in a Narrativist game. And in my experience, it's not all that uncommon a sticking point for players. I've made a lot of observations. I haven't discovered a solution.

I remember a phenomenon I think of mentally as "niche selection" from the heaviest few years of my involvement with RPG's in high school and early college. "Niche selection" is not to be confused with the kind of party balance conversation you have when creating characters for a Gamist game; "We don't have a druid? Okay, that's me." It's something that transcends character class that a player demonstrates relentlessly through play, seizing and focusing the game experience in such a way as to achieve recognition as a person for the value of expertise they have. And the esteem from this recognition carries over beyond the game session to the other social interactions between group members. The master of this was a friend of mine who chose strategery as his niche. He specialized in knowing the strengths and abilities of the characters, and maximizing the group's use of logistics and planning. It wasn't consulting and suggesting. It was, "Are you going to join the team for the big win or what?" And the recognition he got from other players for successes associated with his method was exactly what he was after. The game is where you prove what you're worth as a person.

I think also of the humor of suckage. Ever die because you couldn't outrun the blast radius of the improved fireball? Who's fault is that, the guy who fireballed into the room knowing you had a slow spell on you? No, the fault is yours, because you suck. If you die, you suck.

It's the main reason I have trouble with Explorative as a player motive. I just don't have any empirical evidence of players who think they're explorative actually being motivated toward exploration. The players I know who talk like exploration is their motivator don't actually demonstrate any behaviors that corroborate it. If your goal is to explore character, then why do you freak so bad as a player and retreat from the situation when the GM has your character's girlfriend initiate an argument? What the players do have are lots of behaviors that look like fear. Fear of sucking. Fear of the unquantified metagame mojo of other players that could eclipse you. Fear of GM behaviors that could irrelevantize you, or protagonize you by force. The players I know who talk like exploration is their motive actually behave like they just want to be left alone.

The thing with my group is that we all recognize drama when we see it. And we want to become skilled at it. When I had Rock Ingersoll's construction manager Ed strike at him from the shadows with a baseball bat after Rock had returned home unexpectedly to interrupt an illicit hot tub liaison between Ed and Rock's wife Becky,  Rock's player outbid me and had Ed holding not a bat, but a beer: "Rock, I hope you're not mad. You said I could use the hot tub anytime." And when Rock, unaware of Becky on the other side of the yard, replied "Sure Ed...Like I said, mi casa, su casa," we all laughed.

We know it as audience when we see it, but we don't often accomplish it in play. Although it's interesting that we approach it more confidently with pick-up games like Soap than we do with extended scenarios. I think that consciously every one of us would be cool with our character being killed in a way that's contextually relevant, particularly if it was a heroic death, but our operating psychologies drive us to play careful and avoid potential situations of suckage.

The game is serious because your performance impacts the social dynamic of the group in situations external to the game, and because none of us live self-confidently enough to risk perceptions of suckage. So despite desperately wishing otherwise, we play as if we fear drama.

Paul
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George Pletz
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« Reply #8 on: June 07, 2001, 04:31:00 PM »

What a great post, Paul. Admittedly, I have only read SOAP the other day but I just had to chip in here.

Your points about "niche playing" and "suckage" rang true with my own early gaming experiences. How have you dealt with player knowledge vs character knowledge in your past games? To my way of thinking, drama is most distinct when the player's enjoyment diverges from the "success" of the character. From what I can tell, SOAP obliterates this distinction in very novel way.

As to the character death issue, this is one of the few points where I really push my GM prescence to the fore. I want poignant death, be it good or bad. In retrospect I have become more open about this with games that I play now.
That said I am very interested to see what character death on consensus is like.(Someday soon I may get my chance!)

Still the friction between "poignant character death" and "suckage" is a real bear. From what I can tell from your hot tub example, your group is halfway there to choosing overall dramatics over an in game victory condition. Don't you think it is just a matter of doing it consciously until it becomes second nature? Am I missing something?

g.
 
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