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[Best Friends] Larceny, hatred, and supportive actualization

Started by Ron Edwards, September 11, 2006, 05:14:20 AM

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Ron Edwards

Hi there,

Last weekend, after some noodling around with a whole stack of games in front of us, my regular group and I decided upon Best Friends as a kind of yummy warm-up to whatever game we were going to dive into next in a long-term way (this group likes long-term play). We decided on the basic setting: heist comedy, with over-the-top action, but keeping the latter pretty basic, emphasizing athletic stunts rather than CGI and wire-fu. We also decided that we wanted to emphasize the positive aspects of friendship as well as the embedded jealousies and hatreds within it. For me, anyway, I kept my mind on the British TV show Coupling, in which the women's friendships are sincere and supportive, but also riddled with envy, hypocrisy, and occasionally outright hostility.

Even though I just stated that Best Friends was chosen more-or-less as a warm-up, we also did acknowledge that we were interested in seeing whether it could sustain us for longer than a single session.

I figured we'd be playing as per the rules with the GM and all, but for some reason, the three others raised an outcry that we should play with four player-characters and kind of, well, GM ourselves as we went. I shrugged - I was a little dubious, but on the other hand, I was eager to play one of the Best Friends too, and they were three against my not-very-committed one.

Julie's character: I'm Angela and I'm a compulsive shoplifter
Pretty 1, Cool 2, Smart 0, Tough 2, Rich 0

I hate Kaytlin because she's prettier than me
I hate Madison because she's cooler than me
I hate Mindy because she's smarter than me
I hate Mindy because she's tougher than me
I hate Madison because she's richer than me
Stuff: shabby studio apartment, lockpicks, not much else. Nonsense: kid brother, no-good ex-boyfriend.

(Angela made sense immediately - the wrong side of the tracks)

Tod's character: I'm Mindy and I always come first
Pretty 2, Cool 0, Smart 2, Tough 1, Rich 1

I hate Angela because she's prettier than me
I hate Madison because she's cooler than me
I hate Kaytlin because she's smarter than me
I hate Angela because she's tougher than me
I hate Madison because she's richer than me
Stuff: convertible. Nonsense: mother, who just doesn't approve.

(Mindy made lots of sense too - a little ditzy and gets no respect, but actually the brains & beauty all wrapped up in one)

My character: I'm Madison and I always win
Pretty 0, Cool 2, Smart 1, Tough 0, Rich 2

I hate Mindy because she's prettier than me
I hate Angela because she's cooler than me
I hate Mindy because she's smarter than me
I hate Kaytlin because she's tougher than me
I hate Kaytlin because she's richer than me
Stuff: sailboat, jet-skis, horses, hot pretty sports car. Nonsense: utterly boring rich men who want to marry her.

(Madison's the perfect counterpoint to Angela, and we all knew right away that they'd be at one another's throats about coolness)

Maura's character: I'm Kaytlin and I never pay for drinks
Pretty 1, Cool 0, Smart 1, Tough 1, Rich 1

I hate Mindy because she's prettier than me
I hate Angela because she's cooler than me
I hate Madison because she's smarter than me
I hate Angela because she's tougher than me
I hate Mindy because she's richer than me
Stuff: VW Jetta, kitchen aid mixer, great stereo. Nonsense: mom; dad's new girlfriend.

(After one look at Kaytlin, Maura said, "I am beige!" I figured she comes off as the Maryanne of the bunch)

We made cool pictures which I will try to scan and make available. The circles + triangles characters from playing this game, world-wide, all ought to end up displayed at the Best Friends website, I think.

The numbers got screwed up from the five-hearts-apiece system, though. Somehow Kaytlin ended up with only four lovehearts, and Mindy with six, and going back over the votes, it looks like we arrived there legitimately. Everyone did vote for (against?) each other character at least once, and the "extras" simply ended up favoring Mindy. Gregor, help! I was under the impression that this wasn't supposed to happen.

I didn't notice any of this until I laid out the character sheets to write up this post. It also doesn't help that Maura incorrectly wrote down "0" for her Rich, although her Stuff matches her real score of 1. And it also doesn't help that Tod incorrectly wrote down Mindy's Smart as 1 rather than 2, further disguising the whatever-it-is. As I said today for our second session, when we fixed all these to their real values, we had obviously been very blonde with the numbers previously.

I'm getting ahead of myself, though. We launched into the first session, which ended up being composed of only two scenes, but nonetheless very good, satisfying ones.

The heist!

We started simply by showing the gals carrying off a robbery. That led to the basic question of what do they steal, and why, and how can that be fun instead of, you know, just criminal badness. We eventually decided it was jewelry, but not just some bauble we could sell or wear. I also think we, as academics, all staunchly believe that stealing from a museum is heinous, and we didn't want that ... so I think I was the one who suggested it was some swanky bank who was displaying this gem for some promotional event of some kind (did we name it? identify it further? I think we did).

Clearly, no Best Friends scene is fun without cross-cutting tensions. Who's cooler, Madison running things from her car, using the Blackberry built into the dash, or Angela, who's actually picking the locks and physically taking the thing? Is Mindy tough enough to put the wrist-lock whammy on the annoying guard? Do we get the damn thing? There ended up being a bit of a chase, actually, but we did get away with a big gleaming diamond, or at least that's how I imagined it.

The scene was visually fun and made sense, but it mainly represented our learning curve: how to define conflict among the characters, as opposed to imposing it externally through NPCs' scores, and stuff like that. I think it contained at least four conflicts, with a lot of Friendchips showing up for Angela.

The flashback heist!

I think it was Maura's idea to do a flashback to establish "how we met," rather than to continue the current story chronologically. A flurry of ideas appeared, eventually turning into the notion that all four women saw one another over and over in the same temp-in-cubicle jobs, firm after firm. Finally, all in the same job with a despicable boss who keeps sleeping with the staff and dumping them, as well as embezzling, three of them decide to work together to rip him off. I especially like the way Maura played it, in that Kaytlin was not in on the original plot, but had stayed late to spritz the boss's plants in hopes of a promotion.

So the heist really depended on all of us trying to convince Kaytlin that we were doing the right thing, and to join us in the robbery. "Go ahead," I think Madison told her at one point (pushing a Friendchip to Mindy to be Smart enough), "get promoted, and see what it gets you - screwed and dumped, like all the others we've seen since we've been here." Someone else showed her that the watch she'd received as an award was just like all the other watches he was passing around. In a way, this scene provided a nice ideology for the group - they steal for a reason, not out of greed. It ended with a rather elaborate action-and-chase scene to escape when the boss walked in with a prostitute; I think he ended up in some kind of dire straits, although I don't remember what.

Also, now that I think about it some more, it's a neat idea that the four women's current disparate life-styles and personal appearances have arisen since their "origin story," rather than reflecting the actual incomes and life-styles of their upbringings. So that's kind of an interesting shift from the implicit class issues we started with, to semiotics of their current chosen subcultures. Which makes the hatred between Madison and Angela especially interesting - it's all about style, not about wealth and privilege.

Now, at the end of the session, we were all experiencing a bit of trepidation. In terms of the system, it seemed we'd seen all there was to see. Was this it? I was thinking about how the game might really need a GM, as a source of pressure, twisting the knife, scene framing in an organized way, because we were getting too close to the blah-feeling of consensual storytelling, if every scene were to be a committee effort. Then someone, either Tod or Maura, suggested using the Friendchips for something "real," not just setting up for a push later on. Julie suggested it might involve narration rights, and we decided to muse about it for the next session.

We played that second session this afternoon, and it was a hell of a lot of fun. There's a lot to talk about, so whoever wants to follow up on any of the points from this post, please do, and I'll follow up with the second-session report when I'm done composing it.

Best, Ron

Ron Edwards

Hooray, the second session! I finished the write-up faster than I expected.

Our GM-ful Drift of Best Friends

OK, this is important. We'd all independently arrived at the notion that Best Friends really wasn't going to sustain more play unless we could figure out some more dynamic way to utilize Friendchips and to provoke adversity. Rather than just shift to the ongoing improvisation of a GM and to leave the Friendchips as pure currency for pushes, we came up with the following.

1. Receiving a Friendchip means you get scene framing authority.

2. If more than one person gets a Friendchip in a scene, just make a list and keep adding to its end. In practice, it never became more than two people long, which surprised me. At one point, Julie used hers (she was next) to bring her character into an existing scene, so that Tod was the framer for the next scene change.

We found it very useful to summarize my discussion of the four kinds of authority from the thread Silent railroading and the intersection of scenario prep & player authorship, so I'll reproduce it here:

QuoteContent authority - over what we're calling back-story, e.g. whether Sam is a KGB mole, or which NPC is boinking whom

Plot authority - over crux-points in the knowledge base at the table - now is the time for a revelation! - typically, revealing content, although notice it can apply to player-characters' material as well as GM material - and look out, because within this authority lies the remarkable pitfall of wanting (for instances) revelations and reactions to apply precisely to players as they do to characters

Situational authority - over who's there, what's going on - scene framing would be the most relevant and obvious technique-example, or phrases like "That's when I show up!" from a player

Narrational authority - how it happens, what happens - I'm suggesting here that this is best understood as a feature of resolution (including the entirety of IIEE), and not to mistake it for describing what the castle looks like, for instance; I also suggest it's far more shared in application than most role-players realize

So for purposes of this technique, we really focused on the third type, Situation authority, as what a Friendchip brought with it when you receive it. We also talked about Plot authority being involved, but in application, discovered that Plot in Best Friends takes care of itself nicely via the resolution mechanics, which always cause more trouble (in a good, plot-making way) than they solve.

As far as the other sorts were concerned, the important thing seemed to be to exclude them from this technique. For example, one thing we've found for our particular game of Best Friends is that we like Content Authority to be communal and very improvisational; we find out lots of stuff as we go along because we make it up. Trixie's identity as a gold-digger, and for that matter all names and scores for NPCs, are good examples (you'll meet her and others soon). This probably would not be the case for any number of other games, including other applications of Best Friends. And finally, Narrational authority, in this game, seems to be a matter of whoever has just utilized an attribute and/or spent a Friendchip, and as you'll see, this took on some weight of its own during play.

In sum, the technique was extremely successful and enjoyable. It made sure that the next-up person really punched the current crises into high gear, and got to bring in other characters and change locales as he or she saw fit. It really worked. We didn't always apply the idea exactly as planned, but overall, I can whole-heartedly recommend some variant of this idea.

How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways

I also brought up another point that I'd hit upon while musing over the numbers last week. We found that our hatreds could be classified into three types.

1. Someone you hate fully accurately. Madison hates Mindy, for instance, for being prettier than she is, and glory be, Mindy is indeed prettier than Madison.

2. Someone you hate for no good reason. Madison hates Kaytlin for being richer than she is, but Kaytlin isn't. We all lit up upon noting this point. Self-deluded envies are far more interesting. I determined to make this a major issue for Madison, regarding Kaytlin.

3. Someone you hate for being "more" than you, but actually has the same score. This seems at first like a version of #2, but then we noticed the special cases in which the characters hated one another in this fashion, like Madison and Angela for Coolness. Ahhh, we said. We'd already discovered that pushing at one another for traits like this only ended up with ties and Friendchips ending up the way they started.

Something about this brief discussion really made a difference for us. The nature of the relationships took on nuances and potential for unique conflicts, not just repetitions of "oh, X hates Y, how's that different from W hating Z." And that combined very well with the next point of order, in which we all strongly agreed that another organized group heist was not called for, given all that emphasis in the first session. Therefore, it seemed clear that this session was to be all about the Nonsense, and armed with the inspiration about the hatreds, well! We were stoked.

Scene 1: men everywhere

Julie had the most Friendchips to start this session, so she put Madison in a scene with one of her suitors, whom she named Derek, pestering her for a second date. (Side point: for some reason, composing this post, I keep using first-person for my character and then having to correct it. I'm really liking all the gals and used first-person dialogue and said "I" for Madison a lot more often than I typically do in play. Interesting, eh?) I suggested that Derek, as well, as any and all suitors covered by Madison's Nonsense, had scores of 0 in everything except for Rich 3.

Now, my solution was to have Madison hook up with Angela's no-good ex-boyfriend in order to ditch Derek, although I don't think I brought him into the scene ... maybe I suggested it, I'm not sure. Julie whipped out a 3x5 card to make him up, and we all cogitated for two seconds to arrive at his name: Thor, soon to be extended into Thor the Himbo when Julie showed his scores: Pretty 2, Cool 1, Smart 0, Tough 1, and Rich 0.

Me: What a loser!
Maura: He really is no-good, isn't he?
Tod: I think I went to high school with two of him.

I had to spend Friendchips to get what I wanted, dammit. But you can see that I have an agenda, to promote as much man-strife between Madison and Angela as possible, even though Madison thinks less than nothing of Thor himself.

If I'm remembering correctly, I'd given Maura a Friendchip to out-Rich Derek, so she set up the next scene.

Scene 2: shoes, wonderful shoes

This was the second of what turned out to be setup scenes. Basically, Mindy, her mother Eve, and Angela are in a shoe store, and Julie instantly stated that Angela steals the very shoes that Eve is intending to buy. Mindy was smart enought to foil the possibility of Angela swiping the mom's purse via Tod spending a Friendchip, but as Tod actually wanted to see the theft succeed, he did not challenge Julie's push-back, and hence Angela stole the shoes (as Julie pointed out, Angela is a shoplifter, not a person who steals personal belongings). She replaced them in the box with the Converse sneakers she was wearing and wore'em out of the store.

Not to put too fine a point on it, Eve is pissed off and Mindy has to use her brains to find a solution. (Eve, made up on the spot: Pretty 2, Cool 2, Smart 0, Tough 0, Rich 1. Yikes!) Her opponent, of course, is Angela. As it turns out, Mindy bullies the hapless shoe-clerk into calling Angela and convincing her that the shoes have been recalled for safety reasons, using car jargon for verisimilitude. So Angela comes back and in al sincerity demands a loaner (this is Julie pushing to defend herself) and, to her surprise, is politely given her Converses back (this is Tod clinching his victory with his push-back).

Julie playing Angela: "I just know Mindy is involved here." Me and Maura, riffing off that: "I don't know how, and I don't know when, but someone around here was messing with me." I'm pretty sure this is the first time Julie's ever played a shockingly clueless character in our group; she tends toward athletic, reflective characters, hunter-types who often detect or reveal stuff. She's showing quite a flair for dramatic stupidity, however.

Maura had received Tod's Friendchip for Smartness, so she did the next scene setup too.

Scene 3: gonna party like it's 1999

Here's where everything went straight to hell in a handbasket, at least for the characters. For us, it was a free-for-all of Nonsense meeting in a glorious traffic accident.

Madison took Kaytlin to a club that's so cool no one's heard of it yet (when they do, Madison will snub them for being so "over"). Why? Because ... haha, my plan, you see ... Madison wrongly hates Kaytlin for being richer than her, because she's got it into her head that Kaytlin must be squirreling away money secretly somehow. Irrational? Yeah, what's your point?

The trouble for Kaytlin is that Trixie, her dad's new girlfriend, has arrived at the bar, with a boy-toy in tow, and who should it be, of course, but Thor. I instantly had flashes of my favorite character in Coupling, Patrick, whom every woman ruefully concludes must be slept with, and why bother being jealous, because it's sort of inevitable in a why-did-I-do-that way.

Kaytlin: That tramp! How dare she!

Madison: That's Angela's ex! What's he doing with her? He's supposed to be here with me!

Madison had to put aside such concerns, though, because money is more important. She got to interrogate Trixie about Kaytlin's alleged funds, but discovered no dark secrets to her consternation. Multiple other conflicts ensued, some of which I'm not remembering, although I do recall that Madison Toughed her way through one martini too many by paying a Friendchip to Angela, but then was overcome by Kaytlin outsmarting her by ordering Long Island iced tea. Both Madison and Kaytlin ended up too drunk to do anything but stare pie-eyed at Angela entering the scene to wreak havoc of one sort or another ... including, brilliantly, swiping Kaytlin's cell phone and taking a picture of Thor and Trixie leaving the club, with his hand on her ass.

I think I ended up with the last Friendchip somehow, so I set up the next scene.

(A note: Tod apparently felt strongly enough about the visuals and content of this scene to insist we each narrate the SIS-meaning of every Friendchip push and every push-back, which is unusual for our group - we sometimes get a little casual about whether we feel like adding to the SIS, especially when applying these sorts of mechanics. In this case, Tod was dead-on target to keep us honest. His insistence is what led to the crucial cell-phone maneuver, for instance.)

Scene 4: dear ol' Dad

I decided it was time for Trixie, who'd managed to escape the club unscathed, to put Kaytlin into hot water. Plus, I wanted the photo to be more problematic and not an instant Trixie-cure. No problem! Kaytlin, badly hung-over, receives a phone call from Dad who wants to tell her all about his new plans in life, and she discovers the photo in her phone at the time. Cut quick to them eating brunch (as someone says, Kaytlin mainly sucking on a Bloody Mary), and I delivered a monologue about how the dad is really turning his life around - all sorts of stuff at work, plus taking the cool vacation that Kaytlin had been trying to get him to do, plus fixing the deck that she disliked so much, and all this other stuff ... because he was inspired by Trixie's love for him.

Damn! Now Kaytlin could never show him that photo, and she ground her teeth in fury. Interestingly, Julie wanted the dad to stay score-less, more of an abstract character, and although why wasn't clear at the time, the net effect was that Trixie provided the adversity rather than him; he remained a positive presence. Kaytlin had to fool Trixie into complacency though, and gave Tod a Friendchip to do so, unless I'm mis-remembering.

Tod ended up with the next eligible Friendchip, so he set up the next scene. I suggested that we not see Thor again for a little while, as the whole Madison/Angela thing with Thor clearly has too much long-term potential to rush.

Scene 5: Best Friends after all

Well clearly, this calls for war. Kaytlin called everyone together for a meet at their HQ, which is actually just a storage locker somewhere, to help her against the vile Trixie. Mindy had to be point-woman, pretending to be a federal agent of some kind, because she's the only one that Trixie didn't know. It actually ended up more as a bribe than anything else, just passing on money to her to keep her on the straight and narrow in her romance with Kaytlin's dad. I suggested this gives the group even more reason to have to keep pulling heists, as Trixie's cupidity is considerable. Interestingly, this scene didn't need any resolution mechanics, because Mindy is smarter than Trixie and that's the end of that.

It was fun that this session ended up being about heists after all, even though it didn't include a planned robbery. I think we're hitting an unusual balance among (a) illustrating how the women's friendship actually gets things done, (b) pulling no punches about how negative emotions are intrinsic to it along with the loyalty and tacit understanding, and (c) maintaining a sort of goofy dysfunction about their collective notion of how to solve problems. The last one is important for me - it makes me want to keep playing, because there's an underlying tension about the women as a group which is bigger than their petty envies and the conflicts of the moment. Yet we're managing to keep it light-hearted enough to be enjoyable, just to see what this collective notion gets them into (or out of) next.

We found a few hitchy spots about our scene-framing privilege device, which I'll bring up in more detail later.

One question that arose briefly at the start of play concerned changing Stuff and Nonsense, specifically, adding to it.  As things turned out, it seems pretty effortless and sensible merely to add stuff that comes to one during play, like the shoes, and subtracting it similarly. Also, although it hasn't happened yet, I imagine any number of consequential conflict outcomes could remove a Nonsense character from a sheet, and NPCs who capture our collective heart could easily be added in. Gregor, have you run into that issue at all?

Best, Ron


Quote from: Ron EdwardsThe numbers got screwed up from the five-hearts-apiece system, though. Somehow Kaytlin ended up with only four lovehearts, and Mindy with six, and going back over the votes, it looks like we arrived there legitimately. Everyone did vote for (against?) each other character at least once, and the "extras" simply ended up favoring Mindy. Gregor, help! I was under the impression that this wasn't supposed to happen.

The way we played it in the GenCon Demo was that everyone voted for everyone else once, and then voted for the person to their right (or left, maybe?) a second time. The extra vote wasn't for who ever you wanted.

I'm really happy fo this GM-less/ful advice, 'cause for some reason I always envision Best Friends as a GM-less/ful game when I contemplate playing.
--Timothy Walters Kleinert

Gregor Hutton

Wow, this sounds great. And, for sure, I want to put up scanned pictures of everyone's Best Friends.

What I love most is that the essentially bare character creation of Best Friends actually allows us to create vivid characters so easily. These girls seem to have lives outside of the games. It never ceases to amaze me that this happens.

One way that I wanted to do scene framing in a GM-ful way was for everyone to write a scene or motif on a card and then place it face down on the table (or it in a hat, or whatever). Then we draw the scenes randomly so that everyone is framing a scene. I think that's maybe a bit vanilla or procedural though, and all very much designed to make sure that everyone has a "turn".

I do like the idea of somehow using Friendchips to dictate framing. It seems to have been working for you, but I'm unclear in my mind if there could be problems with this. (Although I guess people are voting with their Friendchips to give rights, or not, as they wish. Since you can't take Friendchips, only receive them.)

OK, about the scores. I figured out when thinking up the game that I wanted everyone to have balanced scores. If you have 6 players then it is easy - 5 Best Friends and 5 hatreds, no problem. With numbers other than 6 I needed a procedure, which Tim recalls correctly.

I just say that we pass our hatreds going to the right. This means that the two to your right get 2 Hatreds and the one person to your left gets only 1. But it's just a procedure to make sure that you have a balance of hatreds and a cross-cutting mixture of hatreds across the group.

The easiest way out now that you've got the characters established is to get Mindy back down to 5 hatreds and Kaytlin up to 5. I looked for who had only 1 hatred of Kaytlin and 2 for Mindy.

So I'd suggest that Angela switches a hatred from Mindy to Kaytlin. I guess this will make Kaytlin Smarter or Tougher depending on what Angela hates her for!

(It looks like you mostly did pass hatreds to the right? Madison has Kaytlin to her right, then Mindy, then Angela. That seems to make sense.)

Gregor Hutton

Oh, and Mindy is either going to lose some Smarts or what little Toughness she has. And all at the whim of her Best Friend Angela.

(It makes "sense" for the switch to be on Tough, but we're touching on the 3 types of hatred here, of course. Is it a real hatred or an imagined one?)

Gregor Hutton

Oh, and I still have to answer the question about Stuff and Nonsense.

I figured that these were things that we picked up and dropped as circumstances dictated/at the decision of the player(s). It's more obvious with Stuff, but I think Nonsense is much the same.

Say you have Stuff of a car. And then it's wrecked in the story, well you can change it to "Wrecked Car" or just drop it (or add "New car" or something).

For Nonsense like "my husband's a jerk" and he then has one affair too many in the story... well, you can change it to "my husband's an adulterous jerk" or "my ex-husband's an adulterous jerk" or just move on from him altogether (you're so over him) and take that Nonsense off your sheet altogether. And put in something else in its place.

I like to think that Stuff = the possessions you have right now. Nonsense = the issues you have right now.

Some Nonsense might last a long time and you will want to keep it as a recurring issue for your character. Other issues are more transient.

Mechanically I advocate just adding and dropping to suit what you want in game. Does that sound OK?

Ron Edwards

Hi there,

The definitions and usage of Stuff and Nonsense sound perfect to me, Gregor. I think they'll work fine in play. In this group, in particular, everything on a character sheet is an Issue, and Nonsense just happens to be the most obvious tag.

I think it's a big deal, though. Because without it, the only source of adversity is one another. A big part of what we're doing with the game, along the lines of the brief conversation between you and me at GenCon, is to make sure that external adversity is real in playing Best Friends. I mean, the among-friends adversity is fun and satirically accurate, but it can only sustain the briefest of stories (as demonstrated in your book's example). Therefore in order to discover the strength of female friendship without soft-peddling its horrific side, that potential strength must be invoked by something outside worth combatting or surviving or recovering from.

I have to say up-front: we totally fucked up the voting, and fortunately only screwed one player out of one point, rather than the true mess it could have become. No, we did not "vote to the right" for the extra Hatred votes. We did it totally privately and thus randomly. I keep forgetting to consult the book again about this - is the advice you give above textual? I didn't see anything about it when I looked a few days ago, but we all know game-books hide their relevant rules when you look for them.

Best, Ron

Gregor Hutton

Yeah, the final section of the "Making Friends" chapter is about allocating Hatreds in various sizes of group (it's the bottom half of page 7) and I think it's pretty clear.

Oh, and it sounds like everyone has really slipped into their characters. I really like the fact that you were using "I" alot when narrating for Madison. Awesome.

And I really agree with Tod's insistence on narrating with each push. I guess I was a bit ambivalent on this point when playing the game at first, but I really found it worked great from me and it's now something I try to do for sure.