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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4283 Members Latest Member: - otto Most online today: 68 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: [It Was A Mutual Decision] OrcCon 2007  (Read 3132 times)
jburneko
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Posts: 1351


« on: February 20, 2007, 04:55:47 PM »

Hello Everyone,

So, having met repeated resistance to playing "It Was A Mutual Decision" I decided to throw it on the schedule for OrcCon and see what happens.  Only two people signed up and it turned out that one of them was Anni, an old friend I had not seen since my wedding back in 2004.  The other was her new boyfriend, Chris who I had never met before but rapidly grew to like over the course of the game.  We had a fourth player, Laura who I had brought along to be my "ringer" girl in case only guys showed up.  Laura was participating more out of loyalty to me then genuine interest and the best personal satisfaction moment for me was when midway through the game Laura said (laughing and smiling), "Okay, this is awesome.  You win."

The two principle characters were Viola, a 27 year old video game producer and Daniel, a 27 year old museum curator.  They met in the rain outside the museum when Daniel offered Viola his umbrella.  Viola grounds Daniel in the modern world while Daniel reminds Viola that there's more to life than the office.

Daniel went Wererat pretty fast.  Mechanically this was a reaction to Viola grabbing two big scores with Needy at 6 and Trust at 5.  Which means the guys bought Needy up to 7 and Stubborn up to 5.  Only Viola's Trust score went over to Murderous over the course of the whole game.  Narratively we felt really bad for Daniel.  Yes, he was a monsterous wererat but we all felt like that was a coping strategy against Viola's emotional possessiveness.

There were several things that emerged in the game that I was not expecting.

In practice the notion of one team "playing" one of the characters works more like the "narrated by" mechanic in PtA.  Everyone contributes to both sides but each team has "final cut" over their character.  I think this lead to the consensus among the group that playing the opposite gender is such a non-issue we were unsure as to why that's a requirement.  Although Chris commented that he felt that would be good idea for people unfamiliar with role-playing games as it generates a lot more "thought" about the character since you can't just be you.  I'm not sure I'm articulating that right.

Which leads me to a related issue.  Before the game started my friend Josh (Laura's husband) and I were arguing a lot about this game.  In the end I could not convince him to play.  The issue was that Josh felt the game would lead to an exercise in angry stereotyping; that because the men had to play the woman and vice versa the game would be all about two teams slinging, kneejerk, flippant "Well, you know how men ARE...." type thoughts and statements at each other.  To be honest I thought this might be the case too but it didn't bother me because those stereotypes exist for a reason and that reason has been earning many a standup comic's salery for many a year.

However, this did not turn out to be the case.  In fact, not a single comment along those lines emerged in play AT ALL.  For example it was clear to most of us that Viola had an emense emotional void that she erronously continued to fill with a man.  Although, why she had such a void was never articulated it was also clear that, "well, you know how some women can be about men" wasn't the reason either.

I was surprised how much the game lives up to its name in the second act.  All through the game we had more or less been playing to "succeed" at the die rolls.  I think this is good and functional for the first act but the momentum of that thinking carried over into the second act.  We didn't quite realize that if you continue to strategize for success in the second act you can pretty much make that section of that game go on indefinitely.  Ending that second act really does come down to "a mutual decision" between the two groups.  Unfortunately we realized this a little late which really bit us in the third act when we had wracked up a Relationship score of -9.

Because of this the third act was a little long and we saw no end in sight, so we went with the character death option.  The climax of the game really came at a poetry slam in which the two PCs publically and metaphorically ripped each other to shreds.  After that there were three scenes in which the "embarassments" at stake involved inappropriate emotional and physical intemacy around the PCs new significant others.  In fact, to us, it almost looked as if the two PCs were gearing up to get back together.  So in the final scene, just after Viola and Daniel share "one last" kiss Viola's new boyfriend walks in and accidently kills Daniel in a bar fight.  We felt not only was this appropriate but that it kind of eluded to the idea that Viola's new boyfriend was rapidly heading down the same wererat path Daniel did.

The rat stuff really makes this game.

First of all there were two deviations from that wererat stuff descirbed in the book that we inserted in our game.  We attributed hypnotic/mild mind control powers to the wererat as well as the idea that the wererat had access to a sort of wererat brood.  Neither I think was out of place, although I think I'd prefer to exclude the first one in future plays of the game.

The hypnosis/wererat stuff had a kind of forgetfulness/confusion type effect on people.  It often accompanied a ratty shadow gnawing on the victims head.  Once it was a sort of chewing, chittery sound over a cell phone.

The "brood" element contributed to probably the most horrific scene in the game.  It was in the second act.  Daniel's mother was sick and the die roll was determining whether Daniel moved out to care for his ailing mother.  Daniel "won" the roll and instead of going to care for his mother he installed one of his wererat bretheren into her house as a live in nurse.  The scene was narrated as a shot of his mother in a wheelchair, in a room with rat wall paper (which began to symbolize something similar to a Sorcerer Contain), and a looming rat like shadow over her which approaches just as a door closing cuts off the image.  At that point I realized that perhaps the most monsterous decision you can make in the game is the decision to STAY in the relationship.

Also, one of the later scenes was the mother's funeral which in retrospect had kind of an implicit question mark over it.

Probably the grossest scene in the game came early on when Daniel gave Viola a backrub.  However, the backrub was described as more of a clawing motion while Viola made little chittery kissing noises in response.  That was a real sudderfest.  (Particularly, since I DO make little chittery kissing noises at my wife just like that).

Finally the rat stuff introduced a very Kurt Vonnegut like element into the game.  It was the presence of a secondary background character who was ever-present but never really directly part of the story.  He showed up explicitly three times, once in each of the three phases of the story and each time he signaled the coming of a major change in the PCs.  At the very beginning he was a coffee shop/art house poet with rats.   In the second chapter he was a painter with a major exhibit at the male PC's museum.  By the third chapter he was the center of a major national convention on rats complete with a video game deal.  As the relationship got sold out piece by piece so did this rat artist.  The convention was where the above metioned poetry slam took place.

All in all, I really enjoyed the game and I think the other players did as well.  I would play it again and at least I've gained an ally in my quest to convince my other friends to give it a go.

Jesse












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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: February 21, 2007, 05:19:29 AM »

(dusts hands) Thanks Jesse! All of your points represent specific design elements and I'm wonderfully gratified to see them in action.

Your group's tweaks of the were-rat concept are entirely in the scope of the rules, as I see them. I also gotta say, that's the creepiest were-rat stuff I think I've heard about so far.

Up against nine dice in the After phase! Well, that's what you get when you're going through a breakup and you get all invested in "winning" ...

As an aside, the minimum number of scenes possible is five: two in the Before phase, two in the During phase, and one in the After phase. You guys apparently had way more than that, and I'm glad to see that the game could sustain enjoyment through that much imaginative, narrational commitment.

Here's my question: during play, did you guys make much use of the "struggling against" concept? Which is to say, for example, if a group were to utilize a character's Needy score, that doesn't necessarily mean the character is being Needy - it can also mean that he or she is struggling against being Needy. I've found the choice between these two approaches, per score, to be one of the most powerful elements of play.

Best, Ron
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jburneko
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Posts: 1351


« Reply #2 on: February 21, 2007, 10:47:25 AM »

Yes, the struggling against stuff got used but after a while I think it stopped getting articulated.  It simply became clear to everyone why Greedy or whatever was appropriate even if the character wasn't acting especially Greedy.  Probably the big exception was Viola's very large Needy score.  We really did see her as emotionally grabby and it became increasingly difficult to see her as not constantly reaching out and calling for attention and demanding that whatever she wanted happen RIGHT NOW! 

I think Daniel was rolling Murderous in the poetry slam.  Choosing to act out his agression through poetry rather than really attacking Viola.

Minor Rules Note: Isn't the minimum number of scenes in the Before stage one?  The book says you average the Trust scores and *round down*.  Assuming Trust scores of 1 and 2 the rounded down average is 1.  Thus you play one scene and the score drops to zero and the Before stage is over.

Also, the game DID drag a bit at the length we played it.  The game only ran about three hours total but it became increasingly difficult to find appropriate situations.  But as I said I think that was largely our own fault because we didn't recognize the need to conciously try and end the second phase.

Jesse
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: February 21, 2007, 12:07:46 PM »

Mm, good point about the possibility of one scene in the Before phase. I wasn't thinking about a low Relationship score, but rather the possibility of dropping a high one to 0 with two successive slams on a given character.

Rolling Murderous for a poetry slam performance? Fan-tastic!

Make sure to have everyone who played tell a whole bunch of other people that it's a really good game.

Best, Ron
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Laura Bishop
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Posts: 32


« Reply #4 on: February 21, 2007, 12:57:06 PM »

Indeed, Anni and I rolled "Murderous" for the poetry slam;  it was decided that Viola had gone up on stage first, so rather than kill her outright, we had Daniel funnel his seething and loathing into this rampage of rat poetry that made *everyone* in the house feel awkward.

I have to say, in actual play, watching the 'supernatural were-rat powers work with/along side/as the emotional leverage' dynamic kind of interesting.  I admit I'm not always fond of my recreational games spotlighting social issues -- I play to get away and relax from these things, after all -- but occasionally it's done well and doesn't come down on your head with a mallet.  I don't know if it's the game itself (another play will tell me that) or just the people I was with, but it did give me some food for thought in terms of the extent one will go to to uphold a dying relationship, and then later, those same limits he'll break to get out of it.

Again, though, I have to underscore the gender swapping thing was such a non-issue.  Chris made an excellent point that if you were new or uncomfortable with gender-swapping, it might have brought something to the table, but for the most part everyone at our table had been there and done that.  I've already had my revelation as a player that Male Characters will act and react differently than Female Characters, so unfortunately I think that aspect fell a bit on deaf ears for me in that regard.
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Laura Bishop
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« Reply #5 on: February 21, 2007, 01:05:14 PM »

We had a fourth player, Laura who I had brought along to be my "ringer" girl in case only guys showed up. 

When I mentioned this in passing to Paul Tevis, he jokingly said "that's right, because otherwise, it'd be a lesbian relationship".  And frankly, I think then the gender issue thing might have been more of an element.  Unless your guys went all trash magazine style and had conflicts over whether it was threesomes or foursomes or whatever dorkiery men think happens in a lesbian relationship. ; )
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: February 21, 2007, 02:12:15 PM »

Hello,

Laura and Jesse, your observations that the gender rules for the game are a non-issue accord very well with my design goals in making those rules.

Some folks have mistakenly assumed that I built those rules for purposes of inflicting discomfort or generating real-people conflict. I have no response for such assumptions beyond a certain contempt.

The rules do exist for a purpose and every detail described in this thread illustrates that purpose in action. The purpose is not a secret and needs no particular explanation beyond playing and enjoying the game. If I must, though, then here: it has to do with the understandable and sympathetic elements of gender, between and among one another. The game requires the switch because it activates and powers those elements among the group.

I'm glad you enjoyed the game. I would appreciate a little thought toward the idea that the gender rules helped in that enjoyment and are serving the purpose I'm describing here, rather than some negative "issue" that they're supposed to raise.

Best, Ron
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jburneko
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Posts: 1351


« Reply #7 on: February 21, 2007, 03:24:45 PM »

Hey Ron,

Yeah, I'm willing to take the gender swap thing at face value.  I would insist that rule be observed everytime I played.  Lately I've been encountering a lot of resistance about systems contributions to a game.  I ran both Don't Rest Your Head and Sorcerer & Sword this weekend and in both places I've had people come up to me afterwards and be like, "Thanks man, awesome game!  Don't really see what the big deal about the rules were, but you ROCK!"  And I'm just like, "Uh.... okay...."

It's like if people don't feel the system *forcing* them to do something then the rules must not have contributed anything.

Jesse
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Laura Bishop
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Posts: 32


« Reply #8 on: February 22, 2007, 05:01:27 PM »

Hey Ron,

Some folks have mistakenly assumed that I built those rules for purposes of inflicting discomfort or generating real-people conflict. I have no response for such assumptions beyond a certain contempt.

Why then is this even a rule in the game?  If it isn't there to be thought provoking or bump people out of their comfort zones to try something else/new, why would it matter if I chose to play on Team Boy versus Team Girl?  If it's a rule, it should be important.  If it's not a rule, it isn't necessarily important.  If it's a rule but it isn't important... why is it a rule?

Whichever the case may be, I still enjoyed the game a great deal.  I'm just confused now on something I thought was "an issue" not only not being an issue, but earning the "contempt" of the author for mistakingly assuming such.

-- Laura
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Valamir
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« Reply #9 on: February 22, 2007, 07:17:26 PM »

Its not that it isn't important.  Its that it isn't important because of any issue of fostering cross gender discomfort.

By playing opposites players not only identify with their own character because its their character, but also with the other character because of the shared gender.

As a guy I not only am playing the female (with as you witnessed a certain desire to see our character "win") but I can also identify with the male character because being a guy I can sympathize with the grief we (as the woman) are putting him through.

That's effect I see.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: February 22, 2007, 07:41:34 PM »

Hi Laura,

My previous post lists the exact reason for the rule, which answers your question. You're also introducing a new variable, "thought provoking," that I did not dismiss in that post.

It's not possible to have a conversation with someone who ignores what you're saying, and who introduces things you're presumed to have said but didn't. Those aren't discourse but rather control techniques, and I moderate them severely at this site. Please don't use them.

Again, thanks for playing the game and I suggest we can end with that.

Best, Ron

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Laura Bishop
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Posts: 32


« Reply #11 on: February 23, 2007, 10:44:10 AM »

Alrighty then.  It was great having this, er, "conversation" with you.
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jburneko
Member

Posts: 1351


« Reply #12 on: February 23, 2007, 10:58:36 AM »

If I must, though, then here: it has to do with the understandable and sympathetic elements of gender, between and among one another. The game requires the switch because it activates and powers those elements among the group.

Sigh.  I can't tell if that was a moderator mandate to close the thread or not.  If not, can we have a little more cheritable reading here?  Which I know treads dangerously close to moderating the moderator but I'm assuming the reason you say you gave before was this:

If I must, though, then here: it has to do with the understandable and sympathetic elements of gender, between and among one another. The game requires the switch because it activates and powers those elements among the group.

I think Laura would like to know why you feel the gendered teams and the gender swap is "required" to activate the sympathetic elements you mention rather than those elements already being activated by the simple presence of "mixed company" so to speak regardless of how the teams divide or character control.

If you don't want to discuss that, then okay.

Jesse
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Laura Bishop
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« Reply #13 on: February 23, 2007, 11:03:12 AM »

It's irrelevant at this point, at least for me.  I can see a conversation that *isn't* simply telling the author nee moderation how brilliant his armchair psychology is, then it isn't a conversation worth having.

I find my intelligence insulted, and to say this entire interaction colours my future consideration for Adept Press games is an understatement.  That said, I somehow doubt Mister Edwards is going to cry in his Cheerios over the loss of little ol' me.
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Meguey
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« Reply #14 on: February 27, 2007, 11:00:10 AM »

I found playing Mutual Decision fascinatingly revealing about some of my own prejudices wrt men. I wonder what would be revealed if I were to play the woman.
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