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[Shock: v 1.1] Be Careful Where You Litter

Started by GreatWolf, October 09, 2007, 09:33:15 PM

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When I heard that Shock: was being released in its 1.1 edition, I was pretty excited.  I had heard some nifty things about the original edition of the game, but early reports on the game text were disappointing.  But now they were fixed!  Hooray!  Plus, I discovered recently that Crystal really likes SF, so long as it's more than just spaceships and laser blasters.  Well, that sounds a lot like Shock:.  (It also sounds like Sign In Stranger, which is third in our current game rotation.)

So, recently, we sat down to play Shock:.   Due to fatigue over several nights and learning the system, it took us three sessions to play through the entire story.  I think that we would be able to work much faster in the future.  However, I will report the whole run in this post.

Tools of the Trade

Shock: colored beer—just because

Our Shock: soundtrack
Part 1
Part 2

Constructing the Grid

In Shock:, the players begin by constructing a Shock/Issue Grid (or Grid, for short).  An Issue is a real-life concern of one of the players, while a Shock is a major way in which the imaginary world differs from ours.  In the 1.1 rules, each player can propose one or two Issues, and then the group agrees on a single Shock.  Then the group divides Ownership of the Issues and the Shock.  If you Own something, it means that you have final say over the details of how that thing is expressed in the game world.  Finally, you decide on a Shock/Issue intersection that is interesting to you, and that's where you will make your character.

For our game, we said that we would deal with Issues that were important to us but weren't hot-button issues.  That way we could keep the intensity of the game down.

We lied to ourselves.  Yeah, it happens.

So, our Issues were Littering, Public Education, Mood Suppressing Drugs, and Political Corruption.

Our Shock was "All Thoughts are Public".  This means that anyone can sense your thoughts, just like hearing or seeing you.  As the game went on, we settled on various sense impressions for thoughts, which were a combination of sight and sound.

Then we spent some time making up details about our world.  These are called Minutiae, and this is a great idea.  With some quick brainstorming, we were able to have a reasonably realized world.  I won't bore you with our entire list of Minutiae, but here's a sampling:

--Thought residue can be left around for others to encounter.  This is called "littering".
--Everyone takes a drug called Litox to control thought leakage and prevent littering.
--Thoughts are contagious.
--Redheads are trouble.  Everyone knows it.
--Karma Police patrol the populace.
--Government is theocracy that combines Buddhist doctrine, Catholic hierarchy, and Islamic sharia law.
--"Dosing" on Litox is an act of prayer.

Finally, the group needs to define two sets of opposed values that will be used as Praxis scales.  These are the ways to "get stuff done" in the game world.  Our Praxis scales were Personal Happiness vs. Corporate Responsibility and Politics vs. Sex.

So, it's Equilibrium without gun kata, and everyone's a telepath.

Nice, huh?

Enter the Characters

Here are the characters that we hashed out.  :

Played by Seth
Shock/Issue:  All Thoughts are Public/Political Corruption

Personal Happiness vs. Corporate Responsibility 7
Politics vs. Sex 4

Starting Features:  Mad Prophet, Ex-Priest, Redhead

Links:  My heresy is the truth; long, wild hair

Story Goal:  I want to expose the Hierarchy's corruption.

Antagonist:  The Karma Police, played by Crystal

Kanjo Teki
Played by Crystal
Shock/Issue:  Mood Suppressing Drugs/Political Corruption

Personal Happiness vs. Corporate Responsibility 3
Politics vs. Sex 8

Starting Features:  Redhead; Fiery Personality; Loves to Sing

Links:  Wants to find mother; Honesty

Story Goal:  I want to be myself.

Antagonist:  The Hierarchy, played by Gabrielle

Played by Gabrielle
Shock/Issue:  Littering/Political Corruption

Personal Happiness vs. Corporate Responsibility 5
Politics vs. Sex 8

Starting Features:  Busty redhead; Intensely happy and excited; snake breeder

Links:  pet snake named Mei-mei; my friend Constable Tam

Story Goal:  I want to establish a life as a successful thought graffiti artist.

Antagonist:  her supervisor Alan, played by Seth

I Wish We Had A Cool Title

Our story doesn't have a cool title, though perhaps we could invent one.  Regardless, here goes.

[Kanjo—Scene 1]
Kanjo is not doing well at work.  She is far too happy, and the Litox tends to wear off before the lunchtime dose.  So, today, at work, she is called into her superior's office and lectured about her unintentional broadcasting.

Conflict—4 Credits
[Protag:  Escape her temper being noticed—Personal Happiness—Lost
[Antag:  Get Kanjo to stop broadcasting—Corporate Responsibility—Lost
So, despite her best efforts, Kanjo is unable to keep her annoyed thoughts from leaking out to her superior, who continues to drone on and on and on.  And then, when Kanjo leaves, she litters her annoyance in his office.

[Mirrim—Scene 1]
Mirrim is also at work, where she is taking joy in her job as a snake breeder.  (Aside:  in real life, this is apparently much more challenging than it seems.  Certain species, like the king snake, need to be in just the right mood, or they will attack each other instead of mating.  Fun fact for the day.)  Her joy spills out as litter.  Immediately, Alan is there, using this infraction to force her to have sex with him.

Conflict—5 credits
[Protag:  Stop Alan from reporting littering—Sex—Lost
[Antag:  Force Mirrim to have sex with him—Sex—Won

(Traumatic sexuality:  check)

We agreed that, if this were a movie,  the shot would be of him dragging her down behind one of the snake cages, where you saw the two snakes entwined.  Icky.

And then, Alan says that he was still going to report her.

[Martin—Scene 1]
Martin is street-preaching, as he often does, when a woman comes up to him to talk.  She calls herself Gladys, but she says that's not her real name.  She has no thoughts that Martin can see, but he doesn't care.  His enthusiasm is infectious (literally) and he decides to convert her.

Conflict—4 Credits
[Protag:  Convert Gladys to my cause—Politics—win
[Antag: Gain information on Martin's supporters—Corporate Responsibility—win

Martin wins over Gladys, who comes with him to the next meeting of his supporters.  In victory, Martin litters "Freedom!" on the walk where he was standing.

Unknown to both of them, the Karma Police are watching everything through the cameras implanted in Gladys's eyes.

[Kanjo—Scene 2]
Things are getting more serious for Kanjo.  While she is eating, Kanjo is approached by the Building Medical Officer and instructed to report to the Medical Cubicle.  Once there, Kanjo is taken into another room, where the BMO administers a variety of drugs and runs a number of medical tests.  Then, Kanjo is returned to the office environment.  But now, her thought sense is radically expanded, while her sense of reality is fading.  Without really knowing what she is doing, she leaves the office building and begins to walk down the street.

She finds two people arguing with each other.  Their bodies are peaceful, but their thoughts are roilng.  So Kanjo intervenes.

Conflict—4 Credits
[Protag:  Teach these people to understand each other—Sex—Win
[Antag:  Kanjo flees in terror to her office—Corporate Responsibility—Lose

So Kanjo touches them, which forms a stronger telepathic bond.  Suddenly, the arguing people are able to understand each other.  They stop their fighting and leave in peace.

Kanjo walks off.  In her head, she is laughing and singing, skipping in the sunlight.  Outwardly, she is dressed in her grey robes, and she trudges along the ground.  Behind her, she is trailing happy thoughts.

From a window far above, the BMO observes and makes a note on her clipboard.

[Mirrim—Scene 2]
Mirrim is at her apartment.  At first, she is traumatized by her experience, but that begins to shift to rage.  So she returns to her workplace and enters Alan's office.  There, she spends half an hour crafting a dark bubble of pain and hurt and violation and despair, which she then leaves on Alan's chair.

Then, as she returns to her work, Alan comes back with a Karma Policeman.  As threatened, he has reported Mirrim.  Then he stands on the balcony outside his office to watch.

Conflict—6 Credits
[Protag:  Drive Alan insane—Sex—Win
[Antag:  Have Mirrim arrested—Corporate Responsibility—win

So, Mirrin is arrested.  But, as she is being carted off, she catches the edge of Alan's shriek.

[Martin—Scene 2]
Martin and Glady make it to the meeting, where Martin's supporters tell him of the sighting of a healer who is walking the streets of the city.  (They mean Kanjo.)  Martin is excited and dashes off to meet her and try to recruit her to his cause.

The streets are a wreck.  Kanjo's touch and presence is violently releasing people from the effects of the Litox, and their emotions are overwhelming.  Some are dancing.  Some are curled up in the fetal position.  Others are fighting or screaming or crying.  It's pandemonium.

Martin catches up with Kanjo, just as the Karma Police make their move.

[Protag:  Recruit Kanjo to the Cause—Politics—win
[Antag:  Arrest all troublemakers in sight—Politics—escalate

The emotional chaos impacts the Karma Police, too.  Their basic tendencies kick in, and they go berserk.  The swirling emotions provoke a riot.  The bystanders rise up to fight the Karma Police.

[Antag:  Kill entire crowd (except PCs)—Politics—win

Martin catches up with Kanjo and seizes her hands.  Suddenly he is thrown into her projection of the world.  It's a beautiful meadow and the sun is shining and they are dancing and skipping and laughing together.  And of course Kanjo agrees to help Martin and then he lets go of her hands...


Everywhere, the bodies.

The Karma Police had slaughtered the people.  Martin and Kanjo were arrested and dragged off.  As they left, Martin had to step over one of the bodies.  It was Gladys.

[Kanjo--Scene 3 –Final]
Kanjo is in a medical facility.  They're doing some sort of test that looks like torture, interrogation, and medical testing, all rolled into one.  They're injecting her with drugs and asking nonsense questions.  And, behind a one-way mirror, the BMO is nodding and marking her clipboard.

Kanjo tries to fight back, but they are ready for her.  They know what they want.  They want to undo the damage that she has done.

Conflict—5 Credits
[Protag:  I want to be myself—Personal Happiness—Lose
[Antag:  Permanently undo the damage that Kanjo did—Politics—Win

So Kanjo risks her Link:  honesty.  She needs to be true to who she is.

[Protag:  I want to be myself—Personal Happiness—Win

So the testing and the questions and the swirling horror go on and on.

And then, finally, the BMO enters the room.  "We're done with you.  You can go now."

They had extracted what they needed from her body.  Overnight, the Karma Police sprayed the antidote to Kanjo's abilities throughout the city.  Now they were all immune to her.  She walks down the street, touching people, but to no avail.

But, as she walks, she passes through some litter.  "I'm free!"  It tears away the remains of the drug-induced fog on her mind.

The sun is shining.  So she begins to skip.

[Mirrim—Scene 3—Final]
Mirrim is hauled off into the chaos of the riot.  In the confusion, she manages to get away.  But then, as she is walking up the street, trying to figure out what to do next, Alan appears.

He is crazy and near-animalistic.  His clothes are torn up, and he is bleeding.  And, in his hands, he clutches a large metal stake.  He howls and leaps at her.

Conflict—2 Credits
[Protag:  Become successful thought graffiti artist—Personal Happiness—Lose
[Antag:  Kill Mirrim with large metal stake—Sex—Lose

Mirrim risks her Link:  my pet snake Mei-Mei
[Protag:  Become successful thought graffiti artist—Personal Happiness—Win

So, as Alan charges at Mirrim, she whips out Mei-Mei from under her robe and throws her at him.  Mei-Mei wraps around his neck, choking him.  He stumbles backwards into the street and is trampled by rioters.  Mei-Mei manages to slither free to safety.

Mirrim crafts a thought and sticks it on the wall.  "I'm Free!"  Then she walks away, tagging each wall as she goes.

[Martin—Scene 3—Final]
Martin is restrained in a white room, wearing a white jumpsuit.  The dimensions of the room are hard to see.  The only color is his red red hair.

They are playing propaganda tapes.  They are drugging him.  Somewhere, a pipe is dripping over and over and over.  Slowly, he is wearing down.

Then someone enters the cell and sits down at a table that extrudes from the floor.  "Soldier, are you ready to return to the streets and do your duty?"

Conflict—5 Credits
[Protag:  Expose Hierarchy's corruption—Personal Happiness—escalate
[Antag:  Reprogram Martin as a Karma Policeman—Corporate Responsibility—Win

Martin risks his Link:  long wild hair

[Protag:  Start the revolution—politics—lose
[Antag:  Reprogram Martin as a Karma Policeman—Corporate Responsibility—Win

Martin risks his other Link:  My heresy is the truth

[Protag:  Start the revolution—politics—Win

New Link: I must conform

Martin is broken.  The woman in the cell nods to someone outside.  "He's ready.  Take him out and buzz him.  His hair will regrow its natural color."  Martin was just a brainwashed dupe all along.  He was just a plant, released by the Karma Police to flush out the true revolutionaries.

They paraded him in front of the cameras.  They showed how Martin had reformed.  How he was now a dedicated protector of the regime.

It failed to have its proper effect.  Martin's old supporters saw this, and they became enraged.  The revolution began that night.

And so, Martin found himself, drugged and brainwashed, dressed in riot gear as the revolutionaries came closer.  And, for just one moment, a thought surfaced in his muddled mind.

"I was right."

The End.

Post-game thoughts

It worked!  Wow!  After the first round of scenes, I had serious doubts about the story being satisfying, which I expressed to the other players.  It felt like we were all over the place and that there was no way that we would actually be able to harmonize our divergent tales.  I also expressed the opinion that the issues that we really wanted to address weren't actually on the Grid.  In particular, I pointed out the large number of Minutiae that had to do with procreation.  (I didn't list those off.)

In retrospect, I'm not sure if these concerns were accurate or not.  I am glad that I raised them, though.  I think that we all worked a little harder to make sure that our stories knit together.  And, to my surprise, everything wrapped up in a satisfying way.  I was happy with the end of the story.

We also noticed the different character arcs in relationship to the larger society.  Martin started off outside the "system" and was personally conquered by the system, while still overthrowing it for others.  In contrast, Kanjo started off locked into the "system", and, while she couldn't make any lasting social change, she was able to get free herself.

Mirrim was the odd duck in all this.  Her story was much more personal, largely due to the fact that her Antagonist was an individual and not a large social force.  It felt like she illustrated the "common man" playing out her life against the backdrop of the larger social destruction being caused by the other characters.

Crystal really liked the graphic design of the various sheets.  By the way, Joshua, in case you don't know this, the downloadable Antagonist sheet is apparently missing a Credit box.  I don't remember when I downloaded this, so you may have already fixed this.

I had read about the "large" scenes in Shock:, but I was surprised to experience them myself.  2-4 Scenes doesn't feel like a lot, but there's actually a lot of content that can be packed into those scenes, especially if you riff off the other players' scenes.  Crystal commented that she'd like the ability to play longer, so maybe we will try another game with the intent of stepping through several iterations of the game cycle, treating each Story Goal as a Chapter Goal or somesuch thing.

I really enjoyed the orthogonal goals.  That meant that each dice roll could potentially have four outcomes, without escalation or rerolls from Links.  That structure enables the "large" scenes that I discussed earlier.  I also enjoyed the need to allocate dice between "gaining my goal" and "interfering with his".  Very cool.

Musing on Shock:

After the game, I raised a question.  Does Shock: front-load too much?  As I looked at the story that we had developed, it seemed to me that the game was good for allowing us to make statements about the various Issues that we had placed on the Grid.  However, I wondered if it would be as good for exploring questions about those Issues.  Setup for Shock:  feels a bit like building a maze, winding up some characters, and seeing where they come out. 

I've found that the strongest post-game reflection that I've had was the result of emergent issues rising from the game, not the result of front-loaded issues established prior to play.  It doesn't feel like Shock: can easily transcend its front-loaded issues to encourage the emergence of new issues.

Or, to put the question another way, is gameplay in Shock: trapped by the Grid?

I do have a counterpoint.  My fellow players and I are...opinionated, let us say.  So, we're unlikely to have an Issue where we don't already have an opinion.  This could be the reason for my feeling of being able to express, not explore.  If we were to consciously choose Issues where we had questions, perhaps we would have found ourselves doing more exploring.

I'd be interested in hearing from other Shock: players about this issue.


I don't want the previous section to sound like I'm griping.  We really enjoyed Shock:.  It felt properly SF, like we were given the right tools to make this sort of story.  The story felt like a Brave New World of our very own, a story which provoked thought about the Issues that were the underpinnings of the very setting.  There weren't any "I didn't see that coming!" moments, but there were a lot of "Huh.  Yeah, that makes total sense" moments.  In the end, I think that I'd say that Shock: is a contemplative game, and that's a rarity on the market these days.

Thanks, Joshua!
Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown


Quote from: GreatWolf on October 09, 2007, 09:33:15 PM
My fellow players and I are...opinionated, let us say.  So, we're unlikely to have an Issue where we don't already have an opinion.  This could be the reason for my feeling of being able to express, not explore.  If we were to consciously choose Issues where we had questions, perhaps we would have found ourselves doing more exploring.

Also, we are not only opinionated, but we all tend to agree on our opinions. We all know what we think about mood altering drugs and we have even had conversations about the issue before. There might be more exploration in play if we were to play with someone who disagreed or with someone who hadn't expressed a strong opinion on an Issue.

And once again I must express pity for Seth. A disturbing amount of our Minutiae had to do with sex, procreating and rearing children. It's the curse of playing with women such as Crystal and I.

All in all I had a satisfying and enjoyable experience and I would certainly play again. Thanks, Joshua!