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[jeep form]Doubt PDX

Started by Emily Care, November 05, 2007, 10:30:12 PM

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Emily Care

Doubt happened again, this time in Portland, OR. Read Moreno's post from March for the in-depth low down on this game. I played it in Finland after Ropecon with Tobias Wrigstad and Thorbiorn Fritzon gming. Very strong experience for me. This time I ran it, with a group of players new to jeep and unfamiliar with (most) live play. We jumped in together since I'd never run a live form game before, much less one as intense as a jeep form scenario. 

Sky diving must feel like this.

Doubt is a game about pressures and stresses on a couple's relationship. Two characters, Tom and Julia face a potential break up. They act together in a successful play, but their life mimicks the stormy end that they enact each night on the stage together. Two players take the role of Tom and Julia. Two others players portray the characters from the play, Nicole and Peter, as well as various other supporting characters in Tom and Julia's lives. The game calls for a lot of initiative on the part of the players, and invokes the jeep tenet to "play close to home". The players are invited to bring into play aspects of their own relationships which run parallel to the events of the play, bringing emotions to bear which rather than distancing the players from themselves. The goal is to make the game strike to the heart.

The group had some good bonds between the players to help us get through this experience: Charles and Jake are housemates, and Becca is a good friend of theirs. Mike, however, met two of them for the first time that day.  Amazing how different the relationships are at the end of a game like this, as compared to at the start of play. It's an intimate experience.  Charles and Becca played the main characters in the game, Tom and Julia. I cast them in these roles feeling that they'd work together well, knowing they are good friends.  Mike and Jake chose amongst themselves between the other roles: Mike played Peter and Jake played Nicole.

Setup for the game involves the players creating an outline of scenes, some in the real life of the actors, some the scenes of the play.  Various characters and settings are given for the players to match up, creating scenes where Tom and Julia's relationship and commitments can be tested against temptations and troubles.  The structure is confusing at first ("which character is that? who will I play in this scene?") But once you get into the flow, it makes good sense, and seems to be rarely a problem.  Take that, character monogamists.

After completing the set up, we took a break to get some coffee. This was a key moment. Everyone was still a bit stiff and awkward around one another. Several of us had just met. Talking helped to break the ice considerably.  Becca particularly set the tone. She is a lively and engaging woman, who put everyone at ease.  Following this, when we began the game, she asked for contact prior to the game, to pave the way for playing lovers and partners in the game and started us all hugging one another. This was a great way to start the game and cross those boundaries in a safe and loving way. 

In Life and in Play
Beginning to play, the game begins with a scene from the play. Two monologues by the characters, framing the distance and despair they are feeling.  This scene is in two parts: the first part is the first scene of the game, the second is the last scene. Also, the beginning and the end of the play. Both Jake and Mike gave impassioned speeches, starting a bit slow but warming into the themes: distance, lack of connection, the impossibility of maintaining the kind of connection people find at the start of a relationship.   

After this we have a scene in the real life of the actors, following the wildly successful opening of the play. Before the scene began, I gave the first of my gm monologues: talking about what had happened when I'd played the game, how real life and game had crossed and merged in surprising ways.  In the gm monologues you are invited to talk about your own real world experiences.  They are a way the gm keeps the game real: both making themselves vulnerable to be on par with the players, and also to raise the stakes and help keep people from distancing themselves from the roles. After this monologue, one of the players volunteered that they were at a similar cross-roads in their life, and were already feeling the game.

On to the scene. We found out that Tom and Julia's characters were deeply bonded. Literally in contact almost all of the time that Charles and Becca potrayed them together, they were a formidable pair. The other players were responsible for introducing temptations and pressures through the many other characters that they play, but everything seemed to roll off of them when they were together.

In this game, Julia was the talented one, receiving acclaim and job offers based on her role in the show. Everyone glowed about Julia's performance.  During the setup for the game they had agreed that she was the one who garnered the praise.  That her performance was likely eclipsing Tom's, and everyone established this with their character's words.  It seemed to me, a reflection of how everyone had responded to Becca—shining with her vivacity and spirit as a person. It only made sense for the actor too to shine.

Charles' Tom was overlooked and neglected, but accepted this place. He saw her as the star as well, and ceded that role with grace and admiration.  Tom's old flame, Jennie the tabloid journalist, was placed in a scene with the thought at the start of being a potential love interest. But instead she functioned to highlight the shadow he was in.  A gorgeously awkward moment came when Tom told Jennie about some breaking news that Julia had been offered a part on Dawson's Creek. "Are you telling me this as a friend, or are you telling me this?" pause.  "As a friend." Jennie was an opportunity for Tom to betray Julia in many ways—but he didn't.

Themes and Dreams
A theme running through the descriptions of Julia was how much of herself she brought to the role of Nicole.  Nicole, as described by Jake in various scenes and then played out by him, was confused and unconsciously cruel and manipulating.  Julia and Tom both had blindness about Nicole: Julia said over and over again "I can't see why people say I put myself into her, we're nothing alike!"  And Tom couldn't see why people didn't like Nicole, "I just don't get it", he said again and again. An ironic note was that in this game, it is Julia's father who wrote the play.  There was speculation at various times about who the various characters were inspired by: Julia's mother, her step mother, Julia herself?

Props played an important role. A fedora became symbolic of the life Peter wanted to lead. Everytime Mike put it on, he got a swagger in his step. Peter inside was confident and cool, desired and forceful.  In the first scene from the play where Peter interacts with Nicole's assistant, Maude, Peter was uncertain and awkward. The second time through, wearing the had, he was manly and direct. Then each time he wore the hat a similar transformation ensued, with his relationship with a dream eidolon of Maude becoming steamier and steamier.

Houses and home were a recurring metaphor in the game. Tom and Julia looked at a Dream Apartment, fantastic, beyond their wildest dreams, with a view, and room to entertain. Julia rhapsodized on it, along with a sample furnishing that she declared to be "the perfect chair". Even negotiated the chair into the price of the apartment.  This apartment was reflected, as in a fun-house mirror, by the house Nicole explores with her dream lover, Lewis, in the scene The Dream of the Ideal. The relationship between Nicole and Lewis was very much that of therapist and analysand. In this scene, Nicole imagines visiting Lewis's house that she never saw. In the dream she is joining him there. This scene completely baffled Chas and Jake at first. What did it mean? What would they do? But then:

Charles as Lewis described the house to Nicole.  One full wall of a sea of windows and glass, facing an incredible view.
"You live in a glass house?" said Jake as Nicole
"And now you do too!"
"Better not throw rocks at other people then." 
Charles went on. The bedroom was small, with no windows and no bed, no furniture. A box. A prison. 
Nicole argued with Lewis. "Why do you have it this way? Why don't you change it?"
"We're contractually obligated to not change the bedroom." 

The house was the fame. Was the metaphor again for the chains of success. Tying someone in to wanting acclaim, the view, the lack of privacy, but losing the tenderness, the intimacy and comfort of a real life. 

Nicole asked Lewis, "Do you sleep here? With no bed?"
Lewis: "No, of course not. I sleep in the gate house."

In the final analysis, neither Tom nor Julia went for the temptations, they stayed together. This was reavealed in the last real life scene they played. In it, Julia and Tom came off the stage. A moment between roles and going out for drinks with friends. Julia is tortured by the play.  "How can we do this every night? How can I break up with you every night?"  Tom: "I told you it was scary."  "Why are we doing this? Why don't we just leave? Run away to New York?"  "Let's do that, after the play closes, let's just move to New York."  Still always touching, they embrace, turning away from the play, turning toward one another again, as they have always done. They flee together, to friends, to a different life, away from the play.

GMing and Play
This is a game that asks a tremendous amount from the players. Collaborative as it gets within a pre-existing structure, so much of what happens is determined by the players through their work at the start and through out the game, that it is kind of scary.   There is no gm plot to fall back on.  However, Charles said that at first the tension in playing was about performance issues: what do I say, what do I do? But soon, the tension became about the emotional issues going on in the scenes, distracting the players from fears about how they are doing it. 

There were moments I wondered if they were foundering though. I worried a bit during the Double Date scene, as a matter of fact. I thought I should perhaps step in and offer some direction to help makes sure that Mike and Jake were able to confronting the strong pair bond of this particular Tom and Julia, thinking they might be having trouble finding ways to be able to test it. But I remembered another jeep form directive: trust the players, this is their story. I was there to support them. When they asked for help, as they did during the Dream of the Ideal scene ("what is this scene supposed to be about?"), I was there to offer ideas and confidence that they could get through. And they did, coming up with amazing lyrical and associatively rich play.

The players worked together to create an atmosphere of trust and touch.  They played through the scene Lit Candles--in which two characters have sex on the diner table while the other talk over them--admirably and fearlessly, despite having passersby come by just at a particularly awkward moment.  "We're just miming this!"

There had been a discussion of having people watch the game earlier in the day, but even aside from intimate scenes like this one, the warping affect of worrying about what people will think and balancing performing against feeling the role.  With the playing it close to home, taking feelings and experiences from your own life to apply to the game, it seemed hard to open it up to an audience.  This game in particular is meant to be a game for people to open themselves up to their vulnerabilities from past hurts and betrayals—given or received—not having a non-participating audience goes a long way to remove fears of judgment or even boredom. 

I did only two of the gm monologues. Not if, but when I run this again, I may do them more frequently, and briefly. Try letting them be a regular and expected punctuation of the game. Though the aspect of surprise has value too. Lots of room to experiment.

This was a great game. Everytime a few of us were together, we'd start talking about it. Drawn back again.  We spent about an hour afterwards reflecting, recovering and debriefing.  It seemed to be a powerful experience for all involved. They want to play again. Perhaps with the same players, switching roles.  This version of the story was completely different from the version I played in Finland. Playing close to home is another, hidden structure to the game.  The game changes and bends based on the different experiences and things that we individuals brought to the table.

That's what it felt like from my side of the couch, anyway.  I'd love to hear from the players on what they thought of the game and how it is settling and reverberating for them.

Thanks, you guys. It was a great experience. Thank you for your trust, willingness and creativity. 
Koti ei ole koti ilman saunaa.

Black & Green Games


Lately I've been looking into developing a narrativistic LARP, and Jeepform is definately something that seemed both very close to what I wanted and containing elements I was suspicious about.

I'm a little curious about how you presented this game to the potential players - Did you compare it to tabletop, other varieties of live action roleplaying, theatre, etc? How was the game organized exactly? Did you know these players?

This might be easier answered by looking at the PDF which I cannot at the moment, but I am curious as towards how much of the Author role is shared by the players, GM and scenario author respectively. Is there a push to 'appreciate' or 'consider' the scenario author's creative contribution in terms of the pre-written fiction, comparable to the level that people appreciated each other as authors?

I has always been my opinion that freeform negotiation is highly dependant on previous relationships between the players - i.e., the players already have systems of negotiation between each other and use those. Did this seem to be the case? Did Mike struggle at the beginning, or seem to take cues from the other players who knew each other?

Looking at the other thread, did any of the "seven rules" of Doubt come up? Were any players interested in bending or breaking the rules? Did the rules's purposes become more meaningful at examination in the game?

Were all the players declaratively or assumably heteronormal people?

Jake Richmond

QuoteI'm a little curious about how you presented this game to the potential players - Did you compare it to tabletop, other varieties of live action roleplaying, theatre, etc? How was the game organized exactly? Did you know these players?

Charles and I had read about the game earlier this year, and were both interested in playing it when Emily proposed it. So we already knew what the game was about and how it was played. I'm not sure how Mike and Becca heard about the game or how it was introduced to them. I believe that Mike was already familiar with it before we played.


Emily Care

Great questions. As Jake said, I knew everyone a little bit before hand. Except for Becca, they were all familiar with jeep form at least a little bit, from descriptions.  I had a hit that Becca would enjoy it too, and was glad to find that that was true. 

When we started the session, I described the overall flow of the game: the play within a play structure, that they would frame scenes then act them out. They wanted to know how long each scene might take. And we made a sort of a stage in the room we were using. Though we originally blocked out half for the play reality, half for the "real world" scenes, but never really paid attention to that.

Acting out scenes, I find, is quite intuitive. It can drop you deeply into character. I wonder if they found it that way as well.
Koti ei ole koti ilman saunaa.

Black & Green Games

Jake Richmond

QuoteActing out scenes, I find, is quite intuitive. It can drop you deeply into character. I wonder if they found it that way as well.

I did, although in hindsight I can think of other approaches I might have taken to different scenes that I think would have been more interesting. I guess thats natural though.


I find that I had much the same reaction as Jake.  In the actual play, there was only one scene that I can think of where I had much doubt about how to play something (and that was in the pre-scene, and Emily's direction got us over that bump very nicely). I was immersed pretty deeply throughout, and had strong character bleed running all the way into the next day. Becca, Jake, Emily and I had some long conversations about the game the next day as well. The game continued to dominate my thoughts for several days after that, although by mid-week a fair share of them were replaying specific bits and thinking about ways that I might have pushed them to make the game harder hitting.

Someone elsewhere described the immersion in Doubt as tending to be deep, but not deeply in character, and I think that was fairly accurate in my case. I wasn't always playing as close to home as I might have, but there was definitely some of me invested in the game.

I'm interested to try it again at some point. I'd be fascinated to see what replaying the game with a different group of players (or even just as a different character) would produce. I could see it being just as good, but I can also see it leading to over-thinking the play.

GB Steve

Sounds like a wonderful experience. I've got a few questions.

Did you get the feeling that this was a game or was it something else?

Picking up on what the previoys poster said, it seems that the outcome, or the fact that such a game works at all is likely to be very dependent on the players you have. Is it possible to identify the kind of attitude that you need to take for the game to work?

Jake Richmond

QuoteDid you get the feeling that this was a game or was it something else?

Right before we started playing I mentioned to Charles and Emily that for me the difference between live play and table top gaming was whether I was sitting or standing. So keep that in mind when I say that I approached it as a game in the same way that I approach my own games, or Shock:, Perfect, Contenders or any other rpg that I've played over the last few years; something load and active and full of emotion  that involves movement, acting and physical contact. Thats the way I most often play, so it felt like an rpg for me. Someone else mentioned that it was very much like a theater exercise (for obvious reasons), and I think thats a good comparison too. So for me it certainly is a game. But like a lot of games I enjoy, "game" isn't a really great word to describe them.

To answer your question more directly, it did feel like an rpg. We all had our characters, each with goals, personalities, traits and needs. We had a story and a director. I know that there are people who would say other wise, but I think Doubt is pretty recognizable as an RPG. In a good way.

QuotePicking up on what the previous poster said, it seems that the outcome, or the fact that such a game works at all is likely to be very dependent on the players you have. Is it possible to identify the kind of attitude that you need to take for the game to work?

Just like with any game, the players need to be willing to do what the game requires in order for it to work. Same as in D&D. If you aren't actually willing to go into the dungeon, the adventure can never happen. I really think it's just about a desire to play. You get 5 people together who actually want to play the game and I think it's going to work out fine. If you have 1 or 2 people tat don't want to play, that would rather play something else, then it's not going to work. I really wouldn't want to play this with someone who wasn't into it. I think it would lose it's impact and fall apart.

I think it would be a mistake to think that you need some kid of special attitude or be a certain kind of player to enjoy this game. It would be easy to say that this is the kind of thing that you need to be into new ideas or alternative gaming to appreciate, but really thats just not the case. All you need is  willingness to try it. Not everyone is going to have that. But if they do, I think thats all it takes.


Emily Care

QuoteI has always been my opinion that freeform negotiation is highly dependant on previous relationships between the players - i.e., the players already have systems of negotiation between each other and use those. Did this seem to be the case? Did Mike struggle at the beginning, or seem to take cues from the other players who knew each other?

This is a really good point.  This definitely entered in wrt the casting: I asked Becca and Charles to play the leads because I knew they had a personal relationship that would support fairly intimate play.  Becca was a lynch-pin as well. I think having a woman as one of the players made it easier for contact, emotionally and physically, to happen. Sexist of me to think of it so? Or just pragmatic? Hope that was all right, Becca. :)

Communication-wise, there was a good amount of direct communication between the players before scenes. We talked about what would happen a bit more than I remember doing in Finland. (Perhaps that is why Tobias accused us there of being stonewalling immersive players? In the nicest possible way, of course.) But a tremendous amount of what happened was commucated through in-character narration and action, and got picked up on by the others and followed through in successive scenes.  Telegraphing through character is a fascinating process. You seemed to do it naturally, Charles & Jake. Was it easy?

Re: Mike, he did seem to be a bit uncertain of himself in his first few scenes. I wonder if that was because he was newer to this particular group. How was it for you, Mike? Was it awkward working with all new people?
Koti ei ole koti ilman saunaa.

Black & Green Games

Mike Sugarbaker

Hi, sorry I'm late. :-)

I was uncertain in the first few scenes, but I wouldn't chalk that up to any lack of comfort with the other players. I was uncertain about the character and who or what he was going to be, definitely, but I felt totally supported by the other players. (And my uncertainty about who Peter was made me feel uncertain, and so Peter himself came out a lot more uncertain than he was "written." This is a common problem for me in the early stages of doing any kind of acting or roleplaying, and probably lost me more than a few roles back when I was doing theatrical stuff in high school and college. Nobody wants to watch a tentative Sky Masterson.)

I also wanna chime in on the "game or not?" question. That will have to wait a few hours though.
Publisher/Co-Editor, OgreCave
Caretaker, Planet Story Games
Content Admin, Story Games Codex

Jake Richmond

Mike and I had already been through the crucible of Sea Dracula. After that, nothing could really be uncomfortable.

Mike Sugarbaker

Quote from: GB Steve on November 08, 2007, 05:20:43 AM
Did you get the feeling that this was a game or was it something else?

I definitely got the feeling that it was something else. It felt to me like an unusually specific long-form improv game. (Well, okay, the only long-form improv structure I know of, "Harold" or "the Harold," doesn't have any specified content. The level of complexity in its structure is about equivalent or even a little higher maybe.)

I think the main thing that makes others feel like Doubt is a game is the fact that no audience is invited to observe. Without an audience, the flavor of the drama is, for the most part, much more like what we're familiar with from roleplaying sessions than like anything else we have any experience with. The between-scenes stuff and pre-game structural planning - all of which I thought of as directorial, like what you'd do between scenes at a rehearsal - may contribute to this feeling on others' part as well.

In case anyone thinks I'm trying to diminish jeepform by calling it "not really gaming," hell, gaming gets me excited but a new art form altogether gets me really excited.

Quote from: Jake Richmond on November 08, 2007, 07:30:36 PM
Mike and I had already been through the crucible of Sea Dracula. After that, nothing could really be uncomfortable.

What happens in Animal City stays in Animal City.
Publisher/Co-Editor, OgreCave
Caretaker, Planet Story Games
Content Admin, Story Games Codex



What do you mean by telegraphing through character? Could you give an example of it from the game? I thin I know what you mean, but I'm not sure.


For me it definitely felt like role playing, but I have no theater or improv experience, so I can't really tell how much it felt like those things. There were definitely points where I was aware of performing for an audience (since not all characters were in every scene, there was often an audience of 3, and always at least Emily), but I sometimes do that in my normal roleplaying, and most of the time I was not particularly aware of the audience (mostly Tom and Julia scenes, but also sometimes with Lewis and Nicole). The scripting in the play scenes definitely gave a different feel to the game than most role playing has, but the Tom and Julia scenes were unscripted (and the play scene scripting didn't feel very restrictive, at least not for Lewis).

The interplay between the play and the non-play was fantastic. The fact that the first Tom and Julia scene is focused on their experience of performing the play, even though we have only seen the opening monologues of the play did really interesting things in our session. I suspect that how the players of Tom and Julia choose to interpret the play in that first scene would have a huge effect on the over all meaning of the game, but I don't know.

Jake and Mike, did that first scene between Tom and Julia have any real influence on how you played Peter and Nicole?

Jake Richmond

I'm sure it did, but I can't really think of how. I know I felt like you guys set a tone for te entire game.

Christoph Boeckle

Hi! Great thread!
How long did play last?