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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4283 Members Latest Member: - otto Most online today: 92 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: [It's Complicated] What I didn't mention was that I poisoned everyone  (Read 3038 times)
sirogit
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Posts: 503


« on: December 23, 2007, 04:35:13 AM »

Ran a game of Its Complicated, with just me and my brother Chris. By the author's suggestion, we both ran two characters.

The setup: D&D Dungeon Crawl
Situation: We're in a dungeon, hunting for treasure and unsure of what to do with our perpetually dead halfling comrade.

My characters:
Throgor - Cross-dressing barbarian
Marvin - House M.D. in a wizard hat

Chris's characters:
Euwyn - Uber-angsty elf
Dorf - Alchoholic dwarf stereotype.

I wrote up the rules on a sheet of paper, but in action, I mostly explained the rules to Chris as we went. In retrospect, this had possibly bad conseqeunces as while I conveyed the rules adequately, I'm not sure if I conveyed the sense of "This stuff was written for more than a day" and "This stuff has a point, with a rich background in enjoyable stories, so sit back and play" that the full document presents.

We played with the explicit rule of "Declare your character's feelings" before the scene, and it worked well enough. Neither me nor Chris are big into 'Maximimum-player-surprise' mode.

I mostly took the reins in terms of coming up with the episode plot, and usually strayed pretty far from it (My plot ideas were abit too large and our oddities/dysfunctions didn't end up connecting to them). We played out two episodes, which were:

First Episode 'on paper': Deciding whether to take the halfling back by now or not.

First Episode 'reality': Throgor getting on Euywn's nerves / Marvin is an asshole.

Second Episode 'on paper': Deciding whether to go back after everyone's been hurt.

Second Episode 'reality': Throgor wants a pretty sweater / Euwyn is an asshole.

I'm wondering if people who spent more effort building/staying to the concept of an episode would have discovered some remedy's for Chris's problems, like the feeling of a more coherent plot or theme.

I had the distinctive sense that I was enjoying myself more than Chris was. I was having a great time, Chris wasn't bored but wasn't in the zone (He is however groovy to play again). We both agreed that the game provided an excellent engine for creating interesting, incredibly dysfunctional characters complete with nuanced relationships. We also both agreed that there isn't any mechanical support for with what you DO with those characters and relationships. Chris saw this as an intristic negative point, I did not.

What I did is set up improv comedy. Chris was joining in, but he had hopes that the system quickly point to some strong thematic content the way that Burning Wheel or The Riddle of Steel does. There was one scene where comedy took a backstage to drama (Throgor, as the one decent person, had feelings we cared about and were on display) but otherwise there wasn't too much strong conflict (Which, with this kind of a set-up and with an hour's playing time, was fine by me.)

The game did some things very well (Developing characters/relationships, providing great grounds for black humor) and didn't do others at all (Sit drama on the table right fucking now, or provide overt guidance towards what sort of choices the characters make within a scene). I think its great that the game doesn't do some things at all, rather than trying to do them half-assed or trying to be too many things at once.

I think asking questions directly about Chris's expierience might find some more fruitful insights, but my main question to Elizabeth would be:

Do you want your game to

A) Add those 'missing' things, like have rules for stuff inside of a theme, and have a more overt source of conflict.

and, assuming you've said no:

B) Address the people who expect those 'missing' things, like a Disclaimer that says something along the lines of 'this game will not provide those things, you'll just have to trust me, really'. Or alternatively, make a conscious decision to ignore such people (The skill of consciously ignoring people is indispensable in RPG design)

- Sean Musgrave
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Elizabeth
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« Reply #1 on: December 23, 2007, 05:13:03 PM »

Yay! I'm so glad you ended up playing. How did it feel, playing two characters at once? Did it work out for you?

I apologize for sending you off with an unfinished playtest document; the finished version of the revision I sent you is here.

To answer your questions:

-Conflict is not what this game is made to do, at least, not in a traditional sense. For example, one of the scenarios we've been batting around is some action-pulp drama; you could play the sort of game where people get shot and stabbed and blown up, but the next scene they'd have to come back with just an artful little cut over one eyebrow or something. Since the game is not about external conflict, there are no rules for external conflict, and I don't plan to add them.

-I do, however, plan to add sections to help players feel more comfortable in the scenes themselves: stuff on scene framing, how to frame scenes with multiple relationships, setting up story arcs, etc.

Adding a disclaimer about the lack of conflict in the game is a good idea! Someone looking for Riddle of Steel or Burning Wheel won't like getting a game of It's Complicated.

I do have a question or two about Chris' experience, though!

When you say Chris was hoping for some strong thematic content, do you mean that he was hoping for something less setting-neutral? Or just that he was looking for some built-in way to hook those quirks and relationships into an overall plot?

Was there anything specific that he wanted to do, that he felt too unsupported by the system to do?

And for my own curiosity: what are a couple of Chris' favorite games, and what does he like so much about them?

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sirogit
Member

Posts: 503


« Reply #2 on: December 24, 2007, 01:24:30 AM »

Hey,

Playing two characters at once felt pretty natural for me. I enjoyed both of the characters, never had much narrative awkwardness with it.

I noticed that I broke two rules: A) I didn't have the player rotation 'creep over', instead having one player always go first, and B) I played out the first turn of the second round, where its the first line and there isn't any feeling revelation. I don't think it had any real effect on this play-through, but I'll make sure to keep them in mind.

I'll try to prod Chris into replying on this thread, but I do have the Oddity/dysfunction sheet from the game: http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2244/2133087542_66c3867d4a.jpg?v=0

I'm going to try to run the game again with some new players. Do you plan on having any rules revisions within the next two weeks?

- Sean Musgrave.
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Elizabeth
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« Reply #3 on: December 24, 2007, 05:21:02 AM »

Fantastic!

No, I think the rules are pretty much set until I get the next full round of playtest info-- I know of at least three other groups playtesting It's Complicated in January, so I want to hold off messing with things until I get a broad idea of what needs messed with. Smiley

I notice there are a couple boxes with two quadrants filled in with the same color. What's that due to?

Also, did I give you the java application Dave Cleaver made to automate updating the board? You can get it here:
http://dscleaver.googlepages.com/complicated.jar

It's SO nice, really makes a difference.


Thanks so much for the playtesting and insight! I really hope you can run the game again, let me know how it goes!
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: December 30, 2007, 08:21:45 AM »

Oh man!!

For many years, until about five years ago, people would always ask me in frustration, "why don't you just play D&D?" I wish I could go back in time and hand It's Complicated to them, and say, "Why don't you just play this?"

I think it's hilarious that nearly all the characters ended up being belligerent, and the one who didn't ended up being the attention-seeking atrocity-junkie.

I'm interested to know about the same colors in a given box as well - if I'm understanding correctly, it means that Marvin is somehow "doubly" belligerent, that Euwyn's life is somehow "doubly" impossibly tragic, and that Throgor is somehow "doubly" committed to the notice-pretense dysfunction, as expressed during the game. The thing is, all of that sounds quite logical to me, at least thematically. Elizabeth, might that be a clue toward a valid minor development for the rules?

Best, Ron
edited to fix my paraphrase of the characters
« Last Edit: December 30, 2007, 08:29:28 AM by Ron Edwards » Logged
Marshall Burns
Member

Posts: 485


« Reply #5 on: December 31, 2007, 11:03:26 AM »

The next time I get to visit my old improv buddies, I'm bringing this game with me, and they will LOVE it.  I can already see it.
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Elizabeth
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« Reply #6 on: December 31, 2007, 01:56:05 PM »

Ron, that's pretty intriguing! I like it, and think it works thematically. I definitely think that will be showing up in the rules in some form-- at least for a playtest or two. And hey, can I take this part out of context and use it on the back of my book? Wink

For many years, until about five years ago, people would always ask me in frustration, "why don't you just play D&D?" I wish I could go back in time and hand It's Complicated to them, and say, "Why don't you just play this?"

Marshall, that's great! Let me know if you need any clarification or have any questions at all.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: December 31, 2007, 02:16:56 PM »

H'mmm, I dunno, Elizabeth. I'm referring to a particular dysfunctional subset of D&D play which Sean and Chris were explicitly referencing in their game. Taken out of context, the comment turns into a more generic bash of D&D as a whole, which is a guaranteed turn-off. (We gamers have a tendency to defend D&D reflexively, or to perceive people's criticisms of it as an attack on gaming.) So for purposes of promotion, I think it might work against you.

Perhaps you could use this specific game as an example inside the game text, in which case my quote would make a lot more sense. Not as good as a cover blurb, but too not bad either.

Best, Ron
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Elizabeth
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« Reply #8 on: December 31, 2007, 02:34:53 PM »

Right! It was a joke. But you're right, I think that a D&D-style dungeon crawl would be a fantastic example scenario. Which has me thinking more about the game's pop culture roots, and now I have this urge to play It's Complicated in the Mushroom Kingdom.. Cheesy
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Christoph Boeckle
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« Reply #9 on: January 01, 2008, 02:42:35 PM »

I've been following this game's threads, and I suspect that I can get something running very similar to my last Zombeja! session in a smoky bar, on a social level. I'm really hyped by what I've read so far.
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Regards,
Christoph
Elizabeth
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« Reply #10 on: January 02, 2008, 06:04:48 PM »

Hey Sean!

I was thinking about this concern you raised:


The game did some things very well (Developing characters/relationships, providing great grounds for black humor) and didn't do others at all (Sit drama on the table right fucking now, or provide overt guidance towards what sort of choices the characters make within a scene). I think its great that the game doesn't do some things at all, rather than trying to do them half-assed or trying to be too many things at once.

I think asking questions directly about Chris's expierience might find some more fruitful insights, but my main question to Elizabeth would be:

Do you want your game to

A) Add those 'missing' things, like have rules for stuff inside of a theme, and have a more overt source of conflict.

I've been mulling that over for a couple days, and had a great conversation with Ben Lehman about it earlier this evening. So tell me, what do you think about this:

Since endgame begins when all of the Oddities and Dysfunctions are labeled, what about overlaying a plot structure that's dependent on how many places have been filled in? For example, in a murder mystery plot: at 3 spots filled, another murder happens; at 5 spots filled, the murderer is revealed; at 7 spots in, the murderer is captured.

Would that help hook the plot drama in to the character development? Do you think Chris would find that to be a more satisfying game experience?
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sirogit
Member

Posts: 503


« Reply #11 on: January 02, 2008, 08:04:09 PM »

Hey everybody,

The reason that the boxes have been doubly filled is because I was under the assumption that you filled in a quadrant every time you used a trait/dysfunction, even for a different trait/dysfunction's source. So when I made the oddity "Chases after monster dresses" for Throgor, I filled in a second box in the dysfunction "People pretend not to notice." So no sharp game analysis there, just a misreading of the rules. But it seemed to be a passable alternative.

I think the rules addition of a count-down thingy sounds pretty neat, but I don't think that would address Chris's issues, which were of a much more immediate "Where's my conflict and stakes and intent stuff, -right now-?" Sort of concern. Again I will try to prod him into posting or try to engage him in game-talk next time I see him again.

- Sean Musgrave

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Elizabeth
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« Reply #12 on: January 03, 2008, 04:49:41 PM »

Sean, even if that's a mistake, I like it! Having another Dysfunction stemmed from a single Oddity probably shows that the Oddity in question is extra intense! And the more someone stems from a single trait, the more important that trait is to the character-- so the less other characters are able to share it.

I think you stumbled on something awesome that I plan to keep. Smiley

The only reason I don't want to manage the game-play experience on that small a level is because I'm concerned about limiting the amount of different types of stories you can tell with It's Complicated. I'm having trouble thinking of ways to have the best of both, but my brain's stalling. Suggestions, as always, are welcome-- but I'm thinking that it might just be the limitation of such an absurdly simple system (which is one of the things I like about the game).
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David Artman
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« Reply #13 on: January 04, 2008, 10:16:05 AM »

May I remind you of (or suggest for Chris) my notions for fade-ins, character introduction into scenes, narration+notation techniques, and timing flexibility for declarations of Odd, Dys, and Rel Reveal/Rel Impact? In particular, given your desire to be able to tell many different types of stories (stated above) and your mention in the other thread that "there are a couple new sections [you] need to write too, based on feedback from playtesting (framing scenes with multiple relationships, scene framing in general, more about Dysfunctions and Oddities)"? I believe that flexibility in framing and reveals, combined with explicit discussion (and examples) in the rules of what sorts of scenes result from different timings could, in itself, fire the imaginations of "stuck" players.

I am not sure, however, if the game needs (or even supports!) explicit stakes-setting or "intent right now" like one finds in DITV. My observations have been that it drives play more towards exploration, surprising reveals, and relationship entanglements--difficult to proscribe prior to play or to steer towards a particular goal. On the other hand, you *could* have some form of "character generation" (so far absent... or, rather, emergent in-play) in which each player determines one or more goals for their PC (overt or covert or both). You could even have goals change during play, either just by permission (mentioned in rules) or by an explicit mechanic (ex: only after completing one; only when you cross a person with more than two Odd/Dys lines, etc.). But I *also* recall the appeal of rules simplicity, and maybe I'm spinning out too many moving parts. Then again, a lot of this stuff is easily addressed in rules with mere statement of permission or explanations of varieties of techniques to drive play for different groups (I suspect this game requires some freeform/improv experience, to really fire, without such technique presentation and examples of play).

Oh, yeah--I, too, totally dig the idea of a PC multi-boxing an Odd, as both a way to really emphasize it AND a way to get some niche protection AND as a strong flag to other players about what interests you in the emergent SIS. I'd go further and explicitly state in rules that one can multi-box a Dys as well--for a simple example, I could see a set of Oddities that only in combination yield a Dys, and a strong one at that. Hmmmm.... what about single-box, multi-lines (ex: one Odd box for one PC eventually connects to several Dys boxes)? That makes for not-so-Oddities that nevertheless really ping around (see my "always wears iPod" Odd example in the other thread above, which could conceivable yield several types of Dysfunctions).

Glad to see non-designer-present APs cropping up; that's a SERIOUSLY positive sign, for a game at this stage of development!
<pout>I wish *I* could claim as much, but LARP rules are inherently hard to promote and playtest).</pout>
David
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Madheretic
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« Reply #14 on: January 09, 2008, 12:14:40 AM »

This is Chris, player #2 for the playtest. Sorry for not getting back sooner, my usual computer is in the shop.

I want to make it clear that I did enjoy myself in the playtest. The game wasn't what I'm used to, but there's definitely potential there.

I did come to the table with expectations that the system didn't provide for. I am more accustomed to there being a clear procedure for providing conflict and opposition to the players. After a scene was framed, there was this awkward junction where I wasn't sure whether I should start up a conflict by, say, providing some kind of resistance to what the scene-framing character is trying to accomplished by expressing the feelings that the scene requires, or having the receiving characters react so that some aspect of their relationship becomes at stake.

When I did try to fashion conflicts along those lines they tended to fall flat. There was no defined way of influencing them with the dysfunctions and oddities we've built up or putting up stakes that would matter after the scene was over, so they would wind up not being able to really hold either of our interests very long and we'd just sloppily cut the scene and move on. The end result was disjointed and superficial, a bit like an absurd, extremely flippant webcomic.
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