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Author Topic: [Spione] Pronounced "kah-guh-beh"  (Read 2656 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: August 27, 2009, 12:05:00 PM »

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Callan S.
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« Reply #1 on: August 27, 2009, 11:29:13 PM »

It's mostly a side point, but I think there's a big difference between there being no protagonists and there being protagonist(s), but we don't know who they are yet (we will at some point in play, once it emerges). Though I may be remembering things entirely wrong on whether that was said.

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As usual, the main thing to get used to in play was the expected content per person as we round-robined. Not because it's difficult or requires specialized knowledge, but because it's so easy. When a person stalled, all I had to do was remind them that only a tiny bit of imagery and/or forward-moving content was required, and not to concern themselves with "bringing in conflict" or any other sort of framing, driving material. Soon, the story was flowing and evolving in the usual way, without any effort because no one person had to contribute any more than he or she genuinely feels like at the moment of that turn.
That's nice and smooth, and clearly repeatable as a procedure - it is very simple. It's good to see something that perhaps is a naturally emerging part of your play being quantified into a fairly easy to follow procedure rather than left at a hazy sort of 'feel'. Having it in such a concrete form did quite the opposite of damage the fiction or make it flimsy.

I'm feeling I'm kind of talking about the lighting and sound system, so to speak, while a play is going on. Am I talking about the wrong stuff for this thread?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: August 31, 2009, 07:30:29 AM »

Hi Callan,

You're staying on topic, no problem. That's not the lights and sound system; it's the basic and unavoidable foundation of play. Spione is one of those games in which the rules are operating at every moment, rather than being referred to as a subset of (or detour from) otherwise-freeform play.

You're right about the protagonism. Spione leaves that question entirely up to play. Conceivably, especially if no principal character discloses his or her Trespass history, the story can be devoid of protagonists and therefore accord with the grimmest, most angry Cold War spy fiction (Orchids for Mother, for example, or The Looking Glass War). Typically, one or another principal, or as in this case, one or more characters in the Network and Supporting Cast, end up being

One of my design goals was for play to produce results which could be adapted into a great movie or novel from any character's point of view, casting that person as the protagonist at least in his or her own mind. Or to put it more accurately, for that "adaptation" to become part and parcel of play itself if and when the people at the table found that desirable (usually intuitively, without dialogue or recognition).

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It's good to see something that perhaps is a naturally emerging part of your play being quantified into a fairly easy to follow procedure rather than left at a hazy sort of 'feel'.

I appreciate that paraphrase a lot. It's exactly what the design was aimed for. I'm interested in learning whether others at the table felt it to any extent. There's more to my interest than merely looking for compliments, because this was my best attempt at rules which gently and precisely organize fundamental speaking practices of play. It's easy for people to enjoy play but not recognize how the rules and their interactions contributed to the enjoyment.

Best, Ron
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Callan S.
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« Reply #3 on: September 09, 2009, 02:39:22 PM »

I was hoping to read that feedback as well. Sure that procedure makes sense to me, but in the field reports are better than just what one thinks makes sense. If that isn't awkward to say.

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Conceivably, especially if no principal character discloses his or her Trespass history, the story can be devoid of protagonists and therefore accord with the grimmest, most angry Cold War spy fiction (Orchids for Mother, for example, or The Looking Glass War).

I tried to get my head around that idea, and in terms of the author writing it almost like a cry for help on the matter (like a general "What the hell can you make of these characters!?") that seems to fit (though quite grim if even the author can't make something of it). Protagonists are also a kind of real life message from the author, like a cry for help on a matter is as well. I think that real life message has to be there to some extent or...I dunno. It doesn't seem to fit otherwise?

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One of my design goals was for play to produce results which could be adapted into a great movie or novel from any character's point of view, casting that person as the protagonist at least in his or her own mind. Or to put it more accurately, for that "adaptation" to become part and parcel of play itself if and when the people at the table found that desirable (usually intuitively, without dialogue or recognition).
That's a question that comes to my mind as systems start to support more full bodied story creation - what's happening to these stories? Human memory is shocking - hell, if the forge goes out during this post and I don't have a copy, I wouldn't be able to recreate this post word for word even a minute latter.

Actually you just phrased it as 'produce results' that could be adapted to a novel, for instance (I stuck in the words 'story creation' here). As the spione web site put it, it's story now, a new way to author and enjoy spy-fiction. Are results enough in regard to that? As the results of play get better and better, there seems more and more to lose to the failings of human memory on the matter. That seems a real loss, my concern my motive for writing this bit. I know you might say that the results produced are never lost entirely, that they sort of merge with others and collect together over time in the mind. Perhaps like a compost heap? I would agree that does happen. But this seems like throwing perfectly good roses onto a compost heap to rot (rot into rich, fertile material, I totally agree. But it's rotting all the same)? That's what concerns me as the results of these systems gets better and better? Just to air that concern, in the end, I guess. Though if it's not over the top, in terms of temporaryness of memory. Smiley
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: September 10, 2009, 08:51:34 AM »

Hi Callan,

The book deals with both of these issues extensively. The spy fiction in question is very definitely dissident writing, not in terms of one side of the Cold War vs. the other, but rather against the whole thing, written by people who've themselves been badly burned or used-up in the espionage game. I do not think it is obsolete for reasons that are better expressed at the Spione site.

One feature of the Spione project which I have not yet implemented well, and hope to get back to one day, is encouraging people to record their sessions in any way and to make them available at the site, and to do the same myself.

Best, Ron
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Callan S.
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« Reply #5 on: September 11, 2009, 07:48:33 PM »

I wasn't thinking broadly enough and dissident fitted in (atleast to my mind, for what it's worth) as soon as it was mentioned, too.

I'm hoping to hear from the other players here, but I'm also interested in what you said here
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Spione is one of those games in which the rules are operating at every moment, rather than being referred to as a subset of (or detour from) otherwise-freeform play.
Assuming I understand what your refering to, this is a fair departure from decades of RPG design. I might call it something like procedure first, where you start with following the written procedure and then, at it's direction or suggestion, produce fiction. This means the rules are operating at every moment because the fiction exists as an extention of following the procedure. Where that subset/detour from otherwise freeform play you mention is what I'd call fiction first, where if the fiction seems to call upon them, some rules are used (as indeed a subset/detour).

I'm not sure there's alot of design, even on the forge, centered on the former idea. Do you think that's the case, Ron, and what do you think about it? (if it's the wrong thread for that question, I'm keen to hear the other players accounts if they come)
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: September 12, 2009, 07:24:58 AM »

We can pursue this, no problem.

My first design along those lines was Trollbabe. The new text (book version) includes design notes about how and why that came about; it resulted from a kind of two-step design process among me and some other authors. Basically, I took the procedures of scene-making that I'd used to make playing Hero Wars and Dust Devils most powerful, and then turned them into Trollbabe rules. Ever since, I've applied the point you articulated very well in your post toward all of my games (It Was a Mutual Decision, for instance), including retroactively, refining my approach to and explanations for playing Sorcerer and Elfs.

Although Spione is included in the above point, it is a stark departure in other ways. I'm not even sure where to start in talking about it. You may not know that the whole thing isn't "a game" in the ordinary sense, but rather a book with its own points and content, which happens to include a game embedded as the sixth chapter.

As far as I can tell, the text does a good job of instructing for the procedure, staying clear about what to do and still managing to explain why (and what to expect) without getting bogged down. I took a kind of board-game approach to that part of it.

Best, Ron
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Callan S.
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« Reply #7 on: September 12, 2009, 04:50:44 PM »

Thanks for that, Ron,

I suppose I'm scratching my head because it seems easy enough for fiction to be prompted by procedure, demonstrated in this account as well, but just about everywhere design focus is on fiction/freeform first. But that doesn't appear to be able to go anywhere in terms of design - if the rules can't direct the fiction, new rules designs wont change anything about the fiction produced. In a fiction/freeform first design, any new rules will only be inacted if it seems to fit the fiction - and even if those rules do manage to affect the fiction somehow, they'll be quickly rejected since the priority is on the fiction choosing the rules and not on the rules choosing the fiction. It seems a dead end, in terms of design (not that it can't prompt ideas for procedure first games - it's good at that, I find).

In a community/gamer culture that is strongly focused on fiction first, how have you moved away from that with groups who probably share that focus? How do you work on 'procedure first' rules for a group activity when the group you might expect to play with are likely fiction first? How did you break away? Or is that a vague question?
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Simon_Pettersson
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« Reply #8 on: September 14, 2009, 04:11:33 AM »

Sorry to bring back this thread to the early posts, but this is just a quick thing: Can I get a definition/explanation on what "protagonist" means in the context of this thread? How do you know whether a character is a protagonist or not and why does it matter? Thanks.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: September 14, 2009, 06:22:16 AM »

Hello,

Callan, that's a pretty general question which I think can only be addressed through my games, essays, posts, interviews, talks, and similar contributions. I'm not trying to put you off or to tell you "read everything about me and that I've done," so much as saying, you've summarized the point (or question) of my personal work with role-playing over the past 20 years, maybe even from the beginning (31 years). So I guess I'm saying, I can't really sum it up easily. Although if it's not too crass, I think the texts of Sorcerer & Sword, Trollbabe, and Spione would do a pretty good job from the game design-and-play perspective.

Hi Simon,

In this discussion at least, I'm using "protagonist" to mean a character with three features:

i) who deals with situations which themselves raise disturbing and engaging thematic questions

ii) who generates a distinct sort of sympathy or understanding from the real people playing the game

iii) whose responses and decisions have irreversible consequences for themselves and other characters

I'm not sure how well you know Spione, but the system designates two (and always and only two) people to take the main responsibility for playing two principal characters, one each. Through the rules, the principal definitely displays the features (i) and (iii).

Therefore, whether a principal also gains the (ii) feature is open to play, and I stress that this is not a goal of play, simply a possible outcome for that character. Also open to play is whether any other character (in game terms, usually a member of the Network or the Supporting Cast) may acquire the three features. Since such characters are played in a more group-based fashion, this typically happens when (ii) arises first for that character.

Let me know if that answers your question.

As a side note, identifying protagonists in most of the spy fiction I'm inspired by is not easy to discuss. A lot of the stories concentrate on the experiences, thoughts, and decisions of quite despicable people, such that the person you "know" the best through the story is not necessarily a protagonist in terms of the three features I list above. In some notable cases of repeated characters (George Smiley, Bernard Samson), the author clearly varies a lot from story to story. Also, in this body of fiction, characters who do display all three features often come to tragic ends.

Best, Ron
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Simon_Pettersson
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« Reply #10 on: September 14, 2009, 10:06:03 PM »

Let me know if that answers your question.
It does. Thank you.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #11 on: September 16, 2009, 04:06:56 PM »

Hi Ron,

I'm sort of coming at that from having always, as far as I know, having the priority of rules first. And I'd always assumed everyone else was as well - which may sound silly, but everyone lugged thick rule books around and made much ado about rolling dice and adding up modifiers. A trace through my own history of posts here would probably show that assumption when posting responces to various people and the disjunct in conversation it causes when talking to people who actually have a fiction first priority. I had a suspicion after...years, I guess (yeah yeah, took that long) then slowly forming into a hypothesis on rules first/fiction first that I've finally had some opportunity here for some peer evaluation and confirmation, thanks for that!
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JoyWriter
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« Reply #12 on: September 17, 2009, 04:40:13 AM »

I notice that the principle system and the way people add stuff seem to avoid an assumption otherwise quite common in other games; that each player gets "spotlight" or time devoted to making them centre stage, vicariously via some character. The turn structure seems to give people a chance to contribute, but doesn't require big things from them. I'm guessing then that the game is designed to smooth people in to that place of contributing more substantially, rather than forcing it in some way. Are there any mechanisms within the game to do this? Or does it require experienced rpg'ers/improvisers to really get going? (Actually I suppose to some extent this is the question you were asking your players!)

Also, how do conversations and back and forth work with your turn structure? Is the normal rotation suspended?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #13 on: September 17, 2009, 10:46:51 AM »


JW, you wrote,

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I'm guessing then that the game is designed to smooth people in to that place of contributing more substantially, rather than forcing it in some way. Are there any mechanisms within the game to do this? Or does it require experienced rpg'ers/improvisers to really get going?

Your guess is correct, and it's explicit in the rules text as a design goal. I was concerned with getting the actual imaginative medium under way among the people playing, as a stable and reliable experience, and allowing back-story, characterization, forward-moving events, and atmosphere to be contributed in piecemeal fashion. It's hard to describe that piecemeal process because usually any one of those is established in substantive, powerful form out of already-existing, already-contributed smaller components. And when those smaller components were originally introduced, no one knew how they would be used later. Someone typically seizes upon what's already "floating" and says "a-ha, of course so-and-so is the one who finked on so-and-so," and what had not been introduced as evidence of that becomes, obviously, evidence of that.

To see that happen reliably without it having to be forced or pre-planned is quite remarkable and fun. Often a person who didn't feel very "important" in the group, at the outset, is the person who gets inspired by the floating components to move the story ahead in a way that grabs everyone. The key point is never, never to force it or to feel as if you have to be the one to do it. I'm happy to report that the textual components of play, the player-contributed components (e.g. the Trespass, and others), and the emergent components of play (what you get to make up as you go) are well-tuned through playtesting to interact in this way. People move things forward only when their own creative and engaged attention sparks.

Regarding conversations, the best way to understand it is to see dialogue as a local, specific example of those very phenomena (back-story, characterization, forward-moving events, and atmosphere) which the rules already permit, even dictate, to be contributed in small chunks. But I guess it's also important to know that in Spione, you don't really "play characters" in the ordinary role-playing sense. Only one person is the primary speaker on his or her own turn, and play-events proceed based on what that person says, including what all the characters are doing as well as both sides of a dialogue. Two things modify that (and make it un-boring): (i) table-talk is encouraged, and (ii) the player of a principal does have veto power over what someone else says that character does or says. And of course, each turn doesn't consist of a lot of information, so it's not like anyone sits there and talks to himself or herself for any length of time.

I should also point out play consists of both Maneuvers (the bulk of play) and Flashpoint, and that all of the above explanation applies to Maneuvers, with Flashpoints being a little different.

Your final question in the quoted part above is a big deal: as I expected, experienced role-players actually have the toughest time adjusting to Spione play. It works best for people who are willing to commit more to being into the fiction as the game encourages it being made, rather than people who are dead-set on "role-playing as they know it." And I've found over the years that the more a person self-identifies as "an experienced gamer," the more hidebound he or she is on what role-playing is, and how it must be done. So Spione does best with people who are either not particularly familiar with role-playing at all, or if they are, still being a priori willing to start this activity from scratch.

Best, Ron
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JoyWriter
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« Reply #14 on: September 17, 2009, 01:19:10 PM »

And when those smaller components were originally introduced, no one knew how they would be used later. Someone typically seizes upon what's already "floating" and says "a-ha, of course so-and-so is the one who finked on so-and-so," and what had not been introduced as evidence of that becomes, obviously, evidence of that.

Have you got some nice way of reminding people of details like that?

I ask because I have observed that one of the ways of encouraging creativity is to allow people to look at all their ideas sitting there at once, like someone looking at the components of a watch before they assemble it, or a bird searching through rubbish. Either they want to combine things together, or jump on that element that can provide what they really want right now. In a more fiction-orientated fashion, I'm talking about the person who ties up a load of loose ends in a really elegant way, or the person who takes a minuscule part of the past that everyone has ignored and uses it to spin everything on it's head. I wonder how much of both of these processes depend on being able to look back over what has been created, and on the "selection space" expansion that a recording system can provide.

Only one person is the primary speaker on his or her own turn, and play-events proceed based on what that person says, including what all the characters are doing as well as both sides of a dialogue. Two things modify that (and make it un-boring): (i) table-talk is encouraged, and (ii) the player of a principal does have veto power over what someone else says that character does or says. And of course, each turn doesn't consist of a lot of information, so it's not like anyone sits there and talks to himself or herself for any length of time.

Wow, ever had any retcon battles between non-principle players? Or does mutually assured destruction stay their hand? Wink

The psychologist Ross Ashby said that the programmed computer is more flexible than the trained mind. Presumably because training can stick around even when you don't want it to!
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