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Author Topic: Actual Play: The Emotions of Dance  (Read 2065 times)
Bryant
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Posts: 51


« on: August 31, 2003, 04:45:42 AM »

Our monthly experimental group tried out MLWM on Friday; I GMed, with Rob, Jess, Jere, and my old friend John playing. It was an interesting session; here's how it went.

The Master was a mad Russian ballet choreographer known only as the Maestro. He'd been a daring experimenter in his earlier career, but when he had a horrendous accident and wound up crippled, he could no longer dance. He tried anyhow, and they laughed him off the stage. Now, he lurks in the swamps of Latvia, siphoning off the emotions of the Townspeople (his Need). When he puts on his grand dance, he will use a pipe organ of his own devising to release the emotions, inspiring both dancers and audience to new heights of passion.

We decided he was a Beast and a Collector. Collector is obvious; Beast was interesting, because it played up the physical aspect of dance. Looking back on it, I didn't do a good job of running him as a Beast, though.

Piotr, played by John, was an old ballet critic who followed the Maestro to Latvia, the only man confident that the Maestro could still create beautiful work. He could convince anyone of anything by writing them a letter, except if it had to do with ballet.  He was also very frail, except when working with equipment. He was responsible for luring dancers to work with the Master. ("Latvia is very good for vacation this year...")

Yorges, played by Rob, was a big brute in the Igor vein: incredibly clumsy, except when watched by someone who believed in his abilities, and incredibly strong, except when music was playing.

Annika, played by Jess, was the lead dancer, lured by one of Piotr's letters some time ago. She was incredibly beautiful, but only while in pain, and she could not eat except from someone else's plate. Lovely rephrasing of a ballet dancer's drive to perform and drive towards thinness.

Brezny, played by Jere, was a clockwork dancer -- very handsome, but utterly mechanical. I believe the Maestro built him. He couldn't communicate except while dancing, and he was capable of producing amazing clockwork gadgets except while dancing.

We set Fear at 3 and Reason at 3 as well, somewhat randomly. The game would benefit from more discussion of appropriate Fear and Reason levels, I think -- we were very unsure of what the mechanical effects would be and we were pretty sure they'd make a difference for the game. We actually had some of the same problems with character stats -- it's clear that once you play enough you'll get a sense for the various knobs and dials, but it's kind of impenetrable at first.

I thought setting and character generation would take up enough time so that we wouldn't have much time to play, and they did take a while, but play moves very quickly thanks to the framing techniques. We wound up getting to do a lot.

By the time we knocked off for the night, Yorges had carted Brezny's Connection, Hector, back to the theater for the Maestro. A young French ballet critic had shown up looking for Annika, wanting her to leave with him (so he could get the reward). Brezny sabotaged the Master's emotion collecting slightly, broadcasting emotions of solidarity over the village. He'd also thrown a festival for the villagers, which he used as cover to steal the joy of a pair of lovers. Piotr developed a rivalry with a chess master for the friendship of the local Lord, Hans, and arranged to have the chess master turned into one of the Maestro's marionettes. Man, a lot did happen, and I'm leaving out a ton. That was cool.

The mechanics really support the gothic horror spiral.  Things only get worse for the Minions as time goes by.  I am, I fear, a wuss when it comes to being mean -- but even so, I think we succeeded in avoiding      
a goofy tone.  There were funny bits, but it wasn't a funny game.

Jere felt strongly that the game deprived players of narrative power to an undue extent.  The GM is encouraged to frame aggressively at both the beginning and the end of the scene, leaving the player limited opportunity to express himself in the middle.  This is heightened by the single roll resolution and the short scene structure -- the player gets a bit of action, then moves on.

I feel that I have a tendency towards being an overly autocratic GM,       which perhaps exacerbated what Jere was feeling, but I also think the   mechanics and GMing advice encouraged that tendency.  It seems possible that the intent of the game is to place the players as well as the Minions in an ever-constricting straight-jacket to enhance the Endgame    experience.

Note that the Endgame is the only portion of the game in which the players are explicitly permitted to inject themselves in someone else's scene -- it's a degree of freedom, which is then followed by one of two moments at which the players have full narrative freedom.  The liberation of the Endgame frees both Minions and players.

The other moment of freedom, of course, is the Horror Revealed.  It's interesting that the players are given these moments of narrative  freedom, but only to narrate horrendous scenes.  The sense of liberation is turned to rather dark ends.

The game also seems designed to isolate the Minions.  The quick-cut scene structure encourages this, as does the explicit advice to have the Master order Minions to go after each other's Connections.  The effect is to     create a very intense spotlight that only shines on one player at a time. Again, this seems intentional, to make the Endgame more cathartic.  But it can also act to decrease player enjoyment.

We talked a lot about whether or not the game could support immersive play. It always depends on the player, of course, but the moving spotlight and the lack of player narrative power could make it difficult.  I am very    certain that I was over-narrating Minion reactions, in the game's defense.

We talked a fair bit about whether or not it's a gamist game.  I'm not sure what Paul's intent was, but there are distinctly gamist     elements.  The need to gain Love is so powerful and so important to     eventual success that the players are almost forced to make narrative choices with an eye towards the game mechanics.  Further, there are strong competitive elements introduced by the Connection-hunting advice mentioned earlier.  And there are certainly winners and losers at the end -- while players can set their own victory conditions, in that it's        up to the players what sort of epilogue they want, there are very specific rules for what sort of epilogue they achieve.

(Note that not all of our group finds the GNS model useful for talking about roleplaying, which should perhaps be taken into account in the above discussion. I think the question is still relevant, though. Rob says, in connection to this question and to the thoughts on setting parameters, "I think a group that had all read the rules and digested those numbers might use them much more transparently. If you had an instinctive feel for what a 3 self-loathing 2 weariness 4 love minion was like as opposed to a 1 self-loathing 4 weariness 1 love (or whatever), you might work the numbers without having to think about them so much, and you might feel less of that disconnect between Narrativist and Gamist priorities.")

It might be possible to free the game up from some of the constraining  feeling by dispensing with the GM, and having strict rules for who plays the Master at any given moment.  This might have a negative        effect on the final catharsis, but it might also provide a more enjoyable experience during the game.  Depends on what you want, I suspect.

But a really interesting experience for us; this game provoked more discussion afterwards than most of our others have, which in my eyes makes it a success.
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #1 on: September 02, 2003, 08:12:02 AM »

Hey Bryant,

Sounds like a cool game. And you know what makes me happy about your post? That it tells me what you learned from playing. The game text suggests "aggressive scene framing." And now that you've played, I bet you interpret the phrase differently. It isn't aggressive in the "push the characters hard" sense, but in the way cleaning out a storage room is "aggressive." It's trashing all the extraneous crap, so what's left is the stuff really worth having.

It isn't clear from your post, did you get to the death of the Master? If not, do you think your group will play again?

Paul
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My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans
Bryant
Member

Posts: 51


« Reply #2 on: September 02, 2003, 08:25:45 AM »

Quote from: Paul Czege
Hey Bryant,

Sounds like a cool game. And you know what makes me happy about your post? That it tells me what you learned from playing. The game text suggests "aggressive scene framing." And now that you've played, I bet you interpret the phrase differently. It isn't aggressive in the "push the characters hard" sense, but in the way cleaning out a storage room is "aggressive." It's trashing all the extraneous crap, so what's left is the stuff really worth having.

It isn't clear from your post, did you get to the death of the Master? If not, do you think your group will play again?


Welp, one of the big motivations behind this group is learning, so I'm glad that's coming across.

We did not get to the death of the Master -- we really wanted to try the game as presented, rather than starting with some Love points and so on, which I think was the right decision. Rob and I would like to play again, but Jess and Jere are not so enthused, so we'll see. If we can find another player or two then Rob and I will pick it up, because we'd like to see the full monty.

Do you have any advice on providing players with more narrative freedom? What's your vision of who narrates what after the dice are rolled?
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #3 on: September 02, 2003, 08:31:43 AM »

Do you have any advice on providing players with more narrative freedom? What's your vision of who narrates what after the dice are rolled?

Oh yeah...I forgot about cutting. When you play again, try treating the dice roll as a springboard for roleplaying out a closure to the scene in conjunction with the player. It lets you both roleplay informed by a general knowledge of what the outcome should be. And the details can be negotiated. This way you're trusting the player's authorship of their character. Maybe, for instance, they'd rather be driven off from a failed overture than flee. And also consider your power to cut from the scene to be subject to player veto. If you get a "Wait..wait...let me get in one last line," for instance, you should be accomodating. Really, cutting "aggressively" is the same as scene framing aggressively. Your job is just to cut out the crap by ending the scene before it trickles off into tedious "characterizing."

Paul
Logged

My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans
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