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Independent Game Forums => Adept Press => Topic started by: Ron Edwards on May 27, 2002, 07:54:45 AM

Title: The Club Dumas (reprise)
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 27, 2002, 07:54:45 AM

A while ago, Thor began a thread called The Ninth Gate and The Club Dumas (, which I couldn't contribute to very much as I hadn't read the novel. However, I found a copy in a pachouli-scented bookstore just a couple of days ago and completed it last night.

I was struck by this passage, which is on pp. 69-70 in my paperback copy (editing for space considerations):
For some time, he had treated the unexpected with the detached fatalism of one who waits for life to make the next move. His detachment, his neutrality, meant that he could never be the prime mover. Until that morning in the narrow street of Toledo, his role had been merely to carry out orders. [Note: Corso was attacked in the scene being alluded to.] ... he stayed objective. He formed no relationships with the persons or things involved ... He remained on the side, a mercenary ... The indifferent third man. Perhaps this attitude had always made him feel safe ... Now, though, the pain from his injured hand, the sense of imminent danger, of violence aimed directly at him and at him alone, implied frightening changes in his world.

This passage, in my view, establishes Corso as a protagonist. It is his Kicker. The murder scene which opens the book is not the Kicker (nor is there any reason to mistake it for one). I liked the fact that the book, which plays a couple of highly-literary-precious tricks on the reader, can only get away with such shenanigans because its protagonist is well-established through this passage. Unless the reader identifies with this sudden re-attachment of Corso to the affairs of others - there's no story.

(Also, Corso's lost love, Nikon, apparently bugs him only slightly before this point. After that passage, she becomes a night-sweat-inducing obsession.)

This also brings up another point, which I think is very crucial: no explicit passage is marked by Corso (or the narrator) saying, "Ah! I shall now strike back! I shall now ... be on the sidelines no more!" Instead, the quality of this decision (which he does make) is only observable in what he says and does. In other words, through proactivity.

Many role-players, I think, have not learned to read well (or view movies well) - they can see that a protagonist thinks X, Y, and Z when it's verbalized in italic prose or delivered in voice-over; they can see that an antagonist is "bad" when he performs a tag-scene or mouths a tag-line that establishes him as such (beating up a henchmen, or saying, "... the price is worth the knowledge it will bring," respectively). They do not do so well when the information is being delivered strictly through non-expository dialogue and through action. Ask anyone what the story of Deliverance is - most of the time, all you'll get is a sniggering account of the rape scene.

Such a person is going to have a lot of trouble with protagonism - simultaneously desiring it greatly and fearing it greatly. He or she will derive great pleasure from fantasizing, out of play, about what a cool character they have, but will shy away from any Kicker-style play or protagonist-style decision-making. I can't help but see a direct parallel between Corso's pre-Kicker profile and the "jerk player's" character as discussed previously on the Forge and described in the final chapter of my essay.


Title: The Club Dumas (reprise)
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on May 27, 2002, 08:57:13 AM
Hi Ron,

You post sent my mind a'thinkin'.

While remembering that a) some of this stuff is touchy feely, and b) the needs of RPGs and movies are different, let's talk about Aliens.

When I talk about my favorite movie for illustrating Narrativism, I refer to the nightmare alien birth as the kicker.  It has many of the qualties that define a kicker -- memorable, dramatic, opening possibilities of action -- "She's just a person and then *this* happens to her" and so on.  

Ripley even has a choice -- she could, driven my her nightares, start a campaign to launch an attack to destroy the aliens on the world where she found them.  She could write to her Senator.  She could go on the talk show circuit. She could start a cult to generate cash to hire mercs to go torch the eggs and so on.

But she doesn't.  She tries to hide from the nightmare and the fears of something really terrible happening attached to them.

Then she does the debriefing.  And at the end, Van Leuwen says, "The people who live there checked it out years ago and they never reported and 'hostile organism' or alien ship.  And by the way, they call it Acheron now."

When Ripley presses the point, he says there are "Sixty, maybe seventy, families."

That sure hits Ripley hard.  So suddenly I'm thinking, that too might be a Kicker.  But still, she takes no action.  (It's a choice to do that though.)

Finally, Burke calls and says they've lost contact with the colonists and would she help.  At first she says no, and then she calls him and says yes.  So, she makes a choice, and then says yes, and she's committed to the adventure.  (Though guardedly: she's just going as an advisor, and never wants to actually get invovled with seeing another alien ever again.)

So, RPG/Kicker wise, is:

a) the alien-nightmare actually the kicker after all, since Ripley remains passive

b) in an RPG would we lob off the first two beats from play (but keep them as part of the PCs history) and cut to Burke calling and saying, "We've lost contact with the colonists" and that's the kicker.

c) or the alien-nightmare is the kicker, the other two beats are BANGS, which the GM tosses at the player to keep jacking up the stakes (for both the player and the character).


As for movies and movie-literacy.  Absolutely.  Steven Spielberg, in his formative years, used to watch movies on tv with the sound off.  I think is mastery of the form in the first two thirds of his career is his absolute instinct born from this excercise.  I recomend it to anyone.

I'd offer that despite all the complaints from some folks, for example, that the motivations of the characters in Fellowship of the Ring were't clear, you could watch that movie with the sound off and know exactly what was going on -- both in terms of story and emotional drive.

I think some folks, looking for verbalized cues, get confused as to what's happening in a movie, almost like a misguided magic trick -- the dialogues seems to be saying to some folks -- "Look at me, look at me!" and so distracts everyone from seeing what's happening on the screen, which is of course huge and right in front of them.


Anyway, thanks for giving my mind something to chew on.

Take care,

Title: The Club Dumas (reprise)
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 27, 2002, 04:17:20 PM
Hi Christopher,

[obligatory qualifier that movies aren't RPGs and we shouldn't expect them to abide by the same blah blahdy blah. moving on ...]

I think there are two complications that have to be taken into account regarding Aliens. The first is that there exists a prequel. The fundamental threat of the Alien (first movie), in terms of the species itself, remains; that was not resolved by the first movie's ending. Therefore the Kicker for Ripley in the second movie is essentially half-to-80% written by the (complete) content of the first. By facing the Alien in the first movie, she already qualifies for the Kicker-sense of "your normal life is over" regarding the conflict at hand. Think about her trying to talk to the Marines early on - she knows what "sort of story" she's in, and they don't. The question of this story is what in the world she will draw upon for the confrontation (we all know the Marines are going to waxed, muscles and bullets and all).

The second is that the Premise at hand is "The greatest strength is derived from motherhood." (Note I have phrased it in non-question, pure-Egri mode because we're talking about a movie.) Therefore the most relevant element of Ripley's Kicker is that she learns her daughter died while she was on the original mission. (This scene was cut from the original theatrical release.) This Kicker is "spiked," if you will, when Ripley is presented with Newt.

Therefore I'd run it down like this: the Kicker is that Ripley is going back to face the Aliens, mano a mano. That's really it; the dreams and the assigned mission are no more than the logistics (the daughter issue is more important). By finding Newt (spiked Kicker, aka Bang), she discovers what she needs in order to face the Alien Queen, her own identity as a mother, so now it's mom vs. mom.


Title: The Club Dumas (reprise)
Post by: Gordon C. Landis on May 27, 2002, 09:16:18 PM
Another mind a thinkin' . . .
He or she will derive great pleasure from fantasizing, out of play, about what a cool character they have, but will shy away from any Kicker-style play or protagonist-style decision-making.

I think this is a very important point/issue - but I'm not sure where to take it.  I mean, we know (from reports, and personal experience) that there's a large segment of the RPG publishing/reading population who do not consider "play" the entire (or even the major) point of an RPG.  So it seems obvious that we can say some of the "fault" for this "imagine-how-cool-regardless-of-play" phenomena lies in the books/systems themselves.  Yet somehow, some folks DO play, even with these books/systems.

And that's not even the main point/issue I see here . . . but I'm not sure what is.  Maybe it's a personal thing - I've got 6 or more characters over the last few years of play that I feel never made the jump from "cool in my head/char sheet" into "cool in the game" (that's most all of 'em, BTW).  Not that play wasn't enjoyable, but . . .

Well, I've got a new road to think down, and a new way to talk with the rest of my play group about what bothers me about our usual play style.  Thanks, Ron,


Title: The Club Dumas (reprise)
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 28, 2002, 05:20:34 AM

Let's get back to The Club Dumas and/or The Ninth Gate. Regardless of which source we're using, I think the essentially demonic nature of the Girl character is not controversial. However, Corso doesn't correspond literally to the deliberate demon-summoning, demon-binding sorcerer - the Girl walks into his life and a whole Binding situation essentially "just occurs."

A lot of people who play Sorcerer are fond of this model, especially for Passing demons, especially for Cute Babe Passing demons. I often have to kick'em once or twice to get any sort of grounding for the Binding beyond, "She showed up one day and she's really mysterious."

What gives Corso's situation more grounding, in the book at least, is that the Girl fills a void that was left by his previous girlfriend. In other words, the emotional context of the Binding is still articulated, even if a "ritual" isn't present.

Any thoughts on dealing with this issue in actual play? I think the phenomenon is widespread (mysterious Cute Babe Passer demon) and my example in the book (Armand and Jewel) reinforces it. What elements of Binding should be required for such characters, given that the players (legitimately) want to tone down the more formalistic elements?


Title: The Club Dumas (reprise)
Post by: Fabrice G. on May 28, 2002, 07:29:17 AM
Hi Ron,

it is a widespread first player just presented that kind of situation, tough for him it was not a cut babe.

My take to handle this would be to make sure the character act in some way against the definition of humanity in his relation with the demon. That way it goes well with the notion that doing sorcery (binding) is heavy stuff.

What concerned me at the time, was that he wanted his character not to know about the demonic nature. My solution was to tell him about the whole responsibility aspect of the game.

So, to sum up be sure that:
- this form of binding doesn't make the character non-responsible of the demon action (uh, it did that ? howcome ?)
- there's a humanity transgression during the "relationship" with the demon.


Title: The Club Dumas (reprise)
Post by: Clinton R. Nixon on May 28, 2002, 08:47:01 AM
I've seen this phenomenon in Sorcerer a lot, too. I'd handle it much like Fabrice, with the only addition that the character be fully aware before play that something isn't right with the demon, and that the character accepts that anyway.

For example, if a player wanted his character to have a passing "hot babe" demon that just walked into his life one day, and protects him, but he has no idea what she is, then I say, "Nope." It's not interesting, for one reason, but the character isn't really a sorcerer, or responsible, or fun, for that matter.

Now, if the same character was made, and was attacked by thugs, only to have the demon pop out claws, or transfix the thugs with her freaky mind magic, or whatever - she uses demon powers to protect him - and the character sees this and decides to stay with her anyway - that's Binding, and I'll accept that. It's not traditional Binding, but it's an implicit acceptance of the fact that he's allowed a demon to enter his life.

Title: The Club Dumas (reprise)
Post by: jrs on May 29, 2002, 06:58:59 AM
Disclaimer: I have not yet played Sorcerer; this state will hopefully change very soon.

I would like to follow-up on Clinton's point that the act of acceptance can be a form of binding in Sorcerer.  This is how I would interpret The Club Dumas.  The binding did not "just occur" as Ron describes.  The mysterious woman/demon (what is her name?) presents an opportunity to Corso; it is only at the end of the story when he acknowledges her and his relationship to her that one can say that a binding has taken place.  In addition, my interpretation concerning the ex-girlfriend isn't so much about an emotional void in his life, but an example of a past opportunity where he failed to act.  

So, I guess my question is, does this a Sorcerer game make, or could it only be used as backstory?


Title: The Club Dumas (reprise)
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 29, 2002, 07:21:57 AM
Hi Julie,

Yeah, I agree with you about the Binding being (very) late in the story. In the book, I'd put it at the sex scene. I even started a post about that yesterday, but it spun off into a discourse on giving, taking, and orgasm, which I decided was probably going places I didn't need to go.

The movie's a little harder to pin down. It seems to me as if the Binding occurs relatively early (and obscurely), then the, ummm, final scene is kind of a capper or a culmination of the existing relationship.

Oh well, that's probably well off the permissible chart of RPG/book/movie correspondence anyway.

Your question about the back-story vs. play is a good one. To shift venue for a minute, one thing I've noticed about a lot of movies and novels is that they are just about all Kicker. Arguably the entire first Elric novel is Kicker, as well as the entirety of The Karate Kid (as well as a bezillion movies imitating or prefiguring it).

Geez, even most of The Fellowship of the Ring is Kicker - at the risk of derailing this topic, I consider Sam and Gollum to be the main protagonists (out of many) in The Lord of the Rings, and so the "story" doesn't "begin" in their terms until the separation at the Falls of Rauros.

So applying this to role-playing is a bit tricky. A hell of a lot of traditional play is devoted to maneuvering characters through the Kicker - in fact, a lot of that play, in my experience, bogged down due to the insistence on everyone's part that it happen "naturally," without overt metagame goals being involved, and of course, it rarely did without railroading getting involved.

Well then, now we have Sorcerer, with its overt Kickers. One question which people have often grappled with is "how much is too much," ie, not playing-before-you-play via the Kicker. Another one, which I think is more relevant to your post, is, "what does in-play story, once Kicked, look like?" If we're used to a large amount, or even nearly all, of role-playing being Kicker-making, what do we do if the rules say to start with the Kicker in action already?

I like my answer to this question. However, it's not the answer. I'm pretty sure the question can only be answered individually (pre-play) and within a single group (during play).