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[It Was a Mutual Decision] Girlfriend + Rat

Started by Ron Edwards, November 28, 2005, 07:46:18 PM

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Ron Edwards


Quoting from memory, probably slightly garbled, from Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns ...

Bob: Batman, he nasty.
Rob: Rob hope Bob don't say balls nasty.
Bob: Balls nasty.
Rob: Shh!

That's pretty much my impression while conceiving, writing, and playtesting my newest game, titled It Was a Mutual Decision.

I suppose it was inevitable that upon beginning the Ronnies awards, I'd sooner or later feel compelled to participate. It actually happened before they began (September 6) - on September 3-4. Yup, I wrote a Rat + Girlfriend game before receiving any Ronnies submissions at all, and kept it secret from the lot of you. Nope, I didn't do it again with either of the other rounds, although I was tempted.

Now, following rewrites and playtesting, it seems as if I have a viable product on my hands. Here's what I'm looking at!

It's a two-principals game, meaning there are two main characters. The people playing are split into two groups, each communally playing one of the two characters, who are going through a romantic breakup. Playing the game is intended to be doable in an evening or afternoon, and it's divided into three chapters: Before, During, and After the breakup.

Yes, the breakup is inevitable. The relationship cannot be restored or saved. Scenes within each chapter concern (Before) conflicts of interest, (During) opportunities to devalue the relationship with outside parties, and (After) opportunities to humiliate oneself upon post-breakup meetings. Shifting from chapter to chapter concerns a shared Relationship score. Rolling within a conflict utilizes three individual scores: Needy, Stubborn, and Trust. I should emphasize that a score may be used either to express its title, or to demonstrate struggling against its title. Also, Trust is only a resource, burned to boost the others; it's not used on its own.

As play proceeds, there's a fantasy/horror component as well: whether one or both characters is a monstrous were-rat. Yes, I realize this is weird. Consider films like An American Werewolf in London and The Fly, and stick with me. It works really well. Suffice to say that this dial gets spun during play itself, and the experience can range from a slightly arty inclusion of rat imagery to out-and-out horror with transformations and so on, depending how the rules get employed.

Also, part of the rat/were-rat stuff involves changing the names of the scores, to Greedy, Cunning, and Murderous, respectively, subject to the same it/against-it usage rules. Very savage, very romantic, or both at once.

"What's the game about?" It asks what constitutes being a good person, as opposed to being a chump/doormat or an abuser, during a romantic breakup. Very bluntly, I think we're awful shy on such stories, whether in novels, movies, or plays. So far, playtesting has made me very happy with the potential for the game to produce stories that are more honest, more extreme, and more fun than what I typically see in other media, concerning this topic. I think it'll be an excellent, if grotty and horrible, companion game to Breaking the Ice.

I plan to release it during January, both as book and PDF I think, and definitely with authorization to download the original 24-Hour game as well. The latter is strong on ideas, but not right/playable - it would have received an "Unbaked but Tasty" rating from me in that first round of Ronnies. I think it'll be educational for people to see how the finished game benefited from having all its parts in place to start, which meant fixing was all about tuning, not re-tooling.

The book will be about 100-110 pages, laid out in 5.5" x 8.5" format. That means it's wider than it's tall, in exactly the size/dimensions of many cartoon collections, like The Far Side or Dykes to Watch Out For. Illustrations are currently under way and almost finished, by Keith Senkowski and Veronica Pare. They are ... pretty unspeakably awesome.

I'll be taking pre-orders soon, and since I don't have any sensible plans for a webpage under way, I'll probably just pop a page up on the Sorcerer site. Stay tuned for that.

I'm happy to answer any questions about the game!



Hello Ron,

Wow, I totally get the Wererat thing for this subject.  Does the game still have a GM or does adversity enter play from the two "teams" (for lack of a better word) playing off one another?


Ron Edwards

Hi Jesse,

There's no GM, or rather, the strictures on the chapters pretty much play the overall role of GM, whereas each team gets explicit scene-framing responsibilities at various times.

So yeah, just the two teams and the two characters.

I have to say, I'm damn fond of the title. It also so happens that the actual breakup is not explicitly played; it happens between the During and After chapters, but isn't shown.



Quote from: Ron Edwards on November 28, 2005, 09:29:01 PM
It also so happens that the actual breakup is not explicitly played; it happens between the During and After chapters, but isn't shown.

So there's no defined, objective "reality" of what really happned, just what the characters remember/convince themselves happened?

If that's right, I like the sound of it.
Always Plenty of Time!

Ron Edwards

The exact quote from the rules is,

(from first paragraph explaining the During chapter):

QuoteWell, the couple has broken up. Or at least that's what they tell themselves and everyone else. The actual breakup is not depicted during play. This chapter is about the aftermath. The proposed situations are all instances of unavoidable further contact, in which the two people must deal with one another face to face.

(from relevant paragraphs in the extended example):

QuoteAll things do come to an end, though. Barb and Jake have broken up and made a big deal about it to all their family and friends. People still think of them as a couple, though, and they do live in the same city and share many of the same habits. Unplanned and unwanted meetings are far too likely.

Do not narrate the actual breakup. See the title of the game. That's all Barb and Jake are ever going to say about it.



Back in the September Ronnies, you wrote:

Quote from: Ron Edwards on September 26, 2005, 02:20:11 AM
RAT + GIRLFRIEND [...] most of them were very very focused on issues of the girlfriend's loyalty, whether as the primary question of play or a starting-point assumption.

How closely does your own game adhere to this pattern?


Ron Edwards

Good question! As it turns out, not at all.

I wanted "rat" to be independent of "girlfriend," but just as central. That's why it's possible for either or both characters to be a were-rat, not just the girlfriend. The "ratness" really has more to do with the breakup than specifically with the girlfriend.

Also, most of the Ronnies games were either positive or ambiguous about the relationship itself, yes, even "I Think My Girlfriend Hates Me," where she's trying to kill the guy. In this one, the relationship is doomed - all we're seeing is how it ends. It's important, though, that play does not begin with a dysfunctional, why-don't-they-break-up situation. These two people had a good relationship that started reasonably and had a good run of it. It's just over now, that's all.

So the girlfriend's loyalty isn't a central issue of play. Her decency is, just as the guy's is. Almost all the badness and horror in the game, and believe me a lot shows up, concerns the two principals being unable to let go.


Mark Causey

What about this game took it from a 24-hour game to developing a 100+ page book? Was it just a time in your life for a new project or did something about it glimmer in the moonlight, beckoning you on?
--Mark Causey
Runic Empyrean

Ron Edwards

Hi Mark,

Dunno. I'm always working with game ideas. I thought Doctor Chaos was a good one, and still do, but a multitude of hassles kept it from being developed further, including the lack of "one more glimmer" of inspiration. I might get back to it. When you work with several game ideas at once, and if none of them outright suck, plain old chaos theory puts one of them into the "go" chute eventually.

Part of it is doability - it'll be cheap and easy, like Elfs. All I need besides text and playtesting are the illos, layout, a cover design, and a POD. Text and playtesting, check. Ilustrations, check. Cover design, more or less. POD, check - or rather, a phone call away. I may even go the full Lulu route and not do inventory at all. Not a bad idea.

Part of it is reaction - seeing how people playing it react, seeing what decisions they make, that kind of thing. Part of it is marketing; it fits very nicely in the same boat with Under the Bed, Breaking the Ice, and a few of the other "parlor game" designs that did very well at the Forge booth.

I'm not too good at answering "so how did you get your crazy ideas" and "how did you decide to sell it" questions. Most creators aren't.

I suppose I really ought to get a webpage up ...


Mark Causey

You've done more to answer my question than you may take credit for. Thanks!

Oh, and good luck, I await your webpage.
--Mark Causey
Runic Empyrean

Matt Snyder

Matt Snyder

"The future ain't what it used to be."
--Yogi Berra