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Author Topic: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione  (Read 13695 times)
Callan S.
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« Reply #15 on: January 24, 2008, 04:19:05 PM »

Hi Ron,

Quote
It's even quite possible for no character at all to become a protagonist, and indeed, there are spy novels like that. Admittedly, rather cold and bitter ones, but they do exist.
*snip*
I saw exactly what you're talking about, or what's implied by your description, during playtesting - people with role-playing backgrounds had to get over their notion that this character we made up before play is automatically going to be the protagonist of the story. The good news is that, like so many other assumptions we've exploded here at the Forge, it seems insurmountable until you do it, and then you say, "Huh! Why was I so stuck on that?" afterwards.
I've read about two novels where no ones really a protagonist or large sections went without a protagnist. I see them as kind of a pointless activity for atleast myself to pursue - it's not like watching documentary footage, your instead reading to how someone decided to describe something. It's biased. And normally that works fine for me, because typically there's a protagonist and while the authors descriptions are biased, it's because he's making some sort of case about this character here (the protagonist). But without it, it's all bias but without the guts to come out and make a damn case. Expecting a protagonist isn't always just a matter of assumption.
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Moreno R.
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« Reply #16 on: January 24, 2008, 05:10:26 PM »

Hi, Callan!

I would have liked to use an example taken from spy fiction, but as I said I was never a fan of the genre (but I must say that reading Spione has got me interested. I really didn't know that there was spy fiction like that). So I will use as an example the movie "The Village"

(I hope you had seen it, because I will spoiler a major turning point)

At the beginning, we see the story from the point of view of someone. We assume he is the protagonist, the "hero" of the story. Then, in the middle of the movie, he is wounded, and will die unless someone will get some antibiotics for him. Then we "discover" that the real "hero" is his blind girlfriend, that will face the (literally) unseen dangers of the woods to save him.

You could do a shift like this easily in Spione. You simply narrate what happen. But it would be impossible in PTA or any other game with a initial declaration of "these are the protagonists". And the example is not some obscure artistic movie seen only in festival, but is a movie made for the "common audience", to make money. It's a movie made for the enjoyment of the public, Why should not be able to enjoy this as players?

Other examples: Psycho, or any of the TV series where a supporting cast member overshadow one of the initial protagonist becaise is more like by the audience.

For a literary example you don't need to search for some experimental unknown book: what about the Lord of The Rings? Sam begin as a protagonist?
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Ciao,
Moreno.

(Excuse my errors, English is not my native language. I'm Italian.)
Moreno R.
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« Reply #17 on: January 24, 2008, 06:24:36 PM »

Hi Ralph!

Let's say its the climactic scene of the whole sordid tale.  This is the scene which decides who lives, who dies, whether the principle's family gets out alive, all of it.  My card is the King.

Here's the deal...no Kings.  What's my ability as the player to impact this flashpoint?...pretty much nothing.

This is entirely possible, yes, but I have some problem with the assumptions you make to made your example.

First: from my reading of the rules and my experience in play (limited as it is), I don't think that Spione lend itself well to any kind of story that end with a big climatic battle  A climatic flight, a climatic murder, or a climatic confession I can see, but not a battle. In this kind of story the fight is not even, there can be no uncertain battle. The rules of the game are very clear: if you are a supporting cast character you flee, and live, or you die, or you go to prison. There is no such limit on the Principal destiny, so I suppose that in theory is possible to get a story where the principal win the big final battle (losing all his friends in the fight) and beat the forces that are arrayed against him, but I don't think that this would be the typical outcome, and in any case it would be more likely an ironic take on that like the end of "the prisoner".

Second: you can't decide who lives in the supporting cast in a flashpoint. You can kill or imprison them, yes, but you can't say "they live" or "they will be free", no matter how many card you can stack. Only Fates can do that.

And no matter how many cards he have or doesn't have, the fates are chosen by one person and one person only: the player of the Principal. If you play the principal, only you can decide to disclose (bringing the fates in the game) or not (choosing, right there, that everybody in the supporting cast WILL die or be imprisoned). If you choose to disclose, then only you can decide whih one of the fates you want to use, and for which character in the supporting cast. Who will be saved and who will be lost.

So, no matter if you don't draw your card like, EVER, in the entire game. There is always only one person who can decide this, and it's you. You have 100% power on this, and nobody other at the table can save any supporting cast character. Only you can. [the other player can kill or imprison them, though]

So, isn't "the scene" that "decides who lives, who dies, whether the principle's family gets out alive, all of it.". It's you.

Third, even during a flashpoint where you have no cards, you still have veto power on anything your principal does or say.

Fourth: if X is the number of players, you start at the first flashpoint with a total card number between X and X+4 (and the exact number is fully in the players' control: they choose the sheets and the agency, so they choose how many cards, between X and X+4). This mean that a group of 3 players start with 3-7 cards, drawn from a deck of 12 cards. The chance of not having any cards in the flashpoint for a single player is between 25% (for 3 cards) and 0.2% (for 7 cards), so if you want to have at least 1 cards in any conflict you can simply choose a principal with 3 cards. If both of you do it you can be pretty sure to have always at least one card. (and even if you choose to have principals with 1 card, to a total of 3, you stay out from flashpoints with so few cards that you don't miss much)

Then, as play goes on, the number of cards increase, when the supporting cast fates are decided, and at the "final big battle", the chances to get no cards are even less. With 9 cards, they drop to zero. (from the "almost zero" of 6-up cards)

What if you have more players?

With six players, the initial total card number is between 6 and 10 cards, from a deck of 24 cards. With the lower number there is a real risk of having people don't contribute much to the flashpoint (with 6 cards there is a mean of 1 card each), so let's assume that you will try to minimize this and go to 10 cards. The chance of having no cards in the initial flashpoint is 9%. it can happen, but not too often. And when you get 5-6 other cards from the supporting cast fates, and the end, IF there is a climatic battle, your risk of being out of it is almost nothing.

What I want to demostrate? That yes, your "power" to affect what happen during the flashpoint will vary during the game. Sometimes you will be able to do the impossible (during my third session, a principal player staked all his 4 cards one over another, increasing both effect and range and making a supporting cast character do a "james bond" in an house full of enemies and fleeing with the girl. This didn't save him when I in a later flashpoint blew that character's brain out with a joker+card. What goes around...), sometimes you will be only able to mitigate a staked column with a single card, talk in your character's voice (or vetoing some action that you think he would not do), and having the final word of anybody getting out alive. But you will NEVER be helpless, or out of the narration.

(and in any case, you can talk, suggest, frown, etc, and your voice will be heard. Because the other player want to be heard, too, when you will have "the buck")

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Ciao,
Moreno.

(Excuse my errors, English is not my native language. I'm Italian.)
Callan S.
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« Reply #18 on: January 24, 2008, 08:21:18 PM »

Hi Moreno,

Those are good examples, but they contain a protagonist at some point. I'm refering to not having a protagonist at all as a valid option in play. For example, the first 'Prince of nothing' novel is one of the books I refer to that has no protagonist for an extended time - it appears at the start to, but then you find he's psychotic, then you find he's not even that, he's actually automaton like (and it never really examines the source of his orders). However, awhile in it brings in another character (Akkaman) and I loved him - I've often thought he carried me through that first book. Incidentally he was a spy character - a mage of one of the tyranical mage schools who was sent out to gather information - the character always doubted his actions (which had led to deaths of loved ones) and was scared by nightmares of a past apocalypse every night as part of the schools methods. Not to mention the whore he dearly loved and who dearly loved him, but he always left behind. Ouch, she was a good character too. Great three books, read them all in the end, and the automatons role is pivotal to it all - but if I'd had to deal with just him, I'd have thrown the book away. The automaton was vital to the story, but I needed more than that.

The other book that had no protagonist (and alot of violence) - lets say I got half way, checked the end, saw it was just more like that, and tore the book in half. That's the only book I've ever destroyed. I just felt cheated that I'd gone through all the nastyness he'd described and all it was going to be was more nastyness.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #19 on: January 25, 2008, 04:46:32 AM »

Callan,

I am posting to tell you to stop.

In playing Spione, protagonizing a character (any character) is a constant option. There is literally no way to be stuck in a game with no protagonists unless every person at the table wants to be.

What I'm seeing you say is, "I hate stories with no protagonists! Hate'em!"

If this isn't being presented as a criticism of the game, then there's no point for it to be stated in this thread. OK. You hate them, which is on its own of no interest to anyone but you.

If it is being presented as a criticism of the game, then you are speaking of a game you (a) haven't read or played and (b), as I have emphasized and now repeated, does not require this element which you hate.

I am risking accusations of using moderator power to shut up criticism of my work, but I hope it is clear to thinking people that what you're writing is not criticism. It is a distracting display of opinions which only seem relevant and which are already co-opting the attention of others from their current, already subtle and difficult dialogue. "No protagonist" pushed some button of yours, and I don't see any reason for us to have to be there while you react.

Best, Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #20 on: January 25, 2008, 07:41:44 AM »

I'm so not happy with that post.

Callan, let me re-try it as the game designer participating in the thread, only.

Can you clarify what you'd like to know or want to say about the game (as described here), for me?

Best, Ron
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Valamir
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« Reply #21 on: January 25, 2008, 09:18:34 AM »

Hey Moreno, I'm not really interested in the precision of my abstract example.

My point was, and remains simply this: 

As a player you have absolutely no means to tactically influence how much of an impact you will or won't have during the flashpoint...over whatever issue is involved.  You as a player are powerless to affect that.  The random draw of cards determines that.

I was then drawing the parallel to how this feeling of powerlessness is exactly parallel to the feeling of powerlessness felt by a principle who's out in the Cold...and saying that's a good thing, and players should embrace that feeling to bring themselves closer to the themes of the game.

That's all.
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Moreno R.
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« Reply #22 on: January 25, 2008, 11:45:54 AM »

My point was, and remains simply this: 

As a player you have absolutely no means to tactically influence how much of an impact you will or won't have during the flashpoint...over whatever issue is involved.  You as a player are powerless to affect that.  The random draw of cards determines that.

And I ALMOST agree with you, in the sense that I agree that the random draw of cards determines that you, as a player, are powerless to affect what cards you get at the beginning of the flashpoint. What I wanted to demostrate with my previous posts was that is not the exact same thing as saying that the player is powerless to affect his impact on the flashpoint and the story.

Let's see if I can be more clear this time, without boggling us down in debating examples.

IF the flashpoint were a resolution system, to decide who win in a conflict and how, it would be difficult do disagree with you: the first one that can get two cards together in a column or a joker+card combination can say "I win, you are dead", the only strategy would be to try to get these combination before the opponent, and as soon as the cards are dealt, everybody would see who won.

But the flashpoint is not a resolution system. it is (1) a pacing burst (flashpoint is where THINGS HAPPEN), (2) the place where things get determined, (3) a sort of "story market" where you have to find the support of other to your initial cards, avoiding hindering actions (Manouvers are free, everyone can say what he wants, but Flashpoints are a market: everything cost cards, you never have enough cards alone, you must get other to "invest" into your initial cards with their cards, and you can invest your cards in something others declared, helping them, or hindering)

So, when at the beginning you see the cards you are dealt, you don't see "how the conflict will go", you see the "money" you have to play. Sometimes you will be rich, sometimes you will be poor. Over this, yes, you have no control whatsoever. And in a session with a lot of players, the principal players have usually very little of the "money" on the table.

What can you do then? You can move your "money" from a initial investment in the framing of a scene (a single card) that would be forced in a precise direction (depending if you play a principal or not), freeing it, and putting it over another's investment.

And what you do when you put your "money" in another player's investment? Will you help the investment or you will help it, making it bigger, or fixing it as unbreakable truth?

This is not decided by the cards. You are free to choose. You are no longer assumed to narrate only things beneficial (or detrimental) to a principal. You hear what the other player say, and you can choose: "I like it", or "no, I can't allow this"

Vincent Baker talked about this in an "Anyway" column, much better than I can do now: the way in Spione you start a narration with your first card in the column, and you have to trust that the players with cards above yours will build over it following your vision and not hindering. You have to narrate something that will convince them to "invest money /cards" in your initial investment.

I have seen something almost like this in Dogs in the Vineyard. How can you beat an opponent with bigger dice? You have to make a raise that he can't accept. No matter the dice, no matter the fact that, numerically, adding only the number on the dice, you have no chance. You can still win. With what you tell. The SIS trump the dice, the SIS is stronger, you can't use your bigger dice to win because you can't accept the effect this would have on the SIS.

In Spione, turn that around. Say things that the other people WANT in the SiS. You can still get thing going your way. Even with very few cards. Because there are other people at the table, people rich with cards to play. People free to play them as they want, to help you or hinder you. All you have to do is convince them of the rightness of your vision of how the story should go. Start the column telling something that light their eyes, that excite them, that make them say "right!". And the next player with the card over yours can't do anything other than confirm what you said, fixing it as undeniable truth.

And you can do this even if you have no cards at all! You can simply suggest, or (if you play a principal) act in a certain way, and you WILL have an influence over the story.

You can't be sure to have the "power", in cards, to FORCE something on the SIS. This is true. Ron often talks about the difference between games where your input can't be negated by others (DitV, for example) and games where you can't be sure that your character really will do what you declared (PTA). At first I thought that Spione was in the first group, because I didn't understand how much retconning you can do during a flashpoint, but now I see how it is really firmly in the second group (you can see me realizing this during the discussion of my actual play, in the posts linked above). No matter how many cards you have, the other players can pool their cards together and negate everything you say. If you are really lucky sometimes you will be able to get two of your cards in a column where nobody can put thir cards over yours, and state a single fact, but if the other player combine their efforts and play as a team usually they will be able to stop you of get some cards on the column to hinder you. You have to "buy" the people arond you to your way of seeing with what you say, not with what you draw.

This mean that, if you play a principal in a game with a lot of players, and you are firmly in your principal's camp, trying to get him to get what he wants, while all the others (even the other principal's player)  are against you, you WILL be hosed, and you will feel powerless. And yes, I think this is a nice and good way to play: you identify with your principal, with his thoughts and his hopes, you "play him" as he was your character, and you WILL "feel the cold", with the other players at the table mercilessly beating him, playing all the forces that are destroying his life. We could call this "playing Spione immersing in the character" (I am stealing some jeepform terms here, sorry if it's not kosher in big model terms or it isn't clear) and it's a perfectfully "right" way to play it, but what I am saying is that is not the only way to play it. You can play your principal like you would play an NPC. Maybe you identity more with a supporting cast member, and you want better things for that supporting cast member, not for the principal (and to save that cast member you will have to publicy show the secret shame of the principal, disclosing). Maybe you "immerse in the story" (another Jeep term) more than in a single character. You can join the other players in putting your principal deeper and deeper in trouble, in the cold.  You, as a player, will be powerless in Spione only if you decide to join your principal in the Cold.

P.S.: I am curious about your experiences in playing Spione, about how many players you had at the table. I think that much of our different experiences derive from playing with a different number of players. I played with three players, so there was only one non-principal player, so 2/3 of the initial cards were beneficial to the principals, and we were almost always playing someone in every scene.  How much difference does playing with more players (with more not-principal cards on the table)? Someome who tried both with few players and with a lot of players could describe how the game change?
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Ciao,
Moreno.

(Excuse my errors, English is not my native language. I'm Italian.)
Reithan
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« Reply #23 on: January 25, 2008, 12:11:06 PM »

Where can I find more information on this game? It sounds like a really good source of material, inspiration, or just a good play in general (provided the mentioned problems get resolved...or turn out to not be problems.)
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There is no true power with but one edge.

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jburneko
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« Reply #24 on: January 25, 2008, 12:24:43 PM »

Ralph,

I just wanted to poke my head in here and acknowledge that I see where you're coming from.  Yes, I think we're coming at the same thing from two different angles.  I'm just very picky about the use of the word "meaningful."  Yes, I have no power to control the random draw of cards.  I might get four cards, I might get no cards and there's no spend a point to draw another card or anything like that.

But once the cards hit the table, I, as a creative participant in the game have meaningful choices to make.  Even if I have no cards the No Shot rules give me a meaningful choice to make.

That said though, yes, I see how the core mechanic puts the player in the same desperate situation as the Principle.  This to me is one of the ways the game's Premise is encoded in the mechanics.  And again all this is said having only read it.  Maybe there's even MORE of sense of desperation and powerlessness when you're actually in that spot than I'm anticipating.

Jesse
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JC
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« Reply #25 on: January 25, 2008, 02:47:13 PM »

Where can I find more information on this game? It sounds like a really good source of material, inspiration, or just a good play in general (provided the mentioned problems get resolved...or turn out to not be problems.)

the game's official web-site is here: http://spione.adept-press.com

be sure to check out the videos

I found them very useful
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #26 on: January 25, 2008, 04:39:06 PM »

Admitting the possible danger of bias, my perception is that none of the people posting in the thread are arguing with one another or dealing with any problems of understanding the rules. The thing is, there's little shared language to talk about the rules, and the simple system has enough emergent facets to lead to many "ifs" when trying to describe something, especially in the abstract. What's being worked out here, and unfortunately, possibly to the detriment of public curiosity about the game, is how people are most satisfied with talking about it.

Based on discussions at the Spione site, as well as in person with Ralph and others, I'm confident that the rules text itself yields no problems of procedure - what it says, you do, and there isn't anything you do that is left out. Um, that's probably getting into self-promotion, so I'll stop.

Best, Ron
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mindwanders
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« Reply #27 on: January 26, 2008, 05:23:07 AM »

Hi Folks,

I was one of the other Spion players at Nerdinburgh (the "Gordon" mentioned). I dropped in just after the initial actual play post was made and I haven't had a chance to get back to the post until now. Hopefully, this will allow us to get this thread back on the track of our actual play experience.

I'll start off with my imediate reaction to the game after we finished playing, then expand from there.

I must admit. I didn't enjoy the session of Spione. I came away from the game feeling that we had spent several hours creating a pair of stories that were not memorable, collaborative or interesting. I felt that I had very little actual input into the stories, and what input I had was often changed or twisted in a direction I did not want it to go.

I'm not a spy fiction affictionado, hell I don't even like james bond. I've watched a fair bit of 24, but mostly because my wife is a big fan. So when the principle sheets organisation sheets came out they were all a bit on the overwhelming side. The sheets got passed around the table for everyone to have a quick look and then we got going.

I honestly can't remember any of my narration during the manuvours. Although I do remember us jumping to flashback for a large part of Issams narration and me spending several manouvers trying to narrate in what I felt was a better ending for his wife.

I also struggled to find a protagonist that I could invest in. The first one I tried was Issams wife, but she was written out at the first flashpoint. So I tried to keep her as a protagonist when we went to flashback (not very satisfying because no-one else was interested). The next was Eric, but by this point we were running short of interesting characters, so lots of people latched on to him.

In the first flashpoint I had no cards, in the second, one card and on the last two flashpoints I had two cards, but I was only able to double on one of them. My double was used to add in the fact that eric was being taken away by his russian handlers. Mostly because I was so bored with the existing story I thought I'd try and tell my own one off to the side. Unfortunately, everyone thought this was a great aspect for the story and jumped all over it, eventually resulting in Eric setting up David so he could insert himself into the KGB and act as a double agent. 

I raised the question several times as to whether we should go to flashpoint yet. But this was more so that I could get a feel of where the flashpoints were meant to go from the groups perspective than actually

After the session there were two main things that I sugested would have improved play.

I thought the group was too large to handle the round the table narration style of the manouvers well. We had 5 people playing, and the stories changed a lot between each of your manouvers, so it was very hard to keep things on track with your own priorities. I think a slightly smaller group might have made things a bit less random as far as the stories trying to pull in multiple directions.

We also didn't do much back and forth or discussion about what was happening in each manouver. The players rarely discussed what ideas were cool or what they were working towards with each manouver. Normally they just narrated thier little piece and moved on. I think this may have been an important thing we missed out on with a group of this size.   

Since the game I've had a couple of other thoughts I'd like to share.

The whole idea of the non-principle players working to move the principles further into the "cold" was not really discussed at any great length. I think if that had been stressed a bit more, it might have helped us all keep pulling the sories in the same direction.

I had a real problem working out who the cast of each of the stories was. If we had had copies of the principle sheets and the opperation details of our own to refer to as well as the communal copies in the middle. I think I would have been able to use the information to springboard my ideas a lot more easily.

The flashpoint mechanic is an interesting one, but one that I didn't feel was that intrinsicly tied to the setting. I was interested to learn that it was a mechanic that Ron had used before elsewhere and then incorporated into Spione. I really like the idea of it and the way that it functions during the flashpoint.

I get the feeling that the real system for the game is based on a currency of ideas about interesting things we could do with the story. The flashpoints and manouvers system set those ideas in stone, but like it was stated, you can't do that on your own. But, unless there is that back and forth of selling ideas to the other players and incorporating thier ideas you run the risk of ending up with the jumbled mess we did.

We only had one person at the table who had read the book. So I think a lot of Ron's careful hand holding didn't get passed on to the players. Is there a cheat sheet or a play style brief for this game to get players into thinking the way you want to play, Ron?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #28 on: January 26, 2008, 08:16:26 AM »

Hi Gordon,

I appreciate your post and think feedback of this kind is wonderful as a designer - it's a door to understanding the game, a sharing of a willingness to try my game, an even more important willingness to say "can our minds meet" about it. At the individual level, you and me, it's what I want.

However, at a promotional and website level, I'm battling a sickness of the heart in trying to reply. It'd be different if this were at the actual-play forum at the Spione site, which isn't an RPG-culture bulletin board. Here, however, I see fans of the game arguing with one another over phrasing (theirs, not the rules), which gives the message that the game is confusing and creates contention. I see the basic statement that it was No Fun, which is all anyone needs to say, "Oh," and be done with it forever. I see evidence of a play session that however well-intentioned, did not begin with a combination of ideas or intentions to play that matched the game's content. The thread has become my worst nightmare: the precise points where Spione departs from role-playing culture becoming its description among the culture. Through no one's fault, really. The hell of it is that not one person posting to this thread has done anything wrong or said anything that wouldn't be a source of fun discussion at the home site.

I see no way out at that level. I fear the damage is done and that Spione is now a target for detractors and a write-off for anyone who'd be interested. I also fear forlornly saying to less and less people over time, "But some people really liked it when they played too ..." Does it matter that successful and provocative actual play is described at other sites? I don't know.

So my attention has to stay focused on talking with you, the person, which carries none of that malaise. I wish I could help more, though. It's hard to do anything other than pointing to the book. Moreno, I think you did it an injustice. It really does say what to do. It cannot say what a given group will do with it or what the experience will be like, because the starting point of the reader cannot be controlled, nor would I want it to be.

What that means is, I'm struggling with how to illustrate here what the book says that clearly did not get communicated for this particular group. It's frustrating to imagine responses that say, "Oh, well, see, Ron doesn't explain things in his books and has to talk about them on-line," which is a standard riff, when all I'm going to do here is repeat stuff that's in there. So Gordon, please let me know whether any of the following makes any sense.

1. There is no purpose whatever to the Maneuvers phase except to put the two principal characters into the Cold. Playing Spione without this being explicit is like playing poker and forgetting to mention to the group that you will be betting with real money.

2. The game is intended to be relevant at a personal/political level, which is hard to explain since it's not about being preachy (the default hearing of the word "political" today). It's a matter of bringing in elements with resonance, or also of finding something at least interesting or revelatory in the background information. Moreno, you have an intense personal history regarding fascism, the CIA, and Italian politics. Did you share that with the group? Did any such issues arise in the story? If not, then I'm not sure what to say or do.

3. The "Spy vs. Guy" genre is almost totally alien to gaming culture, although not necessarily to individuals within it. The very word "spies," in the context of RPGs to date, means action, skill, coolness, training, disguise, and ultimately, unthinking patriotism. It can be campy and rapid-fire, like Bond, or all grim and moody, like 24 - they are the same, i.e., they are Thrillers. Spy vs. Guy is not Thriller. None of what "spies" means in Thrillers applies at all. It may interest people to know that Richard Helms, arguably the most politically significant CIA chief in history because he was subtle, despised The Spy Who Came in from the Cold with every fiber of his being. He rightly diagnosed it as a threat to the secret culture of intelligence and to the U.S. version of the Cold War itself, which he considered holy. To turn it around to my way of thinking, as I consider Helms to have been basically a reptile in human form, the Thriller borders on literary evil. I don't ultimately despise every example of it, and can find many of them fun, but as a whole the genre is pure propaganda in the negative sense, with concrete and terrible effects in reality, as manifested again and again, e.g. From Russia With Love (John F. Kennedy's favorite book) and most recently 24
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mindwanders
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« Reply #29 on: January 26, 2008, 10:54:12 AM »

Hi Gordon,

I appreciate your post and think feedback of this kind is wonderful as a designer - it's a door to understanding the game, a sharing of a willingness to try my game, an even more important willingness to say "can our minds meet" about it. At the individual level, you and me, it's what I want.


Thanks Ron. I tried to put in as much info and observations as I could in order to try and help people understand what was going on at the table.

I see no way out at that level. I fear the damage is done and that Spione is now a target for detractors and a write-off for anyone who'd be interested. I also fear forlornly saying to less and less people over time, "But some people really liked it when they played too ..." Does it matter that successful and provocative actual play is described at other sites? I don't know.

I would just like to point out that I could see the fun in Spione. It's not the sort of fun I would normally seek out, but I could see where it would come from in the game. I'm just trying to work out where we went wrong in bringing that fun to the table. Part of the problem I'm sure was a lack of dedication to the premise on my part, and also my dislike for previous games that don't directly asign me a protagonist  (I've owned Universalis for a long time and never played it because of that very reason).

What that means is, I'm struggling with how to illustrate here what the book says that clearly did not get communicated for this particular group. It's frustrating to imagine responses that say, "Oh, well, see, Ron doesn't explain things in his books and has to talk about them on-line," which is a standard riff, when all I'm going to do here is repeat stuff that's in there. So Gordon, please let me know whether any of the following makes any sense.

1. There is no purpose whatever to the Maneuvers phase except to put the two principal characters into the Cold. Playing Spione without this being explicit is like playing poker and forgetting to mention to the group that you will be betting with real money.

Then this is one of the main places I went wrong. I'm not sure if this was explained before the start of the session or not or if it just slipped past me and I never noticed it. Certainly Gregor (the one person who had read the book) seemed to be puruing that within the manouvers. But I really don't think the rest of the players were.

2. The game is intended to be relevant at a personal/political level, which is hard to explain since it's not about being preachy (the default hearing of the word "political" today). It's a matter of bringing in elements with resonance, or also of finding something at least interesting or revelatory in the background information. Moreno, you have an intense personal history regarding fascism, the CIA, and Italian politics. Did you share that with the group? Did any such issues arise in the story? If not, then I'm not sure what to say or do.

This wasn't something we managed to achieve. I can see where this comes from with the dirty secret and the disclosure. But I'm not sure where else this was meant to come from in play. Is this meant to be something the players are bringing to the table or is it meant to come from the setup or rules in some way?   

3. The "Spy vs. Guy" genre is almost totally alien to gaming culture, although not necessarily to individuals within it. The very word "spies," in the context of RPGs to date, means action, skill, coolness, training, disguise, and ultimately, unthinking patriotism. It can be campy and rapid-fire, like Bond, or all grim and moody, like 24 - they are the same, i.e., they are Thrillers. Spy vs. Guy is not Thriller. None of what "spies" means in Thrillers applies at all. It may interest people to know that Richard Helms, arguably the most politically significant CIA chief in history because he was subtle, despised The Spy Who Came in from the Cold with every fiber of his being. He rightly diagnosed it as a threat to the secret culture of intelligence and to the U.S. version of the Cold War itself, which he considered holy. To turn it around to my way of thinking, as I consider Helms to have been basically a reptile in human form, the Thriller borders on literary evil. I don't ultimately despise every example of it, and can find many of them fun, but as a whole the genre is pure propaganda in the negative sense, with concrete and terrible effects in reality, as manifested again and again, e.g. From Russia With Love (John F. Kennedy's favorite book) and most recently 24<

Can you give me some examples of the sort of influences that would be more appropriate?

It looks like I'm struggling with a frame of reference for the game. If any of the other players at the table are reading this, is this something that strikes more of a cord with you as far as being interested in the concept? Was this maybe a major feature holding us back?


4. The piecemeal, small-unit, unpredictable construction of scenes, actions, and conflicts is not a new way to do things, but a formalized version of what really happens without being acknowledged in many groups. All I can do is to ask you to accept, provisionally, that it can work, and to considering shifting to expectations of play that differ from "where this scene is going" and "what I want to see happen." I tried to articulate that a little bit in my earlier post, on the first page, using PTA as the explicit contrast, so I'm interested in your responses to that. I'd like to hold off on discussions of group size and other procedural features until we talk about it.

Thanks again for posting, and again, for playing.

Best, Ron

P.S. Oh yeah! There is a diagram of play available on the site, using little pictures and circles and arrows. I don't know whether you used it, nor do I think it's a perfect blueprint for play that will perfectly educate anyone about everything. So check it out and see what you think.

I need to run just now. I'll go back and read your previous post and diagram give my thoughts on this tomorrow.
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