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[S/Lay w/Me] the Lover and the liquids

Started by Paul Czege, June 29, 2009, 07:18:12 PM

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Paul Czege

Danielle and I playtested S/Lay w/Me last week. She was the adventurer and I was the situation and the Lover. I was holding off posting about it until we'd played a second time and I'd seen the game also from being the adventurer, but we haven't yet. I really enjoyed riffing on the phantasmagoric pulp color, so hell I'm posting about just our first session.

Danielle decided on a male character who was "an escaped apprentice, defiant and scorned, but armed with a weapon I invented." The setting was the "remains from when they tried to dig to Hell." She decided her Goal was to release her brother's soul, which was somehow trapped from when the dig had ended.

I decided what remained from that dig was an obsidian city with streets of sulphurous sands and air filled with the smell of sulphur, and with the pit to Hell in the catacombs under the city, flooded to seal it off.

I decided the Monster was the robed priestesses who guarded the flooded pit, and that they killed civilly, with deceit, and in a group. I gave the Monster a value of 6.

I decided the Lover was a pale, fleshy, aquatic woman who lived in the underground lake that filled the pit. She was innocent, open-hearted, and knowledgeable. I gave her a value of 2.

I didn't know whether I was supposed to reveal the descriptors of the Monster and Lover, so I did not reveal them. Also, if you're reading carefully, you see that I only picked three descriptors for the Monster, and three for the Lover. I didn't choose from the Fast/Slow polarity for the Monster, or from the Approved/Forbidden polarity for the Lover. I didn't feel like I needed those descriptors.

So, play starts with me describing the location. Robed priestesses are walking along the water, along the shore of the underground lake, with tall torches, talking to the water in a strange language. Danielle's character intrudes, and with some attitude, and instantly it's a problem for the priestesses. No one should be there. They tell him to leave. "The unholy is contained and you will not break the seal!" So this was a threat from them and I need to roll a die to start my tower. Danielle says her adventurer makes a break for the lake.

And well, that's the start of the Match. Except the text says Danielle should know the Lover "is in the first scene in some way." My plan had been to have the aquatic woman crest the surface of the lake briefly, to satisfy that requirement, but we got to the Match so quickly that it hadn't happened. My decision to have priestesses, and a somewhat monstrous Lover, was intentional so there might be some confusion about who was the Lover. But not actually revealing the presence of the Lover in the lake felt like a problematic failing. So I squeezed in the description of her cresting the surface before I rolled my die.

I described out the threat with the priestesses chanting. And I didn't want trite-ass trope fantasy spellcasting, or tired video game spell effects. So as the chanting progressed I had an eerie glowing liquid seeping from under the priestesses' robes and across the flat, rocky surface of the shore toward the lake, blocking Danielle's path. Wisps of unearthly smoke trailed from the liquid.

Danielle describes jumping the liquid, and walking out across the surface of the lake (wearing sorcerous boots).

I describe to Danielle how she hears the voice of the Lover in her head, "Why do you tarry at the surface? I am below." And from there the Match is just quick back and forth, and takes a turn I hadn't expected when I chose the Lover's descriptors. The priestesses send their glowing liquid out onto the surface of the lake. Danielle expresses the adventurer's lack of interest in the Lover. The glowing liquid circles Danielle and the Lover, penning them in. The Lover informs Danielle that she and the brother are in love, and that the brother called Danielle here so he could possess his body and be with the Lover. The glowing liquid explodes upward, creating a wall, and then crashes down upon them. Danielle produces a magical sphere, sinks it into the lake below, and then draws it back up with the brother's soul in it. The lead priestess screams, "No! You've broken the seal," and rushes out onto the surface of the lake to stab him.

And that was the end of the Match. Danielle had a much higher total than me even before I rolled my last die for the priestess attacking her. So she'd basically achieved her Goal with the capture of her brother's soul. But I hadn't yet rolled all of my Monster dice, so the bit with the priestess stabbing her was me finishing that out. She had five Good Dice, and spent two to "accomplish something else"; she sealed the lake by turning it to volcanic glass with her self-made magic weapon. She then said she would use two Good Dice to heal herself, which established her rejection of the Lover, so I had the priestesses chop up the Lover on the hard, rocky shore. And then she described trading her brother's soul to magically heal the mortal injuries she'd sustained at the hands of the priestesses, trading his life essence for her own life. Cold.

So the priestesses didn't turn out to be that "civil" and the Lover didn't turn out to be very "innocent" and "open-hearted." And the dice tower thing was a bit gimmicky for my tastes. But it was fun. I loved fabricating phantasmagoric pulp details. And I have good reasons for wanting to play it again.

I thought my fleshy, aquatic Lover would be an impossible temptation for Danielle, but she wasn't at all. I thought I knew for sure how to provoke her interest with intimate imagery, and I didn't even come close. So it becomes a game of figuring out how to do that over the course of several sessions. This, I think, is the coolest aspect of the game. It's an utterly meaningful creative challenge.

And great fun for fourteen year old gamer dudes in 1977. I can totally see how it's your idealized play experience from your gaming adolescence, Ron. :)

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

Paul's Girl

Here's the thing, saying over and over again "Come down under the water and be with me!" does not warrant my attraction. The water is cursed, the woman lives in the water so how can it not be a little creepy? (Paul needs to play Kagematsu a bit more.) Now a "please rescue me from those wicked women!" kind of thing could have been...better.
A haiku inspired by Gen Con 2002:

Oh, Great Bowl of dice
Unearth the die of my dreams
Wicked 12 sider


Ron Edwards

Hey, as soon as I see "the Lover is a pale fleshy aquatic woman," I know Paul's involved somehow.

I greatly appreciate the comment about play becoming a dialogue between the two people, in terms of what does and does not attract them.

One thing that I definitely am taking from this play account is that I have to change the important line in the text. Right now, it's

"My whole job is, over time, to try to make you choose to stay."

I think that overlooks the fact that the adventure is supposed to be whatever the two people make of it, not aimed at one particular outcome as most successful. The concept I'm shooting for is context and guidance, not win/lose. And furthermore, if I make up a hero, I'm probably going to want to see him or her bust out a couple of successful Goal-getting (and enjoy the beefing-up process regarding the written material) before being open to him or her possibly settling down.

So maybe something like,

"Over time, as adventures proceed, I try to make you choose to stay."

I think the business about rushing past the Lover in the first scene isn't that big a deal. I think you did the right thing by including her relatively quickly before moving on. (I refuse to use "squeezing" in the same sentence that refers to a pale fleshy aquatic woman.)

Thanks Paul & Danielle!!

Best, Ron

Paul Czege

Hey Ron,

A couple of things I forgot:

The text says, "If you kill or permanently imprison a Monster, then you gain prestige and capabilities. Add a brief sentence to your story about what you can do."

Is there supposed to be some formalized story record? I didn't get that impression from anywhere else in the text.

Also, I was pretty cavalier in my adherence to the various descriptors. When Danielle was clearly rejecting the Lover I went instantly from my vision of an innocent, helpful Lover, who had knowledge of trapped souls and whatnot, to one who was treacherously in cahoots with the brother's soul. Am I not maintaining the right creative stance relative to the descriptors?

Also, I don't think your original "my whole job" phrasing was problematic for us. We both realized naturally that the game was about flirting with the possibility of the adventurer staying. Yes, there's no mechanical reason the player would ever choose to stay. The motivation to stay comes entirely from creative engagement and the dialogue of what they find attractive. But that's why it's great. Because there's no doubt in my mind that creative engagement on this topic will ultimately drive over the lack of mechanical incentive, and the adventurer will stay.

But yes, your revised phrasing is better.

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

Ron Edwards

Hi Paul,

QuoteIs there supposed to be some formalized story record? I didn't get that impression from anywhere else in the text.

It's on the "You" page. After choosing the phrase that describes your hero, you then add ten words of description. The post-adventure phrases add to those ten words. I can clarify that in the instructions about the post-adventure material, changing "story" to "description."

QuoteAlso, I was pretty cavalier in my adherence to the various descriptors. When Danielle was clearly rejecting the Lover I went instantly from my vision of an innocent, helpful Lover, who had knowledge of trapped souls and whatnot, to one who was treacherously in cahoots with the brother's soul. Am I not maintaining the right creative stance relative to the descriptors?

Well, ummm, speaking as the designer, but also as a fellow playtester, I think you should have stuck to the original concept. Otherwise it's like Danielle is working with someone who's always re-adjusting based on whatever she does, and that's not like a meeting of minds so much as one person trying to be where the other one is or will be. Whereas I designed more toward the "meeting of minds" aim.

All that said, I'm not going to say you played wrong or anything so extreme.

Best, Ron


So, what I'm wondering is... is it possible for a guy like me to get my grubby lil' paws on S/Lay w/Me so's that I can check it out?
~*/\Matthew Miller/\*~

Ron Edwards

Hi Matthew,

I plan to bring a whole bunch to GenCon!! It will be a done, finished game. It's verrrrry little: a 16 page, staple-bound booklet. You will not believe the amazing art.

After GenCon, the same product will be available by on-line order, and I suppose it'd be dumb not to make a PDF version available too.

Playtesting is concluding about now (people who already have it and haven't tried it, shake that stick please), though.

Best, Ron


Ah, that's cool. =) I'll have to grab an order after GenCon.

Thanks for the info!
~*/\Matthew Miller/\*~

Paul Czege

We had our second session! And this time I was the adventurer. I created a "lordly knight, respected by all, but my mind remains my own," with "steely grey hair, ice grey eyes, broad chest" and a "peregrine sigil" (for ten words total). The setting I picked was "the battlefield, a few days afterwards," and my goal was to retrieve my son-in-law's signet ring.

In accordance with her role, Danielle described the battlefield. There were bodies everywhere, slain men, horses, war dogs. It was early morning. There was a fog. There were wolves chewing on pieces of human flesh. Flies. And she started to create the world. There were crones moving among the dead, praying for them; she explained that the oldest women do this, because they are closest to the dead, and that death knows no kingdom or boundary, it takes everyone, so the crones are the old women of both sides of the conflict.

I describe my entry. I am Duke Per Acland. I arrive on horseback. I've been riding a couple of days, since I heard about the battle. I ride slowly through the battlefield, looking in particular at the fallen shields and having recollections of people from the various houses that I know. My two war dogs are with me: Crowbird and Mathilda.

(The first session made us realize the importance of names, so we paid attention to it this time.)

We weren't sure whether looking around and having memories met the "significant forward moving event" qualifications of a Go, and so I kept going. I describe discovering the body of a young warrior I recognize. He'd been run through by the sword of an opponent, but had somehow managed to grasp the other man and slit his throat with an elk handled knife. The young man had squired with me four or five years earlier, and had always prized that knife. I take and clean the knife and sheathe it under the chest strap of my cloak, intending to return it to his father.

Danielle said that was a good Go, and proceeded to describe the presence of a ten year old child. The girl had been searching the battlefield herself, but when she sees me she runs off, "Murray, Murray!"

(Danielle still hasn't introduced the Lover at this point. The text says the Lover "is in the first scene in some way." What's a scene? I had this same problem when she was the adventurer, introducing the Lover.)

{Skip a bit, brother.}

Anyway, "Murray" turns out to be Muriel, the sister-in-law of Lord Kenrick, who led the opposing forces. She has closely shorn hair, and she's a bit bloodied, from having fought as a boy squire with the opposition. She's gorgeous, and she's the Lover. And the ten year old girl is Sabina, the daughter of Lord Kenrick. It's revealed that Kenrick had led these men in a popular revolt against me, the Duke.

I find the body of my son-in-law, Brion, but his signet ring is already missing. Muriel tells me of the scavengers they saw stealing from the dead.

Muriel and Sabina are looking for Kenrick's body. And here I do some culture building. I agree to help, saying, "You have nothing to fear from me. We are equals upon this battlefield, each of us in search of closure to our lives which lay flayed open by the events here. So there is a sacred battlefield bond of trust between us. No warrior would violate it."

{Skip a bit, brother.}

There's a dark rider. He turns out to be Ranulph, one of Kenrick's captains. But this is by no means clear at first. There's a chance he's the Monster.

There's some conversation about me sending Muriel back to her homeland. "Kenrick married a foreign woman because no woman of good blood here would consider him." And about me sending Sabina to a nunnery.

Ultimately, there's a cool fight with a sorcerer who's claiming souls from the dead to extend his own life. He survives me striking him with my axe, and nearly pulls my own soul from my body. I can feel my toes and feet go numb. But ultimately my war dogs tear into him, and I slay him with the elk handled knife from earlier and retrieve Brion's signet ring from the cord around his neck.

It was fun, a fuller story than the first session, and we hit a nice stride of Goes this time. But there wasn't much chemistry between my Duke Acland and Muriel, and I got a stern and emotional lecture from Danielle afterwards about my failures to engage romantically with Muriel, and in particular, the nunnery and exile stuff being icewater for the relationship, and how I need to train up by reading some romance novels. And I have to admit, Danielle did a very nice job portraying Muriel to my romantic tastes; she was brave and independent and compelling. But my side of the post-play conversation was arguing that the game doesn't deliver a creative mandate to the player to work toward a relationship with the Lover. I wasn't playing the game wrong by not helping it happen.

So again, same social contract hitchyness as last time: in both games the player of the adventurer kept the Lover at arm's length, which the other player wasn't expecting at all, and so was creatively a bit flummoxed.

Also, Danielle reported post-play that she'd been conceptually a bit free and loose with the identity of the Monster. She might have made the dark rider, Ranulph, the Monster if I'd reacted differently to his arrival. Or the sorcerer might literally have been Death, harvesting the battlefield.

In her defense, she hasn't herself actually read the full rules text. But probably you should expect other players will make similar creative assumptions: that there's a collaborative goal in the social contract of working toward romance with the Lover, and that it's okay to be a bit loose with the identity and nature of the Monster, or the personality of the Lover (as I myself did during the first session) if it seems warranted by the story in progress. I might suggest you interdict this stuff somehow in the text, as I have a sense from your comments about my handling of the aquatic Lover's personality in the first session that this looseness ("intuitive continuity"?) doesn't fit with your envisioned play dynamic. Maybe some language about how it's part of the game to stick with your conceptualizations of the Monster and Lover through to the end of the adventure, to see how it plays out; that you try out new conceptualizations in subsequent adventures, not during the course of the current one.

And you might include a warning not to be taken by surprise if the player doesn't pursue romance with the Lover.

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

Ron Edwards

Hi Paul!

As posted in a sibiling thread, I independently created a similar situation, searching the battlefield for remains of a dead relative. Plus a military-medieval sigil too. Cool ...

You're right about the names. Every time someone else and I have made them up and made up more during play, it's worked well, and every time I haven't, I've regretted it.

You did right to keep going on your first Go: if you don't think it might be finished, then it's not. I generally recommend extending a Go rather than curtailing it, at least based on how people are encountering the rules for the first time.

Quote(Danielle still hasn't introduced the Lover at this point. The text says the Lover "is in the first scene in some way." What's a scene? I had this same problem when she was the adventurer, introducing the Lover.)

Good point. The rules intention is actually for the Lover to be in the first official Go, meaning, when "I" Go following the initial location description and entrance description. It's not as forced as it sounds, as the Lover can be merely glimpsed, far-off, or (perhaps) even merely represented as long as the representation is vivid. You couldn't have a peasant farmer grunt, "Yahr, there be a princess up that way ...", but you could see her far away on the balcony of her tower, "even from this distance she could be seen to yearn for release," or something like that which maybe doesn't sound quite so porn (he realizes upon having written it).

"Scene" is a poor guidepost for this game, because scenes can end and begin, with any sort of desired transition, at any time, either within Goes or coordinated with their transfer.

Regarding connecting with the Lover or not, well, you're right that the game doesn't mandate the adventurer player to work toward a relationship with the Lover, and you weren't playing it wrong. The text is extremely clear that you get Lover dice (if they're still available) for the listed promises or effects of your character's behavior, including "abandon the Lover," or "do not embrace the Lover," or any of the other listed not-so-romantic things.

But ... the playtesting utility of your point is muddied because Danielle hadn't read the rules. I'm trying to stay cool about your suggestion which is hard given the freshness of the design and writing in my mind. When she or anyone tries to play this game based only on what they think the other person was doing, and for purposes that might be included in the game's possibilities but are not necessarily the only options ... I dunno, it ceases to be playtesting and starts to become a wrangle about expectations while the poor little game text sits lonely. By not insisting that she read them, you may have set her (and then yourself) up for mismatched expectations, most especially because your (accurate) statement that you were not playing the game wrong can't be relevant.

I think the text itself is brutally instructive concerning how fixed the choices are, and it definitely does not say "these are merely suggestions" or "save them for later if you want." There's even a specialized graphic to indicate mandated choices for what absolutely must go into the narrations. So I dunno ... I really like what you and Danielle are doing, and I hope you keep playing, but I'd be especially happy (not that that's your problem) if she was able to work from the text and not from interpreting your play or verbal summaries.

Best, Ron