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[Blotter] shot once with a 35mm

Started by Brendan Day, February 24, 2010, 12:55:22 AM

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Brendan Day

Blotter is a game inspired by film noir and crime fiction.

This was my first playtest.  I went in with a lot of assumptions about how the game should be played, so I decided to watch from the sidelines and try to keep my mouth shut.  There were four players, and the game lasted about 90 minutes.

    Tim's suspect was Oscar
    Len's suspect was Molly
    Abram's suspect was Frank
    Amelia's suspect was Irene

The Story

Oscar owns a nightclub and pays alimony to his ruthless ex-wife, Irene.  Oscar is obsessed with one of the cocktail waitresses, Molly, who conspires with him to doctor the club's financial records, reducing his monthly payments to Irene.  Despite this, Oscar is still deep in debt, and might lose the nightclub.

Irene observes Oscar's interest in Molly, and soon becomes jealous, fearing anything that might weaken her control over the man.  She turns to Frank for help.

Frank is Irene's business partner.  Together they produce and distribute pornographic films, but these aren't as profitable as they once were.  Irene convinces Frank that the real money is in snuff films.  While driving around town drunk late one night, Frank discovers an abandoned factory down by the river, the perfect location for their next project.

Frank is in love with Oscar, so like Irene, he has a motive for wanting to get rid of Molly.  With her help, he convinces the cocktail waitress to star in his next picture.

Molly and Irene have a few scenes together at the nightclub.  Irene is briefly tempted to spare Molly's life and call the whole thing off, but then Molly takes pity on the "older woman" and offers to help her get a part in Frank's film.  Molly would even be willing to step aside and let Irene take her place entirely, but Irene declines this kind offer, assuring Molly that the part is perfect for her.

Molly goes to the factory, expecting to star in some kind of romance film.  Frank chains her up and starts filming the scene, but he loses his nerve at the last moment, and ends up knocking her out and faking her death.

Oscar follows his ex-wife to the factory and finds an empty set with what appear to be Molly's blood-soaked clothes in the corner.  Heartbroken, he draws a gun and swears that he'll kill whoever murdered her.

Irene, enraged by Frank's betrayal, decides to take matters into her own hands.  She shoots Molly, and then sets up Frank to take the fall, knowing that his prints are all over the camera.  Frank's skill as a filmmaker is his undoing, because the police believe that the scene is genuine.  Irene gets away with murder.


The end game was probably the weakest element, and I've already revised it since this playtest.  In the original version, the players simply drew a card for every point earned, and the suspects with the highest cards were paired up as killer and victim.  This wasn't very satisfying.  The last round didn't feel like a conclusion so much as an epilogue.

In the new version, players vote for the killer and the victim, with red suits representing a vote for the victim and black suits a vote for the killer.  For example, if the final vote gives Irene 39 black and 19 red, and 39 is the highest score on the table, then Irene is the killer.  Amelia picks the victim, so the other suspects still have a chance of dying in the spotlight.

I got a lot of other good feedback during the first playtest.  Tim sent me a link to Eero's recent treatise on the pitfalls of narrative technique, but I don't know whether this game avoids those pitfalls or leaps into them blindly.

Ron Edwards

This is definitely why playtesting is a big deal. I confess I have never been brave enough to pass my work in progress to a group of people to try while I was present.

Hey, quick reference: One Can Have Her by Jonas Ferry, a game which I think shares some of the features you're working with here. I recommend it not to say your goals have already been done by someone else, but because it's valuable to see how someone else grappled with similar issues. It's also a lot of fun to play. Jonas made a key late-stage playtesting design decision, for instance, concerning whether the final scene is randomly determined or adjudged to be final by the GM, which is well worth evaluating to see whether you like it.

Best, Ron

Brendan Day

Thanks for the link to One Can Have Her.  I seem to recall discussing it during a game of Blazing Rose, but I haven't yet had an opportunity to play it.  I also want to try Capes, which may already deliver the kind of gameplay I'm striving for here.

I've been focusing on the end game of Blotter ever since this last playtest, so I want to step back and look at some other aspects of the game.


Should the game be competitive?  Competition won't necessarily result a better story, but it might give the players more of a stake in it, which could make for a better game.

Let's say that Molly is my suspect.  The game tells me to frame her as the killer or the victim, but why would I want to do that?  I don't have any unique authority over her as a character, so I can't really immerse myself in the part.  She isn't "my" character, so why should I care about her fate?

If the game is competitive, I win by building a case around Molly and another suspect.  This gives me a goal beyond just telling a good story.  If someone contributes a brilliant scene that doesn't implicate Molly, I probably won't vote for it.  This gives the other players more of an incentive to incorporate my ideas into their own, because they know that I won't vote for clever narration alone.  At the same time, I can't win by focusing on Molly alone, but if I ignore her entirely, I won't have any chance at all.

What are the drawbacks to this approach?  There is no gamemaster to serve as an impartial referee, so the game itself has to provide a level playing field.  What else?  Playtesting will certainly help here, but no doubt other people have already been grappling with these issues for years.

Paul Czege

Hey Brendan,

Check out how The Valedictorian's Death uses both competition and voting to determine its killer.

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

Brendan Day

Thanks for mentioning The Valedictorian's Death.  It's useful to see how that game uses competition.  Everyone wants to be seen as a credible threat, but no one wants to actually commit the crime. 

With that in mind, I've been looking at the characters in Blotter who don't emerge as the killer or the victim.  Perhaps the losing players should decide whether the killer is brought to justice, which in turn breaks the tie between the two winners.  The killer has to actually get away with murder in order to win.  If Molly is my suspect, it's not enough for me just to position her as the killer or the victim.  She could win the final vote and still lose the game, if the other players send her to the electric chair (as a killer) or decide that she had it coming all along (as a victim).

Paul Czege

Yes, I think that's fertile territory.

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