Author Topic: [Working Title for System: Dramatic Lives] A Short Story as Game Play  (Read 1908 times)

Charles Perez

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This in an actual play account in short story form. Play took the form of writing this story and playing through conflicts using dice and the game rules. This story arc was run purely solitaire; I was both the main character's advocate and that character's adversary. Every important conflict was gamed, no outcomes were predetermined or fudged. All of the conflicts were oppositional, none were orthogonal. The setting is a tweaked Changeling the Lost, from the New World of Darkness line. The ruleset is of my own devising. Ron, this is the ruleset I want you to playtest once I have a draft of it ready.

Like the movie Hitch, the main character is a wingman. Unlike the movie Hitch, and like the movie Say Anything, the question of whether the guy gets the girl is not the real conflict. Here, the conflict is over whether the guy will be enough worse off for having run with the girl that it would have been better for him never to have met her.

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Nathaniel Evans danced as the music played. The dance floor was full, and desire was all around. Desire was the specialty of Spring Court, and Evans was Winter. He didn't let that stop him. The desire was a swirling mixture of longing and intent. Some of the clubbers just wanted to dance, some of them wanted to attract the opposite sex, and some wanted to show up their own. All of these desires were an uncanny food to one such as Nathaniel, and as each desire washed over him, he took it in.

The emotional mixture that night was a heady one, and a changeling could easily get drunk off of it. Nathaniel held his liquor well enough, so to speak, even though it quickly seemed that he was drinking out of a fire hose. Very well, then, he would be well and truly topped off tonight, if he could handle the rest of it. Sanity is not something a changeling can take for granted; a changeling must cultivate Clarity in order to see the world as it is, not as he is. Moreover, a changeling by definition is part Fae, and seeing the mundane world overlaid with Fae illusions has many disadvantages. Clarity, fortunately, can also help a changeling hold his glamour. Nathaniel's Clarity came to his rescue, helped by the pedestrian fact that the club scene was his element.

Nathaniel left the dance floor, steady as you please, with a belly full of glamour. Just then, his phone buzzed. He had a text. There is an especially beautiful dancer looking my way. 'Especially' was code for 'supernatural' and usually meant some variety of Fae, often Nathaniel's own. He texted back, Go ahead and daydream about her. I'll be with you in a bit. The daydream would doubly serve his purposes. Nathaniel found a corner, sat down, and suddenly nodded off.

The text was from Mortimer Fenris. Mortimer was pledged to Nathaniel, and Nathaniel to Mortimer. Part of that pledge gave Nathaniel access to Mortimer's dreams. Daydreams were an edge case; to enter them required an edge. Luckily, another part of the selfsame pledge linked Mortimer to Nathaniel, giving him a sense of where and how Mortimer was. Besides, Nathaniel had a Contract that gave him special privileges with respect to dream-stuff, and between that and the link, the nigh-impossible became easy.

It was easy for Mortimer to focus on the subject of his daydream, and that focus provided Nathaniel a venue in which to appear, as well as an image of the changeling in question. "Yep, beautiful, as you might expect. She's my own seeming, a Fairest, her kith being Dancer. Her build and her pattern of muscle tone tell the story. She's local, probably Spring Court, certainly the type. I don't have a full name. Something Dancer, I think. She --" The daydream burst, disrupted by a sense of its subject's physical presence. She had probably approached Mortimer.

Yet another part of their pledge allowed Mortimer to see Fae things for what they were. Most such things had a true form, revealed to those who could see, and a mundane form that everyone else saw. Mortimer saw these true forms as changelings saw them. Nathaniel hoped that Mortimer would be at least partly on his guard. The changeling Dancer might be harmless, or she might mess with him badly. Nathaniel was confident that Mortimer wouldn't be adversely addled by any mortal woman's charms, but a changeling, especially a Spring Courter, would have resources to addle a man that a mortal woman would lack.

Nathaniel sent a hurried text: where are you? There was no answer. Nathaniel still had a sense of where Mortimer was, and therefore could still find him reliably. Without a known location, however, reaching him would take longer, giving more time and potential for bad things to happen. Nathaniel set off at once.

* * *

Jill Dansing was coming off of a feed of her own as she approached Mortimer Fenris. Mixed in with the general desire was a wisp of beautiful pain, and Mortimer was the source. He wore a business suit, and his thinning but not yet thin dark hair was starting to recede. His look said accountant, but it said so with a peculiar force; it was as if he was cosplaying an accountant for those who had a fetish for the look, and his look was strong enough to start to give an onlooker just such a fetish.  The look and the pain acted together to attract Jill and to intrigue her.

"Hi! What's your name?" He had been daydreaming, and the way he reacted when she interrupted his dream betrayed that it was about her. He blushed as he said, "Mortimer. What's yours?" She replied, "Call me Jill." The sight that greeted everyone but him was that of a slender, fair skinned, well toned brunette in a short, fashionable, loose-fitting dress that was modest everywhere above its hemline. Her shoes, stiletto-heeled ankle boots styled to match the color and hang of the dress, were an opposing book-end for long, lean yet shapely legs. What Mortimer saw was the same woman in the same dress, but looking as if she was an elf who had just stepped out  of the movie version of "Lord of the Rings", with more muscle tone than others could see - such tone adding impact to an already striking figure. Fresh, spring air seemed to waft from her, conveying a faint scent reminiscent of new blooms.

She knew how to make men want her. Perhaps more accurately, she knew how to fan the flame of desire lit by her physical appearance. Conversing with the man before her,  she perceived that he possessed a similar art. He was less sure of what he had, though, and was a obviously a neophyte at using it. She was able to inflame his desire quickly, helped along by calling, perhaps recklessly, on her special privileges pertaining to Desire itself. She fed on what she inflamed - or rather, she fed upon its presence. Mortimer would not be drained of emotion nor of sensation.

Her aim for this conversation was to be stuck in his mind as the most prominent, most desirable female in his thoughts. As she took in his beautiful, painful glamour, though, her end of the conversation started to slacken. This brought on him a look of puzzlement, followed by his face relaxing into understanding. Wait a minute. Did he just catch me with my mouth full of glamour? she thought. Mortals with social ties to changelings were not unheard of. One such mortal in particular was famous because of her, but hardly anyone knew that about him. That mortal, however, wouldn't have been able to make the observation that this one seemed to have made.

Someone appeared to Mortimer's left and held up a finger for attention. Anyone who looked at him would see a gray eyed young man, of medium height, whose long, dirty blond hair looked as if it could actually flow, and whose evenly toned skin was slightly darker than Jill's. His slender build and youthfully pretty features were a package that, ironically, defied one to think of its bearer as delicate, instead promising an unwavering, eerily captivating gauntness to come - but was being a tease about it. Jill - and Mortimer - could see the reddish tinge to his skin and his devil's horns, along with a stark, seemingly cold cast. What he was wearing was a distant cousin to a leisure suit. Fashionable as it was, it served the man's sex appeal, as well it might. The design was a Hawthorn! That particular designer knew his business, and believed that clothes should make a man look fuckable. For all of this, though, there was an aura of subtle menace about the one appearing before her. The aura did not seem strong enough to be meant to drive anyone off - yet. More subtle, but still noticeable, was a sense that the man might as well have been panting for breath and saying, "I got here as fast as I could," even though there was no obvious outward sign of this.

"Nathaniel Evans, of the Winter Court," the new arrival declared, standing. Jill and Mortimer were both seated, Jill having been positioned so as to give Mortimer a good view of her legs.

"Jill Dansing, of the Spring Court. You're protecting him." It wasn't a question.

"Yes."

"From what?"

"From whatever, or whoever, would bring him to harm, or to ruin." Nathaniel was seated by this time. Mortimer was indeed marked thusly: this one is under my protection. Most would only get a vague feeling, but those in the know could discern such marks more clearly. With Nathaniel present, furthermore, one could sense that he was the protector.

Jill could see that, though Mortimer wanted her, he trusted Nathaniel, and his trust was actually stronger at the moment than his desire. Damn, she thought, time to turn up the voltage. "Mortimer's appeal. You know, the I-am-your-fetish-now way he has about him. Your work?" Nathaniel nodded in reply. She turned to Mortimer. "You wear it well," she said in a manner to suggest that Mortimer wear her as well, as she uncrossed and re-crossed her legs. She still had not yet let go of Mortimer's sense of lust.

"She's not playing. She means it all." Nathaniel's words traveled to Mortimer with an unnatural deftness, dodging the raindrops of Jill's torrent of sexuality. Jill could sense that her latest move had gotten to Mortimer, and should have wrapped him around her finger. Nathaniel's words alone shouldn't have been enough to counter it; he must have expended glamour to help those words along. She wondered if he was pledged to do what he was doing, to try as hard as he was trying. If so, it would not do to get into a glamour spending war with him. Nonetheless, she had not yet given up.

Changing her tactics, Jill stood, bent over and kissed Mortimer, gently and as disarmingly as she could. The kiss told her how things were at the moment between them, and, after a bit of lingering, they both released at the same time, with Jill letting go of Mortimer's desire. His longing was certainly pointed her way, but he would end up wanting her on his terms more than on hers. Mortimer got out his phone. "Do you have a phone number?"

* * *

The man was watching the dance floor with some interest when he spied the best dancer on the floor, with the best legs to boot. Then she went and sat down with some dorky suit. What was she doing coming on to him like that? Likely she was just playing with him. Still, the more he looked on, the more he told himself that the situation just wasn't right.

Then things got even more wrong when the pretty boy showed up. The pretty boy wanted Legs' attention, but he wasn't the nimrod's competition. Was he his wingman? Couldn't be, yet there it was. Were they having an argument? God, the heat coming off of her. He decided it was time, and started making his way there, his eyes no longer consistently on them. He reached their table as the schlub was getting his phone out.

"Hey, beautiful. Stop wasting time with this nebbish here. You could be with --"

"That's reformed nebbish to you, thank you very much." The interloper glanced at the man who spoke, annoyed by more force in the speaker's voice than he expected, and, if truth be told, slightly troubled at the lack of a tone of anger or of defiance.

"Quite true. You aren't looking at him closely enough," the legs' owner chimed in. This got him peering his competition's way rather than just glancing. Furthermore, his field of vision was also able to take in the pretty boy's eyes and mouth, which together may as well have been saying, "Is that you sucking my dick? Or are you sucking his?"

* * *

Seconds later, the intruder's face took on a look something like a thousand yard stare, and he took up Mortimer's hand in both of his submissively, said, "Sorry to bother you," and left. Mortimer's mouth was left slightly agape at this. When he could speak again, he said, "Did I just turn into a hot chick right in front of him?"

"That's closer to the truth than you think," answered Jill. "I wasn't kidding about your 'I am your fetish now' quality, but it seems to have had a deeper effect on the freshly departed than I expected."

Nathaniel chimed in, "I figured that was your play, so I just helped it along, hence the lewd smirk. We may have just changed that guy's life, though."

"I wasn't trying to pull any stunts, I was just standing up for myself."

The conversation continued, and Nathaniel breathed easier as their talk relaxed into getting to know one another. As it turned out, Jill Dansing wasn't just a Spring Courtier, she was that court's social director, a position similar in status to that of the chief poet of an Irish clan. Strife between courts was always awkward, and being the cause of that strife more awkward still. Nathaniel had played his own end of things no more low key than was necessary.

After awhile, Jill took her leave. The conversation continued. "I'm going for it."

"She could still eat you alive. She's quite a handful; I can see that from here. She could prove too much for you."

"This is the brass ring, though. She's interested, I know it, don't tell me she's not. And hey, she may not have a day job, but she's still got a job in your community."

"She looks expensive, even so. She could drain your bank account dry without really trying. Are you willing to exhaust your savings trying to keep up with her?"

"I don't think it'll go that far. If she drains my finances too much, I'll call a halt."

"You'd be surprised what you can be talked into in the heat of the moment. Jill is a kind of woman you haven't really run across yet. In the old days, I ran with one like her for a few weeks. That one was living large off of two different guys while she was dating me. Jill is that type, and you can imagine how good she'd be at making you pay for her lavish lifestyle."

"Are you saying she's out of my league?" There was a bit of defiance in Mortimer's latest words, as if wary of Nathaniel playing cock-blocker or poacher.

"I'm not saying that at all. She's more or less in your league, by unlikely confluence, but that makes being with her more dangerous. Anyway, I'm your wing-man, not your cock-blocker. I'll help you any way I can. Speaking of which, you may want to call it a night. I'll be by to see you later."

"OK. Good night. See you in my dreams."

They parted ways outside, just in time for Nathaniel to notice an incoming text and an owl looking at him expectantly. He looked at the text, and then at the owl. They had both arrived for the same reason.

* * *

Nathaniel's home was a spacious house in Georgetown, with an actual yard and dedicated parking places. Nathaniel and his new houseguest took his guest's pack and suitcase into the house. The houseguest was a new escapee from Arcadia proper; the book-bag and the small suitcase were evidence that someone had already been generous with him since his escape. Nathaniel and others with Fae sight could see the partial canine look of the man's face and features, reminding one of a German shepherd from the island of Dr. Moreau.

"Ralph?"

"Yes, just Ralph. I was born with that name, and my former keeper thought that was hilarious."

"Sorry to hear it. Anyway, here's the kitchen. Grab something from the fridge to heat and eat now. I can hear your stomach growl - no offense."

Ralph ate in silence. Nathaniel took three breakfast burritos from the fridge and put them in a plastic container, and laid a butter knife and fork on the container. "When you get done with that, get something that looks good for breakfast and we can take all of this up to a guest room. Each bedroom has a microwave and a mini-fridge. Use them tomorrow morning. From the sound of it, Jorge is entertaining a lady, and he'll probably want to feed her breakfast tomorrow. He'll see the missing food and know that he should only cook for two. While you're here, try to stay out of his way."

"Your own houseboy?"

"Pretty much, and he turns a blind eye to strange doings around here. I'll thank you not to make that part of his job any harder than it is. Grab a knife and fork and leave the dishes in the sink. We're just about ready to go upstairs."

The noise from Jorge's guest came from the only bedroom on the main floor, near the stairs. Ralph whispered, deadpan, "I think her name is Mona."

Ralph's room was on the second floor. "Put your breakfast in the fridge, and keep hold of your suitcase. When you open the closet door, make this hand gesture, and voila. Come in here." 'Here' was a miniature forest clearing, enclosed completely by intertwined branches and leaves, and decorated with Victorian furniture and drapery. The place had a soft nighttime luminescence. "Unpack your stuff in here. I've already shown you how to come and go from this door. This is the safest place I have to offer. All doors open to the mundane world, none to the Hedge or to any other hollow. Eat whatever food you like that turns up here, or save room for your breakfast in the fridge, as you prefer.

"Stay in here, or your guest room, which has its own bath. Please don't wander out until I see you in the morning. You have much to learn about being what you are in the mundane world, and besides, Jorge will be cooking tomorrow morning. You need sleep, so get some. Ordinarily, I'd teach you what's what during your dreams tonight, but I'll be busy elsewhere, and I'm late enough as it is. Is there anything else you need before we call it a night?"

"It's a night."

* * *

"You're late."

"Yeah, a new escapee turned up, and  now he's my houseguest."

"This makes what? Your third?"

"Yes. The Winter Court has been sending the new arrivals my way. My own arrival impressed them, I think. I guess they figure the guy who landed on his feet is the guy to teach the neophytes."

"Landed on your feet in Miami, you mean, at least at first. I haven't thought about Miami for months."

"Thinking of going back? If you do go, you're on your own."

"After what you told me about it? Fat chance. Maybe I could ignore the local fae politics, and maybe they'd catch up to me. I'd rather not risk it."

"Speaking of fae politics, let's talk about what the Spring Court's social director was doing to your feelings."

Nathaniel recreated the whole scene, using Mortimer's half spoken, half dreamt recollections to portray events before he had arrived. The scene was an extra set of dream images for both of them and a dream image for Jill Dansing, with some background. The idea was to go through the scene, shot by shot, and reveal the points at which Jill was tweaking Mortimer's sense of desire, getting him to want her even more than he normally would. That was the idea, anyway.

The playback of the dream scene was not smooth at all. It kept seizing up at points where Mortimer's desire was being inflamed, supernaturally and otherwise. A look at Mortimer's dream self told the story; he was starting to become anxious about his prospects with Jill. The part of him that was still the nebbish of his not so distant past simply could not trust that she was in his league, let alone that she desired him intensely. Neither could the inner nebbish disbelieve enough to let her go, to write her off as never to be his and to turn his back on her. Mortimer was beginning to be caught in a trap of "I must have her," versus "I can't have her."

Nathaniel wasn't about to let this stand. He forcibly played back his own words, "She means it all."  Then, addressing Mortimer in the dream directly, he shouted, "Pay attention! Look at what she was projecting! Unless something bizarre happens, you two are going to end up in bed together. And it's not going to be a mercenary fuck or even a pity fuck. She wants to devour you. And that's why you're doing this in the first place, to get attacked, with gusto, by one such as her. That's the prize, man. That's why we guys do this. And it's already yours, you just have to take it. Take her."

"What if I screw it up? I say or do the wrong thing, and then she doesn't want me anymore. What if --"

"It won't be that easy to screw things up here, unless she was faking to begin with, which she wasn't. Just keep your eyes on the prize, man. Stay on target." When Nathaniel was a prisoner in Arcadia, he was used for sexual purposes. During this time, he struggled to maintain his own zest for the pleasures of the flesh. The struggle was hard won for him. Mortimer knew this about his durance, in a general sense, but now images began to form unbidden, images that suggested to Mortimer just what it cost Nathaniel not to have given up his own sense of pleasure to the Mistress of Delights. The pettiness of his own anxiety melted away under Nathaniel's determined gaze.

The dream scene stopped seizing up, and Nathaniel was able to show Mortimer, in detail, the unnatural influences on Mortimer's sexual desire. Whenever Mortimer was with Jill, he would know the difference between his own un-tweaked desires and his tweaked desires. He would be on his guard.

* * *

By the time it was proper to venture downstairs, Nathaniel was able to ascertain that his houseguest had not, in fact, strayed the previous night. This was a relief. He had been able to orient each of the other two escapees he had taken in on that escapee's first night under Nathaniel's roof. In dreams, Nathaniel was a capable teacher; awake, he was passable at best. Well, he would have to do his best today and hope that his best teaching would make up for it at night.

Jorge was cleaning up in the kitchen. His compact body moved with a peculiarly rough grace, and his brown, weather-beaten face wore an expression that could easily be said to be starry-eyed and smug at the same time. The master of the house and his guest stepped around him as they took some things, dropped off other things, and returned to the guest room. They didn't stay there, instead proceeding into the hollow.

"OK. Jorge won't overhear us here. Not that he wouldn't turn a deaf ear anyway, but it doesn't hurt to be on the safe side. I didn't get a chance to do any dream teaching last night, so I'll spend the rest of the morning telling you about the basics, and we can spend the afternoon getting to know the area. Tonight we'll hit the clubs, and you'll get a taste of how easy glamour can be to come by. For the time being, whenever we're out of the hollow and out of the house, you stick close to me. Try not to let me out of your sight, and even if you do, take note of where I'm likely to reappear. You have my number, so don't be bashful about calling --you'll need a phone. Here you go."

"Thanks. I was wondering how long I'd have to be cooped up here."

"Don't think like that. Not yet anyway. Learn the ropes while you have the chance. Safety first, until you know the area and its denizens. If you haven't already, you'll probably be joining the Winter Court. That's the court of choice for new escapees, with its emphasis on not being found nor being found out. That is good strategy for neophyte changelings, which is why we are the ones who usually end up taking them in at first. Later, you can decide which court is a good long term fit for you."

Nathaniel continued in that vein, doing his best to pass on what every changeling should know.

* * *

Jill walked along the street with Mortimer with a belly full of steak and lobster. He had splurged on her that far, but had held the line at buying drinks. She had, out of a slightly reckless habit, tried to make him want to buy them, but he had been unmoved. Furthermore, he had spoken up about it. "If it's all the same to you, I'd rather tonight not be about alcohol." This had won a bemused acceptance from her.

As they were crossing an intersection, Mortimer strode forward and made eye contact with a driver about to turn in front of them. The driver was at the head of a line of cars that would have kept going until the light changed, leaving them in an untenable position. She caught up to him and they crossed the rest of the street together, to the approving gaze of the elderly woman in the passenger seat of the lead car.

Once on the sidewalk again, Jill pulled Mortimer's head down for a kiss, accompanied by an all body embrace. She was as motivated by conscientiousness as by anything else. Such conscientiousness was not really usual for her, and seemed to bring on the memory of vague fear. Unbidden, thoughts came into her head of what would happen if she were abducted again. Mortimer would know, she concluded, even if I were replaced. He can see some things himself, and he knows who to ask about the rest. Still in the embrace, she rejoiced in her heart, not at the prospect of rescue specifically, but merely at her hypothetical abduction being recognized for what it would be. The memory of fear retreated.

The rest of the night would bring dancing, vertical and horizontal, too much for a work night. He'll have circles under his eyes, but he'll also have something to brag about. For Jill's part, she ended her night satiated in every way she could imagine, and she had no wish for the sating to end.

* * *

"Phew, that was some strong playback. I felt that kiss, and I was keeping my distance."

"Yeah, well, I'm not playing back the rest."

"She kissed you like that on purpose, you know. Women these days simply aren't moved to recognize acts of chivalry without thinking, at least not the pre-menopausal ones, and many don't at all. She may be more of a mensch than I gave her credit for being. She could still eat you alive, though, so look after yourself."

"I've been watching the dating budget. I may have to borrow some money from you, though."

"You can have some money from me, no need to borrow it. As long as it'll make you happier in the long run, and not sadder. Much of it is from our pledge anyway, and I'm having trouble spending the greater part of what comes in as it is."

* * *

"Hey, Devil Girl." The speaker had just kissed Jill on the cheek. He was sporting a familiar quasi-leisure-suit with the you-know-you-want-to-fuck-me cut and fit. The suit's designer wore it well. Lucas Hawthorn was a trim, graying man in his forties, and this was his party. The attendees of his runway show, just finished, were drinking and mixing. Certain of the models among them were wearing Hawthorn's new designs, designs that uniformly flattered the looks of their wearers instead of trying to dominate or overwhelm them. That a sartorial label could be built on such a design philosophy was an improbability whose success was propped up by a pledge with Jill. Lucas's was not a popular philosophy among many of the Lords of Haute Couture, but their veiled malice toward the one they regarded as a scab was, for the present, impotent.

The secret of Lucas's success was wearing a dress that bared her left arm and shoulder and from her left hip hung three quarters of the way down to the floor. On her right side, the dress split open from her hip down, showing off her right leg brazenly and her left leg teasingly. Her right sleeve was long and its cuff was cut to hang in harmony  with the split of the dress whenever her arm hung at her side. Her comportment was poised and energetic, and one could see how she might be an enlivening presence at any party she attended. Her poise and energy supported a deeper attunement to the party's ebb and flow. The guests were, for the most part, riding the afterglow from a successful show. Some of them wanted the party and its host to fail, but they had next to no power here. Jill's eyes crinkled with pleasure and her smile did not quite become a chuckle at Lucas's words. "If I'm a devil, I'm a bad one. No souls snared yet, least of all yours." If you're really looking for a devil, I could introduce you to Nathaniel Evans, Jill thought as she savored the choice bit of irony with amusement, at least he looks the part, not that you would see. The terms of her pledge with Lucas did not include enchanted sight.

"Oh, you're a bad something, all right. Maybe you're after that suit's soul. Maybe that's why you're with him tonight." He spoke of Mortimer Fenris, her escort to the show and to the party. Mortimer knew one way to dress up, and that way was for work. This did not seem to hurt his chances with the females orienting on him. Several were jockeying gently for his attention within the cluster of people in which he stood. An astute observer would also note two models independently trying to assess whether it was safe to betray an attraction to him that would not be likely to be shared by other women in their own league. "Maybe you already have his soul. I mean, why else would your escort draw that kind of -- what team did you say he was playing for, again?"

"Mine." Lucas had finally gotten a good solid look at Mortimer, and the look had had its effect. Hawthorn designed his most sexual clothes for men. "Pardon me, I have to go make sure he leaves with the gal what brung him here."

Jill moved intently, but not challengingly, toward Mortimer. There was an easy grace to the way he made a place for her at his side. Amidst the small talk, his admirers noted that he was here with someone, then noted who it was. Most of them gave up their designs on him, at least for the present. Jill could feel the strands of feminine intent unravel and withdraw from Mortimer. She could also feel him take possession of her, his stance and bearing taking the place of an assertive hand on her shoulder. In her own mind, she performed an unaccustomed financial estimation, accounting for what Mortimer could spend frivolously and what Nathaniel was likely giving him and what Lucas could spare. She then determined to make certain economies and also to use her own hollow's amenities in place of various mundane luxuries. She judged the situation stable; her own lifestyle would be sustained, more or less, and Mortimer would not face financial ruin trying to keep up with her.

* * *

Mortimer's thing with Jill Dansing was on an even keel, so Nathaniel was able to concentrate more on bringing Ralph up to speed. Ralph was a quick study, and was assimilated into changeling society without incident. He turned out to have a nose for sniffing out secrets, magical and otherwise, and this caused him to gravitate toward the Autumn Court. "Thanks a lot for everything. If you need anything, give me a yell." Nathaniel was accustomed to giving more than he took in changeling society, in all four courts. As a result, he tended to accumulate acquaintances who were happy to have him around.

The night following Ralph's last teaching dream from Nathaniel, he was back in Mortimer's dreams. Mortimer was giddy at the prospect of continuing to have Jill as a girlfriend. He was not anxious, though, nor frayed. She wasn't using him up, at least not for the time being. He was not without worry, though. "Look, am I gonna have to give her up? I mean, is the whole changeling-mortal romance thing doomed to fail?"

"Not particularly. It doesn't always work out, especially not in the stories, but it certainly doesn't always fall apart. You yourself are a part of our world, even if you're on the edge of it. There are two big things to look out for. First, love affairs with changelings usually involve pledges. You've kept up a pledge with me for about a year now. That's good, you've had practice, and you already know how to play a silly game by its silly rules. Remember that you're still an ordinary man. Pledges aren't things you feel in your gut, not the way we do. A pledge you don't feel is easy not to believe in, so you'll have to fill in that gap with some faith. Second, the question of aging. Jill looks to be in her early 20s, but she's actually in her 30s, like you. Remember that we age slower than you. That also means that you'll probably die sooner than her. Much sooner, probably. Maybe you can add on some years to your own life, but such extra years cost. For all of this, though, you and Jill do have a fighting chance. Good luck."

Ron Edwards

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Re: [Working Title for System: Dramatic Lives] A Short Story as Game Play
« Reply #1 on: April 08, 2013, 07:15:25 PM »
Hey,

My apologies for forgetting about this. Reading the account was initially an odd experience, partly trying not to think of it as a product of game-play, and partly wondering what was and wasn't player vs. mechanics.

You're probably familiar with the first part of my ten-years-old essay, Narrativism: Story Now, in which I provide a brief slighty-cheesy story about someone named Lord Gyrax and then claim that one cannot, at all, determine what sort of game-play produced it from the story text alone. So that means, fortunately, I didn't concern myself about the mechanics or Creative Agenda, and simply read the story.

Here's the thing: did play work? What about making a story was the point of play? Did that get realized? What this more like (i) a bunch of stuff hitting the wall and through the magic of the rules, looking like a story sooner or later; or was it more like (ii) a series of availabilities or opportunities which were in place for your own story to find its feet?

Best, Ron

P.S. Speaking of sooner or later, an external link to the rules or rules-in-progress is required.

Charles Perez

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Re: [Working Title for System: Dramatic Lives] A Short Story as Game Play
« Reply #2 on: April 15, 2013, 07:23:33 PM »
The short answer is that game play worked. It produced a story worth experiencing, and the story was created, scene by scene, conflict by conflict, by the act of play. The short story was written as it was played, leaving out none of the events of play. Neither decisions nor outcomes were rewritten; none such were added, dropped, or altered. The ebb and flow of who was ahead and who was behind in each conflict was captured as well as I could manage it. Only details of character, of action, and of dialogue were subject to revision. This description of play was of Story Now in action.

The fixed decisions made before play began were about setting, character, and macguffin.

The setting is an adaptation of New World of Darkness's Changeling: The Lost. Oneiromancy has been reinterpreted so that changelings are no longer interlopers in dreams but are at home there. Pledge-craft has been similarly enhanced, and social bonds among fae are presumed to be interlaced with pledges.

Nathaniel Evans and Jill Dansing were created beforehand as primary characters, and Mortimer Fenris and Lucas Hawthorn and Jorge Escobedo as secondary characters. Ralph and the man trying to push Mortimer aside were tertiary characters created during play. The design for the full character sketch ... what traditional role players would call a character sheet ... performs admirably. It comprises Fate-like aspects and Heroquest-like abilities ... but not Heroquest-like currency. Such a character sketch is rounded out by character back-story and other character notes to become what I call a character study, and the whole package gives a solid idea of what makes a character tick.

A macguffin in this system, unlike as with common storytelling usage, is not necessarily interchangeable with another possible macguffin. However, it nonetheless means the thing that all or most of the central characters are seeking, though not necessarily all in the same way. In this case, Mortimer Fenris is the macguffin. Nathaniel Evans is a reboot of a CtL character I had played few years ago. I already knew, in my bones, how far he would go defending Mortimer Fenris' well-being. As for Jill Dansing, I made her attraction to Mortimer a fixed thing, such that there would be no conflict over the two getting together, unless Nathaniel stood against it, which he didn't. I also made her attraction problematic by noting that she might well use Mortimer up and then setting her on the path to do so unless backed off or won over. It was almost inevitable that Mortimer would want her back, but I made that a fixed thing as well so as to make sure to engage the conflict strongly. Whether she was able to get under his skin such that ruining his life by her carelessness would be easier for her to do - that was not fixed at all, but was a matter to be resolved in play ... negatively, as it turned out.

From there, it was a matter of playing as if the setting was real, playing as if the characters were real, and playing as if the macguffin mattered. This play was successful, to the point of giving me some fist-pumping "hell, yeah" moments, though I suspect that a good measure of that was just being able to use the rule-set to play out those particular conflicts and to get those particular types of outcomes.

Nathaniel's first full conflict with Jill was during the first meeting, from the time Jill introduced herself to Mortimer to the point where Mortimer asked for her digits. This was over whether Jill could get herself stuck in his mind, under his skin. This conflict began with Nathaniel absent from the scene, ejected from a popped daydream. When Nathaniel first overtook Jill in the conflict in terms of degree of effect, I ruled that he showed up. Nathaniel was able to win in the end with the help of an expenditure of drama points, which in the fiction was an expenditure of glamour.

Nathaniel's second full conflict with Jill was in Mortimer's dream, over whether her power over Desire was going to have power over Mortimer. Jill was absent from the scene for the entire conflict, but that didn't stop her from having her effect. Nathaniel had to expend drama points for the last exchange of the conflict, but was able to prevail again.

Nathaniel's third full conflict was the main event, the conflict that would answer the question, "Will Jill Dansing eat Mortimer Fenris alive?" Over the course of dates and date coaching sessions held in dreamland, Nathaniel was again able to prevail, and the question was answered, "Not in the short term."

The part where Mortimer caught Jill with a mouth full of glamour was the result of an exchange within a conflict that I believe Jill won, but to no effect, no effect being a possible result of winning such an exchange. In the fiction, this calls for a pause in the conflict and an action or reaction or revelation whose relevance to the conflict is not immediately apparent. In this case, Mortimer's awareness of Jill feeding off of the presence of his desire could help put him under her thumb or help him out from under it. At that stage, I didn't know which way it would go.

I sent the horny man to Jill, trying to brush Mortimer aside, to highlight the casual unity that Jill, Mortimer, and Nathaniel shared. The idea was to show that unity in action, and implicitly to raise the idea of what a shame it would be if that unity was lost. The conflict was three against one, and the guy was seriously outmatched. That conflict was over in one exchange, with an overwhelming victory, which in this case called for a life altering outcome. The part of his life that was altered was his concept of his own sexuality, with Mortimer's fae-granted allure being the weapon that was used against him. What will come of that? I don't know yet.

The plot strand with Ralph was to illustrate that Nathaniel had other things to do besides tend to Mortimer's love life. The conflict was with Ralph, over whether Ralph would make a relatively trouble free adjustment to life as an escaped changeling. It was only one conflict, with individual exchanges happening on different days and interleaved with exchanges from Nathaniel and Jill's conflicts over Mortimer. It also gave a glimpse of Nathaniel's home life.

In this story, Nathaniel won all of his conflicts. Nathaniel had some drama points to spend to help this along, but overall the dice rolls were in his favor.

I'm figuring the next story to be told here will concern Nathaniel Evan's love life. This rule-set of mine seems to be able to handle romantic comedies and romantic dramas without striking a false note; I have not noted any such potentiality in previous role playing games I've experienced.

edited to restore display - RE
« Last Edit: June 06, 2013, 12:32:36 PM by Ron Edwards »

Ron Edwards

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Re: [Working Title for System: Dramatic Lives] A Short Story as Game Play
« Reply #3 on: April 15, 2013, 08:19:23 PM »
Link, please! We need rules to look at.

Best, Ron

Charles Perez

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Re: [Working Title for System: Dramatic Lives] A Short Story as Game Play
« Reply #4 on: April 24, 2013, 08:52:57 AM »
charlesperez.wordpress.com

Here is the link to the current play-test rules for Dramatic Lives, belated and currently in blog form.

The custom rules for the Changeling: The Lost setting are not included on the blog. These custom rules' mechanical effect on the characters is mainly to be an additional source of bonus levels of magnitude for the primary characters and to be an alternate basis for aspected abilities for secondary characters.

Charles

Ron Edwards

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Re: [Working Title for System: Dramatic Lives] A Short Story as Game Play
« Reply #5 on: April 25, 2013, 02:19:53 PM »
Tell me more about the fixed decisions before play. Is it always "character, setting, macguffin?"

Regarding the rules text ...

1. Do aspects have numerical values?

2. What does applicability do?

3. What do drama points do?

Best, Ron

Charles Perez

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Re: [Working Title for System: Dramatic Lives] A Short Story as Game Play
« Reply #6 on: April 25, 2013, 07:38:11 PM »
The recommended tentative order for pre-play is: decide what and how the setting is; decide who and what the characters are; and then arm the macguffin. Any of these three can be revisited over either or both of the other two. The whole mess isn't fixed in place until play begins.

1. Aspects themselves do not have ratings. Each primary character's aspect has a running total of drama points associated with it. Each secondary character's aspects and each situational aspect has an ability associated with it, and that ability has a magnitude. The aspect itself comes into play by justifying, with it own descriptions or, in the case of a primary character, with that of another element associated with that aspect, the use of drama points for reversals and the use of aspected abilities. Note that aspected and situational abilities do not have any classification, nor do they have any description apart from their associated aspects.

2. The way I use the word 'applicability' calls for a rewrite. As anything other than stakes for a conflict, applicability should probably be renamed 'appropriateness' or some such. As a stake for a conflict, if won against a character, it says, for this ability of this character, in these sorts of situations, the character cannot use that ability. If won for a character, it says that, for these situations, the ability can occupy slot 5 of a total effort; the only other ability that can is a situational ability.

3. All primary characters have three drama point totals, any only primary characters have any such totals. The text implies, but does not express, that an adversarial primary character's drama point totals are dead, that is, to be left strictly alone, for the duration of the story arc. They can be accessed in a future story arc if and when that character is advocated. Drama points are gained and lost three ways:
  • as stakes for a conflict, totally irrespective of any associated aspects;
  • as an investment in an issue, that is, an outcome decided by a conflict with a stake of ability adjustment, wherein if the advocated character wins, the points are lost, and if the advocated character loses, the points are given back, all of this irrespective of any aspects;
  • as the cost for a reversal of an ability or an outcome, where aspects and their associated elements are what decide whether a given reversal is appropriate.

Investing drama points in issues make it so that if an advocated character wins 'em all, in terms of issues, that this is expensive in terms of drama points.

Charles

Charles Perez

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Re: [Working Title for System: Dramatic Lives] A Short Story as Game Play
« Reply #7 on: April 25, 2013, 07:43:09 PM »
Some of the fixed decisions I talk about are deciding what isn't a conflict. For example, the players can decide that two lovers will inevitably get together, just because of who they are, if left to their own devices. Two such couples were Lloyd Dobler and Diane Court of Say Anything, and Yusaku Godai and Kyoko Otonashi of Maison Ikkoku. The adversity to such matches naturally comes from outside.

Charles