Author Topic: [Fragile Minds] One kill too many  (Read 1663 times)

Ron Edwards

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[Fragile Minds] One kill too many
« on: May 22, 2014, 08:51:41 PM »
Nathan and I played it last night. We rolled a die to determine who would play which character, mainly because both of us think serial killers are gross.

I am not savvy enough to scan the sheet and post it, but Nathan might help with that later. To summarize, his detective Desmond was an ex-police private investigator with starting Obsession 1, Stability 3, and Conscience 6 - about as good a "good guy" as the game system can produce, I think. His initial four statements were "I have dirt on the mayor," "I have a good relationship with my wife," "I don't want to kill anyone," and "I was relieved to leave the force." In response to my four questions, he answered "I've been beaten, but only as a child," "My wife is a TV anchor," "My partner thinks I wussed out," and "I regret taking all those bribes."

My killer Dan was a visionary disorganized killer, with starting Compulsion 5, Cunning 3, and control 2, so with three murders already under his belt. His initial four statements were "I miss my family," "Women shouldn't look at me like that," "My job is easy and steady," and "I've lived in this garden apartment for 22 years." In response to Nathan's four questions, I answered, "That FBI guy totally vetted me as clean," "I won't target a father," "I always forget to clean up my stuff," and "They started watching me yesterday." I also determined that his Signature is always some small cheap family-evocative trinket (like a plastic Christmas ornament or 25-cent toy from a gumball-type machine), he's all about using the right object, a bludgeon, carefully selecting what to use, and he hides the victim's bodies - usually posing them in a chair or otherwise sort-of-normal way.

I liked the setup a lot. The statements and questions produced a vivid portrait of both people, but not a finished portrait … very much, appropriately, as if each person had a "final act" to his respective story about to happen.

The numbers stacked against my character a little. For one thing, that high Conscience meant I had to get ten whole murders done for him to win. For another, there are tons of ways for the detective to get Obsession, but unless I wanted to kill and kill without going through Aura and Investment, the bodies don't rack up fast.

Took us a bit to figure out whose turn it is vs. who the scene framer is, but we got there. Let's see if I remember correctly … Nathan, check me on these.

1. The initial murder scene – no roll.
2. Investigation + Filing Paperwork
3. Misdirection
4. Compassion (which was more Personal in content, I think)
5. Aura
6. Investigation + Filing Paperwork
7. Investment
8. Investigation + Filing Paperwork
9. Murder + Depression
10. Crossing the Line

Nathan always seemed to land on the "bribes" item for his character, so his past with the department got a lot of content through play. Nathan's scenes variously succeeded and failed, but the result typically boosted his Obsession. I mainly succeeded but crucially failed at the Murder.

I liked Desmond's resulting arc very much: Desmond having a nice evening with his wife, then waking up in the middle of the night haunted by the images of the corpse he'd seen; Desmond cooling down a dangerous situation between his ex-partner and a perp (not connected to the murder); and Desmond finally going over the line to nail the final necessary evidence. Most of my scenes provided good killer portraiture but not much plot by comparison, and I happened not to land dice much on the more motivational items for the character. He sure left a lot of victims' stuff lying around …

I frequently rolled higher and gained tons of plot points. The various scenes and framings didn't lend themselves to spending them, however, so I spent all but one on the roll that turned out to be the showdown. It was the Crossing the Line scene for Desmond, and if I could win It, then I might be able to get my Control over his Obsession, and reduce some of that Evidence heat against me – long enough to rack up another body or two. But he currently had 4 Evidence, against my 4 Victims, so if he got even one more, let alone the 2 he'd get from Crossing the Line, we'd hit Endgame. So I spent six Plot Points for six more dice, and Nathan did the same; although he had fewer Plot Points, he was working with a higher score, so we ended up pretty evenly matched in dice. Moment of truth: he rolled better.

Therefore, as it turned out, the initial murder turned out to be the only and last one, making this not a story about mounds of bodies, but about the one that got away from the killer, all because a retired cop couldn't get her pathetic remains out of his mind, wouldn't let his butt-head ex-partner ruin his life by trying to beat and shoot his way to the truth, and was willing to sully his own honor one last time. The Crossing the Line, by the way, was bribing a guy who managed the department's sealed files with cocaine looted from the evidence locker.

I like the way the Endgame numbers seem to fit together well. For example, if my killer had won, the right interpretation was just sitting there to be used, "goes silent" for the creepiest possible ending.

We never encountered Stress for Desmond, and given the numbers (although allowing for that last evenly matched roll), it seemed as if Nathan had the edge from the start – as if basically, a high-Conscience detective is pretty much the way to dominate the game. However … we went over all the Stress rules and collectively hit upon the idea for the detective to gain Stress with successful Investigation scenes. Think about it! I think it makes perfect sense.

When we tried to use the metaphor, it seemed laborious, and we both deliberately stopped trying … but oddly, as it turned out, I used it more than I thought without trying hard. I think I processed it instantly when I saw Desmond's numbers, because I framed all the scenes with generally well-behaved people doing ordinary, daily things. Even the drug guy who was the last person to see the victim alive except for the killer, wasn't some ranting scarred meth-head but rather a fashionable-looking, tough-ish guy who was merely hanging out in his normal-looking house. Desmond's wife wasn't embezzling or an alcoholic or anything like that.

In the G+ post, I suggested playing this game, Michael and Kat Miller's Serial Homicide Unit, and Willow Palecek's Sunshine Boulevard, all as games which seek to break the romanticized pattern of Hollywood serial killers. Clearly the focus of the latter two isn't so much reveling in the killer's ickiness or sexiness or whatever, but rather looking hard and clear at normality with the killer being there primarily as a prompt, and I trust that SHU is similarly thoughtful.

All that is to set up for my perception that I really don't think Fragile Minds is about "cat and mouse" between detective and killer. It's about the detective, and the world we live in – at its most basic, if the killer wins, that's because that's the way the world is, and the detective's struggle is ultimately not to be living in that kind of world. Which I think makes for a very cool game. I consider it eminently re-playable, and that's coming from a guy who finds the shows Dexter and Hannibal extremely repugnant.

Some questions:

1. The killer doesn't have to be an active agent in a Misdirection scene, right? I mean, he could be if that's the kind of story/character we're talking about, or if it's a Manipulation scene, but in this case, Dan was merely a deranged meatball, not a cunning mastermind who learns the detective's children's names or stuff like that.

2. In Endgame, what does "default" mean? Is it (i) the thing that absolutely has to happen possibly in addition to one or more of the others; or (ii) the thing that happens if none of the others are eligible?

Nathan, if you can remember any other questions which we didn't figure out through play, post'em.

Best, Ron

Matt Gwinn

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Re: [Fragile Minds] One kill too many
« Reply #1 on: May 23, 2014, 12:47:41 AM »
Nathan and I played it last night. We rolled a die to determine who would play which character, mainly because both of us think serial killers are gross.
Thank you for overcoming the grossness.
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I am not savvy enough to scan the sheet and post it, but Nathan might help with that later. To summarize, his detective Desmond was an ex-police private investigator with starting Obsession 1, Stability 3, and Conscience 6 - about as good a "good guy" as the game system can produce, I think. His initial four statements were "I have dirt on the mayor," "I have a good relationship with my wife," "I don't want to kill anyone," and "I was relieved to leave the force." In response to my four questions, he answered "I've been beaten, but only as a child," "My wife is a TV anchor," "My partner thinks I wussed out," and "I regret taking all those bribes."

My killer Dan was a visionary disorganized killer, with starting Compulsion 5, Cunning 3, and control 2, so with three murders already under his belt. His initial four statements were "I miss my family," "Women shouldn't look at me like that," "My job is easy and steady," and "I've lived in this garden apartment for 22 years." In response to Nathan's four questions, I answered, "That FBI guy totally vetted me as clean," "I won't target a father," "I always forget to clean up my stuff," and "They started watching me yesterday." I also determined that his Signature is always some small cheap family-evocative trinket (like a plastic Christmas ornament or 25-cent toy from a gumball-type machine), he's all about using the right object, a bludgeon, carefully selecting what to use, and he hides the victim's bodies - usually posing them in a chair or otherwise sort-of-normal way.

I liked the setup a lot. The statements and questions produced a vivid portrait of both people, but not a finished portrait … very much, appropriately, as if each person had a "final act" to his respective story about to happen.

Those are great characters. Now I have a few questions.
How long did it take you to make them?
Did you find the detailed serial killer information useful?

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The numbers stacked against my character a little. For one thing, that high Conscience meant I had to get ten whole murders done for him to win. For another, there are tons of ways for the detective to get Obsession, but unless I wanted to kill and kill without going through Aura and Investment, the bodies don't rack up fast.

I should probably incorporate a way for the Killer to reduce Conscience to balance that a bit. At the same time, with a Hero built like that, it's supposed to be hard for the Killer to win. In a situation like that, it might be in the Killer's best interest to play for the controlled loss. Focus on Aura scenes to balance out your kills so in the end you surrender rather than getting caught. This makes particular sense for a killer that suffers from a lot of guilt as a result of the setting being pretty lawful and just, with Conscience and Stability so high.

Did you find it disheartening that the odds were stacked against you?
Do you think setting the Hero's stats like that was a response for Nathan's personal distaste of serial killers?

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Took us a bit to figure out whose turn it is vs. who the scene framer is, but we got there. Let's see if I remember correctly … Nathan, check me on these.

I thought that might be an issue. I need to find a better way to describe how it works. It was a lot clearer when the narrator and the scene framer were always the same person, but that didn't allow for enough player interaction.

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1. The initial murder scene – no roll.
2. Investigation + Filing Paperwork
3. Misdirection
4. Compassion (which was more Personal in content, I think)
5. Aura
6. Investigation + Filing Paperwork
7. Investment
8. Investigation + Filing Paperwork
9. Murder + Depression
10. Crossing the Line

What did you think of the filing the Paperwork and Depression scenes? Those are both recent additions. Are they worth what they potentially add to the story?

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Nathan always seemed to land on the "bribes" item for his character, so his past with the department got a lot of content through play. Nathan's scenes variously succeeded and failed, but the result typically boosted his Obsession. I mainly succeeded but crucially failed at the Murder.

I liked Desmond's resulting arc very much: Desmond having a nice evening with his wife, then waking up in the middle of the night haunted by the images of the corpse he'd seen; Desmond cooling down a dangerous situation between his ex-partner and a perp (not connected to the murder); and Desmond finally going over the line to nail the final necessary evidence. Most of my scenes provided good killer portraiture but not much plot by comparison, and I happened not to land dice much on the more motivational items for the character. He sure left a lot of victims' stuff lying around …

Note, you don't have to roll completely at random. It's ok to try and target specific areas of the framing table. It's not a requirement that your dice get a wide spread, especially if you already have an idea of where you want to go.

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I frequently rolled higher and gained tons of plot points. The various scenes and framings didn't lend themselves to spending them, however, so I spent all but one on the roll that turned out to be the showdown. It was the Crossing the Line scene for Desmond, and if I could win It, then I might be able to get my Control over his Obsession, and reduce some of that Evidence heat against me – long enough to rack up another body or two. But he currently had 4 Evidence, against my 4 Victims, so if he got even one more, let alone the 2 he'd get from Crossing the Line, we'd hit Endgame. So I spent six Plot Points for six more dice, and Nathan did the same; although he had fewer Plot Points, he was working with a higher score, so we ended up pretty evenly matched in dice. Moment of truth: he rolled better.

I may be misunderstanding, but did Nathan get 3 Evidence after that scene? Crossing the Line nets you 2 Evidence instead of the 1 you would get from an Investigation scene.

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Therefore, as it turned out, the initial murder turned out to be the only and last one, making this not a story about mounds of bodies, but about the one that got away from the killer, all because a retired cop couldn't get her pathetic remains out of his mind, wouldn't let his butt-head ex-partner ruin his life by trying to beat and shoot his way to the truth, and was willing to sully his own honor one last time. The Crossing the Line, by the way, was bribing a guy who managed the department's sealed files with cocaine looted from the evidence locker.

That sounds like an awesome story to me.

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We never encountered Stress for Desmond, and given the numbers (although allowing for that last evenly matched roll), it seemed as if Nathan had the edge from the start – as if basically, a high-Conscience detective is pretty much the way to dominate the game. However … we went over all the Stress rules and collectively hit upon the idea for the detective to gain Stress with successful Investigation scenes. Think about it! I think it makes perfect sense.

That does make sense. Learning more about the Killer means spending time in the Killer's screwed up head.

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When we tried to use the metaphor, it seemed laborious, and we both deliberately stopped trying … but oddly, as it turned out, I used it more than I thought without trying hard. I think I processed it instantly when I saw Desmond's numbers, because I framed all the scenes with generally well-behaved people doing ordinary, daily things. Even the drug guy who was the last person to see the victim alive except for the killer, wasn't some ranting scarred meth-head but rather a fashionable-looking, tough-ish guy who was merely hanging out in his normal-looking house. Desmond's wife wasn't embezzling or an alcoholic or anything like that.

I intend to make the Metaphor stuff a lot easier. Right now I'm thinking of using it as a base for setting creation, then after each scene players describe something in the setting that has changed as a result of the Trait adjustments brought on by the scene. I think that will be a lot less work while directly showing how the characters and the setting are connected.

Quote
In the G+ post, I suggested playing this game, Michael and Kat Miller's Serial Homicide Unit, and Willow Palecek's Sunshine Boulevard, all as games which seek to break the romanticized pattern of Hollywood serial killers. Clearly the focus of the latter two isn't so much reveling in the killer's ickiness or sexiness or whatever, but rather looking hard and clear at normality with the killer being there primarily as a prompt, and I trust that SHU is similarly thoughtful.

All that is to set up for my perception that I really don't think Fragile Minds is about "cat and mouse" between detective and killer. It's about the detective, and the world we live in – at its most basic, if the killer wins, that's because that's the way the world is, and the detective's struggle is ultimately not to be living in that kind of world. Which I think makes for a very cool game. I consider it eminently re-playable, and that's coming from a guy who finds the shows Dexter and Hannibal extremely repugnant.

I'm very happy to hear that, because that's the direction I'm leaning, Premise-wise. I do think there "can" be a lot of cat and mouse stuff in the game with the right characters. You guys were not in the optimal situation for that kind of interaction, because you started in a losing position. Dan didn't really have the luxury of "playing around" as Desmond was pretty well adjusted mentally and you were playing in a world where getting away with murder is hard work. With more evenly balanced characters there's a lot more benefit to trying to manipulate each other's Traits.

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1. The killer doesn't have to be an active agent in a Misdirection scene, right? I mean, he could be if that's the kind of story/character we're talking about, or if it's a Manipulation scene, but in this case, Dan was merely a deranged meatball, not a cunning mastermind who learns the detective's children's names or stuff like that.

Since the Killer is merely a symbol of the setting, the Killer doesn't need to be active in the scene.

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2. In Endgame, what does "default" mean? Is it (i) the thing that absolutely has to happen possibly in addition to one or more of the others; or (ii) the thing that happens if none of the others are eligible?

There are a LOT of possible Stat combinations at End Game, far too many to make specific endings for all of them. The default end is what happens if none of the other options are valid. This will be more clear once I write up actual descriptions for each possibility.

Thank you guys for playing. This was very helpful to me. I was completely worried you'd come in all like, "this shit doesn't work at all".
The problems you ran into are not surprises, and I'm glad you ran into them.

How well do you think the system will work with less seasoned gamers? Particularly players that don't GM normally or are not experienced with scene framing?

Thank you

Looking forward to Nathan's take.

,Matt

ndpaoletta

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Re: [Fragile Minds] One kill too many
« Reply #2 on: May 23, 2014, 11:26:04 AM »
My high-level responses:

- I built the character that way (with the high Conscience) because I was interested in playing a fundamentally good person (a bit against stereotype for the genre, perhaps). As it turned out, I was lucky on the Evidence scene rolls (for the first two, I think we were evenly matched in dice, so I just rolled better), which gave me the edge in the Evidence vs Murder race. Also, it meant that my guy had room for the Obsession stat to grow, which matched the fiction well - it started off as "just a case" but then as his Obsession went up it matched the character getting drawn in more and more. That was nice.

- So, while during play it felt like the Hero had the edge, if I had blown either of those Evidence rolls it may not have felt that way. I don't want to generalize from this one game about the relative "importance" of the stats. That said, we did notice than none of your Hero examples are of a high-Conscience character, so I was wondering whether that was something you just hadn't thought about, or if it was a deliberate choice not to include.

- I had a really hard time trying to use the stats for their metaphorical function. It created a lot of dissonance for me to try and remember all their relative levels and work them into narration. So I basically just treated the Hero's stats as character-centric, and Ron did more of the metaphor-use. Some of it happens naturally, of course, but trying to use it intentionally made it hard for me to try and play my character in a satisfying way.

- The way the narration/active player split stuff worked meant that the Killer was almost always framing scenes! Is that intentional? I think the only scene I framed was my Compassion scene.

- Textual note - there's no mention of the Stress rules in the scene descriptions (aka the part that we were referencing heavily in play), so we totally forgot about it until after the game was over. I also didn't gain any Stress during play, so it was moot for our game, but as a reference document I think the Stress rules should be in the procedures-of-play section somewhere, for sure.

- I agree with Ron about Stress. I should have been more stressed! As he mentioned, the idea of successful investigations creating stress seems to fit the genre, and also means that doing Investigation scene after Investigation scene becomes more of a loaded choice and less of a default. As it is right now, unless the Killer manages to drop the Hero's stats through their scenes, there's no reason for the Hero not to just Investigate every scene to rack up Evidence as quickly as possible, it seems to me.

I enjoyed our game but am really glad I got the Hero from our random roll. Playing the Killer would be something very distasteful for me (and I think Ron treated it with as light a touch as he could).

Oh, and the photos are fantastically creepy in context! Ron was squicked out by at least one.

And one thing, Ron, about Serial Homicide Unit - in that game, you play the victims and the investigators but NOT the killer. The killer emerges through the process of play, but nobody at the table has the role of portraying them.

Matt Gwinn

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Re: [Fragile Minds] One kill too many
« Reply #3 on: May 23, 2014, 12:45:13 PM »
My high-level responses:
That said, we did notice than none of your Hero examples are of a high-Conscience character, so I was wondering whether that was something you just hadn't thought about, or if it was a deliberate choice not to include.

It wasn't intentional, but also not really an oversight. The hero is supposed to be a little unstable, so I guess I hadn't really thought about someone playing a perfectly well adjusted hero. It's good to know that the game can still generate a gritty feel in that situation though. When I wrote the hero examples the Traits were the last thing I added, so I didn't really have them in mind when deciding what types to include. I might do a side-bar about the benefits and drawbacks of playing that type of character.

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- I had a really hard time trying to use the stats for their metaphorical function. It created a lot of dissonance for me to try and remember all their relative levels and work them into narration. So I basically just treated the Hero's stats as character-centric, and Ron did more of the metaphor-use. Some of it happens naturally, of course, but trying to use it intentionally made it hard for me to try and play my character in a satisfying way.

This shouldn't be an issue in the final version, as I will be shifting that aspect from scene framing to setting creation and scene resolution. That way the Traits as setting leg work is all done before play starts, and then you just have to tweak it at the end of each scene. So if Obsession starts high, maybe the game starts in a rundown city, then later in the game when Obsession drops you end the scene focused on a billboard announcing that new condos coming soon, or something that indicates a change for the better.

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- The way the narration/active player split stuff worked meant that the Killer was almost always framing scenes! Is that intentional? I think the only scene I framed was my Compassion scene.

As the Hero, you should have been framing the Murder scenes too.
The overall framing duty breakdown is 50/50 (excluding Paperwork and Depression scenes which are really just short add-ons and not full fledged scenes).

I tried to break up the duties based on what each player is likely to have the most knowledge about. For example, The Killer is clearly going to know more about a crime scene as they were there when it became a crime scene, so they frame investigation scenes.

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- Textual note - there's no mention of the Stress rules in the scene descriptions (aka the part that we were referencing heavily in play), so we totally forgot about it until after the game was over.

I will fix that


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I enjoyed our game but am really glad I got the Hero from our random roll. Playing the Killer would be something very distasteful for me (and I think Ron treated it with as light a touch as he could).

I really appreciate you guys "taking one for the team" so to speak. It says something that you guys had fun playing a game you would not have normally been inclined to play. Not sure how much credit the game can take for that, but I'll take it :)

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Oh, and the photos are fantastically creepy in context! Ron was squicked out by at least one.

Was it the bathtub scene or the cat?

I still have to write the 8 pages of bonus material, so people can play the Killer as a supernatural creature. Do you think the game would appeal to you more with that option?

Ron Edwards

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Re: [Fragile Minds] One kill too many
« Reply #4 on: May 23, 2014, 01:37:46 PM »
The cover image is a shocker of course, but the one that squicked me simply by turning the page to it was the first one about the killer, with the guy holding the girl's body across his shoulders, on page 5. It's all emotion and action, relying on no specific graphic details, conveying everything wrong, or rather, that everything is wrong, with this person. I would appreciate it if you would never introduce me to the model, who I am sure is quite a nice guy.

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How long did it take you to make [the characters]?
Did you find the detailed serial killer information useful?

I always lose track of time during role-playing, but I don't think it took us more than 25 minutes, including the shared sheet.

The detailed information matched well with my current understanding of the issue, which I've researched in order to teach about aggression and transgression material correctly in my classes. So when I saw that you'd been diligent about the content, I focused on the parts that applied to the kind of killer I was more interested in playing (disorganized) and found them helpful.

If anything, I'd suggest reducing the required concept-building a little, when making the killer. The four statements and four questions seem like a great way to arrive at some of those concepts rather than front-loading them.

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Did you find it disheartening that the odds were stacked against you?
Do you think setting the Hero's stats like that was a response for Nathan's personal distaste of serial killers?

I wasn't disheartened as I didn't see the game as a "who can win" competition. Our discussion of odds and numbers is probably coming more from a desire for the killer to be a viable threat (scene by scene and Endgame) in order for the thematic tension to rise.

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What did you think of the filing the Paperwork and Depression scenes? Those are both recent additions. Are they worth what they potentially add to the story?

I like them a lot! Some of the scenes ended very swiftly after the roll, so for these two types, which are extremely important to the story, a bit of local follow-up works very well.

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I may be misunderstanding, but did Nathan get 3 Evidence after that scene? Crossing the Line nets you 2 Evidence instead of the 1 you would get from an Investigation scene.

He gained 2 Evidence. My phrasing tried to contrast 2 vs. 1, not 2+1 vs. 1.

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I intend to make the Metaphor stuff a lot easier. Right now I'm thinking of using it as a base for setting creation, then after each scene players describe something in the setting that has changed as a result of the Trait adjustments brought on by the scene. I think that will be a lot less work while directly showing how the characters and the setting are connected.

I don't want to mess with your process as the author. However, basing this on many many years of watching people work at exactly this phase of design, I think you are describing a classic mistake. The last thing the game needs is more detailed procedure about how to get the metaphor active in play. My experience in general, as well as in our session, points exactly the other way: explain it once, up-front, and let the users apply it as well as they can and as much as they want to, without much reflection about it and without adding steps to the procedures. I would even suggest stripping down the criteria for the metaphor, focusing only on the Conscience of the detective and the Obsession of the killer. Up-front instructions as simple as "At high Conscience or as it increases, frame scenes in socially and legally functional situations, and play characters with their honesty and integrity showing," and something equivalent for the killer, and people will get it way more intuitively, and apply it to their best ability without overtly thinking about it.

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How well do you think the system will work with less seasoned gamers? Particularly players that don't GM normally or are not experienced with scene framing?

That's a hard question to address. I think your writing about the procedures and their intended purpose is very clear, and as you probably know, I typically think that gamers bring too much experience (i.e. expectations and assumptions) to a new game, and that this causes more problems than any degree of inexperience that others might bring.

Best, Ron

Paul Czege

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Re: [Fragile Minds] One kill too many
« Reply #5 on: May 23, 2014, 02:57:58 PM »
I would even suggest stripping down the criteria for the metaphor, focusing only on the Conscience of the detective and the Obsession of the killer. Up-front instructions as simple as "At high Conscience or as it increases, frame scenes in socially and legally functional situations, and play characters with their honesty and integrity showing," and something equivalent for the killer, and people will get it way more intuitively, and apply it to their best ability without overtly thinking about it

I agree. Move it up front. But I don't think you need to simplify it that much. Make the framing of scenes like consulting the oracle of the framing table. You could have as many as seven or eight different grabby diagrams of the framing table, maybe showing red where there are high numbers or something, and short guidelines like Ron's example for how you should frame the world when the framing table looks like the diagram. It would be quick in play, and would feel like a rich, inspirational oracle.

Paul