Author Topic: [It Was a Mutual Decision] A crowded kitchen in Italy  (Read 1062 times)

Ron Edwards

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[It Was a Mutual Decision] A crowded kitchen in Italy
« on: November 09, 2012, 07:38:42 PM »

This is the first of about a zillion threads following my trip to Italy, centered on being an official guest at Lucca Comics & Games, pretty much the Italian GenCon and San Diego Comicon rolled into one. It may not have drawn quite as many people as the latter, but was definitely comparable to GenCon in attendance and in the general experience.

I stayed with the Narrattiva booth team at a nearby apartment which I think is generally rented out to convention attendees and exhibitors; it was a lot like a well-used student apartment which sees a lot of sublets, not grubby or bad in any way, but definitely stripped down to hotel-like functionality. We packed it pretty full, with four or five people in each bedroom, eating big dinners of utterly provincial, amazing small-town northern Italian food. The kitchen scenes were awesome: people piling into the place, wine bottles being opened and drained steadily, conversations merging and splitting, steam filling the room from the massive pasta pot, homemade pesto getting unpacked from luggage, pointed comparisons about cuisine from region to region (or town to town), a kind of ongoing ecstasy of hugging, dangerous gesticulations everywhere, people tearing off hunks of cheese from a big wad, men sitting on each other's laps because there weren't enough chairs -- the kind of thing Coppola or de Palma tries to film but it looks unreal.

After the first night of this, I determined that we desperately needed an after-hours game of It Was a Mutual Decision in that very kitchen, so I made sure to organize it in the afternoon. We played with seven guys and three women.

I won't dwell on the fiction much. Marco and Sarah met when driving their respective brother and BFF to their blind date; they're good for each other because "they're so much alike." Their breakup came about, in retrospect, because each was a little too willing to manipulate to get their way, and it was tough because each one tried to play the martyr in the During phase. Still, it only took one excruciating unexpected re-meet, when the helpful waiter seated them together like he was used to doing, for them to be pleasantly surprised afterwards that the breakup was really over. Our story only included a few atmospheric hints about rats and rat-imagery; although Sarah got Murderous, no actual were-rattery was revealed nor did violence come into the picture.

When introducing the game, the two most important things to say are right there in the book, but people have been known to miss them, so I always make a big deal out of them.

1. The relationship is not dysfunctional at the outset of play.

2. The breakup is inevitable, so you cannot save it through the mechanics, nor should you force it by villainizing your character.

How to talk and how to roll are also "all there in the manual," but sometimes groups don't see it. In this case, they saw it instantly: you arrive at a certain amount of information through table-talk, then shift into wholly dramatic play with mixed in-fiction descriptions and dialogue.

Also, we used the consensus concept very much as I hope people will do, letting talk-and-response emerge freely between the groups. Within the group, you interpret anything no one objects to as "we all agree," and if someone in the group does modify it or balk, interpret that as internal for the character, resulting in either (i) modified action (until we agree on the stated action); or (ii) internal dramatic tension (letting the stated dialogue/action stand, but providing internal objections or alternatives to show the character's ambiguity).

In our case, the effect was very much like a late twentieth-century production's interpretation of the multiple lines assigned to a Greek chorus: not spoken in unison, but rather, different members of the chorus speaking individual lines. Sometimes that reinforces a single "felt" aim, and sometimes it presents a variety of conflicting urges accompanying a stated action.

The game's magic emerged nicely.

1. Character advocacy, such that a single-gender team becomes quite fond of their off-gender character and sympathetic even to his or her stubbornness and neediness.

2. Cross-table acknowledgments between the teams regarding certain actions, whether rueful admission that "Yeah, I did that," or hilarity concerning how well the one gender knows what the other might do, or anything similar.

(Here, I say "team" because of the way the groups internally practiced a constructive division-of-labor and traded-off dialogues and actions, but I specifically do not intend to connote that the two teams were competing against one another.)

The net effect in the best play of the game is for the apparent confrontation of "men vs. women" in the seating and premise of the game to be completely replaced by an appreciation-fest, approaching  a demonstration of how well a group of men can play a woman and be appreciated by women in doing so, and vice versa.

It doesn't always go well. I should post some more about a game which really demonstrates how the above principles can go awry, specifically the difficulty of ownership of a character among the members of one "team."

Some design considerations -- the Trust score has always struck me as occasionally clunky, partly in how it changes from pure resource into a usable score; but especially in that having Trust 1 places the flip to Murderous  way too early in play. I've seen this more than once.

A token to denote which side has the turn is useful, considering that back-and-forth is often occurring. I also find myself dissatisfied with the changes in the rat-dice tick-mark criteria from phase to phase, which now seem over-designed and unnecessary - especially since the risk from a rat die should be higher in the After phase, if anything, and definitely not lower.

For those of you who don't know, Paul Czege's Bacchanal is a dice-based game from 2005, which includes funky elaborations like wine glasses and a cheese tray. Paul and Narrativa (Michele and Claudia) also further-designed it into an alternate form (I don't want to say "re" designed or "revised" because the original game still exists and is perfectly functional), all based on a custom deck of cards. They're interested re-tooling a lot of the games of this kind - one-shot, sizeable-group, relationship-oriented, a bit naughty - into friendly packages, sold more as party games but still fully role-playing. You can see more about the new Bacchanalia here; it's available in French, Italian, German, and English, and features some neat electronic tricks as well.*

This matches what I was shooting for with Mutual Decision anyway, at least intellectually if not practically, and Michele had such a good time with the game I'm writing about that he and I started brainstorming about packaging and modified game-mechanics toward a similar alternate design. In this case, cards wouldn't be the medium, but rather counters with numbers on one side. I like the idea of a little metal box with the counters and other items, perhaps even a reusable characters-card of some kind.

This discussion is also relevant to independent publishing issues, because I was quite frank both at the convention and in later conversation about the tricky position Narrativa occupies between publisher and den-daddy in the Italian scene. Briefly, although Michele and Claudia are grimly aware from their experience with anime and manga that creators should retain executive power, that doesn't mean that the risk of over-stepping that line isn't present. So talking about this project for Mutual Decision with them represents a necessary stress-test for me to confirm my trust in their judgment about this crucial issue.

Best, Ron

* For important discussions about Bacchanal, especially the aforementioned naughtiness, see Bacchus owns me, [Bacchanal] Three guys and a lot of wine, and [Bacchanal] GenCon demos and more .