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Author Topic: [Shades] The lady and the gardener  (Read 3474 times)
Victor Gijsbers
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« on: December 31, 2005, 06:47:29 AM »

Last night, I finally had a chance to playtest the new version of my roleplaying game Shades. What is this game about? The best I can do is probably posting a passage from the game's introduction; if you want to know more, follow the link above and download the rules:

Quote
When playing Shades, you and one or two others will try to construct a haunting tale of tragedy and forgiveness from scratch. You will take turns narrating a piece of the story from the point of view of your character, and you will try to make these pieces into a coherent whole. But the rules of the game don't make it all that easy for you to succeed: Shades is meant as a challenging cooperative game. The challenge is for you and the other player or players to together tell a coherent, emotional tale; and to do it just by telling the tale, without any prior agreement and without talking about the story during the game. Sounds hard? It's easier than you may think, once you ve learned to trust the other players and be sensitive to their wishes and ideas.

And the rules of Shades are specifically designed to help you build up that trust and that sensitivity. They will help you get to know what kind of stories the other players like, and how they try to signal their ideas to you. They will help you to learn to relinquish control over the story to others when that is called for, without taking a posture of deference. Not only will you be telling great stories and having fun doing it, you may also become better friends.

I already played two or three games of Shades with previous versions of the rules, and two friends of mine (Eva and Annette) playtested the new rules recently. Last night, however, I got to play with Annette. We are close friends and have played together a lot; this will certainly have made the challenge posed by Shades a lot easier to overcome, because there already was a lot of trust and sensitivity between us.


Summary of the story, notes on the narrative

Summarising the story of a game of Shades is a daunting task, since the narration tends to be non-chronological, internally inconsistent (this is in fact mandatory) and many parts of the tale only start to make sense as you progress through the game. The latter was especially true in our game last night: up until the very end, there were gaps, unclarities and uncertainties that needed fleshing out or filling in; at no point was the story 'basically clear'. However, the second half of the game was a very satisfying process of turning the disconnected memories into a coherent whole; this process added many new things to the story, but the end result was a story of remarkable unity and with all the major contradictions resolved. Summarising, it turned out that what had happened was this:

The unnamed lady and the unnamed gardener who worked at her father's mansion had fallen in love with each other; many a romantic afternoon they must have spent together, she playing Chopin for him on the piano, he giving her a wide variety of roses, about which he could speak so beautifully. But, of course, their love was doomed - she was a noble lady and he only a commoner, and there could be no thought of marriage.

Then, the night of the great ball: the prince himself had come to dance in the seven-coloured suite at the top of the tower, and many lords an ladies, clad in their finery, were assambled. The lady played the piano for the guests, and everybody lauded her, including the prince. Then - he entered, the gardener, with a large bouquet of roses which he laid at her feet. "Will you marry me?", he asked. "Yes!", she said, without thinking, and the two of them went off to the gardens together.

There he chased her, both laughing, until he caught her in the labyrinth. There they played the sweet game of love - and she became pregnant. Her father made clear that there could be no marriage, and she, alone and ashamed, was confined to the house. The gardener was not allowed to contact her, a silence which she mistook for indifference. But later, when her father was away, the gardener still did not come, and she knew she was betrayed; he, meanwhile, thought it was better for her if he did not contact her, and tried to live a life without her.

Then, her baby was stillborn, and something snapped inside her. Dishonoured, betrayed, left even without the comfort of a child, she ascended the tower. There, in the red room, she spread out the dried roses he had once given her, smashed the red window, and with a shard of the red glass, sitting between the roses, ended her own life. He came just too late stop her, watching helplessly as with her blood her life left her body for always.

The rest of his life was lonely and bitter - and thus it was that, when both were dead, they returned as shades to the silent, abandoned mansion of her father. She believed him a betrayer; she accused him, in her memories, of raping her and destroying her budding romance with the prince. In his mind, he had twisted the past in such a way that he was guiltless of her death, that he had never hurt her. But they both learned to see the truth, and as the lady's shade sat behind the piano and played Chopin, they were reunited.

"Have you ever had another woman?"
"No. I stayed alone all my life."
"I returned from death to be with you."
"Do you think things could have gone differently?"
"Do you thinks they can go differently?"
"Yes. Yes, I do."
"We still have an eternity. Please, kiss me."

And they lived eternity together.


Black tokens, white tokens

These seemed to perform their role really well. Trying to get your three black tokens, you try to identify the most important elements of the other person's narration in order to be able to tell a (radically) different version of the same event. This creates tension as well as a sort of suspense - did he rape or, or did he not? Then, these tensions must be resolved in order to get the white tokens; and I was thinking along the lines of "Ooh, we still have to resolve the scene in the labyrinth, and the true cause of her death, and whether he betrayed her... for which of these shall I choose to accept a version nearer to her narration than to mine?" The black token / white token economy creates the differences in view that point to the tragic separation of the characters, and then it helps to resolve these differences in the interest of a coherent story.

Also, they pace the game. Their number, three black tokens and three white token per player, gave us just enough time and important scenes to build interesting differences and resolve all of them. I felt neither rushed nor held back by this mechanic. The game time for a two player game has been two hours for all of the games that have been played (2 with earlier rules, 2 with current rules), and I think this is the ideal amount of time for the game.


The game's special niche

This has never been a design goal, but is an unintended yet very welcome side effect: Shades can be played in situation rather different from most RPGs. It is especially suited as a "late in the evening / at night" game, with low light, soft or no background music, and players who may even be a little tired. This is not just due to the subject matter of the game, but much more to the somewhat dreamlike style of narration which supports drifting off into the world of the shades and makes silences (in which you think about what to do next) meaningful (as spells in which the shade thinks or is astounded or tries to flee from the truth); the a-chronological and inconsistent character of the narration, which means that you can associate more freely and don't have to worry about all the details; the fact that you take turns narrating, which means that you can close your eyes and listen to the other person speaking, knowing that you cannot be called upon to do suddenly add something; the intimate social agenda, which goes very well with the intimacy of a half-lit room late at night. Maybe none of this is enlightening, but the fact is that I played this game last night starting at midnight, when I would not even have considered playing any other roleplaying game. Most RPGs are demanding, in terms of concentration, attention and speed; but Shades is somehow more relaxed and more dreamy, while still being challenging.

Coupled with the fact that it is a two or three player game, this ensures that Shades is suited to be played in different situations than most other roleplaying games.


The social agenda

I am very happy with the fact that you now have to answer three questions at the end of the game. (And thank you, Emily, for inspiring me to do this with the questions at the end of BtI!) They are: 1. Was the tale coherent and compelling? 2. Did it follow the narrative structure called for by the rules of the game? 3. Did all the players influence the story equally?

The answers to these questions measure whether you have successfully addressed the challenge of the game; you have only succeeded if all the answers are positive. Now, as I said, Annette and I know each other well and have played together often. That may in part explain why the answers to the first two questions were 'yes', although I must say that watching the many disconnected parts of the tale assemble into a coherent whole was somewhat astounding. However, I am both surprised and happy that we also answered the third question positively. In general, my input into RPGs is bigger than that of Annette, who is much more worried about whether other people will like her input than I am. But this time, we both felt that our inputs were equally big, and this indicates to me that the tools I used in the system to make this happen are actually working. I think this is really cool, though of course I'd like to see whether it also work for other people.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: January 03, 2006, 07:01:46 AM »

Hi Victor,

I am greatly intrigued. What are your publication plans for the game?

You can bet I'm going to spring it on some folks who haven't played together very much to see how it flies.

Best,
Ron
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Victor Gijsbers
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 390


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« Reply #2 on: January 03, 2006, 12:43:07 PM »

Hi Ron,

What are your publication plans for the game?

Since I love Creative Commons and love physical books even more, I'll probably go the tSoY-way: bring out a physical book (either through PoD or otherwise), and release a copyleft version (possibly without the art) as PDF. I haven't looked into art, lay-out software, printing options or the other details of publication yet, though. I do want to turn Shades into a publishable work.

Quote
You can bet I'm going to spring it on some folks who haven't played together very much to see how it flies.

That would be great. It's exactly the kind of playtesting that the game needs.

Regards,
Victor
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