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[Nicotine Girls] - Experimenting with NG

Started by Jiri Petru, December 14, 2006, 06:15:26 PM

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Jiri Petru

One day, my friend and a co-player David came with a crazy idea. "Remember the RPG called Nicotine Girls? The one by the author of My Life with Master?" he said. "We should try it someday." As I said, it was crazy. I remembered Nicotine Girls, of course, and I also remembered that it was weird, cryptic, and nondescriptional. And who would play normal, boring teenager girls, anyway? That game was unplayable!

We tried it.

And it was great. We all immediately fell love in the game, wanting to play it more and more. It turned out to be an incredibly fun game. After the session one of the players said: "Wow. This is even better than My Life with Master." Although we played in a pub and the game was getting better and better as we were getting drunker and drunker, I think there was some truth on his words. You see... it is a great game indeed.

So, after two sessions - one in August, one two weeks ago - and third session ahead, I'd like to share some of our experiences. And because Nicotine Girls need rules clarifications, explanations and examples more than anything, I'll focus less on the story and more on the system itself. I'll describe our experiments with the game and their outcomes. Hope It'll help you if you decide to try NG someday.

If you don't know NG, take a look at the webpage of Half Meme Press. It's all there. Everything ;)

Our characters

We've played two games, both one-shots, both quite short. Not counting the preparation and character creation, the first game lasted 3 hours, the second one somewere around 4 hours. This called for some system changes, which I'll mention later. Both of the games were quite humorous, in a the tragicomic sense (Well, we laughted a lot. I bet the characters wouldn't laugh, though).

Before I move on to the main part of this report, I'd like to introduce our characters.

The 1st Game:

Jane Smith
Jane was a kind of "otaku" girls. A child of a Japanese mother and a black American, she was striving to get in touch with her "Japanese roots". She loved Japan, Japanese stuff, and Japanese culture. Her biggest dream (or The Dream) was to become a famous manga artist, publishing her own comic. She wasn't a good artist, though.

Aside of it, she was quite shy, asocial, hugely concerned about her computer, internet and P2P programs (downloading anime!). Her job was archivist, which really bored her. She lived alone, and didn't keep contact with her parents, only her brother. The brother, an exact opposite of her, was obsessed with his "Black roots", becoming a hip-hop-gangsta. He abused her kindness, often asking her to get him out of his problems.

The last important NPC in Jane's story was her ex-boyfriend and ex-Dungeon-Master, Erik Gazebo. She broke up with him after he killed her beloved character. Since then, their relationship was anything but friendly.

The game began with me framing a scene when Jane, browsing the web for amerimanga, found a new, successful comic, the biggest boom of the last month. The author's name was... suprise... Erik Gazebo.

This lead to a crazy chain of events, with Jane trying to persuade Erik, both through seduction and diplomation, to publish her works. To make things even more complicated, her brother came to her flat, asking her to hide him from gangsters. In the end, it turned out that the Erik's publisher was the same gangster, who was after Jane's brother. It all resulted in Jane (and her brother) being beaten and robbed by the gangsters. They stole her drawings, and Erik then published them under his own name, winning a great success.

In summary, this story was a bit disappointing. It was funny and fine to play, OK, but the "quality" of the story was zero. It was simply too parodic, ironic, and exaggerated. And the biggest problem - the character wasn't a Nicotine Girl, it was actually a Nicotine Boy dressed in girl's clothing. She was a geek, gamer, internet addict, etc. There was absolutely nothing feminine on her.

So if you consider playing Nicotine Girls, hear my advice: make characters that are GIRLS (capital letters intended). Never ever make characters that are too boyish, or emancipated.

MJ (Marry Johnson)
MJ was a naive girl living in a pink world. She loved theatre and dreamt of being an actress. She never got lucky enough to become a member of a theatre company, so she at least worked as an cleaner in cinema. Her biggest dream was to play in a movie with Tom Cruise.

She was platonically in love with a teacher from local drama school (you see, he looked kinda like Tome Cruise). She also lived alone. Her parent were divorced and there was a NPC of her deadbeat father, who often wanted her to provide him money or accommodation (the father didn't appear in the actual game, which is a shame, really)

In the beginning, I framed a scene where MJ found out that movie makers are coming to the town, opening a casting for the new movie with Tom Cruise. The casting was for some inferior supporting roles, which MJ didn't really mind.

Of all the stories in this game, MJ's was the best one. Her effort to get to the film provided some great scenes. An unsuccessful casting, seduction of a director's assistant... There was even a scene where she wormed her way to the filmmakers' banquet, disguised as an waitress, hoping to speak with Tom Cruise personally and convince him she is the best person to play THE Waitress in the film...

Needless to say, the only thing she accomplished was mockery by all the staff. She never made it into the movie.

Faith Kautchuk
The last character, Faith, was a beautyfull, slutty daughter from an archetypal, disgustingly rich and successful Jewish father and a "normal" mother. After the youth full of listening to her father's bragging about his accomplishments, selfmade manship and the you-ought-to-be-gratefullness, she decided to left the family estate with indoor pool and sauna and launch out on her own.

She now works as a saleswoman in a fashion boutique. In spite of her solid income, she always has financial problems. Why? She NEEDS to buy designer clothes and topnotch cosmetics, which means there sometimes isn't enough money left for food. She also steals in the shop, sometimes. Her biggest dream is to marry a rich man, so she wouldn't have to work any more.

I'm sorry, but I can't really recall Faith's story. I only remember it was fine. Not as good as MJ's story, but much better than the Jane's one. It included a handsome, rich, young Jew, introduced to her by her father, whom she quickly targeted as the sought-after ideal. The relationsip went quite good, until he found her in bed with a different man. Or something like that. I don't know. I will never ever play while drunk again.

Great game. A little awkward sometimes, but great nevertheless. We didn't expect the game to run so smoothly. We created the characters and played right away and even though I, as the GM, had almost no time for preparation (15 minutes, I think), I had absolutely no trouble coming up with the ideas. Once you start the game and introduce a few conflicts, it pretty much plays itself.

During the game we found out the Smoke scenes are absolutely cool, undoubtedly the best part of the whole game. That and the fact you have to come up with "advices" for the other characters. There were some great scenes that came out of the malignity. For example, during the mentioned filmmakers' banquet, MJ was recommended by Faith to seduce Tom Cruise... by offering him a body-shot... right on the bar.

The 2nd session:

Mary Sue
My character. Mary Sue was a fat, shy girl. She never had a boy and was quite depressive. She was always trying to lose some weight, a brave commitment indeed, which was a little thwarted by the fact she used chocolate and ice cream as an anti-stress drug (ie. every day). Oh yes, and she also believed to all the advices you can find in women magazines. ("11 guaranteed ways how to make a man to love you!")

Mary Sue lived alone but was often visited by her mother, who for some reason was always trying to arrange some match for Mary Sue. Sadly, mother's vision of a "decent man" was far from Mary Sue's ideals.

She worked as an hair-cutter. One of her frequent customers was a model, who was always talking about her personal life. Soon, Mary Sue knew everything about her... and her boyfriend, who seemed like an ideal men. Mary Sue had seen him on few occasions - he was handsome, athletic, clever, gallant... and since he was the only man she actually knew, she fell in love in him. Then, one day the model told her she had some problems with the boyfriend. It seemed he was cheating on her.

This was the moment for Mary Sue. She decided to break their relationship and take the model's boyfriend. He will belong to HER.

I liked Mary Sue's story. I was also lucky for almost none successful rolls, so Mary Sue quickly became not a lover, but a stalker. In the end, the Boy pretty much hated Mary Sue. I recall a scene where Mary Sue sneaked into his house, got undressed and fell asleep in his bed, hoping she would be found by the model (who would finally have a proof of her boyfriend's cheating). As you can imagine, it didn't work.

Victoria, an ambitious woman with no self-confidence, worked as an assistant in a publishing company, which printed several woman magazines. She hated males, who often abused her in the job ("Make me some coffee, please!"), and wanted to prove she's a strong and competent woman. Her dream was to quit the job as an assistant and become an actual redactor, writing articles for the magazine.

Her story began during a boring day in the office. It was like all the other days, until she heard the news. Tom, the author of the column about Superstar Show, was hit by cat and wouldn't be able to work for several months. The boss needed some replacement, and quick... a chance for Victoria.

After a unsuccessful scene, when the boss laughted in her face, the column was passed to Bob, another redactor from the office. In despair, Victoria went to her friend Marry Sue, who - as always - had a good advice for her. "You see... if Bob too was hit by a car, the boss would have to give the column to Victoria, as there would be no one else left."

And so, Victoria set out on the path of crime. Trying the cover the first crime, she made another... and another. In the end, after rolling no success in the Endgame, she ended up in a women prison somewhere in Texas.

The 3rd Character
Having no notes, I can't really recall the 3rd character. She was a naive, happy girl who dreamt of becoming a pop-star. She thought she's a great singer, but her singing was actually pretty terrible. Her story began when the Superstar Show came to the town, and she decided to participate.
If you wish, I can write an email the the player and ask him for more details.

The second game was even better than the first one. And even more comedial. Although it was fun and rewarding, after session we started thinking about playing the game once more, and this time more serious. We have the third session already scheduled, and we intend to play it more seriously. I'll try to inform you then.

An example of a typical scene from this session:
QuoteIt was 11 PM and Victoria was waiting outside the office building... in her car... wearing a coat... and huge sunglasses. At the moment Bob came out of the building, she started the engine. A few moments after there was a scream, a bang, and Bob flying through the air.
Surprisingly, the GM decided there is no roll necessary - she simply hit him. There was a conflict coming, though...
In a shock, not believing she did it, Victoria forgot she has drive. Few moments after she crashed into a oncoming car. A police car. The policemen step out of their car and went to her. They still didn't know about the overrun, but 200 meters away people were already gathering about Bob. Victoria had to act quickly.
She decided to play a hysterical woman, and in tears she desperately tried to keep the policemen attention. She succeeded! (after all, there was the Smoke bonus) And they didn't notice Bob. Instead, they started to console the hysterical, crying, weak, young lady, who by mistake lost control of her car.
Policeman 1: "Common, don't cry."
Policeman 2: "It's no big deal, the cars are just a bit scratched."
Policeman 1: "It's nothing serious..."
Victoria in tears: "...right, nobody's hurt."

Jiri Petru

Jiri Petru

The gaming style

Nicotine Girls lack any description or advice how to actually play the game. I'll describe here how we played it. Any comments, questions, or advices welcomed.

Character creation
In short - Nicotine Girls need the player characters to be created together by the whole group. The same reasons as in MLwM, I guess. This might be pretty obvious, but I just wanted to metion it nonetheless.

Before the 1st session we had no prior experience with playing games of this genre, and the character creation proved to be a bit difficult. What helped us a lot was a brainstorming - we all got together around a table, and started saying words, everything that came to our minds and could appear in the story. In the end we had a paper full of thematic words like "sleazy landlord, prison, ambulance, puritan parents, etc. It proved to be very helpfull, and ever after a few session, the paper is a good source of inspiration for both character creation, and making up bangs.

The scenes
Being fans of MLwM, we quickly assumed NG is meant to be played in a similar way, ie. in separate scenes for each character.

The second assumption was that the story is not continual (like in a "traditional" RPG), but "movie-style". That means the first scene may take place Monday morning, the second one Wednesday evening, and nobody is asking what happened in between. (in a "traditional" RPG the GM would at least have to ask: "what do you wand to do on Tuesday?")

So now we had at least a basic idea of how the game works. But, being used to MLwM, it seemed a bit boring to us. This was before the 1st game and we didn't know what to expect, had no idea of what to do in the game. We needed to divide the scenes in a few types, so we'd have at least some guidelines.

In the end, we agreed on these scene types:
- Smoke (no conflict, just a dialogue)
- Gradation (the scene begins without any conflict, but must create some conflict for the future scenes; no roll)
- Conflict (the actual conflict resolution; a roll; fortune in the middle)

Player, not GM, chooses the type of the next scene.

Somewhere on the Forge, Paul Czege mentioned:
Quote"Getting things started in Nicotine Girls is harder. What I did was frame opening scenes for each character that could be interpreted as her Dreams might be passing her by."

This seemed like a good idea, and since we didn't see any other way how to begin the stories, we used it. In the first session, it was me as the GM who made up these kickers and framed the opening scenes. In the discussion after the session, the players told me they didn't like it. The kicker has a huge impact on the story, especially in a one-shot game, because it essentially says what the story will be about. Did I mention in the kicker that moviemakers are coming to the town? OK, the story will be about the character trying to get in the film...

The biggest danger is that the GM may make a kicker the player doesn't like. That would mean the player is forced to play a story that he isn't really interested in. It happened to us - after the game, Jane's player told me he didn't like my kicker, and it made the whole story a lot less interesting to him.

In our second session, the kickers were created by the players themselves during character creation. And it payed out well. I strongly recommend this to everyone, your stories may only profit by this.

Scene framing
In the first session, the players only chose the scene type and the GM framed the scene. Example: before MJ went to the casting, she visited her friend Faith (Smoke scene). Faith recommended her to seduce the director, and borrowed her a dress with the lowest neckline and shortest skirt she found. It then went like this:
QuotePlayer: "OK. My next scene will be conflict during the casting. I really want to seduce the director."
GM: "Well... when you came to the place, you quickly realised there's something wrong. In the waiting room, everyone's staring at you. You see... all the people here wear formal, sober clothes. Your skirt is like... one meter shorter than anybody else's.

After the session, the players complained they felt a bit too constrained. It was the GM who made up the kicker, it was the GM who framed all the scenes. Except of choosing the scene types, the players' only way how to influence the story was to react to the scenes framed by GM. But if a player had an interesting story idea, there was no way he could incorporate it to the story.
So we changed it. In the second session, it was the players who framed the scenes. Something like:
QuotePlayer: "OK. This is going to be a conflict. I came to the place, just to find out everyone except me wears formal, dark and serious clothes. The scene begins in the waiting room. I'm sitting in a corner, trying to be invisible.

At this time, the player begins to play his character only and the GM takes the reins of storytelling. This is quite a big change, that has some interesting effects:

- it makes GM's job a lot easier (I love this!). Before, it was only the GM who was responsible for making interesting scenes. It was the GM who had to take the sentence "I'm going to the casting" and make it somehow interesting. Now this responsibility lies on the players.

- players's job is now a lot harder (I love this!). Before, the players only reacted to scenes the GM made up. Now they have to come up with interesting scenes and story ideas.

- players not only may influence the story, they must do it (I love this!) Before, the players complained they don't have enough freedom. Now they have.

- the responsibility for the good story is now more evenly divided between all players (I love this!)

If you think the GM's job is now too easy, trust me - it's not. It's just as difficult as before, only in a different way. Before, the difficulty lied in framing the scenes in a interesting way. Now, you take the scened framed by a player and play it. The player didn't say what is supposed to happen during the scene - he only framed it. The GM has to bring it to a rewarding end.

One last note - if the player doesn't know how to frame the scene, he's welcome to discuss it with the other players and ask for their opinions and advices.

Framing + scene types
Now combine the scene types I mentioned earlier with the fact it is the player who frames them. It now looks someting like this:

- Smoke scene - One player frames and asks a second player to play with him. They play the scene together. No GM necessary.

- Conflict scene - Player frames the beginning, GM takes over. Together they try to finish the scene in a rewarding way. A roll necessary.

- Gradation scene - Now this is interesting. If a player doesn't want to do anything specific, or has no ideas, or thinks it is a time for a little change, he asks for a Gradation scene. He frames the scene and GM takes over. It is a job of GM to introduce some kind of conflict, or story break during the Gradation scene. To make the GM's job easier, the player tries to frame the scene in such a way he provides some clues or hooks for GM.

Example of a bad Gradation:
QuotePlayer: "I don't really know what to do now. I'm calling for Gradation scene. I'm sitting in a pub and something happens."
GM (trying to make it interesting): "Errrr...."

Example of a good Gradation:
QuoteI was playing Mary Sue, and after an unsuccessful conflict scene with the Boy (I didn't charm him, just made him mad), I felt it is too early to go for him again. So I called for a Gradation scene. Having nothing specific on my mind, I framed a scene in evening, Mary Sue sitting on a couch and fighting stress with the help of vanilla ice-cream. I then said: "The scene begins when the doorbell suddenly rings. It is my mother, who wants to introduce me to just another man."

At this time, I handed the scene over to GM. I didn't know what would happen, but felt I provided enough hooks.

The GM took the scene and we played it together. It turned out that the man brought by my mother was a sleazy middle-aged man with a beer belly. I tried to chase them both off, but my mother was persistent (there is no roll during Gradation scene!). Desperate to get rid of them, I lied: "Mom, but I already have a boyfriend!"
"Really? What's his name?"
"Greg! Greg Kozlowski!" (name of the Boy Mary Sue was after. The same one she disgusted earlier this day)

And now see, how the GM took this hook and introduced a conflict:
"Greg Kozlowski?" asked the sleazy man. "But that's my younger brother!"
Mother reacted quickly: "Really? That's fantastic! Let's just call him and invite him over for a drink!"

In this example, you see the delicate collaboration between the player and GM, who are working together to make the story exciting. Before Greg came to investigate what the hell is going on, Mary Sue had just enough time to run to her neighbour for an advice (Smoke scene). When Greg arrives, she'll have a lot explaining to do (Conflict scene; roll).

GM or GMless?
After handing a lot of GM's responsibility over to the players, we felt it is no longer necessary to have a GM. We gave it a shot and the second session was played without the GM (that's why I had my own character). Here's how it worked out:

It didn't work :) A typical scene went like this: A player framed his scene and then asked the other players who wants to play the scene with him. One of the remaining players opted to do a GM for this scene only. And so on...

The first problem we encountered was that it is difficult. Even with GM, each player has to think about his next scene and come up with some idea (he's supposed to frame it, after all). It is almost impossible to think of your next scene, listen to other players' stories, and at the same time do GM for other players.

The idea was that when a player frames a scene, the other players think about it for a while and then the one who has a good idea how to play the scene opts to do GM. The problem here is obvious: "the one who has a good idea". We were surprised that we suddenly seemed to have no good ideas, when it comes to breaking of bread.

And third - not everyone is able to do a GM in Nicotine Girls. GMing NG requires a skilled narrativist, used to improvisation, quick decisions and building conflicts on the go. I have some GM experience with My Life with Master, and I also spent a loooooot of time watching Desperate Housewives and noticing how the conflicts are built there (this series is a great source of inspiration indeed!) - so I somehow manage to do the GM's job. A few of my friends, who also have some narrativist experience, can handle it too. But during the 2nd session, two of the four players were "only" simulacionists. When they took the GM's job, they just took the framed scene and played it... in a simulacionist way. They played the NPC's, they responded to player's actions... but they usually failed to introduce the conflict or story break (notably during Gradation scenes).

An interesting fact - the simulacionist players had no trouble framing their own scenes. When they had enough time to think about it beforehand, they were able to think of interesting and exciting ideas. So making things up while not playing was no problem. The problem was that they couldn't make things on the go. As soon as they got into a character (even a NPC), they fell into the actor stance ("simulating" the character) and were unable to switch to the director stance, while remaining still in-character.

So my point is this - Nicotine Girls requires a skilled GM, used for narrativist game, who knows how to introduce conflict and build tension on the go. If there is such a GM, even a non-narativist players can enjoy the game and usually have no trouble coming up with their own ideas.

NG can be also played GM-less, but ONLY in the case all players are used to narrativist gaming and director stance. And even then it's a challenging task.

The system

I still have mixed feelings about the resolution mechanics - the Methods and Motivations. It just feels... a bit awkward. Or static. Or simply strange. During our sessions, we experienced with different setups of the mechanics. This is a topic worth of separate discussion, and I'm looking forward for describing our experience and talking about it. But not now. In this report (and hopefully the discussion), I'd like to focus on the "gaming style" of NG, and the options I described above.

The 3rd session
Writing this report took me a long time (combined effort of my laziness & not being used to write in English). Before I managed to finish it, we actually played our 3rd session of NG. I'd like to describe it briefly. I'll ignore the characters and story, and go straight to the game itself. In no particular order:

- This time, we wanted to have a serious, not comical story. It went quite well, and it was perhaps the most rewarding session of all. It is also more difficult for all players. The scene framing is harder and you can easily make a mistake that ruins the mood. Bud if you do it well, you'll be awarded with a strong story. Try it.

- This was actually the first game we had some female players. There were four players, two men a two women, and myself as the GM. I think the presence of the women helped us to maintain the serious mood. Also, women are much, much better in making girlish plans during Smoke scenes :) Speaking of which...

- My girlfriend Katka found a completely different way how to use her Smoke scenes. When her character had some troubles with her boyfriend, she called her friend for a Smoke scene and asked her for help. Not for an advice, but for help. She actually wanted the other character to speak to the boyfriend and solve the problem instead of her. She even made up a deviously complicated plan how to accomplish this, and presented this plan to the other character. "Please, just go there, and do what I say. Thank you."
So, basically, during her own Smoke scene, Katka's character asked her friend to do something, and even described her how exactly she's supposed to do it.
We were surprised by this tactics, since our simple, male, rules-bound minds just didn't think of this before. But both this idea and the plan were interesting, and we approved. We used this just like any other Smoke scene, and where the asked character went to do the job, she received a bonus for obeying the "advice".

The end

I could perhaps write more and more, because I really fell in love with Nicotine Girls and have many ideas on my mind. But I think I've already written too many things for one text. If you have any questions, or comments, feel free to ask. I'm looking forward for the discussion, and also for any other topics about Nicotine Girls on the forums.

Thanks for reading this whole mess,


Jiri Petru

Sorry for the second post, the short one. I thought I'd be able to edit it later, but I see It's not allowed. Could some of the moderators delete it? And this one too? thanks