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Author Topic: [Dead Inside] Tears in Afghanistan  (Read 8563 times)
J B Bell
Member

Posts: 267


« on: February 12, 2007, 11:46:17 PM »

On Saturday, 10 February 2007, myself and a few friends played Dead Inside. Overall, it went extremely well and I was very pleased with how the system worked. In trying to keep with the basic idea of this report's having a point, I think I'll arrive at how DI's relatively basic motivation system, combined with a conflict system that treats all effectiveness as equally effective in context produces play that is strongly thematically driven, even though the base system, PDQ, is fairly "generic" looking. There is also stuff in there about expectations for traditional effectiveness getting seriously violated, in a good way. Also, of course, Real Food Is Important.

The GM was Joe, and other players were our friend Kirk (whose ID on Story Games I forget), and Kirk's friend from his art school, Wim. It's an interesting mix as Wim and I are in our 30s or later, while Joe and Kirk are younger guys. Overall, I didn't notice that that made much difference in play. We had a pre-play brunch with very nice French toast with strawberries and whipped cream (thanks for the condiments, Joe!).

As you may know from another thread, the conceit is that the PCs were all soldiers who their our souls while doing a tour in Afghanistan. Wim had made up a character who was an archaeologist and who had lost his soul from the workings of some mysterious Egyptian artifact. This wasn't in keeping with the conceit, but a compromise was worked out--his PC would be a journalist in Afghanistan.

After sorting that out, we had a sniper (my character), a sargeant promoted past his level of competency (Kirk's PC), and of course the journalist. Creating characters took, I think, only about 30-45 minutes.

I remember not very much about the other characters, except that Kirk's character had the extremely handy Empathy quality at, I think, Good [+2]. Stephen Craig, my sniper, had Expert [+4] Sniper, Good [+2] Survivor, Good [+2] Tinkerer, and Poor [-2] Lame (left foot removed with the assistance of an improvised explosive device). Stephen sold his soul to Ibliss to survive a pitched battle; he knew immediately that his offer, made only half-seriously, had been accepted. A later wish to get the hell out of Afghanistan was granted quickly enough (by losing his foot) to add to Stephen's suspicions.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of DI's system is how I botched "optimizing" Stephen. I cut my teeth on GURPS and it paid handsomely in that game to make a combat-worthy character. Lacking any social skills at all put him at a significant disadvantage later on. This isn't necessarily a DI system thing--you can after all be put in righteous battles that don't lose Soul Points--but I think it's in keeping with the tone of the game.

The scene was set by our being called to Stephen's old platoon leader's hospital bed--sargeant O'Reilly talked about becoming a zombie if he were to die without a soul. (I think we all got chills at this point.) He hinted that the entire unit had lost their souls over there.

Wim got an impressive scene of talking to a mysterious soldier (he was still in Afghanistan) who had lost his mind, speaking only German (his first language), which Markus also spoke. The man said he "fell down a hole" where God explained to him how to fill the hole in himself--and he demonstrated soul-taking to Wim's PC by using it on a bystander, killing him instantly. A very effectively creepy scene, touching the mechanics only lightly (witnessing soul-taking, the PC learned it). When Markus attempted to do a soul-take on the madman, he encountered only a void--so realizing he faced not another dead inside, but a qlippoth! This was a sharp break from the expectation that had built up in dialogue where Markus tried to get the soldier on his side by playing up their commonalities.

Back with the PC soldiers, we learned (in a bar, by cellphone) how to Open Gates. We found a place of power and promptely gated to the Spirit World. By instinct perhaps, Stephen stole a bow (it was a ceremonial long house) to take with him. Oops, Avarice, lose a bit of soul.

A major centerpiece of the game and its mechanics followed. We found ourselves in a thick fog, and were attacked by foghawks--headless birds. Creepy! Monsters! Defend ourselves! And so Sgt. Cameron and Stephen did, with gloriously well-described attacks gaining us upshifts on almost every round. We both used our Virtues (Stephen's was Fortitude and Sgt. Cameron's was Integrity) as well. This was ironic, because by about the third round, the birds were consistently described not as attacking, but panicking. Nonetheless, we carried on. The really hilarious part is that Joe was marking off Cruelty points quite clearly, and Markus even audibly protested. Yet between my desire as a player to simply kick a bit of ass, and being in character as a flipped-out dead inside vet, none of this registered at all. Thus, "victorious" at the end, I had, between that and my earlier theft, to give up my shiny, blue Soul Point. Bummer! But also, I laughed like crazy. As for the exercise of rolling 2d6 repeatedly, describing actions colourfully, and marking off Damage Ranks, I found the conflict ran quite smoothly.

After that, I really wanted that Soul Point back.

And then we heard a voice in the fog, calling out. It turned out to be a blind guy, actually a blind ghost, oddly enough, and clearly one of the guys we had been shooting at not so long ago. I think the thought was definitely in the air: did I maybe kill this guy myself? We offered to help him, though we were as clueless as he was.

Eventually we came to the Bazaar, and Stephen bought a loaf of bread and some samosas, with an assist from Sgt. Cameron. (The memories of first love we sold were apparently lost--not a very ethical vendor, apparently! I think missing the distinction between sharing and selling memories may have just been an oversight.) Then we had a very tense conflict--convincing the ghost that we were not just fucking with him. He could smell the bread, but of course, being immaterial, couldn't touch it. I hadn't considered that before assuring him we would feed him (he said he was hungry and I jumped on the opportunity to be virtuous--crap!). And, of course, this guy has something like Master [+6] Rhetoric! Stephen's Survivor Quality actually did come in handy at one point--I used Take It on the Chin (allowing a Quality to act as "armor" to nullify all Damage Ranks from an attack by taking one DR on it) there to defend from an unfair characterization.

Still, between us we managed to whittle the ghost down, and Kirk very nicely reserved the hammer-blow of Truth ("you're dead") for the coup de grace. "Oh," he said, and faded away.

(Continued in Part II!)
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"Have mechanics that focus on what the game is about. Then gloss the rest." --Mike Holmes
joepub
Acts of Evil Playtesters
Member

Posts: 569

Joe Thomas McDonald


« Reply #1 on: February 13, 2007, 12:07:21 AM »

Hey, JB.

This game was great, and it was the most fun I've ever had as a GM.

I'm going to talk about two seperate scenes that were amazing in my mind.

The first is Wim's first scene. Now, I gave JB/Kirk the opening scene, so as to give Wim a bit of a "this is how we roll" demonstration before expecting him to dive in. Then, I cut to Wim's first scene.

To flesh it out a bit:

Sergeant Gable had returned to his base, after 46 days missing in action. He was ragged, unshaven, dirty, and borderline psychotic. It appeared he'd completely forgotted English, his second language, and was speaking only in German. Wim's character, Markus, was a German journalist, and so they called him in to speak to the mad soldier.

I pushed REALLY hard in this scene, and was worried that I might be going a bit too far with a first time player... but Wim loved it. Sergeant Gable opened the conversation by saying "I've never felt closer to God". I slowly let Wim piece together that he was dealing with a soultaker. Sergeant Gable "demonstrated his gift" on a soldier standing guard in the room. The soldier dropped dead.

Wim then decided to try to turn the tables around: He used his newly learned soultaking on Sergeant Gable, trying to "take just a little bit, just a taste, in order to show him that his 'gift' is not god-given, but stolen." It's at that point that Wim learned he was dealing with a soulless Qlippoth (he'd done background reading and knew the significance in that). He was shocked, intrigued, and excited all at once.

Sergeant Gable stood up, angry at Markus' attempt, and stormed towards the door, muttering about a new nemesis. He turned and snapped at Markus, "God spoke to me, and he gave me this gift. And he told me where to keep the hostages." With that, he stormed out the door, toward the village. Wim was eating this story up.

I cut at that point.

The scene was emotionally intense, placed a significant amount of danger on the character, and required a good deal of sensitivity on the character's part. Wim rose to the challenge on this one, and was really excited to be taking part in this exchange. I haven't had such a powerful and just plain GOOD scene in... ever.

****************************************************

The second scene I want to talk about is the "foghawk" one.

The scene where Sergeant Cameron and Stephen attacked the foghawks was simply WONDERFUL. They circled in a panic, and the two of you kept attacking them. I narrated them circling about the fallen birds, and JB narrated stabbing two of them with arrows. I narrated them distressed and alarmed, and the two of you chopped and stabbed at them.

All the while, Wim (as a new player) had been trying to point it out to you guys. He at one point said, "you're attacking helpless birds!" He looked at me almost in desperation, and all I did was shrugged and marked off another Cruelty tick for Sergeant Cameron.

Eventually, they all died. And all it took was a quick reminder: You're in a foggy alleyway, standing over a flock of dead birds. Aside from the missing heads, they look like doves.
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joepub
Acts of Evil Playtesters
Member

Posts: 569

Joe Thomas McDonald


« Reply #2 on: February 13, 2007, 12:10:06 AM »

For the record:

Sergeant Cameron (Kirk Mitchell)
The soldier who was promoted beyond his skill set. He lost his soul when he shot a man.
Integrity/Despair
Expert [+4] Soldier, Good [+2] Empathy, Good [+2] Fighting Dirty, Poor [-2] Commander.

Markus Echt
A german war journalist who lost his soul during a trip to a mass grave site.
Hope/Despair
Expert [+4] Persuasion, Good [+2] Climber, Good [+2] Persistance, Poor [-2] Stumbling.
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Anemone
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Posts: 4

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« Reply #3 on: February 13, 2007, 08:25:12 AM »

Wonderful!  Please keep posting your further adventures.  I am very interested in the level of intensity that can be achieved with this kind of story.

Did you have any thought on the ideal group size for this game?  Would three players be your optimal number?  Or is it not a factor to worry about?
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Anemone

Dame of the Sacred Order of the Emerald Frog, for services to the Empire, by the express command of His Zantabulousness the Zorcerer of Zo
joepub
Acts of Evil Playtesters
Member

Posts: 569

Joe Thomas McDonald


« Reply #4 on: February 13, 2007, 11:05:53 AM »

Quote
Did you have any thought on the ideal group size for this game?  Would three players be your optimal number?  Or is it not a factor to worry about?

The others can sound off on this, but I think having 2-4 is an ideal amount of players.

Because Kirk (Sergeant Cameron) and JB (Stephen) were acting together... I was effectively only cutting between 2 storylines. That was good. Getting to cut to Wim then cut right back to Kirk/JB, and then right back to Wim... it was good pacing, and a good ratio of playing to sitting around listening.

So, yeah, I think what matters more than amount of players is actually amount of independant storylines.
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J B Bell
Member

Posts: 267


« Reply #5 on: February 13, 2007, 01:36:11 PM »

I agree with Joe, and hadn't thought of that before; it's a good point. You can have a bigger number of players as long as the viewpoint/scene is kept moving quickly, and it's easier to do that with switching among only a few such scenes.

On another, system-related note, I had not thought that the simple "attack, defend" sequence for conflicts in DI would be very interesting. I still would like to see defend rolls do something more than "you don't get hurt", but the conflicts ran very smoothly and quite quickly. It would probably get a bit bogged down at more than 3 or 4 participants, I think. I'd probably abstract multiple opponents if it came to that.
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"Have mechanics that focus on what the game is about. Then gloss the rest." --Mike Holmes
joepub
Acts of Evil Playtesters
Member

Posts: 569

Joe Thomas McDonald


« Reply #6 on: February 13, 2007, 02:56:21 PM »

Quote
On another, system-related note, I had not thought that the simple "attack, defend" sequence for conflicts in DI would be very interesting. I still would like to see defend rolls do something more than "you don't get hurt", but the conflicts ran very smoothly and quite quickly. It would probably get a bit bogged down at more than 3 or 4 participants, I think.

Although I agree that having more options than hurt and not hurt in a conflict would be interesting, I think that what exists now is brilliant. It allows you to declare any actions you'd want to see, and damage is abstract enough that it still makes sense to use it to track the effectiveness of those actions. It's not as confined as trad combat systems, and it's not as intensive as other stakes-setting games.
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J B Bell
Member

Posts: 267


« Reply #7 on: February 14, 2007, 05:51:55 PM »

As promised, here is Part II of our AP report.

This action was done over a series of cuts, as I believe I've mentioned. I include it here as it provided the climax of the whole session.

Markus, after following the Qlippoth (who, I am recently reminded, swore the oath of the Nemesis on him) down a hole in the ground, found himself in the spirit world. There he encountered a hauntingly familiar-looking ghost girl. ("You can tell she has your eyes," Joe said, to chills all round. There were several uses of this nicely mood-setting and effective "you just know, as in a dream" technique, and it fit perfectly in the Spirit World.) It helps to know here (as I somehow missed, thus giving me a great reveal later) that Markus' wife died in a car accident. Yes, yes, normally the physicians would tell you that your wife was pregnant, I suppose, but it was very early, or the doctor just couldn't break his heart any further, blah blah. It didn't even come up as a shadow of a thought in the game session, at least for me.

Markus was unusually well-versed in the workings of the spirit world, but nonetheless quite disoriented, so the girl offered to take him to her "father," who could help. She called him Spider.

Well, that turned out to be literally true. Living in a rude hut at the top of the hill was a spider. (In my mind, he was just a bit anthropomorphic, with a more or less human head, but with mandibles. And a suit.)

And, stirring a pot, with downcast eyes, shackled to the ground, was Markus' dead wife. (Joe has told me he wasn't sure we'd get more than one session. So the usual plot-speed was revved up way past 11.) This provoked him, needless to say. Yet our gentle and soft-spoken friend merely asked for what was obviously right, and very politely too. "Please release my wife and let her come with me."

The Spider was a strangely proper kind of guy, and had already asked once for Markus to leave. Thus our second purely verbal conflict began, and paid out in spades. Spider had Poor Lover [-2], not as in "incompetent in bed," but just quite bad at loving generally. This was a severe disadvantage for him, as Markus' Persuasion stayed good and Wim's clearly heartfelt speeches got Upshifts on practically every round. Eventually Markus realized that really the right thing to do was to release all the "wives" that Spider had with him (Upshift and Soul Point!), thus broadening his "tactics."

The Spider was worn down, needless to say, and eventually relented, totally uncomposed. I reflected later that he could have escalated to using violence, but that would have been of little help. Oh, another mechanical note: I actually "hosed" Wim by mentioning that the Spider could use some Quality or other to Take It on the Chin--but it was an interesting conflict, I didn't want it to end too fast!

After that, there was a sort of double-climax--the wife dissolved into light, but the girl couldn't; she was attached to her dad. The Spider himself offered to show how to unite their souls (a sort of voluntary soultaking), and this was done. That netted Markus enough Soul to elevate him up to being a Sensitive.

I whined a bit here, as I was surprised at this shower of gamely wealth--it takes a massive boost to pop up from Dead Inside to Sensitive. But it fit the theme fine, as well as Wim's priorities--he was interested particularly in playing a Sensitive.

Another "off the book" thing that happened was that I spent a Soul Point to get a +2 bonus after a poor roll during the argument with the blind ghost. I think I took that from Zorcerer of Zo. However, in DI you can only get such bennies if you know the Ward ability, and then it only allows a re-roll of one die. I argued eloquently for what that Soul Point meant, and Joe allowed it. I'm a touch puzzled by why DI is so stingy with "plot point" currency, compared to the other PDQ games.

Anyway, that's it! We plan to play again this weekend. It should be very interesting to see how a "mixed party" of Dead Inside and Sensitive people fares.

--JB
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"Have mechanics that focus on what the game is about. Then gloss the rest." --Mike Holmes
joepub
Acts of Evil Playtesters
Member

Posts: 569

Joe Thomas McDonald


« Reply #8 on: February 14, 2007, 06:21:20 PM »

Quote
After that, there was a sort of double-climax--the wife dissolved into light, but the girl couldn't; she was attached to her dad. The Spider himself offered to show how to unite their souls (a sort of voluntary soultaking), and this was done. That netted Markus enough Soul to elevate him up to being a Sensitive.

I whined a bit here, as I was surprised at this shower of gamely wealth--it takes a massive boost to pop up from Dead Inside to Sensitive. But it fit the theme fine, as well as Wim's priorities--he was interested particularly in playing a Sensitive.

So, the main thing in Part II that I want to address is the free "Okay, now you're a Sensitive" thing.

Wim had expressed, at the outset, an interest in being a Sensitive. I replied that I'd prepared for a Dead Inside-only game, and that I was unsure how the different Types would interact.

I think, though, that there is a much larger effectiveness difference between an Expert Dead Inside and an Average Dead Inside, than there is between an Average Dead Inside and an Average Sensitive. I also don't see having Sensitives and Dead Inside togehter in one group as problematic (they will connect next session, even though they didn't in this one).

And so, I just hand-waved a large part of the system to make Wim's wishes come true. He'd just confronted a mage and caused a complete emotional turnaround in him! And he had a free spirit (soul, no body) and a dead inside (body, no soul).

I know this breaks the whole System Does Matter manifesto, but really... It was something that looked great cinematically, made everyone happy, and got Wim playing the type of character he was hoping for. It felt like the right thing to do.

Besides, I'm an anarchist. Fuck the rules. (kidding!)
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Anemone
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Posts: 4

Beautiful games


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« Reply #9 on: February 15, 2007, 09:14:08 AM »

Awesome!

The PDQ-based rules are flexible enough to handle a bit of manhandling-on-the-fly.  A Good Thing!  I hate interrupting intense role-playing to flip through the rules or argue about the Rules' Intent.  :-}

The spider with a man's head sounds like he should get together with the menwith spider heads from Lacuna and have a body parts swap!  ^_^
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Anemone

Dame of the Sacred Order of the Emerald Frog, for services to the Empire, by the express command of His Zantabulousness the Zorcerer of Zo
Kirk Mitchell
Member

Posts: 268


« Reply #10 on: February 15, 2007, 04:06:24 PM »

I enjoyed this session so much. Joe's mostly covered everything, but there are a few things I would like to discuss.

There was one moment in particular where I simultaneously floundered and felt really railroaded. Specifically, the first two scenes that JB and I had. The hospital scene was fantastic. Intense, heartfelt and frightening, for sure. But I felt like I didn't know what to do. We've just discovered that the old Boot Camp instructor has just died without a soul...now what?

Was it a failure on my part as a player, having been used to or expecting rails and suddenly being disoriented by finding them no longer there? If so, I'd like to discuss ways to avoid this. I consider myself to be a reasonably pro-active player, but the other players may offer a different observation. On the other hand, if it was some other factor, like the way the scene was framed or some missing element to the scene I'd like to discuss how to set up scenes to get some more immediate momentum. Personally (and I'm not bashing Joe's GMing. He's a fucking awesome GM), I'm of the opinion it was the latter but I'm certain the former plays into it as well.

I'll provide as specific a breakdown as I can of the scene as I saw it. If anyone thinks I'm mis-representing anything, call me out, please:

The first thing Joe narrated was that we had both recieved phonecalls from O'Reilly, asking us to go see him in the hospital, and telling us he was in a bad way. JB and I both decided that our characters would go down to meet him.

At the run-down hospital, we met O'Reilly, who raved a bit about not having a soul, and what would happen if he died without one. He also mentioned that the same thing had happened to the rest of his unit, which later became very obvious it was something that we were supposed to pay attention to, but I sort of absorbed that as a bit of added horror with not too much significance. O'Reilly then promptly died, despite our panicked attempts to call a doctor (who arrived fifteen minutes too late and was utterly useless) and perform CPR.

After all this, which was great, I felt we had been building to a head. That something was supposed to happen that would start a conflict or get some serious action going. Then our source of information died, and I thought "oh great, cool, he's going to become a Zombi now and grab my hand or something! Sweet!" Nothing happened. JB and I just sort of looked at each other and decided to head to the bar. Our characters needed a drink.

In our next scene, Joe actually handed JB one of his cards with notes written on it, underlining the section that said "Call O'Reilly's Squadmates". So we did. At this point, I really felt that the last scene (as well as this one) had been a bunch of smoke-and-mirrors designed to bump us onto some pre-determined path.

I really want to stress that every other scene that we played was incredible. While I can't speak for Wim, his first scene for the most part showed what I wanted to see in my own scenes.

Here's my idea why the ghost scene was so great: it presented a clear and direct conflict which was immediate, engaging and relevant to our characters. I can't speak for JB, but I was completely invested in that scene from a character and player perspective. That scene was tailor-made to push my buttons, and it was awesome. I feel the same thing goes for Wim's moving and heartfelt scene with the spider. Wim was obviously invested in his character's daughter and wife, and it was reflected in his play.

I'd like to hear everyone else's opinions on this. Maybe I'm the only one who had an issue, in which case cool, obviously the problem is with me and I'll work on being a more pro-active player.

And it was still one of the best sessions I've ever had!

Cheers,
- Kirk
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chadu
Member

Posts: 134


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« Reply #11 on: February 16, 2007, 09:37:34 AM »


After that, there was a sort of double-climax--the wife dissolved into light, but the girl couldn't; she was attached to her dad. The Spider himself offered to show how to unite their souls (a sort of voluntary soultaking), and this was done. That netted Markus enough Soul to elevate him up to being a Sensitive.

I whined a bit here, as I was surprised at this shower of gamely wealth--it takes a massive boost to pop up from Dead Inside to Sensitive. But it fit the theme fine, as well as Wim's priorities--he was interested particularly in playing a Sensitive.

Pretty damned cool, in my opinion.

[quote author=J B Bell link=topic=23286.msg230193#msg230193 date=1171504315
Another "off the book" thing that happened was that I spent a Soul Point to get a +2 bonus after a poor roll during the argument with the blind ghost. I think I took that from Zorcerer of Zo. However, in DI you can only get such bennies if you know the Ward ability, and then it only allows a re-roll of one die. I argued eloquently for what that Soul Point meant, and Joe allowed it. I'm a touch puzzled by why DI is so stingy with "plot point" currency, compared to the other PDQ games.[/quote]

Probably for two reasons:
1) It's the first PDQ game.
2) Soul Point stinginess (in use and scope) makes using them more of a deliberative process. (Or so I thought at the time.)

Very cool session here, guys!
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Chad Underkoffler [chadu@yahoo.com]

Atomic Sock Monkey Press

 Available Now: Truth & Justice
chadu
Member

Posts: 134


WWW
« Reply #12 on: February 16, 2007, 09:47:55 AM »

Wim had expressed, at the outset, an interest in being a Sensitive. I replied that I'd prepared for a Dead Inside-only game, and that I was unsure how the different Types would interact.

I think, though, that there is a much larger effectiveness difference between an Expert Dead Inside and an Average Dead Inside, than there is between an Average Dead Inside and an Average Sensitive. I also don't see having Sensitives and Dead Inside togehter in one group as problematic (they will connect next session, even though they didn't in this one).

And so, I just hand-waved a large part of the system to make Wim's wishes come true. He'd just confronted a mage and caused a complete emotional turnaround in him! And he had a free spirit (soul, no body) and a dead inside (body, no soul).

Nah, that's liquid awesome.

The biggest difference is that Sensitives have more access to Powers and cheaper costs for using them. (Change Others, Create Object, Create Tulpa, Upshift for Social activities in Spirit World).

All I'd encourage you as GM to do is to emphasize to the player that after becoming Sensitive, the character no longer feels "empty" but "overfull" -- and a way to envision that is that all of the character's emotional responses, good and bad, are turned up to 11. They get angrier, sadder, more peaceful, more happy, more generous, more greedy, more more more. And, they can better see more of what makes other people tick, emotionally.

Quote
I know this breaks the whole System Does Matter manifesto, but really... It was something that looked great cinematically, made everyone happy, and got Wim playing the type of character he was hoping for. It felt like the right thing to do.

Besides, I'm an anarchist. Fuck the rules. (kidding!)

One of the ASMP mottos is: "You bought the game: it's yours now. Do what you want with it! Then tell us about it so we can all tell you how awesome you are."

CU
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Chad Underkoffler [chadu@yahoo.com]

Atomic Sock Monkey Press

 Available Now: Truth & Justice
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