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[Breaking the Ice] Post GenCon indie love

Started by GreatWolf, August 21, 2007, 01:58:44 PM

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Indie love

For my birthday, I was given a lot of money to take to GenCon to spend on games.  This made me very happy and allowed me to purchase many games that I might have otherwise left on the rack.  As a result, I am now feeling the need to justify these purchases with Actual Play!  Actually, I'm not really all that concerned; I think that I'll be able to get most of these games to the table rather easily.

In particular, I purchased several RPGs that I knew would interest my wife, Crystal.  For the record, the list is Steal Away Jordan, Breaking the Ice, Shock:, and Sign in Stranger.  So, on Monday, she and I decided to relax a bit and play a game of Breaking the Ice.

As an aside, do I get an award for the first GenCon attendee to have post GenCon play?

Indie love, or "Are we actually capable of being light-hearted?"

Crystal and I started with a brief discussion about the genre.  We decided that we didn't want anything too heavy or painful.  For Crystal, this actually included Romantic Comedy.  This makes sense to me.  With rare exception, Romantic Comedies center around a lie and can be exceedingly painful to watch.  Meet the Parents, I'm looking at you.

In the end, I said, "You want a Meg Ryan romance."  She laughed and agreed.  So that was the mood that we claimed we were going to have for the game.

Then we worked out the Switch.  This is one aspect of the players' lives which will be shared by the characters.  However, each player will play the character that represents the other player's aspect.  The easiest example is a gender switch, where a male player plays the female and vice versa.  We didn't really feel like going that route, at least with this game.  We both commented that our creative energies were low, and trying to portray a member of the opposite gender would have been too much work.

In the end, we settled on a job switch.  Crystal's character was a busy IT professional, while my character was a stay-at-home dad with a home business.  Still fairly innocuous, right?

Then we ran through the Word Webs.  One player chooses his character's favorite color and writes it down on a sheet of paper.  Then he thinks of another word that is connected to his favorite color and writes it down on the paper, connected by a line.  Then the other player writes down another word, either related to the favorite color or to the word that the first player thought of.  You go back and forth until you have written down twelve words.  You do this for both characters and then use the resulting words to brainstorm starting Traits for the characters.

So, for example, my character's favorite color was black.  So I wrote down "Night" connected to "Black".  Then Crystal wrote down "Moonlit", connected to night.  Then I wrote down "Frost", connected to moonlit...And so on.

I'll pause here to state how very awesome this is.  Once we were done, we had more raw material to use for brainstorming than we actually needed.  This technique might even be worth stealing for other games as well.

And it was at this point that the game dove into seriousness.

One of the strands of my Word Map was this: "Black—death—depression—drugs—pharmacy."  Suddenly, my character came sharply into focus.  He's a drug dealer.  That's what his "home business" is.

Everything else fell rapidly into place.

Character:  Lester

Player:  Seth

Favorite Color:  black

Conflict:  Illegal Job

Starting Traits:

Self:  poor, black, allergic to cats

Work:  drug dealer

Play:  amateur astronomer, weight lifter

Character:  Candy Cane

Player:  Crystal

Favorite Color:  Pink

Conflict:  very busy

Starting Traits:

Self:  passionate, white, wealthy, parents were hippies, anti-drug, naïve about men

Work:  Army reservist, programmer

Play:  karateka, landscaper, herbalist

I love the character sheet for Breaking the Ice. Or, should I say the characters sheet?  For those of you who don't know, both characters in Breaking the Ice are written on the same sheet, with their Attraction score and Compatabilities written in between them.  Elegant and thematic.  Plus, as an interesting emergent property, the sheet works best if the players are sitting next to each other.  Added bonus!

So we have the poor black drug dealer falling for the rich white career woman.  This couldn't end well at all.  At some point in here, I laughed and said, "Are we actually capable of being light-hearted?"  So much for Meg Ryan.

Or so I thought.

(to be continued)
Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown


The First Date, or Smoothies and Soul Food

We couldn't figure out some way that these two had met before the first date, so we decided that their first date would be launched by their actually meeting.  We agreed that our story would take place in Peoria, last week.  Shades of Dirty Secrets, I guess.  It's just second nature at this point.  So, we decided that they met at Naturally Yours, the local whole foods grocery store.  He is there for some herbal supplements that go with his workout regime, and she is eating a muffin and drinking a green smoothie.

It's cliché, I know, but we started with The Spill.  She is so engrossed in what she is reading that she accidentally knocks over her smoothie, spilling it everywhere.  Lester is on hand, though, and he grabs some napkins and mops up the green gooey mess.  They get to talking, and it comes out that they are both into fitness and exercise.  He invites her to join him at the fitness center next door for a workout.  She already works out there, so it's not much of an issue.  She hems and haws and finally agrees.  Lester was so excited that he started to leave the store without paying for the supplement that he was holding.  When Candy pointed it out to him, he swore loudly, embarrassing himself in front of her.  Then he quickly paid for the item and they left the store.

Things went well for the next couple of turns.  Candy only embarrassed herself a little by becoming flustered, talking too much, and then tripping over an incline in the fitness center.  But things fell flat when Lester asked Candy out to dinner.  He took her down to a dive on the South Side where they served soul food.  Big racks of ribs, steak sandwiches, things like that.  (Stuff I'd like to be eating now, actually.)  This was way out of her element.  She fumbled through the entire meal and then was "saved" by her workplace calling her to come in to deal with a computer problem.  But, even though the evening fell flat, they exchanged phone numbers and agreed to set something else up.

At this point, the couple had earned no Compatibilities, but they managed to keep two of the three points of Attraction that they had earned during the first date.
Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown

Emily Care

Dear Seth,

The Spill is such a perfect screwball comedy move.  I loved how the drug dealer character opened up for you once the word web got rolling. "Home business", wow. Those threads of connection...

Looking forward to the rest. Thanks for playing my game! Hope you both had a good time.

Koti ei ole koti ilman saunaa.

Black & Green Games

Ron Edwards

Hi Seth,

Sigh ... one of these days, you will play a game that does not include crime, moral failure, questions about God, doubt and hope regarding one's country, shocking violence, or traumatic sexuality.

Either it will be a great day, or the time/space continuum will hiccup and we will all have to do existence over as dull-ish lava lizards.

Best, Ron


Quote from: Ron Edwards on August 22, 2007, 01:00:26 PM
Hi Seth,

Sigh ... one of these days, you will play a game that does not include crime, moral failure, questions about God, doubt and hope regarding one's country, shocking violence, or traumatic sexuality.

Either it will be a great day, or the time/space continuum will hiccup and we will all have to do existence over as dull-ish lava lizards.

I actually laughed out loud over here when reading this.

That day actually did happen at GenCon when I played Sons of Liberty, but I fell back into my poor habits upon getting home.

Seriously, though, I plan on addressing this at the end of the writeup, which I will now proceed to work on some more.
Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown


The Second Date, or Gardens and Gazing

During the first date, we had established that Candy had a landscaped garden at her house.  We also knew that Lester was an amateur astronomer.  So, the second date was the Hobby Swap.  He would come to her house and see the garden.  Then they would go out to dinner and do some stargazing after dark.

Lester found Candy's house to be quite intimidating.  It was big and pretty and expensive.  What he was somewhat surprised to discover was that Candy was also somewhat intimidated.  Her family is now quite wealthy, and she is expected to keep up appearances.  Honestly, she prefers the small, cozy sitting room in the back.  It was at this point that the cigarette case slipped out of Lester's pocket.  Candy saw it and thought that it actually contained cigarettes.  This was a Bad Thing, but they managed to smooth over it.

And then Lester saw the sunroom.  It was filled with green plants and opened out onto a beautiful garden.  He was enraptured.

Compatibility:  appreciate beauty

Then Candy and Lester went out into the garden and sat in its quiet center.  Candy talked about how she loves this part of the garden, because it's quiet and peaceful.  No one bothers you; no one pesters you.  They held hands and enjoyed the silence.

Compatibility:  enjoy solitude

Then they went out into the country for a picnic dinner.  Sitting out by a soybean field wasn't exactly Candy's idea of a good time, but the handpacked dinner, plus the stargazing quickly overcame some of the weakness of the venue.

Things were humming along by the time they returned to Candy's house.  But as Lester was walking Candy to the door, his cell-phone rang.  The babysitter was frantic.  Where was he?  Didn't he know that his children were still at home and driving her crazy?

Lester hadn't mentioned any children to Candy.  Now she wants to know what is going on.  So he explains.  He has two sons, of whom he has custody, at least for now.  The mother is not part of his life anymore, so he does the best that he can.  But now he has to go.  But first, Lester points up in the sky and says, "You see that star?  That will be our star, so we can remember this night."

Then the cell phone rings again.  Frustrated, Lester drives home.

Somewhere in here, if I remember correctly, we picked up Compatibility: lonely, but I don't remember exactly when.

Our Attraction check after this date was awful.  Three dice rolled and no successes.  So we used the reroll options to bring in Bad Stuff.

She was suddenly busy with Army Reserve, so they couldn't meet for a while.

His ex suddenly sued him for custody.

And Candy's maid told her father that she was seeing a black man.

Everything blew up.
Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown


The Third Date, or Trials and Tribulations

And so, the third date started after an angry confrontation between Candy and her father.  She decides to drive to Lester's place in the projects.  She doesn't call ahead; she's never been there before.  But she needs to see him.

Of course, this means that she catches him at his worst.  He's lounging around the house in his boxers.  Pizza boxes are scattered everywhere.  The kids are running around like maniacs.  And Candy shows up at his door in tears.

Eventually, they end up sitting out front on the steps.  She's talking about her father; he's talking about his ex.

Compatibility:  Family is hard

Then, both of their jobs conspire to interfere.  Someone showed up to give Lester money for drugs.  He tried to wave him off, but he eventually just takes the money.  Then Candy's cell phone started ringing again.  In frustration, she threw it against the wall, shattering it.

Compatibility:  Job struggles

Candy told Lester that he doesn't have to keep selling drugs.  He could be into sales in some other field.  She has seen how well he does.  He is discouraged, though.  He's tried to get other work, but he can't, because of his criminal record.  He doesn't actually like selling drugs, but he does need to put food on the table for his kids.  And now, of course, he's going to lose them...

But she is undeterred.  He could clean up his life, and she would be with him to help.

Compatibility:  Us against the world

She offered to take him and his children out to Chuck-E-Cheese.  He accepted.  So they got the kids heading out the door.  As they do, Lester picked up the cigarette case with his joints, but she stopped him.  "Leave them here.  For me?"  He paused for a moment but then agreed.

The trip to Chuck-E-Cheese was successful, although Lester discovered that Candy is not a good driver.  Eventually, they found themselves back at the apartment.  The kids charged into the house to get ready for bed, while Candy and Lester stood outside.  He started fumbling around for a joint to smoke, but of course it wasn't on him, because it was inside.  Candy touched him.  "You don't need that," she said.

Lester paused and then nodded.  "You're right.  I don't."

They kissed good-night.

Aftermath and Coda

In the final analysis, we had 6 Attraction and 6 Compatibilities.  A happy ending for us!  Yay!  So we answered the three questions.

Do they stay together after the third Date?


When did your character fall in love with the other?

Candy fell in love with Lester when he gave her a star.

Lester fell in love with Candy when she affirmed his ability to get a job that wasn't drug dealing and promised to stand by him while he did.

What are the long-term chances for this relationship?

Well, this is what we figured out.

Lester lost full custody of the children.  So he went into drug rehab and got clean.  Then he started a restaurant with Candy being a major investor.  She financed the restaurant by selling her house.  Somewhere in there they got married.

The restaurant was a success...eventually.  But they burned through a lot of the initial investment money.  So they live in an apartment over the restaurant.

Lester is back in court, fighting for full custody of his sons.  His ex is still a junkie and a loser, so he's hoping that the judge will look favorably on him.

Candy is pregnant.  So her mother put her foot down.  She wants to be able to see her grandchildren, even if they will be bi-racial.  Her husband will just have to deal with it.  So, Lester and Candy just had dinner with her parents for the first time.  It wasn't awful.

Because they are living in an apartment over the restaurant, Candy can't have a landscaped garden like she used to.  I imagine that she still putters about with potted plants and the like, but her days of open landscaped yards are gone.

But they still have the stars.

Next post, I'll talk about our post-game reflections and our thoughts on the game.

Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown

Ron Edwards


I was thinking of referring to you in the future as Seth "I play black people" Ben Ezra, as a kind of humorous and defiant provocation to gamer culture which cannot typically accept such actions except when stereotyped, but then decided it would ultimately devalue the point.

It's just a great story. I think, especially, that the decision about the restaurant is the part that touches me most deeply.

Best, Ron


Post-game reflections, or How Meg Ryan saved our story

Quite possibly the single most exciting thing about roleplaying for me is the post-game reflection.  It's not enough to sit back and be content with having crafted an enjoyable experience.  I want to consider what I've just experienced and figure out how I can learn more about the world or myself.

But how do I teach this to my fellow gamers?

Emily and I talked for a bit at GenCon about this very issue, and she pointed at Breaking the Ice as having some techniques and methods.  So, it seems appropriate for me to lay out the post-game reflections that Crystal and I had.

This was a fairly personal story for Crystal and myself.  Many aspects of this story reflected our own personalities or the formation of our own relationship.  Crystal and I met in January 1997 and were married by June 1997.  In that time period, at least four people very close to me suddenly died, including my maternal grandfather and my paternal grandmother.  I was struggling to find and hold down a profitable job.  Indeed, the job I actually found nearly destroyed our relationship.  And that's just on my side of things.  Crystal was grappling with her own major issues as well.  So, compatibilities like "Family is hard" or "us against the world" speak to us, as our own relationship was forged in the fire of conflict and tribulation.

In addition, my current lifestyle choices have made certain issues very precious to me.  The one that worked its way into this story could probably be summed up like this:  "Drug dealers are people, too."  The Forge isn't the place to get into the deeper issues that are behind this, but the humanization of outcasts like drug dealers is a big deal to me.  Thus, Lester.

So, for both of these reasons, it was emotionally important to us that this relationship work out.  I know this for myself, of course, but also I could tell that Crystal was quite engaged in what was going on.  This was particularly true as the dice went against us, and we cast about, looking for ways to improve our situation.  It would have been quite painful for both of us, had this gone badly.

Even as I write about this, I find myself getting a little choked up.  This one might go down in the annals of Important Games for me.  Time will tell.

At the same time, we did actually get our Meg Ryan ending.  We joked that Lester was me and Candy was Meg Ryan, and that's about right.  In the end, love actually did conquer all and, even though we refused to give them clear sailing into the future, their love was secure.  That was the important bit.

It's also not the way it normally works out.  After the game, Crystal pointed out that the normal course of events is that the man says that he will change, stringing along the woman, who sticks around because he said he would change.  But, instead, he remains the same loser that he was before.  Increasingly, things become worse and worse for the woman, but she stays, because he keeps promising that next time will be different.

I'm glad that things worked out differently for Lester and Candy.  Maybe Crystal and I can have stories with happy endings after all.

System stuff

Now, to some comments and questions about the game system.  I've already touched on the coolness of the Word Web and the character sheet.  Now to discuss the dice mechanic for a moment.

The rules mention using different colored dice for Conflict dice, since they can't be rerolled.  I took this to a bit of an extreme.  Here's what I came up with:

--seven blue Attraction dice
--three green Bonus dice
--three red Conflict dice
--seven pairs of white Compatibility dice

These were grouped off to the side of where we actually rolled dice so the Guide could easily grab them.  The Conflict dice were a little closer so that the Active Player could just grab them and invoke conflict.

Then, when we rolled, we'd sort the dice into three categories:  successes, failed dice eligible for reroll, and failed dice not eligible for a reroll.  This let us see our options very quickly.

I liked how this worked, and I'll probably use a similar system for the next time that we play.

We also had a couple of questions.  We played that you rolled your dice as you got them, thus letting you immediately see how many successes you were earning.  So, when you got the Attraction dice, you rolled them so you'd know how many Bonus dice you'd need to shoot for.  Then, as you gained Bonus dice, you'd roll them immediately so you'd know how you were doing.  Then we would do rerolls as necessary.  Conflicts and Compatibilities were invoked as needed, of course.

So, uh, is this the right way to do it?

Final Thoughts

I wasn't expecting to have such a moving story.  This was supposed to be a light-hearted romp, but it turned into an important, precious experience.  So, Emily, thank you very much for designing this game.

Thank you very much.
Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown