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Author Topic: Shadows in the Fog - Sim?  (Read 6786 times)
Gordon C. Landis
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« on: September 24, 2003, 11:34:38 PM »

John and I got started on a discussion of some actual play over in a theory thread , so I thought I'd move the discussion over here.

Quote from: Gordon C. Landis
  I think the priority of play was Sim, with that interest in Story Now floating around but not prioritized.  I think that means a Nar prioritization could occur as play progresses.  I found it interesting that while the Shadows rules try to provide a lot of during-play (NOT front-loaded, or, not JUST front-loaded) Nar support via some different kinds of mechanics,  many folks in the group seemed reluctant to use those as fully as the rules text seemed (to me) to indicate is preferred.

Still, I can point to some very Story Now-compatible choices by various players.  It's the element vs. priority question, and if Story Now only pops out when it's convienent, and (more importantly) is stiffled by a commitment to pure Exploration, then it's not a priority.  That session of Shadows seemed to lean towards the pure Exploration.  

Quote from: John Kim
OK.  It seems reasonable and it matches what Tor thought.  I'm still not clear on how you judge this, though.  For example, which player choices seemed very Story Now to you?  Regarding Nar-supporting mechanics, do you mean the more director/author stance mechanics like Commenting?  

Really, I was pretty enthusiastic right after that session, having had a fun and interesting time.  It came as something of a shock when Tor said that he wasn't interested in further play because it was Sim -- which I guess is just a lesson that tastes differ.  To me, I think what made the session interesting was how it tackled various issues about class and mask in Victorian society -- things like Majors' homosexuality or Lydia's contrast between being a society widow and being a social reformer.  I guess what made it Sim was that these weren't structured as themes or Premise (?), but instead appeared haphazardly.  I'd be curious to hear more about your view.


It may be a bit too long since that session for me to comment specifically and coherently, but I can hit a few high points that stick with me.  And appolgies if I remember names incorrectly or get some details of who did what wrong.  That said, I was also pretty enthusiastic after that first session, even if play turned out to be more Sim-focused than I'd thought it might be - and it didn't seem to me inevitable that things would neccessarily continue down that (perfectly enjoyable) road.  

I think the strongest "cue" for Sim focus to me was the social appreciation of some really good in-character "acting" (Jim's accent and attitude, the "uppity" Victorian women portrayed by both those players) combined with the reluctance to engage with some of the more direct Premise-focusing mechanics (I'll have to review the rules and your notes about the session to speak more specifically on that, but my recollection is that I'd read the rule text carefully, see what looked like some pretty non-standard implications, and then notice that our play bent it back towards a more standard interpretation).

On the other hand, Liz's use of the NPC Arabella (she was the doctor-wannabe, right?) to "help" Dr. Westerbrock during his treatment of the greviously injured medium seemed very Story Now to me.  And I was begining to see how Professor Coneybear's proto-Anglo-Saxon obsessions (and related occult tie) would lead to a very Premise-laden "confrontation" with the Incan Huitzilpotchli (sp wrong, I'm sure) spirit.  In these instances the actions the player brought into the gameplay (via "their" character or some other mechanic) actually commented upon those themes you mention, rather than simply holding them up to be noticed and enjoyed.

As a playtest, I was concerned that the "bending towards conventional play" tendency would partly defeat the purpose - it might make play more enjoyable (for some, anyway), but at the cost of failing to fully exersize the system.  Of course, the designer is apparently swamped with other stuff right now, so that social-priority of play might not have been as important as I thought it would be, going in.

Hope that's at least partially helpful - I've had enough play between now and then (including GenCon) that the session has become a bit blurry to me.

Gordon
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John Kim
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« Reply #1 on: September 25, 2003, 01:34:38 PM »

Quote from: Gordon C. Landis
  I think the strongest "cue" for Sim focus to me was the social appreciation of some really good in-character "acting" (Jim's accent and attitude, the "uppity" Victorian women portrayed by both those players) combined with the reluctance to engage with some of the more direct Premise-focusing mechanics
...
On the other hand, Liz's use of the NPC Arabella (she was the doctor-wannabe, right?) to "help" Dr. Westerbrock during his treatment of the greviously injured medium seemed very Story Now to me.  And I was begining to see how Professor Coneybear's proto-Anglo-Saxon obsessions (and related occult tie) would lead to a very Premise-laden "confrontation" with the Incan Huitzilpotchli (sp wrong, I'm sure) spirit.  In these instances the actions the player brought into the gameplay (via "their" character or some other mechanic) actually commented upon those themes you mention, rather than simply holding them up to be noticed and enjoyed.  

OK, I'm not sure I see how this fits your categories.  As I would interpret it, "commenting" would mean that you add new meaning to a theme.  An extreme example would be parody, but it could also mean showing new depth or relevance.  Simply holding up a theme means that it is demonstrated, but the meaning is not changed.  

Late in the game, Liz played a card to say that Dr. Westbrook was impressed by Arabella (the would-be female doctor).  But I see that as reinforcing a previously-established theme -- i.e. it was demonstrated but not commented on.  It doesn't really change my understanding of that the.  In my mind, a great example of commenting would be Tor's line at dinner, where he said "If you needed an operation, would you want female hands wielding the knife?"  This I thought put a new perspective on the issue -- showing how a Victorian man could be threatened by the issue by pointing out the power relation inherent in being a doctor.  

I wonder if stance plays a role in this.  Your cues for Sim correspond to sticking to Actor stance, as opposed to using Director-stance mechanics which go beyond character.  This might be coincidental, but it seems noteworthy to me.  

Let me ask this:  Hypothetically, let's say that Liz hadn't played that card.  Instead, suppose you as Dr. Westbrook simply said in-character that you were impressed with Arabella's competance in the emergency.  Would that be equally Story Now?
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Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #2 on: September 25, 2003, 02:42:43 PM »

Hi John,

On stance - yes, I think it plays a role, though it's not defining.  I think what I'd point to as really important is the active creation of events during play - "commenting" was a poor word choice on my part, which I'm say a bit more about later.  I see Tor's IC-statement as pretty neutral in Nar/Sim terms - it could either be color for experiencing the ambience of the times, or it might be part of/a start on building a thematic storyline for the character.  In the absence of further play to confirm the latter, I'm left with the former.  It could even have been seen as Step On Up ("I can be as obnoxious IC as the rest of ya" - or the like), but the whole play session had no real Step On Up vibe, so I didn't/don't seriously consider that analysis.

Arabella stepping in and being quite effective in assisting Dr. Westerbrock (ah, heck, as I recall "Dr. Westbrook" is apparently what people wanted to call him, so let's go with that) - that's something that clearly adds to the story "reality."  Liz established a whole "realtionship" between the doctor and Arabella that the group as a whole would now have to deal with - it created for me, the doctor's player, an opportunity to have my character participate in the social mask vs. reality aspect of play.  "Mask" - Women (good Englishwomen, anyway) don't *really* want to be doctors, and wouldn't be very good at it anyway.  "Reality" - Arabella does want to, and IS good at it.

The actual events, and the options for how the players further react/develop them, were IMPACTED, NOT just "commented" on.  My earlier use of "commented" was meant to stress that PLAYER input was being added to the situation, but it's actually probably not a good word in Nar terms - commenting is too easily seen as an alternative to creating, and Story Now is all about creating.

So yeah, in the context of play we had at that time, me saying (as Dr. Westbrook) that I was impressed with Arabella's assistance would be pretty Story Now just on it's own.  Establishing for all the players that she HAD been of great assistance (again, in the context of play we had established) seemed to me an important creation in itself.  The doctor being impressed adds something, my as-a-player reaction, shown through the doctor, adds something - and then we'd see if the trend continues, is dismissed, challenged and overcome, challenged and reinforced, and etc.

Let me leave it at that and see if that help - I'm sure I should be more clear, but at the moment, that's the best I can do,

Gordon
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John Kim
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« Reply #3 on: September 25, 2003, 05:10:02 PM »

Quote from: Gordon C. Landis
  Arabella stepping in and being quite effective in assisting Dr. Westerbrock (ah, heck, as I recall "Dr. Westbrook" is apparently what people wanted to call him, so let's go with that) - that's something that clearly adds to the story "reality."  Liz established a whole "relationship" between the doctor and Arabella that the group as a whole would now have to deal with - it created for me, the doctor's player, an opportunity to have my character participate in the social mask vs. reality aspect of play.  

The actual events, and the options for how the players further react/develop them, were IMPACTED, NOT just "commented" on.  

But how this is different than Severn's (i.e. Tor's PC's) statement?  You imply here that this was just Tor commenting on the game, but the statement was an in-game event made by the PC.  As such it had impact.  For one, it also established a relationship between him and Arabella -- an adversarial one in that case.  It established Severn a firm place within that theme.  

To me, I see two main differences between these.  (1) Severn's action was verbal as opposed to Arabella's action which was physical.  (2) Arabella's action was caused by Liz's Director-stance play as opposed to Severn's which was from Tor's Actor-stance play.  

Let me try another hypothetical here.  Suppose that I as GM had established Arabella's action instead of Liz.  i.e. I just told you as GM that Arabella was very competant at assisting.  Would this affect your view of it as Narrativist play?
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Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #4 on: September 25, 2003, 10:54:13 PM »

I'm stretching here - stretching my memory of events, stretching the certainty of my classifications . . .  but I'll run with it and see what (if anything) useful comes out of it.  So:

How is it different?  I'm not sure - it looked/felt (to me, obviously) more clearly like an authorial (NOT Author stance) action than Tor's statement.

In that particular situation, the GM (you) going "out of your way" to get Arabella assisting me with the treatment and letting me (and everyone) know that she's doing a damn fine job of it - yes, that would still look very Nar to me.

Maybe what I was noticing was a clear (to me) choice for thematic effect by the participant (player/GM), as opposed to a choice ONLY (mostly) driven by period/character authenticity.  But I find it odd to talk about it that way, as the "noticing" at the time wasn't particularly strong or jarring ("feeling" the player behind the character - or the GM behind the world - rather than actually "seeing" them?)  And certainly, I can imagine Tor using his statement to build thematic effect - both in issue terms re: Victorian gender issues, and via his character into class issues (Severn is, after all, a crass, working-class rich man's son).

But I wasn't feeling it strongly there, whereas I did feel it strongly with Arabella.  If later, Severn received approval from someone in the more elite social-classes for properly helping to "keep women in their place," my opinion might have changed.  Or if he'd been scolded for being "rude."  That's certainly an interesting question for his behavior - will it endear him to his "betters" to show support for the status quo?  Or is he inherently such a threat to the status quo that his rudeness/crassness is all that will be considered, not the fact that his opinion is considerd "right" by some of those so-called betters?

But that chain of possibilities and areas on interest did not begin floating in my mind somewhere during/soon after play, whereas an analogous set of thoughts regarding Arabella did begin to prick at me fairly swiftly.

Maybe it's the categorization of the impact on the other people (including myself) that I'm looking to?  Which could be contradictory and/or flawed - I might think that no one was thematically engaged by Tor's comment, but others might feel differently.

Which maybe is why it takes a decent-sized chunk of play and some sort of overall average impact to know if what's happening is G, N, or S . . .

Gordon
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John Kim
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« Reply #5 on: September 26, 2003, 10:12:33 PM »

Quote from: Gordon C. Landis
  How is it different?  I'm not sure - it looked/felt (to me, obviously) more clearly like an authorial (NOT Author stance) action than Tor's statement.
...
But that chain of possibilities and areas on interest did not begin floating in my mind somewhere during/soon after play, whereas an analogous set of thoughts regarding Arabella did begin to prick at me fairly swiftly.

Maybe it's the categorization of the impact on the other people (including myself) that I'm looking to?  Which could be contradictory and/or flawed - I might think that no one was thematically engaged by Tor's comment, but others might feel differently.

Well, I already mentioned that I felt that Severn's statement was thematically quite powerful to me.  I would note that Liz's card play for Arabella directly involved your PC's thought processes -- thus I'm not surprised that the thematic implications immediately began to prick at you.  

From my perspective, I felt that the dinner table conversation was the more important part thematically.  That was where the theme about women as doctors was created -- and like you I consider that theme creation is important.  Liz's card play was reinforcing a theme which had been created, but at the time I saw it as reinforcing previously expressed ideas.  

I don't think that either of us is right or wrong.  You are quite right that Liz's card play established a relationship for Dr. Westerbrock [*], which opened up new thematic avenues for development.  Different people are engaged by different parts of the story -- that is natural, and IMO a good thing.  Good stories are multi-layered and multi-meaninged.  

-- John

*  I looked back, and I see that in my initial PC summary email, I miswrote your character as "Dr. Westbrook" whereas you originally said to me "Westerbrock".  Since my email established him to all the other players, though, everyone said "Westbrook".  In short, my bad.
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Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #6 on: September 28, 2003, 05:49:12 PM »

Yup, that sounds good to me.  The thing we're trying to notice is where something is created by the players, rather than something pre-existing that the players enjoy in and of itself, perhaps with some interesting amplification/nuances, but nothing fundamentally added.  That boundry is often going to be a matter of taste and perception  - though a rigorous examination of a sufficient amount of play would probably point you towards one or the other.  The women-as-doctors dinner conversation in general - that could have been a support for Story Now, or just for staying true to the times (which could be useful in ALL play, but if it's JUST that, as a PRIORITY, it'd be Sim).  You're right, even by my understanding it does turn out (in our particular case) to be kinda Nar, because it supports the latter creation of theme (well, proto-theme, as this was one session, but - the point remains, I think).

For some reason, my recollection of my mental process is that Nar angle on women-as-doctors didn't "trip" until the Arabella stuff.  That may mean I'm really talking about weak vs. strong (by my understanding) Nar-support rather than Nar vs. Sim . . .

In any case - thanks for thinking through the detailed implications here.  I only hope it was somewhat understandable to other folk,

Gordon
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