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Title: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: Joe Murphy (Broin) on January 23, 2008, 04:38:20 AM
Spione

Last Saturday evening, five of the Nerdinburgh attendees played Spione. Gregor ran the game, and the players were Jenny, Joe Prince, Gordon and me.

JoeP and I picked out the protagonists, Issam (sp?) (who was in movies) and David (an entrepreneur). We picked our two missions. Both focused on the low key end of espionage - meetings, informants, dead drops. We got a 1950s setting. And Gregor explained the system in detail (there was lots of conversation before we got into play, but it was good).

Gregor opened with Issam's wife sitting opposite in an apartment, and a cold argument. Pornography flickered on a screen behind. As players, we thought the porn might be a misunderstood surveillance tape, or perhaps blackmail material. But the wife just wanted it out of the house. We had an immediate flashpoint - something was going to happen here.

Intertwined with this, we had David entering an airport with his beautiful Italian actress girlfriend. They have a brief argument when he's called away (some espionage business, I assumed). He raises his hand to slap her. A cop approaches. Flashpoint two!

Issam's flashpoint resolved to the wife vanishing. David's resolved to his girlfriend returning to the luggage hall and triggering a luggage bomb. She was killed. So, great start! Whatever you do, don't date a spy.

Over the next three hours, we played through their stories and reached a conclusion (if not a very satisfying one) for both. I had a hard time following JoeP's character's storyline, so I'm not even going to attempt to write it up. Any volunteers, Jenny/Joe/Gordon?

David had an assistant, Eric. Eric turned out to be a honeytrap, and had also slept with David's wife. We saw film of her+Eric in one of Issam's scenes (and that was the only crossover). Overall, David's operation was being rolled up. An informant realised he was due for the chop, and saw David as a bargaining piece. Eric turned out to be working for the Russians, and was sent in to wipe out David and the informant. Both die in a grubby apartment. We had an epilogue with Eric killed many years later (having been a successful spy for decades) killed by the same assassin who took out David and the informant.

There was a lot I liked in Spione, and a lot I found difficult to grasp, employ and play with. I'm very glad I tried it (along with Dirty Secrets a few weeks back). And Gregor did an excellent job running the game. Hands off when he needed to be, pacing when that was required, lots of system explanation.

  • I thought flashpoints were a superb evolution of weaves and bobs in Sorcerer. They're a great, solid technique I want to use elsewhere - store up the conflicts and resolve them as one. Nifty.
  • The flashpoint _mechanics_ felt hugely random. Juggling cards around took a long time, for no benefit I could see. My attention wandered while cards moved, stacked, moved again. The system was competitive, and I wasn't sure why it needed to be.
  • The way the cards fell, I felt fairly powerless. There was nothing I could do, as a player, to nudge the results one way or the other or communicate my investment. In the final scene involving my protagonist, I had just one card.
  • I scribbled notes of retcons, possible retcons and possible scenes, but didn't get to use many.  As David's story played out, I really wanted a scene where he confronted Eric (I was quite attached to the honeypot explanation for some of the events). I felt unsatisfied when we didn't get that.
  • Following what had gone before, and which of it was fact and which supposition was difficult. We perhaps needed more bookkeeping. I know I swapped a couple of 'wtf?' looks with other players.
  • In some games, I tend to instinctively scene frames, with no real sense of where they're going. The conflict then evolves as I play off someone and I can tweak the scene this way and that. In Spione, I had to pass on the responsibilty for evolution to the players around me. Maneuvers were short - just a few sentences. So scenes felt more like a game of exquisite corpse than I'd like. Though some of that was likely down to us being a new group.
  • In order to incorporate material from the missions, and make sense of previous scenes, we retconned a lot of material - this was hard work. I enjoy retconning - it's very seat-of-the-pants exciting - but it's hard work. There were a few 'ah-ha!' moments I liked.
  • In flashpoints, the protagonist-owners should play towards 'what their characters would want' and the other participants should play obstacles and difficulties. This was difficult, as I wanted to engage with the tragedy of a scene, but felt like I had to hand over that responsibilty to other players. In many games I enjoy, other players provide obstacles to what I want as a *player* - an unwanted happy ending, for example.
  • We did have a lot of conversation about the game, and about scenes, and about flashpoints. I think one of the other players (Gordon?) felt we needed more. To really get the purpose of scenes out there, then make maneuvers. Instead, we made maneuvers and tried to build them into scenes.
  • I didn't understand if I could reveal information (suggest connections and motivations) outside of flashpoints, and/or if flashpoints were a narrative rubber-stamp for suggestions.
  • I found the briefing sheets difficult to assimilate. The details felt stifling rather than suggestive. As they're quite factual, rather than evocative, I found them difficult to use (compared to juicily suggestive Motifs in Covenant).
  • We had very little dialogue. I didn't know how to get other players involved in scenes (compared to Contenders, say, where I can say 'Gregor, play my dying aunt'). So the power passed around the group, instead of across and among the group. I had less of a connection with the players opposite than the players beside me - which is damned interesting, actually.

I know a couple of the other players felt a bit unsatisfied, so hopefully they'll wade in soon. And I was really pleased when people talked about how unsatisfied they were in a clear, above-board conversation. That was superb.

Cheers,

Joe.


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: GreatWolf on January 23, 2008, 10:37:14 AM
Hey, Joe.  Thanks for posting this up!  I have a couple of random comments that will hopefully be helpful.  As I've mentioned elsewhere, I consider myself to be something of a Spione partisan, so I'd like to help your next game be a better thing.

Hmm.  If I'm a Spione partisan, does that mean that Ron is my case officer?  Disturbing....

Anyways!  My random comments.

The first random comment has to do with a potential misconception about how player turns Spione (and, to a lesser degree, Dirty Secrets) function.  When it is your "turn", you have the final say.  It does not mean that you have the only say.  Everyone should be talking during everyone's turns, offering ideas and suggestions and whatnot.  Now, if you want to be sure that your idea gets incorporated into the fiction, then do wait for your turn to slip it in.  But you shouldn't feel like you need to be silent when it's not your turn.  I'll refer to this point later.

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# The flashpoint _mechanics_ felt hugely random. Juggling cards around took a long time, for no benefit I could see. My attention wandered while cards moved, stacked, moved again. The system was competitive, and I wasn't sure why it needed to be.
# The way the cards fell, I felt fairly powerless. There was nothing I could do, as a player, to nudge the results one way or the other or communicate my investment. In the final scene involving my protagonist, I had just one card.

I'm quoting these two things together, because the one explains the other.  Yes, there is randomness in which cards appear during Flashpoint.  However, the whole point of the card maneuvering is to allow you to "nudge the results one way or the other".  This is the whole point of the Helping/Hindering rules.  Let's say that the Ace player is bound and determined to make sure that your principal gets hurt.  You'd rather not.  So, if you can, move one of your cards onto his card.  Now, when the Ace player narrates your spy's injury, you can Hinder and reduce the narration to little or nothing.

But, yeah, sometimes the cards just don't go your way.  Such is life, you know?

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#In some games, I tend to instinctively scene frames, with no real sense of where they're going. The conflict then evolves as I play off someone and I can tweak the scene this way and that. In Spione, I had to pass on the responsibilty for evolution to the players around me. Maneuvers were short - just a few sentences. So scenes felt more like a game of exquisite corpse than I'd like. Though some of that was likely down to us being a new group.

Actually, the short Maneuvers is how Ron envisions the game being played.  (Check out the discussion here (http://spione.adept-press.com/forum/comments.php?DiscussionID=75&page=1#Item_5) and here (http://spione.adept-press.com/forum/comments.php?DiscussionID=104) for more details.)  In Spione, the evolution of conflict is supposed to be a shared thing.

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#In flashpoints, the protagonist-owners should play towards 'what their characters would want' and the other participants should play obstacles and difficulties. This was difficult, as I wanted to engage with the tragedy of a scene, but felt like I had to hand over that responsibilty to other players. In many games I enjoy, other players provide obstacles to what I want as a *player* - an unwanted happy ending, for example.

Well, to be somewhat clear, your card narrations need to be in the favor of your principal.  So, there's nothing to say that you couldn't use the card maneuvering to set up someone else to drop a negative 2-card narration on you.

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#We did have a lot of conversation about the game, and about scenes, and about flashpoints. I think one of the other players (Gordon?) felt we needed more. To really get the purpose of scenes out there, then make maneuvers. Instead, we made maneuvers and tried to build them into scenes.

I have a question.  Did the group understand the concept of the Cold?  This is critical to making the game work.  When the rules talk about Maneuvers putting a principal "into the Cold", they are serious.  Otherwise, you find yourself flailing about, uncertain what should happen next.  But this is how to evaluate your Maneuver.  Don't worry about the purpose of the "scene"; rather, focus on the purpose of your Maneuver.  Does this particular contribution place the principal further into the Cold?  If this is working, then you shouldn't have to worry about the scene that is shaping up.  It will shape up all by itself.

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#I didn't understand if I could reveal information (suggest connections and motivations) outside of flashpoints, and/or if flashpoints were a narrative rubber-stamp for suggestions.

Yes, you certainly can reveal information and such outside of Flashpoint.  In fact, it's required.  You can't just say, "Someone is listening in."  That's not a valid Maneuver.  Instead, you have to say, "The CIA surveillance team is listening in."  There are no secrets in narration.  Now, Flashpoint can alter what is said in Maneuvers, so these assertions are not final.  However, they are necessary to enable your fellow players to have some leverage in the story.

I find it helpful to think of three levels of narration, measured by the amount of cards used to "power" the narration.

0 card narration--used in Maneuvers--means "This is provisionally the case."
1 card narration--used in Flashpoint--means "This is probably the case."
2 card narration--used in Flashpoint--means "This is definitely the case."

However, narration should be considered "binding" until a higher value of narration is used to override it.  So, most narration will only be at the 0 card stage.  That doesn't make it untrue.  Instead, it means that everyone was happy enough with what was said and haven't bothered to override it.  1-card narration puts some weight behind something being said; now you can't just steer away from it in Maneuvers, but you could override it with a 2-card narration.  2-card narrations are final and can't be changed.

Now, let me state this clearly:  this is my understanding of the rules.  I may be wrong, and we'll see what Ron says about this little layout.

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#We had very little dialogue. I didn't know how to get other players involved in scenes (compared to Contenders, say, where I can say 'Gregor, play my dying aunt'). So the power passed around the group, instead of across and among the group. I had less of a connection with the players opposite than the players beside me - which is damned interesting, actually.

Actually, by my understanding of the rules, you can totally do this.  Any dialogue from the other player simply becomes "suggested narration" like I discussed above.

Are these comments helpful?  Please poke at my thoughts!


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: GreatWolf on January 23, 2008, 10:49:28 AM
Just a little more on Maneuvers.

On anyway (http://www.lumpley.com/comment.php?entry=234#7591), Ron wrote this about Maneuvers:

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Because during Maneuvers, [generating adversity is] *everybody's* job. Anyone at the table can reach over to that sheet, point to the brother, flip over the sheet, and point to some part of the Spy Side (say, the NATO part, and the tradecraft that says "bugs"), to generate a scene.

One person might say "your brother's lounging around your flat all day" and someone else picks it up with "and he finds one of your bugs," and still another person says, "he wants to be a spy too." This might all happen on the first person's turn, or be established through a series of turns, depending on how dialogue goes in that group.

Another, related feature is that since the Ace player begins, he or she *must* frame a scene for a spy he or she does not run. So that automatically creates an asymmetry during the first round ... the person running the spies do not, by default, necessarily get to frame their own scenes.

The group I played with in Berlin last November articulated this point so well, during play, that I transcribed the way they said it directly into the rules, and I think every time I try to say it, it's not as good. So see how I put it in the rules for the best way.

My point is that there's a *lot* less pressure regarding scene content than I think you're seeing or feeling. A lot less than Primetime Adventures or the Shab-al-Hiri Roach, for example. It's kind of the opposite, actually - the material for the scenes really is right there on the sheet, and the group/jigsaw rules for scene-creation during the Maneuvers lets you contribute as little or as much as you see fit, at the moment, without pressure to make it all climactic right that second.

So, again, it's better not to approach Spione trying to construct scenes.  Instead, as described in Ron's example, Maneuvers are best used to pile on the badness of a given situation, be that in one "scene" or over the course of several "scenes" within a given round of Maneuvers.


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: Valamir on January 23, 2008, 02:22:30 PM
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The way the cards fell, I felt fairly powerless. There was nothing I could do, as a player, to nudge the results one way or the other or communicate my investment. In the final scene involving my protagonist, I had just one card.

YES!  Embrace this fully.

When Ron initially explained the system he was going to use for Spione, I was entirely unimpressed.  When I saw it in action after getting a handle on what the game is really about...its perfect.

You are spy in the cold.  Not James Bond, not secret agent man, not Commando...just average (or in many cases below average) Joe...all of which you probably already know.  Now apply that knowledge to the resolution mechanics.

You are playing a very dangerous game with not one but multiple powerful organizations...organizations that may well be insane and half way to incompetance (or all the way for that matter)...but organizations with large bureaucracies and lots of funding none the less.  You are a nobody.  The only influence you had at all was the information you could bring to your handler...and now...you don't even really have that.

You are a mere cog in the machine.  No amount of planning you do will save your ass.  No amount of sneaking around will keep you hidden.  No amount of going to ground will keep you protected.  No amount of running will keep you from getting caught.  Ultimately it is very nearly completely random whether you have any influence at all in how a flash point plays out...or maybe...you have the decisive role to play.  That is ENTIRELY up to fate.  You are completely unable to influence this in any fashion

...welcome to the Cold.

Once I made that connection...that the entirely arbitrary resolution system that I as a player have no ability to manipulate in a meaningful way...puts me as the player in essentially the exact same position as the Principle...I totally fell for it.  That resolution mechanic, more than any number of hours of discussion or pages of text in the book, taught me what "being in the cold" is like.  It means being utterly and completely at the mercy of fate, powerless to do anything more than try and pray.

Don't fight that...use it.  Its powerful stuff.




Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: Joe Murphy (Broin) on January 23, 2008, 04:41:27 PM
Ralph, Seth,

Great stuff so far. I'm not going to dive into responses just yet. I'll be mulling a lot and I'd like to give the other guys a chance to come in with their thoughts.


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: jburneko on January 23, 2008, 06:55:31 PM
Once I made that connection...that the entirely arbitrary resolution system that I as a player have no ability to manipulate in a meaningful way...puts me as the player in essentially the exact same position as the Principle...I totally fell for it.

Ralph, I think you might be overstating a bit.  To be fair what I'm about to say is from reading only and not play experience but it seems to me that "meaningful" is the wrong word.  You CAN manipulate the system in a meaningful way, what you can't do is manipulate the system in a favorable way.

The way is see it, if you're the Principle your ideal situation would be to have a double stacked card at the far right end of the run because then you could narrate yourself out of whatever jam all the previous negative narrations at narrated you into -- TA DA!  However, there is no way to willfully move your own cards to the right.  So you're left with a choice -- leave your cards where they are and hope that everyone else moves their cards to the left of yours OR move your cards to the left in the hopes of protecting whatever you can with an early narration before the hammer falls.

Jesse


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 23, 2008, 07:00:44 PM
I'm workin' on a response! Joe, I really, really appreciate your patience.

The Forge seems to be rife with deep and powerful questions this past week, and I'm still hoofin' it to catch up.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: Moreno R. on January 23, 2008, 10:28:59 PM
Hi!

I would like to second what Jesse said.  It's true that the character (the principal) is powerless over what will happen to him. No amount of skill, knowledge, no trait, no social or political power, nothing that he or she has can influence in any way the drawing of the cards. (During our first game, that I posted about in these (http://spione.adept-press.com/forum/comments.php?DiscussionID=124) three (http://spione.adept-press.com/forum/comments.php?DiscussionID=126) threads (http://spione.adept-press.com/forum/comments.php?DiscussionID=128) on the Spione forum, I saw the drawing of the cards at the start of flashpoints like a tarot reading. You are reading the future of the characters. "something bad will happen to you...", etc.). But the player has a lot of power and inflence over what will happen. In three different ways.

The first: It's the player who decide what really happen. The card can say "narrate something detrimental to your principal", but its up to you to decide what, how, when and to whom. At first, I didn't see how much liberty the player have over this because I was still thinking in terms of "conflict resolution", and if the flashpoint begin with someone shooting my principal, I though that I had to narrate how he got shot and "lose the conflicts". But this is not the case. in Spione you can really narrate what you want, under the initial constraint of rhe cards  (for example, in the last session, during a fast-paced chase in the Soviet Embassy with the principal held at gunpoint by a kgb agent, I used a couple of cards to narrate the death of a supporting cast character that was in another town)

The second: the choice of moving a card during the initial "accordion setup" is a meaningful one. Jesse already talked about some of these meanings, but there are others.  At the beginning, every card has the right to frame a scene. But you are under the obligation of making that scene advantageous to your principal (if you play one) or detrimental to one (if you don't), and you can't make facts "stick" in a permanent way wih only one card. During that phase, at the beginning, and every time someone move a card, you could have a choice about keeping it that way, of trading that scene with the power to help or hinder the narration of another player (or enforce one of yours). And this free you from the initial obligation to your principal, for that card. You can hose your principal, if you want. If you really don't like him and you don't want to "help him", you can move your card over the card of a non-principal player, wait for him to say something like "the car crashes, you are brought to the hospital with minor injuries", and add "they seemed minor at the beginning, but inside the ambulance I pass out and I die before reaching the emergency room" (this from an initial card arrangement that would have forced you to help your principal with your card!)
If you read my actual play thread, you will see that in the third session (when we really began to grok the game) we made a lot of choices like that. What I like, among other things, was the way it was always a very simple, but meaningful choice. Often, when a player is offered a wide choice with a lot of possibilities during a game, he/she freeze, paralized by uncertainty. Or he/she choose the first one he come up to avoid taking up too much time.  Here, the player during this phase has always only a few possible movements to choose from.  Often, only one.  And you can see it before it's your turn, When we began to understand better the game, the Flashpoints were really FAST, but all the movements really changed the "landscape of destiny" for the characters

So, fast, simple choices during the "mechanical" part of the flashpoint phase. And after that, you have put the limitations (that "foster creativity") in place to help you narrate what you want.

The third (and this is really big, and you have it only if you play a principal): by choosing to disclose, or not, you can decide if the supporting cast can be saved (at least, some of them), of it they all will end the story in prison, or dead.

Joe, when I did read the book, I thought that the game was really easy. A few pages, a few rules, no tables or things to memorize... and then when we tried to play it, at first we made mistakes almost on every single one of these few rules (even on the third session we still didn't use all the rules as written, and I did notice only reading the book again after that). I don't know if Spione would be hard to play at the beginning for someone who never roleplayed before, but sure at the beginning was hard for us. Because our habits got always on the way, and we played it like PTA or some other roleplaying game, not like was written. We had to learn to catch ourselves doing this, and only then we began to see how really was the game.  And after that, only playing it we began to notice the effect and the way these rules interacted (it was only the third time that I began to think about the endgame, and noticed how... political it was. "reveal your lie and deception, your secret shame, or your friends and family will be screwed". It was one of these "wow" moment that usually I get from reading fiction, not game instructons... but not many game istruction say "lies ruin people, only the truth can save them"* when you play them) [*sorry for the crass simplification, Ron, I know that the game is more nuanced that that]

Anyway, I don't think it's possible to "get" this game in only one session of play. Even with people less hard-wired on role-playing games. Much of what you can use the rules for is hidden, and you notice it only playing for more than one session (sometimes I think that Ron let his martial arts training spill too much in the way he write games. Or has seen too many times "Karate Kid I", and want to make us learn his game by passing a lot of time putting wax on, wax off...  I really LIKE game designers who hold my hand while I learn the rules, instead of saying "you have to earn it", you know?)


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: Moreno R. on January 23, 2008, 10:59:14 PM
Hi Joe!

In my previous post I did forgot to adress something you said.This time I will use quoting to help me avoid this.

Last Saturday evening, five of the Nerdinburgh attendees played Spione. Gregor ran the game, and the players were Jenny, Joe Prince, Gordon and me.

Gregor didn't play? If he was the one who had read the book, I think it would have been better if he played, too. I know that I would not have been able to play the game without reading the entire book (I don't know much about spies , and without reading the historic material on the book I would have not be able even to understand the character sheets. And I still had some problem with them even after reading it...), and having someone at the table who could help us with technical terms and details would have been invaluable.

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JoeP and I picked out the protagonists, Issam (sp?) (who was in movies)

EVERYBODY pick Issam. And then kill him! There is something strange about that character....  ;-)

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  • The flashpoint _mechanics_ felt hugely random. Juggling cards around took a long time, for no benefit I could see. My attention wandered while cards moved, stacked, moved again. The system was competitive, and I wasn't sure why it needed to be.

I missed this point in my previus answer. I what sense you saw it as "competitive"?

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  • I scribbled notes of retcons, possible retcons and possible scenes, but didn't get to use many.  As David's story played out, I really wanted a scene where he confronted Eric (I was quite attached to the honeypot explanation for some of the events). I felt unsatisfied when we didn't get that.

We really didn't use retcons almost at all. I don't know why, maybe it was an aestetic choice, it did not feel "right".  In your game it was a common occurrence, people retconning much of what did happen in the manouvers?  Seeing that they must use cards to do this (and you don't have enough cards to do all what you want to do during a flashpoint, ever), I imagine that there were a lot of thing narrated during the manouvers that they didn't agree with.

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  • I found the briefing sheets difficult to assimilate. The details felt stifling rather than suggestive. As they're quite factual, rather than evocative, I found them difficult to use

Yes, on this I agree. I think that they would be a lot more evocative for someone who has read a lot of spy books, but we had a lot of difficulties in understanding the meaning of much of what it was written on them. Some more explanation and examples would have been useful (said this, after playing Spione now I can see "spooks" and understand what they are saying! Cool!)


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 24, 2008, 10:22:19 AM
Hello!

The main thing is to say "thanks" for playing the game. As Gregor might have mentioned, it's more of a book about something which then includes a game as a smaller piece, rather than a setting for the primary product of a game, so I hope you or others are interested enough to check it out. Ideally, the game is to be played by people who were turned on by the book, in whole or in part, rather than channelled as a game in isolation from one person to others.

Regarding the handouts, I had to make a pretty strong choice early on, about the primary audience. I eventually decided that it would be spy fiction fans, rather than the gaming community, and therefore those handouts are tuned more to the pre-existing vocabulary of that group. For anyone else, yeah, there's going to be a little learning curve, although I think I cover most of it (except for "wires" which I forgot) in the book. I'm glad you found a plus in the effort. It's kind of funny, after being exposed to this stuff for a while through proximity, my wife has picked up a lot. To the extent that, when we watched the first season of 24 a while ago, she snarled "What sort of a counter-intel officer are you?! Need to Know!" at one of the characters.

All the other folks who've jumped in have made excellent points, and covered most of the ground that I might have. And probably better, as each of them sort of fought through some of the pre-conceptions and arrived, as it were, whereas I had deliberately stripped off as much as I could from my own habits before I began. Here's the one thing that hasn't been discussed yet: your key use of the term "protagonist" to describe the principal you played.

And in that little thing, lies all the difference. Because the principals are not protagonists; or better, they have as much chance to become protagonists during play as any other character, Supporting Cast or not. The principals aren't even player-characters. In many ways, the principal players are more like GMs than like players, because those two spies are pivot points for the operations they're involved in as well as for the people they are close to. Also, "players" in the traditional sense of term do not exist in Spione except as (and if) any characters become protagonized through the group dynamics of play. If it's a principal, then that person becomes a "player," and if it's not, then anyone can become a "player" simply by choosing to act with that character, or making suggestions about him or her. Such a character may become a multiply co-owned protagonist. It's even quite possible for no character at all to become a protagonist, and indeed, there are spy novels like that. Admittedly, rather cold and bitter ones, but they do exist.

I realize how weird this is, and perhaps doubly so for people who have enjoyed PTA, Polaris, Burning Empires, My Life with Master, and many others, like you and I have. Most of those games were written from an experience of having been de-protagonized through habits and systems of play in the past, so insta-protagonist game design has been a logical step over the past seven or eight years, among us. I played a very big part in that subcultural shift, actually, and so did Paul Czege, 1999-2002. With Spione, I'm doing something different - I'm aware that people are able to protagonize characters, so I set up the components that are necessary for it (basically, pregnant "situation") and said, when and if it happens during play, you're 100% free to do it ... and then I let go of any other structure for determining who and how.

I mean, let's say one is interested in playing Narrativist / Story Now. It's very nearly a given: you have to have at least one protagonist. I asked myself, why lock it down before the rest of the process as to who it is, though, and who gets to play him or her? That's an assumption of role-playing history. It works. But that doesn't mean it's the only way to go, and quite arguably, it's inconsistent with the grim and gut-exposing genre I'm working with, which is neither quite fiction nor non-fiction, and in which the author, frankly, is often conflicted about the rightness of disclosing things and/or having things work out a particular way. So I opened it up for Spione, knowing that people can protagonize characters, and saying, that's part of the process of play when and if you want it to be, not something you nail down right before play, which is - actually - not necessarily justified, creatively speaking.

I saw exactly what you're talking about, or what's implied by your description, during playtesting - people with role-playing backgrounds had to get over their notion that this character we made up before play is automatically going to be the protagonist of the story. The good news is that, like so many other assumptions we've exploded here at the Forge, it seems insurmountable until you do it, and then you say, "Huh! Why was I so stuck on that?" afterwards.

I'd like to clarify something about all these assumptions I'm talking about. They are functional and powerful things, in currently-existing games. I wouldn't want to play PTA unless I knew every player-character was regarded as a protagonist from the outset. I'm not talking about what Chris Chinn, Matt Wilson, and I call "gamer baggage." Nor I am referencing the evil-awful Brain Damage concept that I talked about two years ago. When I talk about assumptions and habits, in this case, I'm talking about good things which happen not to be suitable assumptions and habits for Spione, and that's all.

A few other little fiddly points ...

1. Ralph's point is very strong, especially in combination with Jesse's point, but the little bit I'll modify is this: the phrase "you are," in reference to a character. Welllll ... not only. Anyone, whether they play a principal or not, also has player-type (or GM-type, whichever) authority over other characters on his or her turn, in a way which resembles Universalis. You can even direct the actions of a principal you don't play on your turn, subject to veto, which I have noticed typically is not exercised. So I'm not disagreeing with Ralph or Jesse at all, but calling attention to a feature of the game which assigns responsibility for a principal's actions to the person who owns him or her, but doesn't restrict that person's actions to that principal, nor proscribes others' contributions to the principal's actions.

2. Scene creation and development follows the same logic as the protagonist idea. It's pretty much the exact opposite of Trollbabe or PTA - instead of saying, "This is a scene, with such-and-such a purpose," we instead have various components of location, persons, dialogue, actions, and color sort of adding up, and either we find ourselves in a capital-S scene, or we have a nice bit of relaxed characterization or imagery. I've noticed that new groups, especially with PTA-experienced folks, tend to drive toward conflicts and Flashpoints with an almost frantic reaction ... it makes perfect sense that they want to Bang things, but it's kind of funny that the primary criticism Matt received with PTA was "Gah! What about 'just playing' and letting the scenes develop into important or not important on their own?" So that's what Spione does, and now it's the opposite criticism, "Gah! How do we know whether the scene's important or what it's about?" That contrast leads me to think that both criticisms are about expectations, not about the intrinsic quality or function of what the game offers.

3. A bit of advice: it's perfectly OK for someone to say, "Hey everyone, I got it! I know exactly what [a character] will do," or something equally blurted-out and based on something specific the person wants in the story. If so, then it's perfectly OK for each person with a turn still remaining prior to this person to use the Color option, if they are all actually interested in responding to the stated desire. And if one person along the way has something of his or her own, and if that doesn't fly for the person who spoke, well, Flashpoints are there for that purpose too, because nothing said during Maneuvers has to be true. Flashpoints therefore can be either more like bidding in Universalis, or more like conflict resolution in (say) Dogs, or any combination of the two.

So, there are some of my thoughts on your post and experience. I really want to say, this isn't about "you are gamerz and did it wrongg!!" What I'm saying is that it really is something ... new ... and as such, yes, there's going to be a bit of a learning curve, predicated on play rather than explanations. (Moreno, there really isn't any other way. The Spione rules text is full of hand-holding. It is just something so "off" that doing it is required.) Even for people who've mastered the learning curve for many existing games that were developed at the Forge or inspired or affected by it, because the design is going someplace else. I can only hope that the material is interesting enough to prompt some willingness to try it, and so in the case of your group, I am really, really happy that was the case.

Best, Ron

P.S. Ah, Issam. Poor bastard!

edited to fix grammar


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: GreatWolf on January 24, 2008, 10:58:17 AM
Quote
So I'm not disagreeing with Ralph or Jesse at all, but calling attention to a feature of the game which assigns responsibility for a principal's actions to the person who owns him or her, but doesn't restrict that person's actions to that principal, nor proscribes others' contributions to the principal's actions.

Just to piggy-back on this.

When I explain to someone what it means to play a principal, I explain that you're not playing the principal, like a PC.  Rather, you're the advocate for that character.  It's your job to be a voice for him at the table and make sure that someone is looking out for his interests.

Hopefully that's a helpful way of putting it.


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 24, 2008, 11:17:19 AM
Hi Seth,

During Flashpoints, yes. During Maneuvers, no one is necessarily doing any such thing. I figure you knew that, but also thought it'd be good to get it textually explicit here.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: GreatWolf on January 24, 2008, 11:38:44 AM
Well, it's been a while since I've played, so I'm glad that you pointed it out.


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: jburneko on January 24, 2008, 12:14:43 PM
Ron,

I don't know if this is comment on personal growth as a "game" reader or your personal growth as an author but for what it's worth, I wanted to say that I got all of everything you said above from Spione's text alone.  I consider Spione to be a very a scary thing because it has rules and structure but no....something...limits isn't quite the right word.  The way I keep saying it to people is that has absolutely no "social safety nets."

Principles may or may not be protagonists.  Flashpoints may or may not resolve conflicts.   Disclosure may or may not happen.  It's like looking at something that's moving real fast.  You can tell it has shape and mass but that's about it.

Jesse


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: Valamir on January 24, 2008, 03:04:42 PM
Once I made that connection...that the entirely arbitrary resolution system that I as a player have no ability to manipulate in a meaningful way...puts me as the player in essentially the exact same position as the Principle...I totally fell for it.

Ralph, I think you might be overstating a bit.  To be fair what I'm about to say is from reading only and not play experience but it seems to me that "meaningful" is the wrong word.  You CAN manipulate the system in a meaningful way, what you can't do is manipulate the system in a favorable way.

The way is see it, if you're the Principle your ideal situation would be to have a double stacked card at the far right end of the run because then you could narrate yourself out of whatever jam all the previous negative narrations at narrated you into -- TA DA!  However, there is no way to willfully move your own cards to the right.  So you're left with a choice -- leave your cards where they are and hope that everyone else moves their cards to the left of yours OR move your cards to the left in the hopes of protecting whatever you can with an early narration before the hammer falls.

Jesse

I don't think you're really disagreeing with me Jesse, but maybe I wasn't clear enough.

Let's say its the climactic scene of the whole sordid tale.  This is the scene which decides who lives, who dies, whether the principle's family gets out alive, all of it.  My card is the King.

Here's the deal...no Kings.  What's my ability as the player to impact this flashpoint?...pretty much nothing.
Or alternatively...hey look, all four Kings...I totally own this scene...unless other people also have a lot of their cards and their cards play before mine...then its pretty much up to them how much impact I'll be left with.

What's my ability as a player to adjust the probability of the system to increase the likely hood of me getting more Kings in a flashpoint than you get Queens or he gets Jacks?...zero.

What's my ability as a player to influence whether my cards play first so I have the option to cover before you do?...zero

What's my ability as a player to influence which combination of suits come out so that even if I do go early there's cards in play I can choose to cover or not?...zero.


Yes, after the cards are dealt I may discover that I have HUGE impact on the scene...or I may discover that I have NO impact on the scene (or anywhere in between).  But there is nothing I can do before the cards are dealt to increase my chances to have impact, nothing I do or say in the Manuevers is going to allow me to influence how much impact I'll have in the flashpoint.  Its entirely in the hands of fate...try and pray.  As a player, I'm out in the Cold, just like the principle.


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: Callan S. on January 24, 2008, 04:19:05 PM
Hi Ron,

Quote
It's even quite possible for no character at all to become a protagonist, and indeed, there are spy novels like that. Admittedly, rather cold and bitter ones, but they do exist.
*snip*
I saw exactly what you're talking about, or what's implied by your description, during playtesting - people with role-playing backgrounds had to get over their notion that this character we made up before play is automatically going to be the protagonist of the story. The good news is that, like so many other assumptions we've exploded here at the Forge, it seems insurmountable until you do it, and then you say, "Huh! Why was I so stuck on that?" afterwards.
I've read about two novels where no ones really a protagonist or large sections went without a protagnist. I see them as kind of a pointless activity for atleast myself to pursue - it's not like watching documentary footage, your instead reading to how someone decided to describe something. It's biased. And normally that works fine for me, because typically there's a protagonist and while the authors descriptions are biased, it's because he's making some sort of case about this character here (the protagonist). But without it, it's all bias but without the guts to come out and make a damn case. Expecting a protagonist isn't always just a matter of assumption.


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: Moreno R. on January 24, 2008, 05:10:26 PM
Hi, Callan!

I would have liked to use an example taken from spy fiction, but as I said I was never a fan of the genre (but I must say that reading Spione has got me interested. I really didn't know that there was spy fiction like that). So I will use as an example the movie "The Village"

(I hope you had seen it, because I will spoiler a major turning point)

At the beginning, we see the story from the point of view of someone. We assume he is the protagonist, the "hero" of the story. Then, in the middle of the movie, he is wounded, and will die unless someone will get some antibiotics for him. Then we "discover" that the real "hero" is his blind girlfriend, that will face the (literally) unseen dangers of the woods to save him.

You could do a shift like this easily in Spione. You simply narrate what happen. But it would be impossible in PTA or any other game with a initial declaration of "these are the protagonists". And the example is not some obscure artistic movie seen only in festival, but is a movie made for the "common audience", to make money. It's a movie made for the enjoyment of the public, Why should not be able to enjoy this as players?

Other examples: Psycho, or any of the TV series where a supporting cast member overshadow one of the initial protagonist becaise is more like by the audience.

For a literary example you don't need to search for some experimental unknown book: what about the Lord of The Rings? Sam begin as a protagonist?


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: Moreno R. on January 24, 2008, 06:24:36 PM
Hi Ralph!

Let's say its the climactic scene of the whole sordid tale.  This is the scene which decides who lives, who dies, whether the principle's family gets out alive, all of it.  My card is the King.

Here's the deal...no Kings.  What's my ability as the player to impact this flashpoint?...pretty much nothing.

This is entirely possible, yes, but I have some problem with the assumptions you make to made your example.

First: from my reading of the rules and my experience in play (limited as it is), I don't think that Spione lend itself well to any kind of story that end with a big climatic battle  A climatic flight, a climatic murder, or a climatic confession I can see, but not a battle. In this kind of story the fight is not even, there can be no uncertain battle. The rules of the game are very clear: if you are a supporting cast character you flee, and live, or you die, or you go to prison. There is no such limit on the Principal destiny, so I suppose that in theory is possible to get a story where the principal win the big final battle (losing all his friends in the fight) and beat the forces that are arrayed against him, but I don't think that this would be the typical outcome, and in any case it would be more likely an ironic take on that like the end of "the prisoner".

Second: you can't decide who lives in the supporting cast in a flashpoint. You can kill or imprison them, yes, but you can't say "they live" or "they will be free", no matter how many card you can stack. Only Fates can do that.

And no matter how many cards he have or doesn't have, the fates are chosen by one person and one person only: the player of the Principal. If you play the principal, only you can decide to disclose (bringing the fates in the game) or not (choosing, right there, that everybody in the supporting cast WILL die or be imprisoned). If you choose to disclose, then only you can decide whih one of the fates you want to use, and for which character in the supporting cast. Who will be saved and who will be lost.

So, no matter if you don't draw your card like, EVER, in the entire game. There is always only one person who can decide this, and it's you. You have 100% power on this, and nobody other at the table can save any supporting cast character. Only you can. [the other player can kill or imprison them, though]

So, isn't "the scene" that "decides who lives, who dies, whether the principle's family gets out alive, all of it.". It's you.

Third, even during a flashpoint where you have no cards, you still have veto power on anything your principal does or say.

Fourth: if X is the number of players, you start at the first flashpoint with a total card number between X and X+4 (and the exact number is fully in the players' control: they choose the sheets and the agency, so they choose how many cards, between X and X+4). This mean that a group of 3 players start with 3-7 cards, drawn from a deck of 12 cards. The chance of not having any cards in the flashpoint for a single player is between 25% (for 3 cards) and 0.2% (for 7 cards), so if you want to have at least 1 cards in any conflict you can simply choose a principal with 3 cards. If both of you do it you can be pretty sure to have always at least one card. (and even if you choose to have principals with 1 card, to a total of 3, you stay out from flashpoints with so few cards that you don't miss much)

Then, as play goes on, the number of cards increase, when the supporting cast fates are decided, and at the "final big battle", the chances to get no cards are even less. With 9 cards, they drop to zero. (from the "almost zero" of 6-up cards)

What if you have more players?

With six players, the initial total card number is between 6 and 10 cards, from a deck of 24 cards. With the lower number there is a real risk of having people don't contribute much to the flashpoint (with 6 cards there is a mean of 1 card each), so let's assume that you will try to minimize this and go to 10 cards. The chance of having no cards in the initial flashpoint is 9%. it can happen, but not too often. And when you get 5-6 other cards from the supporting cast fates, and the end, IF there is a climatic battle, your risk of being out of it is almost nothing.

What I want to demostrate? That yes, your "power" to affect what happen during the flashpoint will vary during the game. Sometimes you will be able to do the impossible (during my third session, a principal player staked all his 4 cards one over another, increasing both effect and range and making a supporting cast character do a "james bond" in an house full of enemies and fleeing with the girl. This didn't save him when I in a later flashpoint blew that character's brain out with a joker+card. What goes around...), sometimes you will be only able to mitigate a staked column with a single card, talk in your character's voice (or vetoing some action that you think he would not do), and having the final word of anybody getting out alive. But you will NEVER be helpless, or out of the narration.

(and in any case, you can talk, suggest, frown, etc, and your voice will be heard. Because the other player want to be heard, too, when you will have "the buck")



Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: Callan S. on January 24, 2008, 08:21:18 PM
Hi Moreno,

Those are good examples, but they contain a protagonist at some point. I'm refering to not having a protagonist at all as a valid option in play. For example, the first 'Prince of nothing' novel is one of the books I refer to that has no protagonist for an extended time - it appears at the start to, but then you find he's psychotic, then you find he's not even that, he's actually automaton like (and it never really examines the source of his orders). However, awhile in it brings in another character (Akkaman) and I loved him - I've often thought he carried me through that first book. Incidentally he was a spy character - a mage of one of the tyranical mage schools who was sent out to gather information - the character always doubted his actions (which had led to deaths of loved ones) and was scared by nightmares of a past apocalypse every night as part of the schools methods. Not to mention the whore he dearly loved and who dearly loved him, but he always left behind. Ouch, she was a good character too. Great three books, read them all in the end, and the automatons role is pivotal to it all - but if I'd had to deal with just him, I'd have thrown the book away. The automaton was vital to the story, but I needed more than that.

The other book that had no protagonist (and alot of violence) - lets say I got half way, checked the end, saw it was just more like that, and tore the book in half. That's the only book I've ever destroyed. I just felt cheated that I'd gone through all the nastyness he'd described and all it was going to be was more nastyness.


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 25, 2008, 04:46:32 AM
Callan,

I am posting to tell you to stop.

In playing Spione, protagonizing a character (any character) is a constant option. There is literally no way to be stuck in a game with no protagonists unless every person at the table wants to be.

What I'm seeing you say is, "I hate stories with no protagonists! Hate'em!"

If this isn't being presented as a criticism of the game, then there's no point for it to be stated in this thread. OK. You hate them, which is on its own of no interest to anyone but you.

If it is being presented as a criticism of the game, then you are speaking of a game you (a) haven't read or played and (b), as I have emphasized and now repeated, does not require this element which you hate.

I am risking accusations of using moderator power to shut up criticism of my work, but I hope it is clear to thinking people that what you're writing is not criticism. It is a distracting display of opinions which only seem relevant and which are already co-opting the attention of others from their current, already subtle and difficult dialogue. "No protagonist" pushed some button of yours, and I don't see any reason for us to have to be there while you react.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 25, 2008, 07:41:44 AM
I'm so not happy with that post.

Callan, let me re-try it as the game designer participating in the thread, only.

Can you clarify what you'd like to know or want to say about the game (as described here), for me?

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: Valamir on January 25, 2008, 09:18:34 AM
Hey Moreno, I'm not really interested in the precision of my abstract example.

My point was, and remains simply this: 

As a player you have absolutely no means to tactically influence how much of an impact you will or won't have during the flashpoint...over whatever issue is involved.  You as a player are powerless to affect that.  The random draw of cards determines that.

I was then drawing the parallel to how this feeling of powerlessness is exactly parallel to the feeling of powerlessness felt by a principle who's out in the Cold...and saying that's a good thing, and players should embrace that feeling to bring themselves closer to the themes of the game.

That's all.


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: Moreno R. on January 25, 2008, 11:45:54 AM
My point was, and remains simply this: 

As a player you have absolutely no means to tactically influence how much of an impact you will or won't have during the flashpoint...over whatever issue is involved.  You as a player are powerless to affect that.  The random draw of cards determines that.

And I ALMOST agree with you, in the sense that I agree that the random draw of cards determines that you, as a player, are powerless to affect what cards you get at the beginning of the flashpoint. What I wanted to demostrate with my previous posts was that is not the exact same thing as saying that the player is powerless to affect his impact on the flashpoint and the story.

Let's see if I can be more clear this time, without boggling us down in debating examples.

IF the flashpoint were a resolution system, to decide who win in a conflict and how, it would be difficult do disagree with you: the first one that can get two cards together in a column or a joker+card combination can say "I win, you are dead", the only strategy would be to try to get these combination before the opponent, and as soon as the cards are dealt, everybody would see who won.

But the flashpoint is not a resolution system. it is (1) a pacing burst (flashpoint is where THINGS HAPPEN), (2) the place where things get determined, (3) a sort of "story market" where you have to find the support of other to your initial cards, avoiding hindering actions (Manouvers are free, everyone can say what he wants, but Flashpoints are a market: everything cost cards, you never have enough cards alone, you must get other to "invest" into your initial cards with their cards, and you can invest your cards in something others declared, helping them, or hindering)

So, when at the beginning you see the cards you are dealt, you don't see "how the conflict will go", you see the "money" you have to play. Sometimes you will be rich, sometimes you will be poor. Over this, yes, you have no control whatsoever. And in a session with a lot of players, the principal players have usually very little of the "money" on the table.

What can you do then? You can move your "money" from a initial investment in the framing of a scene (a single card) that would be forced in a precise direction (depending if you play a principal or not), freeing it, and putting it over another's investment.

And what you do when you put your "money" in another player's investment? Will you help the investment or you will help it, making it bigger, or fixing it as unbreakable truth?

This is not decided by the cards. You are free to choose. You are no longer assumed to narrate only things beneficial (or detrimental) to a principal. You hear what the other player say, and you can choose: "I like it", or "no, I can't allow this"

Vincent Baker talked about this in an "Anyway" column, much better than I can do now: the way in Spione you start a narration with your first card in the column, and you have to trust that the players with cards above yours will build over it following your vision and not hindering. You have to narrate something that will convince them to "invest money /cards" in your initial investment.

I have seen something almost like this in Dogs in the Vineyard. How can you beat an opponent with bigger dice? You have to make a raise that he can't accept. No matter the dice, no matter the fact that, numerically, adding only the number on the dice, you have no chance. You can still win. With what you tell. The SIS trump the dice, the SIS is stronger, you can't use your bigger dice to win because you can't accept the effect this would have on the SIS.

In Spione, turn that around. Say things that the other people WANT in the SiS. You can still get thing going your way. Even with very few cards. Because there are other people at the table, people rich with cards to play. People free to play them as they want, to help you or hinder you. All you have to do is convince them of the rightness of your vision of how the story should go. Start the column telling something that light their eyes, that excite them, that make them say "right!". And the next player with the card over yours can't do anything other than confirm what you said, fixing it as undeniable truth.

And you can do this even if you have no cards at all! You can simply suggest, or (if you play a principal) act in a certain way, and you WILL have an influence over the story.

You can't be sure to have the "power", in cards, to FORCE something on the SIS. This is true. Ron often talks about the difference between games where your input can't be negated by others (DitV, for example) and games where you can't be sure that your character really will do what you declared (PTA). At first I thought that Spione was in the first group, because I didn't understand how much retconning you can do during a flashpoint, but now I see how it is really firmly in the second group (you can see me realizing this during the discussion of my actual play, in the posts linked above). No matter how many cards you have, the other players can pool their cards together and negate everything you say. If you are really lucky sometimes you will be able to get two of your cards in a column where nobody can put thir cards over yours, and state a single fact, but if the other player combine their efforts and play as a team usually they will be able to stop you of get some cards on the column to hinder you. You have to "buy" the people arond you to your way of seeing with what you say, not with what you draw.

This mean that, if you play a principal in a game with a lot of players, and you are firmly in your principal's camp, trying to get him to get what he wants, while all the others (even the other principal's player)  are against you, you WILL be hosed, and you will feel powerless. And yes, I think this is a nice and good way to play: you identify with your principal, with his thoughts and his hopes, you "play him" as he was your character, and you WILL "feel the cold", with the other players at the table mercilessly beating him, playing all the forces that are destroying his life. We could call this "playing Spione immersing in the character" (I am stealing some jeepform terms here, sorry if it's not kosher in big model terms or it isn't clear) and it's a perfectfully "right" way to play it, but what I am saying is that is not the only way to play it. You can play your principal like you would play an NPC. Maybe you identity more with a supporting cast member, and you want better things for that supporting cast member, not for the principal (and to save that cast member you will have to publicy show the secret shame of the principal, disclosing). Maybe you "immerse in the story" (another Jeep term) more than in a single character. You can join the other players in putting your principal deeper and deeper in trouble, in the cold.  You, as a player, will be powerless in Spione only if you decide to join your principal in the Cold.

P.S.: I am curious about your experiences in playing Spione, about how many players you had at the table. I think that much of our different experiences derive from playing with a different number of players. I played with three players, so there was only one non-principal player, so 2/3 of the initial cards were beneficial to the principals, and we were almost always playing someone in every scene.  How much difference does playing with more players (with more not-principal cards on the table)? Someome who tried both with few players and with a lot of players could describe how the game change?


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: Reithan on January 25, 2008, 12:11:06 PM
Where can I find more information on this game? It sounds like a really good source of material, inspiration, or just a good play in general (provided the mentioned problems get resolved...or turn out to not be problems.)


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: jburneko on January 25, 2008, 12:24:43 PM
Ralph,

I just wanted to poke my head in here and acknowledge that I see where you're coming from.  Yes, I think we're coming at the same thing from two different angles.  I'm just very picky about the use of the word "meaningful."  Yes, I have no power to control the random draw of cards.  I might get four cards, I might get no cards and there's no spend a point to draw another card or anything like that.

But once the cards hit the table, I, as a creative participant in the game have meaningful choices to make.  Even if I have no cards the No Shot rules give me a meaningful choice to make.

That said though, yes, I see how the core mechanic puts the player in the same desperate situation as the Principle.  This to me is one of the ways the game's Premise is encoded in the mechanics.  And again all this is said having only read it.  Maybe there's even MORE of sense of desperation and powerlessness when you're actually in that spot than I'm anticipating.

Jesse


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: JC on January 25, 2008, 02:47:13 PM
Where can I find more information on this game? It sounds like a really good source of material, inspiration, or just a good play in general (provided the mentioned problems get resolved...or turn out to not be problems.)

the game's official web-site is here: http://spione.adept-press.com

be sure to check out the videos

I found them very useful


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 25, 2008, 04:39:06 PM
Admitting the possible danger of bias, my perception is that none of the people posting in the thread are arguing with one another or dealing with any problems of understanding the rules. The thing is, there's little shared language to talk about the rules, and the simple system has enough emergent facets to lead to many "ifs" when trying to describe something, especially in the abstract. What's being worked out here, and unfortunately, possibly to the detriment of public curiosity about the game, is how people are most satisfied with talking about it.

Based on discussions at the Spione site, as well as in person with Ralph and others, I'm confident that the rules text itself yields no problems of procedure - what it says, you do, and there isn't anything you do that is left out. Um, that's probably getting into self-promotion, so I'll stop.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: mindwanders on January 26, 2008, 05:23:07 AM
Hi Folks,

I was one of the other Spion players at Nerdinburgh (the "Gordon" mentioned). I dropped in just after the initial actual play post was made and I haven't had a chance to get back to the post until now. Hopefully, this will allow us to get this thread back on the track of our actual play experience.

I'll start off with my imediate reaction to the game after we finished playing, then expand from there.

I must admit. I didn't enjoy the session of Spione. I came away from the game feeling that we had spent several hours creating a pair of stories that were not memorable, collaborative or interesting. I felt that I had very little actual input into the stories, and what input I had was often changed or twisted in a direction I did not want it to go.

I'm not a spy fiction affictionado, hell I don't even like james bond. I've watched a fair bit of 24, but mostly because my wife is a big fan. So when the principle sheets organisation sheets came out they were all a bit on the overwhelming side. The sheets got passed around the table for everyone to have a quick look and then we got going.

I honestly can't remember any of my narration during the manuvours. Although I do remember us jumping to flashback for a large part of Issams narration and me spending several manouvers trying to narrate in what I felt was a better ending for his wife.

I also struggled to find a protagonist that I could invest in. The first one I tried was Issams wife, but she was written out at the first flashpoint. So I tried to keep her as a protagonist when we went to flashback (not very satisfying because no-one else was interested). The next was Eric, but by this point we were running short of interesting characters, so lots of people latched on to him.

In the first flashpoint I had no cards, in the second, one card and on the last two flashpoints I had two cards, but I was only able to double on one of them. My double was used to add in the fact that eric was being taken away by his russian handlers. Mostly because I was so bored with the existing story I thought I'd try and tell my own one off to the side. Unfortunately, everyone thought this was a great aspect for the story and jumped all over it, eventually resulting in Eric setting up David so he could insert himself into the KGB and act as a double agent. 

I raised the question several times as to whether we should go to flashpoint yet. But this was more so that I could get a feel of where the flashpoints were meant to go from the groups perspective than actually

After the session there were two main things that I sugested would have improved play.

I thought the group was too large to handle the round the table narration style of the manouvers well. We had 5 people playing, and the stories changed a lot between each of your manouvers, so it was very hard to keep things on track with your own priorities. I think a slightly smaller group might have made things a bit less random as far as the stories trying to pull in multiple directions.

We also didn't do much back and forth or discussion about what was happening in each manouver. The players rarely discussed what ideas were cool or what they were working towards with each manouver. Normally they just narrated thier little piece and moved on. I think this may have been an important thing we missed out on with a group of this size.   

Since the game I've had a couple of other thoughts I'd like to share.

The whole idea of the non-principle players working to move the principles further into the "cold" was not really discussed at any great length. I think if that had been stressed a bit more, it might have helped us all keep pulling the sories in the same direction.

I had a real problem working out who the cast of each of the stories was. If we had had copies of the principle sheets and the opperation details of our own to refer to as well as the communal copies in the middle. I think I would have been able to use the information to springboard my ideas a lot more easily.

The flashpoint mechanic is an interesting one, but one that I didn't feel was that intrinsicly tied to the setting. I was interested to learn that it was a mechanic that Ron had used before elsewhere and then incorporated into Spione. I really like the idea of it and the way that it functions during the flashpoint.

I get the feeling that the real system for the game is based on a currency of ideas about interesting things we could do with the story. The flashpoints and manouvers system set those ideas in stone, but like it was stated, you can't do that on your own. But, unless there is that back and forth of selling ideas to the other players and incorporating thier ideas you run the risk of ending up with the jumbled mess we did.

We only had one person at the table who had read the book. So I think a lot of Ron's careful hand holding didn't get passed on to the players. Is there a cheat sheet or a play style brief for this game to get players into thinking the way you want to play, Ron?


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 26, 2008, 08:16:26 AM
Hi Gordon,

I appreciate your post and think feedback of this kind is wonderful as a designer - it's a door to understanding the game, a sharing of a willingness to try my game, an even more important willingness to say "can our minds meet" about it. At the individual level, you and me, it's what I want.

However, at a promotional and website level, I'm battling a sickness of the heart in trying to reply. It'd be different if this were at the actual-play forum at the Spione site, which isn't an RPG-culture bulletin board. Here, however, I see fans of the game arguing with one another over phrasing (theirs, not the rules), which gives the message that the game is confusing and creates contention. I see the basic statement that it was No Fun, which is all anyone needs to say, "Oh," and be done with it forever. I see evidence of a play session that however well-intentioned, did not begin with a combination of ideas or intentions to play that matched the game's content. The thread has become my worst nightmare: the precise points where Spione departs from role-playing culture becoming its description among the culture. Through no one's fault, really. The hell of it is that not one person posting to this thread has done anything wrong or said anything that wouldn't be a source of fun discussion at the home site.

I see no way out at that level. I fear the damage is done and that Spione is now a target for detractors and a write-off for anyone who'd be interested. I also fear forlornly saying to less and less people over time, "But some people really liked it when they played too ..." Does it matter that successful and provocative actual play is described at other sites? I don't know.

So my attention has to stay focused on talking with you, the person, which carries none of that malaise. I wish I could help more, though. It's hard to do anything other than pointing to the book. Moreno, I think you did it an injustice. It really does say what to do. It cannot say what a given group will do with it or what the experience will be like, because the starting point of the reader cannot be controlled, nor would I want it to be.

What that means is, I'm struggling with how to illustrate here what the book says that clearly did not get communicated for this particular group. It's frustrating to imagine responses that say, "Oh, well, see, Ron doesn't explain things in his books and has to talk about them on-line," which is a standard riff, when all I'm going to do here is repeat stuff that's in there. So Gordon, please let me know whether any of the following makes any sense.

1. There is no purpose whatever to the Maneuvers phase except to put the two principal characters into the Cold. Playing Spione without this being explicit is like playing poker and forgetting to mention to the group that you will be betting with real money.

2. The game is intended to be relevant at a personal/political level, which is hard to explain since it's not about being preachy (the default hearing of the word "political" today). It's a matter of bringing in elements with resonance, or also of finding something at least interesting or revelatory in the background information. Moreno, you have an intense personal history regarding fascism, the CIA, and Italian politics. Did you share that with the group? Did any such issues arise in the story? If not, then I'm not sure what to say or do.

3. The "Spy vs. Guy" genre is almost totally alien to gaming culture, although not necessarily to individuals within it. The very word "spies," in the context of RPGs to date, means action, skill, coolness, training, disguise, and ultimately, unthinking patriotism. It can be campy and rapid-fire, like Bond, or all grim and moody, like 24 - they are the same, i.e., they are Thrillers. Spy vs. Guy is not Thriller. None of what "spies" means in Thrillers applies at all. It may interest people to know that Richard Helms, arguably the most politically significant CIA chief in history because he was subtle, despised The Spy Who Came in from the Cold with every fiber of his being. He rightly diagnosed it as a threat to the secret culture of intelligence and to the U.S. version of the Cold War itself, which he considered holy. To turn it around to my way of thinking, as I consider Helms to have been basically a reptile in human form, the Thriller borders on literary evil. I don't ultimately despise every example of it, and can find many of them fun, but as a whole the genre is pure propaganda in the negative sense, with concrete and terrible effects in reality, as manifested again and again, e.g. From Russia With Love (John F. Kennedy's favorite book) and most recently 24 (each season of which is eagerly perused by guards and interrogators in Guantánamo for ideas).

Unless the group is at least interested in the Spy vs. Guy concept, which goes well beyond the notion of "a guy in trouble! can he trust his masters?" into the realm of nearly-surreal political horror, then again, I guess I don't know what to say. Points #1-3 are so tightly intertwined that they are really a single concept.

4. The piecemeal, small-unit, unpredictable construction of scenes, actions, and conflicts is not a new way to do things, but a formalized version of what really happens without being acknowledged in many groups. All I can do is to ask you to accept, provisionally, that it can work, and to considering shifting to expectations of play that differ from "where this scene is going" and "what I want to see happen." I tried to articulate that a little bit in my earlier post, on the first page, using PTA as the explicit contrast, so I'm interested in your responses to that. I'd like to hold off on discussions of group size and other procedural features until we talk about it.

Thanks again for posting, and again, for playing.

Best, Ron

P.S. Oh yeah! There is a diagram of play available on the site, using little pictures and circles and arrows. I don't know whether you used it, nor do I think it's a perfect blueprint for play that will perfectly educate anyone about everything. So check it out and see what you think.


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: mindwanders on January 26, 2008, 10:54:12 AM
Hi Gordon,

I appreciate your post and think feedback of this kind is wonderful as a designer - it's a door to understanding the game, a sharing of a willingness to try my game, an even more important willingness to say "can our minds meet" about it. At the individual level, you and me, it's what I want.


Thanks Ron. I tried to put in as much info and observations as I could in order to try and help people understand what was going on at the table.

I see no way out at that level. I fear the damage is done and that Spione is now a target for detractors and a write-off for anyone who'd be interested. I also fear forlornly saying to less and less people over time, "But some people really liked it when they played too ..." Does it matter that successful and provocative actual play is described at other sites? I don't know.

I would just like to point out that I could see the fun in Spione. It's not the sort of fun I would normally seek out, but I could see where it would come from in the game. I'm just trying to work out where we went wrong in bringing that fun to the table. Part of the problem I'm sure was a lack of dedication to the premise on my part, and also my dislike for previous games that don't directly asign me a protagonist  (I've owned Universalis for a long time and never played it because of that very reason).

What that means is, I'm struggling with how to illustrate here what the book says that clearly did not get communicated for this particular group. It's frustrating to imagine responses that say, "Oh, well, see, Ron doesn't explain things in his books and has to talk about them on-line," which is a standard riff, when all I'm going to do here is repeat stuff that's in there. So Gordon, please let me know whether any of the following makes any sense.

1. There is no purpose whatever to the Maneuvers phase except to put the two principal characters into the Cold. Playing Spione without this being explicit is like playing poker and forgetting to mention to the group that you will be betting with real money.

Then this is one of the main places I went wrong. I'm not sure if this was explained before the start of the session or not or if it just slipped past me and I never noticed it. Certainly Gregor (the one person who had read the book) seemed to be puruing that within the manouvers. But I really don't think the rest of the players were.

2. The game is intended to be relevant at a personal/political level, which is hard to explain since it's not about being preachy (the default hearing of the word "political" today). It's a matter of bringing in elements with resonance, or also of finding something at least interesting or revelatory in the background information. Moreno, you have an intense personal history regarding fascism, the CIA, and Italian politics. Did you share that with the group? Did any such issues arise in the story? If not, then I'm not sure what to say or do.

This wasn't something we managed to achieve. I can see where this comes from with the dirty secret and the disclosure. But I'm not sure where else this was meant to come from in play. Is this meant to be something the players are bringing to the table or is it meant to come from the setup or rules in some way?   

3. The "Spy vs. Guy" genre is almost totally alien to gaming culture, although not necessarily to individuals within it. The very word "spies," in the context of RPGs to date, means action, skill, coolness, training, disguise, and ultimately, unthinking patriotism. It can be campy and rapid-fire, like Bond, or all grim and moody, like 24 - they are the same, i.e., they are Thrillers. Spy vs. Guy is not Thriller. None of what "spies" means in Thrillers applies at all. It may interest people to know that Richard Helms, arguably the most politically significant CIA chief in history because he was subtle, despised The Spy Who Came in from the Cold with every fiber of his being. He rightly diagnosed it as a threat to the secret culture of intelligence and to the U.S. version of the Cold War itself, which he considered holy. To turn it around to my way of thinking, as I consider Helms to have been basically a reptile in human form, the Thriller borders on literary evil. I don't ultimately despise every example of it, and can find many of them fun, but as a whole the genre is pure propaganda in the negative sense, with concrete and terrible effects in reality, as manifested again and again, e.g. From Russia With Love (John F. Kennedy's favorite book) and most recently 24 (each season of which is eagerly perused by guards and interrogators in Guantánamo for ideas).

Unless the group is at least interested in the Spy vs. Guy concept, which goes well beyond the notion of "a guy in trouble! can he trust his masters?" into the realm of nearly-surreal political horror, then again, I guess I don't know what to say. Points #1-3 are so tightly intertwined that they are really a single concept.

Can you give me some examples of the sort of influences that would be more appropriate?

It looks like I'm struggling with a frame of reference for the game. If any of the other players at the table are reading this, is this something that strikes more of a cord with you as far as being interested in the concept? Was this maybe a major feature holding us back?


4. The piecemeal, small-unit, unpredictable construction of scenes, actions, and conflicts is not a new way to do things, but a formalized version of what really happens without being acknowledged in many groups. All I can do is to ask you to accept, provisionally, that it can work, and to considering shifting to expectations of play that differ from "where this scene is going" and "what I want to see happen." I tried to articulate that a little bit in my earlier post, on the first page, using PTA as the explicit contrast, so I'm interested in your responses to that. I'd like to hold off on discussions of group size and other procedural features until we talk about it.

Thanks again for posting, and again, for playing.

Best, Ron

P.S. Oh yeah! There is a diagram of play available on the site, using little pictures and circles and arrows. I don't know whether you used it, nor do I think it's a perfect blueprint for play that will perfectly educate anyone about everything. So check it out and see what you think.

I need to run just now. I'll go back and read your previous post and diagram give my thoughts on this tomorrow.


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 26, 2008, 06:07:52 PM
Hi,

The Spione Wiki is designed to provide a cornucopia of references - it's a bit overwhelming, maybe, but the Spy vs. Guy section ought to give a good start, as well as the subcategory of that name in the Film section. The first chapter of the book describes the literature and includes a profile section on the work of John le Carré. There's also an older thread at the Spione forum which is about one's "top five" for recommending to people.

My favorites aren't necessarily the most famous titles, but the most famous ones are damned good, that's for sure. Let's see ... so I guess it's most useful to provide an informal, as of this moment list for each.

Among my favorites

The Looking-Glass War by John le Carré
River of Darkness by James Grady
the Kyril trilogy by John Trenhaile
Funeral in Berlin by Len Deighton
The Sandbaggers (BBC TV series)
The Sisters by Robert Littell
The Intercom Conspiracy by Eric Ambler
The Lives of Others (German film)

Most famous

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Smiley's People by John le Carré
The Six Days of the Condor by James Grady (film version: Three Days of the Condor)
The Falcon and the Snowman by Robert Lindsey (also, film version)
Berlin trilogy and later books by Len Deighton (not related to the title in the above list)
The Company; The Defection of A.J. DeWinter by Robert Littell
The Miernik Dossier by Charles McCarry
The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler
The Heart of the Matter; The Quiet American by Graham Greene (the recent film version of the latter is a knockout; put it up in my fave list)
Spooks (called “MI-5” in the U.S.) (BBC TV series)

Titles that emphatically do not belong in the genre include the Blackford Oakes novels by William F. Buckley Jr., the Jack Ryan series by Tom Clancy, the James Bond series by Ian Fleming and others (although the literary Bond is a fascinating animal, not at all the same as either the film character or the popular icon), and any other novels by Charles McCarry.

Best, Ron

P.S. I confused myself at one point in an earlier post; I somehow got it into my head that Moreno had organized this game session in Italy, which of course makes no sense because he already did that a while ago. So my question to him makes no sense either.


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: Callan S. on January 26, 2008, 10:16:31 PM
Hi Joe,

Beyond protagonism, literature has other techniques for making a case about something - like a narrator (a voice who isn't even in a character in the story world), or even description, like the badguys always wear black, or the onset of winter comes just as someone dies. Or even as subtle as the title of a chapter. Talk amongst players is much like a narrators voice (here it's the groups voices discussing). They're all a means to an end of making a case. Did the game seem to accomidate some method like those? I've read a sample of the book part of spione and that certainly promotes discussion, I'd imagine the rules promote some methods of getting into some meaty subject. What was there?


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: Callan S. on January 27, 2008, 03:17:11 AM
I'm so not happy with that post.

Callan, let me re-try it as the game designer participating in the thread, only.

Can you clarify what you'd like to know or want to say about the game (as described here), for me?

Best, Ron
Let's check out shared ground. Beyond just describing the game world details, on and on in a pure exploratory way, players might want to get at some situation/life choice/culture/problem. I called it 'making a case' in my other post. Those players want to aim in the general area of something, not just anywhere in the game world. In a broad sense, sound about right? Or something like it? Or do we differ here? Alot?

To use a car analogy, aiming at that situation requires movement. Wheels/protagonists are commonly used in cars. But you could use a hovercraft system, or tank treads, or some funky robot walker legs. You don't need wheels/protagonists to do it, but you do need some method of moving. Now "Protagonists are just an assumption!". When I say they aren't just an assumption, I mean if it's an okay option in the game not to have wheels/protagonists, then some other method of moving needs to be provided in those circumstances. But yeah, I didn't ask what your using, dang.

That method might just be 'Hey, the players talk about play while playing, showing what's important' and that works out cool. But before it wasn't even that, it was as if it's enough to say the current propulsion method was an assumption and...leave it at that. And sadly I was just as short. 'No, wheels/protagonists aren't just an assumption' and I left it at that. What's the propulshion method when there are no protagonists? I'm pretty sure there are lots of ways, including just inter player chat, but I need to hear it from ya!

Is the car analogy crappy?


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 27, 2008, 11:06:46 AM
Hi Callan,

I am not really interested in trying to dissect previous posts and who-meant-what. I'm trying to move forward.

If you are saying that a story needs some substantial and consequential piece of the material, "compelling" probably being my best choice of words, then we agree fully. Spione is amply stocked with such things.

1. The primary mechanical one, which is far more important to the outcomes of play than the principals, is embodied in the characters called Supporting Cast. It is entirely accurate to say that a game of Spione is ultimately about them and what happens to them.

2. Another one, which I think is also quite important, is the unavoidable relevance of the spy "community" (Spider's Web) in Berlin during these decades to anyone alive in the world today. That is usually manifested as reactions and associations, especially when a few details are made known via discussion. Exactly which details, and what those reactions and associations will be, depends on the group.

Protagonizing characters fits very well into the "story material matrix" or "tissue" or whatever you want to call it, which is present due to these two elements. Using your analogy, these two things are the hovering mechanisms of the  hovercraft, which can also be fitted with wheels, or better, shall we say "afterburners," enhancing the airborne-motion function.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: Callan S. on January 27, 2008, 03:07:55 PM
Ah, a focus on supporting cast and their outcomes - that's an interesting difference. Perhaps not relevant, but sometimes in a film I think how supporting cast are kind of just used to show off someone elses life (yes, some sort of protagonist/hero/dude), but I think that doesn't quite work if the lives of supporting cast are treated as unimportant. Ah great, looks like I'm thinking it's all to support some hero dude. But really if all supporting cast lives get roughly as much focus as some hero dude, then you could decide someone else is actually the hero dude of the story. Might be what your getting at, but in my own words. And would the focus on supporting cast tie into the spy vs guy genre, in that it's alot about guys/normal people/supporting cast?

With #2, it is no doubt close to the bone. No wererats to grant some distance from the situation, ala 'it was a mutual decision'? ;) But wouldn't it be less about protagonising stuff and more about our own personal positions in relation to these events? I know it could sorta cross polinate to the supporting cast (ie, players start put them in that same position) and make them more relevant to us, but it'd be doing so by adding whatever diamacles swords are hanging over us in real life (hope that's not too dramatic a description). That's stark stuff. At those points in play, doesn't the whole protag stuff get left behind for awhile, while people think of their own position?

Also, rocket hovercraft - yay!


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 27, 2008, 03:15:20 PM
Hi Callan,

Actually, my point #1 refers to Supporting Cast insofar as they are present and affected by the story, but not protagonized in any full/complete way. To do so is perfectly viable but also would be kicking in the afterburner, not using the hover-widgets. I am claiming that attention to the Supporting Cast (which is to say, following the rules for Maneuvers) without necessarily protagonizing any of them is a strong hovercraft.

Regarding point #2, I am referring to a far more visceral, unconsidered experience with using the material than any sort of spoken or acknowledged activity. It may help to consider this point: that if you ask people about their politics or their relationship to historical events, you will typically get platitudes or vague denials; if they help to create a story which offers those issues as material, and if the story-creation process is Narrativist, then (a) you will discover more honest expressions of their reactions and associations, as well as (b) prompt reflection upon the issues afterwards.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: mindwanders on January 27, 2008, 03:35:52 PM
2. Scene creation and development follows the same logic as the protagonist idea. It's pretty much the exact opposite of Trollbabe or PTA - instead of saying, "This is a scene, with such-and-such a purpose," we instead have various components of location, persons, dialogue, actions, and color sort of adding up, and either we find ourselves in a capital-S scene, or we have a nice bit of relaxed characterization or imagery. I've noticed that new groups, especially with PTA-experienced folks, tend to drive toward conflicts and Flashpoints with an almost frantic reaction ... it makes perfect sense that they want to Bang things, but it's kind of funny that the primary criticism Matt received with PTA was "Gah! What about 'just playing' and letting the scenes develop into important or not important on their own?" So that's what Spione does, and now it's the opposite criticism, "Gah! How do we know whether the scene's important or what it's about?" That contrast leads me to think that both criticisms are about expectations, not about the intrinsic quality or function of what the game offers.

3. A bit of advice: it's perfectly OK for someone to say, "Hey everyone, I got it! I know exactly what [a character] will do," or something equally blurted-out and based on something specific the person wants in the story. If so, then it's perfectly OK for each person with a turn still remaining prior to this person to use the Color option, if they are all actually interested in responding to the stated desire. And if one person along the way has something of his or her own, and if that doesn't fly for the person who spoke, well, Flashpoints are there for that purpose too, because nothing said during Maneuvers has to be true. Flashpoints therefore can be either more like bidding in Universalis, or more like conflict resolution in (say) Dogs, or any combination of the two.

Ah...

OK, I think I get it now. We did do quite a lot of hurtling towards the Bangs at breakneck speed. Although I think it's interesting that all the players pushed the story towards flashpoint at quite different rates. Knowing what I know now, I spent a lot of time just adding colour and letting other push the story. Oddly, I think I would have enjoyed it more if we were all willing to sit back a little more and let the story move forward a little more sedately. With a bit more colour to flesh out the story, I think we would have come up with something more to my tastes. 

Having looked over the Influences, I can see I'm going to have a problem. I've only heard of a few of them, and the only one I've had any contact with was a failed attempt to watch Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy :-) I think maybe my trepidation about this not being my kind of thing may be right.

I had a look over the rules diagrams PDF. They certainly seem to be useful in terms of staying on track as far as the procedure of play. I think the problem is that what I was looking for was a two page intro to the basics of how spy fiction works so that I would have more of an idea of the sort of story to expect.

I think I'm going to need borrow the book and come back to you with thoughts after I've read the text as well as just played in a single session.


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 28, 2008, 02:10:46 AM
Hi Gordon,

You wrote,

Quote
We did do quite a lot of hurtling towards the Bangs at breakneck speed. Although I think it's interesting that all the players pushed the story towards flashpoint at quite different rates. Knowing what I know now, I spent a lot of time just adding colour and letting other push the story. Oddly, I think I would have enjoyed it more if we were all willing to sit back a little more and let the story move forward a little more sedately.

I don't think that's odd at all. Your current thought of what might have been more fun is totally accurate. The system is built to permit, in fact, to enforce the idea that anything interesting can arise through genuine inspiration, and that it never has to be pushed or forced. The great pleasure of Maneuvers in Spione is that conflicts can be entirely unpredictable and yet entirely logical given what has just happened. When it doesn't work, it's because someone has leaped ahead and tried (for instance) to make some character a psychopath or to put some entirely unrelated agency on full-bore attack mode, out of nowhere - in other words, because they have generated conflict that isn't, in emotional or thematic terms, particularly compelling.

I keep talking about the procedures of Spione as a "new thing" in a vague way which might be annoying to readers, and your posts are allowing me maybe to articulate it after all. Let's see if I can do so as a series of numbered points. When I say "we know," I'm referring to outcomes of multiple discussions, design attempts, and play-experiences here at the Forge.

1. We know that a group, working together, can generate fun and engaging fictional conflicts. That's one of the finest achievements of the Forge community, that this is now understood as a given, and previous notions about the issue, specifically that it's hard and can hardly ever be successful, have been set aside.

2. We also know that it can be done well or badly, and that the good version requires some mix of "is this interesting," "is this plausible," and "is this well-timed." How that mix is tuned, procedurally, comprises a critical element of game design (or fiction creation if you want to get more general).

3. One way it can be achieved is by designating moments in which all the conflict creation is wrapped up in a neat, group-understood package, as a transitional and initiatory part of beginning a new scene. What has occurred previously is entirely known, and this package-making is a defined and known process that re-shapes the upcoming void of what happens next. My Life with Master is one of the benchmark designs using this concept, and Contenders is a very direct offspring of MLWM. Primetime Adventures is another benchmark design and has spawned multiple progeny, or perhaps created a design environment in which they emerged. I deliberately designed It Was a Mutual Decision as a member of this "family."

4. This method is overwhelmingly functional relative to the "worthy conflicts are nigh-impossible" assumption, and it is also quite easy to buy into and to introduce to people who are grappling with that assumption. (Not 100%, but definitely easy.) As I tried to say in point #3, its key feature is to lock down the timing of conflict creation.

5. I do not find it hard to understand why most of the occasional frustration with PTA play arises from the "interesting" variable, rather than the timing (which is locked down and thus non-problematic) or than the plausibility, which is accounted for so well by creating the TV show together prior to play. When the conflict must be created nearly whole-cloth during these designated times, there is a kind of make-or-break for the interestingness which can be hitchy. Sometimes the group Drifts the rules to add a kind of brainstorming session at this point, making the process more interactive and nuanced, but also essentially leaving play in order to storyboard. It's productive and can be fun, but it's not play, and in my experience, can be prone to dominance issues.

6. This one is a bit of a side point. I have been frustrated for about three years now that the method I've just described has, for people who encountered it as their "escape" from agonizing and non-productive play, become practically synonymous with "good design." It's a fine thing, yes, but it's also a particular technique and not necessarily the best technique for a given topic, or in combination with other techniques. I have been especially annoyed, personally, with the co-opting of my term "conflict resolution" to describe it, which is intellectually abominable and has poisoned multiple discussions. All of this has set up a baseline of confusion, which is then manifested through a negative version of the technique, which is to propose "conflict" over competing narrations of what might happen next. (This is what people often call "stakes," even though the term means much more local and non-problematic things in the games themselves. It also began to enter texts in 2006, to the detriment of those games.)

7. Spione does it differently. The phase of play called Maneuvers steps far back, away and above, from either scene or conflict creation. It's an organized dialogue environment which is, in fact, much like that Drifted step in some groups' play of PTA, in which a group dialogue decides upon the scene and conflict. No one person can dominate, and the notion of "driving toward" a given intended conflict later should be jettisoned. One works with things as they are, when they arrive at your "go," or as you might suggest and chat about during others' "goes." It is important to let go of the notion of controlling what play is about to be about, and to trust that group interest will prompt such things into emergence with no need for negotiation.

8. Spione therefore arranges those three variables in a different way. It puts "is this interesting" into the top priority. The timing is locked down in the exact opposite way from PTA - instead of being packaged as a unit achievement, it must be piecemeal and emergent from the operating, in-action components that have been put into play (in this, it's more like Universalis). Another way to look at it is that unless the thing is indeed interesting, it doesn't happen, and that is OK - it's not a disagreement or cause for negotiation outside of the procedures of play.

9. To put it in the way which I hope makes most sense for anyone reading this, (a) if fun and engaging conflict can be made in a quick package that often relies on a side process of chat/negotiation, then (b) it can also be done by formalizing and extending the chat/negotiation, without needing to make the package so quick. The question "oh my god, what will the conflict be?" should not be a source of stress. We (and here I mean "we the players") should know that it can be done ... and we can relax into letting it happen, and permitting it to arise from characterization and location rather than through a decree.

10. What I'm seeing you describe, and which I've seen people grapple with when introduced to Spione, seems to be a form of desperate anxiety when faced with playing without a conflict firmly in place. I think the technique, so productive and fun in MLWM for instance, has become a crutch - perceived almost as a lifeline out of "no fun" play, and as such, to be seized and applied at all times, in any game, in fear of the "no fun" returning. That's not a good thing. I've seen groups spend nearly the whole of PTA- or other recents games-play waffling over what the conflict will be and how it might turn out, with the SIS basically being thrown out the window - it's unstructured story-conferencing, not story creation, and it blows big donkey dick. Since the Spione rules literally do not permit that particular activity, the only way for this anxiety to manifest itself is for someone to go ballistic and bring KGB assassins, CIA plots, Stasi repression, pornography, infidelity, and who knows what else into their next narration, prompting crazy-ass Flashpoints over nothing really.

Gordon, what do you think of that? Does it make sense? What do you think of the possibility of using Maneuvers as a creatively generous, extended process, instead of a yawning pit over which we must impose a conflict or fall?

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: mindwanders on January 28, 2008, 03:06:28 PM
Actually that all seems to make a lot of sense.

Now all I need to do is find a group for another session and see if I can get it to work at the table :-)


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: Callan S. on January 29, 2008, 01:43:14 AM
Hi Ron,

From what I understand now - were the flashpoints in the AP happening a little fast? Or atleast faster than what might be the assumed average for the game? From what I've read here I'm getting the feeling there may be more of a slow boil - err, how to describe...like ingrediants are added one at a time to the soup, in a way that somehow suits the last ingrediant, but not toward a particular recipe. Not a bunch of ingrediants at once?


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: Gregor Hutton on January 29, 2008, 03:46:29 AM
Just a quick post to say that I'm now back from being in Ireland and I'll have a post to make later. A few points just to clarify.

(i) I played as a player, so there weren't any non-particpating people at the table.
(ii) We got through 3 Flashpoints in play, so I don't think we were going straight to flashpoints at all.
(iii) The two characters chosen both had short Supporting Cast lists, so we did actually complete the game in the 3 hours or so. Most cast went out through double cards though Joe Prince revealed a trespass and wrote one out using a Fate.

The text is very clear on how to set-up and play the game, how to move cards in Flashpoint and what they allow you to do. The book was passed around to help people decide what they wanted to do on their turn in flashpoint and it wasn't always a "crude" or "flashy" event that was generated.

[In fact, Joe Murphy seemed bored by me going through the sequence of ordering the cards very deliberately, since I guess we all "got" how you could move them and what their positioning and strength meant.]

A tripping point was that no one had seen the book beforehand since the con was put together at very short notice. We also were very unfamiliar with each other as a group -- I think if we played together again we would have a much better feel for each other.

We did have some discussion of when to go to flashpoint, over and under-shooting but I got the feeling that we didn't act as a group on what we discussed. But more on that later.


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 29, 2008, 06:58:28 PM
Hi everyone,

Callan: yes, that's right. That's a good analogy. The interesting thing, too, is that when the water boils, not everything will necessarily be resolved or known, but some will, and there's no way to tell what will or what won't until you're in the middle of it. Once that particular process (Flashpoint) is over, the group returns to Maneuvers.

Gregor: I was waiting for you to encounter this thread, because you were the point man and my primary thing to say is, "Thank you," for bringing out the game to everyone there. Please don't get the wrong idea from the thread so far. It's not an easy experience for some of them, and I've had to address points of confusion or dissatisfaction as they've come, from that person's point of view. That does not mean I think you fell down on the job, misrepresented the game, or did anything poorly.

The fact is, you can say X and Y and Z about Spione until you're blue in the face, and people will only hear what they can process at that moment, for whatever reason. I went through this a thousand times with Sorcerer, which is only a half-step (albeit a signficant one) away from "normal" role-playing. With Spione, the difference is indescribably vast. It's like asking people to jump off a cliff with you.

Regarding introducing Spione to strong role-players, is, "I've been there." Even if people have a fun time, they still itch and fuss and find things to be weird about. I really don't know whether it will ever work as a convention or demo game. It lacks a comfortable structure like the ones found in Contenders or Perfect. Its genre features are not quite "genre," as you know, and they deliberately kick the more familiar Thriller genre features in the balls. The only thing to do is to trust the slow boil, and for the ingredients to be added to be things that are genuinely interesting. It also requires prompting genuine interest in the history, or elements found in history. For instance,

Did you know that the communist spymaster for East Germany totally dominated the intelligence "war" for twenty-five years? Without him, the KGB would have been a mere shadow of itself, in terms of spying on the west. He made the CIA and everyone else look like idiots, over and over, and the more we find out, the worse it gets. His name was Markus Wolf. And get this: he was a liberal, intellectual, Jewish German. When he retired in the 1980s, he became a glasnost activist.

If you're talking to an American or a Brit, and if the person is really listening and using any part of his or her brain, that little speech is pretty much guaranteed to elicit a reaction like, "What? He was what? How ... no, wait a minute. What?" (Yes, everyone who's into this stuff, I know that Wolf's character remains a matter of some controversy. I'm presenting a superficial view which is, nonetheless, at least accurate if not nuanced.) The point is that the person is jarred a bit. That's not the KGB. That's not the communists. That's not the Germans, for Pete's sake. Then they might be curious. Who was this guy, and what were his spies like? Once someone shows some curiosity, then things can move. It's the equivalent of being turned out by a genre character-concept, but not the same.

I really don't know how that can be made to happen in a con environment when everyone's just pulled up a chair and is expecting some comfortable variant of Dogs, Polaris, or My Life with Master. In my expected model for play of the game, it shouldn't be "made" to happen anyway, it's just a matter of finding out who's interested in that way and pulling them together eventually. If neither anchor is present (shared interest in the topic, or shared social familiarity as a group), then I dunno.

So, again, thanks. I'm interested to know what the game was like for you, and any suggestions you might have for dealing with the game in this context.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: Callan S. on January 30, 2008, 06:04:16 PM
Isn't that being a bit dramatic to say it's potentially impossible to present? I know it covers a vast amount of ground, so it seems unbefitting to describe it in some reduced way. But people are (and should be) trying to find out whats fun about a game, in order to play for that very quality and then they actively pursue it. Too much trust factor, as you'd know, and their just following your footsteps. I know you want them to find whats important about the various world events, but surely that can come with repeat play. Surely a more basic pitch can initiate things? I thought of one to get at the core idea of guys - I mean, yeah, world events are important but at the base your game is about guys, so it's not missplaced to set a basic pitch revolving just on that. Anyway, here's a pitch I had fun making up, taking into account what I know of the game:
Quote
What does an animal do when it's cornered?
What does a man feel, when every step he takes slowly backs him into that corner?
This is the life of a spy. This is Spione.
I mean, way off? It seems a core part of the game - people backed into corners, and it suggests something juicy to get out of it - what he feels. Or is 'feel' too passive? Anyway, surely Spione's not that impossible to pitch?


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 30, 2008, 07:35:25 PM
Hi Callan,

Depends on whom you're talking to. In this thread, and in reference to Gregor's experience, I'm talking about dedicated role-players in a strong gaming-community context, like a convention or at a website like this one. Presenting Spione in that situation is like selling air to fish. That's not a slam on that culture, but it is a fact; I've had it demonstrated to me extremely clearly on multiple occasions. For instance, I introduced the book and the activity to a roomful of folks using a personal pitch almost exactly as you describe. Y

Gregor, in hopes of making better tactics for the future, I'll be interested in anything you suggest. I also hope I'm doing a better job of promotion in this thread than I've managed in the past, as I've been ripping my brain apart with every post to try to apply what I've learned from those past experiences, and to be as absolutely honest with the readers as I can conceive.

Outside of that context, the book is a remarkably easy sell. I've passed out cards on request to people standing in line at the butcher shop, sitting next to me in an airplane, and chatting on the basis of having kids in strollers in the same location. None of these were intentional targets for sales at the outset, either - more like, "Oh man! I have to have this book. Do you have a card?"

If you check out the website, you'll find the back of the book in there somewhere, and I think I did a pretty decent/dramatic job of describing the Cold as a juicy thing. But again, it's not targeted toward role-players, and the notion of being and feeling like a spy, as a goal or purpose of the activity, is not mentioned or present in any way. It's not at all about "you have a spy guy! you say what he does!" (I know that deviates a bit from what Ralph posted, but I think his point was far more focused on a particular stage of play rather than toward the purpose of the activity as a whole.)

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione
Post by: Gregor Hutton on January 31, 2008, 03:04:14 PM
Hi Ron

Yeah, I agree and I don't know how to best tell people to have an open mind and don't try to be over-clever. I find the book really helpful to me to read out loud when playing, next time I should get someone else to read it out actually that would be a great way of spreading the knowledge about the table. I really think the handing the book around thing helps a lot, it passed around a lot for flashpoints but it should have circulated more.

The phrase that strikes me at the start of play is "Principles are spies -- not spymasters, not politicians, not special ops commandos". But the thing is, we all nod and go "yeah, yeah, I get it, no James Bond, ordinary people, lying and spying" but in play we still default to more "gamer" stuff. Y'know, the big, flashy stuff, the kills, the bombs, disappearances, etc.

I think we had problems with holding ideas lightly and just playing the game, it's like we have to unlearn some of the "indie game" and "general gamer" expectations we have. I mean, we got to the first Flashpoint and I think one of the players asked if we should set the stakes.

Maybe it's like the playing music analogy. We all came along with our own strong riff, or style we are going to play, and just played that riff irrespective of the beat, scale or contributions of everyone else and the theme of play. But I think the only way you get better is to talk about it, and we did (and are), and we pick up the instruments again.

I think Spione has a really stripped-back and elegant way of generating fiction, and the answer I see (for me, anyway) is to leave other games and their expectations at the door and just follow the advice in the book. It really is low prep rules-wise as long as I bring my own opinions and observations about people and life to the table.