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Author Topic: [Nerdinburgh '08] Spione  (Read 6227 times)
Joe Murphy (Broin)
Member

Posts: 178


« 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.
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #1 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 and here 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.

Quote
#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.

Quote
#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!
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
GreatWolf
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« Reply #2 on: January 23, 2008, 10:49:28 AM »

Just a little more on Maneuvers.

On anyway, Ron wrote this about Maneuvers:

Quote
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.
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
Valamir
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« Reply #3 on: January 23, 2008, 02:22:30 PM »

Quote
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.


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Joe Murphy (Broin)
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Posts: 178


« Reply #4 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.
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jburneko
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« Reply #5 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
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 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
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Moreno R.
Member

Posts: 547


« Reply #7 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 three threads 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?)
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Ciao,
Moreno.

(Excuse my errors, English is not my native language. I'm Italian.)
Moreno R.
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Posts: 547


« Reply #8 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.

Quote
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....  ;-)

Quote
  • 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"?

Quote
  • 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.

Quote
  • 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!)
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Ciao,
Moreno.

(Excuse my errors, English is not my native language. I'm Italian.)
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 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
« Last Edit: January 24, 2008, 10:24:59 AM by Ron Edwards » Logged
GreatWolf
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« Reply #10 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.
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #11 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
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #12 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.
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
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jburneko
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« Reply #13 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
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Valamir
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« Reply #14 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.
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