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Author Topic: [Annalise] In which there is neither Annalise nor a vampire  (Read 3519 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: September 08, 2010, 04:31:34 PM »

Hello,

So, once a week, Nathan Paoletta and Tim Koppang come over to my place, we have dinner and partake of wine & other bar-based badness, we gossip something awful about the independent role-playing scene, maybe watch an episode of a conversationally-relevant TV show, and ... um, oh yes, we play Annalise. We're not rushing it, placing no end-point in real time, and simply playing whatever part we're in at whatever rate we feel like at the moment. So far, we've played three sessions.

We first talked briefly about the setting for play, and I said I'd like to try a very specific modern American context, what's sometimes called "swing-state," but is actually much more local.

During the fall of 2008, in 18 days prior to and including the U.S. presidential election, two young journalists did a series for AlJazeera English called the Red Blue Road Trip. They drove like crazy to 18 counties and towns, and a couple of cities, that had all polled right on the 50-50 knife-edge of the two sides and shot video interviews, posting them as they went. Some of the interviews were planned, at very short notice, but others were just impromptu conversations. A lot of data about each community was provided as well. I think it's one of the best, most accurate, most enlightening series on American economics, life-style, and political culture ever made. If you're interested, the best way to view them is in chronological order, and since only segments 11-18 are available at the Blue-Red Road Trip blog, and at AlJazeera, you should probably start at YouTube and go by dates; the search that shows them all is here.

Anyway, I said that the exact location didn't matter so much, but I wanted play to be somewhere those guys might have visited. Nathan and Tim agreed enthusiastically, and some imagery started appearing in our conversation right away. We moved into making characters.

Strangely not about anyone named Annalise, nor anyone like her
The game text totally captures a particular image, personality, personal crisis, time period, and circumstances. It's the title. It's the cover image. It's the primary, if not only, example throughout the text. It's supported by a detailed color piece opening the book, including a unique paper type. It's consistent with the music references and the art style. It's deeply intertwined with a particular thematic take on vampires.

But the game has no fixed setting. Nor does it even place/determine the concept of vampirism into any sort of emotion or personal circumstances, nor is vampirism defined in any kind of physical way. Absolutely none of all that Color, and Annalise as a game text is freaking drenched in Color, actually informs play at all. What the fuck? OK, fine ... but that was only the left jab. It's the right cross that lands next ... and it works. Double what-the-fuck?? How can an absolute disconnect between the directed, focused, Color of the game's presentation be so totally divorced from the topic of play as it might occur for a given group, and yet help that group so much?

I mean, it shouldn't surprise me so much. I'm the guy who says that when presenting a system which is to be customized by a given play-group for setting and everything else, that you should present your single solid example right up-front. In fact, in the past, I've suggested to game designers with intended generic systems to provide a canonical setting or at least a detailed example for default play. I figure that leaves it to players to hack it if they wanted, with the logic being that if the system is that well suited for it, people will do it anyway. So you'd think I'd understand this ... but it's still a surprise to see this particular, extraordinary level of disconnect being functional, with the example being so ostensibly canonical when it's so thoroughly not.

OK, here's the scoop as I see it - the system is set up simply to ensure pure and simple alienation, for the player-characters. The "Annalise" business is a simple and evocative example, and that's all. It's as if Nathan is saying, "When I think alienation, this is what I get. How about you?"

Given the Red-Blue context, here's what:

My character is Bobbi, whom I suppose I should explain slightly because the concept is quite edgy. A few years ago, I was working at home, diagramming the ways Cheney and his pals had corrupted the national security hierarchy (no, not kidding), and the exterminator came by to squirt our house. I have lots of books so I care about this being done right. Anyway, the exterminator woman and I chatted for a little while. and it turned out she was in the National Guard and just back from Iraq, where she'd been a truck driver. I was interested in her experiences and she was a real character - totally outspoken, funny. Regarding her stateside job, she was talking about going into people's houses in all kinds of neighborhoods, and how she'd told her supervisor, "If I run into any danger to my vagina," and she pointed for emphasis, then again straight forward, "I'm coming for you." Definitely the kind of person who sticks in your head. I didn't mention the statistics I'd been seeing on how often servicewomen in Iraq and Afghanistan had been raped by their fellow soldiers and co-workers, and the cover-ups. The conversation saddened me in the long run, because I realized that both of her professional lives were overshadowed by the same threat, and in ways which might render her voiceless in society, despite her powerful and engaging voice as person.

So I pretty much took this brief conversation as the basis for my character. I never saw the real woman again and don't know much about her life, so used everything I wrote above as the start for my character, gave her a new name, and recast and filled out the concept to fit into our setting. I defined her Vulnerability as being the threat of sexual assault, and specifically attendant voicelessness.

Tim's character is Vince, a former high school football star, back from a failed year in college, whose Vulnerability is fear of failure. Nathan's character is Jasper, a guy who never left town and became a plumber, whose Vulnerability is overwhelming debt. The three are all from the same graduating class in high school, now not too long before they turn 30.

The vampire is right behind you
So to return to the whole "how does this work when it's not Annalise and the vampire isn't like the one in the story" issue, it works because the theme and crisis of characters come first, in what can effectively be an entirely vampire-free environment. The vampire's presence, features, and even existence may be retrofitted into that crisis after it's well under way. For example, at the end of the second session, we'd seen nothing that need be a vampire. We had no clue whatsoever how a vampire might be involved. We had no idea in fact that any of the deaths in the story to that point were caused by it. Nor will any of them necessarily be established as the vampire's work. Granted, Nathan often adds bloody stuff to his narrations, and I did the same with a character's death at the end of the second session, but it's not obligatory.

I'm not sure I'm explaining this right. I'm saying that the game allows a spectrum of approaches. One extreme would establish the vampire in the story from the beginning, and play would shift to the Confrontation probably because the various characters teamed up against it; the other extreme is taking it as far as it can go without the vampire, probably shifting to the Confrontation phase for Traits reasons, and then retrofitting how vampire was involved all along, and indeed what the hell it is. I think the text generally leans strongly although not exclusively toward the latter. Our play is slammed about as far in that direction as it's possible to get.

Our game
We've played three lengthy sessions and I'm currently posting about the first two. I've played my character Bobbi very strongly from her Secret, building strong Traits onto it. She narrowly evaded a very bad drinking-soaked encounter with a co-worker but unfortunately it got another co-worker killed and she was arrested. It turns out that her parents' house, where she lives now that her mom's gone and her dad's in Florida (except he's back), has a creepy office in it with a skull that she, uh, talks to. Someone tried to mutilate her cat and she beaned him with a shovel. On the plus side, she organized a ten-year non-reunion party with her old high school classmates. Tim's character, Vince, displayed an astonishing core of hostility toward just about everybody - he's a mean, spiteful butt-head. At the party, he finally mended fences with Katie, his on-again off-again girlfriend, or rather sex partner, only to wake up to her body drained of blood from incisions in her wrist, said blood soaking the carpet. At least Tim feels bad about that! Nathan's character, Jasper, is a pretty nice guy with the worst impulse control on the planet, and at this point in play was pretty much struggling between a newfound hobby called cocaine, and a woman named Gabrielle who's taken it upon herself to help him. Nathan's trying to get away from her harder than Jasper is.

Nathan's kept stringent records of the scenes, the Moments, and the various Outcomes of each Moment, so eventually either he or I will post those. It's pretty interesting to watch in-the-moment choices become major plot consequences so organically; in this and in a couple of other ways, Annalise is similar to Spione. For instance, it's fun that the characters are desperate to turtle but the players and system won't let them

At the end of the second session, we were definitely still in Laying the Foundations, with no particular proximity to anything resembling vampires, and without Traits filling up the sheets yet. What I liked the most about this precise point is that we're very engaged with the characters' psychology and personal hassles (the Core Traits are, after all, called Vulnerability and Secret), without a defined external threat. Yet threat lurks over all of them, and it's totally thematic, intimately bound up with the economic bleakness, the confusion of people of that age facing a society without much to offer them, and various aspects of their own behavior that have graduated from personal quirkiness to near-clinical obsessions and habits. The creative challenge for me and us as a group, I think, is to concoct a vampire bit by bit, organically, including discovering which if any of the existing freaky NPCs might be it (Gabrielle, Bobbi's father, Vince's parents, Ray the co-worker, anyone!). Or maybe "vampire" means something more general, being a group, or something almost intangible. It's a challenge because the very worst thing I can think of seeing happen ("worst" in a bad way, not the excellent-adversity way) is for us to end up with some Balkan weirdo with a cape lurking around, flashing fangs through windows, and turning into a bat. Given the depth of the characters and our slightly stylized but harshly emotional depiction of their world, our vampire is going to have to hit a pretty high creative bar in all ways.

Regarding Claims, I'm making lots, using them as they appear, and freeing them to Float pretty quickly. I tend not to keep and boost them. Our Claims in action, after two sessions, included: "Just shut up, stop talking" "Greasy gross hand" "Friendly plumber" "Tears on her face" "This fuckin' town" "'Real' drinks" "Homeless guy on bench" "Another beer out of the fridge" "His mom loves him" "Man totally out of place" "I'm not trying to be a jerk here" "Big dreams" "They're gonna send me back to Iraq" "Bobbi's cat" "Blood down the tracks" "Ed" "I'm gonna regret this" "'Whatever'" "Surrounded by bodies" "Yearbook" "I hate the cops." Special mention goes to "Vomits EVERYWHERE" which has been utilized regarding all three player-characters' actions at one point or another.

If you know the game text, then you've probably already spotted that we've diverged a bit from the instructions regarding Claims' content. They're almost all motifs of customizable dialogue and imagery, with hardly any agency-ownership. So the "tears" could be on any female character's face for any reason, or the "greasy gross hand" could be anyone's hand with any number of sources of any kind of grease, or it could be any mom, or any number of reasons or persons involved in repeating a particular line of dialogue. I don't know why it developed that way, but it creates a unity of tone and kind of a symphony of strong motifs which is working well for us. The few which better match the rules (the cat, Ed) were made very late in the second session and haven't seen much use.

Talking, tokens, dice
I already referenced my diagram of the coin-moving mechanics in Pompeii and the Cult of Blood, but here's the link again. The brief summary is that during the Laying the Foundations phase, there are three ways for new currency to enter play, two of which are quite generous, and the effect is to enrich the game's content and atmosphere, as well as to shake out which introduced elements end up being most relevant and fun. You can push the tension/plot aspects of play during this time if you want, but everyone is rich in resources for messing with the outcomes to taste. Whereas during the Confrontation phase, two of those three ways dry up, and no new mechanics elements may be introduced, so that player/character resources can't help but start sucking wind. Since the vampire character or presence is now mechanically engaged as well, this phase is marked by desperation, transformation, revelation, and emergent plot climax.

The diagram also illustrates the differences between two parallel mechanics, Claims vs. Traits. Traits affect the number of "things" being rolled for, which sets the number of dice going into rolls, with one small exception permitting a re-roll. Claims affect the roll outcomes, in a variety of ways with a variety of costs, with one small exception permitting adding a whole new non-rolled Outcome. So you spend off both or either during play, and also add more of either during the Laying the Foundations phase.

Since Claims are free and easy, and since a whammo-easy Outcome is available from using them, they're the more fluid side of the Currency movement. Traits are more connected to the story arc, as filling up the Traits is one way to transition into the third phase of play, and spending from Traits directly or indirectly hastens the descent of the Core Traits toward zero.

It sounds pretty mechanical and rules-entrenched, right? That's why the other primary feature of the game needs to be understood too: Openness! So many things are handled with a light touch - the mechanics are present, but they may be played soft or hard, with the softest option, bringing those things into play without mechanical cueing at all, also being available if that's what you want.

One really good example is the rule for Giving In to the vampire. Here are the ways it can happen:

1. Fight like a dog against it - keep your Vulnerability above 0, to avoid Holds; assign high rolls to oppose the Give In Outcome during the Confrontation phase, regardless of the cost to the character in the form of other Outcomes; never say "I Give In." If the mechanics knee you in the groin, though, suck it up and your character Gives In.

2. Use the mechanics as your cue to Give In, either because your Vulnerability hits 0 or you happen to assign a low roll to the Give In Outcome based on what you want for the other Outcomes.

3. Just say, "I Give In," period, never mind what any Coins or scores are doing at the moment.

Any or all are valid. All are good play. Every one of them is a game mechanic, even #3 in the form of a ritualized phrase during a particular phase of play (i.e. a Drama mechanic). I don't think any part of Giving In (or any aspect of Annalise) can properly be called free-form, any more than in playing carry or Grey Ranks, but the interrelationship between invoking a mechanic to hit the fiction (always an option), vs. using current fiction to affect a mechanic, or to replicate its effects, is quite deft. By that I mean, whether you are doing #1, #2, or #3, is a matter of constant decision, engagement, and response during play itself.

So, uh, that was a considerable post. Any thoughts, questions, ideas, about playing Annalise or similar games? About the characters and story we're making (including a long and eventful session following what I've described so far)? About the mechanics or system issues I've raised?

Best, Ron
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Adam Dray
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« Reply #1 on: September 09, 2010, 07:22:13 AM »

I don't like vampire games, so I actually avoided Annalise for some time, while it was still in its early editions. Then I watched Nathan play it and I finally understood it. Nathan's games always do this to me. (People: Do not think you understand a game from reading the text.) Once I realized that Annalise wasn't a vampire game, I fell in love with it.

I've played Annalise twice, not counting rapid-fire convention play where I facilitated. The first time, we set our game in a Mars colony that was falling apart. The game collapsed for social, not mechanical, reasons and we never got past the first session. But god, it was cool while it lasted. I was playing a character whose personality was beamed to a body on Mars a la Altered Carbon and I was there to do a job. As a player, I wasn't really sure what that job was, but I knew it was dark and dangerous: assassination, demolition, something like that. Daniel played a fuck-up ambulance driver. Rob played a frustrated security officer we called the Sheriff. Marc played some kind of computer tech, I think; I can't remember now. All of our characters were struggling just to get through the day. We bounced off each other in weird, incidental ways, rarely making real connections. Slowly through play, the "ouija board" started suggesting some vast governmental conspiracy, plus some kind of weird influence from the supernatural or possibly aliens. It was spooky and no one at the table understood what it was yet.

The second time I played with Daniel (Levine). Just him and me. I played an old, heart-troubled widower living alone. Daniel played a rebellious, overweight teenage girl, my granddaughter. This game started out with slice-of-life stuff but started into the weird very quickly--perhaps because there were just two of us playing, but also because Daniel likes the really weird stuff and I had been watching old seasons of Supernatural. I remember Daniel claiming "rotting meat" and me claiming "mail packages." These things became important motifs. My guy ended up on a quest to free the ghost of his dead wife, who he believed was sending him packages through the mail. Daniel's girl was troubled by spirits of some kind that caused her trouble but also did terrible things to the school bullies who tormented her. There were rooms with non-Euclidean geometry, and wooden doors (another Claim) that were portals into this weird dreamlike space, often full of bookshelves or desks. Daniel and I did get through all the phases of Annalise with this one, over three or four evenings of play. I can't remember how it ended, but we managed to tie it all together. There was some strange ghoul cult of cannibals in a graveyard that turned out to be the Vampire.

As I read your post, Ron, I laughed when I got to your "disclaimer"--so to speak--about creating improper Claims. I was planning on saying something about it until I got to that part. I personally believe that there is no mechanical need for the limitation Annalise puts on the content of Claims. Players tend to ignore that rule anyway, and even when I've corrected people whom I've taught the game, it's occasionally been difficult to find a clean line between a good and a bad Claim. To my thinking, the design purpose behind Claims is to create repeating motifs, for purposes of reincorporation and "foreshadowing." It doesn't matter if the motif is a tangible thing or not: a player can still introduce some wildly intangible Claim like "unbridled ennui" into narration. If it has teeth, that Claim will keep getting bolstered with coins or picked up by other players from the Free Claims pile. If it doesn't have teeth, it'll get drained and left for dead.

Claims are flags. Making a Claim is saying, "This is interesting to me! I want to see this in play." And the mechanics support that flag. And you can release that flag into the wild by letting it go Free, and see if another player picks it up. Further, because you used that Claim to influence Moments already, that flag has been planted in the fiction. Using a Claim increases its utility. That is, by using it once, it gets tied into the fiction; it becomes easier to use again, and thus the Claim becomes more powerful. Repetition burns the idea of that Claim into the screen of the fiction, to use an old video monitor analogy that kids-these-days probably won't understand. On the other hand, Claims are self-limiting. If you use them too much, the repetition becomes ridiculous. I don't believe there's anything in the rules that limits this--it's left to the players to regulate their use of claims. Of course, if everyone is on the same page creatively, this will not be a problem.

I'm curious about your Moments. When you guys play, how hard-hitting are your conflicts? I find when I play that I often enjoy seeing terrible things happen to "my guy" and I don't fight as hard as I've seen other players. And it's not that my fellow players aren't pushing hard enough. Daniel is a lot like me in this regard, and we both go for the jugular in Moments. Occasionally, I will want my story to go in a different direction and fight the dice a bit harder. A lot of times, though, I fight a little bit on behalf of "my guy" and then let it go. Do you experience this?
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Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: September 09, 2010, 04:42:42 PM »

Hi Adam,

I generally agree with you about Claims. However, I think the "Flags" concept is reversed logic, or rather, reflects a fix for what in a better world wouldn't be an issue. We can talk about that more if you'd like.

You wrote,

Quote
I'm curious about your Moments. When you guys play, how hard-hitting are your conflicts? I find when I play that I often enjoy seeing terrible things happen to "my guy" and I don't fight as hard as I've seen other players. And it's not that my fellow players aren't pushing hard enough. Daniel is a lot like me in this regard, and we both go for the jugular in Moments. Occasionally, I will want my story to go in a different direction and fight the dice a bit harder. A lot of times, though, I fight a little bit on behalf of "my guy" and then let it go. Do you experience this?

Here's one of the Moments for my character, as Guided and by Tim. Bobbi was out drinking with her co-workers, Ray and Tony, and she and Ray get into a drinking match. She's outweighed by a good hundred pounds.

Achievement: Bobbi beats Ray at the match
Consequence: Bobbi goes home with Ray
Achievement: Bobbi gets home from the bar (note: our notes don't show it but somehow this is still orthogonal to the above consequence, as I described it)
Consequence: Bobbi blacks out the night

I created the Satellite Trait "My choice, sober, ever," off her Vulnerability, and did whatever I could to make sure that first Consequence didn't happen. The dice ended up, in order, with 2, 6, 3, 2. So she loses the drinking match, blacks out, but Tony ends up rescuing her sodden hulk from any possibility of contact with Ray. We actually continued the scene with her waking up in Tony's car in a railway yard, with Tony missing, but that example isn't too relevant here. My point is that in the context of the available choices, the blackout was quite interesting and I looked forward to having that happen. I think I even spent to make it a 2 instead of a 1, because I preferred losing a Coin to seeing another Consequence of any kind in this situation.

I think it has a lot to do with several binary possibilities being on the table, creating a priority among them As you can see, we do tend to go for the jugular too, but as it turns out, often one or more of the Outcomes will be a Must Have (or equivalently, No Fucking Way) and one or more Consequence will be a Well I Can Live With That, especially in comparison. And the latter can then become, again in comparison, Ooh I'd Like to See That. In this case, no way was Bobbi going to have sex with anyone in any such circumstances. I even created the Satellite Trait to express my certainty about that, and was willing to back it up by spending every imaginable resource I had to alter the results, if necessary. Whereas with that on the table, something else I might have considered worth fighting for becomes ... even in its harshness ... something I'd actually like to see happen, much as Bobbi herself hates it.

Best, Ron

In our third session, we fought like dogs over whether Bobbi fell in love: 3, 4, 3, 4 ...

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Gregor Hutton
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« Reply #3 on: September 10, 2010, 04:27:08 AM »

The game sounds really intense in some ways (I mean looking at Tim's and Nathan's characters/relationships they're very pointed to personal stuff to the players) but less intense in other, like the story and events are allowed to "breathe". They're given time to develop, I mean you just get to play through the game and there is not an obviously ticking clock (like the Threat Tokens in 3:16 or whatever or the endgame triggers in MLwM or Contenders).

I am totally with you on the Claims. The slight SNAFU we did was to (on a couple of times) claim things we brought in ourselves. But we learned from it, just a simple mis-step to playing it for the first time.

I really liked how the Achievements/Consequences worked too (and I need to update our AP with some detail there -- i have the notes with me today). One thing is that a natural 1 or 6 is powerful as it allows spawning extra Achievements/Consequences whereas a 1 or 6 because of a Claim doesn't. We found that even getting a mixture of results "in the middle" (where none of the Achievements or Consequences happen) is still powerful. I'll talk in our AP about how Russ decided to go with what was on the table rather than make a change and open up the results on the table to Joe and myself making further trouble for him!

I have something to say on the transitioning from one phase to another too, but I'll hold off until you get to that bit.
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Adam Dray
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« Reply #4 on: September 10, 2010, 07:17:16 AM »

I think I understand what you mean by the flags concept being reversed logic. People who have come together to play a particular game, a particular way, with a particular set of people, at a particular time ought to be pressing one another's buttons all over the place and shouldn't need a game mechanic to enforce it. On the other hand, shouldn't the game mechanics reinforce that tendency? Yeah, that flagging stuff needs to be rooted in the social contract layer, but I also think that the system portion of exploration and the techniques layer should amplify that. Maybe game designers put flagging techniques into their game to remind people to do stuff in the social contract layer, though.

Upon first reading of your Moments, I didn't think they were that hard hitting. Then I thought about it more in the context of Bobbi's background and personality, and I could see where there was a lot of power there.

I'm interested in my own approach to player stance in these situations. There's a tension there between "I am my character and I don't want this terrible thing to happen to me" and "I am the author of my character's story and I want this terrible thing to happen to her." I need to play Annalise again and try to be more conscious of what's going on in my head during Moments, as I wrestle the dice into different configurations. I'm curious to see if there's anything about the specific techniques built into the Moment rules that encourage me to be in one stance or another (like from actor stance to author stance).

So, did Bobbi fall in love?
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Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
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Tim C Koppang
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« Reply #5 on: September 10, 2010, 07:57:28 AM »

One thing I've noticed about our Annalise game is the deceptively large number of narrative balls we are trying to juggle.  To name a few, we have our character back-stories, an awkward high school dynamic, the father/mother angle, jobs, college, the police, Iraq, and of course the vampire violence.  (Some of these have been hinted at in this thread, while others were emphasized more in our third session.)

I think the mechanics of the game have encouraged our sprawling story in three ways.  First, the Claims have encouraged us to introduce recurring motifs in new situations.  Second, the fact that the vampire is so amorphous has led to an expansive amount of weirdness.  Third, we have consistently created Moments with multiple orthogonal Outcomes -- which has consistently led us to introduce new twists into the story.

The Claims have been addressed in the posts above.  I think they work well even if it took me a session to get into the mindset of actually taking Claims mid-scene.  I like the mechanic (how it feeds into Outcomes) and I like that it forces everyone to think about what they want to see pop up in the story over and over.

The lurking vampire is my favorite part of play thus far.  I, like Ron, worry a bit that the vampire won't live up to our creative expectations when we are actually forced to define "it".  For a while I even worried that we had lost sight of defining the vampire at all.  But the group made some more concrete decisions last Friday that I suspect will put us on the path to full-blown vampirism within a session.  I can see the story pace increasing at that point as well.  I look forward to the transition (in a good way).

Finally, I wonder if we wouldn't have a tighter (quicker?) game with less Outcomes per Moment.  This is not a negative.  I am not complaining.  But I do find myself preferring punchier Moments with less Outcomes -- unless there is something extra I obviously want to insert into the scene.  I can't tell if this is because I'm failing creatively to come up with extra Outcomes, or if I just like more straightforward conflicts.  What's interesting is that as soon as all of the Outcomes are defined, no matter the number, I almost always have a strong preference for which of the Outcomes I want to see fail and succeed.  So it is not as if I am having trouble connecting with them after the fact.

All in all, it's been a sort of weird experience.  There is a lot of space in the game (and the story).  Certain scenes have been very poignant.  Others have just hung there.  I'm anxious and excited to see it all come together.

(I'd also like to talk about the rotating GM, and its effect on story creation, but that will have to wait for another post.)
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Nathan P.
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« Reply #6 on: September 10, 2010, 08:58:11 AM »

I absolutely advocate for my character in this game. There's been a couple of outcomes that I really really wanted to happen for my character, even though it wasn't necessary that important in the overall ongoing story (like stopping his nose bleed after, uh, quite the night out).

One problem I'm running into is that I made a character with a weaksauce Vulnerability (drowning in debt), but thankfully I pulled a strong Secret, so it's been working out ok.
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Nathan P.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: September 10, 2010, 10:29:38 AM »

Geez, in system terms, Nathan's been squatting on that Secret's content like a puddle-of-flesh dragon-toad over its dungballs with gems in the middles. None of our Pushes have come close to cracking it, and that's after he's named three whole Traits on it too. I can't wait to start targeting it directly during the Confrontation phase.

Character advocacy is not a simple thing. I think assuming "success against imposed adversity at every step" is too simplistic. The game which really taught me the most about this is With Great Power, in which the long term of triumph, or possible triumph, is what matters, and the real self-defeating strategy is to turtle and keep everything about your character safe right from the get-go. Or to put it more generally, sometimes, it's character-advocacy to help ensure that he or she gets the right kind of adversity, or encounter the right kind of setback. As I say, even though the character hates it. Call it "Author Stance Immersion," I suppose - I take a hand in screwing the character over at the moment, and I feel the stress it imposes most poignantly. Making this work in game terms is not necessarily easy; according to Paul Czege, and I think he's right, there has to be some kind of back-and-forth among people at the table for it to work. The design of Annalise offers a lot of insight into that.

Anyway, back to those Outcomes and preferences, I want to stress that a "miss" on many Consequences connotes action on the player-character's part, rather than just an attack of some kind missing. In fact, in terms of that hyper-significant Outcome regarding going home with Ray, 1-3 ("success" from the Consequence's/Guide's point of view) would actually be narrated in terms of her inaction, or failure of action; whereas 4-6 would be her, or someone (Tony as it turned out) taking action.

What I'm saying is that with, say, four Outcomes on the table, the eight possible things that could happen are going to vary a lot in terms of how much personal proactivity is involved in, or would be involved in narrating, each one. And which require more do not necessarily line up with "success" for either Guide or player. I was dead certain on getting a 6 onto Bobbi not going home with Ray, not in the sense of parrying someone else's attack, but in the sense of exactly what she wanted and how she handled such things in her life. I've found I gravitate toward, i.e. commit to or find acceptable, Outcomes which correspond to character-revealing actions, regardless of whether they are Achievements or Consequences, at least most of the time.

I'm becoming a fan of insanely-multiple Outcomes in Moments, possibly because I'm used to the same thing during Flashpoint in Spione, and possibly because I'm enjoying the system side of it all, and that's really the only way to clean Coins off the sheets. That's also why I don't go for the "automatic new" Achievements and Consequences on 1's and 6's as much, because (i) we already have a high number of Outcomes at hand and (ii) I like the way 2's penalize Coins.

Best, Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: September 25, 2010, 05:25:14 PM »

I guess I'll start by answering Adam's question: yes, Bobbi fell in love with Alex against all her better judgment, in the midst of a Moment in which my stated Achievement was to drive all curiosity regarding Bobbi's father's house's basement from his mind in the most direct and distracting manner possible. Apparently this was sufficiently absorbing or satisfying to the rest of the group that we went a whole session and a half without moving Bobbi forward in the story's time, and considering we missed a week of play due to scheduling, Bobbi and Alex lay cuddled together for three weeks, real time. During the next session or two, we ran her scenes as flashbacks. Strangely and repulsively, although Bobbi turned out to be cool as a cucumber when backed into that room at the morgue by weird cops, it turns out that she had taken Katie's finger and class ring with her (as in, from Katie's body) when she left.

Anyway, we'd played the third session prior to my last post, and it might be thought of as the maximum period of high-character, depth-based play relative to minimum knowledge of back-story or vampire-definition. Jasper, Nathan's character, became revealed as quite the freaky motherfucker, including having been the one to kill Tony. We spent a lot of time developing the strangely calm and surreal cops, who apparently had some kind of unpleasant tie to Bobbi's dad via a mysterious detective we came to call "Officer Friendly." That's how she met the one nice, normal cop named Alex who was frustrated at seeing what appeared to be heinous crimes continually covered up.

Mechanically, I was mainly interested in spending the Coins rather than gaining them, and found my sheet much less covered with currency than the other players. I found that this made me quite engaged with the consequences of my turns, a little edgier and more devoted to content. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that Nathan and Tim were perhaps suffering from an excess of riches and had a little more trouble finding their feet about what their characters wanted. Or I could be wrong and it's the other way around, such that their current thinking about their characters (whatever it may have been) led to accumulating the Coins; or perhaps what Nathan suggested in the previous post was in effect, that he had received a Secret which made playing the character a bit tricky and less obviously directed.

Keith Senkowski was visiting during our fourth session and we didn't get too many scenes in because we talked too much. Play was rather bloody, actually. A whole self-help group was slaughtered mysteriously, Jasper killed a cop and drove Gabrielle insane and then dead, which was all covered up by "Officer Friendly" ... I'm tring to remember why and how Jasper ended the session getting more-or-less cursed, becoming withered and aging rapidly. Tim and Nathan, remind me exactly how that played out. Vince's parents turned out to be surrealistically sinister, Katie came to see Vince after she died, and Vince took her advice to find out what was in Bobbi's basement. That didn't go too well for him as he was dragged down into the dirt of the unfinished floor.

Our fifth and final session went through a couple scenes and then phased into the Confrontation. Throughout play, my big thing has been not to force anything, and this phase transition seemed especially important in that regard. The fictional circumstances at the start of the session included Jasper all aged and sick with the cops, Bobbi nestled in bed with Alex, and Vince battling Bobbi's undead mom in the basement. We specifically called for Confrontation for one general and one specific reason. The general reason was that three distinct kinds of "vampirism" had arisen through play, and their relationship to one another was getting nailed down. The specific reason was that one of the characters had been dragged into a grave by its occupant, who was sucking his blood.

i) Going with the last first, Bobbi's mother was a fairly classical undead blood-drinking fiend, whose malign influence on the town was best expressed by Vince's parents, and probably parents of many of the other members of that particular high school class. Most everyone had figured out that it was her skull in the dad's study, and for the fight to offer any insight, which was dramatically practically obligatory considering how Vince got to the basement, it seemed the Confrontation had arrived - and still, without quite defining the vampire yet. As it turned out via the fight, yes, they drink blood, and no, they don't burst into flames in the sunlight, but they sure as fuck don't sparkle either.*

ii) Bobbi's father had killed her (to be articulated fully a bit later in play) and buried her, and in general worked against the vampires, committing numerous atrocities and ruining a lot of people's lives to do it. His malignant influence was expressed by becoming one of his routes of control, usually through some terrible psychological manipulation. Here, vampirism wasn't blood-drinking so much as pure codependent psychology.

iii) The police force in town had been fully co-opted by Bobbi's father and had become an institutionalized manifestation of "normalcy" which had soul-draining implications of its own, particularly in the form of Officer Friendly, who apparently believed very deeply in his role as enabler of whatever horrible things went on in town while pretending to protect it. The vampirism was more psychic and social, a bit more magical than (ii), still all wrapped up with bodies and blood, but not quite as classical as (i). The weirdo who'd tried to mutilate Bobbi's cat was typical of what went on under their influence.

It took a bit more content in a few more scenes to nail all this down, but its roots can be found all the way back to the beginning (retroactively) and the basics became a shared foundation right at this moment.

After consolidating our Claims as part of initiating the Confrontation phase, we coincidentally ended up with four each.
Tim: Tears on her face, No surprise on her face, Sharon, Surrounded by bodies
Ron: Thumping mortars, Katie's ring on Katie's finger, Blissfully unaware, "I'll make it right"
Nathan: Licking up the blood, Big dreams, Blood down the train tracks, Just shut up stop talking

By the rules, that's it, no more Claims. They might be refueled and used more than once, but they can also be sacrificed and taken fully out of play.

Our scenes and outcomes were characterized as much by infolding existing content as by moving things forward, although there was plenty of the latter. In many ways this phase of Annalise is the real creative push, gathering what's gone before, figuring out what's causal, what's coincidence, what's real, what's not, and finally shaking out into personal confrontations. In our case, those nicely corresponded to the three kinds of vampire. I'll recount the events of the story a little bit out of order, as we did Scenes person by person, but the events are better conceived as everything per character up to revealing each one's Secret, then everything after that. In all cases, the critical face-to-face with the vampire preceded the Secret.

So, Vince begins by battling and overcoming Bobbi's mom, but too weak and drained of blood, plus having had his arm broken, to resist when Bobbi comes to get her, and must flee the property, although he steals her car. He goes for a drink and chats with the bartender who mistakes him for a veteran (fooled by Bobbi's keychain), then battles his horrid vampire parents to save Sharon, finally revealing to his father the Secret that he actually threw the big game in high school, the one which led to him becoming a favorite-son in town. Call this "portrait of a man discovering he has a moral center."

Bobbi re-buries her mom for good, including her skull, and gets Alex out of the house completely clueless about all the shenanigans downstairs. Her dad comes to see her, and she reveals her Secret that he'd killed her mother. Obviously the dad knew this, so this "reveal" meant in terms of what's been made public knowledge at the table. She makes it clear that with mom really gone (the skull basically clinched it) she, Bobbi, has no interest in sticking with this fucked-up estranged-couple dynamic as the torn-in-half daughter any longer. That's my paraphrase; Bobbi was blunter.

Jasper confronts and then submits to Bobbi's dad (this happens before the above), but is then left out to dry when he disappears (explained in a bit, wait for it). He stumbles around weak and sick for a while, then stalks and drains Vince, revealing his Secret that "I hate everyone here so bad I can hardly stand it." Basically Vince is revealed to have been a villain all along, and his Giving In to the vampire effectively turned his character into an adversary. As Nathan explained it, every player-character belongs by default to the Anti-Vampire Team until/unless one gives in, at which point that character is emphatically not on the team any more.

So, after all this, the stories began to wrap up. Vince was now the one withering and aging, but found his moral high ground by rejecting Officer Friendly's overture to help him, which was sort of a second Confronting the Vampire bit - which although Vince didn't really understand the details, we knew meant that he'd become another ghoul/tool like Jasper. He left town, eventually dying quietly and alone in a hotel room while watching football on TV. Bobbi had just finished her Confronting scene, and the scene continued as her dad used the weird cops to arrest her. I smiled because "necromantic sorceress" is very close to my middle name, and Bobbi sicced dead-Katie on her father - killing him in the middle of the night, entirely out of play, left up to each person's horrid imagination to fill in. The next day, she simply left the police station which was a little disorganized without its nerve center, and left town as well. The epilogue concerned her pulling over at a nice overlook alongside the highway to bury Katie's finger. Finally, and repulsively, Jasper became the town's new bogeyman with the implication of Officer Friendly's support and protection.

Play moves pretty quick in the Confrontation phase! Some interesting features show up due to the altered rules. Holds turned out to be a minor factor compared to Giving In, although more of the former makes the latter more likely. For us, though, the character who was least Held was the only one who Gave in.

Another thing is that, if you plan to spend all the Coins off a Claim during this phase, it makes more sense to sacrifice it and get double the points. The only reason not to is if you wanted to make it publicly available for re-purchase for some reason. And that leads to another interesting feature of this phase ... much more adverse Guiding, partly because all the systemic elements of play drive toward either Giving In, revealing one's Secret, or establishing more Holds via draining Vulnerability. And perhaps the currency shift leads to a certain amount of conflict-of-interest, because you have to spend Coins into a Moment rather than just upon resolving it. So merely by Guiding a scene, you're necessarily siphoning someone's sheet of the exact thing they need to use to deal with the problems in it. It tends to lead people to construct momentous Achievements for their characters because there ain't much juice left and you don't want to be caught in a more important Moment having spent crucial stuff on something minor.
Bobbi's Vulnerability had hit 0 in the fourth session, but I'd restored it before anything really horrid had happened due to that, and after that I protected it fiercely and made it through the Confrontation phase with a coin or two still on that line of the sheet. As Tim and I found, a great deal of the Confrontation phase centers on whether you have the good rolls to support defending against the "give in to the vampire" Outcome.

The three-way vampire concept was led to some tricky interactions between Holds, give-in Outcomes, and Confrontations, because the various sorts of vampire (small-v, meaning conceptual) had conflicts of interest among them. For example, when Bobbi "gave in to the vampire" briefly and buried her mother's skull, it struck directly against her father's interests.
a little bit like dual-Humanity in Sex & Sorcery

Whew, that's it! I am not exactly sure where to start with provocative discussion-inspiring questions, so feel free to ask any questions about how the game works textually and how we did it.

Best, Ron

* I haven't seen Twilight. Upon drafting this line of this post, I said, "Screw it," and ran a video seach on "Edward sparkling." I am very disappointed. It wasn't even flashy enough to be genuinely offensive to the vampire-aficionado. It was lame even if it wasn't a vampire sparkling. It was intrinsically, cinematically lame. Whatever was paid to to anyone to write, direct, act in, produce, be key grip for, or otherwise participate in this movie, it was too much. I only forgive Nathan (for extremely indirectly compelling me to do this) because searches on "Edward sparkling parody" and "Twilight parody" provided immense amusement.
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Tim C Koppang
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« Reply #9 on: November 11, 2010, 03:37:11 PM »

I hope you’ll forgive me for waiting so long to post this.  I saw the thread about to drop off the main page, and wanted to mention the rotating GM aspect of play.

First, what do I mean?  In Annalise, each scene focuses on one of the PCs.  We generally rotate around the table taking turns.  So in our game, it went Nathan, Ron, Tim, Nathan, Ron, Tim, etc.  When it’s your “turn,” you pick someone to be your Guide (GM) for the scene.  Who you pick, however, is not set in stone.  You do not have to take turns, even if this is what we usually ended up doing.  One scene, I’d pick Nathan as my Guide.  The next I’d usually pick Ron.  Sometimes we’d mix this up depending on who needed a break, or who had an immediate idea.

What did I like about this system?  Variety and flexibility.  Each turn, I’d have a different Guide with different ideas about what the vampire was and how my character should best be challenged.  The plot was never set fixed because no one person was ever allowed to see their vision continued from scene to scene.  It was truly dispersed amongst us all.

What did I find frustrating at times?  Pretty much the same thing.  Sometimes I wished that I could have continued to develop a plot point that I started for Nathan or Ron during a previous scene.  But I couldn’t because one of them had taken things in a different direction in the intervening scenes.

I also felt like there was a weird dynamic at play when it came time to choose a Guide for my own character.  I couldn’t always tell who wanted to be my Guide.  I also didn’t want to slight Ron or Nathan.  Sometimes it just came down to whoever first said, “I have an idea!”  This isn’t bad, it’s just a dynamic that I had to get used to.  And it did lead to some satisfying results.  For example, the “lurking vampire” motifs that we all so enjoyed in play would not have been possible without this dispersed GMing.
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Adam Dray
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« Reply #10 on: November 12, 2010, 07:02:27 AM »

Huh, I hadn't considered the rotating-GM aspect to be that important but I guess it's a big part of the "ouija board" phenomenon I see in play.

Or to use another analogy, it's a sort of shell game, and each GM keeps moving the pea (the "lurking vampire") to another shell.
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Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
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Tim C Koppang
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« Reply #11 on: November 12, 2010, 07:25:23 AM »

Or to use another analogy, it's a sort of shell game, and each GM keeps moving the pea (the "lurking vampire") to another shell.

Yeah, I think that's a good analogy.  The only difference is that we weren't purposefully trying to hide the vampire.  It happened naturally because no one had a grasp on the whole story at once (and couldn't have).
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Adam Dray
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« Reply #12 on: November 12, 2010, 07:58:46 AM »

Yeah, which is why I like the ouija board analogy. It's just troublesome because it has another (though similar) specific meaning in Big Model theory, so it can confuse people.
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Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
Verge -- cyberpunk role-playing on the brink
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