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Author Topic: A Bizarre Shadow game.  (Read 1481 times)
Rush Wright
Member

Posts: 12


« on: October 29, 2010, 03:25:49 PM »

I recently played a half-hour Shadow game with one of my friends. Since we were only two players playing the game I was both GM and player. The game was very, very cliche, but still interesting for a game of its length.

Dramatis Personae:
Millie, a nervous, approximately 9 year old girl.
Millie's shadow, a slightly over-sized raven.
Peter, an overconfident boy of about the same age, Millie's brother.
Peter's shadow, a rhinoceros.

Setting: Somewhere in England, in a large mansion.

Millie and Peter start out in their beds, at night. Millie just had a nightmare about a raven, and Peter just had a nightmare about a rhinoceros. There's a noise outside. Millie calls out quietly for her parents. Footsteps. Something falls on the floor. Peter gets up, followed by Millie, and slowly opens the door. Their parents are on the floor with a pool of blood around them. A noise comes from the parents' bedroom. Objects start moving around, propelled by an invisible force.

Millie screams and runs towards the bedroom. A gust of wind opens the window in their bedroom, and slams it shut again. A floating featureless head appears in the window. Millie screams again and runs back to the main room. Peter, who hasn't entirely lost his composure yet, runs downstairs, dragging Millie by her hand behind him. Peter dials a number in the phone, and is received by a strange unearthly voice. More featureless heads float in. Millie picks up a chair and whacks one of the heads, to no effect. Peter dials another number, and thankfully hears a human voice on the other end. Peter explains what just happened to the voice. A few minutes later, a van pulls up in the driveway and four men run out, carrying some sort of high-tech apparatus. They introduce themselves: The Ghostbusters! As they begin to trap the ghosts, police vans arrive and question the children.

[end of adventure]

Setting: A resort on Hawaii.

Peter and Millie are, as before, both in their beds when they get exactly the same dream. Suddenly, a hurricane knocks down the resort. The children run, nowhere in particular. The place seems unnaturally devoid of people. Suddenly, they are faced with an over-sized raven and a rhinoceros. The raven and the rhinoceros seem curiously unaffected by the hurricane. An enormous wave begins charging towards Peter and Millie and their shadows. Desperately, Peter punches the rhinoceros. To his surprise, the rhino seems to go unconscious. The raven charges towards Millie, attempting to pierce her through with its beak. Millie makes a martial arts-like block. The raven also goes unconscious. Suddenly the hurricane subsides, and the enormous wave disappears, a few paces away from the children. We didn't cover what happened after this in this particular adventure.

[end of adventure]

Setting: New York

Peter and Millie are both in their beds when they still get exactly the same nightmare. They agree to find the source of the dreams and the paranormal activity. They quietly slip out of beds into the street. They see a circle in front of them, emitting darkness. The children walk into them and find themselves teleported into the 4th dimension, then the 5th dimension, then the 6th dimension, and so on, until they reach the 666th dimension. They see a 666 dimensional raven and a 666 dimensional rhinoceros before them. The raven and rhinoceros metamorph before their eyes into children looking identical to themselves. The multi-dimensional beings explain that they were the floating heads and the animals from the previous two adventures. They say that their multi-dimensionality gives powers enabling them to control much of happens in 3d. They also explain that their dimensionality allows them change how they look in 3d. Finally, they explain that once an object is turned into 0 dimensions, it ceases to exist. They begin turning Millie and Peter from 3 dimensions to 2 dimensions to 1 dimension. As the shadows attempt to decrease the children's dimensionality one further dimension, they find a force stronger than they preventing them from doing so. An 1000 dimensional man appears. He calls the shadows "naughty" and turns them into 0 dimensions, increasing the children's dimensionality to 3 as he does so. He says he is every child's protector, foiling all the children's shadows' attempts to turn the children into 0 dimensions. With a smile, he sends them back to the normal 3d world.

[end of campaign]
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Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons,
for you are crispy and good with catsup.
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: November 01, 2010, 05:16:59 PM »

Hi,

That's a full account of the fictional events of play, but it doesn't include anything about the people playing. Am I correct in thinking that both of you are adults? I haven't played any of the various for-kids games only with adults, so I'm curious about what you thought about rules pitched for a younger mind-set.

More generally I'm interested in what it was like to play, and of what you did in play with the system. For example, it seems to me that every Shadows game by definition is full of bizarre content, so what made this one especially so, or bizarre in a way which isn't an obvious and necessary function of the game's system and fictional content?

Best, Ron
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Rush Wright
Member

Posts: 12


« Reply #2 on: November 14, 2010, 04:34:07 PM »

Sorry for the tardy reply.

The reason we approached this system in the first place is that both of us are huge fans of rules-light systems. I would have dismissed the game as a game inappropriate for older audiences, but for two actual play accounts here in the Forge:

http://www.indie-rpgs.com/archive/index.php?topic=3939

and

http://www.indie-rpgs.com/archive/index.php?topic=7407

These play accounts convinced me that the game was an excellent training ground in Narrativism. I explained the rules to my friend in about 3 minutes and we began the game.

The reason I called the game bizarre was that we weren't looking for a very supernatural game in the first place.

Altogether we both enjoyed the game, and I personally found the game was an interesting example of Narrativist RPG-design. You would probably know much more than me regarding GNS theory, so I might be wrong.
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for you are crispy and good with catsup.
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: November 14, 2010, 06:25:13 PM »

Hi there,

Thanks! I also think it's interesting that you gravitated toward supernatural content, but I obviously have no idea why. I've been pondering the worth of such content in fiction for a long time, and my own designs bounce all over the place in terms of its presence.

Shadows is definitely a good example of a narration-based system, meaning that the rules primarily govern who talks and in what way, without providing specific instructions for "about what." The coin mechanic is mainly about framing constaint, direction, and content for a given narration. It's also pretty awesome about keeping adversity front and center throughout play, which is something strong-narration systems tend to drop.

I'm not sure if you want a big discussion of Narrativism here, but Shadows does provide a good opportunity, so I'll take it. The thing is, narration-heavy mechanics don't themselves generate or encourage Narrativist priorities. You can use narration-heavy mechanics for any Creative Agenda. Arguably, most of the more free-form (i.e. narration-centric) designs out there are aiming in a more Simulationist direction, but that's another discussion.

So Shadows' resolution system taken in pure isolation doesn't facilitate Narrativist play, I mean, not in the sense that "I get to say what happens, so that must be Narrativism."  The question is what the system connects with in terms of characters, situations, and choices.

1. You're playing yourself.
2. You're also playing (stating preferences for) an invisible being who always tries to get you in trouble
3. The GM basically plays "Yes, but" at the players, such that whatever happens, they end up in interesting situations; however, most of the adversity arises from the Shadow succeeding

In that context, yeah, a Narrativist agenda is quite likely to emerge. The character is split between being "good" and "misbehaving," and the player is actually split into narrating those interests or preferences in situations described by the GM. So in a way, the Shadow winning is kind of a revealing guilty pleasure, or can be. The game raises the question of whether it's really good to be a goody two-shoes, and maybe investigates the question, is life a bit more livable - and certainly more recognizable - when the Shadow gets to play once in a while? Then the real question arises, well, how much?

We could probably talk more about how Shadows is set up for an adult to play the GM for children players, and how your setup was a very significant, game-altering change. That is not bad; I'm describing, not judging. Your characters were not even child versions of yourselves, right? They were more like standard player-characters who happened to be kids? We could also talk about the violence and gore in your game, which again, I'm not saying is wrong, I'm saying it's different. In ordinary Shadows play, the GM is usually playing more naturalistically.

What interests me especially is how the Shadows were so malevolent - they didn't want the kids to get in trouble, they shattered their lives and ultimately attacked them. I would really like to know which events were narrations with successful Shadow rolls vs. not ... do I understand correctly that basically, whenever the Shadow(s) won, the kids' lives were indirecty or directly harmed?

Anyway, what I'm saying is that a lot about the way you chose to set up and play the game reduced its Narrativist-facilitating content. That's not bad, because what you did do seems like it worked well. What I'm seeing is more like a celebration of certain kids' lit with uncompromisingly savage-but-whimsical content, such as Roald Dahl, and certain horror flicks with young protagonists, such as Phenomena. (Let me know if I'm seeing correctly.)

And was the 1000-dimension savior based on a successful roll, or was that a GMing thing?

Best, Ron

P.S. I figured anyone reading this might want a link: Shadows, at Zak Arntsons Harlekin-Maus website. And if you don't know who Zak is, do yourself a favor and browse the games.
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Rush Wright
Member

Posts: 12


« Reply #4 on: November 15, 2010, 02:55:23 PM »

So Shadows' resolution system taken in pure isolation doesn't facilitate Narrativist play, I mean, not in the sense that "I get to say what happens, so that must be Narrativism."  The question is what the system connects with in terms of characters, situations, and choices.

Oh, I see. I guess, taken in that light, the game wasn't incredibly Narrativist.

In that context, yeah, a Narrativist agenda is quite likely to emerge. The character is split between being "good" and "misbehaving," and the player is actually split into narrating those interests or preferences in situations described by the GM. So in a way, the Shadow winning is kind of a revealing guilty pleasure, or can be. The game raises the question of whether it's really good to be a goody two-shoes, and maybe investigates the question, is life a bit more livable - and certainly more recognizable - when the Shadow gets to play once in a while? Then the real question arises, well, how much?

Whoa, I hadn't thought of that. How I had envisioned the Shadows was that they were simply trying to kill, hurt, or otherwise harm the players physically. Now that you say it, it seems obvious that the Shadows would represent the mischievous side of the children.

What interests me especially is how the Shadows were so malevolent - they didn't want the kids to get in trouble, they shattered their lives and ultimately attacked them. I would really like to know which events were narrations with successful Shadow rolls vs. not ... do I understand correctly that basically, whenever the Shadow(s) won, the kids' lives were indirecty or directly harmed?

We interpreted Good vs. Shadow rolls as simply Danger-reducing vs. Danger-increasing. At the end of the campaign, the children were in general unharmed. Considering how we interpreted the Shadows, I think this was probably the best way to use Shadow rolls.

And was the 1000-dimension savior based on a successful roll, or was that a GMing thing?

It was a GMing thing. Here we got paranoid and decided not to endanger our characters' lives with a roll of the die, which was probably the wrong decision. A roll of the die would have probably made the climax of the campaign much more dramatic. Besides, in retrospect, the characters dying would actually have been more interesting than otherwise. We might have run a fourth adventure regarding what happens after death, for instance.

Thanks!
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Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons,
for you are crispy and good with catsup.
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