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Author Topic: [Ophian] A first actual session  (Read 5821 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: August 09, 2011, 12:41:12 PM »

For the background, see Three games about religion, the Adept Press page for a direct link for downloading the current document, and anxieties about death at the core of ophite.

I'm calling it "Ophian" now because I think it sounds cooler, but it's still just a working title. I'm a little bit intrigued by the tendency in the source literature (semi-autobiographical comics) to name them poorly - Hate, Box Office Poison, and Beg the Question are all terrible titles despite being outstanding comics, and Dykes to Watch Out For meant something very different when the strip began than it came to mean later. So I'm waiting for the moment when a totally "wrong" title seems right.

Ed, James, me, and one other person; Bill was there but didn't play. I do not understand why, at this moment, I am totally blanking on who played the Ophian character. I apologize to you! Remind me!

In addition to the textual requirements of being slender, 20, light-skinned Levantine, working-class family, needs a haircut, bright; we found that our Ophian was male, a part-time security guard, in school full time, living in his own apartment, with a romantic partner, and a virgin. His name was Christopher, and his ambition was to go to pharmacy school to design successful drugs. The social context for the group of characters is a coffee shop they all frequent.

Jude: Unitarian Universalism, mainly for political protest and hot older women; better not to ask and Christopher's lab partner in chemistry class (played by me)
Mark: Roman Catholic, paint by numbers and rote practice; everyone's pal and Christopher's fellow lackey at work (played by James)
Basil: Lutheran, ignore community and ritual worship, but intensely devoted to it as a philosophy and worldview; hyper-intellectual and the mullet*

Making these characters also yielded a bank of slips with further character descriptors, contents unknown, to use for characters in play if we wanted.

The feel of play and the events worked wonderfully, as good as I'd hoped and at times better. There were a few minor stalls as people got used to it, realizing that the lack of conflict and driving-forward was actually a feature, and that it was perfectly all right merely to add a bit of color here and there with "nothing happening." I did my best not to respond to a certain tendency to look toward me for "what happens next" once in a while.

So, understandably, not much happened. Christopher's girlfriend Sylvie drove him and his friend Mark to work, they managed time for a coffee with Basil on the way, and goofed a bit at work while Basil ate a Slim Jim by himself. Dialogue concerned things like buying a sister's birthday gift, whether it's a mullet if it's not Jheri-curled, skating past whether Sylvie and Christopher are having sex (assumed as a given by the friends, mm'hmm'd by Christopher), and a bit of discourse on whether one can or cannot see Rebecca Romijin's actual genitals at a certain moment in X2.**

Yet there was a lot of humanity to see! Mark's everyone's pal, but a certain passive-aggressive anger seems to burn in him. He and Sylvie do not like one another, or there's something between them anyway. Sylvie may or may not be concerned about all-the-way sex with Christopher, but we are all interested in seeing what she says when they're alone. And best of all, Basil began as a bit of a target for his friends at first, with his goony haircut and not obviously at school, and maybe a bit of a prick as he "shrinkaged" from the Slim Jims at the 7-11 ... but then he became profoundly sympathetic in the last moments of play, with a flashback to his frightening encounter with robbers there not long ago, which he has clearly not disclosed to his friends.

I didn't bring in my character Jude, who seemed to me better suited to a one-on-one with Christopher to start, being the academic friend. Plenty of time for that later. I should emphasize in the rules and in introducing the game that lots and lots of characters can be brought in all the time, and that the initial non-Ophian ones aren't sacred. Next time Sylvie showed up I was going to grab a couple descriptors for her.

We went through about six or seven cards, I think, past the six-card no-Angel buffer, but not enough to see any of them, nor any Mornings either. The short-form goals for play meant we found the "wrap" after Basil's flashback and therefore stopped playing.

So, was it over too quick? Yes and no. On the one hand, we didn't get to any Angels. On the other, the wrap was awesome. I'm thinking that the best thing to develop next is how to formalize playing again, especially outside the con context and the booth context of me having to jump up all the time to talk to people arriving there.

Best, Ron

* The mullet is a haircut. Run a Google image search if you are wondering what it is.
** .... What?
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Callan S.
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« Reply #1 on: August 09, 2011, 06:26:18 PM »

Hi Ron,

Is your design intended to arc over a few session? Is there a rough idea of how many (your angel card progression seems to indicate...progression towards something)? I'm not saying a set in stone number, just is there a 'round about this many, sometimes more, sometimes less' number.

Without seeing a full arc, I'm guessing I'm not seeing a full actual play (which could be said for D&D sessions as well - it's no big deal to say so).
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: August 10, 2011, 08:53:23 AM »

Hi Callan,

The vision for play is outlined in the first page of the draft, so if you want, review that to accompany this reply.

It's supposed to be, or at least allow for, short-form play. At any time, if someone perceives an emergent punchline, an impending dramatic shift in circumstances, or anything else along those lines, he or she simply says "wrap!" and if anyone else confirms it, then play must end. How long it takes to get there, and how much happens before then, is entirely up to play itself. I want sessions to be unpredictably variable in length. Going on for too long without a wrap strikes me as unsuccessful play, but I can't dictate that "too long" point in terms of actual play-time or play-content.

On the one hand, our session was not quite ideal because of the context: at my booth, during a convention, subject to the arrivals of people I had to jump up and interact with. On the other, we did in fact achieve a totally satisfying "wrap" both in terms of my intended standards for it and in social/procedural terms among us. So we did, in fact, play a full session of the game exactly as I'd conceived and hoped was possible.

What strikes me as the next design step is to say what to do with the cards at the end of a wrap, and if a wrap does not designate the full closure of play (i.e., people want to play some more with these characters). My thinking is to leave all the cards exactly as they are, and get back to play at any time. If we weren't at the con, and if this were a game held at one of our homes, that might be feasible.

I'm even thinking of designing a tray for laying out cards, which would be somehow physically designed such that the cards wouldn't be easily shifted by moving the tray. So you could physically pick it up and put it somewhere with a good chance of taking it down for later play, with the cards reliably remaining where they'd been.

Best, Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: August 10, 2011, 09:08:51 AM »

H'mmm, it suddenly occurs to me that I'm not addressing a key point of your question: the Angels.

OK, first, the Angels are scattered randomly through the deck following the top six cards. They do illustrate a hierarchy, with Michael demonstrating "God's" essential arbitrariness regarding death at the top, and the ones toward the bottom being associated with various forms of more "in-fiction" or "personal responsibility" death. But that's not the order in which they will appear, probably.

Second, the fact that we didn't hit an Angel means that certain levels of tension and situation were not brought into play. And that's OK. In the source fiction I'm using, a lot of strips and stories are nothing more than "the day we went to beach," full of portraiture and illuminating moments about the characters and relationships, full of observations about the larger culture, full of satirical knee-strikes at their subculture, but with no heavy issues intruding.

I'm thinking about the story in Beg the Question when Rob and Sylvia join her brother and his wife, plus their horny thirteen-year-old son, at a beach house for a weekend. A lot of it is about ordinary stuff, letting us know how people interact, seeing their thought processes, vicariously getting into their normal lives. Some of it is about how a couple who haven't been together long and can't keep their hands off one another manage to get their urges relieved in such circumstances, and some of it is about the nephew's opportunistic use of the circumstances to add to his treasured store of masturbatory imagery. But it's mainly funny, human, and ordinary life-documentary.

So combining these points with what I posted above about formally preserving the deck-as-played for re-visiting, seems like a neat context for a game to me.

Best, Ron
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Gregor Hutton
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« Reply #4 on: August 11, 2011, 12:58:31 PM »

Oh, the other person was me! I had to shoot off afterwards to catch lunch with a pal, so I wasn't around for the debrief!

You know, I really struggled trying to think who "he" was, and what his goal in life was at the start of the game. I'm sure that was frustrating when everyone had to wait for me, and I got there at the third attempt.

I thought about that a lot during the con afterwards.

I realized why I didn't need to think so much, since in play everything was "...mainly funny, human, and ordinary life-documentary." And the ophite character, as it turned out, wasn't even the punchline for our session. Just play along and see where it goes, find the moment, and call wrap.

But I also wondered why the two weak goals I came up with were weak. Given the short-form sessions and (hopefully) long-form repeat play that stuff will come out in play, right? I mean, do I need to know the goal absolutely at the start? And I wondered if we could thrash out the other goals and why they're not optimal. The nixed ones should be on the sheet and scored through (but readable).

I think one was "moving to the city" or something. That came from something my friend Martin and me perceived in our gaming group from years ago. Most of them are still in the town, not having fallen far from the tree. Only a few of us have moved on. Anyway, I wondered if the reasoning behind the "no, because..." could be in the rules (like the Bad Goes stuff in SLwM).

I struggled with the background to serpent worship and the ins and outs of the various religions. I guess I really am ignorant of this stuff (and might explain why the most religious people I bump into are LDS missionaries sent here from Utah, or the occasional Jehova's Witness). I've subsequently been on the Gnostic and religion wikipedia pages reading away.

In play all that didn't matter, we played away and reached a good space, and a moment none of us could have predicted before play. Then called wrap.
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ejh
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« Reply #5 on: August 11, 2011, 01:45:48 PM »

Mullet-boy here. 

I hadn't read through more than a couple pages of the rules beforehand, so I was coming at this with just what Ron described at the table, which is the overview of what the source material is like, what play requires and doesn't require, some Ophian background (BTW, Ron, to me, "Ophite" sounds WAY more badass than "Ophian"), and a little about angels.

The game pulls a little personal religious background into your starting character, and the descriptors I pulled didn't do that much to knock me out of that mindset, so I ended up playing an "alternative self" character; "a younger me with a few differences in character and circumstance."

I don't know if in general alternate-autobiography roleplay is a good or bad thing but it did do a good job putting me back a couple decades into a college-age, what the fuck am I doing with my life mindset.

I'm not sure in retrospect if play was really short, or if it just seemed short because play is so low-key you look back on it and don't think a whole lot happened.  In fact, a lot happened without very much happening.  We got to see the Sylvie-Christopher-Mark dynamic, and know that there was something going on there and that was going to have to go one way or another.  The way we'd set up the fiction, my character Basil ended up unable to logically be in the same place as the other characters, so we spun off to him going home from work.   The "petty theft" card was what inspired me to have Basil supplementing his income with the theft of a bunch of Slim Jims, and talking about Inventory Shrinkage led me to spin a story about getting robbed at work, and the disappointing and bleak way that situation played out suddenly made the Slim Jim theft take on another character, and that was "zing" enough for the wrap to work great when Ron called it.

I don't know if I would have had the "meta" sense of story to have made that call on my own, though it works great in retrospect.  I wasn't seeing everything in Basil's own story that Ron was seeing in it as it happened; I was looking out of the story from the inside to a great enough degree that I don't think I had a good sense of what was being "said" by it even as I was "saying" it.  I guess it's valuable to have the attention of the other players to bring that kind of attention and make that kind of call.

Disconnected, "not much happened," a certain amount of aimlessness, but definitely a feeling that this stuff was real, these were people's real ordinary lives, partly *because* there was so little inherent drama to the situation.  The small dramas of life loomed large.

I'm not super familiar with the source material but from what I do know this seemed like a successful attempt to plug into that vibe.  The cards made things go ways that might not have been expected otherwise, and the "wrap" came from an interesting combination of inspiration from the cards, memory, and embellishment, and -- as I mentioned -- needed a perspective outside my own to realize they were going somewhere that had some significance to it and could constitute a "wrap."

Are there any other questions I could answer about my experience playing hte game?
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Callan S.
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« Reply #6 on: August 11, 2011, 05:20:39 PM »

Hi Ron,

I'm just puzzled - perhaps the idea of 'a game about religion' is the really bad title? It doesn't seem to be there? Some web comics I've read that are fairly down to earth, but generally have some splodge of weird in it, like a talking animal or a talking cactus (??). Generally the weird seems to be about helping shift perspective where it normally wouldn't flow, rather than it being important that a dog talks or such. And so often it gets ditched when perspective is flowing down a track of interest (like, hey, your web comic has a talking cactus in the banner - but I've gone through about thirty comics and not seen him once? (thirty comics indicating worth paging through that many times or more)).

Your account has me puzzled about the role of the semantic field of 'religion' in the game?

Here's a web comic I blundered across that might interest given what hate/beg the question/etc sound like, just as a side thing (possibly including a subjectively a bad title as well?): http://cheapthrills.xepher.net/archives.html
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: August 11, 2011, 06:15:49 PM »

Hi Gregor (whew!),

Your initial proposed ambitions were first, "to move to the big city," and second, "to have a family." The problem with these is that they are not professional ambitions. The ambition is supposed to be a career goal directly linked to why the character is going to school. I need to make that clearer in my text; maybe "career goal" is a better term. You eventually hit upon, "make designer drugs," at which point I sort of groaned inwardly and gave up, rephrasing it at the table as "go to pharmacy school."

There may be a class issue at work in reading "ambition" as a generalized, relatively distant goal in life, but that may be too heady a topic for the internet. I was thinking strictly in working-class and lower middle-class terms about ambition as conceived by the only child in the extended family who's going to college, which would definitely mean a specific next-step career statement.

Another layer at work in this part of the character concept is that in my experience, not only career goals but stated majors tend to hit a serious blender in college, which most students don't know is coming, and their families even less. As in, the character is at the family holiday dinner, and all the uncles and so on are constantly calling him "the college boy," and talking as if he's about to graduate pharmacy school instead of struggling through first-year college chemistry.

Still another is that this part of the character description doesn't correspond at all to "goal" as usually stated in the RPGs you and I play most of the time. In those games, a character's goal is stated in order to focus his or her energies and to become problematic. Whereas here, it's merely a handle on the ophian character's current concepts of life and his or her place in it, as well as a subcultural indicator at least as far as his or her peers are concerned.

Hi Ed,

I have no doubt that you would or will be the one to say "wrap" sooner or later in play. I'm actually glad that we hit one concerning your character without you contriving it; that's actually one of the big payoffs of playing this game, as I conceive it.

It would be especially cool for you to sketch our characters!

Hi Callan,

I can't help you with the puzzlement. The religious content factored beautifully into play, especially for James' character Mark, and I was excited to play my character Jude sooner or later on that basis. The fact that it's not overt but potentially present in small ways is exactly what it's for. That's what observance and practice are all about, as I see it.

If you have certain expectations based on the word "about," as in, "about religion," then those expectations may not be the same as my goals in writing the game.

Thanks for the link! I like what I've read so far. It reminds me a little bit of Matt Wagner's Hepcats, a college strip turned into a comic and the beginnings of a graphic novel, which took off with a bang in the 90s but unfortunately went unfinished.

Best, Ron
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Callan S.
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« Reply #8 on: August 11, 2011, 07:51:01 PM »

Quote
If you have certain expectations based on the word "about," as in, "about religion," then those expectations may not be the same as my goals in writing the game.
Fair call!

Quote
Thanks for the link!
When I first came across it, the author was depicting a crack smoker talking to a guy. The way he was depicted, neither clean cut yet neither beneath human pariah, stuck with me. He was talking with another character and it was so natural, even as the crack sort of needled in on that normality.
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Emily Care
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« Reply #9 on: August 14, 2011, 10:48:33 AM »

I'm curious to see how development goes here. Meg, Vincent, Eppy & I did a session, but haven't gotten back to it. Things that came up were that if you play the Ophian (I also dig Ophite a bit better), it's really necessary for you to have some prep. We chose randomly and Meg wasn't sure how she should bring it in. I think Vincent and I had more opportunity to read through the rules, so if we'd been thinking, we'd have chosen one of us for that character.

You don't have to bring in the created characters? Surprising!

The section of the rules where you describe "playing out a scene", in terms of following the normal action and interactions of the characters, not trying to find a conflict, and building upon what each of you said simultaneously made me laugh and made me sad. It's funny because, how odd to have to put this into words. It's sad because, no, really, we have to describe how to do this and put this into words. What a very strange state of affairs.

I had forgotten the angels had specific associations. Knowing that makes me think it would be easier than I'd been anticipating to bring death into play when they come up. If I'm remembering how that works, correctly. Of course, it's not hard to think of some way that you death crops up in someone's life, but having some detail or varying element about it seems like it would make it easier to find different ways for it to crop up.
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Koti ei ole koti ilman saunaa.

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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: August 14, 2011, 04:35:36 PM »

Hi Em!

My vain hope is that people who play the game would all have read it before they gathered. At GenCon, I knew at least a couple of the other people there had read it, and my verbal skim of the ophite material was tuned to what I thought was most important. But even that was suboptimal compared to what I'd like to see happen with it. Since none of these three notions have been built with the ordinary expectations of how people get together to play, I haven't tried at all to make them compatible with those expectations.

I agree with you about the manner of speaking involved. I even found I had to put in a fairly lengthy explanation near the beginning, to remind people that at one time, many of us did indeed experience this kind of unconstructed yet often constructive conversation, among a certain group of people. And the fact that the group never does correspond fully to a given external activity, really captured my attention in retrospect. I think that in my life at least, these groups coalesced in part due to overlapping shared activities, but that doesn't explain why any number of people in those activities simply didn't become part of the group, and why any number of other acquaintances, outside of the activity, did.

About the created characters, they are best understood as the few characters that the author of such a comic does make up more-or-less before starting the strip, but it's clear to me that for all the comics I'm talking about, the significant cast undergoes major changes in personnel as the author finds his or her feet. "Mo and Lo" were not special characters in the first, non-story-arc year of Dykes to Watch Out For; Zonker was a throwaway joke character when he appeared in Doonesbury. In rereading the first Bloom County collection last year, I was surprised at how many named characters were introduced, run through a few strips, and then vanished, before the solid working cast was settled upon.

So, yes, a player in the game can bring in one's starting character at the outset, or later, and one can make up any character one wants, often drawing a descriptor from the leftover pile for help, at any time.

I hope the four of you try the game again, after a strong re-read. It really isn't made to be a process that begins with one person waving the pages around, trying to explain it to everyone else.

Best, Ron
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Emily Care
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« Reply #11 on: August 15, 2011, 05:06:12 AM »

Vincent insisted that we all read it first, and we did. I think that V & I had the longest to look at it, and the strongest take on what it was to play the Ophian. So, next time I'd volunteer to have him or me do so.
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Koti ei ole koti ilman saunaa.

Black & Green Games
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« Reply #12 on: August 15, 2011, 03:28:55 PM »

I'm calling it "Ophian" now because I think it sounds cooler, but it's still just a working title. I'm a little bit intrigued by the tendency in the source literature (semi-autobiographical comics) to name them poorly - Hate, Box Office Poison, and Beg the Question are all terrible titles despite being outstanding comics, and Dykes to Watch Out For meant something very different when the strip began than it came to mean later. So I'm waiting for the moment when a totally "wrong" title seems right.

It's likely I'm putting into different words what you already said.  But I suspect that this game, in particular, is going to need to be named based on something that crystallizes out of gameplay. It needs its rite of passage.

Our culture has largely lost the idea of a meaningful shared transition between adolescence and adulthood -- and frankly, I think a lot of the naturalist twentysomething* comics you're emulating are flailing about in an effort to manufacture a rite of passage out of the trappings of routine adult life.  (They're about finding meaning in banality, more generally -- but what is a rite of passage, except for an effort to acknowledge and address questions of meaning for the first time?) 

My own rite of passage was a long-distance hike.  Which is neither here nor there, except that the modern distance hiking community has a tradition of "trail names" worth sharing in this context.  A trail name is optional, but honored throughout the community, and (like it or not) something of a badge of commitment.  The biggest taboo is pre-selecting one: it has to reflect your on-trail experience in some way.  (Thus, I became "Redtail" after an incident with red duct tape and insufficiently sturdy pants.  And one of the Pacific Crest Trail's pseudocelebrities, Gottago, picked hers up after an awkward encounter during an urgent bathroom break.  Examples of moments like you mentioned, when "wrong" becomes right.)

- Bax

--
* It's telling that your Ophite character is textually fixed at just past the age of majority.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #13 on: August 31, 2011, 10:04:47 PM »

I had an evil idea in terms of holding the cards between games, namely go buy a bible from a second hand bookstore and hollow out the pages to store the cards. If it feels sacrilegious to treat that particular book in this way, that'd be the point. Just pitching the idea, in case its of use.
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