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Independent Game Forums => Adept Press => Topic started by: Peter Nordstrand on April 14, 2009, 02:43:26 AM

Title: Instructing many people
Post by: Peter Nordstrand on April 14, 2009, 02:43:26 AM
Hi Ron,

I believe that on at least one occasion, you have taught Spione to many people at once. They were then divided into smaller groups to play the game. The procedures for playing Spione may be straightforward but is still a lot to take in in a quick briefing. I am curious on how you went about it. How did it go? Did people actually get to  play Spione, or did they do more of a "testing the concepts" thing? How would you handle it if you were to do it again?

I am asking since I am planning a "tell a story together" session very soon, as a part of my job, for a group of nine non-gamers. We will not be playing Spione, but rather something that I hope will highlight important issues of their own professional lives. Still, I am quite inspired by Spione and will try to implement comparable procedures of play. Naturally, I am scared witless. I am aiming for actual Story Now content (in a collaborative storytelling sense more than a roleplaying sense).

Do you have any advice, based on your experiences?

Thank you for indulging me.

Title: Re: Instructing many people
Post by: Peter Nordstrand on April 15, 2009, 12:09:15 AM
Anybody with experience of handling collaborative storytelling in larger groups are free to chime in, of course. Cheers.

Title: Re: Instructing many people
Post by: Moreno R. on April 15, 2009, 04:02:08 AM
Hi Peter.

I don't think I have enough experience to be able to give you much general advice, but this is how we did show Spione last month to 8 persons who for the most part didn't play rpgs before.

It was a meeting organized by a public library: every week they would organize (with the help of people who would come over to actually run the games) an evening with games with a narrative structure. They already did murder parties, for example, and some parlor narration games, I think (I lost the brochure and I am trying to recall from memory), but no rpgs.  The italian publisher of Spione, Narrattiva, organized one of the evenings. They had 16 persons signed up to play My Life With Master or Spione, so they needed one more GM and they asked me if I could come along.

For Spione, we had 8 players, ranging in age from (I think) a couple of 16-18 years old to a couple over 50. One or two of them already played D&D (they told us. We never talked about "rpgs" in the entire evening, we always use "games" when presenting these games. Using "rpgs" mean risking to put people in a wrong track from the beginning about what they expect to play), some of the others were familiar with murder parties or other games where you role-play a character, but some had no previous experience with this (the 50 years old couple were at their first game evening at the library, they did read about it in the newspaper and they did thought that it was something more like boardgames. They were the ones that had more difficulty with the games and in general with narrating anything). We divided them in two tables, with one "teacher" each.

What we did was to explain the game to all these 8 people, together. In this way, we were more sure about not forgetting anything, and everybody could hear the answers to other people's questions. We concentrated on the concept of the game, on the "cold" and on the meaning of transgressions, leaving the details and the flashpoint rules fpor later. People have a very short attention span, even more so in bigger groups, so we tried to be very quick in this phase, a few minutes. We even did make them write the transgressions at this time, all together, both to have them do something during the explanation, and because we have found out during previous demonstrations that it's the concept (with the cold) that trips most people, so we wanted to explain it to everybody at the beginning (and, even so, one principal player got it wrong. But it always happen, the first games, so I am rather resigned to it now: almost nobody gets the transgressions right the first time around). But we waited before putting them in the bowl until we had divided the players between the two tables, because we wanted to have the transgressions drawn in one table to be written by someone at the same table.

So, to all the people together, we explained: the scope of the game, the setting, the concept, the transgressions, what happen to the connection if the principal disclose and what if they don't, how do you make a dossier (this is very easy in Spione: you just do one by clipping together two sheets in front of them), the endgame condition, but not the other rules.

After dividing the people in two tables, you have a few minutes still (but not many) to describe the maneuvers rules. Don't waste them on the flashpoint rules (that will be forgotten by the time you will be in flashpoint), only explain that when there is a conflict you go in flashpoint and leave it at that.  Don't try to explain everything, you can explain most of the rules during the game, don't have them wait too long before playing. You can explain the flashpoint rules when you play flashpoints, and the Fate Deck rules when you use it.  Always explain these topical game rules only when you have to use them.

Limit time-consuming choices: I already had selected the people and spy sheets for fast play (people with very few connections, only KGB and CIA spy sheets - this has the added advantage that you can simply not use and describe the german spy organizations, and everybody already who - or think they know - what CIA and KGB are).

I like to have an ending for the game demonstrations. Other people have other opinions on this. If the objective of a demo is selling the book, I understand how "leaving them hanging" can be more useful, but I usually go for game demonstration with a more "I want to play for FUN" approach. It's not very fun to start a lot of games without ever finish them (it's one of the reasons I seldom do demonstration of PTA, even if it's a game I like very much), and I want to get - and give to the players - an ending for the story. So, when I play Spione with a single session and a time limit, I tend to go for the jugular: when I can kill a connection, I kill it, and I try to keep a very rapid pace. This don't do justice to the kind of more nuanced play the game can give, but I have seen that that kind of game is very difficult to get between strangers the first time you play together, anyway.  In this manner I got to end a "good enough" (well, I enjoyed it, and from their reaction I think the players did, too) game of Spione in less than 3 hours.  But to do this, I repeat, you have to be really ruthless about killing the supporting cast any chance you get, and you have to make the principal players understand that the only way they can save the others is to disclose.

One difference I noticed between the people who already played D&D or some other rpgs and the other players is that they usually made much shorter "moves", only a line of dialogue or a description, while I had some problem with the other people who made some really, really long narrations with lots of things happenings. But I impute this to the enthusiasm for this "new" kind of playing and tend to avoid correcting them too much.

Title: Re: Instructing many people
Post by: Peter Nordstrand on April 16, 2009, 02:03:55 AM
Thank you for your extensive reply, Moreno.

Would you mind telling me a bit about the fictional content of the games? What problems did the various characters face (not just the principals but any protagonist)? What was revealed about the characters' personalities as they responded to these dilemmas and challenges? How did the stories end?

Do you think any of the stories had a moral?


Title: Re: Instructing many people
Post by: Moreno R. on April 16, 2009, 05:20:00 PM
I don't remember the fictional content very well.  I don't think it was particularly good (demo games with people you don't know seldom are). What I remember well was the infectious enthusiasm of the players, one girl in particular,  With more experienced people you can get better stories, but they rarely jump up and down in excitement about what it's happening in the story. So, what I didn't get from the story, I got from the player's reactions.  A very good evening, all in all.

I got the youngest players, and between that, the fact that they didn't read the book (that it's very, very important, in my opinion, to get the right mindset for the game) and my ruthless killings of the supporting cast, I think that the game turned in a spy story full of gunshot, car explosions, betrayals and without a lot of depths. I remember that of the two principals, one ended in prison and got killed by her old bosses to avoid her talking, and the other fled in the night after killing most of her spider's web.  What it's interesting to me is how well Spione rules are well suited even for this kind of stories, for people with no previous role-playing experience. They enjoy playing the flashpoint phase with the cards, without worrying about what they "should be able to do". The only ones who associate that resolution system with feelings of "helplessness" (and with the thematic ingredient of the Cold) are the roleplayers. People without the expectations of role-players could play even James Bond with that resolution system without any problem.

I don't know if the stories had a "moral". The characters were pretty "amoral", from the little I remember. But they would have had a theme, even if I don't remember it, because I pushed personal and moral choices to the characters any chance I got, and the players didn't avoid making these choices at all.

If you want to avoid the "bombastic effect", and you want instead to explore the more personal face of the players, and you can't give the Spione book to them to read before the game, you could use It Was a Mutual Decision instead.  You would lose the political and historic angle, but you wouldn't have to explain so many things before playing (most of us are pretty familiar with a break-up scenario, both from inside and outside), and it usually show a lot about the people who play it (maybe too much...)

Title: Re: Instructing many people
Post by: Ron Edwards on April 21, 2009, 03:43:44 PM
Hi Peter,

I planned to post this link but kept being distracted: Postpartum Analysis of Independent Game Design ( There's three parts, and I think my answer to the same question works better in the context of the whole interview.

I'd like to add more that's directed to your specific questions, but am being called away constantly. I'll try to get back later.

Best, Ron

Best, Ron

Title: Re: Instructing many people
Post by: Peter Nordstrand on April 27, 2009, 12:15:39 AM
Thank you Ron anf Moreno,

I will digest this for a while.