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Author Topic: [Breaking the Ice] Bringing in drama  (Read 6860 times)
Christoph Boeckle

Posts: 545

Yverdon, Switzerland

« on: December 15, 2010, 04:41:30 AM »


Recently we played Breaking the Ice with my girlfriend Sylvie. It's our second time playing, the first time around some scenes had dragged out because I had not understood a rule correctly, but it was still very good. The story was not all sunshine and sparkles (in part because it was more difficult to get the dice, which meant lower successes, but also dragged out scenes which made some situations a bit awkward or more desperate than the game actually requires), but it wasn't tragic.

This time around we wanted to try a dramatic set up. We decided to have two characters of different social conditions, and one with some problematic history. Plus the woman should be married. That ought to do it! Right...

Pierre Brière (rusty orange)
Conflict: Vengeance
Self: violent past, cut off family bonds, passionate (switch)
Work: welder on a shipyard, wants to establish a maple farm
Play: hiking

Marielle de St-Ange (burgundy)
Conflict: Married
Self: intelligent, shy, rational (switch)
Work: antiquity furniture expert, rentier: aristocrat (by marriage)
Play: "bacchanals", house on the shore

Both were about 40 years old. We never thought of using the rule of adding new traits during play, even though we knew it.

First date
This date involved Marielle giving a posh party at her villa by the sea for her friends. She's bored, her husband is on some trip, like usual. All kinds of handsome men were invited too. Pierre walks up to Marielle with champagne flutes as she was watching the party from some steps. They talk a bit and you know, the dice don't really work as they're supposed to, so I bring in my conflict of Vengeance (the idea was that somebody to whom Pierre owed money had shown up). The couple leaves the party hall before Pierre is noticed and moves down some corridors, and they lock themselves up in an office with elaborate wooden antique furniture and loads of books. After some petty talk and compliments, they get at it really hot on the desk. I think some conflict dice about Marielle being married were instrumental in getting an additional attraction level at some point in this office. Finally Marielle escorts Pierre out the back door, he asks for her phone number, she happily complies and he leaves.
We come out of this date with a new compatibility, Great Sex, and gained two attraction levels.

We confirmed the two attraction levels. We got pretty lucky at the end of the date, but at the beginning we were quite desperate, wondering if this story would be solely about sex.

Second date
This one was set at an Italian restaurant. Pierre arrived late, but otherwise the dinner was really a nice scene and a lot of cute and funny stuff happened. Three attraction levels were accumulated, and also three compatibilities: Nostalgic for the same home region (cool, we're from the same place!), Tranquillity of nature (cool, we like the same stuff!) and Making fun of our social conditions (cool, looks like the proletarian and the aristocrat might actually overcome their differences!) We ended the date on a hot sex scene in Marielle's luxury car.

Where's the drama gone? They are falling in love with one another and everything is going to work out all right! Or is this the lovely moment before all breaks down? Let's see those attraction levels... *roll* what? all failed? Hey! No! There's no way all those hard-earned attraction levels are going down the drain! Let's reroll! Plus, this will introduce drama, right?
We retconned that Pierre arrived late because he had been in a shoot-out with his enemies on the way to the restaurant, and that some guys where waiting for him when he came back!
So, we can make two rerolls out of that at least: Pierre is shot in the arm! Pierre goes into debt to get surgery!
We decided that this was going nicely, so let's try a third complication... hmm... Marielle's husband comes back from his trip!
Two of the rerolls work out! The situation for the third date is dire indeed, but the lovers are determined!

Third date
Marielle goes to Pierre's apartment with a basket of good food and a bottle or two of wine. They discuss what happened, Marielle explains that her husband is coming back, but that she is ready to divorce him! Pierre tells her about a plan to do some drug smuggling for an old "friend" across the USA-Mexico border, use the cash to pay his debts (for the surgery and his enemies) and then come back to Canada and move out of the city with her to the countryside. Marielle doesn't want him to take the risks, assures him she's got enough money. Some discussion ensues about Pierre feeling uneasy, but really, the Marielle's plan just makes so much sense that he can hardly do anything but to accept!
This date has them win two attraction levels over some nice food and soft sex (gotta take care of that arm). Two compatibilities are added: Sharing food/feeding one another and Compatible projects for life.

We manage to confirm only one of the two attraction levels, for a total of 6. We also have 6 compatibilities all told. So... the couple leaves the city for the countryside and lives happily ever after. There were some dramatic moments all right all along, but we arrived at a happy end after all.

Thoughts on drama in BtI
What seemed instrumental in getting that darker tone into play were the characters themselves (differences in social standing, a classical problem) and their conflicts (both were about external stuff the characters had gotten themselves into, but couldn't do much about immediately), plus the particular use of the complications. It's not clear to us if that's the whole story, or if it's possible to explore more tragic events.
Our feelings are that the mechanics really push the players to construct a relationship, not to mess it up.

Any thoughts and discussion on this particular topic welcome!

Frank Tarcikowski

Posts: 387

a.k.a. Frank T

« Reply #1 on: December 15, 2010, 08:28:53 AM »

Hi Christoph, thanks for the report! One thing I like about BtI is how it's extremely constrained on the one hand (three dates, two protagonists, full stop) but extremely wide open on the other (who, when, where and how); it plays well in "easy mode" where you just do the "romantic movie" stuff, but it's also a great challenge to player creativity to find new ways in which to apply it. I think the best and in fact only required tool to "bring in the drama", as you put it, is communication. This is a game of collaborative story telling if there ever was one, so let's collaborate! That's the Fruitful Void right there.

I only ever played a playtest version of the game, but your point about mechanics matches my experience: Either way the dice work out, you as a player just want love to succeed. Or is it maybe not so much the mechanics, but the fact that everybody wants love? Probably both.

- Frank

BARBAREN! - The Ultimate Macho Role Playing Game - finally available in English
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Posts: 17707

« Reply #2 on: December 15, 2010, 09:31:41 AM »

Hi Christoph,

Based on your description, the absolutely key moment for your experience is found here:

Let's see those attraction levels... *roll* what? all failed? Hey! No! There's no way all those hard-earned attraction levels are going down the drain! Let's reroll!

I haven't played the game for a long time, and it was a brief con session anyway, so I'd like a little bit more mechanics description here. What did you have to do to get those re-rolls? It draws on a resource, right?

Also, was the retconning something that is explicitly part of using re-rolls at that stage?

Best, Ron
Christoph Boeckle

Posts: 545

Yverdon, Switzerland

« Reply #3 on: December 20, 2010, 01:50:19 PM »

Hello Frank and Ron

Collaborative story-telling for sure, but that's a bit like saying that fish swim in water (without meaning to be pesky and all due respect to you, Frank): all (narrativist?) games need that, yet we don't play a romance the same way in Polaris as in Breaking the Ice. It would have been unsatisfying to me to arbitrarily bring in drama in this session just because we as players could gave agreed to do so (though maybe that's not what you mean by collaboration in story-telling and them my rant is moot). As you correctly mention, this game is tightly constrained and I like taking advantage of the constraints for telling a story, even if it doesn't quite bring us where we had decided before playing; my question being however how to use the constraints to communicate and express what we want, if possible.

This brings me to answer Ron's question: to reroll a failed confirmation roll for an attraction level requires to introduce events occurring between two dates that complicate things for the next date. Applying this rule requires communicating between the players, but it also requires wanting the characters to fall in love. Retconning is not discussed in the text. I had decided when I narrated Pierre arriving late that this could probably tie somehow into his Conflict, and was leaving open exactly how to see how the date evolved. We could have had Marielle smell gunpowder and start asking questions (driving Pierre into Conflict-zone), we could have had the bad guys assault Pierre in the restaurant (as part of scene-framing perhaps), or, as I used it in the end, as an element justifying an inter-date reroll a posteriori.

I've been thinking some more on tragedy. Essentially, there are two categories of outcomes Breaking the Ice's mechanics have an impact upon: "shit happening" and "love developing". These can be anywhere on a spectrum from "none" to "lots", and can be coloured from humour to serious and whatever. What I'm interested in is "shit happening a lot" and "love developing" (which can include any complexities, but clearly not indifference to the other), in a serious way. My idea of tragedy is that because too much shit happened, the love that developed is prevented to turn into a normal relationship.

Bad events can be introduced through:
  • scene framing
  • in-scene rerolls (disadvantageous positioning for one's character)
  • going for the conflict dice
  • between date rerolling (complications for the next date)

Love developing can happen through:
  • scene framing a touching gesture (allows one to roll a number of dice equal to the current attraction level)
  • rolling and rerolling as much dice as possible
  • confirming attraction levels
  • creating compatibilities

In the end, all boils down to rolling 3, respectively 4,  successes per scene, which lets you buy an attraction level, respectively a compatibility.

Let's see... almost all conditions for bad stuff to happen actually feed into love developing, except if you're really really unlucky with the dice or feel like giving up on the attraction dice for scene framing on purpose. This in itself seems to allow for some tragedy the way I defined it. However, bad things are not hard set into the mechanics, whereas attraction levels and compatibilities are. Maybe one could develop compatibilities which actually encode tragic events or behaviours. After all, compatibilities are "a source of connection and mutual understanding" (p.31). But the actual nature of a compatibility doesn't impact the end game, it's all about their quantity (and the attraction level) which implies staying together, so I'm not seeing how this could constrain the epilogue. Perhaps if one relies heavily enough on these during the game, they acquire some momentum which works out after the last date.

A date can have 4-6 scenes. At the light of my analysis, it's not clear to me that the actual number of scenes has a direct impact on the tragic quality of a session. The relationship should be fleshed out to acquire depth before breaking, but longer dates have a tendency to yield more "goodies". Of course, one could decide to play some scenes and close them before obtaining enough successes, just to create some context to showcase the characters' relationship and the events happening, without cementing the development of love in the mechanics. We almost decided to do that once or twice during this session, but it's very frustrating to close a scene when you have two successes, potential dice to be rolled and you just decide to close a scene because of some greater plan decided beforehand, when actually everything seems to be going on nicely. It's a bit like shooting into one's foot. Can be done, may have some uses, but it's not enjoyable. The mechanics are fun to use, and they reinforce the relationship in a globally positive way. If the mechanics could shoot into our feet, then we wouldn't feel like self-flagellating aesthetes and it could be tragic.
There's always the possibility that the rerolls don't play too much of a role because the players are lucky, so one shouldn't rely too much on these. Using the rule variant that one can reroll before having rolled all "bonus dice" (see the linked rules discussion with Emily in my first post) can down-tune a potential overshoot of easy and epic successes.

So this was me thinking out loud. Maybe with some better use of scene framing, perverted compatibilities ("doing heroine" could actually work wonders, and we've got Requiem for a Dream to  draw on inspiration), the constraints in character creation (see first post) and perhaps a good sense of not overdoing it on the attraction... one could get stories more tragic than this one. My impression however is that by default and lack of experience of the players, Breaking the Ice relegates tragic outcomes to very rare cases of unlucky rolls. This is not meant as pointing out a failure, just a feature of the game.

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