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Textil - Fantasmas asesinos, meaning Murderous Ghosts

Back in April, I sat down with three college friends, Alejo, Cecilia and Edson, to play Vincent Baker’s Murderous Ghosts for the first time. That's four future librarians hanging out at Alejo's place, the student housing for people from San Nicolás.

 

It’s the Spanish edition, Fantasmas asesinos, by Nosolorol. It’s a very prolific Spanish company that holds the publishing rights to Aquelarre, Fate RPG, Mage, Pendragon, Vampire, and 7th Sea, and has internally developed the very first Adventure Time RPG ever, after acquiring the rights from Cartoon Network. It also has recently been at the center of a scandal for, basically, slaving away their workers to the point of physical, chronic injuries, while breaking all sorts of EU labor laws. The translation is credited to David Church and Francisco Castillo, revised by Luis Fernández and Hugo González.

 

I split the video in three 10-20 minute chunks. Parte Cero is here, concerning our group reading of the books and play preparation. Me and Cecilia (no relation to the other Cecilia of my Cthulhu years) are the players proper, but we all chime in and help. Or the opposite of help - watch us chide Edson for making Cecilia feel uncreative at the very end of the video.

 

Parte Uno is embedded below. We start play proper, and Cecilia gets going with inventing a really spooky former textile factory. I also tell a story about exploring an abandoned labor-union-owned barbecue park. I’ve no idea of what the term in English should be or even if you have a similar concept in your Anglophone cultures, which haven’t been blessed by the graces of Peronism. So I’m putting up these two images so you know what a regular and an abandoned one could look like.

 

 

Parte Dos concerns the final encounter between my explorador urbano (we have no word for spelunker) and the ghost. Cecilia had to leave, so I’ll admit to switching to really risk-taking playing mode, for the last exchange. Also I’d like to point out Edson’s emerging role as the Blackjack expert, and Alejo’s, the most experienced GM among us, live musicalization.

 

I also left out a good 25 minutes of hums and ahs, for what had been a total 70 minutes of real play time. All in all, we had a great time: you can see that poor Edson grows a little tired/anxious of his cameraman responsibilities, but still soldiers on until the end. We laughed, teased each other, helped each other with the rules, made jokes prompted by a Falklands War mural that was on one of the walls (knowing some British people could be watching) that I felt it wiser to cut out, and genuinely made each other scared, or at the very least, poor me.

 

English subtitles available for Parte Cero! Will do the rest on the following week or weeks. So if you don't speak Spanish, and you're reading this before I do all the subtitling, don't bother opening the video below. Just go to Parte Cero and activate the subs.

 

 

Department: 
Actual Play

Comments

Ron Edwards's picture

The hammock cam is amazing, and your fellow players are charming and hilarious.

  • You have my permission to include any offensive Falklands jokes you want in future videos. You did include Spanish mockery that Ángel will have to tolerate, so why let the Brits off?
  • Alejo is invited to provide mate for my role-playing sessions whenever he wants. (readers: mah-tay is a caffeinated beverage; see video)
  • I will call the MC in any PbtA game "MC Hammer" for the rest of my life. Many times during the rest of my life.

Anyway, the only thing I want to say about Parte Cero is that one can really see the processing of written rules as well as how the social space of play, "ritual space," is slowly but surely established.

Santiago Verón's picture

They were delighted with your comments and, at least in one case, pleasently surprised that you found them funny.

Yes, one can really see that, right? When we get to Parte Uno, it's a big contrast to see how solidly everything is in place. I'm glad we started filming so early, and that I didn't leave it out while editing.

Santiago Verón's picture

Subtitles are up for Parte Uno!

Ron Edwards's picture

I'm holding off commenting until the whole thing's available, but there is certainly a lot to consider, and to see how it develops.

Santiago Verón's picture

Subtitles are up for Parte Dos! The whole thing is fully subtitled now :)

Ron Edwards's picture

I have some things to comment upon. However, I'd like to know your permitted scope of interest in the discussion, because putting yourselves up for public display like this is brave and generous - and thus what I or some other bad person might say, from the safety of his or her screen, should be restricted by that scope.

What aspects of play and/or the game are you most interested in seeing feedback about?

(English is a terrible language. That awful construction is much better as ¿Qué aspectos del juego te interesan más?)

Santiago Verón's picture

I consulted with the gang. Alejo and Edson are unafraid. Ceci is aware that she hadn't roleplayed before, so she can't imagine beforehand a bad thing that someone would say. None of them have thought of a topic of their interest to discuss, yet.

As for me, I also find it hard to come up with criticisms, though I do feel bad about having interrupted Ceci so many times. It's something I want to work on. Other topics of my interest include:

The thing you mentioned the other day about editing and presenting

How does a gamebook work as a roleplaying game tool, instead of being a gamebook (the same way using a Blackjack mechanic isn't playing Blackjack)

That thing I have so much trouble with, scene transition /framing/whatever it's called: does it show here? What can I learn from this experience?

Inviting someone to play a game and having her be the GM, the reverse of the usual RPGing social dynamic (well, maybe "reverse" is an exaggeration)

Murderous Ghosts working out of the box

Murderous Ghosts not working out of the box, meaning, I'm proud of the efforts and creative input of the four of us, and feel we achieved something

On the other hand, I worry that we the three men may have made it harder for Ceci than it should've been, and wonder what another pair of eyes thinks

And that's about it!

Ron Edwards's picture

I'm pulling out just one of the topics you listed above.

That thing I have so much trouble with, scene transition /framing/whatever it's called: does it show here? What can I learn from this experience?

The following claim is obviously external, so you have to decide for yourself what it's worth to you. My usual statement is that if it's even a few percent on target, then it's worth reflecting upon, and never mind whether it's completely right or sufficient on its own.

I'm talking about playing to avoid, sidestep, or prevent trouble or harm to your character. The idea is that if you had done "this," then you wouldn't be taking as much damage, or wouldn't be in such a disastrous decision situation, or wouldn't even be in danger. That if you can just play by doing "this," all the time, with "this" being predictive and adaptive and preventative as you go along, then your character won't be danger, in trouble, or stressed, pretty much ever. Of if those happen, you the player cannot be held responsible for it, it's not your fault.

Therefore the transitions as such aren't the problem, it's their "openness" in terms of GM options, the idea that play takes an intermission and the GM can do or get up to God Knows What while your character has no way to stop or avoid, being out of play. When I think of you grabbing Man o'War and flying off, or of your reaction to my comment about the federal agents at the Space Needle, that's what I'm seeing: "uh oh - if we leave this guy in the GM's evil hands, then he can do God Knows What with him while we're not looking. But if I grab him, and fly off, he can't do anything with him without me being there!"

Consider your response when Man o'War escaped your character's father's apartment. Go back and watch it, even. You are horrified. I had evidently proved to be an especially cunning GM who had taken him "away" anyway, despite your efforts - you were, as it seems, cheated of your well-placed "move" to keep that from happening.

In this game (Murderous Ghosts), you and Ceci manage to put in a total of about twenty minutes of actually-engaged imagined play. In that brief time you display the same behavior, including shock and in this case protests, twice - probably more if we include minor interactions rather than very explicit events like the scissors.

Examine the logic: the game is built, explicitly, to damage and traumatize your character, it's the other player's job (and in my opinon, Vincent's error to frame it as winning) to do that. So how could breaking or separating the scissors prevent any such thing? It cannot. If Ceci had thought it sensible that the scissors were out of bounds now, for whatever reason, if the rules say "hurt the other player's character," then she can still do it, scissors or no scissors, anything or no anything.

I call attention to this especially because in a game like Champions, you might convince yourself that such activities "keep you safer," wrongly, but you might do that; whereas here, there is no imaginable earthly or unearthly way to convince yourself of this except from a purely emotional platform.

Well, that's enough judgmental or perceived as accusatory talk for now. What do you think of it?

Consider especially your stated nostalgic moment of pure role-playing, your original moment of a character trapped in a room of horror in a convention scenario of Call of Cthulhu. You described it as what you're always trying to get back to.

If that's so, then why is preventing upcoming badness something you'd want to do ... ever?

Santiago Verón's picture

Ron, thank you for this. I'm thinking I confound "being resourceful in the face of badness" with "preventing badness from happening in the first place". It used to happen to me a lot in real life, I remember talking it over with my therapist a few years ago. In games like these... What I remember the most about the Cthulhu game was not losing my cool in the face of danger. At the same time, just as you said, feeling secure that if things went wrong it wouldn't be my fault. The possibility of playing a game and actually, responsibly fail/lose feels, when I think about it, unbearable. I'm embarrassed! I want to change.

Ron Edwards's picture

Thank you for considering the point, which is all I ask - no need to develop it further here unless you really want to.

Also, perhaps, don't thank me too quickly. Unlike a therapist, I'm not professionally invested in an ethical or positive outcome in these dialogues - my attention is on the activity. I mean, I hope you benefit personally, but merely in the ordinary sense of dealing with anyone about anything.

I keep telling people not to grant me more presence or influence than ordinary interaction entails. Since this discussion may be at least glancing toward that direction, I'm saying it again.

Anyway, I'll pick another point and carry on with a new thread.

 

Santiago Verón's picture

Oh. All right! I'll keep it in mind.

Ron Edwards's picture

I wish we had a word for "small-l" leadership, without implications of marching or strutting up-front, or of forcefully telling others what to do, at the expense of their own judgment. I'm forced to use the word for the very common phenomenon that one person in a group of acquaintances, at a particular time, evidently suggests doing a thing together, and is granted a certain amount of directive power in saying what it is, how we do it, and similar things. Minor, easy, non-threatening - but also real in its distinction from some kind of (hard to imagine) entirely egalitarian and consensual means of arriving at something to do.

Well, I wrote about this back at the Forge. I was distinguishing several sorts of this phenomenon, as a unit, from several sorts of organizing play and creative input, as a unit. The conversation has focused since then (almost 15 years!) on the latter, not surprisingly, as that's the part we think of as rules, both explicit and implicit. But I really think the initial distinction matters, as follows:

The person who organizes this instance of play is not the same as the one who exerts centralized and broader creative input during play.

Two points, presented in order to get past them without getting stuck:

  1. In each case, "the person" refers to several independent tasks which can themselves be distributed in multifarious ways across people at the table.
  2. "Is not the same one" means that sometimes they are not the same actual persons and sometimes, more often, they are the same person. My phrasing refers to whether they are necessarily the same, and I'm saying they aren't.

Diving into each of the two "sets" specified in #1 is fascinating and will distract us for years, as many as fifteen, as it happens.

Focusing instead on #2 is a really good idea which has languished for the same period of time.

Let's get concrete: why are the social tasks of saying "let's play," "let's play this," and "let's play next Tuesday," along with a number of details like "I'll make the mate" and "Let's film it for that crazy American," so easily confounded with taking on the highly centralized version of certain creative tasks during play?

The answer is not too hard to understand, but it's interesting and all wrapped up in the confusions of DM/GM as referee, umpire, "daddy," God, storyteller; with those as host, courtesy cop, mood setter, and initiator, with the corresponding notion that this person breathes a slightly larger air than the rest of us.

The more interesting question is this: why do we persist in this confusion? I'm not saying that you yourself, Santi, are confused, but rather that this persistence is present and perceived enough, as a feature of role-playing, that you noticed it enough to bring it up. For some reason, it seems weird to you, or potentially weird, or a "reversal," or maybe like a reversal, that you did not take on the GM-role (which is what it is, since Murderous Ghosts isn't especially unusual in this regard) - because you were the social organizer in the small-l leadership sense I tried to describe in my first paragraph.

So by "we" above, I really mean all of us, me too, the whole hobby culture. Rather than displaying the typical or unthinking conformity to it, you broke that trend - as is completely logical and non-problematic - and I speculate that you noticed it was there because you "felt" yourself break it.

I suspect this mix-up persists far more strongly than anyone wants to observe openly. I suspect that in many a game which purports to be GM-less or GM-full to the most extreme degree, the organizer is actually more of a GM during play than everyone else - because it's both expected by that person and ceded to that person by everyone else for exactly the same reason. I don't wonder whether we can find examples. I do wonder whether we'd ever find anything else.

Santiago Verón's picture

I'll ask Alejo later today; the three of us are meeting to make Champions characters, and he's my go-to experienced roleplayer guy. From my vantage point, I cana only add a couple things:

* A couple days before this recording, I played, or sort of played, Cold Soldier with a couple mates that teach comics with me at the comics school, at a night time Argentine barbacue. (Argentine barbecues, or asados, are their own whole thing.) It deemed it not much fruitful, and my recording is audio only, so I shelved it. Now I'm thinking I could do a write up one of these days, because I arranged it like this: I told them I would teach them to play and handle the rules, and they'd choose which of them was the Dark Master and which the Cold Soldier. Their first time roleplaying, ever. That part worked out pretty well - the session itself I considered a failure, but mainly because I fumbled the rules and forgot the Dark Master player was supposed to ask for things he himself found repulsing.

* If I think of other social situations, the one who teaches is expected at the same time to be the most well-versed in the rules, the rules arbiter, and to go easy on the other players while they learn, even if they're all in a competitive setting. All I can think of, related to roleplaying, is that there is an assumption that you can't GM without knowing the rules beforehand, but you can play a character. Murderous Ghosts helped me short circuit that by promessing it would be better the less we knew about the game (after all, who wants to spoil a good horror story? plus it uses gamebooks and that really makes you comfortable, like the hard work/responsibility is someone else's problem), and Cold Soldier, in a lesser sense, by being a compact two player game. That also goes for Murderous Ghosts: somehow, at least to me, it feels like the GM is not as powerful/responsible/special when it's only one out of two people, instead of one out of four to six.

Ron Edwards's picture

That makes sense insofar as we're specifying the "leadership" category to teaching, but I want to think about it more broadly: as the organizer of the event.

It may be most clear to imagine a situation in which all the people involved are familiar with the game, so teaching isn't an issue. Consider the organizer in that case - the person who takes the social lead in saying, "let's play this game" - who may also be (doesn't have to, but might be) the organizer of the time and place to play.

Is that person expected by default to be the (let's use the word regardless of the game text's term) GM? I think they are, or expect themselves to be, perhaps in the perceived causal sense of "well, I want to GM it, so I better organize it," or "well, I'm organizing it, so I guess I have to be the GM."

Obviously it's only an expectation without any grounding in causal reality that I can see. After all, you might organize play and I might be the GM, vice versa, or you do both, or I do both, and in some perfect abstract world it would make no difference at all. I'm interested in which ways, and how much, we diverge from that kind of world, for this variable.

Ron Edwards's picture

Now it's time for the tough one. You mentioned yourself, twice I think, that Cecilia had been talked over or otherwise hampered by others' input.

Before I go on, I will state clearly that I am a very talky, very comment-heavy player, and others at the table are my cheese tray. Play with me, and you'll get a heavy dose of teasing, footnoting, cheerleading, and plain old judgmental snark. This scales precisely with the degree to which I know you. New people are strictly off-limits, old friends are no-holds-barred.

Keeping this in mind, and knowing that the four of you know one another very well, I still found it almost intolerable that Cecilia was constantly interrupted and indeed, by my count, did not manage to begin and finish a single sentence or moment-of-play set of sentences.

There are two points I want you to know before you reply.

  1. I am aware of many reflexive responses to this statement: "Well, that's our culture, Argentinans are more [fill-in-the-blank] than US Americans;" "We're totally friends, she doesn't mind, she's used to this and does the same to us," and more. I have heard it all ... especially when I'm looking at situations that are flatly not acceptable. So maybe they're true in this case, but please be aware that these are are boilerplate dismissals.
  2. My observation is gender-neutral. It is very tempting and, in today's climate, would score me easy virtue points to focus on the sexes present as if that were the primary issue. It isn't.

You see, I do not care about this in terms of feelings. I would if I had been present, or part of the group in any way, but I wasn't. What I care about is that playing Murderous Ghosts requires a dialogue between two players based on each one's use of the available options. Flow from what just happened into what happens next is not merely "the core of play," in an abstract sense, but the straightforwardly necessary procedure.

And that flow was so intermittent, so disrupted, and so surrounded by verbal flak that it can hardly be said to exist. Play was incoherent, in the most literal sense of articulated communication.

I ask you to look hard at Edson's participation, in terms of how many times he interjected with rules comments (and was not especially accurate), with direct recommendations or even shouted orders to the players, and with gestures which subverted the filming into a joke.

Again: "that's just his way, we don't mind, we're all used to it" and similar responses would miss my point. I'm not talking about how anyone feels. I'm talking about the effect on the two players' engagement with the fiction and with the system that's producing it. It is visible to me that this engagement was much briefer and almost obliterated by the constant interference. The chiding you mention appears to me too little and too late to have saved it.

It's hard to write this because the four of you were brave and, basically, posted the video at this website in good faith. It seems quite bad of me, to myself, to respond with critical statements, which cannot help but be personal. It may be impossible to do what I ask: again, look at these interactions and, rather than say "how did we feel, what does that mean," say instead, "how did we play, did we even manage to play," and why or why not.

Santiago Verón's picture

Oh, yeah, I'm aware! Though I did worry it was a gender thing, so you took away my go-to apology for the case. I have been made painfully aware of Edson's meddling through the editing, and especially the subtitling efforts: just the subtitling alone took me three hours per every ten minutes, would you believe it? At the time, it irritated me a bit, and it didn't seem to be game-interrupting serious. I have not brought it up so as not to be rude with him. I'll keep an eye on that the next time the four of us play; I'm still unsure of two other variables. One is how much of that was related to him just being bored: about not being a player, about having to film. The other, which I'm most concerned about, is how much Alejo or me also have interrupted Ceci. Well, me especially, not so much Alejo. The other day, when we got together to make Champions characters, the flow was healthier, I think. We'll see what happens when and if we play.

I'm not sure if I am ready to process the idea that this constitutes an example of incoherent play. Especially if that means failed play. I'll probably need more distance, the passage of more time. At the moment I still perceive it as a succesful group endeavor, pitfalls and all.

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