The slow burn topic on my mind lately is randomization, for any and all ways it’s been employed in role-playing. As Justin and I discussed in the Design Curriculum series, solo games provide a useful comparison in terms of randomizing mechanics.
In Aleksandra Sontowska’s The Beast, play is run simply through answering questions on cards, drawn one at a time. The deck has 26 cards, and you remove seven of them and then proceed through the nineteen left. Play is conducted daily, once per card, which are drawn in whatever order the shuffle provides.
What’s it about? Sex with the Beast. And you should know I’m expicitly breaking one of the rules of the game, which is to keep it entirely private and to destroy the record of the game afterwards. (It’s intended to be written, not recorded as I did.) Instead you get to see it. All that said, though, I am circumspect and tasteful in my wording – sorry, no smut.
It is possible that I’m ruining the game for viewers, in that players’ secrecy preserves a valuable naivete for every new player. Therefore I say now, view at your own risk for that exact concern.
Here’s an interesting detail. The “setting” turned out not to be my current actual life in Sweden, but a state of being or mind that I have encountered many times in dreams: as if I had not left the Monterey Peninsula and had become an adult there, remaining a townie and retaining or developing the local world-view. I was a little surprised to “find” myself playing there or in this way, as I did not plan it, and therefore the player-character “me” is really a fictional character from about the sixth or seventh session, albeit one that I found easy to play, but nonetheless whose decisions were not obvious or especially predictable by me during play.
Back to system talk, i.e. the random factor, it arrives in the order of the cards, as well as the absence of an unpredictable set of seven cards out of the full set of twenty-six. I don’t know how other people do it, but I didn’t look at any of the cards before pulling out the seven and using the rest, i.e., I didn’t know what was on any of them, used or unused, so each draw was de novo.
I’m interested in the order as such for two reasons. The first is pretty obvious: if X happens early on, then it simply isn’t going to have conclusive power regarding things which have developed and built-up through extended previous play; and if it happens late in the game, inherent creative cognition is going to assign it that kind of power, or be open to that happening, in which case, at least one of the last few cards is going to do that.
The second reason is maybe less obvious: that this game does not explicitly encourage the creation of fiction, and potentially can result in merely nineteen short haiku about sex with the Beast, with an arbitrary “then it dies” or something like that at the end. But I suspect a lot of us are going to shift into a more developing-fiction mode at some point, and that the full day’s reflection (or better, the night’s sleep/processing) between each snippet is an important procedural feature for that to happen.
Afterwards, I looked at the cards to find some that I did not get but which might have changed-up the developing story considerably. A couple of others’ countent turned out to get into the fiction via narration, without me knowing they were cards of their own; I suspect this is pretty common in playing this game.
If you watch the videos, you’ll see that it takes over a week for a certain “this isn’t ‘play,’ this isn’t fiction” to metamorphose into “oh, this is fiction, this is a story. I felt the former as a genuine lack at first, but trusted the rules enough simply to keep going and see whether and when it might become so. I specifically did not force it – for instance, there could have been plenty of “story” when the Beast ate the intruding person, but I didn’t feel the content in such a way that it needed to be there, as I saw it (non-verbally and non-reflectively speaking). It really kicked in when she got sick and everything after that just built from there, again, without saying “I better make this a story.” I think it’s pretty obvious that I started thinking much more in scenes, this-happens, then-she-does-this, then-I-do-that terms from that point forward.
I’d like to compare thoughts on a critical matter, along the lines of how much “story” happesn when it’s not forced and imposed. It’s actually the central concern underlying my concept of Story Now, for which the “now” does not mean “immediately” or “arbitrarily,” but rather, created by the procedures we are actually using, in the moment, moment by moment.
One of my biggest frustrations with the hobby culture is how much so-called story gaming is the same old vile railroading and imposition, especially based on play-this-scenario-this-way convention one-shots, just dressed up with indie gloss. It’s nice to see something which achieves real story creation by opening the door into nothing rather than trapping you in an already-furnished room.