This post follows Desert duster fantasy and For a couple of fistfuls of pure sand. The embedded link goes to session 12 inside the playlist.
We’re really into “this is the end” and, understandably, “how,” but also, significantly, what this ending even is. Here’s what I mean.
I’m really, really not going to define this as “adventure!” meaning to throw additional violent encounters at them, nor as “epic!” meaning suddenly drawing in highly consequential impact on the communities and social context. (I did both for the Spelens Hus RuneQuest game, which was fine then. But not here.)
Instead, we have a remarkably strong context for the locations, ecology, culture and subcultures, and character-identities, and we have a number of opinionated personalities deciding a lot of things session to session, even moment to moment. Who will come into contact with whom next? What will be said, what will be decided, by whom? What, if anything, results in terms of a ‘real’ fate for any of the player-characters? What will it mean?
We don’t know. I as the GM do not know, particularly in structural terms of “this arc crests now,” or “now I shall introduce the moment of truth.” In this, I am severely deviating from and defying the game’s textual expectations, even requirements, for its role of the Adventure Guide.
Here are a couple of principles that I’m using instead, both well-displayed regarding Sam’s character Vephselk in this session.
Sam rightly pointed out that in Sorcerer terms, Vephselk has effectively concluded her opening Kicker … which by the principles of that game, does not mean you stop playing instantly. It means that whatever trouble the Kicker has caused or reveals which is still “in play,” if any, still needs to get attended to.
So how does that apply here? Well, it means that in thinking about the opening scene-framing for Vephselk this session, I needed to decide whether such “trouble” is already in place given what we’ve done and what we know. I really didn’t want to force it. However, as it happens, if you go all the way back to the necessary assumptions (i.e., established facts) for the first session, then it’s equally necessary (i.e., already established) that Vephselk and Okmev are moving straight into the region associated with the Ant tribe, where Ithasha came from … arguably, not just a little trouble, but a whole node and nexus and Big Bang of trouble for everything that’s happened so far.
That’s how I’m doing it. As long as locations and people continue to “ripple” from what we know (including unrevealed GM info and internal player character-notions) and what’s been done, then we play and “find” our ending. It may be muted, even anti-climactic in classical confrontational terms; it may be intensely dramatic in those terms; it may vary across these concepts per character. We’ll see.
Now for the harder part to talk about, which I offer as a useful cautionary example. This session features some crap interaction and some sub-optimal play in terms of the imagination. The three of us in Europe were all exhausted, and you can see us struggle. I want to stress that this included no failure of interest and no “checking-out” in terms of attention to play, but rather our ability to interact and contribute in our usual talking-and-listening way.
My part is especially painful to watch, especially toward the end of Part 2 and carrying into most of Part 3. I’m far below my usual standards for clarifying either of these:
- When a description is merely colorful, or even a signal that we don’t have to do anything, that everything’s fine, vs. when I’m formally proposing the need to solve a problem.
- At a very immediate level of character actions and perceptions, saying where we are, I do this, roll that – I’m talking about the appearance of a structure, the scope of immediate perceptions, sensory impressions, cultural details, the relative positions of any and all characters, and the social “feel” of an interaction.
These are bumpiest in the sequences featuring me and Lorenzo, when in editing, I realized how often we partly missed what the other was saying.
At the end of the conversation between Ithasha and Farith, when Hadd rejoins them and Lorenzo talks about his Monster Knowledge skill. I realize that they are not catching the point that the scene is over, but instead of saying so, I just cut out of it in the midst of Lorenzo trying to roll. If you can believe it, I literally forgot that he was trying to do that while attempting and failing to say he didn’t have to.
When they arrive at the village some ways downriver, and I cannot bring myself to role-play through “you meet this guy, they say this,” or any further detailed account of arrival. That was fine at the point of arrival, I think, but a bit later, when Farith looks around for a blacksmith or glassblower, we didn’t have a good foundation for imagining where or who was or wasn’t there. At the time, I mentioned Skansen, which is a familiar reference for anyone in Sweden and more than enough for a shared imagined context, but wasn’t on the ball enough to realize that Lorenzo and Sam would need an additional sentence, and that we really could have pointed to an appropriate spot on the little village map I’d already provided. So that whole sequence was played in an abstract space of “I say this, I do this,” rather than our usual well-placed notions.
The net effect is not disastrous or unhappy or not-fun. It’s merely OK, in the sense of what Anthony describes as “the OK plateau.” We certainly experienced no lack of caring about what’s going on, which fortunately results in each of us internally filling-in what’s needed. But its quality in the moment was merely adequate, and subject to the role-playing equivalent of “varying signal,” which is far below our usual standard.
6 responses to “In it to the end”
I was definitely in a bad shape to play that night, and I apologize for the moments where I failed to tune in. But I didn't regret playing at the end of the night, at all.
A few moments stood out for me – the closure, obviously, with Vephselk walking into a situation I have been curious about since we started. It's notable to me how easily I can step into "spectator mode" in this game; I could have watched one more hour of that situation playing out.
Another interesting aspect is how the "npcs" feel like additional members of the cast, on the same level of the characters. I'm curious about what Okmev thinks, what he does, if there's an happy ending for him. I'm even warming up on Hadd. In many ways, it makes sense as they're characters played by someone at the table, but it's particularly noticeable here.
Another moment was the glassblowing scene. Watching this, I realize how much I was filling in and it's obviously lost to anyone else, but to me it was incredibly vivid and it played a role in walking out of the session knowing a bit more about what I am figuring as "the end" for my character.
I have a picture in mind, something to do – again, not epic or heroic but in many ways even harder to see just happening in the average fantasy story. Which, luckily, this is not.
A few months back, we started a discussion about what "long play" means and how to invite and support it and all that surrounds the issue. I suspect that this game, with its definite focus on being about people living in a situation as people, instead of questing or being "part of a story", could provide good insight on the issue. There's nothing telling us we have so much more to play, no overarching narrative that mandates arcs or something like that. At the same time, I feel like I could keep playing Farith indefinitely, just as him living and traveling in his world, and I know that I'll miss him when we'll stop playing.
no apologies needed
No apologies needed
We are playing for our own enjoyment and it seems that we enjoyed the session even though some of us felt they were letting the others down. It was not time lost. It was time spend with friends and, at least for me, was better than having spend it alone.
Vephselk stumbling over the ants tribe to me was like one of those Shaman Dreams, showing me what was going on at home in a disconnected and somewhat eerie way. It literally did hurt when it became clear that she would not talk to Sadeev. I did not realize before how lonely Ithasha feels. The whole thing became even more vivid because I already had pictured her sleeping uneasily on the floor in that house with beds because the floor would be to hard to burrow into and she would not have wanted to leave as Farith is the only focus point in an extremely unfamiliar environment and she would not leave Hudd out of sight (no friendship lost there as of now). The part I’ve missed out on that I rue most is that Ithasha would have asked Hudd to get her some appropriate clothing (she is smart enough to recognize that he is throwing his wight around to get things done and to facilitate that for her own needs).
Still having to figure out some technical details about the next morning, but felt we could take that in the next session, we just have to pick up some loose threads.
The glassblowing scene was incredible. Even I was filling in a lot of details for Ithasha and I hope we will be able to pick up there to get some of our mind-theater out in the open.
I agree with you that this is a good example of what “long term play” can be. The engagement with the fates of NPC and the feeling that you are truly living in another world for some hours every week are part of that as is the fact that you get the feeling you could continue forever or come back for a visit every now and then because the people you’ve gotten to know will continue their lives even when you are not around looking. I do like it very much. I’m still not sure if and how a group could plan for this but I think that there are some ingredients we may be able to identify in this game when we have come to the end. We should definitely have some after-talk at that point.
And we’re there
As I type this, I'm listening to a great rock album for the first time, and the line "It's a song of loneliness, it's a song of the end," just played.
Session 13 and 14 are now available (direct link to #13 into the playlist), concluding our Undiscovered game. The recordings include some chat and thoughts among us as well. I'd like to make a little afterthoughts recording as well and will include it when it's done.
This game has been really fun, and the system has been very instructive for me. Something I don't think about often enough is the reality that game systems are an iterative process created through play by real players with preferences for certain types of play and certain types of meanings for failure. You can tell that at some point one of the authors of this game rolled a failed Cooking check and scratched their head and really had to think what failing something like that meant.
Along this same line of thought it shows you what kinds of players these were. It seems clear that the authors of the game cared about defining failure and for letting failure really impact where the game goes. I mean, if you fail your Cooking skill, you give people stomach aches and food poisoning, you don't just make a mediocre meal.
I guess this is to say that the medium of play is so important because habits and house rules become system eventually, and I think a lot of the things I don't like that are being put into more and more games (the 7-9 result, the Blades in the Dark failure cancellation mechanic, the Persona point expenditure to not die) are a result of a controlling and not at all communal or anti-hierarchal need to make the story that a single player wants to happen or else the game system is failing them. I guess I point out that this practice is not really as communal or anti-hierarchal because so many players and designers seem to think that games that allow you to steamroll through failure and into "the fiction" are in fact better than ones that make the dice really count. Anyways, this game has a lot of flaws, but it is the result of a better practice or procedure of play than many I have played that would claim to be much more hip or cool or whatever.
Rolling to Look Cool
Something I also absolutely fucking love about Undiscovered is the absence of "Rolling for my guy to look cool". For example, you don't get to roll Singing just because you are singing around the campfire or cooking because you are cooking your friend a meal and you want to flex your high skill. Here, failure would probably make the GM say "Well, you fail so…uh…I guess you don't sing super well. Oh, I've got it! Your voice cracks and everyone laughs." if the system didn't define failure so precisely. These moments of I look cool or I embarass myself (or nothing happens) are completely removed from the game because failure is predefined almost legalistically for every skill.
I agree but I need to clarify
I agree but I need to clarify something. The book doesn't say explicitly that if you do that thing without the failure-state already on the line in the fiction, then you succeed reasonably well. That's our extrapolation from the legalistic failure-effected stated in each skill.
I think it's a valid extrapolation, but we had to make it ourselves. If I were playing with another group who extrapolated in the opposite direction, so that every single action covered by a skill required the skill roll, and then the failure-state or an equivalent would be improvised into existence if it weren't already in play as a possibility, then I must say I would leave that table.