This is a joint post for the fourth and upcoming fifth sessions of both Väsen and Godsend Agenda. The first is being played very much rules-as-written with a published scenario, and the second is very much the GM’s personal version of the game, somewhat different from Jerry’s (the author; the game is in development). The posts regarding previous sessions are, respectively, Skräck i gamla Sverige and When the going gets weird.
I’m putting them together in this post because the games-as-played in this case share a considerable, perhaps total baseline for what is role-playing, which I think we can address on its own terms – what is the value, how is it done, what does one do, what is different from other things. It’s also been a little eerie for me because the games have been played on consecutive days, with entirely different people aside from me, and each session has been almost exactly the same between the two games, for multiple components and events.
The recordings unfortunately ran into a screw-up (still not sure why the settings reverted to default on me), so one session is missing from each sequence. I’ve included a summary for the missing sessions but am very annoyed because that means both the second and the third sessions are lacking their direct evidence of being mirrors, one in each direction. Here, I’ll summarize (gray shading = no recording):
Issue #1 concerns what resolutions do, and even whether they do things at all. The most negative version is described in my Part 6 for Situation: case study, and in an effort to look at it more positively, I’d like to consider exactly how the “black arrows” and “green arrows” interact in each of these games.
Issue #2 is probably more accessible: the straight-up contradiction between “the players play their characters” and “the GM guides the story,” what I dubbed The Impossible Thing Before Breakfast some years ago. Each of these games – in Väsen, absolutely as written; in Godsend Agenda, meaning this particular application – features both of these:
- Very distinctive character creation, loaded with personal backstory, conflicting motivations, relationships, and potential for non-cooperative actions in any “team” sense.
- A specific and dangerous mystery, a complex historical origin for it, a variety of actors with their own agendas, a series of discovered clues and violent events, and a linchpin moment moving into a confrontation; as played events, all guided or maneuvered into by the GM and resulting in specific/known things.
Although the cognitive effort, even gymnastics, of “making it all fit” as an ongoing task can be considered a challenge, I think it’s insoluble as stated. Ultimately, one of these happens:
- Diminishing what the characters may actually do (as statements and resolutions; as actual effect on events) or even removing it, so that the characters do what’s needed to follow what’s planned, regardless of what the players say or do
- Constant re-casting and re-tooling and re-planning, per session and even per scene, of what must be retconned or invented to keep the plot in place; the plot is re-Legoed as needed so that whatever they do turns out to follow it
… which amount to the same thing. Here I’d prefer not merely to dismiss it but to acknowledge that person who is GMing, for this sort of play, is under extraordinary pressure. They are expected, not least by themselves, to conceive, present, and perform “the story” which makes everyone else feel good about participating in it and which also makes everyone happy as a story, as such. The perfect analogy is the chef: it is their responsibility to make it good, and yet they are subject to everyone else’s ungovernable needs and desires. Furthermore, the players have no responsibility even for their own tastes – if they don’t like it, then the GM did it wrong, and that’s that, or at least, that’s how this person is expected to feel.
I admit up-front that this is definitely not my preferred way to play, and to some extent sits outside of my framework of what play even is, but I can also say that it’s a viable topic here, to be treated courteously regarding the two games’ organizers – and given my position about it, if I’m saying we take it on its own terms, then you can do the same.
* The second picture in the lead image is from our very own Ola!
Direct link to session 4 for Väsen inside its playlist
Direct link to session 3 summary with session 4 following for Godsend Agenda, inside its playlist