This is a self-reflective post is about referring reincorporation and situation in play, and two mechanics of the game: the nameless conversation, getting a name and how all of those variables intersect together. For that reason, I’ll avoid any talk about prep in the article. What I want to celebrate, is what I see as a better skill I learned to use the situation, thanks to the People and Play and Situation and Story courses that I’m still digesting. I’m mostly identifying when reincorporation happened in relationship to bouncing the situation.
I joined an “introduction file” to this post, it will provide relevant information to understand the rules at work here.
The setup : I’m gming, Paul is playing a Philosopher, Laura is playing an Advocate, and Nassim is playing a Soldier.
Nassim’s Minotaur is working for a young artist, Alisha, who sculpts small light magical statutes of different sizes, representing people. Those statues can move slightly so they evocates feeling to people who order them, generally to remember people they love. During the first session, one angry customer comes back with his statue that he wants to be repaired, because it “always breaks”. It’s obvious for everyone that he asks a statue of a woman he is jealous of and he beats it at home, the breaks it. So Alisha confronts him, the guy gets more angry and Nassim’s Minotaur humiliates him by throwing him in the river at the edge of the warehouse. When Nassim declared that his Minotaur was going to do that, we didn’t treat it as an inflexion, so he just could narrate the outcome of this action. Nassim’s Minotaur was obviously stronger that that guy.
In this game, every session ends with a “nameless conversation”: the players decides collectively the framing of a scene, who is there, where, and they play “nameless minotaur” who comments about something that happened during the session involving one of the Player Minotaur. Paul called it a “Greek chorus” mechanic. The function of those scenes is to get players to provide a social commentary on a societal issue of this civilization. This session, they chose that scene.
During the second session, some Minotaurs hired by this humiliated come in the warehouse, they are paid to destroy the statues. A fight follows between Nassim’s Minotaur and a one-eyed thug, and Nassim narrates his Minotaur popping the second eye of the poor beast. The Minotaur thugs all flee. This was treated as an inflexion and resolved with the Krater. I didn’t plan for that, it was a natural consequence to me of the previous fight – me referencing how getting that horrible guy in the river could affect the situation.
The game’s feeling is wondrous and magical, and it’s about how people connect and what they do in conditions of work that they didn’t choose. It’s not about beating random foes or being the good hero of the village. It’s about seeing how small actions affect broad cultural trends.
With that in mind, I decided that the blinded Minotaur’s life was broken now, and that he had a girlfriend serving in some mansion. So when the third session starts, I described to Paul, whose Minotaur is a Butcher in a luxurious mansion, that he heard the sobbing and whispers of a couple, and that he understood that his co-worker, a handmaiden, was hiding his Minotaur lover there. Then I described the older servant leader coming down in the caves where they were, looking for the handmaiden – I was ready to kick this blinded Minotaur out of this mansion with her – but Paul intervened.
Those are small things but I’m trying to do small things to do my job as a GM, and not the incredible spectacle of twists. I’m super happy with how the reincorporation flows: me introducing the angry customer, Nassim kicking the guy in the river, the guy paying mercenary to break things, Nassim noticing the one-eyed guy and choosing in his narration to poke his second eye, me introducing this broken guy in Paul’s scene, and Paul (who is entangled in an absolutely different situation) intervening in this relationship and trying to make something. I’m not trying to inject new things that I improvised or planned by thinking about the backdrop, like “What could thing could I make up so the situation is fed”, but the situation feeds himself by just reincorporating the consequences of some actions and choices into the situation itself. The significant phenomena here is that : I’m not directly trying to reincorporate those outcomes into a scene, I’m thinking how it relates to existing elements already in play (the situation) and then only, thinking how it would be express in a scene.
Nameless conversations and names
It took three sessions before coming up with a satisfying nameless conversation. At first, the players treated that scene as “scene to resolve” without trying to make a statement on the society they were living in. For instance, they played nameless Minotaur fishers who dragged the angry customer from the river, then started to discuss like they didn’t know anything about the scene itself. It went something like “Why was this guy in the river ? – I don’t know he didn’t tell – ok let’s catch another fish, this one was a big one”, etc. We talked about it and I really enjoyed the third one.
Fictional context: Nassim’s employer, Alisha, is in love with Omashpu Empyreus, the master of a local arena. She is 20, he is 60, and this guy has multiple young lovers. She is mad at him although he is horrible with her, at the edge of being harassing, but never too much. He made her believed that she is aging too fast, and she keeps thinking that it’s the result of a curse. Omashpu comes without warning at Alisha’s warehouse and strongly insist for a quickie (“because I have an important appointment”) while she is hesitant because he has the perfume of another girl on him.
Nassim’s Minotaur doesn’t confront him directly but takes Alisha by the hand and try to convince her to come. An inflexion follows and the outcome of the Krater is “a possible truth”. This is an interesting outcome, it constrains the GM to reveal a possible truth (meaning that it has 50% chances of being true), but does not say anything about the outcome of the action itself. We just played it to see where it led. The most natural description to me was that Alisha was shoved against her statues and one falls. And we established earlier that one of the statues has a problem that Alisha doesn’t understand: it always change its form into a silver flying butterfly-fish (that’s part of my prep and another character’s situation). This statue falls and takes this form of a butterfly fish. I reveal a possible truth: that the statue’s original form is representing an old military officer who was betrayed by Omashpu, and that this guy was still alive in the jungle.
Know that I didn’t deliver a whole backstory just there to the players, because they all knew that story through various event played by Paul. The only new element here, was the relationship between the silver butterfly-fish and that military officer, and the fact that he was (maybe) alive somewhere. It was super obvious for me at that moment that the fish (who represents the officer) recognized Omashpu and started attacking him by buzzing around his head and pushing him out of the warehouse. So that’s what happened.
Comes the nameless conversation. The three players chose to talk about that story, and I asked her that their nameless Minotaur don’t limit themselves to small talk, but actually make a strong statement about what they thought of this situation. And the conversation involved talking about this toxic relationship, standing for your friends, the fact that that butterfly stood up for Alisha, but that it was because Nassim’s Minotaur didn’t really stand up for her! “Her Minotaur friend didn’t, so that fish had to do it ? That’s sad! You should stand up for your friends”.
That’s how Nassim’s Minotaur got his first Name value of 1, becoming eligible for getting a name, should he go in the jungle. And I really enjoy all of that: we know that Minotaurs in this city start to think that you have to stand up for you friend, because that Minotaur didn’t do it explicitly enough.
I do not have great insights here. I just enjoyed playing my part a lot and wanted to celebrate that. It’s a wonderful game and I hope it will give a desire to play it.
Maybe a last conclusion:
Stop to worry about what player would care
Between the first and second session, I was worrying myself with what should I do to bring something that Nassim will care about. I talked about this with Paul. And finally, I stopped worrying about that. Some players engage directly in the game, and right during the first session, they know what their goal is, what they are going to do, what their character cares about. Some players need more time to do that. Throwing them things to engage is counter-productive. By just playing the situation, sending the thugs, playing Omashup as the horrible pig he is, everything flew by itself without me counter-productively trying to shape the situation in what I think a player would care about.
That’s part of my real enjoyement in that game :
- I’m focusing more on how play (outcomes ) affects the situations, and less on “what should I prep as new content for the next sessions”
- I’m focusing on bringing fictional content that I care about (vs “the players would care about”).
- I’ve stopped worrying “What should I do with a player I consider being to cautious” –> Answer: nothing else than the two previous bullets. A relief.
2 responses to “Reincorporation and situations in The Clay That Woke”
Thank you for this post, Greg! I have had The Clay That Woke on my to-play shelf for almost as long as I’ve been roleplaying, and getting to see it in action is a joy.
I don’t have anything super insightful to say, just wanted to share some appreciation/mutual celebration:
I binge Gene Wolfe whenever he shows up in the Ws at the local used bookstores. Soldier of Arete, The Knight, and The Book of the New Sun, which I understand was a strong influence on The Clay That Woke. When I read an author of Wolfe’s caliber, I sometimes despair of my ability to reach such heights of strangeness and wonder in roleplaying. It is wonderfully affirming to see some of the elements I love in those books (densely mysterious cultures, slowly unspooling consequences and backstory, and omens and portents that are deeply meaningful to who the characters are and what they may become) being made in this game, and with the ‘ordinary tools’ or roleplaying, no magic or miracles in sight.
I also really like how you talk about the third nameless conversation. It’s a great example of showing your fellow participants how to play better. I shy away from this all too often, even though I know how valuable being challenged to roleplay better has been for me. I’m thinking a lot lately both about moments that others have taught me new things in play and about opportunities I have to instruct and inspire.
I’m happy to read all of this, as you may imagine. It also helps me identify some non-constructive behaviors – due to their absence – which will be addressed in the new course I’m developing right now.
Specifically: introducing entirely new information, especially when it replaces or crowds out existing information; imposing sudden conflict, especially when it halts current activity or has no identifiable origin in prior information or events [common subset of the latter: targeting another player’s active entities in terms of what they want or will do].
It would be painful to list specific examples and would possibly turn into a festive complaint session. In the course I’m working up, my plan is to identify the positive behaviors instead:
It’s great to see these in play and developing as skills.