Yesterday we finally managed a new session of Hantverksklubben, our ongoing experimental GM-less freeform group. The theme for the day was "Feelgood", and it was a … mixed success. The original post in Swedish is here. The text below is translated using Google with slight touch-ups, but the language might not be perfect.
Finally we got to a session with Hantverksklubben, after two canceled sessions. This time we got together five participants: me, Kim, Helma, Bunny (Björn) and Lukas. Helma noted beforehand, however, that she was a little tired and dropped out after maybe 2/3 of the game. The theme was "Feelgood", suggested by Bunny. He thought that we are often bad at giving space to the positive emotions and instead focus on conflicts and suffering, a feeling that would prove justified. Here is the list of topics we talked about:
- Focus on the interpersonal, friendship
- Niceville, A Wonderful Friendship, Forrest Gump, Mamma Mia, Studio Ghibli, Wolf Children, The Green Book, sports movies
- Need vs. want, self-fulfillment
- Uncertainty vs. conflict. Who are these people, what are their relationships, background, etc.
- Freudian excuse
- Replaying the scene
- Let scenes take time
- Atmosphere, details, add descriptions in pauses in the dialogue
- Express feelings
- Love, friendship, self-fulfillment, discovering how much you enjoy helping others
- Discovering that being different is okay, discovering the value of others, learning from each other
- End on a positive note
- Start low and go upwards
- Flashbacks, show the background, what the person has been through.
- Never cynical
- There may be elves
(The latter added ironically after Bunny chose the "urban fantasy" genre and we tried to talk about what it means. However, it would prove to be the most important item on the entire list.)
Sebbe is a young elf who is unable to get his life on track. He shares an apartment with Jimmy but finds it difficult to pay his share of the rent, as he can't manage to keep a job. He got fired from his last gig at the factory when he arrived late and punched the boss Benny, a straightforward man who does not want "elf trouble" in his workplace. After some mediation by Jimmy, he manages to get his job back, and there he meets Gloria, an older elf who lives by the motto "Keep your head down and stay out of trouble". The lives of these three people will change fundamentally due to this meeting. Sebbe discovers his own worth and his real calling as a chef, Gloria is reunited with the idealistic artist spirit she had when she was young, a side of herself that she's been trying to displace in favor of a grayish everyday "hard-working" attitude, and Benny discovers the value of a culture he previously dismissed, and finds love there.
This sounds very feelgood, but most of the positive was concentrated in the last (admittedly long) scene. The story was good and gripping in many ways, and dealt with topics such as xenophobia, discrimination, youthful dreams and the gray oppression of everyday prosaic reality. But we had a hard time actually getting that much feelgood. Part of that, I think, was simply that the story grabbed us and swept us along in its own logic. I set the first scene and considering that we had talked about that you could start a little sad and then work your way up, that you could work with contrasts, I set a rather gloomy scene. Later, themes of discrimination against elves came into the story and we explored this a lot. I think if we had started in a different way, we could probably have gotten more of a feelgood story throughout, but part of that may also be the habit we have of constantly introducing drama and conflict.
Two scenes stand out in my mind when it comes to the tone of the game. In one, police arrived to arrest the young elves Zirion and Yumma. It began fairly calmly, but escalated sharply and ended with a police officer severely beaten by Zirion's supernatural powers. In the other, Benny and Jimmy were drinking beer in a pub and a group of drunk and loud elves came in. It ended with Benny having his first positive experience of Elvish culture and friendship, and meeting the woman who would become his wife. These scenes were interesting in that their endings were unexpected and transformative and changed the situation, and they changed the tone of the story quite drastically.
I must also mention the big plot twist in the story. From the beginning we had followed two seemingly completely unrelated stories: The one about Sebbe and Gloria and the one about Zirion and Yumma. Towards the end, in a scene that apparently jumped several years into the future when Zirion is released from prison, Lukas, who played Yumma, drops the bomb:
"My name is not Yumma anymore. I call myself Gloria now."
"Gloria? That's a human name."
"I got a job. At the factory."
It turns out that all the scenes we saw with the two young elves took place many years in the past, and Yumma was Gloria as a young woman. The contrast between the idealistic and artistic Yumma and the cynical and pragmatic Gloria made that blow land quite heavy.
So the conclusion here is that we got to a feelgood end, but that it was not so easy to make room for positive emotions during the game. I think we could have added more intermediate scenes and spent some time with the characters along the way, and I would probably have liked to have seen a slightly more gradual transition to the last scene where everything was resolved. See more of Benny who slowly got to see his prejudices questioned, see how Sebbe slowly regains his self-confidence through cooking. Watch Yumma slowly come in contact with the zest for life she has lost. However, it was already a pretty long session, and we did not really have time for it. But I also think that part of the reason we did not get so much feelgood during the game was just that the story grabbed us and we did not fight back.