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Annalise (solo play)

I am playing Annalise by Nathan Paoletta for the first time. I’ve only just begun to engage with the system, since I’m only a couple of scenes into play. That being said, I am looking forward to get back into it.

I am playing by myself (solo). I consider myself experienced at it, though I’ve only recently started to find ways to make it satisfying for myself. I’m 45. I am not sure what other background might be useful here, so I’m open to answering any questions.

So, this is what has happened in the game so far: 

 John Klein is an up and coming reporter. In the opening scene, his life is turned upside down when his wife is killed in a violent, random mugging. Then, a year later, John finds out he has a brain tumor. After the diagnosis, he starts having weird experiences  that one part of him feels is real, but his rational self cannot accept. Are they hallucinations caused by the tumor?

For example, at a nondescript bar he thinks he overhears a man in a black suit say: “...brain tumor. We didn’t know, but you are going to die no matter what” and other bizarre talk about his wife. Yet, when he asks the bartender if he heard, he assures him he’s never seen the guy and that John is just hearing chatter from the basketball game on TV.

I left the game at a point where there was a sort of hallucination involving a being with red eyes and giant wings on his back.

Regarding Annalise’s rules:

I’ve only been engaged with chargen and making Claims so far. Chargen was interesting. I really liked the potential of the Vulnerability and Secret I chose:

  • Vulnerability: I am vulnerable because I feel guilty about my wife’s death (Connie). (7c)
  • Secret: Unbeknownst to him, John has a developing form of extra sensory perception. Its first manifestation was the feeling he got during the incident that ended up killing Connie. (3c)

I have not really leaned enough into the Vulnerability as I develop John through play. I intend to correct that.  

I’ve also made a few Claims, and I do like the feeling of seeing a fictional element and thinking to myself, “Oh yeah, I’m going to f**k with this.” I’m figuratively rubbing my hands when I do that.  I do have some concerns with the use of Claims to interject fiction in a solo context insofar as I think overdoing it could deflate the experience for me by turning it into an exercise in daydreaming without any outside input. I also have some related concerns regarding the conflict mechanic (due to past experiences playing games like Remember Tomorrow and Our Last Best Hope by myself).

With other gmless games, I’ve tended to play all the characters myself, or act as the antagonist for multiple characters. With Annalise, my intention is to just focus on John to see how that goes.

Since I mentioned solo play again,  I think this is a good point to mention that I am using a version of the cut-up technique (link to Wikipedia) to help me generate fiction. It helps me feel like I’m just making up stuff by myself (which I find boring). I made my cutups from the movie script of The Mothman Prophecies movie circa 2002 (with Richard Geere as John Klein). It’s not a 100% random as you are making choices as you sift through these and pick or reject snippets. I try not to be too intentional in how I choose the cut ups. They just have to be coherent given the context.

I am also using a dice mechanic to answer yes or no questions about the fiction/world. If you imagine flipping a coin to answer yes/no questions about the world/fiction, you have the basic idea of what the dice mechanic does. I took the dice mechanic in Trollbabe almost wholesale, but changed Fight/Social/Magic to It/Me/You. There’s more to it, but that’s the basic core.

The combination of both would be what soloists might call an ‘oracle’ (aka ‘game master emulator’), and this happens to be the one  I rolled one for my own use (link DTRPG). I rely much more on the cut up technique for that than I do on the dice mechanic for generating the content that I don’t generate when playing my character. (In another game of Remember Tomorrow, I use a similar cut up technique to generate output for the Player Characters while I take on the role of antagonist for each of them). The reason I enjoy it so much is because of all the surprising details that come out of all that fiction someone else wrote.

I think that covers at a high-level how the “not-me” content was generated.

When it comes the fiction more intentionally created by me, so far it’s just been me reacting as John Klein to what the cut up text presents me. I have not yet made use of Annalise’s rules to generate the fiction, but will eventually use my Claims and use the conflict mechanics.

I’m happy to discuss anything in the post that piques people’s interests. I can talk more at length about how IU think my solo approach differs from the more usual approaches, or whatever. I also have some thoughts about conflicts in general, as far as my solo games go (I find them tricky at times).

Hope this is useful and interesting. 

-Alex

Department: 
Actual Play
Games: 
Annalise

Comments

This: "It helps me feel like I’m just making up stuff by myself (which I find boring)." should read "It helps me feel like I’m NOT just making up stuff by myself (which I find boring)." :)

Ron Edwards's picture

Fixed! (you can always send me a Contact message when this happens)

Thank you, Ron!

Sean_RDP's picture

On a personal level, I enjoy solo gaming. Last year I played around with Ironsworn in solo mode and had a good time, but there were some issues. At some point I will revisit it again. I have Thousand Year Old Vampire in my sights after doing an interview with the creator a few years ago. How does Annalise compare to your other solo experiences? What inspired you to choose the Mothman Prophecies for the framework of play?

I think what might have inspired me were of the examples of play around Claims that tended to use them as an atmospheric “tell” of the vampire's presence. If you have seen the Mothman movie, you’ll notice that whenever there is going to be some weirdness there are some recurring motifs like power lines buzzing, people describing having seen red eyes, phones receivers having weird static, etc. It just seems to fit. We’ll find out!

- Annalise vs other experiences

It’s a bit difficult right now to compare from an actual play perspective because I’ve engaged so little with the rules so far. Though I’ve enjoyed the chargen and world building in most of my solo games (especially Shock's), I haven’t always been satisfied with the latter play for different reasons.

Sometimes it was clearly the solo method I was using at the time, which I just couldn’t really get into with gusto because I felt I was just doing something akin to creative writing. This happened with Shock: Social Science Fiction, and that game definitely deserves a re-visit. With others, it might have been anything from something I did in play that painted me into a corner.

The latter is happening right now with the Remember Tomorrow game, where I think the Goal I set for at least one of the characters may have been a bit too vague (e.g. “To rise in rank within the Brothers Wan zaibatsu”). I’ll have to do a post-mortem of that one at some point, but I’m going to try and soldier through it at some point first.  I’ll say, though, that up to that point, it has been a real blast.

Other than that, I have a shortlist of games I’ve completed and enjoyed with no drift:

Our Last Best Hope: I used cut-ups from various meteor disaster movie scripts I found online, including the one with, I think, Morgan Freeman  and the one with Bruce Willis. I’m going from memory, but if I remember correctly, all the threats are set during prep, and every scene ends with one of the threats being chosen randomly from the list you make. So, in essence I could just let the scene drama play out “naturally” without worrying about how the characters were going to have a conflict between them. I just knew that when the scene seemed ready to end, s**t would hit the fan with some disaster, and then I’d engage the rules for that.  

Mythic Roleplaying System:   this is the famous one with the “game master emulator”, but it’s got a full generic rpg system.  I wasn’t using cut ups at the time, but my content generator was a set of cards loosely based on the Tarot. They just happened to be modern looking, and simultaneously mundane yet eerie. 

They don’t generate fiction, but for this particular game which was about a serial killer and a woman with real psychic powers, they were very evocative. The rpg system itself was fine, but I don’t think it particularly stands out. It did provide a very tense moment in a survival sequence in which I thought the psychic would perish, so that happened to work out.

Trollbabe, with a ton of drift:

You could say I wasn’t really playing Trollbabe, but this is where I learned to love its conflict system. I really find it amenable that I don’t have to stat NPCs, so I can just focus on what’s going on between them. At the same time, one of my weird hang-ups about being ‘fair’, caused me to break one of the rules in a weird way that I wouldn’t again.

I have used the core idea of the conflict for other games, basically just winging it when I want to try a setting but I don’t want to use the rules. I just feel the conflict system is very versatile. I have also wanted to break apart the scenario making guidance to see what I can extract to use, but have not given it a real effort yet.  

The solo ‘system’ that I used for this Trollbabe game, btw, was just an ios  predictive text app called Creative Writer. It works the same as Botnik.org.

Anyway...I hear you on Ironsworn! This game has a huge footprint in solo circles—I daresay, more than Mythic. I have not yet tried to play any games in the PBTA lineage, though I own a few and would like to try at some point. Monster of the Week and  The Hood have been on my mind at times.

I took a look at TYOV, and it’s a really interesting mix of writing prompts with resource management. It reminded me of The Plant in that things that you create are later leveraged by the rules.

Thanks for the questions!

Ron Edwards's picture

My apologies for not getting to this sooner. When I played Annalise long ago, the big system feature that jumped out at me concerned the “value” of claims, in a surprisingly monetary sense. I wrote this diagram to try to capture it, which in retrospect probably needs to be broken into smaller diagrams so as not to be so confusing. It currently has two parts, one for the Laying Foundations phase and one for the Confrontation phase.

Briefly (and stated more completely in the diagrams), during the first phase, Claims are created easily, Coins are generated easily and often, Satellite Traits can be made, and using various resources doesn’t deplete them or very little. Whereas during the second phase, Coins come into play a lot of the existing Claims simply evaporate, you can’t make new ones or Satellite Traits, Claims and Coins can be spent for more extreme effects and a lot of the time they don’t come back.

So this is what I’m looking forward to learning about for your game – effectively, the introduction of scarcity and deflation (increased value per uni) of the currency.

Another topic arising from that game, discussed in [Annalise] In which there is neither Annalise nor a vampire, is the multi-player context as it relates to “what is this vampire motif anyway.” In the discussion we talk about a Ouija-board like process (in a positive sense), in which play obviously varies across groups – one group might have one person who really cares about what the vampire is and is like and wants, and everyone else doesn’t so that’s pretty much what happens; or another might have no one who really cares so you end up with a vague and multi-motif effect that may not even be an individual; or yet another might have several players who each contribute specific vampiric content, possibly some contradictory, for a nuanced or perhaps artistically scattershot composite.

I’m a bit awed by your methods or experiences in solo playing games which draw on individual-group multi-creator dynamics, so this is the variable of interest for me this time.

In hopes that you might try this one day, here’s my little Cathedral from 2011.

Hey Ron, No worries!

I’ve been busy with work and other stuff and did not have a chance to comment back until now as well. I also wanted to play another session before replying. I don’t recall having come across Cathedral, though I did buy a copy of Supervillain You a while ago. I remember enjoying my test drive of it and liking the push your luck aspect. I have recommended that game often to solo players who want to play superheroes.

I mean to give Cathedral a try as well. Reading the text sent me on a reading detour about the Christian gospels’ ‘Q source.’ The idea of daydreaming in the game brought to mind the book <a href=’https://www.amazon.com/Games-Play-Your-Head-Yourself/dp/0998379417’>Top 10 Games You Can Play In Your Head, By Yourself</a>. I have not read the book myself, but only some impressions of the contents based on the reviews I’ve seen.

Thank you for the Annalise diagram. I made flowchart of my own, but it’s quite busy. I appreciate how clean and concise your diagram is by comparison. Based on the notes after each diagram, I made a more conscious effort to recognize opportunities for a conflict during this last session.

I only had one Moment during my last session. It was a short scene. That one Moment felt important, though. I created his first Satellite Trait based on his Vulnerability and that gave me more insight into John’s character. I played it ‘safe’ and spent only 2 coins, but I also was a bit fortunate in my rolls so I got an extra coin from the two outcomes I had. I’m going to keep that same outlook (watching out for conflict opportunities) so I can add more currency to the game.

You brought up scarcity and deflation, and now I am also wondering what will happen when those become a factor. It seems that if I don’t get myself a healthy reserve of coins before the next Phase, I might end up with a lot of holds on John, though I'm not sure. If that happens, it might still feel thematic. In the Mothman movie, the supernatural entity/entities do achieve a kind of hold on the mind of Richard Gere’s character through his own vulnerability. I’m not opposed to that happening in this game, but I’m also not trying to follow the movie exactly. We’ll see if something different emerges!

When it comes to gmless games, I would say that my approach has evolved over time. The term that you use, ‘multi-creator’, is so on point too! One of the things that makes RPGs satisfying to me is the ‘back-and-forth’ dynamic between players. The key ingredient within that dynamic, for me, is the contribution of content from outside my imagination.

I feel like traditional ‘oracles’ (solo speak for ‘game master emulators’) are really poor at providing content. Dungeon and hex generators are better by comparison, but only if you limit the scope to procedurally generating those locations. So that leaves other tools like the cut-up technique to sort of provide the kind of content that these other tools can't. 

That being said, if you are not opposed to going completely digital, <a href=’https://play.aidungeon.io/’>AIDungeon</a> is absolute queen.

I can talk up a storm about this. :) I’m happy to answer any specific questions that might come to mind.

Ron Edwards's picture

Thanks for the many kind words!

The term that you use, ‘multi-creator’, is so on point too!

I really like Emily Care Boss' term "GM-full" rather than "GM-less" for the processes we're talking about. I don't know why it didn't become the standard hobby term.

Given all the discussable points you've raised, I'd like to have a screen converstation with you to record and present here. I'll get in touch.

Awesome! I'd love to do that sometime! 

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