Deal

1. it is possible there is love. let us pretend there is. but not in this game.
2. you still need love. or money. or something else. you need.

characters
your character wants something. they are driven by it.
they might admit it to themselves.
they might not.
you will play with one other person.
their character also wants something.
you have it.

examples
you want love, to be loved. you work hard and make money.
they want money. they can fake love.
you want to be good. you can provide a house, stability.
they want safety. they can fake that you’re a good person.

the lie
you never, ever, ever say out loud what you want. you never, ever, ever say out loud what you provide.
neither do they.

the scenes
1. you meet. you talk about whatever, do whatever.
underneath it all, the animals inside you sense that the other can provide what you want.
keep on talking about whatever.
do whatever.

2. you are apart.
the need.
you have found someone who can provide.

3. you meet again, and again.
let’s see some short scenes. montage. just sentences, vignettes.

4. now what?
how long do you keep it up?
let’s see some more scenes.
and more.
and more.

5. did you say it out loud?
did you mention it?
what happened?
what happens now?

6. can you live with each other, and with yourself?
this might be a happy ending.
or a redemption.
or splitting up.

7. epilogue
fun! will you fall into the same pattern?
will you break free?
who the hell are you, really?

A history of Archipelago

Archipelago is the most played of my games. Probably because it’s one of the best – and because it’s one of the few that actually have a market potential. Many of the games I make are things that few people are interested in, and fewer actually play. Because, you know, I’m a fucking artist.

I say “my” – and for some years it was just my game; but without Jason Morningstar it wouldn’t be what it is now, as you’ll see from the history below. He’s an awesome guy. We’ve met for about 10 minutes, during which he mostly said “I’m ill and have to go to my room”, or “could you talk to this guy, because I’m exhausted from being ill”. Other than that, we know each other only via the internet.

Aaaanyway. Let’s go.

0. Earthsea

A million years back, I wanted to make an Earthsea role-playing game. I started out a campaign with the basic premise that we’d add rules as we needed them. We ended up with a ridiculously simple “roll 1d6 and see what happens” system for ship combat, I think. Other than that, everyone played several characters, and we more or less took turns focusing on each player’s major character while other people played support. The basic vibe from this game made it into Archipelago, and is still a vibe that lives on in some of my best campaigns. I can’t entirely describe it. I’m not going to try.

Since I and my group had no idea what we were doing (this was probably around 1992), we tried out some shared narrative responsibility and failed pretty badly. At one point, a bunch of NPCs hosed a major character for no reason, and we had no way to stop what was just simple player dysfunction. That problem followed me through several later GM-less efforts, such as Will the Emperor Fall?, which had a memorably stupid playtest session where the main focus was the branded buttocks of one of the characters. I wanted the rules to work, and didn’t want to arbitrarily veto stuff, so I sat there and endured while the other players giggled and made my epic fantasy game into a ridiculous parody. These players are still my best friends, and people I love to play with. They’re still stupid, too.

1. Archipelago

In 2007 I designed Archipelago. I do not recall how. A lot of it just came to me as a result of thoughts that had been going on for 10-15 years, and all of a sudden it just seemed to fit together. I had no idea this would be the game that worked. It did work, although not all the people in the first playtest liked it. I changed almost nothing from first playtest to publication.

Archipelago contained the famous “Do it differently” phrase, which was made specifically to make it impossible for my best friends to fuck up the game. It also contained “More details”, which was based on the writing style of Ursula K LeGuin, author of the Earthsea books. She sometimes jumps in and adds a lot of detail about some more-or-less random setting element, making it appear as if the entire world has depth and detail. She has explained that in reality, she knows nothing more about the worlds she creates than what is written in the books; it’s all just a clever trick. I like that trick, and it works in games.

Players could have ownership of different elements of the fiction. This was done to make sure that things like, for instance, geography or the nature of magic had some consistency – things in GM-less games can get pretty gonzo pretty quickly if everyone can just add to everything.

The first version of the game had a simple resolution mechanic, drawing cards from a standard deck of playing cards. That changed later.

There were veto rules, pretty much lifted directly from Dirty Secrets by Seth Ben-Ezra, which had just come out.

Destiny points were based on the idea that major characters had destinies. The technique of writing them down so people would play towards them was from Eirik Fatland’s fate play technique. The idea of having several destinies, and letting people choose from them, was based on another game where people could choose from suggestions – I think Penny For Your Thoughts, but I could be wrong.

2. Archipelago II

A few people I didn’t personally know played Archipelago I, and gave feedback. (Chris Bennett, Robert Earley-Clark, Willem Larsen and Chris Peterson). That made me think the game might have, as we say in Norwegian, “livets rett” – the right to live. In the summer of 2009 I suddenly decided to make a new version of the game, adding a few elements.

One new element was resolution cards based on impro theatre. These cards, labeled “Yes, and…” and “No, but…” and similar, were something I’d made & tried out for an Itras By campaign in 2007 (for more about the relationship between Itras By and Archipelago, see http://www.story-games.com/forums/discussion/18000/itras-by-and-archipelago-a-love-story/p1).

The other element was fate cards, based on the chance cards Ole Peder and Martin had made for Itras By.

These cards were just thrown in. I’d never playtested them for Archipelago, and I put the game on the internet with no further testing.

3. Last Train out of Warsaw

So I was pretty happy with the game – at least, the way the ritual phrases worked. I’d put some thought into it, and could see how they made groups work better, which was something I was thinking a lot about (I put an essay on group dynamics into Archipelago II). I was a little frustrated that people weren’t immediately picking it up, playing it, and carrying me through the streets on their shoulders while sacrificing goats and wine and chocolate to me, but that’s just how I am. A few people did play it, though, and it started getting a litttttle bit of buzz.

Suddenly, Jason Morningstar posted this on the Nørwegian Style blog:

“I really like the game and would like to hack it in my own directions, and wanted your approval before I started.”

And I went, huh? And sure, and what? And he’d written an entire game, an Archipelago hack with a scenario and ready-made characters. Completely not the generic game I’d made. I tried it out and he put it on the internet.

4. Crazy shit happens

For the next year or two, people started doing stuff with Archipelago. Jamie Fristrom designed his own cards, and made a hack combining Archipelago and James Wallis’ Once Upon a Time. Willem Larsen came up with new phrases, techniques and even ASL signs. Pablo Martínez translated it into Spanish, Maitresinh into French. Anders Nygaard made a Stormtrooper hack. Richard Williams made a game, Anarktica, expanding on the Archipelago rules. And Rafael Chandler made a hack using miniatures and dice. (Yeah, I KNOW!)

5. Love in the Time of Seið

While crazy shit was happening (the exact chronology can be pieced together from the post on Archipelago II, I think), I contacted Jason asking if he wanted to collaborate on a game. He did, and we made Love in the Time of Seið. It was partly based on a movie script I never finished, but I’m not sure if I ever told Jason that; anyway, he and I changed it a lot from its initial premises. He made a very tight web of relationships for the characters, and we made up a lot of cool locations. I think we actually used Google Wave to collaborate, moving to Google Docs after a while. It was very exciting for me working with Jason, who I have a lot of respect and admiration for.

The game had some innovations and changes, especially the use of location cards, the introduction of Themes and Events and theme guides. This was a continuation of the Fate cards in Archipelago II, only tied much tighter into the setting and characters. We also gave each characters some questions to answer, based on the Montsegur technique.

To make things easy, and because we’re such awesome human beings, we give the proceedings to charity. Jason has handled all the practical matters, and did the layout for the game.

6. Archipelago III

In 2012 Jason contacted me. He wanted to make a better-looking, better-edited & updated version of the rules.

We decided to add two new phrases to the official ruleset: “Help”, to get input from the group; and “Harder”, to encourage players to really push where it hurts. Both had been tried and found to make the game more fun. We removed the use of tokens to track location, since none of us actually used that, and we simplified the veto rules.

Jason worked on the resolution cards, adding some, changing others, to make a bigger and more varied set.

7. What now?

We’ve had two aborted attempts at sequels. Now, however, we’ve got a pretty-much-finished game, a sister game to Love in the Time of Seið, which I’m very happy with. It’s sexy, full of intrigues, and has interesting gender-roley stuff going on. We need to edit it more and get design for it, and then we’ll put it out there.

Meetings of the Learned Strawmen

So you thought the Strawmen weren’t real?

That they were fictional beings? Collections of opinions that nobody actually held? Of plans that nobody had actually laid?

You were so naïve.

They do exist. They meet in secret places to lay their sinister plans. To discuss YOU. To find out how to control YOU. To make YOU think and act the way THEY want.

Let’s take a look and find out what they’re up to.

Continue reading

The Patriarch’s Head

 

Image
 
I wrote a short storytelling game based on the mysterious murder of Patriarch Lukijan Bogdanovic. They said it was a suicide at first, but then they never found his head.

 

It’s for 2 or more players, super easy, no prep, takes 10-60 minutes depending on how much people describe stuff.

 

If you read it or try it, let me know what you think!

 

 – Matthijs

Get it here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1r0zJCxuo8_cy5msWCA1KALecTNpUWrdRXv3az7Epo2U/edit?usp=sharing

 

Small talk the RPG

A conversational role playing game for 1-∞ players.

Characters: The player’s play themselves, so there’s no particular character set-up process.

Small talk is a game of conversation for its own sake. It’s a collaborative game. The reward is opening for deeper conversations, affirming relationships and avoiding silence.

It’s good practice to play the game with new acquaintances.

The game can last as short as a casual greeting or as long as it takes to get your hair cut at the hairdresser’s. Or the length of a taxi ride, as the case may be.

Some rules:

* Greet the other players in a friendly way.
* Try to keep the conversation upbeat and positive.
* Casual compliments are ok, but keep it superficial. Don’t get creepy.
* Try out some casual eye contact now and then, but don’t stare.
* Smile.
* Respect the other player’s personal space.
* Be polite and respectful.
* Find common ground. Be politely inquiring about the other player’s interests, and see if you can find some topic of conversation that will interest you both. Or that you can endure listening to.
* Ask open-ended follow-up questions starting with words like «how…» and «what…». Or make relevant statements.
* Share some stuff about yourself and your day, but don’t over-share. Don’t get into symptoms, diseases, sensitive subjects and extreme negativity.
* It’s ok to bitch and complain as long as you don’t do it about sensitive topics. The weather is a very good topic of conversation.
* Notice your surroundings. You can riff off of them for further conversational topics.
* Avoid sensitive subjects like religion, politics and sex. You can also drop death, divorce and diseases. You know what I mean.
* Humor is good. Just remember the taboo topics.

You can even play the game without anyone knowing you’re playing a game.

To round of, here’s a quotation from Keith Johnstone’s “Impro – Improvisation and the Theatre”, which you may or may not find relevant:

“Many people will maintain that we don’t play status transactions with our friends, and yet every movement, every inflection of the voice implies a status. My answer is that acquaintances become friends when they agree to play status games together.”

Sources: Slik blir du god til å småprate, How to make Small Talk, Wikipedia.

Follow-up to “Status in small communities”

Some additional thoughts after my last blog post.

Category: Connectedness

I was going to write this, but plain forgot. This one is connected to visibility, and is very relevant for cultural production.

  • Do you have friends who can tell people how awesome you are?
  • Do you have high-status people who can help you gain visibility?

 

The flashlight metaphor

I tend to think of status like this: Every member of a community has a little flashlight – something they can use to shine on themselves or others, to direct attention.

  • The higher your status, the stronger your flashlight – if you’re a high-status individual, people will look at the things you point at.
  • The better you’re connected, the more friends you have that can shine their flashlights on you.
  • A group of friends who keep shining on each other will get a lot of attention, and a lot of people will get jealous or angry that they’re hogging the spotlight.
  • If you’re not connected at all, you’ll have to shine on yourself to get attention, and that can backfire, because it makes you look selfish.
  • When you’re in the light, you better have something to show, because otherwise people will be less inclined to point at you the next time you get your chance.
  • The light you receive is not directly connected to the quality of your work or person. You can be great and stand there in the dark, because nobody’s heard of you and you don’t have any friends in this community.
  • Light hangs around for a bit, and then fades away.

Status in small communities

The word “status” gets used a lot in discussions, especially in some gaming communities I’m part of. This is my attempt to understand and describe what the word means, and how status works in a small community. I’ve spoken to people from different countries and communities to try to get different viewpoints; however, this isn’t a scientific article in any way, and the thoughts presented here are my own, incorporating ideas and thoughts from many sources.

My intention when starting this article was to give some sort of definitive answer. Not going to happen. This is a part of an ongoing discussion, but it might be a good reference for later talk. Enjoy, and comment!

What is status?

Social status, according to Wikipedia, is “the honor or prestige attached to one’s position in society”. However, it’s not as simple as that: You don’t hold only one position in one fixed society. Rather, your status is relative to each specific community – and each member of a community will have their own idea of what your status is. It’s a moving target – one of those words that we use that everyone knows what means until you start investigating it. (For more words like that, check out “immersion”, “art” and “love”).

But let me try to define it at least a little bit. It seems status isn’t just one thing – rather, it’s composed of different categories. You could say that the higher your “score” in each category, the higher your total status. I mean, if you were a gamer, you could say that.

So here, without further ado: The categories of status.

Category: Visibility in the community

Do people have reason to notice you in the community? For instance…

  • Are you present at gatherings, big and small? Cons, festivals etc.

  • Do you make your presence known? Are you charismatic, well-dressed, a party animal…

  • Do you make your voice heard? At online fora, panel debates etc.

Radars

People notice different things, of course, and have different filters on reality – so one person might not notice you while another knows exactly who you are and where your children go to school. This is based a lot on personal interest, but it also seems there are different types of relational radars, by which I mean:

Some people notice social hierarchies. I know I do: I pay attention to who gets to speak when, who gets to interrupt people, who gets listened to, who makes the final call in group decisions. I sometimes see people as leaders and followers, and base social decisions on that.

Some people care more about social closeness. Who do you trust, personally? Who gets to be in your inner, most intimate circles, and who stays just a little further out? If this is your radar, you’re likely to talk about people in terms of whether they’re trustworthy, how they treat others, because this information is important to you. (Also, see the “Ethics” category below.)

Category: Contribution to the community

This is not the same as visibility. If you do a lot for the community, some people will notice and some won’t. If you talk a lot and do nothing, again, some will notice and some won’t.

So are you an unselfish contributor? Do you do things not just for your own sake, but for the sake of everyone? For instance…

  • Do you organize things for others? Cons, trips etc?

  • Do you help others get their projects going? With funding, social ninja-ing, proofreading etc?

  • Do you set up organizations that strengthen the community?

Category: Cultural production

This one’s a bit tricky, and I’m not sure if I’ve nailed it – that is, something about it feels fuzzy and undefined, but it’s the start of a thought.

  • Do you produce artifacts that are valued by the community? For instance, if you’re in a gaming community, are you a game designer?

This is related to both contribution and visibility; being a cultural producer makes you more visible, and it’s a contribution, but it’s not an unselfish one. These things make this category interesting and hard to pin down.

Category: Attractiveness

Weighted, of course, by what community you’re in – however, there’s no escaping the fact that looks matter.

  • Are you, by the standards of the community, physically attractive?

  • Do you dress right? Or even set the tone for how to dress?

Of course, here a lot of sexual undercurrents and unwritten rules make things a bit muddled. For instance, if you’re a very beautiful and sharply-dressed woman, that might make it harder for you to be accepted for some positions, in some circles etc.

Category: Ethics

The wrong behavior can really fuck up your status in a community, no matter what else you do.

  • Do you behave like a good model participant/leader should?

  • Is your personal conduct good?

  • Is your personal conduct as people would expect from your position?

Fighting is an interesting thing here. It’s wrong to start a war (for instance, to conquer an oil-producing nation while lying about your motives) or a big public fight (for instance, to make the other guy/girl accept that You’re The Smartest). Still, fights can give you great visibility, and as a leader, you might be expected to fight… so yeah. It can make you popular, because we’re animals.

Intra-community behavior

This might be a separate category, or maybe it belongs here; but it’s important to some how you treat others, as people. For instance:

  • Do you see others and help them contribute?

  • Are you kind and helpful to newcomers, and try to make them part of your community?

Category: Influence/power

Yeah, it’s good to be the king. It’s also good to own the web site that everyone visits, so you can decide what’s cool and what’s not. Or to be the person who decides what projects get funded or not.

For instance:

  • Can you make others do what you tell them?

  • Can you make decisions that impact what others can do in the community?

So, there you have it.

That’s what I’ve got right now. If you find this useful or thought-provoking, please let me know in the comments! (I’ll be moderating them, of course, so be nice.)