the Fairgame Archive

2007-09-29: Anger calling
by Emily

I woke in a state this morning.

Practically snapping at my housemates, irritable and grouchy, wanting to punch something for no good reason at all. I mentioned this to my housemates, so they could not take any of my rough edges personally.  Serena encouraged me. She always likes it when I'm less then sanguine.  We swore and cursed while moving the firewood with Phoebe and Sal. That helped a bit. But what was going on? I finally arrived at it just being hormonal shifts, but why anger?

Then it hit me. That is a door I opened last night.

I've been thinking about the live form version of under my skin—the game dealing with fidelity issues and love outside of normal bounds, the polyamory game essentially—a lot lately, likely due to playing Doubt in Finland and prompted by other conversations I've had, but the tabletop version has been languishing.  It's been in a condition that Ben describes in his process of design as being "a bunch of piles of techniques and ideas" that haven't been fitted together quite yet, that likely need to be sorted through and some tossed out. While hanging out with Joshua A.C.N. last night, he was kind enough to agree and I was cruel enough to ask him to work on the tabletop version with me.  He was game and it was fun—in that broader sense of fun we've been talking about over at Knife Fight.

Pile #1: characters

  • You play a character of your gender and sexual orientation. This used to be a rule in Breaking the Ice (I wonder if anyone remembers that) which did not last, I wonder if it will stay in.  A goal for this game is to play close to home, however, so I think it will fit better.
  • Choose a name, then choose a partner for the character. Spouse, ltr, live-in, whatever but regular partner. The one the character starts the game with the most involvement.
  • The characters get shared stats. You roll for their shared Intimacy, Passion, and Commitments.  I went back and forth on these, but came later to see them as pretty strict categories: intimacy is knowledge or shared experience with the other, passion is sexual attraction and compatibility, commitments are specific ongoing shared activities. The three numbers give you a profile of the relationship.


Kurt and Fran

Intimacy  2

Passion  3

Commitments  4

So, interpreting these numbers gives you a relationship that is more about the external aspects of things.  We thought they'd probably been together a long time—have kids and house etc. Somehow the sex was still pretty satisfying, but they'd come to take eachother for granted.

We started out with my idea to create one shared activity per level of commitment, but ended up making characters that were hard to identify with: had kids, parents live in same retirement community in Florida, hanglide together, share big debt.  The traits were interesting—they'd make for a great Breaking the Ice game—but it was hard to see what made the relationship tick, and easier for us to see ways and reason for them not to stay together.

We made two other characters, Ryan and Irshad, played by imaginary friends. Fran and Ryan share a passion of 6. Kurt and Irshad the same.  You see how this goes. :)

The two other stats the characters have are their Core Issue and Self Knowledge.  The core issue is supposed to be chosen first. Of course I forgot about it until after we'd done the rest.  The intention is for the player to choose an issue—say, abandonment, fear, self-criticism, inadequacy, etc.—that has meaning for themself as a person.

For Kurt, Joshua chose Honesty.

For Fran, I chose Anger.  Yes, it comes clear now what might have been going on for me today. :)

Pile #2: play

I have all sorts of wierd things in mind here.

  • You chart out the progress of scenes, sketching a rough map of boxes representing scenes.
  • You may play out two different versions of the same scene: a best case and worst case scenario of how a situation plays out.
  • There may be flashbacks to past situations that shed light on current issues as reflected in the game.
  • Characters accrue drama points which can only be gotten rid of by triggering other characters.
  • Self-knowledge provides an alternate path somehow. This may be just too didactic and be left out of the game in the end. We'll see.

But how to put all of this together? Who decides how things go wrong? What possible dice can be rolled here? Got to have those d6s to make it of a piece with Shooting the Moon and Breaking the Ice, which it will be published in the same volume with.

Talking it out and mock playing a couple scenes, we came up with this:

  • A pair of characters has a scene together, their characters set up what is happening, the other non-involved players suggest some stress, conflict or source of tension that can enter in.
  • Decide, somehow, which character is going to come off as the bastard in this scene. (Joshua's term, very appropo).
  • The player of the "bastard" offers up so many drama points that will be taken away from their character.
  • The other players suggest how the character screws up. This is a lot like A Penny for your Thoughts, as it turns out. I'd had something similar in mind for a while—a bidding sequence of sorts where the players are exhorted to say how things "could be worse", but the influence is clear here, mechanical outcomes are very similar here, but in reverse.
  • The one whose suggestion is not chosen does not get given the drama points.  The other player gets hit with them.

On thinking more about this, what is important about the scenes—and the game as far as I'm concerned—is the issue of lines.  Sort of like lines as in lines and veils, but rather than about what topics or issues set a person off or make one uncomfortable, the lines here are about what triggers a threat to a person's sense of safety in their relationship and trust of their partner. Where is the line of betrayal? Kissing someone else? Holding their hand? Talking long into the night? Having sex? Taking them to a beloved and special restaurant, or telling them a story about your childhood? What are the invisible boundaries of the sacred space of your relationship, and who can be let in?

And also, why? Why are these the important things? What are they about? What do they symbolize? What does crossing them mean?

It will be the non-bastard character's player who will be responsible for suggesting what the line is that is crossed. They get to say and explore what is the arena of the betrayal.  An opportunity to look within. Then the others flesh it out.

The piles are looking less messy now.

And finally, one of the last things we did with the game, which should be the first thing you do, is have all the players make associations with the core issue for your character—like the word web in BtI, the synonyms and antonyms for StM. We did ones last night:





These will be the themes, the ammo that the players will use to explore the lines and how they are crossed. Starting with this we'll have a sense of the psychological landscape that will be mapped out in play. And, of course, as I found, perhaps in more than just the game. I opened the door to anger, my subconscious picked it up. I'm sure it won't always be this way, but playing close to home is the goal and there will, hopefully, be many other constructive ways that the core issues shed light.

More work to do, but a good beginning.  Many thanks, Joshua. :) That was great.

2007-09-30 03:50:56 Joshua A.C. Newman

It was great, Em. You're a stellar friend and this game is going to be really powerful.

2007-10-01 13:27:24 Meguey

Jeeze, this game scares the crap out of me! It sounds amazing, I'm envious of you two for getting to try it out, and I'm not sure I want to play a game that opens the doors on my anger. That's some scary stuff that is.

Love to you both; hope I see you soon.

2007-10-01 19:00:43 Mark W

I'm with Meguey. Wow. This is definitely one more to add to the stack of games I can't play with almost anyone I know. Sounds like dangerous stuff. Which is where the gold is, as I learned from all those years of D&D.

2007-10-02 03:22:30 Majcher

Wow.  That's some heavy and scary stuff.  I can't wait to see how it shakes out!

2007-10-09 18:16:40 Jonathan Walton

Looks great, Em.  Yay!

Also, what does it mean to play a character "of your sexual orientation"?  I hope that doesn't mean a static and limited "gay, straight, bi" thing, since one of the main perks of the game, in my opinion, is exploring the range of human sexuality and your own.

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