A quick, possibly obvious thought about roleplaying

Last Sunday I played Spione with James and Raquel. We’re not finished yet, and that’s actually what this post is about. During this session, I think that I finally grokked Spione and, in a larger sense, the reality behind Ron’s term “Story Now”.

We got started around 9:00. James had never played, and Raquel had only one playtest experience from back in March 2006. (We recorded that session, by the way, which you can find here.) So I was laying out how the game works: Trespasses, Maneuvers, Flashpoint, the Cold, all that.

Things started off slowly, but I think that they were going well. Sure, we had that stumbling feeling that you get when people are learning a game, but James and Raquel were getting it. In particular, James commented that he appreciated the authorial style of Spione more than the specific character focus of other roleplaying games. (Those are my words, but that’s what he meant.)

So, a positive session. The spies were getting wrapped up in the web of relationships, the Cold was closing in, and all that stuff. A little melodramatic at times, but I can accept that, too.

Most importantly to the point of this post, there was a sense of flow. Someone would say something, which would spark an idea in someone else, which would then press the story forward. Specifically, there was no sense of having to get anywhere. Really, it seemed like the driving question was something like this: “In light of what we’ve seen so far, what’s the next logical thing to happen?” It was a good vibe.

But it was getting late, and it didn’t look like we’d be able to finish.

James started trying to pull the threads together. Suddenly that sense of flow went away. Now the driving question was “Where do we need to be?” Everything felt different.

We called a brief story conference and agreed that we just wouldn’t try to finish that evening. Instead, we’d play through to the next Flashpoint and then pick up the game later. We all agreed and proceeded with Maneuvers. The sense of flow returned.

We ended with a cliffhanger of sorts. Thomas Baum and Fiona Summers have both been betrayed by romance (though in different ways) and doubled back on their handlers. In the final Flashpoint, both of their original handlers figured out that they have been doubled.

The next session should be interesting.

But the big lesson that I learned is that you can’t drive towards any sort of predetermined ending in these games of ours, even if that ending is simply a specific time constraint. If you try to focus on the future, the game doesn’t work. Instead, simply work in the present. “In light of what we’ve seen so far, what’s the next logical thing to happen?”

I hope that I don’t sound like I’m being critical of James. I’ve done this very thing before and, honestly, if the system didn’t constrain the ending via Supporting Cast, I probably would have done the same. But it wouldn’t have worked and, honestly, it wouldn’t be as good. We probably would have wrapped with both spies being doubled, and that would have been it. Instead, we’re only a part of the way into the whirlwind with much more to come.

Now, I know that Ron has been saying this for years, but it finally clicked in my head. This is the “Now” of “Story Now” that he keeps talking about. And I guess that I knew it all along, but I finally saw it in action. Something for me to tuck away in my mind for future games.

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