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Psychic social science fiction hits the "drama" button

We continue with Khaotic, in our Spelens Hus group! With special attention to the remarkable internalization each player has undergone regarding their characters, as I've received plenty of contributions from all of them regarding backstories, plans, details, and relationships.

The video below is session 5 and a reflection afterwards, ontinuing with the game first introduced at What could go wrong? and, I might add, answering that question in some detail.

The characters in this game are often stuck together literally, psychically occupying a single body, but this occurs only when they do a TransEgo jump to Xenos. On Earth, they are regular people running around independently, and it's clear from the text that plenty of play is expected to occur there. One engages just as much with 2030 Earth (as conceived in 1994, the game's year of publication) as with the striking tech-noir of Xenos.

Play so far hasn't allowed much such play, so this session is the first in which getting immediately to Xenos isn't the primary aim of the ISES management. As my reflection at the end mentions, I've put a fair amount of effort lately into claiming and interpreting the book's extensive setting material, "Ron"-ing it if you will, so that many of the authors' agencies, cultural implications, persons, and science-fiction-things have gone through a filter, either to be abandoned, adopted more or less as written, or re-shaped in my way. So now I'm feeling very comfortable and ready for anything, located anywhere on Xenos and anywhere on Earth.

Also in this session, since the visuals were borked, I used maps throughout the presentation to show where the characters are. This was a particularly nice example of how a map interacts with the players' statements about their characters' movements and with my decisions about how to play the NPCs, including the outcomes of interactive rolls. The result is to see where each person is and what they have in-hand and in-mind when the monster-bomb goes off, and for that (all the locations, et cetera) to make a lot of sense in terms of what can happen next.

Actual Play


Ron Edwards's picture

Whew. I got behind on posting these because, for unknown reasons, my recording software borked out only for this game, which was very upsetting. The warmth and interconnection among us as a role-playing group is so marked that I really, really want to showcase it for anyone who wants to know "what this RPG thing is."

Well, whatever it is seems to have passed, with a somewhat dodgy and scratchy recording for session 6 and a perfectly suitable one for session 7. Here's the link to session 6 inside the playlist.

The events of these sessions bear witness to a crucial point: that I cannot front-load session events for this game except within my specific and highly-bounded range. In order to play them, I had to consider what Prime Minister Krog, Isabella Bayne, Lydda, Machal, Wanda Welcome of the Alien Safehouse Program, Director Brackenberry of ISES, Jimmy Rimskiy (acting on instructions from the Russian government), Daryl Kasparian, Jack Boerth (agent for EON Enterprises), and several other people were (a) themselves encountering due to recent events and (b) moving to do. I had to stay alert to play others who became involved based on who went where, like J.J. Deerfield, head of ISES security, and Danielle, Brackenberry's daughter.

With the new jump to Xenos for session 7, I really had to be ready about this. I had no way to plan where the players would try to jump to, either location or person, because it's up to them (even a faild roll would put them somewhere random), so I went through my list of everybody and thought about what they had been encountering in the interim since the last jump events, and what they'd be doing. It may seem to you "perfect planned GMing" that they ended up in the body of the one person in possession of the files they needed ... but that's not true. I knew Machal had them, why she had them, and what she was (badly) trying to do. They could have ended up in the body of anyone involved in this situation, e.g., if they'd chosen someone else, or if they'd missed the roll to land in her body. Given results like that, Machal probably would have ended up dissected in the Cyberlab next to Bova, and the papers could have been in the hands of very different persons.

Ron Edwards's picture

There is a lot to appreciate in the events we played, including the in-play result of some critical decisions I had made about the key NPCs in the game's backstory. It was really important to me that Timmy, the rebel leader, would neither be ridiculous nor the solve-everything Jesus "guy they must find." The text is simultaneously full of great points and ideas about him but also veers hard toward the latter plot function. As with a fair amount of this game's extremely specific fictional content, I tried hard to validate as much as I could but also shaped it into a form that I could not only tolerate but feel passionate about. The players really latched onto interacting with him and I think we produced a joint result that makes me feel proud to be involved.

Here's the direct link into the playlist.

I also would like people to watch this session because of its problems. We don't talk enough about problems in play here, especially since I'd like to invent, slowly, a functional social way to do that.

  • Collectively, we stumbled more often than usual over simple rules. Me included, e.g., I struggled terribly with the Concealment skill rules even while Helma tried to explain them to me.
  • We lost track of who was a cricket vs. boss, therefore who could be communicating with whom, especially toward the end of the session.

I thought it was just the last 20 minutes or so of play, but you can see even in the first 15 minutes that basic information and rules procedures are shaky. It's not any one person, it's almost everyone, at one point or another, and each time, it seems to me (while editing) that the chance for it to happen again increases.

The reasons and therefore solution are super easy, fortunately. I had canceled the previous week's session so there was a lag in real-life pacing. I didn't provide a "what we know" document, which was very definitely due. I'd done this once before andit had proved to be critically useful during the next few sessions; now that those events were essentially concluded, the group really needed a new summary and perspective. So that's my immediate task for preparing for next session.

More subtly, the game itself poses an in-fiction analogy to a role-playing group: the "crickets," in particular, are capable of free-form speech relative to whatever the "boss" of the body is doing, as well as any mind-based actions. Any dialogue or empathic communication among crickets is also specified by exactly whom the speaker names as receivers, including (or excluding) the boss. They may also use their psychic talents and powers as directed actions outside of the body.

Therefore the dynamics of play (system, order of actions, Willpower challenges, decisions requiring consensus, and more) occur among a very interesting structure: GM to boss, boss to crickets, GM to crickets. It is deliberately cacophonous among the player-characters.

Consider the rather militaristic structure Alan describes in DragonQuest (1980/1982) and "old school" rules, which solve the problem of cacophony among the real persons at the table. Khaotic ambitiously provides a fictional cacophony, in knowledge or confidence that play is functional enough to include that as a feature - i.e., not among the real persons.

Since that functionality has been evident throughout most of the game so far, I'm working up my summary document and looking forward to next time.


Helma's picture

So ... let’s talk about problems – in a good way. I like the game, and I like what we do with it. But it certainly is not easy on those playing it. If you had a bad day at work and go into a session tired, if you for some reason missed to recap what happened last session, if you have a headache – the game will not give you a chance to take it easy - you will struggle and you have a pretty god chance to take others down with you.
Sticking to the points Ron mentions: abilities in this game often come in pairs that are distinctively different but still difficult to keep apart, like persuation and sincerity or disguise and conceal – which I mixed up when trying to explain to Ron what I was looking for and why, additionally complicating things.
I’d insist that we normally are really good in keeping the “cricketing” in character and out of character apart and are used to look out for each other in real life to the extent that I was really astonished when I recently realised that Ron is the only one in the group I have met in person. This group is something very special and I am honored to be part of it. Last week we messed up, the amount of new information, the frequent change of boss and even host simply became to much. Because we were eager to play – given that we hadn’t for two weeks, none of us did realise in time that we needed a break to regroup.

Well, at least I learned a couple of things from this experience I would not have learned otherwise and I hope it makes me a better player. Still, I think there was some progress made and I at least am very excited to find out what’s next.

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