Actual Play – Breaking the Ice.

Okay, so I’m a dork who starts a blog and then does nothing with it for two months. I should have warned y’all: I do this, especially at the beginning. I get periodically obsessed about one of my hobbies and devote whatever free time I have to it. This last month I’ve been sketching. I’ve also been working. More in the last month than in the last year, I’d say. Anyway, on to the post.

Brand and I pretty much have the whole gambit of Nar games now, they’ve been arriving almost daily, in flurries, like snow. The only one we’re missing is Mountain Witch, and that’s just cause shipping to Canada was problematic, so it’s sitting at his folks house waiting to be shipped out in the next couple of days.

So Brand and I decided, quite spur of the moment-y, to play Breaking the Ice tonight. We spread out a big flip chart sheet on the coffee table, break out a mound o’ d6’s and set to work. We settled on something easy to start: Romantic Comedy – a PG 13 John Cusak-y kind of thing somewhere between High Fidelity and Gross Pointe Blank. We ended up nowhere near either of them. Our switch was gender.

Mo: Charles LaFleche
Colour: Purple -Royalty – Entitlement – Wealth
-Talkative – Writer
– Gossip
– Rumour
– Sunset – Lake
– Ending – Coffin

Turned into: Self: Metrosexual New Orleans Playboy
Creole descent
Independently Wealthy
Work: Society Gossip Columnist
Play: Has a summer home
Crowned Prince of Mardi Gras
Beautiful Singing Voice
Conflict: Dead lover: Lorelai

Brand: Deneis King
Colour: Blue – Police – Brutality_________
> Bourbon Street – Stripper
– Saxophone – Jazz – Speakeasy
– Sadness – Rain – Farm
– Sky – Airplane
Turned into: Self: Grew up on a farm
I used to date a cop
Work: Window Dancer
Trained in ballet
Play: Jazz addict
Plays the Sax
Conflict: Jealous Ex

Overview: Background: Charles met Deneis at the club she works at on Bourbon Street, he asked her out, she accepted, he’s going to pick her up.
Date 1: Charles picked Deneis up, she took him to Pirelli’s for the best fried chicken in NO. While there, a couple of cops show up and give Deneis a little bit of a hassle, introducing her ex-bf Marcus (complication) and a finds a friend of hers has started working there, exhibiting her lower class background (re-roll). He handles both situations moderately well, they leave. Deneis plays her sax for him. They discover that they have a mutual interest in Jazz (compatibility), he comes on to her harder, they have a first kiss, he leaves. They’ve established a bit of Attraction to each other (2).

Between dates (reroll on perm attraction), we discover that there has been some rumours circulating about her ex-bf the cop dating a woman with ties to underground crime. Deneis earns new trait: Brother in a gang.

Date 2: It’s just after Easter, lent is over, the N.O. Mardis Gras royalty are gathering, and Charles has brought Deneis as his date. It’s a masquerade ball, and she has come as Odette the Black Swan. The rumour comes out, some society women identify Deneis, call her a slut, make overtones to the crime connections. Charles uses his mad skillz as the local gossip maestro to publicly embarrass the woman. Deneis sticks up for herself before running out. Charles humiliates the woman and then chases Deneis out. She tells him that she can’t live with his job, they part, not intending on seeing each other again. Their attraction grows more, mostly because they have resolved not to be together (4).

Between the dates the rumours get worse, the brother gets arrested and Charles refuses to print the story (re-roll), earning the ire of his boss and the trait: In danger of losing my job.

Date 3: On a suddenly rainy day weeks later, in the entrance archway of Preservation Hall, Charles is waiting out the rain storm when a soaked Deneis ducks in for a moment of respite against the deluge. They talk, and learn that they have more in common : that they believe that what is inside is what counts (compatibility). They apologize to each other, decide do give it one more go. They go for coffee at Cafe du Monde and run into Marcus, who was generally intimidating. Charles goes to stand up for her when she finally stands up to Marcus, and the pair go running off. Cafe du Monde is overrun with a traveling, damp, grumpy octogenarian tour bus load (reroll) so they take their Cafe de Laits and beignets to go and head down to the Jazz National Park. There is a crooner inside, and as they listen, sharing their love of jazz, they dance in the hall and out into the rain. When Charles’ boss comes upon them, who has been brought to witness by the woman who Charles humiliated at the club, Charles confronts him and quits. Deneis and Charles both agree that they are above all the Gossip (compatibility)

Deneis takes him home and after a sexy change of clothes, they have a fade to black. Afterwards, Charles watches her sleep and thinks of Lorelai and finally begins to mourn. She wakes and they talk about the accident that killed her. Deneis comforts him and he asks her to promise him that she won’t die on him, she tells him that she can’t promise that she’ll be there forever, or even that she’ll love him forever, but that she’s here now, and she loves him now, and that’s enough. She told him that it was a mistake to think he was driving then, or that he was driving now. She told him they were all just hydroplaning in life and there wasn’t any control to be had, and in their mutual comfort of each other, the credits rolled. Final attraction score: 6 Final compatibility: 3.

Playing notes:

We struggled a lot to find a happy pace in the game. Because we were learning the whole new fangled dice process, we found that we would get distracted by that and drop the story. So, while the story turned out kind of neat in the end, it wasn’t consistent through the actual play. We weren’t entirely sure when we should be rolling dice, so ended up rolling them as we went (including Attractiveness dice and bonus dice) but this ended up getting us bogged down in vying for re-rolls by making plot go askew when we failed. On a re-read, we see that the book says that conflict/compatibility dice are to be rolled in-scene, but the others should be at the end. That probably would have made for a better focus in scene, but we also wondered if it would end up in a pattern of:

Good date interaction + good date interaction + good date interaction = lots of dice + bad dice roll -> bad date interaction + bad date interaction = higher attraction, and weren’t sure how that would affect the game.

I had some trouble because I’m really an immersivist at heart (and I think that this style of play can entirely be Nar, but this is for another post) and because our story was told in fits and starts I couldn’t really immerse – so I have a more intellectual appreciation for the story than an emotional attachment to it.

I also had problems with the switch, though I so did not expect this. I do not think it was strictly a matter of playing a male character, as I have done this on a number of occasions. I thought maybe it was playing a sexualized boy (less as trouble sexualizing the object of desire but as being the subject of desire in this context) but I don’t think that’s it either. I thing it was more the type of sexualized boy that I was aiming for. I was an envisioning a Jude Law to Brand’s Gabrielle Union, where usually if I had opted to play a boy I would have aimed for a butchier, less upper-crust high society man, and more a blue-collar rake, if this makes any sense.

We thought the word web was a neat chargen idea and liked having input into each other’s character. Now that I’ve seen it in practice, I’d probably apply a better focus and intent to it, and not been so random. We’d probably make more traits at the get go and add them more liberally in play to help shape the story more fluidly. That’s mostly a matter of getting used to how the game works.

We liked that we could decide at 6:30 to play, be about to start actual play by 7:00 and wrap up by 9:00 (with the freedom, of course, to go longer). It made for a fun, non-stressy way to spend an evening. We’ll definitely play again, especially since we have a better idea of how the game should flow, and we expect that when we iron that out between us, it will be loads of fun.

We both liked the idea of “suaving” to earn bonus dice and “flubbing” to earn re-rolls (we both look favorably on system support to reward players to be vulnerable and give), though we have trouble dis-associating the roll from the chronological event of the outcome. The re-roll system is really neither task nor conflict resolution, it’s social support and story generation, yet it determines the attractiveness score and compatibility traits, which are, essentially, the conflict resolution outcomes of the interaction (date). It’s not a bad thing, but it is a whole different take, and therefore requires some stretching to get your head around.

The Active Player/Guide dynamic was very interesting to us, and quite revealing about us. On my part, I’m someone who has rarely been a GM, and so it is not second nature to handle things like awarding bonus dice, determine re-rolls, etc, nor especially to keep track of those things while at the same time contributing to the story. I felt (especially at the beginning) a little torn between the two responsibilities when acting as the Guide. The fact that I was initially negligent highlighted how deftly the bonus die system is an approval generating mechanism. In the book it mentions that the dice you dole out are a method to give props to the Active Player, and it’s interesting to see how true that is. I kept forgetting to give them out, and Brand quickly thought I was not enjoying the game or his contribution to story, so would change gears. When I tried to follow, I would forget again about the dice, and so he’d think the change hadn’t been sufficiently interesting. He frequently had to prompt me to confirm if I had just forgotten to award the dice or if I needed more.

On Brand’s behalf, who has more GM experience than any other person I’ve ever met, he found the Guide roll to be difficult in an entirely opposite way. As a GM, he’s used to being the source of all opposition, the “push” that makes it possible for the characters to make hard moral choices out of which stories are born. In Breaking the Ice, there’s no pusher, and no push. The game is all pull, everything is contribution, collaboration and agreement. It drastically changes the way that story is created, and we both agree that it’s closer to a female mode of story creation, though neither of us are fully sure what that delineation will lead us to. Props to Emily for making a game that allows us to explore that differentiation.

We both found it interesting that as Active Players, neither of us in the course of play ever turned down or even really debated any suggestion made by the Guide. Brand wonders if we had never been each other’s GM’s before if we would have given more resistance, but in the end we think it’s just that the system effectively supported the collaborative aspect, rewarded it by mechanics, and we were both more interested in seeing the process than pushing the story this time around. It’ll be interesting to see where our next game goes.

14 thoughts on “Actual Play – Breaking the Ice.”

  1. Hello,

    I found my way here from Brand’s blog. It’s frustrating to read about fun being had without having a chance to check the actual game text producing it, so I guess I have to buy Breaking the Ice. Every time I read about it, it gets more interesting, and now you’ve written a great actual play report.

    Besides the ease of playing time wise, it’s cool to have a game suitable for two players. Solo play in games not designed for it can feel weird. First of all it’s a lot easier to agree on stuff when there are only two of you, so complex systems usually feel unnecessarily cumbersome. Secondly, games that are designed to provide conflicts between PCs can feel a bit flat, when there’s no one to have them with. BtI seems perfect from what I’ve heard, as it gives two players exactly the support they need to tell their story.

    Just out of curiosity, is it necessary to be exactly two players? Could you do a love triangle with two guys chasing the same girl or three people involved with each other all going on dates together? Or could you have two guys and two girls who meet regularly, and in the end you decide which of them will be together, like the TV-series Friends. Would the system support it, or is it built for just two players?

    Oh, and don’t feel bad about not writing anything for two months. I empathize completely with shifting interests to pour energy into. Besides, now you’ve just crossed the four-post-limit to get into my RSS feed sidebar, so I’d be interested in hearing more RPG stuff in the future.

    – Jonas Karlsson

  2. Hi Mo,

    Great write up! Thank you so much. I found the story of Deneis and Charles gripping. Though it sounds like it flows more in the re-telling than it did in your creation of it. The game does have a very different feel to it. I think you gave it the best description I’ve yet heard:

    In Breaking the Ice, there’s no pusher, and no push. The game is all pull, everything is contribution, collaboration and agreement.

    The way the dice are rolled is, again, pretty different. They function as running checks: first check: is the Attraction + good stuff that happens (Bonus Dice) enough to bring them closer together? No? What about if we bring in this character’s Conflict? Or this Compatibility? If not, what if this embarrassing thing happens? Or this misunderstanding occurs? So you get a lot of narration, with rolls of dice pools interspersed. Each roll is a moment to see which way the wind is blowing: blowing them together, or apart.

    And thank you for the very thoughtful discussion of the challenges you each experienced, with the Switch, with Guiding. It sounds like it stretched you in surprising ways. But it sounds like the disruption of immersion might have had the most impact for you. Would you mind saying more about what immersing is like for you?

    Also, Jonas, I’ve found that the game works fine with more than two players: you just have people collaborate on playing a single character. There is a game I’m working on that is about a love triangle. More as that develops!

  3. Emily,

    Reflecting on Breaking the Ice, I think that it is a game that is going to make me a better player. I do not say this lightly. Dogs, for example, is one of the best RPGs ever made — but it hasn’t made me a better player.

    I am already a kick-ass GM (he says modestly), but the truth is I’m a mediocre to suck player. Breaking the Ice makes me redefine roles and look at doing things in a more colaberative, pull/influence way that is important to being a player who still wants to help guide the story.

    Jonas,

    Buy it man. Seriously.

    Also, I could see playing the “Double Date” version of Breaking the Ice with four players doing dates. There may even be a way to do it so that the attraction can go wrong (what if the girls hook up and ditch the boys?) but it would take some work.

  4. Jonas – welcome!

    The feed should be working now. Brand confirms Thunderbird is viewing it correctly. I did some lame-ass formatting in this post, so it might not view properly (especially around the word webs). If not, let me know.

    Brand and I have discovered a whole new love for solo gaming in the last couple of years. We currently have five solos on the go – one that I’m running for him, 4 he’s running for me. They use Unknown Armies, Truth & Justice, Godlike and 7th Sea, and are Sim or Nar or Sim/Nar hybrid. It does take some adapting, but with the right participants, there are ways in which it’s more (and less) rewarding than group games. There’ll be more on the solo game in this blog, and no doubt over on Yud’s dice.

    As we play them a lot, our solos are really not flat – they are actually more hardcore than many of the group games we play. Although I’m coming at it from a different angle, I would agree with you: BtI could be a fun training ground for solo games, or a different means of approach for those who have tried it and found it awkward. That would be an interesting experiment. I may know a couple of folks that have had problems with solo in the game who *might* be interested in giving BtI a try.

    The rules don’t account for triangles yet, but Emily indicates in her reply that she’s working on a game for that. I should note though that there are rules for four or six players – essentially playing multiple couples in one game. There are additional rules for enhanced interaction between the players – such as pair 1 acting as pair 2’s Guide, and interesting ways to award dice between groups.

    Personally, I think it would be funny to do a “25 dates model” (this is a local speed dating service where you have 25 dates in 3 hours and hope to hook up) in which six players have interchanging dates with each other and their final combined Attraction and Compatibility scores determines who ends up with who.

    Boys: A, B,& C and Girls D, E & F are the players. On Date 1, they pair like this: A&D, B&E, C&F and have independent dates in two rounds under a “time limit of say, a half hour. They serve as each other’s AP & G. Then Date 2 is: A&E, B&F, C&D doing the same and then Date 3 is: A&F, B&D, C&E. After all dates are done, the total Attractiveness and Compatibility scores of each pairs are ranked to determine who ends up with who. Then they could, if they wanted play a regular format game.

    Alternately, the group could serve as G and the 2 focus players of each date would both be AP’s.

    Go buy! definately worth it. πŸ™‚

  5. Hi Emily –

    I’ll be writing an immersion post soon. I have a bunch of notes sitting in a draft post. I have just needed some time to get back to it. Coming soon – promise.

    I’m still a little unclear at where exactly the dice should be rolled. Last night we did this: Round starts, I’m AP, we have an AS (Attractiveness Score of 3), Brand gives me 3 whited6’s to start the game, I roll the dice, get: 2 4 6. I reserve the 6 as a success. Charles arrives late to pick Deneis up, I re-roll, get a 3, discard the die. When he shows up, she’s wearing a dress that reminds him of Lorelai: he gives me 3 red d6’s for conflict. I get 1,2,5, I hold onto the 5 and discard the others. He goes to tell her she looks beautiful, but it comes out all wrong. I re-roll the second failed AS dice and get a 6 which I hold on to.

    Then he takes her to a jazz club, which gets me 1 green d6 with which I roll a 3, and discard it. She gets up spontaneously to sing him his favorite jazz ballad and I get another green d6 to roll for her participation in the Compatibility. He gets up and joins her in the song, doing something particularly gallant which impresses Brand enough to earn a bonus white d6: I roll a 2, but Brand suggests that maybe Charles’ voice cracks in just the wrong place, but the action makes him embarrassed and real to her, so I re-roll and get a 5 and get to keep the dice (and so on…). Are we doing it right?

  6. Here’s a question I’ve been dying to ask, but wouldn’t really work when the BtI AP report was coming from, say, Ron playing with Vincent:

    Did you guys find the game romantic at all? Not as in, the content was romantic (because I assume it was), but that the experience of playing was romantic for the two of you as players? Much the same way that watching a romantic comedy with your SO can be romantic?

  7. Mo: I look forward to your immersion essay.

    About the dice, yes, you were doing it right, just differently than I usually do. You’re only re-rolling Attractiveness Dice and Bonus dice, and that’s the most important part.

    What I usually do is roll the Bonus & Attraction dice together all at once, after letting them build up together based on the narration. Then go into the Conflict, Complication or Re-rolls. I think of the Re-rolls as happening all together, just like the Bonus Dice. But other folks have done it the way you did (making re-rolls immediately, or interspersed between Attr. rolls & Bonus dice), and it has worked fine.

    I would say that if that pacing feels right to you, go with it. The advantage to how you are doing it is that the good & bad stuff are intermingled. An advantage to the other way is that you have longer periods in between making rolls.

    And, Brand, sexy but not romantic? Say more.

  8. Sexy but not romantic. Okay.

    I am not what is typically considered an immersionist. I do not get into my characters, act method, or feel my way through game based on my character’s internal pyschology or emotionality.

    I do things based on the story, which sometimes leads towards sardoodledum, and the emotionality of the events of the story. I do emotionally engage in the game, and I do “immerse” to the point at which I sometimes lose track of reality for short periods of time. However I do it into the drama, not into a character — even when I’m a player rather than GM.

    In this game there were moments in the game where I felt some powerful sexual elements going on. My character was sexy. Mo’s character was sexy. There was sexual spark between them. I got into that element of things and enjoyed playing in it. I made choices to make things sexier (like the rainstorm to make my sundress cling to my body), and so did Mo (I think).

    The story also ended with a pretty romantic scene, in the Leonard Cohen version of romance. However, I didn’t feel that scene as strongly as I felt the sexy scenes. It felt natural, and when I read the text of the game it looks powerful — but it didn’t feel powerful as we played it out. It felt curiously flat.

    This lead me to believe that the characters were probably not going to make it long term. Lots of attaction, not so much compatibility. I did think they were good for each other long term, but that they wouldn’t be romantic long term.

    If’n we’d had characters, and a story, that was more “long term love” and less “god she’s hot” I think I probably would have felt the romance.

  9. Sexy vs. Romantic:

    The story also ended with a pretty romantic scene, in the Leonard Cohen version of romance.

    Heh. That’s absolutely right.

    However, I didn’t feel that scene as strongly as I felt the sexy scenes. It felt natural, and when I read the text of the game it looks powerful — but it didn’t feel powerful as we played it out. It felt curiously flat.

    Funny. I felt closest to “strongly” as I did all game when we were playing out the end, though I do agree it felt flat. However, I think my feeling closer to it had less to do with a sense of romance and more to do with the cohesiveness of the story. The Cohenesque aspect of the Romance made it less a romantic comedy and gave it a more bald and gritty romantic-ness that few would actually call romance (Think: Hallelujah). The sexiness, on my part was not so much felt as glimpsed: I could see it, like looking through a set of snapshots, but it didn’t translate to feeling sexy – if that makes any sense.

    All that said it’s similar to my “think” instead of “feel” bit: an immersion problem. I was a little to fragmented through the process to be able to engage properly. I think this will clear up with practice.

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