[The Clay That Woke] How is it immersive?

edited May 2014 in Story Games
I just heard some details about this game, and I discover I've missed the Kickstart by 2 months. D'oh! Regardless, I'd like to learn more. This is the first game I've come across in years that markets itself as "immersive", and maybe the first for-sale indie game I've ever seen that does so.

I love immersive gaming! It's probably my favorite way to play RPGs. However, I've also realized that very few people use the term "immersive" to mean the same thing, and that some techniques which help one player's immersion hinder another's.

So, what version(s) of immersion is Clay That Woke going for? What techniques does it use to achieve them?

I read the Kickstarter page and watched the video. The core mechanic doesn't initially strike me as immersive -- "draw tokens, browse a list, determine an outcome first and then roleplay to get there" crosses the "input from outside the fiction" line a way that's a bit loud and obvious for my tastes. On the other hand, the "weird stuff out there to be discovered" and "PCs need to refresh the aspects vital to their archetypes" content does fit well with a certain type of immersion in character that I love -- the former can foster a type of "looking out through their eyes", and the latter pushes an emphasis on their experience and internal dynamics.

Anyway, that's just me guessing. Can Paul, or anyone who's played, clue me in?



  • I don't know if you mean me... so I'll just stand back and listen.

    (Although I wouldn't mind to hear how "PCs need to refresh aspects" is immersion-facilitating for you.)
  • edited May 2014
    I meant Paul Czege, who designed the game.

    Re: aspect-refresh, establishing that we care about such things can provide a nice space for immersing in characters, as opposed to games that aren't interested or don't make time for what's going on inside a PC. Not that such concerns are inherently immersive; but, in an immersive game, I can see how they might contribute.
  • In the single game session that I've played, here's what I found immersive about it:

    - there's almost no differentiation between starting characters, which forces you to "get into" your characters head and figure out what they care about and what choices to make in response to the situations they're in

    - the setting is rich and complicated and non-trivial to understand. for me, that means I need to really pay attention to the setting elements presented and commit certain things to memory, (which is an immersive process for me personally)

    - the token mechanic uses symbols and a certain arcane logic behind it. so, while, yes, the pattern of play is a bit "roleplay, stop and engage mechanics, roleplay:, going to the Krater of Lots involves both in-character decision making (how much am I willing to risk here, of what, what could it get me) and world-relevant color (if you put in Silence tokens, for example, that really means something in the context of the setting). If you find any engagement with mechanics to pull you out of immersion, then this probably will do the same kind of thing, but I found the Krater to unite my understanding of character with that of the setting by using it.

    That said, everyone defines immersion differently and I don't particularly self-identify as an "immersive" player, so grains of salt etc.
  • That's a great summary, Nathan!
  • Cool.

    - I also dig it when my character's choices don't become obvious thanks to numbers on a sheet.

    - I love complex settings when there's a reason for my character to delve into them -- I didn't get any sense of what such reasons might be in Clay That Woke. Did you find any good ones that are baked in or seem likely to arise?

    - Thanks for some Krater details. It wasn't apparent to me that the "what do I risk, for what rewards" kinds of decisions would be character rather than pure player decisions. That sounds much more immerison-friendly than what I was guessing.

    - Your observation about uniting understanding of character and setting has me wondering what you mean. Would you mind elaborating or giving an example? I'm having trouble parsing this beyond "characters deal with their environment when they try to do stuff".
  • What you've heard about immersion in this game is true. I played in a few sessions of playtest. (It might be worth pointing out the final game is still being written, and may refine or improve certain things.) Here, I will wildly speculate at what things power the magic, which might be spoilerly for people who like to do things like read poems without analyzing them.

    - There's a very traditional GM role where the GM does all the heavy lifting of session prep, managing the details of world and situations to be doled out to players. Very much bucks the story-game trend in this regard. This means the GM has to do a ton of work and manage burn-out! But it frees up the players to focus on straight-up role-playing. Unlike traditional, GM-fiat high-immersion games, though, the mechanics are pretty coherent and minimal and you can play them as written, there's not a bunch of rules baggage that the GM has to hand-wave away just to get to the real game.

    - The biggest thing I noticed is there are no "moves" (to use the AW term) on your character sheet, no list of skills, none of that. There are mechanics in Clay, but they help to drive the larger narrative forward (at some point you'll have to go do X to refresh Y, because Y allows you the possibility of favorable results A, B, or C in inflections), they don't directly connect to your character's immediate decisions. The only thing you have to work with is "what would I do if I was this person, in this situation?" It is my habit -- my crutch, perhaps -- when I hit a creative block to randomly scan around my character sheet looking for something I can "do." That's not possible in Clay, really. You really only have the fiction to go on. At first, it's a little frustrating. At some point, it becomes liberating and satisfying.

    - The situations faced by your characters are, as part of the GM's prep, informed by real-world situations, but they are explicitly not heavy-handed allegories for real-world things either. The world is bizarre, tripped out fantasy of the weirdest caliber, but it's full of utterly human situations. This dichotomy leads to something interesting. It's possible to relate to you character's situation, but at the same time, your character's circumstances are so utterly fantastic that he is someone who is most certainly not you. You are relying on your real-person decision-making skills at navigating social adversity, but against wildly alien circumstances. You aren't making the decisions you would make; YOU are making the decisions SOME OTHER CREATURE would make. It's really like stepping into some other being's head.

    (That sounds like some clichéd empty promise, doesn't it? "Duh, that's what you do in every role-playing game!" But no, here, Clay is attempting to fulfill that promise.)

    - The Krater of Lots does not resolve "conflicts," rather it addresses "inflections." The difference is pretty subtle, but it's more than just alternate terminology. It's a little hard for me to explain. There's a bit of zen to figuring out when, exactly, you go to the Krater. One of the main effects is you role-play somewhat further into the scene before hitting the mechanics than you might if you were seeking to resolve a conflict.

    It's absolutely a unique beast in role-playing games.
  • edited May 2014
    Heh. What may be unique and revolutionary in Story Game Trend land sounds like freeform trad gaming to me. I completely agree with you about the immersive power of putting all the world responsibilities on one GM, and forsaking the crutches of "here's an action I can do" mechanics, and putting human situations in a new context so they're neither totally mundane nor totally alien. I've been doing that for much of my gaming history. Two things you mentioned stand out to me:

    "Bizarre, tripped out fantasy of the weirdest caliber" -- I love the feeling of transportation, of being in a unique place other than here, but I hate having to ask the GM "What does my character know about this situation?" over and over if the place is too alien. The fact that it's not alien to my character can cause some player/character disconnect if I can't wrap my intuition around it. But perhaps you're referring more to the unexplored world outside Human-Minotaur society, which in fact is alien to the character as well? In that case, cool.

    "The Krater of Lots does not resolve "conflicts," . . . There's a bit of zen to figuring out when, exactly, you go to the Krater" -- this reminds me of the tricky nature of "GM decides" vs "there's a rule for that" in otherwise freeform games. I see the positives of each approach as follows:

    GM decides:
    - allows smooth flow of conversation
    - minimal visible out-of-game causality (i.e. "that fictional thing happened cuz a game card said so" can be a bummer)
    - doesn't feel artificial or "too much like a game"
    - takes advantage of the full skills of a creative GM

    Rule decides:
    - fixed and certain, can't be debated
    - impartial, can't be suspected of bias
    - doesn't feel boundless or "too much like real life"
    - not limited to the skills of a given GM
    - if well-designed, may cover important bases a GM might not

    In my experience, the most important circumstance on this front is "character tries something which might or might not succeed". We need to know how we get from that point to the next point, and hopefully our process for doing so is something the group finds compelling and exciting, or at the very least, plausible and not in need of objection. At this point, most freeform games I know either stop being freeform for a moment and use some formal procedures to kick the fiction into the next situation, or leave it up to the particular people playing to decide based on their own creative and collaborative preferences. "There's a bit of a zen to figuring it out" reminds me of the latter, while the very presence of the Krater reminds me of the former. "It doesn't resolve conflicts" makes me wonder if it's for another scenario than "character attempt" entirely, and if so, how are character attempts arbitrated?

    Can you shed any light on that?

  • I'm not sure if the GM has specific rules for when and why to go to the Krater, but using it covers both "character attempts" and "uh, where do we go now" moments in play.

    "You're thrown out into the gladiatorial pit to battle the plant-monster from the forests" - go to the Krater
    "I want to convince the guards to let me past" - go to the Krater
    "A man is trying to bribe you to allow him safe passage into your employer's chamber of solace" - go to the Krater

    Because of the risk/reward, any of those situations could lead to: physical harm (of one party or the other), learning secrets, developing a relationship, gaining a gift of some kind, influencing one party's behavior on the behalf of anothers, and so on. And it's asymmetrical - the GM can load the Krater with death tokens (or whatever), even if it's a seemingly innocuous situation, and vice versa.

    So, to bring this back to "united my conception of character and setting" - (this is half memory, half me filling in to make a better example) my Minotaur was given a difficult task, to pretend to be a criminal in order to get into a jail where a man who my employer told me was falsely accused was kept, theoretically to break him out. All the going to jail stuff was handled through roleplay, and then then we got to a moment where my character was in a solo cell, and I wanted to ask a guard if I could be relocated (to a cell next to the guy I was trying to break free).

    We go to the Krater! I put in, um, Mind and Courage tokens, because I know that some combinations of those let me basically "get a result I want" or "have a result come out in my favor", stuff like that. Paul did put in some Death tokens (not sure what they're called, the ones that mean "you could get hurt"), along with whatever else. I pulled Courage and Death in a combo that basically means "you get seriously physically hurt", but I also got a minor accomplishment. So the jailors laughed at me, beat me to within an inch of my life for my hubris in asking them for something (which breaks Silence, a super important Minotaur code), but did in fact drag me into the cell I wanted.

    I learned: in this world, being Courageous can get you what you want, but it also puts you at risk (if I had pulled Mind and Death tokens instead, the major injury would not have been on the table). My Minotaur did not fear pain (I accepted the risk), so I learned something about my character in making my choices and then drawing what I drew. And I learned that he's in it for the long term, as he'd need to take quite some time to heal before moving ahead with his plan.

    Does that help? My consideration of tokens, on the player level, helped me get into my characters head, and then the results taught me about how this world the character inhabits works.
  • edited May 2014
    Thanks, man! That is a fantastic account.

    It strikes me that the biggest virtue achieved here (for my taste, anyway) is that a partly-arbitrary system outcome was parsed as a learning experience about the setting for both player and character. (I think the other good stuff follows naturally from that -- player reflects on what's learned, updating character concepts including relationship to setting.)

    I can't tell how much of that is based on the Krater itself, and how much is based on the fictional situation. Some thoughts on situation:

    1) Nothing beats a home in flux for caring about an RPG culture. If home is static there's nothing to learn, and if a place isn't home then you learn about it based on your goals there, and it doesn't resonate in a "courage can bring pain, but I'm in it for the long haul" sort of way.

    One common type of RPG home in flux is an opaque hierarchy. The characters are embedded in some sort of culture that impacts them but whose facets they haven't completely encountered -- yet. New types of encounters with their home culture (such as going to jail for the first time!) yield new revelations about the character's true position within it. What dark threats, hidden opportunities, discouraging limits, or dissembling leaders will get you started thinking about escape or revolution? I've played in some Vampire games that went this way, as well as some D&D when the PCs decided to settle in a city and pursue urban adventures.

    2) Nothing beats an encroaching menace for caring about an RPG world beyond its culture(s). Many wilderness adventures offer hints and clues about how something Out There is a threat to society, and it behooves the adventurers to understand their enemy, the better to save themselves (and often the world) from it.

    There's also the hidden salvation, the flip-side of the encroaching menace. You want to learn about its benevolent magics (or whatever) not so you can protect society from it, but so you can use it to protect society from threats within.

    Both the encroaching menace and the hidden salvation can be purely strategic concerns, but there's also the option to use them as hierarchy at a different scale. Rather than "your town or government is not what you though it was", it's more "your planet or universe is not what you thought it was". Like Lovecraft or the Matrix. That stuff can hit home if done right (though I think home culture is way easier).

    I can't really tell, but I get the impression that Clay That Woke is intended to be played in such situations. If so, cool, we have some obvious reasons to care about the setting, and to take whatever falls out from resolution in that spirit.

    Is that enough?

    At times in my past gaming (mostly in social resolution), I think it was. "You failed this Etiquette roll" didn't add a ton by itself, but I'm not sure "you get seriously physically hurt, with a minor accomplishment" does either. It was in the interpretation, the how and why which the players and GM imposed on the outcome, where any deeper meaning emerged.

    There were other times, of course, when a roll simply meant "yes" or "no" or "try another way", and everyone moved on without further thought.

    For immersion, I like atomic task resolution in a "do just enough to let us keep talking" sense, but perhaps I can see how the Krater does more to supplement the conversation. There's pretty tokens, and concepts like Courage, and a more zoomed-out perspective, and a prompt to flesh in a more detailed outcome -- maybe some groups can use that as an opportunity to recharge any inspiration batteries that might have drained during free play? (You mentioned using the Krater for "uh, where do we go now" -- that might be my favorite use!)

    I'd really like to understand this -- not just Clay That Woke specifically, but unfamiliar options for resolution in immersive roleplay more generally -- so thanks to anyone who's born with me so far! I had another thought about "Courage + Death = Injury" being partly simulative and partly thematic, and about how learning the Krater outcome list might run parallel to learning the world's causality (physical, cultural, and thematic/magical), but I'll save it for now.
Sign In or Register to comment.