[Tales of Entropy] Deadly Serious

Another one of my Entropy scenarios dropped today in English, and it's one of the select ones on which I'm particularly interested in hearing what you think. This is part of a series of sorts, in which discuss how to write drama game scenarios and what kinds of content speak to us. Here are the prior episodes:

Farcical Roleplaying
Movie Adaptation
Intentionally Breaking Genre
Philosophy and Politics

(NB: The following discusses a roleplaying game scenario that dips into depressingly realistic themes, such as familial abuse and misogyny.)

The most recent scenario, Modeline (this right here - dark stuff), is original work, so it's a departure from the adaptation discussion we've been having; last year I wrote quite a few scenarios for the game in Finnish, and while we've translated here and there, there's this bunch of "serious drama" scenarios that has, for various reasons, remained untranslated. I think it's mostly that Petteri doesn't think that the international audience would go for this sort of non-genre stuff - sports drama, romances, etc.

Anyway, Modeline is part of a little trilogy of sorts that I wrote on the "female condition". You can read it to see what's what, but I'll throw in a few observations:
* When it comes to categorizing dramatic topics for story games, this is the sort of stuff that I think of as "hardcore drama gaming": no genre hooks, pop appeal or up-front promise of entertainment; you need to enjoy the core activity for itself to find any point in engaging the hardcore game. It's a stylistic strain that runs through this genre of gaming (consider Grey Ranks or Spione for independent examples), but even in story games it's a minority preference, and many don't want to play this sort of thing too often. I find it quite interesting how common this is in the freeform scene, on the other hand.
* While writing this, I tried very carefully to bring the topical substance without committing to strong thematic positions. Simone de Beauvoir is obviously heavily present, but I didn't want to write a sermon so much as a question. Rereading the text while translating it, I'm pretty confident about that part of it.

Anyway, let me know what you think of it - would you play this sort of thing and so on. The feedback I've gotten from the Finnish peers has emphasized the skeevy potential of the scenario, which I've found interesting, as "going into dark places" as Petteri described it wasn't particularly what I had in mind myself.


  • Potential???!? Even the setup overfills the skeeve meter!
  • Yeah, that's been remarked on. It's a legit reaction, I'm not nay-saying that. It's just interesting because I was thinking of it as more of a tense setup, one that will very quickly get settled this way or that depending on how the players choose to portray and interpret the various details. In other words, I could see this play out relatively innocuously as well, if the players didn't set out to make a horror show of it.

    How seriously one should take the artistic establishment when it claims that nude modeling is not about sex is, of course, one of just many questions involved there. The late 19th century was an interesting time in that regard, as the demand for art was at an all-time high, but reproduction wasn't yet a thing, so there was a lot of work for both artists and models in the urban centres. It was an interesting scene.
  • edited June 2018
    This page now contains 5 uses of the word "interesting". And some of them describe a situation where a modern day player portrays a young teenager forced against her own wish to pose nude for her own father. ← and now that's gonna come up when someone searches for me online and I want to wash my hands with sand paper for typing it

    Eero, if the Q was hearing what we think, you've got it. As in no X card is enough for this.

    Simple as that
  • Sure, and thanks for your perspective - I appreciate the different views that people have on this gaming stuff.

    I'm also sorry if the scenario was upsetting for you in a non-enjoyable way. (I got that impression from your language, that it wasn't an enjoyable read due to the provocative content.) I'll put a little warning on the link just to make sure nobody else gets surprised by it.
  • edited June 2018
    I haven't experienced nude posing or drawing. I guess there is tension in it but I don't see it as you paint it 2097. The situation would be as revolting if the girl was to be, say, married against her will.
    If it's not the subject, it's something in the treatment. Don't you think the way out for the model is well signaled ? It will be hard and injust, but, isn't it the point of the scenario ?
    I think something should be added about the law against women, for people who don't know the period. It's not just a matter of views and ideas, it's about what women could or couldn't do. In 1881, schools are open to girls, and married women can deposit money at the bank, but not withdraw it (there's a tolerance but not a right). The situation is more interesting if Simone is over 21, because the whole thing doesn't boil down to : child vs parents conflict.
    I would choose to play a vile human being, posing as a friend of the painter to get close to his girl. It's true I wouldn't like the father to be a PC, though.
  • edited June 2018
    This is a very intense subject and scenario, and part of my reaction definitely mirrors 2097's. However, when I think of the 19th-century fiction this emulates (or is inspired by), there is also great potential to explore themes and to tell some really meaningful stories about the human condition.

    I would play this with the right people under the right circumstances. There aren't that many people I would trust to handle this subject matter and these characters with maturity and care.

    DeReel brings up a good question: how do we feel about playing truly unsavoury characters at the table?

    Is it ok to play a terrible father-figure, or does that cross a moral line for us?

    Which characters are available for play? Adding new characters to this tight little drama isn't the most obvious thing in the world (not without turning it into an incredible sordid mess, which, of course, could be the desired outcome).

    With Tales of Entropy, this will be particularly interesting, since the game asks us to assign Flame and Shadow to the protagonists after each scene - in simple terms, are these protagonists or villains? Do we want to see more of this person in the story? How do we feel about what they've done so far?

    I would be fascinated to see how this pans out in this game. Will assigning Flane and Shadow allow us - or force us - to look at the characters as Black and White (good and evil) instead of shades of grey?

    Or will the turn-by-turn voting, instead, give us a nuanced view of even the most innocent or terrible people? (Even if we don't want to?)

    I find it hard to imagine how it will play out, given these rules, and that intrigues me.
  • There are few points I addressed in the facebook -entry of this scenario as this was this week's "scenario of the week".

    The scenario is obviously deeply rooted to the sources and to the subject matter. I am very unfamiliar with the genre, so that is as deep as I can go analyzing that.

    There are other things I can analyze though. I labeled this scenario as "avant-garde". That means that it is, in my opinion, among the hardest scenarios to actually play. Obscure genres and difficult setups for play are one thing that can cause this but Modeline presents the difficulty in multiple fronts. The clearest difficulty of this is taste and control of the players themselves.

    Tales of Entropy puts the players in a situation, where they need to find conflicting forces (by manifesting characters) and then drive the conflict to bring out the story and to progress the game. I feel that in Modeline this has to be done with precise, surgeon-like touch. The game will not help you in any way. If you push the dark and vile elements into the stage without control, I guarantee that you will get there and I predict that the actual experience in this way could be most unappealing.

    This gives an interesting insight into genre boundaries as well. Entropy doesn't really touch the subject mechanically that much. There can be meta-type grains that will express underlying themes and genre expectations but they are not strict rules. They only work against you mechanically if you choose to go upstream with them. And in the cases like Modeline, the game process of raging conflict and escalation can drive the game outside of the genre specified in the scenario text. In some cases this is not a bad thing: you can certainly find new things and inspirations when breaking genres. In case of the setup of the Modeline, the risk of receiving something very unpleasant is all-time high.
  • That's also an excellent point. The game gives us some tools which may or may not help to play this scenario. I'm genuinely unsure how Entropy's tools will interface with the scenario's conceits. A part of me is worried and a part of me is really curious.
  • a part of me is really curious.
    That's me writing Entropy scenarios [grin]. It is a mad science, we are mapping the landscape of what is possible for a blood opera here.

    And where the tools fail, that is an opportunity to build better tools.
  • If it's not the subject, it's something in the treatment.
    I don't want to keep slagging this now that Eero has apologized and added some more context (the "NB").
    Or even think about it. It brought up some stuff

    But Modeline, and this post, came across as very callous. "Going into dark places?" It starts full dark no stars already.

    IDK sometimes the box copy can make or break a work
  • I'll reiterate on that, if you don't mind, as a more general point: it's OK for people to dislike stuff without having to defend that opinion. I asked for opinions, but sharing yours does not come with the duty of participating in an in-depth inquiry - or heavens forbid, having to defend your opinion against an irate author. I'm happy with simply hearing about different reactions, just to see what people think about various kinds of content. Please everybody share to what extent you want to, individually, in this discussion as well as forums in general.

    Again, I'm sorry for upsetting you, Sandra; I wasn't thinking about you (or other SG regulars with delicate sensibilities) when I posted a link to that piece. I was more in an old Forgite head-space, where stuff like My Life with Master and that sort of thing live; we have a long history of games going into pretty dark places like that, and there's a whole play culture involved in engaging this sort of thing. I should've had the sense to mention the subject matter up-front from the first.
  • Well said, Eero.

    On a far less lofty topic, I'm curious what you think the use of Flame and Shadow would be like in a scenario like this. Could they be a useful tool to help the group navigate the difficult waters of a situation like this? Could they potentially get us into trouble? Etc.
  • My own experience with the meta traits is that they draw the game strongly towards postmodern, psychological theming - I consider Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to be the patron saint(s) of the game, myself. Players tend to answer the questions they are posed, and as the game is constantly asking us to find the light and the darkness within each protagonist, the characters tend to become what geek culture likes to call "shades of grey" - or, as we say at other times, dramatic protagonists.

    We've been playing a pretty intense game of Entropy in a highly black and white genre over the last weeks around here (I'm toying with the notion of writing it up as a Replay, actually), and this effect has been in full force: the game asks us to discover what the heroism of a conventionally evil role is, and what the shadow within the hero is like. The game simply does not allow the player to declare a single nature for their character and call it characterization.

    As regards moderating and guiding players in emotionally intense play, though, I don't think that the meta traits are particularly good for moderation. As you hint, a player looking to "gain Shadow" might well make an overblown move, for example, and there would be little in the game's structures telling them that it's too much. Entropy is in general a pretty old-fashioned, hands-off story game in that it doesn't really guide the players to do anything so much as it challenges them to it: do you dare try it, is the question. Understandably it's something that you shouldn't play for high emotional stakes with a group lacking in dramatic sensibilities, precisely to avoid a ham-handed and unsympathetic mess with a challenging scenario.

    Skilled players, though, are encouraged by the meta traits scheme to pay attention to what they are doing in expressive terms - what they are actually telling the other players, and how they are pacing the definition and reveal of their player characters. For example, were I playing Simone in Modeline, I would view the Flame trait as asking me to express her existential willingness (to become her own person) whenever I was gaining or using Flame. In this sense the constant question posed by those two traits regulates play rather strongly.
  • Thanks, Eero. That's been my guess so far, as well, though I haven't played enough to be sure yet. Interesting stuff to see happen at the table!
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