Passionate Play #6: Core Principles In Action
In the unWritten game that I just finished playing there came a scene where a whole bunch of stuff I talk about here crashed together in a way that gave me a bit of pause. So, my character Gaston can’t let go of his sister, Sophia, whose about to become queen of pseudo-France. So he has her kidnapped. He then confronts her and explains that he’s booked passage on a ship and that they’re running away together. Over the course of the game it became really clear that Sophia had accepted her adult responsibilities and knew what was required of her politically and socially.
I prefer to keep conflict defined strictly as being about two in-fiction characters clashing over in-fiction interests. We clearly had that here. I also prefer to play as my character’s advocate always gunning for what I think the character wants regardless of whether I want it for him or not.. What Gaston wanted was for his sister to come away with him. However, unWritten is more or less a stakes setting game and I could have just put that out as the goal. However, that didn’t sit right with me. It would have been one of those “emotional disconnect” moments for me.
First of all it flies in the face of the rather strongly established facts of Sophia’s character. But unWritten also has an explicit end condition you can see coming. We were very near the end of the story in terms of the game’s rules. I think I would have been okay simply setting, “Sophia agrees to come with me” as stakes if there had been a more indefinite story space because there would have been room for it turn out that she was lying or placating me. In other words, succeeding in having her agree to come with me externally, says nothing about what her internal state or long term out look on it really is. There wasn’t room for that in terms of the remaining scene count.
As an aside this is one of those moments that makes me appreciate games like Sorcerer more. In Sorcerer we would just have rolled Will vs. Will and even if Gaston won Sophia could have just gone on being as resolute as ever but Gaston would have had a nice little pile of victories for when he picked her up by force and carried her out the door (or whatever else he choose to do next). I wouldn’t have had to struggle so much emotionally because this is an obvious Will conflict and I know that you can’t ever restrict the behavior of a character.
In any event, I also have a strong dislike for resolving so-called internal conflicts systemically because I often consider making choices about those internal states to be the very reason I’m playing the game. However, in this case I set the stakes as, “Does Gaston let go of his sister?” I didn’t like wording it that way but at the same time I was okay with it. It took me a couple days to figure out why.
I realized I was okay with it because it was a backdoor way of wording the external conflict from Sophia’s perspective. I wasn’t rolling to achieve Gaston’s agenda (come away with me sister). I was rolling to defend against Sophia’s agenda (let me go brother). And that interpretation matches much more with how I continued to play Gaston. I didn’t play Gaston like he let go of his sister. I played him like he’d given up the fight. Sophia beat him.