Annalise (short solo actual play using the cut-up method)

Background:

I’ve been playing Annalise by Nathan Paoletta on-and-off. This was my first try at the game. Since I’m only a couple of scenes into play, I’ve only just begun to engage with the system. That being said, I am looking forward to get back into it.

I am playing by myself (solo). I consider myself experienced at it, though I’ve only recently started to find ways to make it satisfying for myself.

This is what has happened in the game so far:

John Klein is an up and coming reporter. In the opening scene, his life is turned upside down when his wife is killed in a violent, random mugging. Then, a year later, John finds out he has a brain tumor. After the diagnosis, he starts having weird experiences that one part of him feels is real, but his rational self cannot accept. Are they hallucinations caused by the tumor?

For example, at a nondescript bar he thinks he overhears a man in a black suit say: “…brain tumor. We didn’t know, but you are going to die no matter what” and other bizarre talk about his wife. Yet, when he asks the bartender if he heard, he assures him he’s never seen the guy and that John is just hearing chatter from the basketball game on TV.

I left the game at a point where there was a sort of hallucination involving a being with red eyes and giant wings on his back.

Regarding Annalise’s rules:

I’ve only been engaged with chargen and making Claims so far. Chargen was interesting. I really liked the potential of the Vulnerability and Secret I chose:

  • Vulnerability: I am vulnerable because I feel guilty about my wife’s death (Connie). (7c)

  • Secret: Unbeknownst to him, John has a developing form of extra sensory perception. Its first manifestation was the feeling he got during the incident that ended up killing Connie. (3c)

  • I have not really leaned enough into the Vulnerability as I develop John through play. I intend to correct that.

I’ve also made a few Claims, and I do like the feeling of seeing a fictional element and thinking to myself, “Oh yeah, I’m going to f**k with this.” I’m figuratively rubbing my hands when I do that. I do have some concerns with the use of Claims to interject fiction in a solo context insofar as I think overdoing it could deflate the experience for me by turning it into an exercise in daydreaming without any outside input. I also have some related concerns regarding the conflict mechanic (due to past experiences playing games like Remember Tomorrow and Our Last Best Hope by myself).

With other gmless games, I’ve tended to play all the characters myself, or act as the antagonist for multiple characters. With Annalise, my intention is to just focus on John to see how that goes.

Since I mentioned solo play again, I think this is a good point to mention that I am using a version of the cut-up technique (link to Wikipedia) to help me generate fiction. It helps me feel like I’m not making up stuff by myself (something I don’t find satisfying in the context of solo rpgs).

I made my cutups from the movie script of The Mothman Prophecies movie circa 2002 (with Richard Geere as John Klein). It’s not a 100% random as you are making choices as you sift through these and pick or reject snippets. I try not to be too intentional in how I choose the cut ups. They just have to be coherent given the context.

I am also using a dice mechanic to answer yes or no questions about the fiction/world. If you imagine flipping a coin to answer yes/no questions about the world/fiction, you have the basic idea of what the dice mechanic does. I took the dice mechanic in Trollbabe almost wholesale, but changed Fight/Social/Magic to It/Me/You. There’s more to it, but that’s the basic core.

The combination of both would be what soloists might call an ‘oracle’ (aka ‘game master emulator’), and this happens to be the one I rolled one for my own use (link DTRPG). I rely much more on the cut up technique for that than I do on the dice mechanic for generating the content that I don’t generate when playing my character. (In another game of Remember Tomorrow, I use a similar cut up technique to generate output for the Player Characters while I take on the role of antagonist for each of them). The reason I enjoy it so much is because of all the surprising details that come out of all that fiction someone else wrote.

I think that covers at a high-level how the “not-me” content was generated.

When it comes the fiction more intentionally created by me, so far it’s just been me reacting as John Klein to what the cut up text presents me. I have not yet made use of Annalise’s rules to generate the fiction, but will eventually use my Claims and use the conflict mechanics.

I’m happy to discuss anything in the post that piques people’s interests. I can talk more at length about how IU think my solo approach differs from the more usual approaches, or whatever. I also have some thoughts about conflicts in general, as far as my solo games go (I find them tricky at times).

Hope this is useful and interesting.

(Note: I posted this report at adeptplay.com as well)

6 Likes

Hello, and thank you. This is both useful and interesting. To me, at least.

As much as the cut up technique is an honorable tradition (Dada lives !), did you try to incorporate AI generated material into your narration ? Have you tried the scenarios (“guided play”) for Annalise ?

How did you come to the Trollbabe dice mechanic (later seen in Shock:SF, and spread by Lasers & feelings) ?

Claims are my dope, too. Can you please name some cool Claims you made ?

1 Like

Glad you found this worth your while. :slight_smile:

I have tried AIDungeon separately, though not with an RPG system as of yet. I am aware of people that have done so, though. I recently checked out a post by @Chiaroscuro and someone posted a guide for playing ttrpgs with AIDungeon which I transposed to my reddit sub’s wiki. At some point I will try it, but for now I have focused on the semi-analog experience (semi, because I still use a computer screen).

Trollbabe’s dice mechanic:

The first indie game I played was Shock:SF. The first time I actually got my hands on Trollbabe was through a Bundle of Holding, and that was the annotated version. I have been playing around with bastardized versions of its conflict mechanic ever since.

Annalise:

I have not actually tried the guided play scenarios. I’ve had this Mothman/Annalise in mind for a while now, so I really need to get it out of my system. :slight_smile: I am also not sure yet if I’ll play with the rules straight, or drift it. It feels familiar enough that I feel like making changes to suit my solitaire needs. In some ways, I already have by choosing to stick with only one protagonist.

Anyhow, here are the claims I’ve made so far, in order:

  1. Connie-- John’s deceased wife.
  2. Gioblastoma Multiforma/Temporal lobe tumor.
  3. “We rise out of the clouds”
  4. electrical wires hum

I already used #2 during a short scene between John and a friend. With the help of cut ups, I had decided that John wanted to pick his friend’s brain regarding brain tumors and possible hallucinations. At the time, I wasn’t sure of the why he would ask this friend specifically given that he sought out the friend at an elementary school (was he familiar with the condition for some reason, for example). I left that open, and waited for the cut ups to say something (quoted actual play):

At this point, I could engage the Tilt oracle to ask a series of questions, but as I was playing a couple of cutups came to my attention:

got really sick, Kevin. It was
was this? HOLLY About two months.

These sound like Kevin talking about a Holly who was sick. And of course, because I have this claim:

Gioblastoma Multiforma/Temporal lobe tumor. (2C)

I’m going to use it to declare that she had the same type of tumor. So when Kevin talks about Holly’s sickness, it can be assumed that he’s referring to the tumor.

What follows is the dialogue, with my own additions/edits in brackets []:

Kevin: “[ When Holly ] got really sick, Kevin. I it [ took ] was was this? HOLLY A about two months [ of tests to find out what was wrong ].”

John: “Kevin, I’m sorry to ask. Did Holly experience any strange symptoms like hallucinations?”

Reading back, the addition of “of tests to find out what was wrong” seems a bit of a long addition; I usually try to intervene much less, but it must have felt OK at the time.

Do you have any advice in terms of claims? Like, in your experience, what type of claims tend to be best?

Thanks!

2 Likes

Thank you for showing some cut-up in action.

There’s a tradition of narrative games dealing with demons, the Maker of Life and other “influences” that I see as tentatives to establish player resources distinct from character resources. Claims are exactly it, a very original approach, and the first I learned about (first crush sort of thing).

I think the best ones are those that can play with or against character, the more versatile. But storytelling is like circus : some walk the tight rope, others juggle with anvils. You can make anything of anything.

A tumor is hard to bounce over from character to character, but has potential for deep investigation. The wires are more ductile, but they are mostly an ominous sign leading somewhere else, an interim.

I am only trying to expose the kind of criteria I apply to Claims, or player resources in general. Most of all it’s you playing : thank you for asking about my tastes.

My taste and interest at the moment goes toward player resources with a distinctive thematic vibe (father and son, do unto others, the higher they fall, etc.), the more abstract ones : relationships. I think if I can convey that, more lightweight will be easy.

1 Like

Your explanation seems like a good breakdown to me!

We’ll see what happens with the tumor. It might work with just one character as the focus.

Do you have other examples of claims you’ve used that go with/against character? This is something I might want to explore.

I never payed Annalise, so I have never played any Claim. But I tweaked many games in order to use player resources.

In the first game I committed, Utopian Chronicles, players have all sort of traits, some direct properties of their characters, other more abstract, much like Claims. Player / character goals are “orthogonal” to that of other player / characters, sometimes clashing, sometimes aligning. This leads me to think the setup of player / character goals matters. When properly set, any resource will do, the more abstract the easier to wield. In our longest anime high school scenario, we utilized every piece of the world, with such “Claims” as : X’s mother, school grades, the kendo club, playing on the console, changing gender identity on skin contact, revealing your astrological sign, sweets and soda.

Something else I have experience with is Keys. They come from Clinton R Nixon’s The Shadow of Yesterday, adapted into Solar System by Eero Tuovinen, then made famous by John Harper with Lady Blackbird. The idea is : a bit like a Fate Compel, which you can sell off when you act against them. It’s still very much PC centered. Traits with a negative connotation tend to play with / against character, too, regardless of how you setup your version of a Compel mechanic (player / GM trigger / choice, etc.) In the end, John Harper’s Devil’s bargain / Danger dice (derived from Vincent Baker’s Otherkind Dice) won my heart. All the mechanics in this last paragraph have in common a compatibility with NOT PvP, which means you can set the level of skullduggery at the table’s optimum. Playing at home with kids and grognards, that’s a condition of play for me. But if you have different conditions, say, a weekly group of random persons at the local MtG den, there are probably better options.

1 Like

I think it’s really cool that you’re playing Annalise solo! Neat!

The magic of Annalise is in the “callback” nature of the Claims to set the mood and make things creepy and the torture of the dice mechanic to force you to figure out what you really want.

Your report doesn’t mention if you engaged the conflict resolution / dice mechanic yet. Did you? I’m a little nervous about the effectiveness of you essentially putting yourself to the test. Are you using cutups to guide the escalation of stakes? How does that bit work for you?

2 Likes

I have not engaged the conflict mechanics yet with Annalise. :slight_smile: However, I’ve played a small number of games with such mechanics, and I have found them tricky at times for the kind of experience I am aiming for in solo play.

With cut ups, what kind of end to the scene happens is only partially in my control, because cut ups are heavily randomized and I’m not looking for them to lead in a particular pre-destined direction, but only for them to make sense given what has already happened. An end to the scene will often suggest itself to me as part the process, since there will eventually occur a natural point where the scene has run its course (interesting footnote at the end of the post). The catch, however, is that there is no guarantee that this point will be one that suggests a conflict.

I can exert more intentionality during the process by consciously fishing for cut ups that might support some sort of conflict, but this can trigger my brain into pre-formulating a conflict. When that happens, then I find myself looking for cut-ups that support this conflict rather than just letting them suggest what they will suggest and surprise me. This dampens the fun aspect of playing a solo rpg for me because it feels too close to how I might engage in creative writing (plotting ahead of time, etc). It’s not what I want out of a solo experience.

The only exception to this trend has been a game using Our Last Best Hope. I’ve only played it once, and it’s been a while, so maybe my recollection is off. Still, I seem to recall that there wasn’t a lot of mechanical conflict between characters, but rather external threats. These were pre-defined as part of session prep, and then at the end of the scene, chosen randomly. So, a scene could end “naturally” as I interacted with the cut ups, and then it was time to roll for which threat came up.

It hasn’t all been failures, though. It’s just a bit tricky at times when I’m trying to lessen my influence over the course of the scene. I like to influence the direction of the scene but only through the role I’ve chosen: either player or gm, but not both.

Maybe I’ll find a more consistent solution the more I play.

*Note: Just wanted to add this footnote linking to an interesting discussion on the Word Mill Games forum about how our brains appear to cut-off scenes: Scenes. I think it is a good explanation of how my brain is working when it senses that a scene is coming to its end.

2 Likes

Had a mini session of Annalise with my Mothman cut ups and Tilt.

;tldr; John is dreaming about his dead wife; some pleasant 4th of July scene from long ago. He is rudely awakened by a state trooper who almost trumps him up on a DUI charge. John, who has a tumor, almost starts seizing from the stress, but he manages to get the trooper to leave him alone by complying with his commands.

Very short, but some enjoyable details for me. Learned something about the character. Etc, etc.

Figured maybe I’d post a bit of my raw session here using the same markdown I use to organize my thoughts, and material.

I guess some explanation of how I use the markdown is in order.

I mark out the cut ups under consideration like this:

This is a cut up snippet in a code block

Narration is always in block quotes:

This is a piece of narration

A considerable part of the fiction comes directly from the cut ups, so often I am quoting them:

This is a cut up snippet in a code block

I often need to strike out words from the snippets if they don’t make sense, so I use the strikethrough markdown:

This is a cut up snippet in a code block

Likewise, I also need to add words of my own to the snippets so that an idea can be made more clear:

This is a cut up snippet [that I am quoting] in a code block

I often start scenes with cut-ups. I randomize them and then curate based on how they hang together and what they can tell me about the set up of the scene. Then I get the narration out of that. Wash, rinse, repeat.

The Third Session

back about ten years, make it
City, Baghdad and Los Angeles. "To
SKY - NIGHT 216 ...RED AND BLUE
PIN-POINTS OF LIGHT surrounding

Back about ten years, make it
City, Baghdad and
[near] Los Angeles.“To
SKY - NIGHT 216 …RED AND BLUE
PIN-POINTS OF LIGHT surrounding [them as]

GRIFFIN'S CAR glide silently to the

GRIFFIN’S [John’s] CAR glide[s] silently to [past] the

TRESPASSING” Connie climbs out,

["NO] TRESPASSING” [sign.] Connie climbs out [of the car.],

John's eyes take on a DISTANT LOOK
them in the river. Just like

John’s Connie’s eyes take on a DISTANT LOOK
them in [as she gazes across] the river. Just like
[JOHN: “They always put on a good show. Happy Fourth of July,” he smiles.]

a moment, Connie looks back at John
She reaches over, unbelts him, then

a A moment [passes], [and] Connie looks back at John[.]
She reaches over, unbelts [smiling at] him[.] then
[John accepts her hand and moves closer to her, putting his arm around her.]

dude, the sky‘s just totally

dude, the sky‘s just totally

brightly lit theater set, a CLOCK

brighly lit theater set, a CLOCK [with Independence Day fireworks.]

beautiful, John. I want you to know

[CONNIE: “It’s] beautiful, John.” I want you to know
[JOHN: “Yeah.” He kisses her on her head.]

sign of changing. Connie turns and

sign of changing. Connie turns and [they kiss.]

waking from a dream, as we go...
He sits back. Tugs on the shoulder
the cranky Night Manager. Everyone
crew-cut hair. Looks like a retired

[John feels as if he’s] waking from a dream, as we go…
He sits back. [someone abrubtly] Tugs tugs [him] on the shoulder
[John finds himself looking at] the cranky [face of a] Night Manager [state trooper]. Everyone
[With his] crew-cut hair~~.~~ [, the man] Looks looks like a retired [drill seargent.]

player’s note: *It would just fit if we found that John had parked his car at the same spot where he had been with Connie ten years ago. I could just declare that “John decided to go to that same place” as a retcon, but that’s not satisfying to me. An oracle question feels more fun and fair.

  • Tilt number: 10 (You - 45%, Me and It - 50%)
  • Is it (John’s current location) the same as the location of his memory? 50%

Some facts would help those odds a bit. Some cut ups will help me imagine some possibilities.

farmhouse from the the woods across

  • Is there a farmhouse nearby? (It) 50%

Roll(1d20)+0: 10

No, there is not a farmhouse nearby.

But wait, in John’s memory there was a “NO TRESPASSING” sign, so:

  • Is there a “NO TRESSPASSING” sign? 50%

Roll(1d20)+0: 10

No, there isn’t.

  • Is it (John’s current location) the same as the location of his memory? 50%

Roll(1d20)+0: 7

Another location it is:

speeding down the interstate.

[Cars are] speeding down the interstate.

what’s happened to you, John? What

[STATE TROOPER:] what’s happened to you[?], John? What

[JOHN:] Nothing officer. I just felt tired and decided to pull over to rest.

dead, John. A long silence as this
leans in. LEEK (cont’d) Are you
smell his breath. JOHN I guarantee
lips: has Gordon been drinking?

dead, John. A long silence as this [trooper]
leans in~~. LEEK (cont’d) Are you~~
[as if to] smell his breath. JOHN I guarantee

lips: has Gordon [TROOPER: Have you been drinking[, sir]?

[JOHN: I guarantee you I haven’t been drinking sir…]

John sees them all step onto the

John sees them all [TROOPER:] step Step [out] onto the [breakdown lane, sir.]

So, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve had these cut ups in view, letting them inspire some vague idea of where things could end up:

wounds. Finally, one nods at him:
got the hell out of there. Next
in your car and the universe just

At least one of these gives a confrontational/angry vibe, which is how I feel about the request to step out of the car since John hasn’t been drinking (he’s my character, so that’s how it is). I’m thinking maybe this could become an opportunity to engage the conflict system.

Annalise has two ways of initiating a conflict: initiation by the active player (“Seizing a Moment”) or initiation by the scene guide (“Pushing a Moment”). Cut ups don’t have any intentionality, so I’m guessing I’ll be Seizing a lot more moments than feeling like they’re being Pushed.

Anyway, I am thinking I could Seize a Moment here. Making a Satellite Trait based on the Secret seems doable:

  • Secret: Unbeknownst to him, John has a developing form of extra sensory perception. Its first manifestation was the feeling he got during the incident that ended up killing Connie. (3c)

Something related to this ESP ability to unconsciously pick something up about this cop and spooking him (That would be my Achievement).

The Consequence could be something related to that confrontational feeling of the interaction so far. Pissing off the trooper in some way (something I would need make more concrete using cut ups). Or maybe the Consequence could be something else entirely if the Cut Ups say so.

I’m always eyeing cut ups, and I found two more that look interesting in this context:

this could be an electrical impulse
just inches in front of John’s face

I am thinking this could be a really pissed off cop (“just inches in front of John’s face”) with a taser (“electrical impulse”). There are no mentions of tasers in this movie script, so I’m clearly being more interpretative than I usually like to be. Still, the context is too strong to ignore.

This could be a Consequence.

However…my Secret has very few coins (3) and creating a new Trait would lower it even more. Maybe I can lean on my Vulnerability instead:

  • Vulnerability: I am vulnerable because I feel guilty about my wife’s death (Connie). (7c)

Maybe John’s guilt has started to make him unconsciously create problems for himself as a way of self punishment. The problem I’m having with this is that the Achievement would be getting punished, so the Consequence might have no teeth.

Maybe the guilt causes John to get depressed sometimes, and he just wants to be left the hell alone.

So, new Satellite Trait using 2 coins from Vulnerability:

  • Just leave me the hell alone (5)

So, John just wants this trooper to leave him alone. He complies with every command to get him out of his hair as fast as possible.

However, I also just had an idea. Forget the taser. I have the Claim:

  • Gioblastoma Multiforma/Temporal lobe tumor. (2C)

Electrical impulse + tumor = seizure. That’s my Consequence. I just need to flesh the details out more with cut-ups.

just inches in front of John’s face
ticket. They bring the car. The
I’m not going to let the same thing
drive off. EXT. STREET IN

It could go like this: the trooper gets his face close to John’s and tells John can’t drive off, and that he’ll have his car towed. Obviously, the trooper is just being a dick.

The action and narration of it can be fleshed out more by looking for cut ups that fit the context, even with some help from a text search (“arrest”, “smell”):

smell his breath. JOHN I guarantee
So I’m not under arrest? CONNIE

just inches in front of John’s face
ticket. They bring the car. The
I’m not going to let the same thing
drive off. EXT. STREET IN

In the end, I don’t really want to add to much of my own output, so I feel like this works reasonably:

[The trooper stands] just inches in front of John’s face
[as if to] smell his breath. JOHN I guarantee

It’s clear from the context that the cop is just looking for an excuse to harass John.

So, this is the point where we (me) find out if John is left alone after being compliant, if the stress of the situation causes him to start seizing, or both.

Results of 2d6:

Roll(1d6)+0:4,+0

Roll(1d6)+0: 4,+0

Achievements:

Value of 4: You gain the Achievement.

Consequences:

Value of 4: You avoid the Consequence, though perhaps only barely. When the Moment closes, place a coin in your Reserves.

this could be an electrical impulse

Another cut-up:

eerie, dizzying, disorienting...

So, finally:

[John complies with every command the trooper gives him, in the hopes he’ll just leave him alone.]

But he gets his Achievement.

Another cut up:

So, all of these together to build a little flavor:

I’m not going to let the same thing
drive off. EXT. STREET IN
ticket. They bring the car. The
in your car and the universe just
got the hell out of there. Next
John I’m sorry for ruining
wounds. Finally, one nods at him:

[Trooper:] I’m not going to let the same thing
[you] drive off . EXT. STREET IN
[without a] ticket. They bring the car. The
[Go back] in your car and the universe just
got [get] the hell out of there [here]. Next
wounds. Finally, [he] nods at him[ curtly.]:
John I’m sorry for ruining [your day, sir.]

Nice cut-up:

storm is brewing over West

[For a moment, John feels like an internal]
storm is brewing over West [inside of him; ]
this could be an electrical impulse[–]
eerie, dizzying, disorienting…`
Then he drives off.

1 Like