PLAYTEST TO FIND OUT: How to frame hyper-focussed drama in a GMless game?
At this point Ma Nishtana has had 45 playtesters give feedback. Every time we take their feedback and refine the game. People have consistently rated “add complications” as the least useful game mechanic. They have also noted that the phrasing of rituals is too ungainly.
Gabrielle and I disagree about this but I think that it behooves us to have ready-made complications in the game. This is game built for those who have never played a roleplaying game. As a “Passover RPG”, half of our intended audience are aunts and uncles who have never played an RPG before. But unlike BoB games this is not dreamlike; the narrative is hyper-focused.
Too this end, at first we tried to have complications be scene-specific. For example as the Hebrew people fled Egypt, one complication was the classic trap. We thought that by posing a complication as a question that could be answered by a player or asked of the table this made it more approachable.
However people often do not feel empowered to use them or, if their game is running without needing them (in the case of a confident table) find them an obstacle to immersion. Our current solution is to fit them at the end of the playbooks so players can feel some ownership of complications - use them when players feel inspired. This reinforces the idea they are mere suggestions. The current solution:
AT ANY TIME YOU MAY
Use the Safety Tools, or:
WHEN IN DOUBT
Call (or signal)“Wait Wait Wait!” and ask a question or make a suggestion.
Choose one of the following:
Clarify: make clear something about gameplay, the scene, or anything else.
Argue: Take issue with established narrative. Change elements.
Call (or signal)“Wait Wait Wait!” and introduce a complication.
Consider the Ritual Action. Choose from the following or make your own.
Up the stakes. Ask the table or answer yourself:
Who overhears the conversation?
Those in power have mystical displays of their own. What threat do they pose?
Who is captured? Who do you blame?
What do you hear that lets you know that danger is at your heels?
Create obstacles. Ask the table or answer yourself:
What debt is called in?
Who discovers the secret?
What other obligation conflicts with the commandment?
The Egyptians have set a trap. Why is it inescapable?
The deal you make has a loophole. What is it?
Reveal unexpected depths. Ask the table or answer yourself:
What in the streets foreshadows revolt?
What keeps you from leaving?
What song do you sing? Why does it make it harder to let go?
You are thrust into a memory. Who is with you?
G-d demands a show of faith. What must you do?
Secondly, to frame more character drama we have now added a list of lures at the end of the book that players can pick up if they feel they want more intimate play. Jammi suggested these are best used for repeat play. We tried to just have them in character playbooks but there was too much information in them already and were seldom used. By separating them into a document that each player has a copy of, rather than in the playbooks, we hope they will be used.
Introduce these moves for a more intimate story. Make a copy for each player.
MIRIAM: WHEN SOMEONE JOINS YOU IN SONG
- Share one of your visions.
- Ask: “What resonates?”
- Ask: “Whose silence resists us?”
MOSES: WHEN SOMEONE WALKS WITH YOU
- Ask: What blessing do we stumble upon?
- Ask: What about the path we tread makes it nearly unbearable?
- Whisper. Share why you are one step away from shattering.
ZIPPORAH: WHEN SOMEONE EATS AT YOUR TABLE
- Ask: “What are you eating? Who will not partake and why?”
- Ask: “What smells like home here?”
- Share your concerns about Moses or another family member.
AARON: WHEN SOMEONE STRUGGLES ALONGSIDE YOU
- Ask: “What do you smell that makes our work harder?”
- Ask: “What stunt that we pulled before does this remind you of?”
- Reveal what they have not taken from you.
BITYAH: WHEN SOMEONE ENTERS YOUR BATHHOUSE
- Ask: “What is here that you cannot find anywhere else?”
- Ask: “What do you feel that lets you know you are safe? Why is this a lie?”
- Express your anxieties about losing the paradise you have built for yourself.
PHARAOH: WHEN SOMEONE BOWS BEFORE YOU
- Ask: “How do you know the tales of my cruelties are true?”
- Ask: “You once earned my trust. What gift did I bestow then?”
- In rage or despair, let slip your deepest fears.