Thursday, September 15, 2005


Timestream Actual Play

X-posted with The Forge.

I've been playtesting my materials for the Timestream game I'll be running at Southern Exposure at the end of the month. Todays game was very fun, and provided some examples of the bricolage that I think is so central to rewarding Sim play. If people want more on bricolage, shout out and I'll dig up the links.

Anyway, Timestream is pretty much impossible to play with anything resembling a set storyline. The character creation and R-map creation mechanics create a set of played characters linked by a web of Anchors, and play tends to end up revolving around one or two central anchors that bind the characters across time. Thus, the process of bricolage is critical to the actual production of plot/story/events/what have you. For Timestream in particular, the key question to "unlocking" the kind of bricolage that needs to happen in play is "What, right now, right here, would be cool?"

Now, for this game I pre-generated a set of characters and their Anchors. The players select characters, choose some options (their actual time-affecting powers, and their primary goals and obstacles to those goals), and are ready to go. One of my regulars was unable to show up today, so it was myself and two players. We're all college students and experienced role-players. I don't think its particularly relevent to my point here, but I'll be more than happy to fill out our RPG histories and personal backgrounds if need be.

Weldon picked up the artist character (Victoria), a "bleeding-edge" media artist and Temporal Manipulator from 2002 NYC. Pat chose the end-of-his-rope dock worker Thrall (Joe) from 1990 NYC. The most central Anchor to the overall R-map (6 characters in all) is Daniel, who is Joe's son and a possible patron for Victorias as-yet-unknown art.

The point during play that really "clicked" for me in terms of bricolage was this: Victoria has just saved Daniel's ass from being hauled off by Mafia polookas for an as-yet-unknown reason. Joe is being forced by his Master to track down someone named "Lambetti" in Victoria's timeframe. I cut from a scene with Victoria to Joe walking down the street, still unclear on what his Master wants him to do and trying to be proactive in some manner. I asked myself "What would be cool, right now?" I decided that a car pulled up next to Joe and a Mafia-looking palooka yells "Hey Dan, where the hell you going? We need to get to the meeting!" Over the course of the scene, we determined that (young) Joe looked just like Dan, that Dan was apparentely quite the joker ("Come on Dan, drop the act, this is serious) and that the guys in the car were going to meet Lambetti.

Click, click, click. A connexion was forged. I knew it, and I'm pretty sure the other guys knew it - of course Joe looks like Dan. Of course Dan was going to get Joe in trouble with Lambetti, whoever he was, and Lambetti would send thugs after the real Joe.

Now, this was cemented with the next scene with Joe: "Lambetti leans across the table and asks you what you're going to offer him in way of apology for what you've done to him." Ding! Obviously Pat now had to have Joe do something to piss of Lambetti. It was a good moment.

Continuity was created, not by an overarching story, or even by plot points or prepped bangs. Continuity was created, I would argue, by the process of bricoling our knowledge of the current situation and these characters with the sense, given by the game text, that these characters should and will be connected, in play, through their Anchors. This process was supported by system, both the cascading effects from character creation and actual mechanics having to do with Anchors.

I think this kind of thing happens frequently in role play, but usually on the Technique level - i.e., this GM is so good, he totally links everything that happens. I'm not going to know for sure until I see some actual play reports, but Timestream absolutely requires this kind of bricolage in order to be...well, coherent is the word I would use, but not necessary in the Forge sense of the word. Continuous, perhaps.

As for a specific question, I would ask that, given this example, does anyone know other games that reliably support or create this kind of process of bricolage? I'd love to check them out. Other discussion questions or topics stemming from this post are totally kosher as well.
Incidentally, I hope to be posting more actual theory stuff in the near future. Damn real life!

this GM is so good, he totally links everything that happens.

I intellectually understand that there are lots of players who actually like this sort of thing -- but it's one of the toughest things for me to keep an open mind about, because I hate the hell out of it. Having everything magically linked like this just makes me want to get up from the table and puke. To me, its really important to leave a bunch of unconnected elements out there. That makes it all the cooler when some of them later get connected. If at any point the number of these unconnected elements starts to drop off, then the Magic Coincidence Factor takes over the game for me. Now, in order to make the game work, it is often necessary for some of the elements to be connected (some games like Amber work just fine even if very few are connected). The balancing act lies in connecting enough of them, but not too many.
Well, I would argue that in Timestream the things that the group is interested in seeing connected become connected, and this process can source from any player, not just the GM. You start off with all of these plot and character and situation strings just hanging out there, and three hours later half of them have come together and its all humming along like you planned it that way.
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Nathan, you can turn on real-human-verification (type the wavy letters in the picture above) in your settings to get rid of the John Nelsons of the world. Real easy; one click.
Yeh. Done and done.
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