Sunday, January 30, 2011

Committee for the Exploration of Mysteries, completed

It took us four sessions, but we finally completed our expedition in Committee for the Exploration of Mysteries. Along the way, our intrepid heroes dealt with Chinese Tongs, rival academics, Nazis, yetis, a femme fatale, a drunk sherpa, snow leopards, time travel technology, a head cheese sandwich, bureaucracy, and shambling zombie Nazis, before discovering the ultimate secret of Shangrila: that it's really an alien research center, drawing humans via time travel from many times in history for study, and trapping them there with the promise of a paradise that makes one forget everything else.

It was, at times, rocky going. My group includes a number of people who Robin Laws would classify as "casual gamers" who are more there for the social interaction than the game, but games like this really work best if everyone there is really eager to be engaged and involved and proactive. And it was a very different style of playing. Most of the time the biggest thing holding them back was them worrying about being unable to do it -- once they stopped worrying about it, they did great, but they never believed they were going to. In the end I think everyone mostly enjoyed it (so they said) but also found it too demanding, and wouldn't want to do something like that very often. Maybe after a while we might try again (or dabble in another storytelling game), but for now we're going back to other stuff.

The rules say you're supposed to use a timer, and I think if we had, the whole game would have felt really harsh, tense, and un-fun. We felt pressured enough without a timer, and the amount of time they give is so small. It might have been good to have some time element, but not a relentless ticking of a clock with only three minutes on it.

We also had a hard time at times remembering to stay in the premise, where everything is in first person past tense, relating what happened previously, not interacting with the action in present tense. Sometimes we struggled with getting everyone into the action -- everything was about the person whose turn it was, and their Opposition, and the rest of the table was uninvolved. It often felt like we weren't on the same page about the kind of feel we were going for, or the genre tropes we wanted to pursue. Sometimes it felt like one player would set something up and then another player would quash it immediately, or close off possible avenues for the story, leaving those who followed less to work with. And it was really hard to capture the style the book depicts in how everyone talks, the whole grandiose tone. We dabbled with it, but it always felt like a strain.

But I found it really fun to stretch to try to make a story out of all the elements everyone was dropping on the table, and find ways to make it all come out like it was planned. One thing I realized partway through, that I hadn't really seen in playing at LoreCon, was that a common thing to do was to come up with a bit of storyline where you had to have a plan for where it was going to go, what it would turn out to mean, and yet you had to be ready to let it go and turn out to be something totally different. Almost everything you play in the game might turn out to be something different than you intended when another player grabs it, and that's a perfectly good thing. You have to be completely ready to let your ideas get reshaped, and still go to the effort of forming them. That's part of what some people had trouble with, though they may not have realized it. They were hesitant to put too much of an idea onto the table that someone else might have to change it, and hesitant to do anything with other people's ideas for fear they were changing it too much.

In all I consider it a success, slightly qualified, but a success. But we probably won't dive into another storytelling game for a while.

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