Meta-gaming, Actor-Stance, Author-stance, and Narration

Twitter. The final frontier new hotness. These are the transcripts of gaming nerds, trying to discuss involved game sessions using nerd jargon, in 140 characters or less.

After Wednesday night’s PTA game (where we are now 4/6 on our season of Ironwall), Tim (cyface) tweeted:

cyface A good game of #sg-pta last night. Had to tie @doycet to the stone table to make him RP instead of Metagame, but we got there. 🙂

Now, I know Tim meant no harm in his comment, and I know specifically (I think) which scene he was (mostly) referring to, but I couldn’t resist a reply.

doycet @cyface I attribute my flighty non-rpness to being really unsure if we’d get the bloody episode done on time without fast-forwarding.

Which unsurety stemmed from the fact that one guy’s spotlight episode (Tim’s, actually) coincided with a ‘screen presence: 2’ for every other character: two of them ramping up to their spotlight eps, and one coming down off his spotlight and ‘wrapping up’. There was a lot going on!

Then, of course, I started second guessing myself:

doycet @cyface Unless I’m that bad all the time — in which case… yeah, I don’t know.

Tim replied:

cyface @doycet Some of both, but generally, live for the moment, as long as the moment is good!

Meera also commented (in a reflection of the fact that she still feels she’s learning to grok some of the indie voodoo):

mtfierce @cyface Funny, I thought @doycet only metagamed in pity for the kids at the back of the indie class.

Which is a kind thing to say, and perhaps more consideration than I warrant — I know one of the things I’ve failed at with PTA in the past has been meta-level discussion of the events in the game in lieu of… you know… PLAYING.  It’s something I’ve been trying to avoid (pretty successfully, I believe) in the current season of play.

So went back and really thought about the game session (and previous sessions) in an analytical (and somewhat unkind) fashion.  That analysis prompted my next couple statements:

doycet @cyface Trying to analyze my play — is it meta-game, or doing author-stance narration? If it’s the later, then… yeah, I am. For me, authoring > acting.

doycet @cyface By “>”, I mean “more personal enjoyment/comfortable for me”. I do enjoy both kinds of play in others, and even acting for myself… in smaller doses.

This led us off into a (more profitable, IMO) discussion.

cyface @doycet It’s an interesting question. Assuming author is being well cared for, I’d prolly choose actor. But if author bad, actor = painful

cyface @doycet …and thus I’d choose author since I think it’s affects more people at once. If I can stabilize author, back to actor.

Hmm. Okay, I understand, here, what Tim’s saying, I think: “Assuming the story isn’t careening off the rails, I’d rather ‘play my guy’ and not step back into an author-level role unless necessary.”  Which is fine, but not exactly what I was talking about. To whit:

doycet @cyface Not 100% we mean the same wrt ‘author stance’. I just mean ‘playing my guy’ in 3rd person (author), rather than 1st person (actor).

doycet @cyface So, put another way, I-the-player am more comfortable playing in 3rd person than 1st, and wonder if my 3rd-person play reads, to you, as meta-play.

doycet @cyface @mtfierce I think there may be >2 modes: 1st prsn RP, 3rd prsn authorial description, omniscient scene narration, & meta-level “pre-summary”.

Here, I’m basically co-opting Forge-speak terms for stuff.

  • Actor-stance. The way I’m using it, I mean interacting with the game from your character’s 1st person point-of-view.  Obviously, you’re only using info the character knows, and your play is mostly roleplay, in the traditional, non-game sense.
  • Author-stance. You’re still just playing your guy, but the POV is more of a personalized 3rd-person, rather than 1st-person. Your character is still only acting ‘as they would act’, but rather than sort of improv’d roleplay acting, you may be describing their actions and what they say, rather than playing them out.
  • Director Stance. The player actually determines aspects of the story relative to the character in some fashion, entirely separately from the character’s knowledge or ability to influence events. So, the player not only determines their character’s actions, but the context, timing, and spatial circumstances of those actions, or even features of the world separate from the characters. (I do this all the time – it still isn’t meta-play.)
  • Meta-level “play” is, for me, something to be avoided, where you’d doing stuff like “Okay, if I succeed here, this is exactly what happens, and if you succeed, this is exactly what happens…” and then we roll dice (or whatever) and… there’s nothing left to PLAY, cuz we already described every possible outcome, so we just tic a box on the form we already filled out and go on to the next scene.  Some folks (me included) think of this as ‘playing before you actually play’.

So… yeah, if I read Tim’s first tweet as being backed with all this terminology (I rather doubt it was, and good for him), then I’d have thought he was saying I was doing that last thing.  Hopefully, what he was saying was that I was doing more Director Stance wankery (which, to be fair, I enjoy) rather than Actor (which, to be fair, Tim seems to (inexplicably) enjoy seeing me do).

doycet @cyface @mtfierce I’d say only meta-“pre-summary” is sucky “playing-without-play”, but either rules/results analysis -or- bad scene narration can BECOME that thing, by accident.

Now, personally, I don’t necessarily think Author or Director stances are bad – I’m a writer, so of course I enjoy looking at the scene from the CAMERA’S point of view, rather than the actors.  I’d go so far as to say I actually prefer them over Actor stance (full on, first person roleplay) for myself, but I’m at ease enough in my own neuroses to admit that at least one (lesser) reason I find them more comfortable (read: safe) is because when I get into first-person roleplaying in a scene, I get more emotionally wrapped up in the scene.

Well, duh.  Of course I do.  Let me rephrase.

“I’ll actually (sometimes) get more emotionally wrapped up in the scene than I’m comfortable with, and I’m concerned I might  make my fellow players uncomfortable with the level of my emotional involvement (when I play angry, I’ll get angry, et cetera), so I instinctively avoid it… That’s actually happened in the past, and I make me feel a little oogey.”

Said oogeyness is entirely a trust issue, and I really should cowboy-up and let go of my trust issues when I’m playing with the Wednesday group. Feh.

But still… that issue aside, I just plain like author/director modes.

What about you guys?

—-

In a weird bit of synchronicity, Paul Czege made this comment on a thread over on Story Games just last week:

I think lots of indie games have skewed many of us to where our play behavior is more like authoring at each other than it is character play. We play many indie games to use the engine of the mechanics to author something that affects the other players. But the result is, paradoxically, less affecting.

Because for a story to be affecting, it must be made from some of the author’s bare personality and honest identity. When a player’s character is a tool for affecting others, more than a membrane for two-way communication, play is “awesome” but boring. We appreciate the creativity and talents of our fellow players, but have no contact with their identities.

So there’s that. I don’t think Paul is wrong.

[PTA] Ironwall, Episode 1: The Ambassador

Wow, it’s been awhile since this episode aired, but as Episode 2 is playing tonight, I thought I’d better get a summary down.

I covered the pilot episode of this post-apocalyptic, fairies-are-back-and-they’re-pissed, survival drama here, in case you’re looking to get caught up.

Previously on Ironwall:

  • Shot of Sienna going all black magic scary in The Fairy Hill; children looking at her, horrified.
  • Shot of Cam meeting his shoulder-fairy for the first time out in the suburban ruins. “I want to come with you!”
  • Cam turning on Lennox in the cabin of the train. “Would you just back off?”
  • The Duke of the Fairy Hill, talking to Joseph. “My goodness; you’ve gone entirely native, haven’t you?”

OPENING

The camera zooms around the post-apocafunky island of not-Manhattan, showing us various settlements.

  • Where Upper East Side is today, we see patrols along the banks, a guardpost at Hellgate Bridge and on Roosevelt island (the bridge that crosses the East River at the island is torn out over the island, so that people have to cross by dropping down to the island, going through the guards, and then back up). There’s also a ship dock here that we take a little time looking at, so maybe that’s important.
  • Where the Upper West Side use to be, there are crumbling but well-maintained brownstones with anachronistically-dressed people (kind of feudal post-apoc chic) walking around the neighborhood, nodding and smiling to each other and looking secure.
  • All around Grand Central (where the sign over the doors just says CENTRAL), a bustling town-within-a-city, with lots of activity – working machinery, construction, conversation… some electric lights flickering to life as a generator sputters to life and a small group of people cheer while JOSEPH (J. Rhys-Meyers OMG) looks pensive.
  • We see the skyscrapers to the south end of the island, kestrels and other birds circling and nesting in the rusting framework. Most of the floors are open to the weather, and high up, a pair of watchers scan the horizon. One gets the others attention and points out to the sea. The second person pulls out binoculars, looks out to sea, and nods to the other, who goes over to the far side of the tower and starts ringing a bell.

We zoom back to “Central”, see Lennox (Viggo) turn toward the sound, looking first up at the iron towers, then in the direction of the sea. There are many buildings in the way, but by his frown and the look in his eyes, it seems he can see, or at least guess, what’s out there.

The camera zooms through those buildings (a big church, the NYC library, etc.) out to the sea, where we see a large sailboat, modern, but sort of gone primitive, with a kind of US gov’t emblem on the sail; again, a bit primitive. On the ship, in the prow, there is a woman in quasi-military, weirdly formal white attire, looking out at up at the city. The camera slows, starts moving more smoothly, pans around to look over her shoulder from her POV, and we see the City in silhouette as the sun sets behind it.

The silhouette goes black and we see it turn into the logo for the show as “IRONWALL” and the faun’s head fades in over it, the theme music fades in, and the OPENING CREDITS ROLL.


COMMERCIAL BREAK: Ironwall is brought to you – at least in my broadcast area – by Xcel Energy Wind Power, and the new Solarum hybrid from Kia. Someone got the word out that the show has a “you bastards blew it all to hell” eco-theme. Huh.


AND WE’RE BACK.

We start on the docks on Roosevelt Island, beneath the shattered span of bridge. All the key people are waiting for the woman in white to get off her fancy boat. Joseph (Rhys-Meyers) is there, but in the background: standing to the foreground of the crowd is the Old Priest and Lennox (Viggo). Our other principal actors are scattered around the crowd. There’s also a big fat man in a fancy coat and a lean, rangy looking guy, both standing next to the priest.

Here to help you. Not at all evil. Promise.
Here to help you. Not at all evil. Promise.

The woman in white looks too-clean white, and the first shot of her is almost upskirt, standing under a flag made by an aspiring Betsy Ross Jr. with old naval insignia and a couple of stars, maybe some stripes. Her first line is a little classic: “Don’t worry. We’re from the government, and we’re here to help you.”

She smiles to show it’s a joke, but no one’s really laughing.

Oh, it’s Bridget Regan. She introduces herself as Elizabeth Montclair, and makes a speech(standing on a stack of old computer monitors): she’s an ambassador from Washington-that-was, and she wants to establish an alliance with the settlements of “your city”. (She doesn’t call it Ironwall, but she doesn’t say New York, either. It feels like she wants to, but doesn’t.)

The speech is followed by scattered applause – a lot of people turn around and go about their business without clapping, but some people (the fat man in front) are SUPER PUMPED.


The Ambassador suggests a more private place to talk with the Leadery-types, and leaves her soldiers (did I mention she has a bunch of soldiers on the boat?) on the boat and goes with the Priest, the fat man, the lean guy, and Our Heroes to talk at The Church.

The Church is a little weird. There’s aren’t a ton of religious trappings, and I feel like their pretending it’s one of the cathedrals in NYC, but it’s not one I recognize. Most of the iconography is missing, and the front doors just have these BIG iron spikes mounted on them, like it means something. Hopefully we’ll find out more later.

Right now, it’s not important: the Church is just the Scoobies’ Library for now.

Lennox and Cam (rawr) sit in the pews listening, JOSEPH (again, Rhys-Meyers) is up front next to Father Ezekial. Sienna the Spooky Witch stands in the back, looking through the modest library.

The Ambassador comes clean (right) saying that actually, she needs the resources of the city to track down a threat that has escaped from her own city and was headed here – is probably here already. She is chasing a traitor from her settlement who is some kind of ‘skin-changer’. A human, but one who can shapeshift – ‘co-opting the worst of fey magic.’ She wants to bring her people (did I mention the soldiers) off the boat and conduct the search.

“We have an excellent success rate in tracking down fey hidden within humanity.”

Which sounds about as creepy-inquisition as it should, I think.

The fugitive woman (name: Veronica Jacobson) has an ‘everyskin-cloak’. The Ambassador indicates that the ‘needs’ of the cloak mean that the woman is probably going to start feeding on the locals in some way. Maybe she has already.

“So she is human?” – Cam
“I don’t know if that’s a fair assessment anymore.” – Montclair

OUR HEROES look for additional information, some to avoid a witchhunt (CAM), some curiosity (SIENNA), some guilty consciences (JOSEPH), and to make sure who is really in danger (LENNOX).

The Ambassador mentions, during the questioning, that part of the reason the coat is important is because it includes not just the black magic of torturing animals, but also the skins (and thus, associated abilities) of the fey.

So, there’s… like… fairy parts in this cloak? Like… torn-off flutterby wings and such? Eww.


OOC Comments

“‘Pensive’ is very big this year.” – Doyce, overusing the word.

“She’s an Ambassador. She’s here to Ambass.” – Doyce

“Snuffleupaghi?” – Tim, musing on the kinds of skins the cloak might incorporate.


Next, a MONTAGE scene showing posters going up, people being talked to, observations being made in whatever way is most appropriate to each character.

All this leads to someone getting a lead.

“Good news, we found her, bad news is, she’s taken Clemens.”

Right… who’s that again?

“We think we found her, but Clemens is missing…”
“…and there’s a lot of meat on Clemens.”

Ohh… Clemens (Gailard Sartain) is the fat man — who is also probably the guy in charge of the fancy Upper West Side people.

There is some planning about how to take this woman-monster thing down, which gave up a good line:

“You can’t go in loaded for bear if she’s going to be a bat.”


Anyway, Lennox (who apparently has Fey-dar) leads the way to a warehouse somewhere along the Hudson shoreline. The whole place is kind of boggy, because the Hudson has reclaimed a lot of the lower-lying areas along the southwest side of the island, but it’s not totally underwater.

So there’s a chase/fight in a warehouse. It’s dark and tense and everyone has crappy old flashlights that barely work (except for CAM, whose flashlight is awesome and can SEAR THE RETINA.

Now, here’s the thing; according to the Buffy Bible of Show Order, everyone should get their asses kicked by this monster, and only beat her in the second attempt at the end of the episode, but … no. The woman goes down without a huge fight. Sienna reminds Lennox he needs to +DESTROY+ her coat.

“I wouldn’t trust me with it.”

They pull the coat off the woman (which apparently REALLY REALLY HURTS), and then Lenn pours oil over it and makes sure it burns. It does, but it also writhes and screams while it does so… which is creepy.

Lennox is frowning – showhow, he thought this would be harder.


COMMERCIAL BREAK: Ironwall is brought to you by Kiva, who bought the whole 90 second spot so they could really explain the charity. Huh. Good idea; Ironwall is nerd-tasty, and Kiva is the kind of Charity nerds would probably like.


Sienna is with Father Ezekial and captured girl as they bind wounds caused by pulling the coat off of her skin. (Also: OW.)

“So, who do you think gave her the coat?” Sienna insinuates.

The priest demurs, noting they don’t have enough information to imply anything.

Sienna points out that if the girl was so good at the black magicks, there would have been a lot more in the way of, say, injury, let alone hot, crunchy death. Projecting much, Si?

The father points out the politics of it – that too sensitive a situation to accuse anyone outright, but that they should maybe… umm… hold the girl while they do a little more investigation.

Sienna agrees and offers to ward the room in addition to having the guard.

So… that’s interesting – she admits to a little bit of magic to regular people, at least, and the priest doesn’t bat an eye.


Lennox and Cam chat a bit about how easily the woman (they start calling her Veronica, so we know we’re supposed to see her as a person) was captured, and if it was that easy, how did she haul off Clemens-the-fat?

Cam goes to talk to Clemens, because he thinks there’s more information to be found in how he was caught by this wisp of a woman. After an argument with his SHOULDER FAIRY, he discovers The Ambassador has troops in the city – within the village of Upper West, specifically. After seeing the relative luxury that Clemens enjoys, he gets to the bottom of the situation.

Seems as thought Upper West has already been in talks with Washington, and drawn up some agreements.

Also, these aren’t the troops from the boat, these are OTHER troops – MORE troops – who marched up to the city overland (suffering some losses) and were let on the island over the Great Bridge (which Upper West is supposed to guard).


Lennox finds about about the new kids in town, and meets with Logan-the-Lean of Upper East to gain some kind of Solidarity.

Logan agrees, and comments says, “Wouldn’t it be a shame if the soldiers they brought accidentally ran across our `friends’ in the Ramble. Oh no, that wouldn’t be right.”

Lennox agrees. Is he agreeing that it wouldn’t be right, or that the soldiers should have an accident?

Yep, that was deliberately ambiguous.


Joseph has a high-larious moment in the church confessional with his Sekrit Ironwall Fey Contact, who uses the name “Joseph” like a weapon.

Sekrit Contact wants to know what Joseph wants to be, what he wants being “the Kerrigan” to mean. Where he wants to fit in. If he’s going to take on a role in the fey politics, how much self-delusion is he willing to give up?

Just as things start to get interesting, The Ambassador shows up to cop a feel on the local politics and starts insinuating things about our city, trying to draw Joseph out into talking about Our Heroes.

She doesn’t seem terribly impressed with Our Heroes. But she has noticed some “odd things”.

  • One of the most senior borderer in your settlement (Lennox) failed to notice his own nephews had been replaced with Changelings?
  • Cam doesn’t farm, yet he goes to the Park every night?
  • Serena does magic? How? From books? We have many books, but none of our people can do what you say she’s done.
  • Did you know that even the best-glamoured of the Fey still leave a tell-tale, no matter how close they come to appearing human? Something to give them away — a strange birthmark, perhaps, or unnaturally colored eyes, like yours, Joseph…

Yeah, she is not of the comfort-making.


Commerical Break: Ironwall is brought to you by the new Kodacell.


Sienna is in with the animal-skin woman, who wakes up while Sienna does magical stuff — draws wards or something.

“Your magic works?”

Sienna seems nonplussed. “We don’t burn witches here,” Sienna says, maybe over-hopefully.

The girl seems darkly amused – also, apparently, The Ambassador is her sister. The girl’s story is that she stole the skin-coat (part of a Washington R&D about working against the fey) in retribution for Elizabeth Montclair (the ambassador) having lost her moral compass, as well as the Program having devoured the rest of the girl’s family.

Not sure if “devoured” is literal or not.

Sienna feels the girl out to see if she notices anything about the magical wards or any magics around either of them.

Veronica gives no indications that she can feel anything of the sort.

The last visual of this scene is a pan back to see that indeed, the girl is in the middle of some nasty-looking wards, completely oblivious to that fact.


Thanks to Father E, there’s going to be a trial… a not-trial, to see if there SHOULD be a trial: if Ironwall needs to keep Veronica around to stand trial for crimes against the city itself before she is released to The Ambassador.

BEFORE THE TRIAL, CAM’s earring… erm, shoulderfey notices Joseph. The two have lots of side-whispers and facial gesticulation while Cam, Sienna, and Lennox compare notes. Cam and Joseph are sent to make sure that The Ramble (read: the Queen of Flowers, Cam’s Fey-with-Benefits) is alerted to the troops that may cross from Upper West and down to Central if the not-trial doesn’t go The Ambassador’s way. There’s some talk about getting those soldiers to disappear. Permanently.

Cam and Joseph head into the Ramble to make deal with the Queen of Flowers. The deal is voiced such that the QUEEN makes it clear that “If 30 men are taken care of, I will be owed 30 men worth of work.” Somehow, she makes it sound like a group sex scenario will be partial payment.

“She is surrounded by the scent of musk and elderberries and wine…” – Doyce

“You cut-and-pasted that straight from my forebrain…” – Tim

In the meantime, Cam’s “pet fairy” (who is NOT present) is mentioned and the Queen acts unconcerned the influence of pets against her and Cam’s… ugh… connection. Also, she makes lots of allusions to Josephe’s status as “Kerrigan” but nothing outright is said.


Sienna tells Lennox she’ll stand at the trial to say Veronica would only know black magic if it bit her (and at that, only if it wasn’t subtle) – to indicated that there’s no way Veronica created the every-skin coat on her own. But as Father E points out, they don’t have any reason to hold her in protective custody since there’s no crime committed here.

Thus commences THE NOT-TRIAL.

[The conflict at “NOT A TRIAL” is just to find out if they can convince the Board to keep Veronica in Ironwall, against MONTCLAIR’S wishes. MONTCLAIR stands up and defends self. The players get lots of black card failure. FAILURE brings out Veronica to her sister MONTCLAIR’s custody.]

And, again, the show goes against what you’d expect, and Sienna and Lennox lose the argument to the council, who votes to hand Veronica over to The Ambassador.

Lennox, who disagrees with the whole thing and thinks Ironwall should just tell The Ambassador to sod off, and is CLEARLY thinking about just jumping in and “fixing things”, still escorts the Ambassador and Veronica across city to the Q bridge and, from there, to MONTCLAIR’s boat. They get within sight of the boat, looking down on it from the bridge and BOOM BOAT EXPLOSION!

There’s a shot of Lennox’s face, and Sienna’s… and we’re pretty damned sure THEY didn’t do it.

So who did?

END.


Next week, on Ironwall:

  • A voice, to Joseph: “You did have something that would help you remember… but do you remember where it is?”
  • Veronica, to Sienna: “You said you lost your child?”
  • CAM: looks at Joseph “Your eyes seem different somehow.”
  • Someone tells Lennox. “Some of the Board think you’re trying to pull off a coup.” Lennox doesn’t look like he’s denying it.
  • “Did any of the Ambassador’s soldiers enter the Ramble last night? Four are missing.”

Primetime Adventures: Ironwall, Pilot Episode, “The Hill”

((Our pitch session is here. The cast includes:

  • Cam, mechanic and tinkerer-savant
  • Joseph, one of the pillars of the settlement, hiding a terrible secret
  • Lennox, border guard, the survivor of a wiped-out settlement
  • Sienna, practitioner of black magic who has already paid high prices

The rest of the session follows below, as recounted by TWoP.

But first, a few observations on how to achieve successful, fun play in PTA, garnered in part from a recent ‘tips’ discussion on Story-Games, proven by last night’s session:

  • SUPER IMPORANT RULE ONE: Keep Stakes limited to what the character wants out of the scene. Let me emphasize this: what the character (not player) wants (not ‘what will happen’).
    • Bullshit: “If I win, a, b, and c happens, in that order, in this way, such that we needn’t even play it out.”
    • Not Bullshit: “My guy wants to find out more about X if I win.” or “My guy wants to be impressively competent if I win.”
    • This is so simple, and in the past I’ve seen it done wrong (and done it wrong) so many times.
  • IMPORTANT Rule Two: The high card narrates the conflict, but THE GM STILL INTRODUCES “PLOT” FACTS. Put another way: “This is PTA, not Inspectres.”
    • Bad – The narrating player says: “You beat him up, pow biff bang, and pull him up by his collar, and he admits that he’s working for… “FATHER DONNELLY!”
    • Good- The narrating player says: “You beat him up, pow biff bang, and pull him up by his collar, and he admits that he’s working for…” *turns to GM to fill in the blank*
  • Do not include specific consequences of failure or success when setting Stakes. Leave that up to the High Card player. Just. Say. What. You. Want.

Other good things to remember:

  • The Producer frames all scenes. The players just take turns requesting scenes, providing a focus, location and an agenda.
    • On the agenda: Don’t overcomplicate. The agenda should simply be what the characters are “up to” on the surface, not what the whole scene is going to be about.
  • Not every scene must have a conflict.

Right: enough rules chatter – on with the recounting of heroics.

Continue reading “Primetime Adventures: Ironwall, Pilot Episode, “The Hill””

Primetime Adventures Pitch Session: Apocalypse Fairies!

So last night we got got together to work through the Pitch Session for a new Primetime Adventures game.

((For those who don’t know, Primetime Adventures is a game meant to emulate action/melodrama television shows. The purpose of play is to create a short-run television series (5 or 9 episodes) driven by the Issues of the show’s stars. Players in PTA are both the Actors of their protagonists as well as Authors of the TV series. The GM (called the Producer in this game) has two jobs: make sure scenes move toward Conflict and work the overall story arc for the Season into play.))

Pitch sessions for PTA are always strange beasts, because people come in to the session with random ideas for shows, almost none of which ever make it through the whole process, and by the end, you have something pretty cool that everyone’s excited about… and no one’s entirely sure how it happened.

I was going to cheat a bit on this post and find a previous post about a PTA pitch session and kind of map what happened then to what happened last night, but it turns out I’ve never written about a pitch session before. No easy-out for me.

Right, so here’s what happened.

First, I was running a little late from a class I was teaching, so we got going around six-thirty or so. I had a notebook in my pocket with a few pitch ideas, and not much else.

So we chatted a little bit and then I asked everyone what kind of television show they didn’t want to see / do. Tim said that he really wasn’t much into the idea of a ‘straight’ one-hour dramedy like Gilmore Girls or Felicity or something like that. No one looked too disappointed by that – I think we’re the sort of folks who expect a little genre weirdness in our TV. Cool.

Meera spoke up and requested we avoid setting things in any war between the Amercian Civil War and today, simply because her history-fu for that time frame was weak. Again, that sounded good to everyone (for myself, I was merely homesick for the “Strange Allies” PTA game we never finished.)

That was pretty much all the “I’d rather not”s for everyone, so we talked a bit about what kind of pitches we had.

Randy piped up (a bit tongue in cheek) with the idea I dubbed “Left Behind… Because You’re An Asshole”, where something akin to the Biblical Rapture occurs, but only people who are, objectively, good people actually transcend.

We talked a little bit around this topic, until I admitted that, while I liked the idea of a kind of “oh crap, all these people are gone, how will we survive?” event, the idea of an event with biblical elements left me pretty cold.

Tim jumped in and said he was also into the idea of a kind of a post-apocalyptic survival story, though not just “straight zombies” in the vein of The Walking Dead, which is an idea I’d mentioned earlier in the week.

((I’d like to pat us all on the back at this point for not mentioning the Swine Flu once the whole night.))

Right around that same point, Tim also mentioned that he enjoyed “resource drama” – where you’re scrounging for supplies and making do with whatever you can find. The A-Team was mentioned, which is a little too camp for me, but also elements of Mad Max and things of that nature.

We threw around a lot of Survival Drama at this point, and talked about the kinds of story arcs you could do in there: a hellbent run from Point A to Point Z, basic survival, defend the base, find a weakness of and destroy the Big Bad… things like that.

I thought it might be interesting to start well AFTER the initial “inciting event,” and Tim agreed, mentioning that flashbacks would certainly explore that event more.

So we tossed around ideas of what the apocalypse might have been. Zombies… vampires… dragons… robots… robots created to fight zombies (yes, seriously), then turning on their owners…

Somewhere in there, Tim commented that some kind of Faerie Attack had never been done as an Apocalypse Event, and I said something like “Well, then we should do that.”

(I believe Meera would like me to state, for the record, that the faeries were not her idea… she just (gleefully) went along with it.)

That seemed to provide quite a lightning rod for ideas after that point, and coalesced into a show concept that The Producer is tentatively calling Ironwall (until we think of something yet more awesome).

SOMETHING had caused the Fae to reemerge in our world, and those fae (a collective term that we decided encompassed everything from fairies and pixies to trolls and dragons to bakemono and oni — all presented in the style of Hellboy II and Pan’s Labyrinth’s art team) were Very Angry. The result of this re-emergence was hundreds of millions if not billions dead (either from fae attacks or from jumping off bridges when they realize that the bogeyman is real).

We tossed around several ideas about WHY they had come back, including:

  • The bio-organism of Earth was calling on its last, most vicious defenders, having failed through the ‘fever’ of Global Warming to control the human disease. “Giant T-cells shaped like Unicorns,” Meera quipped.
  • There was a regime shift in Faerie and the new King really hated us (a la The Golden Army).
  • The thousand-year treaty (involving a drunk Irishman, the King of the Fae, and a lost poker bet) finally ran out.
  • Old iron railway tracks had been torn up, reconnecting long-severed ley lines.
  • Nanites run amok. (which we didn’t exactly love)
  • Starbuck is an angel. (Okay, not really.)

… and in the end we decided it didn’t matter, or that it would come out during the show itself. The basic idea was that humanity was on the ropes, hiding out in the ruins of big cities, where the Iron content was high enough to weaken the fae magic. Something had recently happened to put the status quo in danger, and Our Heroes would be doing something about it.

Tim asked what would be happening that would bring the characters together, and Randy came up with a pretty awesome idea (and the First Scene of the Pilot): somehow the Fae had made it into the City (tentatively, Manhattan – Detroit would work better, but we know nothing about Detroit) where the Settlement was and had swapped in EVERYONE’S children for Changelings. The “First Scene” idea for the Pilot is all these adults dragging their crying, screaming children into the middle of the settlement and throwing them into a bonfire, where the audience finally sees that the people in the hoods and robes are not the bad guys, and that the things in the fire are monsters.

That opening scene lets us do a lot of stuff during the pilot:

  • Explain what the Fae can do with glamours and illusion and the like.
  • Visit a fae stronghold and see how the bad guys roll.
  • Show off the characters in an action-type situation.
  • Get everyone asking questions like “How could they do this? Why didn’t they do it before? WHAT HAS CHANGED AND HOW SCREWED ARE WE?!”

… which is basically everything a Pilot is supposed to do.

There was a bit more background stuff, during which it became clear that SEX was going to be a big element of the story, because the Fey need humanity to refresh their bloodlines (and humans… well, are human, and the Fae are hot and sexy). Plus, Tim made “Sex with Fairies” his character’s main Issue. I wrote all that background stuff down in the Series Bible on the Wiki page, so check it out.

Then we came up with characters:

  • Tim is playing a kind of mechanic-savant with natural animal sex appeal whose Issue is temptation: specifically, sex with faeries: *gasp* SLEEPING WITH THE (hawt) ENEMY.
  • Meera is playing a girl whose black magic led her to cut some pretty unspeakable bargains when the fae first arrived. Her issue is Atonement.
  • Randy is playing a border guard for the settlement – someone who survived another settlement in a smaller town being wiped out. He has issues with control, born of concern for protecting the settlement.
  • And Chris is playing a young man who was taken in by the settlement’s priest when he was a young boy and who has grown up as a pillar of the community. His issue is Self-Worth, because HE IS ACTUALLY ONE OF THE FAE, A LYING LITTLE CHANGELING THAT HIS “PARENTS” DIDN’T HAVE THE GUTS TO KILL.

Ahem.

So… right. That’s where we are now. Pretty much nothing at all like any of the pitch ideas we’d been thinking of, pretty cool… and no one really knows how we got there.

I’m rather excited to play.

Writing for (make believe) television: The Game!

I’ve been a bit periscope-down for the last week or so, but I thought I’d pop in for just a moment before my students show up and muse on a game I’m starting up this evening. I don’t normally talk about my gaming on this blog (saving that for Random Average), but in this case, I thought it was relevant.

The game is Primetime Adventures – a story-game that’s designed to simulate the ebbs and flows of (mostly) genre television melodrama, best exemplified by shows like Buffy, Alias, Six Feet Under, Chuck, Heroes, Lost, and things of that nature.

Tonight we will have the Pitch Session, in which participants will propose various show ideas which we will then shoot down or hammer on until we have a concept for a television show we rather like – at which point in time we proceed to make up the protagonists for the show and figure out the basic flow the story arcs and the character issues and all that good stuff that we’ll explore for the next five or six game sessions.

The television metaphor is a powerful one, and leads to some good concepts, many of which are inspired by the basic idea “this is something I think would make awesome television, but which no one IN television would ever have the balls to make.” Maybe it’s faerie-invaded Edwardian England, or ghost hunting noir, or undead-fighting kung-fu holy warriors, or everyman robot-overlord survival horror. Could be anything, really.

I don’t have any ideas.

Rather, I have about a hundred ideas, none of which are stepping forward and shouting “pick me, hone me, LOVE ME” the way I always expect they should do — the way that actual quality television or stories do.

In fact, what I’m feeling right now is pretty much what I feel every time I’m about to start a new writing project for which I only have a kinda-sorta idea. It’s a good place to be, and kind of a rotten place to be all at once. When all you have is a blank page and no constraints, you can get a little paralyzed.

I can hardly wait to get started. I’ll let you know what we come up with.