the Fairgame Archive

2007-09-07: Conversations
by Emily

Walking around way too late last night, Joshua, Julia, Vincent and I found ourselves talking about how often our designs are conversations with our baggage from past gaming. What I love is when our games become an unspoken conversation with friends, or even people we've never met, carrying messages about what we've learned or hope to teach one another in a practical, applied fashion.

One such conversation began for me after reading posts by gamers who said they didn't play characters of an other gender from themselves, had never seen anyone do so convincingly, and basically didn't believe it could or should be done. I was stunned. It was so far from my experience, I couldn't imagine feeling that way. Every game group I'd been in had had a good mix of male and female gamers, and all of us had played cross gender at some time. How, I would rail in my head, on earth could anyone write a book


if a person could not accurately portray someone of a different gender? Why was it easy to imagine playing a half-elven ranger, but not a woman?

So, I wrote Breaking the Ice. Switching genders with the other player was the seed that formed the kernel of the idea for the game. Playing out the first date seemed like a natural situation, and having it be two players let you establish focus and safety between the players.

One of the games I looked to for help dealing with issues this raised was Sex and Sorcery, by Ron Edwards. Ron talks explicitly about lines and veils, how much to reveal about sexual content in a game, and terminology that lets you negotiate this clearly with another person. Important tools to have in a game about romance. Especially for strangers to have when they play.

At GenCon 2005, I demo'd the game several times with Ron. He was a great player, and got to help me dispel some rather creepy vibes in a particular demo with a player who had some rather...stereotypical ideas about women. Later that year, he ran a contest, the first of the Ronnies, in which he asked people to write a game in 24 hours based on certain words. Two of the words were "Girlfriend" and "Rat", and when he decided to do it himself so he wouldn't be asking people to do something he wouldn't—It was a Mutual Decision was born, the "grotty younger sister to BtI" as he says. :) Charting the relationship from getting together to break up. I've always thought the games should be sold together. With a condom and a pack of aspirin, someone once said.

This summer in Finland, I got to play a game called Doubt. It's a jeepform game that is a very collaborative and highly structured freeform. It deals with two characters facing the end of their relationship, and has a parallel structure of scenes: one set in the characters real life, the other in the play they are acting in together (a play within the game). In some ways, like a live action rendition of It was a Mutual Decision. The theme of the play is also a breakup, so there are resonances within resonances for the characters—and the players. The players are encouraged to play "close to home" choosing to embody themes and situations that bring up feelings and memories of one's own life, rather than glancing off of those things and dealing with the surfaces.

In one scene, I lay on a bed beside another actor, playing out a scene where the characters fall asleep after sex. This is during the end of the relationship, a rare moment when they connect sexually, but the emotions underneath are already slipping away. I took that opportunity to go back in time, to remember when my long term partner and I were fast approaching the end. I could feel the distance between us. Listening to two other players speak an internal monologue about the break, I started the scene touching him slightly, trying to connect, then ended it lying in fetal position facing away. Nothing on the outside showed how far back I had gone. A simple scene, transformed for me by the injunction to remember, rather than to try to forget.

So, taking this game home with me, I moved to thoughts of another game I'll write soon: Under my Skin. The polyamoury game. I'm being brave lately and just calling it that. A friend said that she'd help playtest the live action version. I immediately started to say "oh no, we've joked about that but.." but realized that my feelings had changed. Of course I wanted to write a live version of the game. And table top too, but I'd seen how physically embodying a role could allow for a deeper emotional experience. And that it could be done safely and in a well-structured way. So instead I said, "If you're serious, yes."

I'm planning to have a draft to run at Dreamation. For the brave. And to continue the conversations in design and play.

2007-09-07 20:39:21 misuba

Count me in.

2007-09-07 21:43:45 Emily

misuba wrote:

Count me in.

Excellent. Thank you!

I'm curious what kind of conversations like this other designers are having.  And players too—what do the games you run mean to you?

2007-09-07 22:54:27 Merten

I'm extraordinary happy that you got to experience the physical embodiment and how that affects one when playing (certain) roles.

2007-09-08 07:21:34 Moreno R.

Hi Emily!

I played "Doubt" on April 2007 and posted this Actual play thread at the Forge about it, but I didn't got much feedback at the time (I think Jeepform was - and still is - out of the radar of most people in this community, but I hope this will change soon). Did you read it?

It's a really strong and emotional scenario, I saw it played other times after that one (in fact I think I will GM it at the next CON around here) and every time it evoked an emotional experience in the players.

I am really interested in your consideration about "doubt" and Jeeforms. I hope you will expand on this in your next articles!

2007-09-08 12:28:41 Ron Edwards


The only rational on-line discussion I've seen about playing off-gender, or in fact, any "off-me" characters, was in 2001 at the Forge:

Suspension of disbelief and playing odd characters. That's a kind of game-design conversation right there - some of points made there have shown up, subtly, in games by contemporary Forge folks ever since.


There arE at least two sorts of conversations you're talking about, right? One occurs among the participants in a game, what we call "actual play." The other occurs among game designers, as a subset of those particpants, but across groups and across the longer-term process of making games.

Many such conversations among the Forge community are well-understood. They're more than just "influence" in the sense of picking up useful techniques, and there are some identifiable trends or types.

(I'll use Sorcerer as an example for two reasons: familiarity on my part, and the game's surprising ability to get under people's skin.)

1. Some are thematic answers or specifications of a particular game. Various aspects of Sorcerer helped prompt, or provided a jumping-off point, for Dust Devils, Legends of Alyria, My Life with Master, Dogs in the Vineyard, and Polaris.

2. Some are refinements based on mutual priorities, such as the interesting and fruitful dance among Sorcerer, The Riddle of Steel, and Burning Wheel. This is less linear than #1 and is composed of initial parallelism as subsequent direct influence.

3. Some are personal fixes or an expressed need for a given game to make better sense to the designer. Sorcerer has prompted many of these, as with Covenant, Cold City, and more.

The conversations are ongoing. One only has to look at the three rounds of the Ronnies to see Dogs in the Vineyard itching under folks' skin in all kinds of ways.


Although the eventual identity and purpose of the Play Collective, as a term or social grouping, remain to be discovered over time, I think that a group of role-players who are all designing games - individually, for individual publication - is a unique and powerful thing. It's not the same as everyone designing one game, to be published by a common company. It's also not the same thing as geographically separate but friendly designers who play one another's games.

It's a unique sort of conversation in which the design is still appropriately placed at the service of social fun and at the service of actual play. It's neat and fruitful, which I hope we'll see repeated in other places and people over time.

Best, Ron

P.S. Emily, if you haven't seen it, check out Graham Walmsley's "Dirty Fucking Freaks," from October 2005 Ronnies. It's a surprising and fascinating LARP.

P.P.S. I have never felt any urge to participate in live-action role-playing. Our conversation about Doubt interested me, and so I'm inclined, a little warily, to be a guinea pig for your game in design. The wariness isn't about the content, but about the medium.

2007-09-08 15:39:07 Meguey

Em, I'm excited to hear that Under My Skin is ready to happen.  I'll playtest it with you in any form, even though it might make me scared. That's my IWAY talking.

I also have to think a bit more about the first part of your post, in regard to my motives behind my games, and what I'm (trying to) say with them. I know what they are, I just need to think about how much I want to say.

2007-09-08 17:19:19 Emily

Jukka: I cannot say how grateful I am that I was able to go to Finland. It gave me many gifts, such as this one, and changed my path for the better. Kiitos.

Moreno: I have read your thread. It inspired a friend of mine in Portland, OR to ask me about it, and I'm going to run the game for them in October when I visit. I will perhaps not use all the techniques that were used when I played the game, but I'm really looking forward to holding that space for others. Have you played or run other jeep games?

I will definitely be talking about jeep form more here, and elsewhere. As a matter of fact, I've invited Tobias and Thorbiorn to continue the cross-cultural exchange we began, and have a Forge/Jeep debate next week.  A Q&A session over on StoryGames. We get to ask eachother hard questions about our design schools. That will be fun.

I've also got an essay on The Mothers and Poison'd brewing. Likely my next post here.

Meg: thank you. I really appreciate you being willing to do that. And:

I also have to think a bit more about the first part of your post, in regard to my motives behind my games, and what I'm (trying to) say with them. I know what they are, I just need to think about how much I want to say.

So fascinating. I look forward to all you can share.

Ron: What a great thread. *Laurel* And I love kwill.  That thread and others like it is exactly what I was responding to by writing Breaking the Ice. I hadn't remembered how much of it happened on the Forge. I was mis-remembering it to primarily have been people "over there" at or somesuch.  Wow, to think I have Jared to thank. And he bought a copy of BtI. A victory!

Vincent certainly said it best:

Playing women is easy.  You think of a person.  You give that person a life, history, attitudes, opinions, feelings, a social context, a slant on the world, a voice.  Sooner or later that person becomes gendered in you head.  Sometimes it's a woman.

things 2 and 3: we respond to many things in play and in design. I'm interested in hearing more of these stories from people. Their personal design history. Vincent said Jeff and Judd might be doing a series of interviews with this angle. I'd love to see that. (no pressure, guys :)

P.P.S. I have never felt any urge to participate in live-action role-playing. Our conversation about Doubt interested me, and so I'm inclined, a little warily, to be a guinea pig for your game in design. The wariness isn't about the content, but about the medium.

I am hesitantly offering that I now realize that you would love love love jeep form, Ron. hmmm. I would love to play with you some time.

2007-09-08 18:56:51 Ron Edwards

Ha! I got to Jared first, actually. He played a trollbabe at GenCon 2002. Oh yeah, and check out this thread too: New game from Adept Press: Trollbabe.

I miss Laurel too. A few years ago she had some health issues and said she'd come back later, but never did.

That thread really takes me back. I agree with Vincent's point, but wow, didja see me moderate his rude pink ass? He barreled onto the Forge with a big no-system, I'm-such-the-role-player attitude.

2007-09-08 22:38:57 Ron Edwards

I'm sorry, Vincent. That was obnoxious.

It was definitely a blast from the past to see your original spirit in posting at the Forge. Took me back.

But I'll bust on ya about it in person or on the phone. I shouldn't have teased you here.

Best, Ron

2007-09-09 01:18:48 Vincent

No harm done! If you can't rib me about having once been new to the Forge, I don't know what the world's coming to.

2007-09-09 02:54:52 Moreno R.

Hi Emily!

I played another Jeepform at the same convention, The Upgrade, (GM'd by Tobias Wrigstad and Frederik Berg Olsen), a very different view of the possible end of a relationshio...  ;-)

You played it, too, from what Tobias tell in his blog.

I didn't had the chance to play others until now, but I will GM another "Doubt" at the next Italian ModCon (that game work like a sort of multilevel marketing: most of the people who play it will end running it for other people...)

I am very excited to learn about the Forge/Jeep debate. I think it will be very interesting, and both group have a lot to learn from each other's techniques.

2007-09-09 20:50:43 Emily

Hi Moreno! Yes, I did play the Upgrade. It was quite the eye opening experience. The quick cutting flash-backs and -forwards is a great technique. It's fast pace though. Gotta think on your feet.

but I will GM another "Doubt" at the next Italian ModCon (that game work like a sort of multilevel marketing: most of the people who play it will end running it for other people...)

Ha! I imagine it's true. Vincent's been saying something similar about Ben's game Adventures in the Land of 1000 Kings. Doubt is complex, but when I thought about running it, it seemed completely doable. So much of it is collaboratively arrived at by the players. Your job as gm is really just to help people keep the roles straight, and support them in their efforts.

And R&V: y'all are so cute. :)

2007-09-10 03:49:10 Julia

Emily, I look forward to your game. May I play, too?

2007-09-10 06:24:33 Emily


2007-09-11 09:44:56 GB Steve

I enjoyed your previous games so I'd definitely give this a go. But I am wondering what you expect people to get from a LARP/Freeform/Jeepform (our vocabularies diverge), tabletop even, on polyamoury, especially those who aren't poly.

Is it about connecting other people to your experience?

2007-09-11 11:53:39 Gregor

Actually, it's good that GB Steve is here with his strong UK Freeform experience.

Jeepform, it seemed to me, was quite like what people in the UK think of as "UK Freeform". The main differences seem to be sharp framing or just really strong direction from the GM (in a sense of theatre direction—you! sit there!) and dark, sexual themes.

I need to point Per Fischer here too and see if he has anything to add from his perspective.

I'm not sure how GMs make decisions in Jeepform (at their discretion?, they have the story authority?) but in the UK there is normally some sort of system going on. Right, Steve?

2007-09-11 13:52:33 Per

Nothing to add, really, because I only know Jeepform from afar; It's a structured freeform, where it is often an end in itself to provoke strong emotions from participants. In my view it's closer to impro than roleplaying (at least rp with my preferences)

Interesting that UK freeform is similar, I didn't know that.

Are you aware of the Jeepform 'truths'?

A funny thing from the above: DiTV and MLWM are described as light-weight games compared to freeform. So, though Jeepform sees itself as in some ways revolutionary or at least groundbreaking, many of their views are actually based on a traditional (mainstream) idea of what roleplaying games are or are able to achieve.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the GM (as a person) seems to be very important in Jeepform.

2007-09-11 16:42:09 Emily

Hey Gregor & Per!

The gm was important in the jeep form games I've played. Though not in the way that a gm is central in a standard table top game. The GM usually seems to hold the structure, to communicate the premise, and to support the players in being able to play out what they take from it.  So it is a strong role, but is often quite invisible or subtle.  Though sometimes not, as in the Upgrade, where the gm plays the producer of the show, directing players and asking for scenes.

Ah, in jeep form games, the gm does not apply the adversity, but empowers the players to do so, to themselves and one another. How does that compare with UK freeform?

Steve: It's a good question why I'm writing this game at all. To offer my experience to others on the perils and the benefits of poly experiences. If it helps people be able to think a little more deeply about what is at stake for them, and what they might be able to learn, then it will be successful.

But there are always risks in it. Nothing takes that away.

2007-09-11 23:39:22 GB Steve

In the UK freeforms that I've run, and most of those I've played in, there is some kind of resolution system. The best systems allow players to resolve things with little to no GM intervention but sometimes you need a GM to sort things out, especially in complicated situations with many players such as fights.

The GMs can also give more details on the surroundings or props. They introduce events that happen in the game that drive it forward. Games are usually linear although time is often compressed sometimes.

In the freeforms that Paula and I write, the GM usually plays some character in a position of authority who is neutral to the plot. So in Billy Bunter's Xmas Hamper I played the headmaster and in Harry Potter I was Snape.

Each player has a character. Characters have distinct goals on their character sheets as well as secrets and powers. These are given at the start of the game and players are expected to make the most of what they've got. We have props, some real but many just pieces of paper.

The aim is to produce something that each player enjoys individually by making sure that each has interesting goals and enough to do. Much of the game revolves around the discovering and sharing of various secrets. It's farce, in effect, although not always played for laughs.

Jeepform, to me, has very different goals to these. It seems to be more about exploring situations in a dramatical sense. Players are the audience for this drama.

2007-09-12 00:19:55 Moreno R.

Jeepform, to me, has very different goals to these. It seems to be more about exploring situations in a dramatical sense. Players are the audience for this drama.

Well, no, from my (limited) experience, in Jeepform THE GM is the audience (in "doubt" here is no npc, no one to play for the GM. He can only ask questions to the characters or give monologues or add informations. He is really the audience for the story created by the players. In "the upgrade" the GMs play characters, but they act putting the players on the spotlight, like "and now, we will see what Ikko was doing at that restaurant with a misterius woman last night!", but then is the PLAYER who has to come up with what happened..)

One thing I noticed is that in both games the GM push, provoke the players, ask questions, but every time it's only the players who can choose how the "story" continue.

I don't know how this relate to "Lady & Otto" (the third Jeepform at the convention, that I didn't got to play) that seems, from reading it, very different from the other two games.

2007-09-12 18:00:45 Vincent

This is about "when our games become an unspoken conversation with friends, or even people we've never met, carrying messages about what we've learned or hope to teach one another in a practical, applied fashion":

A play, by Vincent

a dramatic reenactment of a thing that happens a couple of times a year

Ben Lehman, in email: Hey Vincent, I'm working on this game design?

Vincent, in email: Yeah?

Ben: I've proved you wrong again.

Vincent: [sighs]


2007-09-12 20:32:37 Seth Ben-Ezra

Response to "A play, by Vincent"


That's funny stuff!

2007-09-18 17:16:46 Russell

My next little game is going to put lines and veils on violence, as well as sex. Since it's kind of Princess Bride-influenced, and that seems necessary. Because revenge and dictatorship can get damned bloody if you're not careful.

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