Fastaval 2015 – “Things that happen…” – part two: war stories and steering

I’ve said before, that I try not to tell war story in these posts, but I’ll break that rule now, because my story have some interesting elements with connection to character shifts and steering. But to do that, I need to tell the story we experienced, so here goes:

SPOILER ALERT:
I’m going to reveal things about the game in this post, that you really want to have as a surprise, if you want to play it.

To keep this short, I’m assuming you’ve read the first post about “Things that happen to other people” if not you can read it here.

1-IMG_1970There was four characters, each character had a focus or a goal with the stories they told or the bits they added to other’s stories. For my character, Henrik, it was ambivalence. He’s a man without a foothold, not being able to keep his focus on the same thing for long, growing tired with one thing and then moving on to the next, never able to make a final permanent decision, but fully aware that he should. He’s also ambivalent about their situation, on one hand he knows that it’s dangerous, but on the other:
it’s something new, its an adventure.

At one point the characters come across a house, they assume that it is abandoned, but it turns out an old man “lives” in there. He’s an old soldier, evident by the rifle we found. He’s clearly been left alone for days, stuck in bed, delirious and impossible to get in contact with. He rambles and talk to people not in the room and ignores the players. They can’t even feed him.

Henrik, kind of seeing himself as a hero, wanted to help the man, (me the player knowing that was impossible). Henrik tried suggesting staying here taking care of the old man, but that was not safe, the others would only stay for one night, but that would not help him. Henrik then tried suggesting bringing the old man with us, but no that would slow us down, even Henrik could see that.

He started stacking some food next to the old man’s bed, but no, what when that ran out? This would only prolong his suffering. Desperate and in tears Henrik asks the others: should we maybe end his suffering? The others horrified said: no! and no more talk of that. In the end we all went to bed, and the GM asks: so what do you do about the man? And everyone looked at me.

The way Henrik is written, I don’t think he could have killed the man, but I also knew, that if Henrik did something so violent, that it would change him forever. So remembering the talk about steering from Knudepunkt this year, (steering: the act of you as a player making choices about what your character does, to get a stronger or different experience. There’s one or two articles about it in the KP book.) I decided ok, lets go for broke, and see where that gets us.

So I slowly narrated how Henrik couldn’t sleep, in his mind going through all the options again. Tried to feed the old man, tried to talk to him. And then just ended my narration with the words: “the other three are suddenly woken by the sound of a rifle shot.” The look of horror on their faces was almost intoxicating. I did say, I went for broke. Everyone had expected Henrik to use a pillow, but no, the whole point was to end his suffering as quickly as possible.

After that shock the GM had us all do an inner monolog, about how the characters reacted to that. And it was just: everyone hates Henrik! (Well except Andre who was “secretly” in love with Henrik, he was in shock, how could Henrik do that? What is happening to him?) I had no words by that point, what does Henrik think now? Nothing, so thats what I did. (You know I love silent role play, so now I have done a wordless monologue!) (achievement unlocked.)

The reason I tell this long winded story, that no one will read, is this: it completely changed the character, but the change still had roots in the dilemma of the character. He went from someone who thinks too much and never makes a choice, to someone with a blank mind and who now finds action all to easy, (evident later where he rather cold hearted knocked a man down and robbed him.)

So I thought thats it, game over for Henrik, no coming back from that. But I was wrong, the second to last scene took place on a ferry, taking the characters out of the country. A journalist, played the the GM, Kat Jones, asked to interview the players. It was a powerful scene, because we all reacted to her questions in such different ways, one by shooting questions back at her: “how do you think it would be like to lose everything?” One shut up like an oyster, and one while crying tried to give her an impression of the war, (it might help, if other people learn of our suffering.)

I being cold and dead inside just went for the unrelenting cold truth. But when I told her about the old man, she asked: “Oh so you murdered and robbed him?” That came out of the blue and struck me (and Henrik) very hard, this was the opposite of steering, I had not seen this coming, but went with the flow, and let Henrik finally break down and cry.

Ok I thought, right so this time, this is the end for Henrik right? Not a cold dead inside shell, but a broken traumatised weeping man. But no I was wrong, (again). The last scene was open to us, a song played, and when that ended, the game was over, but we could do whatever we wanted during that time. Henrik curled up in the lap of his sister who caringly caressed him, I tensed up my whole body and just let it shake once in awhile.

In the mean time I could hear Andre confessing his love to Henrik to his mother, and his mother encouraged him to go to Henrik and tell him, “he needs you.” I thought great, when Andre does that, I’ll say nothing but turn away! Yes so cruel (God Nordic larp right?) But Andre surprised me just as much as the journalist, by going up to me and softly asking: “can I lie here with you?” What could I say? I let him, and together we curled up. Slowly I let the tension ease from my body and just like that it ended on a happy note. It was so beautiful and so unexpected.

And that is why I told this long story. It was unexpected! I could never had foreseen this outcome. It was those so fundamental shifts, they really surprised me. Especially the last two. That so much can change from so little. But only if you let it. I could at each point have chosen to stay with the direction the character was going in. The way Henrik is written, he could never have killed the man, but by steering, and accepting this change, I got a much more powerful experience. In the other two changes it was much more going with how my body reacted. My mind had chosen a path, but I listen to the way I emotionally reacted to those two small events and said yes to that input.

So the lesson is: don’t stick to the word of your character, but use it as a starting point, and let the character evolve, using the words as guides. And allow yourself to be surprised and say yes to outside inputs, even though you had decided otherwise. If we do not open ourselves to those things, we will not take full advantage of the unpredictability of the role play medium.

The game (and this post) ran long and the after talk even longer, so in the end we only stopped talking when the next group of players arrived, a bit embarrassing (sorry Tim.)

Tomorrow the last post, with the rest of saturday and sunday. Don’t worry it’s short.

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