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What We Played: Three Short Pieces (Shock)

sev (.
sevoo
Seattle, WA
Post #: 20
Last night we told three very different stories in the fastest Shock game I've ever played.

Issues: Nuclear war, bodily autonomy, social safety net

Shock: Physical augmentation (cyber-, bio-, whatever) is available, but only for the rich -- and fear of war has begun inspiring ever-more-extensive augmentations as people gamble there will be an apocalypse they'll need to survive.

Praxes: Wealth/Craftiness and Diplomacy/Force

1. Protagonist: Rosemary Carson (sev), young black-market courier working for "The Fixer." A strange delivery goes sideways as Rosemary is tasked with delivering a child -- who might have been kidnapped -- from one end of the city to the other. She manages to make the delivery (protagonist success) and she is not implicated in the kidnapping but the authorities somehow discover that The Fixer had played a part in it (antagonist on fulcrum, and failed the second roll). The Fixer confronted Rosemary with his suspicion that she leaked his involvement to the authorities. She was unable to convince him that she hadn't (protagonist failure) and he convinced her that in order to keep her job she'd need to bring her little brother in as an additional courier (antagonist success). In the end, her boss's mistrust results in a cybernetic leash: he injects her with a tracking chip so he can keep track of her movements (antagonist success). She's stuck in the business, but manages to get her brother out before he gets chipped, too (link risked; protagonist success.)

2. Protagonist: Laura Harris (Emily), bioenhanced surrogate mother who bears "improved" children for her wealthy client. She'd like to have actual interactions with her now-teenaged offspring, but her client Justine, who's been raising these kids as her own, fears this. (I got so caught up in the interpersonal bits of this story that I largely failed to keep track of what was happening mechanics-wise. Also, I recall there was a bit about Justine wanting a third child, but I can't figure out where that happened.) Laura's mother has been extremely disappointed that her daughter's choices have made it so she cannot see her grandchildren, and she's been putting pressure on Laura. Laura and Justine spent two visits verbally jockeying for concessions (so there was lots of Diplomacy and Craftiness, though as the force of contract law was generally on Justine's side, she used Force sometimes, too). During the awkward first-visit in Justine's living room, Laura managed to wrangle a future visit in which her own mother can participate (only by risking the link to Laura's own family, but the protagonist was successful in the end.) During the second visit, to the zoo, after Justine got all upset about the idea that Laura's mom could be a "grandmother" to these kids, Laura managed to wring out an official contractual agreement allowing her contact with the children (protagonist success) but had to admit that her relationship with these kids wasn't that of "Mother" (antagonist success). (story goal achieved, which was to "reach a peaceful attitude towards her teenaged biological offspring" -- I like the way both the successes in the final scene contributed to this.)

3. Protagonist: retired Colonel Vitaliy Ivanovich Checkov (Rob), who now works as a diplomat. He's driven toward peace in ways neither his superiors nor his American counterpart Melinda NaVal are, which becomes apparent when he finds that they've all made plans for peace-through-threat-of-war behind his back. He can't seem to talk anybody out of this ridiculous bilateral show-of-force-via-nuclear submarines (antagonist success), but he does manage to also arrange for a Global Peace Parade through the heart of Manila (protagonist success). Unfortunately, his parade is hijacked by "activists" from the newly-created Protectorate of Tutu, a landlocked South American state, who insist on using this global stage to advertise their platform of demands for recognition and are willing to blow up parts of the city with their teeny-tiny futuristic nuclear suitcase bomb. I don't recall whether the activists ever got their microphone (antagonist intent) but they did end up detonating their bomb and leveling three city blocks (protagonist failure). Dying of radiation poisioning (how's that for a new Feature?), Vitaly manages to parlay this disaster into the beginnings of some real peace talks -- maybe even disarmament (Link to "country" risked, protagonist success & story goal of "Avert global cataclysm" achieved). Melinda manages to tack on the formation of a Global Police Force in which Russia and the US continue to try to keep other countries in line via threat of force (antagonist success). Rob definitely wins the high drama award for the evening.

some thoughts:

Lots of narration, strategic bits of roleplay, and firm decision-making made for fun drama in condensed packages. We could have delved deeper into what was happening inside these characters' minds, but I liked the No Dithering style of decision-making we ended up with (not that those two things are necessarily mutually exclusive).

We used lots of d10s -- several times we found that both the protagonist's and antagonist's players cared more about our own success than that of the other player, and didn't bother rolling any d4s. This resulted in more hollow or pyrrhic victories (where both sides succeeded) but fewer escalations from people ending up on their fulcra (which contributed to the fast game).

We didn't really lean on the Shock much at all -- it was a pretty bit of setting but the stories were all firmly about the issues instead. I think this made for more well-focused stories, but they ended up entirely disconnected from each other since each protagonist ended up on a different issue. Not a bad thing, but definitely different from my previous Shock experiences.

I liked that the Intents in Rosemary's final conflict were asynchronous. Rosemary's face-off with The Fixer maintained its dramatic simplicity (of the big scary boss and the big scary needle), but she also managed to retain some agency in the final moments of her story: she actively got her brother out, rather than turning the final scene into a negotiation & demanding his freedom as a concession, which is how I've played that sort of thing in the past. Also, mad props to Emily for Antagonist work in this story; there were so many fascinating threads available for me to push against and I liked the feeling that the story could have gone *anywhere*.

Finally, I flubbed the rules *twice* on risking links (thrice if you count forgetting to mention it until much later than I should have): One, you do get that feature die for the first failure before rerolling when you risk a Link. Two, you only reroll one side of the conflict. (The moral of this for me: pay attention to the summary of play sheet instead of going straight to the full rules, as in some cases the summary is much clearer.) Sorry!
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