Friday, February 17, 2006

Parlor Narration

Thursday night, I got a chance to get some gaming in. We had an impromptu night of time-limited one-shots, playing two sessions of Greg Stolze's Executive Decision (zipfile) and one of Ferry Bazelmans' Soap. A good time was had by all, but I'm not sure we were really roleplaying. I feel this is more accurate with the debate-centric Executive Decision, where PCs play members of the President's cabinet. Soap had more character-driven story and felt more like traditional roleplaying, but the narrative structure of "one sentence per turn" felt too forced for play.

Executive Decision plays like this: Decide who gets which cabinet positions and who plays the role of the President, write down default and optional agendas (pro-military or anti-centrism, say), then pick one of about a dozen scenarios. Each scenario presents a time-sensitive crisis. At certain points in the scenario (every twenty minutes in the ones we played) more information is revealed, including the options for the President to decide upon and further developments. Once time is up, the Prez makes the decision and everyone gets points based on their agenda(s). The only game mechanic is really the players' ability to sway others' opinions.

So yes, you have the one-player-one-character requirement. There's someone ostensibly running the game, but the role of the President is more of host than of presentation; true, the Prez gets to read the scenario, and every players get points based on final decision, but it's not entirely in accordance with the normal roles that one expects a GM to have. The manual suggests the President encourages arguing, in-fighting, playing devil's advocate, and generally to "pour gasoline on any
smoldering disagreements." This is not the same as regular game mastering duties- though in some circles, it's par for the course.

Soap, on the other hand, is entirely sentence-based and plays without a GM whatsoever. You have your turn, you state your sentence. You can't die as long as nobody guesses your secret. There's a bidding mechanic for resolving contested statements, such as entering someone's scene without permission, or modifying a stated sentence and so forth. With Soap, we created characters and decided on a genre/venue, so it felt more like a real roleplaying session.

Both games are inherently time-limited. Soap requires a half-hour and must end on a cliffhanger. The Executive Decision scenarios run about an hour.

Both are undoubtedly games; Executive Decision has agendas and points for determining a winner and Soap has character goals. Both have characters, one per player- in Executive Decision, players definitely have roles to play whereas Soap very specifically has characters.

Can it really be a roleplaying game if one only has a role, but no character?

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