Deliria: Session Five: Special Snowflakes

Players - Characters:
Emma - Ruthie
Russell - Dave
Chris - Floyd
Watson - Alistair
Jack - Kinkaid
Erica - Alexa
Jasse - Mel

Problem: Young female musicians are going missing after signing a contract with Sound Tapestry. The owner of Sound Tapestry is a man named Blue. He has blue hair.

This was our fifth session of Deliria and by now, most players had settled into the slightly railroaded reality that Gedeny, their boss (see Rube in Dead Like Me) was an offhandish man that didn't give them much more than a basic sentence or news story. The rest, really, was up to the clerks to figure out.

This week, Gedney handed them a missing poster. As usual, the clerks were off exploring different avenues of investigation and intrigue, resulting in hilarity, cleverness and eventually, one very frustrated player. But more on that later.

I watched and took notes on character behaviour vs player behaviour, social scenarios within the game and outside of the game, and for the first time, began examining my own players as players and as characters. I have some very experienced gamers in my group, and others that are not as much, and at least one whom was quite experienced but in a style of gaming the rest of us were not or did not apply to this genre.

We'll begin with the inexperienced gamer. There is one girl in my group who has admitted to another gamer she found the group intimidating as she's never been involved in such a heavy role-play scenario. Now on my end, with my very stressful life (yes, it's that stressful right now) I've been snippy and agitated with her. This is because I find some people sign up and don't know what they're getting into and expect the game to be something it isn't. My experience with this is large and generally just flusters me now-a-days.

However, Erica is trying and for my own end, I feel awful for having been short with her. Her character, Alexa, was a militant fairy hunter that obeyed orders without question and had a hard time socializing amongst the group. Erica's first character, Tammy, was more social, still reclusive, but definitely fit amongst the group more. Erica seemed frustrated with her inability, as this character, to jump into the role-playing scenario. Her solution to this, and I think a brave and good one, was to botch the character and say "I want something else. I can't play this."

I found this response from Erica amazing. I feel that she wants to participate but the only way Alexa can is to be subordinate and I know Erica is clever and wants to contribute her ideas. I'm dearly looking forward to her new character, as both characters have been well-designed and clever.

From the more experienced players, there is always a shift between them depending upon whom is there. For the first session, Ruthie was by far the most functioning of the clerks and therefore became the interim leader. Whenever Kinkaid is present, he becomes leader out of force of character. Caroline often inadvertently leads out of impatience and being, well, fairly intelligent. This movement between the characters is something I find interesting.

As they engage each other, they naturally find one person to be a guide, although the authority is often questioned and questioned hard when things go south or when things get morally grey. The leader is not always followed, but rather is the one trying to herd cats to the best of their ability. No one really attempts to be leader, but rather this is something that seems to naturally happen amongst the group. Someone always takes point and the rest negotiate with them.

In this session, Erica discussed killing her character, Alexa. Alexa died saving Dave. Dave's highly emotional response caused Kinkaid, the then leader, to step in and have a deeply moving conversation with Dave. Kinkaid is a musician and cursed character, but when it comes to his team, he feels personally responsible for any deaths, which is more than most of the characters have exhibited. This game, Kinkaid went to darker places, but also stepped up as a more true leader, by comforting Dave and taking a 'my team' responsibility.

After dramatic and emotional scenes between several of the characters and Kinkaid, things seemed to settle into a lull when normally a Deliria game would end and the players would shuffle home having beat the bad guy, but not really. This part of the 'after work' section always reminded me of sitting on the steps right after my own work was done and having a cigarette with my co-workers. The fact that every game begins and ends with the home-base courtyard is a bookend I love. It is also one of the only times characters usually address Gedney's short comings and their own frustrations.

Gedney is their boss. Whether Gedney is human or not, how long he has been doing this, and if he even cares about his clerks is all up for debate. All the characters respond to Gedney is different ways depending upon their experiences within the game, and their experiences directly with Gedney. This session, Watson had his character, Alistair, address Gedney in order to force Gedney into running a more organized group. Gedney, as always, dodged most of the questions, became angry as Alistair began to pry at Gedney's past, and eventually, told Alistair that this is the way it is.

As a player, Watson is a very Type A person and is a highly logical, well-ordered mind. His character shares these traits with him and both his character and himself became frustrated within the game. After game had ended, Watson continued a fifteen minute rant about Gedney/the setting of Deliria as we sat around a table waiting to go home but wouldn't interrupt him. Several of my players came to my defense by explaining how they felt about the game, the difference between in character and out of character frustrations, and how the setting is designed to show different things.

Watson would not accept these explanations and after awhile I simply asked him to talk to me if he didn't like the game, that our styles don't match and if he's going to find the game frustrating he doesn't have to keep playing, and that we could discuss how to make it work for everyone privately. He became apologetic and left shortly after.

This was the first time, outside of my more hateful experiences, I've had someone become openly frustrated and angry with my GMing style in a game. While I was fine with letting Watson vent for the first bit, after listening to him rail against me for awhile, I became tired of having him get more and more angry while a group of people weren't supporting him about my own game as I was sitting there.

It was then that I began to examine why I made Gedney and the setting so frustrating, as it was a deliberate decision at the beginning of game design. Why was I being a jerk to my players through their boss? Gedney was designed with a friend of mine in mind, as well as Rube from Dead Like Me. He was meant to make the Clerks feel small, insignificant, and annoyed. Gedney was made to represent the world, in my eyes, to those in a bad situation. The Clerks live in a part of Toronto that is highly impoverished and the cops are there frequently (I used to live in this part of town). I wanted the Clerks to feel hopeless, without as much privilege as we are accustomed to, and with someone above them that wouldn't allow them to progress further than where they already were. In fact, I wanted the situation to feel like a low-end job you can never get better at, combined with the hopelessness of poverty living to give a very dismal feel to the Clerks. I wanted them, as players, to understand their characters and get their characters to find their own points of hope instead of me providing that drive for them. Does that make any sense?

Whether or not I've accomplished this with Gedney is still up in the air. But this much I saw with Watson's outburst: Gedney definitely can make one feel impotent and for those of us used to getting ahead because of our talents or abilities, he is a highly frustrating and illogical being. I felt that the game's point, on some level, had struck our newest player hardest and his style of play, where accomplishment was more important than experience (as characters, not xp) was clashing with the very foundation of the world and people I had built.

Watson and I later had a talk and he feels he needs to make a new character. I'll be interested to see what results of this. I have no hard feelings towards Watson at all for the venting, but it did give me some interesting things to think about.

Challenges this game: Analyzing Gedney and the Clerks' world, looking at my own style, seeing players' reactions to my game being under attack.
Future Challenges: Making Gedney out to be the actual good guy he is, writing and exploring the full history of the Clerks (whether this is for in play or not is still up in the air)