Tuesday, October 15, 2013

[Breaking the Ice] The first date of Sjoerd and Doortje

I'm finally getting back into role playing. I've been doing far too little of this for far too long, and it feels great to be back in business.

Back in 2005, I played my first online RPG sessions ever, using IRC, with Remko van der Pluijm. We played Breaking the Ice, and I wrote up an actual play report here. So what better way to get back into role playing than by meeting up with Remko again -- who is by now a very good friend of mine -- and play Breaking the Ice again, this time using web cams and Google hangouts?

Breaking the Ice is an RPG for two people written by Emily Care Boss and published by Black and Green Games. Two characters, one controlled by each player, have a series of three dates; by the end of the game, they either stay together or stop dating. I concluded my original actual play report as follows:
This game is brilliant. There are no two ways about it.

It is an ode on human vulnerability. [...] In this game, you do not overcome obstacles by strength. Instead, it is about people feeling their way towards mutual understanding and appreciation, and they have to have the courage to be vulnerable, to be ashamed, to be afraid, to make mistakes, or they will never find each other; and it is not so much in spite of, but rather because of their shame and fear and vulnerability that they find each other, if they do.
So, let us experience this brilliance again! Character creation starts with the "Switch". You identify a difference between the players, and use this as a difference for the characters -- except that you reverse it. So if a man and a woman play the game, they might choose gender as the Switch, and the man would play a female character, the woman a male character. Remko and I decided to use the fact that he has a small child while I am not a parent. I play a female character with a baby, and he plays a male character without children.

Next is the "web of words". You start by writing down a colour for your character, and then take turns using free association to come up with more words or phrases. When this is done, you use the resulting web as inspiration for the traits of your character; and also come up with a conflict that will make the dating process difficult. This is what our characters looked like. Remko played:
Name: Sjoerd

Traits: has a shoulder you can cry on; tries to be hip; performs in a Beatles cover band; is an amateur sushi chef; knows about whisky; loves amphibians.

Conflict: fear of abandonment
Sjoerd has no real job. He plays in a cover band, but earns very little. He comes from a home where he was mostly just ignored by his parents. He would love to raise children, but is afraid he'll not be up to the task.

I played:
Name: Dorothea (called Doortje)

Traits: has never known her parents; has a strong sense of justice; conforms too easily to the wishes of others; runs a hip clothing store; her favourite movie is the Rocky Horror Picture Show; loves flower arrangement and feng shui.

Conflict: Feels guilty when she claims space for herself.
Doortje is an orphan who has lost her parents at a very young age. She has a small child -- who the father is, and why he's not around, has not been established yet -- to whom she is very devoted. Too devoted, many would say, since she only feels comfortable when she sacrifices most of her own life for the sake of her child.

Breaking the Ice allows for a wide variety of tones. The running example in the game rules is a light-hearted comedy; but as you can see, and as everyone who knows me and Remko will have expected, we went for something far more serious.

We decided that after several meetings in Doortje's store, and with a mutual acquaintance edging him on, Sjoerd finally worked up the nerve to ask Doortje on a date. He suggested going to a sushi place, so that's where out first date starts. Remko was the active player and I the guide for the first scene; and we switched every scene, as per the rules. I won't go into the details of the rules; but you should know that the active player gets dice for doing things that make his character look good, and re-rolls for doing things that make his character vulnerable; and that you generally need to do both to create attraction or compatibility.
  1. Doortje arrives at the sushi restaurant, where Sjoerd -- who is a friend of the owner -- has been preparing the first dish. She sees him still wearing an apron, and he explains to her that he has made a dish suited to her. "Suited in what way?" "It is very delicate and refined." She is pleased, of course, but there is an awkward moment where she expects him to offer her a seat, but he just sits down himself. When Sjoerd realises his faux pas, he blushes and tries to apologise. Doortje finds this endearing. (+1 attraction.)
  2. Doortje praises Sjoerd's cooking skills, but he wonders whether she really means it or is just trying to be nice. Not knowing what to talk about, she goes on to tell him that she has never eaten sushi before and doesn't really like fish -- but, she hastens to reassure him, the food he has made is really good. He is understandably not reassured. (Failure.)
  3. We skip forward to the end of the dinner. Sjoerd has been ordering Japanese whisky to go with the dishes. He tells Doortje at length, and with much enthusiasm, about the relationship between sushi and whiksy. She doesn't particularly care about (or for) sushi, but loves hearing him talk with so much passion. Sjoerd gives a secret sign to the waiter, who puts on Love Me Do by the Beatles. The scene ends with (borrowing our conventions from film for a moment) a zoom out shot of Doortje listening with rapt attention to Sjoerd, while Love Me Do slowly drowns out the sound of their voices. (+1 attraction)
  4. They leave the restaurant and walk to the bus stop where Doortje's bus will arrive. It won't be here for 20 minutes, so they have to wait. Doortje clothes are beautiful, but also somewhat revealing and not very warm. Because she is cold, and also emboldened by the whisky she drank (new trait: becomes tipsy easily) she presses herself against Sjoerd. He didn't expect this, and reacts by taking a step back (a move he immediately regrets). Doortje -- conforming too easily to what she perceives as the wishes of others -- also takes a step back, and turns away from Sjoerd. An awkward silence follows. Then she suddenly turns back towards him, and says: "Forget about the bus. Let's go to O'Malley's whisky bar." Sjoerd eagerly accepts. (New compatibility: they like hanging out in nice bars.)
  5. While walking to O'Malley's bar, Sjoerd puts his arm around Doortje. They arrive in a very good mood; but it turns out that the bar isn't exactly what they expected. There's a rough biker crowd, one of whom soon approaches Doortje and asks her what a beautiful chick like she is doing with a sissy like Sjoerd. Sjoerd isn't amused and steps in to 'protect' Doortje, trusting that his correspondence course on karate (new trait: correspondence course on karate) will serve him. The biker guy throws him out into the street. Doortje is near tears and tells him that it's all her fault, that she shouldn't have suggested going to a bar she'd never been to before, and so on. He dusts himself off, and they go to the classy wine bar down the street. (+1 attraction)
  6. While they drink wine, Sjoerd tells Doortje that he has quite a bit of first-hand experience with biker culture, since his father was a biker. This soon turns into the story of his unhappy childhood. He explains how his parents basically ignored him; the injustice of which makes Doortje quite angry. At some point, Sjoerd decides that he shouldn't hog the spotlight, and he asks Doortje about her parents. This turns out to be a painful subject; but after a short silence, she decides to tell him about the car accident in which both her parents died. She herself, only two years old and in the rear of the car, survived. Doortje doesn't find this an easy story to tell, but Sjoerd is a good and supportive listener, and by the end of the evening they have shared a lot of personal details. (New compatibility: unhappy childhood.)
The date ends when Sjoerd brings Doortje to the bus. They don't kiss, but they do embrace forcefully. Both feel very positive about the date.

Of the 3 points of attraction, 1 turned out to be permanent, and will be transferred to the second date.

We had a lot of luck with the rolls, so we were never forced to bring up the conflicts. There was quite a bit of drama, but the biggest sources of drama -- Doortje's unhealthy, self-effacing relationship with her child, and Sjoerd's fear of abandonment --  didn't come into play. This is not necessarily a bad thing. There are two more dates in which they may take centre stage!

The session lasted a little under two hours, with approximately one hour spent on the first date and the rest on character creation. It wasn't very immersive -- you spend quite a bit of time talking about ideas, and looking for ways in which you can earn dice or re-rolls -- but that's normal for Breaking the Ice, and I don't consider it a problem. We had fun, and I'm looking forward to the second session!

1 comment:

  1. I have a copy of Breaking the Ice lying around, but I haven't ever played it, despite having played many, many sessions of Shooting the Moon. (My regular group tends to steer away from two-player games, and romance games can be a tough sell for a lot of people even when you have the safety-net of a third player.)