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    In December 2008 I decided to try playing Spione trough a forum (this one). And this is how it went.

    The Players
    I asked on the forum for players who already knew the game and were really interested in trying it (actually I would have loved to have someone really into spy narrative, but we hadn’t any on the forum...). Anyway I found 3 volunteers.

    One was Moreno, a friend and long time player who I knew liked Spione very much.
    Another one was Francesca. I knew her for we played together at some gaming conventions. In fact in one I demoed Spione to her. Even if we played together just a few times, I was glad to play with her cause we share a similar taste in the attention to characters relationships.
    The last one was Marco, him I didn’t know personally at the time. We never met face to face before and we just knew each other cause we both wrote on the forum.
    As for myself I really love Spione have played it a couple of times and have demoed it many times at convention (I collaborate with the italian publisher of the book).
    Since we all met in a gaming forum, all of us obviously share an interest in gaming, especially in indie games (not sure it’s the correct name for the games most discussed in the forum, but you get the idea).

    We discussed briefly how to organize the game. We established the following:

    - Text of the Maneuvers and Crisis was to be highlighted in red so that game, kibitzing, comments and rules clarification could be side by side into the same post. We felt keeping everything together was important for the game enjoyment.
    - To keep things going each of us had 24 hours to post his/her Maneuver. After this time expired the player was considered to have made a “pass” and the following player could post his Maneuver.
    For Flashpoint, instead we would simply wait until each move was posted.
    - We organized our game in different threads like “Spione PbF 1 - phase 1: Maneuver”, “Spione PbF1 – phase 2: Flashpoint”, etc.
    - For Transgressions, each of us wrote them in two text files. All the files were e-mailed to a player who numbered them randomly from 1 to 8. Then the Principals players chose a number each and were e-mailed the corresponding file. All the files were then deleted.

    Players interaction and peculiarity of forum play
    To me the game had a totally different feeling then when played face to face but, almost from the start, I realized I really loved how it was coming along. Both Moreno and me (we often game together) were used to playing alternating third person narrative to short “in character” dialogues. One thing I used to do playing face to face was that, if my turn came and I wasn’t sure what to do or were undecided among alternatives, I would express my thoughts and ask the other players opinions and suggestions. When I was similarly pondering in this game, instead, I didn’t felt like asking. I preferred taking my time before posting. It often happened I read the post before mine and let some hours pass. My mind would work in the background while I kept doing my daily activities and, at some moment, I would come up with a good idea and sat writing as soon as I had time.
    I’m writing about me but I suspect something similar goes for the other players (anyway I will tell them of this thread, so maybe they’ll chime in with their impressions). I got this impression because, even if none of us is a professional writer, I noticed we took a certain care in writing our moves. We clearly put some effort to really communicate certain feelings and atmospheres and I think it showed.

    I have to say this was the first Play by Forum for me. I was never fond of this way of playing cause I feel the slow pace of forum games robs the play of its energy. Seems to me it requires a lot of effort and too many nuances of non verbal communication are lost.
    I think Spione instead works because in it the dialogue between players is organized in a very orderly fashion. Each “move” can bring the story forward a good chunk without having to check with all the other players. There is no “if you did this, my character would have done that”.
    Spione played face to face has a certain rythm and you can't wait to much before making your move or passing. This can be a good thing since the first idea to come to your mind is often the one you most strongly feel. But having the chance to ponder a bit before moving has its merits too. Often you have the time to find some unexpected angle or expose in a more refined and effective way your thoughts. I think in the end this is really the biggest difference between playing face to face and through a forum. Both ways have their merits, but they are very different.

    I must stress how pleasantly surprised I was: never found a game that worked so well in this medium. Ron, you should reallly boast this aspect of Spione, it would allow so many more people to play together! I think it's awesome.

    Another thing that surprised me was how well the game held when one of the players couldn’t post for a long time (the game lasted from December 2008 to first days of June 2009). This happened a couple of times (even in the middle of a Flashpoint) but as soon as the player got back the game would resume without troubles. I think being able to comfortably read everything that transpired previously helped greatly in this.

    We ended the game really feeling like “patting each other on the back” and I definitely would love to play again with this people. You know what? Now that I think of it, this is probably the best game of Spione I ever played...

    (edited to move to this sub-forum - RE)


    Hi Claudia,

    One of my goals with Spione was to get rid of absolutely all role-playing hobby assumptions about how people talk. I wanted "play" to be embedded within effectively normal speech, and the only restriction was that we were speaking about the events in this story (and creating them in the moment). I didn't think specifically in terms of on-line play, partly out of ignorance, partly out of prejudice. However, that creative goal turns out to have been surprisingly compatible with the on-line medium.

    I'd like to know more about how much material tended to characterize a given "go" or single person's turn. I'm interested in both the actual text, the word count for instance; and in the fictional content. My concern is that I'd like play still to be play, that is, an interpersonal dialogue-based creation of imagined-events. It seems to me as though you and the others preserved that feature. Can I trouble you to provide a translation of a typical contribution?

    Best, Ron

    • CommentAuthorlirazel
    • CommentTimeJun 8th 2009

    Hi Ron,

    I’m Francesca, I played Spione by forum with Claudia

    At first I was suspicious about an on-line rpg, but I had to change my mind and now, as I thought on “GcG”, I think that Spione supports the on-line playing perfectly.
    Of course, it gives you a different experience: you have the time to analyze the situation, to choose the words, to take your time to decide…
    The price to pay is the loss of spontaneity (we hardly ever wrote a “pass”, for example…) but, otherwise, the Spione capability to pass through flashpoints without stopping the narration works perfectly in this way of playing too!
    I'm really surprised on how our stories, after months of games, had taken shape perfectly post by post!
    But…cause my own belief is “don’t talk, just play!” and cause an on-line rpg have no space and time limitations….How about trying an international Spione play-by-forum? Of course there will be some limitations due to the language but I think that could be really interesting playing a session with people from different sides of the world!


    Hi Ron!

    One of my goals with Spione was to get rid of absolutely all role-playing hobby assumptions about how people talk. I wanted "play" to be embedded within effectively normal speech

    I'm not sure what you mean here, could you elaborate a little? Is this unclear to me because we live in different countries or is there something else? I'm really curious...

    Anyway, here I translated one post as you requested.

    This message is the #11 of this thread. It may sound a bit melodramatic but it’s one of the final Flashpoints and a very emotionally charged one. In fact here the only Principal still alive (Gretchen Schaefer, directed by Francesca) finds her death with my double Ace.

    During the game we had messages made just of the move or made just of our comments, or rules clarification. But often the messages contained both moves and comments like this one. The single move could be just a couple of phrases or even three times the length of this one I’m translating, there wasn’t a rule. I chosed this specific message cause it shows there was a conversation going on together with the fiction we were creating.

    A little explanation about the comments. What I’m writing afterwards is due to a previous exchange of comments in which Marco jokingly “worried” we all hated Olaf, a character he liked. He was a Principal connection he at some time stated was a spy. In a way he was totally opposite to the Principal: she was a bit amateurish and driven by emotions. He was a much cooler and efficient spy. Probably his most humane act was sincerely trying to support Gretchen but he did it in such a clumsy way he gained just her anger.
    In fact I really disliked this character and told Marco so but his observation made me stop and consider also this character point of view in what transpired between him and the Principal. In the end I think what Marco said helped me write a better move.

    --------------------begin of post
    “And to think I really wanted to help you...”, stated Olaf bitterly.

    Gretchen had her eyes fixed on the black abyss of the barrel pointed at her. “Maybe you’re really doing it just now”, she whispered. Her body seemed to lose all the tension, she closed her eyes and leaned the head against the wall behind her.

    Everything she tried ended in disaster. And when she tried to put it right, she just made it worse. She really couldn’t see a solution to the current situation and with her trying to hide behind a mask of coolness and indifference she didn’t fool even herself. Maybe this was really for the best.

    Olaf stared at the woman on the ground in front of him and nodded, as if, for once, there was understanding between them.

    Ellen... Lars... Would she see them again...?

    In the dark alley, the sigh of a silenced shot resounded followed by the rustle of a body sliding to the ground.

    Note by Claudia:

    Tschüs, Gretchen. Few ideas and confused but, in the end, I loved you ;___;

    I’ve been uncertain until the end about this move because of Marco: since he is so adorable I didn’t want to oppose him... But this scene fitted so well!
    And also I just love the similarities and contrasts I read between this story and Thomas’...
    Marco you do love me anyway, don’t you? Right? RIGHT? Say yes or roll the dice!! :P
    --------------------end of post

    Hi Francesca! Nice to see you here!
    (you see Ron? Great minds think alike! XD )


    Hi Claudia and Francesca,

    I'm sorry to take so long to reply.

    I'd love to try an international Spione on-line story ... despite the problems that arose the last time I tried. You can read about them here in the forum regarding a Wiki-based game that Peter Nordstrand organized. I am convinced there were two problems: first, that we did not know how to manage the distinction between talking to one another and writing story-type prose, an issue that I'll continue later; and second, that Eero and Peter are quite likely the last two people that should possibly have been trying to play and learn Spione together.

    Claudia, it's difficult to summarize my observations of speech during role-playing, but here are some points. (1) Permission to speak is managed differently during role-playing than in ordinary conversation, usually by social rules that aren't immediately obvious or even particularly fair. (2) Content, that is, the imagined/communicated fiction, is often distinguished sharply between "now we're playing" and "now I'm merely talking," and they sound very different. (3) Even certain priorities about what we consider viable topics, or agreements and disagreements, may shift into new forms during the "now we're playing" sections. In Spione, my hope is that the "gamer-ness" of the actual spoken interactions is diminished - it is, effectively, Shared Imagined Space but without much of the historically-accreted social and creative notions of the role-playing hobby.

    One thing I really liked from that brief transcript is that it's clear you maintained the authority the rules give you. Although you weren't sure about others' reactions to what you wrote, you went ahead and wrote exactly what you wanted.
    In terms of style, I find myself inclined toward a more conversational mode of posting in such play. My posts probably wouldn't read as if they were an excerpt from a novel, but more as if I were simply talking face to face. Perhaps it'd be "all comments" with the fictional material being clear as such, but not distinguished in style of writing or posted as a separate piece of prose to read. We'll have to see whether that's compatible, although I think it can be.

    Best, Ron

    • CommentAuthorMoreno R.
    • CommentTimeJun 10th 2009 edited

    Hi Ron!

    I'd like to know more about how much material tended to characterize a given "go" or single person's turn

    This is one of the areas where the difference between "in person play" and "online play" is more marked, and with surprising results.

    It's been my experience that Spione ask from players to have a lot more trust in the others at the table than even many Forge games. It can be a disorienting (and not very nice) experience, the first times, when you start narrating something about a character, with (as taught by many rpgs) a firm intent in your mind, and then the following player turn everything inside-out, "betraying" your idea of the character that you just described. The first instinct is to keep everything you care about these character in your control, and do long narrations waiting the last moment before passing "the buck". And when somebody narrate something that you really don't like, use your own maneuver narration to cancel or change what it was said.

    This cause a very timid, controlled, and fearful kind of play that it's not very fun. Most of all, for the people around the table who have to wait for you to finish your long narration. So, in time, the social pressure push you to "let it go" more, to be less fearful, and at the same time, you begin to enjoy seeing what other do of YOUR contribution, and begin to add more and more elements not because you have some grand plan about "the story", but so see what others make of them.

    In a way, you learn to "trust" your co-players. in a manner different from most other games. If the group works (nobody routinely betray that trust) people learn to play without being tied to some pre-planned conclusion and enjoy instead other people's additions. And at this point play is almost an exhilarating experience, like a roller-coaster where "the buck" move always more faster around the table, and the group is able to even keep long conversations "in character" where everybody say a phrase at a time, changing character every time, and still get it right.

    (reading our old actual play pasts of our first game, it's easy to spot the differences between these phases in the different threads...)

    I wanted very much to do this experiment with play-by-forum Spione, because I wanted to push the forum as an avenue for real play, too, not only discussions (and really a lot of people who like these games in Italy at this point are in the situation of having nobody near to play something that isn't D&D), and of the games published in Italy until now Spione was the most apt in my opinion (and, to be truthful, because I get to play far less games of Spione than I would like, and convention demos are a quick snack, not a full meal...), bur this was an aspect that preoccupied me. Without the social pressure pushing for shorter descriptions, and the moment-by-moment cues and suggestions from other players, would Spione degenerate into a sort of collective freeform writing exercise? To avoid this we could count on the cohabitation in the same post of narrations, comments and advices (a format we are using for all games played in the forum, because we think that all this is part of "play" as much as the narration), but I was not sure it would be enough.

    At first, the narrations were very long, as expected, and seeing that it was the first time that this group played together, online or in person, we had the usual problems at the beginning trying to harmonize what kind of narration we wanted. For example, in the first scene one of the Principals, Gretchen, was described sometime as a young and naive person, sometime as a cold and perfect spy. And playing by forum really weaken the veto power of the principal's players: while at the table all he/she need to do is stop the other's narration, to use the veto online often mean canceling much of another's post. Even more than one posts, if other people posted after the first before you could read the post. So it's a seldom used power.

    What I didn't expect, and it began instead to work very well, was the effect of having much more time to think. If you remember our first actual play thread, I described panicking when Michele narrated something I really disliked (that "ruined" a character for me) and corrected him with the first thing I could think, worsening the situation and adding a character that I did regret adding as soon as I could think a minute about it. If playing by forum did not avoid at first these disconnected narrations, it helped a lot in giving us the time to think much better "patches". So Gretchen was a cold and perfect spy only in her mind, and at the end the first scene found her wishing she could turn back the time and don't act that way.

    In time, we got much better at "reading" each other's signals, but it got never as immediate as in in person play: so for what I have seen online play it's always a little more erratic and it happen much more often to be surprised by what the other players do (both good surprises, and bad surprises) , but at the same time the narrative, with all that time to think, gets more stronger and can include a lot of turns and surprises without becoming unbelievable (and with no panic moments)

    Another difference was that the posted narrations didn't become much shorter, even later: without the social pressure given by people who are waiting at the table, there was no motive to write a lot less, But as the trust increased (and with that, the desire to see what the others would have made of our contributions), what was shortened was the actions described. Giving more "space" for descriptions of settings, sentiments, thoughts and appearances

    • CommentAuthorMoreno R.
    • CommentTimeJun 10th 2009 edited

    (the previous post was cross-posted with Ron)

    (this last past was cut from the previous post because it was 20 characters too long)

    What I did learn from this experience is that online-Spione is not only a weak surrogate for face-to-face Spione, but it's another Spione, with different strengths. I am going to continue to play Spione online even when I will play it again at the table!

    (this below is instead my answer to Ron's last post)

    Hi Ron!

    I would be very happy to play an international play by forum Spione game with you, even if it would mean risking discovering that I was playing Spione wrong all along!

    About the division between "narration" al "table talk" in Claudia's except, they are differentiated by position (table-talk under narration) only by chance, there was no fixed format, narration could be before, after, in between table talk, or even split between different positions. The only differentiation for narration text was that it was written in red.

    See THIS PAGE for an example: narrations are written in red, all the rest is chatter, rule questions, table-talk, etc.


    Hi Moreno,

    Thanks for that summary. It helps me understand and also to be a bit more confident that this is something I'd like to do. A couple of details ...

    1. I like the emphasis on longer descriptions and more atmosphere. This is something I think a group would develop in spoken Spione as well, over time, as their confidence that something will happen increases. I am very fond of using turns to add a single sentence, a description of a sound, or a description of background characters or buildings to a scene.

    For instance, the German name Röhr is completely unpronounceable by American English speakers. I might devote quite a few turns across the course of a game simply providing hideous attempts to say it by various characters, as additions to whatever scenes might be occuring when my turns come around. Or, for instance, one of my favorite turns in all games of Spione, ever, was played in Berlin, when one person said at exactly the right moment, "The fog is thick tonight," in a given scene.

    That might seem contradictory as I was initially talking about longer descriptions, but they really are the same things if you step back and look at play as a whole. It doesn't matter whether it's a paragraph or a single phrase, as long as the overall story is made richer by an ongoing set of atmospheric contributions.

    2. Contradictory character psychology, due to multiple players' input, is actually a design goal, and I recommend embracing it to a certain extent. Is she a ruthless spy or a naive youngster? Is one a facade for the other? Is one a misleading first impression for the truth of the other? Are both equally powerful sides of a more complex, never-fully-seen personality? Is the presentation of both emphasizing the uncertainty of our perceptions, such that even we as authors cannot actually tap the reality of this person? All of these are characteristic of spy fiction. A "character" is never truly known, sometimes within a single novel (e.g. Alec in A Spy by Nature), sometimes across novels (e.g. George Smiley).

    I think the tendency to accentuate the discontinuity in the various contributors' presentations of a character is a good thing in the text-driven, on-line medium. I've always been a little disappointed by in-person players' tendency to want to double-check their presentations of characters with one another before finalizing them during a given turn, and have hoped that with further play people would stop doing that. What you describe about the initial contradictions and later resolutions about them for Gretchen looks wonderful to me. I'd love to participate in play which undergoes that process.

    Best, Ron


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