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New Actual Play Video for: Muse - A Storytelling Game

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New Actual Play Video for: Muse - A Storytelling Game

Hi all,

When I wrote my game Muse some time ago, I realized that it was very... different... from most tabletop story games out there! It's kind of hard to learn a game from reading the rules, as you're never quite sure if you're doing it right or how it all fits together. This is true for a role-playing game, and even more true for an indie story game. So I decided to try recording me playing with my friends and putting that together into a video actual play / tutorial.

It took me a year (yeah, I know) to put it together, but it's done. Honestly, it was much more time-consuming than doing the layout for the fancy print version of Muse.

Well, here's the Actual Play:
https://youtu.be/LlMosE0-BIk

Please let me know what you think! Does it actually help you understand how to play? Is it a miserable failure and I totally wasted my weekend break for the last 50+ weeks? If you have constructive feedback, I can easily go back and tweak the video (and add you to the credits).

Thanks!

--Jonathan

How to Play Muse Video
tutorial vs AP

I might watch an AP 3 hours long, if the story/players are good.
But I will probably not watch a tutorial that's 3 hours long.
I appreciate the idea A LOT, but learning the rules doesn't really require hearing the story.
What about making jump-to points linked in the description that allow you to jump to every RULES INJECTION?

Good Idea

Hi Tod,

That's a really good idea! I believe that for best comprehension it helps to see the game being played, so you're seeing the rules in context. However, I could try putting together a 15-minute tutorial video. [Edit: I'm doing this now and I'll post as soon as it's ready]

Thanks,

I like it

but was already convinced.
The good : both the imaginary material and story structure are very open. We share an interest in this design space. The cards are a good alibi for storytelling improv. There's tension, humour, lots and of various sorts, heartwarming moments. Each player brings something different. The illustration and animation is scarce but always on point.
The bad (and suggestions) : the playing mat is plain, and f*ing triangle shaped ?! (there are free online apps where you can customize your cards, mat and tokens, with like "Kanto" or "katana" instead of spades, and changing background for each location, or maybe, using it as a map). The category of friendly competitive sportsmanship holds because your players are well behaved, but I still feel the contradiction in the premise of the game that in most conflicts, someone goes in ready to give in already. (I don't recommend Capes' "no hold barred" take, but rather that the cards be used mostly for scene resolution, not for conflict resolution. Or if there's conflict, let it be fiercely negotiated, with supreme stakes, as in Polaris - but it's going to limit improvisation). The 2 competing subplots get in each others way sometimes, even at the cognitive load level (questions need to evolve during play to allow players to be surprised : a dramatic question -what will happen- is best distilled as a thematic question -what does it mean for THIS character). The juice are flowing non stop, that's hard (You could use slower times going in or out of scenes to reflect on stakes, consequences, and therefore, questions).
Have you played or seen played Swords Without Masters or Psy*Run ? Was that a WoT?

DeReel, let me address each point...

DeReel wrote:
> The good : both the imaginary material and story structure are very open. We share an interest in this design space. The cards are a good alibi for storytelling improve. There's tension, humour, lots and of various sorts, heartwarming moments. Each player brings something different.

Thank you! :)

There are some story games that use the cards themselves as inspiration (For the Queen, https://www.evilhat.com/home/for-the-queen/, comes to mind here), but I never intended that for Muse. The cards are simply a part of the economy. The more cards you have, the more power you have over the story at the moment.

> the playing mat is plain, and f*ing triangle shaped ?!

Agreed that the Vassal Engine module (http://www.vassalengine.org/wiki/Module:Muse:_A_Storytelling_Game) doesn't have the most beautiful aesthetic. I picked something plain that would contrast well with the cards, and I picked card images that were free. :D There's definitely room for improvement here.

> The category of friendly competitive sportsmanship holds because your players are well behaved, but I still feel the contradiction in the premise of the game that in most conflicts, someone goes in ready to give in already.

Can you please elaborate? My sincere hope is that players at the table will be good sports. If they're not, it's going to be a challenge to play *any* game with them, let alone a collaborative storytelling game.

> questions need to evolve during play to allow players to be surprised

I agree with you here. This is a weakness in the rules as written. I do cover this, but I probably don't emphasize it enough.

> The juice are flowing non stop, that's hard (You could use slower times going in or out of scenes to reflect on stakes, consequences, and therefore, questions).

Agreed! I designed the game for people that enjoy a higher intensity of game (like me!) or that get bored easily (like me!).

> Have you played or seen played Swords Without Masters or Psy*Run ? Was that a WoT?

No. I've played Kagematsu, which I'm told has some commonalities with Swords Without Master... Why do you bring up these particular games?

Thanks for the feedback,

--Jonathan

Good sports

(The illustrations are great to me !)
Of course fair play is a must for improv. What I have trouble with is the "power over the story" paradigm. I don't think it's bad, but I see it as a problem still. I think it covers different things that would be better adressed if they were identified precisely one by one.

I approach that fold like that : why do players pick certain dramatic questions ? why do they oppose them ? I am convinced that they sometime do just because it's the mechanic the game gives them to interact. Sometimes they want to show off, sometimes to set a goal for themselves, etc.

To me it feels like it pricks the horse of competition in the players' hearts, but it's sort of an illusion. I think storytelling improv suffers from real competition. And if it's not about winning, why make it look like it is ? Like : when Mothra is threatened nobody in their heart wants it to die : this conflict is one of the most felt, and that it's felt does not make it more palatable : on one side, it's outrageous, on the other, it's weaksauce. No match. (But maybe you felt otherwise. What ? Why ?)
That's why "unpleasant events" used to create hope and fear are traditionally left to randomness, the rules, or more recently, to negociation within boundaries, so that the outcome is acceptable to both parties. All this process : the players compensate for it in "dramatic conflict" games, and that's nothing like compensating for, say, a lack of inspiration. I know lack of fair play is a problem I struggle with, but am still convinced the "struggle for story control" paradigm, such as in Capes or Muse, comes with its own problem. I feel PvP needs you to deeply root for your character, on both sides. Not ride and jump characters.

From another side, the same knot : if you accept "dramatic conflicts" as burning questions, and let game procedures decide who answers them. What does it matter who answers them if you're going to love the idea anyway ? Game procedures could be used to manage patterns, nuances, and many other things, as in SWM. In Psy*run, players hand out colorful narrative elements to the player who rolls, but in the end its the rolling player who draws the new situation. They'll use colours they find the most beautiful, but if they don't like one, they're not doing it *against* the player who proposed a narrative element. Analogy and all, I hope I am not too cryptic.

Ok

Hi DeReel,

I think I understand you.

If I'm going to be completely honest, the competitive aspect of Muse is more window dressing than the heart of the game. The card economy is a means to allow players to share the splotlight, so that no-one dominates the game and the resulting story is a true collaboration.

1. Even though there are only 2 Answer Sheet owners at the start of a Showdown, anyone else can Support an Answer and participate in the action.
2. It's true that Muse's official winner gets to tell the story's Epilogue, but the Epilogue has to be based on the story that got told. If you save your cards to win at the end, then you're making the conscious choice to have less story power as the story is unfolding.

I personally find that the competitive aspect adds a bit of spice to the story, the collaboration, and the story conflict. However, because the stakes are so low (it's easy and fun to participate whether you win the mini-games or not) I don't find that it distorts or damages the story. Your mileage may vary, of course...

Regarding the specific example of if Pig God was going to eat Mothra or not: I personally was fine with Mothra getting eaten, whereas the other two players didn't want it. Maybe it wasn't apparent via the recording, but it created quite a bit of tension at the table! I ended up finding a compromise to please my fellow players, but I didn't have to do that. I could have narrated Pig God eating Mothra and the poor beast being dead. It would have totally transformed the rest of the story!

I think one of Muse's strengths is that it allows collaboration (as in, everyone gets to put some of their ideas into the story) without the mediocrity of the end result always being the consensus of what everyone at the table wants. As a player, at times you can get your specific vision into the story without compromise. However, when you do that, you typically lose enough cards that it gives the opportunity to someone else to take the spotlight.

Totally

You probably figured by now that I am not struggling with your game but rather with a question I have and approach through your game rules.

There are different things in the card game I get from your answer :
1- it's a side activity. Many if not most of the activities at a RPG table apart from discussion are side activities for me. It's a bit like doodling while talking on the phone. It's a way to be creative without focusing or straining too much, going in and out of focus on one activity or the other, in constant flux.
2- it's a way to introduce "the unpleasant, the unwanted" in the form of a confrontation.
3- it's a way to pull competitive players into the game - a collaborative game at heart - like Capes (does ?) did.

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