stunt gaming

Elizabeth Bear has talked on her journal about stunt writing: “Which is to say, playing a narrative trick that does more than serve as a narrative trick, something that really justifies its existence.” (She specifies later that, to count as a stunt, it has to be difficult, too.) And it occurred to me last night that what I’ve been doing for the last nine months probably qualifies as the game equivalent, stunt GMing.

For those only now tuning in, we’re talking about a weekly, tabletop Changeling game that is structured like (and named for) the movie Memento. After an initial few sessions in 2006, we began flashing back to the characters’ previous lives in 1916, 1828, and so on, all the way back to the mid-fourteenth century. So while researching previous centuries (a new, or should I say old, one every month), I was also having to handle all the tricks of narrative and game backward: exposition in reverse, foreshadowing that was actually back-shadowing, use of backstory that was actually fore-story, character development that went in direct opposition to in-story chronological order. While the players were figuring out how to play nine different versions of the same people, I was coming up with nine guys to help them out, all members of the same family and with some similarities, but trying to make them individuals, too. And juggling the ever-changing question of how much they remembered of the past, balancing that against what it would be useful for them to know, and setting everything up so that they would arrive back in 2006 with the last pieces having only just fallen into place, half an hour and 650 years ago.


Having just returned to 2006 during last night’s session, I officially render my personal verdict, which is that the narrative trick of this game’s structure did, indeed, justify its existence. Probably one of the best comments I got was Oddsboy’s, who, upon me saying they were back in 2006, said, “Wow, I’m so not prepared for this.” Which his character shouldn’t be, having just remembered 650 years of his own past. Forgetting momentarily who the hell you are right now is an appropriate reaction. I think the mental and emotional effect of moving through it all backwards worked out, in a situation where they-the-characters knew what they were doing when they started but forgot over the centuries, so they-the-players had no idea what they were doing initially but found out as they went back, and in between knowing nothing and knowing everything both a lot of time and none at all elapsed. I’m pleased it worked, but I’m more pleased that I think I made the right choice, running it that way, instead of going through things in chronological order. It’s nice to know I wasn’t just being an artsy wank; I did, in fact, have good reasons for siccing on myself (and my players) nine months of heavy-duty mental work.

(That’s my verdict. Said players can form their own.)

But I’ve got to say, I’m glad to be back in the present. From here on out (i.e. another month and a half or so), no more stunt GMing. I’m running a normal game, that will go in a linear fashion from where we are now to where we’re going to end, rather than dancing around in loopy little time circles. Causes first, consequences second, all very straightforward, and man, does that sound nice.

0 Responses to “stunt gaming”

  1. moonartemis76

    As one of your four victims-I-mean-players, wow.It worked. I cannot ever recall I story that I found so fascinating, moving, crushing, uplifting, and Holy-God-that’s-HUGE! all at the same time.

    From the bottom of Rowan’s broken, healing and sturdy heart – Thank You.

    Wow. It totally worked.

    • Marie Brennan

      Thank you, though I promise I wasn’t fishing for compliments — just making my own evaluation of the justified-ness of my stunt. πŸ™‚

  2. moonandserpent

    I’m exceedingly glad that it went well. I honestly didn’t think it would… but I’m a pessimist at heart… or an optimist… or something.

    Go you!

    Now can I get a cameo? πŸ˜›

  3. d_c_m

    That game sounded awesome and I so wish I could have been a part of it. Frankly I think the structure rocks. That alone would have made it interesting to me. πŸ™‚

  4. oddsboy

    Heh. So does that mean yer not going to approve Yorke getting the Time and Entropy shperes and then dicking with EVERYONE? Nertz. I was hoping I could turn chronol time loops into quanum rorshach (sp) tests. *grin*


  5. gollumgollum

    Dude. While all along i’ve thought it was going to be a difficult concept to pull off, it never once sounded like wankery (and never once did i think you wouldn’t pull it off). You put too much thought, research and dedication into this game, and it totally showed. And i’m excited that it’s worked out the way it has.

    Let me know how the next few weeks go, okay? (:

  6. akashiver

    It has always sounded like an awesome game. I’m interested in hearing the detials once its over.

  7. elizaeffect

    You should make some kind of write-up of all this once it’s over. Or at least put your detailed notes somewhere safe (like the internets!). Speaking from D&D experience, I tend to forget the details of individual sessions very quickly and have to refer to my online “fanfic”/summaries for details.

    (And I selfishly want to read about this instead of just getting little hints and references.) πŸ˜›

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