Both my Saturday night and Sunday morning slots were spent playing separate games of Montsegur 1244, a GM-less story-game in four acts. It revolves around the lives of twelve citizens of Montesegur, who are more or less sympathetic to the Cathar faith, during the period that the town is under siege. At the end of the game most characters will either burn for their beliefs or be forced to recant them.
Constrained Setting Pros and Demi-Pros
+ What you see is what you get. Although I played in some fantastically fun wacky games during this con, it was kind of nice to know you were in a game that wasn't going to turn into one. Not that you couldn't just define any other game as 'not-to-be-wacky' at the outset, or do some crazy things with the Montsegur setting if you tried.
+/- Less imagination required. The preset, but not utterly-predetermined, characters, events, and scene aids give you some good meat to work with. It's very easy to step into roles and come up with scenes. However, although the cards do still leave a lot up to imagination and interpretation, they do define certain things unequivocally (e.g. certain familial and amorous relationships). This is fine, and in many ways desirable, but it does mean that every time I play Corba, I will be Phillipe's mother. I might be a kind or a nasty mother, an interfering or an absent one, but I'll always interact with her in terms of that relationship. I should say that the game has an expansion with a couple of additional characters to draw upon.
+/- Limited Scope. I like being so focused on this one particular event in history. Because the scope of the story and the characters interactions is quite limited, it kind of makes it more intense. You could certainly have the same effect in many other games, but it's made easy in Montsegur. However, because the game covers only a very specific situation, and certain events are immutable, this is probably not a game that can be whipped out every Tuesday night to generate an entirely new experience.
+ Finite Play Time. Your story arc is brought to a satisfying conclusion in 2.5-3 hours. Done. Voila. (A con if you're interested in a more lengthy exposition.)
As you would expect, the games I played were quite similar but also quite different. The ways in which they were similar are probably obvious. The ways in which they were different are kind of interesting.
- One story focused heavily of the impact of the Cathar belief system on personal behavior and interpersonal relationships. The other used religion less explicitly and dwelt instead on the how the characters reacted to one another's situations on the mortal plane.
- In the morning game we used up practically all of our scene cards taking over the narrative in acts three and four so we could inject plot into certain story lines. We also used the 'straight narrative' option for scene description occasionally, which hadn't happened much at all in other games I played. This was nice in that it allowed us to cover a lot of ground quickly, but you did lose some of the spice of on-the-fly dialogue, so I'm happy we didn't over-use it.
- Also on Sunday, we sometimes chose to do scenes in which none of our 'owned' characters were present. This was cool, because it meant a lot of immediate cross-pollination of thoughts - but I think some characters got 'neglected'. Not that that isn't perfectly fine.
- In one case the grail was used by members of the faith as a symbol of hope and protection (ultimately futilely), and in one it was used as a means of provoking ties of friendship and family.
- In the Sunday session we use symbolism and strong emotions to great effect (I think). The Saturday session used dialogue and action more and exposed the character's intentions implicitly. Thanks to Derek, Kingston, Alex, Enric, Eric (and a really cool girl whose name I'm blanking on) for playing - you guys were great!