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General Forge Forums => Actual Play => Topic started by: GreatWolf on March 31, 2004, 10:27:27 PM

Title: [InSpectres] Winger Paranormal, or Winging InSpectres
Post by: GreatWolf on March 31, 2004, 10:27:27 PM
Heard during play:  "Do you know how hard it is to think when a dog is licking your fingers?"-Keith Sears

6 March 2004:  Winger Paranormal Investigations announces a brand new location in sunny uptown Metropolis.  Expanding the world famous InSpectres Franchise, WPI exploded onto the scene yesterday with an exclusive contract for the FBI.  Solving a case that had stumped the Bureau's best agents for weeks in just a single afternoon, WPI has proven it has the expertise to handle all of your paranormal investigation needs.  (Now including transdimensional vortexes.)  After WPI owner and CEO Tood Winger burned through their latest case, Special Agent Moulder was heard to say that WPI wouldn't ever need to come back.  A testament to their skill and ability.  Call now.  Operators are standing by.

So, the Saturday night gaming group decided that we wanted to get back into roleplaying.  However, since we are all a bit out of practice, and because the GM had serious confidence issues, we decided to kick things off with InSpectres.

I actually pushed for InSpectres for a couple of reasons.  First, the game had appealed to me ever since Jared first mentioned the idea back on the old Gaming Outpost forums.  Second, since the game is comedy, the pressure to perform would be greatly reduced, specifically for me as GM.  After all, a mistake in any other game could be a benefit in InSpectres.  Third, the prep time is nil.  Finally, one of our players is really wanting to make the transition to player-authored games, but his experience is quite limited.  InSpectres seemed like the perfect way to introduce him to some wild and wooly player-driven gaming.

So, three weeks ago, we gathered together to create characters.  Here's what we produced

Todd "Wingman" Winger (aka "Wingster", "Wingmeister", "Wingarama", etc.)
Player:  Ralph Mazza
Academics 1
Athletics 3
Technology 2
Contact 3
Talent:  Thrasher Culture
InSpectres Position:  CEO
Current characteristics:  good businessman(?)

That's right.  The CEO of the franchise is a skater punk.  Specifically, he started WPI after being kicked out of his mom's basement.  As he wandered the cold streets, he snagged a newspaper from a bum who was using it as a blanket and saw an ad for InSpectres.  "$50 and you could have your own franchise!"  Todd still had one of his mom's Gold credit cards, so he sent away for the informational packet.  The history.  (It's an inspirational story.  Really.)

Dexter C. Krebbs
Player:  Keith Sears
Academics 3
Athletics 2
Technology 3
Contact 1
Talent:  New Age Science Geek
InSpectres Position:  COO  (In other words, he keeps track of the Equipment sheet)
Current Characteristics:  Talks more crap than Todd

Up until I sat down to write this post, we had no idea how Dexter and Todd knew each other.  However, clearly they must know each other.  After all, Todd crashed at Dexter's apartment after he was kicked out of his mom's basement.  So, I grabbed Ralph and Keith online, and we determined that Dexter knew Todd's older brother and used to buy beer for him.

Daisy Josephine Smith  (aka "Joe")
Player:  Crystal Ben-Ezra
Academics 1
Athletics 3
Technology 4
Contact 1
Talent:  Professional Wrestler
InSpectres Position:  CFO.  (In other words, she keeps track of the Franchise sheet)
Current Characteristics:  One of the guys, permanent PMS, lush, looks like K.D. Lang

Joe was hired at the beginning of the first job as the Introductory Interview.  She holds an accounting degree that she earned while putting herself through school with her wrestling scholarship.

And then there is me.  Seth Ben-Ezra, the hapless GM.

Stuff That Has Happened

The press release at the beginning of this post is essentially the summary of the first session of play.  (I offered Ralph 2 Franchise Dice towards the next mission if he would write it.)  I rolled up a client and ended up with an FBI agent with a strange smell in an office building.  So the mission was a haunted bathroom in the FBI.

Highlights included:

* Joe beating up a bank clerk after finding out that the account had only $5 in it (due to Todd's financial mismanagement)
* Joe's spilling coffee on a secretary's desk to cover up a snatch-and-grab of three pairs of FBI-issue sunglasses
* The well-placed Confessional by Todd:  "Who would have known that two bean burritos would save the day?"

In the climactic scene, the InSpectres were faced with a transdimensional vortex and animated toilet in the haunted bathroom.  As a result of a failed Stress check, Dexter cut the cheese in a major way.  Todd then pulled out his lighter and lit the fart, causing a massive explosion that closed the vortex and blew the toilet through the wall and onto Special Agent Maulder's desk, spilling all over his files.

Mission accomplished.  And they even got to keep the FBI Visitor badges and the sunglasses.

The second job was for a woman who was having loud partying noises coming from her closet.  Initial research led the investigators to believe that the noises were the result of the ghosts of three college students that had been murdered in a nearby apartment, but the truth was much stranger.

As the intrepid exterminators began to examine the closet, they discovered a secret panel that opened into a larger closet...where there were fur coats hanging.

(It was at this point that I turned to Ralph, who had narrated this particular development, and said, "You aren't!"  He just looked at me and laughed.  The other players hadn't quite caught the drift yet.  But I knew what he wanted.  So I threw up my hands and gave it to him.)

So the investigators pushed through the coats and pushed through the dense bushes that seemed to appear as they moved deeper into the closet.  Suddenly they stumbled out into a clearing where there was a lamppost....

Yes, apparently the closet led to Narnia.

So it turned out that the noise was really just a bunch of harmless woodland creatures (naiads, dryads, talking animals, and so on) that were partying too close to the closet entrance.  For some reason (probably the Good Witch Glinda's intervention), everyone thought that Todd was their king.  So they all sat down, passed the pipe, and came up with a peaceful solution to the problem, which was to move the party further into the woods.

Unfortunately, Joe had dropped the rope that led back to the closet entrance.  But the Good Witch Glinda told Todd that he was wearing the ruby inline skates, which could take them home.  So he clicked his heels together three times and materialized at the skate park.

And all of this without a single Stress check.  I'm thinking that I did something wrong there.  (More on this later.)

(Yes, I know that Glinda is from Oz and not from Narnia.)

Things to Ponder

Generally speaking, I think that our group is doing well.  However, I think that I have noticed a couple of areas for work.

Our group is still coming to grips with the power of Confessionals.  Well, that's not fair.  I think that Ralph has the general concept, but he is also the veteran InSpectres player here.  (In this case, "veteran"="has played this game before")  However, I can tell that Crystal and Keith are both a little hesitant with the Confessionals.  (Now, I know that Crystal tends to avoid explicit use of Directorial power, so I'm not really surprised.)  Any thoughts on how to encourage this?

I don't get Stress  Now, just to be clear, I don't mean that I don't understand what Stress does.  Rather, I don't understand what sort of GM input I'm providing when calling for a Stress roll.  In some ways, this is the one area in InSpectres where the GM reigns supreme.  However, calling for a Stress roll doesn't strike me as being the same as calling for a Humanity check in Sorcerer or handing out some Inspiration or Corruption in Alyria.  Some insight on this would be helpful.

The characters don't really have much in the way of "real lives".  To be fair, in essence they are three losers hanging around, half-playing at being supernatural exterminators.  Real life hasn't slapped them in the face yet.  At the same time, the contrast between "normal life" and "the Job" is a big part of InSpectres.  Any ideas on how to introduce some of these elements?

I'd also be interested in feedback from my players on this thread.  Ralph and Keith both post here at the Forge, so I'm using my Summon Player powers to draw them to this thread.

Seth Ben-Ezra
Great Wolf
Title: [InSpectres] Winger Paranormal, or Winging InSpectres
Post by: Valamir on March 31, 2004, 11:29:30 PM
Hmmm my thoughts on play so far.

Overall pretty fun, some of the moments were pretty dang funny, and the running gag of the stolen FBI sunglasses is priceless.

Areas of player improvement:

Me: I think I've been too active in the game.  To some extent I think Keith and Crystal are looking to me as "party leader" and following my lead.  I think this is a combination of me having prior play experience, combined with being the company CEO...that was a mistake I think (in hindsight).  One of the others should have had the game "leader" role I think.  Combine that with my natural tendency as a player to assert myself and far too much of the game has been Ralph playing and others holding back.  I know I'm a pretty aggressive player in terms of driving what I want in a game, and I tend to work best when there are other aggressive players pushing back and giving me stuff to riff off of.

Keith (who will probably read this at some point himself) I think needs to not try so hard.  Too much time worrying about whether his next line will leave us in stitches or whether he's playing "right".  I think that worrying is detracting from his own ability to just enjoy play.  He just needs to relax and go with the flow.  He's got plenty of roleplaying experience; the improv and directorial stuff will take care of itself in time.

Crystal...I haven't got a handle on yet.  I have a feeling she's holding back but whether that because she's not comfortable with us yet as players, not yet comfortable with the level of player direction needed in Inspectres, or just not enjoying the game I don't know.  I'd like to see her get involved in play more than just periodic vignettes; but maybe that's tied into me needing to step back and give her the breathing space to do it.

Areas of GM Improvement

I can think of two.

I don't think Inspectres is quite as zero prep as you've been playing it.  I'd like to see more "things" thrown at us that we have to respond Bangs, although Bangs might be overkill for an Inspectres game; but some of the items like Mike listed in the Ft Lauderdale thread....little scene ideas that can be thrown in like a wrench in the works.  Not scenario construction obviously but I think Inspectres works best when the players are filling in the GMs framework.  So there needs to be more of a framework there.  Otherwise the session just devolves into perpetual color generation until we realize we have enough franchise dice and say "ok lets end it".

Secondly, the GM needs to push back more.  Not every event should be player created.  Part of this is using Stress Rolls, but part of it is creating obstacles to roll against.  Both of these feed into each other.

I think you avoided creating too many obstacles because we just rolled 5s and 6s and did what we wanted anyway, so why go through the motions of rolling dice, especially since we were racking up Franchise dice really fast anyway.

That's because Inspectres skill rolls are WAY too easy.  5s and 6s are almost guarenteed (or at least a 4 / at worst a 3) because there is no "difficulty" dial to crank...unless you start pounding out the Stress.  

You can't afford to let us be rolling 4 and 5 dice every time.  The game will simply devolve into pure collaborative story telling where we just write a disjointed story and call it a day.

You have to get us down to 1 and 2 dice where we start to fail so YOU can have some fun narrating and get us into even more trouble...but more importantly give us material to work with (I'll go out on a limb and say that was likely part of Crystal's problem and maybe Keith's too, not having enough cloth to work with)

Plus, you need to bleed the franchise dice off of us with Vacation time or we'll be a 50 die franchise in short order.

Hows that?
Title: [InSpectres] Winger Paranormal, or Winging InSpectres
Post by: GreatWolf on April 01, 2004, 12:06:36 AM
Yeah, Mike's comments got me thinking a bit.  So, we're talking about things like Todd's mom paying a visit, or Joe's court date for assault, for starters.

Plus I should make sure that I have some Banglike objects ("Bang-snaps"?) for the job proper.

Makes a lot of sense to me.

Seth Ben-Ezra
Great Wolf
Title: [InSpectres] Winger Paranormal, or Winging InSpectres
Post by: Keith Sears on April 01, 2004, 12:52:31 AM
Well, I think that the reason I have been a bit uptight about playing the "right" way is simply because there really hasn't been any structure to the games at all. Except for the client interview, the rest of the adventures have been just us trying to come up with stuff until we are able to reach the end of the adventure.
Title: [InSpectres] Winger Paranormal, or Winging InSpectres
Post by: GreatWolf on April 01, 2004, 02:55:42 PM
That's fair, Keith.  I've been spending some time thinking about ways to improve for the game this Saturday.  However, I thought that I'd ask you.

What would you like to see to provide the structure that you see is missing?  Are you talking about Bangs, like Ralph mentioned?  Or is there something more that you'd like to see?

Seth Ben-Ezra
Great Wolf
Title: [InSpectres] Winger Paranormal, or Winging InSpectres
Post by: TonyLB on April 01, 2004, 03:17:49 PM
For what it's worth (and since the planets and my friends schedules haven't aligned to let me run InSpectres yet, it's not worth much), I don't think Stress-events and Bangs are exactly the same thing.

I've had Bangs described as something the character must react to.  So it drives a narrative line by forcing choices.

Stress seems to me to be more about experiencing... perhaps the simulationist equivalent of a Bang?  It's more about giving the character (and by extension the player) the opportunity to legitimately say "I do not get paid enough for this!"

So... nobody refilled the coffee machine last night, and now all that's left to drink is a vile, nigh-chthonic sludge.  Or your character is always the one to get spattered with ectoplasmic goo and on top of the raw unpleasantness of that the home office is asking you to fill out a form in triplicate labelled "Inquiry into Excessive Expense Writeoffs (Dry Cleaning)".  Or, of course, just plain getting spattered with ectoplasmic goo.

The job should be messy, and that's stress.  And the workplace should be dysfunctional, and that's stress too.

Anyway, that's my two cents.
Title: [InSpectres] Winger Paranormal, or Winging InSpectres
Post by: Ron Edwards on April 01, 2004, 03:24:05 PM
Hi Tony,

Still sounds like Bangs to me.

Title: [InSpectres] Winger Paranormal, or Winging InSpectres
Post by: GreatWolf on April 01, 2004, 03:27:43 PM
Maybe that's what's throwing me for a loop.  I've been approaching InSpectres from a Narrativist perspective (sorta).  From this perspective, I don't see how Stress contributes to an addressing of Premise.  (Not that I've figured out the Premise of our game, mind you.)   From a Sim perspective, though, it makes perfect sense to me.  It's just like calling for Sanity checks in Call of Cthulhu or Stress checks in Unknown Armies.  I have no problem leveling the boom in those games.  In InSpectres, though, I've been struggling, because it feels like I'm stepping on the players' prerogatives and being semi-arbitrarily punitive.

Maybe I'm thinking about the game wrong?  Any insights, folks?

Seth Ben-Ezra
Great Wolf
Title: [InSpectres] Winger Paranormal, or Winging InSpectres
Post by: TonyLB on April 01, 2004, 03:27:58 PM
Well you're certainly the expert :-) [Addressed to Ron]
Title: [InSpectres] Winger Paranormal, or Winging InSpectres
Post by: Ron Edwards on April 01, 2004, 03:41:45 PM

Tony and Seth, perhaps this will help.

The Premise that's facilitated by InSpectres is exactly that presented by movies like Company.Com, and by the dot-com issue in general.

We're all friends and think this is good work, which might make us lots of money!

And because we're friends, we won't have any hassles about how to manage profits, how to run day-to-day operations, or how to deal with clients!

Isn't that great? Time to succeed!

Which is, of course, a nightmare. Business ventures succeed best when people focus on mutualistic benefit to the exclusion of the ties of friendship and family, not by using those ties as strengths within business policy and (especially) challenges to business policy.

The very act of opening an InSpectres franchise throws these issues into focus. The characters may not be close friends, but they are amateurs, and they are relying mainly on their personal commitment to one another to pull the company through its "lean phase," including the willingness to carry a little stress for the good of the company.

Well, how much stress? That much? You must be nuts.

Yeah, we agreed Jeff would be the boss. But that doesn't mean he can tell me what to do!

Time off? You want time off? C'mon, Molly! You're going to let a little nerve gas lose us this contract?

InSpectres offers, I think, a fairly lame Simulationist experience, relative to Cthulhu play - just goony parody with a lot of Director Stance. But it offers a rather solid, even moving Narrativist experience when the participants internalize the issues of "my stress vs. company success," and how the characters cope. Every mechanic in the game aims at this situation, especially when you consider the role of the contributions in the Confessionals.

Title: [InSpectres] Winger Paranormal, or Winging InSpectres
Post by: Valamir on April 01, 2004, 03:54:37 PM
We've seen that already in two sessions actually.

I short changed Crystal/Joe vacation time after the first game leaving her with 1 Stress (even though we had plenty of dice) because during game play she borrowed $50 and never paid it back.

There have been little vignettes about trying to put on a more professional appearance since we're using Dexter's appartment as our office and we're all housemates and slobs.  

Todd's already begun to remark that he needs to get new partners, and after the last mission blew our wad of Franchise dice on spiffy new W.P.I. corporate uniforms...which I fully expect the other characters to hate.

Crystal gave Todd (stoner, skate punk, Tony Hawk-meets-Ted-meets-Jay Todd) the Trait of "good business man" in a now, she gets to wear the uniform and cover up those tattoos baby... :-)
Title: [InSpectres] Winger Paranormal, or Winging InSpectres
Post by: GreatWolf on April 01, 2004, 04:02:56 PM
I think that the light bulb just came on.

So, applying Stress is...well...applying stress to the character relationships, both to each other and to the Franchise (which is almost a character in its own right).  How the characters handle their Stress is the stuff that drives the stories.

So, my job as GM, in this case, is to apply the heat, not in a punitive fashion, but to provide the impetus for the characters to make their choices.

That makes a lot more sense.

Seth Ben-Ezra
Great Wolf
Title: [InSpectres] Winger Paranormal, or Winging InSpectres
Post by: TonyLB on April 01, 2004, 04:08:53 PM
Yeah, what he said.

And also... Cooooollll....

See, now my first InSpectres will be that much better.  Yay Forge!
Title: [InSpectres] Winger Paranormal, or Winging InSpectres
Post by: Mike Holmes on April 01, 2004, 05:36:05 PM
Yeah, "Humanity" in InSpectres, to make an analogy of probably biblically bad proportions, is the Franchise Dice. If you run out, then you lose the business. Now, it's not the GM's job to run the players out of's his job to see that there's some debate over the dice. To do that, you have to drain some dice off. You do this with stress.

Look for any opportunity to put in stress rolls. Think of this as your primary job. When the fart blew up, was there a titanic stress check for all involved? I hope so. Last time I blew up the party some of them were rolling five dice. If there's no opening, then make one. "There's a call on your phone," should be a phrase that makes the players shake with fear. So much so that they end up throwing their cell phones away (which will cost dice to replace...).

Think like Paranioa. It's your job to be mean to the PCs. This has a very important effect that I've noticed. These events, no matter how random, give players something to work off of. They don't have to be specifically meaningful (they will be in terms of the franchise overall anyhow), because the players will invent meaning off of the event. Try to find one Stress roll per scene minimum. Oh, and remember that if a PC does something to another PC that this should get a Stress roll. This is a very common source of these, I've found.

This is why you have to participate in building the events of the game, too. The players simply need something to work off of, to be inspired by. Again, it doesn't have to make any particular sense - I think that Jared's method was just to throw the oddest thing he could think of at us. Just so long as there's something to react to.

In fact, the more absurd the thing to react to, the better. Because, again, that's the premise. That the stress occurs in the course of trying to do a job in a "normal" way, when the job is anything but normal. So, throw Stress at them, and throw weird at them. In big bucketloads. It's fun, and it works. Leastways it has for me.

Title: [InSpectres] Winger Paranormal, or Winging InSpectres
Post by: Keith Sears on April 01, 2004, 08:12:53 PM
Quote from: GreatWolfThat's fair, Keith.  I've been spending some time thinking about ways to improve for the game this Saturday.  However, I thought that I'd ask you.

What would you like to see to provide the structure that you see is missing?  Are you talking about Bangs, like Ralph mentioned?  Or is there something more that you'd like to see?

Seth Ben-Ezra
Great Wolf

I'm sorry that I didn't provide much information in my previous post, but it was late and I was a bit tired. Bangs would be a help.

The reason that Ralph has been "Team Leader" so far is because he does most of the narration. In a sense, he's been the GM for the first couple of games. Remember, I am used to a traditional RPG group dynamic with a GM narrating what happens in the story, and the players reacting to what happens. Since Ralph is doing the most talking, naturally I follow his lead. Whatever he says IS the story, and I am doing my best to react to it like a good little traditional roleplayer would. It's just the way I have been conditioned.

I guess the problem I am having with InSpectres so far is that I don't know how much influence I can exert on the story.. and when I can do it. One of the nice things about Universalis is that even though you can come up with all sorts of things, it is still a highly-structured game system. You know how much you can push, when you can push, and how you can hijack other elements of the story. If InSpectres has anything close to that, I am afraid that I am so unfamiliar with the system that I haven't been able to pick those elements out of it.

So far, it has seemed to me to be a very loose, improvisational  system. For example, when Ralph turned "The Haunted Closet" scenario into "A Visit to Narnia," I really didn't know what to do at that point, and pretty much kept quiet for the rest of the game. (And your dog with her finger-licking fetish was very distracting as well. I'm gonna blame her, too. ::chuckles::)

If you came up with a very rough outline, with some possible bangs in it to give us a push in the right direction might help.
Title: [InSpectres] Winger Paranormal, or Winging InSpectres
Post by: Valamir on April 01, 2004, 08:22:03 PM
I think you're pretty spot on with that Keith.

There is a broad mechanical structure, but nothing close to the very ordered Universalis process.  About the closes rule that applies is the one that says whoever came up with the idea has to roll for it, so no "we should talk to these people, hey you're the best at social, you do it" stuff.

Other than that its pretty wide open mechanically.  That's when I think it really requires the GM to grab the bull by the horns and wrestle it down.  

I'm tempted to think the game would be improved by a very MLwM decisive scene order approach.