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General Forge Forums => Actual Play => Topic started by: JMendes on March 20, 2005, 09:25:28 PM



Title: [PtA] Heritage - Fun, but oddly unsatisfying play
Post by: JMendes on March 20, 2005, 09:25:28 PM
Hey, :)

Welp, last Friday, we finally got to conclude the pilot episode (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=14642), which took us the better part of two hours. It left us all with a sense of 'we want more', but we pretty much agreed that it was too late to play through a whole episode, and we wanted to get the episodes in sync with the sessions, as per intended by the rules.

We only had about half the scenes, this time, and they were longer, which was kind of cool. In fact, I'm pretty sure that if I saw the stuff that happened in the SIS in a TV show, I'd eat it up.

Except, it didn't feel like role-playing.

I did get to expend all my budget, but the conflicts all felt extremely artificial. And some scenes went by without conflict entirely, basically because I sistematically failed at thinking up stakes that were different from "winning means you do it, loosing means you don't", and that is what we found didn't work, last time.

Gah! I am now extremely frustrated. I have this feeling that awesome play is hidden behind some door that I haven't found yet!

Sorry for such a short post. I guess I just wanted to get this off my chest... :)

I'll go to the game forum, now.

Cheers,

J.


Title: [PtA] Heritage - Fun, but oddly unsatisfying play
Post by: Ron Edwards on March 21, 2005, 05:31:37 AM
Hello,

J, I sense Conflict Block! A term I just made up to describe how a person used to Task Resolution flounders when facing the need to state Conflicts.

Conflict Block concerns a good 50% of the threads in the HeroQuest forum, because the HeroQuest text trapdoors the reader in this regard.

It certainly occupies a disproportionate amount of posting about Dogs in the Vineyard. I see it a lot in discussing Trollbabe.

Let's talk about conflicts, then, in the context of Narrativist play.

Here's the classic Sorcerer example. "How agile is my character? How hard is it to jump over an 8' fence in Sorcerer?" I have to tell the person who asks this that these questions are literally not answered by the system. "Oh, so you just make it up, the 'GM says,' huh?" is the usual response. Which is wholly wrong - the mental equivalent of breaking one's ankle, in fact.

Think instead of all the circumstances in which your character really needs to get over an 8' fence. No, really, think of them - you'll find there are a lot. Now think about the subset of them which are not boring, i.e., which actually mean something in the context of all that stuff on the diagram on the back of a Sorcerer character sheet.

... in other words, in which something is at stake. And in which "something" means related to character's issue and "at stake" means no matter what, is about to change.

The fence just became a fairly marginal piece of detail, didn't it? And although it might be a really really cool detail, with plenty of resonance (e.g. the first bulwark at Helm's Deep, the Berlin Wall), it still isn't and can never be actually the something-is-at-stake.

So it's not what's being rolled. What's being rolled is whatever has an interest in the "something" going the other way. We can call it "antagonism," I guess, which is a tricky concept for gamers because even if the antagonist wins, it doesn't de-protagonize our character (just fucks him or her up way bad, even kills). Also, this "antagonism" doesn't have to be an actual being, sometimes - in fact, at times, yeah, you could treat the Berlin Wall as a character, in which case it would count, and would roll as such.

[Do you see why "opposed vs. unopposed" is a meaningless distinction in Conflict Resolution? "Unopposed" is not a conflict and vanishes right out of the resolution system, hence it becomes a binary - you either can do it or you can't, based on character concept alone. Whereas "opposed" is defined by "something at stake" alone, which is assessed thematically and merely bolstered by in-game cause or plausibility. Establishing and enjoying that bolstering is an art, but don't let it distract you.]

So now let's look at PTA, in which the characters' Issue is right there in front of God and everybody, on the sheet, and in which we even know how much that Issue is to be tweaked in the current effort of play (this session).

If you as GM do not put pressure on that Issue - which means

(a) someone or some thing which puts
(b) some thing which invokes that Issue
(c) at stake

- then nothing happens. Nothing happens!

You frame the scenes in PTA. That means you can have the bug-aliens attack, or have the witness break down from the pressure the bad guy is exerting on her, or have the character's long-lost son show up on the doorstep. You also listen to what everyone else is doing, which in a good PTA game is guaranteed to provide you with tons of meat for cross-character Issue-tweaking (this is that fun plausibility-bolstering part, which is really easy in a game like this).

So that's your role as Producer. Conflict, conflict, conflict ... but it's not the same as task, task, task. Task-task-task only means that the character first has to figure out there's a clue, then finds the clue, then deciphers it, then follows it, then has to fight this guy, then has to dope out the lock on the door, then has to dodge the trap, then has to ... see what I mean? Just tasks.

Best,
Ron


Title: [PtA] Heritage - Fun, but oddly unsatisfying play
Post by: JMendes on March 21, 2005, 09:05:14 AM
Hey, Ron, :)

First off, thanks for stepping in. :)

Conflict Block may well be a very appropriate term, in that I (think I) understand completely what a conflict is, yet, I (we, actually) have trouble coming up with them with any sort of consistency.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
If you as GM do not put pressure on that Issue -<...>- then nothing happens. Nothing happens!
Yep, that's pretty much how the session felt, to me. Oh, sure, the guys did a bunch of things, but really, no one rolled anything important (apart for some artificially induced conflicts that I called for just so I culd spend budget, really...) and they all just did whatever they said what they wanted to do.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
the characters' Issue is right there in front of God and everybody, on the sheet, and in which we even know how much that Issue is to be tweaked in the current effort of play (this session).
Yes, this is exactly where we were failing. Even though the issues were right there in front of us, we smply didn't find ways to make the events in the SIS relate to the issues. None of us. And so we went scene after scene after scene without rolling dice.

Except for one instance towards the end of the session, but in which the what's-at-stake was so minor to what was going on in the episode, that really no one was vibing too much about it. We called out some stakes, rolled some dice, narrated accordingly and moved on, none the wiser.

Conflict Block, eh? Yeah, sounds about right... :/

One thing: you said that we even know how much each issue is to be tweaked in the current session. I think you're talking about Screen Presence. Also, I assume you mean with relation to the other issues. But in the pilot episode, everyone has SP=2, so in relative terms, they're all on equal footing. And this means, no, I don't know how much to 'tweak' the issue. I (think I) understand it when there is a spotlight character, but other than that, I have no idea how much each character is supposed to transform in each episode.

Cheers,

J.


Title: [PtA] Heritage - Fun, but oddly unsatisfying play
Post by: Ron Edwards on March 21, 2005, 09:15:54 AM
Hiya,

Not sure whether you're better off pursuing this here or in the Dog-Eared forum, in the thread you've started there. I'll stick with this one for now because we're talking about a specific session of play ...

... but I'm stymied. Those very things you're saying you have trouble with? Um, those are the things which I come to the role-playing table to do, and almost always have. So I'm really the wrong guy to be helping out. In fact, I'm certain I'll be counterproductive if I try.

Anyone else?

Best,
Ron


Title: [PtA] Heritage - Fun, but oddly unsatisfying play
Post by: joshua neff on March 21, 2005, 10:40:32 AM
Well, I'll chip in here, but I don't know if I'll be anymore help than Ron. I'll address your posts here and your thread in the Dog Eared forum.

J., if you were having scene after scene without rolling any dice, the question is: why were the players calling for scenes that didn't have to do with their Issues? You said the Issues were right there, but you weren't sure how to bring them into play. On the flip side, my question is why would anything be brought into play if it didn't have to do with the Issues?

The scene you mentioned where they're out in the middle of the desert looking for clues about the last team? What's that scene about? It's not about finding clues--that's incidental. Of course they'll find clues. The scene is really about Issues. The Issues won't come up unless you bring them up, and you HAVE to bring them up, because that is what the game is about--not finding clues, not uncovering mysteries. The conflict of any session, any episode, is dealing with Issues. That's it. Nothing more.

It seems blindingly obvious to me, so let's look at the whole "out in the desert, looking for clues" thing. Like I said, the point of the scene isn't to find clues, because they obviously will, to shunt them off to the next set piece. The point of the scene in the desert is to deal with a character's Issue. Is the character's Issue "Self-Worth"? The scene maybe resolves around that character being the one who find the important clue. Or maybe the conflict is "not screwing things up for everyone else." If the Issue is "Dark Temptation," the scene could be about the character finding a clue and trying to hide it from everyone else. If the Issue is "Grief" (for example, your husband has disappeared and this investigation into a missing team reminds you of that), then maybe the conflict is to open up and talk to one of your teammates--or even to search for clues in the face of your grief.

But you absolutely have to lose the idea that a scene is about anything but issues. Watch a TV show and really pay attention to what's going on in a scene--it's rarely about what it looks like on the surface. Episodes of Buffy in which they're doing research in the library are not about finding information, they're about the characters dealing with Issues.

Is this helping at all?


Title: [PtA] Heritage - Fun, but oddly unsatisfying play
Post by: Andrew Norris on March 21, 2005, 10:45:34 AM
I may be reading my own issues into this situation, so just take this as an opinion.

I've set up "investigation" scenes before that were intended to serve as a backdrop for something more important -- an argument between PCs, a way of revealing backstory, whatever.

Every single time I did this, the players turned it into "Let's figure out the mystery." Every time. It happened even when I said "Hey, this isn't going to be about the investigation, it's a backdrop" and the players explicitly agreed with me. We just couldn't help ourselves; we'd done it so many times before that we fell right in the rut. (Not just "follow the clues", but "follow them slowly enough that the GM can give us an exciting slow reveal".)

Getting out of old roleplaying habits is difficult sometimes, so I don't frame scenes where a clue-hunt is background. I either make the hunt synonymous with one of the character issues (so how they handle the investigation is an exploration of the character), or I frame agressively to "You found out the info, here's what happens!"

So that's a nice way of saying what I'm thinking, which is that a PTA series set up similar in structure to a traditional roleplaying game scenario can be problematic. Everybody knows intellectually that they should be treating it like a TV show, but that's hard to do for material you have spent a lot of time thinking of through the RPG filter. I even had a little bad vibe when I read your first Actual Play post, like "I hope the players are 100% on board with the idea that this is a RPG scenario in setting only, and it should play like it's on TV." I don't think they do, and I'm thinking you might not either.


Title: [PtA] Heritage - Fun, but oddly unsatisfying play
Post by: JMendes on March 21, 2005, 01:05:42 PM
Hey, :)

Josh, Andrew, I think I understand what you guys are saying.

Josh, you rephrased the problem rather well, in that it is becoming easier and easier to understand what the solution will be. Your take on the how, though, confused me. If we do it like you say it, then what is the difference between a character scene and a plot scene?

I figured a character scene must either be about the character's issues or the character's relationships, and we did have a few good ones like that, early in the episode.

But you see, the thing in the desert was not A scene, it was, like, the rest of the episode. And once we moved there, every single scene was a plot scene, and we just couldn't find ways to bring the issues into play. (Again, except for that one time near the end, where it felt very artificial...)

On the other hand, I may be stumbling onto a bigger block. When I watch shows like Buffy or Charmed, every once in a while, yeah, I see the issues, but mostly I see the adventure and the mistery. And when the personal issues start to crop up "too much", so to speak, that's when a show starts to turn soapy and I begin to tune out.

Andrew, I think you nailed it as to the causes of our blockage. If I read you correctly, it stands to reason that the episode as presented was inherently uninteresting and there was little we, as players, could have done to break out of the blockage. This is something that is becoming more and more apparent to me, and it is definitely something we'll need to watch out for in future episodes.

However, this too presents me with a problem. You see, the whole premise of the show as we created it is investigative. The H1 team exists to discover supernatural artifacts and investigate their nature. All of a sudden, we may be stuck with an inherently uninteresting premise, one for which generating interesting episodes will be difficult at best, impossible at worst.

I hope this is not so, but now I am becoming increasingly frightened. You see, this is a very natural premise for that group, and if I go in and say, let's scratch this show, the pilot didn't do well, let's create another one, I pretty much bet that we would be coming up with another show with an investigative premise.

Anyway, good stuff guys, thanks. Please do keep it coming, as I think this bears further analysis.

Cheers,

J.


Title: [PtA] Heritage - Fun, but oddly unsatisfying play
Post by: Tymen on March 21, 2005, 01:31:42 PM
Quote from: JMendes
I hope this is not so, but now I am becoming increasingly frightened. You see, this is a very natural premise for that group, and if I go in and say, let's scratch this show, the pilot didn't do well, let's create another one, I pretty much bet that we would be coming up with another show with an investigative premise.


Have you ever seen "Relic Hunter"? Kind of a cheesy tv show, but it deals with a similar theme to your show and has lots of action and investigation, but also has character and plot moments while investigating.

 You have to learn to mix the Plot and Character scenes together, each plot scene should have some character interactive moments and each character scene should have some plot moments. Mix them up and have at it.

Also thee soapy elements are part and parcel with the mystery and action parts on Buffy, they feed off of each other. That's what made it such a good show.

You must learn to embrace the fact that neither plots, nor characters exist in a vacuum. They are each informed by each other.

Say all the players are in the desert investigating, frame a scene around them arguing how to best go about it, have one of them find a clue while the others are arguing. Conflict makes the world go round. Play up personality clashes, differing agendas, have someone else searching for the same thing for less than noble reasons. Does someone want to keep the group from finding out what happened to the former team, introduce that. Foreshadow things to pay off in future episodes.

Hope this helps.

Tymen


Title: [PtA] Heritage - Fun, but oddly unsatisfying play
Post by: Andrew Norris on March 21, 2005, 02:23:29 PM
Okay, it looks like I read you correctly. I was worried I was off base. I don't think the problems are intractable, though.

I don't think that the premise is inherently uninteresting -- I think it'd make a damn good TV show. It's just that PTA isn't set up to run those kinds of stories the same way you would in other roleplaying games. By that I mean the setup sounds like, say, a Call of Cthulhu module -- here's some cool stuff that the GM will gradually reveal to the characters, and that's the focus.

You can do a show like that (I'm thinking CSI, maybe?) but look at it this way -- a show that's heavily story-driven, on location, without a lot of screen time used for character dialogue is going to be expensive. In PTA, this means that if the Producer is the only one throwing dice at opposition to the characters, maybe he needs more Budget to keep it going. I think that the dynamic relies on the players throwing in complications into each other's scenes.

The thing is, though, cross-character conflict doesn't have to be soapy. Professional rivalry is one good dynamic to throw in there, for instance. But a happy team with no egos investigating a remote site means that you as GM are producing the majority of the content. That doesn't seem to be PTA's forte.

I'm running out of steam, but here's a few ways you could set things up:

- Inter-party conflict, set up as rivalries or the like. This can include friendly banter, but if you've got two PCs who are racing to figure something out, even if it's just for bragging rights, that's a solid conflict. If your group tends to "freeze" when people start bickering in character, it may be good to reinforce that their characters are TV characters, not an extension of self.

- Going the procedural approach (I'm thinking this show would be like "X-Files meets CSI"). Producer generates the bulk of the conflicts, with the players introducing their own side issues, which might be as simple as a crisis of confidence or discussions about proper techniques. These rely on you to generate a lot of content for specific challenges, although (and this could be a lot of fun) you could have players who are into this sort of thing prepare portions of the adventure that they aren't personally involved in. (In this case you might sit around with the players like a bunch of TV writers, going "Hmm... Bob's an expert chemist, so what's an interesting problem he'd have to solve using his skills?")

- NPCs as primary generators of conflict. This requires you to set the sessions in populated areas, but any number of X-Files episodes where the agents deal with obstructive (or overly helpful) locals can serve as inspiration. The investigation relies more on questioning NPCs and convincing them to help.

- Character-centric, which I recognize you may find too soapy. Mysteries are a backdrop for the characters to work out their issues.

- Some combination of the above.

It's worth reinforcing that the TV show format really does require a shift in mindset. "Will they figure out the mystery" is practically a non-starter, because by the top of the hour, they're finishing up and moving on to the next case. I'd consider that most shows of this kind, particularly police investigative dramas, aren't about that, but rather about "What will it cost them?"

One last thing, with the caveat that it's not intended to sound sexist. (This assumes that you are a male gamer.) Pick a real TV show that is similar to where you want to go with this game, and talk to a woman about it. (Yes, I realize that sounds dumb, bear with me.) My fiancee and I sit around for hours watching Lost and 24, and she's brilliant at picking out the character subtext and Issues for every character. I talked to a friend's wife about the Buffy TV show this weekend, just as part of a rambling conversation, and she picked out enough relationship issues for me to run a whole damn campaign on. I'm not saying that men don't have this perspective, but I just about guarantee if you pitch your PTA show to a female friend who's interested in the genre, she'll have several solid ideas about how to make the show more about the characters, their issues, and their relationships.


Title: [PtA] Heritage - Fun, but oddly unsatisfying play
Post by: Frank T on March 21, 2005, 03:17:26 PM
Hi,

let me try and give another angle to this. Hopefully it is another angle, and not just that I misread the others.

For one thing, I would suggest that conflict and adressing issues isn't all that PtA is about. Obviously, it's about a TV show. I can't really agree that all scenes in TV shows are about issues. There's more things. Coolness. Atmosphere. Comic Relief. Blowing things up. Setting for its own sake, too, in some shows (like Star Trek).

Of course you can link these things so you can have a scene that is, say, about atmosphere and at the same time adresses issues. On the other hand, I personally like a show to sometimes take a break. This is probably a question of preference. However, I wouldn't let it stand as a rule that every scene must be about issues. Go for two out of three, that's just as fine.

Moreover, it is important to note that conflict and issue are not the same thing. The conflict resolution mechanic can very well be used in a scene that does not adress the protagonists' issues. E.g. a simple action scene, which would certainly involve rolling some dice, but may well exist for the sheer fun of it. On the other hand, you can easily imagine scenes that are all about issues yet do not include a conflict. These might be scenes that reflect on the consequences of a key scene, or that provide setup for an upcoming conflict.

In our PtA games, sometimes only every second scene had a conflict and that was just fine with us. Note that I am talking about conlicts in terms of the resolution mechanic.
__________

J, you started by expressing you had difficulties thinking up stakes for the conflicts, not conflicts themselves. It's fine if you have a conflict that's just "a fight" or "a task". Figuring out interesting stakes is the tricky part. Most of the time it won't be interesting to put win/lose up as stakes. If you can bring the issues in at this point, perfect. If the young Samurai's issue is self esteem, then make his stakes "can he prove worthy?" But the scene is not lost if you can't think of a way how to adress the issue.

One interesting possibility for stakes is personal loss. Put something at stake that really matters to the protagonist. So if he loses, he still gets what he wanted, but at a high price--maybe a higher price than he was willing to pay. Also remember that the stakes are different for every protagonist involved. So one of them might actually roll for success or failure, while another just rolls for how he handles himself. Whatever you do, make sure that you avoid dead stops and anti-climax. Any possible outcome should be interesting and further plot and/or character developement.
__________

I think your problem really roots in the "investigation/discovery" aspect. See, PtA is not about discovery. The show may be about discovery, but the game ain't. Meaning: it's not about the sensation a player gets when he finally discovers what's going on. No way.

When we play PtA, we discuss what's going on all the time. We might as a group agree on the whole background of the episode before we even start. Or we might leave some things open, later to be decided. Or we might alter certain parts if something else seems to fit better. But the players always know what's going on before the protagonists do, so they can figure out a cool way for the protagonists to find out.

Try this: Tell the players everything you have in mind as background. And ask them for their opinion, allowing changes if they come up with good ideas. If they (as players) know what's going on from the start, they won't have that much trouble figuring out interesting scenes instead of just "investigating". And if they figure out interesting scenes, the conflicts and stakes will come by themselves.

Also, you might want to try talking openly about future scenes and what you want in them. Like: "I want at least one more scene with my father, but not yet." Or: "It's too early to find out everything, let's just get some clues and some action for now." Or: "I really would like to expand on my animosity towards NPC X. Any suggestions?"
__________

You say the scenes were cool, i.e. had you seen them on TV, you would have liked them. Except, it didn't feel like role-playing. Could you go back to that notion and try to explain what you mean by it?

- Frank


Title: [PtA] Heritage - Fun, but oddly unsatisfying play
Post by: jburneko on March 21, 2005, 03:52:23 PM
Hello,

I thought I'd share some of my thoughts on this because, oh boy, I've struggled with the Character Issues + Investigative Focus thing for years.  Ron and I used to argue a lot via private email over whether gumshoe style mysteries really had meaningful choices and conflicts or if it was just a guy doing his job, asking the right questions at the right time and coming to a solution.

I watch a lot of procedural crime dramas.  All three CSIs.  Two out of four Law & Orders.  And yeah, on the surface it can look like it's just a bunch of guys going around doing their job, following the clues, and ultimately catching the bad guys.

But all the clues and questions are the same as Ron's 8' fences, they're complications, methods and the results of conflict, not the actual conflicts themselves.  Let's examine two detectives from the same franchise.  Gil Grisham from CSI and Horatio Crane from CIS: Miami.

Gil Grisham's issue is that he's a scientist and an academic who works in a job that naturally produces high amounts of emotional chaos.  He wants to be detacted and scientific.  How can he?  Episodes that focus on Gil are filled with co-workers, suspects, witnesses and relatives of victim's clawing and clamering for empathy from Gil.   A 13 year old girl shows up raped and murdered.  What IS Grisham going to do when the single mom who's crackhead husband dumped her turns to Grisham in an effort to fill the void?

Contrast this with Horation Crane who already is commited to being emotionally involved.  His issue is that he's a tool of the law but sometimes his sense of personal justice is stronger and farther reaching than the law.  Just what is Crane going to do when the evidence is overwhelming but the suspect has diplomatic immunity?

Okay, so you want mystery and good drama but you don't want soapy and you don't want clunky clue-chain driven Call of Cthulhu play either.  No problem.

Here's a simple supernatural scenario that's a little disjointed but gets the point across.

Title: Art Gecko

Setup: A small artist community has been plagued by disappearances.  Mostly small time crooks and homeless people but recently a big time art critic who pretty much rules the community and desides who thrives and who dies has gone missing.

Backstory:  There are three pillars of the art community.  A homosexual painter who paints homosexualized religious iconography.  A snoopy photographer famous for capturing scenes of moral decay and elitist hypocrasy.  The third, is a blind sculptor, who's the town's biggest draw and specializes in hyper-realistic statues depicting human fear and suffering.

Unbeknownst to the photographer her boyfriend has been taking her art and using it to blackmail people.  In particular he was blackmailing the missing critic and the painter who is fond of throwing around big credentials when in fact he takes cheap correspondences classes.  The critic decided he'd had enough and was going to go to the police and so the boyfriend shot him and buried the body in the woods.  Depending on how much supernatural you want the critic's ghost maybe haunting either the boyfriend or the photographer.  In any event the boyfriend backs his girlfriend and her art 100%, his love is genuine.

Meanwhile the sculptor has a Basilisk in her basement and is responsible for the other disapearnaces.  She's been turning the town's low-lifes into tourist revenue.  But recently a young boy broke into her basement and was accidently turned to stone.  There's an open investigation into the kid's disappearance but the parents swear they saw the most lifelike statue of him at the art expo last week.  Of course their family therapist says that this is just a projection of their grief.

The sculptor's blindness keeps her safe from the Basilisk's gaze but unfortunatley the Basilisk secreets a slow acting poison that ultimately has the same effect.  In six months time the sculptor will be stone herself.

Holy God!  Do see the problems here?  Homosexulaity and religion.   Actual talent vs. the image of where you learned the talent.  The photographer's artistic freedom vs. the privacy she invades.  The weight of the boyfriends genuine love vs. his otherwise smarmy actions.  Just how much of an asshole was that critic anyway?   Does the missing boy's family deserve to know the truth?  Can they handle it?   The sculptor's art is the town's bread and butter are the PC's just going to take that away?  The sculptor will be dead in six months anyway.  Is that justice enough?  It's not like they can go to the police.

Find the cross section of these issues with the PC's stated character issues and PTA will SMOKE!  You'll also have your mystery focused supernatural thriller without a lot of inter-PC soapiness.

Jesse


Title: [PtA] Heritage - Fun, but oddly unsatisfying play
Post by: hix on March 21, 2005, 05:40:23 PM
Quote from: Frank T
... So if he loses, he still gets what he wanted, but at a high price--maybe a higher price than he was willing to pay.

I like that. It's a simple rule for dealing with conflicts in an investigative setting:

Win = you discover the clue.
Lose = you discover the clue and the process of doing that impacts negatively on your Issue.


Title: [PtA] Heritage - Fun, but oddly unsatisfying play
Post by: JMendes on March 21, 2005, 09:21:59 PM
Hey, :)

Guys, greate stuff, here. I'm gonna take a couple of days to let it sink in and really think about it. (Hopefully, this thred will still be in the first page... ;)

In the meantime, you all have immensely helped me figure out some stuff, that I really think will improve my game. I still wanna respond, though, because I feel there are things here that are worth exploring.

Back in a few. :)

Cheers,

J.


Title: [PtA] Heritage - Fun, but oddly unsatisfying play
Post by: joshua neff on March 21, 2005, 09:33:02 PM
Some very good answers here, especially from Jesse. Pay attention to what he says, because he really knows what he's talking about here.

But I wanted to further address something:

Quote from: JMendes
Josh, you rephrased the problem rather well, in that it is becoming easier and easier to understand what the solution will be. Your take on the how, though, confused me. If we do it like you say it, then what is the difference between a character scene and a plot scene?


There is no difference between a "character" scene and a "plot" scene. The plot is driven by the characters, their relationships and their issues.

Your show seems X-Files-esque, so let's use The X-Files as another example. It's a good example, because the show is really bloody obvious about its themes and issues.

The X-Files is absolutely NOT about solving mysteries. It doesn't ask "what's the answer?"--it asks "what do you do when you get the answer, but it isn't an answer your ready to deal with?" Fox doesn't want to solve any mystery except one: what happened to his sister. He thinks that by solving other X-Files he'll get closer to the one answer he wants, and that will make him happy. And Scully tells him over and over again that he's looking in the wrong place. The answers won't make him any happier, and they won't bring his sister back to him.

Here's another thing to consider: each episode of The X-Files shows the audience what the mystery is pretty early in the episode. Mulder and Scully may not find out until halfway through the episode, but the audience is shown early on. Now consider this: in any RPG, but especially PTA, the players are the audience, as well as the writers and actors. Don't wait until halfway through the session to reveal the Big Bad to them, show them right off the bat. The characters may not know, but the players will. And they can move scenes towards the big end-of-the-episode confrontation with the Big Bad accordingly.

As you're discovering, if you want to run a "players solve the GM's mystery" game, PTA is terrifically unsuited for that. That's not what it's designed to do. It's designed to do television-show-like RPGs, and in television shows, it's never really about "solve the mystery," it's about dealing with the issues of the main characters. That doesn't necessarily mean "soap opera," it just means that the fight scenes and clue-finding scenes are just another form of "characters dealing with their issues," just as the talking scenes are.


Title: [PtA] Heritage - Fun, but oddly unsatisfying play
Post by: Frank T on March 22, 2005, 12:08:46 AM
Hi Josh,

I believe J was refering to the distinction the PtA rules themselves make between character and plot scenes, terming that the "Focus" of a scene. Nonetheless I think you are right: there is (most of the time) no distinction. That's why we discarded the Scene Focus in our games. J, you shouldn't worry about the Focus. Use the Agenda, that's a much more important tool.

- Frank


Title: [PtA] Heritage - Fun, but oddly unsatisfying play
Post by: joshua neff on March 22, 2005, 05:21:52 AM
Quote from: Frank T
Hi Josh,

I believe J was refering to the distinction the PtA rules themselves make between character and plot scenes, terming that the "Focus" of a scene.


Oh, right. That makes sense.

That'll teach me to post late at night after work.


Title: [PtA] Heritage - Fun, but oddly unsatisfying play
Post by: Matt Wilson on March 22, 2005, 12:45:22 PM
Quote from: Frank T
Hi Josh,

I believe J was refering to the distinction the PtA rules themselves make between character and plot scenes, terming that the "Focus" of a scene.


Yeah, Josh, quit ruining everything! Damn librarians.

J, you can have a scene still be plot even though it has character-related stuff going on. The question is where's the greater immediate impact? Does it affect the character mostly, or the story mostly?

If the scene is plot, then my guy's issue is maybe going to interfere with us catching the killer. If the scene is character, then my guy's issue is going to affect his relationship with some other character, or if you want to get all profound, his relationship with himself.


Title: [PtA] Heritage - Fun, but oddly unsatisfying play
Post by: Ron Edwards on March 22, 2005, 07:32:16 PM
Hello,

I shall interject with my interpretation of "plot" and "character" scenes.

They are not actually alternatives.

All scenes are plot scenes.

Default scene = "character scene," i.e. emotional/interactive conflicts

Value-added scene = as above, plus external conflict which revs internal one into high gear (e.g. the bug-aliens are attacking) - typically called "plot scene" even if it is a conceptual abomination to say that.

Now I just know someone is going to ask, "But Ronnnn, what about those scenes which just illustrate something about the character? Or something about the bug-aliens' plans?"

They are just the same as above, in terms of getting the final stages of such scenes going. Setup and even delay are part of making scenes be punchy.

There is no such thing as a static scene. See the "just" in the questioner's sentence? There is no such "just" in stories.

Best,
Ron


Title: [PtA] Heritage - Fun, but oddly unsatisfying play
Post by: Mike Holmes on March 23, 2005, 02:05:43 PM
I think that here, as with many problems of shifting styles in RPGs, the problem may be linked to the language used in play. That is, we can talk about the "how to" all day, but if you don't know how to communicate these things in play, often you end up just repeating the habits that you had from other games that you developed your current language skills to perform.

For example, how do you decide what's going to be in a scene, J, in terms of language. What does the producer say? How do the players respond? There's a ton of ritual process that goes on here that can be done an innumerable number of ways.

Do you, for instance, as producer, ask the questions from the book that need to get answered before doing a scene?

To kick off his part of the discussion, think back to one of the scenes of the game, and tell us who said what in setting it up. Then we can offer alternative language suggestions.

Mike


Title: [PtA] Heritage - Fun, but oddly unsatisfying play
Post by: JMendes on March 23, 2005, 05:41:06 PM
Hey, all, :)

Some responses:

Tymen, yes, "Relic Hunter" was one of the shows we threw about during the definition of Heritage. Ana's character Rowan is, in fact, at least semi-based on Sydney Fox. Neither of us can remember any strong issue-based moments during the show except for the very first and the very last scenes.

Some of you have mentioned personality clashes, professional rivalry, interparty conflict and other things relating to player-character-vs-player-character stuff. Thing is, I have an extremely violent instinctive allergic reaction to PC-vs-PC stuff. I didn't always have this, it grew over time, but it is an obstacle to this. I'll comment some more on this in the thread in the Dog Eared Designs forum (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=14650).

Andrew, your suggestion that I talk to a woman does not sound dumb at all. However, it may not be that helpful, in that one of the players in the group in my wife, and as such, I already have good access to that particular POV. :)

Quote from: Andrew Norris
a happy team with no egos investigating a remote site
Yep, this pretty much hits the nail on the head! This is exactly what was happening. I need to watch out for this phenomenon. Although, like I said, investigating remote sites will probably feature prominently as the show plays out...

Frank, yeah, good stuff from you. Of course, when you bring up personal loss and putting something at stake that really matters to the protagonist, you do realize that this is entirely non-trivial to do, at least without overly resorting to intra-party conflict, But it does gel with what others have been saying, at it did put me to thinking of a couple of things we might have done differently.

Jesse, yours I did have some trouble with:

Quote from: jburneko
Gil Grisham<...> What IS Grisham going to do when the single mom who's crackhead husband dumped her turns to Grisham in an effort to fill the void?
<...>
Horation Crane<...> Just what is Crane going to do when the evidence is overwhelming but the suspect has diplomatic immunity?
I don't know what they're going to do, but these are totally under the domain of player choice. I fail to see how to put together a conflict around these (or related) matters.

Also:

Quote from: jburneko
Title: Art Gecko
<...>
Holy God! Do see the problems here?
Plainly, no. Or rather, I see lots of problems for the NPCs, but I still have no idea how to weave PC issues around the problems you just described. In other words, I don't even know where to begin to look for that cross-section between these problems and their issues...

Note that I'm not trying to put these examples down. I'm just saying, if you (or anyone else, for that matter) want to expand on this, I'd need it.

Mike, I can't do what you're asking anymore, as it's been too long for me to recall exactly what everyone was saying. I can tell you that, in the first session, we were having some procedural trouble with scene definition, where players felt they were expected to narrate heavily in the beginning of the scene. For our second session, we got past that. I basically asked for focus, agenda and location, didn't let the players establish any actual events, and went from there. I did let them speculate on events as they formulated the agenda, but that's it. That part seemed to go better.

Finally:

Quote from: Frank T
You say the scenes were cool, i.e. had you seen them on TV, you would have liked them. Except, it didn't feel like role-playing. Could you go back to that notion and try to explain what you mean by it?
I don't know if I can put this any other way. Simply, it didn't feel like exploration was going on. It felt more like collaborative story-telling or script-writing. Throughout, none of the players identified with the characters, the situation, the setting, anything. Or maybe they did, but it certainly didn't feel like they did, to me.

As I said before, there are things here that are worthy of more exploration. I certainly do feel that I have received all the help I can handle up until the next session, and I have all you guys to thank for it. This doesn't mean that I think the discussion has died, far from it. I'll still be reading this, if anyone wants to ask anything or just add onto what's been said, and I'll definitely be posting again after the next session!

Again, thanks everyone.

Cheers,

J.


Title: [PtA] Heritage - Fun, but oddly unsatisfying play
Post by: joshua neff on March 23, 2005, 07:38:15 PM
Hey, J.

Quote from: JMendes
Jesse, yours I did have some trouble with:

Quote from: jburneko
Gil Grisham<...> What IS Grisham going to do when the single mom who's crackhead husband dumped her turns to Grisham in an effort to fill the void?
<...>
Horation Crane<...> Just what is Crane going to do when the evidence is overwhelming but the suspect has diplomatic immunity?


I don't know what they're going to do, but these are totally under the domain of player choice. I fail to see how to put together a conflict around these (or related) matters.


Of course you don't know what they're going to do--it's up to the players, as you said. What you do as the Producer is throw those situations at the players and let them deal with it as they choose. But you've got the characters' Issues right there, everyone can see them, so tie the conflict in with the Issues. "As you talk to the mom and do your best to comfort her, you realize that she's hitting on you. What do you do?"

I'm more awake then I was before, so let me address this better:

That scene in the desert. Who framed it, a player or you? And what was the scene, a plot scene or a character scene? If it was a plot scene, what was at stake? Finding clues? Okay, so if finding the clues is some sort of conflict, where the PCs have something to lose, roll the dice and go by the results. The PCs find the clues, or they don't and complications arise. And the scene is over--on to the next scene!

Or was the scene a character scene? In which case, "finding the clues" isn't the conflict at all--that's just dressing for the scene. The real conflict is based on character Issues. Maybe two of the agents get into an argument (yes, I know, you have an aversion to PC-vs-PC conflicts. Well...get over it. It's a key ingredient of drama, and if the players can't handle it, they need to get over it, too.), or some source of conflict for the focus PC shows up (either physically or by calling in--say, a rival at their headquarters who contacts them) and presents the PC with conflict. At any rate, you roll the dice for the conflict, abide by the results, and move on to the next scene.

Remember, a good scene (it's bolded in the book, on page 42) is one in which important things happen and change. A character discovers an important piece of information, a character expresses an important emotion, a character makes (or breaks) a connection with another character. Also remember, as Producer, it's your job to keep the pace up, so the scene in the desert shouldn't take up too much time in the game, unless the point of the scene is a big one. If it's just looking for clues, give the characters the info they're looking for and get them out to the next scene.

I'll be blunt, J. The fact that this is confusing to you is...pretty distressing, actually. This isn't brain surgery, this isn't revolutionary--this is basic human storytelling. This is Literature 101. If you were writing a real teleplay for a real Hollywood TV show, any script editor would look at it and ask, "Why the hell are they spending so much time in this desert scene? Are they just looking for clues? Jesus, get them out of there and onto a scene that focuses on them!" The Issues in PTA aren't arcane bits of lore, they're basic human issues that all characters in literature, movies and TV have.


Title: [PtA] Heritage - Fun, but oddly unsatisfying play
Post by: Andrew Norris on March 23, 2005, 09:37:54 PM
Quote from: joshua neff

This isn't brain surgery, this isn't revolutionary--this is basic human storytelling. This is Literature 101. If you were writing a real teleplay for a real Hollywood TV show, any script editor would look at it and ask, "Why the hell are they spending so much time in this desert scene? Are they just looking for clues? Jesus, get them out of there and onto a scene that focuses on them!" The Issues in PTA aren't arcane bits of lore, they're basic human issues that all characters in literature, movies and TV have.


But here's the thing. Go grab a half-dozen roleplaying games supplements off a shelf, and they're going to have structure nearly identical to what he has. There's as much unlearning to be done as there is learning about the TV structure (and I mean formal structure, as opposed to that "yeah, that was good" level of critique).

Basically, we're giving the advice that J. should throw away his existing knowledge of what makes a good roleplaying game, and go for something that would make an engaging TV show. That's easier said than done -- I have to watch myself like a hawk to keep my Illusionist habits out of my Sorcerer GMing.

The more I think about this, the more I think that if you and your group want a more traditional roleplay experience, you should probably drift PTA towards that experience. Maybe think of it as a series of big-budget TV movies, with explosions and obscure artifacts and a large SFX budget. Up your Producer budget, frame scenes with clear, impending danger, and spend the dice freely. (Doing this basically means going with old habits rather than against them.) That kind of play can be fun, although it'd be better served with any number of other rulesets, and it wouldn't use all the features of PTA. But if I was going to make a choice between changing the game and changing the group's way of thinking, and they weren't interested in changing their mindset, then it's the right choice. (Hey, no reason they have to change their mindset; it's valid.)


Title: [PtA] Heritage - Fun, but oddly unsatisfying play
Post by: JMendes on March 23, 2005, 11:22:10 PM
Hi, :)

Quote from: joshua neff
"As you talk to the mom and do your best to comfort her, you realize that she's hitting on you. What do you do?"
This still isn't a conflict. It's a dilemma, to be sure. It's a bang, even. But it's not a conflict. There are no dice to be rolled here, there's just the player announcing his next action.

We could say that the conflict is whether or not the character succeeds in comforting the mom, but that's a 'whether or not' conflict. The problem we had is that all the 'whether or not' conflicts we encountered were those things that we already knew the players had to succeed at. And I simply failed to come up with prices or complications.

Quote from: joshua neff
That scene in the desert.
Your questions are intriguing, but you're still missing the point. It wasn't one[(i] scene in the desert, it was all of them, after the first round of scenes.

And this is what I mean. My (current) vision of the show is that the better part of each episode will be spent at remote locations. I think I know how to handle spotlight episodes, by having the whole thing be about that specific issue, and/or having the nemesis show up repeatedly. That'll work. But what about non-spotlight episodes? Within an investigative premise, how does one create a price or a complication that connects a conflict to an issue, in order to come up with interesting stakes, but without putting the whole of the issue on the table, thus killing the upcoming episodes?

Hmm... let me type that again:

Within an investigative premise, how does one create a price or a complication that connects a conflict to an issue, in order to come up with interesting stakes, but without putting the whole of the issue on the table, thus killing the upcoming episodes?

We had lots of good scenes, by the way. We even had some dilemmas. What we didn't have is good (i.e. rollable) conflicts.

Quote from: joshua neff
The fact that this is confusing to you is...pretty distressing, actually. This isn't brain surgery, this isn't revolutionary--this is basic human storytelling.
Ain't it, though?

Yes, it is basic storytelling. It was very collaborative, very tranquil, quaint, even... and empty. Pointless.

(And yes, please do be blunt. Bluntness is good. :)

Andrew, yours is an interesting point as well, but that's not what we're going for. I've been looking for "something different" in my role-playing, and I think PtA has just the right stuff under the hood for me to get it. I just need to find that little handle thingie that pops that hood!

Cheers,

J.


Title: [PtA] Heritage - Fun, but oddly unsatisfying play
Post by: Frank T on March 24, 2005, 01:21:01 AM
Well J,

it seems you look for the right things but just don’t find them when you need them. Two suggestions:

- Start thinking about possible conflicts before framing the scene. Player frames a scene, you ask him: „What conflict could be in that scene?“ Now, you don’t need a conflict in every scene, but you might want to consider discarding some scenes in favor of others that promote interesting (mechanical) conflicts. Sometimes a little tweak to the Agenda is enough.

- Don’t take the responsibility all on your shoulders. Ask around the table. Freely discuss what conflict and stakes could be, and what impact possible outcomes would have on the story. Any player can suggest cool stakes.

Note that thinking about the impact also means thinking about ways how failure could become interesting. „Whether or not“ conflicts are only a bad thing if failure would mean a dead end. That need not be the case. E.g. the players roll in a „do they find out“ conflict. Failure doesn’t have to mean they find out nothing. They might as well find a false clue that leads them into trouble.

Also please don’t get too focussed on the Issue. You don’t have to adress a protagonist‘s Issue in every conflict. It’s perfectly okay to sometimes just have simple short term complications, or even color stuff, as stakes.

Quote
Simply, it didn't feel like exploration was going on. It felt more like collaborative story-telling or script-writing. Throughout, none of the players identified with the characters, the situation, the setting, anything. Or maybe they did, but it certainly didn't feel like they did, to me.


This is something we discussed at length in my German RPG forum, along the lines of „distributed authoring killing suspension of disbelief“. We didn’t come to a final conclusion, and I haven’t had the time to go looking for related Forge threads yet. Neither have I reached a conclusion for myself—I need to play more. :-)


Title: [PtA] Heritage - Fun, but oddly unsatisfying play
Post by: Nicolas Crost on March 24, 2005, 01:57:01 AM
Hi J
Quote from: JMendes
Hi, :)
Within an investigative premise, how does one create a price or a complication that connects a conflict to an issue, in order to come up with interesting stakes, but without putting the whole of the issue on the table, thus killing the upcoming episodes?

I think you have to understand that putting something related to the issue on the line does not necessarily resolve the whole issue, thereby "killing" further episodes.
Look at prominent TV shows. The issue is brought up again and agian without being completely resolved. For example, look at X-Files. Fox Mulder spends 10 fricking seasons looking for his lost sister! The issue comes up again and again and again and he never, ever changes the issue. So it can be done! In my eyes they dragged it out much to long, but the point is, that you can have an issue-related conflict without having to change the issue afterwards.

I'll try to give you an example from your group. So Micheal Addler's issue is to prove himself because he has this nagging doubt that he is only on the team because of his uncle. And to make this a good issue he'd better prove himself not only in front of the other team members but also in front of his own ego! But anyway, there might be some conflict coming up, in which he might add some valuable ressource to the team. So the conflict becomes: Will Addler find the important clue before the others do, thus showing them, that he is an important member of the team? See, this issue does relate very easily to investigative conflicts. But now, after he has won this conflict and thereby proven himself, does the issue go away? Well, of course NOT!! People do not change easily. It may take years to change the personality of someone (if it is at all possible). So, the team is not going to be won over by just one little success. Might have been luck. And so, the need to prove himself remains. Next conflict, same issue.
And then, in his spotlight episode, something happens that profoundly changes the character. Then, and only then, does the issue change (well, it might even stay the same).

And one more thing about your aversion to intra-party conflict: Joshua is right, get over it! There is no such thing as a good TV show without conflict between members of the main cast. There simply isn't! Look at any successful TV show of any possible genre: there always is some conflict between the main characters going on. Even in Star Treck, where the team is very, very harmonic, there still is some conflict between Picard, Ricker, Worf, Troy... This conflict might be comedic (Home Improvement), soapy, dramatic, whatever. But there always is conflict. Because if ther isn't, the whole thing turns into a happy team doing research. Boooooooring!
And in PtA the player characters are the main cast. And as such, there has to be conflict between them for the show to be interesting. Really, try it, you don't know, what you're missing! In the last episode of our current season, my character tried to kill another PC because she turned evil. And this was a great season finale for both players! Really, try it, because if you don't, I'm afraid PtA will always seem stale to you.


Title: [PtA] Heritage - Fun, but oddly unsatisfying play
Post by: joshua neff on March 24, 2005, 04:29:31 AM
J.,

Quote from: JMendes
Quote from: joshua neff
"As you talk to the mom and do your best to comfort her, you realize that she's hitting on you. What do you do?"


This still isn't a conflict. It's a dilemma, to be sure. It's a bang, even. But it's not a conflict. There are no dice to be rolled here, there's just the player announcing his next action.


What? J., "dilemma" is conflict. A bang is conflict. The conflict isn't whether or not he comforts the mom, the conflict is how he handles the situation, and dice can definitely be rolled. If he comforts the mom, does she interpret that as reciprocation of her flirting? Roll the dice! If he blows the mom off, does she interpret that as rejection? Roll the dice! Those actions will have consequences--maybe the mom thinks Gil is falling for her and starts hanging around more, calling him at work, getting really clingy. Or he blows her off, she's offended, she rejects the cops and how they're handling the case.

Quote from: JMendes
Within an investigative premise, how does one create a price or a complication that connects a conflict to an issue, in order to come up with interesting stakes, but without putting the whole of the issue on the table, thus killing the upcoming episodes?

We had lots of good scenes, by the way. We even had some dilemmas. What we didn't have is good (i.e. rollable) conflicts.


But if you had dilemmas, how were those not rollable conflicts? What's the difference? If one person wants something, and another wants something else, and both can't have what they want without the other losing something--you've got conflict. It could be two PCs, it could be a PC and an NPC, but that's all you really need.

Here's what an episode of PTA is: the PCs want [treasure], but the [treasure] is guarded by [monsters]. How do the PCs get the [treasure]? By [attacking] the [monsters]!

Now, substitute [treasure] with whatever it is the PCs want--information, closure on past relationships, piece of mind, recognition by one's superiors. Substitute [monsters] for whoever it is that is keeping the PCs from getting what they want--melodramatic villains, rivals in the workplace, ex-lovers. Substitute [attacking] with whatever action the PCs have to take to deal with their antagonists--fight scenes, scenes of dialogue (heated arguments or calm debates), seduction scenes.

See? PTA is just like a traditional RPG.


Title: [PtA] Heritage - Fun, but oddly unsatisfying play
Post by: Bankuei on March 24, 2005, 04:51:34 AM
Hi J,

For all intents and purposes, the investigation- that's fluff.  It's color, it's icing, its an excuse to get the characters to interact on a regular basis and face their issues.

Media examples:

-John Woo movies- All the shooting?  All that is simply to frame the question, "How far will you go for loyalty?  What is honor?
-Gladiator- all the fighting?  To keep you interested while Maximus works out "Duty vs. Love"
-The Incredibles- Superhero action?  Eye candy while the family learns how to be true to themselves and each other...

In other words- no matter where or how you set your PTA game, everything outside the Issues is just color.  All of it might as well be filed under the same category as Star Trek technobabble- it looks pretty and sounds neat while the "real stuff" is happening.

So, how do you make scenes that hit Issues?  How is that you and the players are all -not- making scenes to hit Issues?  It's very much like what Josh is saying in the sense that if you were playing D&D and saying, "But I just can't seem to get the monsters to meet up with the heroes!"  To miss Issues means that you and the group are missing THE entire point of play.

Everything should be aimed around the Issues.  NPCs?  All of them appear to trigger issues.  The investigation itself?  Only there to be loaded with stuff to trigger issues.

Try watching some of the old episodes of Millenium.  Every episode is about Frank Black either facing some part of himself, how he feels about the Millenium Group, or his family.  All the horrific murder stuff is just there to keep you watching...

Chris


Title: [PtA] Heritage - Fun, but oddly unsatisfying play
Post by: Frank T on March 24, 2005, 06:21:52 AM
Maybe I should let J respond to this himself, but I think this is getting off the point. J was about dice rolls and stakes, not about how to adress issues in general and make his game all-out perfect coherent narrativist paradise. He was having a problem with inserting the PtA resolution mechanic into his scenes in a way that mattered. As I already pointed out, you can very well use that mechanic without adressing issues and being specifically narrativist. This might come as a surprise to some, but it won’t ruin the game. What’s more: it can be fun.

Quote from: Josh
But if you had dilemmas, how were those not rollable conflicts? What's the difference?


A dilemma is a situation that first requires a decision. That decision could be put up for a roll, but if it’s a real dilemma, you won’t even be able to tell what „winning“ and „losing“ would mean. What’s more: you probably won‘t want to put it up for a roll, because it allows you to make a statement, adress premise etc. Conflicts could arise from the decision made (and probably will), but I guess that’s not what J was aiming at.


Title: [PtA] Heritage - Fun, but oddly unsatisfying play
Post by: Mike Holmes on March 24, 2005, 07:59:51 AM
I think I see a couple of the problems here.

First, Frank is right. I think that somehow J has gotten the idea that conflicts over issues and the die rolling are somehow intrinsically related. They aren't, J (that said, I'm working off potentially old rules here). Basically, you do "just roleplay" the results of character issue conflicts. This is true in every game that supports narrativism. If the dice decided what to do in a dilemma, then the game would not support narrativism. It has to be the players making the choices.

The die rolling decides "does the character get his way." I think that's an actual quote from somewhere. As such, die rolls are often made, as Josh indicates, as the result of a narrativism decision. This often determines what price the character pays for his decision. But, basically, it's randomization which, as Ron puts it, is a "springboard" in this case for creativity, not anything that drives the narrativism directly.

As such, the die rolls are not meant to be the high points in play, neccessarily. Not at all. It's those non-rolled decisions that are the "fun" part for the players.

For instance, the character can leap Chasm A to save valued NPC A or Chasm B to save NPC B. The player makes their thematic statement by leaping chasm A, say, but fails the roll (the producer decided to make it a biggie). So the balks at the edge, and fails to leap, and both NPCs are lost. In this case, the result modifies the theme, but the chosen theme was the result of the player decision.

Other rolls have nothing to do with theme at all, but just randomize the plot a bit. Does the character find the clue with this roll? No? Then he'll have to find another elsewhere, thus making this one of those episodes with more investigation, and less resolution (more Law, less Order).

Now, the question at this point is whether or not you were creating any real conflict for the characters, in terms of issues. Maybe you were, and maybe you weren't, it's hard to tell from your posts. Which is possibly a result of not understanding the above. But let's consider each case.

If you weren't creating conflicts for your characters: conflicts here meaning "dilemmas" and other situations that require the player to "reveal" what the character's true nature is like (even repeatedly - bot Conan and Fox Mulder do the same things over, and over, and over, and it doesn't get old). If you weren't, then you may need some help from us like you've said in figuring out how to create them. We'll work more on that if this is really the case.

But there's another potential case, and that's that you were creating situations that caused character issues to come up, and for players to reveal their characters, but nobody found this interesting. This would be seen as "very collaborative, very tranquil, quaint, even...and empty. Pointless."

What I mean is that it sounds to me like you may simply have a simulationism or gamism preference. Not getting to make those sorts of decisions, while wanting to, would make PTA seem pretty pointless, since it's focused like a laserbeam (as Chris points out) on narrativism. So it could be that you're having to "fight" your traditional play drives so hard, simply because you haven't found the narrativism that the game provides to be very fun at all. So you're trying to inject the sorts of fun that you're used to getting from an RPG.

Or. Or it could be that it's a little of both. That is, you're creating conflicts regarding character issues, but they're diluted enough that you're just not "discovering" the fun of narrativism as PTA provides it. Perhaps the players didn't create characters that really engage them with their issues? Simulationism players would tend to create characters they thought "should" be in the show, whether or not they had issues that really spoke to them as players. As a GM you may be looking at what sorts of dilemmas and such to throw at them based on "what happens in TV shows." When it should be "what's interesting to the players."

So, lots of possibilities. Are you creating conflicts over issues? Are players enjoying answering the questions that they pose about the characters? This is what needs to be identified. This is, in part, why I wanted to look at the language. Which do players say:

  • "Hmm. This scene should be about finding clues."
  • "Hmm. This scene should be about dealing with a suspect hitting on the character, because that's what always happens in these situations on this sort of show."
  • "Hmm. It would be really cool if my character ended up being hit on by the suspect!"[/list:u]
    The last two seem similar, but I'm trying to indicate how players are deciding these issues. Are they "just writing a script" instead of 'discovering the values of the characters'? Because the former will not be very fun, but the latter is (assuming that narrativism is at all fun for you).

    Mike


Title: [PtA] Heritage - Fun, but oddly unsatisfying play
Post by: jburneko on March 24, 2005, 12:19:37 PM
Hello Again,

I'm going to back up a bit and try to take this a little slower than I think some of the other responders have been.  I agree 100% with Josh that there is more die-roll worthy conflict going on than I think you are seeing.

First, let me state that I'm not THAT familiar with the specific PTA rules.  I've read a lot about them but do not own them, yet, so my advice is limited to conflict resolution in issue driven play in general rather than the exact specifics of PTA.  So, if at any point I end up directly contradicting the text of PTA take what I'm saying as general advice that may or may not be applicable to the specifics of PTA's design goals.

Okay, now let's look at my example of the two CSI detectives.  The situations I was posing as questions were not meant to be answered by you, directly.  You're right in that the answer to those questions are up to the players BUT scenes should be framed around situations that pose questions like that with the expectation that the players will answer them through play.

And I agree with Josh that these are, in fact, die roll worthy conflicts.  One of the HARDEST in-grained gamer concepts to ditch when playing these games is that social conflict is "just roleplayed."  There is this notion that If the Player is honestly playing the character and the GM is honestly playing the NPC then any conflicts will "naturally" resolve themselves.  This is a myth.  Ultimately someone (either the player or the gm) has already decided on how the conflict will be resolved and just keeps butting heads until one of the two players caves and backs down.

Not so when you have dice driven conflict resolution.

Let's look at a concrete example.  I'm going for unsubtle.  Let's say in your supernatural mystery thriller one of the PCs is a Priest, maybe he specializes in exorcisms or something.  This PC is involved in the Art Gecko scenario I outlined above.  This PC and maybe a couple of others decide to check-out this homosexual religious painter guy.

How is the priest going to treat him?  That's the interesting bit.  Let's take it a step further.  Let's say while the PCs are asking questions the painter starts making eyes at the priest and even goes so far as to ask him out on a thinly veiled date.

DON'T let the PC just start roleplaying out dialogue.  Instead ask the PC for a clearly stated goal.   Is he trying to turn him down without hurting his feelings?  Or maybe he IS trying to hurt his feelings and induce some of that fire and brimstone guilt.  That's what the die roll is about.

Wording of this goal is also important.  That's where your 'stakes' come from.  'I want to get out of this gracefully' is different from, 'I want out without hurting his feelings' is different from, 'I turn him down and make it clear that his thoughts are sinful.'

So let's take each of those one at a time.

'I want to get out of this gracefully.'

What's at stake: The 'date' itself.  If the roll succeeds, the Priest disentangles himself from the painter's advances.  What the painter thinks of this is wholely the GM's perview now or perhaps whoever won the narration.  If the roll fails, your next scene will most likely be the priest having lunch or dinner with this guy.  That doesn't mean the Priest is suddenly gay or is even amenable to this situation.  That's the purview of the player.  But it does mean that he failed to escape the painter's social pressure and found himself agreeing to meet him for lunch or dinner for whatever reason is decided upon by the group or maybe the guy who won the narration or whatever the system or group decides on.

'I turn him down but I don't want to hurt his feelings.'

What's at stake: The painter's feelings.  If the roll succeeds, the painter, makes some comment about about the good ones being wasted, or whatever and moves on.  If the roll fails, he gets all emotional about it.  Claims that he's been robbed of his true love.  Maybe he goes in the next room and kills himself.  What the are the PCs going to do NOW?

'I turn him down and make it clear that his thoughts are sinful.'

What's at stake: The painter's peception of his sexual orientation.  If the roll succeeds, the painter is filled with doubt.  Maybe he starts following the Priest around asking for spiritual advice.  If the roll, fails the painter slaps him says he's a judgemental prick and moves on.

See, one situation.  One course of action by the Priest.  Three potential conflicts.  Three potiential stakes.   All adjudicated by die rolls.

So once you've made it past that conceptual hurdle the next one is this:  All of the above aplies to PC vs. PC conflict as well.

As soon as you see two or more PC's arguing about something, 'in character.'  DON'T let them 'just roleplay'.  You've missed an opportunity for conflict and die resolution.  Instead, stop them and ask each player what they want out of the situation.  Then let the dice decide which player(s) get their way.

Again, this doesn't mean the losing PCs suddenly agree or like what's happening.  In fact, this is a great opportunity to frame the next scene around one of the losing PCs trying to sabotage or otherwise undermine what the succeeding PC was trying to accomplish.

Does this make sense?

Jesse


Title: [PtA] Heritage - Fun, but oddly unsatisfying play
Post by: Andrew Norris on March 24, 2005, 12:25:28 PM
Mike said what I was trying to say about several issues, but more clearly. Thanks, Mike.

J, finding the little handle thingie under the hood in PTA is figuring out what issues interest your players, and making the show about that.

Maybe the group could try a little "playing without playing", just discussing what might engage them about the show if it was on TV. If they don't bring up the same kinds of things that they do when they're actually playing, then there's the disconnect.

I guess we're saying that PTA uses television as a metaphor for "Come up with a concept and characters you're all invested in, propose scenes, and resolve conflicts about those characters.". Whatever it is about a given character that grabs their player, that's the good stuff that should be involved in conflicts. I'm in full agreement with Mike here.


Title: [PtA] Heritage - Fun, but oddly unsatisfying play
Post by: JMendes on March 26, 2005, 02:04:18 PM
Hey, everyone, :)

Well... we got it!

I don't have a lot of typing time on my hands, right now, but I just wanted everyone to know that, thanks to yall's help, I was able to pull off a very successful episode of PtA, last night.

I'll be starting a new thread with the write-up, either tomorrow or Monday, highlighting how the ideas in this particular thread helped me. :)

Thank you, all of you!!

Cheers,

J.


Title: [PtA] Heritage - Fun, but oddly unsatisfying play
Post by: JMendes on March 27, 2005, 08:47:41 PM
Hey, :)

Just a short note to add a reference to the new thread (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=14818).

Cheers,

J.