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Title: two sessions in: how it's going for my group
Post by: Sindyr on April 17, 2009, 07:53:38 AM
OK, this will be a little stream of consciousness, but rather than compose a superbly written and time consuming essay, I wanted to give some quick followup on what's going on with my PTA game.

We wanted to play a supers game, but the GM said he was a little burned out on supers, so we went with magic in the modern world instead:

Title: Midian
Concept: In ancient times, when magic was real and dark gods walked among men, when earth was but one world among many, the civilization of Atlantis was a shining beacon, a thoroughly advanced society based on magic, not science.  For a time, a golden age existed, but then the God of Sensuality Baphomet learned of the existence of Midian (the name for the Earth and it's dimension) and it's twin benefits: Midian not only is the center of the dimensional crossroads (which is how the dimension got it's name) - making controlling it a strategic advantage, Midian is the only dimension (then or since) with so many souls - no other dimension has a fractions of the people in Midian.  While the Atlanteans were exceeding powerful, Baphomet's quest to conquer Midian was exceedingly insidous and relentless.  Ultimately, to prevent her total victory, the Atlanteans (against the wishes of even their allies) decides to lock Midian itself behind an impenetrable wall, so the best and most powerful Atlantean Mages focus the energy of the great ritual into a special crystal, and cast it.  The Deed was done, the Barrier was in place cutting Midian off from the rest of the worlds, thereby causing great change within and without.  Outside Midian, the dimensional crossroads suddenly had a great hold carved out of the center, making it almost impossible to travel between the dimensions as they once had.  Within Midian, the earth lost everything magical and mythical, which immediately caused the Atlantean continent, as pervaded and dependant on magic as it had been, to be rent asunder and sink beneath the sea.  And the world was plunged into a new darkness that it would begin to recover from until the founding of Egypt, Greece, and Rome.

It is now the moden age - today.  We have forgotten all about magic, Atlantis, and Baphomet.  Except Baphomet has not forgotten all about us - nor has she been idle this long time.  She has finally found a way to whisper across the Barrier to the souls of susceptible Midians - and with their permission, can seep some Power into them, making them Conduits.  And the more seepage, the more the Barrier cracks, little by little.

There are also Naturals, people with very limited and minor gifts, like a bump of prescience or paperclip/paperweight levels of telekinesis, but they are rare - and they do not damage the barrier.

However, the Crystal has been found, and it falls into the hands of our three Protagonists - the destined ones - and when they stumble upon it, it imbues them each with great magical might - power that has been trapped for millennia, power that as the Chosen they can use freely without free of damaging the Barrier. - for even though they do not yet know it, it is their duty to defend the Barrier and defeat Baphomet's machinations from across the divide to bring down the Great Barrier, returning Midian to the worlds - and once again permitting invasion.

The protagonists are:

>Alex Sanders
Issue: Self-Worth, proving himself
Magic: Hermetic Elementalism

Description:  Alex is a 23 year old youth, average height and build, dark hair, eyes, and features, with a hint fo the European look about him.  He is eager to prove himself to the world.  The cause of his need to demonstrate his skill is not known – probably some unhappiness in his past.  In the present, Alex is an eager, energetic young man.

Edge: Enochian Magic – his magic *is* one of his edges, its so central to the character
Edge: Master of Games – he loves games of all kinds, from sports to crosswords to trivial pursuit.
Connection: His new cat familiar, a magical construct Daemon named Mox.  Mox is very supportive, and very free-willed.

Personal Set:  His apartment and inner Sanctum.  Alex lives in his Grandma’s rent-controlled apartment, having moved in when Nana died.  He fixed up the second bedroom as his Sanctuum – a place which (now that Alex has real power) he is completely reinventing.

>Don Krene
Issue: Self-Destructiveness, risk taking and poor choices
Magic: Boundary Magics, enforcing and breaking

Description:  Don is a 36 year rangy fellow with average looks.  Having spent much of his life connected to the less than legal side of life, he is at home amongst thieves and outlaws.  However, he also an appreciation for items of beauty and cultural import, and as such is quite familiar with the world of Art – which only makes fencing stolen good, finding buyers, or partaking of a heist that much more possible.

Edge: Underworld – he has skills and experiences from years outside of the law.
Edge: Art lover – he truly loves and appreciates the Arts, the Artists, and their work.
Connection: Lara Bellman, the proprietor of the used book shop “Alexandria’s Annex

Personal Set:  His lair, located in a non-descript rented section of a warehouse, there is an outer and an inner area.  The outer area houses his desk, tools, and some particularly nice pieces of art – but the *real* treasures are in the well locked and protected inner area.

>Justin Kirby
Issue: Fear of Commitment
Magic: Druidic, speaks to nature spirits

Description:  Justin Kirby is an underachieving free-spirited 20-year old.  He lives on his parent’s property, but in the Guest House with his Dad’s brother Max.  His older brother Jeremy, 28, lives in the city, a Type-A personality (and corporate success) taking more after their Dad, Paul.  Uncle Max is closer to Justin’s style.  His mom is Monique, and his little sister (14) is Catherine – who is doing her best to remain independent of all the family drama and do her own normal teenager girl thing.

Edge: Atlantean Visions – Justin is a Natural, and has always had Visions of another place and time – Atlantis – he sees through the eyes of people from that age and time.  He cannot control this gift.
Edge: Youthful – Justin is young at heart, young in body, and young in spirit.
Connection: Jeremy Kirby.  Justin feels overshadowed by his much more successful brother, although Jeremy is actually secretly keeping a close and protective eye on his less motivated brother.

Personal Set:  The guest house, where he and his Uncle Max live.

Public set: they hang out at the used Bookshop owned and operated by Don's Connection.

Other series info: The three protagonists' magics are vastly powerful from the start.  However, mistakes do happen, as does overconfidence.  Plus, the bad guy is a god, so...

The road so far:

We did one episode, but it took so long to figure out our series stuff and comes up with our protagonists and other stuff that we only had time for a single scene.  This turned out to be for the best as one of our players said he decided he wasn't feeling his first character choice and could he make another?  While disappointed, I figured this would be the equilavent of the networks not liking the original pilot and asking for a reshoot - so we ditched the first pilot and started over again with this player's new character Justin Kirby.  We had to play the pilot broken over two sessions (for technical reasons) so we called it two seperate episodes - a two part movie introing the series proper.

It work well more of less - here are a few observations from the two play sessions:

1) You don't need degrees of success or failure, from what we could see - leaving that up to the narrator with a pass/fail on the stakes seems fine.

2) Having a player that speaks slowly and uber thoughtfully can be maddening.  Nothing can be done about that - but be aware that players that aren't creatively quick on their feet can really slow things down.  We wound up informally instituting a "speak soon or pass" rule.

3) The GM seemed bored from time to time. Without a character to focus on, with the three players more or less smoothly sailing along with our ideas, he seemed distracted and from time to time non present - although that did not seem to impair anything about the game.  It almost seemed that the only thing he had to do was decide how many budget to spend in each conflict - apart from that, a GM wasn't really necessary for our game - is that normal?  Given that, should we give him a character and simply not have a GM - and find some other way to determine how much budget is spent?

4) We had one scene with no conflict - but it was smooth, fast, and did what it had to do.  Not a problem?

5) Several times, I played stakes that at first seemed strange.  For example, I played one like "In protecting the crystal, many bystanders are killed, despite the efforts of the protagonists".  My character wanted the opposite of that, by I the player felt that a harsh reality check like that would be good for the story, so I played that staked and really piled on the resources to get it.  Not a problem?

6)  There seemed to be two methods of the players trying to win stakes.  The first was by teamwork.  For example, one of us would be asked what our stakes were, and the three players would have a quick discussion.  Once the player said "My character stops the bad guys from getting the crystal" - another player suggested that he make it "The protagonists stop the bad guys from getting the crystal" - the player agreed, and modified his stakes, and then all three of us played our cards on his stakes instead of making our own stakes, because the stake he agreed to was generic enough to give us all what we wanted.  This resulted in these cases of us being able to draw MANY more cards than the GM even at max budget, so when we did that, we won.  Problem/Not a problem?

7) However, from time to time we would each have our own stakes independantly.  When we did that, the best we seemed to get was 50/50.  The GM just seems to have too much budget to really defeat singly, but given the cap on budget of 5 per conflict, to little to be an effective threat when the players gang up. Since we each had 2 SP for the episode, the GM had (2SP x 3 players x 2 ) +3, or 15 budget.  We had 5 or so scenes.  One of them was a down scene that no one much spent on at all, so in actuality, 4 real scenes.  15 budget over 4 scenes is almost an *average* of 4 budget spent per scene, which means the GM is getting an average of 5 cards per scene.  Without using Fan Mail, with a SP of 2 and using 2/3 of his traits, a single player can only field around 4 cards - so even *with* Fan Mail, he is likely to not do much better than 50/50 to win or lose his stakes.  Seems kind of too random.

Is the Budget Formula correct?  Or should we have had more scenes per episode, lessening the GM's power and strengthening ours?  Or is it supposed to have three possible results:
a) We don't spend much, and the GM gets twice as many cards as we do, giving him a much better chance to defeat our stakes, or
b) We spend a bunch, and we get the honor and privilege of our stakes becoming a coin flip, or
c) We players get tight, come up with a single stakes we can all support, and pile on that one?

Seems a problem.

8) Another issue, a common one - it is hard for people to remember to give out Fan Mail.  And the Fan Mail people did give out was VERY lopsided, although it also seemed very accurate - it seemed that one player of the three came up with the lion's share of the good ideas or funny quips, and wound up with the lion's share of the FM.  I worry that while that is I think what is intended, it can potentially wind up causing resentment on behalf of players that are coming up with less.  Also, the GM started to get a little snarky, with grunts of displeasure when this individual got more and more FM.  On the other hand, one would assume that if this player hadn't gotten rewarded for his insight and contributions, he would rightly expect others to take the "weight" off him more and come up with their *own* good ideas.

Anyways, some quick thoughts.  It boils down to this I think: We love the idea of making our own TV show and writing its ongoing story, but there seem to be a few speed bumps and potholes in the path when it comes to executing.  Also, the feeling of playing PTA is more a feeling of collaborative GMing than a traditional feeling of playing a character.  Not sure if this is good or bad or neither.

We go forward from here, weekly.  The next episode is episode 1 of the season proper. 

And feel free to ask any questions you like.


Title: Re: two sessions in: how it's going for my group
Post by: Welkerfan on April 17, 2009, 12:16:09 PM
1) You don't need degrees of success or failure, from what we could see - leaving that up to the narrator with a pass/fail on the stakes seems fine.

2) Having a player that speaks slowly and uber thoughtfully can be maddening.  Nothing can be done about that - but be aware that players that aren't creatively quick on their feet can really slow things down.  We wound up informally instituting a "speak soon or pass" rule.

This should work, so long as you make sure that everyone gets his/her chance to speak eventually.  One thing that worked for me was to let everyone throw out ideas if someone was stuck, but to make sure that the stuck person got the final say on the details of the scene request.

4) We had one scene with no conflict - but it was smooth, fast, and did what it had to do.  Not a problem?

That should be fine, so long as the scenes without conflicts stay short and to the point.  They do relatively unimportant plot advancement, color scenes, or simple exposition--things without anything really at stake.

3) The GM seemed bored from time to time. Without a character to focus on, with the three players more or less smoothly sailing along with our ideas, he seemed distracted and from time to time non present - although that did not seem to impair anything about the game.  It almost seemed that the only thing he had to do was decide how many budget to spend in each conflict - apart from that, a GM wasn't really necessary for our game - is that normal?  Given that, should we give him a character and simply not have a GM - and find some other way to determine how much budget is spent?

Here is the start of where you are going to run into a lot of problems.  The Producer's role in this game is very different from a traditional GM.  The Producer needs to take the players' scene requests and frame scenes that are compelling and exciting, and it is his job to make sure that conflict happens.  If he is sitting bored, he needs to crank up the action and make conflicts more exciting.  He needs to introduce new elements which force characters to deal with their Issues.

Remember, the Producer frames every scene.  You go around the table requesting scenes, but it is the Producer who frames them, in order to ensure that a coherent plot happens and to make sure that character-centric conflicts occur.  The Producer needs to take an active role in this.  If he doesn't, he will be bored, and the game will probably fail.

5) Several times, I played stakes that at first seemed strange.  For example, I played one like "In protecting the crystal, many bystanders are killed, despite the efforts of the protagonists".  My character wanted the opposite of that, by I the player felt that a harsh reality check like that would be good for the story, so I played that staked and really piled on the resources to get it.  Not a problem?

Always make the stakes from the perspective of the character.  If you want the character to fail, spend fan mail on the Producer's side to hedge your bets on the character losing.  Also, this stake is way too detailed.  The stake should be (I'm assuming the character is Alex--the self-worth guy) simply "I protect the crystal." or, better in this situation, "I look impressive and worthy."  With these stakes, the actual details of the scene are left up in the air, in hands of the high card narrator.  This lets cool things happen, like the bystanders being killed and the reality check, without leaving them up to chance.  The reality check is something awesome that should happen either way, but the specific nature of it can be left open.  If we go with the last stake I said, if Alex wins, his arrogance led him to be reckless and, while he was effective, he killed people in the process.  If he loses, he can't control his power well and he isn't worthy or able, leading him to kill lots of people--what an emotional blow.  Either way, the massacre can happen--the related, but different, stake just dictates the nature of the deaths.

A really important thing to see here:  The stakes should dictate precisely one aspect of the resolution of the scene.  A stake should not be "In protecting the crystal, I kill lots of bystanders, despite my efforts not to do so."  That is three stakes in one, and it leaves nothing for the narrator to do but nod his head.  Doing just one of them--protect the crystal, kill bystanders (or one of the discussed alternatives), or try to be in control--leaves all of the other details up to the narrator, letting everyone be surprised and have more fun.  Also, try to make stakes about consequences, not what the character does--I look impressive, I make him feel empathetic, I make him stay, I remain in control.

6)  There seemed to be two methods of the players trying to win stakes.  The first was by teamwork.  For example, one of us would be asked what our stakes were, and the three players would have a quick discussion.  Once the player said "My character stops the bad guys from getting the crystal" - another player suggested that he make it "The protagonists stop the bad guys from getting the crystal" - the player agreed, and modified his stakes, and then all three of us played our cards on his stakes instead of making our own stakes, because the stake he agreed to was generic enough to give us all what we wanted.  This resulted in these cases of us being able to draw MANY more cards than the GM even at max budget, so when we did that, we won.  Problem/Not a problem?

Okay, this is a huge problem, or it will be eventually.  Players should never have the same stakes.  Even in scenes where all of the protagonists are working together on the overall goal, they each should have smaller, personal stakes.  If everyone is fighting the bad guys, the stakes are not "Do we stop the bad guys?"  That is assumed or decided by the group/narrator according to what is dramatically appropriate.  Instead, the stakes are "Do I make a positive contribution to the fight?" "Do I remain in control, not endangering myself or others?" and "Do I show her that I really care?"  In this way, each protagonist, even though they are working together,  is still putting something personal at stake.  Protagonists never work together.  There was a thread entitled "All together now!" that discussed this. Look it up.

7) However, from time to time we would each have our own stakes independantly.  When we did that, the best we seemed to get was 50/50.  The GM just seems to have too much budget to really defeat singly, but given the cap on budget of 5 per conflict, to little to be an effective threat when the players gang up. Since we each had 2 SP for the episode, the GM had (2SP x 3 players x 2 ) +3, or 15 budget.  We had 5 or so scenes.  One of them was a down scene that no one much spent on at all, so in actuality, 4 real scenes.  15 budget over 4 scenes is almost an *average* of 4 budget spent per scene, which means the GM is getting an average of 5 cards per scene.  Without using Fan Mail, with a SP of 2 and using 2/3 of his traits, a single player can only field around 4 cards - so even *with* Fan Mail, he is likely to not do much better than 50/50 to win or lose his stakes.  Seems kind of too random.

Is the Budget Formula correct?  Or should we have had more scenes per episode, lessening the GM's power and strengthening ours?  Or is it supposed to have three possible results:
a) We don't spend much, and the GM gets twice as many cards as we do, giving him a much better chance to defeat our stakes, or
b) We spend a bunch, and we get the honor and privilege of our stakes becoming a coin flip, or
c) We players get tight, come up with a single stakes we can all support, and pile on that one?

Seems a problem.

The Budget Formula works. Trust me on that.  What is wrong here is how the Producer is spending budget.  The Producer needs to select how much budget to spend based on what is dramatically appropriate.  When the protagonists should win, spend less. When they should lose, spend more. You can also gauge it based on player investment-more investment signals spending more. Budget is like fan mail for the Producer.

Think about an episode of television. The characters lose a lot in the beginning as tension is built. Then, at the end, they bounce back and succeed.   Model this with Budget. At the beginning spend everything possible.  This ramps up tension and sets up the episode.  At the end when the Budget is mostly gone, the characters will overcome adversity and succeed.   Essentially, the Producer should not be spending 4 on everything.

8) Another issue, a common one - it is hard for people to remember to give out Fan Mail.  And the Fan Mail people did give out was VERY lopsided, although it also seemed very accurate - it seemed that one player of the three came up with the lion's share of the good ideas or funny quips, and wound up with the lion's share of the FM.  I worry that while that is I think what is intended, it can potentially wind up causing resentment on behalf of players that are coming up with less.  Also, the GM started to get a little snarky, with grunts of displeasure when this individual got more and more FM.  On the other hand, one would assume that if this player hadn't gotten rewarded for his insight and contributions, he would rightly expect others to take the "weight" off him more and come up with their *own* good ideas.

Keep an eye out.  When you see someone smile, remind them to give fanmail.  Most players are not used to giving a tangible reward or to having a conscious reaction to finding something cool.  This is a new habit to form.  Don't worry if it isn't equally distributed.  That will happen.  Just remind people to give out fanmail to the quieter types.

I hope that these tips help.


Title: Re: two sessions in: how it's going for my group
Post by: Judd on April 17, 2009, 12:20:32 PM
I've had scenes with no conflicts now and again and they are fine and dandy, not a problem at all.

Remember, the Producer frames every scene.  You go around the table requesting scenes, but it is the Producer who frames them, in order to ensure that a coherent plot happens and to make sure that character-centric conflicts occur.  The Producer needs to take an active role in this.  If he doesn't, he will be bored, and the game will probably fail.

The Producer frames every scene?

Am I entirely mis-remembering how this game works?



Title: Re: two sessions in: how it's going for my group
Post by: newsalor on April 17, 2009, 01:57:56 PM
First, the produced frames the first scene. I tend to give an example an request it from myself just to remind my friends how it is done. Then the next player get's to request a scene. How this is done is spelled out in the book.

The player requesting the scene must have the following things as a part of his request: 1) Is this a plot scene or a character scene, 2) Where does the scene take place and 3) In general, what gets dealt with in this scene. So for example, I could request a character scene, in the captains lounge, where the captain tells the crew her secret.

After that, it's the producers job to frame the scene. After the scene is done, the next player gets to request a scene.


Title: Re: two sessions in: how it's going for my group
Post by: Sindyr on April 17, 2009, 02:00:16 PM
1) You don't need degrees of success or failure, from what we could see - leaving that up to the narrator with a pass/fail on the stakes seems fine.

2) Having a player that speaks slowly and uber thoughtfully can be maddening.  Nothing can be done about that - but be aware that players that aren't creatively quick on their feet can really slow things down.  We wound up informally instituting a "speak soon or pass" rule.

This should work, so long as you make sure that everyone gets his/her chance to speak eventually.  One thing that worked for me was to let everyone throw out ideas if someone was stuck, but to make sure that the stuck person got the final say on the details of the scene request.

That's pretty much what we did.

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3) The GM seemed bored from time to time. Without a character to focus on, with the three players more or less smoothly sailing along with our ideas, he seemed distracted and from time to time non present - although that did not seem to impair anything about the game.  It almost seemed that the only thing he had to do was decide how many budget to spend in each conflict - apart from that, a GM wasn't really necessary for our game - is that normal?  Given that, should we give him a character and simply not have a GM - and find some other way to determine how much budget is spent?

Here is the start of where you are going to run into a lot of problems.  The Producer's role in this game is very different from a traditional GM.  The Producer needs to take the players' scene requests and frame scenes that are compelling and exciting, and it is his job to make sure that conflict happens.  If he is sitting bored, he needs to crank up the action and make conflicts more exciting.  He needs to introduce new elements which force characters to deal with their Issues.

Remember, the Producer frames every scene.  You go around the table requesting scenes, but it is the Producer who frames them, in order to ensure that a coherent plot happens and to make sure that character-centric conflicts occur.  The Producer needs to take an active role in this.  If he doesn't, he will be bored, and the game will probably fail.

Huh?  Sorry, does not compute.  Of course the GM frames the scene, on the other hand whle the GM may be framing the scene, or a player may be specifying what Focus/Agenda/Location/and Roster he wants what PTA seems to want to encourage is continual input from all sides.  So if the GM says, "OK, there are 3 mooks in the Warehouse as we pan in..." one of us is liekly to jump in and say "can there be 7 mooks?  I'm hoping that in the later conflict we might each have a bunch to deal with" - in other words, although each of our "roles" are our own, we are following PTAs lead and collaborating as we go.  And apparently the 3 players are inventive enough and coming up with good enough ideas to make needing a GM less necessary, less required.  Now what?

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5) Several times, I played stakes that at first seemed strange.  For example, I played one like "In protecting the crystal, many bystanders are killed, despite the efforts of the protagonists".  My character wanted the opposite of that, by I the player felt that a harsh reality check like that would be good for the story, so I played that staked and really piled on the resources to get it.  Not a problem?

Always make the stakes from the perspective of the character.  If you want the character to fail, spend fan mail on the Producer's side to hedge your bets on the character losing.  Also, this stake is way too detailed.  The stake should be (I'm assuming the character is Alex--the self-worth guy) simply "I protect the crystal." or, better in this situation, "I look impressive and worthy."  With these stakes, the actual details of the scene are left up in the air, in hands of the high card narrator.  This lets cool things happen, like the bystanders being killed and the reality check, without leaving them up to chance.  The reality check is something awesome that should happen either way, but the specific nature of it can be left open.  If we go with the last stake I said, if Alex wins, his arrogance led him to be reckless and, while he was effective, he killed people in the process.  If he loses, he can't control his power well and he isn't worthy or able, leading him to kill lots of people--what an emotional blow.  Either way, the massacre can happen--the related, but different, stake just dictates the nature of the deaths.

We knew we were going to retrieve the crystal because like the good guys not stopping the nuke, we as a group had pre-decided we wanted the crystal back in the posession of the protagonists by episode's end.  What the stake was actually was closer to "only 4 or fewer of the civilian club members survive the conflict" - that was the stake I was playing for.  I wasn't specifying how they died, just that they did.

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A really important thing to see here:  The stakes should dictate precisely one aspect of the resolution of the scene.  A stake should not be "In protecting the crystal, I kill lots of bystanders, despite my efforts not to do so."  That is three stakes in one, and it leaves nothing for the narrator to do but nod his head.  Doing just one of them--protect the crystal, kill bystanders (or one of the discussed alternatives), or try to be in control--leaves all of the other details up to the narrator, letting everyone be surprised and have more fun.  Also, try to make stakes about consequences, not what the character does--I look impressive, I make him feel empathetic, I make him stay, I remain in control.

I just checked and I do see where it says the stakes are what the protagonist wants, and not what the player necessarily wants - I got that exactly backward.  I hope that doesn't screw up the game - it had been fun more or less the way we had been playing it, that the stakes were the *player's* stakes on what the player's wanted the story to do.  That's a VERY different game.  Hopefully not a less fun one.  Worried.

Nevertheless, the *character's* stakes could be that "We protect the crystal" - it does not have to be *I*.  The "we" goal permits and encourages several players to play cards into it - and what's against the rules about that?

For that matter, I am not convinced that it would be against the rules to play a stakes of "character of player B does action X" when you are Player A.  For example, Player Fred has a character Frank who wants to win the heart of the NPC girl Sally.  Player Nate has a character Ned, the father of Sally, who would like to see Frank and Sally work out, and maybe someday wed.  Why can't Nate play his stakes " Sally is impressed by Frank" or even "Frank impresses Sally"?  Must Nate play instead a more convoluted stakes of "Ned manipulates Sally and Frank into deeper feeling for each other"??

Is there a rule in the book stating that all stakes must have the player's own protagonist as the Subject?

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6)  There seemed to be two methods of the players trying to win stakes.  The first was by teamwork.  For example, one of us would be asked what our stakes were, and the three players would have a quick discussion.  Once the player said "My character stops the bad guys from getting the crystal" - another player suggested that he make it "The protagonists stop the bad guys from getting the crystal" - the player agreed, and modified his stakes, and then all three of us played our cards on his stakes instead of making our own stakes, because the stake he agreed to was generic enough to give us all what we wanted.  This resulted in these cases of us being able to draw MANY more cards than the GM even at max budget, so when we did that, we won.  Problem/Not a problem?

Okay, this is a huge problem, or it will be eventually.  Players should never have the same stakes.  Even in scenes where all of the protagonists are working together on the overall goal, they each should have smaller, personal stakes.  If everyone is fighting the bad guys, the stakes are not "Do we stop the bad guys?"  That is assumed or decided by the group/narrator according to what is dramatically appropriate.  Instead, the stakes are "Do I make a positive contribution to the fight?" "Do I remain in control, not endangering myself or others?" and "Do I show her that I really care?"  In this way, each protagonist, even though they are working together,  is still putting something personal at stake.  Protagonists never work together.  There was a thread entitled "All together now!" that discussed this. Look it up.

This doesn't sound at all correct - it sounds like we are blaming the players for working together when PTA does not forbid it - in fact, it seems to encourage it!  I have to call shenanigans here.  If players were not permitted to work together than PTA would not have explicit rules for playing cards on someone else's stakes.

By the way, do any of the PTA rules explicitly state among one's Screen Presence cards, one's Trait cards, and one's Fan Mail cards, which can and can't be given to another player's stakes?  Or am I just imagining the part of PTA that says you can play cards at all on someone else's stakes?

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7) However, from time to time we would each have our own stakes independantly.  When we did that, the best we seemed to get was 50/50.  The GM just seems to have too much budget to really defeat singly, but given the cap on budget of 5 per conflict, to little to be an effective threat when the players gang up. Since we each had 2 SP for the episode, the GM had (2SP x 3 players x 2 ) +3, or 15 budget.  We had 5 or so scenes.  One of them was a down scene that no one much spent on at all, so in actuality, 4 real scenes.  15 budget over 4 scenes is almost an *average* of 4 budget spent per scene, which means the GM is getting an average of 5 cards per scene.  Without using Fan Mail, with a SP of 2 and using 2/3 of his traits, a single player can only field around 4 cards - so even *with* Fan Mail, he is likely to not do much better than 50/50 to win or lose his stakes.  Seems kind of too random.

Is the Budget Formula correct?  Or should we have had more scenes per episode, lessening the GM's power and strengthening ours?  Or is it supposed to have three possible results:
a) We don't spend much, and the GM gets twice as many cards as we do, giving him a much better chance to defeat our stakes, or
b) We spend a bunch, and we get the honor and privilege of our stakes becoming a coin flip, or
c) We players get tight, come up with a single stakes we can all support, and pile on that one?

Seems a problem.

The Budget Formula works. Trust me on that.  What is wrong here is how the Producer is spending budget.  The Producer needs to select how much budget to spend based on what is dramatically appropriate.  When the protagonists should win, spend less. When they should lose, spend more. You can also gauge it based on player investment-more investment signals spending more. Budget is like fan mail for the Producer.

I'm not a trusting person, but *i* will read and digest your defense of the formula.  Wait - I don't think you addressed anything I wrote.  In what way can you look at my math and not see the problem?  Am I not explaining it clearly enough, did you not bother to read it, what?

Let me try to simplify:  We had FOUR significant scenes in the episode and one of which was flavor text and no one spent stuff on.  I am given to understand that that is NOT unusual.  Everyone had an SP of TWO.

FORMULA: (2+2+2)=6, x2 = 12, +3 = 15, FIFTEEN Budget.

The GM also gets ONE free card every scene of the FOUR important scenes.  So across those four scenes, the GM gets to use 15 budget cards + 4 freebie cards = NINETEEN cards for the four scenes.  That's an average of FIVE cards per scene.

Let's say that the GM chooses to use only 2 cards (1 Budget) the first scene and 3 cards (2 Budget) the second.  Now, for the third and fourth scenes he has at least TWELVE budget, but since he can only spend a MAX of FIVE, he has to throw away 2 unused budget at the end of the game - THAT means he has TOO MUCH budget (or that he should be allowed to spend more than 5 Budget per scene, or that we should be having a lot more scenes.)

FURTHERMORE, whlie the GM is pretty much FORCED to have around 5 cards per scene (if he doesn't want to wind up throwing away unused budget at the end), the players only get TWO measley cards for free, with another SIX cards from Traits over 4 Scenes, or 1.5 cards per scene average.  This means that unless the players join forces and all jump on a single player's stakes, they will have on average **3.5** cards to the GM's average of FIVE.  And if the player really goes all out, the player can get a single scene with TWO freebie cards and THREE trait cards *if they are lucky* - but the GM is probably going all out too, and has his max of SIX cards to the player's FIVE.

So the BEST the player can hope for is close to a 50/50 chance (if they try HARD), and if they don't spend all their resources - as they CAN'T every scene, they will have  a much worse chance of success, *EVEN* when the GM isn't TRYING.

(Fan Mail really doesn't much affect this analysis, 1) it is a double edged sword - when it help you, it gives the GM more budget, 2) you don't get *that* much of it (one player got 4, one got 2, and one got 1 over the entire episode), and 3) having one or two extra cards or so does not greatly shift the probabilities if you were behind to start with.

If the GM only has 2 cards and the player has 2 cards, having two MORE cards is great.  If the GM has FIVE cards, and the player has FOUR cards, going to FIVE or SIX is good, but not anywhere near as good as the first example.

Ultimately in this game, it's not about how many more (or fewer) cards you have than the GM.  I would MUCH rather be the guy with four cards versus the GM's two; than the guy with SEVEN cards versus the GM's FIVE.  That's because the true success is based on the ratio of cards in your favor to cards against you, and as the numbers of cards on both sides get bigger (or start out big) bumping up one or even two cards make less and less of a difference.  Capisce?)
Cold hard numbers.  In what way is this NOT an embarassment of riches for the GM?

Me and my fellow players were thinking the actual budget formula should be all the SP of all players added together, NOT doubled, and added to 3.  So that in a 3 player episode where all players have an SP of 2, the GM has NINE Budget, not FIFTEEN.  NOW the GM has to pace himself, Spend big on SOME scenes, but not an average of FIVE cards on EACH.  Yes?

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Think about an episode of television. The characters lose a lot in the beginning as tension is built. Then, at the end, they bounce back and succeed.   Model this with Budget. At the beginning spend everything possible.  This ramps up tension and sets up the episode.  At the end when the Budget is mostly gone, the characters will overcome adversity and succeed.   Essentially, the Producer should not be spending 4 on everything.

Sounds like what you are saying is that the GM should spend according to that pattern, and that he should have enough budget to be able to.  In other words, you seem to imply that the Budget Formula is SUPPOSED to be overkill, so that when the GM spends a LOT or when the GM spends a LITTLE is only based on the GM's sense of what he thinks would be best, NOT based on having to economize and face the reality of choosing where to invest a limited resource.  You seem to want the GM to have effectively unlimited Budget - and the GM will just decide when to spend less.  That's not a formula.

Perhaps it would be better for the author to answer, by what specific metric is the Budget Formula judged by?  What goal is it trying to fulfill?  Because with what I understand, the formula is not fulfilling any goal and better than simply handing the GM a thousand budget would. 

The only reason to give the GM less than an infinite supply of budget is to force the GM to make choices, to force him to prioritize when he spends and how much.  If you give the GM too many points, you do not do that.  The math seems to clearly indicate that that has in fact occurred, and our players concur after trying it.

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8) Another issue, a common one - it is hard for people to remember to give out Fan Mail.  And the Fan Mail people did give out was VERY lopsided, although it also seemed very accurate - it seemed that one player of the three came up with the lion's share of the good ideas or funny quips, and wound up with the lion's share of the FM.  I worry that while that is I think what is intended, it can potentially wind up causing resentment on behalf of players that are coming up with less.  Also, the GM started to get a little snarky, with grunts of displeasure when this individual got more and more FM.  On the other hand, one would assume that if this player hadn't gotten rewarded for his insight and contributions, he would rightly expect others to take the "weight" off him more and come up with their *own* good ideas.

Keep an eye out.  When you see someone smile, remind them to give fanmail.  Most players are not used to giving a tangible reward or to having a conscious reaction to finding something cool.  This is a new habit to form.  Don't worry if it isn't equally distributed.  That will happen.  Just remind people to give out fanmail to the quieter types.

I hope that these tips help.

Some.  I am trying to teach them to be shameless - to when someone says "Awesome idea!" to respond with "Great! Glad you like it! How about some Fan Mail!"

I certainly am. ;)


Title: Re: two sessions in: how it's going for my group
Post by: jburneko on April 17, 2009, 02:42:23 PM
The Producer frames every scene?

Yes.  It's in the text and people always miss it.  The Player ONLY sets a Focus, Location and Agenda for the scene and then the Producer actually frames it (i.e. gives it substance with actual specifics and details).  This is really VITAL to making the game work because it allows the Producer to "spike" potentially weaker scenes.

Jesse


Title: Re: two sessions in: how it's going for my group
Post by: Sindyr on April 17, 2009, 03:30:36 PM
The Producer frames every scene?

Yes.  It's in the text and people always miss it.  The Player ONLY sets a Focus, Location and Agenda for the scene and then the Producer actually frames it (i.e. gives it substance with actual specifics and details).  This is really VITAL to making the game work because it allows the Producer to "spike" potentially weaker scenes.    Jesse   

From what I understand (which may certainly be wrong) the player *suggests* Focus, Location, Agenda, and Roster, and the GM approves or disaproves...

But I have been wrong before. ;)


Title: Re: two sessions in: how it's going for my group
Post by: Welkerfan on April 17, 2009, 10:03:48 PM
I'm not a trusting person, but *i* will read and digest your defense of the formula.  Wait - I don't think you addressed anything I wrote.  In what way can you look at my math and not see the problem?  Am I not explaining it clearly enough, did you not bother to read it, what?

Let me try to simplify:  We had FOUR significant scenes in the episode and one of which was flavor text and no one spent stuff on.  I am given to understand that that is NOT unusual.  Everyone had an SP of TWO.

FORMULA: (2+2+2)=6, x2 = 12, +3 = 15, FIFTEEN Budget.

The GM also gets ONE free card every scene of the FOUR important scenes.  So across those four scenes, the GM gets to use 15 budget cards + 4 freebie cards = NINETEEN cards for the four scenes.  That's an average of FIVE cards per scene.

Let's say that the GM chooses to use only 2 cards (1 Budget) the first scene and 3 cards (2 Budget) the second.  Now, for the third and fourth scenes he has at least TWELVE budget, but since he can only spend a MAX of FIVE, he has to throw away 2 unused budget at the end of the game - THAT means he has TOO MUCH budget (or that he should be allowed to spend more than 5 Budget per scene, or that we should be having a lot more scenes.)

FURTHERMORE, whlie the GM is pretty much FORCED to have around 5 cards per scene (if he doesn't want to wind up throwing away unused budget at the end), the players only get TWO measley cards for free, with another SIX cards from Traits over 4 Scenes, or 1.5 cards per scene average.  This means that unless the players join forces and all jump on a single player's stakes, they will have on average **3.5** cards to the GM's average of FIVE.  And if the player really goes all out, the player can get a single scene with TWO freebie cards and THREE trait cards *if they are lucky* - but the GM is probably going all out too, and has his max of SIX cards to the player's FIVE.

So the BEST the player can hope for is close to a 50/50 chance (if they try HARD), and if they don't spend all their resources - as they CAN'T every scene, they will have  a much worse chance of success, *EVEN* when the GM isn't TRYING.

(Fan Mail really doesn't much affect this analysis, 1) it is a double edged sword - when it help you, it gives the GM more budget, 2) you don't get *that* much of it (one player got 4, one got 2, and one got 1 over the entire episode), and 3) having one or two extra cards or so does not greatly shift the probabilities if you were behind to start with.

If the GM only has 2 cards and the player has 2 cards, having two MORE cards is great.  If the GM has FIVE cards, and the player has FOUR cards, going to FIVE or SIX is good, but not anywhere near as good as the first example.

Ultimately in this game, it's not about how many more (or fewer) cards you have than the GM.  I would MUCH rather be the guy with four cards versus the GM's two; than the guy with SEVEN cards versus the GM's FIVE.  That's because the true success is based on the ratio of cards in your favor to cards against you, and as the numbers of cards on both sides get bigger (or start out big) bumping up one or even two cards make less and less of a difference.  Capisce?)
Cold hard numbers.  In what way is this NOT an embarassment of riches for the GM?

Me and my fellow players were thinking the actual budget formula should be all the SP of all players added together, NOT doubled, and added to 3.  So that in a 3 player episode where all players have an SP of 2, the GM has NINE Budget, not FIFTEEN.  NOW the GM has to pace himself, Spend big on SOME scenes, but not an average of FIVE cards on EACH.  Yes?

Quote
Think about an episode of television. The characters lose a lot in the beginning as tension is built. Then, at the end, they bounce back and succeed.   Model this with Budget. At the beginning spend everything possible.  This ramps up tension and sets up the episode.  At the end when the Budget is mostly gone, the characters will overcome adversity and succeed.   Essentially, the Producer should not be spending 4 on everything.

Sounds like what you are saying is that the GM should spend according to that pattern, and that he should have enough budget to be able to.  In other words, you seem to imply that the Budget Formula is SUPPOSED to be overkill, so that when the GM spends a LOT or when the GM spends a LITTLE is only based on the GM's sense of what he thinks would be best, NOT based on having to economize and face the reality of choosing where to invest a limited resource.  You seem to want the GM to have effectively unlimited Budget - and the GM will just decide when to spend less.  That's not a formula.

Perhaps it would be better for the author to answer, by what specific metric is the Budget Formula judged by?  What goal is it trying to fulfill?  Because with what I understand, the formula is not fulfilling any goal and better than simply handing the GM a thousand budget would. 

The only reason to give the GM less than an infinite supply of budget is to force the GM to make choices, to force him to prioritize when he spends and how much.  If you give the GM too many points, you do not do that.  The math seems to clearly indicate that that has in fact occurred, and our players concur after trying it.

I read what you wrote.  There is no need to be hostile.

Let me explain the function of Budget as I understand it.  I may be wrong on some points, but I think I pretty much get it at this point.  For an explanation from Matt, I'm pretty sure there is a thread where he explains the Budget formula when the game changed from the first to the second edition on these forums somewhere.

Budget serves two major purposes (and a bunch of secondary ones).  First of all, the obvious one is that Budget provides dramatically appropriate opposition to character stakes.  The second--and I think more important, but easily missed--purpose is that Budget is a pacing mechanic.  When there is a lot of Budget left, it's saying that you need to have scenes where the protagonists are likely to fail (and thus it needs to be dramatically appropriate for them to do so) or have more scenes.  In my experience with this game, there are about four major scenes in an episode, but there are in addition around ten or twelve minor scenes which lead up to those major ones.  These minor scenes are short, to the point, and just set up stuff for later.  They also have conflicts.  These kinds of scenes usually come heavy at the start of the episode, as we have several conflicts which everyone knows the character will lose as the producer spends lots of Budget to fill the Fan Mail pool.

In a game of PTA, the Producer just doesn't spend the average number of cards on each draw or play what is mathematically optimal.  He spends what is dramatically appropriate.  What I'm saying is that there is a lot of judgment on the part of the Producer that I don't think the system tries to control mathematically.

As I see it, the Budget formula does a lot more to make sure that the episode doesn't go too long than to make sure that it goes long enough.  If the Producer is running out of Budget, it's time to wrap up the episode, as the system doesn't function without Budget.  That is somewhat obvious.  It doesn't really make sure, as you've noticed, that the episode has enough scenes.

Basically, what I'm trying to say is that the problem you are seeing is not with the Budget formula, it is with the way you are structuring your episodes and your conflicts.  You should have more scenes in an episode--short ones that are basically just conflicts.  Matt is of the opinion that a scene should basically always be a conflict and vice versa.  You need more scenes to spend the Budget away in the beginning, so that the characters can win in the end.

If you find that an episode just doesn't have that many scenes in it, then don't worry about spending all of the Budget.  I've always had 3-4 chips left in my stack at the end of the episode.  I was saving them in case we ended up with a conflict I didn't anticipate.  The thing is, that's okay.  It's not a problem if Budget is left.  That happens.  When the episode reaches its conclusion, it's done, no matter how many chips you have left.

Budget facilitates the creation of dramatic tension, but it shouldn't constrain.  The system works at the service of the fiction, not the other way around.


Title: Re: two sessions in: how it's going for my group
Post by: Welkerfan on April 17, 2009, 10:31:12 PM
The Producer frames every scene?

Yes.  It's in the text and people always miss it.  The Player ONLY sets a Focus, Location and Agenda for the scene and then the Producer actually frames it (i.e. gives it substance with actual specifics and details).  This is really VITAL to making the game work because it allows the Producer to "spike" potentially weaker scenes.    Jesse   

From what I understand (which may certainly be wrong) the player *suggests* Focus, Location, Agenda, and Roster, and the GM approves or disaproves...

But I have been wrong before. ;)

Yeah, the text here isn't especially clear.  It uses "request", but that really means something more like "call for."  The player says (with input from everyone, as always) what the Focus, Location, and Agenda are.  The Producer then takes these three things and frames the scene, zeroing in on what the conflict should be in his framing.  The Producer probably shouldn't outright disapprove of an idea unless everyone has a pretty obvious negative reaction to it (ala a silly scene in the middle of a very serious episode).


Title: Re: two sessions in: how it's going for my group
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on April 18, 2009, 12:28:56 AM
Of playing cards for somebody else: unless I misremember, you can only play fan mail on behalf of other players' characters, and then only if you yourself are not mixed up in the conflict. What is clear is that the system definitely is not intended to have players compromise on character vision to find acceptable consensus stakes that are then pushed through by throwing fan mail at it. I don't think this is even particularly said in the game text, it's just that obvious that stakes are personal. The game still remains trivial to break by focusing on "winning" - we discussed this before, it's not that challenging and I wouldn't characterize it as good play when the players read the rules with a legalistic perspective, trying to find a way beat the GM. The game is much more fun when all protagonists actually have their own concerns and chance and priorization of values on the part of the player are allowed to play a part in how the story folds out.

About budget: it's distinctly possible that you should have less budget per session. As you say, this depends largely on the session length - four scenes is a distinctly short episode for three characters, so of course the Producer is going to have an excess of budget. This is not a problem as regards the main functions of the game, it just means that the players will have a slight bit less support from the budgetary system in sketching the episode. If I were in your stead I'd keep an eye on session length and if it remained at four scenes per session, then I'd cut the budget into something like 30% of the current value. If, on the other hand, you play long enough sessions to support the 4-act structure (basically a dozen scenes or so), then the current budget formula is appropriate.

As for the fan mail issues - you'll probably have to see how that develops. It's not quite impossible for the group to find the frank reward cycle of fan mail to be annoying and counter-productive if they feel that it rewards the wrong things, or that it's not fun to play the game from a submissive position enforced by their own passivity, but then it may be that PTA is not the right game for them. Another way it could go down is that the group find that they are not bothered by some people getting more or less fan mail - it doesn't break the game by itself, and there is no particular shame in being on the receiving end of less fan mail. Mostly the problems I've seen have been that the group either doesn't want to be honest about whose input is found cool and whose is not, or the group is annoyed that the fan mail system only rewards descriptive input and dramatic choices, not problem-solving skills or such. Both are cases of wrong game for the group; PTA does the one thing it does, it's not easy to fit different priorities into it.

The Producer should find joy in the cooperative creativity of the group and in throwing out difficult choices for the other players. I've never had the problem of not having enough responsibility as the Producer - he has to be keen and understand the characters so he can throw out scenes that allow the other players to make thematic choices, and that's not going to happen if he runs on autopilot. Some creative friction and pressure from the Producer's direction is good for characters, makes them flourish.


Title: Re: two sessions in: how it's going for my group
Post by: Sindyr on April 18, 2009, 06:24:44 AM
OK, after getting feedback on our gaming session, let’s boil this sucker down to the fundamentals of where we go from here with the recommendations I have gotten:

Recommendation #1:  The players need to state the stakes that their character has in the conflict, *not* the stakes of the player.

Prognosis: I found this in the book itself.  I am *very* concerned that the game we played and had much fun with in which we used *player* based stakes might not be as much fun with *character* based stakes, but I will bring to my group the fact we erred on that and the recommendation that we do indeed try the actual PTA way, with the reservation that we can always go back to the non-PTA way of doing it if that seems to be more fun.

Recommendation #2:  The stakes need to be simple.

Prognosis: We actually already do this, I think, but will mention it.

Recommendation #3:  The Producer needs to take a more active role, and crank up the action when he is bored.

Prognosis:  This particular producer seems to be unable or unwilling to take a very active role.  We cannot force him.  It appears to be related to the fact that all the other games he has GMed, the GM does not have to take input or share the creative rights over the story, plot, content, etc – and unlike us, he has no specific protagonist to root especially for.  Also, the idea of every time the GM gets bored our TV show suddenly turns into an action wam pow kinda deal seems shallow and inappropriate.  A possibly better fix is to drift PTA in some way to make all players have protagonists and no player get singled out as GM.  The only thing the GM does that the player’s can’t, apart from approve ideas, is decide on the spending of budget.  I will be asking my players about this, and about perhaps a different way of creating a challenge for the players in a conflict.  Perhaps each player chooses a number from 0-2, that number gets added up and becomes the budget spent.  Perhaps players just spend their cards for the challenge side.  I don’t know.  Maybe the amount of budget spent is set by rolling a six sided die.  Much work and analysis remains to be done before a GM-free game of PTA would be attempted.

In any case, I think that this is a GM who may be more comfortable running modules in D&D than acting as a de facto creative force, especially when his ideas and inspirations have to compete with the ideas and inspirations of others, even though he get to choose which to use, he is obviously not going to choose his pet idea over an idea that a player came up with that we all went “ooh, ahh” over.

It may be more a case of the man as opposed to the game.  Still, it might be cool to drift PTA into a game where *everyone* is a player/gm, if it could be done with minimal change to the game.

Recommendation #4:  Players should never have the same stakes.  Protagonists never work together.

Prognosis: Not good.  Everything on every level apart from the possible vulnerability of the ruleset denies this.  First, PTA is presented as a collaborative game – an impression that is shared by my entire group.  Second, our groups *wants* the story to be about the Protagonists working together.  Third, the PTA rules *themselves* detail just *how* one player’s cards can get played on another player’s stakes.  Fourth, if there is one stake that either all characters or all players or both agree on, why *shouldn’t* that be an overwhelming victory? 

There are TWO ways to handle this:   

A) The possible idea (which seems strangling) of forcing player’s stakes to always have their specific character as the subject of the stakes sentence, and to forbid that subject to be plural.  That way if all the players want to stop the bank from being robbed, they are forbidden from having one player create the stakes of “We stop the bank robbery” and instead must go with “I stop the bank robbery”. Of course, each player is then able to create similar goals of “Fred stops the bank robbery”, “Sally stops the bank robbery”, “Josiah stops the Bank robbery”.  Given those three stakes are on the table, players can then play cards on their own stakes or their fellow player’s stakes as they wish, and whoever wins their stakes is part of stopping the bank robbery – for example, if the first two stakes get enough red cards but the third doesn’t, that means that Fred and Sally successfully stop the Bank Robbery, but somehow Josiah did not succeed in helping.  This approach would have one VERY interesting side effect, possibly intended by PTA, possibly a happy accident:  players with a higher screen presence will be more successful that player with a lower screen presence.  So if Fred has an SP of 3, but Sally and Josiah have an SP of 1, it is much more likely that Fred will be the only one with a real shot as victory, and THIS will perhaps incentivize Sally and Josiah to spend their cards on Fred’s stakes, letting Fred truly shine in his SP3 episode.  I shall mention – the idea that perhaps PTA ought to be played by setting stakes that require the individual protagonist to be the subject of the stakes sentence.

B)  The second possible idea of noting that when all the players want the same thing to happen, perhaps the group should just make it happen.  IE, if all players in union are trying to sincerely avoid an outcome which is unpalatable or unacceptable (or contrarily, trying to attain an outcome that all the player seem to absolutely need) to them all, perhaps the GM should declare simply that whatever the player are “piling on” they simply get, the stakes are then eliminated, and the players set new ones.  For example, if each of them “piles on” to Fred’s “We stop the bank robbery” stakes, or they each create stakes like: “Fred stops the bank robbery”, “Sally stops the bank robbery”, “Josiah stops the Bank robbery” – perhaps the GM says, “OK its clear you guys want the bank robbery stopped.  Let’s assume that the bank robbery WILL be stopped by someone, not necessarily the protagonists, let’s clear all the stakes out and give me new ones – do you care *how* the robbery get’s stopped or by *whom*?  Give me new stakes”  THIS way, the GM can simply take the unification of the players as a sign about what should NOT be at stake in the conflict, make an adjustment to make it not be at stake, and ask for *new* stakes.  Make sense?

I will mention both A and B to my players, along with their ramifications.

Recommendation #5: Have more scenes per episode

Prognosis: Confusion.  We played PTA for about 3 or so hours, we had 5 scenes, one of which was not a significant one.  How many scenes are we *supposed* to have??  I thought from prior discussion  that 4-6 scenes per episode was accurate?  Are we spending too much time enjoying the dialogue?  Are we supposed to not narrate out the actual interactions, but whip scenes out faster?  Confused, confused, confused.  Of course, if we had had TEN scenes instead of four or five, the Budget would probably have made much more sense – see the next recommendation.

Recommendation #6: Do not adjust the Budget formula, trust that it works. 

Prognosis:  Our direct play experience seems to contradict that (with the caveat that I *always* say – should we be having many more scenes per episode than we are?).  When players act independently, as is apparently recommended, with their stakes, they still fail 50% of the time roughly because the Producer has so damn much budget that he cannot spend just 1 or 2 budget, without the certain knowledge that there will be budget left unspent at the end.  On the other hand, if the Producer is not supposed to care that he has unspent budget at the end, then why not simply give the Producer 1000 budget, with the knowledge that the Producer will simply refrain from always using it.

The only reason to have a limited number of a resource is to force the owner of that resource to make decisions about when to spend and when not to spend.  The amount of Budget the Producer has seems to encourage him to spend either 3, 4, or 5 Budget every significant scene, the average being four.  So the players are faced with 4, 5 or 6 cards against them each significant scene, an average of 5.  That is fundamentally broken.  If the budget is so much that the GM never has the incentive to spend only 0, 1 or 2 points then the players will never be faced with a more achievable GM card group of 1,2 or 3 cards.

After taking stock of my players’ thoughts, one idea came out: the better formula might be Budget = total screen presence + 3, NOT total screen presence *doubled*, plus 3.  I will bring all of this to the group, and see in actual play (how I hate that phrase now that it has been used to gag theorists on the Forge general forums) if the advice of simply “trusting” the PTA as written budget formula is the magic fix for the problems with too much budget that we experienced last time we played.  Not sure how that changes anything.  The group will decide.

In any case, anyone who says that it’s OK if the Producer has Budget left at the end of each episode needs to understand the second paragraph above.  If that is true, then it’s equally true that it’sOK for the Producer to be given 1000 Budget points – because in that case, the Budget is not *meant* to limit the Producer and force his hand.  As written, with 4-5 scenes per episode, the Producer has too much Budget for it to act as any kind of constriction.  There are ONLY four options:  we are having far too few scenes/episode, the Producer has far too much Budget, the Producer should be allowed to spend more than 5 per scene, so that he has less later, or the Producer may as well have unlimited budget and simply be “trusted” to spend the right amount in each scene for its needs.

Recommendation #7:  Encourage Fan Mail to be given out.

Prognosis: On the one hand, of course.  I want to teach them to go a step farther and perhaps say, when they think it merited, “how about a Fan Mail?”  On the *other* hand, the goal is NOT to get that Fan Mail out in everyone’s hands IF they are not coming up with really funny quips or really amazing ideas, right?  It’s not like little league where everyone gets a trophy just for participation, the idea is that Fan Mail is a *merit* reward, which is *earned* - and if some people are earning less than others on the *merits* - that is working as intended, right?  The only other option is to discard the merit approach and to just hand out X Fan Mail to the players every so often, just for *being there*.  Not so much on that idea, right?

In any case, I am also trying to encourage the following idea to be embraced:  If someone is getting a lopsided amount of Fan Mail, that may not be a bad thing when you consider that someone who has enough good ideas to earn that Fan Mail perhaps will only create more goodness for the story in using that Fan Mail to win conflicts in interesting or amusing ways.  If player A gets 4 Fan Mail, than it is likely that whatever made us give him so much fan mail in the first place will continue to be in place when he *spends* that Fan Mail.  Win-win.

Recommendation #8: Consider a 4-act structure, with a dozen or so scenes.

Prognosis:  That is something we had been wondering about – TV shows do seem to have a 4-act structure that works well, and each Act needs several scenes.  The major thing stopping us is that in a previous discussion here in these forums I am pretty sure I was told that the average number of scenes per episode was 4-6, so I was pushing for that.  A 12-scene episode would make the Budget make more sense at (or close to) its current level, I think.

Also, it’s is possible that we have taken an Act that *could* have been broken into smaller scenes, and played it as one long scene.  Question: If someone wants to call for a conflict, but someone else isn’t done with the scene or ready just yet, is that the sign that what we are thinking of as a single scene may actually be two or more?  For example, the Protagonists get to a club.  Fred wants to wait until the club winds down at 3AM to accost the owner, but Josiah calls for a conflict right away: Josiah gets funky on the dance floor with the ladies.  Is that a sign that we really have *two* scenes – one at the start of the night at the club, and one at the end of it?  That might help us have more scenes.

Recommendation #9:  The only time you can play your cards on somebody else’s stakes is playing Fan Mail when you do not have a Protagonist in the scene.

Prognosis: Dubious.  Where is the text I am missing that says that in the rules?  In fact, where in the rules does it say which cards you can spend on stakes that aren’t yours (or on the GM’s side), and were in the rules does it limit *when* you can do that?  I need specifics here, please.  I have a bad feeling about this – that PTA implies a lot, which can be interpreted differently, as we have, without coming right out and saying this stuff in black and white – or am I missing something? 

The way we played last time was (apart from setting inclusive stakes) that any players could play *any* of their cards – Screen Presence cards, Trait cards, Fan Mail cards – on any other player’s stakes.  This seems to make sense for various reasons already touched on in the above thoughts. Of course, if the rules clearly forbid any of that, I am happy to tell my group, once shown where they do.

Recommendation #10:  I should end this post before I write a 40 page essay. ;)

Prognosis: Good.  Thanks for the feedback and ideas.  Now, any answers to my questions above?  Any thoughts?  Do I have anything factually wrong?

Thanks again.


Title: Re: two sessions in: how it's going for my group
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on April 18, 2009, 10:14:09 AM
The biggest factual thing is probably the idea of a 5-scene episode. I've never had one with less than eight scenes, I think. As a general rule of thumb (which I think I included in the Finnish edition of the game) I recommend something like one round of scenes per act in the 4-act structure - four times the number of players in total. This is not a hard and fast rule, but it's more in line with the budget, on which I agree with you that the formula needs to be changed if you desire ultra-short episodes. It's notable that as a matter of Producing method I've never actually counted scenes or anything like that - I use the 4-act structure and keep an eye on the budget, winding the main plot down when I run low on budget, leaving a bit to tie any immediate personal plot items the characters may have developed. So I recommend letting the budget determine when to stop, rather than deciding on a set number of scenes beforehand and then trying to spend budget to fit.

As for individual scenes, they don't usually last more than 15 minutes, conflicts included. Might take 20 minutes with players who are just learning the rules. The typical scene will have 5 minutes of buildup to a conflict, 8 minutes of conflict resolution procedures and 2 minutes of narration/play afterwards, roughly speaking. You can vary the technique, add more freeform character play and so on, but that increases the time commitment and slows down the plot. My groups usually tend to gravitate towards television ideal - everybody's literate in modern tv drama, so there's not much coordination needed for structuring scenes that are very much like the ones you see in television shows.

As for your Producer, I'm not too hopeful there. Even if you're not seeing many rules-based effects from a totally disinterested Producer, I have difficult imagining who in the group is doing the Producer's job if he's just there to decide on budget expenditures. Normally the Producer has creative stakes in the show and he acts as a constant president of the discussion group, making sure procedures are followed, creative input is honored and in general leading the group in their teamwork. Presumably somebody at the table is doing these things if the game can get off the ground at all, but I'm a bit worried that it's not the Producer, whose main task this precidency is.

Stakes-setting and resolution... I think I wrote about the advocation thing in some earlier thread, so I'm not going to repeat it here. That theory doesn't need to convince you, but that's the way I think about PTA and the way I get it to work, so I don't even consider interpreting the game to support player-originated goals and character cooperation in resolving conflicts. Any "conflicts" that should get resolved a certain way for the story to retain its dramatic form won't be turned over to the conflict procedures at my table, and any conflicts that are actually played pivot pretty much solely on how much the individual player, in his advocation role, wants his character to succeed - the whole point of the plentiful discretionary resources in the game is for the player to make choices over which conflicts he wants to win and which he doesn't care about so much. Thus any situation involving protagonists and ninja attackers in my game is not a conflict per se - there needs to be a character Issue that gets involved, otherwise it's just pure fight coreography that gets resolved by Producer fiat whichever way it needs to go for the plot to proceed logically.


Title: Re: two sessions in: how it's going for my group
Post by: Welkerfan on April 18, 2009, 10:35:55 AM
OK, after getting feedback on our gaming session, let’s boil this sucker down to the fundamentals of where we go from here with the recommendations I have gotten:

Recommendation #1:  The players need to state the stakes that their character has in the conflict, *not* the stakes of the player.

Prognosis: I found this in the book itself.  I am *very* concerned that the game we played and had much fun with in which we used *player* based stakes might not be as much fun with *character* based stakes, but I will bring to my group the fact we erred on that and the recommendation that we do indeed try the actual PTA way, with the reservation that we can always go back to the non-PTA way of doing it if that seems to be more fun.

The one thing that concerns me, which might not be a problem with your group, is that player-level stakes might make the characters somewhat flat.  The stakes make it apparent what the character is trying to accomplish in a scene and thus makes their motivations clear and their character more deep.  If what they want is not specifically apparent, they could just become vehicles for plot, like stock characters.  That is just my impression based on the groups I play with.  Your experience may vary.

Recommendation #3:  The Producer needs to take a more active role, and crank up the action when he is bored.

Prognosis:  This particular producer seems to be unable or unwilling to take a very active role.  We cannot force him.  It appears to be related to the fact that all the other games he has GMed, the GM does not have to take input or share the creative rights over the story, plot, content, etc – and unlike us, he has no specific protagonist to root especially for.  Also, the idea of every time the GM gets bored our TV show suddenly turns into an action wam pow kinda deal seems shallow and inappropriate.  A possibly better fix is to drift PTA in some way to make all players have protagonists and no player get singled out as GM.  The only thing the GM does that the player’s can’t, apart from approve ideas, is decide on the spending of budget.  I will be asking my players about this, and about perhaps a different way of creating a challenge for the players in a conflict.  Perhaps each player chooses a number from 0-2, that number gets added up and becomes the budget spent.  Perhaps players just spend their cards for the challenge side.  I don’t know.  Maybe the amount of budget spent is set by rolling a six sided die.  Much work and analysis remains to be done before a GM-free game of PTA would be attempted.

In any case, I think that this is a GM who may be more comfortable running modules in D&D than acting as a de facto creative force, especially when his ideas and inspirations have to compete with the ideas and inspirations of others, even though he get to choose which to use, he is obviously not going to choose his pet idea over an idea that a player came up with that we all went “ooh, ahh” over.

It may be more a case of the man as opposed to the game.  Still, it might be cool to drift PTA into a game where *everyone* is a player/gm, if it could be done with minimal change to the game.

In this situation, I think it really a problem with the person.  He doesn't seem like the kind of person who would enjoy playing as the Producer in this game.  It is a very different kind of GM role from the kind he is used to.

There was some discussion at some point about playing the game without a Producer on these forums.  If I recall correctly, a player whose protagonist was not involved in the scene set the Budget expense for each scene.  One person might still have framed every scene using the player's request, or they might have framed it using a consensus; I don't remember.  Dig through the forum to find that thread if you're interested.

Recommendation #4:  Players should never have the same stakes.  Protagonists never work together.

Prognosis: Not good.  Everything on every level apart from the possible vulnerability of the ruleset denies this.  First, PTA is presented as a collaborative game – an impression that is shared by my entire group.  Second, our groups *wants* the story to be about the Protagonists working together.  Third, the PTA rules *themselves* detail just *how* one player’s cards can get played on another player’s stakes.  Fourth, if there is one stake that either all characters or all players or both agree on, why *shouldn’t* that be an overwhelming victory? 

There are TWO ways to handle this:   

A) The possible idea (which seems strangling) of forcing player’s stakes to always have their specific character as the subject of the stakes sentence, and to forbid that subject to be plural.  That way if all the players want to stop the bank from being robbed, they are forbidden from having one player create the stakes of “We stop the bank robbery” and instead must go with “I stop the bank robbery”. Of course, each player is then able to create similar goals of “Fred stops the bank robbery”, “Sally stops the bank robbery”, “Josiah stops the Bank robbery”.  Given those three stakes are on the table, players can then play cards on their own stakes or their fellow player’s stakes as they wish, and whoever wins their stakes is part of stopping the bank robbery – for example, if the first two stakes get enough red cards but the third doesn’t, that means that Fred and Sally successfully stop the Bank Robbery, but somehow Josiah did not succeed in helping.  This approach would have one VERY interesting side effect, possibly intended by PTA, possibly a happy accident:  players with a higher screen presence will be more successful that player with a lower screen presence.  So if Fred has an SP of 3, but Sally and Josiah have an SP of 1, it is much more likely that Fred will be the only one with a real shot as victory, and THIS will perhaps incentivize Sally and Josiah to spend their cards on Fred’s stakes, letting Fred truly shine in his SP3 episode.  I shall mention – the idea that perhaps PTA ought to be played by setting stakes that require the individual protagonist to be the subject of the stakes sentence.

B)  The second possible idea of noting that when all the players want the same thing to happen, perhaps the group should just make it happen.  IE, if all players in union are trying to sincerely avoid an outcome which is unpalatable or unacceptable (or contrarily, trying to attain an outcome that all the player seem to absolutely need) to them all, perhaps the GM should declare simply that whatever the player are “piling on” they simply get, the stakes are then eliminated, and the players set new ones.  For example, if each of them “piles on” to Fred’s “We stop the bank robbery” stakes, or they each create stakes like: “Fred stops the bank robbery”, “Sally stops the bank robbery”, “Josiah stops the Bank robbery” – perhaps the GM says, “OK its clear you guys want the bank robbery stopped.  Let’s assume that the bank robbery WILL be stopped by someone, not necessarily the protagonists, let’s clear all the stakes out and give me new ones – do you care *how* the robbery get’s stopped or by *whom*?  Give me new stakes”  THIS way, the GM can simply take the unification of the players as a sign about what should NOT be at stake in the conflict, make an adjustment to make it not be at stake, and ask for *new* stakes.  Make sense?

I will mention both A and B to my players, along with their ramifications.

I don't think I'm explaining myself very well.  I'll try to be clearer.

When I say that the protagonists don't work together, I don't mean that they can't have a single, group-wide goal.  What I'm saying is that goal isn't really what's at stake in a conflict.  Even though all of the protagonists are working together and trying to stop the bank robbery, for example, they each have something specific that they are trying to do for themselves as part of their dramatic arc.  Those individual needs are what the conflicts are about, not the flashy backdrop for those struggles (the bank robbery fight).

Let me give an example to try to illustrate what I mean.  If we have three characters--Fred, Sally, and Josiah.  Fred's Issue is self-confidence and courage.  Josiah's Issue is alcoholism.  Sally's Issue is greed.

The scene is that the three protagonists are trying to stop the bank robbery.  That is, in game terms, the Agenda.  That is what is going on on the surface.  Really, though, the scene is opportunity to put the three characters into a tight situation in which they have to deal with their issues.  Whether or not the characters stop the robbery is something that can be decided by the group or the narrator, as it seems appropriate to the episode.  You mentioned the "Stop the bad guys with the nuke" cliche.  That is what is going on here.  Stopping the bad guys (or letting them get away, if preferred) is what the plot needs to happen.  The conflicts are about the cost and the personal struggles of the characters involved.

Therefore, the stakes might be something like this:

Fred--"I personally am responsible for stopping a robber from getting away." or "I show courage in the fight."

Here, the first stake seems like it is just, "I stop the robbers," but the important part is the word "personally."  That word makes the stake less about stopping the robber and more about whether Fred feels accomplished and proud of himself.  The second option does the same thing, only without dictating that a robber will be caught.  Either one is good.

Josiah--"Despite being hung over from getting drunk last night, I don't hurt anyone innocent."

Here, the conflict builds on something we saw earlier in the episode.  He had a fight with his wife and got drunk.  Now, the question is what the consequences of his failure to overcome his addiction are.  He wants to help in the fight, like everyone else, but the challenge for him personally is to do so while completely out of it.

Sally--"Do I get away with pocketing a bunch of cash during the fight?"

Here, Sally is still trying to stop the robbers, but, at the same time, she is trying to get some money for herself.  She participates in the overall group goal, but is still has a personal issue of her own to deal with.

Do you see what I mean by saying that the conflict isn't really about stopping the bank robbery?  Everyone is trying to do that, but the actual conflicts with cards are about individual struggles of the characters.

Your option B is basically what should happen.  In that situation, the stake that everyone set is not what the scene is really about.  It's exciting and pushes the plot forward, but, because the plot is being handled by a non-conflict event, the card draws are really about the characters.

If you look at the example shows in the book, a lot of them are about the protagonists working together.  That doesn't mean, though, that the characters always get along or don't have personal goals.  The characters argue and disagree, and they pursue their own interests, but they still are working on a team.  It's those disagreements that make for exciting and compelling drama.

Are you familiar with the show, CSI?  In that, there is a team of forensic investigators.  Each episode, they work together to solve a crime.  They almost always are united in that goal (it's an exciting change of pace when they aren't).  Still, there is tension between them.  Sarah is in love with Gil and doesn't know how to express it.  Gil is suffering from hearing loss and, thus, self-worth issues.  Catherine's home life sucks, and she is falling for Warrick.  Warrick has a gambling addiction.  The conflicts in that show aren't really about solving the crimes.  They are about these issues and how the consequences of the characters' actions relating to them affect their ability to perform on the job and work together.

Recommendation #5: Have more scenes per episode

Prognosis: Confusion.  We played PTA for about 3 or so hours, we had 5 scenes, one of which was not a significant one.  How many scenes are we *supposed* to have??  I thought from prior discussion  that 4-6 scenes per episode was accurate?  Are we spending too much time enjoying the dialogue?  Are we supposed to not narrate out the actual interactions, but whip scenes out faster?  Confused, confused, confused.  Of course, if we had had TEN scenes instead of four or five, the Budget would probably have made much more sense – see the next recommendation.

If you ask Matt Wilson, you will tell you that he hates sitting around talking in character for long periods.  He prefers to get right to the conflicts.  Other people don't necessarily play that way, but that should give you an idea of what the game was intending.

In my game with three players and the producer, we went around the table about four times each episode (so about 16 scenes, on average).  We played each episode in about 2-2.5 hours.  We had a lot of dialogue and in-character acting, but we made sure that we drove scenes toward conflict.  Of those 16 scenes, about 10 were actually conflict scenes.  The others were 1-2 minute color scenes which showed something happening (like the bad guys getting off the space ship or the leader getting drunk).  These small scenes didn't need a conflict, as they were there to explain something.

Look at most television shows.  You almost never see a 10-minute long dialogue scene.  Those interactions are broken up into smaller scenes.


Title: Re: two sessions in: how it's going for my group
Post by: Welkerfan on April 18, 2009, 10:36:26 AM
Recommendation #6: Do not adjust the Budget formula, trust that it works. 

Prognosis:  Our direct play experience seems to contradict that (with the caveat that I *always* say – should we be having many more scenes per episode than we are?).  When players act independently, as is apparently recommended, with their stakes, they still fail 50% of the time roughly because the Producer has so damn much budget that he cannot spend just 1 or 2 budget, without the certain knowledge that there will be budget left unspent at the end.  On the other hand, if the Producer is not supposed to care that he has unspent budget at the end, then why not simply give the Producer 1000 budget, with the knowledge that the Producer will simply refrain from always using it.

The only reason to have a limited number of a resource is to force the owner of that resource to make decisions about when to spend and when not to spend.  The amount of Budget the Producer has seems to encourage him to spend either 3, 4, or 5 Budget every significant scene, the average being four.  So the players are faced with 4, 5 or 6 cards against them each significant scene, an average of 5.  That is fundamentally broken.  If the budget is so much that the GM never has the incentive to spend only 0, 1 or 2 points then the players will never be faced with a more achievable GM card group of 1,2 or 3 cards.

I have to disagree.  That is is the purpose of limited resources for the players, yes, but the Budget's main purpose is not to force a strategic decision onto the Producer--that is much too game-y a way of thinking for PTA.  It's purpose is a pacing mechanic.  The limited number makes the episode end; it makes players resolve things and wrap up the show when it should be over, and it tells them to keep going when it needs to.  It isn't really about resource management at all.

After taking stock of my players’ thoughts, one idea came out: the better formula might be Budget = total screen presence + 3, NOT total screen presence *doubled*, plus 3.  I will bring all of this to the group, and see in actual play (how I hate that phrase now that it has been used to gag theorists on the Forge general forums) if the advice of simply “trusting” the PTA as written budget formula is the magic fix for the problems with too much budget that we experienced last time we played.  Not sure how that changes anything.  The group will decide.

I would first try to increase the number of scenes in the episode with the current formula (and to use the 4-act structure).  I think there was some miscommunication when you read 4-6 scenes.  That is barely going around the table once.  There might be 4-6 big scenes with everyone doing something, but there are probably a lot of smaller ones to go with them.  Matt suggested watching some drama shows while only watching for the scenes with conflicts in them.  There are usually about 12 in an hour-slot show.  Shoot for that number.

If you can't increase the number of scenes, then, yes, do decrease the budget.  Your suggested formula would probably work.  The Budget formula works so longs as you are approaching its expected number of scenes.

In any case, anyone who says that it’s OK if the Producer has Budget left at the end of each episode needs to understand the second paragraph above.  If that is true, then it’s equally true that it’sOK for the Producer to be given 1000 Budget points – because in that case, the Budget is not *meant* to limit the Producer and force his hand.  As written, with 4-5 scenes per episode, the Producer has too much Budget for it to act as any kind of constriction.  There are ONLY four options:  we are having far too few scenes/episode, the Producer has far too much Budget, the Producer should be allowed to spend more than 5 per scene, so that he has less later, or the Producer may as well have unlimited budget and simply be “trusted” to spend the right amount in each scene for its needs.

I think you have too few scenes.  Try to make some shorter ones to make this work.  Again, I don't think that Budget is about strategic choice.  It's about pacing and dramatic tension.  The set number exists to place a limit on the top end of the show, not the bottom.  The limited number makes you end the show when needed.  If you don't get to that "END IT NOW" point, the limited number is less important.

Recommendation #7:  Encourage Fan Mail to be given out.

Prognosis: On the one hand, of course.  I want to teach them to go a step farther and perhaps say, when they think it merited, “how about a Fan Mail?”  On the *other* hand, the goal is NOT to get that Fan Mail out in everyone’s hands IF they are not coming up with really funny quips or really amazing ideas, right?  It’s not like little league where everyone gets a trophy just for participation, the idea is that Fan Mail is a *merit* reward, which is *earned* - and if some people are earning less than others on the *merits* - that is working as intended, right?  The only other option is to discard the merit approach and to just hand out X Fan Mail to the players every so often, just for *being there*.  Not so much on that idea, right?

In any case, I am also trying to encourage the following idea to be embraced:  If someone is getting a lopsided amount of Fan Mail, that may not be a bad thing when you consider that someone who has enough good ideas to earn that Fan Mail perhaps will only create more goodness for the story in using that Fan Mail to win conflicts in interesting or amusing ways.  If player A gets 4 Fan Mail, than it is likely that whatever made us give him so much fan mail in the first place will continue to be in place when he *spends* that Fan Mail.  Win-win.

You've got the purpose of Fan Mail exactly.  In your descriptions, it doesn't seem like you are saying that people are being especially unequally-contributing to the fun.  It sounds like they just are unequal in their habit of giving out Fan Mail chips.  Just work on encouraging people to give a chip whenever they react.  It's really just a habit thing.  If someone seems to never give out Fan Mail, perhaps remind them that the reason doesn't have to be big.  Any little thing that contributes to the fun can be rewarded.

Recommendation #8: Consider a 4-act structure, with a dozen or so scenes.

Prognosis:  That is something we had been wondering about – TV shows do seem to have a 4-act structure that works well, and each Act needs several scenes.  The major thing stopping us is that in a previous discussion here in these forums I am pretty sure I was told that the average number of scenes per episode was 4-6, so I was pushing for that.  A 12-scene episode would make the Budget make more sense at (or close to) its current level, I think.

Also, it’s is possible that we have taken an Act that *could* have been broken into smaller scenes, and played it as one long scene.  Question: If someone wants to call for a conflict, but someone else isn’t done with the scene or ready just yet, is that the sign that what we are thinking of as a single scene may actually be two or more?  For example, the Protagonists get to a club.  Fred wants to wait until the club winds down at 3AM to accost the owner, but Josiah calls for a conflict right away: Josiah gets funky on the dance floor with the ladies.  Is that a sign that we really have *two* scenes – one at the start of the night at the club, and one at the end of it?  That might help us have more scenes.

I think you are right here.  Try to make the 4-act structure happen.  I also think that you are right about the night club thing.  That sounds like 2 scenes, not one.  Sometimes, an entire act happens in one location.  The camera cuts to different characters doing different things and talking about different topics, but it all happens in the seedy night club.  Those are still separate scenes.  If you think "scene = conflict = scene", it should help you to know where to cut scenes.

In the book, Matt talks about cutting between different scenes which happen simultaneously, that would also work with this issue.

Recommendation #9:  The only time you can play your cards on somebody else’s stakes is playing Fan Mail when you do not have a Protagonist in the scene.

Prognosis: Dubious.  Where is the text I am missing that says that in the rules?  In fact, where in the rules does it say which cards you can spend on stakes that aren’t yours (or on the GM’s side), and were in the rules does it limit *when* you can do that?  I need specifics here, please.  I have a bad feeling about this – that PTA implies a lot, which can be interpreted differently, as we have, without coming right out and saying this stuff in black and white – or am I missing something? 

The way we played last time was (apart from setting inclusive stakes) that any players could play *any* of their cards – Screen Presence cards, Trait cards, Fan Mail cards – on any other player’s stakes.  This seems to make sense for various reasons already touched on in the above thoughts. Of course, if the rules clearly forbid any of that, I am happy to tell my group, once shown where they do.

Never anywhere in the book does it say that you can spend your cards (of any time) on anyone that is not your protagonist.  The book assumes that you are advocating for your character and trying to make them win.  On page 63, it says, "Once the producer has set the difficulty, the players whose protagonists are involved [in the conflict] must then decide how many cards they'll get for their protagonists. ..."  It seems pretty clear that it means for the protagonist's stakes.

The only time that this is different is on page 64, where it says, "A player whose protagonist is not in the conflict can influence the conflict by spending fan mail to gain cards.  They can be applied toward [anyone]."

It never says you can choose to apply your cards to your own protagonist, so it seems very likely that it was intended to only be for your own character.

That being said, I never knew the rule on Fan Mail until now.  In my game, players have spent Fan Mail on helping themselves to lose, and it has worked out fine.  We saw it as the Traits and free cards being only for the protagonists, and the Fan Mail being for the player to directly influence the outcome.  That has seemed to be fine.

I hope I'm being helpful.


Title: Re: two sessions in: how it's going for my group
Post by: Sindyr on April 19, 2009, 06:45:21 AM
Hmmm.  Lots of food for thought.  Some very interesting things.  Thanks a ton, Welkerfan and Eero! ;)

>More scenes per episode.  On the face of it this sounds good but I have one worry:  We played for 3 hours and got to 5 scenes.  I am hoping this is because we were getting used to the system.  Having 12-15 scenes spread out over 4 Acts sounds ideal, but not if it makes our session 9 hours long.  I am hoping (and guessing) that it won’t, *unless* we love to really linger – in which case, if we do that and want to keep doing that, we can always adjust the budget to compensate.

What is the ideal amount of Budget to Scene ratio?  I mean, I know Budget needs to go up and down with respect to the Screen Presence of the Protagonists, but given a combined SP of 6, for example, how much Budget is right for a 5 scene episode?  10 scenes?  15?

Hmm.  Perhaps with 10 scenes, the formula gives the right Budget, combined SP of 6 equals 15 Budget?  With five scenes (what we had) we had been thinking more like 9 Budget.  Maybe a better formula would be:

[(combined SP) x (expected scenes/5)] + 3

Or something?  So maybe determine what our actual scenes/episode ratio is, and use that to influence the multiplier applied to the combined screen presence?

I would like to note that given TEN scenes, of which *eight* may be significant, the Producer’s Budget of 15 seems a lot less overwhelming, since that drops him down to an average of 2 extra cards per scene, for an average of 3 producer cards per scene – more in some, less in others.  This *feels* like a more correct average for the Producer on many, many mathematical levels.  To put it in black and white, with ten scenes the Producer is getting 10 free cards and 15 Budget cards that episode for a total of 25.  A player with an SP of 2 is getting 20 free cards (assuming he is in every scene) and 6 extra Trait cards, for a total of 26.  Fan Mail doesn’t have to be counted, because any fan mail that help the player’s win also helps the Producer by increasing his budget. 

Of course, this is assuming a 2/2/2 SP distribution.  A 1/2/3 SP distribution yields the same Budget for the Producer, but now (assuming ten scenes) the SP 1 character only has 10 freebie cards and 3 Trait cards for 13 total cards that episode, while on the other hand the SP 3 character has 30 freebie cards and 9 Trait cards for a total of 39 that episode.  The idea that an SP 1 character has far fewer resources and much less of an impact leads me to my next thought:

>Supporting another character’s stakes. First of all, it is interesting to note what the book does and does not say about this.  As Welkerfan points out:
Quote
On page 63, it says, "Once the producer has set the difficulty, the players whose protagonists are involved [in the conflict] must then decide how many cards they'll get for their protagonists."

All I can do is apply the rules of English to understand this sentence.  “Protagonists” is plural, therefor “their” must *also* be plural.  In other words, what this sentence is actually saying, in black and white,
Is that the groups of involved players decide how many cards we get for our protagonists.  This is not only consistent with one of the players getting cards for his *own* protagonist, it is just as consistent with one of the players getting cards for the protagonist of another player.  Perhaps if Matt re-releases the game, he can clarify this point, possibly writing instead “Once the producer has set the difficulty, **each player** whose protagonists are involved [in the conflict] must then decide how many cards they'll get for **their individual stakes**.”  As one can see this rewrite focuses on individual action, as opposed to the concerted action implied by the existing line.

So it would appear that spending one’s cards on the stakes of another is as far as I can see not forbidden, and is even slightly encouraged by the rules as written – both by the plurality of the quoted sentence above, as well as by the quote on page 10 that “Fan Mail is a pool players can draw from to help protagonists (theirs or other players’ protagonists) succeed or fail in other situations.”

 While this sentence does not explicitly permit the playing of *other* card resources such as Screen Presence or Traits to help another player’s protagonists, it does explicitly demonstrate at least one area (Fan Mail) in which one can choose to help oneself or someone else (even the GM as we later find out.)  Furthermore, if Fan Mail was the *sole* way one could assist another player, one would expect to see that noted somewhere, with a sentence like “Fan Mail is the only method by which a player can spend resources to gain cards for a player other than himself” or words to that explicit effect.

So while I cannot find an explicit reference to being able to spend one’s SP cards or Trait cards to help another player, neither can I find an explicit reference to that not being permitted.  Instead, the implication that seems persuasive to me, given what could have been written compared to what *was*, is that players are permitted to help each other.  However, I think that the next idea may counterbalance this quite nicely, to such an extent that I want to credit Matt Wilson for intending this on purpose:

>Stakes must be written based on the wants of the protagonist, and must be written from his perspective. This was one I got exactly backward, having encouraged my players to do the opposite – frame the stakes that the *player* had, without regard to the hopes of the protagonist.  However, page 61 “What are the Stakes” clearly and explicitly says the opposite: that stakes are protagonist-based, not player-based.

On the one hand, we had so much fun playing the game last time using player-based stakes that I am leery of changing that.  But I do feel honor bound to at least try PTA core-concepts as written, so we will probably invert that for the next episode.  It is *very* intriguing, though, to note that using protagonist-based stakes is going to have (I think) three very interesting effects.

First of all, if the stake I write *has to* have my protagonist as the Subject of the stakes sentence, then even though the PTA ruleset may imply that players can play their cards on each other’s stakes, there may be a significant emotional disincentive.  For example, if I write the stakes “Fred (my protagonist) rescues the lady”, the other players will have much less incentive to add cards to my stakes then if my stakes had been “We rescue the lady.”  *Now* the next player has to choose between using *his* resources to my *my* character look good, or using them on his own guy.  This may be *all* the checks and balances you need to protect the Producer from all the players ganging up on him (the real reason to be worried about letting players unite resources behind a single stake), right?

There are only two instances where I would expect to find players *possibly* more eager to spend their resources on the stakes that star a protagonist other than their own:

  • A) they have very little resources, maybe just an SP of 1, and rather than go for a stakes they numerically have almost no chance of winning, would rather see their “oomph” go to seeing another player succeed, and
  • B) that in this specific conflict they *really* really want the other player’s protagonist to get his stakes, even more than they care about their own.

I think that possibility A is awesome – it gives a way for a character without a lot of oomph in this episode to have a significant way to numerically contribute – which can only lead the focus of the episode back to the characters with a high SP – which is *good*, right?

I also think possibility B is awesome – if a player is so motivated by the plight of *another* character’s protagonist that he selflessly wants to make *their* stakes more likely, then I strongly support that – isn’t that what collaborative storytelling is all about?

>What about the bored GM?  I think that protagonist-based stakes means that the GM actually has more to do since the amount of control the player’s have gets more limited (to a degree) than when we used player-based stakes.  For example, instead of me saying that my stakes are “11 civilians die during this scene” which I had before, I could have made it more personal and less in the “domain” as it were of the GM’s world by making it “Alex is able to prevent a lot of bloodshed and loss of life” and simply spend very little on it.  Losing this stakes doesn’t mean that the bloodshed happens, it just means that Alex realizes that *if* it was prevented, it wasn’t prevented by *him* - and if the GM/narrator chooses, it perhaps was even prevented, eh?

>Perhaps what we have been using as the conflict should be the Agenda. For example, we had a scene where the Agenda was the bad guy gets us to show him the Crystal, after which he would try to take it.  This naturally lead the conflict to be about whether or not we were able to stop him.  Try this idea out instead:  Agenda’s should include the outcome of any events that are not intended to be in question and/or not intended to be fodder for conflicts.

In the above example, perhaps the Agenda should have been, “The protagonists having been tricked bring the crystal into the bad guys presence and show him, but the bad guy is unable to take possession of the crystal through either the protagonists efforts of simple turns of luck.”  *This* Agenda flat out removes the outcome of the scene from being an unknown to a known, freeing the player’s to focus on stakes that address other things, such as the how of it or such as side-issues, such as does the protagonist feel good about themselves after.

Is including major outcomes in the Agenda a step in the right direction, as it seems?

>The lopsided Fan Mail of our first session was based on lopsided Merit, and as far as I can see, not on lopsided awards. Just wanted to be clear on that – from my perspective, people *were* getting more or less the Fan Mail they deserved.  However, I am hoping that by encouraging the players that receive less to ask for it more, that will encourage them to find ways to deserve it more as well – after all, you can’t say “How about a Fan Mail” if you don’t fist says something you believe is worth it, right?  It may be that the lopsidedness will continue, if certain players continue to contribute better quips and more intriguing ideas than others – and if that occurs, I am OK with that.  The only thing I *don’t* want to have happen is someone coming up with good ideas that is not rewarded simply because he is overlooked.  So far, that does not seem to be happening as far as I can see.

Thanks guys, all your feedback is very helpful, please keep it coming. ;)


Title: Re: two sessions in: how it's going for my group
Post by: Welkerfan on April 19, 2009, 08:34:37 AM
>More scenes per episode.  Having 12-15 scenes spread out over 4 Acts sounds ideal, but not if it makes our session 9 hours long.  I am hoping (and guessing) that it won’t, *unless* we love to really linger – in which case, if we do that and want to keep doing that, we can always adjust the budget to compensate.

Here is where the job of the Producer comes in.  One of his major duties is to push scenes to conflicts and to not let the players dawdle in dialogue and exposition.  Again, think about a television show--a conflict happens every few minutes.  This being a 2-3 hour game instead of an hour television show, the conflicts should happen every 10-15 minutes (or more frequently in my case).  Push to have shorter scenes which really focus on the conflicts.  Dialogue is all well and good, but it is most exciting when it is building up to or winding down from a conflict.

On the 4 Act structure, perhaps discuss it as a group to make everyone aware of it, but don't make it a hard and fast rule to be followed.  Generally, I found that an act occurred each time we went around the table, but not always.  If each player requests a scene that focuses on his Issue or on the parallels behind his character and the spotlight character (essentially a character scene with some light amounts of plot), then, when the Producer gets his scene, he can introduce a new plot twist that starts the new act.  That doesn't have to be a rule, though, just something that is likely to happen.  Think of it this way, the Producer is playing the plot and the show's premise as a character and is bringing it up when he frames scenes.

What is the ideal amount of Budget to Scene ratio?  I mean, I know Budget needs to go up and down with respect to the Screen Presence of the Protagonists, but given a combined SP of 6, for example, how much Budget is right for a 5 scene episode?  10 scenes?  15?

Hmm.  Perhaps with 10 scenes, the formula gives the right Budget, combined SP of 6 equals 15 Budget?  With five scenes (what we had) we had been thinking more like 9 Budget.  Maybe a better formula would be:

[(combined SP) x (expected scenes/5)] + 3

Or something?  So maybe determine what our actual scenes/episode ratio is, and use that to influence the multiplier applied to the combined screen presence?

Well, if the current formula works for 10-15 scenes, that is your number.  The differences in Budget that come from SP differences serve to make the mechanical power of the Producer more in line with the players'.

Just taking out the doubling would probably be easiest.  You probably don't want to try to guess what how many scenes you are going to have.  You could always try out the formula without doubling SP with the knowledge that the Producer can have a few extra points at the end if you find that he had too little--playtesting, so to speak.

>Supporting another character’s stakes. First of all, it is interesting to note what the book does and does not say about this.  As Welkerfan points out:
Quote
On page 63, it says, "Once the producer has set the difficulty, the players whose protagonists are involved [in the conflict] must then decide how many cards they'll get for their protagonists."

All I can do is apply the rules of English to understand this sentence.  “Protagonists” is plural, therefor “their” must *also* be plural.  In other words, what this sentence is actually saying, in black and white,
Is that the groups of involved players decide how many cards we get for our protagonists.  This is not only consistent with one of the players getting cards for his *own* protagonist, it is just as consistent with one of the players getting cards for the protagonist of another player.  Perhaps if Matt re-releases the game, he can clarify this point, possibly writing instead “Once the producer has set the difficulty, **each player** whose protagonists are involved [in the conflict] must then decide how many cards they'll get for **their individual stakes**.”  As one can see this rewrite focuses on individual action, as opposed to the concerted action implied by the existing line.

Keep in mind that this game was revised last in 2006.  This was before the theory terms to properly describe how it works were developed.  You are, as far as I can tell, the first person to ever consider letting players put their cards onto other characters.  No one else in the six years that this game has been out has discussed that on these forums (I might be wrong, but, if so, that was extremely rare).  I think you are reading too hard into the language of the rules to find support for your interpretation.  Matt is just using readable, somewhat conversational English; it is not a legalese document like a D&D rulebook might be.  It doesn't ever talk about players acting as a group--ever.  It only ever talks about players acting individually in conflicts.  The only time that that is different is when a protagonist is not in the conflict.  Then, that player can spend Fan Mail to help or to get into the scene.  No where else is helping ever mentioned.  That says something about the intent of the rules.

So it would appear that spending one’s cards on the stakes of another is as far as I can see not forbidden, and is even slightly encouraged by the rules as written – both by the plurality of the quoted sentence above, as well as by the quote on page 10 that “Fan Mail is a pool players can draw from to help protagonists (theirs or other players’ protagonists) succeed or fail in other situations.”

 While this sentence does not explicitly permit the playing of *other* card resources such as Screen Presence or Traits to help another player’s protagonists, it does explicitly demonstrate at least one area (Fan Mail) in which one can choose to help oneself or someone else (even the GM as we later find out.)  Furthermore, if Fan Mail was the *sole* way one could assist another player, one would expect to see that noted somewhere, with a sentence like “Fan Mail is the only method by which a player can spend resources to gain cards for a player other than himself” or words to that explicit effect.

This is really just a case of your interpretation being a situation neither the author, nor the editors, nor the playtesters ever imagined coming up.  Matt didn't explicitly forbid it because he never thought of it, I'm guesssing.  That plurality is simply conversational English; it doesn't imply a pooled player resource.  Also, remember that, according to the rules in the text, if one's character is in a conflict, one can only spend Fan Mail on his own protagonist.  The only time the text says you can spend cards on someone else is when you are not in a conflict and you spend Fan Mail for someone else.

The cooperation amongst players that you keep talking is a cooperation for the betterment of the story and for equality in generating ideas.  It is not a cooperation on all aspects of the game.  If that were the case, you wouldn't have each player in control of a single protagonist.  That would a direct story-telling game, not the combination of story-telling and roleplaying that PTA encourages.

In your other thread, Eero talked about advocation.  Each player in this game, while respecting the other players and the needs of the story as a whole, is advocating for the interests of his own character.  He is the real-world representation of the character's drives, motives, and emotions.  When calling for scenes, he may do what is best for the episode and focus on the spotlight character, and he may set up difficult situations for his character to endure, but, in conflicts, the player's job becomes to further the goal of the protagonist, to advocate for his interests.  Eero, can you help to clarify what I'm saying?

So while I cannot find an explicit reference to being able to spend one’s SP cards or Trait cards to help another player, neither can I find an explicit reference to that not being permitted.  Instead, the implication that seems persuasive to me, given what could have been written compared to what *was*, is that players are permitted to help each other.  However, I think that the next idea may counterbalance this quite nicely, to such an extent that I want to credit Matt Wilson for intending this on purpose:

Again, I think you are reading the rules with too much of a lawyer's eye.  PTA wasn't really written with an eye towards hard mechanical clarity; much more effort was put into explaining how the game as a whole should be played (Matt frequently says that the most important part is the "Jobs" section near the end).  The actual conflict resolution system is, according to Matt, the least important part.  He thought he was clear, and he was, if people have the same assumptions as him.  You don't, so his less-than-concrete writing style is muddy.

Something that might be convincing to you are all of the example conflicts.  In none of them are the trait or SP cards given to anyone but the protagonist to which they belong.  Don't you think that, had Matt intended them to be shared, he would have made an example conflict in which that happened, in order to make that sharing apparent?


Title: Re: two sessions in: how it's going for my group
Post by: Welkerfan on April 19, 2009, 08:36:06 AM
>Stakes must be written based on the wants of the protagonist, and must be written from his perspective. This was one I got exactly backward, having encouraged my players to do the opposite – frame the stakes that the *player* had, without regard to the hopes of the protagonist.  However, page 61 “What are the Stakes” clearly and explicitly says the opposite: that stakes are protagonist-based, not player-based.

On the one hand, we had so much fun playing the game last time using player-based stakes that I am leery of changing that.  But I do feel honor bound to at least try PTA core-concepts as written, so we will probably invert that for the next episode.  It is *very* intriguing, though, to note that using protagonist-based stakes is going to have (I think) three very interesting effects.

The reason that protagonist stakes are so exciting is that it opens up both success and failure as enjoyable outcomes.  If the stakes are player-centric, you really only want one thing to happen (the stake you set).  When you set them from the character's point of view, you can make the stakes such that both success and failure are appealing to you as a player.

First of all, if the stake I write *has to* have my protagonist as the Subject of the stakes sentence, then even though the PTA ruleset may imply that players can play their cards on each other’s stakes, there may be a significant emotional disincentive.  For example, if I write the stakes “Fred (my protagonist) rescues the lady”, the other players will have much less incentive to add cards to my stakes then if my stakes had been “We rescue the lady.”  *Now* the next player has to choose between using *his* resources to my *my* character look good, or using them on his own guy.  This may be *all* the checks and balances you need to protect the Producer from all the players ganging up on him (the real reason to be worried about letting players unite resources behind a single stake), right?

Remember, players are advocating for the success of their individual protagonists.  Also, you can have something not the protagonist as the subject of the stakes; it just has the be something that the protagonist can be working for.  For example, you can have a stake set for Ryan of "Jack and Katie stay together," it just has to be that Ryan is doing something to try to keep them together.  Make the protagonist the subject of the sentence just makes it easier to show what the protagonist is trying to do (ala "I get Jack and Katie to stay toghether.") and to focus on the character's Issue.  Really, the Issue is the thing that should always be in the player's mind when setting stakes during a conflict.

  • A) they have very little resources, maybe just an SP of 1, and rather than go for a stakes they numerically have almost no chance of winning, would rather see their “oomph” go to seeing another player succeed, and
  • B) that in this specific conflict they *really* really want the other player’s protagonist to get his stakes, even more than they care about their own.

I think that possibility A is awesome – it gives a way for a character without a lot of oomph in this episode to have a significant way to numerically contribute – which can only lead the focus of the episode back to the characters with a high SP – which is *good*, right?

I don't think that that is good.  Doing that means no one is advocating for the SP 1 character, and he becomes a prop to the scene instead of a character.  The SP 3 characters already have a high chance of winning stakes (4-5 cards plus any Fan Mail, usually).  They really don't need help.  Generally, I've found that SP 1 characters don't get into a lot of conflicts.  They either are in scenes which talk about the spotlight or which are in contrast to the spotlight (the lazy character goes to play pool instead of working, in contrast to the spotlight character whose Issue to putting her career in front of her family) or they make stakes and conflicts which set up a later episode with a higher SP (they make stakes that they expect to lose in order to get the ball rolling on their upcoming spotlight episode).

I also think possibility B is awesome – if a player is so motivated by the plight of *another* character’s protagonist that he selflessly wants to make *their* stakes more likely, then I strongly support that – isn’t that what collaborative storytelling is all about?

But PTA isn't really collaborative storytelling.  It has elements of that, but the individual players' protagonists are being roleplayed and advocated for, something that doesn't happen in a game like Universalis (as far as I know), which is truly a collaborative storytelling game.  In this situation, everyone should be pumping for the stakes and giving Fan Mail to the player who set such awesome stakes (so that you can spend it for cards to win), and they should collectively share the "Yes!" or "No!" moment that the audience feels when they see a character they love succeed or fail at an important task.  The cards introduce a level of randomness into the system which is intended to make outcomes less than certain, so that that audience surprise is present.  You don't want to stack the chips too heavily in one person's favor.

>What about the bored GM?  I think that protagonist-based stakes means that the GM actually has more to do since the amount of control the player’s have gets more limited (to a degree) than when we used player-based stakes.  For example, instead of me saying that my stakes are “11 civilians die during this scene” which I had before, I could have made it more personal and less in the “domain” as it were of the GM’s world by making it “Alex is able to prevent a lot of bloodshed and loss of life” and simply spend very little on it.  Losing this stakes doesn’t mean that the bloodshed happens, it just means that Alex realizes that *if* it was prevented, it wasn’t prevented by *him* - and if the GM/narrator chooses, it perhaps was even prevented, eh?

Precisely.  Also, encourage the Producer to drive the scenes toward conflict and call for conflict when he sees one and everyone else is just talking through it.

>Perhaps what we have been using as the conflict should be the Agenda. For example, we had a scene where the Agenda was the bad guy gets us to show him the Crystal, after which he would try to take it.  This naturally lead the conflict to be about whether or not we were able to stop him.  Try this idea out instead:  Agenda’s should include the outcome of any events that are not intended to be in question and/or not intended to be fodder for conflicts.

In the above example, perhaps the Agenda should have been, “The protagonists having been tricked bring the crystal into the bad guys presence and show him, but the bad guy is unable to take possession of the crystal through either the protagonists efforts of simple turns of luck.”  *This* Agenda flat out removes the outcome of the scene from being an unknown to a known, freeing the player’s to focus on stakes that address other things, such as the how of it or such as side-issues, such as does the protagonist feel good about themselves after.

Is including major outcomes in the Agenda a step in the right direction, as it seems?

It depends.  I'm fond of just saying what in general is happening with the Agenda ("This is the scene where we unknowingly take the crystal to the bad guys.") and leave the outcome in the air.  This does three things.  First, it leaves that anticipation and uncertainty of what is going to happen (the audience tension).  Second, it lets the way the individual stakes fall have an influence on the scene.  If it is more appropriate, given the way that the stakes worked, for a given outcome of the overall scene to happen, it can happen.  For example, if the characters were too distracted by their bravado, hangover, or pocketing of cash to stop the bank robber, the robber can get away.  Third, it lets the narrator and the group have fun at the end of the scene by describing what happens.  It can be agreed that a certain outcome will happen, but you should let that be decided after the cards have been drawn, so you can do what is most exciting at that point in time and inject creative ideas that have come to you as a result of the conflict outcomes.

That being said, sometimes deciding what's going to happen is helpful.  Think of a police procedural drama.  The Agenda could be "This is the scene where we find out whose fingerprints were on the candlestick."  or "This is where we learn in an interrogation that our friend, Johnny, was at the crime scene."  In those scenes, you just need a minor thing to happen to push the plot, so it can be okay to pre-narrate what will happen, I think.

>The lopsided Fan Mail of our first session was based on lopsided Merit, and as far as I can see, not on lopsided awards. Just wanted to be clear on that – from my perspective, people *were* getting more or less the Fan Mail they deserved.  However, I am hoping that by encouraging the players that receive less to ask for it more, that will encourage them to find ways to deserve it more as well – after all, you can’t say “How about a Fan Mail” if you don’t fist says something you believe is worth it, right?  It may be that the lopsidedness will continue, if certain players continue to contribute better quips and more intriguing ideas than others – and if that occurs, I am OK with that.  The only thing I *don’t* want to have happen is someone coming up with good ideas that is not rewarded simply because he is overlooked.  So far, that does not seem to be happening as far as I can see.

That's good.  If someone consistently can't get good ideas which demand Fan Mail, try to help them to come up with an idea and then give them Fan Mail for it, even if you did most of the creative work.  That way, they might get into some habit on coming up with better ideas.


Title: Re: two sessions in: how it's going for my group
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on April 19, 2009, 09:12:37 AM
I think Welkerfan's doing a fine job of explaining the game - I pretty much play the same way he does, it seems. A very clear explanation, overall.


Title: Re: two sessions in: how it's going for my group
Post by: Matt Wilson on April 20, 2009, 04:16:11 AM
Grr, I tried to post a couple times this weekend and got a server timeout. Glad Eero and Welkerfan are covering it all.

The only-five-scenes thing was what concerned me the most. Eero's recommendation of at least 4 scenes per act is spot on. I will put that in any future rev I do.

Giving your cards away to other players is not technically allowed by the rules, and I wouldn't include this as an option in a future rev.

Back to the five scenes, what I wanted to ask in my previous attempted posts is what your scenes look like. What happened in them that they went on for so long?


Title: Re: two sessions in: how it's going for my group
Post by: Sindyr on April 25, 2009, 04:43:42 AM
Grr, I tried to post a couple times this weekend and got a server timeout. Glad Eero and Welkerfan are covering it all.

The only-five-scenes thing was what concerned me the most. Eero's recommendation of at least 4 scenes per act is spot on. I will put that in any future rev I do.

Giving your cards away to other players is not technically allowed by the rules, and I wouldn't include this as an option in a future rev.

Back to the five scenes, what I wanted to ask in my previous attempted posts is what your scenes look like. What happened in them that they went on for so long?

OK, back with more info.  To start with, I am not sure why our scenes took longer, perhaps partly because we were new to this and feeling our way along, and partly perhaps because we may have lingered in the scenes awhile because we wanted to - if it is more the latter, then we have two choices - stop lingering or reduce the budget. (or play much longer.)

When you write a future rev, It wouldn't hurt to include a single sentence making it explicit that you intend people to be able to play cards outside their own stakes ONLY when using Fan Mail and they are not in the scene.  Of course, for the reasons previously stated, especially with the new understanding that stakes are personal to the PC, and not player-based, I am wholly on board with the idea of still permitting all cards to be played on any stakes - because there are really only two instances where that can now be expected to happen - when playing your one card on your own stakes is the statistical equivalent of doing nothing at all, and when you really feel compelled to support another character's stakes above your own.

Unfortunately, this whole effort has become moot, on account of an unreliable player in our group becoming even more so.  Our group of 4 people have dwindled to 3, and as far as I can see, PTA works best with at least 3 players and 1 GM.  So for now, we are going to hang it up. 

Thanks very much for the support and assistance, I am extremely eager to come back to this game in the future.  One thing that would assist in coming back to it, by the way, is if some kind of variant was possible that eliminated the need for a GM.  Is this possible?

In any case, thanks everybody, will be back when the opportunity arises again.

In the meanwhile, I will just continue working on my *own* secret narative RPG project...  ;)