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Author Topic: Age of Paranoia -- test and setup run  (Read 7110 times)
clehrich
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Posts: 1557


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« on: April 15, 2004, 07:40:32 PM »

I hope Jere and Rob will jump in here and explicate, but Iíll give it a brief go.  Please comment freely on any part.

Tonight we had the first session of Age of Paranoia, a spy game based primarily on John Le Carrť, The Sandbaggers, and that ilk of espionage novel.  The system is derived from my own Shadows in the Fog, which is exciting, and already itís promising to give that game system a really intelligent kick the butt.

So first of all, we had to discuss the rules and the point.  Iíll summarize the end-results, in brief.

First of all, there are in effect two games going on here simultaneously.  At one level, you have a bunch of espiocrats, the PCís, who are from both American and British secret services of the 1970's-1990's.  In theory, because of the Special Relationship, everyone is on the same side.  In reality, everyone is to some degree out for himself.  The CIA wants to beat the NSA, the Americans want to beat the British, MI6 canít stand MI5, and so on.  But everyone wants to beat the damn Russians, when chips are down.  (Except for moles, of course.)

At the other level, you have missions in various operational theaters, played out across pretty much any time from, letís say, the middle of the Second World War to the 1990's, i.e. the whole of the Cold War plus its runups.

Now what happens is that you have a set of machinations, politicking, bureaucratic kerfuffle, and generally mucking about happening at the espiocrat level.  In order to make this work, of course, you have to announce that you have some valuable piece of intelligence, or a network, or a double-agent, or whatever.  To do this, you play a Tarot Trump card and interpret its meaning in such a way that it makes sense for what resource it is you have.  And then, if the GM and the group generally thinks this sounds really interesting, you go to the mission level and discover how exactly you got that resource.

So letís say I, representing an element of MI6's military-intelligence liaison and research branch, announce that I have a valuable running source deep within the Czech military; I play a good card (letís say, The Chariot to mean military, or something) to make this plausible.  Okay, people think this is cool, so we go to mission.  We deal out 6 cards, 3 face-up and 3 face-down, which represents the oppositionís resource pool.  Anyone (except me or the GM) can bid on this, by playing a Trump and again interpreting it, and become the leader of the opposition for this mission.  Otherwise it goes to the GM.

Now that weíve established the leader of the opposition, I have to play the first card.  We all have to play in suit, like in Bridge, unless we donít have any suited cards.  Anyone can pass except the current lead player and the opposition.  We play to 5 tricks.  If there is a tie for the winner, the opposition wins; otherwise, the person with the most tricks wins the round, and now controls the intelligence source.  As a final narration, the winner narrates (if necessary) how and why the player who started this mess (i.e. me, in this example) has access to the information in question.

Everyone now re-draws to refill their hands.  Anyone who has won a trick takes an extra card for each trick.  At this point itís not entirely clear how you lose cards permanently, but weíll figure it out.

--

Okay, so what happened?

Well, we just did one mission, for a test run.  Bryant invented a Lebanese sheikh, now suddenly in London for a big trade and oil deal, who happens to be very grateful to MI6 for something that happened in 1963.  If the mission fails, heís not grateful, you see.

Over the course of five trick rounds, we establish that this guy was sort of involved, but more or less on our side, when a whole bunch of big Arab guns were thinking about putting together a kind of trans-Arabic league backed by Soviet arms.  He was supposed to be approached by a British agent named Wetherby.  Unfortunately, there was a big party going on at the palace, involving all these creeps who were pro-League, accompanied by their ďpersonal bodyguards.Ē  We had planted a bomb at the palace, but the bodyguards locked the place down and there was no way to extract the guy.  We also found out that he had this pal, more or less on our side, whoís been purging all these evil Western agents, but actually killing a whole lot of Soviet agents; turns out heís also a psychopath, and may possibly have been Saddam some years back.  Fortunately, when the bomb went off, Wetherby was able by main force to pull the guy from the rubble, but was so dazed in the blast that when a mysterious American working for the CIA thanked Wetherby politely and took charge of the sheikh, poor old Wetherby was unable to take possession.  Since that time, itís been presumed that the sheikh was dead, but actually heís been in Turkmenistan running a guerilla war against the Russians.  Now heís in London, but his family have been taken hostage by the Russians; fortunately, MI6 was able to rescue his son before this all went down, so heís quite grateful to the British services and willing to help.  Which is where we started, of course, but now we know the whole story.  We also know that heís being chased by a Soviet assassin, quite possibly gay (though thatís just rumor), who hasnít caught him yet but could certainly be in England by now.

All of which took about 1 hour to work out.

If we had continued, instead of dealing with this as a test run, we would have shifted back to the conversation where we left off.  Bryant has this source, so whatís he going to do with him?  And so forth.  That level of the game would run sort of like a normal game, in the present, with operations and whatnot happening now.  Then someone would assert something about major sources of intelligence or whatever, and weíd go back to mission mode.

--

All in all, it was very cool.  Pretty clearly, whatís going to happen is weíre going to amass huge amounts of background information, all to be written up by the respective players on a Wiki, and will increasingly put that to specific use.  We will also become increasingly facile with our cards, able to invent more freely because we have a greater sense of what each card tends usually to mean Ė Jere suggested, for example, that the High Priestess is clearly a honey-trap.

Very hard work, Iíd say, but a lot of fun.  What would in many campaigns have taken several weeks to do happened in an hour, and was treated as background Ė but interesting background.  I canít wait for the next run.

Any comments, from in-game or out?
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Chris Lehrich
Jere
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Posts: 58


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« Reply #1 on: April 16, 2004, 05:21:29 AM »

First of all Chris, it was a pleasure to finally meet you last night. I'm really looking forward to this game and I'm glad to have you on board.

In many ways I found last night's session to run very smoothly. Perhaps due to my http://www.livejournal.com/tools/memories.bml?user=jeregenest&keyword=Espionage+Gaming&filter=all">incessant blabberings on the game in http://www.20by20room.com/2004/03/preparing_for_a.html">preparation for it, which gave everyone who showed up a very clear idea of my intent, and even more importantly more than ample opportunity to participate in developing the campaign framework.

This allowed us a nice comfort zone for talking frankly about the rules. So we were able to identify the few problem areas and remedy them. Particularly mission play, which Chris did an excellent job of summarizing. I do wish I had taken note of all the card play and interpretations during the example we ran. It would be valuable to type that up. I'm glad that both Chris and Bryant volunteered to take notes of missions, I think this game is going to live and die on note taking to some extent.

Jere
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bluegargantua
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Posts: 167


« Reply #2 on: April 16, 2004, 05:47:26 AM »

I'm sorry I had to duck out.

  Couple of quick questions:

  Is there any reward/risk for being operational lead?  

  The Operational pot -- does it automatically go to the Opposition?  Who sees the face-down cards and when to they look at them?

  Can you play off-suit to change the suit?

  So...we're bidding to be opposition?  Umm...that's weird.  Espeically if I don't have full knowledge of my hand.  Can I add cards from somewhere else?

Tom
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The Three Stooges ran better black ops.

Don't laugh, Larry would strike unseen from the shadows and Curly...well, Curly once toppled a dictatorship with the key from a Sardine tin.
Bryant
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Posts: 51


« Reply #3 on: April 16, 2004, 05:50:38 AM »

What if, when the opposition player plays a Trump, the winner of the trick loses one card out of his or her redraw? (I've been playing too much hearts, perhaps.)

Anyway, just to second what Chris and Jere said. Note-taking will be very important in this game, both at each session and via the wiki. Our explicit social contract is that loosely defined elements of mission play can be fleshed out on the wiki post-session; for example, I'd be busily typing up a brief dossier on Weatherby right now if it hadn't been a test run.
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Bryant
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Posts: 51


« Reply #4 on: April 16, 2004, 05:53:45 AM »

Quote from: bluegargantua
 Couple of quick questions:

  Is there any reward/risk for being operational lead?  

  The Operational pot -- does it automatically go to the Opposition?  Who sees the face-down cards and when to they look at them?

  Can you play off-suit to change the suit?

  So...we're bidding to be opposition?  Umm...that's weird.  Espeically if I don't have full knowledge of my hand.  Can I add cards from somewhere else?


The only reward for being operational lead is that you lead on the first trick. I think this is substantial, since it increases your chances to win the first trick, and once you've won one trick you become significantly more relevant to the rest of the mission.

The Operational Pot automatically goes to the Opposition, who can see the face-down cards only after he or she becomes the Opposition.

You cannot play off-suit to change the suit.

You're not really bidding to become the Opposition -- you can play a Trump before tricks start to play the Opposition. We don't think it'll happen very often.
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Jere
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Posts: 58


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« Reply #5 on: April 16, 2004, 06:03:14 AM »

Quote from: bluegargantua
 Is there any reward/risk for being operational lead?


Well we opretty much got rid of the operational lead idea. So now theres the mission initiator (the player who played the Major Arcana) who gives the question that the mission is seeking to answer. Our example is why does this sheikh owe MI6? And our play really fleshed out an amazing level of information about him.

Quote from: bluegargantua
 The Operational pot -- does it automatically go to the Opposition?  Who sees the face-down cards and when to they look at them?


So the opposition pot is 6 cards, 3 up 3 down. That way theres a strategy element to deciding if you want to bid for oppsoition. And theres also this strategy aspect of having some diea of what the opposition has out there. Which seems to offer some neat possibilities.

Quote from: bluegargantua
Can you play off-suit to change the suit?


No. Off suit play is now purely narrative and also serves as a way of recycling your hand. Which is why its voluntary.

Quote from: bluegargantua
So...we're bidding to be opposition?  Umm...that's weird.  Espeically if I don't have full knowledge of my hand.  Can I add cards from somewhere else?


The idea is you volunteer to be opposition if you have somethig that you feel works ebst for the narrative (your major arcana card serving as the narrative impetus). And the opposition only has thsoe 6 cards, 3 up and 3 down.

Quote from: Bryant
What if, when the opposition player plays a Trump, the winner of the trick loses one card out of his or her redraw? (I've been playing too much hearts, perhaps.)


Wouldn't that basically mean play of a Major Arcana card by the opposition means the Trick gives no benefit to its winner?

Quote from: Bryant
Anyway, just to second what Chris and Jere said. Note-taking will be very important in this game, both at each session and via the wiki. Our explicit social contract is that loosely defined elements of mission play can be fleshed out on the wiki post-session; for example, I'd be busily typing up a brief dossier on Weatherby right now if it hadn't been a test run.


Which is one of the things that attracts me. But then you and I are mad wiki-ers and writers. I'm hoping that aspect isn't intimidating to folks who don't write as much.

Least thats all my reclletions from last night, I can be easily confused.

Jere
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Bryant
Member

Posts: 51


« Reply #6 on: April 16, 2004, 06:05:22 AM »

Quote from: Jere

Quote from: Bryant
What if, when the opposition player plays a Trump, the winner of the trick loses one card out of his or her redraw? (I've been playing too much hearts, perhaps.)


Wouldn't that basically mean play of a Major Arcana card by the opposition means the Trick gives no benefit to its winner?


Yeah, which come to think of it isn't really the effect I wanted out of the suggestion, so never mind.
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bluegargantua
Member

Posts: 167


« Reply #7 on: April 16, 2004, 06:25:17 AM »

Quote from: Bryant


The only reward for being operational lead is that you lead on the first trick. I think this is substantial, since it increases your chances to win the first trick, and once you've won one trick you become significantly more relevant to the rest of the mission.



  Hmm...that doesn't seem like much of a reward.

  You've already blown a trump to get the mission underway so you're already down a card (unless mission play allows you to draw back the card you played to initiate).  Now you've got to lead strong (ideally with another Trump) to lock down the first Trick and do enough chest-thumping to scare off anyone else.

  I'll be interested to see how this plays out.  

  We really need to do some statistical work on Tarot decks because the largest "suit" in the deck are Trumps which, in this game, are total wildcards.  I think I'll ask around in the Mechanics forum....

later
Tom
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The Three Stooges ran better black ops.

Don't laugh, Larry would strike unseen from the shadows and Curly...well, Curly once toppled a dictatorship with the key from a Sardine tin.
Jere
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Posts: 58


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« Reply #8 on: April 16, 2004, 06:47:46 AM »

Quote from: bluegargantua
 Hmm...that doesn't seem like much of a reward.

  You've already blown a trump to get the mission underway so you're already down a card (unless mission play allows you to draw back the card you played to initiate).  Now you've got to lead strong (ideally with another Trump) to lock down the first Trick and do enough chest-thumping to scare off anyone else.


Well, except that the person who plays the Major Arcana that initiates the mission sets the narrative question that needs t be answered.

So, in the example, the person who played the Major Trump basically described a sheikh who owed favors and could provide very valuable intelligence. Thatís what the person who played the Major Arcana gets. What the mission does is provide all the whats, whys and wherefores, filling in the background. And forming many, many plot points.

So in our example we ended up with a Sheikh who was in exile from his homeland, who had major loyalty to the CIA but owed MI6 for his life who had spent the last 8 years leading guerilla warfare in Turkmenistan and hated the Soviets. He was fleeing froma Soviet assassin (who rumors say may be gay) and his family was being held hostage. All but the eldest son who was smuggled out by MI6 to London. Oh yeah theres also this homicidal maniac in some position of authority that MI6 and the CIA used against his knowledge who is now in a position of authority and may hold a grudge. Oh, and we have a skilled field operator (Weatherby) who can be detailed and a few other resoruces (a cousin for example) that can be detailed. All which equals plot points, plot points, plot points.

But no matter what the person who initiated his mission ahs this sheikh. Things could have ended up via the mission that the Sheikh would stab him in the back at first opportunity, but the initiator does get what he wanted out of the whole thing.

So I'm thinking it is a good trade. But we won't know for certain until we see how often folks do it.

Jere
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Jere
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« Reply #9 on: April 16, 2004, 07:11:42 AM »

Quote from: bluegargantua
 We really need to do some statistical work on Tarot decks because the largest "suit" in the deck are Trumps which, in this game, are total wildcards.  I think I'll ask around in the Mechanics forum....


Mmm, probably. I also think we're going to be revising quite a few things as we get play experience unde our belt.

Remember that right now we're thinking 3 tarot decks. Chris's original idea was 1 Tarot deck per player. Though 7 tarot decks rather scare me.

Jere
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Emily Care
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« Reply #10 on: April 16, 2004, 10:38:05 AM »

Hello all,

Very cool sounding game. I have a bunch of questions.  I like the collaborative nature of how you build the narrative.  What are the narrative steps that happen between setting up the main situation and its final resolution?  Does the winner of each trick get to add an element or narrate a twist?  Does everyone who takes part in a round get to have input?  What are the parameters for what gets added at each juncture? Is it free-form or are there strict guidelines?  

Also, where do the multiple tarot decks come into it? One for each player?  And finally, what is the hand-size for the (non-opposition) players? I take it that one advantage of assuming the opposition is that you don't have to deplete your hand, you get to play the new, possibly better, cards that are dealt out for that mission.

Yrs,
Emily Care
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Koti ei ole koti ilman saunaa.

Black & Green Games
Rob MacDougall
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Posts: 160


« Reply #11 on: April 16, 2004, 01:08:42 PM »

Emily: The very short answer is that each suit represents a type of espionage activity, and the higher numbers represent more effective actions. So as you play the tricks, you narrate what each card you're putting down represents: 2 of Wands (Covert Action) might be an attack by thugs in the streets of Cairo, Queen of Cups (Intelligence Gathering) might represent a highly placed mole.
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Emily Care
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« Reply #12 on: April 16, 2004, 01:48:34 PM »

Thanks, Rob.  Even cooler. So each card played adds to the story, not just the winning trick.  Correct?
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Koti ei ole koti ilman saunaa.

Black & Green Games
Jere
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« Reply #13 on: April 16, 2004, 02:55:38 PM »

Quote from: Emily Care
Thanks, Rob.  Even cooler. So each card played adds to the story, not just the winning trick.  Correct?


Yep, which why its sometimes valuable to play a card out of suite. You won't win the trick but you will add to the narrative.

Jere
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Bryant
Member

Posts: 51


« Reply #14 on: April 17, 2004, 08:28:54 AM »

Also, you use the same hand for normal play and mission play, so sometimes it's nice to be able to sluff a low card during mission play and replace it at the end of the mission.

Hand size is variable.
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