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Author Topic: [PTA] spacehunter, pilot episode and playtesting errata  (Read 2721 times)
Matt Wilson
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« on: April 22, 2004, 08:17:11 AM »

Last week was the pilot episode of a PTA series that I'm pretty sure we're still calling "Spacehunter." This post is about the elements of the game in play, and me scheming about some of the narrativist bits in play.

The pilot is a sort of "trial run" game session, just like a real TV pilot is. Play a game session, and discuss what you liked/didn't like: Swap out Pike for Kirk, revise this and that, and then start the series proper next session. I can't be alone in the experience of creating a character and wanting to change at least a couple things once I see him/her in play, so I'm hoping the formalization of the idea is well received.

This particular pilot was the most action-oriented session of play I've had with the game, but I think that wasn't the intention of anyone at the table. "Dramatic" scenes are the heart of the reward structure, so players should be asking for them. What happened, I think, was that a few plot elements took longer to resolve than anticipated, and we ran out of time for the soap opera stuff. Because of the game's relationship to Universalis, play works better the less the producer loads in at the start.

Communication between the players this week has been strangely minimal, and shame on me, but that includes me as well. I think PTA thrives on "what would be cool for next week" chatter, and my next manuscript edit will probably include a bit on discussing the game between episodes. Just curious, but how common is that among the groups out there? If you do it, do you do it for every game, or do some games provoke a lot of in-between discussion?

As for me, I've been thinking a lot about my protagonist's issue. If you've read this thread over in the GNS forum, PTA's issues are an example of character-level nar premises.

The goal is for all the players to think about every protagonist's issue, and how it can be brought into the episode in a meaningful way. Success creates theme, and failure feels something like a GURPS "quirk." I don't think you have to worry at all about the result of bringing it in. You just have to set it up.

The trick with this series is that we're constantly moving around the solar system, and any issues need to be constantly accessible to the characters. David, "my guy," is dealing with his failed marriage. In order for it to work well on the show, he either needs meaningful contact with his ex on a regular basis, or situations that have to do with his relationship with her. We solved part of that by assigning her the ownership of their spacecraft in the divorce, but I want to make sure that it's not a caricatured relationship.

Playtest revealed a couple quirks about the dice mechanic that I've since revised.

1. Challenge rolls need a lumpley-esque "what's at stake" clarification prior to the roll. Make clear what you're challenging.

2. Producers get 2 base dice, not 3.

3. Players who lose a roll can state a fact without having spent a trait on the roll. The fact should tie into one of the protagonist's traits. And the fact cannot directly apply to "what's at stake." That is, if you challenge the statement that your protagonist is captured, and you lose, you can't apply a fact to say "my guy doesn't get captured." You can instead say "before he's captured, he notices a weakness in the security system" or something like that.

Alan has said that the challenge mechanic reminds him a bit of Theatrix, and Mike Holmes can mock me for failing to heed his #1 rant. I haven't ever looked at Theatrix.

The real episode 1 is tonight. We'll see how that goes.
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Alan
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« Reply #1 on: April 22, 2004, 09:09:33 AM »

Quote from: Matt Wilson
This particular pilot was the most action-oriented session of play I've had with the game, but I think that wasn't the intention of anyone at the table. "Dramatic" scenes are the heart of the reward structure, so players should be asking for them. What happened, I think, was that a few plot elements took longer to resolve than anticipated, and we ran out of time for the soap opera stuff. Because of the game's relationship to Universalis, play works better the less the producer loads in at the start.


I didn't think I loaded very much.  

Scene 1
- Situation: trying to catch Ike (a fellow protagonist) before he esaped the space station.
- Turing point: you run into another fugitive with a much higher price on his head.

Since being caught and then becoming part of the crew was part of the Ike character concept, I thought Ike (James) would find a quick way to get caught by you guys and we could move on to a slower-paced investigation story.  I tried to have an "exciting opening" that would resolve into something with a slower pace.  

I did not communicate this expectation. However, I thought too much GM guideance would be against the rules of the game.  Now that I think of it though, I don't recall reading anything specific about this, so this might be just my assumption.

I also think that by setting up a chase sequence, I set a precedent and the game mechanic didn't give me another scene to frame for quite a while, so I had little mechanical influence.  The next three hours of play were one scene after another in a tight chase plot.  Chase plot's don't have much room for character story.

Finally, I think old role-playing habits worked against us all.  In my experience, the usual RPG session pursues a line of story in strict sequential play.  I think our game came alive the few times we chose to frame scenes that jumped ahead and assumed intervening details.  I've seen this problem routinely in Universalis play too with a variety of different players.  

If I had advice to us all I'd say: frame scenes more agressively.  Try to skip ahead - that will probably counteract our habitual tendency to got beat by beat.

And I do think there's a fine art for the GM in setting the first scene and ending it in such a way that the players are open to set the pace.

I'm going to try something different this evening.
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- Alan

A Writer's Blog: http://www.alanbarclay.com
Matt Wilson
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« Reply #2 on: April 22, 2004, 09:45:08 AM »

Quote
I didn't think I loaded very much.


Hey Alan:

My apologies if anything in my post comes across as "Alan didn't do it right." That was far from the case. My faith in the group is such that any frustration I have during the game is in the form of "damn, I must not be explaining it very well in the text."

Quote
I also think that by setting up a chase sequence, I set a precedent and the game mechanic didn't give me another scene to frame for quite a while, so I had little mechanical influence. The next three hours of play were one scene after another in a tight chase plot. Chase plot's don't have much room for character story.

Finally, I think old role-playing habits worked against us all. In my experience, the usual RPG session pursues a line of story in strict sequential play. I think our game came alive the few times we chose to frame scenes that jumped ahead and assumed intervening details. I've seen this problem routinely in Universalis play too with a variety of different players.


Yeah, I think that may be a pretty astute observation. I think there's some confusion about where scenes should begin and end, and it has a lot to do with player power and taking initiative with that. I'll try to set a better example of it.

For example, there's nothing in the game that would have prevented me from framing a scene that skips ahead to where my guy has James' guy cornered. It's appropriate for TV, but like you say is contrary to what a lot of games have established. Maybe in the game text I can say "now go buy Sorcerer and read the part about skipping ahead to the good stuff."

Quote
And I do think there's a fine art for the GM in setting the first scene and ending it in such a way that the players are open to set the pace.


I think you're absolutely right, and that you should be getting a lot more from us in between games to help you do it.
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John Harper
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« Reply #3 on: April 22, 2004, 10:07:01 AM »

My lesson learned from running and playing PTA is this: Be explicit. Whenever you think, "Gee, it would be cool if Larry the NPC really harbored a grudge about what Jane did," then communicate it, outloud, as soon as possible. Then everyone can work together to make it happen, or not, depending on how they feel about the idea.

Whenever I tried to muscle the story in a certain direction by being subtle (or worse, trying to play out every moment in order to make something happen later) it was doomed to failure. The same thing happens in Universalis and Trollbabe play. Get all the cards out on the table where everyone can take a look.

Thus, when you frame a scene, it's "I'd like a character scene with Larry and Jane about how Larry is still very bitter about what happened," instead of "Let's have a scene with Larry and Jane." If a scene drags, there's nothing in the PTA rules to prohibit a player from piping up and saying, "Can this scene be over now? I think we've covered it. I want to cut ahead to blah blah blah."

The other thing to do as a PTA player is ask yourself, "Based on the events of this episode so far, does the audience know what my character's Issue is?" Communicating your Issue in speech and action is a very important player job. Even when your Screen Presence is low, your Issue should be loud and clear to the viewers at home. And, like Matt said, it's also your job to know the Issues of the other characters and to help them get screen time. Throw them straight lines. Toss your protag into a situation that highlights another protag's Issue. Frame scenes where you talk about an Issue with another protag.

Hmmm. I'm rambling. What was the question? Ah yes... communication between episodes. I think it's important in PTA play for players to communicate at a purely metagame level. The rules include "commercial breaks" so this can happen during a session, but I've found that these breaks rarely occur in actual play. Maybe they need to be more strictly used, like say, a commercial break every third scene or something?
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DannyK
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« Reply #4 on: April 22, 2004, 10:12:07 AM »

Two questions and a comment:
1)What is PTA?  This is a stupid question, but I'm still asking.

2)Would it have worked better to start with James' character already caught and part of the crew, and then throw in some flashbacks later?  

3)Agressive scene framing is hard to do, isn't it?  In retrospect, jumping to the capture scene sounds like a good idea (maybe), but in the thick of the chase scene, all the roleplaying instincts tell you to run with the scene, even though the ending is a foregone conclusion.

Danny
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Matt Wilson
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« Reply #5 on: April 22, 2004, 10:47:47 AM »

Quote from: DannyK
Two questions and a comment:
1)What is PTA?  This is a stupid question, but I'm still asking.

2)Would it have worked better to start with James' character already caught and part of the crew, and then throw in some flashbacks later?  

3)Agressive scene framing is hard to do, isn't it?  In retrospect, jumping to the capture scene sounds like a good idea (maybe), but in the thick of the chase scene, all the roleplaying instincts tell you to run with the scene, even though the ending is a foregone conclusion.

Danny


Danny:

1) PTA stands for Primetime Adventures. It should probably be PA for short, but it doesn't sound as good.

2) Maybe. It was an idea, and it sounded good, and we went with it.

3) I think it's not so much that aggressive scene framing is hard, more that learned behavior is hard to unlearn. When I play with people who aren't veteran gamers, they have no trouble with it. I'm hoping that the TV elements make it easier to think in those terms. On a TV show, you don't show the whole chase unless it adds some value to the advancement of plot or development of character. For that matter, you don't show anything unless it supports one of those two agendas.
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Alan
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« Reply #6 on: April 22, 2004, 11:17:18 AM »

Hi Danny,

1) PTA = Matt Wilson's RPG, Primetime Adventures ( http://dog-eared-designs.com/ ) which is in final playtesting stages.

This thread refers to a game started in http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=10716

2) Yeah, I thought of that, but I wanted to have Matt engaged in an actual activity when I threw in the second fugutive.  I think what I should have done is have Dave (Matt) recognize Dr. Banerjee immediately, instead of later.  Taht might have given PCs incentive to wrap up Ike's intro.

About Flashbacks: they can easily be used, but, because every player has a chance to frame a scene, the GM doesn't get to push the pace using scenes.  Hm.  Maybe the GM needs more power to frame a scene when he chooses?

3) Agressive scene framing is easy.  Skip to the Bangs http://www.indie-rpgs.com/_articles/narr_essay.html" > (click and go to the Glossary at the end to define).  Frame the scene you want for your character.   What's hard is giving up old habits of plodding through all the steps in an rpg situation.

[EDIT:Matt and I crossposted with similar answers.]

Matt:

Perhaps you can invent a mechanic that encourages players to contribute between sessions - like the awarding Fan Mail when "Next Week on" or "This Week on" scenes actually happen.  Or maybe players take their issue and list "goal occurances" and get bonus Fan mail when those crop up.

Or what about feature scenes?  During a feature scene a protagonist gets an extra die for the whole scene.  Maybe spending Fan Mail and activating a "goal occurance" creates a feature scene.
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- Alan

A Writer's Blog: http://www.alanbarclay.com
DannyK
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« Reply #7 on: April 23, 2004, 11:34:49 AM »

Thanks for the replies.  It looks very interesting.  I'd offer to playtest, but I don't have a tabletop group and online playtesting wouldn't have any feedback for you for months...

I must say, I like games where the players are rewarded for doing some of the GM's work for them!  Does PTA have a mechanism for the "Teaser" at the beginning of the show and the "Tag" at the end?  Those might be great places to throw in some kickers and (and resolution of off-screen events).  

Good luck, I look forward to seeing it when it comes out.

Danny
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Matt Wilson
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« Reply #8 on: April 23, 2004, 12:02:59 PM »

Quote from: DannyK

I must say, I like games where the players are rewarded for doing some of the GM's work for them!  Does PTA have a mechanism for the "Teaser" at the beginning of the show and the "Tag" at the end?

Danny


Hi Danny.

Yes, those elements are a part of the game text.

Last night revealed that there are still a couple problems, mostly in terms of authority structure, but in general the game seems to support collaborative storytelling pretty well. I hope to have it up and running in an official capacity by GenCon.

Thanks for taking an interest.
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Alan
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« Reply #9 on: April 24, 2004, 02:59:06 AM »

Hi Matt,

I thought this thread was interesting in relation to our last two sessions of PTA:

http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=10923" >Successful Resolution and Narrativism

In our last two sessions, I've felt that, while we generate story arcs, it somehow lacks intensity for the players.  On the other hand, you expressed satisfaction with how things were playing out.
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- Alan

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Matt Wilson
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« Reply #10 on: April 24, 2004, 06:17:16 AM »

Quote from: Alan
Hi Matt,

I thought this thread was interesting in relation to our last two sessions of PTA:

http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=10923" >Successful Resolution and Narrativism


I had a phone conversation last night about that very same thing, which is spawning a slight revision. The new version will produce results in the vein of Dust Devils: Who got what they wanted, and who gets to describe it. (whereas, for those of you watching at home, the current version was just 'who gets to say stuff')

I'm really satisfied with the collaborative aspect of play, and the constraints provided by scene creation. It just needs an element of "nobody knows for sure what will happen next."
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Ian O'Rourke
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« Reply #11 on: April 26, 2004, 01:10:29 AM »

Quote from: Matt Wilson
Communication between the players this week has been strangely minimal, and shame on me, but that includes me as well. I think PTA thrives on "what would be cool for next week" chatter, and my next manuscript edit will probably include a bit on discussing the game between episodes. Just curious, but how common is that among the groups out there? If you do it, do you do it for every game, or do some games provoke a lot of in-between discussion?


We do this all the time, but probably not in the way Primetime Adventures would like. For instance, numerous of the players are in constant discussion with the DM about cool character arcs, how to deal with certain issues and stuff in play. One might be discussing how he wants his character to have a flirtation with the dark side because his lover has died? Another migth be discussing scenes to allow her to deal with the guilt of getting a friend killed?

The players don't do this with each other though, which is probably what PTA would demand I think.

With respect to the scene creation and scenes adding on where the other left off - such as in the chase you mentioned - I always thought the problem would be the other way around with players going to killer resolution scenes as soon as possible and winning the contest :)

While I realise such a choice should exist for the players, since the point of PTA is, to some extent, to use the 'what plot exists' to frame the issues around - going for plot resolution scenes too early would be...odd.

The other problem is as you say - too much scenes appended on where the other left off rather than jumping slightly, etc.
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Ian O'Rourke
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Matt Wilson
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« Reply #12 on: April 26, 2004, 06:31:48 AM »

Quote
With respect to the scene creation and scenes adding on where the other left off - such as in the chase you mentioned - I always thought the problem would be the other way around with players going to killer resolution scenes as soon as possible and winning the contest :)


Well, there's both an implied and overt structure in place for that. There's "what's appropriate," which is this nebulous understanding between players of what TV is all about, and then there's this thing in the rules about creating a story. Okay, so if you actually do beat up the "boss monster" in the third scene, then what's the episode actually about? That wasn't the resolution. The night is young. There's still uneaten pizza. You have the rest of the play session to come up with something cool that comes out of the way-awesome fight scene you just had.

And hell, I'd want to watch that episode just thinking about it.
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pete_darby
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« Reply #13 on: April 26, 2004, 07:15:32 AM »

Thinking about the source programmes for PtA, this episode structure becomes more prevalent as the formula of the series becomes more established: Buffy episodes such as "Earshot" or that one with cloned Xanders. The drama's not in the fight, it's in the consequences of the fight.
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Pete Darby
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« Reply #14 on: April 28, 2004, 03:20:51 AM »

Quote from: pete_darby
Thinking about the source programmes for PtA, this episode structure becomes more prevalent as the formula of the series becomes more established: Buffy episodes such as "Earshot" or that one with cloned Xanders. The drama's not in the fight, it's in the consequences of the fight.


Of course, no problem with that - but that 'plot that drives the other drama' exists until the end by and large.

As Matt says it's about the assumed structure and purpose of the game and everyone has to be on board with that.

Pete, I heard you were wanting to run TPA over IRC is that correct?
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Ian O'Rourke
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