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SRTeens does Andrew´s Little RPG

Started by Mikael, June 25, 2005, 02:14:28 PM

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Mikael

Our group and background have briefly been described in the thread where we tried out Universalis for the first time.

This time we had four players present, or three players and one GM. I had read the rules for Andrew's Little RPG and wanted to try it out. I had also thought up a little background/setting for this session, mainly scrounged from various ideas presented at the Forge, really. Fortunately, the other players did not want to play yet another disconnected experiment that would probably just degenerate into the silly. Instead, Miss K suggested simply using the rules with our on-going SRTeens campaign, and that's what we did.

Our SRTeens campaign is basically a standard Shadowrun game where the characters are just teens, living with their families etc. It has also been played only marginally with the rules; the character generation was pretty freeform, based on what we would like to do, with the GM setting attribute values based on our descriptions etc. In play, things like combat and task resolution have followed the standard rules. Overall, our GM Mr. T has allowed players to drive the game events, mainly ruling on the plausibility of ideas, and setting up some interesting conflicts like the local "moron gang" and a mysterious "cleanliness plague".

I was the only one who had read the Andrew's Little RPG rules before the game - or heard of them, for that matter - and I only had them on my phone. As it turned out, the other players did not need to read the rules, as they were simple enough to be explained and used without being available on paper. I had not spent a lot of time poring on the rules either, and tried to find answers to some questions while we were playing – thus some of the questions below might actually be answered in the game text.

Converting the characters from Shadowrun rules to ALR rules was reasonably straight-forward and quick. As our characters were teens instead of grown-ups, the GM ruled that we would have 9 points to divide among the attributes instead of the 12 suggested by the rules, and that the maximum in any attribute would be 5. I had actually defined OtE-style traits for my character at its inception, so picking traits for ALR was easy; others had to use a bit more effort, mainly using their skills and perceived character image to create traits. Convictions were relatively easy after that.

We decided on the outset that while the player character's traits were fixed, the GM characters were highly mutable. The GM could invent traits for them as necessary, and the players could invent negative ones when needed in conflict.

The session itself was not long. It consisted mainly of our characters trying to determine a course of action after their families had been abducted. The abduction itself was apparently a retaliation after one half of the characters had broken into a Fuchi school to steal some matrix decks. The starting situation was thus rather tense, the other half blaming the criminals for endangering their families.

As the ALR rules as they now stand consist mainly of conflict resolution rules and little else, I will focus on our conflicts and what they meant.

First conflict was between each of the characters of the players present at the session and the characters of those absent. We wanted to get them out of the picture to focus on our characters, and thus set up the conflict to get the narrative rights to do just that. The GM really had nothing against this, and could just have said yes, but I wanted to try the conflict resolution out right at the start, and so we went into it. I wanted to have the conflict have a lasting effect in the relationships between some of the characters, and narrated it that way. While this was recorded on our game log and might actually have some effect in the future, the rule mechanics did not give me any way to enforce it by creating a new trait or something like that.

Do the losers get all the power spent in the conflict, or just the power spent by the winning side? We decided "all of it", as that makes the power exchanges a zero-sum game. Otherwise, we would be facing a downward spiral in terms of overall power available to the players.

When the first player passes and the round proceeds up to the calling player, does the calling player get one last chance to buy dice or activate traits? We decided yes, and it seemed to work well. Also, if the calling player is the first to pass, do we get at full round of buying by the other players? If yes, it would seem funny to give the calling player another chance to buy something, so perhaps we ruled wrong on the previous question.

Our next conflict involved my character trying to locate his family with a watcher spirit. I lost, gaining a lot of power, but the interesting bit was that the GM invented a Conviction "that is really hard" and used that to get an extra success – not a decisive one, but a success anyway. We also noted that trying to use dice as both markers for power spent, markers for the current dice level, and as dice in the conflict resolution throws was simply confusing. We need separate markers for power and perhaps a sheet to place them on, a sheet that would indicate how many dice were bought, which level they were at, and how many convictions were activated as automatic successes. Perhaps such a sheet could be included in the rules?

The third and last conflict was perhaps the most interesting one, in terms of game mechanics. One of the players wanted to pursue a course of action that the GM thought was inadvisable and would lead the story in a direction that would not be very interesting. Thus we had a conflict between the player and the story, essentially. In resolving this, the player tried to use a power to activate a trait that all the other players thought was not applicable. The discussion on whether the trait was applicable took too long. I think ALR would benefit from some kind of a challenge mechanic similar to the one in Universalis. Just paying power to enforce an opinion is problematic: challenges should not result in either the challenger or the challenged getting more power, while at the same time we would like to preserve the zero-sum power balance. Distributing the power spent among the non-involved players would not work either, as sometimes everyone can be involved.

This conflict lead to a discussion on whether the ARL conflict resolution is meant to be used for resolving conflicts between characters or between the players. Here I think that we did both, which was kind of cool but begs for some clarification in the rules, I think.

There were thus two instances of what traditionally would have been GM railroading, which in this case were really just using the mechanics: inventing a GM Conviction about the world ("that is really hard"), and the GM initiating a conflict on the player's plan of action. Both of these felt right, somehow, even if in the case of the Conviction I would have preferred to hear some more concrete reason rather than just a general statement of difficulty. The conflict was especially appealing as it resulted in the player gaining a lot of power.

Some more questions on the system:

When there are several parties on either side of the conflict, does one side always need to be grouped?

Another question we had was that how is the system meant to be used when there is no opposing character or object, just an overall situation. To keep it simple, we decided that the GM sets a difficulty level, which becomes the limit of dice the GM can buy for that conflict.

Some development suggestions:

Our GM wanted to see some use for the difference between the number of successes on the two sides of the conflict. There was also some discussion on damage levels. While neither of these is strictly necessary in a narrative game, I think incorporating some elements from TSOY (bringing down the pain) or DitV (raises and sees) would be interesting. The idea of a rising conflict level would seem to be an especially good candidate for integration with ALR, as it already uses the dice levels in a conflict resolution.

Cheers,
+ Mikael
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Andrew Cooper

Mikael,

Thanks for playing the game!  The feedback was excellent and some of your criticisms of the game were things I was already somewhat dissatisfied with, so the comments really helped cement what I thought was wrong.  Let me see if I can answer some of your questions.

QuoteDo the losers get all the power spent in the conflict, or just the power spent by the winning side? We decided "all of it", as that makes the power exchanges a zero-sum game. Otherwise, we would be facing a downward spiral in terms of overall power available to the players.

You did this exactly right.  The game is a "zero sum" game.  It really only works if the Power markers are a constants total value but are continually moving back and forth between players.  I don't think it would work as a downward spiral as it would tend to spiral too quickly.

QuoteWhen the first player passes and the round proceeds up to the calling player, does the calling player get one last chance to buy dice or activate traits? We decided yes, and it seemed to work well. Also, if the calling player is the first to pass, do we get at full round of buying by the other players? If yes, it would seem funny to give the calling player another chance to buy something, so perhaps we ruled wrong on the previous question.

I definately need to clarify this in the rules.  I don't think it creates a big problem if you do it the way you did but it isn't the way I meant for it to work.  The Calling Player should not get 1 more chance to spend Power.  Since the Calling Player is always the first to go in a round of spending, allowing him to go again would give him 1 more action than everyone else.  I tried to make sure that everyone got the same number of actions before the actual dice rolling.

QuoteWe need separate markers for power and perhaps a sheet to place them on, a sheet that would indicate how many dice were bought, which level they were at, and how many convictions were activated as automatic successes. Perhaps such a sheet could be included in the rules?

Yes, I am unhappy with the handling time (I hope that is the correct term) in keeping track of Power spent and current level of dice pools and the other stuff involved with Conflicts.  When I have played, we've used glass beads for Power and a small bowl for each Conflict being resolved.  Still keeping up with the number of dice and which type was somewhat unwieldy.  I've considered moving away from pools of dice and going with a single dice (mostly) with modifiers as discussed in this thread.  If you have the time, look at it and let me know how you think it would affect the playability of the game, since you've given it a whirl.

QuoteIn resolving this, the player tried to use a power to activate a trait that all the other players thought was not applicable. The discussion on whether the trait was applicable took too long. I think ALR would benefit from some kind of a challenge mechanic similar to the one in Universalis.

I ran into this in my playtest too.  My solution was to call for a simple majority vote from the players.  The vote indicated that the majority of players thought using that Trait in that specific instance was stretching too far and thus it was overturned.

Since this has happened both times in playtest I definately think that some sort of stated mechanic needs to be put into place to handle these types of issues.  Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

QuoteThis conflict lead to a discussion on whether the ARL conflict resolution is meant to be used for resolving conflicts between characters or between the players. Here I think that we did both, which was kind of cool but begs for some clarification in the rules, I think.

Yes, this does need clarification.  Could you give me a little more detail on the specifics of this particular event?  I'm really interested in how you used the resolution system, which seems intimately tied to the characters, to moderate an out-of-game dispute between players.  I think it would be a very useful thing for the resolution system to handle so I'd love to see how you did it.

QuoteWhen there are several parties on either side of the conflict, does one side always need to be grouped?

You don't have to but it makes things a whole lot simpler.  It's like playing TSoY and using the Gestalt rules when BDtP.  It's not required but it certainly makes play go faster.    The other thing to consider is that if there are too many "sides" in a Conflict, perhaps it would be better to break it up and do the Resolutions separately.

QuoteOur GM wanted to see some use for the difference between the number of successes on the two sides of the conflict.

This bears some thought on my part.  I've wanted to keep the results of a Conflict rather open to interpretation but perhaps some guidelines are in order.  More playtesting would definately be useful here as this problem did not come up in my own game... but then again, since I wrote the system I obviously had the guidelines I thought appropriate in my head.

QuoteI think incorporating some elements from TSOY (bringing down the pain) or DitV (raises and sees) would be interesting. The idea of a rising conflict level would seem to be an especially good candidate for integration with ALR, as it already uses the dice levels in a conflict resolution.

This is definately an interesting idea.  My one concern is that I don't want to create even more handling time problems.  However, the benefit, if I could get it to work correctly, might be worth the effort.

Again, thanks for playing the game.  I really appreciate the effort.  I do have a question or two for you.

First, how did the spending rounds feel as far as adding or subtracting tension to Conflict at hand?  Did it just get in the way or did it help mold the narrative by giving it some direction with the usage of Traits and Convictions?

Second, what did you think the biggest weakness of the system was?  Is there something that just stuck in your craw, so to speak?  Is there anything that the other players just hated?

Third, did the group seem like they might be interested in playing again as I continue to revise these rules?

Andrew Cooper

I just noticed that you're from Finland.  My game got played in Finland!  Woot!  I'm international now. :)

Mikael

Thanks for the clarifications. I think we will fall back in line in the next session.

I commented your alternate dice mechanic in the Design thread.

Quote from: GaerikI ran into this in my playtest too.  My solution was to call for a simple majority vote from the players.  The vote indicated that the majority of players thought using that Trait in that specific instance was stretching too far and thus it was overturned.

Since this has happened both times in playtest I definately think that some sort of stated mechanic needs to be put into place to handle these types of issues.  Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

In our next game I will suggest that we recognize the majority vote as a quick and dirty mechanic for this.
o Any player can just say "vote", whenever it seems like this kind of discussion has gone on too long.
o In case of a tie, GM vote decides.

Quote from: Gaerik
QuoteThis conflict lead to a discussion on whether the ARL conflict resolution is meant to be used for resolving conflicts between characters or between the players. Here I think that we did both, which was kind of cool but begs for some clarification in the rules, I think.
Yes, this does need clarification.  Could you give me a little more detail on the specifics of this particular event?  I'm really interested in how you used the resolution system, which seems intimately tied to the characters, to moderate an out-of-game dispute between players.  I think it would be a very useful thing for the resolution system to handle so I'd love to see how you did it.

Universalis makes this distinction rather clear, I think. Complications are mainly used to resolve conflicts in the SIS, and Challenges serve to resolve conflicts between the players. Of course, this is not exactly true, as Complications could be also seen as conflicts between players...

As you say, the conflict resolution in ALR is geared for conflicts between the characters. It uses the character attributes, convictions and traits to justify Power use.

In our conflict, one of the characters wanted to call a higher authority to help in our troubles (a school principal). The GM thought that this was basically a not-very-interesting direction for the story to take (i.e. he did not immediately see how it would help the characters and - more importantly - did not have any funny ideas on how to use such an event in an entertaining way). Thus he wanted to use the conflict resolution mechanism to challenge this course of action - literally spending narrative Power to control the story. I think this was a brilliant idea, as the GM is a player too, and should not be just reacting to player's ideas in terms of story direction. And, as said earlier, the losing player received a load of Power as a compensation for being thwarted.

We did not have rules for this type of meta-level conflict, no stated player convictions or traits. Thus we just winged it: player used the character traits to justify why he thought that the character would choose this particular avenue of action, while the GM invoked ad hoc traits of the setting and relied heavily on his superior Power reserve. Note that other players were not involved in this (much) but that we would have objected to the GM inventing unplausible traits for the setting.

It was an interesting experiment, even if it was a bit confusing. Which attribute to use as the spending limit? etc. Next time, if we again recognize the need for such a conflict, we might make this a simple expenditure of Power - just buy the d6's and roll them. Not as interesting but not as fluffy either.

Quote from: GaerikFirst, how did the spending rounds feel as far as adding or subtracting tension to Conflict at hand?  Did it just get in the way or did it help mold the narrative by giving it some direction with the usage of Traits and Convictions?

Looking back, it seems that the stakes in the conflicts were too low for the conflict system to raise the tension significantly. The use of Traits and Convictions was more like "hey, this applies" than "hey, this will be resolved this way since I used this Trait". I would much prefer the latter, but am unsure how to make it happen.

Quote from: GaerikSecond, what did you think the biggest weakness of the system was?  Is there something that just stuck in your craw, so to speak?  Is there anything that the other players just hated?

Third, did the group seem like they might be interested in playing again as I continue to revise these rules?

I think we have pretty much discussed all the relatively weak points. Next session we will have some players joining who were not with us this time, and at the very least I think we will want to give them a chance to try this system out. Any rules revisions out at that time will be taken into due consideration (sometime in July, I hope).

Cheers,
+ Mikael
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Mikael

Quote from: GaerikThe Calling Player should not get 1 more chance to spend Power.  Since the Calling Player is always the first to go in a round of spending, allowing him to go again would give him 1 more action than everyone else.  I tried to make sure that everyone got the same number of actions before the actual dice rolling.

Small detail related to this. If you want to give everyone the same number of actions before actual dice rolling, shouldn't it be more like Action and "I end the buying" rather than just a "pass"?

To clarify: If a player wants to end the buying, he or she should be able to spend Power and then declare the end of buying, with the turn proceeding up to the Calling Player. I feel that just passing could place the passing player at a disadvantage in a tight two-player conflict.

Then again, combining Action with the end-of-buying might give a clear advantage to the player next to the Calling Player, as he or she would be able to suddenly buy a bunch a dice and then just end the turn.

Subtle, subtle.

Cheers,
+ Mikael
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Tube

Hello. I'm Mikael's Mr T.

I think the conflict between me (the GM) and the player was quite refreshing. We've mostly played quite simulationistically (is that a word?), with the player's sovereign rule over his character's actions one of the untouchables - until now. I really think that a game mechanism allowing the GM to challenge player's plans or character actions is very welcome in a more narrative-oriented game. I know that the PCs calling on the authorities would have had pretty pretty boring consequences (or needing some serious suspension of disbelief, which I'd rather not to do in this game), so the ability to challenge it and take the narrative reins and the control of the character from the player was pretty nice. This of course is horribly prone to all kinds of powergaming, but I don't think we need to worry about this here.

What comes to the game mechanics involved, I don't have a problem with using the character-derived power - it's just one way of representing the leverage available to the player (and the GM). The bidding max should probably be something arbitrary, like 3 or 4?

This narrative right -conflict is definitely something I want to include in the game in the future too in some extent. And not just to get more GM power trips, as it gives the players the ability to control the story and events too, which, if done right, can be very entertaining.

Another point is the "pretty darn hard"-conviction. It derives from the SR universe (an amateur conjurer trying to get a mid-force Watcher do all kinds of stuff), and as it was a character trying something pretty hard (a conflict between the character's skills and the difficult, dangerous world) I think such "difficulty level" convictions are appropriate. In the GM-vs-player conflict over narrative right it would not be.



Quote from: Everspinner
Quote from: Gaerik
QuoteThis conflict lead to a discussion on whether the ARL conflict resolution is meant to be used for resolving conflicts between characters or between the players. Here I think that we did both, which was kind of cool but begs for some clarification in the rules, I think.
Yes, this does need clarification.  Could you give me a little more detail on the specifics of this particular event?  I'm really interested in how you used the resolution system, which seems intimately tied to the characters, to moderate an out-of-game dispute between players.  I think it would be a very useful thing for the resolution system to handle so I'd love to see how you did it.

As you say, the conflict resolution in ALR is geared for conflicts between the characters. It uses the character attributes, convictions and traits to justify Power use.

In our conflict, one of the characters wanted to call a higher authority to help in our troubles (a school principal). The GM thought that this was basically a not-very-interesting direction for the story to take (i.e. he did not immediately see how it would help the characters and - more importantly - did not have any funny ideas on how to use such an event in an entertaining way). Thus he wanted to use the conflict resolution mechanism to challenge this course of action - literally spending narrative Power to control the story. I think this was a brilliant idea, as the GM is a player too, and should not be just reacting to player's ideas in terms of story direction. And, as said earlier, the losing player received a load of Power as a compensation for being thwarted.

We did not have rules for this type of meta-level conflict, no stated player convictions or traits. Thus we just winged it: player used the character traits to justify why he thought that the character would choose this particular avenue of action, while the GM invoked ad hoc traits of the setting and relied heavily on his superior Power reserve. Note that other players were not involved in this (much) but that we would have objected to the GM inventing unplausible traits for the setting.

Andrew Cooper

Here's my thoughts on why I made the player who is wanting to end the Spending pass.  

If two players get into a Conflict and Player A has 1 or 0 applicable Traits (or has a few applicable Negative Traits) while Player B has several that he could use, I didn't want there to be too big of an advantage to Player A just buying dice in the first round of Spending and then declaring an ending to the Conflict, thereby denying Player B from using any of his advantages.  The rules as they stand will always let Player B have the opportunity to activate at least 1 more Trait or something equivalent.

There are other ways to achieve this same effect.  Here are a few that I've come up with since mulling over the issue.

1)  Have Players do multiple actions within a single Round of Spending.  Conflicts would end up with fewer Spending rounds but you couldn't keep a player from using whatever Traits he wanted to Spend for and were applicable.

2)  Have a set number of Spending rounds... say 3.  This way, if you want to pass, that's fine but your opponent still has the opportunity to Spend if he wants.

3)  Have only the Calling Player be able to end the Spending.  This makes it an advantage to be the one initiating Conflicts.  If the weaker Player initiates he has the advantage of limiting the Spending.  If the stronger, then the Spending goes on until he's ready to stop.

What do you think of these options?  Anything look better than the current solution?  Anything look completely broken about the options?

Mikael

Quick reactions to the options, which all seem possible as such - but "some of us are more equal than the others"...

Quote from: Gaerik1)  Have Players do multiple actions within a single Round of Spending.  Conflicts would end up with fewer Spending rounds but you couldn't keep a player from using whatever Traits he wanted to Spend for and were applicable.

I prefer the current version to this as it keeps the Spending Rounds moving. Allowing multiple Actions would clearly slow things down, as players would be loath to release their turn before they are absolutely sure that they have done everything they can. Also, the original system seems to provide more possibilities for tension and reactive spending. In our game, we did not really get to the level where the Turns of Spending could be tied to actual exchanges in the conflict, but that would be cool.

Quote from: Gaerik2)  Have a set number of Spending rounds... say 3.  This way, if you want to pass, that's fine but your opponent still has the opportunity to Spend if he wants.

Perhaps my least favorite choice out of the three, as it will again slow things down. Making a round around the table takes time even if everyone just says "pass", which could be a bore anyway. The plus side of this option would of course be tactical options like passing at first, then "hitting hard from ambush" in the last round.

Quote from: Gaerik3)  Have only the Calling Player be able to end the Spending.  This makes it an advantage to be the one initiating Conflicts.  If the weaker Player initiates he has the advantage of limiting the Spending.  If the stronger, then the Spending goes on until he's ready to stop.

This I would need to see in play, and we have not really playtested even the original version yet, so we will do that first. If it seems somehow broken, we can easily switch to this option even during one game.

Overall, it seems your original setup is pretty good. Forcing at least one Round of Spending before passing does make sure that a) everyone's got at least 1 die to throw and b) the stronger character can buy lots of dice - with a presumably high Limiting Attribute - and upgrade the dice or activate a Conviction.

Taking even one more step back, it is worth noting how gracefully Universalis handles all these optional rule modifications - one fixed rule set and an in-built way of applying changes. However, I also think that having malleable rules might be one step too far when players new to narrative games try to get the same sense of immediacy and tension that they (at times) got from the traditional games - when we already struggle with reconciling the narrative power and the in-character "feel", having to think about changes in the rules drives us even further from the imaginative space and back to just sitting around the table and playing a boardgame.

Cheers,
+ Mikael
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