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Author Topic: [Bliss Stage playtest] Rats in the Malls  (Read 1868 times)
Blankshield
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Posts: 407


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« on: November 22, 2005, 10:49:39 PM »

Ok, first off, although you mentioned it wasn't your priority, we did have fun.  We closed off the game stoked, and will be revisiting it, even if we didn't feel we needed to to give it a good run for your (metaphorical) money.

That being said: Rats in the Malls

Me, Eric (Harlequin), James (Bregon) and Jim (Sir not appearing in this forum) are what Stealth Gaming procured week before last, so we sat down for some Bliss Stage.  The World Creation stuff worked quite well.  We started off playing, and went "OK, five years from now."  Eric pointed out that it was a Thursday evening, and in North America at least, most folks would be at home, supper over and probably watching TV.  This meant that our post-apocalypse world was fairly orderly; cars parked, etc.  We also decided that, a bit creepily, the state the bliss leaves adults in had them sort of aimlessly moving around their regular patterns without actually doing anything.  Get up from the TV, walk to the bathroom, stand there a while, go back to the living room and so on.  I have a highly disturbing image of a highschool janitor mopping the same section of floor.  For five fucking years.  Yeeg.

We bounced around group types and authority figure for a while, and settled on a mix of ragamuffin kids surviving, but led by a mysterious agent of some kind.  James/Bregon suggested a cool idea that the leader was associated somehow with the racial conciousness of man, fighting back as best it could.  This bounced around the table for a bit and gelled into the somewhat creepy character of a 4 year old boy, possibly the last child born before the bliss hit, who was a channel for this authority.  Of course, genre demanded his name be Adam.  Our group lives and operates in the shell of West Edmonton Mall.

We built the pilots and then anchors and remainder of group as per the first draft text.  Numbers will follow, but up-front comments: like Emily, we found the intimacy numbers at the low end harsh to try and distribute.  Eric's immediate suggestion was to keep the baseline 1/2 for everyone in the group, and have the numbers added on top of that. You've addressed this in the new draft with the archtypes. 

We also ran into a complication right off where pilots were wanting to have relationships to each other, and faced with double jeopardy to make that relationship - both pilots had to allocate the points, or one of them was getting a free relationship. 

Yuri, Age 14.
Nine when the Bliss hit, Yuri is still emotionally attached to his parents.  He's very moody and was still adjusting from recent immigration when the Bliss hit.  He tries to act like the oldest, but more often than not throws tantrums when he's balked.

Anchor: 'Tif (forgiving)

Relationships:
Jacob 2/2
'Tif 2/4
Bobby 2/1
Adam  2/2

Rahjeet, Age 16
Sikh nerd/artist/animator/mathgeek
burn scar on right side of face (post-Bliss escape/chase), vision impaired on that side
soft spoken, imaginative, emotionally needy with iffy ego issues

Anchor: Kiri (kind)

Relationships:
Kiri 5/3
Crazy Warczyowski 3/2
Chris 2/3
Adam 3/2

Chris Hunter, Age 15
Chris was playing PS/2 when the Bliss hit, and lived near West Edmonton Mall.  When his parents went catatonic he went to the mall because he knew there were cops there.  Ended up living/hiding in the mall.  Uses Piloting as an escape, thinks of it as a really cool videogame, but misses his family when not piloting.

Anchor: Janice (affectionate)

Relationships:
Janice 3/2
Heather 4/1
Rahjeet 2/3


Instead of copying out the pilots like a sensible guy, I made a cat's cradle kind of diagram with Pilots on one side, everyone else on the other, and relationships as lines in between.  It was cool and worked better than I had reason to expect.

The only person in the group not relationshipped above is an 18 yr old named Lemmy, who was described as a real survivor type, and the driving force behind the real world survival stuff, like food and water and scavenging without being caught.


Notes for this bit: Man, this worked.  Like a hot damn.  But we're totally the target market: gamers and anime geeks.  I suspect this would go over like a lead balloon with folks who didn't know your source genre.  Fortunately, there's strong overlap between anime geeks and gamers.


---
After we did the group creation, it was getting a little late, but we were stoked, and strongly invested in the setting and characters, so pushed ahead with a mission.

Adam summoned the pilots and dictated a three part mission.  Adam had recently been able to configure a third pilot's couch, allowing the group to try for a something previously beyond their limits.  There was a node in the dreamworld that contained some elements that would give us much needed information about the aliens and what they are doing/wanting and possibly even the nature of the Bliss.  One pilot would be needed to draw off the aliens, a second to create an entry and hold it open, the third to actually penetrate the node and retrieve the information.  The node was described as glittering and colourfull, and we needed to retrieve at least two out of three objects from within.  The position and nature of the objects was uncertain, save that they would be completely dull and lifeless.  Rahjeet as eldest, volunteered for the retrieval, Chris said he would get the node open, leaving Yuri to draw off the guards.

In West Edmonton Mall, there is a chunk of space given over to a 'boardwalk market', which is all dinkly little shops selling overpriced tourist traps and specialty stuff.  It's windy and cramped at the best of times.  Our interface takes over that space, and we decided it changes all the time, to keep the drones from finding it.  The anchors are the only ones who can find their way around in there, so the pilots have to be met at the entry and guided in to their couch, which is also never the same twice.

Yuri needed one successful mission scene before anyone else could get moving, and two more
Chris needed two successful missions, one before Rahjeet went in and one after
Rajheet needed two successful missions, after Chris' first

We had a lot of cool narration in the playing out, and I don't want to get distracted by spinning it all out, so I'll sum up instead.  Else this would be much much longer.
As the narration turned out, everyone was seeing the dreamworld a little differently, and the robots were totally different styles.  Yuri was almost like a big golem thing with a hammer and a sheild, Chris was a Ghost in the Shell-like spider tank with totally over-the-top guns mounted on it, and Rahjeet was a semi-transparent blue crystaline-like robot that could blink from place to place.  This stuff all worked well.  Watching the players decide where they were putting the crap dice and dealing with the consequences showed that it worked.  The relationships and the dice choices work.  All the rest is dickering over the taste of the gravy.  Playtest part two (next week) will be interlude scenes and possibly more mission.

We didn't "get" the multiple pilots on a mission thing.  The relationship limiting felt totally artificial to us.  Like Chris' relationship with Adam means Yuri's is empty?  So we ignored it and did the simultaneous but seperate thing.  Standard scene framing, cut back and forth.  Worked like a dandy.

We ran into what I suspect will be one of your major hurdles: an all-male playing group.  Man, the pilot-anchor chemistry was flat for us.  Part of that I suspect was the fact that the group was way more invested in the pilots than in the anchors - totally a factor of time spent creating and ownership.  But a lot of it was the whole guy/guy intimacy thing.  On the plus side, the game still plays without that.  I think it loses a lot, but it isn't crippling.  I should note that this is a set of guys who have played together a lot, and have a solid idea of where each other's lines are.  The issue wasn't "is this safe/am I pushing buttons?" it was "we don't want to (collectively) go there, and know it."

The major mechanical thing that we stumbled on was not knowing who gets to say what.  There's clear direction on *when* narration passes, but we were still hampered by unclear limits to authority, both in terms of scope and in terms of actual duration.  Like, in a 5 or 6 on the dream roll, the GM doesn't get to chip in on scene framing, but when does the scene framing end and the scene begin?  Are there limits on the GM narration after the frame?  We muddled through OK, but you need to give more meat to these bones in particular.

Also: I don't know if we just got 'lucky' or were just super stingy on dice, but we had sweet all for bliss accumulation.  Rajheet picked up 9.  Everyone else stayed where they were.  lots of Terror and Stress, though.  Lots of Stress.  Like, everyone had a betrayal scene coming with Adam.  Mechanical question: After you put a one or a two into a relationship, it's unclear if the relationship sticks around, even if you don't get the dice.  We assumed it did.  (meaning further scenes had an extra die you had to allocate)  It's a fairly significant change to play, so you should clarify your intent here.

Play aid note: someone put little mission/nightmare/relationships boxes on their character as places to arrange their dice.  Then everyone did.  It worked super well.

We left the session with a significant uncertainty as to whether the interlude scenes would be enough to rebuild/advance relationships, or if our pilots would soon long for the dizzying heights of their starting intimacy/trust values.

that's all I've got for right now; It's been a long couple days at work.  If more comes to me, I'll post it.

thanks,

James
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I write games. My games don't have much in common with each other, except that I wrote them.

http://www.blankshieldpress.com/
Ben Lehman
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Blissed


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« Reply #1 on: November 23, 2005, 07:02:23 PM »

Thanks very much for the playtest and the write-up.  And I am glad you had fun, it's just that game-designer wants the details.

World Creation stuff: Cool!  I'm glad that this went well.  The "walking through ordinary life" modification is a fine little bit of non-canonical heresy :-)  I like it a lot.

I'm a little bit more skeptical about your sole Authority figure being a 4-year old boy.  I'll be interested to see how that plays out in the interludes (which -- new and better rules forthcoming).  I think that lack of a real adult figure really changes the social politics of the group in ways that I'm skeptical about.  But I tend to be overcautious about such things.

Relationships with each other!  Ooh, that's interesting.  I hadn't considered initial relationships with other pilots, for no good reason.  I'll have to consider that one further, particularly how it interacts with the new way I'm sorting relationships.

I like your mission.  I think I'm going to need to differentiate between "multiple pilot missions in series" like this one and "multiple pilot missions simultaneous" which would go differently.

You should definitely not allow multiple invocations of a relationship (of course, you also started out low in Intimacy, because of my poorly written starting situation, so it works out).  Think about it this way -- when you bring in a relationship, you are bringing in a portion of that person's psyche, the strength of which is determined by the intimacy of your relationship.  Since that  part of their psyche is in use, it's inaccessible to other pilots.

Likewise, I imagined that betrayal cancels the relationship for the rest of the mission -- you don't have to prioritize it, but you don't get the dice either.  Your way is vicious!

Narration guidelines are forthcoming.  Massive textual rewrite hopefully in the next two days should clear a lot of this stuff up.

Who made which characters?  Did you have pilots choose the anchors or did you pick a group of anchors and then assign relationships?

Thanks again!

yrs--
--Ben

P.S.  The awkwardness between male players is expected.  What can I say?
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Blankshield
Member

Posts: 407


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« Reply #2 on: November 23, 2005, 08:07:46 PM »

I'm a little bit more skeptical about your sole Authority figure being a 4-year old boy.  I'll be interested to see how that plays out in the interludes (which -- new and better rules forthcoming).  I think that lack of a real adult figure really changes the social politics of the group in ways that I'm skeptical about.  But I tend to be overcautious about such things.

In this particular instance, it will work, I expect.  But that's because Adam is in every way except shape a grown up.  He dominates the group through creep factor and knowledge.  We do have an adult in the group (Crazy Wor) as well. 

Quote
Relationships with each other!  Ooh, that's interesting.  I hadn't considered initial relationships with other pilots, for no good reason.  I'll have to consider that one further, particularly how it interacts with the new way I'm sorting relationships.

I like your mission.  I think I'm going to need to differentiate between "multiple pilot missions in series" like this one and "multiple pilot missions simultaneous" which would go differently.

You should definitely not allow multiple invocations of a relationship (of course, you also started out low in Intimacy, because of my poorly written starting situation, so it works out).  Think about it this way -- when you bring in a relationship, you are bringing in a portion of that person's psyche, the strength of which is determined by the intimacy of your relationship.  Since that  part of their psyche is in use, it's inaccessible to other pilots.

Likewise, I imagined that betrayal cancels the relationship for the rest of the mission -- you don't have to prioritize it, but you don't get the dice either.  Your way is vicious!

Ah!  Meaning that the relationships are *actually* damaged, not just the pilot's internal psyche.  Betrayals are coming because the real world trust both ways has suffered.

Wow.  Creepy, but wow.  That's a significant paradigm shift from the "it's all in the pilot's head" view we had.  Significant enough that it should be made clear somewhere.

Quote
Who made which characters?  Did you have pilots choose the anchors or did you pick a group of anchors and then assign relationships?

James made Yuri, Jim made Chris and Eric made Rahjeet.  Pilots made/picked their anchors and we group-thunk who would play them.  Then we each added a person or two to the group to get to the right number, and assigned relationships only after the group was done.

Our next round of Bliss Stage is next week.  This week is Reality Cops.

thanks,

James
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http://www.blankshieldpress.com/
Harlequin
Member

Posts: 284


« Reply #3 on: November 24, 2005, 08:30:37 AM »

Oh, dude, keep the nasty version of betrayals.  Put a one or a two into it and it stays a target.  I liked that a lot.  It's harsh and supports the harsh emotional realities really well, IMO.  Just put in a mechanism by which trust can be reestablished and the relationship can be started over, or something; doesn't have to be common, just possible.

Anything that mechanically incentivizes burning your bridges is cool.

And "Adam" in this game is so not a four-year-old in any real way, except physically.  James didn't go into detail on it, but the visualization is of him expressing himself in a purely adult manner, with a new and different adult voice/persona every ?sentence?conversation?day?few words?.  He's the collective (un?)conscious of the trapped adults of the whole world, finding expression through a four-year-old kid's voicebox.  If the actual child-Adam exists at all, his persona has been pretty much completely stifled.  If you've read Glen Cook's Black Company novels, he's Soulcatcher, as a little kid - creepy as finding half a spider in your breakfast.

One thing which we discussed and which I found really fascinating, but may not work for most groups, had to do with the dissonance in perspectives during the mission.  It's like the clash of visions in a normal SIS, amplified somehow through the distributed narration, dreamlike (and thus permissive and forgiving) state, and forged-in-characters'-psyches setting elements.  The result was well-suited to the kind of fucked up anime that we felt Bliss Stage was tapping into.  For instance, on the one hand we had my teleporting, crystalline mech, and alien handlers beautiful beyond bearing, and so forth... but then overlapping in the same scenes, we had buildings animating and grasping mechs' feet... and again overlapping we had real-world drones present in the dreamworld only as floating brains, setting up an ambush of carbombs and grenades and stuff.  Somehow the game enforced contextual dissonance, and the result was extremely surreal.  I enjoyed it, and the rest of us did too, but on another day (or in another group) the incoherency of it would have totally gotten under my skin and bugged the hell out of me.  Something to watch for as you tighten up the who-narrates-how-much rules...

Good game, Ben.  Push this pretty little lady through.

- Eric
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