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Author Topic: [Ends and Means] Steel Pit Fight Night (Playtest Prep, LONG)  (Read 3167 times)
Adam Cerling
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« on: January 29, 2006, 04:40:19 PM »

This post is a bit of a brain dump. So much happened, and so much of it significant, that I'm not sure what one thing to focus on, other than -- Wow! Playtesting is important!

Last night I led a group of ten LARPers and LARPers-to-be in an introduction to my system in development, Ends and Means. Over five hours, we talked about the playtest setting, created characters, learned the rules, and tried out some example scenarios (and goofed off and joked in general).

I continue to have a charmed development experience with this game. I had a great time. The room was interested and energized all night: not only when brainstorming characters, but also when learning the rules. And the players gave great feedback about stuff that needs to change.

The Players

Eight were regular LARPers from our Mind's Eye Theater Werewolf game. One other, I play tabletop with weekly. Another I'd never played with before.

Seven of them were women; three were men (four, if you count me). I was not expecting that ratio, even though it's not the first time: my King Lothian's Court playtest also favored the females.

In any case, I expect a few more guys to sign up late for the playtest, so the numbers may balance out somewhat by the first session of play.

One player is an unabashed Step-On-Up competitor. My system isn't about that at all. This player is openly skeptical about how the game will actually play. But I'm glad for his participation, because he's very good at pointing out the holes and flaws in a system.

Two other players pointed out that my system felt a lot like online MUCK/MUSH play they'd done in the past, which was a sharp insight: while I never consciously thought about it while I was designing, it's true that I first discovered roleplaying as a teenager, when I tried out this new online game called a MUCK.

The Setting

The setting for this LARP is Steel Pit Fight Night, a milieu of martial arts tournaments, criminal empires, Eastern mysticism and weird science.

Players connected to the setting by invoking movies like Unleashed and Lionheart, and TV shows like Dark Angel, none of which I'd seen, so I think we hit a meme.

Character Generation

Once again I used a Relationship Map to help people springboard off one another's ideas as they generated their characters. Graham Walmsley suggested to me once that I put this technique in the book: I think now I have to. It's just that useful.

Many of the characters ended up connected to a shady megacorporation, GenetiCorp. Others shared a theme around organized crime, and others rallied around a venerable school of martial arts.

I explained how you distribute Weight to your Ends and Means at the start of each game, and how you earn Plot Points if your highest number is less than your maximum. One player pointed out that calculators would be helpful to have on hand for this; that recommendation will go in the book also.

Learning the Rules

I began with an aborted paraphrase of the Lumpley Principle. I drew two players (A and B) on the whiteboard, and beneath them two characters (1 and 2), like so:

AB
12

I drew lines from A to 1 and B to 2, showing that these players played these characters. I drew a line between 1 and 2, saying that this is how most rules work -- resolving what happens between characters. Then I drew a line between A and B, saying that in my game, the rules do a lot of this instead: making sure the players are on the same page before bothering with the characters.

All the players seemed to understand that. They didn't accuse me of saying something crazy. (Perhaps because I stopped short of telling them that really, 1 and 2 don't exist.)

Next I explained what it meant to assign low Weight and high Weight to Ends and Means. This was hard, because the meanings of the numbers are very abstract. Neither Low Weight or High Weight is good or bad: their relative worth depends on what your opponent bids and what resources you have on hand.

It was surprisingly easy to explain how to set Stakes. I made examples of Mind's Eye Theater, whose system underdevelops the idea of making your own Stakes in a conflict. When I talked about how nothing you can do will force someone to accept a Major Stake, my skeptic voiced his doubts about how easy that is to abuse -- but we agreed to disagree and see how it works in play.

I walked through 1-on-1 conflict resolution, with the help of a handy rules flowchart I made. I got some good suggestions for how to order the declaration of Ends and Means.

When I described Group Conflict resolution, several players (vocally led by the skeptic) made a great save. I'd done some bad math with these rules, giving an unfair advantage to people who come in late to the conflict as opposed to being there from the beginning. My players corrected my math, coming up with a great alternative, and set me back on track.

As an example I ran a group conflict in between four Managers, each of whom wanted to sign a potent new fighter. It ran smooth. I think everyone was surprised by how simple it actually turned out to be, resolving four different Stakes at once.

I was also surprised by how easily people took to the PTA-style division of "who wins" and "who narrates." I'm excited that this might bring out the creative side of some players who are usually stifled by GM fiat.

I got good advice when we disussed character advancement. I need to think about explicitly rewarding Ends that are "accomplished" and thereafter removed from the character sheet.

Scenarios

Last I talked about how I will do scenarios, which happen when players use Plot Points to purchase new situations for their PCs. I ran a few sample scenarios, which were educational to me as much as them.

Lesson 1 : Take the time to really read the Ends off people's character sheets. In a hurry I misread one sheet, mistakenly reading that a character wanted revenge against GenetiCorp when in fact she wanted to take over the company. Unsuprisingly, the Scenario I ran fell flat. An NPC wanted the PC's help clearing up some legal trouble with a GenetiCorp branch: the PC was all too happy to give it. No conflict.

Lesson 2: Put a Warning label on Stealing the Scene: It will hurt the first few times it happens to you! In one scenario I ran, as GM I Stole the Scene from a PC, and I could tell that it stung. "That's it? There's nothing else I can do about it but try to Bribe you?" I think the context of a full game will take the edge off the sting, as it happens more and more.

Lesson 3: Develop a better system for coming up with the Weight of GM Stakes. Right now I basically pull them out of thin air. I think the GM needs Ends and Means too. I know I could use the help of this forum in determining what a GM's Ends are!

But last of all I got a Scenario that crackled with power. The ex-Champion Manager wanted her Aikido fighter to test the mettle of a Thrill-Seeker fighter. But just then I gave the Aikido fighter a cell-phone call about his son being in trouble. The tension in watching the fighter choose between his son's welfare and his sifu's will was priceless.

What's Next

Next week -- Friday -- I run a "remedial" prep session for those players who couldn't make it last night. Then the second Saturday in February, I run the first full game session (of five).

Design Question for the Forums

In my game, each character has Ends (their goals and dreams and hopes and beliefs) and Means (their skills and powers and equipment and connections). In conflict, players choose one of each to apply to their Stake.

When a GM gets into a conflict, it would be most elegant for a GM to choose from his own list of Ends and Means as well. But I designed Ends and Means to apply to characters -- what kind of Ends and Means might apply to the setting, and the job the GM has introducing conflict into the setting, instead?
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Adam Cerling
In development: Ends and Means -- Live Role-Playing Focused on What Matters Most.
Andrew Morris
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« Reply #1 on: January 29, 2006, 09:24:29 PM »

Adam, you might want to reconsider the bit about telling players to use a calculator. If I recall correctly, there's nothing more complicated than simple subtraction, right? Just because one player had some math problems with that doesn't mean others will. Also, telling players they might need a calculator might scare some people off -- "Calculator? Whoah, too crunchy for me. I haven't had to use a calculator for an RPG since Champions."

About GM Ends and Means, I'm not sure what you're going for. Why would you want the GM to have abstract Ends and Means as opposed to ends and means for whatever character he is using?
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Adam Cerling
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« Reply #2 on: January 30, 2006, 08:49:10 AM »

Andrew --

The "complicated" math happens once, at the beginning of a session of play, when a player distributes 50+ points of Weight unevenly amongst 6+ Ends and Means. So in actual play, a player might end up divvying 63 Weight unevenly between 12 Ends and Means. That math isn't difficult for you and me, perhaps, but some players said they'd find a calculator helpful. If I mention it in the book, it'll be mentioned once in advice to the organizers about supplies to have on hand.

Quote from: Andrew Morris
About GM Ends and Means, I'm not sure what you're going for. Why would you want the GM to have abstract Ends and Means as opposed to ends and means for whatever character he is using?

As GM, I happen across many situations (if not most) where he must invent NPCs on the fly. Unless he has a list of Setting-level or Story-level Ends and Means prepared, there's nowhere but spur-of-the-moment fiat to get their Weights.
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Adam Cerling
In development: Ends and Means -- Live Role-Playing Focused on What Matters Most.
Adam Cerling
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« Reply #3 on: January 30, 2006, 08:51:55 AM »

Should read:

Unless I have a list of Setting-level or Story-level Ends and Means prepared, there's nowhere but spur-of-the-moment fiat to get their Weights.
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Adam Cerling
In development: Ends and Means -- Live Role-Playing Focused on What Matters Most.
Andrew Morris
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« Reply #4 on: January 30, 2006, 09:11:38 AM »

s]Generic Low-Power NPC (50 Weight):
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Graham W
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« Reply #5 on: January 30, 2006, 09:33:15 AM »

Hi Adam. Glad it went well.

I'm interested in exactly what sort of Relationship Map you're using and how you draw it up. Any chance you could give a rough description?

I explained how you distribute Weight to your Ends and Means at the start of each game, and how you earn Plot Points if your highest number is less than your maximum. One player pointed out that calculators would be helpful to have on hand for this; that recommendation will go in the book also.

I agree with Andrew's observation that calculators are bollocks.

Just thinking off the top of my head here...is there any way you could use an instruction like:

At the beginning of each game, take the Weights from your previous character sheet and rearrange them as you see fit. If your Weight Reserve has gone up, then put the added Weight on your character sheet as well.

That's not well-phrased, but what I'm trying to get at is using the previous character sheet as a guide, rather than taking everything off the character sheet and having to do maths to get it back on there.

Quote
Next I explained what it meant to assign low Weight and high Weight to Ends and Means. This was hard, because the meanings of the numbers are very abstract. Neither Low Weight or High Weight is good or bad: their relative worth depends on what your opponent bids and what resources you have on hand.

Did you explain Triplets at this stage? I'm just asking because that Triplet rule plays quite a big role in assigning Weight.

Quote
I walked through 1-on-1 conflict resolution, with the help of a handy rules flowchart I made. I got some good suggestions for how to order the declaration of Ends and Means.

It's a good document. From reading the main rules, though, I remember a much greater emphasis on bribery, which I liked.

Quote
Lesson 2: Put a Warning label on Stealing the Scene: It will hurt the first few times it happens to you! In one scenario I ran, as GM I Stole the Scene from a PC, and I could tell that it stung. "That's it? There's nothing else I can do about it but try to Bribe you?" I think the context of a full game will take the edge off the sting, as it happens more and more.

I'm really interested in this. I can completely understand that it hurts. It'll be interesting to see how it works in a full playtest.

Quote
Lesson 3: Develop a better system for coming up with the Weight of GM Stakes. Right now I basically pull them out of thin air. I think the GM needs Ends and Means too. I know I could use the help of this forum in determining what a GM's Ends are!

Nice. I imagine you could either use general GM stakes ("push the characters' moral boundaries", "escalate conflicts") or you could define them as part of the setting ("show the characters that fighting's a mug's game", "make the characters realise that the only person they can trust is themselves").

Graham
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Adam Cerling
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« Reply #6 on: January 30, 2006, 09:22:31 PM »

Andrew --

Proto-NPCs are worth considering. I'm just concerned that it'll run up against the same problem as Fiat: it'd be awfully easy to pick just the right combination of numbers on the spur of the moment to win a conflict. Individual Ends and Means carry much more weight (literally! Ha!) into a conflict than individual traits do in Dogs.

Graham --

My Relationship Map technique is pretty simple: I circle a two-word description of each character concept that comes up, and link it to other major NPCs or organizations suggested by the concept, also circled. I'll write the nature of the relationship on the line.

When I do this at the same time that players are working on coming up with character concepts, I find that they look to the map to find inspiration, much like they'd ordinarily flip through a setting book looking at splats. As they come up with characters and relationships, I just keep adding them to the whiteboard. Sometimes I'll ask "What relationship do you have to this person? To that one? What if this NPC and that one were the same guy? How does this idea sound?" And sometimes they just realize themselves how cool it is to start with relationships, and they do all that work for me.

Quote from: Graham Walmsley
That's not well-phrased, but what I'm trying to get at is using the previous character sheet as a guide, rather than taking everything off the character sheet and having to do maths to get it back on there.

I don't want the pre-game prep phase to include referencing previous character sheets -- that would require keeping track of previous character sheets! As it is, I can print off sheets and hand them out and forget about them.

Quote from: Graham Walmsley
Did you explain Triplets at this stage? I'm just asking because that Triplet rule plays quite a big role in assigning Weight.

I did explain Triplets when I talked about distributing Weight. It did add complexity to an otherwise simple idea. But lots of people used it, resulting in Stakes in a broad variety of Weights.

Quote from: Graham Walmsley
It's a good document. From reading the main rules, though, I remember a much greater emphasis on bribery, which I liked.

Sadly, the emphasis on Bribery didn't fit into the space available on the rules pamphlet!

Also on the downside, several people found the flowcharts intimidating. They were surprised that the rules for group conflict resolution weren't nearly as complicated in practice as they looked on paper.

Quote from: Graham Walmsley
I'm really interested in this. I can completely understand that it hurts. It'll be interesting to see how it works in a full playtest.

Ends and Means has no randomizing element -- and I think the lack of it makes the loss more personal. When your opponent Steals the Scene, you realize that it was your choice of End and Means that doomed you to fail: you can't blame dumb chance. And there's no recourse in that moment but to experience the defeat.

Quote from: Graham Walmsley
Nice. I imagine you could either use general GM stakes ("push the characters' moral boundaries", "escalate conflicts") or you could define them as part of the setting ("show the characters that fighting's a mug's game", "make the characters realise that the only person they can trust is themselves").

So in the first case, I need to develop a comprehensive list of generic GM goals that any situation will fall into. This actually might be pretty awesome -- it would be a way of guiding the GM with how to run the game well!

The second case is also interesting: in that case, the GM develops the "lies" that the setting tries to tell the characters. That might present a difficulty if the characters want to side with the setting on certain Ends.

Thanks for all the feedback!
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Adam Cerling
In development: Ends and Means -- Live Role-Playing Focused on What Matters Most.
Graham W
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« Reply #7 on: January 31, 2006, 04:34:58 AM »

Adam,

To come back on your "lies that the setting tells you" thing, could you give the GM a character sheet for the setting (including NPCs), as though it were a character?

So for your Fight Night thing, maybe something like...

THE ARENA

Ends:

Only let the strongest survive
Make them feel the pain
Once in a while, let an underdog through

Means:

Hit them
Torture them
Bankrupt them
Mess with their minds


And then that would all be slightly different for, say, a Terry Pratchett game (which might have a "Make the world come close to ending" End and a "Make their magic backfire" Means").

Any mileage in that?

Graham

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Andrew Morris
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« Reply #8 on: January 31, 2006, 11:58:45 AM »

Adam, just out of curiousity, what sort of changes have your playtests lead to? Have they mostly been lack of clarity in presentation, or finding "broken" bits?
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Adam Cerling
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« Reply #9 on: January 31, 2006, 07:07:14 PM »

Graham --

That's exactly the sort of thing I think I need. So the question is: how to describe the quality that makes an End a good fit for a given setting?


Andrew --

So far, I've been the person running and presenting the game during the playtests. So if any lack in clarity of presentation has been mine. Even so, I think I've done a good job of presenting things: after a few hands-on examples, players get it. It's also pretty cool that I can tell them how to make complete characters first, and then teach them the rules for using those characters second. The latter isn't necessary for the former.

Playtests so far have revealed things that are "broken." Playtests led me to reduce the number of Plot Points available and to add Commanding the Scene as a counter to Stealing the Scene. In this last playtest, my players pointed out a big balance issue in my "Latecomer Conflict" rules (for when someone walks in on a conflict after it's already in Directed Narration), and I'm realizing the weaknesses of GM-fiat in setting the weight of his own Stakes.

That kind of stuff. I'm quickly being disabused of the notion that my game is "almost done." I'm going to end up rewriting at least half this thing, I suspect, thanks to the feedback I'm getting!
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Adam Cerling
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Graham W
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« Reply #10 on: February 01, 2006, 05:23:36 AM »

That's exactly the sort of thing I think I need. So the question is: how to describe the quality that makes an End a good fit for a given setting?

Let's see. Perhaps a good place to start would be the Ends which the NPCs of that setting are likely to have (since the GM might end up playing those).

So in your Steel Pit Fight Night, I imagine money-grabbing match fixers ("make money at all costs", "get rid of the dead wood"), mindless thugs ("do what it takes to get paid") and ruthless opponents ("smash them to the ground", "make them admit their inferiority"). Perhaps a good place to start with Ends for Settings would be an amalgam of those?

By contrast, in that hypothetical Terry Pratchett-Discworld setting, I imagine autocrats that want to take over the world ("Take over the world", "Have power over everyone"), ruthless thieves ("Get their money") and the wizards of Unseen Unversity ("Argue incessantly", "Climb the University hierarchy", "Destroy anything that looks like an idea").

On another tack, I'd imagine that GM Ends would mostly be open-ended, rather than closed-ended: so ongoing things such as "get rid of the dead wood" or unrealistic goals such as "take over the world", rather than "Become Vice-Chancellor" or "Earn enough money to retire".

They're also likely to be oriented towards the players rather than the environment or other NPCs: so "make the fighters work" rather than "run a successful business" or "stop the police finding out about Fight Night" (unless one of the PCs is an informant).

Oh, and I'd imagine that GM goals would mostly be obstructive or opposed to player goals. So, in retrospect, the goal I mentioned earlier about "Once in a while, let an underdog through" isn't that interesting. It's the underdog's Ends that will get him through, against a GM End like "get rid of the dead wood".

In general, I get the feeling that GM Ends will be dull if they accord with player Ends: "Make everyone the best Fighter they can be" may be a realistic End for the Setting, but when would you ever use it?

That's a bit of a ramble, I'm afraid, Adam, but I hope it's of some use.

Graham
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Adam Cerling
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« Reply #11 on: February 02, 2006, 05:34:13 PM »

It is a help, Graham, thanks. I'm at the point where I'm ready to just give it a try and see how it works.

Look for the next Actual Play in two weeks!

(Tomorrow (Friday) I run a "catch-up" session for those few folks who couldn't make Saturday -- if it reveals anything that Saturday didn't, I'll put up another post sooner.)

Thanks to you both!
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Adam Cerling
In development: Ends and Means -- Live Role-Playing Focused on What Matters Most.
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