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Author Topic: [Ends and Means] Steel Pit Fight Night: Sydney  (Read 1336 times)
Adam Cerling
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« on: February 15, 2006, 09:56:02 PM »

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – The Steel Pit Fellowship entertains its members with preseason fights aboard a cruise ship. Local favorite The Bull is trounced on the foredeck by newcomer B.J.! Simon Sylvermane wrecks the ring in his fight with Elizardo Sierra on the aft deck – making Elizardo fly into a rage, maiming an important Fellowship member! A chandelier falls on the fight between B.J. and the mysterious Viredya in the main hall, causing a disqualification – but the ensuing fight between Simon Sylvermane and Viredya goes five rounds!

Meanwhile, new Managers Ms. Parker and Susan schmooze at the ringside, while Fellowship procurer Avatli cuts a deal with Dr. Phillip Walsh. Viredya wants the doctor’s help as well – but is she willing to work with Avatli to earn it?

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA – The first playtest of Steel Pit Fight Night using my Ends and Means system went well. A perfect storm of scheduling conflicts denied me seven of my thirteen players, but the remaining seven of us still filled out the better part of five hours with play.

Prep

I prepared for the game by grouping all the protagonists’ Ends into broad categories. I planned to use these categories to decide what kind of NPCs I would need to push the protagonists’ buttons. It turns out that these categories also pointed me directly at the GM Ends we discussed in my last playtest thread.

The categories I invented included “Reputation” (aiming to change their social standing), “Vendetta” (getting revenge on someone), “Discovery/Enlightenment” (seeking to solve some mystery, often about themselves), “Loved Ones” (protecting those they love), “Morality” (adhering to a moral path), “Change the World” (changing something grand and external), and so on. Turning these into GM Ends simply involved inverting them: “Ruin your Name,” “Deny your Vengeance,” “Hide the Truth,” “Compromise your Beliefs,” “Uphold the Status Quo,” etc.

I also wrote NPCs around these groups of Ends and around organizations in the setting. I’ve got a journalist to make promises about Reputation at the expense of the Steel Pit Fellowship; an ex-con to challenge Morality while serving various ciminal interests; and a Doctor to serve GenetiCorp and the status quo.

Pre-Play

It didn’t take too long for everyone to assign Weight to their Ends and Means. The Triplet rule was used by three players. Most players arranged their numbers so as to earn two or three Plot Points, but one player (Sara) lowballed the rest to start with five Plot Points.

I suggested to the players that we handle the pit fights in three rounds – resolving each round as a separate conflict. Given that the pit fights are the centerpiece of Color in the game, it seemed remiss not to back that up with a bit of System.

Play: What Went Well

I think my favorite part of the night was watching Joe, a player whom I invited from my usual MET Werewolf LARP. Joe is a very shy guy. There have been games of Werewolf where I don't think he spoke a word all night. Instead he sits back and watches the "alpha roleplayers" (like me) steal the show.

My system required more from him: particularly when it challenged him to Direct a scene. (Directing is much like winning Narration in PTA.) I made a point of asking afterward how that worked for him, and he did say it was hard. But the stuff he did! He described his character (Simon Sylvermane) flying and flipping around the ring, throwing chi blasts; when one match took place on a glass floor above roaring turbines, he actively destroyed the floor to try to defeat his opponent; and he interfered in another match by dropping a chandelier on the combatants. How awesome is that? It's more than I've seen him do in a year of Werewolf LARP.

Joe also set good Stakes ("No Manager will ever sponsor you," to my NPC) and actively grabbed for Director at times. Is Directing a Reward? If your agenda is supported by inserting your cool stuff into the fiction, Directing certainly helps!

What Merits Further Study

Sara (playing Viredya, a mysterious femme fatale) was the most system-savvy of my players. She began the night with five Plot Points -- and ended with nine. She took no conflict at face value: she wheeled and dealed, bribing other players and suggesting how they might bribe her. On the one hand, it is exactly what I want to happen. On the other, it was time-consuming and at times confusing. We'd be in the middle of declaring Means or Stealing the Scene or determining Director when she'd toss out a new idea, creating a bubble of negotiation within the greater conflict.

I'm not willing to change that just yet -- perhaps the negotiation will become smoother with practice. But perhaps I need more formal protocal around Bribing.

Sara also hit upon an idea of how to extort Plot Points from people: win Direction, and threaten to make the other person's protagonist look like a complete incompetent unless they pay her Plot. I find this idea a bit worrisome, and I have a thought about how to correct it (curb a bit of the Director's power) but I want to see how it plays out.

Sara was surprised at one point when Joe stole a conflict from her by choosing not to declare an End. He paid a higher price in Plot Ploints for that strategy, but it still felt odd that not declaring an End should be (in some cases) more powerful than declaring one. I want characters to have the option to enter and win conflicts they didn't expect to care about -- but I'm not sure I want people to forego declaring their Ends simply for the tactical advantage of it.

Nobody purchased a Scenario yet, but with such a small player base, I was practically giving them away anyhow. I expect this to happen more in later games.

What Needs To Change

I describe Setting Stakes as coming after Compromise, when really, in play, it always happened the other way around. ("My Stake is that my guy does this! Oh, what, you're cool with that?")

Sometimes people could Compromise, but they still wanted the structure provided by a Director for describing the ensuing scene. I should provide a way of choosing a Director outside of conflict resolution.

The steps of resolution are simple, but they still take a few minutes to step through. Even I was getting confused now and then about what we had just finished doing and what to do next.  My players suggested putting the rules flowchart on the back of each character card, for reference. I also think adding some formality might help, kind of like the key phrases of Polaris, to keep people on track. Perhaps a set of simple hand signals?

I am growing concerned about the fact that the numbers on a character card have no fictional meaning whatsoever… But as I type this sentence, I'm having a brainstorm about tying them to Direction somehow -- like the relative Weight of the Stakes can guide the type of Direction that's allowed. Like if I win with a Stake of 3 against your Stake of 19, I'm only entitled to a narrow victory… and this might address Sara's "humiliation" strategem also… Hmm…!
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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: February 16, 2006, 08:23:21 AM »

Awesome, Adam.

Quote
I describe Setting Stakes as coming after Compromise, when really, in play, it always happened the other way around. ("My Stake is that my guy does this! Oh, what, you're cool with that?")

Sometimes people could Compromise, but they still wanted the structure provided by a Director for describing the ensuing scene. I should provide a way of choosing a Director outside of conflict resolution.

Could you explain this a bit more? I'm not sure I'm understanding you. Are you saying that most people just accepted the stakes proposed by the other player?
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Adam Cerling
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« Reply #2 on: February 16, 2006, 09:58:08 AM »

Could you explain this a bit more? I'm not sure I'm understanding you. Are you saying that most people just accepted the stakes proposed by the other player?

That's not what I mean -- Compromise was relatively rare. But those one or two times a Compromise was reached, it was after the players had discussed their Stakes (which seems quite rational in retrospect). Therefore, my conflict resolution process should begin with Setting Stakes. Compromise is one possible result of Setting Stakes -- it's the result that happens when you realize your Stakes are in fact compatible, a win-win.

(...all of which is heavily influenced by Bribes, of course.)

As for my second observation, I'm thinking of one conflict in particular between Sara (playing Viredya) and Joe (playing Simon Sylvermane) where they Compromised over the outcome of a fight. But once they knew the outcome, they weren't sure what to do next. Someone needed to take the reins of Director and move the action forward. In a conflict without Compromise, the comparison of Ends and Means would have decided that -- the Director is the person with the highest Means who wants the job. But Compromise skipped the comparison of Ends and Means, and thus there was no clear Director, even though one was needed.
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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 #3 on: February 16, 2006, 11:30:50 AM »

Fantastic. Have you had any reactions from the players? Did they sound and look into it? And was it continuously engaging, or were there particular peaks and troughs?

I'm interested in the Scenario purchasing. I remember reading an early design post where, as I recall, the thought behind Scenario purchasing was to ration GM time. You'd noticed that, in LARPs, GM time was at a premium, so Scenario buying was a way of getting people to pay for GM time.

In this game, did you say you were giving away Scenarios for free? Were you actually giving away Scenarios (in the sense of pitting two Ends against one another) or do you just mean you were giving of your time? If you had a larger player base, would you get more strict with your time?

Graham

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Adam Cerling
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« Reply #4 on: February 16, 2006, 01:56:14 PM »

The players did seem engaged and into it. When I wandered off with another player to play an NPC, I returned later to find the people playing Managers chatting it up in-character. (Which, really, says nothing much about the Ends and Means system; just that they were invested enough in their characters to sit around freely Coloring them in together.)

Because the players were so few in number, I was present for every invocation of conflict resolution. If anyone employed it while I was not around, they didn't mention it to me. If I have more players for the next game, maybe my own scarcity will prompt the players to engage the mechanics more on their own.

At one point I did find Joe (shy guy) and John (a guy new to this group) sitting quietly in a room not interacting, but I think that was just a player issue: neither was comfortable yet "starting something" on his own. Both were playing fighters, so I had an NPC arrange the next fight, and that got them both back into the game.

My comment about giving away Scenarios was indeed inaccurate. I was giving away my time, not actual End-vs.-End Scenarios. Those, I hope, will come soon, when people have built up their Plot Pool.

I was still trying to engage the players I gave time to, however. Rachel (player of Avatli, the Steel Pit procurer) pressed my NPC doctor for something she could do for him (thus serving her End, "Get everyone to owe me,") so I had the doctor propose that she "acquire" drug research kept by Pharmatech, a rival of the GenetiCorp company.

Sara (playing Viredya) eavesdropped on this and approached the doctor alone afterward, asking about memory-enhancing drugs (thus serving her End, "Discover my origins"). I naturally said that the drug I'd just been discussing with Avatli was the one she wanted. Viredya and Avatli would make a powerful team for acquiring the drug research -- if they can come to trust one another.

I think these acts of Situation creation were informed by my NPC design: I pursued the Ends on Dr. Walsh's card ("Work with cutting-edge technology" plus "Serve GenetiCorp's interests"). Those Ends were informed by my analysis of the Ends and Means of the entire game, and by the Relationship Map we developed during character creation. There was also some lucky bricolage going on, when the "drug research" hook I gave Avatli turned out to be a good hook for Viredya too.
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Adam Cerling
In development: Ends and Means -- Live Role-Playing Focused on What Matters Most.
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