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Author Topic: [Crime and Punishment] Freakin' Ivory Tower, man...  (Read 3647 times)

Posts: 576

« on: December 17, 2006, 03:17:19 PM »

We played Moyra Turkington’s C&P at a recent SG Boston night, and it was great - in fact, a perfect fit for the style of these nights, which have mostly been one-off games within a 2-3 hour frame, often with new folks. We played with Nathan P. and a newcomer to SG Boston (who hadn't played much in the way of RPGs for several years). Overall, it was a good time! I'll describe the action of the game (while marking specific rules questions/gaps with *).

The game consists of two parts: an hour of brainstorm and scripting the scenes. (*Did we have the right number of scenes? The text seemed to refer to either 5 or 6 scenes.)

Hour 1: Scripting it out

We decided for a 4/2 split on Investigator Intensity / Political Intensity, and got to brainstorming. Here's what we came up with:

(1) Crime Scene

Victim: College Kid
Location: Harvard Square
Crime: Hit and Run
Forensic Evidence: Bottles, Letter about a meeting
Suspect or Witness: local student
Lead: University Plates, Bartender [not used]

(2) Forensics

Complication: Pressure to drop the case. Evidence corruption from bystanders.
Forensics Technique: Finger prints, paint analysis.
Possibility Ruled Out: Accident?
New Discovery: University Interference
New Lead: Jilted Lover
Other: Alcohol Bottles [not used]

(3) Interview

Relation to Victim: Roommate
Reason for Reluctance: Drug Use [weakly used]
Formula to Overcoming Reluctance: Threatening
Clue: Evidence of Plagiarism, Merit Scolarship [not used]
Possibility Ruled Out: Suicide [not used], random homeless guy [weakly used]
New Lead: Intimate Relationship

(4) Interrogation

Suspect: Dean of Students
Tactic: Violence
Conflict: Victim's Family, Inappropriate Relationship
Complication/Confession: Affair, Crime of Passion, No Evidence
Other: Psychological Breakdown

(5) Resolution

Outcome: Firing, Assault, Resignation
Reaction/Reflection: "This Never Ends...", "F*cking Ivory Tower!"
Thematic Statement: Frustration, (also see above)
Other: Boundaries, Suckerpunch

Can you see the writing on the wall yet? It looks like we had a messy case well on its way. For each of the five scenes, the players first establish which kind of scene it is, then freely brainstorm possible ideas for the scene, and finally invest their tokens in various story elements, showing what they're interested in. I definitely liked the formal scenes, as well as the breakdown of their components, since that helped to inform and guide the brainstorming and investing steps.

The brainstorming step was a little rough, in terms of rhythm; repeatedly brainstorming ideas can be really exhausting. By the time we were at the last few scenes, our brainstorming ideas had become slightly more constrained, both because of the exhaustion of the process and because our choices had narrowed possibilities by now. This was still a fun and productive step, as brainstorming in any context will be - good ideas glom unto other good ideas. (While this helps build some good consistent ideas, note also the choice-constraining effect - is there still enough flexibility built into brainstorming the final scenes?)

The investing step was straightforward and worked great. "Shopping" (*Was it permitted to invest in an already-invested element, if other elements were left un-invested? We assumed you could not do this, and I think that's why some peripheral and underused elements got in there.) We were slightly surprised at how many tokens were players were getting in this step, but in play we later saw that these were used at a reasonable pace. I ended up with the most tokens and therefore became Steele, but had this not been the case we probably would have fiated me as Steele regardless, since I was the only one to have read the rules.

Some currency questions: Do the detectives only play with the blue shields they get from this round? Are Steele's amassed tokens discarded, and does she only get Investigator/Political tokens? (We assumed yes to these questions for the next section of play.)

(Continued in the next post...)


Posts: 576

« Reply #1 on: December 17, 2006, 04:58:25 PM »

Hour 2: Casting Call

Nathan picked out Slater (a cop the edge), while our new player picked Wilson (a veteran, just 10 days from retirement). I really like the pre-written archetypes from the text, as they speed up that portion of play while really high-lighting all the must-play archetypes from good police drama. These archetypes gave the player some personality trait to lean on when the drama called for. On the other hand, sometimes they may have leaned a bit "too" heavily on them, but that is in part a consequence of these archetypes being largely one-note chararacters.

Hour 2: Acting it out

(1) Crime Scene: Officers Slater and Wilson on scene. A crowd had gathered around the crowd, and while Boston BP was trying to take control of the scene, HUPD was providing significant interference. The crime scene itself quickly revealed the victim and some initial evidence. (I pushed that the witness was about to leave the scene, and Wilson pushed back to find her first and get a lead from her.)

(2) Forensics: At the crime lab, we have fingerprints, but we can't find a match in the state database. Harvard University lawyer immediately start talking to us about freezing the case indefinitely, and the HUPD liaison refuses to share their fingerprint database. (I push on this, and Wilson pushes back based on his seniority.) Ultimately, she gives in and shares the data, and the team gets their match, and a lead towards the victim's roommate.

(3) Interview: The roommate is a crew jock and a (poorly hidden) drug user. He quickly catches on to the detective's motives and starts to tlak about getting his lawyer involved. (Conflict:) After Slater applies some pressure (and a quiet threat of turning him on drug charges), he points out that the student had gotten in some complicated "academic issues" with his professor and thesis advisor, who was also the Dean of Students for the college.

(4) Interrogation: The Dean of Students didn't want to crack, and new how to avoid questions, while dropping threats - that the Harvard legal teams would protect him, that there was no real evidence on the table, and that drawing this out would only hurt the victim's family. (Conflict:) Wilson flashed back to a similar past case involving a professor where justice wasn't served; he buckles under the strain and excuses himself, leaving Slater alone to pick up the slack. (Conflict:) Slater uses coercive suggestions to get the Dean to crack, and crack he did - he started to admit that he had an emotional relationship with the victim that "a cop would never understand". (Conflict:) This brazen admission pushed Slater over the edge. Wilson returned with a crew of the Dean's lawyers, just in time to see Slater beating down the Dean on the interrogation room floor.

(5) Resolution: In a meeting between the detectives, Chief Steele, and one of the Dean's Lawyers, it's established that the department will drop this case, because of both police misconduct and lack of hard evidence. It is also revealed that the Dean has been critically injured in a vigilante attack, and that he will be resigning from the College. The lawyer tries to spin this positively: "Isn't that punishment enough?"

The detectives leave the office, frustrated and angry. Wilson leaves his job with one more unanswered case on his conscience. Slater is forced to take two weeks unpaid leave for his actions - but he promises to Wilson that he'll keep an eye on the Dean once he returns, and will try to nail him in the future.

In play, it was sometimes unclear how to work in all elements into the scene, and some elements simply lay unused because they didn't make sense in the scene. (* Was this a legal thing to do?) Playing through the scenes involved a fun intellectual challenge of how to get from the current scene to the pre-established (but as yet unconnected) elements of the next.

Through much of the later scenes, we had a strong sense of where we ere going with the story, which meant that there wasn't as much divergence from the scripted as I'd perhaps had hoped. (The veteran cop was bitter, the angry cop got angry, and the outburst messed up the case.) It occurred to us that it might be fun if we didn't script out all of the story before playing. Perhaps the players should script just once scene in advance, so that everyone knows what's happening in the current and next scene, but no further? On the other hand, games like PTA figure out the contents of the scene right before playing them out, and incur some mode-switching/handling time between actual in-character scenes. It's refreshing to be strictly focused on jumping from one scene to the next in a tight fashion.

As for the resolution mechanic, it was straightforward enough, and it seemed to work. (*What happens to the chips bid by the winner and loser in a conflict? We assumed only the winner lost their chips, but it seemed unclear.) I was confused at first by the distribution of the chips - the players seemed to have very many, and I had only a handful of few Political/Investigator tokens. In play, there were some interesting effects - as a GM, I had only 6 individual "bids" I could make against the players, and these were necessarily tied to their the political or personal issues at stake, i.e. the kinds of complications that actually mattered.

I tried to outline where used the resolution system in the narrative above. We didn't have any PvP action - it was largely responses to challenges I presented, either in the form of an explicit bid (ex: I push a Investigator token to get Slater to go violent on the Dean) or an implicit obstacle (ex: I establish that HUPD will not hand over the data, unless the player bids at me). The GM does have a very broad power in establishing implicit obstacles at will, and therefore has a greater responsibility for these obstacles to not suck. For example, I initially had an obstacle that HUPD would flatly refuse the detectives' request to see the witness, and got a chip out of the detective's as a result; however, this was a bad kind of obstacle because a failure here would not create any interesting kind of fictional content, but instead be merely disappointment. I tried to stick to more of a "Bid or Say Yes" principle for other challenges in the game. (I saw that I wrote myself a note here: "What kinds of challenges aren't just toll bridges?")

The aspect of escalation between generic/investigator/political tokens was rather hard for me to understand, and I had to give it a few read-throughs to understand what was it was doing. I think escalation might be something of a misnomer here. In play, it was simply that the detectives had only generic tokens, Steele had investigator and political tokens, and that Steele's tokens were worth more that the generic tokens. There seemed to be no need in the game to "buy" investigator/political tokens unless you were matching the GM's bid. (This might have been a misunderstanding, however.)

By the final few scense, I was much more comfortable with pushing the detectives around through Steele's role, but I also saw potential problems arise. I was very much tempted, for example, to make bids asserting things like "You're recalling memory X / relative Y and that's going to make you leave the room in an emotional mess / punch out the suspect." That was fun and all, but I could forsee some potential problems about stake-setting and accidental deprotagonization here. It helps that these are one-shot archetypes - if Steele asserts that the memories of your college-age daughter (that you didn't know you had) could make you punch out a suspect (and you didn't know you were quite so violent), you're more willing to just go with that change for a one-shot game. Still, I think the game text was a bit open-ended about what kinds of challenges are best for the game. (Or perhaps, simply adhering to the genre tropes might be enough? It worked for us this time.)

(Breathtaking conclusions in the next post...)


Posts: 576

« Reply #2 on: December 17, 2006, 05:11:01 PM »

Push and Pull?

I think it was said that this game was, among other things, an attempt at mechanics balance both push and pull in-play? If so, I find it somewhat successful at this. (Proviso: I'm mostly sure I understand Mo's meanings on these terms, but let me know if I'm off track.)

The second half of the game had a clear Push vibe going on, and indeed it was definitely thriving the more I was comfortable Pushing at the detectives. (And I think these were good pushes - for example, we all seem really engaged with the moment where the Dean was poking at each investigator's personal issues.) If I constrained my pushes to Political/Investigator issues, this meant I was mainly pushing at issues the players had flagged. (Which reminds me: most characters seem to have a clear personal issue, but perhaps each character should also have on of each issue flagged. Detective Jones seems to already have this going on.)

The first half, with brainstorming, seeing to be tied into Pull mechanics. Some of this was certainly going on - I was using my choice of investments to encourage the newer player when I wanted to bring him more to the stage - but some of my brainstorming at least was also being driven by trying to come up with the next greatest idea that everyone would join onto. I'd think this kind of sentiment arises naturally from brainstorming, but doesn't really get into Push or Pull.

There is an implicit Pull reward going on: the player who runs the situation in Steele's role is necessary the player whose ideas were most liked by the other players. However, I still wish there was more pull, and more deep pull than was going on. Part of the problem is that in the brainstorming stage, all we have are ideas: the characters don't yet exist, and the players haven't clearly identified what they're interested in, so there is nothing to pull on except validation of each other's ideas. Would it help if the characters were made or existing prior to the brainstorming stage? In that case, there is more fodder for pulls to happen. (If one of the other players will be Wachowski the rookie, I can pull on him putting out a Complication of "Incorrect Procedure - someone messed up the evidence!" That player could see that her character might actually be involved in that in an interesting way, and could invest in it.)

Great Justice.

I liked the story that C&P delivered, and I liked that we have a game now that fulfills this niche - a pickup game that prouduces a serious, non-lasersharked story. It's also nice to play through a story while still having the full "in-character" experience. (In contrast, we'd been having fun with pickup games of PTA, but a lot of that action was in "meta" mode, relatively speaking.) I'd very happy putting this game into heavy rotation.


Posts: 9

« Reply #3 on: January 09, 2007, 01:23:26 PM »

Dev - you guys rock!

OK, I want to post first answering your questions, and then maybe have another post in a day or two to ask some questions about your experience in the game.

* Number of scenes should be five, you had it correct. There are six kinds of procedures, but only five are used in the game. You probably are working on the game chef version, in which there was a typo.

* Doubling investment: If all of the requirements for the given procedure are filled, you can double the investment. Also, if there are no more elements to invest in, you can double an existing investment. Anytime an investment has more than one chip invested in it, it should receive special focus in the scene, and optimally be  critical to the intensity of the story.

*Steele keeps all of his blue shields PLUS he receives one shield per intensity level. (So if he has earned 15 blue shields from other players and the political intensity is 2 and the investigator intensity is 4 he will have 15 blue shields, 2 political shields and 4 investigator shields to play with. The others only get the blue shields they earned.

*It is legal for an element to be left unused, but it is not legal to introduce a new element to replace it. I am considering modifying this area, perhaps imposing a bid that goes to original owner of the invested element or to Steele, but I'm still not sure about it - any input on that?

* The chips bid by the winner and loser in a conflict both are discarded.

* I hadn't anticipated a player using bidding as a "difficulty" like you mention here (The HUPD won't hand over the data unless you bid for it). I had thought of it more as a means of contesting the action or asserting will. I clearly need, and am working on more advice and examples for how to play Steele. Bidding should only serve to facilitate conflict or provide intensity, not to block. Thanks for pointing this out.

*Buying investigator/political shields can be done to provoke Steele, in reaction to Steele's playing them, or to up the ante in PvP conflict. I have a feeling the calibration of their cost to buy and usefulness is a little off. I'm planning some playtesting on this particular bit over the next month, matter of fact.

I think that covers all of your direct questions. If not, hit me upside the head with it and I'll have a go.

Thanks again!


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