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[Camp Nerdly - PTA] END/Sexitricity

Started by Remi Treuer, May 08, 2007, 09:08:29 PM

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Remi Treuer

I ran this game in the late Saturday slot at Camp Nerdly, specifically because I knew it would run over the 3-hour time-limit of the other slots. I had been playing in the Mess Hall area for all of Nerdly, and really wanted to cut loose both language- and subject-wise, so the basic underlying theme of the pitch session was 'Rudest PTA Game Ever', I wanted something where sex was going to be explicitly part of the game.

We ended up with an all-consuming galactic scale society whose lifestyle had become so opulent that a single generation could use up an entire planet's resources. When this happened, the upper-crust and their lackeys would leave the planet, destroying it in the process, and move to a new world to exploit. This process was overseen and manipulated by a Bene Gesserritt-style sex conspiracy.

All of the characters were intiates at the school of the Conspiracy, and all of them are competing to earn a spot that will get them off their doomed planet. Learning the ropes of manipulation and power-playing, all while fighting for their very lives. One of the main ingredients in the pitch session was Duty, so everyone had to have something external to themselves that they would fight for.

Travis was Julien, a kind-souled initiate who valued his daughter's life over his own.

Krista was Kandra, a street kid whose mother was a higher-up in the Conspiracy. Her goal was to overshadow her mother.

Tony was Melody, an emotionally unavailable seductress and manipulator.

Joshua played Solin, an ambitious, but loving, social climber.

Nick was Donnie, a gladiatorial tough guy who had escaped an abusive older brother.

Things that were awesome:
The Pitch session was long, but went very smoothly. I insisted (quite strongly at one point) that there be NO negative input, only positive. I think that for a compressed game, this is the only possible way to eventually reach consensus. It also has the added effect of everyone adding information and no one getting denied on their Big Thing and disengaging.

The R-Map. I encouraged people to have two connections and I couldn't possibly have kept track of them all if Joshua hadn't encouraged me to write it down. This was my essential tool in the game.

Rosemary, Julien's daughter. The football that kept the game running. Travis started as the Spotlight Character, but even as his spotlight diminished, Julien's daughter remained a central figure throughout the game. Whenever I didn't have an idea where to go, I brought her back.

Focus. Everyone seemed very focused throughout the game. Everything someone did effected almost every other character. When we broke for brownies, everyone relaxed, recentered themselves, and came back to the table ready to play.

Sex. Tony L-B said it best. At first it was all tee-hee and mild titillation, but as soon as there was real human contact, that went out the window, and the sex became both rarer and a more serious reflection of the characters. It was ever-present and political, and very, very adult.

Duty. By having characters that cared about things outside themselves, it gave me big honking hooks to latch on to and drive the story.

At one point I was worried that Krista's character had become sort of disengaged, so I had her teacher/lover visit her with 'Good News'. Kandra was being offered a housewife position! Sure Kandra would never gain any status beyond that of a kept woman, but she'd be guaranteed to get off the planet. Perhaps she could even keep her brother (Joshua's character) as a pet, and get him off the planet, too. The woman Kandra would be replacing was the one who had ended up with Rosemary, and that made the whole thing deliciously difficult. Give up everything she (and Joshua's character) wanted, or survive? This one offer ended up powering a solid 30-60 minutes of play where each repercussion raised its ugly head and had to be confronted.

The above example indicates just how tightly wound the characters were around each other. I hope the people who played the game will come in with more play examples, because I'm having a hard time unpacking it all.

Prime Time Adventures. Man, I just love this game. I love the way narration is shared, the way conflicts are set up, and how you can share fanmail. I love the constant presence of the Producer in every conflict, and the movement of character arcs via screen presence. All these elements combine and make for a cohesive, and easily-graspable, system that you can just run the hell out of.

What Wasn't So Awesome:
Like the Dogs Nauvoo League game, it was very cold (we didn't even have a fire in our room!), and that sometimes led to shivering, or standing.

We went very, very late, and got through two of the three episodes of the miniseries, but didn't have a chance to wrap up the final episode. I think everyone could see where it was going, and this didn't prevent it from being a great game, but it's still a shame that we didn't have a chance for Kandra and Melody to really stretch their wings and resolve their simmering resentment.

In all, I learned so much from this game. It was a perfect storm of inspiration and players, and I felt like I was facilitating beyond the top of my game as a result.

Jason Morningstar

Remi, first of all congratulations on a rockin' session.  I know you did some warm-ups for each of the games you ran.  For various reasons I did not - late start, distraction, nervousness.  Do you think it helped counterbalance some of the uncomfortable environmental factors?  Did it improve initial focus and commitment?  How'd the warm-ups go for you?

iago

Quote from: Remi Treuer on May 08, 2007, 09:08:29 PMI insisted (quite strongly at one point) that there be NO negative input, only positive. I think that for a compressed game, this is the only possible way to eventually reach consensus. It also has the added effect of everyone adding information and no one getting denied on their Big Thing and disengaging.

I want to hear more about this process, because I think it's a Big Deal.

I also should note that this touched off the idea in my brain of "Maybe PTA series creation could be done as a sequence of Polaris style but-only-if escalations, with only 'and so it was' in the toolbox to bring a sequence to conclusion."  Ala:

"I want this game to have sex as a strong component."
"But only if sex is the tool of a conspiracy."
"But only if that conspiracy is modeled after the Bene Gesserit."
"And so it was."

"I think this should be set in a decadent empire."
"But only if that empire is so wasteful that it uses up planets in a single generation, evacuating them and leaving the husk."
"But only if the Sex Conspiracy is in charge of that process."
"And so it was."

That sort of thing.

Remi Treuer

Quote from: Jason Morningstar on May 08, 2007, 09:32:26 PM
I know you did some warm-ups for each of the games you ran.  For various reasons I did not - late start, distraction, nervousness.  Do you think it helped counterbalance some of the uncomfortable environmental factors?  Did it improve initial focus and commitment?  How'd the warm-ups go for you?

Hm. For Agon and PTA I just did the group eye-contact check in and the 'Huh" from the diaphragm. For Agon it worked, but I did it just a little too early, with some additional character gen stuff and clerical stuff still to go, so it wasn't as effective as it could have been. For PTA I did it right before we started our pitch session, after I explained how it was going to work and what my goals in the game were, and this brought everyone in really well.

For the Roach I did a shake-out in addition to the other two, but that was waaaaaaay too embarrassing for pretty much everyone at the table. I needed it, though, just to get revved up a little for the morning session.

I'd say that the check-in and 'Huh' had the desired effect. Usually everyone sat down with a lot of energy, ready to jump into the game. I'll continue using these techniques in the future, as they're fairly low-key (the 'huh' is attention getting, but is quick. It didn't carry an embarrassment factor).


Quote from: iago on May 08, 2007, 10:34:13 PM
Quote from: Remi Treuer on May 08, 2007, 09:08:29 PMI insisted (quite strongly at one point) that there be NO negative input, only positive. I think that for a compressed game, this is the only possible way to eventually reach consensus. It also has the added effect of everyone adding information and no one getting denied on their Big Thing and disengaging.

I want to hear more about this process, because I think it's a Big Deal.

I also should note that this touched off the idea in my brain of "Maybe PTA series creation could be done as a sequence of Polaris style but-only-if escalations, with only 'and so it was' in the toolbox to bring a sequence to conclusion."

Let me see if I can break down this process.

First I ask everyone for something that's gotten them jazzed in the last week or two. An idea, a TV show, a piece of music, whatever. I make it clear that the show is going to be a synthesis of what everyone's excited about, and that I'll be the one doing most of the synthesizing. I go around the table in whatever order people want to go. For this session Duty, The Bene Gesserritt, Babarella, and the Preacher comic book series were all mentioned.

Joshua mentioned the Bene Gesserritt and someone immediately picked up and said "Oh! We could be, like, the companions in Firefly!" and someone else said, "The companions were kind of cool, but the lame thing about them was . . ." and I stopped it cold, insisting the person only talk about what they liked about the companions, not disliked. The pitch session could have degenerated right there into people sniping one another's ideas, which when you're gathering material is death. The player immediately turned around and said what he'd like to see out of a companion-style idea, and we built from there.

Usually after everyone has spoken a little, I do the first synthesis. I try to do two things in this step. The first is to show the players where the points of contact are between all their idea. Usually they've influenced one another with their suggestions, and this is easy. The other is to explode the ideas a bit so they no longer resemble the original suggestions. For this game I sent it back out to the table. The Bene Gesserritt seemed to be very attractive as a basis, but I didn't want the game to be too Dune-like, so I asked people to move away from the Bene Gesserritt and Dune-style sex cult, and to blow it out a little, using Barbarella as a touchpoint.

This worked well, and there was a quick discussion of various ways we could move away from the BG template. I forget how it exactly went, but it ended with me doing a second synthesis of the ideas on the table to come up with a society so wasteful it uses up entire planets like we use up firewood. Joshua liked the idea of an unsustainable expansion, and drew a little symbol for the Conspiracy, showing how the circumference of a circle expands in proportion to its radius.

We then settled on specifics. I realized just now that we continued to avoid negativity, even though this is a place where I've bogged down several times. When discussing what the structure of the society was, we went through Roman, settled on corporate hierarchy, but with different names (Ministers and Mudurs). It was neat. Whenever someone wasn't satisfied with an aspect of the world, they'd add or change detail. Since we were all in the agreement headspace from the first few steps, it was easy to adapt and agree to each other's input.

The main problems with this process is that it very much does need the synthesis points where it's one person's responsibility to build consensus quickly by drawing from everyone's suggestions. The other problem is that sometimes people get left out. I think Krista didn't want to say anything in the first 'jazzed' round, and as a result got a little left out of the ensuing series creation, although I believe she jumped in later in the process.

The advantage, I hope, is that everyone who jumps in gets good feedback on their suggestions and feels (rightly) that their suggestions were honored, and that ideas are quickly agreed to and acted upon. This isn't a magic trick. I'm not railroading people into a pre-ordained idea, although, as Producer, I feel I have the right to set general parameters like 'Rudest PTA Game Ever'. However, I am attempting to shortcut through inertia and argument and reach the creamy nougat of excitement.

Does any of this make sense? Is there anywhere I could be clearer? Can any of the participants point to things I've left out, things that didn't go smoothly, or things that went particularly well?

iago

Quote from: Remi Treuer on May 09, 2007, 03:22:30 AMFor the Roach I did a shake-out in addition to the other two, but that was waaaaaaay too embarrassing for pretty much everyone at the table. I needed it, though, just to get revved up a little for the morning session.

I actually liked the shake-out, but I admit it's something I kinda do to myself anyway to get my energy up when I'm GMing (I saw Luke Crane do it at a DexCon once, solo, and it kinda stuck with me as a good thing).

QuoteJoshua mentioned the Bene Gesserritt and someone immediately picked up and said "Oh! We could be, like, the companions in Firefly!" and someone else said, "The companions were kind of cool, but the lame thing about them was . . ." and I stopped it cold, insisting the person only talk about what they liked about the companions, not disliked. The pitch session could have degenerated right there into people sniping one another's ideas, which when you're gathering material is death. The player immediately turned around and said what he'd like to see out of a companion-style idea, and we built from there.

Fffffrickin' fantastic.  This should be in the core rulebook. :)

I think you're onto some techniques that are very strong for PTA, giving the series creation step just a bit more (needed!) structure, with the orientation towards positivity really playing out well. 

QuoteThe main problems with this process is that it very much does need the synthesis points where it's one person's responsibility to build consensus quickly by drawing from everyone's suggestions.

Hm.  I see you calling that a bug, but my gut wants to call it a feature.

Brand_Robins

Quote from: Remi Treuer on May 09, 2007, 03:22:30 AMJoshua mentioned the Bene Gesserritt and someone immediately picked up and said "Oh! We could be, like, the companions in Firefly!" and someone else said, "The companions were kind of cool, but the lame thing about them was . . ." and I stopped it cold, insisting the person only talk about what they liked about the companions, not disliked.

Thanks for this Remi. You just gave me a concrete, conscious example of something I've been working on doing as a GM for some time now. This stuff is golden.
- Brand Robins

Joshua A.C. Newman

I'm writing a more detailed post now, but I think the Companions and their implied political power were my idea, and someone else mentioned the Bene Gesserit.
the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.

Matt Wilson

QuoteWe went very, very late, and got through two of the three episodes of the miniseries

Holy Moses! That's some marathon play! Thanks for posting the report. Sounds awesome.

Remi, your decision to block negative input reminds me a lot of my improv days. It's very similar to "don't deny the scene," but on more of a meta level. I like it.

Remi Treuer

Quote from: iago on May 09, 2007, 04:57:39 AM
Quote from: Remi Treuer on May 09, 2007, 03:22:30 AM
The main problems with this process is that it very much does need the synthesis points where it's one person's responsibility to build consensus quickly by drawing from everyone's suggestions.

Hm.  I see you calling that a bug, but my gut wants to call it a feature.

I call it a bug for two reasons. The first is that I'm not 100% sure that the synthesis step is generally repeatable, as I rely a lot on improv instincts. The other is that my ideal is for the pitch process to be entirely, freely collaborative. I consider it a limit of my imagination that I can't quite figure out how to do this.

Quote from: Matt Wilson on May 09, 2007, 11:58:06 AM
QuoteWe went very, very late, and got through two of the three episodes of the miniseries

Holy Moses! That's some marathon play! Thanks for posting the report. Sounds awesome.

Remi, your decision to block negative input reminds me a lot of my improv days. It's very similar to "don't deny the scene," but on more of a meta level. I like it.

If we hadn't started at around 10pm, it wouldn't have felt so marathoney. 4 hours with a half hour break in the middle, another 45 minutes and we'd have been done. A little long.

And yeah, the techniques in the pitch process totally come from improv. I've become a strong believer that denial in collaborative settings is almost always poisonous, and attempt to conduct myself accordingly.

Quote from: Joshua A.C. Newman on May 09, 2007, 06:09:26 AM
I'm writing a more detailed post now, but I think the Companions and their implied political power were my idea, and someone else mentioned the Bene Gesserit.
You are probably correct. Did the BG came from the same person who was about to dump on the companions? Either way, I think the example still stands.

Claudia Cangini

Quote from: Remi Treuer on May 08, 2007, 09:08:29 PM
[...]
The Pitch session was long, but went very smoothly. I insisted (quite strongly at one point) that there be NO negative input, only positive. I think that for a compressed game, this is the only possible way to eventually reach consensus. It also has the added effect of everyone adding information and no one getting denied on their Big Thing and disengaging.

This is extremely interesting Remi, I probably will make another PtA Demo in June and I will absolutely try this.

Quote from: Remi Treuer on May 08, 2007, 09:08:29 PM
The R-Map. I encouraged people to have two connections and I couldn't possibly have kept track of them all if Joshua hadn't encouraged me to write it down. This was my essential tool in the game. [...]

I just did the same in my last demo and confirm it works great.

Thank you for this AP post.
--
Claudia Cangini

http://claudiacangini.deviantart.com/
(artist for hire)

Joshua A.C. Newman

Yeah. I bring it up because I didn't want to take credit for the high-minded one while giving credit for the one from the TV show. I believe it was Nick, yeah.

Matt, your fucking game made the hours fly by. Maybe because of the brownie break it really felt like games should feel.

I'd really, really like to hear from Tony and Nick. Their characters were both hovering in 1 and 2 territory and I'd like to know very much if we were being entertaining for them and if they felt included.
the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.

Matt Wilson

Quote from: Joshua A.C. Newman on May 09, 2007, 04:42:10 PM
Maybe because of the brownie break it really felt like games should feel.

Brownie break, huh? And you're from Western Mass? Say no more.

Joshua A.C. Newman

Dammit. This is taking a really long time to write. It's just so vivid for me. I haven't had this immersive an experience for a long time. There are a lot of details.

So I'm going to post in pieces. Please comment as you see fit between posts. If you're Tony, Nick, Krista, or Travis, please please comment.
the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.

Joshua A.C. Newman

A warning: I say "fuck" a lot in the following entry. It's the right word. If that's gonna get your knickers in a twist, you're really in the wrong thread.

The sex in this game was by far the best sex I've ever seen in a game, perhaps because it mirrored actual kinds of sex I've had in the real world: loving, disappointing, embarrassing, passionate, obligatory. I've never experienced manipulative sex but that happened surprisingly little in the course of the story, given the characters and their setting. On Melody's Spotlight, we would have seen some, I'm sure. While unspoken, I think this might have been an actual Line that, had we deliberately asked about it at the beginning of play, we'd have agreed to.

I seriously want to thank Krista for being so trusting. She was the only woman in the room, so when I basically said, "Hey, how about some manipulative incest?" it would have been perfectly understandable if she'd said, "Uh, well, instead fuck you, and maybe this game isn't for me." Instead, we went ahead to make one of the gnarliest and most sincere relationships I've ever seen in a game.

Travis, also, was great. I don't know him well at all and don't know his sexual proclivities, but proposing gay, if fictional, sex with someone you've just met is liable to put up barriers. He didn't, and the resulting scene was fucking heartbreaking.

Lemme tell you about my character (snrk):

(Uh, that is, I'm going to write some game fiction because it's really relevant. The content of play was challenging, sexy, fun, and emotionally charged, and I don't want to talk about the folks at the table without getting into the fiction, which was really good and affecting. I'd like to hear similar things from the other players cuz I was waaaay wrapped up in my story and am clearly missing others' perspectives.)

Solin is a climber. His issue is Ambition. His Edge is "I can see what you want." His Connections were his patron (who was only vestigial in this story) and Mater Yu, his teacher. He'd been a street kid and had learned and earned his first tricks there. It turns out that he'd been put there with his twin sister Kandra by his mother, a Mater (as in, Mother, but kind of as in, one who mates) in the House. They'd both found their ways into the House (the only name the conspiracy had the whole time; most of the time it was "the conspiracy"), probably because their lives had been conducted in such a way that it was the best option. Both believed themselves alone and continued to believe it until they found themselves talking during sex. The House rules were, break all connections; learn to not have human relationships. But they're manipulative motherfuckers, and they put these two to see if they could learn this about each other and resist growing attached.

They kind of failed that one. Their opening scene was the two of them fucking — Solin preferred men, but he had to know the ropes — and he opens by saying sort of offhandedly that a little girl had just been brought to the House (This is Julian's daughter Rosemary, who got turned into a horrible commodity). Kandra recognized herself in the story and tensed up. "Ow," said Solin.

We threw down. I wanted Kandra to open up. Nominally, it was because it was Solin's assignment — "Kandra is your lab partner. Learn her emotions." My player reasoning, of course, is that it puts them in a bind and makes Kandra total bait (and vice versa) getting the characters in a very tight spot, if you will.

I win. They stay up all night talking. They recognize the similarities in their stories and conclude the truth: they're brother and sister. Kandra never mentions that their mother is a teacher in the House and that she's right there, all the time, manipulating their relationship. The withheld information is more misery being served. (Note that this information was known by all players from Pitch on. It was a fictional secret.)
the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.

Joshua A.C. Newman

When it turns out that Rosemary is being sold off to a rich lady (as it turns out, the wife of Donnie's patron, the Minister of Defense) as a doll, more or less, Solin can't take it. What's the point of having power if you can't use it to do what you want? So, at a party designed to scour the emotional connections off between people, Solin takes Julien aside and they actually have loving sex between them in a little alcove somewhere nearby. They sleep there all night. In the morning, Mater Yu is standing over them, scowling. She asks if Solin has gotten Julien over the loss of his daughter. Solin tries to lie, but Yu knows him too well and sees through the lie. "Give us time and I'll arrange it." Solin says.

"Very well. Your fate is now tied to his."

Julien wakes, and kisses Solin with love and relief — the orgy was all loud music, flamboyant buggery, and penis hats, and Julien was happy for someone to show actual care. Solin can't return it — he's too worried about the test he's been given. Yu is gone, a "sexually manipulative Batman" as we called her.

So, now I'm screwed. If I'm going to get the power I want, I have to fix a broken dude who's broken in the most severe and personal way possible. I have to get him over the loss of his daughter and get him back to his ability to suck cock like he means it.

So I think, OK, I'll get him back his daughter and I'll impress the House with my ability to conspire and misdirect blame while achieving what is apparently impossible.

Meanwhile, Kandra has gotten jealous. She found out about Julien and Solin and wants to get even. She spends the night fucking Melody. Melody's issue is that she's emotionally unavailable. She's usually a bitch, but the two of them wake up on top of the sheets together and Melody makes a frail attempt at connection, only to be dismissed out of hand by Kandra. It was brutal, like a tortise sticking its head out only to be punched in the eye. Kandra (and Solin's) mom walks in and lays into them for not having ulterior motives — "Sex for no purpose" was I think how Remi put it.

Solin, meanwhile, has no idea. He finds Kandra to discuss his plot to get back Rosemary for Julien so Julien can do what he's there to do. Instead, Kandra "lets slip" that she's been fucking Melody. Solin loses his shit. "Why Melody? She's dangerous. She's manipulative. She's a bad person." The last line surprised me when I said it; I wanted to be all cold and calculating about it, but I was more worried about Kandra getting caught up in greater dealings than she'd be able to manage. Like, I was worried that Melody would crush her — I picture Solin as sort of an emotional warrior, feeling real love but knowing well its power as a weapon, and I saw Kandra as sort of new to feeling things other than hate. Hate, I knew she could defend against.

That last part there was all internal dialogue by the way. I was thinking as Solin to an incredible degree. This had a whole lot to do with the stakes I saw here. I think the commodification of sex really bothers me, and this was me trying to dig out a hole where sex is something between people for their own purposes; not that of society, not a product to be bought and sold, not a glamor to be put on a lesser item, not serving any function but that of those involved. Sex for weird love and friendship in a sea of spite and impersonality.

(More to follow when I have more time to write.)
the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.