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Play Aids, and some reflections on AP, improv

Started by zipht, November 10, 2008, 01:48:30 AM

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Hey Eric, great game, I demoed The Committee for the Northern Virgina Game Smith Group. We had a good time. The general consensuses was that we could have used print outs of the rules summary. Please could you post the rules summary from the pdf pages 106 to 113.. This would help me do more demos in the future.

My reflections, there were 4 of us, playing. One of the guys arrived late. So we played a little with the demo. Our expedition was to the centre of the earth to find the long lost Atlanticans.

We had to cut the game short as we ran out of time. Everyone liked the game. But not everyone got the Improv elements or liked timed narration. Both of which were the sore spots for some of the players. Next Time I demo this game I will make it explicate that the player should setup the Platform, and hint at a tilt.

One of the guys just didn't get the role of the Opposition, he kept shutting the Player down. We had a talk, I hope to pass some books about Improv around.. GMless play does take some getting used to.

Could you give me an example of using say Genius in a Hazard.. our discussion kept going back to that Mental Confects didn't aways have an person to push back on.. Of which I would reply that the point of the Hazard Resolution was to see of one of the protagonists can over come this Hazard in time.. and the Opposition should state his Hazard clearly and get out of the way of the spotlight. Clearly I didn't enforce the time limit well, and that took something away from the game.

The rest of that conversation was in the end of no consequence.
We agreed to disagree, I plan on running / facilitating a game of, Committee again at some point. Those play aids would be of great help. I should also have a fellow conspirator who would have read the rules.


Eric J. Boyd


Thanks for your post and for demoing The Committee. Glad to hear that you had a good time with the game.

I'll add that rules summary to my Web site; hopefully that will help your future demos.

The Committee does play out a bit differently from games your players may be more familiar with. I always emphasize that the Opposition has to keep complications brief and punchy (1-2 sentences max), and that a complication cannot negate a player's previous narration. The focus should be on "yes, and" or "yes, but" twists on the hazard to let the spotlight player's creativity shine.

Timed narration can take some getting used to, but the pressure also can produce some great play. Did you run the clock but not enforce the time limit for the first set of scenes? That often helps people loosen up and get a sense of the pace of the game.

Using Genius to resolve a hazard would involve the character relying on ingenuity, special knowledge, employing gadgets, etc. The hazard can involve another NPC, such as Dr. Henry Jones using his umbrella and a flock of birds to take out the Nazi fighter pilot in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, or can involve traps or other impersonal forces as the opposition, such as Indiana Jones riddling out the various traps that protect the grail in the same movie. I've also seen Genius used to convince a group of NPCs not to fight, navigate a ship out of a typhoon, trick a thug into his own destruction, escape a trapped labyrinth, counter a cult's sorcerous incantation, and guide contraband through foreign customs without it being discovered. Really, the system is quite flexible - so long as they're narrating ingenious or clever actions, Genius could be used to confront just about anything.

The improv concepts you mention did have a bit of influence on my game design, although I don't actually have any improv background. If you find that discussing improv concepts before play helps players new to GMless games, please let me know.

Thanks again for playing the game. Let me know if you've got any other questions.




Hi, Eric.  This is Todd, i was host of the event where we played Committee.

i'm fairly new to what i call 'third generation RPGs' where the players are also GMs (narrativist).  Maybe i'm not used to them yet and will need more practice on improv and being co-GM.  i say this because i often find these games a bit stressful, which might color my experience with this game.  Most of what i'm going to say here is negative, but that might have more to do with what *i* expect from a game, rather than with what you attempted.  i might not be your target audience.  If i want a truck, a Porsche might be a disappointment no matter how good the Porsche is.

i found Committee to be extra work for not much extra gain.  Moving dice (of different colors ) back and forth, tracking what i did/n't use, consulting tables to gain or lose chips, flipping a timer, monitoring the timer, monitoring drink levels, coming up with challenges and overcoming challenges etc.  Maybe i could get used to it, but i feel that the system gets in the way of game. 

i'd like for help to not cost me something.  In most games, getting help from the party doesn't cost anything.  Getting help seems to be "here, YOU deal with this" instead of "Help me out here!"  Maybe passing the acclaim to another player would keep it within the party, thereby weakening my position at end game.  But i'd much rather have some means for all the players to be involved, unless the PCs are truly meant to be each other's antagonists. If we are a team, we should be able to work together.  Perhaps if one player designs the hazard, and then the players (all/each) figure out how to set about overcoming it together.  If Bob is standing right there, he should be able to shoot at the Nazis too.  What is Bob doing while i'm shooting Nazis?

The Acclaim/Attributes Relationship - i don't like being punished for using my strengths, or for bringing in other traits to meet the increasing Hazard Difficulties. The acclaim rewards table says "Set all of your attributes at 3 (4, 3, 3, 3)".  It's also hard to stay in that sweet spot if you bring in other traits.  Having higher or lower ratings seems to be a disadvantage.  When you roll poorly or have a high target number you have to pull in traits or help, and thus lose acclaim.

i didn't dig the cycling through attributes thing.  Why did my daring work a minute ago, but not now?  Maybe if there was some mechanic where, to hit the target number, i have to strain a trait to get an extra die or reroll a die or roll a d10 (or all d10s).  "Indy swaps the bag of sand for the idol, and ran for his life as the 30 ton boulder was crushing down upon him.  Filled with terror for his life he ran harder than ever (exhaust a Daring point) and leapt to safety with a split second to spare." Later, "Indy, still sore and a bit gun shy after almost being crushed into a powder, decided to lure the Nazi away from the radio by throwing a rock at the other side of the hangar." 

The attributes themselves and how they should work with hazards confused myself and another player (with less narrativist experience than me). What is Instinct that Daring isn't?  How do i use Genius to beat up a goon?  Why Daring and not Strength or Toughness? Do all the PCs have IQs over 140?

Maybe something where the players all control one character or all the characters might help. The players might riff off each other, adding complications and finding ways around them.  i liked the group challenges.  Everyone was involved and it moved quickly.  i wasn't on the spot for more than a few seconds.  The individual scenes meant waiting for my turn, then having to put on the GM hat, then the player hat.  While i was on the spot, i found it difficult to know what to do as either. 

On the upside, i like the setting and idea of the game: a debriefing after a mission, and Pulp is always good.  Anything that lets me beat up Nazis is good.  i would go about it with a much simpler system.  Something like flipping cards blackjack style.  i enjoyed the story we wrote, just not the paperwork and fiddling with dice that happened between.

All that said, players who read the book and players with more experience with this sort of game might get more out of Committee. 
If you live in the NoVA/DC area and would like help developing your games, or to help others do so, send me a PM.  i'm running a monthly gathering that needs developers and testers.

Eric J. Boyd


Thanks for taking the time to comment on your experience with the game. Hearing from folks who didn't have a positive experience is just as useful, if not more so, than reports from those who enjoyed it.

The design of Committee was in large part a response to The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen and other games I've experienced that essentially have the players tell stories to each other without much guidance other than a sense of genre or overall setting. I found the lack of meaningful structure or prompts left me without a sense of where to go or how to tell an entertaining story on the fly; instead, I was hesitant and tongue-tied. Others have had great experiences with these games, but they simply don't work for me.

So I set out to design a game that tries to capture the same dynamic storytelling feel while also giving the players a firm structure to work within and ways to inspire them along the way to prevent becoming stuck. Another key component of the design is resource allocation. I wanted to add a dimension of challenge that is separate from simply spinning a good yarn—taking the ideas of Baron Munchausen and making them part of a fully-formed "game" in a more traditional sense. The result is you've got to spin a good yarn using the ability and descriptor dice that are available to you while trying to maximize your Acclaim. It's something that I hope many people can enjoy, but it clearly won't work for everyone.

Let me also answer your specific concerns:

- The help rules are intended to reflect a fictional event in that resorting to seeking help during your own spotlight tale makes your hero look less intrepid in the view of her peers, so her Acclaim is reduced. It also serves a mechanical balancing purpose—since getting help likely saves you from suffering defeat and losing significant game resources it should cost you some lesser amount of in-game resource to do. During your spotlight tale, yours may be the only character present, or other characters may be present in a peripheral or minor way. In either case, it is your moment to shine and describe how your character played the pivotal role in overcoming that hazard. Maybe Bob was on the edge of the fight somewhere shooting a Nazi or two, but it's your actions that truly won the day. These heroes have big egos and strong desires to achieve, so that is what's being shown in how they tell their tales. The group hazards are where everyone gets to share in the spotlight equally.

- The Acclaim economy is built on risk and reward. In most cases, between dice from your attributes, Gear and/or Associations, and the descriptors of one or more of the same, you'll have ample dice to overcome most hazards. But where you take the dice from will affect the narration you actually use to tell your tale, and you may need to spend some Acclaim to hit the optimal sweet spot. The tougher hazards are there to test your storytelling and resource allocation mettle—being forced to spend Acclaim in hopes of improving your situation is no different than resource allocation in many other role-playing games.

- Cycling through attributes was added during playtesting because there was simply no incentive to use any attribute other than your best most of the time. This became mechanically dull. Fiction-wise, telling the same types of stories over and over again is less entertaining to your peers than showing what a well-rounded renaissance man you are, so being repetitious costs you Acclaim.

- As I talked about a bit above in response to Nick, the attributes are deliberately loose in their application. As long as the narration roughly adheres to something that makes sense as Daring to the rest of the group, go for it. I see Daring as physical dynamism—embracing both strength and speed. Instinct involves observation, intuition, and other automatic, instinctual reactions. This can take the form of defending yourself, but I see it as primal animalistic action (clawing and gnashing of teeth)—not delivering a flying roundhouse or powerful uppercut. It's unlikely that you'd use Genius to beat up a goon (that sounds like Daring), but there are ways to overcome the hazard the goon represents using Genius (e.g., distracting the goon, luring them into a trap you've set up, paralyzing him with your stasis beam, etc.).

Since you like the idea of a more free-form storytelling game or team-oriented pulp game, you should definitely give Baron Munchausen and Spirit of the Century a look. Both may be enjoyable to you.

Todd, I sincerely appreciate the time you took to give my game a try and write up your impressions. Hopefully my response is helpful to you, too, even if only to confirm that the game doesn't suit your preferences. I'm more than willing to continue discussion of any of these points or answer other questions you may have.



Eric J. Boyd

The rules summary for The Committee is now posted on my Web site here for those who need it.