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Author Topic: two sessions in: how it's going for my group  (Read 3110 times)
Sindyr
Member

Posts: 795


« on: April 17, 2009, 07:53:38 AM »

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-Sindyr
Welkerfan
Member

Posts: 43


« Reply #1 on: April 17, 2009, 12:16:09 PM »

1) You don't need degrees of success or failure, from what we could see - leaving that up to the narrator with a pass/fail on the stakes seems fine.

2) Having a player that speaks slowly and uber thoughtfully can be maddening.  Nothing can be done about that - but be aware that players that aren't creatively quick on their feet can really slow things down.  We wound up informally instituting a "speak soon or pass" rule.

This should work, so long as you make sure that everyone gets his/her chance to speak eventually.  One thing that worked for me was to let everyone throw out ideas if someone was stuck, but to make sure that the stuck person got the final say on the details of the scene request.

4) We had one scene with no conflict - but it was smooth, fast, and did what it had to do.  Not a problem?

That should be fine, so long as the scenes without conflicts stay short and to the point.  They do relatively unimportant plot advancement, color scenes, or simple exposition--things without anything really at stake.

3) The GM seemed bored from time to time. Without a character to focus on, with the three players more or less smoothly sailing along with our ideas, he seemed distracted and from time to time non present - although that did not seem to impair anything about the game.  It almost seemed that the only thing he had to do was decide how many budget to spend in each conflict - apart from that, a GM wasn't really necessary for our game - is that normal?  Given that, should we give him a character and simply not have a GM - and find some other way to determine how much budget is spent?

Here is the start of where you are going to run into a lot of problems.  The Producer's role in this game is very different from a traditional GM.  The Producer needs to take the players' scene requests and frame scenes that are compelling and exciting, and it is his job to make sure that conflict happens.  If he is sitting bored, he needs to crank up the action and make conflicts more exciting.  He needs to introduce new elements which force characters to deal with their Issues.

Remember, the Producer frames every scene.  You go around the table requesting scenes, but it is the Producer who frames them, in order to ensure that a coherent plot happens and to make sure that character-centric conflicts occur.  The Producer needs to take an active role in this.  If he doesn't, he will be bored, and the game will probably fail.

5) Several times, I played stakes that at first seemed strange.  For example, I played one like "In protecting the crystal, many bystanders are killed, despite the efforts of the protagonists".  My character wanted the opposite of that, by I the player felt that a harsh reality check like that would be good for the story, so I played that staked and really piled on the resources to get it.  Not a problem?

Always make the stakes from the perspective of the character.  If you want the character to fail, spend fan mail on the Producer's side to hedge your bets on the character losing.  Also, this stake is way too detailed.  The stake should be (I'm assuming the character is Alex--the self-worth guy) simply "I protect the crystal." or, better in this situation, "I look impressive and worthy."  With these stakes, the actual details of the scene are left up in the air, in hands of the high card narrator.  This lets cool things happen, like the bystanders being killed and the reality check, without leaving them up to chance.  The reality check is something awesome that should happen either way, but the specific nature of it can be left open.  If we go with the last stake I said, if Alex wins, his arrogance led him to be reckless and, while he was effective, he killed people in the process.  If he loses, he can't control his power well and he isn't worthy or able, leading him to kill lots of people--what an emotional blow.  Either way, the massacre can happen--the related, but different, stake just dictates the nature of the deaths.

A really important thing to see here:  The stakes should dictate precisely one aspect of the resolution of the scene.  A stake should not be "In protecting the crystal, I kill lots of bystanders, despite my efforts not to do so."  That is three stakes in one, and it leaves nothing for the narrator to do but nod his head.  Doing just one of them--protect the crystal, kill bystanders (or one of the discussed alternatives), or try to be in control--leaves all of the other details up to the narrator, letting everyone be surprised and have more fun.  Also, try to make stakes about consequences, not what the character does--I look impressive, I make him feel empathetic, I make him stay, I remain in control.

6)  There seemed to be two methods of the players trying to win stakes.  The first was by teamwork.  For example, one of us would be asked what our stakes were, and the three players would have a quick discussion.  Once the player said "My character stops the bad guys from getting the crystal" - another player suggested that he make it "The protagonists stop the bad guys from getting the crystal" - the player agreed, and modified his stakes, and then all three of us played our cards on his stakes instead of making our own stakes, because the stake he agreed to was generic enough to give us all what we wanted.  This resulted in these cases of us being able to draw MANY more cards than the GM even at max budget, so when we did that, we won.  Problem/Not a problem?

Okay, this is a huge problem, or it will be eventually.  Players should never have the same stakes.  Even in scenes where all of the protagonists are working together on the overall goal, they each should have smaller, personal stakes.  If everyone is fighting the bad guys, the stakes are not "Do we stop the bad guys?"  That is assumed or decided by the group/narrator according to what is dramatically appropriate.  Instead, the stakes are "Do I make a positive contribution to the fight?" "Do I remain in control, not endangering myself or others?" and "Do I show her that I really care?"  In this way, each protagonist, even though they are working together,  is still putting something personal at stake.  Protagonists never work together.  There was a thread entitled "All together now!" that discussed this. Look it up.

7) However, from time to time we would each have our own stakes independantly.  When we did that, the best we seemed to get was 50/50.  The GM just seems to have too much budget to really defeat singly, but given the cap on budget of 5 per conflict, to little to be an effective threat when the players gang up. Since we each had 2 SP for the episode, the GM had (2SP x 3 players x 2 ) +3, or 15 budget.  We had 5 or so scenes.  One of them was a down scene that no one much spent on at all, so in actuality, 4 real scenes.  15 budget over 4 scenes is almost an *average* of 4 budget spent per scene, which means the GM is getting an average of 5 cards per scene.  Without using Fan Mail, with a SP of 2 and using 2/3 of his traits, a single player can only field around 4 cards - so even *with* Fan Mail, he is likely to not do much better than 50/50 to win or lose his stakes.  Seems kind of too random.

Is the Budget Formula correct?  Or should we have had more scenes per episode, lessening the GM's power and strengthening ours?  Or is it supposed to have three possible results:
a) We don't spend much, and the GM gets twice as many cards as we do, giving him a much better chance to defeat our stakes, or
b) We spend a bunch, and we get the honor and privilege of our stakes becoming a coin flip, or
c) We players get tight, come up with a single stakes we can all support, and pile on that one?

Seems a problem.

The Budget Formula works. Trust me on that.  What is wrong here is how the Producer is spending budget.  The Producer needs to select how much budget to spend based on what is dramatically appropriate.  When the protagonists should win, spend less. When they should lose, spend more. You can also gauge it based on player investment-more investment signals spending more. Budget is like fan mail for the Producer.

Think about an episode of television. The characters lose a lot in the beginning as tension is built. Then, at the end, they bounce back and succeed.   Model this with Budget. At the beginning spend everything possible.  This ramps up tension and sets up the episode.  At the end when the Budget is mostly gone, the characters will overcome adversity and succeed.   Essentially, the Producer should not be spending 4 on everything.

Cool Another issue, a common one - it is hard for people to remember to give out Fan Mail.  And the Fan Mail people did give out was VERY lopsided, although it also seemed very accurate - it seemed that one player of the three came up with the lion's share of the good ideas or funny quips, and wound up with the lion's share of the FM.  I worry that while that is I think what is intended, it can potentially wind up causing resentment on behalf of players that are coming up with less.  Also, the GM started to get a little snarky, with grunts of displeasure when this individual got more and more FM.  On the other hand, one would assume that if this player hadn't gotten rewarded for his insight and contributions, he would rightly expect others to take the "weight" off him more and come up with their *own* good ideas.

Keep an eye out.  When you see someone smile, remind them to give fanmail.  Most players are not used to giving a tangible reward or to having a conscious reaction to finding something cool.  This is a new habit to form.  Don't worry if it isn't equally distributed.  That will happen.  Just remind people to give out fanmail to the quieter types.

I hope that these tips help.
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Brenton Wiernik
Judd
Member

Posts: 1641

Please call me Judd.


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« Reply #2 on: April 17, 2009, 12:20:32 PM »

I've had scenes with no conflicts now and again and they are fine and dandy, not a problem at all.

Remember, the Producer frames every scene.  You go around the table requesting scenes, but it is the Producer who frames them, in order to ensure that a coherent plot happens and to make sure that character-centric conflicts occur.  The Producer needs to take an active role in this.  If he doesn't, he will be bored, and the game will probably fail.

The Producer frames every scene?

Am I entirely mis-remembering how this game works?

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newsalor
Member

Posts: 83


« Reply #3 on: April 17, 2009, 01:57:56 PM »

First, the produced frames the first scene. I tend to give an example an request it from myself just to remind my friends how it is done. Then the next player get's to request a scene. How this is done is spelled out in the book.

The player requesting the scene must have the following things as a part of his request: 1) Is this a plot scene or a character scene, 2) Where does the scene take place and 3) In general, what gets dealt with in this scene. So for example, I could request a character scene, in the captains lounge, where the captain tells the crew her secret.

After that, it's the producers job to frame the scene. After the scene is done, the next player gets to request a scene.
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Olli Kantola
Sindyr
Member

Posts: 795


« Reply #4 on: April 17, 2009, 02:00:16 PM »

1) You don't need degrees of success or failure, from what we could see - leaving that up to the narrator with a pass/fail on the stakes seems fine.

2) Having a player that speaks slowly and uber thoughtfully can be maddening.  Nothing can be done about that - but be aware that players that aren't creatively quick on their feet can really slow things down.  We wound up informally instituting a "speak soon or pass" rule.

This should work, so long as you make sure that everyone gets his/her chance to speak eventually.  One thing that worked for me was to let everyone throw out ideas if someone was stuck, but to make sure that the stuck person got the final say on the details of the scene request.

That's pretty much what we did.

Quote
3) The GM seemed bored from time to time. Without a character to focus on, with the three players more or less smoothly sailing along with our ideas, he seemed distracted and from time to time non present - although that did not seem to impair anything about the game.  It almost seemed that the only thing he had to do was decide how many budget to spend in each conflict - apart from that, a GM wasn't really necessary for our game - is that normal?  Given that, should we give him a character and simply not have a GM - and find some other way to determine how much budget is spent?

Here is the start of where you are going to run into a lot of problems.  The Producer's role in this game is very different from a traditional GM.  The Producer needs to take the players' scene requests and frame scenes that are compelling and exciting, and it is his job to make sure that conflict happens.  If he is sitting bored, he needs to crank up the action and make conflicts more exciting.  He needs to introduce new elements which force characters to deal with their Issues.

Remember, the Producer frames every scene.  You go around the table requesting scenes, but it is the Producer who frames them, in order to ensure that a coherent plot happens and to make sure that character-centric conflicts occur.  The Producer needs to take an active role in this.  If he doesn't, he will be bored, and the game will probably fail.

Huh?  Sorry, does not compute.  Of course the GM frames the scene, on the other hand whle the GM may be framing the scene, or a player may be specifying what Focus/Agenda/Location/and Roster he wants what PTA seems to want to encourage is continual input from all sides.  So if the GM says, "OK, there are 3 mooks in the Warehouse as we pan in..." one of us is liekly to jump in and say "can there be 7 mooks?  I'm hoping that in the later conflict we might each have a bunch to deal with" - in other words, although each of our "roles" are our own, we are following PTAs lead and collaborating as we go.  And apparently the 3 players are inventive enough and coming up with good enough ideas to make needing a GM less necessary, less required.  Now what?

Quote
5) Several times, I played stakes that at first seemed strange.  For example, I played one like "In protecting the crystal, many bystanders are killed, despite the efforts of the protagonists".  My character wanted the opposite of that, by I the player felt that a harsh reality check like that would be good for the story, so I played that staked and really piled on the resources to get it.  Not a problem?

Always make the stakes from the perspective of the character.  If you want the character to fail, spend fan mail on the Producer's side to hedge your bets on the character losing.  Also, this stake is way too detailed.  The stake should be (I'm assuming the character is Alex--the self-worth guy) simply "I protect the crystal." or, better in this situation, "I look impressive and worthy."  With these stakes, the actual details of the scene are left up in the air, in hands of the high card narrator.  This lets cool things happen, like the bystanders being killed and the reality check, without leaving them up to chance.  The reality check is something awesome that should happen either way, but the specific nature of it can be left open.  If we go with the last stake I said, if Alex wins, his arrogance led him to be reckless and, while he was effective, he killed people in the process.  If he loses, he can't control his power well and he isn't worthy or able, leading him to kill lots of people--what an emotional blow.  Either way, the massacre can happen--the related, but different, stake just dictates the nature of the deaths.

We knew we were going to retrieve the crystal because like the good guys not stopping the nuke, we as a group had pre-decided we wanted the crystal back in the posession of the protagonists by episode's end.  What the stake was actually was closer to "only 4 or fewer of the civilian club members survive the conflict" - that was the stake I was playing for.  I wasn't specifying how they died, just that they did.

Quote
A really important thing to see here:  The stakes should dictate precisely one aspect of the resolution of the scene.  A stake should not be "In protecting the crystal, I kill lots of bystanders, despite my efforts not to do so."  That is three stakes in one, and it leaves nothing for the narrator to do but nod his head.  Doing just one of them--protect the crystal, kill bystanders (or one of the discussed alternatives), or try to be in control--leaves all of the other details up to the narrator, letting everyone be surprised and have more fun.  Also, try to make stakes about consequences, not what the character does--I look impressive, I make him feel empathetic, I make him stay, I remain in control.

I just checked and I do see where it says the stakes are what the protagonist wants, and not what the player necessarily wants - I got that exactly backward.  I hope that doesn't screw up the game - it had been fun more or less the way we had been playing it, that the stakes were the *player's* stakes on what the player's wanted the story to do.  That's a VERY different game.  Hopefully not a less fun one.  Worried.

Nevertheless, the *character's* stakes could be that "We protect the crystal" - it does not have to be *I*.  The "we" goal permits and encourages several players to play cards into it - and what's against the rules about that?

For that matter, I am not convinced that it would be against the rules to play a stakes of "character of player B does action X" when you are Player A.  For example, Player Fred has a character Frank who wants to win the heart of the NPC girl Sally.  Player Nate has a character Ned, the father of Sally, who would like to see Frank and Sally work out, and maybe someday wed.  Why can't Nate play his stakes " Sally is impressed by Frank" or even "Frank impresses Sally"?  Must Nate play instead a more convoluted stakes of "Ned manipulates Sally and Frank into deeper feeling for each other"??

Is there a rule in the book stating that all stakes must have the player's own protagonist as the Subject?

Quote
6)  There seemed to be two methods of the players trying to win stakes.  The first was by teamwork.  For example, one of us would be asked what our stakes were, and the three players would have a quick discussion.  Once the player said "My character stops the bad guys from getting the crystal" - another player suggested that he make it "The protagonists stop the bad guys from getting the crystal" - the player agreed, and modified his stakes, and then all three of us played our cards on his stakes instead of making our own stakes, because the stake he agreed to was generic enough to give us all what we wanted.  This resulted in these cases of us being able to draw MANY more cards than the GM even at max budget, so when we did that, we won.  Problem/Not a problem?

Okay, this is a huge problem, or it will be eventually.  Players should never have the same stakes.  Even in scenes where all of the protagonists are working together on the overall goal, they each should have smaller, personal stakes.  If everyone is fighting the bad guys, the stakes are not "Do we stop the bad guys?"  That is assumed or decided by the group/narrator according to what is dramatically appropriate.  Instead, the stakes are "Do I make a positive contribution to the fight?" "Do I remain in control, not endangering myself or others?" and "Do I show her that I really care?"  In this way, each protagonist, even though they are working together,  is still putting something personal at stake.  Protagonists never work together.  There was a thread entitled "All together now!" that discussed this. Look it up.

This doesn't sound at all correct - it sounds like we are blaming the players for working together when PTA does not forbid it - in fact, it seems to encourage it!  I have to call shenanigans here.  If players were not permitted to work together than PTA would not have explicit rules for playing cards on someone else's stakes.

By the way, do any of the PTA rules explicitly state among one's Screen Presence cards, one's Trait cards, and one's Fan Mail cards, which can and can't be given to another player's stakes?  Or am I just imagining the part of PTA that says you can play cards at all on someone else's stakes?

Quote
7) However, from time to time we would each have our own stakes independantly.  When we did that, the best we seemed to get was 50/50.  The GM just seems to have too much budget to really defeat singly, but given the cap on budget of 5 per conflict, to little to be an effective threat when the players gang up. Since we each had 2 SP for the episode, the GM had (2SP x 3 players x 2 ) +3, or 15 budget.  We had 5 or so scenes.  One of them was a down scene that no one much spent on at all, so in actuality, 4 real scenes.  15 budget over 4 scenes is almost an *average* of 4 budget spent per scene, which means the GM is getting an average of 5 cards per scene.  Without using Fan Mail, with a SP of 2 and using 2/3 of his traits, a single player can only field around 4 cards - so even *with* Fan Mail, he is likely to not do much better than 50/50 to win or lose his stakes.  Seems kind of too random.

Is the Budget Formula correct?  Or should we have had more scenes per episode, lessening the GM's power and strengthening ours?  Or is it supposed to have three possible results:
a) We don't spend much, and the GM gets twice as many cards as we do, giving him a much better chance to defeat our stakes, or
b) We spend a bunch, and we get the honor and privilege of our stakes becoming a coin flip, or
c) We players get tight, come up with a single stakes we can all support, and pile on that one?

Seems a problem.

The Budget Formula works. Trust me on that.  What is wrong here is how the Producer is spending budget.  The Producer needs to select how much budget to spend based on what is dramatically appropriate.  When the protagonists should win, spend less. When they should lose, spend more. You can also gauge it based on player investment-more investment signals spending more. Budget is like fan mail for the Producer.

I'm not a trusting person, but *i* will read and digest your defense of the formula.  Wait - I don't think you addressed anything I wrote.  In what way can you look at my math and not see the problem?  Am I not explaining it clearly enough, did you not bother to read it, what?

Let me try to simplify:  We had FOUR significant scenes in the episode and one of which was flavor text and no one spent stuff on.  I am given to understand that that is NOT unusual.  Everyone had an SP of TWO.

FORMULA: (2+2+2)=6, x2 = 12, +3 = 15, FIFTEEN Budget.

The GM also gets ONE free card every scene of the FOUR important scenes.  So across those four scenes, the GM gets to use 15 budget cards + 4 freebie cards = NINETEEN cards for the four scenes.  That's an average of FIVE cards per scene.

Let's say that the GM chooses to use only 2 cards (1 Budget) the first scene and 3 cards (2 Budget) the second.  Now, for the third and fourth scenes he has at least TWELVE budget, but since he can only spend a MAX of FIVE, he has to throw away 2 unused budget at the end of the game - THAT means he has TOO MUCH budget (or that he should be allowed to spend more than 5 Budget per scene, or that we should be having a lot more scenes.)

FURTHERMORE, whlie the GM is pretty much FORCED to have around 5 cards per scene (if he doesn't want to wind up throwing away unused budget at the end), the players only get TWO measley cards for free, with another SIX cards from Traits over 4 Scenes, or 1.5 cards per scene average.  This means that unless the players join forces and all jump on a single player's stakes, they will have on average **3.5** cards to the GM's average of FIVE.  And if the player really goes all out, the player can get a single scene with TWO freebie cards and THREE trait cards *if they are lucky* - but the GM is probably going all out too, and has his max of SIX cards to the player's FIVE.

So the BEST the player can hope for is close to a 50/50 chance (if they try HARD), and if they don't spend all their resources - as they CAN'T every scene, they will have  a much worse chance of success, *EVEN* when the GM isn't TRYING.

(Fan Mail really doesn't much affect this analysis, 1) it is a double edged sword - when it help you, it gives the GM more budget, 2) you don't get *that* much of it (one player got 4, one got 2, and one got 1 over the entire episode), and 3) having one or two extra cards or so does not greatly shift the probabilities if you were behind to start with.

If the GM only has 2 cards and the player has 2 cards, having two MORE cards is great.  If the GM has FIVE cards, and the player has FOUR cards, going to FIVE or SIX is good, but not anywhere near as good as the first example.

Ultimately in this game, it's not about how many more (or fewer) cards you have than the GM.  I would MUCH rather be the guy with four cards versus the GM's two; than the guy with SEVEN cards versus the GM's FIVE.  That's because the true success is based on the ratio of cards in your favor to cards against you, and as the numbers of cards on both sides get bigger (or start out big) bumping up one or even two cards make less and less of a difference.  Capisce?)
Cold hard numbers.  In what way is this NOT an embarassment of riches for the GM?

Me and my fellow players were thinking the actual budget formula should be all the SP of all players added together, NOT doubled, and added to 3.  So that in a 3 player episode where all players have an SP of 2, the GM has NINE Budget, not FIFTEEN.  NOW the GM has to pace himself, Spend big on SOME scenes, but not an average of FIVE cards on EACH.  Yes?

Quote
Think about an episode of television. The characters lose a lot in the beginning as tension is built. Then, at the end, they bounce back and succeed.   Model this with Budget. At the beginning spend everything possible.  This ramps up tension and sets up the episode.  At the end when the Budget is mostly gone, the characters will overcome adversity and succeed.   Essentially, the Producer should not be spending 4 on everything.

Sounds like what you are saying is that the GM should spend according to that pattern, and that he should have enough budget to be able to.  In other words, you seem to imply that the Budget Formula is SUPPOSED to be overkill, so that when the GM spends a LOT or when the GM spends a LITTLE is only based on the GM's sense of what he thinks would be best, NOT based on having to economize and face the reality of choosing where to invest a limited resource.  You seem to want the GM to have effectively unlimited Budget - and the GM will just decide when to spend less.  That's not a formula.

Perhaps it would be better for the author to answer, by what specific metric is the Budget Formula judged by?  What goal is it trying to fulfill?  Because with what I understand, the formula is not fulfilling any goal and better than simply handing the GM a thousand budget would. 

The only reason to give the GM less than an infinite supply of budget is to force the GM to make choices, to force him to prioritize when he spends and how much.  If you give the GM too many points, you do not do that.  The math seems to clearly indicate that that has in fact occurred, and our players concur after trying it.

Quote
Cool Another issue, a common one - it is hard for people to remember to give out Fan Mail.  And the Fan Mail people did give out was VERY lopsided, although it also seemed very accurate - it seemed that one player of the three came up with the lion's share of the good ideas or funny quips, and wound up with the lion's share of the FM.  I worry that while that is I think what is intended, it can potentially wind up causing resentment on behalf of players that are coming up with less.  Also, the GM started to get a little snarky, with grunts of displeasure when this individual got more and more FM.  On the other hand, one would assume that if this player hadn't gotten rewarded for his insight and contributions, he would rightly expect others to take the "weight" off him more and come up with their *own* good ideas.

Keep an eye out.  When you see someone smile, remind them to give fanmail.  Most players are not used to giving a tangible reward or to having a conscious reaction to finding something cool.  This is a new habit to form.  Don't worry if it isn't equally distributed.  That will happen.  Just remind people to give out fanmail to the quieter types.

I hope that these tips help.

Some.  I am trying to teach them to be shameless - to when someone says "Awesome idea!" to respond with "Great! Glad you like it! How about some Fan Mail!"

I certainly am. Wink
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-Sindyr
jburneko
Member

Posts: 1351


« Reply #5 on: April 17, 2009, 02:42:23 PM »

The Producer frames every scene?

Yes.  It's in the text and people always miss it.  The Player ONLY sets a Focus, Location and Agenda for the scene and then the Producer actually frames it (i.e. gives it substance with actual specifics and details).  This is really VITAL to making the game work because it allows the Producer to "spike" potentially weaker scenes.

Jesse
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Sindyr
Member

Posts: 795


« Reply #6 on: April 17, 2009, 03:30:36 PM »

The Producer frames every scene?

Yes.  It's in the text and people always miss it.  The Player ONLY sets a Focus, Location and Agenda for the scene and then the Producer actually frames it (i.e. gives it substance with actual specifics and details).  This is really VITAL to making the game work because it allows the Producer to "spike" potentially weaker scenes.    Jesse   

From what I understand (which may certainly be wrong) the player *suggests* Focus, Location, Agenda, and Roster, and the GM approves or disaproves...

But I have been wrong before. Wink
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-Sindyr
Welkerfan
Member

Posts: 43


« Reply #7 on: April 17, 2009, 10:03:48 PM »

I'm not a trusting person, but *i* will read and digest your defense of the formula.  Wait - I don't think you addressed anything I wrote.  In what way can you look at my math and not see the problem?  Am I not explaining it clearly enough, did you not bother to read it, what?

Let me try to simplify:  We had FOUR significant scenes in the episode and one of which was flavor text and no one spent stuff on.  I am given to understand that that is NOT unusual.  Everyone had an SP of TWO.

FORMULA: (2+2+2)=6, x2 = 12, +3 = 15, FIFTEEN Budget.

The GM also gets ONE free card every scene of the FOUR important scenes.  So across those four scenes, the GM gets to use 15 budget cards + 4 freebie cards = NINETEEN cards for the four scenes.  That's an average of FIVE cards per scene.

Let's say that the GM chooses to use only 2 cards (1 Budget) the first scene and 3 cards (2 Budget) the second.  Now, for the third and fourth scenes he has at least TWELVE budget, but since he can only spend a MAX of FIVE, he has to throw away 2 unused budget at the end of the game - THAT means he has TOO MUCH budget (or that he should be allowed to spend more than 5 Budget per scene, or that we should be having a lot more scenes.)

FURTHERMORE, whlie the GM is pretty much FORCED to have around 5 cards per scene (if he doesn't want to wind up throwing away unused budget at the end), the players only get TWO measley cards for free, with another SIX cards from Traits over 4 Scenes, or 1.5 cards per scene average.  This means that unless the players join forces and all jump on a single player's stakes, they will have on average **3.5** cards to the GM's average of FIVE.  And if the player really goes all out, the player can get a single scene with TWO freebie cards and THREE trait cards *if they are lucky* - but the GM is probably going all out too, and has his max of SIX cards to the player's FIVE.

So the BEST the player can hope for is close to a 50/50 chance (if they try HARD), and if they don't spend all their resources - as they CAN'T every scene, they will have  a much worse chance of success, *EVEN* when the GM isn't TRYING.

(Fan Mail really doesn't much affect this analysis, 1) it is a double edged sword - when it help you, it gives the GM more budget, 2) you don't get *that* much of it (one player got 4, one got 2, and one got 1 over the entire episode), and 3) having one or two extra cards or so does not greatly shift the probabilities if you were behind to start with.

If the GM only has 2 cards and the player has 2 cards, having two MORE cards is great.  If the GM has FIVE cards, and the player has FOUR cards, going to FIVE or SIX is good, but not anywhere near as good as the first example.

Ultimately in this game, it's not about how many more (or fewer) cards you have than the GM.  I would MUCH rather be the guy with four cards versus the GM's two; than the guy with SEVEN cards versus the GM's FIVE.  That's because the true success is based on the ratio of cards in your favor to cards against you, and as the numbers of cards on both sides get bigger (or start out big) bumping up one or even two cards make less and less of a difference.  Capisce?)
Cold hard numbers.  In what way is this NOT an embarassment of riches for the GM?

Me and my fellow players were thinking the actual budget formula should be all the SP of all players added together, NOT doubled, and added to 3.  So that in a 3 player episode where all players have an SP of 2, the GM has NINE Budget, not FIFTEEN.  NOW the GM has to pace himself, Spend big on SOME scenes, but not an average of FIVE cards on EACH.  Yes?

Quote
Think about an episode of television. The characters lose a lot in the beginning as tension is built. Then, at the end, they bounce back and succeed.   Model this with Budget. At the beginning spend everything possible.  This ramps up tension and sets up the episode.  At the end when the Budget is mostly gone, the characters will overcome adversity and succeed.   Essentially, the Producer should not be spending 4 on everything.

Sounds like what you are saying is that the GM should spend according to that pattern, and that he should have enough budget to be able to.  In other words, you seem to imply that the Budget Formula is SUPPOSED to be overkill, so that when the GM spends a LOT or when the GM spends a LITTLE is only based on the GM's sense of what he thinks would be best, NOT based on having to economize and face the reality of choosing where to invest a limited resource.  You seem to want the GM to have effectively unlimited Budget - and the GM will just decide when to spend less.  That's not a formula.

Perhaps it would be better for the author to answer, by what specific metric is the Budget Formula judged by?  What goal is it trying to fulfill?  Because with what I understand, the formula is not fulfilling any goal and better than simply handing the GM a thousand budget would. 

The only reason to give the GM less than an infinite supply of budget is to force the GM to make choices, to force him to prioritize when he spends and how much.  If you give the GM too many points, you do not do that.  The math seems to clearly indicate that that has in fact occurred, and our players concur after trying it.

I read what you wrote.  There is no need to be hostile.

Let me explain the function of Budget as I understand it.  I may be wrong on some points, but I think I pretty much get it at this point.  For an explanation from Matt, I'm pretty sure there is a thread where he explains the Budget formula when the game changed from the first to the second edition on these forums somewhere.

Budget serves two major purposes (and a bunch of secondary ones).  First of all, the obvious one is that Budget provides dramatically appropriate opposition to character stakes.  The second--and I think more important, but easily missed--purpose is that Budget is a pacing mechanic.  When there is a lot of Budget left, it's saying that you need to have scenes where the protagonists are likely to fail (and thus it needs to be dramatically appropriate for them to do so) or have more scenes.  In my experience with this game, there are about four major scenes in an episode, but there are in addition around ten or twelve minor scenes which lead up to those major ones.  These minor scenes are short, to the point, and just set up stuff for later.  They also have conflicts.  These kinds of scenes usually come heavy at the start of the episode, as we have several conflicts which everyone knows the character will lose as the producer spends lots of Budget to fill the Fan Mail pool.

In a game of PTA, the Producer just doesn't spend the average number of cards on each draw or play what is mathematically optimal.  He spends what is dramatically appropriate.  What I'm saying is that there is a lot of judgment on the part of the Producer that I don't think the system tries to control mathematically.

As I see it, the Budget formula does a lot more to make sure that the episode doesn't go too long than to make sure that it goes long enough.  If the Producer is running out of Budget, it's time to wrap up the episode, as the system doesn't function without Budget.  That is somewhat obvious.  It doesn't really make sure, as you've noticed, that the episode has enough scenes.

Basically, what I'm trying to say is that the problem you are seeing is not with the Budget formula, it is with the way you are structuring your episodes and your conflicts.  You should have more scenes in an episode--short ones that are basically just conflicts.  Matt is of the opinion that a scene should basically always be a conflict and vice versa.  You need more scenes to spend the Budget away in the beginning, so that the characters can win in the end.

If you find that an episode just doesn't have that many scenes in it, then don't worry about spending all of the Budget.  I've always had 3-4 chips left in my stack at the end of the episode.  I was saving them in case we ended up with a conflict I didn't anticipate.  The thing is, that's okay.  It's not a problem if Budget is left.  That happens.  When the episode reaches its conclusion, it's done, no matter how many chips you have left.

Budget facilitates the creation of dramatic tension, but it shouldn't constrain.  The system works at the service of the fiction, not the other way around.
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Brenton Wiernik
Welkerfan
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Posts: 43


« Reply #8 on: April 17, 2009, 10:31:12 PM »

The Producer frames every scene?

Yes.  It's in the text and people always miss it.  The Player ONLY sets a Focus, Location and Agenda for the scene and then the Producer actually frames it (i.e. gives it substance with actual specifics and details).  This is really VITAL to making the game work because it allows the Producer to "spike" potentially weaker scenes.    Jesse   

From what I understand (which may certainly be wrong) the player *suggests* Focus, Location, Agenda, and Roster, and the GM approves or disaproves...

But I have been wrong before. Wink

Yeah, the text here isn't especially clear.  It uses "request", but that really means something more like "call for."  The player says (with input from everyone, as always) what the Focus, Location, and Agenda are.  The Producer then takes these three things and frames the scene, zeroing in on what the conflict should be in his framing.  The Producer probably shouldn't outright disapprove of an idea unless everyone has a pretty obvious negative reaction to it (ala a silly scene in the middle of a very serious episode).
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Brenton Wiernik
Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #9 on: April 18, 2009, 12:28:56 AM »

Of playing cards for somebody else: unless I misremember, you can only play fan mail on behalf of other players' characters, and then only if you yourself are not mixed up in the conflict. What is clear is that the system definitely is not intended to have players compromise on character vision to find acceptable consensus stakes that are then pushed through by throwing fan mail at it. I don't think this is even particularly said in the game text, it's just that obvious that stakes are personal. The game still remains trivial to break by focusing on "winning" - we discussed this before, it's not that challenging and I wouldn't characterize it as good play when the players read the rules with a legalistic perspective, trying to find a way beat the GM. The game is much more fun when all protagonists actually have their own concerns and chance and priorization of values on the part of the player are allowed to play a part in how the story folds out.

About budget: it's distinctly possible that you should have less budget per session. As you say, this depends largely on the session length - four scenes is a distinctly short episode for three characters, so of course the Producer is going to have an excess of budget. This is not a problem as regards the main functions of the game, it just means that the players will have a slight bit less support from the budgetary system in sketching the episode. If I were in your stead I'd keep an eye on session length and if it remained at four scenes per session, then I'd cut the budget into something like 30% of the current value. If, on the other hand, you play long enough sessions to support the 4-act structure (basically a dozen scenes or so), then the current budget formula is appropriate.

As for the fan mail issues - you'll probably have to see how that develops. It's not quite impossible for the group to find the frank reward cycle of fan mail to be annoying and counter-productive if they feel that it rewards the wrong things, or that it's not fun to play the game from a submissive position enforced by their own passivity, but then it may be that PTA is not the right game for them. Another way it could go down is that the group find that they are not bothered by some people getting more or less fan mail - it doesn't break the game by itself, and there is no particular shame in being on the receiving end of less fan mail. Mostly the problems I've seen have been that the group either doesn't want to be honest about whose input is found cool and whose is not, or the group is annoyed that the fan mail system only rewards descriptive input and dramatic choices, not problem-solving skills or such. Both are cases of wrong game for the group; PTA does the one thing it does, it's not easy to fit different priorities into it.

The Producer should find joy in the cooperative creativity of the group and in throwing out difficult choices for the other players. I've never had the problem of not having enough responsibility as the Producer - he has to be keen and understand the characters so he can throw out scenes that allow the other players to make thematic choices, and that's not going to happen if he runs on autopilot. Some creative friction and pressure from the Producer's direction is good for characters, makes them flourish.
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Sindyr
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« Reply #10 on: April 18, 2009, 06:24:44 AM »

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-Sindyr
Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #11 on: April 18, 2009, 10:14:09 AM »

The biggest factual thing is probably the idea of a 5-scene episode. I've never had one with less than eight scenes, I think. As a general rule of thumb (which I think I included in the Finnish edition of the game) I recommend something like one round of scenes per act in the 4-act structure - four times the number of players in total. This is not a hard and fast rule, but it's more in line with the budget, on which I agree with you that the formula needs to be changed if you desire ultra-short episodes. It's notable that as a matter of Producing method I've never actually counted scenes or anything like that - I use the 4-act structure and keep an eye on the budget, winding the main plot down when I run low on budget, leaving a bit to tie any immediate personal plot items the characters may have developed. So I recommend letting the budget determine when to stop, rather than deciding on a set number of scenes beforehand and then trying to spend budget to fit.

As for individual scenes, they don't usually last more than 15 minutes, conflicts included. Might take 20 minutes with players who are just learning the rules. The typical scene will have 5 minutes of buildup to a conflict, 8 minutes of conflict resolution procedures and 2 minutes of narration/play afterwards, roughly speaking. You can vary the technique, add more freeform character play and so on, but that increases the time commitment and slows down the plot. My groups usually tend to gravitate towards television ideal - everybody's literate in modern tv drama, so there's not much coordination needed for structuring scenes that are very much like the ones you see in television shows.

As for your Producer, I'm not too hopeful there. Even if you're not seeing many rules-based effects from a totally disinterested Producer, I have difficult imagining who in the group is doing the Producer's job if he's just there to decide on budget expenditures. Normally the Producer has creative stakes in the show and he acts as a constant president of the discussion group, making sure procedures are followed, creative input is honored and in general leading the group in their teamwork. Presumably somebody at the table is doing these things if the game can get off the ground at all, but I'm a bit worried that it's not the Producer, whose main task this precidency is.

Stakes-setting and resolution... I think I wrote about the advocation thing in some earlier thread, so I'm not going to repeat it here. That theory doesn't need to convince you, but that's the way I think about PTA and the way I get it to work, so I don't even consider interpreting the game to support player-originated goals and character cooperation in resolving conflicts. Any "conflicts" that should get resolved a certain way for the story to retain its dramatic form won't be turned over to the conflict procedures at my table, and any conflicts that are actually played pivot pretty much solely on how much the individual player, in his advocation role, wants his character to succeed - the whole point of the plentiful discretionary resources in the game is for the player to make choices over which conflicts he wants to win and which he doesn't care about so much. Thus any situation involving protagonists and ninja attackers in my game is not a conflict per se - there needs to be a character Issue that gets involved, otherwise it's just pure fight coreography that gets resolved by Producer fiat whichever way it needs to go for the plot to proceed logically.
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Welkerfan
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« Reply #12 on: April 18, 2009, 10:35:55 AM »

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Brenton Wiernik
Welkerfan
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« Reply #13 on: April 18, 2009, 10:36:26 AM »

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Brenton Wiernik
Sindyr
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Posts: 795


« Reply #14 on: April 19, 2009, 06:45:21 AM »

Hmmm.  Lots of food for thought.  Some very interesting things.  Thanks a ton, Welkerfan and Eero! Wink

>More scenes per episode.<[(combined SP) x (expected scenes/5)] + 3< First of all, it is interesting to note what the book does and does not say about this.  As Welkerfan points out:
Quote
On page 63, it says, "Once the producer has set the difficulty, the players whose protagonists are involved [in the conflict] must then decide how many cards they'll get for their protagonists."Stakes must be written based on the wants of the protagonist, and must be written from his perspective. <
    <<What about the bored GM?<Perhaps what we have been using as the conflict should be the Agenda. <The lopsided Fan Mail of our first session was based on lopsided Merit, and as far as I can see, not on lopsided awards.
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