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Author Topic: [Primetime Adventures] "Last Stand" Great pitch... but then what happened?  (Read 1965 times)
Sebastian K. Hickey
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« on: October 02, 2009, 03:10:16 AM »

I tried running PTA for three traditional role players.  Where did I go wrong?

Pitch
Like most first games of PTA, the guys went straight for sci-fi.  It started off as 'Bladerunner meets the Wire', which sounded pretty good to me, and mutated into something more difficult to describe.  There's a remote planet, industrial and corrupt.  One of its two suns, a distant star, goes out, as if someone turned off the lights.  People go ape-shit and there's civil war.  Humans, among 5 races, take the throne and rule with a pretty heavy hand.  There's a lot of suspicion and doom-saying that this is now the last planet, that the rest of the universe is now empty.

The series is about revolution, fear and the rise of a terrible war.  A small, buffer police department called the Gang Violence Taskforce gets involved at the beginning.  The first series tracks the rise of rebels through the eyes of these cops.

Setting
Violent drama.  Projectile weapons.  Drugs, sex, violation.  5 races, Human, Rog, Fim, Shroud & Sentient.  Rogs are bohemian gorillas with Spanish accents.  Think Silverback + Che Guevara. Fim are ancient, plant like creatures, once blooming under two suns, now withered and bedecked with UV fairy lights.  Shrouds are cloaked cadavers, a dying (excuse the pun) race that now search for compatible corpses to multiply.  Sentients are machines with superseding emotional and sentient intelligence, long since considered a living species.

Cast - Transcribing direct from the character sheets...
Object-718 - A Sentient obsessed with retro, hands-on tech.  Wants to be a "robot".  Self styled bolts + nuts.  No smooth edges.  Red flashing light for eyes. Issue: Trying to find out what it means to be a robot. Edges: Street Bot.  Connections: Guerto, Rog Activist / Singularity, Builder (Father).

Detective Bob McMahon - Young.  Just out of academy, A+ student, questions police actions, naive.  Issue: Do I follow orders blindly?  Edges: Super Recruit.  Connections: Vicky Haru, Hot civil rights lawyer type I love / Professor James Novak, college professor, liberal (Stephen Fry)

Lt. Taka Haru - Policeman from Regime. Issue: Self Confidence  Edges: Agent of The Regime / Military Experiment - Part Cyborg  Connections: Ex-Wife - Elizabeth Garn

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Sebastian K. Hickey
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« Reply #1 on: October 02, 2009, 04:07:09 AM »

Intro 1
Camera follows a man's journey through the violent megalopolis.  We do not see his face, but he is wearing a suit and carries a suitcase.  During his journey, we cut to grand preparations of some kind of political congregation.  Eventually, the man arrives at the congregation, puts the suit case on the floor and there is a murmur of confusion.  Cut to the exterior of a classical building.  There is a white flash and all the windows on every floor explode.

Intro 2
Morning time.  Blues soundtrack (Rory Gallagher).  Agents are shown getting dressed, shaving, going to work.  They nearly meet one another in an elevator, but the doors close too quickly.

END Intro

Sample Scene 1 - Character / To Introduce characters to one another / Located in the office corridor
The new recruit runs up the stairs, becoming late, and spills his papers over the floor as he bumps into his superior officer.

(ED - At this point, the players are all very excited.  The PCs roleplay the scene.  I'm trying to work in a conflict, so when the superior officer, Haru, starts lording it over the new recruit, I have another officer try to intervene.  I tell the player that my goal is to humiliate Taka Haru.  He tells me that his goal is to be viewed as the man in charge.  I win the conflict, but the player narrates.  The player is confused as to what to do.  I ask him what happens.  He tells me.  Then we roleplay it out.  At this point, the sense of immersion is weak.)

Sample Scene 2 - Plot / To introduce Object 718 to the bombing / Located in the Last Stand bar
A gorilla's hand picks up a martini glass from a bar and carries it to a table where a drunk robot has passed out in a shady booth.  The gorilla's hand slaps the robot awake.  (ED - Now the PC takes over the narrative) The camera goes black, and winks open and closed, viewing the gorilla, Guerto, from the robot's perspective.  In a squeaky voice, the robot asks Guerto what has been going on, and the bombing is explained.  It is established that the Pax Consortium, an inter-racial pacifist collective, has been wiped out.  It's all over the news.  Object-718 investigates the footage and notices that one of the members of the consortium, before the bomb went off, was someone he knew.

(ED - This scene went well, but there was no conflict.  Furthermore, there was no point where Object-718 had to step out of character, and no change from the traditional GM/Player narrative structure)

Sample Scene 3 - Character / To meet the captain / Located in the captain's office
The new recruit McMahon enters an office.  There is a high chair with its back to him.  Beyond the chair is a TV with details of the bombing being aired and shouts from the reporters that 'this could now mean war.'  The chair rotates around and an auburn haired police chief asks the recruit's business.

(ED - Not a very clear agenda as far as character was concerned.  I found it difficult to get in a conflict.  I told the PC that I wanted a conflict, and that if the player lost the stakes, he would be told he was insignificant and that nobody could make a difference any more.  He would get to work on the case but with feelings of indecision.  The PC responded that if he won the stakes, he would want to convince the captain that he was good enough for the job...  I tried to push for some more interesting results, something that would show off the small conquering of his issues, but I couldn't explain my intentions clearly.  We ran the conflict, and the player won the stakes, but the narrative shifted to a player who had spent a fan point.  He wanted us to roleplay the conversation, and he described the flow of it, and the outcome (that McMahon brought hope to the Captain).  When we got to role play it, it was fun, but it felt more like reading lines than anything else.  It ended nicely with the captain watching the door after the new recruit had left the office.)

Summary
Okay, that's enough reading.  Well done for getting this far.  Here are my thoughts and questions...

1)  Next time I run PTA for new players I will enforce that when it is a PC's turn to frame the scene, they should frame a scene with their own character.  PCs were shy about getting in on the action, so were framing scenes without their characters present.
2)  Do you make PCs frame scenes going clockwise around the table?  I think they found that idea scary.
3)  How do you avoid a sequence of 'narration followed by the roleplaying of it' (the reading out the lines phenomenon)?
4)  In PTA, it describes getting into conflict as early as possible.  This means that the scene may reach a situation of meta-gaming (the discussion about how to proceed) before most of the roleplaying potential has been used up.  I find that this takes away immersion.  Is there a good example anywhere of how to run a conflict without too much discussion?  Most of the sessions with people who haven't played the game before, and from podcasts online, involve lengthy discussions about how the conflict should be resolved.

Ciao.
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David Berg
Member

Posts: 612


« Reply #2 on: October 02, 2009, 10:36:59 AM »

Hi Sebastian,

I've only played PTA at cons and I've never read the book.  So, I don't know whether my suggestions are based on the book or not.  All I know is I've had a lot of fun when I've played.

The first thing that jumped out at me is how your group defined some really cool setting stuff.  This can be good, but it can also be a source of distraction if the character stuff never tops it.  Like, if I'm psyched to see how factions of gorillas work a mysterious supernova into their anti-authoritarian propaganda, there's a temptation to say, "I'm ready to play!" with that in mind.  But PTA isn't optimized for exploration of setting or backstory for their own sake.  Those things will happen only if they dovetail with the exploration of character Issues.

If the beginning of the pitch session gets everyone pumped for supernova-based propaganda, I'd try damn hard to make a character whose issue I can envision interacting strongly with that.  Maybe, "How do I know who to believe?" or some such.  Even "will I blindly follow orders" could work if I have some idea that ties it in, like, "my character works for the people responsible for the supernova" (which should be communicated to the play group).

I've had a lot of success framing and playing scenes that were focused on character issues, when the character issues were obviously relevant in the immediate context of the fiction.  My groups have achieved this via conversations like the following, both during set-up* and during provisional scene framing:

GM: So, what next?  We haven't seen Bob in a while.
BP (Bob's Player): It's cool to wait, I saw OP had an idea there after that revelation about the bomb.
OP (Object-718's Player): Yeah, I have a cool cover-up idea!  718's gonna stumble into it!
GM: Uh... well, does that relate to your Issue?
OP: Um...
BP: Maybe if the cover-up involves radical robot-designers?
GM: Who have clear ideas on what robots do and don't do?
OP: Maybe the bomb went off because a robot stepped beyond it's-  Yeah, okay, I know where to go with this!  (OP censored himself here, which leads into another point, up next.)

Quote
I win the conflict, but the player narrates.  The player is confused as to what to do.  I ask him what happens.  He tells me.  Then we roleplay it out.

The way I see it, this is "learn a new skill" time.  The player needs to learn the skill of answering "what happens" in his own head and then roleplaying with the intent to produce that.

How is it possible to roleplay toward a target outcome when other people are involved?  Because all the other players saw the conflict resolution outcome, know what is "supposed" to happen in a general sense, and can look to follow the narrator's lead.  At least, that's been my experience, playing with people who've played more than I have.  But this may have been warped by using more explicit stake-setting than the rules call for.

The main reason I'm suggesting this is because I'd never done it before, learned it during one PTA session, and have enjoyed doing it in PTA ever since.  (Same with provisional scene-framing.)  There may be better-tested alternatives out there.  Hopefully someone else will chime in here.

My final observation is that scene goals like "To Introduce characters to one another", "To introduce Object 718 to the bombing" and "To meet the captain" aren't focused on character Issues and don't imply any conflict.  In a con game, I'd consider these a complete waste of time.  In a regular, multi-session game, perhaps they have value as a lead-in, but personally, I'd keep them short, acknowledging them for what they are: fodder for meatier scenes to come.

Hope this helps,
-David

*in set-up, that example would look different, but the same general strategy of forging interesting connections applies: "We like bombing cover-ups, and I like robot identity, so the bombers will be robot-designers!"
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JoyWriter
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Posts: 469

also known as Josh W


« Reply #3 on: October 02, 2009, 05:09:51 PM »

You mention the large amount of discussion, I think this game is designed for that to be a feature, not at all meta-game but a part of why it works. In such games "immersion" isn't first on the list of priorities, so much as making interesting things happen between the characters. There's still a high level of involvement, but in a different way. I'm sure someone here has a term for it.

2)  Do you make PCs frame scenes going clockwise around the table?  I think they found that idea scary.

The core thing here is bravery, either that or a commitment to the potential of being rubbish! The most they have to fear is slipping up in a new system, and paradoxically the fact they are experienced at one thing may be why they are less ready to be adventurous here. Ideally you'd have one person in the group more used to this style, and when a player came up to their chance at scene framing, the more experienced one and other players would be able to give them possibilities, but as they still chose which they wouldn't be completely off the seat.

That's one way, just recognise that there is fun to be had in the weirdness, and not try to avoid it but make your way slowly through it. Another way is just to shift the game into something your more used to, which is missing an opportunity. On the other hand, you could play the same setting in another game too now you've made it, something like heroquest, that can be set up quickly to give you a more traditional way to play it. Get them side by side!
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Callan S.
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« Reply #4 on: October 02, 2009, 07:11:02 PM »

I'm not really seeing a conflict in the setting itself and wondering if that's the problem? What in the setting is actually going to conflict with and confront the PC's? As is, it's kind of like lord of the rings and your a hobbit, but not actually Frodo - so your tending your yard and stuff while there's this huge cool conflict that...has nothing to do with your life. Maybe you'll have a conflict about rabbits eating your carrots - it doesn't seem to sizzle for some reason. This huge setting conflict doesn't seem to be in the PC's faces except at an minor, oblique angle.
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Sebastian K. Hickey
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« Reply #5 on: October 03, 2009, 03:22:37 PM »

Quote
GM: So, what next?  We haven't seen Bob in a while.
BP (Bob's Player): It's cool to wait, I saw OP had an idea there after that revelation about the bomb.
OP (Object-718's Player): Yeah, I have a cool cover-up idea!  718's gonna stumble into it!
GM: Uh... well, does that relate to your Issue?
OP: Um...
BP: Maybe if the cover-up involves radical robot-designers?
.... etc..

Hi David.  Let me first thank you for the generosity of your response.  It is peppered with gems.  The biggest insight for me is the question "Uh... well, does that relate to your Issue?"  If I can remember to keep pushing for issue related scenes, I think the invested interest will give momentum to the roleplaying, and then immersion.

Quote
To introduce Object 718 to the bombing" and "To meet the captain" aren't focused on character Issues and don't imply any conflict.

I agree.  Could you twist those scene agendas, tweak them a bit, to show me what a good conflict agenda might be?  I'm struggling with this and need some help.

Quote
That's one way, just recognise that there is fun to be had in the weirdness, and not try to avoid it but make your way slowly through it.

I intend to get PTA if it kills me.  Until I really get it, there's a huge barrier to the successful integration of new players.

Quote
I'm not really seeing a conflict in the setting itself and wondering if that's the problem? What in the setting is actually going to conflict with and confront the PC's?

Hi Callan.  I disagree.  I don't think a setting is important in the creation of conflict.  Every soap opera is situated in the banal, yet each is swarming with interpersonal conflict.  I've heard of games like 'Metrocity', where the players take the roles of clean-up crews for super hero activity.  All the 'action' takes place off screen, but the real conflict is between the characters and their own issues, not the super heroes versus villains.  Even if you take desperate housewives or six feet under, or any other high budget HBO style show, all of the action takes place between characters, not in the setting.  In fact, Matt Wilson harps on about that very fact in the first quarter of the PTA rule book.  So I don't think it was the setting that was the problem.  In addition, this setting was a big part of the story arc, as the police department that the cast work for becomes the most important unit in the police force during the rise of gang violence and violent rebellion.  The big question for the cast was, which side will you choose?  I think that's a pretty good inclusion of PCs and setting.  I say it again, I don't think the setting, or any setting, is ever the problem.  It was much more likely to stem from my misunderstanding of the system and the purpose and set-up of issue based conflicts.  What do you think?
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Callan S.
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« Reply #6 on: October 03, 2009, 07:23:10 PM »

I think if you think you have a problem and aren't sure where it is, then you need to be less certain in saying where there isn't a problem.

That said, I'm refering to setting as a potential injection point for an overall conflict, but it wasn't injected there. Like an everyday soap, it can be injected anywhere. But I'm not really seeing that, either. And in terms of choosing a side - did that crop up in the session played?

I mean in terms of everyday soap, if one PC was sleeping with another (N)PC's wife or girlfriend, I'd go "Ah, there's something juicy!". But there doesn't seem to be anything like that? Everyday soaps don't swim with interpersonal conflicts by sheer chance - the writers force it in. Was anyone trying to force in a conflict, or just play out what would naturally happen?
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David Berg
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« Reply #7 on: October 03, 2009, 07:39:14 PM »

Hi Sebastian,

If you've read the PtA book and done your best to play according to it (and it sounds like you have), then you probably "get it" as much as you're going to in terms of some "officially correct" way to play.  Everything beyond that is just practice and tweaks you pick up from playing or maybe reading good accounts of other people playing.  The Forge is filled with such accounts.  Do some searches and you can probably turn up at least one good "my group did these things and we had an awesome time" PtA account.

Does anyone out there have a good PtA Actual Play thread to recommend?

As for scene agendas, in my games we haven't set an explicit goal for each scene, but fairly close.  I think what we've done is mostly to prime a situation that just kinda seems juicy to everyone.  I mean, it's easier for me to recognize dramatic potential than to label it specifically.  So, it might be worth your while to churn out nicely-worded goals, or it might be sufficient to just get everyone going, "Oh crap, how's this gonna turn out?!"  My only point is that if you get hung up on the former, try the latter.

It's hard for me to come up with good scene goals for your game without being there and seeing what everyone's excited about.  But I'll take a few random stabs, and hopefully one will look appealing.

  • Make Bob choose whether to unearth dirt on Vicky in a scene where she's drunk and forthcoming.  (If he does, and reports it, he may be given an order regarding her that he doesn't want to follow.  So this is issue-relevant in a vague way, setting up stronger issue-relevant stuff to come.)
  • Have Elizabeth make some demand on Haru that challenges him to stand up for himself.  Maybe something reasonable but vaguely demeaning for an ex, like house-sitting or coffee-fetching.  (Let Haru's player establish what his confidence issue looks like so we can see it in action.  If he has no problem saying "no" to coffee-fetching, raise the stakes with Elizabeth making threats or something.)
  • Make O718 tackle the visual part of his robothood -- opportunity to get tricked out.  He's in the right place at the right time to incur a favor from a car detailing artist (catches dropped vase or baby, whatever).  Artist will offer O718 various looks.

These could all work toward later-game stuff like Bob being told to kill Vicky, Haru being given a chance to lead the assault on the rebels for glory and danger or accept reassignment to an administrative position, and O718 choosing an operating system.

(Honestly, I find "what does it mean to be a robot?" to be kind of abstract and distancing, thus a crappy Issue.)

Hope some of that was useful!

Ps,
-David
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Sebastian K. Hickey
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« Reply #8 on: October 04, 2009, 03:24:07 AM »

Quote
I mean in terms of everyday soap, if one PC was sleeping with another (N)PC's wife or girlfriend, I'd go "Ah, there's something juicy!".

Isn't that an event, rather than a setting?  I'm confused by your semantics.  Nevertheless, I agree with you that I should be more opened minded to the source of my failure.  Ruling out your 'setting' criticism is not a helpful way for me to learn.

Quote
It's hard for me to come up with good scene goals for your game without being there and seeing what everyone's excited about.  But I'll take a few random stabs, and hopefully one will look appealing.

Thanks for these scenarios.  Very helpful.  Clearly I've been constructing the stories all wrong.  No wonder the guys didn't know how to act.  When framing a scene, I need to be thinking of the juiciest, most tense and emotionally unsettling scenes I can think of on the spot.

Perhaps Bob arrives on a scene of helpless rebels in hiding and is ordered on the radio to shoot to kill?  Or Haru is at home to pick up his daughter, and finds his ex-wife with another man, one of the Rog gorillas suspected of rebellious activity?  Or maybe Object-718 is asked to provide intelligence for a rebel bombing.  The rebels need to bomb part of the building that will cause the most damage and the information he gives will determine how many casualties will result.

Ok, the last one is dodgy, but it could lead to a 'life vs. numbers' thread, which is a more tangible interpretation of the issue.

Really helpful.  Thanks David.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #9 on: October 04, 2009, 02:19:23 PM »

Quote
I mean in terms of everyday soap, if one PC was sleeping with another (N)PC's wife or girlfriend, I'd go "Ah, there's something juicy!".

Isn't that an event, rather than a setting?  I'm confused by your semantics.  Nevertheless, I agree with you that I should be more opened minded to the source of my failure.  Ruling out your 'setting' criticism is not a helpful way for me to learn.
I think you should read my post again - I agreed with you that soap like conflict can be injected anywhere, but I still don't see it being injected anywhere into play - not into the setting, not into events. Check my previous post out again, especially the last question.
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Sebastian K. Hickey
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« Reply #10 on: October 04, 2009, 03:34:42 PM »

Hi Callan, thanks for your advice.  I've read your post again.  Answering the question, yes, I was trying to inject conflict.  I didn't do very well all the time, but I was trying.  I was not waiting for the story to happen by itself.  That kind of sit-back GMing, couch potato laziness, would be taking the TV metaphor too far.  Also, this part of the sentence still doesn't make sense to me (below).  If it's important, could you rephrase it.  Otherwise, cheers for your generous advice.

Ciao.

Quote
I'm refering to setting as a potential injection point for an overall conflict
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FredGarber
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Posts: 95


« Reply #11 on: October 05, 2009, 09:29:40 AM »

Quote
Quote
To introduce Object 718 to the bombing" and "To meet the captain" aren't focused on character Issues and don't imply any conflict.

I agree.  Could you twist those scene agendas, tweak them a bit, to show me what a good conflict agenda might be?  I'm struggling with this and need some help.


1.
I'd twist it so that the Gorilla sits down next to Object 718 as he's sipping his morning drink and says "Things are crazy after that bombing. Can you sober up and use those robot brains to analyze the situation?"
I think this puts the issue right there in the first conflict.  The play gets a chance for immersion and can role-play "Drunk tries to sound logical" or "Bender Explains It All," depending on how he sees O718.

2.
I'd twist it so that instead of just the Captain, the Captain is arguing with Vicki (the hot civil rights lawyer). Vicki storms out as McMahon comes in.  The Captain says "McMahon, that lovely young lady thinks that our department is going to violate some scumbag's civil rights when we look into this bombing.  Get after her.  I want you to keep tabs on her, and tell me what she knows."

Issues right there.  Does he follow orders, or his, um, heart?

3.
Instead of "Get to the conflict as soon as possible", I read that sentence as "Push for the conflict as soon as possible."  In other words, I let the players have about a minute or two of unfocused play in the scene before the NPC or the situation starts pushing on their issues.

Example of Actual Play:
"I want a character scene, in the coffeeshop, where Colby and Jade get to know one another."  says Colby's player.
Colby's issue is finding the truth, and she's secretly a govt. agent.  Jade is secretly a shapeshifter, and her issue is remaining free from captivity.

I let Colby and Jade talk a little bit, and then I introduce cop cars with sirens and lights race outside the coffeeshop to the crime scene these characters have just escaped down the street.  (I push for conflict)
           Colby tries to pay attention and also ignore it.  Jade flinches, and all of a sudden they're discussing how Jade doesn't trust cops.
           In addition, Jade's player has Jade's body Shift a little under the stress, giving a visual clue that Jade has a secret. Jade's player wants only the audience to see it, not Colby
Is this enough tension to have a conflict?  Not for me. I let Jade's character's slip be hidden from Colby, let Colby's player know there will be other chances to find that out, and I decide to push for greater tension. (maybe Jade will have no choice but to Shift in front of Colby?)
I have a rookie cop comes into the coffeeshop to get coffee for the detectives. (I push the cop thing harder, waiting for tension)
           Colby and Jade decide to leave.
I have Colby's car blocked in by a big Govt SUV.  (the Cops issue is right in front of them)
I tell Colby she's got enough rank to get out of here: all she has to do is pull it.
And there's my Conflict: Does Colby out herself as an authority figure, without losing Jade's trust?
         Colby wins the conflict, Jade loses the conflict, and I win Narration.  Colby pulls rank quietly, and tells Jade she just asked the cop nicely.  Jade is freaking out, and she wants to go home to her safe place.

I ended scene as they drove away, and turn to Jade to frame the next scene...

-Fred
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Callan S.
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« Reply #12 on: October 05, 2009, 02:29:43 PM »

Hi Callan, thanks for your advice.  I've read your post again.  Answering the question, yes, I was trying to inject conflict.  I didn't do very well all the time, but I was trying.  I was not waiting for the story to happen by itself.  That kind of sit-back GMing, couch potato laziness, would be taking the TV metaphor too far.  Also, this part of the sentence still doesn't make sense to me (below).  If it's important, could you rephrase it.  Otherwise, cheers for your generous advice.
Fair enough - how about the other players? Either through table talk (well, I guess that's meta game talk) or through some mechanic?

BTW, I may be well off - I'd treat my question as perhaps having some useful answer on the situation. I think it has a high chance of being useful, but I wouldn't take it as gospel.
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Sebastian K. Hickey
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« Reply #13 on: October 08, 2009, 01:11:14 PM »

Hey Fred,

That was a really helpful post.  Thank you for the time and energy you put into it.

Callan, I see what you're getting at now.  In retrospect, I think I was the only one gunning for conflict.  As you've seen, I've got a lot to learn on that front.  Well, I say a lot to learn, but I could change that to 'a lot to practise' after all the good advice offered here.  In response to your advice, I accept that the generation of conflict has to be spread amongst the whole group, and in encouraging that, my job as a producer will become much easier.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #14 on: October 08, 2009, 02:45:09 PM »

I might be missplaced, but I don't think it's all up to you - the model is instead like a band, where everyone has instruments like already like to play sometimes and don't need encouragement to pick up. Instead they are actually keen to pick them up even before the gig.

However, alot of gamer culture seems to have trained gamers to sit down and basically be a passive audience because that one time they blew a trumpet (so to speak) they were called an asshat. So on the other hand, if this is the case, maybe it is up to you to undo such damage, if it is actually undoable. It's a bit hard to know which way to think about it Sad
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