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Author Topic: Sacrifice and heroic death? Chance of death in general?  (Read 1254 times)
higgins
Member

Posts: 44


« on: April 22, 2010, 06:49:39 AM »

Hi all!

How can you model heroic death in PTA? Much like Doyle died in Angel? Or death in general, for that matter. I mean, you can always set up the stakes of not involving your character's demise. What would be the benefit if you did? There is no benefit, so, why do it? Simply killing off your character with a standard winning hand would IMO be silly (as you need to win to be successful). So, heroic death can only occur when you actually beat the Producer's difficulty? I don't think this makes sense at all.

And how do you build up the stakes for a western standoff that actually has some tension? And what stakes would you use to define the three-way-standoff in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly?

Thanks!
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Welkerfan
Member

Posts: 43


« Reply #1 on: April 22, 2010, 07:27:47 AM »

With regards to heroic death:

In the first game of PTA I ran, there was a character who was a robot trying to find his lost humanity.  In the climax of the series finale, there was a black hole/time portal that threatened to suck in the spaceship all of the characters were on.  The robot being the smart character of the group attempted to make the portal collapse on itself.  The stakes of the conflict were simply, "Do I close the portal in time to keep the ship from getting pulled through?"

Without realizing it, the player had set up the perfect heroic death scene.

The robot blew all of his fan mail and traits (His romantic lover-Sarah, "I'm a robot", "See the whole system") to win the round and get his stakes.  He didn't win narration, though.  Afterward, the player stated that he intended it to be an exciting, but rather mundane scene in which he and his lover worked together to perform some complicated technological feat to close the portal.  That didn't happen, however.

The player who won narration said, "Performing calculations at impossible speeds, you realize there is only one way to close the portal.  It needs a massive energy source to go through it.  The only sources big enough at hand are the ship...and you."  No one was expecting that at all, but as soon as she said it, everyone was amazed and excited.  Even the robot's player realized that this was exactly what he wanted to have happen with the character.

What followed was a short exchange where the robot locked himself in an airlock, told a screaming Sarah that he loved her, and jettisoned himself into the black hole, saving the ship.

The ultimate expression of his humanity, then, became sacrificing his life to save his friends.


Death is a lame stake, in my opinion.  It is much cooler when it's not a stake, but a part of narration surrounding an outcome that no one expects.  Here, the robot's player didn't intend to have the robot die--he just did.  A good heroic death in television is one where the audience doesn't expect it and isn't happy when it happens, but they understand that it must be so.  This is exactly what happened here.

Don't make heroic death a stake in a conflict, make the outcomes of the death (success at the cause, etc.) the stake, and the death can flow from that if it fits.
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Brenton Wiernik
higgins
Member

Posts: 44


« Reply #2 on: April 22, 2010, 08:46:50 AM »

That's a very cool scene, I agree! =)

However... I was thinking of some rule in the lines of... we have some kind of climatic scene and everybody utterly fails in their cards, with no chance to beat the Producer. Couldn't we have some rule that allow success in case of character sacrifices himself in accordance to his/her issue?

Also, how would you resolve a western standoff? From a players perspective, it's a safe (and boring) "Do I get the other guy?" affair... I can't think of any stakes that would make the scenes gripping... nor even plainly interesting for that matter. Unless you put your character's peril directly in the stake, which is a pointless thing to do.
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jburneko
Member

Posts: 1351


« Reply #3 on: April 22, 2010, 10:11:07 AM »

You could.

But I've found it totally unnecessary.  Fictional context matters A LOT in PtA.  For example, I was playing in a Wuxia style fantasy PtA game a couple of months ago.  We came to the big show down between my character and the demon Emperor.  Since all of creation would be destroyed or something if I didn't defeat him, it was simply given that I was going to beat him based on genre understanding etc.  So I simply set the stakes as: "Can I beat him without sacrificing myself?"  If I win, the answer is Yes.  I defeat him and my character lives to tell the tale.  If I lose, then I still beat him but it costs my character his life in the processes.  I did this totally voluntarily because it was appropriate to the fiction and the developing story.

Jesse
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higgins
Member

Posts: 44


« Reply #4 on: April 22, 2010, 11:09:22 PM »

"Can I beat him without sacrificing myself?"
I understand your point, but there is no benefit for the player who risks his character's life like that. I mean, the stake could just as well have been: "Can I beat him without ruining my nail polish?" or something along those lines. Why risk your character's life if you can ALWAYS risk something else?
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Nocker
Member

Posts: 24

Newbie in Indie scene


« Reply #5 on: April 23, 2010, 02:37:05 AM »

To come up with a better story ? Why reasoning in terms of resource management ?
Because, if the goal is to win with losing the least, then the best conflict is "Do I defeat him with with but a move ?". All loses is set by the player to enhance the narrative and the dramatic flow.
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higgins
Member

Posts: 44


« Reply #6 on: April 23, 2010, 03:34:33 AM »

To come up with a better story ? Why reasoning in terms of resource management ?

I guess what I'm trying to say is -- in television, the death of a major character is of course dramatic, but most of all, it's unexpected and shocking. Sure, it can be unexpected as Welkerfan's example provides, but that both depended heavily on chance (who narrates it? does the character win the stakes?), PLUS killing off someone else's character like happened in that scene is a very sensitive area for many gamers. Maybe less so in an indie scene, but I still think that's a valid statement. So, this very sensitive area aside, it seems to me that in PTA, vast majority of time, death can't be unexpected and shocking. The player already sets it in the stake -- where's the shock? If there was a rule that allowed turning the tables via ultimate sacrifice in accordance to one's issue, I think it would emulate television (and drama) much better.
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Matt Wilson
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« Reply #7 on: April 23, 2010, 04:04:33 AM »

Jesse pretty much explained how you'd set it up. Alternately, you can put death out on the table as sort of a blanket approval, and let whoever has "the final say" in narration drop the bomb on you if they feel like it.

Generally speaking, that's where the OMG in play has to come from: what the players say and do, not how the cards fall. If you're looking for that "holy crap I rolled all ones" moment, it's not really something you're going to get in Primetime Adventures. Instead, make a house rule that will allow the players to surprise you with shocking narration -- and build up some trust about how they interpret the stakes.
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higgins
Member

Posts: 44


« Reply #8 on: April 23, 2010, 05:02:22 AM »

Generally speaking, that's where the OMG in play has to come from: what the players say and do, not how the cards fall.
That was more or less what I was talking about. There's the climatic end scene and every protagonist blows it in the terms of their card hands. However, if someone wants to turn the tables by sacrificing his/her character (in accordance to his/her issue), I want to say 'Yes' without everybody thinking that I'm fudging it. I'm thinking in the lines of...

"If all player hands fail, one of the players can sacrifice his/her character to automatically beat Producer and gain narration rights, provided that the sacrifice corresponds to the character's issue."
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Moreno R.
Member

Posts: 389


« Reply #9 on: April 23, 2010, 05:49:48 AM »

Generally speaking, that's where the OMG in play has to come from: what the players say and do, not how the cards fall.
That was more or less what I was talking about. There's the climatic end scene and every protagonist blows it in the terms of their card hands. However, if someone wants to turn the tables by sacrificing his/her character (in accordance to his/her issue), I want to say 'Yes' without everybody thinking that I'm fudging it. I'm thinking in the lines of...

"If all player hands fail, one of the players can sacrifice his/her character to automatically beat Producer and gain narration rights, provided that the sacrifice corresponds to the character's issue."

The problem with this, in my opinion, is that would turn a moral/narrative decision in a tactical one. The choice would lose much of its dramatic strength if it was made "to win" (I don't want to draw Creative Agenda in this discussion, but...  there is the difference!)

I have some issue with the way Nocker said it, above. It's not "for a better story". NEVER play PTA thinking of "the story" (if you are not the producer, obviously), it would rob the game of much of its intensity. Think about your character, what he/she would do, and why. Sometimes, dying is what he/she HAS to do, and the thing is clear during the game. 

The idea that you play a character "until he die" is borne out of D&D and other games with a open-ended xp-based advancement. Your character will become always more strong, and win against stronger enemies with higher stakes, so you play trying to avoid dying. But in PTA, you DON'T increase in level, or in power. "A good story" is the reward, not xps. And is a solid, concrete reward that you can get in a few sessions.  When this thing "click" with the players, they will try to get THAT reward, even if it would mean having the character die.

"I remained alive for all the session! Yay me!" "well, my character died, and ir was really AWESOME. How did end your story" "well, it was not much of a story, I only tried to remain alive" "sorry for you, now we BOTH will have to create a new character anyway for a new season, maybe this time you will get an awesome story too".

My advice is simply to plat PTA "as it is", and see how it works after a while.
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Ciao,
Moreno.

(Excuse my errors, English is not my native language. I'm Italian.)
higgins
Member

Posts: 44


« Reply #10 on: April 23, 2010, 06:24:36 AM »

"If all player hands fail, one of the players can sacrifice his/her character to automatically beat Producer and gain narration rights, provided that the sacrifice corresponds to the character's issue."

The problem with this, in my opinion, is that would turn a moral/narrative decision in a tactical one. The choice would lose much of its dramatic strength if it was made "to win" (I don't want to draw Creative Agenda in this discussion, but...  there is the difference!)

Are you sure? I mean, can you bring me an example where a character's heroic death has no meaning and the rest of the characters still suffer for it?

Let's take the latter robot example. Let's say he fails his stakes instead of winning them. Let's say the player comes up with the same idea -- the character must sacrifice himself in order to save others? Would you reject this idea and have them all torn into the black hole instead?

I guess all I'm saying is this "you always need win the stakes first, before you can die heroically and save the day" isn't really something I get.

My advice is simply to plat PTA "as it is", and see how it works after a while.

Oh, I intend to! I'm just asking about stuff that don't make a 100% sense to me, perhaps suggesting how I'd solve it. The feedback has been great so far. Thanks!
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Welkerfan
Member

Posts: 43


« Reply #11 on: April 23, 2010, 08:50:31 AM »

"If all player hands fail, one of the players can sacrifice his/her character to automatically beat Producer and gain narration rights, provided that the sacrifice corresponds to the character's issue."

The problem with this, in my opinion, is that would turn a moral/narrative decision in a tactical one. The choice would lose much of its dramatic strength if it was made "to win" (I don't want to draw Creative Agenda in this discussion, but...  there is the difference!)

Are you sure? I mean, can you bring me an example where a character's heroic death has no meaning and the rest of the characters still suffer for it?

Well, basically, it's a psychological feeling thing.  By entrenching the death into the rules like that, it makes it a cognitive tactical decision, not an emotional narrative one.  It just feels different.  It really does.

Let's take the latter robot example. Let's say he fails his stakes instead of winning them. Let's say the player comes up with the same idea -- the character must sacrifice himself in order to save others? Would you reject this idea and have them all torn into the black hole instead?

In this case, yes.  That's what the stakes were.  The player put the lives of everyone on the ship into the stakes.  We wanted that gigantic tension of, "Is everyone going to die or not?"  If we weren't prepared for that to happen and for the series to end so tragically, we wouldn't have made it the stakes.  The key lesson that anyone who hasn't played stakes-setting games before needs to learn (and it took me a while to get this) is that both winning and losing need to be exciting and acceptable to play for a stake to be good.  If you can't stand the idea of losing the stakes, then they are bad and should be reset.

I guess all I'm saying is this "you always need win the stakes first, before you can die heroically and save the day" isn't really something I get.

Remember, stakes don't necessarily have to have anything to do with the task that a character is performing.  Stakes can focus on completely orthogonal or tangential things that, in the context of the narrative, are more important than the task.

To use jburneko's example, defeating the Demon Emperor is assumed by the genre.  Everyone knows the hero will win; it's what he has to do to get it or what else happens around the fight that matters.  Stakes in that scene could be "Do I defeat him without tapping in the the corrupting power of the Taint?" or "Do I show my father that I have overcome my shame?" or "Can I control my grief over Xi Chang's death for the fight?"  Each of these is a cool stake with important implications for either outcome, and each stake can meaningfully affect and be affected by me winning the fight, but none of them have anything directly to do with battling the demon.

To give some examples of where heroic death can occur while losing the stakes, I'll go back to the scene with the robot and the black hole.  Let's first stick with the stakes that were actually used.  "Do I close the portal in time to keep the ship from getting pulled through?"  You've already seen how him winning these stakes led to a heroic death--the manner by which he could close the portal was narrated to include his death.

But, let's say that he lost the stakes.  There is no way for him to close the portal in time.  It seems like everyone is going to die.  But!  The narrator has him shout for everyone to rush to the escape pods.  They all climb in while he gets the pods set up to launch.  He realizes they will need extra force to escape the black hole's gravity, so before anyone realizes what he is doing.  He locks down the pods and sets them to launch.  There is the same love scene goodbye between him and Sarah before the pods launch and the robot throws himself into the ship's engines, causing them to explode.  The blast from the ship propels the pods away from the black hole, saving the other characters' lives, while all of the remains of the ship are sucked into the singularity.  So, the robot had a heroic death, even though he lost the stakes, in order to save the others' lives.

Now, let's change the stakes to something orthogonal to saving the day.  Let's assume that he is going to close the black hole.  Now, his stakes might be, "Does Sarah truly understand that I do love her back?"  Let's say he wins the stakes.  The narrator throws down the revelation--yes, she does realize it, because you sacrifice your life to save her.  And the scene plays out as in the first (original) example.  Now, let's say he loses.  She doesn't understand his love for her.  The narrator sets a mini-scene where the robot tries to express love, and she obviously still doubts his sincerity.  The robot is dismayed; no matter what he does, she still won't trust him to be real.  But, all of the sudden, the robot's player decides that he needs to die at this point.  He announces to the group that something goes wrong and the robot can't stop the portal.  The narrator agrees.  The robot has a bit of an internal monologue, saying that even if she doesn't realize it, he loves Sarah as much or more than any human ever could, and only someone who loves her as much as he does would be willing to die for her.  And he throws himself out of the ship to save the day.  Rather than them both realizing and embracing their love, the robot decides that her understanding didn't matter anymore; what matters was that he understood he loved her.

So, when your stakes are written well, heroic death (and other related drama) can come out of any outcome.
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Brenton Wiernik
higgins
Member

Posts: 44


« Reply #12 on: April 23, 2010, 12:37:24 PM »

The key lesson that anyone who hasn't played stakes-setting games before needs to learn (and it took me a while to get this) is that both winning and losing need to be exciting and acceptable to play for a stake to be good.  If you can't stand the idea of losing the stakes, then they are bad and should be reset.

A great lesson with great examples. Thanks! I didn't indeed realise that the depth of that stake beofre, but I think I'm closer now. =)
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