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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4283 Members Latest Member: - otto Most online today: 63 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: octaNe in play  (Read 4976 times)
Clinton R. Nixon
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« on: February 04, 2003, 11:39:50 AM »

I'm about to get harsh on a favorite game, so watch out. (And before I start, apologies to Jared. This is meant to help, not hurt.)

Last night, I played octaNe with the Seattle Monday night indie game group. Alan Barclay, a great GM, ran the game, and several of the Forge regulars played, including rafial and Justin Dagna. The characters involved were a Mexican wrestler named Pumpkin-head, a cute and weird-ass talking dog, an Elvis impersonator, and a fast-food ninja, and the game centered around a crashed flying saucer, a frozen alien, some crazed bikers and a transvestite with some odd alien brooch.

And that's where the trouble started. As for myself, I couldn't figure out where the hell the adventure was going from the beginning. In some role-playing games, that's alright - say in a task-resolution based system where Exploration of setting is focused. In octaNe, it's a flat tire that drags you down.

With player narration so key to the system, if the players have no focus, the game seems to fall apart, as it did for us. Afterwards, we had a long talk about the game, and my decision was this:

If player narration is central to a game, then that game needs a serious focus for that narration to converge on. For example, in InSpectres, which uses nearly the same system, all the players are part of an organization that fights supernatural weirdness for money. That's focused - no matter where the players take the game, there's a point of convergence that will happen. In the Pool, where there's not such a focus, a focus needs to be initiated by the GM prior to play. (I ran this last week, and it went great, but I also handed each player a one-page sheet detailing 'the story so far,' and had them all come in at the climax, focusing the story to an end-point.)

octaNe's focus is trash culture weirdness, and that's about it. Without serious GM injection of focus, that's not enough to hold the game together - without an endgame, the player narration either descends into a battle of who can get more strange, or just gets eliminated as players narrate as little as possible, waiting for GM clues on what might happen next.

This isn't an indictment of the game, but a warning to future GMs: the hazards of running octaNe are many, and you need to be aware of the lack of focus in the game's concept before play ever begins.

---

As a secondary statement, unrelated to the first, Hazard Ratings are terrifying in play. Even a Hazard Rating of one makes the likelihood of getting a success on your roll minimal, and a Hazard Rating of two or three is outright poison to player rolls, even when spending 3 or more Plot Points for extra dice. If used as written, where a Hazard Rating of 2 or more isn't that uncommon, the PCs come to a halt, unable to accomplish anything.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #1 on: February 04, 2003, 11:53:53 AM »

You forgot the rule of Rock n Roll and the Rule of Munchies. Didntcha?

We had the same problem. I'm sure it was forgetting these elements that caused it. Seriously. Don't underestimate the power of ritual to get your mind in a properly focused frame.

Mike
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Matt Snyder
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« Reply #2 on: February 04, 2003, 11:58:26 AM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
You forgot the rule of Rock n Roll and the Rule of Munchies. Didntcha?

We had the same problem. I'm sure it was forgetting these elements that caused it. Seriously. Don't underestimate the power of ritual to get your mind in a properly focused frame.

Mike


Yeah, but "What do you do?"

What do you do in octaNe? Explore Color? Explore setting? Is there a premise? What is it?

I dunno. It's weird. For a game that I admire, I'm not sure how to answer those questions. I realized this last night in a totally unrelated, but synchronistic moment. I'm not sure what to think about octaNe, besides, "Cool!"
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Matt Snyder
www.chimera.info

"The future ain't what it used to be."
--Yogi Berra
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #3 on: February 04, 2003, 12:04:14 PM »

Actually, I think you hit it. Octane is a great example of Exploration of color. You have to consider it from a post-modern sensibility. If you have to ask what you're supposed to do, you've already missed the point. If you don't get the Zen of Gonzo Americana, nobody is going to be able to just show it to you.

Like I said, make sure you start with the Rock and Snaks! This is the first step on the road to enlightenment, grasshopper.

Mike
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xiombarg
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« Reply #4 on: February 04, 2003, 12:23:48 PM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Like I said, make sure you start with the Rock and Snaks! This is the first step on the road to enlightenment, grasshopper.
When I ran OctaNe, we had the rock n' roll, and not the snacks, and it went very, very well.

That said, I DID, as GM, have a (very) hazy goal in mind. I wanted the players to fight strange alien maggot-spider things, and made it clear that they had to find a way to get together, as their characters started in different parts of the world. Remember all that talk in OctaNe about everyone working together to produce something, about working WITH the GM to get to where the princess was, not against him? It was like that, and I emphasized that fact to the players.

Basically, with only a very vague goal (get together), I used the system to insert the rest, and we rolled with it. Whenever they failed in the scenes they created as they tried to get together (and it DOES happen), and I had narrative control as GM, I threw in a problem relating to my hazy plot: Flying spiders showed up to scare away the Elvis Impersonator's date, or giant maggot-worms overthrew the truck the Mexican Wrestler was riding in. Since I'd prepped them with the "rah-rah work together group hug" speech, they willingly embraced those plot elements and helped embellish on them.

And, yes, Hazards are deadly. But that's where the GM can assert narrative control again to throw out an idea.

Now, I'm not advocating a fully-planned scenario. This ain't D&D. This was OctaNe -- we made it up as we went. But, yes, for it to work, at least one person has to have an idea where they want the game to go. It didn't have to be me, as GM, but I'm used to doing it so it worked out that way.

Even InSpectres requires that one seed -- the GM has to come up with the guy who presents the problem, and what the problem seems to be. I used to be in an Impov group -- we didn't start from scratch, we started from audience suggestion. Anything as freeform as OctaNe requires a seed of an idea that can then be riffed on. (For example, from the Rob Zombie music we were listening to, we got the idea to have human/maggot hybrids trying to take over Lost Vegas, on the whole "more human than human" riff...)
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love * Eris * RPGs  * Anime * Magick * Carroll * techno * hats * cats * Dada
Kirt "Loki" Dankmyer -- Dance, damn you, dance! -- UNSUNG IS OUT
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #5 on: February 04, 2003, 02:33:04 PM »

See! Inspirado from the rocknrolla!

The question is where does that seed come from? It's a Zen thing, baby.

Josh's idea (and he oh so gets it), was to have a rock-off between the PCs and some campy Death Metal villains. Woulda worked if I had been able to play the stereo. I got a two-year old, see, an he needed to watch Barney, and... well, you can see I'm in no position to properly appreciate Octane under such conditions.

Mike
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: February 04, 2003, 03:20:51 PM »

You guys are totally scooping my review!!

Best,
Ron
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rafial
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« Reply #7 on: February 04, 2003, 06:23:30 PM »

Quote from: xiombarg
Whenever they failed in the scenes they created as they tried to get together (and it DOES happen), and I had narrative control as GM, I threw in a problem relating to my hazy plot: Flying spiders showed up to scare away the Elvis Impersonator's date, or giant maggot-worms overthrew the truck the Mexican Wrestler was riding in.


There is a key point here relating to why this game worked, and our game stalled.  It's the "when is a whiff not a whiff?" principle that I've seen discussed elsewhere on the Forge.  In xiombarg's game, failures still propelled the players forward, albeit in a way that they didn't plan on, and was perhaps discommoding to them them (ain't that a fine word, "discommoding"?).  In our game, failure often brought things to a halt.  Near the end, we were bashing our heads against the same obstacle over and over again, and frankly, the gags got boring.  There were some great moments to be sure, but the overall experience was unsatisfying.  The game simply ended on a reasonbly convenient scene because I think the players just didn't want to try anymore.

Part of the discussion we had related to why when some of the same folks played Trollbabe, it had gone so much better.  One key mechanic that I think really helps in the case of Trollbabe is that the loser narrates.  The player is narrating their defeats, so they are motivated to insert possible alternate ways out, so things can keep moving.  The GM narratates the players successes, and can direct them in ways that keep the game moving.  Subtle, but effective.
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Rich Forest
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« Reply #8 on: February 04, 2003, 07:09:23 PM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
See! Inspirado from the rocknrolla!


That's it.  I can't believe I never saw this before.  

The rule of Rock n Roll.  This rule has had the side effect of giving the game focus in at least two sessions that I know of now.  One is Kirt’s, and the other is my own.  Kirt got a “hazy” goal from a rock song that was playing in the background, and this is the same thing that our group did when we played octaNe.  We also started with a hazy problem/goal that we got from a song, and everyone knew that it was the main idea for the session before we started playing, and it really helped to focus our narration.  

In our case, the main idea came from two Reverend Horton Heat songs: “The Devil’s Chasin’ Me” and “Bales of Cocaine,” which we combined to produce the main idea for the session and its title: “The Devil’s Cocaine.”  If you’re interested, you can read a short synopsis of the game that came out of it, right here.

The point is, I agree that somebody needs to come up with a goal or driving force for the adventure from the start because it isn’t in the game text.  But now, I’m starting to think that the Rule of Rock n Roll is more important than I had realized before.  And it could be fronted and made even more important.  It seems that it could be useful to have some additional text in the game suggesting the importance of starting with a goal and the possibility of getting that goal from a song.  The Rule of Rock n Roll taken to its logical conclusion…  

Also, regarding Hazard Ratings: During our playtest, we also ran into the sheer power of a high Hazard Rating because I hadn’t predicted the magnitude of the effect.  Solvable, of course: In addition to using GM narration to just “up the ante” as far as danger goes, driving the plot forward as Kirt did, I'll also add that Hazard ratings can be split among the characters at the discretion of the players (octaNe, p. 39).  I only know this because I hadn’t noticed it before we played the first time, so I asked Jared and he pointed it out to me.  This makes a 3 Hazard rating a bit more manageable, even with only two players.

Rich Forest
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jdagna
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« Reply #9 on: February 04, 2003, 10:42:28 PM »

I was there playing with Clinton and the others and agree with what they've said so far.  And yes, we were missing the rock, though most of us had something to much on.

It is worth pointing out that we had some awful dice rolls which wound up limiting our plot points perhaps more than usual.  In fact, out of less than thirty rolls, we got two 3d6 outcomes of three ones.  We also started the game off with a couple of encounters that had hazard ratings.  I think if I were going to try my hand at GMing OctaNe, I'd start small and build up to let players get some plot points built up early.  And as a player, I would definitely have done some different things with my character.
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Justin Dagna
President, Technicraft Design.  Creator, Pax Draconis
http://www.paxdraconis.com
xiombarg
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« Reply #10 on: February 05, 2003, 06:53:39 AM »

Quote from: jdagna
It is worth pointing out that we had some awful dice rolls which wound up limiting our plot points perhaps more than usual.  In fact, out of less than thirty rolls, we got two 3d6 outcomes of three ones.  We also started the game off with a couple of encounters that had hazard ratings.  I think if I were going to try my hand at GMing OctaNe, I'd start small and build up to let players get some plot points built up early.  And as a player, I would definitely have done some different things with my character.
That is very much the way I did it. The Elvis Impersonator narrated a scene where he was seducing a woman at a bar, and the Mexican Wrestler started out in a match. These early scenes -- decided upon, I might add, by the players -- didn't have any Hazard rating and let the players rack up some plot points.

Also, when things get stalled, don't forget the part of chargen where you're supposed to imagine your character doing something cool. When you're stalled as a player, you're supposed to try to get your character in a situation where they're doing that cool thing. This helped my players a lot when they were stuck -- especially the Elvis Impersonator, who had this Elvis meets John Woo thing going, and whose "image" was Elvis blazing away with two pearl-handled, chrome pistols.
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love * Eris * RPGs  * Anime * Magick * Carroll * techno * hats * cats * Dada
Kirt "Loki" Dankmyer -- Dance, damn you, dance! -- UNSUNG IS OUT
Alan
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« Reply #11 on: February 06, 2003, 08:30:36 AM »

Hi all,

I was the GM for this session of OctaNe.  I also ran Inspectres some while back.  In both cases, when the session ended, I felt I had somehow missed doing my job.

The Inspectres session, I entered with no preparation at all, and the players reported enjoying it.  But I felt it forced and I had to work hard to keep things going.  I also thought that I had not made enough Stress Rolls to goad them into creative use of company resources.  Hence I thought next time I would.

So for OctaNe, I made a page full of notes, setting up a situation with a simple relationship map and a few hooks and ideas for cool places.  I wanted to have some background material, but remain flexible so the players could build anything that inspired them.

So when we started play, I threw out a whole bunch of elements for the players to start responding too.  They responded in unexpected ways - but more to the point, they responded mostly in ways that disengaged them from the elements, rather than building on them.

Having thought that Hazards might serve the same function as stress rolls in Inspectres, I experimented with them early.  Only to find they were pretty demanding.  However, to give the players credit, they started thinking of secondary activities that justified stunt rolls to generate plot points without hazards.  I'm not sure they actually noticed this happening themselves.

Throughout the whole game, I noticed that players continued to look to me the GM for inciting events, and that many players treated the stunt rolls as task resolution rather than conflict resolution.  In our post-game disection, one player commented "I didn't realize I could use a success to speak for an NPC."

I think what I failed to do, was spend a few minutes before play explaining the difference between Stunt Rolls and standard task resolution and emphasizing the narrative power of the players and outlining what they could do with that power.  I made the assumption that, because most of the players had heard of the game, they already understood this.  My bad.

On the other hand, someone once commented about Theatrix that a game needs to give players incentive to use their powers.  (TROS does this, for example.)  OctaNe leaves these aspects for the group to discover and may require several sessions for both the players and the moderator to get a handle on.

It was educational.
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- Alan

A Writer's Blog: http://www.alanbarclay.com
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #12 on: February 06, 2003, 10:09:30 AM »

Nice description and analysis.

Was there something that prevented music from being played, or was it just an oversite?

Mike
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Maurice Forrester
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« Reply #13 on: February 06, 2003, 03:59:03 PM »

Can someone explain the rule of Rock n Roll for me?  I like the name of that rule, and I love the idea of running a game off those two Rev. Horton Heat songs.  Thanks.
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Maurice Forrester
Alan
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« Reply #14 on: February 06, 2003, 05:04:23 PM »

Hi Mike,

We were playing in a card store.  I thought of bringing music, but I wasn't sure it would be welcomed by other patrons.

I imagine that, to be effective, the music would have to be played at an inspiring volume, not just threshhold level.
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- Alan

A Writer's Blog: http://www.alanbarclay.com
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