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Author Topic: [Pace] Some actual play  (Read 4331 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: May 14, 2003, 01:05:00 PM »

Hello,

We played Pace, the 24-Hour game by Fred Hicks, at the campus group meeting. Check out Pace at this download page; I also considered a lot of the points made on the Pace: playtest experiences thread.

Prep for play
I decided to prep superheroes pretty light, using some tropes from my old Champions days but also using more of a Marvel Super Heroes philosophy of play. Based on my rules-reading, I emphasized Color and Situation more than anything else, in my thinking.

What I knew before character prep:

1. The city/setting included an A-Team superhero group (the Citadel), complete with a downtown skyscraper (also called the Citadel), People magazine features, an adoring fan base, civic pride, and a devoted newshound named Bobbi Sox. Their members include Quantum, Beast Friend, Soundchaser, the Golden Man, and their leader, Mistress Arcane.

2. The player-characters were the "other" superheroes in town; they know each other but may or may not be a formal group (left it up to the players). They were not mysterymen types, but rather perfectly competent supers who just happened not to be as glam or quite as powerful/effective as the "real" team.

3. The story would kick off with a disastrous and horrifying explosion at the Citadel headquarters, with the city populace watching in fear and trepidation, yet staunch in their conviction that the Citadel would yet again put their all into defending whatever menace had appeared. What they don't know is that the Citadel members have decided to become supervillains, kicking off their new careers with the instant rep that they'd defeated the Citadel. Their new names and game descriptors are:

Hellflower [Vicious 3][Light/Heat 2] (female; formerly Quantum)
Tooth & Claw [Alert 1][Bestial 4] (male; formerly Beast Friend)
Payback [Zombified 2][Techie 3] (male, dead; formerly Soundchaser)
Black Kiss [Armored 3][Brilliant 3][Occultist 3] (female; formerly Mistress Arcane)

I'd also made the Misbegotten [Diseased 1][Invulnerable 5] as the new version of the Golden Man, but crossed him out (and made him the heroic hold-out and hence the villains' first victim) when it turned out we had four players.

So that was it for my prep. Here are the heroes the players made up:

Shadow Walker [Spectral 4][Detective 3]
Jade Blossom [Prestidigitating 4][Ninja 3]
The Brown Recluse [Zen 3][Arachnoid 4]
Bang [Mighty 4][Flight 3]

I don't mind telling you that these characters rocked the house in the most perfect one-dimensional 70s-DC comics way imaginable, especially the Brown Recluse. I am seriously considering paying an artist just to draw the Brown Recluse in inverted-web-hanging meditation pose for me so I can put him on the wall and gaze fondly at him.

Anyway. You'll notice that the bad guys add up to 30 and the good guys to 28, which is why I'd dropped most of the villains down below 7 total points each - to get the totals more or less even. I had everyone start with 1 pip, including me, just because it "felt better" to the players.

Doin' it
Play consisted of three phases: our heroes getting into the Citadel; fighting and more fighting, as well as the "realization" (which wasn't really very hard, obviously); and then however they were going to do in terms of the media reception of the events. I'd prepped Bobbi already with [Lucky 3][Plucky 4], with my plan at the moment being to make her  a hard sell in terms of any possible wrong-doing by the Citadel team.

I think it's a great sign that every single one got used during our single session of play, for every player-character and every NPC.

Using failure in order to power up is clearly the essential act of play. The problem, clearly, is the possibility of powergaming when the consequences of failure aren't off-putting. One of the players simply chose to fail down to -3 in every one of his actions, until he'd amassed a gross Pip total - he ended the session with 8 Pips in his pool, left over after two or three overwhelmingly effective actions at the climax of play.

Our issue with this stems right down to the flip side of any Reward mechanic - the consequences of failure. There are no consequences of failure in Pace, right now, except possibly for losing a bit of screen time based on whatever the GM does to you. Since I consider taking a player out of play to be a poor disincentive, in that it's basically saying "Thou shalt not have fun for a while," I think that Pace badly needs some kind of necessary mechanics consequences for failure of -1, -2, and -3, as opposed to 0. As it played, opting for a total defeat just meant some reduced screen time, which is no big deal for the player who knows that the climactic moments will matter more than a few fisticuffs along the way.

One player had an interesting idea: internal conflict, one character descriptor against the other character descriptor, within the single character. Bluntly, it was a blatant attempt at a free power-up, based on his intended failure: one descriptor "said" he would flee, the other "said" he would stay, and he claimed the "fleeing" one would fail, and hence he would get however many Pips the chosen degree of failure would indicate. I disallowed it hands-down and suggest that some game text clarifying why would be a great idea.

I was thinking a bit about donations of Pips among players, which is something that works very nicely in playing The Pool - anyone can donate any number of Pool dice to another player, and in our play, such donations are permanent and don't need to be repaid. However, for Pace, I think that wouldn't be a good idea at all, in any fashion whatever, so if someone ever pipes up during play with a "Hey, can I ..." about this, I recommend a strong No.

Deficit spending, on the other hand, turned out to be vanishingly rare! Based on reading the game as well as on the dialogue between Fred and Mike Holmes, this game mechanic seems like it would be a real make-or-break element of play, and it turned out to be almost a complete non-issue. I was all set to insert the "loan shark" idea that Mike suggested ... and there was no need. We all found that judicious failure provided enough pips when it mattered, and that deficit spending came into play very rarely. The key, I think, is the point limit of spending, based on descriptor values; people don't go into escrow beyond what they need to make it to their limits.

This issue obviously needs more playtesting than we gave it, but I can say that one player in particular is extremely good at powergaming any kind of Drama/narration + resource mechanic, and if the game offered a powergaming leeway through deficit spending, I'm confident that he'd find it. Maybe if the failure-consequences had been more severe, thus cutting down on his point build-up through deliberate failure, he would find it. Hence the need for more playtesting.

Here's another issue: the distinction between plain old GM-based scene framing and Pip-driven GM fiat seems awfully vague to me, especially at the beginning. If I say, "There's an explosion at the Citadel downtown," which is the kickoff to the session, is that fiat? And if not, then how about "The federal helicopters arrive" or "The judge delivers a verdict of guilty" toward the end of the session? I recommend using Pips for just about all such things, giving the GM a "startup prep" bank for the first session only, and after that just letting the Pips fall as they may with no infusion at the beginning of a play-session or anything like that.

Side note: I find it fascinating that the current game text is very, very concerned with player-abuse of deficit spending and not at all concerned with GM-abuse of fiats. I suggest that this reflects much more about your perspective of play, Fred, rather than any inherent qualities of either mechanic.

One player mentioned that he considered the GM to be at a considerable disadvantage in terms of final outcomes, given that he or she has one Pip pool "against" so many others. I'm not sure I agree; every exchange, after all, affords a chance to power-up through failure, and the GM gets more exchanges than everyone else. So I'm pretty sure it works as is. By timing one deficit-spending event and a couple of failures, I was able to make the final conflict (convincing Bobbi about what's happened) a bit of a nail-biter.

Oh yeah! That brings up one more point: helping, or rather, multiple characters engaged in a common task against a single opposition. Bobbi had [Plucky 4], which at the moment led her to perceive whatever happened as a crime against the noble, excellent, sterling Citadel. The player-characters begged to differ, so they had to convince Bobbi of their account of the events, or face media vilification forever more.

I had, basically, a ton of Pips, and started at the default of 1 success. The players, all except one who had buckets, had to go into serious spending to be able to get up to the limits of the Brown Recluse's Zen, of Jade Blossom's Prestidigitation (I let the player stretch this one), and Bang's [nothing] (he had to start from the default of 0 successes). Shadow Walker had plenty of pips so just spent up to his limit from those.

What I did was simply rack up all their successes, and since Bobbi had a max success limit of 5, they won. I was OK with that; it was the "right ending," after all, and the players did care greatly about it enough to spend everything they could, in order to get an excellent margin of success. However, I worry a bit that the immense sum of success-by-numbers seems to override the currency/conflict of the system. Fred, what are your thoughts about tandem efforts?

GNS - nifty!
I think we're seeing at long last a primarily Simulationist design based on Resource-based Karma mechanics. I suspect some folks will think the game's Narrativist because it goes a long way to preserve player-character protagonism and player-power in terms of managing Effectiveness, but these are techniques, not modes. The mode of play best served by the rules, I think, is Situation-heavy, Color-heavy play with a hell of a lot of shared power distribution, more than you see in most Sim play, but not different from (e.g.) Call of Cthulhu or Feng Shui in terms of goals. Character Exploration gets rolling via play itself, quite well, because the ebb and flow of failure and success leads to great among-character interactions. It's a paint-set for creating fun and flexible pastiche, and we had a great time.

Best,
Ron
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #1 on: May 14, 2003, 01:52:17 PM »

I was predicting out a step. As soon as that mechanic that actually penalizes a character for bad failures gets in, players will do this less and discover the Borrowing more. That's when it becomes important to have the shark come to town.

Guessing.

Mike
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: May 15, 2003, 05:23:16 AM »

Hi Mike,

In a discussion yesterday with the most accomplished fail-to-win strategist in our group, he said exactly the same thing.

Best,
Ron
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iago
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« Reply #3 on: May 15, 2003, 11:05:19 AM »

Thanks for devoting the time to playtest the game, Ron (and players).  I think you uncovered pretty much all of the warts that exist in the current rev of the system.

A lot of items you (and Mike) have said needed some clarification or an additional rule or two are definitely things I was aware of when I was banging out the game inside of the 24-hour period.  Let's be honest, this is a rough draft game -- it works, but it relies a lot on things which are unspoken, house rulings by the GM, etc.  I blame the combination of sudafed and the timeframe for those omissions and oversights (it wasn't only a 24 hour game, it was a I am too sick to do my day job game), and as soon as I've gotten the personal timeslice back to do some game design (it's been scarce lately), I'm planning on addressing pretty much all of the issues that have been brought up -- though I'll say outright that most of the suggested solutions, so far as they've gone, and right on track and are liable to be incorporated.

Consequences of failure definitely need to be explored, and I think that'll dovetail well with my intentions regarding addressing Mike's escrow concerns.

My thought being, if someone spends into deficit (regardless of how much, since I'm trying to do this game as math-averse as possible), a marker gets put in front of him, called a "blot".  

The GM can at any time force one or more blots to be removed, inflicting a failure equivalent to the number of blots removed, from the player in question (take away two blots, it's a -2 failure).  Unlike usual choose-to-fail behaviors in Pace, this would not result in any sort of pip payback.  And, sure, if you count the pips out (pips I would have gotten vs the pips I got thanks to deficit spending), this probably still mathematically works out in the player's favor, but the point for me -- beyond keeping it simple and fast -- is that the player, when deficit spending, is borrowing pips for success today, against a loss of future freedom.

If anyone has suggestions on what those "mechanics consequences" should be for negative failures, I'd be interested in hearing them.  I'd be happy to make it something as simple as constricting the player from being able to improve his successes (i.e., spend pips) on the next N exchanges, to represent some kind of lingering setback, but I'm not sure that scans well for actual play.  The other possibility is to take a page from Risus and have the negatives reduce the descriptor levels (player would pick which ones are affected, of course) by the appropriate amount, but that almost seems *too* harsh (though allowing pips to be spent gradually to "heal" the "damage" isn't an awful thought).

As far as GM fiats go, the idea that the GM spends for pretty much everything was actually exactly what I had in mind.  This game offers a lot of "wallet visibility", at least as laid out -- I find it attractive for the players to see that the GM has a gigantic pile and react with dread, as well as finding it attractive when the endgame comes down to see that that pool is dwindling, making it "time to strike".  In my mind, at least, it provides a mechanical circumstance for creating some familiar Pacing for stories.

I agree that the perspective-of-play thing informed a lot of the text's notions of abuse -- this is probably partly because I can see it as a reaction to the idea that the players outnumber the GM and are getting a lot of power to decide when and how their characters succeed, so at least in the way I'd run and play things, the GM's fiat power is already checked, to some extent.  I also tend to expect that if the GM is abusive, the players leave. :)

Spot-on about the idea that every exchange offers a chance to power-up for the GM.  That's exactly the balance act.

Tandem efforts are another one of those "I was medicated" things.  I can see its ease of abuse, but at the time I was writing up that people can simply add their successes together I think I had had some sort of feeling that the GM would have enough NPC opposition on hand to make that sort of thing fairly expensive for the PCs.

Just off-the-cuff suggesting here -- it might make sense for tandem efforts to involve lending descriptors to one another, but there would still have to be a single player taking the "lead" and making the effort (in your game, this would probably have been your pip-hoarder).  I noticed that your game had the same thing the one I played in did -- every character was a 3/4.  No 2/5's, no 1/6's.  This tandem mechanic could well give a reason for doing that, since you could manufacture a circumstance where one of the 5 or 6 descriptors could be lended to the guy with the pips.  It could also play well with the Risus-like descriptor-damaging idea -- if someone's descriptors have been "wounded" to lower levels, then the healthy guy loaning his undamaged descriptor would be a good use of teamwork.  Naturally, all folks involved in a tandem action would be "tied up" for that unit of time, as well.

One bit about what you said about the Bobbi bit -- I notice you said she had a max success limit of 5.  She's Lucky 3, Plucky 4 -- I may have been a bit vague about this, but the idea is that your first success (pip) is free, and the descriptor's the cap, so she would have had a max of 4 instead of 5 (costing her 3).  It's possible you read this as 'Plucky 4 means I can spend 4 over my starting of 1, for a total of 5' and, quite honestly, I don't see a huge problem with that, so I might just change the rules to go that way -- it'd mean the "no applicable" circumstance, topping out at 3 for a 3/4 character would mean a max results range of 3 on none, 4 on the '3' descriptor, and 5 on the '4' descriptor -- which does have a certain right of Being Right to it.

On to your GNS comment at the end.  I'll confess outright that I avoid most GNS discussions because the terminology isn't facile to me (in a, 'give me a single sentence that nails everything i need to know about X' sort of way), but as a guy with an english degree I recognize the value of analytical frameworks, and GNS is one such thing, even if I haven't successfully digested it.  But that said, I'm excited that Pace seems to have gone into some new territory for you.  Inasmuch as I understand it, yeah, Pace is trying to simulate story conventions through mechanics,  with a special focus on a flexible, organic method for creating dramatic timing without before-game preparation being necessary to achieve it.

As a rough draft goes, I think it hit that goal pretty well.  Glad it played out well with you and yours.
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iago
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« Reply #4 on: May 15, 2003, 11:16:08 AM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
I was predicting out a step. As soon as that mechanic that actually penalizes a character for bad failures gets in, players will do this less and discover the Borrowing more. That's when it becomes important to have the shark come to town.


Yep... which is why I think it's a right move to have the 'loan shark' inflict some of those bad failures.  After all, what's a loan shark without some breaking of the kneecaps?

Relationships of spending in Pace have so far been operating on a symmetrical basis, however -- the GM can deficit spend as well.  So if I do go with the "blot" mechanic (above), I have to think about whether or not it's valid to have that work on the GM as well, or if simply having the GM's deficit excesses get handed over to the players as pips is enough.  I do get a certain Forge-driven giggle out of the notion of the players getting to break the GM's kneecaps too.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: May 15, 2003, 11:21:42 AM »

Hi Fred,

Quote
The other possibility is to take a page from Risus and have the negatives reduce the descriptor levels (player would pick which ones are affected, of course) by the appropriate amount, but that almost seems *too* harsh (though allowing pips to be spent gradually to "heal" the "damage" isn't an awful thought).


That works very well, I think.

Regarding deficit/escrow, I also think the Blot notion might be just right too, although playtesting it relative to Mike's loan-sharking would be interesting. Clearly his solution is more fun for the casual-quick arithmetic fellow (or rather the person who likes it) instead of your preferred math-averse mode.

Quote
It's possible you read this as 'Plucky 4 means I can spend 4 over my starting of 1, for a total of 5'


That's exactly how we read it and exactly how we applied every single action. It makes a lot of sense for the Descriptor to refer strictly and only to spending, in my opinion.

Best,
Ron
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #6 on: May 15, 2003, 11:25:47 AM »

Quote from: iago
If anyone has suggestions on what those "mechanics consequences" should be for negative failures, I'd be interested in hearing them.  


I'm thinking that the character gets a penalty stat for the rest of the scene or until a way to fix it can be narrated in, whichever is longer. Representing whatever caused the failure. So if it was a social conflict to, say, convince someone to give you information, and you take a -3, then you acquire a -3 Unconfident stat that subtracts from, well, whatever the GM thinks it should.

You choose the level of the failure, and the GM chooses the penalty stat. He then adudicates on what actions the penalty applies.

Then to get rid of it, maybe you have to buy it off with some success elsewhwere.

This could work in with, or replace the borrowing mechanic (which is essentially what I'm describing in a larger sense).

Mike
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iago
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« Reply #7 on: May 15, 2003, 11:28:49 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Hi Fred,

Quote
The other possibility is to take a page from Risus and have the negatives reduce the descriptor levels (player would pick which ones are affected, of course) by the appropriate amount, but that almost seems *too* harsh (though allowing pips to be spent gradually to "heal" the "damage" isn't an awful thought).


That works very well, I think.

Regarding deficit/escrow, I also think the Blot notion might be just right too, although playtesting it relative to Mike's loan-sharking would be interesting. Clearly his solution is more fun for the casual-quick arithmetic fellow (or rather the person who likes it) instead of your preferred math-averse mode.


Sure.  I guess I have enough math-averse players locally that it seemed like that was a better common denominator (it's not hard for a math-philic person to do no math, whereas a math-phobic person may find it hard to do math).  I could certainly "sidebar" some more mathy optional rules for the other part of the audience, though.

Quote
Quote
It's possible you read this as 'Plucky 4 means I can spend 4 over my starting of 1, for a total of 5'


That's exactly how we read it and exactly how we applied every single action. It makes a lot of sense for the Descriptor to refer strictly and only to spending, in my opinion.


I am coming to agree, though so long as you used the same interpretation throughout your play, I think either interpretation plays out fine.  All the same, I find your "misread" to be the more attractive.
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iago
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« Reply #8 on: May 15, 2003, 11:33:18 AM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Quote from: iago
If anyone has suggestions on what those "mechanics consequences" should be for negative failures, I'd be interested in hearing them.  


I'm thinking that the character gets a penalty stat for the rest of the scene or until a way to fix it can be narrated in, whichever is longer. Representing whatever caused the failure. So if it was a social conflict to, say, convince someone to give you information, and you take a -3, then you acquire a -3 Unconfident stat that subtracts from, well, whatever the GM thinks it should.

You choose the level of the failure, and the GM chooses the penalty stat. He then adudicates on what actions the penalty applies.

Then to get rid of it, maybe you have to buy it off with some success elsewhwere.


*blink*

Yep, that's why I bring my games to the Forge.

A penalty stat.  Heh.  That's *neat*.

It also fits my notion of the game being played entirely with glass beads and index cards.  With the penalty stat idea, I can see the GM writing down the stat and the penalty on another index card (with a big black marker) and placing it in front of the affected player.  

Heck, for some GMs, these might even be cards that could be done in advance as a part of the intended plotline of a session, getting trotted out whenever an appropriate failure comes along...
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iago
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« Reply #9 on: May 15, 2003, 02:51:38 PM »

Here's what I've put together for the "tandem effort" revision:

Quote

Combining Efforts

Sometimes PCs or NPCs will want to combine their efforts in order to overcome an obstacle.  There are several options for how to do this.

The first method is going by simple numbers (“outnumbering” or “mobbing” the opponent).  Each character, if acting in the scope of a descriptor, may contribute the single automatic success to a common result pool, but may not spend pips.  In effect, you count the number of people involved, and that’s how many successes are gained.  This is a popular minion tactic — throw four guardsmen at the hero, and they’re combining for four successes.

The other tactic involves watching each other’s backs and compensating for weaknesses while accenting the greatest strength (using “teamwork”).  One character is selected as the “lead” and chooses the descriptor that applies.  The rest are acting in a “support” role.  If you are in a support role and may do any of the following, providing you can describe the actions and events that are taking place to make it possible:

• Spend pips to remove blots (see the next chapter), one pip per blot, on any character involved in the teamwork effort, other than yourself.

• Spend pips to remove failure cards (see the next chapter), paying a number of pips equal to the number on the card, on any character involved in the teamwork effort, other than yourself.

• Spend a pip to give the lead access to one of your descriptors.

Support characters cannot spend pips to buy successes for the lead, however.  That’s the lead’s job.

All this said, there is a downside — everyone’s blots and failure cards may apply to the lead’s efforts.  

The “mutual buy-offs” aspect of a teamwork tactic is there to counter that.  Thus, when characters come together as a team, it has a tendency to wipe the slate clean — at a cost.  Such moments are the only way that players can effectively “share” their pips.


Other major changes:

• "Failure cards" are the term I use for mike's suggested temporary penalty stat notion

• "Blots" are as I discussed earlier

• I'm going with Ron's interpretation of descriptors as expenditure caps rather than total successes caps.

There are some other cosmetic bits.  Working on finishing the texts for the above and PDFing it.  Will notify when it's out there.
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iago
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« Reply #10 on: May 15, 2003, 03:36:35 PM »

The revisions have been incorporated -- overall it's about another page of material, though that's spread throughout.  Hopefully I caught all of the instances of the "old interpretation" of pip spending and updated them to the new one.

At any rate, you can download it from the locations found in my sig, but all in all, the substance of the revision can be gleaned from this thread.
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Nev the Deranged
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« Reply #11 on: May 17, 2003, 05:55:01 PM »

I downloaded and printed out the PACE manual... I have to say, based on reading it and the Actual Play threads, it looks hella kewl.  Has anyone tried running it PBP?  I'd be interested in giving it a shot... I don't have the time to devote to another meatspace campaign but I'd be seriously down with a metaverse session or three.  Seems like the kind of game that would run well here, IE no dice roller needed, no real time limitations, etc.  Let me know.
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iago
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« Reply #12 on: May 19, 2003, 09:02:55 AM »

Quote from: Nev the Deranged
I downloaded and printed out the PACE manual... I have to say, based on reading it and the Actual Play threads, it looks hella kewl.


Thanks!  Did you grab the revised or the 24-hour version of it?  The revised one incorporates a lot of what's been discussed in this and prior threads.

Quote
Has anyone tried running it PBP?  I'd be interested in giving it a shot... I don't have the time to devote to another meatspace campaign but I'd be seriously down with a metaverse session or three.  Seems like the kind of game that would run well here, IE no dice roller needed, no real time limitations, etc.  Let me know.


Er... does that mean play by bulletin board or something? :)
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Nev the Deranged
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« Reply #13 on: May 19, 2003, 02:29:55 PM »

Yes, I got the updated version.  Did you do the illos yourself or are they clipart?  Just curious.

 PBP = Play by Post (IE Bulletin board).  Although PBeM might work too.

 Hmm.. Debonair Musketeer... Cunning Sailor... Eerie Child... Shrewd Sorceress... Saurian Tinkerer... Sexy Adventurer...

 I think this game has a lot of promise, especially with the fixes and updates.  I'd offer to run it myself but I don't feel comfortable running a system I haven't played under at least once.  

 If anybody's interested let me know =>
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iago
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« Reply #14 on: May 19, 2003, 02:41:54 PM »

Quote from: Nev the Deranged
Yes, I got the updated version.  Did you do the illos yourself or are they clipart?


http://www.clipart.com/ in fact.

Quote
Just curious.

 PBP = Play by Post (IE Bulletin board).  Although PBeM might work too.

 Hmm.. Debonair Musketeer... Cunning Sailor... Eerie Child... Shrewd Sorceress... Saurian Tinkerer... Sexy Adventurer... *blink*

 I think this game has a lot of promise, especially with the fixes and updates.  I'd offer to run it myself but I don't feel comfortable running a system I haven't played under at least once.  

 If anybody's interested let me know =>


I *might* be able to run something at some future point, but my life will *really* have to settle down first, and since I'm going to be buying a house and moving cross-country in the next 4-5 months, that's not entirely likely. :)
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