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Author Topic: Pace: Playtest experiences  (Read 4866 times)
iago
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« on: April 17, 2003, 04:55:31 PM »

I'm about to run off to a showing of the Cowboy Bebop movie locally, so I don't quite have the time to do the full write-up of how the first playtest run of Pace went.

Interestingly, I was not the GM.  This was in some ways ideal.  One feature of the rules revealed themselves quickly -- the whole of the mechanics could be explained in about 90 seconds.

I've got a number of detail bits I want to cover, but that will have to wait for a later post.  In the meantime, I offer the observations of the guy who did GM it.  I'll come back later today, tomorrow, or this weekend to add my own.

Quote
I thought things went rather well with the system considering this was its first run.  A few things took a little getting used to, but that may be more due to my knocking the rust off the GM skills.

For instance, I usually like to rely on a character's list of already stated skills for giving them information and the like.  Now, this really wasn't a problem for the game in that I knew what general skills each character had, it was the fact that I normally have them roll some dice to see if they succeed in attaining said information.  With PACE I had to adjust my style a bit.  Since they have an automatic basic success, I had to ask (in the case of 'awareness') the player if they wanted to notice something. Then they had to pay if they wanted the information I had for them.  Sometimes I would award them points if they chose not to succeed, but more often I wouldn't offer them anything.  More playtesting is definitely needed, I think.

Combat was also interesting.  Everyone was mostly out of pips when the final fight came about (including me, the GM).  The sequence using the pips almost felt like a close arm-wrestling match.  A player would spend 2-3  pips and go into deficit to attack the bad guy.  Those pips went into       escrow until the conclusion of the sequence.  The baddie (controlled by me) would spend his remaining pips, take a slight hit because he couldn't match the player, then collect the pips in escrow.  Those pips would then be used to defend against the next player's attack.  As the fight          progressed, slowly but surely the bad guy was attaining more pips and      would have turned the tide had there not been other circumstances in play. Again, more playtesting is needed.  I would like to experiment with        different ways of awarding pips and perhaps seeing how the escrow rule is  played out if it were collected at the end of a full round of actions rather than per player action.

All in all, the mechanics played out fast and furious and the action moved fluidly.  As a GM I had no complaints about the ruleset and once I got used to things, it was easy to play.  It was nice not to have to worry about a lot of bookkeeping, but that may just be me since that's my preference anyway.  I definitely want to continue to playtest and push the system a bit further.


More later.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #1 on: April 18, 2003, 06:52:33 AM »

Hmm. I just noticed a potential mechanical problem. Basically, there's a point at which a player might decide that he doesn't care how many pips the GM has. He can just borrow, and borrow, and borrow, always maxing out his scores. This gives the GM as many pips as he needs, so he, too, can always max out.

Doesn't this mean that a player can throw the whole game into full Karma resolution if they so choose?

I suggest some limitation on borrowing. Or is there one that I'm forgetting?

Mike
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iago
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« Reply #2 on: April 18, 2003, 07:43:46 AM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Hmm. I just noticed a potential mechanical problem. Basically, there's a point at which a player might decide that he doesn't care how many pips the GM has. He can just borrow, and borrow, and borrow, always maxing out his scores. This gives the GM as many pips as he needs, so he, too, can always max out.

Doesn't this mean that a player can throw the whole game into full Karma resolution if they so choose?

I suggest some limitation on borrowing. Or is there one that I'm forgetting?


Nope, there's no limitation, and that's sort of the point, at least as I originally conceived of the mechanic -- I wanted a game system where someone could play a character that was "as cool as often as they wanted".  

The limitation on borrowing is somewhat implied.  Pips in a GM's hands are fairly potent -- they are not just there to max out an NPC's scores, they're also there so he can declare "fiats" and introduce new NPCs and circumstances.  The plot tends to adjust for your level of performance, so to speak.

We saw a bit of this in the endgame in the playtest session.  The GM introduced a lot of opportunities for us to spend pips in the earlier part of the game -- the "investigation" phase of the plot.   We didn't choose to fail that often, so we were pretty pip-poor going into the endgame (which is one of the two plot-models I suspected Pip would naturally produce -- a decent run of things ending by hitting a brick wall -- the other one being getting the crap kicked out of you until finally you hit your breakpoint and start whuppin' ass).

This ended up with a small revolving-door effect, with the GM's NPC (the GM didn't have many pips either, and further didn't want to deficit-spend) failing by one but only one a few times, being able to buy that failing-by-one success level each time off of the prior round's deficit spending from the players (but the back-and-forth nature of the fight felt narratively good, so that was fine).  Eventually we were so depleted that we had nothing of our own to spend and were on pure deficit, so we made one big push to take him out.  The GM stacked on top of this a choice to fail, and thus got our deficit pips and a few failure pips too.  We took the guy out ...

And then the GM turned around, brought a hidden (fiat - 2 pips) NPC (4 pips) into play who took out the target we were trying to protect as a secondary goal (fiat - 2 pips).  I probably could have done her harm, too, but I chose that moment to fail as well, rather than giving the GM more pain to turn on us, which was good -- though the NPC got away, I spent the pips I had left at the end of the playtest to put into motion a set of events that would expose their conspiracy behind in the public media.

Thus, the price of being that "super cool" character, is that you end up putting enough power in the GM's hands that your life ends up being more difficult.  

But like I said, I think this is implied, and it also depends on the GM having the right mindframe for doing it.  The GMs I run with tend to, though, so it may not have occurred to me when writing Pace to make this more obvious ... but it's probably something that could stand to be made more explicit in the game text.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #3 on: April 18, 2003, 10:11:45 AM »

Quote from: iago
Thus, the price of being that "super cool" character, is that you end up putting enough power in the GM's hands that your life ends up being more difficult.

But if it's all choice, anyhow, then why use a mechanic at all? What does the mechanic do for you? What's the downside to the GM throwing more and worse obstacles in your way if you can always just choose to win?

At this point I'm not seeing the advantage over freeform.

Mike
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iago
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« Reply #4 on: April 18, 2003, 10:32:23 AM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Quote from: iago
Thus, the price of being that "super cool" character, is that you end up putting enough power in the GM's hands that your life ends up being more difficult.

But if it's all choice, anyhow, then why use a mechanic at all? What does the mechanic do for you? What's the downside to the GM throwing more and worse obstacles in your way if you can always just choose to win?

At this point I'm not seeing the advantage over freeform.


The mechanic creates a currency for buying story events, and the currency has both psychological (in that players and GMs think about things in terms of expense, even if they do happen to have credit cards and few dollars in the bank) and denotatively measurable (in terms of X event or Y npc costing Z pips for the GM to introduce, etc) effects as a result.

I think you may not be realizing quite what I mean about the GM being able to purchase "fiats" in terms of the power that accords him.  Some stuff you can't just "win" your way out of.

On a very gooberish powergamer sort of perspective, if you deficit spend too much, the GM might just buy himself an NPC that can have scores higher than yours and then fuel that score to utterly trounce you.  It's brute force and a little ugly and not the best example, but there it is.

From a more fluid (or "events based") perspective, recall that 1 pip buys the gm a minor fiat, 2-3 buys a major, and 4 buys an overwhelming one.  How much do you want to give the GM a "free" overwhelming fiat?  In the playtest session I talk about above, we deficit spent so much that he was able to buy himself several, in fact, and as a result, we ended up getting played by a conspiracy, failed to get the real bad guy (though we did capture our bounty, who turned out to be the distraction), and the president of the US got shot.

If we hadn't deficit spent, the GM would have had to do some deficit spending of his own to make that happen -- which might have put more tools (pips) in our hands to make even more of a problem for his conspiracy.

I admit, overall, the behavior of this mechanic posits on some level that you actually care about what happens to your character, and you will be compelled to regard the spending of pips in a context of "is it worth it to perform well now if it means greater pain in the future".  If you're instead regarding the character as only so much ambulatory meat, to be carved up or not as suits your whim and the whims of others, then this system may not work for you.  It's not meant to work for everyone, though, so I'm fine with that.

Is this all that much different from freeform play?  Well, no, not exactly, but that's highly dependent on the kind of game your freeform GM runs.  Pace, in some ways, is very much designed with mechanics that "measure out" the otherwise vague truths of how I and others I play with GM, and may, through that, produce that kind of GMing and playing in people who wouldn't otherwise do it in freeform.  But that's an untested assumption.

Heck, I just like using the counters.  I like having those vague elements occasionally measurable.  I like having a system of currency whereby I can decide how much it "costs" me as a GM to introduce a new plot element.  I like being able to look over at the players and see how much they can "buy" before bringing themselves into pain-debt.  

If this isn't clicking for you, though, I'm not sure I know how to "make" it click.  Anyone else have ideas on this front?
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clehrich
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« Reply #5 on: April 18, 2003, 10:56:39 AM »

Quote
If this isn't clicking for you, though, I'm not sure I know how to "make" it click.

Speaking of clicking, the PDF doesn't seem to want to come up for me.  I've tried repeatedly, and get "cannot find server" from both the 24HourGames site and your .sig.  Help?
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Chris Lehrich
iago
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« Reply #6 on: April 18, 2003, 11:29:55 AM »

Quote from: clehrich
Quote
If this isn't clicking for you, though, I'm not sure I know how to "make" it click.

Speaking of clicking, the PDF doesn't seem to want to come up for me.  I've tried repeatedly, and get "cannot find server" from both the 24HourGames site and your .sig.  Help?


Sounds like Yahoo! Groups is on the blink again.  I'll see if I can't get a copy of the file pushed to an alternate location ... although, I did just get it to successfully start downloading after a long hang-time, so maybe try again?
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iago
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« Reply #7 on: April 18, 2003, 11:33:55 AM »

You should be able to pull it down from the "alternate" location linked in my sig, below.  It's my personal DSL, though, so be kind and don't keep reloading it -- save a local copy. :)

Edit: Er, weird, okay, my new sig does not appear to be working.  Use this:

Alternate location
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #8 on: April 18, 2003, 12:16:41 PM »

Hmmm.

If the GM has no pips does that mean that he can't create controversy for the characters? Does the game grind to a halt because there's no conflict? It seems to me that the GM has the authority to do Fiats anyway. Giving him more opportunity is like saying to the banker, here's more money. Well, he already has all the money he needs.

Further, players crave conflict. I can care about my character, but not unless something is going on. To that extent I'd be giving the GM all the currency in the world to do what he needs to do to keep my character in conflict.

Does this make the GM more "dangerous"? Not that I can see. The GM can already stat up the right NPC to kill off the whole party without needing Fiats, unless I missread something. He doesn't do so presumably because it would be uninteresting to do so. This isn't a competition between players and GMs (or is it, and I missed it?). To that extent, the GM becomes no more a danger by being empowered than he is elsewhere.

Your proposed solution is for the GM to "lay down the smack" if the players seem to be "abusing" the system. But this is just what a well designed system seeks to avoid. The GM having to use real fiat to bring the players into line. This is what the system should do itself by rewarding play that is of the desired style. And what I don't see this system doing at the moment.

Certainly players can monitor themselves. But then why do I need the system if it's not for that?

All I'm suggesting is some mechanical disincentive. Like interest payments or something. Because then the currency is kept in the metagame, and as such provides a real player disincentive. As opposed to placing a character in further conflict; which is something that players enjoy.

Mike
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iago
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« Reply #9 on: April 18, 2003, 12:30:35 PM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
If the GM has no pips does that mean that he can't create controversy for the characters? Does the game grind to a halt because there's no conflict? It seems to me that the GM has the authority to do Fiats anyway. Giving him more opportunity is like saying to the banker, here's more money. Well, he already has all the money he needs.


Well, as my banker, I expect the GM to be a bit more "ethical" about his deficit spending, but reading the rest of your message, I've come to see your point, particularly as summed up:

Quote from: Mike Holmes
All I'm suggesting is some mechanical disincentive. Like interest payments or something. Because then the currency is kept in the metagame, and as such provides a real player disincentive. As opposed to placing a character in further conflict; which is something that players enjoy.


This speaks to me, and I'll have to think about it.  Some sort of mechanical disincentive to deficit spending is what you're driving at -- I shouldn't expect the "social/story dynamic" to supply the disincentive.  This makes sense to me, but I'll have to think about how to make this something fast -- simple or zero math.  Any suggestions?

Now, to continue my nonlinear response:

Quote from: Mike Holmes

Does this make the GM more "dangerous"? Not that I can see. The GM can already stat up the right NPC to kill off the whole party without needing Fiats, unless I missread something. He doesn't do so presumably because it would be uninteresting to do so. This isn't a competition between players and GMs (or is it, and I missed it?). To that extent, the GM becomes no more a danger by being empowered than he is elsewhere.


I do get what you're driving at, just to be clear. My original main idea was whether as a player I'm enabling the GM to do this (fiats and npcs) "for free" (i.e., without doing deficit spending himself) or if I'm getting some amount of compensation in exchange (and thus "free" power to oppose the newly introduced element).

I'm not sure I see the problem you're seeing as quite as severe as you might be seeing it, but I am seeing it, and it's getting fed to the brain for chewing as we speak.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #10 on: April 18, 2003, 01:02:27 PM »

Simple mechanical disincentive...

Well, the obvious thing that occurs to me is that the player has to pay back double what he borrows at some point. Or maybe just amount +1 for simplicity. Or perhaps the player gives the GM his payment, and assumes a debt equal to what he borrowed (in this case the GMs increase repreents the interest). If payments aren't met, then they get taken out of his hide as automatic failures until he's "paid up".

GM as loan shark.

The problem is the schedule. Probably best in terms of some number of rolls or something like that. The obvious answer is something like session, but that has problems. OTOH, it could be construed to mean that the players would have "carte blanch" in the last session. Hmmm.

You could make repayment immediate. That is, the player would owe the next several rolls as failures until he was even.

Oh, as always with such a rule, there needs to be another rule that says that a player can't borrow again until the first loan is repaid.

BTW, account for these with an alternate color currency. If you're using black beads for Pips, then red beads can be "debt".

There could also be other ways to "work off" debt.

Mike
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iago
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« Reply #11 on: April 18, 2003, 01:44:55 PM »

Good suggestions, Mike.  Good enough that I'm sure some form of at least one of them will make it into the revision, when I come back to the project.  Thanks!
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #12 on: April 19, 2003, 05:50:55 AM »

H'm,

Here I was, reading this thread, thinking that Mike was being a bit pushy for someone who hadn't played the game ... until I read the business about the loan sharking. That's a great idea!

I also was thinking, Fred, that perhaps some text that literally models a GM's thought-processes for the reader would be helpful. I think all the painfully-written "should's" in most game texts don't do the job - "The GM should make sure that player-characters are fairly challenged ..." - what the fuck is that supposed to mean? You know what I'm talking about, I'm sure.

But since Pace operates on such a unique and understandable dynamic currency, and since (unlike Nobilis e.g.) a single pip may be quickly gained/spent, a different sort of text, which honestly presents how a given GM made a successful "what to do with all these points I just racked up through my players' deficit spending" decision, would be very cool.

Damn but those were all run-on sentences.

Best,
Ron
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