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Author Topic: Lusting After Jesus, Part I (Pretender Playtest)  (Read 8154 times)
xiombarg
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« on: April 23, 2003, 12:12:59 PM »

So, last Wednesday I finally ran Pretender. I'll talk about the general experience, and then make some comments regarding the system in actual play, and some changes I might wanna make. Comments, particularly regarding the system, are both welcome and encouraged.

Y'all might want to look at the previous threads on this, but you don't have to in order to grok this thread (I hope). I include 'em only for ease of reference. The threads first in this list are the most relevant:

http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=5832
http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=6067
http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=5633
http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=5631

WARNING: Before I get into this, if you're particularly religious in a Christian sense, you might get a touch offended. Don't say you weren't warned. Other stuff may be offensive, too. Let's say I think my play group might be ready for "kill puppies for satan"... (I think y'all can handle it, but my players requested I put this caveat up.)

That said, let's move on.

The setup was pretty simple. Everyone was meeting up at the club. I had this vague idea where Legion was going to throw a party for Uriel, in an attempt to get Uriel disgusted with Hell enough to get involved with it, and in an attempt to capture and re-assimilate the Cookie Monster Virus. However, given the narrative control handed over to the players, I was willing to scrap this plan entirely if need be -- but I feel that the GM needs to have a framework for improvisation, a fact I learned from running OctaNe.

Notable scenes:

* Emily's character, Lola, acting like a true junky, going around to the Pretenders in the club: "You gonna kill anyone tonight? Are you? Are you?"

* The Cookie Monster Virus looking for beer-flavored ice cream... Don't ask...

* One good early example of player-created plot seeds: Jamie put a 6 in Narration on a roll to "pick up a new Adam" and passed the narration to James, who, due to the Ripple die, ruled that the guy had a guardian angel watching him. This came into play later. (Another good example of player-run narration was when Jamie had Lilith read the "new Adam's" mind, and took narration for herself, narrrating that below his superficial yuppie exerior, that this guy was actually recently dumped, and just the sort of sensitive man Lilith is looking for. This became especially relevant when Legion killed the guy...)

* The Cookie Monster Virus (henceforth CMV) used his ability to possess electronic devices to travel over phone to the Legion's party in order to beat everyone there, and since he gave me the narration with a negative Discovery die, I narrated how he was (in part) stuck in the body of Denzel -- his soul had left, so the CMV always had to be using part of himself to possess it. (This also shows, BTW, that players are more than willing to put low dice in the optional categories, just to make things more interesting. Shawn has always been good at the "willing to hose his own PC" thing.)

* Since angels, as we defined them, don't have any genitalia, Lilith bought a strap-on dildo for Uriel, which he used on the corpse of a woman that had been killed a few minutes before. (There were a lot of demons at Legion's party.)

* In one of the more interesting cases of player narration, James narrated how Michael was actually the angel watching Lilith's date, who went there to keep an eye on Uriel. The result was a knock-down, drag-out fight with Michael on the beach where Uriel Discovered that he could manifest a scythe of plague energy. James went on to narrate how the fight was subsequently broken up by Jusus Himself, who then codemned Uriel to never be allowed back into Heaven -- or into the fold of Hell.

* Nearly all the PCs worked together to destroy Legion's house, as Terry and others discovered Legion was trying to steal CMV's power, and because Legion killed Lilith's date (another result of player narration). Most notable in this scene was Terry turning into a whirlwind.

* In an interesting follow-up to the situation with Uriel, Lilith tried (and failed, due to Adversity) to seduce Jesus, getting a hug instead. This lead to one of the more interesting images of the evening: Lilith flicking off Terry while giving Jesus a hug.

You can also see some very interesting player commentary on the game here: http://www.livejournal.com/users/greymaiden/153201.html

(Jamie talks about the "darkness" of the game better than I could.)

The player reaction to the system was interesting. First of all, at least for my group, what I suspected was true regarding the Style die: looking cool is its own reward. With no other reward other than a guarantee that the character would look cool, people consistently put a high die into Style. It did not become a "charisma stat" like Ralph feared. Emily did suggest, however, that high Style positively influence NPC reaction, a "soft" reward for high Style that I rather like, and will probably adopt.

If anything, the "Charisma Stat" was Narration...

A quick digression: We were all very tired and grumpy that night for non-game-related reasons, different for every person. One problem with games where the narration gets thrown around and the GM can't really prepare a pre-defined adventure is everyone needs to be on top of their game. I know this is obvious, but it bears repeating, and it might have affected our play. We couldn't just go into dungeon-basing mode until we felt better, as it were.

Back to Narration. Despite having embraced the player narration in Dust Devils and the Gift system in Unsung, the players constantly put the narration in my hands. The stated reason for this is there was no real punishment for doing so -- success and cool factor were all determined by other dice. There was no real motivation to NOT put me on the spot, though I saw a light go on in Jamie's head when I explained that if she narrates, SHE gets to decide what Adam is thinking when she reads his mind, not me. (One player, Russ, also commented that Pretender doesn't have the easily-grasped genre expectations that a Wild West game like Dust Devils does, which made people less sure of themselves when it came to narration.)

Given this, I'm seriously considering making the Narration die work like this: 1-3 GM decides who narrates, 4-6 Player decides who narrates. This way the GM has the option of throwing it out to an enthusiastic player, and players who don't want to narrate don't have to foist it on the GM. I'm seriously considering not allowing the player chosen to narrate to refuse, as it's a good way to get someone not involved in the action through their PC involved in the game as a player.

The other problem was the high handling time involved with the system. Getting the dice, determining which Specialities applied (and getting different colored dice for certain Specialties),and then picking which die went where, and then parsing that into results for a scene -- this all took a lot of time. (There was also some confusion as to Specialities -- people kept wanting to apply EVERY possibly-relevant Speciality on their sheet, not just the ones associated with the stat in question -- when I figured out people were doing this, I cracked down on it, which reduced the number of dice. But there was still a lot of dice.)

Also, connected to handling time, I kept forgetting to apply Adversity, particularly Adverity from wounds. I'm thinking of re-writing and streamlining the whole wounding system, because it was the biggest book-keeping nightmare, and we had more than enough to worry about just remembering what die to assign to what. (James suggested putting boxes labelled "Narration" "Style" "Safety" etc. on the character sheet so people could just put the dice in the approprate boxes.) Now, part of this may have been more of a problem because of the "tired and grumpy" factor, but I'm not sure that it wasn't the system to some extent as well.

Speaking of Adversity, because of all the Bonus Dice people were getting from Specialties (even when I made sure people were applying them correctly), there was a sort of "Adversity Creep" -- just to balance, I ended up assigning an average Adversity of 5 or 6 whenever Legion was involved, which was more than I expected. With the Bonus Dice, people could afford to spend their Normal Dice to counteract Adversity, so I had to made Adversity higher. This meant, however, that the "colored" Bonus Dice came into play a LOT, adding even more required elements to the narration (i.e. "angry" or whatever), which made evaluating the dice even more of a pain.

Regardless, I wondered why the high handling time for playing Poker in Dust Devils hadn't been a problem, but it was a problem in Pretender. I think the key is that Poker, by itself, is fun -- people are willing to play it even when there is no money or roleplaying involved. Several of my players commented on how fun the Poker mechanic was in isolation from its connection to the game.

Taking a page from this and from a comment from one of the players that the game was "kinda like Yahtzee", I considered what made games like Yahtzee or Cosmic Wimpout fun. (Digression: I'd love to see a game that somehow uses the Cosmic Wimpout dice.) I realized that most dice games, including Craps to some extent, had a sort of "Do I dare roll again" factor... Do I stop where I am or hope to get something better in a reroll?

Given this, I'm seriously considering that Specialties, instead of granting Bonus Dice, grant re-rolls instead. That is, you roll the Normal Dice (with no Bonus Dice) and assign them to categories, then you can "activate" a relevant Speciality by re-rolling one of the dice -- but that die remains in the same category, and could be LOWER. If the activated Speciality is emotional or a personality trait, then it can always be activated for a re-roll, but when you do it has to be featured in the narration. (If you have less dice than categories, such as with a Fire of 2 or whatever, you can use Specialities to "re-roll" dice in categories you left "empty", possibly turning the automatic 1 into something higher.)

This would seem to solve a lot of problems at once. It prevents "Adversity Creep", as getting rid of Normal Dice becomes more of a concern. (Plus, it makes the extra die for facing an Enemy that much cooler.) It adds some tension and interest to the roll, and I suspect it's easier to remember what Specialities you've activated than it is to remember that the yellow die is the "Nihilism die".

(It's notable that in Otherkind there's a limit on Color Dice, which are Bonus Dice in my system. But I don't want to lose the freeform nature of chargen or the flexibility granted by the different categories, so cutting back on dice by turning Specialities into re-rolls strikes me as particularly good...)

What do people think? I'm particularly interested in commentary on the change in the mechanic. I may be playtesting the revised version of the mechanic next Wednesday. (I want to focus more on Emily's character, who I think is really cool but was eclipsed a bit by Lilith and Uriel.)
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love * Eris * RPGs  * Anime * Magick * Carroll * techno * hats * cats * Dada
Kirt "Loki" Dankmyer -- Dance, damn you, dance! -- UNSUNG IS OUT
Brian Leybourne
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« Reply #1 on: April 23, 2003, 12:48:45 PM »

I have been meaning to try Pretender for some time now, but simply have not had the time.

Until such a playtest, it's very difficult to comment on mechanics much (which is what you said you want feedback on), so I think I'll mostly hold off until we get a game in, although I will say that I'm already liking the idea of Specialties causing re-rolls rather than extra additional dice.

But...

This wont be proven or disproven until you playtest it, but I can see a couple of potential concerns with it.

Firstly, that players are unlikely to ever use a die to re-roll unless they have a 1-2 anyway, because it means they can't possibly get a worse result (and 3+ is usually fine).

Secondly, it means that the "optional" categories are possibly going to receive less attention because folk are rolling lower numbers of dice and would have to assign bonus dice, blind, to those categories (by "rerolling" the implied 1).

Brian.
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Brian Leybourne
bleybourne@gmail.com

RPG Books: Of Beasts and Men, The Flower of Battle, The TROS Companion
lumpley
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« Reply #2 on: April 23, 2003, 01:06:34 PM »

Quote from: Kirt
Given this, I'm seriously considering making the Narration die work like this: 1-3 GM decides who narrates, 4-6 Player decides who narrates.

Very smart.

Quote
...I'm seriously considering that Specialties, instead of granting Bonus Dice, grant re-rolls instead.

Expect to see something like this in future versions of Otherkind, too.  In Otherkind you'll roll your 4 dice, look at them, and then decide if you want to roll more.  (You won't assign them first, as it sounds like you will in Pretender, and if you roll lower on a Color die you can toss it.)

Nope, sounds good to me.  I'm psyched to read how it goes.

-Vincent

Edit: Kirt!  I meant Kirt!
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xiombarg
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« Reply #3 on: April 23, 2003, 01:08:03 PM »

Quote from: Brian Leybourne
Secondly, it means that the "optional" categories are possibly going to receive less attention because folk are rolling lower numbers of dice and would have to assign bonus dice, blind, to those categories (by "rerolling" the implied 1).
Well, one fix is to not make the optional categories optional, but to make them required -- so you can put that 6 in Ripple if you really, really want to, leaving the "big 4" as a bunch of 1s, and rerolling THOSE. [Edit: Or, perhaps, making everything optional. You can always discard dice if you want, taking a default 1 in a category.]

Also, if this turns out to be a serious problem, it might be solvable by allowing the GM to activate Specialities for re-rolls as well, up to (perhaps) a certain limit.

I certainly welcome further playtesting outside my group, using either version of the system...

(And you don't have to comment on just the system. If you want to talk about my examples of play, feel free -- that's why I posted the link of Jamie's commentary, which doesn't touch the system at all.)
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love * Eris * RPGs  * Anime * Magick * Carroll * techno * hats * cats * Dada
Kirt "Loki" Dankmyer -- Dance, damn you, dance! -- UNSUNG IS OUT
xiombarg
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« Reply #4 on: April 23, 2003, 07:07:21 PM »

I seem to have missed this post earlier...

Quote
Expect to see something like this in future versions of Otherkind, too.  In Otherkind you'll roll your 4 dice, look at them, and then decide if you want to roll more.  (You won't assign them first, as it sounds like you will in Pretender, and if you roll lower on a Color die you can toss it.)
Cool! High praise from the originator of the system. I really, really need to playtest Otherkind at some point...
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love * Eris * RPGs  * Anime * Magick * Carroll * techno * hats * cats * Dada
Kirt "Loki" Dankmyer -- Dance, damn you, dance! -- UNSUNG IS OUT
Enoch
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« Reply #5 on: April 26, 2003, 07:43:32 PM »

This sounds pretty cool, maybe its just the Judeo-Christian thing (which always hooks me), but the session sounded like a hoot.  I'm seriously thinking about running this.

-Joshua
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omnia vincit amor
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Enoch
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« Reply #6 on: April 26, 2003, 10:24:16 PM »

Just finished reading it, and I already have an idea I plan to use.  While it will require a little tweaking, I think I may just use my FUDGE dice for this game.  I don't know if this will cut down handling time somewhat, but it does seem easier to organize.

I also can't find anywhere (it's late) where rerolls are mentioned.  Maybe I'm just misunderstanding what Brian and you are talking about.

-Joshua
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omnia vincit amor
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xiombarg
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« Reply #7 on: April 27, 2003, 09:59:34 AM »

Quote from: Enoch
I also can't find anywhere (it's late) where rerolls are mentioned.  Maybe I'm just misunderstanding what Brian and you are talking about.
It not in the main rules -- it's in the end of my post, as a possible rules tweak to cut down on the number of dice rolled.

I like the idea of using FUDGE dice -- it makes a lot of sense, since most categories have postive, negative, and mediocre...
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love * Eris * RPGs  * Anime * Magick * Carroll * techno * hats * cats * Dada
Kirt "Loki" Dankmyer -- Dance, damn you, dance! -- UNSUNG IS OUT
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