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Author Topic: Theatrix in action  (Read 13925 times)
Pyske
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« Reply #15 on: June 23, 2001, 02:08:00 PM »


Interesting conversation.  I own the game (recently acquired) but haven't had a chance to play it yet ('though I am signed up for the 2 GenCon events).  Does anyone know if there is still active advocacy for the game?  In particular, does anyone still run Berkman-esque demos?

 . . . . . . . -- Eric
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #16 on: June 23, 2001, 08:33:00 PM »

Hey Eric,

does anyone still run Berkman-esque demos?

Is there something unique about the way Berkman ran Theatrix demos?

My friend who's running the Theatrix game from this thread will be playing in one of the GenCon games with you. He told me his pre-reg went through. I just don't remember which of the two it was for.

Paul

[ This Message was edited by: Paul Czege on 2001-06-25 00:58 ]
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #17 on: July 06, 2001, 10:14:00 AM »

Hey everyone,

We had our fourth session of Theatrix last Sunday. I've just been too busy to write about it until today. It was pretty damn fun. And if you recall our discussion earlier about a cautious play style being a learned approach, you might be interested in just how aggressively my friend who's GMing is working to overcome that learned style by training those of us who're playing. And even though it's felt awkward at times for everyone, I think the other players probably aren't actually aware that they're being trained.

One thing I haven't described about the game is the naming convention for superheroes and supervillains. It's an idea I had last summer, that you could create a superhero scenario without seeming derivative if you invented an alternative naming convention. So all names have prepositions in them. The gun toting villain in the very first scene of the game is Quick on the Draw. The villain that bursts into flames is Point of Ignition. My character is No Appetite for Pain.

One of the features of Theatrix is that players can assume control of NPC's for scenes they aren't participating in with their main character. The GM started the session with us playing well armed assassins moving through a darkened office building, on our way to disrupt an undesired exchange of information between a formerly trusted criminal associate of our client and an unnamed superhero. The resulting dramatic fight with War on Crime, a Batman-esque superhero, featured players using authorial power to produce smoke grenades and gas masks, and was a lot of fun. And not only did the scene tell us a little about War on Crime as a character, but I think it functioned well as training on how to take risks with a character you're playing. After having been disarmed of my M-16 in a smoke-filled room, I found War on Crime in another location mopping up the floor with two of the other assassins; when he looked up, I put five teflon "copkillers" into his chest from my pistol, dropping him, and then lost my face taking a bullet in the back of the head from someone I never saw who came up behind me. The traditional careful and painstaking method of handling a Simulationist crime investigation scenario creates player habits that can make for a fairly tedious and boring story. If you don't get a shove to break some of these habits, you take them from game to game. This was a pretty good shove.

Another good training thing the GM did was during a conversation between our characters and a prominent Superman-esque hero named Champion of Fair Play. He suggested we could initiate a flashback if we wanted. And it was perfect. We were struggling with the conversation, but by using a flashback to have a prior conversation with another NPC we gained information that made us more confident and effective with Champion of Fair Play. I think there's an important training strategy behind what he did. People learn best when they're a little frustrated. By finding a moment where we were frustrated at being incompletely effective, and could achieve greater effectiveness by intelligently using our authorial powers, he's created an emotional association that'll cause us to consider authorial flashbacking next time we're frustrated. Of course he felt awkward making the suggestion, since it's deprecated in traditional RPG's for the GM to instruct the players on how to use their advantages, but it was great training.

Paul
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My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans
Supplanter
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« Reply #18 on: July 08, 2001, 11:58:00 AM »

Paul: Your account of the Theatrix campaign you're in fascinates me. Could you please answer some questions that have struck me:

1) Does the naming convention apply to villains too?

2) What do you think the naming convention does to the campaign? How does it affect tone, style etc?

3) Are you playing "full kit Theatrix?" By this I mean the following: Vanilla Theatrix defines character abilities in terms of Attributes, Skills/Abilities, Descriptors and plot points. Has the GM tossed any of those out? If Attributes are used, is it the Core Rules' "standard six?"

4) How "Berkmanite" is the GM about descriptor activation? Berkman's own view (articulated publically on Usenet and in private e-mails) was that the GM was never to allow material use of a descriptor unless a plot point was spent. In particular, in discussing hypothetical campaign events with DC superheroes, he stated that Superman couldn't "beat" the major villain without spending a plot point. (Here "beat" means climactically foil the plan that is the premise of the adventure.)

It's interesting to note that in Berkman's usenet promo for the apparently abortive Wild Cards licensed setting book, his copy enthused about spending "tenths of a plot point." In light of his Superman example, I infer that plot points were going to be power batteries in Backstage Press's official superhero setting.

Thanks,


Jim
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #19 on: July 10, 2001, 12:11:00 PM »

Hey Jim,

1) Does the naming convention apply to villains too?

It does. In the first scene of the game, described in my first post on this thread, the villain we were facing was Quick on the Draw. The villain who burst into flames was Point of Ignition. We've also heard about or encountered Life from Death, Born from Concrete, Impossible to Find, Falling through Reality, and Harvester of the Weak. When I conceived of the naming convention a few years ago, it was for a Champions scenario, but like most things I've tried to develop for complex rules systems, that scenario never happened. I've never been able to force myself to do all the world work and NPC stats for more than a one shot with a system like Champions. But I liked the naming convention so much that when my friend started talking about running a superhero game with Theatrix, I told it to him. I gave him two names at the time, since I'd only come up with two, both for heroes: Champion of Fair Play, and Shield of the People. Subsequently I made a few more name suggestions, one of which also made it into the game: Army of One. All the rest of the hero names are by him: Keeper of Faith, War on Crime, Justice of the Piece, Day of Salvation, Spirit of America, Mind over Matter (who's a brain in a jar), and Up from the Earth.

2) What do you think the naming convention does to the campaign? How does it affect tone, style etc?

Well, it's a hell of a lot of fun just to find out a character's name after you've seen their costume and the way they behave, and perhaps the way they fight. It makes you smile. I'm not sure why.

And I think for us, it enables the game to have to work less hard to achieve a mature tone. Traditional superhero naming conventions have become somewhat associated with Saturday morning cartoons: Spiderman and His Amazing Friends, Superfriends, X-Men. I think the alternative naming convention kind of breaks down those associations and defaults us to treating the characters and their relationships with seriousness.

3) Are you playing "full kit Theatrix?" By this I mean the following: Vanilla Theatrix defines character abilities in terms of Attributes, Skills/Abilities, Descriptors and plot points. Has the GM tossed any of those out? If Attributes are used, is it the Core Rules' "standard six?"

Yeah, straight out of the box. Characters have Descriptors, Skills, Abilities, Personality Traits, and the standard six Physical Attributes. Interestingly, I think if I were running it I'd ditch some of this stuff...almost definitely the Physical Attributes. The way they scale for a superhero game, a Strength of 10 is the most pumpified human imaginable, but he's not even on the radar of someone with a Super Strength Ability at 1, or someone with "Strong as a Bison" for a Descriptor. Since the player characters are all heroes, I think I'd ditch the Physical Attributes and assume all PC's are above human average for everything except where a Flaw says they aren't. That would leave me with two categories of stuff that requires plot points for activation, Descriptors and Personality Traits, and two categories of stuff that just work at the level they're rated, Skills and Abilities.

4) How "Berkmanite" is the GM about descriptor activation? Berkman's own view (articulated publically on Usenet and in private e-mails) was that the GM was never to allow material use of a descriptor unless a plot point was spent. In particular, in discussing hypothetical campaign events with DC superheroes, he stated that Superman couldn't "beat" the major villain without spending a plot point. (Here "beat" means climactically foil the plan that is the premise of the adventure.)

Well, not having foiled the villain yet, I can't say for sure. But I think he's being fairly strict to the rulebook. My understanding is that Descriptors can be used "passively" without cost, but that "actively" using a descriptor requires spending a plot point. At one point, a player had his character Breath of the Dragon, who has "wealthy" as a Descriptor, bring my character an expensive oriental rug as a gift. This is a passive Authorial use of that Descriptor. I think if the player had wanted to pay the ransom for a kidnapped boy, the GM would have required a plot point.

Still, there have been very few plot points spent during the four sessions we've played so far, because the primary conflict resolution system is still the flowcharts. And perhaps the strongest argument for not ditching the game's Physical Attributes is that at points the flowcharts instruct the GM to decide whether the character is capable enough to be successful at a stated action, a decision which is partly driven by the attributes. But ultimately, even more critical to player success I think is the box on the flowchart that tells the GM to determine if the plot requires a certain outcome. If you truly have Authorial power as a player, you can do an awful lot to make your activity critical to the plot and optimize your character's success. And since, at the most basic level, good story is critical to the plot, taking actions that make for good story, or setting things up so that when you take actions they make for good story, is an effective strategy for getting successes out of the conflict resolution flowcharts. I think nearly all player successes in the game so far can be attributed to this method.

Answered?

Paul
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My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans
Supplanter
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« Reply #20 on: July 13, 2001, 07:43:00 PM »

Quote
Answered?


By golly, yes! Very informative. Couple of things.

Quote
And I think for us, it enables the game to have to work less hard to achieve a mature tone. Traditional superhero naming conventions have become somewhat associated with Saturday morning cartoons: Spiderman and His Amazing Friends, Superfriends, X-Men. I think the alternative naming convention kind of breaks down those associations and defaults us to treating the characters and their relationships with seriousness.


This was sort of my guess: the name convention seems to have an "estranging effect" like those frog avant-garde types talk about. By itself it sets you at one remove from the familiar. The other thing that struck me is that it seems inherently narrativist simply because it is a convention. A campaign world where everyone who gets superpowers chooses to name themselves according to the same rules is inherently stylized.

As a monster fan of Gene Wolfe I of course think names are the most important thing in the world...

Quote
Yeah, straight out of the box. Characters have Descriptors, Skills, Abilities, Personality Traits, and the standard six Physical Attributes. Interestingly, I think if I were running it I'd ditch some of this stuff...almost definitely the Physical Attributes. The way they scale for a superhero game, a Strength of 10 is the most pumpified human imaginable, but he's not even on the radar of someone with a Super Strength Ability at 1, or someone with "Strong as a Bison" for a Descriptor.


Now that's interesting. It's entirely possible to scale a superhero setting with 10 at the Hulk, Superman or even Galactus level, but your GM appears to have decided against doing so. As Epoch reminds us over on GO, there were only around 10 attribute levels in the old Marvel Superheroes game. Berkman in no wise indicates that a 1-10 scale has to be linear.

I too felt the desire to Remove Stuff from the Theatrix character traits set. Minor change down to four attributes when I ran the brief fantasy campaign where The Magic Formula was born. I then decided I'd want to toss skills and abilities/powers and just go with attributes and descriptors. Of course then I started to wonder about attributes, which maybe shows that in my hands all games tend toward the condition of Over the Edge.

Quote
At one point, a player had his character Breath of the Dragon, who has "wealthy" as a Descriptor, bring my character an expensive oriental rug as a gift. This is a passive Authorial use of that Descriptor. I think if the player had wanted to pay the ransom for a kidnapped boy, the GM would have required a plot point.


Yup. That's by-the-book Theatrix.

Quote
But ultimately, even more critical to player success I think is the box on the flowchart that tells the GM to determine if the plot requires a certain outcome. If you truly have Authorial power as a player, you can do an awful lot to make your activity critical to the plot and optimize your character's success. And since, at the most basic level, good story is critical to the plot, taking actions that make for good story, or setting things up so that when you take actions they make for good story, is an effective strategy for getting successes out of the conflict resolution flowcharts. I think nearly all player successes in the game so far can be attributed to this method.


Which principle wins in the campaign you're in? You have the descriptor "Wealthy." Let's say you want to ransom the boy. Let's say ransoming the boy has terrific story value. But you are ornery and don't offer the plot point. Does the boy get ransomed or not?

Best,


Jim
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