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Author Topic: PTA: Imperivm Confidential Pilot Episode  (Read 6296 times)
johnzo
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« on: September 19, 2003, 04:46:13 PM »

Last night was our first game of Imperivm Confidential, our hardboiled Roman murder mystery miniseries.  I first posted about IC in http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=7985

We're using Prime Time Adventures as our ruleset.  Since PTA isn't widely known here yet, let me tell you the four things about it I adore:

First, it requires characters to define an Issue that they're going to grapple with in play--something like Can't Trust Others or Haunted by Cowardice or Hunted by Enemy or whatever.   This gives the Producer (PTA-speak for the GM) and the rest of the group a nice story acorn, and lets the player have strong input into the kind of story she wants to see her character experience.  

Secondly, it asks players to chart how their role will wax and wane over the course of the series.  Before the series begins, the player will specify whether her character is primary, secondary, or tertiary for each planned episode of the series.  I think this is a terrific mechanic.  When the character is the primary, the game contract specifies that the producer and everyone else should be trying to play to their Issue, just like it works on TV.

Thirdly, after the session is complete, there's the "Next Week on Imperivm Confidential" section, where players all get to mention little snippets of scene that'll appear next session, just like on a television preview.  If last night's preview is any indication, next week will be action-packed--we have Atticus being confronted in a dark alley by assassins and Marcellus falling from the mast of a trireme.  This is good from a playtest standpoint, because it was mostly talkin' last night and very little die-rollin'.  We didn't really check out the conflict resolution mechanics.

Finally, any player can declare a "commercial break."  I used these whenever I wanted to get a little spot of time to think about things, and they really helped -- I came out of both of our commercial breaks with solid scene ideas.

I plotted a rigid first act for last night, centering around the murder of one Senator Galinius, and warned the players ahead of time that this was the case; luckily, they were into what I was doing and went along with it.  After the first act, I improvised pretty much everything, concentrating on creating scenes with pairs of characters and looking for interesting relationships.  It worked out pretty well, I thought, with two or three revelatory or dramatic moments that broke nicely into commercials.

Jeff's Marcellus was the only character who had more than a tertiary role, so I concentrated on slinging story his way.  We found out about his tortured relationship with his estranged wife Apollonia, his drinking problem, his relationship with his Christian lion-importer friend (which took an interesting turn, and will be good story-fuel for later on) and how he deals with the most valuable piece of information in Rome--the face of Senator Galinius's killer.  He saw the killer fleeing the bathhouse where Galinius was killed, and that knowledge has turned him into a bit of a John Crichton (from Farscape, if you don't know) character, which I think is pretty cool.  So far he's been pretty honorable with that information, but

The other guys, being tertiaries, got mostly setup and establishing scenes.  Matt's character Atticus, the most honest man in Rome, has been begged by the murdered Senator's nephew to investigate, and similarly urged by his patron not to investigate.  John's Decimus, a heartless thug in the service of the debauched Cattalus (picture a Caligula / Jabba the Hutt cross, played by a fatter Jon Polito), played his tertiary role very nicely, frightening the dickens out of several people and generally being a good heavy.  There's some excellent tension between Atticus and Decimus that I must figure out how to exploit.

I was particularly happy with last night's final scene.  Cattalus, who desperately wishes to cultivate favour with the powers-that-be, had rounded up a number of Germans and brought Marcellus out to his villa to finger one of them as the killer.  Marcellus refuses and leaves.  Catellus flies into a rage and expells everyone from his estate, except for Decimus.  He berates Decimus for his unsubtle, thuggish ways.  "I need a serpent, not a lion!" he says.  "Someone to whisper into the ear of Marcellus and convince him to cooperate.  Tell me, Decimus, what is the weakness of Marcellus?"  Decimus tells his master that Marcellus' weakness is his wife Appolonia, and Cattalus, cackling gleefully, orders Decimus to bring Apollonia to him at his convenience.  A cool, dramatic end to a fun game-session--thanks, guys!
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Matt Wilson
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« Reply #1 on: September 22, 2003, 07:39:01 AM »

It was surprising to me that no one pounced on the conflict dice, seeing as they award serious storytelling power to the winner, and to a lesser degree, throughout the conflict.

I guess that would have to do with the group being relatively new to some of the ideas of narrativist play. At least one of them really enjoys the "improv actor" mode of play, where scenes are played out heavily in character, and while he has no problem narrating his internal monologue, he said something to the effect of "why would I want to stop the game and say, "okay, now I'm in a conflict?"

It's an interesting side of stance that I hadn't run into before. It's not the notion of taking directorial power, it's the fact that director stance interrupts him from enjoying the specific "immersion" of actor stance.

However, Alan will be joining the game this coming Thursday, and I think he'll push the game system to its N limits. I'm looking forward to seeing that.
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Jeffrey Miller
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« Reply #2 on: September 22, 2003, 10:07:32 AM »

Quote from: Matt Wilson
It was surprising to me that no one pounced on the conflict dice, seeing as they award serious storytelling power to the winner, and to a lesser degree, throughout the conflict. [/quote[

Maybe because we didn't know that?

Quote
"why would I want to stop the game and say, "okay, now I'm in a conflict?"


Sounds like me - my complaint about many of the indie games are that as "rules lite" as they can be, the meta-structure of the mechanics is always present, saying "look at me! look how brilliant I am!"  Well, ok, I'm overstating it more than a little, but I really don't want to interrupt an interesting scene to fiddle around with the meta-mechanics;  rules that interrupt N play to supprot N play are like a nurse waking you up so you can take your sleeping pill. ^_^

-j-
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rafial
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« Reply #3 on: September 22, 2003, 12:22:53 PM »

Quote from: Jeffrey Miller

Sounds like me - my complaint about many of the indie games are that as "rules lite" as they can be, the meta-structure of the mechanics is always present, saying "look at me! look how brilliant I am!"  Well, ok, I'm overstating it more than a little, but I really don't want to interrupt an interesting scene to fiddle around with the meta-mechanics;  rules that interrupt N play to support N play are like a nurse waking you up so you can take your sleeping pill.


Okay, I don't intend this to sound snappish Jeff, but what sort of activity are you defining as N play here?  Because I'm having a hunch that what you are talking about is a couple people having a conversation in actor stance, which (please correct me if I am wrong, oh GNS gods), is completely orthagonal to N play.

I am reminded of a common theme I have heard in certain groups "well it really doesn't matter what system we use, because we hardly ever use it".  Such a sentiment is justified as "concentrating on role playing".  The way I interpret that reaction is that people have become so frustrated by rule sets that don't support the playstyle that they are looking for that they instinctively avoid all rulesets as "getting in they way".  Thus the N play supporting games *do* seem intrusive at first, because the rules actually *do* have something to say about the issues that we normally resolve by "just talking about it".  But they are doing so to a purpose, which is to allocate credibility among the players in a way outside of a informal social contract, which means that you can actually conduct this sort of play with people outside of your normal social group.  My experience coming as an outsider into a "oh, we hardly use the rules" group is that it can be very disorienting, because there really are rules about who gets to decide what, it's just that they are not written down, and I keep tripping over them.

Jeff, I'm conflating my experience with something you said, so if you meant something else entirely by your comment, please correct me.
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Jeffrey Miller
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« Reply #4 on: September 22, 2003, 12:35:52 PM »

Quote from: rafial
Quote from: Jeffrey Miller

Sounds like me - my complaint about many of the indie games are that as "rules lite" as they can be, the meta-structure of the mechanics is always present, saying "look at me! look how brilliant I am!"  Well, ok, I'm overstating it more than a little, but I really don't want to interrupt an interesting scene to fiddle around with the meta-mechanics;  rules that interrupt N play to support N play are like a nurse waking you up so you can take your sleeping pill.


Okay, I don't intend this to sound snappish Jeff, but what sort of activity are you defining as N play here?  Because I'm having a hunch that what you are talking about is a couple people having a conversation in actor stance, which (please correct me if I am wrong, oh GNS gods), is completely orthagonal to N play.


Matt was commenting on my "objections" to dropping out of actor stance to discuss play structure from a N perspective (or something like that.)  He used the term, not me.

(now THAT'S snappish ^_^)


Quote
I am reminded of a common theme I have heard in certain groups "well it really doesn't matter what system we use, because we hardly ever use it".


If you think that's what I'm saying, you're missing everything I said completely, and we should talk about it in person;  reread what I said about mechanics intefering with the very thing they're supposed to be supporting.

Quote
Jeff, I'm conflating my experience with something you said, so if you meant something else entirely by your comment, please correct me.


Ok ^_^

Seriously, I'm not meaning to talk about GNS at all, so much as "rules which purport to support a style of play that interrupt said style of play when it occurs is a negative"  Now, I'm not saying that happened with PTA as a system, but in this example of play, constantly having to drop out of the immediacy of the game to discuss the meta-level mechanics of the game was annoying, like stopping everyone before they rolled the dice in Monopoly to review the bidding structure. :(

-jeffrey-
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Matt Wilson
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« Reply #5 on: September 22, 2003, 01:54:13 PM »

I don't think actor stance is orthagonal to narrativist play. I think it's orthagonal to players making meaningful choices that exist outside their characters. Everyone felt free to make interesting choices about their protagonists last episode.

But nobody made a move to define larger events, and that's where the conflict rules are useful, I think. In a conflict you can decide more than just what your guy does, and that's a powerful thing. If no one's interested in taking that much control, then it's easy to see how it would be a distraction.

I know that a few Uni games I've played in have drifted into a sort of freeform play and largely ignored conflicts. Probably for similar reasons.
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Jeffrey Miller
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« Reply #6 on: September 22, 2003, 01:59:54 PM »

Quote from: Matt Wilson
I don't think actor stance is orthagonal to narrativist play. I think it's orthagonal to players making meaningful choices that exist outside their characters. Everyone felt free to make interesting choices about their protagonists last episode.

But nobody made a move to define larger events, and that's where the conflict rules are useful, I think. In a conflict you can decide more than just what your guy does, and that's a powerful thing. If no one's interested in taking that much control, then it's easy to see how it would be a distraction.

I know that a few Uni games I've played in have drifted into a sort of freeform play and largely ignored conflicts. Probably for similar reasons.


We should've taken 15 minutes and gone over the PTA ruleset. Some of us have been out in the cold on all its twists and turns.

-j-
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johnzo
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« Reply #7 on: September 22, 2003, 02:10:33 PM »

I think It's mostly my fault that we didn't get into the conflict mechanics more.  The only scene where they would have applied was the confrontation with Persellus, which we covered it through  in-character roleplaying.

Even back in my hoariest sim-heavy GURPS days, I liked to leave the crunchy bits for when the swords are swinging and handle the social stuff without mechanics.  When I'm GMing, I try to get solidly into the heads of my NPCS.  If I'm feeling the energy, the dice can feel like an interruption and an energy drop.

In the name of Science, though, I'm going to try to change that approach for the Imperium game.  I'm interested to see what happens when the dice command me to think up a reversal or a snarky rejoinder or a verbal surrender.

zo
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johnzo
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« Reply #8 on: September 22, 2003, 02:12:37 PM »

Quote
We should've taken 15 minutes and gone over the PTA ruleset. Some of us have been out in the cold on all its twists and turns.


Seconded.  Matt, you wanna chair that for us or should I explain them?

zo.
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Jeffrey Miller
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« Reply #9 on: September 22, 2003, 02:12:51 PM »

Quote from: johnzo
Even back in my hoariest sim-heavy GURPS days, I liked to leave the crunchy bits for when the swords are swinging and handle the social stuff without mechanics.


I think its a historical reaction to never having an RPG successfully model a ruleset for social interactions.

-j-
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johnzo
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« Reply #10 on: September 22, 2003, 02:27:48 PM »

Matt sez:

Quote
But nobody made a move to define larger events


I wonder if people are holding back on that because we're playing an intrigue game, where mystery is a primary source of drama?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't Peregrine (the first PTA playtest) completely Issue-driven?  Was there any kind of overarcing plot or intrigue that tied all the episodes together?
 
zo
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Matt Wilson
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« Reply #11 on: September 22, 2003, 02:44:54 PM »

Quote
I wonder if people are holding back on that because we're playing an intrigue game, where mystery is a primary source of drama?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't Peregrine (the first PTA playtest) completely Issue-driven? Was there any kind of overarcing plot or intrigue that tied all the episodes together?


I'm not sure a PTA game can be not-issue-driven. That's sort of the point of the rules. The intrigue should come second to the issues, since it wouldn't take much effort with these rules for any player to effectively solve the mystery. PTA is meant for character drama above all else. If it's in the players' minds to play out the mystery and be surprised by what you, the producer, have in store, that'll involve some drift.
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John Harper
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« Reply #12 on: September 22, 2003, 03:01:58 PM »

Wow. There's a lot to discuss here. I'll try to hit the main points:

First, I love PTA. The Issue mechanic is my favorite thing by far, and it's the first game mechanic I've seen that places Nar decision making up-front in the game system. Trollbabe and Sorcerer are great Nar-facilitating games, but they run on very different engines. PTA puts all of the "what your guy can do" firmly in the backseat and puts "what's your deal?" in the driver's seat. In other words, my character is not made up of his abilites, but rather is defined by his Issue. Very cool.

Other stuff to love: A player-created series. The PTA game series (from sets to characters)  is created by all of the players (and GM) as a group. All of that stuff Johnzo mentions about the murder, and Catellus, and the other NPCs was created by all of us together, during pre-game prep. So by the time the actors are on the stage (so to speak) we already have a lot invested in the story and the relationships. Johnzo frames us into interesting scenes with NPCs we helped create, and then we see if any sparks fly.

This style of play really floats my boat. There seems to be no "dead weight"... no "GM's pets" hanging around the set hoping to get noticed by the stars. Eveything in play exists because the play-group made it together. So, everything in play has some value from scene one. The stuff that sparks gets more attention. The stuff that doesn't fades into the background.

Now, about Conflicts. In the last session, Johnzo, Jeff, and I played out an interrogation scene without using the PTA conflict mechanic. According to the rules, this kind of scene would normally use the Conflict system. The idea is that everyone invloved gets to roll some dice (based on several factors) and then they spend successes to narrate things about the scene. Conflict successes grant players pretty significant control over the game, letting them affect things on a story level (kind of like spending coins in Universalis).

Instead of going this route, however, Johnzo, Jeff, and I simply played out the scene as the characters, in Actor stance. No dice were rolled. No one called for a conflict. Now, I can't speak for Johnzo and Jeff, but I can explain why I didn't call for a conflict and the use of the PTA system in this case. I was immersed in Actor stance, "playing my guy" to the hilt. I didn't have any story ideas as a player on the game level, I simply wanted to portray my character as the thug he is and see how the NPC reacted. The conflict system in PTA results in story-power being handed out to the players, and I didn't want any. So, I didn't call for a conflict. I was essentially telling the GM, "Go ahead and steer this scene with your NPC, it's okay with me." And so it went.

As a PTA player, I'm all about my character's Issue. This scene didn't happen to do much for my issue, even though it was a cool scene. So, I didn't feel the need to steer it one way or another. No need for Conflict, from my point of view, since winning some story power was not what I wanted. I have some pretty specific ideas for how I want my Issue to progress, however, so when a scene comes up that I think will let me steer things my way, I'll be calling for a Conflict.
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rafial
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« Reply #13 on: September 22, 2003, 03:09:58 PM »

Quote from: Jeffrey Miller

Seriously, I'm not meaning to talk about GNS at all, so much as "rules which purport to support a style of play that interrupt said style of play when it occurs is a negative"


Absolutely true.  I guess what I'm trying to determine is if you've misunderstood the style of play that the N-focused games are trying to support.  That's why I asked "what does N play mean to you."

Quote

Now, I'm not saying that happened with PTA as a system, but in this example of play, constantly having to drop out of the immediacy of the game to discuss the meta-level mechanics of the game was annoying, like stopping everyone before they rolled the dice in Monopoly to review the bidding structure.


What, to you, is the "immediacy of the game?"
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Jeffrey Miller
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« Reply #14 on: September 22, 2003, 03:19:19 PM »

Quote from: rafial
Quote from: Jeffrey Miller

Seriously, I'm not meaning to talk about GNS at all, so much as "rules which purport to support a style of play that interrupt said style of play when it occurs is a negative"


Absolutely true.  I guess what I'm trying to determine is if you've misunderstood the style of play that the N-focused games are trying to support.  That's why I asked "what does N play mean to you."


No, I pretty much understand it.  Thanks for the offer.

Quote
What, to you, is the "immediacy of the game?"


The evolving events of the communal shared experience.  

-j-
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