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Author Topic: [Super Action Now!] Monkey causes chaos, guy gets fired, cat doesn't care  (Read 5976 times)
Marshall Burns
Member

Posts: 485


« on: January 04, 2008, 11:15:21 AM »

Super Action Now!  a Crazy-Ass Roleplaying Game had its first playtest last night.  The players were myself (also Referee, although I never had to bring any power to bear), my friend Steven (coworker for a couple months now who turned out to be into RPGs, so I wrangled him in) and Courtney, Steven's girlfriend.  Steven has had a lot of RPG experience, while Courtney has had none at all, but she was a great sport and conceded to join in.

So, some quick info about the system (there's also a rules-draft at http://www.angelfire.com/indie/btw/san.html ,but it's not identical to the rules we actually used; take out the "SUPER ACTION COMBAT!" section and replace it with the ordinary resolution mechanics, and that's more-or-less what we were doing).  The PCs can be anything at all -- robots, cowboys, jousting motorcyclists, whatever -- and any combination of anything.  The characters get a Drive, which is a passion, desire, whatever that drives them; this Drive, when triggered, gives you Drive Points that are used to power special abilities, ignore damage, stuff like that.  They also get a Knack, which is an uper-specific task that they will fail at only 1% of the time.  And then there's Quirks (with dice between D6 and D12), which might help or harm you depending on the situation, and Powers (with dice between 1D6 and 5D12 for effectiveness, and a Drive Cost between 1 and 20).  Finally, there's the Skills, which have 4 tiers.  The top tier is Brawn, Brains, Finesse, Personality, and Talent.  These branch off into more specific skills (freeform-wise), which in turn branch of to more specific, and then to the most specific at the fourth tier.  The deeper the tier, the bigger the dice (D6, D8, D10, D12).  Skills are ranked 1-5, which is how many of the appropriate dice you get to roll when applying the Skill.

Character creation is pretty much laissez-faire; you give yourself whatever Quirks, Powers, and Skills you want, with the guideline that they be appropriate to what the character is supposed to be (so, while a robot might have a rocket punch, Greg from Accounting shouldn't).  The only check on this ability is that it's all up-front, and if someone thinks you took an inappropriate skill or whatever, all the players take a vote on it (I didn't expect it to come to this last night, and it didn't).  Oh, and character creation is done as the first step of play, as a group activity, so that you can bounce ideas off each other and get familiar with everyone's character.

Finally, there's the TILT! mechanic.  Everytime your character does something that makes one or more of the other players giggle, guffaw, gasp, gape, gag, or grin like an idiot, you get a point of TILT!, which can be used to tilt the game in your favor.  For 1 point, you can re-roll a die or force someone else to re-roll a die; for 5 points, you get to introduce an immediate Twist to the situation ("Twist! There's an alligator in the corner, you just didn't notice it before").

So, I burned a CD of crazy-ass tunes for atmosphere (ranging from the "Hawaii Five-0" theme as performed by the Ventures, to Nina Hagen singing "My Way"), and we got down to it.  My character was Greg from Accounting ("I'm a cog in the corporate machine, driven by mounting angst resulting from the unspeakable horror of a meaningless existence"), Steve's was John ("I'm an escaped lab monkey from a cosmetics factory, shaved and posing as a human 13-year old boy; I'm driven by the desire to avoid having hairspray sprayed into my eyes"), and Courtney's was Roswell ("I'm a spoiled, tail-less, bitchy calico cat, driven by pure hatred for my owner").  Character creation took a bit, but that seems to have just been because Steven threw out like 4 ideas before settling on John, and Courtney was new at this whole concept.

Once the characters were created, the next step was to decide how they're inter-related, particularly in any adversarial ways.  We decided that Roswell was Greg's cat, and that John was posing as Greg's son.  Greg was kindof in denial that this was going on and humored John.  Oh, and John absolutely hated Roswell.

Scene-framing in SAN! involves all the players (throwing in ideas in turn).  We hit a snag on this at first, because Courtney was new at this, and because Steven is used to RPGs with uber-centralized GM tasks (whereas the first RPG I ever played, aside from Boot Hill when I was like 8, was a home-made on by a friend with no central GM).  So they were really timid with their suggestions at first, until I tried setting an example by suggesting things like "the copy machine will blow up at some point" and "the security goons have giant fighty robots.  And zombies."  (During scene framing, they are just "suggestions" because they can be vetoed by majority vote.  Once the scene actually starts, though, they're set in stone.  Twists are similarly set in stone the moment they happen).  Steven told me afterwards that the communal scene-framing was very weird for him because he'd never played Anything that worked like that, being used to a GM describing situations -- but he didn't think it was annoying or anything; he thought it was pretty cool, he was just a bit stunned.

This is what basically happened in the session:  it was bring-your-kid-to-work day, so Greg brought John to the office, where John caused total chaos, and Greg got fired.  They ended up fleeing back to the apartment, where Roswell had been sleeping since that morning after discovering there was no food to be had (because she ate it all during the night, after being locked in a cabinet by John), pursued by security's giant fighty robots and zombies (on leashes, like hunting dogs).  They barricade the front door with everything available, then Roswell latched onto Gregs face.  John pummeled her off with an empty milk carton, but Roswell uses her power to "Intimidate anyone or anything just by staring at them or it" to motivate Greg to get her some food RIGHT FUCKING NOW.  Greg looked out the big, bay window (which for some reason we neglected to barricade), saw the approaching robots 'n zombies.  Greg told John "we need shock-troops," so Greg activated his "White collar time-bomb" power, siezed the monkey bodily, kicked out the window, and threw the monkey to the feet of the robots as a distraction.  But of course the zombies just poured in through the windows, so Greg activated his "Blame shift" power to transfer their brain-eating fury to the cat, who used her Knack for "hiding in impossibly high places."  So the zombies ignored Greg and ransacked the kitchen looking for the cat, who didn't give a shit.  John managed to get back into the apartment and started setting fires to kill the zombies, and he and the cat (who now had a deathgrip on his face) absconded to the dumpster of a nearby restaurant to wait for things to blow over, while Greg was left with a burning apartment and faced down by robots (which he barely survived).

The resolution (state your goal, your method of achieving it, roll your skills, add 'em up; opposition, state your method of opposing, roll your skills, add 'em up.  Whoever has higher total wins, and the difference shows us how well you won) actually worked really well, even in strange situations that no one could have anticipated (at one point I used my "blame shift" power on a homing missile that was fired at me).  What I mean is that no one had any qualms about how the resolutions came out; the dice showed us, we had no problem interpreting them, and we accepted the outcomes.  (Don't look in the rules draft for a "how to" regarding such interpretation; I neglected to write one. Apparently Ron is right when he says roleplayers have a hard time writing how to do the things they and their group are good at).

I personally expected people to die a lot.  My PC Greg was nearly crushed by a robot, but that was the closest anyone came to being killed.  I think this was because the scenes didn't get crazy until the end, and, until the last scene, there wasn't very much competition at all.  In fact, at the office, Greg actually helped out the monkey a few times, like when the monkey stole the special shiny red stapler that set off an alarm and glued itself to his hand when he touched it, Greg convinced the security guys that it was okay because that was his son.  And yet, I was the one who introduced that alarm (via a Twist).

I think setting up the scenario with the characters more clearly opposed to each other, as well as setting up win-lose conditions for the scenario, would have been better for producing the level of competition that I was shooting for.  As it happened, we were mostly just enjoying the crazy-ass situations themselves and how the system handled them; which is fine, I want that to be part of it, but I was shooting for a focus on exploiting and screwing each other over, and characters suffering more serious consequences.

Another problem was that the narration got out of hand -- it's supposed to rotate around the table, each player narrating for their own character, but it ended up going all crossways.  This was partially because the game was weird and new and no one was used to it, but it happened especially once the players also had NPCs to govern (since there is no central GM).  Steven hit on a good idea afterward, that you get One Turn and can either use it to narrate your own character or an NPC.

Finally, the Drive and TILT! were neglected.  There were like 50 times when Roswell's Drive (hatred for Greg) should have been activated and we neglected to do so, and just as many times when TILT! should have been handed out, but it wasn't done.  I think the solution to this is to make sure the players have invested themselves in acquiring these points, so that whenever they should be given out, the player who should be receiving them will speak up and say "Oh!  That triggers my Drive! Where's that D10?"  If the competition is ramped up, I think that will produce such an effect, but we neglected to ramp up the competition sufficiently.

Despite that, it was still a blast.  We had fun, there were no arguments, not even any suggestions that got shot down.  We're also gonna try to get another player or two and make the playgroup a regular thing, which is uber cool.  I haven't had a regular playgroup in years.
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David Berg
Member

Posts: 612


« Reply #1 on: January 04, 2008, 12:21:41 PM »

Dude, that sounds friggin' hilarious, and immensely fun as a big ol' "making shit up" exercise.  It sounds like it met exactly zero of your original design emphases, though.  I'd be curious to see if everyone remains cool with your resolution system while they're trying to optimize their usage of it against each other.  An even bigger question is the scene framing.  If I were trying to beat two other players and I had the ability to decide what was in our environment, I'd damn sure be trying to rig it to my advantage.  I worry that in this case a voting system would just produce endless stalemates.

In general, regarding your design, it seems to me like you can either:

a) say, "that was fun! let's do more!", in which case you might as well ditch the idea of competition, and maybe ditch the mechanics that didn't get used, or

b) say, "that was fun! now for something completely different!", and provide a context for declaring a winner ("you get points for fulfilling Drives, first player to 50 points wins!") or some such.  Of course, for truly competitive players, TILT would transform an atmosphere of joviality into one of poker faces ("That was funny, but I ain't laughing, because that would give you an advantage.")  If you want to encourage humor, maybe give point for the person who's funny and the person who laughs?  On the theory that people aren't very good at faking laughter even if it'd get them points?  I dunno...
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here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development
David Berg
Member

Posts: 612


« Reply #2 on: January 04, 2008, 12:25:08 PM »

It sounds like it met exactly zero of your original design emphases, though.
Er, I should clarify this comment for others by saying that Marshall told me he'd initially conceived of this as a Gamist design.  Thus my responding to the relatively small part of his post that addressed competition.
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here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development
Marshall Burns
Member

Posts: 485


« Reply #3 on: January 04, 2008, 12:52:27 PM »

I still think the design, taken by itself, supports Gamism more than anything else.  The problem was that we forgot to "BRING IT!"; that is, the type of play that happens results from the agendas of the players, which, in this case, was not the competitive sort of agenda that the game itself was designed to support.  The fact that this happened accidentally is kinda weird, and also a little embarassing (I should have stressed the concept beforehand).

But, it was still fun.  In response to the A and B points you raised, I'm now wrapping my head around rules for setting a dial for competition prior to play, explicitly and with group agreement.  That is, do it either way, whichever it is you actually want to do.  Next time we play, though, we're setting everyone up as arch-nemeses.  On the MOOOON!  In the FUTUUURE!

I anticipated the poker-faces thing.  The solution?  Go big, Bigger, BIGGEREST until they can't help but react.  Wipe that poker face right off their, um, faces.  I didn't call this a "crazy-ass RPG" just 'cause I like the way it sounds.
By which I mean the competition isn't JUST in-game, and it isn't JUST between the real people sitting at a real table, but it's BOTH and, furthermore, they're linked in a FEEDBACK LOOP!  (That very concept makes me all excited, which is why I used capital letters and an exclamation point).  But, of course, you have to make sure that competition is there.

I, personally, am a natural competitor.  I love testing my abilities against others.  Which is probably why it didn't occur to me to set up win-lose conditions, prizes, etc. -- because I, personally, don't require them to be motivated to compete.  Now I've realized that not everyone is wired to compete for comptetition's sake.

-Marshall
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David Berg
Member

Posts: 612


« Reply #4 on: January 04, 2008, 01:23:29 PM »

I still think the design, taken by itself, supports Gamism more than anything else.  The problem was that we forgot to "BRING IT!"

Do you want your design to make it possible for people to forget this?

I'm now wrapping my head around rules for setting a dial for competition prior to play, explicitly and with group agreement.  That is, do it either way, whichever it is you actually want to do.

Huh.  Okay, not forget, then, but opt out of.

Why do you want to give them the option? 

I'm guessing that most groups will consistently prefer one option or the other, competitive or not... but maybe your playtests will show otherwise!

For those who do want to be competitive:
When's play supposed to end, and how do you know how well you did?
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here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development
Marshall Burns
Member

Posts: 485


« Reply #5 on: January 07, 2008, 02:44:05 PM »

I'm working on a new rules draft, and in the process have come up with some new rules.

One of them solves the problem of the scene framing vote:  a new TILT! power called CHANGE!  It basically works like the short-form improv game "Change," where, after someone gives a line, someone else says "Change!" and the first guy has to say something different.  The catch here is that you can only use CHANGE! twice in a row on someone.  That, and it costs TILT! to do it.  (CHANGE! also applies to narration during scenes, but not to TILT! powers)

I'm also fixing the resolution system by introducing a mechanic for negative effects, which are called "Inconvenience" and impose penalties on rolls for any situation they apply to (unless ignored by spending Drive) until they are somehow removed or alleviated.  The trick is to state your intent clearly before the dice are rolled; then, if you win the dice, your intent happens, and its intensity is equal to the difference of the dice.  You want to douse a fire demon with a water pistol?  Go for it.  "But a water pistol isn't enough against a fire demon!"  Listen, if the dice say it was enough, it was enough; get over it.  That demon now suffers "Inconvenience:  Doused!" equal to the difference of the dice.

So, you want to kill someone?  Just say so, pick your stats, roll your dice.  Say the difference in the dice is 4; they now suffer "Inconvenience:  Mortal Wound 4."  They have to spend Drive to ignore that every turn, or it changes to "Inconvenience:  Dead 4."

Yep, death is just Inconvenience; for one thing, the player still has TILT!, and, on his turn, can control any NPC not in direct conflict with his character (which is all of them, since, like, his character's dead), so he can shake things up to where the character gets rezzed somehow (I mean, hell, he only has to be resurrected by 4, how hard can that be?).  Or, you could use Drive Points to ignore the inconvenience of death and be one of those recurrent psyche ghosty things; pony up some TILT! points and you're a poltergeist, or maybe even a revenant.

And, yep, it's that easy to kill someone.  Which means that it's not that big of a deal.  Besides, it's bound to have unforeseen consequences, so you should only do it when you mean it.

As for the competition dial... I think now that the only viable option is who is on whose team, if there even are teams (you could even have everyone against one guy who's granted a ton of TILT! and control of all NPCs-- effectively making him the GM).  Otherwise, the game might be fun once or twice, but you could do the same thing just as easily without the game itself.  But, of course, that's just my hypothesis.  Experimentation may prove otherwise.

How do you know the game is over?  When prepping the scenario (which involves all players), set a condition for ending the scenario.

How do you know how well you did?  If you're earning TILT!, avoiding Inconvenience, inflicting Inconvenience, and acquiring Swag (general term for items, equipment, and cash), you must be doing well.  But it's a moment-to-moment thing; there's no way to judge afterward who was "the winner" or anything.  Unless you set a specific condition to be met, or say that whoever inflicts the most Inconvience or acquires the most Swag or whatever is "the winner."  Personally, I don't care about who's "the winner"; I just care about the moment-to-moment competition.

Next playtest is Thursday.  I expect to have the rules we'll be playing by drafted up by Wednesday.

-Marshall
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David Berg
Member

Posts: 612


« Reply #6 on: January 07, 2008, 03:31:17 PM »

Sounds neat!  I'd love to hear how your playtest goes.

How do you know the game is over?  When prepping the scenario (which involves all players), set a condition for ending the scenario.

Does the game provide any advice for picking said condition? 

I'd imagine play would look pretty different with the following end conditions:
a) the host's alarm clock goes off after 3 hours of play
b) the monkey eats The Banana Of Grandeur
c) first player reaches 50 points of Swag

How do you know how well you did?  If you're earning TILT!, avoiding Inconvenience, inflicting Inconvenience, and acquiring Swag (general term for items, equipment, and cash), you must be doing well.

This sounds a little complicated to me.  I can't think of any games where I can assess my performance via 4 separate measures with no hierarchy amongst them.  It would seem to make play that (e.g.) earns me TILT! but costs me Swag kind of even out to nothing.  I wouldn't know how to construct my strategy in a game like that.  I think I'd have to pick one, e.g. "I want to get as much Swag as possible before the end condition is reached!"
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Marshall Burns
Member

Posts: 485


« Reply #7 on: January 08, 2008, 04:49:05 PM »

Ok, so I already finished the rules (all things are possible when you sell your soul to an espresso machine), and they're live at http://www.angelfire.com/indie/btw/Super_Action_Now.htm if'n anyone's curious or in a mood to critique something savagely.  They're still quick 'n dirty, but an improvement nonetheless over the previous draft in terms of tightness, clarity, and consistency.

David,
I'm still beating my head against winning conditions and performance-guaging rubrics.  I recognize now how useful they can be; the adversity's gotta come from somewhere, otherwise where are the adversaries?  The only solution I can think of is to have the players decide on one; it makes me itch to think of imposing conditions from my designing chair.  The freedom that the game affords, combined with simple, easy-to-use resolution mechanics that allow you to deal with wherever that freedom takes you, is one of the most prioritized design-goals I'm shooting for (of course, the other is the competitiveness, so here I am in dilemma-land).

I guess I just have to come up with sample scenarios, try them out to see what they actually DO when people start playing them, and include those with the game.  I've got a few potential set-ups in the new rules draft, but I haven't actually tried them yet to see if they even work.

But, yeah, the conditions that you set up are going to TOTALLY color the whole outcome of the game.  But that's a good thing, I think.  That way, if you want play to have a different color to it, set a different kind of condition.
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David Berg
Member

Posts: 612


« Reply #8 on: January 08, 2008, 06:29:51 PM »

Sounds cool to me.  I like the idea of being able to pick your stakes from game to game.  "This game will be a race to a destination!"  "This game will be a battle to the death!"  Neat!

I do think, however, that you're doing this dynamic a disservice in your rules text when you say, "Win-loss conditions can be set for each instance of the game, ."  (Emphasis mine.)  They do a lot more than that, as you acknowledged in your last post!  If I was a new player picking up these rules I'd find that bit misleading. 

Same for this:
"it is through the characters that the players interact with the Action of the game."  Everyone who reads this is going to do a huge double-take when they get to the part about votes and suggestions for scene framing.

I also have a question about GOTCHA!s: can you decide what your GOTCHA! is at any time (i.e., ad-lib when needed most) or do you have to pick it before play starts?  I could see either way working.

I dig your over-the-top, self-referential writing style; I think it'll help get players psyched.  I'd ditch the "functionality explained" asides (like why NPCs don't have GOTCHA!s) from any "for market" version.

Wish I didn't have so many other RPG projects brewing right now, I'd like to play this!
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here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development
David Berg
Member

Posts: 612


« Reply #9 on: January 08, 2008, 06:37:37 PM »

Everyone who reads this is going to do a huge double-take when they get to the part about votes and suggestions for scene framing.
Not to mention TILT! which you refer to as "the cool part!"
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David Berg
Member

Posts: 612


« Reply #10 on: January 08, 2008, 06:46:21 PM »

I also have a question about GOTCHA!s
Crap.  I see you answered that in the Character Creation section.  So, never mind.  I wish I could edit posts.
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jag
Member

Posts: 75


« Reply #11 on: January 09, 2008, 09:46:47 PM »

I haven't read your rules yet, so maybe this idea doesn't work, but...

Perhaps, as a victory condition, you must achieve your Objective.  And this Objective is decided on by the other players (or proposed by one other player and approved by majority vote).  It should probably be influence by drive, but might not need any formal rules to that effect.

That way, you have a victory condition that changes from game to game, is personalized, and is probably not what you expect.
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Marshall Burns
Member

Posts: 485


« Reply #12 on: January 11, 2008, 11:57:12 AM »

Victory conditions...  Man, I don't even know anymore.  Last night we did fine without 'em, basically coming up with little things to compete over on-the-fly, like killing more rat-people, or stealing stuff from my character (which was hilarious and fun even though it inconvenienced me); see the new playtest post.  But people keep telling me that I need them.

David, I still think the characters are the only real method of interaction with the Action plane.  Using TILT! and scene framing allows the player to act on the Action, but not the other way; interaction is a two-way thing.  But I should note that by "characters" I meant PCs and NPCs.

-Marshall
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