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[Super Action Now!] turn-based confusion (monkey god, future midget, wuxia star)

Started by David Berg, September 15, 2009, 10:46:03 PM

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David Berg

10 days ago I sat down with Dan and Merlin to play SAN!  It was the first time any of us had played.

Character creation
We started with character creation.  With no situation discussed, it was a little too "out of nowhere" for us initially.  Eager to get on with defining my abilities, I quickly settled on "Midget from the Future" as my "I am a:" definition.  I then wasn't particularly inspired by this.  Fortunately, Dan had an idea that my character was the last midget from an age of eugenics, coming back in time to prevent the eradication of his kind.  This gave me some more material.

It didn't take Dan long to come up with Monkey God.  The potential for hilarity was pretty obvious there, and I wished I'd come up with something that good.

Merlin wanted to do martial arts film stuff, but also mock martial arts film stuff, so he decided to be somewhere between a ninja and a ninja actor, with a Shortcoming of "poorly dubbed speech".

Here are our characters' highlights:

Hi, my name is Monkey and I am a monkey god
Drive: steal "bananas", sow chaos, protect monkeys
Knack: steal anything that can immediately be swallowed (must swallow when stealing!)
Shortcoming: can't resist food & drink
Powers:
-Turn into anything 4d10
-Create duplicates 4d8
Special Traits:
-Animate monkey corpse 4d10
Gotcha: If killed, breaks into 1-100 tiny copies of self
Traits: brawn 3, brains 2, finesse 5, talent 5, personality 1
Swag:
-banana peels 3d12
-rotten tomatoes
-misc fruit

Hi, my name is Horthrex the Unflappable, Vice Duke of the Wee and I am a midget from the future
Drive: Shrink those who oppose me
Knack: Escaping through secret tunnels
Shortcoming: Can't hear adjectives describing size
Powers:
-Barnacle 1d20 (can cling to living things)
Special Traits:
-maniacal cackle 5d6
-boring stories 5d8
-fear of griaffes 5d20
-command small things 5d6
Gotcha: If touched by fruit, turns into frenzied giant
Traits: brawn 1, brains 5, finesse 1, talent 3, personality 1
Swag: shrink ray 5d12, evil lair 5d6

Hi, my name is Wu Li master, the Dancing Wren and I am a martial arts star
Drive: Have dramatic movie moments
Knack: fighting NPCs
Shortcoming: poorly dubbed speech
Powers:
-bullet time (affects all in combat with him and anything in 5' radius)
Special Traits:
-must monologue before striking 3d8
-must make sound effects while fighting 4d10
-enemies won't harm me without first speechifying for too long 4d12
-use objects to fight with 3d10
Traits: brawn 4, brains 3, finesse 5, talent 3, personality 3
Swag: extend-o-spear 3d12, flat shoes of slo-mo jumping 3d10

All of this was fun to come up with and write down, but we hadn't thought much about using it.  Which was a mixed bag, as some stuff never got used, but other stuff found hilarious surprise application.

Situation set-up
Dan suggested an island setting where Monkey lived, and Dancing Wren could parachute in on some secret mission, James Bond style.  And Horthrex could be working on his plans.  We elaborated to say that Horthrex was building a giant shrink ray, and abducting monkeys to experiment on, while Dancing Wren had been sent to stop him.  So my character concept shifted from being a pompous, ridiculous scientist to basically being a supervillain.  It was at this stage that we actually wrote up most of the Special Traits above, and defined our Drives.  We also talked about putting everyone at odds, and covered all our bases, though I can't remember what sort of antagonism we laid out between Monkey and Dancing Wren.

We then made up our Twist from a Hat elements:
-volcanic eruption 3d12
-falling coconut 5d20
-submarine 2d6
-monsson 5d20
-fried plantain stand 3d8
-Indiana Jones boulder trap 2d20
-gutter salesman 5d20
-random lightning strike 5d8
-Reggie the giant, retarded ape 2d20
-Arnold Schwarzenegger 4d12

I'm not going to provide a transcript, just some overall observations:

We played one short intro scene as Monkey met Dancing Wren on the beach.  Then we played a giant brawl in Horthrex's sanctum until an apt ending arrived.  Actual play took about 1:45.  Rules talk, char-gen, set-up, brainstorming, etc. occurred before and during dinner -- that process was an additional 1:15 or so. 

Turns
From the rules:
Quote
A Turn is the time in which a single player narrates the actions of a single character under their control (either their own PC or an NPC that is not in conflict with their own PC).  The Turn ends after any dice come into play and their impact is resolved, or the player declares that they end their turn.  Then the next player (in a clockwise rotation) takes their Turn. 

Dice come out when your character tries to do something and (a) that opposes the established intent of another character, or (b) you succeed unopposed, and must calculate how much Inconvenience you inflict.

The character's activities are considered to have "happened" once the next player begins their Turn, so while it's still your Turn you have time to say, "Oh, no, wait, I don't want to do that, I want to do this instead," and other players have time to use ¡TILT!.

I interpreted "dice come out when your character tries to do something that opposes the established intent of another character" to mean that it takes two to tangle.  That is, if I announce an intent to hit you in the head, on your turn you can decide whether to dodge, hit me too, or do something else.  This made sense to me in terms of the scene economy: every player gets an equal opportunity to initiate and respond, creating a balanced competitive arena for the zany one-upping of play.

However, the delay between announcing intent and resolving outcome was awkward.  I'd cackle at Dan, then Merlin would kick my shrink ray, then we'd roll for Merlin's action, then Dan would try to counter my cackle by flinging a banana peel, then we'd roll for my and Dan's actions.  It left a lot of the fiction in suspended animation.  Not being familiar with this play style, I figured it was just a matter of getting used to it.  However, it occurs to me now that I might have simply misinterpreted the rules, and that Dan is allowed to "establish an intent" counter to an action I took on my turn while it's still my turn...?  In post-game discussion, Dan and Merlin were highly in favor of this.

Role-play
Most of our characters' powers were funny the first time but not so funny the second time.  As play continued, we gravitated more and more to affecting the fiction via TILT rather than with our characters.  There was next to zero in-character speech.  I attribute this to the confluence of:
1) turn structure discourages time-hogging
2) action-specific turns encourage thinking in small time units (smaller than a significant speech)
3) fast-paced lunacy discourages pauses for thinking of something brilliant to utter
4) time spent on TILT fun decreases time and focus on character play
5) Vague motives, Drives of momentary convenience, no backstory, no build-up, all action -- this leads to a very fuzzy sense of who the character is or why we care about them.  Characters are basically joke vehicles, and there's limited incentive to "get into character" of a joke vehicle.

This may be fine for SAN! in general, but it wound up squelching my and Merlin's ability to use some of our Special Traits (bad dubbing, boring stories, pre-fight monologues, etc.).  Perhaps a "come up with powers/traits that are quick and actionful!" suggestion in the rules would be apt.

Drive and Inconvenience
Dan was a favorite target and lost a lot of rolls, racking up huge amounts of Inconvenience.  He was Bored, Pinned, and Shrunk all at once.  However, he kept in the action by constantly using his powers to create more of himself.  This was really funny, so Merlin and I didn't think to stop him or make him pay for it.  Eventually there are 8 shrunken monkeys running around doing whatever Dan wants them to do, while one full-sized monkey is trapped under fallen machinery and bored by Horthrex's rambling tales, and I remember, "Wait, he's ignoring Inconvenience, isn't that supposed to cost something?"  In the midst of getting used to SAN!'s style of action and narration, we were really bad about bookkeeping -- the neglect of this crucial mechanic was merely one casualty.  No one spent Drive points to use their Powers, either. 

If my pregame "how to play" spiel had focused on "drain your opponents of Drive! if you get them down to zero, you win!", then we probably would have remembered.  As it was, Dancing Wren and Horthrex never even got to 5 Inconvenience, so the metrics of relative progress were mostly in-fiction stuff: Monkey and Dancing Wren smashed much of Horthrex's equipment and base, effectively defeating his evil plan, which was kind of the scenario goal.

Other forgotten stuff
I had to remind Dan and Merlin to write down TILT when they made me laugh -- though they did pick up the habit near the end.  I also had to remind them to write down descriptions of the Inconvenience the incurred, not just points, as we lost track of what was going on.  And, in hiding my Gotcha from the group, I also hid it from myself, and completely forgot about it.  Horthrex did indeed get hit with a banana peel, but no transformation.  :(

Tracking objects

We actually spent a huge amount of play interacting with all the setting features that got narrated in.  Good action comedy needs props, and we added a bunch during scene framing, and a bunch more with Twist and Endowments during play.

I kept a list in the center of the table for everyone to refer to, which was key.  Just about every action involved rolling some dice from the present objects.

Dan's powers
Maybe the incredible breadth of his chosen powers should have dictated fewer dice or smaller dice or something.  I found the rules unclear on this point.  Anyway, in addition to dodging Inconvenience, he also had a brilliant moment where, during framing a scene initially cast as an intro to Horthrex at his evil machinations, he contributed "Fly on the Wall".  He then waited until a convenient moment and, on his turn, used his "turn into anything" power to say, "That was me!  The fly turns into a monkey!"  I dunno if that's a rules abuse.  But it was funny.

Ta-da!
Overall, a good time.  It feels a little weird to consciously seek and track laughter, and there were a lot more moments of, "Dude! Nice!" (with a big smile) than belly laughs.  We never really got into a smooth groove of feeling natural, but we generated a good number of hilarious moments nonetheless.  Dancing Wren dodged at attack because one of the techs manning his wires jerked it... Horthrex wound up siccing the chopped-up bits of shrunken undead monkeys on Monkey... a giant boulder somehow followed Horthrex into his escape tunnel... many more things I now forget.

The ending: the monsoon and volcanic eruption destroyed Horthrex's base while Arnold helped Monkey escape; a submarine with Dancing Wren's production staff showed up to argue with him about the script, and he took shelter there during the final catastrophe.
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development

Marshall Burns

Fantastic. I don't have much time, but here's some stuff.

First thing I notice: y'all's PCs didn't have enough traits. Need to stress that in the new version.

Regarding the From the Hat stuff, did you guys show them all to each other, or did you do it secretly? My groups have been doing it secretly. It never occurred to me to specify, and I wonder how different the vibe is if it's open? (Hooray for playtesting!)

Quote from: David Berg on September 15, 2009, 10:46:03 PM
However, it occurs to me now that I might have simply misinterpreted the rules, and that Dan is allowed to "establish an intent" counter to an action I took on my turn while it's still my turn...?  In post-game discussion, Dan and Merlin were highly in favor of this.

Yeah, that's how it is: on my turn, I announce an action. If anybody wants to stop me, they announce the opposition (through their own character, or an NPC, or the environment, or whatever) RIGHT NOW, before my turn has ended. We roll dice, resolve it, and my turn is over.

Not your fault for misinterpreting, though. I didn't really explain it. (Hooray for playtesting!)

Quote
Role-play
There was next to zero in-character speech.

IC is a funny thing in this game. Mostly I've had very little, because we ended up with a sort of Tom & Jerry thing going on. But sometimes, f'rinstance the "Jimbo's Saga" sessions, there was a lot of IC speech. In such cases, nobody (especially me) was shy about time hogging, because there's always someone who is able to (and will) interrupt with a Twist. Also, I've just now realized, we have our characters talk during other players' turns – never any real action or narration, just dialogue, quips, comments.

Quote
Drive and Inconvenience
Dan was a favorite target and lost a lot of rolls, racking up huge amounts of Inconvenience.  He was Bored, Pinned, and Shrunk all at once.  However, he kept in the action by constantly using his powers to create more of himself.  This was really funny, so Merlin and I didn't think to stop him or make him pay for it.

There tends to be an unwritten rule that crops up in this game whenever I play it, with whoever I play it with (six different people now, I think), despite me never saying anything about it, and it is this: if it's funny enough, it's okay.

Sometimes this is all right. Sometimes it's not, because a lack of BRINGIN' IT can make the game stall.

With Inconvenience, what should be happening is, I announce my action, and somebody says, "Wait, aren't you a little too Ironed to do that?" In which case I have to spend Drive, or try to get un-Ironed, or use an NPC, or use TILT!. If anybody at the table thinks your Inconvenience applies, then it does. If not, then don't worry about it.

But it really should be stressed that if BRINGIN' IT is neglected, the funny tends to taper off, so you have to be careful that you aren't ignoring Inconvenience purely because an announced action was funny (Drive points are there to keep that from being a block). Luckily, once you get into the habit of watching each others' Inconvenience like hawks, you find funny ways to make Inconvenience apply.

Quote
I had to remind Dan and Merlin to write down TILT when they made me laugh -- though they did pick up the habit near the end.

I have the hardest time with this, too. I use poker chips, and put a box of them in the middle of the table, so that people can just grab them when they earn TILT!. But I still have to remind people a lot.

Quote

Tracking objects

We actually spent a huge amount of play interacting with all the setting features that got narrated in.  Good action comedy needs props, and we added a bunch during scene framing, and a bunch more with Twist and Endowments during play.

I kept a list in the center of the table for everyone to refer to, which was key.  Just about every action involved rolling some dice from the present objects.

Yes! I do this too, with index cards. Needs to go into the text.

Quote
Dan's powers
Maybe the incredible breadth of his chosen powers should have dictated fewer dice or smaller dice or something.

This is like applying Inconvenience: if anyone at the table thinks that your trait/power/whatever is too broad for d20s, then it is. Of course, the rules are quite ambiguous about this. (Hooray for playtesting!)

Quote
Anyway, in addition to dodging Inconvenience, he also had a brilliant moment where, during framing a scene initially cast as an intro to Horthrex at his evil machinations, he contributed "Fly on the Wall".  He then waited until a convenient moment and, on his turn, used his "turn into anything" power to say, "That was me!  The fly turns into a monkey!"  I dunno if that's a rules abuse.  But it was funny.

Rules abuse schmules abuse! That kind of brilliant lateral thinking is brilliant, and the rules are intended to reward it.

Quote
The ending: the monsoon and volcanic eruption destroyed Horthrex's base while Arnold helped Monkey escape; a submarine with Dancing Wren's production staff showed up to argue with him about the script, and he took shelter there during the final catastrophe.

Hehehe, it's odd how often this game ends with "everything blows up."

-Marshall

David Berg

It seems that there was at least one general pattern we whiffed on: BRINGIN' IT with respect to rules arbitration. 

I think we did a pretty good job of BRINGIN' IT in terms of using the fiction to bash each other's characters.  But none of us were paying any attention to "Hey, that should cost you Drive points!" or "That's too broad to be d20s!"

For this particular session, I have a feeling that would have been best done before play.  We didn't have the brain space during play.  Of course, pre-play, rules arbitration just felt like "getting it right", not like BRINGIN' IT.  Maybe the actual process of char-gen could be made somehow subject to the same sensibility as play?  Competitive, or funny, or good-naturedly antagonistic?

Or maybe brain-space could be cleared during play if it was easy, fun, and consistent... like a TILT power called PATCH! to call and amend a rules violation.  So, like, the first time Dan divides into a ton of monkeys, everyone laughs and we let it ride.  But the second time he does it, it's a little less funny, so Merlin or I get inspired to spend a TILT point and call PATCH!

On arbitrating Inconvenience:

It's hard for me to imagine "watching each other's Iconvenience like hawks" in this session.  Maybe part of that is because we were writing Inconvenience down at the bottoms of our sheets, facing away from each other, in small letters, and Dan's handwriting is awful.  Maybe it's actually important to the game that Inconvenience be more visible?  Or maybe we just need a fun way to encourage players to look over each other's sheets cuz it's worth it -- something like "A Twist costs zero if you can derive it from a character's current Inconvenience!"

On spotlight-hogging:

"Feel free to try, cuz if you bore them, they'll interrupt you!" sounds good to me.  "You're just encouraging the other players to focus their wrath more on you than each other" might be a nice way to explain how this dynamic shakes out.  The CHANGE! option is an especially nice one for signalling "I bitchslap your contribution!" 

Although, I think Dan and Merlin and I felt (at least subconsciously) like the game was creatively taxing enough that making each other "try again" would have crossed a limit.  That's speculation... what's fact is that we didn't use a single CHANGE.

Possibly relevant: I seemed to be the only one who remembered all the TILT powers.  Dan and Merlin tended to announce stuff with, "I'm spending TILT!"  Or saying, "TWIST!" for everything, whether it was a TWIST or not.  Might be good to have some sort of central shorthand list of TILT options on the table?

Just for thoroughness, here's a note from an email:

QuoteRe: Drives: "trigger" is supposed to mean "makes you want to act." The "satisfy" thing is outmoded.

And, also from email, a clarification that I need further clarified:

QuoteBrawn 1d6 = skinny pencil-necked geek
Brawn 5d6 = Incredible Hulk
Stapling 1d20 = stapling (highly specific) sometimes helps me accomplish things. (not very prevalent)
Stapling 5d20 = Through stapling, which strengthens me, I can do all things. (very prevalent)

Maybe use another example with a small-die Trait that isn't a core attribute?  Maybe 1d8 and 5d8 abilities?  I can't tell why the statement that "I can use Stapling for everything" doesn't knock it down from being d20s, cuz presumably the reason "Stapling" got d20s it cuz it's so specific.  Actually, I have no confidence in that.  I am just confused.
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development

JoyWriter

What if you write it for them upside down on the top of their character sheet?

David Berg

Relevant quote from Merlin, before I forget:

"The best parts weren't when we specifically tried to make each other laugh.  The funniest stuff just happened... when we just played the characters and used the stuff on our sheets and the twists, and it was funny in the situation at that moment."

Oh, and yeah, Marshall, we wrote the from-the-hat twists in secret, and pulling at random had a lot of "what'll it be?!" fun.
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development

Marshall Burns

Quote from: David Berg on October 04, 2009, 03:43:26 AM
"The best parts weren't when we specifically tried to make each other laugh.  The funniest stuff just happened... when we just played the characters and used the stuff on our sheets and the twists, and it was funny in the situation at that moment."

Yes, 100%, yes. Now, see this:
Quote from: David Berg on October 02, 2009, 05:34:32 PM
Of course, pre-play, rules arbitration just felt like "getting it right", not like BRINGIN' IT. 

That's the thing: Bringin' It IS "getting it right." Bringin' It serves only one purpose, and that is as half of the "Engine," as it were, the thing that drives play. The other half is the characters, and specifically what they want. Each player has two responsibilites: 1. Play Your Character, and 2. Bring It.

You just advocate for your character, and make sure you give the other characters hell, and from that, funny stuff happens. It just does. This is the same damn reason slapstick, broad comedy, screwball comedy, and Looney Tunes are funny: Here's this guy, and he wants something, but all this crazy stuff keeps happening and getting in the way.

It's funny because we know the feeling. We know the frustration. We deal with it in our daily lives, every day, in some form or the other. It's horrible, what's happening to this poor protagonist, and we know that horror, we have felt it, and so we laugh. We laugh in order to cope with the horror of being alive. The message of SAN! Is "Life's a bitch, then you get run over by a flying ice cream truck." It's funny because it's true.

But, uh, what my point was, before I got off on that tangent, is that Bringin' It and "Just Playing Your Character" are mechanics – contrivances, just as much as any of the rules are – put in place specifically to create a humor-generating engine.

Somehow, I have to figure out how to explain all of this.

David Berg

Nah, man, I really don't think it's about spinning it.  Regardless of what you call the process of looking over each other's sheets before play and suggesting tweaks, it's not actually competitive or antagonistic in its current form.

What did you think about my ideas for competitive char-gen, the PATCH! thing, etc.?

Regarding the basic game engine, I'm with you, totally.  The more all the play procedures just make BIAPYC* as easy as possible, the better.

I still await your trait-ratings clarifications.  :P

*Bringin' It and Playing Your Character, obviously
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development


Marshall Burns

Ok, finally.

Regarding PATCH!: I don't know. I know I'd never use it. When a rule gets missed in my games (any game, not just SAN!), and we notice it when it comes up again, it's like, "Ok, we missed this the first time, but let's get it right now." Or, occasionally, "Y'know, let's just house-rule this out, ok?"

Regarding competitive chargen: I don't mean to be negative, but I have no idea what that would look like or how it would work.

Trait-ratings, now that's what's taken the most thought here. I've been trying to think back of traits that have been used in my games and trying to figure out why we made certain ones certain die sizes. In the process, I thought of a new rule that easily solves the problem and yet sustains the funny.

So, here's what I was thinking. your basic five traits, Brawn, Brains, Finesse*, Personality, and Talent are always d6s.
A generic trait after that is d8s. For example, the Unbelievable Bulk has Brawn 5d6, and "Bulk smash!" 5d8. Because, Bulk smash what? How? When? Why? Who? It's very generally applicable in that way; any smashing situation, it applies to. And that's what gave me the idea:
Specifying what, how, when, why, or to/for/at whom increases your trait by 1 die size, per thing specified.

So, "Bulk smash when angry" = d10. "Bulk smash cars when angry" = d12. "Bulk lift and throw buses at people when angry" = d20

I'm really liking this idea. What do you think?

*Finesse is gonna be changed to "Skill" in the next version. Because everyone I've played with manages to have a very different interpretation of what "Finesse" means from me. That, and it was only called "Finesse" in the first place because traits used to be called "skills."

David Berg

Quote from: Marshall Burns on October 29, 2009, 10:36:22 PM
When a rule gets missed in my games (any game, not just SAN!), and we notice it when it comes up again, it's like, "Ok, we missed this the first time, but let's get it right now." Or, occasionally, "Y'know, let's just house-rule this out, ok?"

Sure.  I just thought that giving that process a funny name was in keeping with the game's spirit.  :)

Of course, lengthening the rulebook and formalizing stuff that doesn't need formalizing is probably bad.  I guess it depends on how much faith you have in random play groups to handle this sort of thing smoothly without your guidance.

Quote from: Marshall Burns on October 29, 2009, 10:36:22 PM
Regarding competitive chargen: I don't mean to be negative, but I have no idea what that would look like or how it would work.

I dunno either.  If it's not inspiring you, then it's probably not a winner. 

The best I can do without hard thinking is mention that Amber uses an auction system, where players bid generic points against each other for highest values in specific scores.

If you get psyched about the idea, lemme know, and I'll try harder.

Quote from: Marshall Burns on October 29, 2009, 10:36:22 PM
And that's what gave me the idea:
Specifying what, how, when, why, or to/for/at whom increases your trait by 1 die size, per thing specified.

I love this idea.  Intuitively, it seems like it would produce goodness, but logically, I really have no idea.  Methinks much playtesting required.

Quote from: Marshall Burns on October 29, 2009, 10:36:22 PM
Finesse is gonna be changed to "Skill" in the next version. Because everyone I've played with manages to have a very different interpretation of what "Finesse" means from me.

Weird.  I like "Finesse".  I find "Skill" confusingly vague, and inappropriately bland.  Maybe "Slickness", "Grace" or "Touch"?
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development

whiteknife

I really like that idea for assigning trait die sizes!

Well, that's pretty much all I have to say on that issue.