Archive for June 4th, 2009

The Space Police are Back… and Use Racial Profiling?

2009 Jun 4


“So I was just sliding along, minding my own business, when the space fuzz hauled me in for nothing, even pocketing my 100 space bucks, just because I’m a hammerheaded green alien guy who likes streaking in my red cape.” Check it out. The all-human Space Police bust alien chops all over the galaxy. Keeping the universe safe… for humans. Apparently there are no alien cops or human criminals in Legoland. Clearly Lego designers need to watch more of The Wire or something.

P.S. Shreyas suggested that the Green Lantern Corps would be better inspiration.

Spot-Checking the Lie, Part 3

2009 Jun 4

Final thoughts on the Bliss-Robed Lie playtest from yesterday.

Dev agreed with me that the names of the PCs / NPCs in the Meat Lightning example campaign need to be changed from Matrix-y names (Glitch, Cascade) to period appropriate names from fiction (like Dodger from Oliver Twist, or Tiger, Pirate Jenny, and Macheath from Threepenny Opera).

The role that Anchors have during missions is so small (I didn’t even mention them in my description above), that they aren’t really necessary, even in a sort of Operator role. Far more important is dialog and other expressions shared between the characters on a mission together (which doesn’t really happen in The Matrix or Bliss Stage much). There’s probably a “machinist” back on the icebreaker running the galvanism machine, but I don’t think you can contact them unless you’re near a lightning rod or open space where lightning can reach you.

As with the mesmerism / The Shroud of Death discussion, the setting needs to be playtested a bit more just to work out little logistical kinks that’ll impede storytelling and what the players actually want to be doing. Sure, in play, Raven handed over some scraps of cloth that the owner of the opium den took as money (because of mesmerism), but there need to be fairly clear guidelines about what those capabilities are, mostly so the players can forget about them and focus on the important stuff.

It’s not entirely clear to me yet how much information I should include about PCs and NPCs, where the line is between not enough and too much. Definitely, there should be a list of example missions to riff on or even some missions assigned to individual characters, to be brought into play at certain points in the game. Also, when I mentioned to Dev that one of the example PCs was a traitor, Cipher-style, trading information about the crew to Asmodeus, Dev wondered how that would work in play. I said I was just assuming that that player would hotshot objectives based on keeping their cover and getting information to Asmodeus, but assuming isn’t really enough. I should clearly but that on that character’s sheet.

How to Play PTA Like Paul Tevis

2009 Jun 4

NOTE: Some of the information in this post about PTA resolution is, in fact, false. Proceed at your own risk! Also, apologies to Matt and Paul for misusing their words. I do think some of the stuff in this post is important, but any value therein has probably been smothered by my poor attempt to use PTA as an example. I’ll have to try some other time to talk effectively about player advocacy in resolution.

I’ve decided to give up on forums for a bit and catch up on blogging and podcasts. As such, inspired by HGWT:FAFGM #35 and #37, I want to talk a bit about why I can’t really enjoy playing Primetime Adventures anymore, at least as written, and shamelessly steal from Paul Tevis in trying to construct something that would work better for me, which is not really at all like Paul plays PTA (the title of this post is a lie).

How PTA Resolution is Supposed to Work (NOTE: #2 is wrong, see comments)

1. A player declares something that want to have happen (generally something their character does.)
2. The GM declares an alternative, generally negative, outcome for their character.
3. The GM and player assign a number of cards to this resolution, drawn randomly from a deck.
4. Whoever has the most red cards gains their outcome.
5. Whoever has the highest showing card narrates how that outcome occurs.

Let’s Follow the Line of Advocacy

Post-Forge indie game designers have often been concerned about shifting narrative control, who has the right to say what, but have rarely paid attention to shifting player advocacy, which is what makes standard PTA resolution problematic for me. Watch how this happens:

1. A player advocates something they want to happen.
2. The GM advocates for something else, which is ideally supposed to be equally interesting in terms of moving the narrative forward.
3. The GM and player assign cards to their outcomes, assuming that each side still wants to win, even if the player likes the GM’s suggested outcome better and actually wants the GM’s outcome to occur (a potential shift in advocacy).
4. One of the outcomes occurs.
5. Potentially, the GM or player will be asked to narrate an outcome that they didn’t personally come up with or one, in the player’s case, that may no longer really excite them in comparison to the GM’s suggested outcome, which essentially means that players are asked to advocate for things they don’t believe in, which, in my experience often sucks for both the player, the group, and the outcome.

This destroys PTA for me and for many of the groups I’ve played with. Player excitements about various outcomes frequently don’t align with what the resolution mechanics ask them to do, which is very grating in many instances.

What’s the Baggage Here That’s Causing This?

I think the main culprit is the traditional idea of Success/Failure in resolution, which doesn’t accurately describe what’s happening here. As Paul himself advocates in these two podcasts from the early Spring, failure should be as interesting as success, narratively, so I don’t really think we’re talking about Success/Failure anymore. What we’re talking about is a junction in the narrative, where events could go off in one of two (or more) directions and the resolution helps decide which direction to head in. Sure, some situations might be better or worse for the characters, but separating possible results into a simply binary like success/failure or good/bad is just going to mess us up and limit the interesting possibilities here.

You can see this kind of thing working more effectively in Otherkind and its descendants (including stuff like Ghost/Echo), where the players invest and advocate for all possible outcomes semi-evenly. You declare what the outcomes are, without directly tieing them to individual player advocacy, and then use a randomizer to determine which one of them occurs. And there’s no way for players to advocate more strongly for one outcome over another. This means that there are no shifts in advocacy and no internal bickering or turmoil about which outcome a player might prefer. Their preferences are irrelevant.

How Would You Fix PTA, Jonathan?

I’m glad you asked :)

1. There are no conflicts, only junctions. The group, together, brainstorms multiple possible outcomes and narrows them down to 2 or 3 ones that they find particularly appropriate, interesting, etc. They are not seperated into Success/Failure or anything like that.

2. Players draw or assign cards for each possible outcome.

3. The outcome with the most red cards occurs.

4. The GM and players collectively narrate that outcome.

I’m sure other people would do different things or may not be at all frustrated by the shifts in player advocacy that occur in PTA’s resolution mechanics. My issues largely derive from my own personal sockets and issues.

Spot-Checking the Lie, Part 2

2009 Jun 4

Continuing from my post last night.

Dev’s captain, Raven, and her first mate, Karma, had just walked their way into an upscale opium den and asked for a private room in the back. While being led there, I described the two ladies passing by the doorway of another private room, outside of which stood several thugs who eyed them suspiciously. Inside they could hear the judge talking quietly and a woman giggling.

Dev suggested that Karma go cause a distraction in the hallway while Raven burst through the thin wall dividing the two private rooms and grabbed the judge. Karma ran over to the hallway screaming that the judge was her husband and had to come home immediately. Dev rolled for the second obstacle “Avoid the judge’s bodyguards.” As the GM, I threatened Karma, which made sense, since she was the one putting herself in danger by drawing attention.

Dev ended up overcoming the objective but having to place a minus (-) in Karma, removing her from the mission. Sweet. I decided that some of the men had carried her off, struggling, but were sufficiently distracted that Raven burst in on the judge and grabbed him. He looked up at her. “Why, hello, Raven,” I had him say.

Dev then rolled for the next objective, “Kidnap the judge,” succeeding and narrating dragging him out of the opium den, throwing him into a carriage that happened to be waiting outside, elbowing the driver down into the street, and whipping the horses into gear, tearing off through the streets of London. The judge’s bodyguards were, of course, hot on their heels, firing pistols at Raven (the damage she took from these being partially responsible for her increasing Terror and Trauma).

For the fourth objective, “Deliver the judge to the angelic underground,” I pulled out the new shot-framing guidelines that I’m suggesting players use for fights, chase scenes, heists, and other complex objectives that you might want to describe step-by-step rather than stuff happening all at once. The way this originally worked is: the rolling player (Dev) places all their dice in categories (one for each relationship/trait being drawn on, one for “exposure,” one for mission, plus dice for any threatened categories resulting from Trauma) and then these dice are read in order as individual “shots” in a piece of moviemaking, pluses (+) described by the rolling player, as badassery by their character or other crew members; blanks (   ) described by the other players, as either good or bad things; and minuses (-) described by the GM as obstacles, setbacks, and failure. When shot-framing in this manner, each shot does not necessarily need to be associated with the category its die is placed on, but there’s a reason that “exposure” and mission come last, as they sum up the sequence and present appropriate results based on the roll.

This was a bit awkward in playtesting wth Dev, partially because it was just the two of us (there were no “other players” to describe shots for blanks) and also simply because Dev would also have to describe a bunch of shots in a row (since players obviously want to place pluses if they can), leading to that Wushu-thing where you have to describe badassery on top of badassery, which can become silly, tiring, and/or repetitive after a while. So I’m rethinking the way the shot-framing works. (I’m now thinking that the GM always leads off every shot with a description of opposition — someone’s shooting at you, you encounter a problem, etc. — and then the appropriate player describes how this opposition is overcome or not, based on the die, with the GM describing both the opposition and your failure to overcome it on a minus. In any case, something like that where there’s more guidelines for what the players are describing in shot-framing).

So, in the playtest, we had a semi-awkward chase scene through the slums of London, ending up with Raven beating the shit out of her pursuers, throwing them into the machinery of an underground millworking factory. Then she delivered the judge into the hands of the angel, a very disturbing individual who had a cover as a groundskeeper at a local church, holding court in the belltower.

After that scene, we decided that the action was over and that it was silly to make Dev roll again to get out. So we had some discussion about whether the “Get in” / “Get Out” objectives were always there or if they were added at the whim of the GM, depending on what was happening in the mission. (Currently leaning towards the latter).

If we had run a second mission, it could have clearly been about the trouble that Karma was now in, having been accosted by some of the judge’s bodyguards and maybe not have been able to get out like her captain did.

Next post is about post-game discussions with Dev.