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Primetime Adventures: Epidemonology

Started by lumpley, October 03, 2004, 05:49:24 PM

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Cyrus Dunn is walking among corpses.

We see his shoes in black and white. As he steps between the corpses they're black and white too - except that on every corpse, one thing appears in color. The green jewel on a ring, a green and yellow corsage, a pink dress. They're teenagers, all white kids, in formals - must be for Homecoming. They're on the floor of a warehouse. It's 1944 or so.

"How many bodies?" Emily says.

I count on my fingers: "16."

"Sixteen?" around the table.

We pull back slowly. The corpses aren't just heaped up, they're arranged, and Cyrus is standing there among them. He's a tall, spare man in a black suit and a hat, he's got a leather notebook and some chalk. The corpses are arranged like this (I'm drawing broken stick figures): H E L L. The blood is red, red, red.

Opening credits!

I don't remember whose idea it was to have the show be in black and white, except for where the supernatural has touched. I do know that on Cyrus' character sheet Emily wrote "intuitive insight" as an Edge and that we agreed at once that color would be our way of showing that. Whenever we look at something from another character's point of view - Joe's, Franks, Vicky's - everything's only black and white. Later on we'll show a photograph as Cyrus and Frank pass it back and forth. H E L L in corpses and when Frank's looking at it, the blood's gray, when Cyrus is, it's red.

It's cool about this game - the good ideas came so fast and got so taken-and-run-with that who knows whose they were originally. Emily thought of "Epidemonology" and this guy, Sherlock Holmes-esque, who solves demonic murders, but after that we were all just shouting things out. Like, who moved it to the forties in the US instead of Victorian London? Dunno.

Anyhow Cyrus' Issue is grief. His wife died. We don't know yet how or why. His Screen Presence goes 2-1-3-1-2, which seems very lead character to me. Left over from the game's Jack the Ripper roots is the idea that what demons do is cause people to commit baroque murders, and Cyrus is trying to deal them the way an epidemiologist would: finding patterns and vectors, studying outbreaks, looking for cures.

Anyhow he's there before the police, but we hear sirens, he's got to get what he needs and get out. We hear water dripping and we see drops falling from the ceiling into a pool of blood - the water's black and white and the blood's red, which we all dig quite a bit. He chooses a candidate, the girl in the pink dress, and draws around her with chalk. He has to draw through the blood. We see a shot of him down face-to-face with her. He talks to her and her eyes move behind her lids like she's dreaming -

But I rolled better and the cops arrive. Cyruse goes but leaves his chalk behind. Enter: Joe!

Joe Carboni is Carrie's character. He's a good'n. His Issue is self-hatred, manifesting as sudden outbursts of violence, and his Screen Presence goes 3-2-1-2-1. (This is the pilot, so everyone's is 2 today.) Joe's a Norman Rockwell-looking rookie cop with an older brother in the mob. His wife is the mayor's secretary ... and get this.

Quite independently, Joshua wrote on his character's sheet - his character's Vicky Vance, the reporter - wrote that she has dirt on the mayor. He's been sleeping with his, y'know. Secretary.

We hear this and we all go, oog. Oh yeah.

So this is the pilot, but next episode's Joe's and we gotta set that up.

Joe the rookie cop comes into the warehouse, looks, and goes white. His partner Hank went around back (he heard Cyrus but won't catch him, natch) and we hear him coming in - "holy..." We see Joe's shoes now among the corpses, standing in fact on the chalk line Cyrus drew. The girl's eyes are open and bright, bright blue...

And that's our first scene and we're all going woo! woo! rock!

It turns out that the kids' history teacher, possessed by a demon called Pity, strangled the kids then hung himself on meat hooks from the high ceiling above them so his blood drained all over them. Later on his corpse attacks Vicky and Joe and Vicky brains it with her typewriter and they hold it down while Cyrus puts it to rest, in the morgue where it belongs. There were plot holes and false starts which will make anyone who played go, on reflection, "hey, wait a second..." But so what. I'll call the most egregious of 'em "loose ends" and wrap them up again later on. What do you want from me? An hour earlier I was going "a rookie cop, cool, and it's in the forties now? okay..."

So let me recap the characters and then I'll say a bit about mysteries.

Cyrus Dunn, Emily's, demonologist. 30 or so, his wife was wealthy, he's kind of withdrawn - as a demonologist widower has some right to be. His Issue's grief, 2-1-3-1-2.

Frank Mills, Meg's, Cyrus' best friend from high school. He was homecoming king and Cyrus's wife-to-eventually-be was queen. He's just back from Europe - 1944 remember - and he lost a leg. He's cool with that, it was less a sacrifice than he was prepared to make, but people are treating him differently than they used to and he doesn't know now what. His Issue is Direction?, 1-2-1-3-2.

Victoria Vance, Joshua's, reporter. She makes a tck-tck noise at people like you would to a horse and she smokes a lot - like in Cyrus' study where Cyrus went into his kitchen to pour her a gin and when he came back there were five cigarette butts in the ashtray. We have NO IDEA what's up with her, except that her Issue's vengeance, 1-1-2-2-3. Vengeance? For what? On whom? We'll find out.

And Joe Carboni, Carrie's, rookie cop. We got to see him being really mean to his wife - actually that scene mattered a whole lot, because it was such setup, I'll tell you about it next time. He also threw up on Eddie the morgue guy. His Issue's self-hatred, 3-2-1-2-1.

So, mystery. My big struggle with the game was the mystery. I'm like, I DO NOT want to have conflicts where what's at stake is, do you find the clue? How butt would that be? Figuring out how to make a mystery work took me most of the session and I probably won't really have it down for a couple of sessions more.

About halfway through, after a nice long bathroom break, I came back to the table and everybody was going over the clues and trying to figure out where to go next. I'd just sorted that out myself: "guys, the mystery is really easy. I just gave you the body on the meathooks in the ceiling, right? Wherever you decide to go next, there'll be the next clue! Just like a TV show. What we gotta do is hit Joe's self-hatred again, so let's have a scene where..."

That seemed to work.

And now here are four of the many, many awesome moments in the game. Probably each of us could name our favorite four and we wouldn't overlap.

Joshua revealing the dirt Vicky Vance has on the mayor, then looking over at Joe's character sheet just to read again the words "Issue: self-hatred." Baby.

Emily stopping me as I cut from a scene, to have Cyrus look at Vicky, just exactly the right look, and say "I'm going to need that film from you."

Carrie having Joe throw his uniform - he's unhooked the history teacher from the meathooks, carried him over his shoulder down the long ladder, taken him to the morgue, all while steeling himself and not throwing up again - throw his uniform onto his dining room table for his wife to pick up and launder and, in the same breath, having him say "isn't dinner ready yet?"

Meg suggesting that, since they're here in the high school, they should go look through some yearbooks. Everybody else was like, "...okay, I guess," but I was like, "oh YES yes, frickin yes, somebody give Meg some fan mail and here's why: every yearbook has a photo of the like history club in it, right? You look through them year by year, there's the history teacher: black and white, black and white, black and white, black and white, color."

The thing where the producer can't give or receive fan mail is just right, of course, but just like there were times when I was like, "somebody better give ___ some fan mail, cause I can't," there were other times when someone reached into the pile of poker chips and was like, "who's idea was that? Oh man, Vincent's." And they dropped the chip back into the pile with real disappointment.

We're going to play again as soon as we can. It won't be until November, alas.

Matt! I've loved this game since GenCon, as you know. I still love it. Moose in the City wasn't an abberration. Primetime Adventures delivers.


Matt Wilson

Rock on Vincent. That sounds like a hell of a show, no pun intended. Can I fly out and be a special guest star or something?

I recall some play reports from a while back where you describe your group doing a lot of basically in-play brainstorming. I think it makes you guys a good fit for the game. We did a lot of the same thing when we played Bridgewater.

So compared to the quick-and-dirty Moose, how'd it go with multiple edges and connections? How did you fare with the budget? Anything trip you guys up?


And what game were you guys playing?
Fingers RPG. Share the game.


Quote from: Matt WilsonRock on Vincent. That sounds like a hell of a show, no pun intended. Can I fly out and be a special guest star or something?

Hey Matt, are you implying that there are "guest star" rules for the game?  As it stands or planned?  Because i can see a lot of cool stuff you could do with that...

Current projects: Caper, Trust and Betrayal, The Suburban Crucible

Ben Lehman

Quote from: NazziAnd what game were you guys playing?

Primetime Adventures, the game by Matt Wilson (his post is just right about yours.)



Primetime Adventures lives here, on Matt's Dog-eared Designs site.

Matt, hitches: the big hitch was the mystery one, like I said. I'm positive I'll have more to say about it as I keep working it out. It's a how-to-run-mystery-stories hitch, not a Primetime Adventures hitch though.

I missed the rule where your character's not supposed to put a 3 in episode 1, right? I'm a bit intimidated by Joe's 3 next session, but it'll work out I expect. Carrie, Joe's player, is great. I haven't but barely roleplayed with her before.

Once I started finding conflicts other than "do you see the clue?" the budget-fan mail economy kicked in. It stumbled at first because there weren't conflicts really and I wasn't building a pool to award fan mail from. My goal thereafter was to end the session with 0 budget, which I didn't quite do - I had 3 or something, down from 24 plus whatever came back in from fan mail.

Coming up with the five traits was harder than coming up with one, that's for sure. Cyrus still has one not nailed down - an athletic trait of some sort that Emily's still musing about. I don't know if anyone intends to change any of their traits after the pilot, otherwise, but maybe they do.

There were some traits that didn't come up. Especially connections. That's fine with me, there's time.

So no, no trouble with the multiple traits at all.

Oh but here's a quibble. Reading odds vs evens on a batch of d10s is not as fast as I expected. Sometimes you roll 1 2 4 7 9 and sort them incorrectly, like 1 9 for odds and 2 4 7 for evens. It's weird. Maybe it's just us. Would you talk about the um technical specs that led you to that dice technique?


Matt Wilson

So I've had to edit and revise this post like four times, because the idea of doing mystery got my mind racing. Bear with me.

Regarding Dice:

The odds/evens approach is intuitive for me, but because it's a 50/50 split there's other ways you can do it if the handling time lags.

Here's two other options for ya:

Roll d6s with pips and look for 4, 5 or 6. It might be easier to distinguish the dice with more pips.

Or (Ron suggested this one) use playing cards and count red cards as successes. As you would with the dice, look for the highest card to determine the narrator.

Regarding Mystery:

I sorta overlooked this last time around:

QuoteSo, mystery. My big struggle with the game was the mystery. I'm like, I DO NOT want to have conflicts where what's at stake is, do you find the clue? How butt would that be? Figuring out how to make a mystery work took me most of the session and I probably won't really have it down for a couple of sessions more.

Yeah, I think that if you look at the show as a character drama first and mystery second, you can use the mystery to just fill in blanks, and everything else is just riding the act structure.

Like this Vincent Baker guy said, it's all about what's at stake in a conflict. Not "do I find a clue," but "do I find one without creating complications." Man, I can think of tons of fun stuff to do with that. Every time the dice get rolled, everyone at the table is gonna have new story fuel for use later in the show.

I'm guessing the hard stuff would be A) saying what the clue is when they find one (though having the conflict involve the clue in some way will lift that burden from being always you), and B) when is the right moment in the scene to call for a conflict. B is the thing that takes me a couple episodes to feel solid about. It's different with every group.


QuoteB) when is the right moment in the scene to call for a conflict. B is the thing that takes me a couple episodes to feel solid about. It's different with every group.
Yes! Several times I had to stop myself from rolling like you would in Dogs - the very instant that something might even possibly be at stake. I was like, "okay, let's roll dice! Yet there's not enough information yet! Vincent to brain. Brain? Come in brain..."

My players willing, I think we'll try d6s next time. We'll still do odds-evens but we can just look for that center pip.


John Harper

Me did a mystery the first time I ran PTA, too. It revolved around the source of the superpowers that the protags possessed, and the motives of those responsible. I sprinkled a few "clues" through the first few episodes (cryptic cut-scenes and the like) and then sat back and let the players connect the dots and draw conclusions however they wanted. This seemed to work pretty well. The players that were interested in the resolution of the mystery set up scenes that allowed for more investigation and let them narrate some facts and answers. The players that didn't care about the details of the mystery were free to focus on other stuff, with the mystery acting as a backdrop.

Since we all naturally did a lot of kibbitzing around the table, everyone pretty much knew the interests of the other players and what they were trying to set up. Meredith had some really cool places to take her character's love interest. Scott had the whole mystery thing figured out and was ready to drive it home. I never had to step in and provide any kind of big reveal to surprise the players and pay off the mystery. We all knew how the mystery was gonna go, and we worked together to get there. The surprises came as each protag hit their Issue along the way.

Edit to say: Your show sounds so cool. I'm looking forward to hearing more.
Agon: An ancient Greek RPG. Prove the glory of your name!

Joshua A.C. Newman

Man, that was a great game. So totally up my alley. I really, really want to play more. Stupid adult schedule.

Here's what I noted: the 50/50 split is OK, I guess, but since there's no effect to having lots, or few, successes, wouldn't it be better to have an easier to parse thing, like "highest number wins, if tied, second highest..."  I think the probability curves look the same. The only thing that changes (if I'm correct about the prob curves) is that the person who wins the conflict gets to say how it ended every time, unlike now. How much does that matter?

Anyway, the game was fantastic. I wasn't enchanted with the idea from the beginning, but it really won me over: I wasn't into the demon thing that much (having really gotten my fill working on Dogs), but I was right there when the shit hit the fan because man, I wanted to play Vicky so bad by the time we got rolling.

Here's what I think is so great: we started off with an idea. I wasn't so into it. 19th c. London doesn't call to me. But we could move it somewhen else! I think the 40's is particularly interesting, especially for playing a woman. Then I was prepared for disappointment because if we're not all the main character, we all have to run around doing stuff for whoever's playing the main character because it's hir story, but it's totally not true: the main character's there in service to the story like everyone else; being the main character is just one of Emily's (in this case) responsibilities.

... just like Star Trek doesn't concentrate on Picard every episode. And, now that I think about it, Knight Rider sucked for many reasons, but among them was the lack of non-Michael-Knight characters who ever had anything to do.

OK, so check this out: I think she's pissed because she was passed up for editorship because she's a woman. Jim has her job and they both know it. He's a perfectly decent editor, but he feels like he owes her, and so does she.

At least that's something to work with. I'm still not certain how that leads to vengeance, but there's something there. I wrote, then edited out, something about her having a superheroic thirst for justice, but I can't make it concrete. Fortunately, I have four more episodes (each probably a month apart) before I have the screen presence for it to really matter, so there's plenty of time to evolve.

I'm really, really interested in seeing how our mystery series works out because I've been trying to figure out how to do a proper mystery for years now.

Damn, I want to play more.

Check out a Very appropriate image (and you thought it was the typewriter that was going to give Vicky back problems)

[edited by Ron to turn the image into a link, with Joshua's permission]
the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.


So what's the NAME of this series.  Ain't no network exec gonna air a show called Epidemonology.  Its got to be a typical network combination of lame and yet Dark Transgressions...or Night Hunters...or something.

Joshua A.C. Newman

Quote from: ValamirSo what's the NAME of this series.  Ain't no network exec gonna air a show called Epidemonology.  Its got to be a typical network combination of lame and yet Dark Transgressions...or Night Hunters...or something.

The reason we play Prime Time Adventures is so we don't have to call it Dark Transgressions.

I really want to see more of the "epidemic" part. I want to see the spread of the 'disease'.

And if it's Satan, or some other Christian bullcrap, I'll be disappointed in all of us. Very, very disappointed.
the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.

Emily Care

This game rocks.  It orchestrates collaboration so beautifully.  Instead of having the players spend all this lavish time and attention on their characters, only to get that juicy stuff side-lined in the interest of "the plot", they become the plot.  The contradictions we create our characters to explore get to be the stuff from which the themes of the show arise.

Well f*ing done, Matt.

An aspect of it being a tv show that I didn't expect to be so cool was how folks would often narrate scenes by describing the shots. Especially Vincent, of course--giving us atmospheric images of rows of bodies or the blank blue-eyed stare of one of the victims--but also little establishing shots, like the close-up on Frank and Cyrus' hands Meg described, showing the lack or presence of wedding rings, and Joe turning green around the gills in the morgue.

I can't wait to play more.


ps Ralph, maybe I'd say this is gonna be a cable series, so we can take some liberties.  And as for the epidemic aspects, it strikes me that after we rid the history teacher of his demon only then did the students loose their demonic "color".  If we hadn't caught it in time, that cute girl in the pink prom dress would most likely have been out there taking out the general populous.
Koti ei ole koti ilman saunaa.

Black & Green Games


Oh! Like one of us - I forget which - did at the beginning of the session proper, I want to point out: all the players are playing cross-gender. Worthy of going "huh."


Paul Czege

The reason we play Prime Time Adventures is so we don't have to call it Dark Transgressions.

I utterly concur. We had a PTA setup conversation last night, and what we're doing is a drama about astronauts and their families during the Apollo missions of the 1960s. The network executives are probably in favor of titling it Canaveral. But I'm hoping our email conversations this week produce a title that sounds like a show I'd want to watch.

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