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[PtA] Heritage - Good fun, some problems, a call for help

Started by JMendes, March 12, 2005, 03:36:25 PM

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Hey, all, :)

So, yesterday was roleplayers meetup night here in Lisbon. We had arranged to finish up our previous session of Sorcerer afterwards, but one of the players didn't show, so we scratched that. So, a bunch of us meetupers decided to try out PtA.

The players: me; Ana, my wife; Ricardo, a fellow meetuper, GMed the Sorcerer thing, owns a copy of PtA; António, a fellow meetuper; and Rogério, at whose house we met to play.

The Rules call for choosing the producer first hand, but I suggested we define the series first. We threw a bunch of names into the air, Andromeda, NYPD Blue, Poirot, Charmed, Relic Hunter, etc.. The last two stcuk. We decided to play a 'Relic Hunter meets Charmed' type show, but with toned down supernatural powers for the PCs, and some Stargate and McGyver thrown into the mix. At this point, I stepped up to be the producer. (Bascially, if the show had been a more sci-fi type thing, I think I would have preferred to play rather than produce, but I think this worked out better.)

So, we created a foundation, whose stated purpuose is to investigate the origins of mankind. It has a museum, open to the public, and it conducts all sorts of mundane activities. Heritage Foundation is sponsored by excentric millionaire Moritmer Hacket. And it runs three special intervention teams. Team H3 specializes in delicate diplomatic operations. Team H2 is a military strike team. And Team H1 is the supernatural investigations team. The PCs are the members of H1.

So, who are the PCs? We toyed around with the notion of making super-powerful PCs, Charmed-style, then decided to tone it down.

Ana created Rowan Geddes, an archeologist, Princeton graduate, with a kung-fu championship during college, and the supernatural power of empathy. She is struggling with the disappearance of her husband, a former Heritage man, possibly a former meber of H1, we don't know yet. No Nemesis.

Ricardo created Michael Addler, a mercenary and a man of the world, having travelled all over, and with a supernatural sixth sense. He is struggling with his own greed. His Nemesis is Moritmer's son, Simon Hacket, who is after the girl Michael dates, a technician in a foundation lab and one of Michael's connections.

António created Val Shiang, a half-American half-Korean know-it-all with a photographic memory. He is at ease with research in any field and any medium, and has a supernatural inner sense of the meaning of script, coded stuff, unknown languages, whatever. Much like Rowan, he too lost a relative, though in this case, his father, and in well-known circumstances (though, again, we don't them, yet). Basically, Val attributes his father's death to a misinformation on his part and has become obsessed with finding out stuff, in order to redeem himself for his failure. His Nemesis is the korean guy who killed his father and is now after him, we don't know why yet.

Rogério created John Hacket, a Harvard Law man, previously at the State Department. He is an expert in international law and knowledgeable in all kinds of local laws as well, and he has a supernatural power of persuasion. Also, he's the only one with three Connections, one of which is his uncle Mortimer, who runs the foundation. Can you guess it? John is struggling with his need to prove to the other H1 members that his assignment wasn't related to his last name, and that he is legitimately qualified to be there. No Nemesis.

Ok, so how does the show begin? Simple. Heritage is assembling a new H1. Their first assignment: to find out what happened to the previous H1 team, vanished in the middle of the New Mexico desert.

And up to this point, everyone was having the time of their life. Above, when I say "so and so created", I should have said "we all created", as everyone was deeply into inputing ideas for character and setting generation. It was cool.

And then we began playing. I opened up with a scene where their immediate manager, Pete Washer, modeled after McGyver's Pete Thornton, tells them about their mission. We chatted for a while, then the scene ended. There was no conflict. (Specifically, foundation archeologists had found credible evidence of a puebo, thought by most historians and archeologists as being no more than 5000 years old, actually being over 20000 years old. The archeologists were recalled and the previous H1 team was sent to investigate.)

Then, everyone did a solo scene. Some brilliant character stuff by two of the players, one of which earned Fan Mail, the other of which also deserved it, in my opinion, but being the producer, I wasn't allowed to dole it out, so I kept quiet. Some attempts at plot stuff by the other two players, which, in my opinion, failed dismally, probably due to my failure in creating adequate conflict for the scenes.

Here, I have a question: in a game where the PCs are supposed to always succeed at figuring out what's going on, how does one frame a conflict around an agenda of "my character is trying to find out what's going on"? What happens when the character wins both the conflict and the right to narrate? What happens when the character looses the conflict?

So, after all the solo stuff, I had them on a private plane to New Mexico, talking to Pete via vid-screen. Again, I failed to provide conflict and the scene ended.

The next round of scenes had them in an abandoned pueblo in the middle of the desert. And here's where we started to really stumble. Basically, I wanted to introduce character scenes but was at a loss as to how. I think I put them in the wrong environment for it, and I think I realised it immediately after I got them there.

One of the players did come up with a cool plot scene, wanting to find out a trace of the previous team. The character failed the conflict but earned the right to narrate. I'd just had that character notice a sort of metallic glimmer on the ground, so the player had the character pick it up, noticing it was just a rock, then throwing it away. The camera followed the rock to where it landed next to a bullet casing, unnoticed by all. It was very cool and earned Fan Mail.

Other than that, I introduced another NPC, a surviver from the previous H1 team, who had somehow lost her ability to communicate. I expected the scene of their conversation with her to escalate to some point where it would make sense for me to declare some sort of conflict, but suddently someone sugegsted they should just let her rest, someone led her to a tent and put her to sleep, and that was the end of that. No conflict, no plot advancement, no character stuff, no nothing. Very bleah.

Some other stuff happened, of minor importance to this post, but by then it was about 4:30 AM and we decided to interrupt play and continue next Friday. I know it's supposed to be one session per episode, but it simply didn't turn out that way.

And here, I have another question: how many scenes are supposed to be in an episode? And if the answer is "as many as it takes", how does one keep the episode bound within the confines of the playing session?

And another question: exactly what is the sequence supposed to be for calling scenes? The rules state that the producer will probably call for more scenes thatn the players, but they also state to go clockwise. With four players, that's only 1/5 of the scenes being called by the producer. What am I reading wrong?

So, after we stopped playing, we sat around chatting about the game for what amounted to another half-hour. All in all, all the players, except one, were really impressed with the potential in this game, but none were too impressed with how this particular session had turned out. The other player said he'd like to explore this a bit more, perhaps, and he'd certainly stick with it for as long as we would want him to, but it didn't exactly jazz him. This is the type of person to not enjoy directorial power too much, so it really isn't too surprising.

What I really liked:
The game creation process is awesome. Never before have I seen a game where the players are necessarily invested into the premisse as here. Oh, sure, other games encourage it, but this has a step-by-stpe procedure for it, and it's really cool.
I liked the way players get to frame specific scenes to introduce stuff about their characters and how they interact with each other. Some very cool in-game moments that I simply had never seen in any other game.

What I had trouble with:
Calling scenes is hard. I think this may be a matter of habit, but scene-based roleplaying is imply not natural to any of us. Oh, sure, we are all used to breaks in continuity, but it's not quite the same thing. Some of us also seem to think that certain scenes were called for, then discarded during their play, and as a result, many scenes simply dragged on and died without conflict. This created some not-cool moments.
Also, some of us disagree on whether this game needs prep or not. There is a feeling that "the GM" should have some sort of prepared story for the other players to tack interesting bits things onto, but this conflicts with the players having the right to narrate results of investigatory conflicts that may arise. I mean, it's one thing to narrate the outcome of a fight, but another thing altogether to narrate the outcome of a bit of research.
Lastly, I think my players were a bit too stringy on awarding Fan Mail. Only two dice were awarded, one apiece, as mentioned before, so the audience pool now stands at 10, whereas I still have a budget of 12.

One last question: are there any guidelines for expending budget? Should it be exhausted by the end of the episode? Should I be trying to make some things hard and others easy? Based on what sort of criteria?

Gah! I need serious help with this. Any pointers?


João Mendes
Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon Gamer

Chris Goodwin

Quote from: JMendesHere, I have a question: in a game where the PCs are supposed to always succeed at figuring out what's going on, how does one frame a conflict around an agenda of "my character is trying to find out what's going on"? What happens when the character wins both the conflict and the right to narrate? What happens when the character looses the conflict?

Read this post for some advice on this.
Chris Goodwin


Quote from: JMendesLastly, I think my players were a bit too stringy on awarding Fan Mail. Only two dice were awarded, one apiece, as mentioned before, so the audience pool now stands at 10, whereas I still have a budget of 12.

I don't think we were being stringy or that that was a problem. There were only two big group "woah" moments, so there were only two points of Fan Mail. When the players get to known the game, the series and their characters better, this will surely increase a lot.

The first time I did a quick playtest of the game with another group, someone came up with the genius idea of taking advantage of having the power to award the bonus dice things to other players which could then use them for the benefit of the group and beat the system(!) and people started awarding fan mail for tiny bits of color and other non-important things, so the entire purpose of the thing was defeated.

Great game!

joshua neff

I have a question, but not about mechanics. It's about your group in particular. The question is this: why an American organization with American agents? Why not a Portuguese organization with Portuguese (and Portuguese-Korean) agents?

I guess this thought is based on the idea that with PTA you can create TV shows that don't exist and might not ever have a chance of existing, but are TV shows you'd really love to see. As far as I know, American TV shows tend to dominate the global market (as do Latin American telenovelas), but there's no reason for American shows to dominate Primetime Adventures.

So, was there any real reason why your show was based in the US?

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes


Hey, :)

Quote from: joshua neffSo, was there any real reason why your show was based in the US?

Interesting question. Yes, there is. The gist of it is, whenever we game in a modern setting, we do it in the states. Why? Because we know enough about the US to make it credible but not enough to make it implausible. It maximizes our comfort level.

We once tried to play Shadowrun in Lisbon and failed miserably, for a multitude of reasons, some as mundane as trying to come up with street names, if you can believe that.

We did toy with the notion of basing the foundation in Portugal, somewhere, but we just didn't feel it would work as well.

Hope to have made some sense. :)


João Mendes
Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon Gamer

joshua neff


"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes