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[PtA] Heritage - Fun, but oddly unsatisfying play

Started by JMendes, March 21, 2005, 12:25:28 AM

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Hey, :)

Welp, last Friday, we finally got to conclude the pilot episode, which took us the better part of two hours. It left us all with a sense of 'we want more', but we pretty much agreed that it was too late to play through a whole episode, and we wanted to get the episodes in sync with the sessions, as per intended by the rules.

We only had about half the scenes, this time, and they were longer, which was kind of cool. In fact, I'm pretty sure that if I saw the stuff that happened in the SIS in a TV show, I'd eat it up.

Except, it didn't feel like role-playing.

I did get to expend all my budget, but the conflicts all felt extremely artificial. And some scenes went by without conflict entirely, basically because I sistematically failed at thinking up stakes that were different from "winning means you do it, loosing means you don't", and that is what we found didn't work, last time.

Gah! I am now extremely frustrated. I have this feeling that awesome play is hidden behind some door that I haven't found yet!

Sorry for such a short post. I guess I just wanted to get this off my chest... :)

I'll go to the game forum, now.


João Mendes
Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon Gamer

Ron Edwards


J, I sense Conflict Block! A term I just made up to describe how a person used to Task Resolution flounders when facing the need to state Conflicts.

Conflict Block concerns a good 50% of the threads in the HeroQuest forum, because the HeroQuest text trapdoors the reader in this regard.

It certainly occupies a disproportionate amount of posting about Dogs in the Vineyard. I see it a lot in discussing Trollbabe.

Let's talk about conflicts, then, in the context of Narrativist play.

Here's the classic Sorcerer example. "How agile is my character? How hard is it to jump over an 8' fence in Sorcerer?" I have to tell the person who asks this that these questions are literally not answered by the system. "Oh, so you just make it up, the 'GM says,' huh?" is the usual response. Which is wholly wrong - the mental equivalent of breaking one's ankle, in fact.

Think instead of all the circumstances in which your character really needs to get over an 8' fence. No, really, think of them - you'll find there are a lot. Now think about the subset of them which are not boring, i.e., which actually mean something in the context of all that stuff on the diagram on the back of a Sorcerer character sheet.

... in other words, in which something is at stake. And in which "something" means related to character's issue and "at stake" means no matter what, is about to change.

The fence just became a fairly marginal piece of detail, didn't it? And although it might be a really really cool detail, with plenty of resonance (e.g. the first bulwark at Helm's Deep, the Berlin Wall), it still isn't and can never be actually the something-is-at-stake.

So it's not what's being rolled. What's being rolled is whatever has an interest in the "something" going the other way. We can call it "antagonism," I guess, which is a tricky concept for gamers because even if the antagonist wins, it doesn't de-protagonize our character (just fucks him or her up way bad, even kills). Also, this "antagonism" doesn't have to be an actual being, sometimes - in fact, at times, yeah, you could treat the Berlin Wall as a character, in which case it would count, and would roll as such.

[Do you see why "opposed vs. unopposed" is a meaningless distinction in Conflict Resolution? "Unopposed" is not a conflict and vanishes right out of the resolution system, hence it becomes a binary - you either can do it or you can't, based on character concept alone. Whereas "opposed" is defined by "something at stake" alone, which is assessed thematically and merely bolstered by in-game cause or plausibility. Establishing and enjoying that bolstering is an art, but don't let it distract you.]

So now let's look at PTA, in which the characters' Issue is right there in front of God and everybody, on the sheet, and in which we even know how much that Issue is to be tweaked in the current effort of play (this session).

If you as GM do not put pressure on that Issue - which means

(a) someone or some thing which puts
(b) some thing which invokes that Issue
(c) at stake

- then nothing happens. Nothing happens!

You frame the scenes in PTA. That means you can have the bug-aliens attack, or have the witness break down from the pressure the bad guy is exerting on her, or have the character's long-lost son show up on the doorstep. You also listen to what everyone else is doing, which in a good PTA game is guaranteed to provide you with tons of meat for cross-character Issue-tweaking (this is that fun plausibility-bolstering part, which is really easy in a game like this).

So that's your role as Producer. Conflict, conflict, conflict ... but it's not the same as task, task, task. Task-task-task only means that the character first has to figure out there's a clue, then finds the clue, then deciphers it, then follows it, then has to fight this guy, then has to dope out the lock on the door, then has to dodge the trap, then has to ... see what I mean? Just tasks.



Hey, Ron, :)

First off, thanks for stepping in. :)

Conflict Block may well be a very appropriate term, in that I (think I) understand completely what a conflict is, yet, I (we, actually) have trouble coming up with them with any sort of consistency.

Quote from: Ron EdwardsIf you as GM do not put pressure on that Issue -<...>- then nothing happens. Nothing happens!
Yep, that's pretty much how the session felt, to me. Oh, sure, the guys did a bunch of things, but really, no one rolled anything important (apart for some artificially induced conflicts that I called for just so I culd spend budget, really...) and they all just did whatever they said what they wanted to do.

Quote from: Ron Edwardsthe characters' Issue is right there in front of God and everybody, on the sheet, and in which we even know how much that Issue is to be tweaked in the current effort of play (this session).
Yes, this is exactly where we were failing. Even though the issues were right there in front of us, we smply didn't find ways to make the events in the SIS relate to the issues. None of us. And so we went scene after scene after scene without rolling dice.

Except for one instance towards the end of the session, but in which the what's-at-stake was so minor to what was going on in the episode, that really no one was vibing too much about it. We called out some stakes, rolled some dice, narrated accordingly and moved on, none the wiser.

Conflict Block, eh? Yeah, sounds about right... :/

One thing: you said that we even know how much each issue is to be tweaked in the current session. I think you're talking about Screen Presence. Also, I assume you mean with relation to the other issues. But in the pilot episode, everyone has SP=2, so in relative terms, they're all on equal footing. And this means, no, I don't know how much to 'tweak' the issue. I (think I) understand it when there is a spotlight character, but other than that, I have no idea how much each character is supposed to transform in each episode.


João Mendes
Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon Gamer

Ron Edwards


Not sure whether you're better off pursuing this here or in the Dog-Eared forum, in the thread you've started there. I'll stick with this one for now because we're talking about a specific session of play ...

... but I'm stymied. Those very things you're saying you have trouble with? Um, those are the things which I come to the role-playing table to do, and almost always have. So I'm really the wrong guy to be helping out. In fact, I'm certain I'll be counterproductive if I try.

Anyone else?


joshua neff

Well, I'll chip in here, but I don't know if I'll be anymore help than Ron. I'll address your posts here and your thread in the Dog Eared forum.

J., if you were having scene after scene without rolling any dice, the question is: why were the players calling for scenes that didn't have to do with their Issues? You said the Issues were right there, but you weren't sure how to bring them into play. On the flip side, my question is why would anything be brought into play if it didn't have to do with the Issues?

The scene you mentioned where they're out in the middle of the desert looking for clues about the last team? What's that scene about? It's not about finding clues--that's incidental. Of course they'll find clues. The scene is really about Issues. The Issues won't come up unless you bring them up, and you HAVE to bring them up, because that is what the game is about--not finding clues, not uncovering mysteries. The conflict of any session, any episode, is dealing with Issues. That's it. Nothing more.

It seems blindingly obvious to me, so let's look at the whole "out in the desert, looking for clues" thing. Like I said, the point of the scene isn't to find clues, because they obviously will, to shunt them off to the next set piece. The point of the scene in the desert is to deal with a character's Issue. Is the character's Issue "Self-Worth"? The scene maybe resolves around that character being the one who find the important clue. Or maybe the conflict is "not screwing things up for everyone else." If the Issue is "Dark Temptation," the scene could be about the character finding a clue and trying to hide it from everyone else. If the Issue is "Grief" (for example, your husband has disappeared and this investigation into a missing team reminds you of that), then maybe the conflict is to open up and talk to one of your teammates--or even to search for clues in the face of your grief.

But you absolutely have to lose the idea that a scene is about anything but issues. Watch a TV show and really pay attention to what's going on in a scene--it's rarely about what it looks like on the surface. Episodes of Buffy in which they're doing research in the library are not about finding information, they're about the characters dealing with Issues.

Is this helping at all?

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

Andrew Norris

I may be reading my own issues into this situation, so just take this as an opinion.

I've set up "investigation" scenes before that were intended to serve as a backdrop for something more important -- an argument between PCs, a way of revealing backstory, whatever.

Every single time I did this, the players turned it into "Let's figure out the mystery." Every time. It happened even when I said "Hey, this isn't going to be about the investigation, it's a backdrop" and the players explicitly agreed with me. We just couldn't help ourselves; we'd done it so many times before that we fell right in the rut. (Not just "follow the clues", but "follow them slowly enough that the GM can give us an exciting slow reveal".)

Getting out of old roleplaying habits is difficult sometimes, so I don't frame scenes where a clue-hunt is background. I either make the hunt synonymous with one of the character issues (so how they handle the investigation is an exploration of the character), or I frame agressively to "You found out the info, here's what happens!"

So that's a nice way of saying what I'm thinking, which is that a PTA series set up similar in structure to a traditional roleplaying game scenario can be problematic. Everybody knows intellectually that they should be treating it like a TV show, but that's hard to do for material you have spent a lot of time thinking of through the RPG filter. I even had a little bad vibe when I read your first Actual Play post, like "I hope the players are 100% on board with the idea that this is a RPG scenario in setting only, and it should play like it's on TV." I don't think they do, and I'm thinking you might not either.


Hey, :)

Josh, Andrew, I think I understand what you guys are saying.

Josh, you rephrased the problem rather well, in that it is becoming easier and easier to understand what the solution will be. Your take on the how, though, confused me. If we do it like you say it, then what is the difference between a character scene and a plot scene?

I figured a character scene must either be about the character's issues or the character's relationships, and we did have a few good ones like that, early in the episode.

But you see, the thing in the desert was not A scene, it was, like, the rest of the episode. And once we moved there, every single scene was a plot scene, and we just couldn't find ways to bring the issues into play. (Again, except for that one time near the end, where it felt very artificial...)

On the other hand, I may be stumbling onto a bigger block. When I watch shows like Buffy or Charmed, every once in a while, yeah, I see the issues, but mostly I see the adventure and the mistery. And when the personal issues start to crop up "too much", so to speak, that's when a show starts to turn soapy and I begin to tune out.

Andrew, I think you nailed it as to the causes of our blockage. If I read you correctly, it stands to reason that the episode as presented was inherently uninteresting and there was little we, as players, could have done to break out of the blockage. This is something that is becoming more and more apparent to me, and it is definitely something we'll need to watch out for in future episodes.

However, this too presents me with a problem. You see, the whole premise of the show as we created it is investigative. The H1 team exists to discover supernatural artifacts and investigate their nature. All of a sudden, we may be stuck with an inherently uninteresting premise, one for which generating interesting episodes will be difficult at best, impossible at worst.

I hope this is not so, but now I am becoming increasingly frightened. You see, this is a very natural premise for that group, and if I go in and say, let's scratch this show, the pilot didn't do well, let's create another one, I pretty much bet that we would be coming up with another show with an investigative premise.

Anyway, good stuff guys, thanks. Please do keep it coming, as I think this bears further analysis.


João Mendes
Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon Gamer


Quote from: JMendesI hope this is not so, but now I am becoming increasingly frightened. You see, this is a very natural premise for that group, and if I go in and say, let's scratch this show, the pilot didn't do well, let's create another one, I pretty much bet that we would be coming up with another show with an investigative premise.

Have you ever seen "Relic Hunter"? Kind of a cheesy tv show, but it deals with a similar theme to your show and has lots of action and investigation, but also has character and plot moments while investigating.

You have to learn to mix the Plot and Character scenes together, each plot scene should have some character interactive moments and each character scene should have some plot moments. Mix them up and have at it.

Also thee soapy elements are part and parcel with the mystery and action parts on Buffy, they feed off of each other. That's what made it such a good show.

You must learn to embrace the fact that neither plots, nor characters exist in a vacuum. They are each informed by each other.

Say all the players are in the desert investigating, frame a scene around them arguing how to best go about it, have one of them find a clue while the others are arguing. Conflict makes the world go round. Play up personality clashes, differing agendas, have someone else searching for the same thing for less than noble reasons. Does someone want to keep the group from finding out what happened to the former team, introduce that. Foreshadow things to pay off in future episodes.

Hope this helps.


Andrew Norris

Okay, it looks like I read you correctly. I was worried I was off base. I don't think the problems are intractable, though.

I don't think that the premise is inherently uninteresting -- I think it'd make a damn good TV show. It's just that PTA isn't set up to run those kinds of stories the same way you would in other roleplaying games. By that I mean the setup sounds like, say, a Call of Cthulhu module -- here's some cool stuff that the GM will gradually reveal to the characters, and that's the focus.

You can do a show like that (I'm thinking CSI, maybe?) but look at it this way -- a show that's heavily story-driven, on location, without a lot of screen time used for character dialogue is going to be expensive. In PTA, this means that if the Producer is the only one throwing dice at opposition to the characters, maybe he needs more Budget to keep it going. I think that the dynamic relies on the players throwing in complications into each other's scenes.

The thing is, though, cross-character conflict doesn't have to be soapy. Professional rivalry is one good dynamic to throw in there, for instance. But a happy team with no egos investigating a remote site means that you as GM are producing the majority of the content. That doesn't seem to be PTA's forte.

I'm running out of steam, but here's a few ways you could set things up:

- Inter-party conflict, set up as rivalries or the like. This can include friendly banter, but if you've got two PCs who are racing to figure something out, even if it's just for bragging rights, that's a solid conflict. If your group tends to "freeze" when people start bickering in character, it may be good to reinforce that their characters are TV characters, not an extension of self.

- Going the procedural approach (I'm thinking this show would be like "X-Files meets CSI"). Producer generates the bulk of the conflicts, with the players introducing their own side issues, which might be as simple as a crisis of confidence or discussions about proper techniques. These rely on you to generate a lot of content for specific challenges, although (and this could be a lot of fun) you could have players who are into this sort of thing prepare portions of the adventure that they aren't personally involved in. (In this case you might sit around with the players like a bunch of TV writers, going "Hmm... Bob's an expert chemist, so what's an interesting problem he'd have to solve using his skills?")

- NPCs as primary generators of conflict. This requires you to set the sessions in populated areas, but any number of X-Files episodes where the agents deal with obstructive (or overly helpful) locals can serve as inspiration. The investigation relies more on questioning NPCs and convincing them to help.

- Character-centric, which I recognize you may find too soapy. Mysteries are a backdrop for the characters to work out their issues.

- Some combination of the above.

It's worth reinforcing that the TV show format really does require a shift in mindset. "Will they figure out the mystery" is practically a non-starter, because by the top of the hour, they're finishing up and moving on to the next case. I'd consider that most shows of this kind, particularly police investigative dramas, aren't about that, but rather about "What will it cost them?"

One last thing, with the caveat that it's not intended to sound sexist. (This assumes that you are a male gamer.) Pick a real TV show that is similar to where you want to go with this game, and talk to a woman about it. (Yes, I realize that sounds dumb, bear with me.) My fiancee and I sit around for hours watching Lost and 24, and she's brilliant at picking out the character subtext and Issues for every character. I talked to a friend's wife about the Buffy TV show this weekend, just as part of a rambling conversation, and she picked out enough relationship issues for me to run a whole damn campaign on. I'm not saying that men don't have this perspective, but I just about guarantee if you pitch your PTA show to a female friend who's interested in the genre, she'll have several solid ideas about how to make the show more about the characters, their issues, and their relationships.

Frank T


let me try and give another angle to this. Hopefully it is another angle, and not just that I misread the others.

For one thing, I would suggest that conflict and adressing issues isn't all that PtA is about. Obviously, it's about a TV show. I can't really agree that all scenes in TV shows are about issues. There's more things. Coolness. Atmosphere. Comic Relief. Blowing things up. Setting for its own sake, too, in some shows (like Star Trek).

Of course you can link these things so you can have a scene that is, say, about atmosphere and at the same time adresses issues. On the other hand, I personally like a show to sometimes take a break. This is probably a question of preference. However, I wouldn't let it stand as a rule that every scene must be about issues. Go for two out of three, that's just as fine.

Moreover, it is important to note that conflict and issue are not the same thing. The conflict resolution mechanic can very well be used in a scene that does not adress the protagonists' issues. E.g. a simple action scene, which would certainly involve rolling some dice, but may well exist for the sheer fun of it. On the other hand, you can easily imagine scenes that are all about issues yet do not include a conflict. These might be scenes that reflect on the consequences of a key scene, or that provide setup for an upcoming conflict.

In our PtA games, sometimes only every second scene had a conflict and that was just fine with us. Note that I am talking about conlicts in terms of the resolution mechanic.

J, you started by expressing you had difficulties thinking up stakes for the conflicts, not conflicts themselves. It's fine if you have a conflict that's just "a fight" or "a task". Figuring out interesting stakes is the tricky part. Most of the time it won't be interesting to put win/lose up as stakes. If you can bring the issues in at this point, perfect. If the young Samurai's issue is self esteem, then make his stakes "can he prove worthy?" But the scene is not lost if you can't think of a way how to adress the issue.

One interesting possibility for stakes is personal loss. Put something at stake that really matters to the protagonist. So if he loses, he still gets what he wanted, but at a high price--maybe a higher price than he was willing to pay. Also remember that the stakes are different for every protagonist involved. So one of them might actually roll for success or failure, while another just rolls for how he handles himself. Whatever you do, make sure that you avoid dead stops and anti-climax. Any possible outcome should be interesting and further plot and/or character developement.

I think your problem really roots in the "investigation/discovery" aspect. See, PtA is not about discovery. The show may be about discovery, but the game ain't. Meaning: it's not about the sensation a player gets when he finally discovers what's going on. No way.

When we play PtA, we discuss what's going on all the time. We might as a group agree on the whole background of the episode before we even start. Or we might leave some things open, later to be decided. Or we might alter certain parts if something else seems to fit better. But the players always know what's going on before the protagonists do, so they can figure out a cool way for the protagonists to find out.

Try this: Tell the players everything you have in mind as background. And ask them for their opinion, allowing changes if they come up with good ideas. If they (as players) know what's going on from the start, they won't have that much trouble figuring out interesting scenes instead of just "investigating". And if they figure out interesting scenes, the conflicts and stakes will come by themselves.

Also, you might want to try talking openly about future scenes and what you want in them. Like: "I want at least one more scene with my father, but not yet." Or: "It's too early to find out everything, let's just get some clues and some action for now." Or: "I really would like to expand on my animosity towards NPC X. Any suggestions?"

You say the scenes were cool, i.e. had you seen them on TV, you would have liked them. Except, it didn't feel like role-playing. Could you go back to that notion and try to explain what you mean by it?

- Frank



I thought I'd share some of my thoughts on this because, oh boy, I've struggled with the Character Issues + Investigative Focus thing for years.  Ron and I used to argue a lot via private email over whether gumshoe style mysteries really had meaningful choices and conflicts or if it was just a guy doing his job, asking the right questions at the right time and coming to a solution.

I watch a lot of procedural crime dramas.  All three CSIs.  Two out of four Law & Orders.  And yeah, on the surface it can look like it's just a bunch of guys going around doing their job, following the clues, and ultimately catching the bad guys.

But all the clues and questions are the same as Ron's 8' fences, they're complications, methods and the results of conflict, not the actual conflicts themselves.  Let's examine two detectives from the same franchise.  Gil Grisham from CSI and Horatio Crane from CIS: Miami.

Gil Grisham's issue is that he's a scientist and an academic who works in a job that naturally produces high amounts of emotional chaos.  He wants to be detacted and scientific.  How can he?  Episodes that focus on Gil are filled with co-workers, suspects, witnesses and relatives of victim's clawing and clamering for empathy from Gil.   A 13 year old girl shows up raped and murdered.  What IS Grisham going to do when the single mom who's crackhead husband dumped her turns to Grisham in an effort to fill the void?

Contrast this with Horation Crane who already is commited to being emotionally involved.  His issue is that he's a tool of the law but sometimes his sense of personal justice is stronger and farther reaching than the law.  Just what is Crane going to do when the evidence is overwhelming but the suspect has diplomatic immunity?

Okay, so you want mystery and good drama but you don't want soapy and you don't want clunky clue-chain driven Call of Cthulhu play either.  No problem.

Here's a simple supernatural scenario that's a little disjointed but gets the point across.

Title: Art Gecko

Setup: A small artist community has been plagued by disappearances.  Mostly small time crooks and homeless people but recently a big time art critic who pretty much rules the community and desides who thrives and who dies has gone missing.

Backstory:  There are three pillars of the art community.  A homosexual painter who paints homosexualized religious iconography.  A snoopy photographer famous for capturing scenes of moral decay and elitist hypocrasy.  The third, is a blind sculptor, who's the town's biggest draw and specializes in hyper-realistic statues depicting human fear and suffering.

Unbeknownst to the photographer her boyfriend has been taking her art and using it to blackmail people.  In particular he was blackmailing the missing critic and the painter who is fond of throwing around big credentials when in fact he takes cheap correspondences classes.  The critic decided he'd had enough and was going to go to the police and so the boyfriend shot him and buried the body in the woods.  Depending on how much supernatural you want the critic's ghost maybe haunting either the boyfriend or the photographer.  In any event the boyfriend backs his girlfriend and her art 100%, his love is genuine.

Meanwhile the sculptor has a Basilisk in her basement and is responsible for the other disapearnaces.  She's been turning the town's low-lifes into tourist revenue.  But recently a young boy broke into her basement and was accidently turned to stone.  There's an open investigation into the kid's disappearance but the parents swear they saw the most lifelike statue of him at the art expo last week.  Of course their family therapist says that this is just a projection of their grief.

The sculptor's blindness keeps her safe from the Basilisk's gaze but unfortunatley the Basilisk secreets a slow acting poison that ultimately has the same effect.  In six months time the sculptor will be stone herself.

Holy God!  Do see the problems here?  Homosexulaity and religion.   Actual talent vs. the image of where you learned the talent.  The photographer's artistic freedom vs. the privacy she invades.  The weight of the boyfriends genuine love vs. his otherwise smarmy actions.  Just how much of an asshole was that critic anyway?   Does the missing boy's family deserve to know the truth?  Can they handle it?   The sculptor's art is the town's bread and butter are the PC's just going to take that away?  The sculptor will be dead in six months anyway.  Is that justice enough?  It's not like they can go to the police.

Find the cross section of these issues with the PC's stated character issues and PTA will SMOKE!  You'll also have your mystery focused supernatural thriller without a lot of inter-PC soapiness.



Quote from: Frank T... So if he loses, he still gets what he wanted, but at a high price--maybe a higher price than he was willing to pay.
I like that. It's a simple rule for dealing with conflicts in an investigative setting:

Win = you discover the clue.
Lose = you discover the clue and the process of doing that impacts negatively on your Issue.

Gametime: a New Zealand blog about RPGs


Hey, :)

Guys, greate stuff, here. I'm gonna take a couple of days to let it sink in and really think about it. (Hopefully, this thred will still be in the first page... ;)

In the meantime, you all have immensely helped me figure out some stuff, that I really think will improve my game. I still wanna respond, though, because I feel there are things here that are worth exploring.

Back in a few. :)


João Mendes
Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon Gamer

joshua neff

Some very good answers here, especially from Jesse. Pay attention to what he says, because he really knows what he's talking about here.

But I wanted to further address something:

Quote from: JMendesJosh, you rephrased the problem rather well, in that it is becoming easier and easier to understand what the solution will be. Your take on the how, though, confused me. If we do it like you say it, then what is the difference between a character scene and a plot scene?

There is no difference between a "character" scene and a "plot" scene. The plot is driven by the characters, their relationships and their issues.

Your show seems X-Files-esque, so let's use The X-Files as another example. It's a good example, because the show is really bloody obvious about its themes and issues.

The X-Files is absolutely NOT about solving mysteries. It doesn't ask "what's the answer?"--it asks "what do you do when you get the answer, but it isn't an answer your ready to deal with?" Fox doesn't want to solve any mystery except one: what happened to his sister. He thinks that by solving other X-Files he'll get closer to the one answer he wants, and that will make him happy. And Scully tells him over and over again that he's looking in the wrong place. The answers won't make him any happier, and they won't bring his sister back to him.

Here's another thing to consider: each episode of The X-Files shows the audience what the mystery is pretty early in the episode. Mulder and Scully may not find out until halfway through the episode, but the audience is shown early on. Now consider this: in any RPG, but especially PTA, the players are the audience, as well as the writers and actors. Don't wait until halfway through the session to reveal the Big Bad to them, show them right off the bat. The characters may not know, but the players will. And they can move scenes towards the big end-of-the-episode confrontation with the Big Bad accordingly.

As you're discovering, if you want to run a "players solve the GM's mystery" game, PTA is terrifically unsuited for that. That's not what it's designed to do. It's designed to do television-show-like RPGs, and in television shows, it's never really about "solve the mystery," it's about dealing with the issues of the main characters. That doesn't necessarily mean "soap opera," it just means that the fight scenes and clue-finding scenes are just another form of "characters dealing with their issues," just as the talking scenes are.

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

Frank T

Hi Josh,

I believe J was refering to the distinction the PtA rules themselves make between character and plot scenes, terming that the "Focus" of a scene. Nonetheless I think you are right: there is (most of the time) no distinction. That's why we discarded the Scene Focus in our games. J, you shouldn't worry about the Focus. Use the Agenda, that's a much more important tool.

- Frank