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[PtA] Jesus, Drugs and Rock'n'Roll

Started by Frank T, May 30, 2005, 02:56:05 AM

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Frank T

I played this game of Primetime Adventures last weekend on NordCon, the biggest RPG convention in Northern Germany. I had held a workshop by the name of "Does it have to be that way?" and recruited three players for my round and four more for a round run by a friend. When we got to our table, there were two more guys there wanting to play because the round had been accidentally posted to the black board. I hadn't wanted to allow five players but as it was, I didn't want to send the guys away. One of the players knew InSpectres, the rest was quite classic RPG background as far as I can tell.

We had five hours, I figured two hours for creating the show and the protagonists and three hours for one episode. We started to brainstorm about a show featuring Vatikan special forces, which didn't intrigue me all that much, and then discarded it after about 15 minutes. One of the players, Klaus, was very active and really rushed at the other players with his ideas, but fortunately he didn't insist and was okay to go with other players' proposals.

Klaus' third idea really hit a nerve with me, and the others chimed in quickly: a christian rock'n'roll band on tour through the US in the early 70's. There is a clash between their religious message and the lifestyle of a touring rock band followed by groupies and drug dealers. Since I loved "Almost Famous", and had always wanted to create an Aaron-Spelling-style show with PtA, I was very intrigued. And then the players came up with these


Henry, the roadie, served in Vietnam and deserted as he was sent home to recover from a wound. His issue is his inner conflict between the fear of being killed or wounded again and his sense of duty to comerades and country. (I really liked how the player avoided the standard "I don't wanna have to kill anyone" thing.)

Jim, the bassist, is a shy guy but the band's best songwriter by far. His issue is self-worth.

Eugene, father of the band's drummer, was the priest of the community in which the boys grew up. He lost his wife and daughter in a car accident and quit his office to travel with his son, also taking the part of the band's sound engineer. His issue is that he struggles with his faith.

Steve, played by aforementioned Klaus, is the lead singer. He also plays rythm guitar, but neither his guitar playing nor his voice are especially good. He just lives of the performance of his band, but he doesn't realize it. He's an egocentric dazzler. His issue is self-deception.

TS, the lead guitarist, plays brilliant soles and is very good looking, though more the introvert type. The groupies love him just as much as the charismatic Steve. His issue is that he's beginning to realize he is gay.

Since we had five protagonists, we set up for a nine episode season, without seperate pilot. Henry's spotlight was 3rd episode, Eugene's spotlight 5th, Steve's 7th, Jim's 8th, and TS's 9th.

What we still needed was a name for the band, and here's what the players came up with: "The Shepherds". By that time I had gone from intrigued to delighted. Now it was time to pick the episode we would play. We had discussed all the issues with all the players, and the one that had gained most attention was Henry's, so we started to think about his spotlight. Then TS's player, by the name of Ron, suggested that we play one of the band members' spotlights because that would be closer to the season's central plot, and have a higher chance of all protagonists being involved. Ron proposed that we should play Steve's spotlight, thus making Klaus the spotlight player. We agreed.

We briefly talked through the previous episodes, deciding that Henry hadn't resolved his issue. He had escaped his nemesis, an MP officer, and decided to stay with the band for the tour, but he still felt his place ought to be with his platoon in the jungle of Vietnam. Eugene, on the other hand, had resolved his issue and found his faith again, also for the first time really talking to his son about his wife's death. The 6th episode, as a build-up for Steve's spotlight, had featured a show that went very badly beacause of Steve's poor performance, even having fans boo the band.

Some general notes about play

I used the card option, but had forgotten to bring the poker chips for representing budget and fan mail. So I asked the players if they had anything we could use. One of them had a big bag of candy, so we used candy as fan mail. Now check this out: If you use fan mail and don't get a success - you eat it! How cool is that?

As it was a one shot and I always found five edges/connections to be a lot, I opted for two-one instead of three-two.

I was extremely lucky with the players. All of them had a strong sense of drama, conflict and character developement, and also did a very good job acting out the scenes and depicting their protagonists. The actual narration after a conflict was mostly kept quite short, but we did a lot of dialogue outside of the conflicts. Also, we resolved some critical scenes without drawing cards. As to get some candy into the audience pool, in character vs. character situations, the "active" part in the conflict would draw cards against me, the producer. I still don't know if that's the rule, or if players should draw cards directly against one another?

I didn't use up half of the budget, which leads me to the thought that screen presence times three is quite tight with a group of 3 players, but plenty with a group of 5. Then again, we only played ten scenes and didn't do that many conflicts. We finished the episode after two hours, one hour less than I had calculated.

I also didn't have every player do a next week on since I felt six would be too much. Rather, I had Klaus do one, me do one, and two of the other players each agree on one.

Throughout the game, the players provided a LOT of creative input. They would define very specific agendas for the scenes, sometimes I even had to stop them before they would solve everything in advance. They would propose details and conclusions at several points, and I always went with them. They would also quite often frame scenes for other protagonists than their own.

The Episode

Episode 7 had Steve at screen presence 3, Eugene at 1 and the rest at 2. Given the next week on's and the fact that the next spotlight was Jim's, it was laid out and agreed that there would be a conflict between Jim and Steve. The band came to Vegas for a show in a very hot club, and they had received bad critics of lately. An interview by a local TV station went all wrong with Jim accusing Steve that he had ruined the last show. They could prevent it being aired, however.

After lunch Eugene wanted to take the band to a chapel to pray, but instead they stayed with the groupies. One groupie tried to get at TS, he lost a conflict and Ron described how she put her hands at his pants and wondered why nothing stirred, and how he knocked her down and fled to his room. At soundcheck, Jim and Steve got into another fight and Jim smashed his bass guitar and ran away. Eugene admitted to Steve that he was turning Steve's guitar and singing down and the backing vocals up at the shows. I proposed to Klaus he might call a conflict, but he preferred to decide himself and have Steve finally realize what an asshole he had been.

Jim sought out TS to talk to him about Steve, but TS was much more bothered that the groupie might suspect and tell everyone about him being gay, so he wasn't much of a help. After Jim was gone, Steve came knocking on TS' door looking for Jim. There was a very funny misunderstanding and some great acting by the players. We laughed our asses off and literally applauded Klaus and Ron.

Jim talked to Eugene and admitted that he was jealous of Steve and all the attention he gained. Eugene tried to build up his confidence, but failed. Note how well the supportive role indicated by Eugene's screen presence was carried out by the players. Later Steve overheard his connection Penny, a groupie, talk to Jim about how she loved Steve and thought he was truely inspired, believed in his religious messages, and really wanted Steve to marry her. Jim went mad: "It's always Steve, Steve, Steve!" He also said some more very blunt things about Steve.

A thoughtful Steve came back to the soundcheck to witness a wonderful next week on scene: Henry the roadie stood with TS, holding Jim's broken bass guitar, and said: "It don't work. You gotta fix it." He wasn't refering to the guitar, of course. Steve then found some notes by Jim about a new song and acknowledged it was a great song. He admitted that he needed the band and Jim's songwriting, and started to play the new song. TS and the drummer joined in.

At this point, interestingly, Jim's player just took over narration. He didn't even ask for it, we didn't draw any cards, he just did it. Nobody interrupted, so he narrated how Jim heard this, entered the club, took the bass guitar from Henry (who had just repaired it), and joined into the song, nodding at Steve and thus silently accepting his excuse. Cut to the show at the evening, the band playing that song as opener and the crowd going wild. Henry's player added a shot of Henry standing in the crowd, holding his girl in his arms. Credits.

(We did a little speculating on the upcoming episodes, too, guessing that Jim's new-found self-confidence would be put to the test in the next one, his spotlight episode. In the last episode, TS's spotlight, the band would finish their tour in San Francisco and Steve would marry Penny. TS would have to decide if he could burden the new-found harmony with his coming out. We imagined a season cliffhanger of TS giving a speach at the wedding, ending with the words: "I'm gay.")

What can I say? PtA did it yet again. This was a very, very good game and it's a pity I won't play with those people again. Also, the game probably sold 2-3 copies. My friend running the other game, a Sin City style maffia show, told me he also sold some 3 copies.

Matt Wilson

Kickass show! Prima! Toll!

You're confirming the changes to traits. However, I'm not sure how I might fix that screen presence formula. Do you remember just how many dice you had left?

What about something like (2 x Screen Presence) +3?

So with 3 players at an average SP of 2, the producer gets 15 dice instead of 18. With 5 players at average SP of 2, the producer gets 23 dice instead of 30. Would that be more manageable? You get more budget dice per player with a smaller group, but with a larger group you have more people who can give out fan mail per scene, and that's more likely to trickle back into the budget.

QuoteAlso, the game probably sold 2-3 copies.

Hey, as a matter of fact, I made two sales to Germany on Saturday. Vielen Dank for promoting the game!

Frank T

You are very welcome, Matt! It's a game worth promoting for sure. Actually there are four recent PtA threads in the actual play section of our German board. A few people who spread the word are enough if the quality of the product is so convincing.

Regarding the fan mail / budget issue: I think I had some 12-15 budget left, can't recall the exact number. Some of that was backflow from fan mail. But then again, we only had five conflicts IIRC. So I wouldn't suggest any quick shots based on this perception. Just the other week, I played a game with three players that had 15 scenes, plenty of conflicts and used up my entire budget. Plus, it's not that much of a problem to have too much budget.

- Frank


I just wanted to chime in with a short report on the second Primetime Adventures session on nordcon. As Frank already mentioned, we were playing a mafia drama mini series called "Streets in Shadows". We handled a lot of stuff a bit differently than the other group, but it worked out quite well nonetheless.

[NB: We might have been a bit unfair to the GM, Marcel, because three of us had made up our minds of what to play beforehand.]

The whole experience was a great success, although we mght have been a bit 'over qualified' for the session. Andreas, who played tommy the gun (the traitor who would betray the family to the police), is developing an InSpectres variant called ArrMateys!, Martin, who portrayed Don Capresi is known in the german rpg usenet group as "der Hetzer" which basically translates to "the agitator", because he does critique rpg systems using his in-depth knowledge of a lot of stuff (he has one of the largest private collections of RPGs I have heard of), and me playing Luigi the Razor, the Don's right hand man. The fourth player, whose name I forgot, played the Don's driver. He quickly evolved into the comic relief of the whole series, but played an important critical part later on. Our issues were 'Trust and Betrayal' for Tommy, 'Power Loss' for the Don, 'The Don´s Daughter' for Luigi, and I am sorry to say I forogt what the drivers' one was.

Since the GM and the fourth player accepted our idea of the mafia drama almost instantly (and copied over the plot of the last game Martin and I played the Don and his right hand man in unknowingly), the whole setup just took about 10 minutes, with another 10 minutes for character write up.  

In contrast to the other group, we made up the series 'on the go', meaning we talked about screen presence and other basic info about each episode directly after the corresponding 'next week on', which also worked quite well (possibly because three of us knew what they wanted, and it fit the whole thing very well).

For me, what was the best experience of it all, was the final episode, which we narrated in a matter that there were only three lines of dialogue, but a lot of things happened. The Don got killed by Tommy, who ended up with Luigi in their pools of blood. We also narrated scenes where only NPCs acted, as 'set ins' to tell the audience some more of the background (as when the police officer that was handling Tommy's case phoned the D.A:, who promptly called the don).

So, in the same time the other group planned their series and played one episode, we managed to get through the whole mini series, much to the surprise of everyone. It has been a great experience, and I would happily play a game of PtA again.