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Author Topic: i kill puppies for oberon  (Read 8402 times)
Andrew Norris
Member

Posts: 253


« on: July 27, 2005, 11:00:26 PM »

(Apparently someone ran kpfs at an AmberCon; the game was called Nine Losers in Akron. That's not what this post is about, but it amuses me immensely)

The Actual Play discussion to follow is as coherent as a kill puppies for satan post-mortem.

I mean that in a good way. Every time I've tried to dissect a game and write an AP post about it, I've gotten hung up on what the characters did, and not what the players did. This time I just ranted breathlessly, and it's an unholy mess, but by God, it's about the people at the table.

Context: Our group's been kicking around the idea of running a game based roughly on Zelazny's Nine Princes in Amber. The system's charitably described as a Primetime Adventures heartbreaker using Tarot cards for Fanmail. Only myself and one other player have read the source material, but they all expressed interest in the idea of playing reality-shaping princes and princesses who can't stand each other. The stated Premise is roughly "Will you become who you want to be, or who your family expects you to be?"

Disclaimer: This might not make sense. I'll attempt a reasoned explanation of the session later. But sometimes I think raw is good.
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Andrew Norris
Member

Posts: 253


« Reply #1 on: July 27, 2005, 11:02:07 PM »

Now, the actual ramble:

Our game group got together tonight, and I was a little nervous. We're starting a new campaign, and not everybody was on board with where we were going with it. One of the players in particular had a character idea that was extremely insular and totally dependent on secrets -- in order for it to work at all, the player'd have to be off passing notes or in private session, or doing nothing. Ouch. Stress time. And in general everybody's got neat ideas but who the hell knows how to fit them together.

We've got a really diverse group -- one person who's only done online forum collaborative fanfic, a D&D GM, one guy who kinda thinks no game will ever top Gygax's Dangerous Journeys, and my fiancee, who started playing a couple of months ago. Oh, and me, a Forge twunt. They're coming from all over the map in terms of "what's roleplaying and why do we want to do it".

We get together, and I figure, fuck it, let's talk theory. (I'll use the jargon here, but I didn't in the group, just explained everything the best I could). I talked about stuff like stances and metagaming, distinctions between player motivation and character motivation, scene and conflict framing, Kickers and Bangs, and, God help me, Narrativism.

Our "secrets" player goes, oh, wait, if I change my concept to something with links to the other characters, and move the secretive stuff way off to the side, I get to actually do stuff. The D&D guy goes, yeah, I'm cool with metagaming if it's used to make your character's life harder instead of easier. As we talk through character creation, people are weaving all kinds of crazy ideas and riffing off each other. They're like, hey, I see Premise here, the PCs are all family members who really can't stand each other, so they go off and make new lives as far from home as they can, but they keep getting pulled in.

So then we figure, what the hell, let's try a scene or two to make sure everybody understands the mechanics. (We're using Primetime Adventures filtered through Amber Diceless Roleplaying, because I'm totally fucking insane.) And we play for two solid hours, just playing out Kickers, and I swear to God it was the best session I've ever had. Fucking surreal.

Weirdest moment: In a game with heavy metagame mechanics, scene-based conflict resolution, and a GM that doesn't grok immersion at all, the Dangerous Journeys guy and my fiancee go at each other tooth and nail for twenty minutes totally in character. I just sat back and thought, "Hey, they can pick up the dice if they want to." They never did.
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Andrew Norris
Member

Posts: 253


« Reply #2 on: July 27, 2005, 11:30:47 PM »

Okay, preliminary attempt at reasoned analysis. (The fact that it's 3am here and I had to try to figure out why things went so well should help underline that this really was a Top Three of All Time session for me. We wrapped up four hours ago and I'm still jazzed.)

This group isn't new -- we've played a Sorcerer campaign together. However, it would be more accurate to say we played a game using the Sorcerer mechanics, in the style "Andrew figures out how Sorcerer's supposed to actually work, without explaining it." The group's had a lot of fun, but the way they described what they liked told me that they ascribed what was good and different to my GMing style.

I had no idea we were going to be playing Amber Quasi-PTA tonight; we were supposed to wrap up our Sorcerer game. We were talking theory, killing time waiting for the pizza to arrive. I kept giving examples of how Premise-mindful, Bang driven, Author stance play might look, using some of the characters we'd created so far. Then we went around the table some more, fleshing out each character and their issues, what the relationship map looked like (PCs, their parents, their NPC brothers and sisters), and listening to Kickers.

At that point we only had an hour left in the session, and finishing the Sorcerer game just wasn't going to happen. I suggested we start playing out Kickers to get a feel for the system. (Mostly I wanted to make sure everyone was comfortable with framing scenes and setting stakes for conflict.)

So, yeah, then we had two hours of really intense play. The first conflicts were cake, but nobody just protagonized their character as a badass -- they started drilling hard into their character's issues and relationships. A couple of things that had been mentioned as "Wouldn't it be cool if <x> happened in a few sessions" got dropped right on the table for people to deal with. The kid gloves came off -- the character that everyone described as "the nice guy" nonchalantly threatened to leave his kid sister stranded in a Shadow where she'd spent decades as a royal concubine. The sweet girl who writes Harry Potter fanfic described her character slicing open a guard's femoral artery in slow motion. I mean, damn.

And a side note, which I'd be curious to see how people analyze. My fiancee turned out to be pretty damned hardcore. Her character (an absolute brat of a princess, stuck as a royal concubine in a backwater dimension) spent much of the session taking shit from her older brother. She did the very Amber thing of explaining how of course he needed her, and she was practically doing him a favor by letting him rescue her, because she was the only one who could help him with his problems with Big Brother, the regent.

There was a bit in there where she said something like "You have me over a barrel... finally." (Her character thinks marrying within the bloodline is preferable, and her rescuer turned her down flat on that one back in the day.) He responds, "No, I want you to stand tall, on your own two feet." Suitably chastised. Good Guy's feeling smug and in the right. As his ship took her away from her place of exile, she sarcastically intoned, my hero.

My fiancee's grinning from ear to ear after the session, so I have to get her to tell me what's up, why she's so happy that she got put in her place. She tells me the exile, the whoring herself for status, the rescue-in-spite-of-herself .... all a setup. She's working for Big Brother. It's an inside job. Her character wants to take down her stuffy "good guy" brother that much. She's going to play meek and steer him right into the regent's hands, because whoever becomes king in the end needs to Owe Her.

So... what the hell do I call that? It felt like the most intense Step On Up I've ever seen. ("Figure that out, motherfucker!" with a smile on her face.) It's not about screwing the other player; they're close friends, and anyway it's the same thing that his Kicker is about. I figured it was all about addressing Premise, in the form of "Family will fuck you over if you give them half a chance." (We have a healthier outlook on family ourselves, but damn if that doesn't fit Zelazny's setting.) But there was definately that feel that people talk about in, say, Capes, where there's a visceral pleasure in putting someone over the barrel.
« Last Edit: July 27, 2005, 11:40:21 PM by Andrew Norris » Logged
GB Steve
Member

Posts: 429


WWW
« Reply #3 on: July 28, 2005, 02:29:22 AM »

So... what the hell do I call that? It felt like the most intense Step On Up I've ever seen. ("Figure that out, motherfucker!" with a smile on her face.) It's not about screwing the other player; they're close friends, and anyway it's the same thing that his Kicker is about.
You'll be able to say that it worked if, when he finds out, he has the same big smile on his face. And given your set up, I think it will.

Weirdest moment: In a game with heavy metagame mechanics, scene-based conflict resolution, and a GM that doesn't grok immersion at all, the Dangerous Journeys guy and my fiancee go at each other tooth and nail for twenty minutes totally in character. I just sat back and thought, "Hey, they can pick up the dice if they want to." They never did.
I'm interested to find out what they accomplished during this scene. Was it fluff (in a good and important way) or was there any kind of conflict resolution going on? Did the scene serve any narrative purpose beyond exposition of character or did it also address the premise?

I ask this mainly in reference to this thread which is unsure about the value of immersive playing in narrative gaming (or perhaps generally, it's not very clear).
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Larry L.
Member

Posts: 616

aka Miskatonic


« Reply #4 on: July 28, 2005, 06:40:41 AM »

We get together, and I figure, fuck it, let's talk theory. (I'll use the jargon here, but I didn't in the group, just explained everything the best I could). I talked about stuff like stances and metagaming, distinctions between player motivation and character motivation, scene and conflict framing, Kickers and Bangs, and, God help me, Narrativism.

Our "secrets" player goes, oh, wait, if I change my concept to something with links to the other characters, and move the secretive stuff way off to the side, I get to actually do stuff. The D&D guy goes, yeah, I'm cool with metagaming if it's used to make your character's life harder instead of easier. As we talk through character creation, people are weaving all kinds of crazy ideas and riffing off each other. They're like, hey, I see Premise here, the PCs are all family members who really can't stand each other, so they go off and make new lives as far from home as they can, but they keep getting pulled in.
This is so fuckin' rad.

So how exactly did you segue into the theory conversation? No one got defensive about your crazy radical ideas or anything?
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Andrew Norris
Member

Posts: 253


« Reply #5 on: July 28, 2005, 10:30:56 AM »

Hi folks,

I'm interested to find out what they accomplished during this scene. Was it fluff (in a good and important way) or was there any kind of conflict resolution going on? Did the scene serve any narrative purpose beyond exposition of character or did it also address the premise?

I'm still trying to separate how technique and immersion were mixed in that scene. I know both players had a clear agenda they were playing their characters to, but Erin also told me later that it was really easy to come up with dialogue because she could identify with her character's mindset. So I might be conflating identification with immersion.

Erin was playing Inara (the bratty sister), Mike was playing Mackenzie (the "solid citizen" brother). The scene involves Mackenzie entering a Shadow to enter into negotiations with the local king, and discovering his long-lost sister there as a royal consort. Inara was the kind of person who always got her way, and now she's feeding grapes to, and getting her behind swatted by, this corpulent backwater ruler.

Mike was establishing Mackenzie as rigidly principled, holier-than-thou, and unconcerned as to Inara's plight. The people at the table believe the first two, and aren't sure about the third. Erin was establishing Inara as catty, as using sex as a tool to get what she wants, and ultimately powerless. The people at the table believe all three, but the third isn't true.

So I think the scene was dealing with the two character's unknown or false factors. Had we set the stakes and rolled, Mike would have set them as "Mackenzie wants grudgingly rescue Inara, and have her be grateful about it." Erin would have set them as "Inara wants Mackenzie to think she needs rescuing, and think it's his idea." They both wanted the same thing (to leave together), but explicitly stating the stakes would have revealed that and taken away the tension the audience felt.

The scene also established that inter-family relationships are extremely disfunctional. The characters aren't willing to "give", even when they want the same thing. So all that dialogue that went around in circles with recriminations and subtle insults set the tone of how family conversations go. In the future we'll probably abbreviate these kinds of conversations, now that it's established in play that they're always like pulling teeth.

So I think the scene mixed exploration of character, revealing some player goals while obfuscating others, and addressing Premise in the form of "Does family need each other? We think so, but we're not sure."
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Andrew Norris
Member

Posts: 253


« Reply #6 on: July 28, 2005, 10:57:59 AM »

So how exactly did you segue into the theory conversation? No one got defensive about your crazy radical ideas or anything?

Someone suggested we talk about the upcoming game while we were waiting around, and I jumped right in with, "That reminds me, I'd like to talk about how I'd like to run the game, and see what you all think about it." When I was going to use a term from the Provisional Glossary, I used the definition instead. My main focus was on discussing what my role and their roles would probably look like in a heavily player-driven game.

The initial setup had a lot of the radical stuff built in, so it was easy to pull out an example when discussing a concept. This was the main reason I went with Amber as a setting. The characters are all children of King Oberon, and the main NPCs are as well -- there's your relationship map. They have the ability to walk through Shadow to a world of their desire -- heavy Director stance and validation of player-created content. They've all been in exile (self-imposed or not) for many years, and as play starts something changes that -- Kickers.

I wasn't happy about sneaking up on mode in our last campaign, but it did provide good examples. We had a few really successful Bangs there, and I could reference them in terms of addressing premise. I told everyone that I wouldn't ever use those to "further the plot", because the plot would consist of everyone taking the issues that mattered to their characters, and testing those issues in the face of adversity.

I think that last bit was what really did it. In the old game, players got that they had a lot of freedom, but they saw it as freedom to explore the setting however they wanted. Now they see that because they can create setting, what makes it "this story, right now" is putting their character and the other characters in the fire, and deciding which way they'll jump.

And that was where play started, and where it stayed. I asked who wanted to have the first scene, and Jeremy threw down a Trump and said "This card reminds me of Inara. Right now Macvayne (his character) is thinking about her." We'd established Inara had once turned down Macvayne's fumbling advances, so we all set the scene where Macvayne, a badass gunslinger straight out of The Dark Tower, is waiting at a saloon to ambush some bad guy. His target walks down the spiral staircase with a dark-haired prostitute on his arm that reminds him of his sister. And for the first time in a long while, he hesitates. He lets the guy go to keep from shooting the girl. That was Story Now, and they got it intuitively.
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MichaelCurry
Member

Posts: 12


WWW
« Reply #7 on: August 01, 2005, 05:52:53 PM »

So then we figure, what the hell, let's try a scene or two to make sure everybody understands the mechanics. (We're using Primetime Adventures filtered through Amber Diceless Roleplaying, because I'm totally fucking insane.) And we play for two solid hours, just playing out Kickers, and I swear to God it was the best session I've ever had. Fucking surreal.

So, how would you say this unholy PtA/ADRPG system compared to running using straight Amber Diceless RPG?  It sounds like you got some pretty intense play out of it, and something very different from stock ADRPG.  Do you think that was due more to the melding of mechanics or to things you borrowed from the general Narrativist bag of tricks?


Michael (coincidently, the guy who ran Nine Losers in Akron)
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Michael Curry

My gaming blog: Flaming Monkey
Andrew Norris
Member

Posts: 253


« Reply #8 on: August 01, 2005, 10:23:07 PM »


So, how would you say this unholy PtA/ADRPG system compared to running using straight Amber Diceless RPG?  It sounds like you got some pretty intense play out of it, and something very different from stock ADRPG.  Do you think that was due more to the melding of mechanics or to things you borrowed from the general Narrativist bag of tricks?
Hi Michael! I have to say, I thought Nine Losers as an idea really tickled my fancy. I'm thinking I'll use the GMing advice on how to play Satan for kpfs if anyone in my group ever makes contact with Oberon.

To be honest, we're really just using ADRPG for inspiration. For a group without much Zelazny background, it's a pretty good reference manual for things like Pattern. (The one part that's got the most use so far is the "roleplaying combat" section, as our resident Warfare expert is the Harry Potter fan who's still working on reliably adlibbing gory combat outcomes.)

Our conflict resolution system can decide the outcome of an entire scene based on one card draw (like PTA), so the extensive back-and-forth question and response ADRPG suggests for resolution doesn't really apply. Player-driven scene framing and stakes-setting have probably been the most important factors in play so far. Then again, it was one of those nights where everyone was just "on" and really inspired by the relationships between the characters, so we may have just gotten lucky.

We have another session in a few days, so I'll keep an eye out for which specific elements of the mechanics we get the most mileage out of.
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