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Author Topic: [Carry] Good playtest, mediocre play  (Read 5203 times)
Nathan P.
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« on: July 28, 2005, 10:00:56 PM »

So my group just finished a playtest session of Carry, my Iron Game Chef 2005 entry. You can download a PDF of it here, if you want. It's about 15 pages. It's about the psychological side of being a soldier in Vietnam.

The session was pretty good from the playtesting standpoint, slightly less so from the roleplaying aspect - as in, it was very useful, but not particularly fun. Part of this was due to the holes in the game that need to be filled. Basically, you have a cast of characters to choose from, but no indication of the relationships between the characters, so you start out the game in a pretty big vacuum, especially as it's supposed to revolve around the conflicts between the characters. As the GM, it was hard for me to frame scenes at first.

On the plus side, I discovered something that I really like - the GM has total pacing control, giving them a pretty hefty responsibility, which I had felt was lacking from the rules as written. I think it's really cool that this is a product of the relationship between the written rules, and not something blatentely included. I am all about emergent dynamics, and I wish I had done that consciously. Oh well, I'm still learning.

The mechanics seemed to work as intended - as in, they did what I wanted them to do, and while we had to fill some holes, we didn't find any "breaks" in the rules as written. However, before I totally sign off on them I want to play out a full game (i.e. a full reward cycle) to see if everything continues on the trend as it was. The game is meant to played out entirely in about a session (from character picking to Endgame), so hopefully that shouldn't be too hard to test.

So it seems fundementally robust, but needing a good amount of work on the Setting level. Which isn't bad for a game written in a week. And also, I hope, explains the kind of lacking spark that my other gaming has had recentely - basically, there was so little to invest in that no-one really did so, in addition to whatever wierd effects doing a "playtest" does.

If anyones interested in the actual rules changes/fixes, I can post em or email em.

A question for discussion - the game has 16 premade characters for the players to choose from. I need to figure out a good balance of background for them that provides hooks and texture, but doesn't lock them into being played in only one way. Thoughts on this, or examples of this that are handled well in other games, would be very useful.
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Nathan P.
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Larry L.
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« Reply #1 on: July 29, 2005, 05:23:13 AM »

I really dig the premise of this game.

Did you have a chance to test out that "shit hits the fan" endgame sequence then?

Pregen characters seem smart, since I've always noticed military RPGs generate a finite number of character variations anyway.

You should drag this over to the design forum and hammer the kinks out. It's Vietnam, and it's not about guns and ammo. I think it's worth developing.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: July 29, 2005, 05:29:19 AM »

Hello,

A suggestion to use or discard as you see fit. It's about your concern with a bunch of characters who are thrown together, but don't know each other, and when the game is supposed to be about developing relationships, including onflict, among them.

Let's jettison both familiar ways to handle it. One might be called the "Unknown Armies one-shot" way, in which the characters' personalities and relationships are established and vivid, for the players to pick up on and be inspired to perform and riff off, and the goal of play is to have all tthese things get revealed, expressed, and blow up into massive re-configuration. Another might be called the "Marty" way, in which the characters are painstakingly made up individually, also fairly deeply and with lots of Color, and then they just sit there, with everyone kind of hoping that someone else will do something.

I suggest instead that you turn to the very strength that you discovered in play (or discovered where you needed to be strong) - scene framing. Keep it the way it is, with the 16 pregens. But your job, as GM, is to generate serious conflicts between an NPC and a PC every single scene. Yup, every single scene.

The NPC could be anyone: one of the remaining NPC guys from the 16, an authority figure, a visiting journalist, a South Vietnamese person, a Viet Cong person, whoever. But it's a major conflict thing. And if possible, one or more of the "remaining from the 16" (there should be a name for these guys) would have some reactions to the conflict as well.

That ought to do it! I don't think you need to engineer any relationships among the PCs, and in fact, I suggest that's a bad idea, too much like the UA approach above. I think this approach will generate massive relationships  among the PCs and the "remaining from the 16" guys very, very fast.

After all, you're already working from a sense of inspiration about the source material, right? Here's the perfect chance to bring that inspiration into play itself - as opposed to "into the source text," and as opposed to "into prep."

Best,
Ron
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Mark Woodhouse
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« Reply #3 on: July 29, 2005, 06:00:37 AM »

To follow on from Ron's comment, since you are using essentially pregen characters, you could even build a relationship map pre-play, and make adjusting/redrawing it an explicit part of prep. Nice way to make that tool explicit.
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Nathan P.
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« Reply #4 on: August 02, 2005, 05:56:19 PM »

Larry,

Thanks for the encouragement. I have not been able to test endgame yet, which sucks, but I will soon! I really hope it works, but I also think it's going to take the most revision to get where I want it.

Ron,

I do get what you're saying - as in, even in three scenes of very basic play, I could feel the tension starting to generate. And I agree that strong, strong scene framing is totally required - I fell down here, framing the first scene with a pretty weak conflict (one of the non-played characters sneaking some drinks and spewing racial epithets - I dunno, it felt empty). Every scene needs to be on the level of the part in Platoon where the squad razes that Vietnamese village. But at the same time, starting out with absolutely no material on the squad dynamics, as a seems...incomplete. I suppose this really needs to get hammered out by actual play, though.

Also, could you expand on your last sentence? I'm not sure I'm grokking the difference between bringing inspiration into the game text (I assume you mean that by "source text") and bringing it into play.

Mark,

Thats my general thought. Again, I'll need to see how it works out in play...

Thanks for the comments, all!
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Nathan P.
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Doug Ruff
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« Reply #5 on: August 02, 2005, 11:08:09 PM »

Hi Nathan,

I still owe you a review of your game, I'd finished reading Carry but didn't get the review written before the judging excitement started. However, there are a few suggestions I'd like to make, I hope you find them useful:

1) I really think that there needs to be more focus on establishing what is driving the NPC members of the platoon. Because the players are going to be the last members alive, they should literally be "carrying" the unfinished business of the NPCs with them as they progress through the game. For example, one of the dead soldiers has a girlfriend he wanted to propose to, l but didn't get round to asking her before he left home; who's going to tell her? I think that defining and playing out what drives each of the squad is key to running this game successfully. You don't have to agree with this, but if you don't, my comments are going to be a lot less helpful to you than intended.

2) At the same time, what's driving the PCs? Because there are more NPCs than PCs, I agree with Ron that the focus should be on PC-NPC conflict, at least until the squad NPC ranks are thinned considerably. Nearer the endgame, you should have enough character exposition of the PCs to start rubbing them up against each other.

3) I'm not too keen on the current system for removing characters from play. The way that players can strategically add dice to the GM in order to reduce their casualties seems a bit odd. I would prefer to see somethng along the lines of all conflicts building up "fallout" against characters, and the next time there is a firefight, the NPC(s) with the highest fallout will bite it. This means that the more spotlight an NPC gets, the more likely they are to die.

Overall, I loved the premise and setting for this game, but I wanted to see more focus on the premise (or at least, on what I thought the premise should be - which is a bunch of soldiers "carrying" their own baggage, and that of their dead companions, through a shitty war) and much more rules support for making that happen in play. I think that the current rules are functional in terms of playing a game, but don't drive players in the desired direction.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: August 03, 2005, 06:39:52 AM »

Hi Nathan,

Actually, I think you're missing that last sentence's meaning entirely. Let me break it down.

1. Source material = stuff you know about Viet Nam, stuff you've read or seen or experienced

2. Game text = prose you write and hope that others will read

3. Session prep = notes you write down and will use in your next session of play

4. Actual play experiences & decisions = (self-explanatory)

What I'm saying is to get #1 and #4 "married" without relying on either #2 or #3 to bridge the gap. My suggestion about the NPCs and their actions/reactions is an excellent tool for this purpose.

Best,
Ron
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Valamir
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« Reply #7 on: August 03, 2005, 08:17:06 AM »

Hopefully I'm not butting in, but Ron, I don't understand how you marry 1 and 4 without going through 2 or 3...at least not in any sort of reproducable way useful for a game design...

You said
Quote
But your job, as GM, is to generate serious conflicts between an NPC and a PC every single scene. Yup, every single scene.

Great advice.  As part of a game design shouldn't that exact sentiment be stated out right in the "how to run this game" section of the game rules...at which point doesn't it become #2?

Quote
The NPC could be anyone: one of the remaining NPC guys from the 16, an authority figure, a visiting journalist, a South Vietnamese person, a Viet Cong person, whoever. But it's a major conflict thing. And if possible, one or more of the "remaining from the 16" (there should be a name for these guys) would have some reactions to the conflict as well.

Again, good idea.  But shouldn't GMs have a few of these in mind (i.e. the equivalent of a bandolier of bangs) before play starts to keep things moving...at which point doesn't it become #3?

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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: August 03, 2005, 08:39:31 AM »

Hiya,

I knew someone was going to get confused. Here's what I'm saying: don't let #2 and #3 carry the full weight of bringing #1 into #4.

Typical situation: the players know jack shit about the topic, e.g. Viet Nam, except for fragmentary crap picked up from movies and so on. So the expectation is that they read the game book to learn about it and get inspired by it. That's a tall order right there and it doesn't happen often. So now the expectation becomes that the GM is going to bring both that information and that inspiration into the game prep, in terms of dictating that things must happen "the right way" and in terms of the players magically learning, getting inspired, and participating as a response. That's unlikely too.

In fact, the whole approach is bullshit and needs to be jettisoned.

What I'm saying is to amp up #1 by discussing the source material that got the initiating person (I'll say you) going with others and seeing who else is interested and inspired at that level. No game book yet. No prep yet.

The game book and session prep are then both transitional and provisional, rather than serving as the entire edifice for the process. I wrote Sorcerer & Sword from this perspective, and you can contrast it to any other "pulp fantasy" RPG to see its differences from the typical approach.

Then, the players and GM are equals in bringing their shared inspiration and fruitful potential (which is all prep is, now) into the experience called "role-playing," there and only there to be revealed/developed into its final form.

Best,
Ron
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Larry L.
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aka Miskatonic


« Reply #9 on: August 03, 2005, 12:00:43 PM »

Typical situation: the players know jack shit about the topic, e.g. Viet Nam, except for fragmentary crap picked up from movies and so on. So the expectation is that they read the game book to learn about it and get inspired by it. That's a tall order right there and it doesn't happen often. So now the expectation becomes that the GM is going to bring both that information and that inspiration into the game prep, in terms of dictating that things must happen "the right way" and in terms of the players magically learning, getting inspired, and participating as a response. That's unlikely too.

In fact, the whole approach is bullshit and needs to be jettisoned.

Fucking Amen!

"Hey, you wanna play this game? It's really cool!"

"What's it about?"

"Well... here, why don't you read this here 200-page sourcebook, and then you'll be pumped!"

"Uh, right. Lemme, uh, fold my socks and get back to you."

And the cool thing in this case is that every American (hopefully) can participate in #1.
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Nathan P.
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« Reply #10 on: August 03, 2005, 07:52:10 PM »

Ron,

Awesome, thanks. Seeing how I actually just read Sorcerer & Sword over the weekend, I think I know exactely what you're talking about.

I'm going to take this over to Indie Design fairly soon, so I invite all further comments to happen over there. Thank again!
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Nathan P.
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My Games | ndp design
Also | carry. a game about war.
I think Design Matters
Nathan P.
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« Reply #11 on: August 09, 2005, 02:41:33 PM »

Update: started a design thread here.
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Nathan P.
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Find Annalise
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My Games | ndp design
Also | carry. a game about war.
I think Design Matters
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