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Author Topic: [PTA] Dirtside - A moment to remember  (Read 11672 times)
ricmadeira
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"You can choose just who you are."


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« on: August 26, 2005, 04:54:21 PM »

I have an interesting Actual Play moment I've been meaning to share for like three months. It concerns the closing episode for out highly successful Dirtside series (best thing I ever GMed/Produced in almost fifteen years of gaming), which I have previously mentioned in passing here.

So it's the season finale, and our protagonists are in orbit, trying to get the hell away from the colossal Senate Ship which is about to blow up in a big fiery ball and leave the galaxy in total anarchy... the Legionnaires are taking over the docking bays, and our heroine has to run like the wind to try to make through the crossfire and into the shuttle she had her friend/Connection/mechanic prepare for take off. The other protagonists abandoned the ship with plenty of time to spare, but our heroine had to go back once she found out about the big fiery ball thing to get her dad (the military high commander for the nearest planet, at the time at a Senate hearing), her girlfriend lover (a tough as nails Sergeant that used to give our lowly Private 1st Class heroine all nine kinds of hell... strangely enough, she was her Nemesis when the series started, but the player started taking a liking to her... a big liking!) and her boyfriend lover (a Private FC, like her, that turned out to be working as a spy for the Rebels and was scheduled for execution... she had found his Rebel origins right in the end of the pilot episode, but had been covering up for him because he was the only man in the platoon that treated her decently and she had fallen in love with him already).

So the Screen Presence for our heroine is just 1 for this episode. I know the end is getting nearer (just a few more scenes to go), but I can't let this damn series end without settling once and for all (until the next season, at least) who will our heroine choose to keep as her lover: the rebel traitor boyfriend she fell madly in love with in the first episodes, or the tough lesbian sergeant who got her through so much and turned out to be good a friend and lover. So far, she had managed to avoid a final decision (with the boyfriend having run away to hide from the law and all) but this is the series finale, so... someone's got to go, unless they can make a threesome work, which seems pretty unlikely.

So as our heroine is making a mad dash for the shuttle, trying to run through the crossfire safely with her father and her two lovers in tow, I say to my player: "Conflict time. Here's the stakes: we'll roll the dice three times, once for each one of the three persons you're trying to get aboard safely. If I win the roll, it means that person was shot up pretty badly, most likely dead; if you win, that person gets to the shuttle safely. I'll only roll the producer's automatic die for each roll, I won't add budget dice. As for you, you'll roll your Screen Presence (1) every time and divide the Trait and Fan Mail dice you're entitled to between the three persons however you see fit; the more dice you assign to a person, the more chances that person has of making it out of this. Let's find out how bad you want each of these people to survive. Think hard!"

I can't even begin to explain how cool I thought this was. Working exclusively through the system (well, a variation of it, anyway) I was pretty much asking the player outright how much she cared for each of these characters (each of one very dear to her), and to prioritize them according how much she wanted them to make through all this alive. As it had happened many time before (lot's of hard bangs in this series!) the player was grief stricken, and took some moments to get her priorities straight and divide her limited resources. The results were this:

Her Father got 1 die from her (the automatic Screen Presence die).
The Boyfriend/FiancÚ got 2 dice (the automatic plus a trait die).
The Lesbian Girlfriend Lover got 4, count 'em, 4 dice (one automatic plus three trait/fan mail dice).

The Conundrum was finally solved... she was dumping her old sweetheart and getting together with her lesbian girlfriend. Not right now, in the middle of all this crazy events, but after things had settled down enough for some serious talking. Even if a TV audience wouldn't know which of these three persons was more dear to the character (at least not in this scene) we, the gaming group, could clearly tell how our friend felt just by comparing the three sets of dice she placed on the table. I can't tell you how proud I felt at that moment. I know this is not acceptable according to the PTA rules, but damn, it felt great, and I had a very good reason for twisting the rules.

This is the most important stuff, but no, the story doesn't end here. Now it's time to roll them bones! The Father has a 50% chance of dying right there, but he makes it out alive. Hurrah! The Boyfriend has better chances, and he too makes it. Now the easy part; four dice for the Girlfriend against the producer's one die and... the producer wins! My God, the look on my player's face was just priceless, I thought she was going to faint... If there was a photo of her at that moment I'd have it framed and labeled has the most intense moment a player ever experienced at my gaming table, and believe me, during this PTA series the poor girl suffered plenty of them. Incredible, just incredible!

Long story short, I had the girlfriend make it just barely breathing and to recover eventually and very painfully... the love triangle was such a huge goddamn bang waiting to happen that having one of the persons involved dying randomly seemed too merciful! :-D I wanted the player to have to suffer through explaining to her fiancÚ the things she was keeping hidden from him... small everyday stuff, like a lesbian love affair with her drill sergeant which she wants to marry...

Oh well, so here it is. Three months late, but I finally made it.

Ricardo
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John Harper
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« Reply #1 on: August 26, 2005, 07:33:09 PM »

Dude.

DUDE.

You set up an awesome conflict, laid out the stakes for all to see, rolled the dice, and then... fudged the outcome?!

I can't believe it. The girlfriend is dead. Dead dead dead. If she was just going to scrape by with some injuries, why bother rolling at all? Sorry if this sounds harsh, but you broke the cardinal rule of conflict resolution in my opinion. The idea to split her dice was pretty cool, but what came afterwards looks like plain ol' GM Force to me.

Also: Was everyone else out of fan mail dice or something? Because man, is that ever a conflict that all the players would jump into in my games. Why did no one help her out?
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ricmadeira
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« Reply #2 on: August 27, 2005, 02:45:58 AM »

Fudge the outcome? Well, I guess I did just that, eheh... the actual play post I put up on my Portuguese blog at the time says that was at stake for the three characters was "getting shot up and left behind" (though I don't know if that was exactly what I said during the game or not). What my player did (don't remember if she narrated the conflict and introduced this, or if I narrated and didn't take the narration all the way to a point where there was no going back) was having her heroine stop the shuttle doors from closing and run back halfway through the crossfire again to get her dying(?) friend, not caring for anything else.

I might have been a whimp, but like I said, I thought it too merciful for the player to have fate resolve the love triangle... I prefered to let her handle it in her own way and see her squirm. So I let her get away with it, but at a terrible price nevertheless: I killed the 4th character the player/character really cared about. The heroine enters the shuttle, the loading doors finally close and she's safe inside, her lover on her arms bleeding like a multi-punctured blood bag but at least still alive (barely), and she looks around to see that the girl mechanic (the one who kept the shuttle ready for take off), who has been her confident and closest friend since the first second of the pilot episode, is stone dead on the floor, killed while providing covering fire so that the heroine could go back for her lover. I thought this was incredibly satisfying... fate and rotten dice would the be the ones to blame for the potential death of her love, but now the player/character only has herself to blame for the loss of her closest friend: she put everybody on that shuttle at risk by choosing to go back.

All things, considered I don't regret doing what I did.
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ricmadeira
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"You can choose just who you are."


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« Reply #3 on: August 27, 2005, 02:49:53 AM »

Also: Was everyone else out of fan mail dice or something? Because man, is that ever a conflict that all the players would jump into in my games. Why did no one help her out?

I think the other two players were spent and totally bankrupt; they knew there would be no use hanging on that fan mail beyond the series'/season's finale, so they gave everything they got in a previous scene, in a showdown between their characters where they threw a bucket of dice (like 7-9 dice) at each other in a conflict to end all conflicts. Strangely enough (just another of one whole lot of crazy twists and turns during the series, like falling in love with one's Nemesis), one of the characters was the platoon's commanding officer now siding with the rebels (more or less; he just wanted the entire fascist regime overthrown) and the other an infiltrated rebel agent now siding with a group of powerful people bent on overthrowing the regime so they could help themselves to all that power. The first wanted to rig the bomb to make sure the nuke went off while that "group of powerful people" was still abord the Senate Ship, the second wanted his patrons to leave the ship before the explosion, as per the original plan. Massive conflict!

Anyway, truth be told, I don't think the players would have used the Fan Mail even if they had it. The group never catched on that whole influence the outcome of another player's scene using Fan Mail thing. They did that not more than two or three times during the six episodes, I think.
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Matt Wilson
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« Reply #4 on: August 28, 2005, 04:44:39 PM »

Man, I'm totally confused about this conflict. So you as producer got to roll all your dice as a whole, while the player had to divide them up? Am I understanding that right?

Who decided what the stakes were? Did everyone get a say in it, or was it just you?

Oh, and one last question, regarding this:

Quote
I killed the 4th character the player/character really cared about.

How did you do that? Was that part of the stakes of a conflict at some point? Was this the same conflict?

It's too bad you can't remember all the details of the exact stakes and who won narration. I can think of several ways you could have set up the stakes in that kind of situation, and it's nice for people to see the specific 'game parts' in action.

Anyway, you ended up with some cool story stuff, that's for sure.
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ricmadeira
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« Reply #5 on: August 29, 2005, 02:47:14 AM »

Man, I'm totally confused about this conflict. So you as producer got to roll all your dice as a whole, while the player had to divide them up? Am I understanding that right?

No, no. Sorry if I didn't made it clear. So here's the situation: we're very near the end of the episode, I have maybe 2-3 budget dice, the player has her Screen Presence at 1, plus 1-2 unused traits (this is 1st edition PTA, where characters have 5 traits) and a few Fan Mail dice.

The player rolled her one Screen Presence die three times, *plus* she got to divide her Trait and Fan Mail dice however she wanted between the three conflicts.

I rolled one "automatic" producer's die three times for the three conflicts, and I specifically said I wouldn't be adding Budget dice. So, I think it was more than fair. I wasn't trying to win this conflict; the whole point was just to see how differently she cared about each of these three characters. I explained just that to the player; it wasn't my intention to snuff the only(?) NPC I wasn't prepared to let go of just yet (if you look at it I blew the entire setting to Kingdom Come for the series final episode, along with half of the secondary cast, and tried to leave no stone unturned), but of course it didn't occur to me at the time that that death could really happen, eheh.

Who decided what the stakes were? Did everyone get a say in it, or was it just you?

I (the producer) normally decide the stakes, and finish my sentence with something like "What do you think, are you okay with this? Any better ideas?" or, if I can't think of anything really that great, I say "I'm thinking these could be the stakes, but I'm sure we can come up with something more interesting. What do you guys suggest?" This is a little trick I learned from my time as a player in J. Mendes Heritage PTA series, to let the players feel more comfortable participating in the process.

So all our stakes are always open to negotiation if someone wants to have a say; it didn't happen very frequently, but sometimes they prefer other stakes or have better ideas than me.

In this case, I think the other players liked the idea as much as me (we all wanted to know how this love triangle would be untangled because, at that point, we didn't have a clue about the player's intentions... and probably she didn't either, eheh). As for the player in question, she's a dear old friend that trusts me all the way as a GM and a fellow player, and was cool with it. She had to make (yet another!) hard decision, but that's just what I tried to make this series all about: bangs, dilemmas, tough calls, etc. ;)
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ricmadeira
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« Reply #6 on: August 29, 2005, 03:57:57 AM »

Quote
I killed the 4th character the player/character really cared about.

How did you do that? Was that part of the stakes of a conflict at some point? Was this the same conflict?

This came up in the same scene, right after the narration of the that conflict, and the process may have in fact started with the narration if indeed the player got the narration and had her character run all the way back to get her fallen comrade.

What followed was entirely decided by me and me only, although if anyone was not okay with it that person could have spoken up and I would have changed it right away.

I think I thought something along these lines... Okay, so the player doesn't want to give up on this NPC just yet and - guess what, you moron? - neither do I. Still, a conflict that was suposed to be life and death has been lost, so there must be a price to pay to give some meaning to this whole thing. As the player delayed the shuttle's departure to run back for her lover, and there was this whole platoon of legionnaires shooting at her and her friends the whole time, I felt entirely entitled to kill one of the persons providing her with covering fire... and not a nameless red shirt, no, someone she cared deeply about. It seemed more than fair, considering I was letting her save the life of her Significant Other.

I wasn't trying to disempower the player or anything; she's made a conscious choice to delay what was already a far too narrow escape, so there's got to be a price. Can't have bangs and hard choices when those bangs and hard choices don't come along with hard consequences.

It's too bad you can't remember all the details of the exact stakes and who won narration. I can think of several ways you could have set up the stakes in that kind of situation, and it's nice for people to see the specific 'game parts' in action.

Actually, I think I recorded an entire PTA session once, when I had just bought a new digital recorder gadget. If it wasn't this one, it was the previous session... hmm... I'll go check the MP3s and get back to you on this.

Anyway, I'd like to know how would you handle the situation. This all started because I wanted to create a conflict for the scene and thought... "hmm, I could have one of these three NPCs killed, but I don't want to choose one. is there anyway I could let the dice decide between the three?" It was at that moment I hit upon the idea of three simultaneous conflict and that led me to changing my whole purpose of the conflict from not only creating a suspenseful and thrilling end for the scene but also (and mainly) to forcing the player to show me and the other participants which one or ones of these NPCs she cared most about.

As this was new territory for me, and for the PTA rules, I might not have come up with the perfect stakes for the range of results I was willing to accept what I intended... but, hey, I must have been pretty close! If the stakes indeed were "The NPC is left behind if you fail the conflict" instead of "The NPC gets killed by enemy fire", I didn't even have to backtrack or cheat all that much to let the player run back to her friend. Wink

[Edit. Clarification: "the perfect stakes for what I intended" changed to "the perfect stakes for the range of results I was willing to accept")
« Last Edit: August 29, 2005, 04:26:47 AM by ricmadeira » Logged

iago
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« Reply #7 on: August 29, 2005, 06:45:04 AM »

You set up an awesome conflict, laid out the stakes for all to see, rolled the dice, and then... fudged the outcome?!

I can't believe it. The girlfriend is dead. Dead dead dead. If she was just going to scrape by with some injuries, why bother rolling at all? Sorry if this sounds harsh, but you broke the cardinal rule of conflict resolution in my opinion.

Oh, come ON.  Ricardo did exactly the right thing here.  You want to talk about hitting what it's like to watch a TV show?  Man, did he ever do it.  Instead of offing a character that had a lot of potential continuing interest for the viewers, he instead made a choice in narration that maximized the angst for a central character.  Instead of telling Ricardo he did it wrong, let's laud his choice as one that will help to create the most emotionally significant conflicts in episodes to come.
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Frank T
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« Reply #8 on: August 29, 2005, 07:51:37 AM »

Iago, you are right except for one thing: They should have made it the stakes straight away. That would have been an honest thing to do. And I disagree that it wouldn't have mattered, John. Why do so many people get the notion that conflicts can't be about color stuff? The choice would still have been there: Which person is most important to the player? Not as grave, but still significant.

If you first set the stakes and then fudge them afterwards, that's an indicator that you picked the wrong stakes to begin with. But: It's probably better to correct your mistake whilst you can than to stick with it and put the NPC out of the story for good. Only you should be honest about it. You should tell the players straight in the face: Guys, you know, these stakes were crap. I don't want that character out of the show, or do you?

The way Ric just "ruled" in this instance smacks of GM force, which is just not appropriate in PtA as I understand it.

- Frank
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Matt Wilson
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #9 on: August 29, 2005, 08:00:21 AM »

I had a big long reply, and then Frank beat me to it.

Quote
If you first set the stakes and then fudge them afterwards, that's an indicator that you picked the wrong stakes to begin with.

Totally. And I like the suggestion of being up-front about maybe the stakes being wrong after the fact.

Ricardo, you asked above how I'd do it. In hindsight the stakes sound kind of like "can the protagonist get through this without people she loves coming to harm?"

One drawback to making stakes too specific is it removes some power from the narrator. With stakes like the above, having control of the narration is worth spending some fan mail on.
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iago
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« Reply #10 on: August 29, 2005, 08:00:53 AM »

Iago, you are right except for one thing: They should have made it the stakes straight away. That would have been an honest thing to do. And I disagree that it wouldn't have mattered, John. Why do so many people get the notion that conflicts can't be about color stuff? The choice would still have been there: Which person is most important to the player? Not as grave, but still significant.

If you first set the stakes and then fudge them afterwards, that's an indicator that you picked the wrong stakes to begin with. But: It's probably better to correct your mistake whilst you can than to stick with it and put the NPC out of the story for good. Only you should be honest about it. You should tell the players straight in the face: Guys, you know, these stakes were crap. I don't want that character out of the show, or do you?

The way Ric just "ruled" in this instance smacks of GM force, which is just not appropriate in PtA as I understand it.

Ricardo said the stakes were (emphasis mine): "If I win the roll, it means that person was shot up pretty badly, most likely dead."

I might start agreeing with you when you can make what he decided to do inconsistent with that statement of stakes.  Most likely does not equal definitely.  There is nothing wrong with creating the sense that death is possible.  Even if you don't deliver on it every time.
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Nicolas Crost
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« Reply #11 on: August 29, 2005, 08:04:07 AM »

Why do so many people get the notion that conflicts can't be about color stuff?
Well, it's in the book (1st ed), page 46:
"A conflict [...] should always make a powerful impact on the story."
Which does not sound like color to me.

But still, I agree: "Which person is most important to the player?" is in my eyes very much significant. Sometimes significant decisions and outcomes do look small at first but get really deep when you think somewhat about them. And I think "which person matters" is one of that kind.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #12 on: August 29, 2005, 08:30:28 AM »

Hello,

Everyone's getting all heated up over nothing and probably dragging in baggage about their own histories of play.

It all comes down the statement of the stakes. If Ric and the group did indeed leave the possibility of death open during this statement, then it was open, and whoever narrated got to say whether whatshername lives or dies. If failure of the conflict was established as including her dying, then she dies. Pretty easy.

The issue is not really to pin the Played It Wrong badge on anyone, with the attendant Group Was Suxxy sign hung on the door of wherever the game was played. The issue is for everyone participating in this thread to see the importance of stating the Stakes in a meaningful, useful, and fully-understood way, during play itself. Are we arriving, as a discussion crew here and now, at that shared understanding?

'Cause one thing's for sure: if narrator fiat can overturn what was stated as the Stakes, that establishes a very slippery slope to a very unpleasant place in play, for this particular game. There. I can say that without anyone flipping out, right? No accusations. Re-read the paragraph right before this one.

Please try to respond without using any version of the phrase "What I meant was ..."
Best,
Ron
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iago
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« Reply #13 on: August 29, 2005, 08:35:57 AM »

It all comes down the statement of the stakes. If Ric and the group did indeed leave the possibility of death open during this statement, then it was open, and whoever narrated got to say whether whatshername lives or dies. If failure of the conflict was established as including her dying, then she dies. Pretty easy.
(...)
'Cause one thing's for sure: if narrator fiat can overturn what was stated as the Stakes, that establishes a very slippery slope to a very unpleasant place in play, for this particular game. There. I can say that without anyone flipping out, right? No accusations. Re-read the paragraph right before this one.

Yeah -- that pretty much hits it.  I didn't see what Ricardo did as inconsistent with the stakes the way they were stated (with "possibly" instead of "definitely").  But you raise something that's worth chewing on -- how far can you go with narrated consequences in addition to those set by the stakes?  Because the first urge I had on reading the example was, "And so, her lover didn't die, but they both got stranded in enemy territory as a cliffhanger.  Right?  Right?"
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John Harper
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« Reply #14 on: August 29, 2005, 09:26:43 AM »

Yes, Ron, you're right. I think we are coming to an understanding on that point. I apologize to Ric if my first response was too harsh and judgmental.

The way I see it, PTA plays better when the stakes have concrete meaning. If you establish a conflict with stakes like "Someone might die," then the narrator gets to decide if they die or not, with all of the attendant consensus-checking and group dynamics that go with that. This, to me, is identical to simple fiat by one person, or freeform group decision-making. It doesn't resemble the conflict resolution system of PTA as I understand it.
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