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Author Topic: [Ends and Means] Memorial Day Playtest  (Read 1494 times)
Adam Cerling
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Posts: 159

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« on: September 05, 2005, 01:18:20 PM »

Several months ago, I sought some feedback for my ideas about a Narrativism-enabling lightweight live role-playing system I call Ends and Means. I playtested it briefly with a group of friends over Memorial Day weekend. It was difficult, and so I lost enthusiasm for the work for a few months. I'm back with it now, though, and this is a brief report of that Actual Play session.

The Players (all male):

S: A friend and fellow GM-type with whom I play games weekly. Used to run a Mind's Eye Theater (MET) LARP.
J: A good friend from high school who was getting married in two weeks. Played a lot of MET LARP.
M: Another friend with whom I play games weekly. Only recently has he been inspired (by a game I ran of the Pool) to try GMing anything. He's the quiet type, with a little bit of MET LARP experience.
T: A friend of S, J, and M I had not met before. A fun, gregarious role-player, who would be ordained as a Lutheran minister three months later.
B: Another friend of S, J and M I had not met before. He was another of the quiet type.

The Setup:

I introduced the setting for the game: a political conference among gods. Yahweh had announced his intention to resign, and so an election was on to elect the next One True God. The characters would be various lesser dieties who had announced their candidacy for the position. The people of Earth would be holding the election the next day, and unless some political deals were struck, it looked like there might be a stalemate.

This concept really only engaged S., J. and T. M. warmed to it gamely enough. I don't think B. ever really warmed to it, unfortunately.

The Characters:

I had expected Thors, Quezlcoatals and Zeuses to populate the game. What I actually got was very different, partly because I had opened the playing field of gods to figures like saints and other humans who'd become legendary. What I got was:

S: Che Guevara(sp?), as the spirit of the proletariat.
J: Lucifer.
M: Mother Earth.
T: Lady Reason, the spirit of the Enlightenment.
B: Bill Gates, the spirit of global capitalism.

This cast of characters (especially Bill) didn't feel altogether as mythic as I had pictured. I was tempted to say no to Bill entirely, but that player was having enough trouble finding enthusiasm for the game that I didn't want to hinder him further.

For lack of a good mechanic to decide victory over the scenario, I said that I'd decide by fiat based on what actions happened in the game to sway different constituencies. Each character defined three groups of core constituencies that they would try to effect over the course of the game. These consituencies were public knowledge.

The Game:

S. and J., the players with the most LARP experience, knew just what to do to get things moving socially: Just strike up conversations. Look for differences and common ground. Go from there. To give them something to talk about, I established the fact that a government official had an appointment with the conference to gather their statements about a stay of execution for a convicted murderer.

The biggest problem happened during a conversation between S. and T., as Che Guevarra and Lady Reason. They were getting deep into a socio-political argument of some kind, within earshot of the camps of NPC media. S. decided he wanted to give the mechanics a spin. He introduced a Stake of "Impress the media with the superiority of my arguments." T. went a long with it, seeming confused; then S. won his Stakes.

This totally threw T. for a loop. He was enjoying the content of the actual debate he'd been having. He'd been making some good points. The idea that mechanics would step in now and determine the reaction of the media, with no regard for the actual *content* of his points, jarred him badly. He suddenly felt as if none of the discussion or roleplaying actually mattered, and it took some convincing to persuade him not to bow out of the game then and there.

I wonder if perhaps I chose too serious a topic for this playtest: I mean, I conflated politics and ethics and religion all at once. If T. hadn't felt as strongly about his political debate, I wonder if his reaction would have been as severe to the intrusion of mechanics.

Later in the game, we had a good round-table discussion with the government official about capital punishment and the afterlife. No mechanics were invoked by anyone: we all just got to hear the positions and plans of the gods.

Late in the game, J., as Lucifer, spent Focus Tokens to purchase a Scenario from me. In effect, he got my undivided attention for fifteen minutes while he spun a wild plot involving Lawyers and the Vatican to boost his polls. In the middle of the scenario, I overheard other players doing something that I wanted to take part in -- but I remembered that J. had *paid* for my attention, and so I kept focused on him rather than telling him to "wait just a moment" and going to deal with something else. I enjoyed, as a GM, having my tasks prioritized like that.

By the end of the game, Lady Reason had agreed to withdraw her candidacy and simply become Mother Earth's running mate: the same had happened between Bill Gates and Lucifer. I consulted notes I'd taken during the game about how different constituencies were interpreting the events of the game, and ultimately decided that Mother Earth won the election the next day, just beating out Lucifer by a few percentage points. If only Che Guevarra had thrown in with the Prince of Darkness, they might have carried the day!

Lessons Learned:

I am once again without any kind of Setting to go with my System. The Election of God hits more real-life buttons than I want to hit using basic Ends and Means. Maybe the idea would work for a game of its own.

Ends and Means is definitely designed for longer, larger games than just two and a half hours one evening with five people. With the mechanics invoked only a handful of times, and limited time in which to explore the consequences of those scenes, I don't feel like I saw it shine.

It can become really complicated to establish Stakes in conflict resolution. I'm introducing a rule that a Stake must be summarized in a simple sentence: if a friend can't easily repeat your Stake back to you, it's too complicated. That prevents people from establishing a paragraph of details, conditions and contingencies as a Stake.

The Stealing the Scene mechanic I have, whereby a Foil (the person with a lower stat) with resources to spend can purchase victory outright, feels very empowering. To be the Lead (the person with the higher stat) in that situation feels disempowering, because I provide no way to contest the outcome. In a longer game, I think the Lead would have more and more of an advantage as time went on: follow-up conflicts would lead to more and more depletion of the Foil's resources, and the Lead would have more and more to spend on bribes and Scenarios. You don't see that in a short game.

To take the edge off being a Lead who loses, I'm introducing a privileged role called the Director in my next revision of the rules. More often than not, this role will go to a Lead. You may have lost your Stake, but you have more authority in narrating how you lost it.

So that's all for now. Back to writing and editing. Key to really getting a feel for this will be finding a larger group who wants to play it over multiple sessions, I think.
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Adam Cerling
In development: Ends and Means -- Live Role-Playing Focused on What Matters Most.
Andrew Morris
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« Reply #1 on: September 05, 2005, 04:58:14 PM »

Adam, I'm glad to see more on Ends and Means. Also, it was nice meeting you at GenCon.

As to T's discomfort during the media situation, my first thought was whether he'd role-played or LARPed before. Has he?
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Adam Cerling
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« Reply #2 on: September 05, 2005, 06:25:47 PM »

Thanks, Andrew! I feel cimilarly. Talking with you helped motivate me to brush this off and get working on it again.

I don't think that T. had had previous LARP experience. He was a veteran roleplaying gamer, however. He handled character creation and acting with enthusiasm and skill, but the sudden intrusion of mechanics during an in-character debate just blindsided him in a way I didn't anticipate.
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Adam Cerling
In development: Ends and Means -- Live Role-Playing Focused on What Matters Most.
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