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Author Topic: [PtA]The Belt: Creating the show and Stealth Gaming works.  (Read 8573 times)

Posts: 407

« on: September 08, 2005, 11:27:05 PM »

(This is part of my on-going resolve to be more useful on the forge, instead of just walking away with the goods)

This Thursday (as in, about 4 hours ago) the Stealth Gamers and I sat down to a game of PtA.  Some of what I'm going to talk about is the show we built, as the title suggests, but the subtext here is all about how and why the Stealth Gamers work.

The Stealth Gamers: I've been getting frustrated by my gaming lately; I've got two good games going, but one of them suffers from schedule apathy (the only time we can play is at a low-energy time, and we love the game enough to play anyway instead of not play), and the other is every other week on a Saturday, which means it suffers more than it's fair share of games lost to weddings, camping, and the like.  Our "regular" gaming night suffers badly from social/casual gamers, mixed CA's and a social contract that says "Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law".  It's still a fun evening, but the focus ain't gaming.
About three months ago I put up a post on my blog, and e-mailed (almost) all of the gamers and/or people I knew that might be open to gaming sometimes.  In a nutshell it said "I'm a game designer, and I need people to playtest games.  I also need to mess around with other games and systems to keep learning.  If you think you might be interested, let me know and I'll put you on my mailing list." 
The Stealth Gamers is a mailing list of the resulting 15-20 people who said "I might be able to sometimes."
Each week I send out an e-mail that says "This week, we'll be playing X.  It's a game about [stuff].  Reply if you're interested."
Each week it gets me around 5 people (often not the same people!) who are there to play X, a game about [stuff], and nothing else.  Playing On Purpose.  It's netted me several playtests of Blood and Bronze, a set of lab rats for Death's Door demos, a couple boardgames that I or someone on the list wanted to play, some Attack Vector.... and now PtA.

If this post does nothing but establish one thing it's this: One working method to get a group Playing On Purpose.  Invite 50 people.  25 will reply.  5 will show up.   Those 5 are there to play.

For the next 5-6 weeks, the Stealth Gamers will take on PtA.  This week we built the show, pitched it to the network, and they're buying in enough to fund our pilot.  It airs next Thursday at 9 PM in a two-hour block of tv on HBO, and for those of you who miss it, I'll post a review of the show here.

The Belt

Premise: The Belt is a show about the Corps, a mixed bag of folks who work for the only space station in an asteroid belt full of miners and prospectors.  These guys run errands for the Station, rescue marooned miners, repair habitats, haul rogue asteroids off danger paths, and are the closest thing to the law out here in The Belt.

The tone of the show is quirky and fun, with a lot of emphasis on the kinds of personalities and stories that a frontier boom town in space would collect.  The show's going to be airing on HBO, so commercial free, and willing to push a bit at the boundary of typical TV fare.

Lance: He comes to the Corps as the team medic.  He's on the run from a shadowy past, and keeps everyone at arm's length in case he has to cut and run again.  His issue is commitment phobia, and his personal set is the break room and coffee machine.  He's got "Hunted" as a nemesis, and who exactly that is isn't clear yet.

Leon Bridger: Leon is one of the longest running members of the Corps, and is the guy whose glass is always half-full.  His job on the team is the engineer (in the Civil sense, not a Star Trek way) - when an asteroid is breaking up to threaten the Station or a miner's hab is failing halfway around the belt, he's the guy you call.  But there's something underneath the eternal optimist: his issue is atonement and his personal set is 'cracks in the facade'.  We know something's up when he stops walking on the sunny side.

Jack Davidson: Jack Davidson, three time winner of the tri-moon cup, is the pilot on the crew.  Sure, everyone knows how to pilot a spaceship, but Jack is the guy who can make it scream in a vacuum.  When he's not strung out on drugs, that is.  Jack's issue is that he just doesn't know when to quit: can't slow down, can't shut up, can't stop wanting the next hit.  His personal set is, of course, his custom racing rig.

Joseph FitzHenry: Joseph is a smart guy from a rich family in-system who pissed off the wrong guy.  One signature on a transfer order, and his corner office with a mountain view becomes 4 metal walls and a mass of pipes.  He was married to Nina-Joe in the past, but they were constantly at each other's throats and divorced.  She moved out and they haven't seen each other since.  His issue is that he's a fish out of water, and his personal set is his office space crammed into a boiler room deep in the guts of the Station.

Aries: This young tech has it all, and doesn't even know it.  Brains, sure.  Body of a god?  That's what you get for being engineered.  Crippling shyness and nervous around women?  Bet you didn't see that one coming.  His issue is self-worth and his inability to relate with women.  The workshop is his personal set.

Nina-Joe FitzHenry: Nina (to her bosses) or NJ (to her friends) was raised in the belt, and got out by marrying well.  Very well, if you can ignore the constant bickering and the stepmother from hell.  She, um, left.  Applied for a job, and was transfered back out the belt as a PR person for the Corps and the Station.  Her issue is her Belter past, and she shares a Nemesis with Joseph: her mother-in-law, his mother.

Sets: a handful of different ships the Corps uses, various rooms around the Station, a seedy bar in a rough part of the belt called the 4H club (the sign in the window is an old neon sign that says "Open 24 hours" but the 2 and 'ours' are burnt out).

The Beginning:  Joseph is transfered to the Corps and arrives at the Station, without his luggage, his papers, or his cat.  He doesn't know NJ is out here, and she doesn't know he's coming.

Here's where I really think the Stealth Gaming worked for us: None of these people, with one exception had ever played an "indie" game (one of them played in my run of DitV).  However, because of all the social contract set up I go into at the top, these folks sat at the table, were ready to go when I said "OK, get drinks and stuff now, 'cause we're gaming in five" and, this is the real kicker for me, didn't so much as blink at any of the pervy mechanics in PtA.  Cards?  No "stats"?  Issues?  Story arcs?  My very strong gut instinct was that if I hadn't set up the Steath Gamers and had presented PtA to this exact same set of people on a regular gaming night, I would have had a serious uphill slog to get them to even look at it, let alone play it together.  Instead, these people were all jazzed, and as soon as I had explained enough of the game that we could start creating the show, someone opened their mouth and said "sci-fi", someone else said "light-hearted fun" and it didn't stop moving until I was using the scene of Joseph arriving on the Station to demonstrate the mechanics.

Stealth Gaming.  Damn, I wish I'd thought of this five years ago.


I write games. My games don't have much in common with each other, except that I wrote them.

Tim Alexander

Posts: 304

« Reply #1 on: September 11, 2005, 08:24:50 AM »

Hey James,

Interesting stuff here. I'm curious if you're going to be continuing with the same group of people for the next several weeks or if you're putting the open call out each time and just recasting? If you're maintaining the group I'm interested to hear how well the feeling of playing on purpose is kept from week to week. If you're doing the open call I'm curious to see how the game fairs with a new cast each session. In any event the Stealth Gaming idea is a nice solution to quite a few problems. Not too long ago I did an open call to a bunch of folks to form a new group, but I hadn't considered keeping the pool to allow for ad hoc pickups. I think I may well give this a try.

Thanks for the post,

Josh Roby

Posts: 1055

Category Three Forgite

« Reply #2 on: September 14, 2005, 01:37:35 PM »

Stealth Gamers sound positively awesome except for one thing: you're not in Los Angeles.

How wide, geographically speaking, did you cast your net?  And how did you find 50 locals to serve as potentials?


Posts: 407

« Reply #3 on: September 14, 2005, 04:45:29 PM »

Tim: For PTA I'm keeping the same set for five weeks, although past the pilot I'm going to be open to guest stars.  I'm maintaining the weekly e-mails with the status of the game and links to actual play for the mailing list as a whole.  I think the playing on purpose feel will stay up, because I was up front about the committment, so people knew before they signed on that they were signing on for 5 or 6 weeks.

Joshua: Barring the rare out-of-towner who reads my weblog, I cast my net with about a 45 minute drive radius, although I didn't consciously think of it that way; I just limited myself to the greater Edmonton area (~700K population base).  I directly mailed probably around 30 people, and figure maybe a dozen who read my weblog that didn't overlap, so I likely didn't catch 50 people on the initial sweep, although I've since added a couple people missed on the first go-around.  As to "how did I find them?" - I didn't have to look very hard.  I e-mailed gamers I'd played with directly, gamers I had played with in the past, people at work who I knew gamed sometimes, and people I knew who didn't game that I thought were open-minded enough to try it from time to time.

I would bet that just about anyone who has done gaming for more than a couple years could easily generate a similar volume if they just sat down and thought about it.

Part of the "trick" is that I didn't limit myself.  To pull an example, I added a guy from work who, knowing that I "did that gaming stuff", asked me to recommend some good board games a while back.  I did not subscribe to the "must game with friends" fallacy.


I write games. My games don't have much in common with each other, except that I wrote them.

« Reply #4 on: September 14, 2005, 08:50:05 PM »

I'm quite pumped about the whole thing.  Being one of the Stealth Gamers I found that this way of getting a group togeather works well for getting varied players out, and only the players who are interested.  I am quite looking forward to actual play, as playing an optimist is going to be somthing of a challenge for me.
Arturo G.

Posts: 333

« Reply #5 on: September 23, 2005, 05:16:40 AM »

Nice to hear about your experience.

I'm having some of these problems with my group of players. I was thinking on doing something similar but not feeling confident enough to try it. Your success encourages me a lot.

My only worry is how it will work in the long term. Won't you become attached to a specific group of people (the most regular ones)?
Please, keep us informed !


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