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Author Topic: [WGP...] Blue Diamond and the Hypernaut, Continued...  (Read 4486 times)
Jon Hastings
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« on: August 29, 2006, 08:18:09 AM »

So, this is somewhat late, but, over the course of two more sessions, we finished up the With Great Power... game I first posted about here.

The short version: Blue Diamond and the Hypernaut managed to thwart Jove's plan to forcibly evolve all of humanity into Jovian-hybrid bacteria people.  The Hypernaut ended up questioning his own crusade to make humanity part of galactic civilization and the Blue Diamond maintained his media friendly poise throughout the whole ordeal.

We ended up playing 17 scenes over three sessions, with a total play time of about 7 hours.  I got the sense that we were moving rather slowly - or at least that we bogged down whenever we had to set stakes - although James mentioned that he thought the game was over too quickly.  I think he meant that he felt that the mechanical end of the game (the Villain's plan being devastated) was a little out-of-synch with the narrative arc.  (Is this what you meant, James?)

Here are some of my comments/concerns (hopefully Eric and James will pop in with their own):

Almost every GM Enrichment scene seemed to fall a little flat as we approached the time to set stakes and play cards.  In Player Enrichment scenes, this wasn't (usually) an issue, because it the players were pretty clear with what they wanted and all I had to do was find someway to act against them.

However, in GM Enrichment scenes, while I was able to figure out what my Villain wanted, it was kind of a drag to have to play my own opposition.  While I realize that the players can contribute to coming up with opposing stakes (and they did), I got the sense that they balked a bit because they didn't want to derail the plan.  (I could push harder against them than they could push against me.)  It ended up that a lot of the time the card play in the GM Enrichment scenes had no teeth.

For instance, in the final GM Enrichment Scene, Jove had broken into the HQ of Blue Diamond's parent corporation (he needed their technology to enact his evil plan).  I chose as my stakes: "Jove demoralizes the Lodge Corporation" - that is, when the heroes showed up, all the Corporation security guards and scientists would be too scared to help out in any way.  The opposing stakes were: "The main scientist manages to sabotage Jove's work."

I think my stakes were OK (they would constrain the color of how the final battle played out), but the opposition stakes are basically meaningless.  If I had lost (I didn't) we could have narrated that Jove suffered a momentary setback, but that setback would have no bite to it.

It wasn’t easy to come up with stakes that make sense both in terms of the story and in terms of the mechanics.  Part of the reason we got bogged down around stakes setting is that because you can't permanently change an Aspect until it is Devastated, figuring out which stakes are allowable is a bit trickier.

Another part of the problem was that I didn't focus my GM Enrichment Scenes enough on the Struggle - and this brings up another issue I had: there are a lot of things to keep track of in WGP... play when compared to, say, PTA.

In a given scene in PTA, all everyone has to focus on is the character's issue.  The player frames a scene to highlight his or her character's issue and the Producer pushes for conflict that puts pressure on the character in an issue-relevant manner.  But GMing WGP..., I had to keep in mind the Struggle, the Plan, and whatever Aspect was highlighted at the moment.  Brining these things into alignment on a scene-to-scene basis and distilling them into stakes was not easy and I'm not sure the game was ever really firing on all cylinders.  It kind of reminded me of my first experience of GMing InSpectres when we completely underplayed the start-up/office element.

And, spinning off of that, I feel that I could have pushed the Struggle (Tradition vs. Progress) more, but I also think that the Struggle itself ended up not being that engaging.  Or maybe a better way to put it would be that we all found it hard to picture what the Struggle might look like in the idiom of four-color fisticuffs, so it ended up fading into the background.

In general, the Conflict Scenes went really well.  The final Conflict Scene was over a little bit too quickly, though, partly because I completely underestimated the advantage the players would have by the end of the game and because I was caught up in narrating the battle, I forgot to assess until a few rounds had already gone by.

I'm focusing on the problems, but I do want to make it clear that we all had a very good time and I think a lot of what I struggled with is pretty normal when it comes to learning a new game.  I definitely want to play again: there are a lot of things about the game I love (everything having to do with Suffering, the Story Arc, the tactical game-play element).

I have a few more comments, but I'll wait to see if James and Eric have anything to add at this point.
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James_Nostack
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« Reply #1 on: August 29, 2006, 10:09:07 AM »

Jon - I want to comment a lot, but I'm late to class.  My quick comments:

1.  I was sweating at the start of this session!  I had 2-3 aspects devastated: I'd lost my powers, I'd given up on my convictions, and the bad guys had a bead on my secret ID.  From a superheroic perspective, that's almost as bad as it can get.

2.  However, if anything I felt the "tables turning" aspect of WGP, where the worse you do along the way, the more power you get at the end, was far too generous.  As I recall, I won prettily handily at the end, which felt kind of anti-climactic.  It didn't take cunning or skill to wiggle out of that precarious situation I was in; the mechanics did their thing and I just went along for the ride.  It made for a good story, but I didn't feel as strong a sense of triumph as I'd expected. 

3.  I think the stakes all around were a little flat.  It might have been because we made conflicts out of non-conflicts.  Like, for my money, getting trapped in that 2D prison should have occurred no matter what; same deal with exposing some of the character's possible racism.  Or (though it wasn't my character) that Verizon Girl was pregnant.  Like, sometimes unexpected things happening could just be accepted into the SIS, rather than turned into conflicts--if everyone's into the changes.  Conflict Res, as I understand it, is really about what the players want, rather than the characters.
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Jon Hastings
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« Reply #2 on: August 29, 2006, 10:34:32 AM »

3.  I think the stakes all around were a little flat.  It might have been because we made conflicts out of non-conflicts.  Like, for my money, getting trapped in that 2D prison should have occurred no matter what; same deal with exposing some of the character's possible racism.  Or (though it wasn't my character) that Verizon Girl was pregnant.  Like, sometimes unexpected things happening could just be accepted into the SIS, rather than turned into conflicts--if everyone's into the changes.  Conflict Res, as I understand it, is really about what the players want, rather than the characters.

You're right: I think we did make conflicts out of non-conflicts.  I did feel this especially in the GM Enrichment scenes, where we seemed to be setting stakes just because we had to and there was no sense of building - organically - to the point where some story element needed to be resolved.

However, and this may just be my personal preference, I think conflicts should always be rooted in the characters' interests.  In PTA and other games like it, I tend to think of it as the player acting as an advocate for his or her character.  I think these kinds of games can stumble if both the GM and the player are dumping adversity on the character.
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Eric Minton
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« Reply #3 on: August 29, 2006, 12:10:55 PM »

However, in GM Enrichment scenes, while I was able to figure out what my Villain wanted, it was kind of a drag to have to play my own opposition.  While I realize that the players can contribute to coming up with opposing stakes (and they did), I got the sense that they balked a bit because they didn't want to derail the plan.  (I could push harder against them than they could push against me.)  It ended up that a lot of the time the card play in the GM Enrichment scenes had no teeth.
You mean...  we could have derailed the Plan?  Maybe I've been reading too much Capes, but I assumed that the Plan itself was mechanically protected from actually being derailed -- that to do so, we'd have to Devastate that Aspect.
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Jon Hastings
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« Reply #4 on: August 29, 2006, 12:16:27 PM »

You mean...  we could have derailed the Plan?  Maybe I've been reading too much Capes, but I assumed that the Plan itself was mechanically protected from actually being derailed -- that to do so, we'd have to Devastate that Aspect.

No - you're right: the Plan is mechanically protected.  Which is why it was kind of hard (I think) to come up with good opposition stakes for GM Enrichment scenes.  I think we bogged down every time we tried to figure out stakes that would (a) fit the mechanical limitation (i.e., the Plan must be Devastated before it can really be derailed) but (b) still be interesting and worth fighting over.
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Lxndr
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« Reply #5 on: August 29, 2006, 12:46:50 PM »

In the con game I played, the GM made a distinct difference between the Plan with a capital P, and plan with a lower-case p.  Several times I tried to foil the villain's "plans" - and succeeded - without foiling the Plan, which was still continuing, even if he had to figure out a different way to approach it.

So, imho, the plan the villain currently had - easily derailed.  It doesn't devastate the Plan.

Does this help?
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Jon Hastings
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« Reply #6 on: August 29, 2006, 01:47:47 PM »

Hi Alexander -

I think that's generally how we played it: at one point early in the game, for example, I lost a conflict and my villain ended up captured by Blue Diamond.  This set up the next scene - "Jove escapes!" - but it begs the question: why fight hard to capture the Villain (or do anything to him) if nothing can really happen until an Aspect is Devastated?  The answer, I think, is to set stakes that you can't just ignore - but trying to set those kind of stakes led to us getting bogged down.
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James_Nostack
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« Reply #7 on: August 29, 2006, 07:31:09 PM »

See, this is what I liked about our initial conflict: one of the stakes was, "If we win, Jove is actually helpful, instead of harmful."  So it's a case of trying to thwart some frustrating benefactor, rather than a scheming supervillain.  So, the Plan itself was still the same: antagonist wants to transform the human race into something weird.  But the interpretation is completely different.
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Jon Hastings
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« Reply #8 on: August 30, 2006, 05:46:28 AM »

See, this is what I liked about our initial conflict: one of the stakes was, "If we win, Jove is actually helpful, instead of harmful."  So it's a case of trying to thwart some frustrating benefactor, rather than a scheming supervillain.  So, the Plan itself was still the same: antagonist wants to transform the human race into something weird.  But the interpretation is completely different.

Well, the thing about those stakes - which came out of a GM Enrichment scene - is that I don't think I would have ended up playing anything differently than I did.  That is, as I was playing him, Jove already felt that what he was doing was for the good of humanity.

But if we had interpreted those stakes to mean that turning humans into mind-controlled, Jovian-hybrid, bacteria pod people was actually helpful - well, that's a pretty huge change in interpretation.  Too huge, I think, to come about through a GM Enrichment scene, and, perhaps, the kind of change that is simply outside the scope of any kind of conflict resolution.   
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James_Nostack
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« Reply #9 on: August 30, 2006, 10:39:20 AM »

But if we had interpreted those stakes to mean that turning humans into mind-controlled, Jovian-hybrid, bacteria pod people was actually helpful - well, that's a pretty huge change in interpretation.  Too huge, I think, to come about through a GM Enrichment scene, and, perhaps, the kind of change that is simply outside the scope of any kind of conflict resolution.   

Really?  I don't have my copy of WGP with me, so I can't check to see if something on that scale is forbidden.  Though it would have been inconsistent with preconceptions of how superhero comics usually shake out, it seems like it could have worked with the Plan, and it may have been very interesting to turn the standard comics tropes upside down.

Like, maybe the bacteria-hybrid people could create a society in which corporations were no longer an ideal economic instrument, threatening Blue Diamond's "corporate superhero" aspect.  Meanwhile, the bacteria could more tightly integrate people with the Earth's biosphere, threatening the Hypernaut's "man belongs among the stars" aspect.  I don't know the rest of the details of the plan, but it at least seems like a viable interpretation of the formal properties of the Plan, even if it would radically change the Plan's informal connotations.

Now, that's ultimately a matter of taste: maybe that kind of plot twist wasn't quite right, or would have been too radical a change for a GM to process.  (Viz., my failure to let Eric lead the charge against the barbarians in our first Sorcerer session--nothing wrong with it, except that I blanked on it.)  So, maybe we just weren't on the same page.

A thought: in trad RPG's, the players face risk.  The trad GM does not face risk: all outcomes are known and tolerable.  In WGP, the GM is required to portray certain scenes, and a scene without risk is flat.  Thus, the GM has to go through some risk in these scenes to make them entertaining.  Since the GM's Plan cannot be hurt until certain formal conditions are met, maybe the risk comes from re-interpreting what's going on?
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Jon Hastings
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« Reply #10 on: August 30, 2006, 12:00:51 PM »

James -

Actually, I think this might be a point where there was a big disconnect between us: I wasn't interested in overturning super-hero tropes (even if the game did support doing that, I wanted to play it straight the first time through), so even if I had the opportunity to do so, I wouldn't have.

One of the steps in setting up the Plan requires the GM to get a clear picture of what "Capturing" the Strife Aspects looks like, so I'm not sure that such a radical change would have worked.  And this isn't just a question of me being able to process it: I did not want to process it in a way that would undermine my conception of the villain, and require - essentially - an entirely new Plan.  (By the rules it seems, the Plan is not just about devastating Strife Aspects, it is about devastating those Aspects in a fairly specific manner.)

Again, as a personal preference, I'm not sure that I like it if huge re-interpretations are decided by a flip of the cards - especially the first flip of the cards in a game.  I think you're right that without any risk, the scenes are flat.  My problem is that I'm not sure exactly what should be risked and your suggestion - that I should risk my interpretation of who the Villain is (a bad guy) - doesn't really work for me at all.  Partly because that kind of re-interpretation would have been coming out of nowhere, instead of being firmly grounded and organically grown out of what had already been established in the SIS.  (Remember - this was the first scene in the game!)

At this point, it might be helpful to see examples of other groups' GM Enrichment scenes to see how they have dealt with this issue (or if it is even an issue for them).

As I said before, we really didn't have the same problem in Player Enrichment scenes, although I think we did struggle when there was a tie and we had to come up with escalations.  In these cases, we were already setting big stakes, so we didn't really have much room to escalate, without changing the arena of the stakes.
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James_Nostack
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« Reply #11 on: August 30, 2006, 04:07:26 PM »

Actually, I think this might be a point where there was a big disconnect between us: I wasn't interested in overturning super-hero tropes (even if the game did support doing that, I wanted to play it straight the first time through), so even if I had the opportunity to do so, I wouldn't have.

Sure; I got a sense of that, and I respect it.  But I think we might be boxed into a corner with respect to the GM scenes.  I'd guess that a scene provokes interest to the extent that it deviates from expectations.  (Some deviations can be more subtle than others.)  It sounds like certain kinds of changes were prohibited by the rules, and other kinds of changes may have been disfavored because they wouldn't have been as much fun.  What kinds of changes would have worked better?  We can try to focus on them next time.   

Quote
At this point, it might be helpful to see examples of other groups' GM Enrichment scenes to see how they have dealt with this issue (or if it is even an issue for them).

Totally, and if only because there's not enough WGP play threads.

For what it's worth, I didn't think the GM Scenes were flat.  I think we did a pretty good job of recreating a mid-70's Marvel Comic.  This has advantages: a strong sense of genre-appropriateness, pretty straightforward plotting, etc.  It also has the disadvantage that we're all saturated with the source material, and it becomes harder to do something we haven't seen before. 

For my part, I was trying to hew to our consensus on a style reminiscent of Grant Morrison and the "new style" reconstructionist stuff: figuring out disquieting aspects of the character, presenting goofily self-aware superheroes, trying to give the sharpest twist possible to the conceptual underpinnings, etc. in what I hoped was a sentimental kind of way.  Looking back on it, I may have come across as too aggressive about that, or may have miscommunicated, because I think there was a slight disconnect.  I still had fun, though, and I'm glad my guy didn't get completely hosed, which was looking like a real possibility for a little while!
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