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[PTA] Lions at the Gates

Started by Storn, September 11, 2006, 09:16:57 AM

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Got a chance to play Prime Time Adventures last night for the first time.  I did  some quickie sketches while at the table and they are imbedded in the character descriptions. 

The Players:  3 players I met that night for the first time.  Being introduced into a tight group for the first time can always be a bit awkward.  But really, I never felt awkward.  I cannot speak for the other guys.  We were actually going to play Don't Rest Your Head... but talk turned to Prime Time Adventures and how several  wanted to do a Season instead of just a one shot.  I've been really interested in PTA so I campaigned for doing it too.

Bt is the Producer.
Jf is Prometheus
Jd is Medea
B is Rion Greenwhich
and I'm Storn, I'm Ulysses Station.

I've played with Jd a total of three times.  And he was the one to introduce me to the "Friday" group.  So the usual Actual Play analysis of player dispositions is going to be a bit from and outsider POV.  We were playing late, due to real world job stuff that Jd has to go through.  So there was definitely a fatigue factor.  Having said that, I had a great time!

Picking the show
This was difficult at first.  Lots of ideas where thrown out, as we concentrated on what we all DIDN'T want.  As I and Jd have come from other games and groups recently, we had a wide range of recent experiences that we didn't care to repeat.  So.  No cops.  Westerns were suggested, like Deadwood, but didn't quite catch hold, Fantasy was toyed with, but we all wanted a twist on Fantasy and couldn't come up with.  Post apocalyptic was tossed out (at first).  Dimensional time travellers just seemed to unattached.

But slowly, things that I think we liked from Fantasy and the Western ideas started to merge back towards Post Apocalyptic.  That we could weave some of those elements into the Setting we eventually ended up with.

Lions at the Gate is a post apocalyptic world where the characters are trying to revive civilization... starting with the reclamation of Manhattan and most specifically the New York Public Library.  Mutants and overgrown, unknown jungles are outside of the 14 mile rock known as Manhattan.  The show is named "Lions at the Gate", in reference to Patience and Fortitude, the two marble lions that bracket the magnificient steps of the library.

All of our characters have greek naming conventions, which sorta evolved, but is kinda cool to me.  The group character generation had some fits and starts, but really gelled over the long run.  We created a tight cast, working through some of the speed bumps.

First up is Prometheus and Medea.  Jf's Prometheus is the tinkerer engineer who is more loyal to his brother who stole the secret of gunpowder from our Tribe and is distributing it to cannibals, mutants and despots outside of Tribe territory.  Prometheus certainly lives up to his name, first scene he is literally playing with fire in a flashback.  Can Prometheus deal with his hubris before something precious is blown up?

Jd's Medea was brought up as a cannibal, but learned to read...and that saved her life when she was captured by The Tribe.  She is now the teacher to The Tribe's children and the most avid researcher at the Library.  Can the power of Learning let her outrun her past?

Then there is B's Rion Greenwhich, a 'slinger, as in gunslinger, the rangers of The Tribe and caretakers of the secret of Black Powder.  Rion is dubious about the Library's uses (the drain of The Tribe's food, manpower and resources is high).  But is tied to my character as my father was his partner...and upon my pop's death, oaths to protect me were made.  Not to mention, he just got roped into being the Council of Elders voice at the Library project.  When will his oaths be satisfied?

Then there is Ulysses Station, my character.  He might be a descendent of "The Founder", a woman with piercing green eyes and who managed to keep the spark of learning alive, while protecting or even creating The Tribe back in the black days of yore.  For some odd reason, green eyes are never seen within the Tribe in their history.  Ulysses has evolving psychic abilities, further connecting him to The Founder's legacy... but a legacy he is unsure that he wants to step into.  Can he make a life of his own choosing?


The Pilot Episode

Bt sets the scene of broken buildings and jungle vines wrapping various NYC landmarks as the camera comes into 42nd street and the New York Public Library, settling on our two lions.  He introduces all of us at the Library as a messenger comes from the Tribe elders.  They want to see progress.  A small conflict arises between Medea and Rion on the roof as Rion is unconvinced the Library project is worth the food and manpower it is absorbing.  Survival is a more pressing concern.  Rion is a bit dressed down by Medea in front of Prometheus and Ulysses.  And sets the power dynamic of Rion v. Medea.  Prometheus scheming and Ulysses wanting everyone to get along and cooperate.

Jf has the first scene, he decides on the flashback with his mentor character (his connection).  This sets the tone for the next 3 scenes.  I wanted to push B a bit, so I jumped in and played the mentor character... chiding Prometheus for playing with fire and burning his eyebrows off... and fussing over him like the adopted son, about to send him to the world and more specifically, the library project.

Prometheus promised to be careful, but it was all smoke, as B then confided he went straight back to his dangerous experiment after she leaves.

B then does a flashback that ties his character to mine, the death of his partner, Hadrian, who is also my father.  This was a nice bit of story work, as not only that is fleshed out, but the fact that one of "us" has stolen the secret of Powder.  That it was Rion's nemesis, Bernard,  who had shot Hadrian several times and left Hadrian to die.  Bernard also happens to be Prometheus' partner (later I forced the issue to make it a brother.  Hadrian is Rion's connection as "the ghost of Ulyssey's father".  Through Jd's playing of Hadrian, makes Rion promise to abandon the hunt for Bernard in order to take care of his son.

Jf's turn as Medea.  Her flashback concerns the time she broke away from the Cannibals (the Pirami (named after Piramus, cause it is only natural that Cannibals come from Jersey) with a moldy children's primer in her hand.  The capture of her by Rion and her subsequent trial in front of the Tribe.  It is her assertion that she has learned to read that sets her apart from her former people.

Then my turn as Ulyssey's flashback.  Which is odd, all the other flashbacks have been in black and white... and so is this, except for the flames of a torch being thrown on piles of books.  It is a vision, not a flashback, but of the future albeit before the time of the pilot, as Pirami mutants surround the Annex (the fiction library across 5th avenue on 40th street) and burn it to the ground.  The psychic vision also shows the deaths of the other cast members.

Upon waking, the conflict quickly turns to trying to convince everyone of the seriousness of the situation.  Unfortunately, its not in the cards, and the flashback continues with the Pirami surrounding the Annex, burning it and then dying as a huge fireball engulfs them... a fireball in the exact nature as Prometheus's experiment.


We then do another round of scenes.  The flashback structure was a bit fits and starts... but I think we were all psyched were it eventually took us.

Now, who's scene it was is a bit blurry (fatigue factor) and the scenes were a bit more organic in terms of combining cast together... but the gist of what happens next is the Tribal Eldars are coming.  We have to prove the Library's worth.

Prometheus shows that he can build simple cranes to increase manpower output for removing rubble, maybe working wells and the like.  Unfortunately, the cards were all the Producers this night... and cut-to little kids using his inventions as see-saws undermines the engineering prowess of Prometheus and underscores that The Tribe is a bit set in its ways.  However, it will prove to be enough to keep the Library project going.

Rion shows a map where large numbers of 'Slingers gather at a place called Fort Dix.  Again, the cards end up on the skeptical Elders side and they think that is simply to far away to mount an expedition.

Medea shows a document of past Eldars speaking of the Pursuit of Happiness.  While intriguing, the Eldars are skeptical once again and pooh-pooh it.  They end up confiscating both the map of Fort Dix and that really messy written Pursuit of Happiness document.

Ulysses is too young to present anything.  In fact, his scene is "graduation" from Medea's school as Valedictorian.  Medea, seeing that Prometheus has impressed the Council of Elders and is really in great poltiical position tries to leverage Ulysses to be the "voice of the Elders" at the Library project.  Hoping that the tenous link to the Mother of the Tribe, the Founder, combined with the obvious smarts the kid has, will counter balance Prometheus's influence. 

Ulysses totally drops the ball in public speaking in front of the Elders.  This is partly because I was at a loss of words, and for those who know me... that is a very RARE thing.  Partly, Ulysses whole relationship to this Founder thing is one of standoffishness.  He wants to carve his own path, not some path destined to him.  He just doesn't know that that is yet, much to Rion's dismay.  But the scene worked, I hope.  Medea loses the bid for Ulysses to be "the voice", but manages to get Rion enstated as "the Voice".

Next on Lions at the Gate
We then did the "coming attractions" scenes.

Bt led off with a doozy.  A scene of Medea gone totally back to her roots, in war paint, sniffing in the jungle, searching for something and totally not the schoolmarm no longer... she is feral and someone is going to pay.

Ulysses worked in his Nemesis in the open scene.  Hecate, the daughter of Khronos is to be his Nemesis in a Romeo and Juiliet kind of situation determined at chargen.  Khronos is the big bad of a huge tribe of enemies, we didn't really touch upon him in the Pilot, but he was created at chargen too.  Ulysses comin attraction scene was him on the NY side of a broken Brooklyn bridge and Hecate, the beautiful exotic cannibal on the Brooklyn side looking at each other quizzically.  The range was an easy shot for Ulysses bow and out of range of her javelins... yet the bow never comes off his shoulder and the sun sets blood red behind them.  Then a cut to "you have to go!" as Hecate is now on Manhatten (kayak on the shore behind her) and Ulysses is shaking her, convinced that his people are coming to get her.

Prometheus's scene after I mention the WWII diesel submarine at 50-56th street dock is him doing mad scientist experiments in the submarine.  Computations and experiments WAAAAY beyond any of what he showed the Elders of simple leverage cranes.  Cue the mad laughter practically in the sparks of arc welding.

Rion's upcoming scene was one of action, running along the elevated train tracks near Penn Station, shooting at badguys, searching for the missing Ulysses.

And Medea's... I'm hate to say this, I'm blanking.  I"m hoping Jd, who does frequent these boards, will pop in and remind me.


Critics Corner

While the game moved in fits and starts at times, I had a blast and that, for me, is really the bottom line.  I think I can speak for all of us, that we are all psyched to tackle an actual season.  I know that Medea has a 3 in the next ep and that is really cool.

I think we moved fan mail around well...although it is my first brush with PTA... so I don't have a measuring stick.

I think the characters were dynamic, although I *feel* like B struggled with finding Rion there for a bit.  But I think that was mostly fatigue.  At chargen, we struggled with Prometheus and Rion being characters with "one foot out the door".  And how can we weave them back in.  I think Rion's being "Voice", which is sorta against his wishes... needs to be hammered.  I think we all feel that Prometheus is going to be a big bad if someone doesn't kill him before the end of the season.  He is a weasel.  Good stuff, that.

We did struggle into injecting conflict into scenes.  So much was Introduction Color.  But I think that is the Pilot's job.  Due to Bt's great coming attraction scene of *boom* Medea goes feral... I think we have Conflict and drama from the get-go next week.  He also mentioned that he was very hands off for the pilot, but had driving scenes already in mind for episode 2.

But these are my impressions, it will be interesting to see if any the other participants chime in here.  I go now to e-mail them that I wrote this up...

Georgios Panagiotidis

Hi, that sounds really cool.

Your comment about injecting conflict into scenes, having the scenes be mostly color and your players having driving scenes in mind for the next episode... that reminds me of something I've run into with my group before. Namely, individual players trying to steer the plot through their contributions; building up to the "good" scenes and squeezing their character's issue into the story somehow.

PTA is much easier than that.

I kept reminding the players not to try to push the story where they want it to go, but instead to simply focus on the character's issue and to set up scenes that highlight, challenge and affect said issue. Forget about the cool plot twist you have in mind for later, forget about setting up things for some later scene or episode. The only thing that matters is the scene right now. How does it challenge or highlight the character's issue? Because if it doesn't, there can be no conflict in the scene. Narrate the things you want to narrate, but then skip to the meaty stuff. Move straight to the scene that DOES centre on the issue. Cause that's where the "good" scenes happen.

Five tons of flax!
I started a theory blog in German. Whatever will I think of next?


For those watching, I'm Bob and I play the role of Rion the Slinger.

I think the session went really well.  I agree that there really wasn't any awkwardness introducing the new player, once we got past the "We've seen your work and think it's really cool" part.  It helps to remember that we're still all nerds on the inside.

Storn covered the session pretty well, but there's a couple of things that I want to comment on.  First, I agree that Rion didn't come out too strongly in this episode.  I really need to push it harder next game, and make sure to set up scenes that help show him to the audience.  That's one of the reasons for the "Next On" scene I made.  He's supposed to be a Gunslinger (Yes, I'm stealing rather heavily from the Dark Tower.), but he never drew iron even once during the pilot episode.  His issue is violence, and whether his guns can bring peace.  I'll be trying to hit that harder next episode.

The other thing is fan mail.  I think we started off really strong, because we couldn't keep any on the table.  It was getting handed out as fast as the producer could spend budget.  This may also have been partially caused by the fact that some of our earliest scenes didn't have conflicts to get budget spent.  Still, I took that as a good sign.  We did end the game with about 5 chips in the middle of the table, but I think it's just because we didn't have many scenes after the last conflict that the budget got spent on.

Overall, I'd call it a successful pilot episode.  I'm really looking forward to playing out a whole PTA season.
Working on: Heartless Void - A Sorcerer Mini-Supplement (Started Here)


That pile of five Fan Mail in the middle of the table was entirely there because of exhaustion, near as I could tell.  We were all pretty beat, the game ending at around 2 or 3 in the morning.

The brainstorming scene was damned tiring and I could feel frustrationg creeping into me as we got towards something solid.  When we were done with the brainstorming, the Producer was kinda ready to start next week but we were all kinda pumped and we asked to play that night.  I'm glad we did but that Fan Mail in the middle of the table was certainly the price.  That's fine, we'll start earlier next time with no brainstorming necessary and all will be well.

Also, I find the play during someone's spotlight episode is far more focused and directed than in the pilots.

I'm excited.  This was a fun start and I'm eager to play through an entire season of PTA.


QuoteThe only thing that matters is the scene right now. How does it challenge or highlight the character's issue? Because if it doesn't, there can be no conflict in the scene.

Keep in mind, I was taught PTA.  I haven't set eyes on one word besides the front cover.  So I'm not sure what the intent of the game system is besides my interpertation of learning by example.

But for my druthers... I'm cool with a scene that is about Color.  I don't think a scene NEEDS Conflict to work.  And by Conflict, I mean, go to the dice/cards/system mechanic resolution.  

There was no Conflict in the scene I crafted for Ulysses where he is on the Brooklyn bridge staring at the daughter of his enemy.  I didn't want one.  I just wanted to introduce the situation, the subplot, the potential for future Conflict.  We didn't go to the dice.  There is "small c" conflict inherit in that scene, she is the daughter of the enemy.  The Producer could have injected a dice rolling situation in there... but correctly interperted that I didn't want it NOR did the scene didn't NEED it.. it could stand on its own.  We actually had Jd jump in there and want more, wanted some dialogue and some more roleplaying...but I stopped him and said, I want the sun to set on the two of them, Cut.  He allowed me that (thanks man, I appreciate it).  Maybe because i'm so visually oriented, a scene can be fine with no dialogue at all... yet still speak to the story and the characters.

So, to wrap up that little example:  That scene Highlighted an issue, using your words, but it didn't go to Conflict... does that make sense on where I'm parsing?

Jd and I were a couple of times going:  "Hey, that's a cool scene, we don't need a conflict, lets move on."  I felt like the other two players were LOOKING to interject Conflicts when there didn't need to be.  Conflicts will come, I am positive of that.  So, no need to rush.

Where I have the question is does PTA expect a Conflict every scene?  Do we have cards being played vs. the Producer every scene?  Because that feels *off* to me, if that is the expectation.

Bret Gillan

Producer here. Some notes:

- Having a Pilot episode is brilliant for a lot of reasons. It gives us an episode to try out the setting and the characters in something self-contained and able to be fiddled with. Also, as a GM, my first sessions are always awkward. I'm feeling out the characters, the game, the setting, and the players, and it was good to have an episode that primed the pump.

- I was getting a little frustrated with show creation also. I felt like people, myself included, were just shutting down ideas without giving them a chance or providing any thoughts along the lines of "Okay, I'm not a fan of that idea, but if it were like *this*..." I wasn't quite sure how encourage that, and it felt like every idea that floated across the table that some people were hot about, someone would screw up their face and just give a flat-out "No." In the end, though, I think we got an idea that everyone was happy about which is worthwhile. I just feel like if maybe I weren't so tired or wasn't still socially feeling out a new player, maybe as Producer I would have finessed this better.

- The one conflict per scene thing was just not happening. As the Producer I know it's my job to hammer that, but the players weren't always into it and I didn't want to push it, so we had a lot of color scenes and the Issues really didn't come to the forefront. Maybe this is because with the exception of Judd we're all fairly new to PTA, but really I think people wanted to ease into the game and trying to force Conflicts where people didn't want them or didn't see them as reasonable might've caused friction and I didn't want that. Maybe as we play more we'll see a great emphasis on Conflicts.

- I think Judd and Storn Produced more than I did. Judd did a lot of facilitating and Storn really leapt up to the plate in terms of NPCs. I felt like I was way too passive, not just as Producer but socially at the table. I get shy around new folks and that may have been a part of it. It was more of a relief than a problem, though - I was tired and quiet and having them pick up my slack made the game a lot less awkward than it could have been. My only concern is establishing myself as a non-presence at the table. Also: we need to get Storn in on some Capes, I think he would rock that game.

Georgios Panagiotidis

Quote from: Storn on September 11, 2006, 11:54:37 AM
Where I have the question is does PTA expect a Conflict every scene?  Do we have cards being played vs. the Producer every scene?  Because that feels *off* to me, if that is the expectation.

Oh no. I apologize if I gave you that impression. It's just that your post reminded me of something I'd run into with my own group; so I wanted to mention how I dealt with the situation. Which was basically: built scenes that push the issue to the foreground, instead of trying to force conflicts into a scene, after you've already established it.

It's fine to have the occasional scene without conflict, without card-play. It's only when most scenes end up without conflict, that you might want to rethink your group's approach to the game. Conflict drives the game and the story.
Five tons of flax!
I started a theory blog in German. Whatever will I think of next?

Matt Wilson


Your show sounds awesome.

Also, do some art for me please. I need some art. Seriously.


QuoteIt's only when most scenes end up without conflict, that you might want to rethink your group's approach to the game. Conflict drives the game and the story.

I can only speak for myself... but I thought we had enough scenes with Conflict.  It felt fairly balanced between Color and Conflict.  But I also think my expectations were a bit different (as I had none) than the rest of the table which has played PTA in the past.

I also really think that the Conflicts are going to zoom to the fore in upcoming episodes.  Of that I have little doubt.

QuoteAs the Producer I know it's my job to hammer that, but the players weren't always into it and I didn't want to push it, so we had a lot of color scenes and the Issues really didn't come to the forefront. Maybe this is because with the exception of Judd we're all fairly new to PTA, but really I think people wanted to ease into the game and trying to force Conflicts where people didn't want them or didn't see them as reasonable might've caused friction and I didn't want that.

Bret, I think this was totally the right call on your part.  It wasn't time for the hammer.  I saw your hands off approach as the right one for the moment.  And then you did totally knock it outta the park with the "next week on..." .  So I totally feel like you can dial between the two rhythms as needed.

QuoteI get shy around new folks and that may have been a part of it

And I did you no favors in that dept.  Because shy, I am not.  And opinionated to boot!  The Friday group was the third or 4th time I've met new people at the gaming table in as many weeks.  I'm getting kinda used to be a roving ringer.  But again, I think as you get used to me and vice versa... this will also dovetail nicely with the feeling that Pilot is set, now we can start hammering on Issues of the characters.

I think Judd and I, both being primary GMs for other groups, will fill a void in a game if that it what it takes.  So you sitting back was cool.  It is all good.  As long as I don't overstep my bounds as a player and chew too much scenery!

Quote>>Also: we need to get Storn in on some Capes, I think he would rock that game.<<

I would love to try Capes at some point.  Although Lions at the Gate has captured my heart pretty strongly!  I've got tons of premade art already for that  (go see my photobucket account sometime)

QuoteAlso, do some art for me please. I need some art. Seriously.

Unfortunately, you have two choices.  Move to Ithaca, get in the group.  Or pay me.  I'm afraid that my work load is such that I cannot do freebies, unless I'm at the gaming table (although those Sons of Kryos keep trying to get me to draw UNDER the table for some strange reason...).  But I truly appreciate the sentiment.  Thank you.