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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 158 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: [Infected] Camp Nerdly: The Inwood Zombie Fortress and Drama Club  (Read 7536 times)
Jason Morningstar
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« on: October 16, 2006, 09:32:18 AM »

Mark ran a game of The Infected, Eric Provost's in-playtest game of survival horror, at Camp Nerdly, and I got a chance to throw down with Frank Manna, Kevin Allen Jr, and Joe McDonald.  I have a few general notes and hope the other guys (Mark in particular) will chime in with additional details and feedback for Eric.

Our game was set in New York City, and we agreed on a reasonably straightforward zombie menace - a chemical spill in a graveyard, reanimated corpses, the whole deal.  Kevin played a resourceful but whacked-out junkie.  I can't recall his goal.  Frank played a stuffy family man.  His goal was to keep his daughter safe and well-provided for.  Joe played a dissolute twenty-something artiste obsessed with his ex-girlfriend Emma.  I played a high school theater geek with a custom van.  My goal was to create a family and have some authority - I immediately crafted the drama club as an NPC, my surrogate family (I hoped). 

We ended up on the run and holed up in a safe house the junkie knew about in Inwood, which I gather is a remote and unsavory neighborhood north of New York proper.  Sparks flew among the PCs easily and we were all pretty happy with the player-on-player tension at the table.  Act one took a long time to establish the infection and situation, and we resolved almost everything in act two, leaving act three as a sort fo denoument to resolve Kevin's goal.  Joe's guy was infected and cut in half by gunfire, but still achieved his goal.  It was a sight to behold. 

Here are the things that Kevin, Joe, Frank and I saw as problematic out of the gate:

1. Why is your goal secret? Nobody can help you reach it, or put obstacles in your way. Not even the GM. Why? They aren't big reveal items like Mountain Witch fates - they drive thematic play. And why are they assigned randomly?

2. Joe and Kevin and Frank had a hard time with the abstract nature of the goal cards. I had a better understanding, I think, and just picked a goal that was interesting to me and loosely tied in, but those guys struggled, and then ended up repeatedly changing their goals in play.

The new Crazy/Desperate rules worked well.

I created a "group" NPC and we weren't sure if that was legal. We all agreed that it worked well in play, though.

We kicked ass, lost all our tokens, and all acheived our goals in the end. Which felt a little off, like it was too easy. Not sure why that happened.

So ... let's talk about the session and help Eric out.
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SNES Chalmers
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« Reply #1 on: October 16, 2006, 04:35:55 PM »

Jason really hit everything I could think of. Having never played, I don't have anything to compare this experience to, but I did see what works and what doesn't quite.

1) I don't know if we gamed the system too much, but we never fully burned any NPC, and we even had one extra left over. The NPCs quickly became benefits to the players.

2) We not only were the first players Mark had to accomplish goals, we all accomplished our goals. While this is usually a good thing, we all did so (as Jason mentioned) towards the end of the second act. Mark felt no need to throw zombies at us, because we were framing interesting scenes (he felt) without the menace of flesh-eaters.

3) The character cards immediately turned me off. I sat down at the table to play a game about achieving a 100-Bullets-esque turning point goal in the midst of a Zombie apocalypse, but was handed a card describing a raven and a mouse playing backgammon. I already felt I could come up with a strong character concept from the "zombies + redemption" formula without incorporating an obtuse poetic image. They were just superfluous.

4) The infection mechanic and the mutable goals were fun to work with. I don't really understand the secrecy, especially since all of our goals were skew to each other, but I like the ability to change them. For example, my goal involved my character's daughter, and I immediately made her an NPC. I was fully prepared (until the last conflict) to lose her and have to shift goals, which would build an interesting story. I liked the escalation of the danger as the zombies became more and more prevalent.

And Jason, you're right. Inwood is a seedy-ish neighborhood at the very tippy-top of Manhattan. Great place to get caught between the Zombie and the Shallow Brown River.
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-Frank

This beholder loves to be painted.
Eric Provost
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« Reply #2 on: October 16, 2006, 05:54:21 PM »

Good stuff guys, thanks for posting.

Big thanks, of course, to Mark for bringing it and prepping it.  But, just for a moment, I've gotta channel my Gramma Provost and smack the man upside the head with a gravy-laden wooden spoon.  When the players put up their chips, and especially when they're going for their Goal, the GM MUST HIT THEM WITH MONSTERS!  That's like, the whole point of the game.  Characters try to fix their lives and monsters fuck it up.  Mark, consider your ear to be filled with scalding gravy.  And love.  Well, the gravy is love.  But less fun to have in your ear.

I'm totally curious about how the Motivation cards didn't work for you guys.  This would be playtest number five, and the very first time that they've been a stumbling block.  I'm not even 100% sure I have a good question for you to start figuring that out.  I'll sleep on it and try again tomorrow.

The secrecy thing.  How long did you guys try to keep your characters' goals secret from one another?  Becauuusee... you're only supposed to keep it a secret until you have a chance to illustrate it through your character's actions.  Which really means as soon as the first scene that includes your character you can be talking about your goal.  Ok, it's totally vague in the rules, and there's even a misleading bit in the paragraph right under the part where I say that you get to show everyone what it is later on.  My bad.  I'll clean that verbage up.  It's on my list of things to be more explicit about in the next version of the playtest doc.

Group of NPCs on a single card?  Awesome.  It's totally legit, though not covered at all in the text yet. 

And um... wow... those were the only issues?  Damn.  That's easy stuff to polish up!  Except maybe the Motiation Card thing.  That I want to talk about some more.  Right now I'm guessing that a better crafted bit of verbage about how the players are supposed to use the cards might be the solution, but I'd really like to dig further into the issue before I act on that guess.

I'll be back in tomorrow with some questions about how the Motivation Cards went down.  But, for tonight, I do have one question for you guys (in two parts);

Was there a respectable amount of awesome in that session?  And, what was the biggest hurdle to getting at more awesome?
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SNES Chalmers
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« Reply #3 on: October 16, 2006, 06:57:00 PM »

Yes, there was a respectable amount of Awesome in the session.

The largest stumbling block to me was the secrecy. It seemed forced, and we didn't talk about our goals explicitly, just kind of threw down chips.
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-Frank

This beholder loves to be painted.
Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #4 on: October 17, 2006, 07:25:03 AM »

Frank, good to see you here!  I really enjoyed playing with you, man.

Frank and Joe had pretty easdy to identify goals related to key NPCs, but Kevin's was a mystery throughout the game for me.  I don't know if mine was obvious or not.  I don't see what the secrecy - even partial secrecy - helps.  If it isn't on the table, not even the GM can use it against you.  And as a player you are explicitly driving toward it but can't really author the outcome, a la Mountain Witch.

I think everybody really wanted to play a zombie game, and the motivation cards yanked us out of that head-space.  I had played before so I knew you could basically ignore the card and latch on to some small detail that sounded fun to you (I had the puzzle piece card and thought "OK, so something missing.  He's missing a real family.  Go.")  But why these aren't punchier, like the dark fate cards in tMW, I'm not sure of.  YOU ARE MISSING SOMETHING seems more accessible, PROTECT SOMEONE, etc. 

The session was intermediate awesome, but the very coolest bits for me were inter-player interaction.  Me and Kevin yelling at each other, that sort of thing.  Frank wrestling the only shotgun away from his blood-crazed daughter.  Joe fucking abandoning us.  We'd rock out and then return to the dice and chips and figure out how to frame a new conflict that would be beneficial to us, which wasn't really the system supporting awesome to me.
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joepub
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Joe Thomas McDonald


« Reply #5 on: October 17, 2006, 10:25:02 AM »

Hey, Eric.

I'm going to respond as frankly and honestly as possible. The game is hella cool. Zombies attack, and I still have this personal thing that takes top priority. I like that.

I've got a few issues with the direction the game is headed in:

1.) I dislike the cards, for what they're being used for. They come across as inaccessible, instead of abstractly inspiring. I get what you were going for in creating these symbolic images, but many of them come across as either pretentious or childish (in that bad love poetry kind of way).

The ones that work best: Puzzle pieces, martyr. The person who had puzzle pieces commented that it was kinda lame, but it at least provides a foundation to go on.

2.) Here's the thing: My character abandoned the party, went to get his girlfriend. Along the way, he turned into a freaking bloodlusting evil. He came back and tried to kill his way back into the safehouse, where the other characters were.

That was just one example of a group wrought with strife. We wanted to destroy ourselves. Conflicts were awesome... Mark didn't want to break the awesome flow by throwing zombies at us - It would have felt like a distraction from the action. (Act Two was largely us shooting each other).

Here's the thing, more explicitly: It made sense for us to advance our story goals internally. If the GM is totally digging the inter-player conflicts, it feels awkward for him/her to step in and say "Zombies attack!" This means that story goals can get advanced without the GM dropping in Infected dice, which means players can win easily (that's what happened with us).

The thing is: me breaking down the door advances my goal. Jason slamming the door on my face advances his goal. I don't know what Kevin's goal was, but fighting me off probably advanced his too.

If all these things advance our goals, and zombies entering would derail those goals, and advancing our goals without zombies attacking unbalances the game...

I don't have a solution, really. Here are some things which don't quite work, but might be close to a solution:
-Allow the GM to roll Infected dice to represent inter-character conflict.
-Make a rule that players cannot resolve story goals in inter-character conflicts.
-Always frame scenes "against the infection".

3.) "Your goal cannot be tied to the zombie invasion". I dislike this. Goals should be personal and not "I want to find the zombie cure" or whatever, but to flatly block players from creating a goal that involves zombies is sucky, in my opinion.

4.) I dislike secrecy in this game.
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Eric Provost
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« Reply #6 on: October 17, 2006, 10:52:59 AM »

Quote from: Jason
I think everybody really wanted to play a zombie game, and the motivation cards yanked us out of that head-space.  I had played before so I knew you could basically ignore the card and latch on to some small detail that sounded fun to you (I had the puzzle piece card and thought "OK, so something missing.  He's missing a real family.  Go.")  But why these aren't punchier, like the dark fate cards in tMW, I'm not sure of.  YOU ARE MISSING SOMETHING seems more accessible, PROTECT SOMEONE, etc.

I'm confused Jason.  Confused, because you did exactly what you're supposed to do with the card, but yet you claim that you ignored it.  That just doesn't compute.

Question for you guys:  In your own words, what is it that you believe you were supposed to do with those cards?
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #7 on: October 17, 2006, 11:20:33 AM »

Why the weird imagery completely divorced from the game concept?  What does that add?  People are motivated by love, by fear, by loyalty, by revenge, all sorts of things everyone can relate to, but a card with a single word on it would be much more accessible than what you're working with now, in my opinion. 

I think I was supposed to read/look at the card and use that as a springboard for creating a goal for my character that had nothing to do with the monsters. 
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #8 on: October 17, 2006, 11:29:18 AM »

Another thing - I drew the "missing piece" card this time, which is pretty obviously applicable, just author something the character is missing (MOTIVATION:  YOU ARE MISSING SOMETHING).  Last time I played I got "crying butterfly girl with goths taunting her", and I just drew again, because I had no idea what to do with that.  There was at least one re-draw in our Nerdly game for this reason.  You can dismiss this as a failure of imagination of you like, but it's an important data point. 
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Eric Provost
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« Reply #9 on: October 17, 2006, 12:02:52 PM »

I'm totally not dismissing anything, J.  I'm trying to see what actually happened.  As it is, I was under the impression that the cards worked really well.  Untill this feedback.  So, I really need to understand why they didn't work.  And I'm not even sure yet that they didn't work.  In fact, I'm certain that your card did work for you this time, Jason.  You looked at it, interpreted it to mean that your character was missing something.  You decided that the missing something was family, and then you set a goal to get that family, right?

I theorize that the imagry will do something that the words just can't do.  I think that they will regulalry spark different parts of the imagination in different players.  Missing Pieces might mean a missing family to one player one day and a mental handicap to another on a different day.  Or, someone might say "Hey, there's a guy with a tie in this picture.  My dad wore ties.  And I hated him.  My Goal is to work things out with Dad."  My theory may suck and I may be totally wrong, but I'm confident that I'm not.  The suck part is I can only test that theory after actually getting my hands on some artwork.  So, it all remains to be seen.

Quote from: Jason
I think I was supposed to read/look at the card and use that as a springboard for creating a goal for my character that had nothing to do with the monsters. 


And you did that, right?  I'm curious why you think that it didn't work.  What about it didn't work?
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #10 on: October 17, 2006, 12:16:24 PM »

It worked because I knew what to expect, got an "easy" card, and just chose the most obvious possible thing.  The reaction at the table from the other players was one of incredulity, followed by derision, followed by reluctance.  I hope Kevin will weigh in with his experience as well. 

I approached the game with some ideas in mind - I wanted to play a drama nerd, and I wanted the drama club as an NPC.  Honestly, I would have ended up with with the same flavor of goal no matter what card I drew, because I mentally prepared myself for something utterly opaque.
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Eric Provost
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« Reply #11 on: October 17, 2006, 12:31:03 PM »

Heya Joe, thanks for posting.  I'm glad you're being frank, that's what I need.

I'll cop to the weakness on some of the imagry for some of the cards.  Good ol' Remi sat down with me recently to help me clean them up a bit before sending the notes off to the artists.  Right now I'm kinda depending on my artists to take my little bits o' bad poetry and turn them into kewl images.  You've seen this one from Claudia, right?  I've got roughs back from Remi, Eric Poole, and Bill Murdon so far, and I expect all of them to be equally cool in their own ways.  So, if it was just my weak-ass prose that got you down, then the solution is on it's way.

I dig the idea that you guys had some really excellent PC vs PC conflict going on.  But that's no excuse not to have zombies show up!  As soon as your chips hit the table, and you declared that the conflict was important to you, then the zombies should have been there.  In fact, the more players there are that think things are important to them, the more the GM needs to bring in the monsters.  

And the GM doesn't need to interrupt the flow of anything to get it done either.  You guys are all in the middle of kicking each other's asses over getting a door open?  Cool!  So then I can narrate something like: "So, what you guys are too distracted to notice are the shambling hordes that are coming down the hallway... from both directions!"  No interruption to the flow there, right?  I mean, if any of the PCs win the conflict, then they can just narrate how they got their way and managed to escape the living dead.  On the other hand, now the tension is up just a little bit, because the GM is hitting the scene with a handful of infected dice.

Now, that's mostly all just theory that I haven't had a chance to apply very much.  But I'm pretty confident that it'll work, and be awesome, and not require any rules shifts.  The GM just can't sit back and watch the action when the Goal chips are down, that's all.

I'm having a hard time imagining a scene where the monsters entering would derail anything.  Was there a scene during your session where there was absoloutely no way for the monsters to enter without derailment?

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Eric Provost
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« Reply #12 on: October 17, 2006, 12:35:07 PM »

Jason,

It seems to me like you're saying that you had an idea for a character and were able to make that character concept fit into the card you drew.  Is that it?  Because that's totally legit.  The card still had it's intended effect.
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joepub
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Joe Thomas McDonald


« Reply #13 on: October 17, 2006, 03:07:49 PM »

Eric, thanks for taking my advice and not being offended by my frankness.
Speaking frankly is really important when giving playtest feedback.

Now, I want to clearly state something: The Infected is a hot game, and I like it. I like it so much that I'm willing to really hammer on the stuff I dislike.

I get the feeling you are trying to shut down Jason's comment about cards.
I had the same problem.

Let me try and articulate it:
We were able to take something from the cards.
But it didn't feel spot on, right, natural, or whatever.
Frank discarded his first card (crow and mouse playing checkers), I disliked my card (butterfly girl and goths), Jason commented that he didn't like his card (puzzle pieces).

Here's the thing: Pulling a goal from the cards feels contrived and I feel like "Motivation: Escape" and "Motivation: Belonging" would be much more effective.
The symbols and ideas you are drawing from feel pretentious to me.

Quote
"Hey, there's a guy with a tie in this picture.  My dad wore ties.  And I hated him.  My Goal is to work things out with Dad."  My theory may suck and I may be totally wrong, but I'm confident that I'm not.  The suck part is I can only test that theory after actually getting my hands on some artwork.  So, it all remains to be seen.

Is there a card with a tie?
Because an image that depicted the lower half of a face, a shirt + tie would be awesome.
However, I get the feeling that most cards are like... a man with a tie is tied to a safe he is trying to pick, while sinking.

We were ABLE to make them work, but it felt a bit forced.

I have a better suggestion for how to use images:
Everyone has their image card face up. No secrets.
When a player wants to bring THEIR infected dice in, instead of acting like the generic Infection that has been described, they embody the image on that card.
So, when I martyr myself I get to bring in my infected dice.

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Eric Provost
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« Reply #14 on: October 17, 2006, 03:40:59 PM »

Joe,

It would be totally counter productive for me to consider any changes to the rules based on how you guys felt about the cards until I genuinely get why you felt that way about them.  I also have to be confident that you'd feel the same way about the artist's final work too.  I mean, there's no way my little snipit of idea printed on the card is going to be even half as good or half as provocative as the actual artwork.

To be very clear, I'm am not trying to shut down any of anyone's feedback.  What I am doing, or at least trying to do, is acknowledge that the cards you had didn't work for you. And I'm trying to do that without transferring your feedback onto cards that you haven't played with yet.  I'm also asking you guys to stick with me for hammering out how to deal with images on cards.  I'm married to them.  Big time.  I love the idea and I'm totally convinced that the final product will be far superior to direct mission statements. 

If it's just a case that you guys don't dig them, don't think that they're the best possible option, well that's cool too.  I respect that opinion.   But I'm just not open to ditching them. 

So, what it seems that we've got here is that the cards worked, right?  Because I didn't know that they actually worked for you until you just now told me that they did.  They did what they were intended to do, but you all felt that they just didn't feel good.  Forced.  Something.  That's the part that will be helpful to me.  Why didn't they feel good?  Why did they feel forced? 

If it was because they felt pretentious, then what made them come across as pretentious?  Do you imagine that artwork, done by a decent artist, will reflect that pretentiousness?  Unfortunately, the one and only bit of artwork that I have finished is one of the two cards that you liked. 

Hey, maybe we can do this;  Tell me, what did you think of the card Triumph and Impatience?  I'll give you the snippit again to refresh your memory;

Quote from: Triumph and Impatience
Father holds up newborn over his head, looking up at it with awe.  Child had radiant glow around him.  Mother sleeps with a smile nearby.  The specter of death studies a clock reading 11:55.

Does that one suck?  If it does, then go over here and check out Remi's rough draft of the card.  And I'm hoping that you'll tell me that yes, the snippit sucks, but no, Remi's draft does not.

-Eric
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