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[PTA] Sex, Drugs & No Remorse

Started by Filip Luszczyk, June 21, 2007, 02:33:47 PM

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Filip Luszczyk

We've closed our first successful PTA season.

Both our previous attempts to play the game died in the midpoint. The first time one of the players was too strongly rooted in the “traditional” mindset to be able to play the game effectively, the second time we simply decided the show lacked the potential to continue it. This time, we've been playing PTA exclusively for over a month (six sessions altogether) and we've managed to complete a full five episode Story Arc (plus the pilot episode).

I've been the Producer for the first time and frankly, I felt better in this role than as a player during our previous attempts. The players were Kamil, who was producing the previous two shows, and Jacek, who never played PTA before.

As usually, we've been playing via Skype. Due to the difficulty with using cards online we've employed the first edition's dice method. Other than that we didn't change any rules and we tried to handle things by the book (even though I had been considering some minor houseruling before we started the game).

Basically, I decided to run PTA since I wanted to see how the game plays from the Producer's point of view. Also, I wanted to observe Fanmail economy, Story Arc structure and some other rules over the course of a full cycle of play. I came to the conclusion that my projects could benefit if I examined these rules in prolonged actual play more closely, and indeed, it gave me some thoughts on handling various things in Absolute Apocalypse Academy (i.e. not necessarily going the PTA route).

Also, we've been pretty much resolved as a group to complete the season this time, as just before PTA we've spent quite some time playing various loose one-shots and playtesting stuff, and we wanted some full course meal.


The premise of the show was: “On a zombie-infested prison planet, as part of the most popular Reality TV show in the universe, a rock band travels from one isolated settlement to another, its members struggling with their inner demons and shadows from the past.”

Not all of us were familiar with every single source, but our inspirations included HOL, Kumquat Tattoo, Heavy Metal, Lobo, Bruce Campbell's flicks, Six String Samurai, Wild Zero, Dead Leaves, Guitar Hero, Rob Zombie, GG Alin, and other ingredients I'm no longer able to identify in the soup. Somewhere on the way, Natural Born Killers sneaked in as well, it seems.

Frankly, it was probably one of the sickest games I ever played, not counting our Kumquat Tattoo sessions. The show featured senseless violence, gratuitous sex, excessive profanity, ever-present nihilism, drug abuse and instances of cannibalism – and all that on the part of our “good guys”. Political correctness died from crack overdose in the pilot episode.

In other words, unrestrained gonzo fun it was.


Kamil played America, the bass guitarist and a notorious drug addict. His Issue was Self-Destruction, he had Junkie as an Edge, and his Connections included a blackmailed government agent and a pocket AI with a backup copy of his personality and memories (including that thing he did last summer but couldn't recall). His Nemesis was the manager who blamed him for the band's troubles.

After the pilot episode, Kamil switched the government agent and the manager on the sheet, made AI cube his Home Set, and took Willy E Coyote (i.e. unbelievable survival ability) as an Edge in place of the lost Connection. The cube was used only once or twice and winded up flushed in the toilet, but in the end, it earned its own Tachikoma style spin-off show, heh.

Jacek played Double Foxy, the drummer with an overgrown ego. His initial Issue was Prophet Syndrome, but after the pilot he changed it to Control Freak. His Edges included Hobo and Mechanic, he started with a cybernetic dog as a Connection, and his initial Nemesis was his ex-girlfriend (who just happened to be the band's singer and lead guitarist as well, and was probably the most cold and sarcastic character in the show).

The character didn't fit the genre too well initially, as Jacek basically created a comic relief, but after the pilot we discussed it and he re-adjusted some things to make his protagonist more serious (i.e. the whole point was to have deadly serious characters). Apart from changing the Issue, he got rid of the dog and took ex-girlfriend as a Connection instead. His new Nemesis was El Pacho, the Mexican guitar hero - think Death from Six String Samurai – who appeared in the pilot and seemed to be a good material for the main antagonist. Later, we established that Double Foxy was the government agent's brother, too, and it certainly spiced things up.

Absolutely no remorse!

So, the pilot episode changed some things – once we got a better feel of how it was going to look like, it was easier to get on the same page about stuff. Also, it nicely set the tone for the whole show, better than the whole pre-game discussion could. The first scene: the band meets a group of nuns who transport vaccine to an orphanage. The second scene: the nuns are cruelly executed, America scavenges some drugs from their supplies, and there's a car explosion in the background. Did I mention political correctness had a little accident?

Oddly, it took whole three sessions before I lost any delusions about where it's all leading. After the band eradicated the last members of the most wise and benevolent alien race in the universe, showing absolutely no remorse, it became obvious to me that the characters really are sick psychos, not some cliche anti-heroes who turn goody-goody to save the day in the end. Coolness.

When I think about the structure of the show, some Anime, especially Trigun, spring to my mind. Three sessions of observing the relations between the characters while they travel around doing stuff. Then, starting from the first spotlight episode, Nemeses actively mess up characters' lives, things turn out being not the way they seemed to be, in the best “Luke! I'm your father!” style, and we close to the surprising Big Final. I'm still not completely sure who was whose clone, but it was fun.

PTA? Never again!

So, the game was fun. But I wouldn't repeat it - not with the same system, at least.

Even though PTA generally works well in what it does, I don't think it's the best game for me in the end. I felt better running it than playing it, but despite the cool story we made, the system left me feeling like “whatever”. It has some smart mechanics, and it's not obstructive – but at the same time, it's not engaging in itself. It provided us with just the minimum set of tools we needed not to go completely freeform, but the rest was up to us and the system didn't add much.

For example, after the show it occurred to me that we could have squeezed much more fun from these session using, say, Fastlane – not only nihilistic themes would have been strengthened, but we'd have got some purely board-gamey fun as a bonus, too.

Sometime after the third session, I started feeling kind of exhausted – and I've been continuing the show mostly to see how the story turns out in the end, and due to my firm resolution to examine the full cycle of play. The reason for this was partially the bland feel of the mechanics, and partially, I think, the Story Arc, which certainly was pushing the game beautifully, but at the same time was constantly giving me very strong expectations of what will happen next.

As the GM, I don't like planning the next game – I prefer to go with the flow and let the events develop in a natural way. Here, even though it wasn't exactly planning it did feel like things were planned out somehow. The result was that I've been starting the sessions without much enthusiasm – and only after a scene or two, once my expectations laid in the dust, I've been fully buying into the game.

Jacek mentioned that he felt something like an exhaustion, too, but I'm not sure about his reasons.

Before the game I've been worried that the supporting cast might be too small with only one or two Connections per character, but as it turned out their number was fine. Throughout the whole season only a few important NPCs who weren't written on protagonist sheets in one way or another appeared, and these weren't recurring characters anyway. However, I have a different issue with traits now.

As the sessions passed they felt more and more superfluous to me, as they didn't seem to really add much to the game. This might be partially due to players' choice of traits as mostly they were so strongly rooted in basic character concepts that using them in conflicts made hardly any difference in narration. I suppose it would have been more interesting if the traits reflected some not so obvious things – then, narration of conflicts would have had to really differ depending on whether they were used or not.

But then, it didn't seem like there really was any mechanical need to use traits, as with the Budget I've been getting only rarely was I able to provide tough adversity. Home sets were used pretty sparingly, too. I think Fanmail economy doesn't work all that well with only two players.

We've been having about three rounds of scene requests per session, and the majority of scenes included at least one Fanmail award. However, although the players were spending it pretty regularly, it was hardly ever going back to my Budget. The funny thing is, there didn't seem to be any real need to spend Fanmail, too, and often the players were doing it only to replenish my Budget. We've been wrapping up most of the sessions after about 3 hours of play, with five tokens in Audience Pool on average.

So, I've been usually throwing 2-4 Budget into the first conflict to fuel the economy, and then I had to be extremely careful about distributing the rest over later conflicts. Roughly half of our scenes didn't had any conflict, as it either wasn't needed or the situation didn't feel critical enough to waste the Budget on (and bothering with resolving one die conflicts was rather laughable most of the time).

We've been considering getting rid of the limits on awarding Fanmail per scene, and there were suggestions that the Producer should be eligible for Fanmail awards as well, but in the end, we stayed true to the rules. We should have went with the houseruling, it seems.

Over multiple sessions, the lack of noticeable character development didn't feel right to me. It's not even about mechanical advancement – it's simply, things felt awfully stale. After the pilot, we've changed a lot to readjust the characters, and it was cool. But later, with only one change per spotlight episode (Kamil changed one of his Edges to Suffering Father, and Jacek changed Hobo to Evil Mastermind), it wasn't very satisfactory as I see it. The characters certainly evolved much more in the fiction, but there were no tools to reflect this and give it weight.

Anyway, despite the above issues, there certainly was quite a lot of cool stuff in these sessions, and with the game as a whole I'm rather satisfied. The last session, with all the unexpected revelations, gave me quite a blast, anyway, and we closed the show clapping hands. Still, I don't think I'll return to PTA again. Currently, I feel like playing something more mechanically engaging, like DitV, or maybe even D&D.


Ok, here we go.
I like PTA, but i think too that for 2 player, fanmail doesn't work.
Indeed, I was exusted after 3 episode (4 in all), but I was very curious about what happend on next episode. But this is obviusly beacause I like play with my standard team.

Filip Luszczyk

Well, Fanmail did what it was supposed to do, I think, but in the overall connected economy wasn't working perfectly in such a small group, I think. I think the source of the problem, at least partially, is that the Producer spends tokens from his Budget against all the players at once, but the number of resources available to him strongly depends on the size of the group.

So what exactly made you feel exhausted?


Beacuse i don'y like campaigns. I like short story that have begin and end of the story on one session of play.

Filip Luszczyk

But as you say, you started feeling the exhaustion only after the fourth episode, just after Kamil's and before your own spotlight episode, during the whole three-session "Gotham City" arc. So, it was just after the first session that wasn't a self-contained story - but playing with the same characters in nearly disconnected stories wasn't so much of a problem. I wonder if it's about campaigns in general, or more about having to wait for the definite resolution of events from the previous session.

Or, maybe not playing anything else in-between added to the exhaustion?

Basically, I'm curious to see whether playing 4-6 sessions of DitV or D&D would exhaust you in the same way.