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Title: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Halzebier on June 28, 2008, 02:09:10 AM
Hi there!

We've just had our first two evenings of Primetime Adventures. We're doing a series about a travelling circus in the fantasy world we have been using for our D&Dish campaigns for many years. The going has been a bit rough, but overall my group seems to like it.

I'd like to make two quick observations before moving on to my issue.

1. Fan mail

In the first session, fan mail was hardly given out at all. In the second session, it was given out jokingly at first (to make good-natured fun of the system and to provide players with chips), but then caught on for real. I think it's fantastic.

2. Collaboration

Suggestions for the person with the narrating rights are flying around all the time and are often incorporated, further developed etc., or kick off even more ideas around the table. It seems just like what Ron is always going on about.

*-*-*

There have been several instances of players wanting to narrate how their characters fail without consulting the cards.

1. One example from the very start of the game:

The travelling circus' matriarch has just been buried.

Kim is playing Taku, a jungle savage and the circus' animal trainer. He wishes for the following scene:

The matriarch's wayside grave at dusk, two other characters coming to pay their respects.

(Agenda and focus were not defined, which may be part of the problem here.)

Kim: As you come up to the grave, you see that Taku is hastily burying a small object under the grave's headstone. You catch a glimpse of magical symbols.

It should be noted that the player made it clear that he did not want the other characters to react to this. The little vignette was supposed to build a bit of a mystery around Taku to be explored at a later point.

I asked for a draw of cards, though, and this led to successful concealment. The player was disappointed, but greatly mollified when I pointed out that the TV series' viewers had of course noticed.

*-*-*

Another example:

Carl's character Hugh has been sorely hurt. Kylie's character Andrielle is bandaging his wounds -- and secretly trying to apply magical ink on his back to search for an invisible tattoo. Even though it has been established that the ink is a vile and foul-smelling liquid, Carl declares that Hugh does not notice.

Again, I asked for a draw. The draw created a lot of suspense (Kylie threw in a bit of fan mail to help her conceal Andrielle's activities) and turned out the way the player wanted (i.e. Hugh failed to notice anything).

*-*-*

It's not such a big deal, but I'm not quite sure how to handle this. In both cases, I did not follow the "Say Yes" advice and asked the players to draw cards instead.

On the one hand, the players' approach smacks of narrating conflict *and* outcome, on the other hand, failure can lead to more interesting story options (which was the players' motivation in both cases).

Thoughts?

Regards,

Hal


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on June 28, 2008, 06:33:00 AM
Hi Hal,

FIrst, the setting sounds really cool!

Second, I've had this come up before in games (many times) and there are two ways to look at it.  I don't think either one is better than the other, and I've used both.  I think you'll find (along with your players, the way you want to do this.

Way of playing #1: You don't look at the conflict being about what the PC wants, but what the Player wants.  This is pretty much what you did.  As long as either option is interesting (success or failure) you'll be fine.  Sometimes I'll spot a little nugget of a conflict and ask a Player, "So, what do you want to happen here," and that's enough for me to pull out the cards. Again, I'm looking at what the Players want for their PCs, not what the Players think the PCs want.

Way of playing #2: Give the scene more leash and see if there's another conflict around the corner.

I'd add that as long as the conflicts are tied to the characters' issues in some way, you're golden.

I'm guessing other people have lots of ways they use the rules for conflict in PtA, and I'd love to hear them.

CK


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Ron Edwards on June 29, 2008, 07:11:00 PM
Hi there,

I'll start by saying that this reply is strongly skewed toward my own views about role-playing in general, with many interrelated topics involved. Also, my point about Primetime Adventures in particular might be in the minority, at present. So take this as one man's view, based on a lot of things, but not necessarily the majority view.

Basically, I disagree with Christopher's #1 most strongly. In PTA and a lot of related games (of which The Pool is probably the best starting point), I think that conflict is best understood as a fictional clash of interests between fictional characters. What we, the real people, want is not necessarily represented by the dice or whatever - those, instead, represent the strengths, nuances, and ultimately the outcome of that fictional conflict. The virtue of using such methods (and I specifically include wholly-verbal methods when they are well-organized, as in Polaris) is that they dictate the conflict will be over, in however many rounds or currency units or draws they take - ultimately, the pacing of the conflict, who wins and who doesn't, and the fact that it hits a point in which it cannot be endlessly negotiated, is what gives the fiction a coherence that it rarely, if ever, achieves through unconstructed group dialogue.

(quick aside: when I say "Christopher's #1," I do not mean to imply or interpret that Christopher is advocating it. I'm using that phrase strictly as an identifier.)

What's tricky about this is, in the wonderful games we're discussing, these numbers or tokens or dice/cards are not some kind of physics-based simulative engine of an imaginary reality, but an expression of narrative weight of the elements in question. Much in the same way that a camera can achieve the "signal" to the audience, through sudden shift in angle downwards and through the cunning of editing, that it's really far to the bottom of that chasm, various numbers and timing of their usage does the same for things in the fiction of role-playing. The chasm is now more important than any old chasm, no matter how deep - the point is that it's now practically a character in the way, opposing the known characters, or interfering in their conflicts in some way. Or a semi-pornographic shot of an actor's oiled, rippling muscles are not so much about how much he can really lift, but a signal that when lifting (or wrestling, or whatever) appears, the character will have a game shot at actually doing it, or better, than when our young and inexperienced hero is confronted by this guy, he is going to have a bitch of a tough time.

What's tricky about this (part 2) is that in these same games, these numbers and tokens or dice/cards are not utilized in isolation, but rather in a relatively hyper ferment of real people's shared dialogue, and above all listening to one another, which promotes caring about the outcome in a fascinating blend of author and audience. We even have points and tokens and whatnot that, themselves, are utilized to express this caring.

What I'm saying is that it's a good idea to define conflict as the first tricky thing, and to define participation in that conflict as the second tricky thing. Some aspect of the procedure needs to isolate the fictional interest of the fictional character, as perceived by that character at this moment, as the kernel of the fiction - so that all these nonfictional, real-person influential elements can proceed as they might for a particular game. There are different ways to do this. In PTA, it's done via character ownership: if you are playing Bucky Ball, the cheerful squirrel in this physics-educational kids' show, then you must stand up for Bucky in the context of conflicts he's embroiled in. Basically, someone, using some thing that's fixed in place by the rules, has to. (In Polaris, this is handled via strict rules based on seating, and it's fixed; in Universalis, it's handled by who's brought the characters into this particular scene, and thus shifts per scene. In PTA, it is just what it is per person per protagonist.)

The Shadow of Yesterday does this very, very well - using the Secrets, for instance, provides abilities or bonuses that are going to act in favor of the character engaged in certain conflicts, but the Gift Dice are completely independent of the character. It's been known to happen that when character A squares off against character B, player A will give player B a Gift Die in the service of character B - and even, vice versa as well! How cool is that? The characters effectiveness against one another is actually being enhanced by the actions of the players in direct contradiction to the characters they are playing.

What I'm saying is that defining conflicts, in Primetime Adventures especially, as being about what the players want, gums up the beauty and functionality of these two tricky things' interactions. Why is that such a bad thing? Or, what do I specifically mean by "gums up"?

Because it removes the "audience" component of the role-playing experience. Whether Bucky Ball can overcome the malevolent influence of this episode's villain by using his wave/particle duality to be in two places at once, is fun and interesting. Whether Bob or Diane gets his or her way, respectively, in terms of what happens, is a real-person power struggle and is automatically divorced from the fiction, rendering it merely the bitch of their momentary social jockeying for control of something. Bluntly, doing it the way I'm talking about is story creation; doing it the way Christopher describes in his #1 is a bid for attention and status.

The worst thing about it is that, in order for them to struggle over who gets their way, each tends to express what they will have happen as the outcome, prior to the card draw. The net effect of this is to pre-narrate two paths for the story to take, and then determine which one gets taken. I submit that this is actually counter to the rules of PTA because it utterly negates the role of the high-card participant's narration. I think the rules work beautifully as written, in which the nature of the conflict's outcome is not known, nor is it determined by the cards except in terms of which character comes out ahead, but is rather finalized and given "this happens" shape by the narrator, whoever that ends up being. I also submit that the way I'm describing to criticize it here is, by and large, no fun as it tends to be emotionally draining rather than exhilarating, and socially tense (possibly passively so) rather than socially affirming.

I'm not sure whether this is working, as a post or argument or whatever, so I'll try to put it another way.

A conflict, in the terms of Primetime Adventure specifically, should be interesting. Plain old engaging, in the sense of any narrative medium. Not all of them are - I think we're all familiar with the weary, distancing effect of putting in one too many chases and building-ledge battles into the last fifteen minutes of a film. Nor is the stock girlfriend's plea to the hero to "let it go, give it up" before he launches into his mission of revenge any fun or of any interest either. But note my logic of cause and effect: I'm saying that they aren't conflicts because they aren't interesting, not that they are "uninteresting conflicts." That's a big deal.

The neat thing about an interesting conflict is that whatever happens, the story will be better. Whatever happens. I might be personally invested in Bucky Ball's success in a particular conflict, whether I'm playing him or not, but I also know - just by entering into the scene and resolution mechanics of PTA - that he might not succeed, and I need to be good with that in order to enjoy this game at all.

I don't think that's too hard to accept, but the point I'm making, now, is that the converse must apply too. I might be personally invested in Bucky Ball's failure in this conflict. I might like the idea that he takes it on the chin or doesn't get the thingamabob or looks bad in front of his romantic interest. What I'm saying is that in this situation, the system still legitimately requires that someone take Bucky's side in terms of cards and so on, and that someone happens to be me regardless of my current notions. I need to be good with Bucky's success in the same way that, in most conflicts, I need to be good with his failure even if it's not what I'm currently most invested in happening.

Now, all is not lost. I can, for instance, not use any of the Fanmail I've accumulated for more cards. I can even say to my fellow players, "Hey, I'm totally about Bucky screwing it up, so toss in cards on the Producer's side, OK?" (which they may or may not agree with, but they well might) Both of these are excellent examples of the social and game-mechanics author/audience matrix among the real people (my tricky thing 2 above) in which the baseline resolution mechanics like Bucky's relevant Trait and current Screen Presence value (my tricky thing 1 above) are embedded.

Whew. I dunno whether what I'm saying makes sense to you. I really want to add that, despite the hectoring tone of this post, I am not trying to convince you to interpret the PTA rules the way I'm doing. (I again submit that the mechanics make sense as I've described, but I also concede that many of the examples run precisely counter to them, so that leaves us in minor limbo.) My only hope is to receive some feedback about whether any of this plays into your experience of the game.

Best, Ron





Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Halzebier on June 29, 2008, 10:41:20 PM
Quote from: Christopher Kubasik
Way of playing #2: Give the scene more leash and see if there's another conflict around the corner.

I suspect this is good advice, especially when you're starting out and have trouble identifying the really interesting conflict in a scene (e.g. "Does the character look good in the fight?" rather than "Does he win?").

[...] and the fact that it hits a point in which it cannot be endlessly negotiated, is what gives the fiction a coherence that it rarely, if ever, achieves through unconstructed group dialogue.

We encountered just this problem (unconstructed group dialogue) when someone wished for a cut-away scene with the master villain and his pet demon (who had just gotten the crap kicked out of him by the PCs and was now reporting back). I pushed for a conclusion by passing out the narration rights ("Kylie, the cut-away scene is your baby. Please tie it up."), but this did not stop the scene from being changed and amended again and again for awhile.

I think we would have been much better off if two players (that includes the producer) had taken the roles of the demon and his master. In Ron's words, perhaps, we would have needed someone to stand up for the demon (i.e. try to make its failed mission look good and escape a beating).

Quote
The Shadow of Yesterday [...] the Gift Dice are completely independent of the character. It's been known to happen that when character A squares off against character B, player A will give player B a Gift Die in the service of character B - and even, vice versa as well! How cool is that?

This is an excellent reminder. I'll make sure to inform my players that fan mail can be used in this way, too.

Quote
The worst thing about it is that, in order for them to struggle over who gets their way, each tends to express what they will have happen as the outcome, prior to the card draw. The net effect of this is to pre-narrate two paths for the story to take, and then determine which one gets taken.

Yes, yes, yes. So far, I've only looked at this in terms of a bungled set-up that doesn't produce a cool conflict, but you're actually right that this can lead to status games. One person presents his complete vision for the scene (this happens and then this) and then gets shot down by the cards (or his elaborate suggestions for the outcome are not taken up).

Quote
My only hope is to receive some feedback about whether any of this plays into your experience of the game.

The second scene was really important for Kylie's character Andrielle. Andrielle is a shifty character and her issue is defined as self-interest vs. loyalty to the circus. At the beginning of the episode she had accepted a stranger's gold in exchange for finding out about Hugh's tattoo. Hence, her covert attempt at rubbing the ink onto Hugh's back was a major undertaking -- I, at least, had been wondering half the evening how Kylie would go about this. So when Carl suggested that Hugh wouldn't notice that completley deflated the scene. I think my decision to force a draw was right (and Kylie throwing in fan mail showed that she cared about the outcome), though in retrospect, I regret that the players didn't know that one can use fan mail against one's own character.

The first scene's attempted set-up is messed up from the get-go, I suspect. I think that it might have been okay for Kim to just narrate Taku's failed attempt at hiding his activities IF that had then been the springboard for the rest of the scene. Saying "You guys catch Taku in the midst of some shady act - what do you do?" could have lead to all sorts of conflicts.

Regards,

Hal


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Ron Edwards on June 30, 2008, 03:44:59 PM
It looks as if I might have hit a few nails with all that pounding.

Here's an important thing to think about with PTA especially: what is resolved through narration alone, after the draw, that isn't resolved by the draw. I like to think of these as equivalent to fallout in Dogs, but in a wider scale that includes consequences to others and to things as well.

I bring it up because you mentioned the ever-stumping "look good" vs. "win the fight" issue regarding the conflict at hand. Clearly, in this situation, prior to the specification of the conflict, the character either will or will not win the fight and will or will not look good. The interesting thing about specifying, to me, is that the other option is now in the hands of the narrator - who may well not be the person who wins the conflict nor the person playing the character.

Let me give an example ... OK, Taffy the Lich Slayer has figured out that the wicked vampire has been biting the new, shy kid at school, and the kid is on the cusp of going all-the-way vamp. Taffy bursts into the kid's home, and there he is, about to bite into the neck of his mother! Taffy's player has a lot to choose from, in the blink of an eye (and better done intuitively, as I see it). "I leap over there and ...

... bash him! I'm gonna wrestle him down!"
 
... save the mom from being killed!"

... plead with him to reverse the turn-into-vamp process through force of will!"

... really look like hot stuff to Seraph!" (Seraph being the hunky and morally-ambiguous almost-boyfriend who's arrived as well)

The fun thing is, only one can be the honest-to-God, draw-cards conflict. The outcome of the others are totally up to the person to whom the narration falls. This is very important to me when playing PTA and I enforce it pretty hard. It means, for example, that if the conflict is (for instance) saving the mom, then the fight cannot be dictated as a win or lose prior to the draw.

What I'm saying is that I've seen PTA play reported in which a ton of that stuff seems to get resolved in some kind of story-conference dialogue prior to the card draw, again, leaving the final narrator with little or nothing to do - which I think usually yields a limping, basically low-function kind of freeform as the primary medium of play. (At most, it makes exactly one person happy, the one who likes to spin out stuff that happens for everyone else to listen to, or who likes yap-until-we-agree negotiations about what happens.)

I'm interested in your thoughts about that too.

One last thing: the ink scene - it seems to me that "does he notice" is almost never an engaging conflict. When it is, it's usually late in a story when a lot has already happened, and all the possible consequences of noticing or not-noticing are highly charged and will yield very, very different reactions. When it occurs as you describe, it's not a conflict because "does he notice" will only yield the obvious reaction of him saying, "Gee, what are you doing?" In other words, it's not a conflict of interest.

With that said, the question of whether the other player's statement "he doesn't notice" becomes problematic but also not too relevant. It could be any of a dozen things (including not standing up for his character in the way I talked about before), but I submit that it doesn't matter, without the concrete conflict.

I was thinking about the scene at the grave, too, and here are my thoughts on that: that, basically, you might have done well to keep your GM mouth shut and simply waited for what the other players said their characters did. I also think the player was a little out of line in saying, "I do this, and you and you and you do not react to it." It is possible (I wasn't there, so can't say) that the player was doing something I often see people slip into with this game - proposing that his character do X and that Y happens because of it, again, in a story-conference way. Whereas I push quite hard to have people play in the SIS and if you want your character to do X, then you bloody well do it, and then we see whether there's a conflict at hand. (You're right about the agenda and focus, too; that's related.)

Anyway, I don't want this to be a litany of critique, but you're giving me the opportunity to unload a little bit about some things that often get up my nose when I read about PTA in play. I think they're serious issues too, the kind of thing that leads to people having Teh Awesome (they think) in their first session and then fizzling out as later play somehow seems not so great and they can't figure out why. Your group seems like it might be sort-of in sight of this fate, in the long run, so I guess I'm getting invested in helping. Let me know if I'm pushing your buttons or preaching too much.

Best, Ron

P.S. I am not 100% sure that one can use Fanmail against oneself, as in The Shadow of Yesterday, but will check the rules. At the very least, one can opt not to spend any.


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Ron Edwards on June 30, 2008, 03:46:22 PM
P.P.S. Why Taffy the Lich Slayer finds herself fighting a vampire in my example, I cannot say. Somehow it worked out that way as I typed.


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Frank Tarcikowski on July 01, 2008, 12:25:55 AM
Quote
The net effect of this is to pre-narrate two paths for the story to take, and then determine which one gets taken. I submit that this is actually counter to the rules of PTA because it utterly negates the role of the high-card participant's narration.

Yes! I couldn't point my finger at it, but I've seen that happen in play and felt kind of uneasy about it. I do submit, though, that I know some people who play it that way and feel it's the best that role-playing gets. So who am I to criticize?

- Frank


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 01, 2008, 09:04:09 AM
Hi Frank,

I do have some criticisms, actually, of that viewpoint. They're based on carefully observing play and play-reporting after this issue arose like a rotten corpse's belly inflating, sometime around GenCon 2005.

However, despite my urgent desire to puncture that problem as I see it, I also realize that we're talking about Hal's game and group, not any "they" or "them," who aren't here in the discussion. There's no point in a person dealing with a problem-issue if it's the same person who's claiming it exists.

Hal, to keep it on track with your group and play so far, what do you think fits or not in my last post? It seems to me as if you're already 90% of the way to adjusting play to deal with the issues you've raised (90% based only on what you've written, so it could well be all the way), so let us know whether I've gone out of the parameters of talking about that.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Halzebier on July 02, 2008, 01:39:55 AM
What I'm saying is that I've seen PTA play reported in which a ton of that stuff seems to get resolved in some kind of story-conference dialogue prior to the card draw, again, leaving the final narrator with little or nothing to do - which I think usually yields a limping, basically low-function kind of freeform as the primary medium of play. (At most, it makes exactly one person happy, the one who likes to spin out stuff that happens for everyone else to listen to, or who likes yap-until-we-agree negotiations about what happens.)

This characterizes the current state of our PTA game quite well, as the number of 'story-conferences' and instances of rambling narration have gone up dramatically in our third session.

Let me relate a number of points:

(1)

Carl's beastmaster character Hugh has the issue "Mysterious Origins". Our show's opening credits introduces everyone's character a la Magnum, A-Team etc and Hugh's scene shows (1) how, as a baby, he is magically tattoed on the back by a shaman in the presence of his important looking parents, (2) abducted in a stormy night, (3) brutally tattooed a second time (a process which suppresses the original tattoo and turns it invisible), (4) left in the wild, (5) raised by wolves, and (6) that he ends up in the circus.

(2)

Episode two (= session three, as we did not count the pilot) was Hugh's spotlight episode so solving at least an important part of the riddle of his origins was on the agenda.

In an early scene, the travelling circus hastily broke camp to escape the baron's men (angered by a mishap in the opening scene which killed his housekeeper) and Hugh wanted to use his beastmaster powers to throw off the hounds.

I stated that the baron's party intended to catch up with and surround the circus. Carl invested a lot of fan mail, won the stakes, and narrated how Hugh turned the forest's wildlife against the pursuers.

(This entailed a far higher power level than this fantasy setting is accustomed to, by the way, and this power-creep also seems to be a trend with us -- Carl's character wasn't the only one turning out to be vastly more powerful than originally envisioned, and when we played The Pool last year, it was just the same.)

Next, Carl proceeded to narrate how Hugh's powers protected the travelling circus in the following weeks -- wolves driving away a hungry ogre, attempts at fishing in a creek yielding spectacular results and so on and so on.

This way of using one's narration rights - i.e., narrating the conflict's outcome and then adding lots and lots of things such as having visions of the future - was in evidence from session one but it's becoming more frequent.

(3)

A few scenes later, Carl wished for a scene in the woods with two NPCs -- "a well-meaning one in the garb of my parents" and "the ill-meaning one who paid Andrielle to apply the ink (and thereby reinforce the suppression of my original tattoo)".

I handed out the first NPC to another player, Henry, and all three characters clashed in the woods. There were two major problems here: Firstly, the agenda of the NPCs was not defined, so it was basically up for grabs. Secondly, Carl had most of his character's origin story already in mind.

The two opposing NPCs threw insults at each other and finally went for each other's throat. Hugh looked on, trying to determine who he could trust. Carl won the stakes and narration rights. He narrated (1) the ill-meaning character mortally wounding the well-meaning one, (2) Hugh preventing a finishing blow, (3) the ill-meaning character fleeing, and (4) the dying, well-meaning character telling Hugh about his past.

After the game Carl, somewhat contritely, noted that he had had a strong vision for Hugh's origins and had not wanted another player (including the producer) to fill in the details.

I've been mulling a bit over this. I think it's natural to define some integral things about one's character as off-limits, but I think it would have been much better if we had found a way to establish these things about Hugh in a more natural way (a flashback for the audience only, maybe?). Then the two NPCs could have gone into that scene with an actual agenda and we could have had a conflict about what is revealed (or taken to the grave).

(Keeping secrets from other players - and not just other characters - seems an awful habit for PTA.)

Quote
One last thing: the ink scene - it seems to me that "does he notice" is almost never an engaging conflict. When it is, it's usually late in a story when a lot has already happened, and all the possible consequences of noticing or not-noticing are highly charged and will yield very, very different reactions. When it occurs as you describe, it's not a conflict because "does he notice" will only yield the obvious reaction of him saying, "Gee, what are you doing?" In other words, it's not a conflict of interest.

How might your group handle that (i.e. what are decent stakes here and who draws cards against whom)?

Quote
I think they're serious issues too, the kind of thing that leads to people having Teh Awesome (they think) in their first session and then fizzling out as later play somehow seems not so great and they can't figure out why. Your group seems like it might be sort-of in sight of this fate, in the long run, so I guess I'm getting invested in helping. Let me know if I'm pushing your buttons or preaching too much.

You're spot-on, almost eerily so. I think we are intoxicated by (a) a lot of interesting stuff happening (the pace of our regular fantasy game is so slow that I dropped out six months ago) and (b) having unprecedented power to contribute meaningful decisions and new story elements. We're happily rolling along right now, but I agree 100% that more focus would benefit us.

I've repeatedly suggested the players "get into character and just play as you used to" (i.e. tell the GM what your character is trying to do), but I'm not pushing hard because I don't want to break the good mood.

Regards,

Hal


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 02, 2008, 05:07:07 AM
Ummm ... how brutal should I be? Should I go with the cestus or with the talk on the porch?

That's a serious inquiry, because I want this discussion to be as socially-centered as if we were talking face to face in a specific venue.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Halzebier on July 02, 2008, 05:59:43 AM
Ummm ... how brutal should I be? Should I go with the cestus or with the talk on the porch?

I'm not familiar with either figure of speech, but I get your meaning, I think. So, after some consideration: Be blunt, don't spare me, ask what you want to know. I'll try to answer to the best of my ability and to keep an open mind. I think I can take criticism - and your warning will help with that, so thanks for that - and I certainly want help.

Regards

Hal


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Valamir on July 02, 2008, 06:44:15 AM
Quote
You're spot-on, almost eerily so. I think we are intoxicated by (a) a lot of interesting stuff happening (the pace of our regular fantasy game is so slow that I dropped out six months ago) and (b) having unprecedented power to contribute meaningful decisions and new story elements. We're happily rolling along right now, but I agree 100% that more focus would benefit us.

I've repeatedly suggested the players "get into character and just play as you used to" (i.e. tell the GM what your character is trying to do), but I'm not pushing hard because I don't want to break the good mood.

I'll just interject to say that in my experience this is very very common for players newly introduced to unfamiliar levels of player authority.  I've seen this dozens of times in my own Universalis games.  It almost always lasts until the novelty wears off and 1) players realize that being extremely crazy isn't as much fun as not being extremely crazy, and 2) this isn't a trick, the rug's not going be yanked out from under them, they don't have shoot their load now before the authority gets revoked again.

I liken it to someone just released from 10 years in prison who goes on a week long binger of excess in celebration of his new found freedom.

You may be able to draw your current game back to a more desired level, or you may just let it play out as is and look for tighter focus next time around.


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Marshall Burns on July 02, 2008, 08:31:03 AM
This is a small thing and only partly related, but a few months ago I tried pitching some RPGs to some friends of mine who are writers and poets but not gamers at all.  I was trying to explain the Story Now process and what the rules are for, and one guy said something about, "This reminds me of something I read about Charlie Chaplin.  When he was going to make a movie, he would build sets before writing the script.  The sets provided the structure and inspiration for the script."

That is precisely what the rules are for.


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 03, 2008, 05:27:45 AM
I'm sorry, Hal, but I'm completely swamped by many commitments. I'll get back to this thread as soon as I can, but I can't say when.

Everyone else is bringing up good stuff, so please, continue with the discussion.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Halzebier on July 03, 2008, 07:41:04 AM
I'll just interject to say that in my experience this is very very common for players newly introduced to unfamiliar levels of player authority.  I've seen this dozens of times in my own Universalis games.  It almost always lasts until the novelty wears off and 1) players realize that being extremely crazy isn't as much fun as not being extremely crazy, and 2) this isn't a trick, the rug's not going be yanked out from under them, they don't have shoot their load now before the authority gets revoked again.

I think you're spot-on, Ralph. The power-creep I mentioned is a sign of "being extremely crazy" -- sure, you can narrate lots of cool things, but it doesn't necessarily make for a better story, particularly in the long run. Tellingly, the players expect that the storylines resulting from PTA play must end up only slightly less crazy, jumbled and over-the-top as those of our (brief) game of InSpectres this spring. From what I have read here and what you are saying, it doesn't have to be that way.

(Not that there's anything wrong with crazy stories -- but sometimes restrictions and prudence can yield results you couldn't get any other way. Sort of like a sonnet. And what Marshall said.)

Quote
You may be able to draw your current game back to a more desired level, or you may just let it play out as is and look for tighter focus next time around.

I've been thinking the same thing, particularly as Carl has already been asking about a possible continuation, i.e. another PTA game (He's excited about pirates in that same fantasy world and if the others are on board with that, I'd be very interested indeed).

*-*-*

Ron: Thanks for the quick note. There's no rush.

Regards,

Hal


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Valamir on July 03, 2008, 08:07:48 AM
Universalis has some formal challenge mechanics that allow players who want to reign some crazyness in to use a formal game mechanic to do so.

PTA doesn't have that sort of mechanism so its very important for players to police themselves, and not be shy about gently policing others...in a sense every player has that responsibility.  The producer also can't shirk it.  PTA is so easy to run that it can be very tempting for the producer to just sit back and let the game play itself, but its important not to do that.

The initial pitch should be your guide.  If you do a thorough job of setting up the pitch...including examples of the kind of tone you want (This should be more Dark Angel and less Buffy), the the producer shouldn't be shy about pulling people back in line with that pitch.


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: FredGarber on July 03, 2008, 04:42:04 PM
A couple of points:
1. I agree with the craziness as a symptom of sudden freedom.  I know of no known cure but time.

2. Even Buffy had a couple of lousy episodes.  Your show can still be the Aw3some.

3. Hugh has "Mysterious Origins" as an Issue?  That sounds far more like an Edge to me.  An Issue should have sides, or at least a pass or fail.  (ex: Drinking Problem; Wants to Live a Normal Life)   I would ask Carl if he minds rephrasing that Issue as "finding out the truth about his Mysterious Origins" or "haunted by his Mysterious Origins"  Then, the conflict isn't about whether or not Hugh finds out that he is the long-lost Prince of Beasts (or whatever Carl had in mind).  It's really about what does Hugh do with that knowledge once he gets it.  Is he still haunted by his Past?  Does his past determine his future?  And how do his Mysterious Origins deal with the circus. 

3b.  Although I love the surprises that players pull when I am the producer, I would have asked Carl for a side moment, and gotten the spoilers ahead of time for what he wanted for Hugh's origin.  You're the Producer, and part of your role as I see it is to push the script to provide exciting TV around the Issues.   You are not the Dungeon Master, and the relationship between the Protagonist players and the Producer should not be adversarial.  You're not trying to provide them challenges(*), you're trying to make them be Interesting.

4. Here's a thing about challenges: I find they are most effective when they are all about what the character does or doesn't do, not about affecting another character.  However, always phrasing a challenge as character centered is very, very hard.

-Fred

(*) Whether or not PTA is aligned to support "Step On UP" play or not is another whole discussion thread, and one I'm not really interested in.


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Halzebier on July 09, 2008, 11:19:56 AM
3. Hugh has "Mysterious Origins" as an Issue?  That sounds far more like an Edge to me.  An Issue should have sides, or at least a pass or fail.  (ex: Drinking Problem; Wants to Live a Normal Life)   I would ask Carl if he minds rephrasing that Issue as "finding out the truth about his Mysterious Origins" or "haunted by his Mysterious Origins".

Well, the actual wording in German is "Rätsel der Herkunft" (Riddle of Origins), which I sloppily translated in my account. So finding out about his past was his issue, just as you suggested. If there's a second season, he'll have to come up with something else, of course, but he knows that.

Quote
Although I love the surprises that players pull when I am the producer, I would have asked Carl for a side moment, and gotten the spoilers ahead of time for what he wanted for Hugh's origin.  You're the Producer, and part of your role as I see it is to push the script to provide exciting TV around the Issues.   You are not the Dungeon Master, and the relationship between the Protagonist players and the Producer should not be adversarial.  You're not trying to provide them challenges(*), you're trying to make them be Interesting.

But shouldn't Carl fill in everybody -- as everybody can contribute to the narration (and introduce a surprising turn, for instance)?

It seems to me that the problem is that Carl wanted authorial control over something which is, by the rules, up for grabs. Spending copious amounts of fan mail - of which Carl had more than any other player - certainly helped make things relatively legit, but narration rights (highest single card) can be fickle.

If another player had won narration rights and had started taking the story in a direction Carl didn't like, he could have expressed his disatisfaction in a number of ways and thrown out some alternatives. More likely though, Carl would more or less have prompted and/or coached the other player through the narration. Or tried, anyway.

Quote
Here's a thing about challenges: I find they are most effective when they are all about what the character does or doesn't do, not about affecting another character.  However, always phrasing a challenge as character centered is very, very hard.

I agree. At one point two players, Violet and Gary, started using their narrative powers to screw over each others' characters (i.e. they narrated the other's failures in an unfavorable way). I requested that they respect each other's protagonists, but next thing I knew, they asked for opposing stakes to influence each other. I refused and they cooled down a bit (I think).

I should point out that this was mostly, though not entirely, in good fun. Gary likes to tease Violet, but also to put her down. Violet gives as good as she gets and their exchanges sometimes go a bit far. Gary had some difficulties getting into the game, so he riled her partially out of boredom and/or frustration.

Regards

Hal


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 16, 2008, 09:05:07 AM
Hi Hal,

At last.

Since I don't know your group and haven't played anything with them, please take all of the following as my interpretation of what you've posted, not as an attempt to psychologize the real people in a direct fashion. Whatever doesn't fit can be ignored. The difficult part of this post, though, comes from making points about more general issues, and relating them to what I'm perceiving from your posts. Therefore, I've broken the ideas I want to present here into two parts. The first deals specifically with your game and your group, and the second deals with the relevant principles in general.

Also, here is a cestus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cestus). I'll be using a verbal version.

PART ONE: YOUR GAME AND GROUP

1. Upon re-reading, I realized that the original D&D game context for the PTA show may well be a core problem. Not because it was D&D, although the characteristic disproportional emotional intensity regarding successes and failures with that game may be involved, but because your posts suggest that this was and is an unsuccessful game experience. That is a very dubious foundation for the first and important criterion for starting to play PTA: to pitch a show which everyone actually wants to see exist.

(Quick side questions: is the DM for that game one of the players in the PTA game? If so, which one? In a later post, you referred to "our regular fantasy game" that you dropped out from. Was it the same one?)

It smells like "use PTA somehow to fix our aggravation with our D&D," which is emphatically not the same thing as "come up with a show you'd like to see on TV." Imagine yourself to be a television executive producer, and someone came in and pitched "our old D&D game that isn't going so well" as a show for you to produce. I know what I'd say.

Even if that were a good pitch, it's a lost cause. Based strictly on your brief references to the other game, the players, you included, have expressed frustration with character ineffectiveness, lack of engaging events (which is what "slow pace" means), and a lack of fruitful outcomes for the events which do occur. In other words, the subject of the PTA show is not itself something that anyone involved actually likes. So the point of play cannot actually be to enjoy it as a creative act, but to respond to it in some way.

What I'm seeing is that your PTA game is not so much a PTA game as a weird symptomatic fallout from this other game. Given the issues in that game, it's not surprising that what's happening in PTA play is (a) power-creep and extravagance in the SIS and (b) power-grab regarding authority among the people.

2. Regarding Carl and his character's issue, Fred has brought up the right point, but I am going to be more forceful about it. Mysterious origins is not an issue, and this is not merely quibbling, it's like saying "that opera singer is dead." There is literally no way it can do what it's supposed to, because "solving the riddle" is pure information. It isn't "mysterious," it's merely absent, and as such, is solved when the hole is filled. Compounding that, Carl even already had the answer made up! How much less of an "issue to be resolved through play" can you get? By definition, under these circumstances, playing must simply be about Carl grabbing enough authority to explain the origin in his own good time. No wonder any aspect of collaboration, whether about scenes, conflicts, character actions, or narration of outcomes is being broken regularly whenever this character is involved.

3. You asked me how I'd handle the "fake ink" scene. The answer is that I wouldn't have to. Since the character literally has no issue, there can no conflict about it, and hence there isn't a way to handle it. What that situation at your table was about, was solely about seizing authority in order to maintain control over the back-story.

Now, so I won't be seen as cheating, what if player has her character wanted to find a tattoo on someone's back and the other player says, OK, fine, she finds it. My call is that we need to know whether this is a conflict of interest between the characters. That's what was lacking in your game because, frankly, there are no characters, just shuttlecocks for power games. Technically, we have an announcement by one player which is basically an "investigation roll," and an announcement by the other of how that "roll" is supposed to turn out. This does not fulfill the requirements for a draw in PTA and in fact is making a hash out of all the scene and conflict rules from the get-go.

It's hard to imagine a successful version of this scene because of all kinds of things (an "invisible tattoo?" What the fuck? What's the point of a tattoo if you can't see it? never mind). Anyway, I dunno - I think I can only say that (a) you need characters with issues, (b) you need conflicts of interests among characters (not preferred outcomes) in order to have a draw, and (c) you need to follow the PTA rules in order to enjoy PTA's strengths. Your solution was basically to invent (a-b-c) out of whole cloth yourself in order to enjoy it yourself, which makes sense in the same way that getting under a boat with your friends in it, heaving it onto your shoulders right there in the water, and paddling along with it as they do nothing permits you and your friends to "go rowing together."

I see the other scenes you describe as illustrating the same fundamental issue. When I see "narrating the conflict's outcome and then adding lots and lots of things such as having visions of the future," I interpret it as seizing narrational time in order to control the SIS of future play. Regarding the cut-scene with the master villain and his pet demon, I interpret it as everyone realizing that they could influence a huge amount of "what's going on" by controlling the villain, traditionally the key means of GM influence on play, and of course they wouldn't stop - a prize like that is way too valuable to let go of before squeezing all you can from it.

What I'm saying is that people at your table, mainly Carl in your examples, are not playing anything, much less PTA. They are grabbing, as if the whole game posed the SIS as a prize. Whether it's back-story, others' characters' actions, outcomes of scenes, or visions of what is to come, they are using scene framing, establishing conflicts (actually pre-narration), dice rolls, and final narrations as methods for that competition. They are not actually framing scenes to play in, in the sense of not knowing what will happen in play itself; nor are they posing conflicts as opportunities to see character issues in action; nor are they utilizing the system as written as the opportunity for non-negotiable collaboration that it is.

4. The "stakes" issue is a means toward that end. I'll explain more about it in the second part of the post, but here, I'm saying that "stakes" in your game is nothing like what it means in the rules text of PTA. I think I went over it pretty well already in the previous post, and I'm saying that it's a symptom of the conditions of your game. In other words, the game is diminishing in fun not because people are interpreting the rules incorrectly, but because they are doing something that isn't fun for much larger-scale reasons and using these alleged "rules" as a cover for doing it.

5. The issue of over-the-top, almost silly content is not exactly the same thing, but it can become a problem because it gets folded into the power-grab issue as a means of display and pissing on turf. Therefore I think Hal did raise the right point, but got the causality reversed.

The scene with Violet and Gary indicates to me that this is not about one person causing a disruptive problem. My take is that what I talked about in #1 applies to everyone in the group, and therefore that everything about play is going very badly awry. I see no creative commitment here, or interest in playing PTA - just leftover social baggage from an unsuccessful, previous game.

(next post coming)


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 16, 2008, 09:05:33 AM
PART TWO: THE GENERAL ISSUES

1. I often refer to PTA as "doing TV better than television does it." What I mean by "TV" is the pleasure and experience of a good ongoing show/program, given the constraints and opportunities of the medium. What I mean by "television" is the physical object and the various historical outcomes of the technology and production of the medium, i.e., the reasons that a good show comes along so rarely and why it is not reliably good for long. I am not talking about emulating TV; I'm talking about using its widely-known features and the equally-widespread hope among real people that it be good as strengths for a successful role-playing experience.

Here is a particularly teeth-grinding thread which illustrates the resistance people can bring to the problem, and in which their determination to play PTA is continually countered by their training and mental programming which make them equally determined not to do it: [PtA] Heritage - fun, but oddly unsatisfying play (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=14746.0). The title is misleading: the group may have had some "fun" in the sense of not being bound by the murk of their previous role-playing experience, but it was short-lived and floundered quickly into not-fun.

2. I have noted some general confusion about protagonist issues in PTA, and this business about "mysterious origins" allows me to work it over. Let's take a look at Shepherd Book in Firefly. He has mysterious origins, all right, but it's not an issue because he does not actually struggle with it. He merely keeps it private unless it's absolutely needed as a conflict-resolving mcguffin. Fred is absolutely right that in game terms, such a thing is an Edge. It gets alluded to, deepened, and occasionally utilized, as time goes by - but whether it's eventually clarified quickly, slowly, or not at all actually does not matter. Frankly, not knowing is more fun than knowing.

I hope that makes sense, because it leads to a more general confusion that I see all the time. To stay with the example, what is Shepherd Book's issue? He's a preacher, right? He talks about God and reads the Bible all the time, and rather determinedly acts as other characters' conscience. So, it must be faith! Right? The answer is emphatically no. Faith cannot be an issue because he does not struggle with it as an ongoing crisis. His issue is Violence - when to do it (or rather, whom to), how much, and whether that is compatible with the things he is committed to. I concede that it took an episode or two for this to become clear. (Sometimes I think PTA play would benefit by having the issues be identified after the pilot, not before.)

An issue is not the character's primary motif, nor the character's origin, nor what other characters get bent out of shape about, nor the character's deeply-committed belief or code, nor a guide to how the character will reliably act. It's the thing that the character often deals with in different contexts, for which we don't know how they will act. The best way to understand a protagonist's issue is to see what the character can and will sometimes do, but not always, and not necessarily well, or if well, not necessarily at the appropriate times. On those rare occasions on which they (a) do it, do it well, to the right target, and at the right time; or (b) abstain from doing it when it's not appropriate - those are a really big and exciting deal, because we know the protagonist is not able to do either reliably.

All right, as long as we're geeking out (what's a PTA thread without a little spazzing out about Firefly?) ... Therefore Mal's issue is not independence but rather faith, Jane's issue is neither honesty nor brutality but rather belonging, and Simon's issue is not family but rather social class. Yes, I wrote them out for all nine characters, and related them to the entire show and movie with circles & arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one, but will restrain myself for purposes of staying on topic.

Here's a thread about mysteries in play which includes a wealth of links to important older threads: [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing ... (split) (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=24097.0). The issue is more about GM-prepped mysteries, but I think they apply just as well, perhaps even better, to player-prepped ones in protagonist-heavy, power-sharing games like PTA. And here's a really old thread in which a number of us hash this stuff out for the first time: frustration with "enigmas" (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=931.0).

3. I introduced my thoughts on authority in Silent railroading and the intersection of scenario prep & player authorship (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=20791.0). To be clear, I don't mean authority over one another at the people-level, but rather responsibility over particular tasks and topics regarding the fiction, with the strong corollary that that what is not your responsibility is really not. See also You've landed on the gaming group "Park Place," pay $15 rent (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=22268.0) for related issues about leadership, which is indeed about personal interactions and their hierarchies in role-playing. Here's an older thread which illustrates someone really suffering in the grip of confusion about it: Obvious choices (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=4525.0).

My point in those threads is that clarity and ultimate enjoyment of play relies on non-ambiguous understanding of how authority is distributed at any given moment of play, both over what and among whom. Not "is facilitated by," not "may be enhanced by," but relies. Without it, play is unclear ("murky") and ultimately not fun. Although I don't think it's a very successful thread, some good points are raised about this issue in Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=21694.0).

It's most important in this thread in two contexts. The first is actually widespread and not specific to PTA at all: conflicts about making characters do things, especially player-characters. In other words, not chopping off limbs or getting through doors, but making someone else's character act the way you want them to act. It is, effectively, about the difference between borrowing them with permission to generate creative ferment vs. stealing them to exert hostile, I-run-what's-yours dominance.

In other words, I'm not saying that playing someone else's character is always abominable. It can be done well in a wide variety of ways, for instance, if everyone knows up-front that making an Influence or Diplomacy or whatever-it's-called-de-jour skill roll means that "borrowing" must now occur. It's when that up-front knowledge is absent that disaster strikes. To go back to the root of the problem, the relevant skill rules in 2nd Edition D&D is a horrific mess, and it's reflected throughout all later editions and hundreds of other games influenced by it. What does "I roll Diplomacy - I get a success!" really mean? The rulebooks themselves offer amazing and stupid contradictions that only become crazier and more inapplicable as the editions and imitations accumulate. (See my points in [D&D 3.0/3.5] Spells and swords - fight! (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=19889.0), which is notable because the other posters are certain that "the right way" is both obvious and textual, even as they misquote and misapply the actual text. You should have seen that raft of near-hysterical private messages I got, too.)

4. The whole issue of "stakes" is the same problem extended far past merely the actions and emotions of a given character, out to issues of setting features and back-story, what I called "content authority." Being able to manipulate this is a primary power-grab issue in a lot of role-playing history, and fear about it is a common reaction when encountering games influenced by The Pool, such as PTA and The Mountain Witch. The other reaction, sadly, which is far worse, is perceiving rules like those in these games as an opportunity for sanctioned power-grabbing of the old school.

That's really what the abominable "stakes" bullshit is all about - a mis-reading and mis-use of the concepts developed in independent design into something that is not actually represented by any of the games, but socially generated and reinforced by people who are sticking with their dysfunctional notions of how to grab power from (and therefore over) others at the table. It is about control issues and total screwups over authority - the mistaken notion that conflict resolution is about taking authority away from one another.

This is what it looks like:

i) character actions are not being incorporated as imagined events, but rather phrased halfway as almost-announcements: "oh yeah? then I do this!" - often, this is occurring in the absence of a scene (imagined location, time, events, other characters)

ii) the conflict itself is negotiated rather than initiated: "we should have a conflict about whether she finds out about the thing," "well, maybe later" "no, I say it happens now, and Bob is there too," "maybe not about whether she finds out but whether she feels ashamed by it," and so on and on for half an hour - the point is that the SIS, if any, is produced later, rather than the conflict occurring within it (i.e. out of what is happening)

iii) outcomes are presented, essentially pre-narrations, as binary alternatives for "who wins" the upcoming roll or draw - "if I win, then Taffy falls down and loses the fight!" "if I win, she kicks the vampire's ass with excellent fu!" (note the difference from simply "she wins or she doesn't")

iv) those outcomes are then escalated in a number of ways, extending to more consequential details ("oh yeah? well, if I win, she tears the vampire's arm off!"), inner states about how characters feel, elements of backstory ("oh yeah? well, if I win, the vampire turns out to be her father!"), setting up the next scene, introducing pre-narrations of far-later play, including yet more consequences for yet more NPCs, and so on

v) finally, the roll or draw occurs, and guess what? we're done - the whole near-novel of results is now established as having happened, happening now, and happening in the future, to the whole truckload of PCs and NPCs that have ultimately been included - note as well that the alleged narrator in the rules has nothing to do and effectively vanishes; the group house-rules the system to say that the winner always narrates, because they equate that with getting one's way

I strongly suggest examining the behavior of the real people at that very moment. How much interpersonal drama, in the negative posturing sense of the word, do you see? There may be laughter: is it really fun laughter, or tense? There may be engagement: is it really in the fiction, or in the chance to dominate? There may be expressions and tones you've been selectively forgetting: a certain hysteria, a choked kind of breathing, a weird "you got me" letdown for the loser, and often, facial expressions that connote resentment and aggression. I say again - I have observed all of these, and then been surprised to see people publicly proclaiming how good & awesome their experience was, only they never seem to want to play that particular game again.

Here's a kick in the head: this overall procedure is not present in any game published prior to 2005, then showed up only in examples in direct contradiction of the rules in the same book (carry, PTA 2, The Shab al-Hiri Roach), and is only now showing up as rules, specifically in some games presented last year at the Ashcan Front. You won't find it in the rules of any of those three, nor in Capes, nor in Trollbabe, nor in Universalis, nor in any other game of that time or before.

I think it's not hard to understand that this struggle can concern any or all of (a) past events and their meanings, i.e. backstory; (b) character actions and emotions right here and now; and (c) how things will turn out and occur long after this conflict and scene is over. In other words, over the whole of the SIS, past-present-future. It's also not surprising to see it start small and within-scenes, then escalate to the wider scales (interestingly, the real rules for Polaris include a method to prevent this). The sources of such struggle are many. In your case, at least based on the posts, it may come from the previous game, but based on my observations of others' play, it very often concerns trying to impress someone else at the table, such as person 1 trying to impress person 2 by establishing dominance over person 3, when 2 and 3 are romantic partners.

Why would anyone do this at all? It certainly did not arise out of game design itself. I think it is a secondary problem arising out of the Murk that characterizes so much role-playing prior to the independent revolution, most particularly when struggling with the texts of the late 1980s and 1990s (Shadowrun and AD&D2 being primary culprits). Given that background, the very fact that anyone can establish anything as SIS at all is revelatory - such that doing so in the first attempts of play is perceived as So Amazingly Awesome that it's mistaken for actual successful fun. To go back to the boat analogy, it's as if people figure out that if we all stay in the boat, and use these funny oar things, that play might actually happen? And then, tragically, trying to beat one another with the oars, or to keep one's oar in the water longer and more consequentially than anyone else, because the only association with "making it go" that people have is to establish complete control. That's a pretty good analogy, actually.

I have not presented a thread list for this topic, because I came up with so many that touched on it from different angles. The Adept Press forum is particularly full of them, especially when juxtaposed with discussions of conflict resolution; here's just one or two: [Sorcerer] Questions about stakes (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=19136.0) and Amazing Series of Sorcerer Threads on SG (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=25892.0). I could also swear that there was a very deep thread about it after GenCon 2006, including an external link to a big conflict-resolution diagram I made, but I could not find it at all (remember the "chesting" term, anyone?).

I will briefly mention that the problem arose from a confluence of different things that happened in 2004-2005. (a) The so-called Diaspora, prompted by me, which suffered from a number of people failing to recognize what moderation is and must be for a internet site to be intellectually successful. (b) The simultaneous publications of PTA 2nd edition, Polaris, and Capes, which were very badly confused among one another by a number of new players, resulting in a mix that is found in none of them. (c) The 2004-2005 wave of new participants in the discussion and publishing who were themselves introduced by near-newcomers, who did not go through the "door" of playing specific games, and whose priorities were often turned toward being hipsters in with the cool kids. (d) Over-enthusiastic internet dialogue which more-or-less defined "Stakes" as pre-roll narration of outcomes, butchered "say yes or roll the dice" by applying it to content rather than conflicts, and co-opted the term "conflict resolution" for this hideous struggle over authority of any kind.

I do assign some responsibility to the second version of PTA, specifically its examples. I am pretty convinced of what exactly happened to the text between the first and second versions, and why I think Matt's vision was actually subverted by input from people who were resisting rather than critiquing. I would like to present a comparison of the two versions side-by-side, but that would take another week of preparation and thread-scrounging, which I do not have time for. I'll be happy to bring both to GenCon for a thorough discussion and quite possibly play if anyone is interested.

John Harper, if you're reading, I'd like to know your thoughts on the whole megillah. You've chimed in during various earlier threads about it, sometimes in agreement, sometimes not, depending on the precise points. Anyway, since now I've laid out my views in better detail than before, come on in if you'd like.

5. Regarding the craziness, I think there are two kinds. One is the over-the-top extravagance that Ralph is describing, which at its most extreme completely loses track of any protagonism or premise at all. It is typically experienced as a phase by everyone in a group and they typically soon get over it. This very old thread goes right to the point: Narrativism: what's beyond the sillyness (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=340.0) (the title reflects early confusion between Narrativism and Director Stance). The other is what I called the "batshit" phenomenon in Learning the interface (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=9590.0). If what's happening in your group were merely these two things, then they'd be no big deal.

However, neither is the same as outright disruption of one another's input, seizure of input for oneself (often the same thing), and essentially ignoring the actual rules of the game one's allegedly playing, while claiming "just" to be using them. Unfortunately, Hal, what I'm seeing in your posts looks more like these more serious problems, with the craziness, harmless in and of itself, being folded into them when it's present.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Arturo G. on July 16, 2008, 03:04:03 PM
I could also swear that there was a very deep thread about it after GenCon 2006, including an external link to a big conflict-resolution diagram I made, but I could not find it at all (remember the "chesting" term, anyone?).

I remember this thread at SG Big Gencon stakes discussion (http://www.story-games.com/forums/comments.php?DiscussionID=1199). It immediately came to my mind as I was reading the discussion.

The link to diagram is on its first page of comments. I copy it here for reference: Ron's diagram of conflict resolution (http://www.sorcerer-rpg.com/Conflict_Resolution.pdf).


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 16, 2008, 04:13:29 PM
Whew! That explains it.

Thanks, Arturo, I thought I was going utterly mad. (cue smart-ass commentary)

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Paul Czege on July 17, 2008, 09:43:18 AM
Hey Ron,

We've really been chewing on the "stakes" issue for over two years? And still it's at the stage where those who've experienced the issue are yet groping about for language to describe it! (My own recent effort is here (http://forum.narrattiva.it/viewtopic.php?t=242) at the Narrattiva forums.) Clearly it's an entrenched wrinkle of human (gamer?) psychology, as you seem to be suggesting.

I think where I was trying to go, in part, with my letter to Italian roleplayers was positive advice. Not only "don't drive for conflict, don't 'workshop' the scenes (in my parlance), don't negotiate conflict outcomes before you roll," but also advice on what you should do, "give yourself time to experience the scene," etc.

You use phrases above like "conflicts of interest" to stipulate what must be in play before the PtA resolution system is consulted, and I think you're exactly accurate with them. But I'm interested to know whether you think it's possible to put players into a constructive and fun frame of play behaviors more with good advice than with admonishments and stipulated requirements? And if so, what advice you'd give to achieve that?

Paul


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 17, 2008, 10:03:27 AM
Hi Paul,

That's the very issue that's informing my rewrite of Trollbabe. I think the original text wasn't half-bad in that regard, and now, with the huge wealth of actual play and questions over the last five-plus years, I'm writing, or trying to write, much as you describe.

One point seems to be: do not provide a checklist of what is supposed to emerge from play. Instead of playing, people will simply go down the checklist. So with PTA, it's true, specific scenes are designated as Conflict Scenes from the outset. I see that as an agreement for everyone to be mindful, as we play, of the possibility of in-fiction, among-character conflicts of interest coming to be expressed by the characters in word or deed.

That leads to another point, concerning the phrase, "driving toward conflict," which, as I understand and have used it, is a good thing - but somehow gets translated into "negotiate about conflict entirely outside the context of the SIS." See, it's hard to go back and forth about this phrasing. In Trollbabe, one should use game-speak to one's fellow players, by saying "Conflict!" But the very next two requirements are the trollbabe's Goal and the Action Type for the conflict, which are necessarily couched only in fictional terms ... which is then clinched in the purely visual, purely fiction-creating "fair and clear" phase. So one only hops up out of the SIS for that formal one-word statement.

But what about before that? We're playing, and there the trollbabe is, helping a farmer heave a wagon out of the mud or something. Let's say a troll is underneath in the mud, holding the wagon down. Let's say the farmer's brother, who hates him, shows up drunk with their father's sword. Let's say the farmer decides he's sweet on the trollbabe. Let's say the magic curse lays its icy breath upon her. Let's say nothing happens.

Which? How? Who says? Why? These are very fundamental questions about the medium and activity itself, and the first thing I'm sure about for Trollbabe is not to pre-arrange them, not to pose them as a checklist, and not even to dictate them. A lot of the text I'm working up is how the adventure's Stakes (the original use of the term, which applies to a feature of GM situation-prep and not to conflicts) are the best guidepost to answer them for this game. I think identifying such guideposts and then discussing how dynamic decisions in play "spark" from them, is the way to go. RPGs are not toys. You don't wind them up and watch them go. You have to do something while playing, I think. That something, the author/audience blend that I claim is found elsewhere only in music, is what mechanics make possible - not what the mechanics do.

This makes the design-in-progress of Stranger Things very interesting, because it does treat some of these things like a storyboard. The question is what it leaves open such that the contraints would be fruitful.

It also makes me look at Spione and feel good. For example, Moreno and some friends played it a while back and realized they had to get out of this "stakes stuff" entirely and simply do what the rules said to do ... and wow, not only did the characters do things, but where they did them, and how it looked, was all going full blast, and they found themselves generating fictional conflicts left and right without having to dredge them up through some kind of story-conference chit-chat. This seems to be a consistent experience for people in our community who try their hand with it.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: jburneko on July 17, 2008, 10:17:23 AM
I think Ron's analysis of the social issues resulting from the misapplication of Stakes is brilliant.  For a while now I've been calling this phenomenon, "player-side railroading."  Players build characters and then pre-play get all invested in the story their going to tell about that character.  Then they use Stakes as the arbiter of who gets to deliver the next bit of their story.

This is the biggest hurdle I have when introducing Sorcerer to players who came to indie-games via Stakes oriented games taught to them badly.  They end up whining about how little *direct* control over the direction of the narrative (i.e. outcomes) they really have.  They feel like they're wrestling with the system to tell *their* story.  They bitch about how they can't *make* anything happening.  We're seeing this played out with In A Wicked Age... as well.

It's all classic Story Before except instead of one one person herding a group of players together it's six people fighting over who gets to herd next.

Jesse


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 17, 2008, 10:35:03 AM
Hello,

I wanted to emphasize one point I made earlier as well as on the Story Games thread: that the actual game rules rarely, if ever, instruct people to do what I've been criticizing. I maintain that actually using the rules-instructions of (say) Polaris, Mortal Coil, Hero's Banner, Shock, Primetime Adventures, carry, The Shab al-Hiri Roach, The Mountain Witch, Primitive, and many others are not only functional, they are wonderful - and in fact, quite different from one another in key and exciting ways.

The problem is not these games and how they are designed. The problem lies solely with something out there among people, psychologically speaking, which seizes the games as excuses to do this other, horrid thing. I think Jesse is right that it's same-old Story Before, and it's characterized by the same smug "by the rules" justification that absolutely ignores the rules, which we are all probably familiar with in play with older games in which one person is designated the sole herder.

It's tragic that the same shit is being carried out using (or "using") games that were written specifically to get away from the shit's original manifestation.

Now for a totally different point ... as it happens, there may well be an enjoyable version that bears mention, which we might call "story conferencing" without the negative connotation I've been including with the phrase. Imagine playing PTA with little or no in-character depiction, taking the designated Conflict scenes very seriously as such, and having nearly every step be highly influenced by an all-included talk among the participants. I'm still pretty sure that pre-narration of outcomes would not be functional, but perhaps character goals would be stated in such detailed ways that they were almost pre-narrations.

Would this be fun? Perhaps not for me. Ralph told me recently that he enjoys PTA played this way. I'm tossing it into the mix of the discussion to acknowledge that the situation may not be as 100% bipolar as I make it out to be in my posts above. I do think there is a very hard line between (a) fun play and (b) the crap-ass rotten phenomena that I've observed so many times and described above. I also think there is a very hard line between (a) actually using the rules as they stand, or close to it, and (b) not doing so specifically along the lines I've described. There may, however, be modes of enjoyment on the good side of both hard lines that do include elements of story conferencing.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Valamir on July 17, 2008, 11:25:50 AM
That's not exactly what I was saying about PTA.  I don't think you have to play only at the meta level and leave all of the in fiction stuff behind to get at what I was suggesting.

PTA is ostensibly a game about a TV show.  TV shows often have teams of writers and producers who gather to story board upcoming episodes.  The "behind the scenes making-of" extra found on the Deadwood DVD gives a wonderful glimpse of this process in action.

There is nothing wrong with, and in fact, I think PTA works best, when you approach the conflicts being mindful of this sort of process.  One can easily imagine one writer saying "and this is the scene where he finally kisses her" and the producer saying "no, not yet, its too soon to release the tension on that thread, lets have them about to kiss but then they get interrupted."   One can easily imagine two player kibbitizing about this as an aside in play.  Either way can lead to good entertainment and a good story so its more about which equally good road are they going to go down.  One can easily see the writer and the producer wrangling about this issue before deciding.

In PTA the game, there is no writer and producer wrangling.  Instead the card draw mechanic essentially determines whether the writer or producer won and whether the kiss happens or is interrupted.  You don't have to step out of character here, you don't have to portray the character of the writer and the producer wrangling.  But I think PTA works best when players remember they are playing out a TV show not immersing in characters we're pretending are "real".  All players of PTA know they are not playing their character.  They are playing an actor playing their character...this is TV after all.  If I'm playing the character trying to get a kiss and I say "I kiss her" and the producer says "I think you get interrupted before you get your kiss, lets take it to cards"...I think that is not only perfectly functional PTA play but extremely effective PTA play.

It is irrelevant that there is no other character actively resisting.  It is irrelevent that there is no "conflict of interest between characters"  My character wants to kiss, your character wants to kiss, the person who interrupts us wasn't trying to prevent anything, they just obliviously stumble in at the wrong time...there is NO conflict of interest between characters...and yet this is EXACTLY the stuff that TV has been built on since the days of I Love Lucy and Mary Tyler Moore.

"If I win this happens, if you win that happens" is 100% effective play in PTA, not at all toxic and IMO a FAR FAR better model of portraying a TV show than obsessing about conflict of interest at the character level.


I have a whole soap box about the notions being expressed here that there is some corrupt version of stake setting that has taken root and needs to be stamped out (short version:  I think that's bunk), but I'll refrain from derailing this discussion with it.


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: jburneko on July 17, 2008, 12:08:53 PM
Ralph,

First a question: In the situation you provide what is the role of the High Card player?  From what I can see all that person gets to do is maybe add a bit of detailing.

Now a comment: You're right, that the situation is describe is exactly what TV has relied on.  And frankly, that's the cheap-shot shit that makes for weak-sauce storytelling: Drag the audience along with pseudo-conflicts and keep them coming back because maybe this week something will really happen.  I think that's what Ron means by "It does TV better than television." 

The prime example of this is the show Lost.  I happen to know that Lost was pitched as an anthology show with rotating genre.  That whole flashback thing?  Yeah, that was supposed to be the focus of the show.  This week it's ER.  The next week it's the Fugitive.  The week after that its 24!  Each character was designed to be separate genre.  The island was only supposed to be an excuse for those genres to all end up in the same place.

Except it all backfired and the audience got caught up in the suspense of the island's unexplained mysteries.  What's the monster?  Who are these people?  WTF polar bear!?  To me, playing PtA the way you describe the group would spend all their time playing cards over whether or not the monster is a living creature or a machine.  Whether the polar bear was real or an illusion?  Instead of playing cards on the actual honest to god good parts of Lost which were the stories about all those individual people.

Jesse


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Valamir on July 17, 2008, 01:13:18 PM
Well, yeah Jesse, I picked the most cliched trope I could think of to illustrate what a good fit it is.  You can plug whatever you want in there that is a "fit" conflict.  The point is that the format "if I win X happens, if I lose Y happens" is perfectly functional.  Saying its "just storyboarding" isn't a valid criticism.  Its not "just" anything.  Storyboarding is a perfectly valid way of dealing with resolving conflicts...it may not be everyone's cup of tea, but we know that already.

I think the whole history of this discussion starting at GenCon 2006 (yes I was there) has been nothing but the byzantine confounding of two completely unrelated things in a process largely driven by the personal relationships and perceived relationships between the people representing (or called upon to represent) the various "sides".

Throughout these discussions there've been an inexplicable and undefendable amount of blame placed on "story conferencing" "bullshit stakes setting" "setting outcomes before you roll" "borrowing characters".  As if somehow these perfectly reasonable and functional techniques were some how responsible for...or even a contributing factor towards the power grabbing, asshat, manipulative behavior that is what is really being criticised.

What I see when I follow these discussions is this:

1) Actual play that sucked...or at least was sub optimal
2) Techniques being used that don't match the observer's preferred techniques for that game / situation.
3) Those techniques being blamed for causing the suck
4) Gallons of electronic ink being spilled bashing those techniques.

Which, IMO, is bunk. 

The two topics have nothing to do with other.  Dysfunctional play is dysfunctional play.  Blaming dysfunctional play on "abominable story boarding" makes as much sense as some old schooler blaming dysfunctional play on author stance. 


Oh, as to your question.  Yeah, I don't really see a problem with that.  Add some color, throw in an unexpected twist, give a nice "Yes, and also", or "Yes, but" addition.  Its only a "thing" when the player who didn't win has the high card, and I think that's a fine opportunity to flavor your loss in a way that leaves the door open for a follow-up of some kind.


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 17, 2008, 04:36:23 PM
Hi Ralph,

Regardless of any polemic or conviction in my posts about it, the point of the discussion is not whether I'm right or not. If you think what I'm saying is bunk, that is OK. We can both make our cases and let it stand for people to read and think about. I disagree with you quite a bit about PTA, but I'm not here to engage in gladiatorial combat about it.

The point is the discussion is how well any (meaning quite likely not all) of what I'm saying works for Hal regarding his group and what's going on in the game. If he hadn't indicated that I was on some kind of right track, as he saw it, I wouldn't have tried to apply my notions further. Now let's see what he thinks of the new stuff.

Um, to be clear, I'm not saying "everyone shut up until Hal posts." All thoughts on the issue are welcome. My immediate point is to say that this isn't a bear pit and I'm not the bear. I'm happy to clarify what I mean, but will not be defending the points against all comers.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Halzebier on July 18, 2008, 06:13:14 AM
Quote from: ”Ron”
1. Upon re-reading, I realized that the original D&D game context for the PTA show may well be a core problem.

Okay, so let me fill in everybody on some of the background of this particular game.

The group has been playing  the D&Dish German FRPG “Das Schwarze Auge” for about ten years.  For the past five years the game has been run by Kevin, who is currently on a business trip.

This is the game I’ve dropped out of and we’re using its world for PTA.

*-*-*

Is PTA an attempt to fix our regular fantasy game?

I became frustrated with DSA – and enamored of the idea of Indie games (no actual play yet) –  years ago and started to pitch them to the group. Our earliest experiment was The Pool – also set in the DSA world – and it was a big success. (I'll hunt down the link later.) Everyone’s still talking about it to this day and Violet even tried to run The Pool during a holiday (I wasn’t there, but according to Carl, it was an unmitigated disaster).
 
I then ran The Mountain Witch, Under the Bed, and InSpectres (usually when Kevin, the regular DM, was on a business trip).  None of these games ran smoothly or were as well received as The Pool. This did not faze me, as I was fascinated by the things that worked (or seemed to work, perhaps) and attributed the things that didn’t work to “having to learn the ropes”.

(Oddly, we never went back to The Pool. I suspect that I secretly fear that it wouldn’t be as magical as the first time and have thus offered other Indie games and perhaps hid behind the “having to learn the ropes” excuse.)

I did not set out to fix our DSA game, but I certainly set out to convert the group to other games. I have failed in this, but just now, things seemed to be looking up:

(1) I’m no longer part of the DSA game. This makes it easier for me to run Indie games as I’m not suffering from a weekly case of hyper-frustration about that game. As a result, my zealotry has diminished considerably. After all, I don’t have to find a way to stop the pain anymore. (I do have another group which plays D&D 3.5/4e. I greatly look forward to game night every week.)

(2) PTA has sparked considerable enthusiasm – before and after the first sessions – and Carl has suggested a follow-up. The beginning of a conversion after I had given up all hope?

So I’m not under as much pressure as before, but I certainly care a lot about this game.

Quote from: ”Ron”
Mysterious origins is not an issue, and this is not merely quibbling, it's like saying "that opera singer is dead." There is literally no way it can do what it's supposed to, because "solving the riddle" is pure information. It isn't "mysterious," it's merely absent, and as such, is solved when the hole is filled. Compounding that, Carl even already had the answer made up!

I only saw the compounding problem, but not the root. I’d like to thank both of you.

Quote from: ”Ron”
3. You asked me how I'd handle the "fake ink" scene. The answer is that I wouldn't have to. Since the character literally has no issue, there can no conflict about it, and hence there isn't a way to handle it. What that situation at your table was about, was solely about seizing authority in order to maintain control over the back-story. [..…] Anyway, I dunno - I think I can only say that (a) you need characters with issues, (b) you need conflicts of interests among characters (not preferred outcomes) in order to have a draw, and (c) you need to follow the PTA rules in order to enjoy PTA's strengths.

The distinction of (b) in particular rings true and matches my diffuse concern about the players failing to play their characters “as usual”. I have difficulties expressing this – the players seem to abandon the SIS too quickly to talk about it from the outside. Rather than saying “I go to the baron and say …” or “My guy goes over to the baron and attempts to persuade him…” it’s all, IFs, THENs, WOULDN’T IT BE COOLs, THAT’S A GOOD IDEAs etc.

Some of that feels splendid, mind you, but there’s only so much the game can take. (If or to what extent this is good, is a question I’m grappling with.)

Quote from: ”Ron”
What I'm saying is that people at your table, mainly Carl in your examples, are not playing anything, much less PTA. They are grabbing, as if the whole game posed the SIS as a prize. Whether it's back-story, others' characters' actions, outcomes of scenes, or visions of what is to come, they are using scene framing, establishing conflicts (actually pre-narration), dice rolls, and final narrations as methods for that competition. They are not actually framing scenes to play in, in the sense of not knowing what will happen in play itself; nor are they posing conflicts as opportunities to see character issues in action; nor are they utilizing the system as written as the opportunity for non-negotiable collaboration that it is.

I think (or hope, at this point) we had genuinely successful instances of play in there as well, but the problems you describe certainly fit the bill. I’ll try to describe some of the good instances in a future post.

Quote from: ”Ron”
I strongly suggest examining the behavior of the real people at that very moment. How much interpersonal drama, in the negative posturing sense of the word, do you see? There may be laughter: is it really fun laughter, or tense? There may be engagement: is it really in the fiction, or in the chance to dominate? There may be expressions and tones you've been selectively forgetting: a certain hysteria, a choked kind of breathing, a weird "you got me" letdown for the loser, and often, facial expressions that connote resentment and aggression. I say again - I have observed all of these, and then been surprised to see people publicly proclaiming how good & awesome their experience was, only they never seem to want to play that particular game again.

You’ve hit a sore spot, here. Why did my group never want to have another run of The Mountain Witch or Under the Bed? And looking at the past sessions of PTA, there are instances where some of your hard questions may require a hard answer.


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Halzebier on July 18, 2008, 06:22:00 AM
Quote from:  “Paul Czege”
But I'm interested to know whether you think it's possible to put players into a constructive and fun frame of play behaviors more with good advice than with admonishments and stipulated requirements? And if so, what advice you'd give to achieve that?

I’ll second Paul’s query because this is just the dilemma I am facing now. I’d like to get things on track but how? Of course, a lot depends on the social interactions at our table which I’ll have to judge for myself, but the current discussion (and any advice) is very welcome.

I'm currently considering three points: I'd like to...

(1) appeal to the players to police themselves regarding the craziness (and gently remind them to reconsider something, if necessary).

(2) stop shirking my GM duties, i.e. enforce the PTA rules (this entails all sorts of things and is not easy where my own understanding is problematic) and take firm control of NPCs and scene framing where this is my responsibility

(3) appeal to the players to keep an open mind (that's wishy-washy and I have no idea how to really do this).

Quote from: ”Ron”
So with PTA, it's true, specific scenes are designated as Conflict Scenes from the outset. I see that as an agreement for everyone to be mindful, as we play, of the possibility of in-fiction, among-character conflicts of interest coming to be expressed by the characters in word or deed.

We’ve mostly abandoned declaring a scene’s purpose, i.e. we go through the motions, if that. Your statement confuses me a bit – should we ditch this or take extra care? The former is alluring (less work) and the latter seems fraught with danger (yet more pre-scene discussion).

Quote from: ”Jesse (in its entirety because it’s so good)”
I think Ron's analysis of the social issues resulting from the misapplication of Stakes is brilliant.  For a while now I've been calling this phenomenon, "player-side railroading."  Players build characters and then pre-play get all invested in the story their going to tell about that character.  Then they use Stakes as the arbiter of who gets to deliver the next bit of their story.

This is the biggest hurdle I have when introducing Sorcerer to players who came to indie-games via Stakes oriented games taught to them badly.  They end up whining about how little *direct* control over the direction of the narrative (i.e. outcomes) they really have.  They feel like they're wrestling with the system to tell *their* story.  They bitch about how they can't *make* anything happening.  We're seeing this played out with In A Wicked Age... as well.

It's all classic Story Before except instead of one one person herding a group of players together it's six people fighting over who gets to herd next.

This sounds painfully true.

After I had pitched the game to the group (“How about a wandering circus in the DSA world with a nifty new set of rules?”), I discussed it with one player (who ultimately didn’t find the time to participate) on the way home and later on the phone. He was extremely enthusiastic about it and immediately started to work out what kind of characters we’d need, who he’d play, what backstory the circus should have, and all sorts of particulars. I felt like SCREAMING “For God’s sake, keep your mind open. Wait for the brainstorming of the first session. Wait for the others’ ideas. Work out your character then.”

(To be fair, I also had all sorts of ideas tumbling around in my mind, but I emphatically did not want to go there at that time.)

Quote from: ”Ron”
Now for a totally different point ... as it happens, there may well be an enjoyable version that bears mention, which we might call "story conferencing" without the negative connotation I've been including with the phrase. Imagine playing PTA with little or no in-character depiction, taking the designated Conflict scenes very seriously as such, and having nearly every step be highly influenced by an all-included talk among the participants. I'm still pretty sure that pre-narration of outcomes would not be functional, but perhaps character goals would be stated in such detailed ways that they were almost pre-narrations.

I think some good parts of our PTA game went down like that. My problem is (a) figuring out whether that’s a consistently fun way to play for us (which isn’t up to me, really) and (b) how to transition to a more character-centric (for lack of a better word) way if it is not. And during the game, too, as I suspect a bit of story-conferencing is natural.


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Halzebier on July 18, 2008, 06:37:32 AM
Okay, here's the link to this group's first Indie game, a nice experience indeed: [The Pool] First Experience (long) (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=16316.msg173535#msg173535)

I should note that Violet = Vicky and Hank = Henry. I'm not using the players' real names and am using a pen name myself for personal reasons. I know that Forge etiquette and custom is different. I intend no disrespect to our community.

Best Regards,

Hal


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Marshall Burns on July 18, 2008, 09:58:24 AM
I don't think the issue here is really misreading of "stakes" or of pre-narrating outcomes.  It would seem that there is a misreading of "stakes" involved and that there are pre-narrations of outcomes involved, but they look like they stem from something else.

The root of the problem here, the toad under the fountain that's causing all the problems, is authority.  Who has authority over Character X's back-story?  Who has authority over X's actions and decisions?  Who has authority over the outcomes and consequences of those actions?  Who has authority over what independently happens to X?  In what situations might this authority change hands?

From what I can tell, the answers to these questions in Hal's game are up-in-the-air, at least from time-to-time, and they are re-purposing the resolution mechanics to arbitrate who has authority over what at what time.  That is a very spiky way to play ANYTHING, and it calls for a very particular Social Contract, or else someone's gonna get spiked.

The reason it's a problematic way to play is that it leaves two fundamental questions unanswered:  "What should I contribute to the game?" and "How should I treat others' contributions?"

A good system answers those questions by delineating who has authority over what, at what times, and to what extent that authority goes.  That authority can be apportioned in any way, as long as the arrangement is understood.  You can even yield authority.  Let's say that I have authority over my guy's actions and decisions.  Bob says to me, "Hey, wouldn't it be cool if your guy did blahblahblah?"  I could say, "Yeah, that would be cool!  My guy does blahblahblah," or "Nah, I don't so," or "Yeah, that would be cool, but I don't think it would make sense," or any permutation thereof.  Point is, when Bob said "Wouldn't it be cool?" he was contributing something to the game, so I ask myself, "How do I treat Bob's contribution?"  The answer in this case is that I accept or reject it based on my authority over the thing in question.

Now, here's a thing:  the pertinent part of the answer to "What should I contribute to the game?" in Bob's case here is, "I should contribute suggestions to other players when I deem appropriate, but I should do so with the knowledge that they might accept or reject them based on their apportioned authority."  If Bob is not aware of this, and I reject his suggestion, he is subject to feel very put-out about it.

Now, I haven't read PTA, so there's a limit to how useful I can be in this discussion.  But, Hal, I'd strongly recommend that you give the rules a once-over, looking for the various answers to the questions "What should I contribute to the game?" and "How should I treat others' contributions?" in the various situations (lower-case S, not Big Model Situation) that arise in play.

-Marshall


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Alan on July 18, 2008, 10:56:14 AM
Marshall,

Let's say that I have authority over my guy's actions and decisions.  Bob says to me, "Hey, wouldn't it be cool if your guy did blahblahblah?"  I could say, "Yeah, that would be cool!  My guy does blahblahblah," or "Nah, I don't so," or "Yeah, that would be cool, but I don't think it would make sense," or any permutation thereof.  Point is, when Bob said "Wouldn't it be cool?" he was contributing something to the game, so I ask myself, "How do I treat Bob's contribution?"  The answer in this case is that I accept or reject it based on my authority over the thing in question.

Table talk like "Wouldn't it be cool if my character does this?" just isn't a use of any kind of authority. It's just speculation -- testing the water. And a conflict resolution system is not for testing if you should use your existing authority to put something into the "reality" of the SIS -- it's a test of what has already been put into the SIS. PTA conflict resolution in particular works best when the elements of the conflict have already been entered into the SIS through play before the draw.

Speculation about actions and outcomes between players bypasses the system. When, as in the case of discussing the outcome of a conflict before actual resolution, it becomes a detailed and exciting image that short circuits the creative energy of the outcome of the conflict system.

It does take a certain amount of courage for a player to just put an action in play without testing the idea with other players or the GM. Particularly if they're used to a system where the GM can just undercut their statements. I'd suggest encouraging the players to put their ideas directly into action instead of testing them. Story games in general are designed to make this safe. Trust the system, Luke.


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Marshall Burns on July 18, 2008, 11:06:47 AM
Hang on there, the made-up example with Bob there was one of a player suggesting what someone else's character does.  Which is an important distinction, because that someone-else's response to that suggestion IS an application of authority, and it is part of System even if it's not part of the "resolution mechanics."


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 22, 2008, 08:52:27 AM
Hello,

I'm not sure what I can offer as a prescriptive, except these three abstract points. For a social, proactive activity to be successful, three things must necessarily be in place.

1. The people must trust that the activity's procedures actually work and they must be willing to understand them and use them for what they are.

2. They must want to do exactly this thing, at this time (to the exclusion of other things), and with these particular people with whom they are doing it (as opposed to "just anyone").

3. They must be willing to make mistakes as they learn how to do the activity, as well as to accept however-well-it-works at a given time as a means to enjoy it better next time.

All of these are normal and common expectations for most people engaged in most such activities. They're not really well-established in gaming culture, as I see it.

Regarding your last two posts, it seems to me that your group might do well to consider whether #1-3 are in place, and whether they want them to be in place.

But even before that, I recommend thinking about something that you wrote: your goal to convert the other players. That makes me less confident about the whole endeavor. It's not the same as the more positive situation of people gathering to do what they want even if some of them aren't sure about how to do it exactly. It doesn't lend itself well to the points listed above.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: morgue on July 25, 2008, 06:13:57 PM
I sent a PM to Ron about this thread that he suggested I post.These are the relevant parts.

My response to your comments on this subject (I read the "chesting" threads on S-G a couple years ago and have seen other instances over the years) has consistently been an intuitive agreement that you're dead right and that's how it ought to be, and in my (sadly infrequent) play of these games since, I've pushed in that direction with success.

However, I have to acknowledge that a mid-length game of PTA I played through with friends (run by hix) before I'd encountered this line of thought did, heavily, get into the pre-conflict discussion - and it was incredibly successful. I think it delivered exactly the right play experience, with conflicts that were always the most awesome conflict that we could come to. Often, but not always, the outcomes would be relatively settled, and narration rights tended to be used in play to throw crucial details in the mix and to mess with and elaborate on the main outcome, which seemed to be enough for our group, although it fits perfectly with your concerns about that general play making narrators disappear - for many conflicts, the narration wasn't really worth much in the final analysis. (I am compelled to add that there were many conflicts that did work exactly as you recommend, with no pre-narration at all, and they worked fine as well.)

I'm not sure how that works, that I can feel you're right but have direct experience of a contradictory example. I'm not convinced that what we were doing fits Valamir's counterargument either.

My current thoughts on this are that we stumbled into a functional version of this play that might well not generalise (even to us trying to do the same thing again now); that this kind of play therefore is risky but not inevitably dysfunctional; and, crucially, that there were specific things we were doing that allowed us to be successful. The trick, of course, is that I'm not sure what those specific things were. I suspect that there might be something of value in figuring them out, not so we can say "here's the way to do pre-narration right!" but just of general use in understanding how people are interacting with these kinds of resolution systems.

So I guess I'm wondering if you've previously addressed people saying they've had functional play in this mode - I'd be keen to read a thread on this subject.

---

[I'll resist the urge to add extra context now, mostly because I need to leave the house in ten minutes and have many things to do. Of course, I invite comment from more than just Ron, as appropriate.]


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: hix on July 25, 2008, 10:50:39 PM
To elaborate on what Morgue's said, our process seemed to be driven by the joy of discovering what made our characters tick. Thinking about it, I'd say the following steps were involved:

+ As a group, we always had a unanimous consensus about whether a situation had turned into a conflict.

+ All of us were willing and curious to explore what the precise nature of that conflict was. Usually, that meant probing (as a group) the psychologies of the characters involved, and how their Issues could manifest.

+ Sometimes, after going through that process, we'd think we'd settled on a conflict but someone would express a reservation that we hadn't gone 'deep' enough. We'd then reexplore it, and come up with something that satisfied all of us.

+ There was always a point where, as a group, we'd say that we'd clarified what the conflict was about in everyone's minds, and that we were ready to go to the Draw.

+ As a consequence of all that discussion, possibilities for good and bad outcomes would usually have emerged. While this was a case of us pre-determining the outcomes, I think we focused strongly on characters' emotional states and on the immediate changes to their relationships with other characters involved in the conflict. There was never any massive forward planning on our parts.

My interpretation of what we were doing was that we took great pleasure in making our characters' lives as difficult as possible, because we were all fascinated with what they would do next.



(The write-up for our game, Phoenix, is here (http://nzrag.com/bb/viewtopic.php?t=291). Inspired by the seige of the Branch Davidian compound at Waco, it's essentially a small town drama crossed with a creepy sci-fi vibe about a cult that might be taking over all of the locals.)

(Matt, who joined us for Season 2, also talks about the joy of character failure in PTA here (http://community.livejournal.com/gametime/52046.html?thread=413262#t413262).)


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 26, 2008, 06:15:22 AM
Thanks guys! It's a big day so my reply will probably be delayed.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 28, 2008, 10:39:31 AM
Hi guys,

Morgan, I think you have it backwards. I suggest that you are describing a specialized version of what I’m talking about as positive, not a “good version” of what I’m criticizing.

I think I know exactly what you’re talking about because I’ve done it myself. A fair amount of our PTA show “The Heel” tended in that direction in play, as did the PTA game run by Georgios that I played in Berlin. I also think it’s a constructive feature of playing Polaris.

Marshall’s correct that Authority is the key issue, as I mentioned in my posts as well. In “rules” PTA play, Content and Situation Authority lie with the Producer, with the latter developing further into conflict-situations via near-standard role-playing within scenes. Outcome Authority lies with the narrator’s interpretation of card outcomes. Plot Authority lies partly with the process of deciding who’s got a scene next and whether it’s character or conflict, but mostly simply by springboarding off whatever happened in the last scene.

In this other way we’re talking about, basically, it revises the distribution of Situation Authority by spreading it around, maximizing the basic idea of “everyone can talk” into “everyone does talk,” and shrinking the Producer’s role over Situation into Authority-discussion-leader rather than Authority-person. It also shifts the Outcome Authority to the group as a whole and thereby shrinks the narrator’s role.

What I’m saying is that none of these forms of Authority are broken or thrown into a fragile state; they are merely distributed differently from textual-rules PTA play.

The Situation/Outcome discussion can also introduce a stronger element of Plot Authority into the whole of play, more into a Polaris mode instead of leaving it as loosey-goosey as textual-rules PTA play (which is very like Sorcerer and Dust Devils in this regard).

(I’m not surprised that a number of people have contacted me over the last year or so requesting explanation of the difference between Situation and Plot Authority. I have always replied, post in Actual Play about a scene from any role-playing game you’ve ever participated in, and I will use that to explain it to you. To date, no one has.)

To sum up, the big shift in the actual rules-of-play is toward a consensus-based approach, which I claim is the opposite of what I’m criticizing, which is clearly an individually-competitive based approach.

What makes them appear superficially similar is that the resolution mechanics are Drifted significantly toward Fortune-at-the-End instead of Middle.

However, I’m suggesting that in your (and my) case, this is perfectly valid and interesting Drift, and whether it’s “still PTA” is interesting but not an urgent matter. It’s valid because Authority and related concerns are altered from the PTA rules, but altered in a new, functional, and group-affirming configuration of their own. It’s sort of Polaris-by-way-of-PTA.

Whereas in the version of play which I’m criticizing, the group investment in play (specifically the SIS, “what is happening) is ruptured by the proposed alternate narrations, rather than confirmed. The seeming social unity of the discussion is actually social tension rather than collaboration.

Here are some points in your posts which I think support this conclusion.

1. Steve, you make it clear that the topic at hand in the SIS is still character-centric conflict exactly as I described in my posts above. Although the method of discussing and resolving it is different from the PTA rules, the “it” remains precisely the same.

2. Morgan, I think it’s very important that you specified that this Drift or shift or whatever is an added technique to play which otherwise is very like what I describe above (the positive kind, PTA by the rules kind). In other words, it’s a kind of Drift-y enrichment of playing PTA rather than breaking with it.

I think both of these points show that what you’re talking about is really different from what Hal and I are discussing about his play experience.

3. Granted, this last point is comparatively lightweight. Steve, you specified that the discussions generated possibilities of future outcomes, which may mean as distinct from absolute dictations of them. That might mean that although the final narrator’s role is diminished, it is in fact present, and might still carry some weight if called for. Based on my experience, though, I do find that the final narration using these techniques is mainly filling in Color, so I’m not going to claim this point as a big part of my argument. I’m pretty much pointing to a care in phrasing your post which leads me to devote further attention to it in later play.

Let me know what you think. This is a very important topic.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: morgue on July 29, 2008, 01:38:07 AM
Hi Ron,
I've been mulling on this all day, and I'm entirely comfortable with your characterization.

Hmm. Here's a further comment - I'm curious to see if I'm thinking about this in the same way as you are.
 
Our Drifted local-PTA is functional in its own right, but with its emphasis on (a) fortune-at-the-end and (b) shared situation authority, it would be even more prone to the social tension you have talked about. If we sat down again and played that way, we might find ourselves moving into the style of play you criticise more easily than we would if we were playing it as written, because (a) is a point of similarity and (b) is a point of vulnerability to exploitation/abuse.

Steve's description earlier reminds me of a specific aspect of our play that emerged over several sessions. We began structuring conflicts heavily towards a very specific model - that *every* conflict should be a test of the character's issue. Success would involve the character somehow taking a step towards resolving their character issue (say, by living up to their ideals), and failure should involve the character taking a backwards step or complicating their issue (say, by succumbing to habit or temptation or whatever). In this way, we ended up taking key character-behaviour decisions out of the hands of players and putting them at stake in the resolution system. You could phrase the conflicts thus: "I hope Joe Character acts like *this* - but I'm afraid they'll act like *that*."


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 29, 2008, 08:03:45 AM
Hi Morgan (I find myself standing with your grandma regarding your name),

Here's my take on your statement: I don't think it's fair or valid to say that this Drifted-local version (which I think is very common) is more prone to dysfunctional social tension of the Chesting sort. My point is that I don't think this kind of play is related to the Chesting-type phenomenon at all.

Basically, there are three kinds of play we're talking about: A, PTA by the textual rules; B, PTA as you and I and others have Drifted it in a characteristic way; and C, Chesting-play which cannot really be called playing PTA despite the book being present at the table. As you can see, I'm saying that C is the odd man out, not B & C together. That means that it's not necessary to be concerned with how B might become C. To get see, you have to break with A, B, and any other form of functional Drift of A, as an entire group.

Now, that does leave open the question of whether B play harbors certain pitfalls of its own. I think it does, actually. At least in my experience, it tends to open the door for one or another person to start narrating scene-events more or less as a monologue, telling everyone else what's going on. I've also seen the nominal central player of the moment be steamrolled by a fellow player, which is more likely to happen in B than in A. And finally, speaking for what makes B less fun for me than A (when B becomes really the mode rather than an add-on), slightly-hyper group discussions about what exactly the conflict is happening and what it's about are extremely not-fun when they don't work well. When that happens, it's not a glitch or slightly-lessened moment, it's a brick wall that brings down the enjoyment of the whole session, for me.

So B play, as I see it, works much better as a modifier of A than as a full replacement for it. It seems to me that you, Steve, and the others may have been able to enjoy it maximally specifically for that reason.

Frank, I wonder if you and Giorgios might be able to enjoy PTA play together with that distinction in mind? I think the three of us could do it pretty well, actually. Maybe next time in Berlin.

Your point about every conflict becoming explicitly about the character's issue is a good one. I agree with your points and I think playing in this way tends to diminish the Issue rather than magnify it. There's never any situational context for a really meaty Issue-centric crisis, if every conflict is that crisis.

It's a hard thing to explain, because we spent so many years here beating the idea that "conflicts are relevant to the character" into people's heads, because they were baffled by the very notion of a "character issue." This is definitely the other side of the coin: "Now that you know conflicts can be relevant to an Issue, realize that it's OK to lighten up a little bit and touch upon issues only as commentary within the events of a conflict which doesn't light up the issue like a Christmas tree." This way a series of interesting Plot scenes can occur which generate mounting tension on a character's Issue, as the session proceeds - and the Christmas-tree, hard-core, My-Issue-In-Lights conflict will appear when it's most germane to the player via the character, in its own good time.

I really think that throwing the character's decision about what to do into the outcome of the resolution mechanic isn't a strong modification, in fact, I think it's considerably weaker. I have found repeatedly that PTA resolution works very well when everyone knows exactly what the character is really doing, just as in Dust Devils. The narrator in these games has remarkable leeway to establish the character's competence and the scope of the action's direct effects, in the context of the success or failure.

The above two points are actually related, because if you play in the sense described in the first one, then conflicts are often initiated by characters doing things, and so the problem in the second one tends not to arise.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Frank Tarcikowski on July 29, 2008, 08:47:12 AM
Quote
Frank, I wonder if you and Giorgios might be able to enjoy PTA play together with that distinction in mind? I think the three of us could do it pretty well, actually.

Sure! I never doubted that.

Quote
Your point about every conflict becoming explicitly about the character's issue is a good one.

Thanks! I remember making that point (and a few related ones) in an older discussion, [Heritage] Fun, but oddly unsatisfying play (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=14746.0). Not in this thread, though. ;o)

- Frank


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Frank Tarcikowski on July 29, 2008, 08:52:33 AM
Oh, silly me. You meant the point Morgan made. Of course you did. Um, yeah. I agree.

- Frank


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: David Berg on July 29, 2008, 10:02:10 AM
Hi all,

I have a question about wanting your character to fail in PtA.  It's not specific to Hal's current issues, so I'll try to be brief.

Two Options

My gov't stooge wants to convinve Fred's rebel cop to follow orders and help me make an immoral arrest.  Fred's cop wants to convince my stooge to question his allegiance to his corrupt superiors and let him leave (thus rendering the arrest impossible).  We banter in-character for a few moments, and the Producer says, "Looks like Conflict time!"  My Issue is "assimilation" (I'm an outsider in my govt), Fred's Issue is "atonement" (making up for past wrongs he's done with his authority), so we are golden here.

I say, "If I win, you help me make the arrest."

Fred says, "If I win, I walk away and leave you with doubts."

I hear that, think about where we are in the story, my character's current situation, how much play time we have left, and think to myself, "Man, I hope Fred wins."  I then envision how I'm going to portray my character's shattered faith after the loss, getting all psyched.

OPTION ONE: BY THE RULES

I don't spend any Fan Mail.  Fred doesn't either.  We draw cards.

I win.  I'm disappointed.  Fred's disappointed.  Everyone else at the table is disappointed.  Looks like they were thinking the same thing I was!  Oh well.  It's still a juicy situation, we roll with it, fun play continues.  Just maybe not quite as fun as it could have been.

OPTION TWO: TOWARD METAGAME STORY-WORKSHOPPING CHIT-CHAT

I look at Fred and say, "Man, I hope you win."

Fred says, "Oh yeah, me too, this'd be great."

Everyone else at the table offers enthusiastic "Yeah!"s.

"I know how I'd play this," says Fred, showing a "just you wait!" smile.

"Me too," I say, grinning back.

The Producer shrugs.  "Fuck drawing cards.  Fred's cop's intention triumphs over Dave's stooge's intention.  Fred, narrate!"  Awesomeness ensues as the cop delivers an eloquent speech and the stooge gets tongue-tied in protest.  Fred and I produce essentially what we had in mind; we aren't telepathic, and we didn't talk out the specifics, so it's not exact, but easily close enough.  Everyone at the table nods in satisfaction.

What's Wrong With Option Two?

I'm not sure whether it's included in the category of play that Ron's seen lead to lameness, or how it leads to lameness, or whether it's just "cool in its own way that's different from PtA."  Perhaps the key is that we didn't go all the way to saying, "...and then here's what I'd do"?  Perhaps yanking the support of the mechanics out from under a character is okay if done in a socially-smooth fashion?  I'm curious to see what y'all think.

Ps,
-David

P.S. Disclaimer: this situation did actually come up, and we drew cards, and the cards gave Fred the victory.  So we used the mechanics and got what we wanted.  I remember the tension, of seeing whether the cards would give us what we wanted, being more annoying than exhilarating.


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Valamir on July 29, 2008, 10:34:44 AM
My option three would be that the moment everyone realizes that  "If I win, you help me make the arrest." isn't equally as fun as "If I win, I walk away and leave you with doubts." then you work out an alternative for what you win that everyone agrees IS as equally fun.  Then you let the cards decide which version of awesome you get and who gets the narrative authority to color in the details.


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: jburneko on July 29, 2008, 11:14:31 AM
I win.  I'm disappointed.  Fred's disappointed.  Everyone else at the table is disappointed.  Looks like they were thinking the same thing I was!  Oh well.  It's still a juicy situation, we roll with it, fun play continues.  Just maybe not quite as fun as it could have been.

This right here is what I meant by player-side railroading and redistributed "Story Before."  You're all invested in how the story *should go* before the story actually happens.  You've cut off your ability to participate as an audience member (with no idea what's about to happen) in favor of pure author (imposing what you WANT to happen).

Now here's my own personal answer as to what's "wrong" with that (and this is HIGHLY about my personal preferences).  Constantly coming to vigorous creative agreement about how the story *should go* and always going for what you *want* to have happen means you never challenge yourself.  You never let yourself be surprised (in the audience sense) and force yourself to re-evaluate where you want to go next (in the author sense).

I offer this quote from Vincent Baker's blog: "The challenge facing rpg designers is to create outcomes that every single person at the table would reject, yet are compelling enough that nobody actually does so."

That's what's cool about "Story Now."  It allows you to participate as an author in the short term while preserving all the excitement and anticipation of being an audience in the long term.

All I can say is don't be invested in outcomes.  Be invested in the situation.

Here's an example from my own play.  We were playing Grey Ranks.  My character is very religious and has a hero worship of his sister.  During setup I noted that my sister had been raped by the Nazis during the invasion.  I made it clear that this had not shaken her faith and that's why I idolized her.

Early on I setup a scene where her fiance was threatening to leave her because he was equally as religious and saw her as "tainted."  I asked my friend Colin to play the fiance for the duration of the scene (the game is GMless).  After some setup banter I described my young character running into the room crying and begging his "brother" not to leave.  And that's what I set as the goal for the conflict, "I want them to stay together."  I rolled and won.

Then Colin did something I did not anticipate.  He described the fiance embracing my sister and telling her that he would stay for the sake of the family.  He made it VERY clear that while I had succeeded in keeping them together I HAD not dissipated the fiance's bitter and angry feelings which is NOT what I wanted at all.  In my mind I was trying to heal their relationship.  But I got my goal and Colin spun it (within his rights by the rules) in an unanticipated and initially unwanted (by me) direction.

That move by Colin has totally redefined how my character's relationship with his sister and her family has progressed.  And that would NOT have happened had I pre-roll narrated the entire outcome I wanted beyond the initial knee-jerk intent of "I want them to stay together."

Jesse





Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 29, 2008, 03:25:53 PM
Hey guys,

I just looked over both sets of rules quite carefully for clarification about a technique that I think is being missed - like, badly missed. And indeed, I was right.

It is: all protagonist card draws are compared with the Producer's. Not against one another. Ever. I recall discussing this with Matt before the first rules were published, as he hashed out exactly in what ways his proposed system would be like and not like Dust Devils.

That hasn't really come up in the thread before this point (David's post), but it might apply in retrospect depending on what Hal and Morgan + Steve tell us about their games. I'll betcha it's a standard feature of chesting-play, though, and represents yet another way that such play is not actually using PTA.

All of this is to say that protagonist draws in PTA must concern orthogonal stakes (to use the term "stakes" exactly as defined in the rules), even if two or more protagonists are directly opposed. In this sense, Shock and PTA are very much alike. The only person who is playing direct mechanical opposition to any protagonist is the Producer, even if the characters are narrated to be attacking one another with fireplace pokers with deadly intent.

I'll betcha that gets missed a lot!

It may be worth breaking down exactly how more than one protagonist player may be involved in a given conflict.

1. One player draws and the Producer draws. The other players only participate indirectly by providing Fanmail at the moment if they care to; note that the player has full authority over spending it or not. These players' characters are not involved in the conflict.

2. One player draws and the Producer draws. One or more of the other players may participate fairly directly by spending Fanmail of their own to draw cards, and choosing which of the two sides those cards will benefit. Again, these players' characters are not involved in the conflict.

3. Two or more players draw and the Producer draws. Each one compares his or her results with the Producer's draw. In this case, these players' characters are all involved in the conflict situation, and their goals may either be unified or disparate.

The last one is the most pertinent to the topic at hand (matching a bit with David's example done right), so I'll provide a detailed hypothetical example. Let's start with Taffy and the vampire from the first page. Pretty clear that Taffy's player draws and the Producer draws, no problem. But let's add the person playing Seraph, the hunky ambiguous boyfriend, who for some reason decides that Seraph wants to grab Taffy and hold her helpless (who knows why, "to keep her safe" in some over-protective way; actually, it was easier making examples for Bucky Ball). And, um, let's add Eucalyptus, one of Taffy's pals who's kind of spooky and sensitive, whose player says that she's trying to hit Seraph with some kind of anti-angelic curse in angel language, because, you know, she never trusted him anyway, and now look what he's doing.

This plays out as follows: Taffy does or doesn't kick the vampire's ass (going with that being what the player says), as A or B; Seraph does or doesn't grab her and hold her still, as C or D; and Eucalyptus does or doesn't zap Seraph with the curse, as E or F. The 8 possible outcomes are:

ACE: vampire gets his ass kicked, Seraph grabs Taffy, Eucalyptus curses Seraph
ACF: vampire gets his ass kicked, Seraph grabs Taffy, Seraph is not cursed
ADE: vampire gets his ass kicked, Taffy is not grabbed, Eucalyptus curses Seraph
ADF: vampire gets his ass kicked, Taffy is not grabbed, Seraph is not cursed
BCE: vampire's ass remains unkicked, Seraph grabs Taffy, Eucalyptus curses Seraph
BCF: vampire's ass remains unkicked, Seraph grabs Taffy, Seraph is not cursed
BDE: vampire's ass remains unkicked, Taffy is not grabbed, Eucalyptus curses Seraph
BDF: vampire's ass remains unkicked, Taffy is not grabbed, Seraph is not cursed

The narrator not only gets to say how these outcomes are realized, but in what order as most makes sense, and also how the vampire's actions played out against the mother NPC and the various protagonists too (i.e. does Taffy get hurt along the way, et cetera).

But Seraph's draw results are not compared to Taffy's, and Eucalyptus' draw results are not compared to Seraph's. That is not a feature of PTA play.

Does this go any distance toward untangling any knots, for David especially?

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: David Berg on July 29, 2008, 08:11:22 PM
Constantly coming to vigorous creative agreement about how the story *should go* and always going for what you *want* to have happen means you never challenge yourself.  You never let yourself be surprised (in the audience sense) and force yourself to re-evaluate where you want to go next (in the author sense).

This makes total sense to me!  Thanks, Jesse.  With those considerations in front of me, I now suspect that my personal preference over many PtA games would be to do it your way (er, well, the game's way) more often than not, but to throw in "just vigorous creative agreement" every once in a while.  They both seem fun to me.

My option three would be that the moment everyone realizes that  "If I win, you help me make the arrest." isn't equally as fun as "If I win, I walk away and leave you with doubts." then you work out an alternative for what you win that everyone agrees IS as equally fun.

Ralph, I hear ya.  I am daunted by the task of coming up with equally appealing dual outcomes for every conflict, but I dunno, maybe it's easy with practice...?  Either way, it certainly makes sense to me as something to strive for.

all protagonist card draws are compared with the Producer's. Not against one another. Ever.

No shit?  Man, maybe I'm misremembering the game I played in January.  The GM knew PtA well; I'd be surprised if he screwed that up.  Probably, Fred was suggesting an outcome for if the Producer won my scene, or I was suggesting an outcome for if the Producer won Fred's scene.

What's probably making this fuzzy for me is that the winner of narration rights often shared time with the players of characters present in the scene.  Fred's "here's what happens" was responsive to my character portrayal contributions as it progressed, thus making the narration feel collaborative.  So perhaps the "resolution is partly about who gets to narrate" element was diluted somewhat.

Jesse untangled my core knot, though, so I'm happy.  Curious to see how much of this applies to Hal & Morgan...

Ps,
-David


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: morgue on July 30, 2008, 04:06:38 PM
Lotta good stuff to think about here!

Ron, you wrote about how you didn't think Our-Drifted-PTA is more prone to dysfunction; and you've pretty much convinced me on that point. Your identification of pitfalls in Our-Drifted-PTA seems accurate, although I don't recall them featuring in our play as it worked out. I will say, in somewhat contradiction of your point about character-issue-conflict, that (in my opinion anyway) the constant focus on the issue didn't seem to devalue it much. Not every conflict was at Christmas-tree intensity, and the ones that were in the final episodes were scorching after a long buildup, But I suspect this contradiction is at least partly due to definitional limitations, and perhaps due to me overstating the extent to which we pursued it in play.

Dave (and Ralph), your experience of finding a conflict where one route wasn't compelling was partly what sent us drifting PTA in the first place, I think. We talked about things until we did find one that was rocking our socks in either direction, just like Ralph suggests. But it did have major consequences on authority distribution, as you've read.

(And for clarity, in our play we always ran conflicts by the book as player-vs-producer, resulting in multiple orthogonal conflicts.)



Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Joel P. Shempert on July 31, 2008, 08:09:39 PM
Hi, everybody! I've been chewing on this thread from the sidelines, and thought I'd speak up and add my experience to the pool of thought:

Basically, there are three kinds of play we're talking about: A, PTA by the textual rules; B, PTA as you and I and others have Drifted it in a characteristic way; and C, Chesting-play which cannot really be called playing PTA despite the book being present at the table. As you can see, I'm saying that C is the odd man out, not B & C together. That means that it's not necessary to be concerned with how B might become C. To get see, you have to break with A, B, and any other form of functional Drift of A, as an entire group.

Now, that does leave open the question of whether B play harbors certain pitfalls of its own. I think it does, actually. At least in my experience, it tends to open the door for one or another person to start narrating scene-events more or less as a monologue, telling everyone else what's going on. I've also seen the nominal central player of the moment be steamrolled by a fellow player, which is more likely to happen in B than in A. And finally, speaking for what makes B less fun for me than A (when B becomes really the mode rather than an add-on), slightly-hyper group discussions about what exactly the conflict is happening and what it's about are extremely not-fun when they don't work well. When that happens, it's not a glitch or slightly-lessened moment, it's a brick wall that brings down the enjoyment of the whole session, for me.

So B play, as I see it, works much better as a modifier of A than as a full replacement for it. It seems to me that you, Steve, and the others may have been able to enjoy it maximally specifically for that reason.

This post cleared up a lot of confusion I was wrestling with as I read along: The first and only PTA game i played fell rather flat in a story-conferencing sort of way, but we didn't experience any of the "chesting' phenomenon of power-struggle or undermining each others input in favor of our own, or anything. In fact it was a wholly supportive and safe environment on the social level, even as we struggled through the procedures and fictional inputs on the game level. It all clicks, now--we were definitely engaged in an awkward form of type B play, which had indeed succumbed to some pitfalls as Ron describes. The "what's the conflict about" discussion was a staple of play and was indeed pretty unfun. Also, we had a bad habit f discussing the conflict Stakes to the point where we'd already talked through the possible outcomes and sucked the life out of them come actual narration time.

I take the full blame or this, by the way. Both my fellow players were utterly new to roleplaying (a fact which I can't help but suspect contributed to the lack of power struggle) and followed my lead in utter trust and devotion as I proceeded to mangle the whole procedure. We had a halfway decent amount of fun in between the bouts of brow-furrowed confusion, and we ended up with a story-outcome that was pretty cool to all of us, but it was a rough road getting there and the actual roleplaying wasn't near as engaging as it could have been.


Also:

It is: all protagonist card draws are compared with the Producer's. Not against one another. Ever.

[SNIP]

All of this is to say that protagonist draws in PTA must concern orthogonal stakes (to use the term "stakes" exactly as defined in the rules), even if two or more protagonists are directly opposed. In this sense, Shock and PTA are very much alike. The only person who is playing direct mechanical opposition to any protagonist is the Producer, even if the characters are narrated to be attacking one another with fireplace pokers with deadly intent.

This was one of the things that tripped us up in our game. We were aware of the rule, and tried to follow it, but often either had a hard time coming up with orthogonal stakes that were satisfying (until we had story-conferenced all the life out of the outcomes), or else went merrily along with mutually exclusive stakes and realized after the card draw that we'd muffed it and had an impossible set of outcomes that we'd have to back up and rework.

So there's my personal data, take it as you will. I call it a great practice run; by the end of the 5-episode Season i feel we were all ready to play PTA in an actually fun and satisfying way. Too bad we had to go through such a muddled experience to get there.

peace,
-joel


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Ron Edwards on August 01, 2008, 05:57:01 AM
Hello,

I think that we should end this thread here and use it as a foundation to start more threads about other PTA games and related issues. I was tempted to split it in the middle of the third page, but since the original discussion did a good job of opening doors, for others, I decided to keep it all together.

Now, however, I think Hal's original topic has been worked out pretty thoroughly, at least for now, so this one should end.

Hal, please post to let me know whether he wants the thread to continue or to confirm that it should end. Everyone else, let's wait for him.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Post by: Halzebier on August 04, 2008, 02:25:01 AM
Hello everyone!

I was away on a last-minute holiday trip and have returned only yesterday. Sorry about the delay.

A couple of quick points:

(1) I have had players draw cards against each other all the time, so there's a big fat problem right there. Thanks for clearing this up, Ron.

(2) Jesse's Grey Ranks example was beautiful and encapsulates what I want out of such a game: to be taken into directions no one anticipated. Rolling with that can be like rolling with a blow at times but is exhilarating.

(3) I found the discussion very useful. Its successful application to our actual game remains to be seen, but it has certainly helped me.

So thanks everyone and let's start new threads as Ron suggested.

Regards,

Hal