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46709 Posts in 5588 Topics by 13297 Members Latest Member: - Shane786 Most online today: 26 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: [Primetime Adventures] Political comedy for the new year  (Read 2412 times)
GreatWolf
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Posts: 1157

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« on: January 02, 2008, 03:32:13 PM »

We have a running New Year’s Eve tradition of getting together with James and Theresa to eat wings, drink liquor, and play games until the New Year comes…and then continuing as long as we can stand it (usually between 1 a.m. – 2 a.m.)  This year was no different.  However, I was detecting that Theresa did not seem to be in an eager competitive mood.  In general, Theresa does not like being very competitive.  You know all that face stabby Narrativism?  Yeah.  Not good for Theresa.  Nor is a game of Jungle Speed.  She can enjoy watching, but she would really not like the macho challenges and insults being aimed in her direction.

So, I asked everyone if they were feeling more competitive and creative.  Not surprisingly, Theresa said “Creative”.  The group acceded, so I dashed off to the Shelf of Roleplaying Books to find some options.  I needed something that could play out in a single evening, not be face stabby, and not be too emotionally heavy.

Given that I tend to like face stabby, emotionally heavy games, I’m impressed that I found anything.

But, in the end, I brought several games for consideration.  After some discussion, we settled on Primetime Adventures.

I’ve decided that henceforth Primetime Adventures will be my default gateway RPG, unless I can hook the potential initiate with the specific subject matter from another game.  It’s easy to learn, customizable, and, best of all, nearly everyone understands television.  More on this in a bit.

We threw together a show entitled “An American Life”.  The focus of the show is Jack Martin, the campaign manager for the junior senator from Iowa.  (This is a tip of the hat both to the upcoming caucuses and to Matt Snyder, Iowan extraordinaire.)  The issues all had to do with the political lifestyle, especially in contrast with the rural lifestyle that Jack comes from.  (He’s a sheep farmer with a large family at home.)

We quickly hacked together a cast of characters, including the other protagonists, which were the Senator and Jack’s ultra-competent assistant.

The tone of the show was supposed to be somewhere less than total screwball comedy but something more than “The West Wing”.  Our execution was…uneven, but it was pretty funny.

We decided to do Jack’s spotlight episode, addressing his Issue of “work vs. family conflicts”.  Here was the basic problem.  Jack is about to go home for his anniversary when a crisis hits the Senator’s re-election bid.  Apparently, her enemies in the media are claiming that she never established residency requirements for her first run.  Now, instead of going home, Jack and Lindsey are off to talk to the Senator’s mother to get the necessary proof of her residency.  Of course, her mother is very old and is now living in a shack in the middle of the Everglades….

At this point, I need to note an important factor in the game.  James was tired.  Really tired.  Like, he hadn’t slept well the night before and, while intending to take a nap, had been unable to do so.  So, we’re zipping around the table, framing scenes and everything, but we’re noticing that James is nodding off.  (The liquor probably wasn’t helping matters, either.)  Had this been a “serious” game, it might have been annoying.  But it wasn’t; rather, it was hilarious.  Eventually, James dragged himself into the other room to go to sleep on the couch.

This had fascinating ramifications for the developing fiction.  We decided that Jack (who was being played by James) was also exhausted.  So, in the final scene that we played through, it was up to Lindsey to get a sleeping Jack through airport security and onto the plane to Iowa.  This was probably not as funny as I remember it, given that it was late, and drinking was involved.  Still, it was probably the highlight of the night, because Theresa was just on a roll, describing Lindsey’s ongoing efforts to get Jack onto the plane.  This involved an extra plane ticket, a cup of ice dumped down the back, and outmaneuvering concerned flight attendants who wanted to ensure that their VIP frequent flyer walked down the red carpet to his seat.

Sadly, at that point, Crystal also declared that she was quite tired, so we wrapped things up for the evening.


What’s so friendly about Primetime Adventures?

It’s a scientifically documented fact that people who play Primetime Adventures with each other have a 73% chance of being better friends and closer people as a result.  Why is this?  I have an idea.

Primetime Adventures is a standout among many indie RPGs in that it lacks a competitive edge.  Even conflict feels more like gambling on desired story outcomes than actual character opposition.  Character “failure” is not the result of another player’s opposition, be it another PC or the Producer, but ultimately the vagaries of the card draw.  As a result, the circle of the game is quite friendly.

At the same time, there is real structure to the game.  The various elements on the protagonist sheet do inform and focus play.  Also, by delineating and apportioning narration authority, the rules actually act to preserve that friendly feel to the game.  It would be difficult for a single player to totally dominate a game of Primetime Adventures.

Finally, of course, there’s fan mail, which encourages the players to be looking for reasons to reward each other for being cool.  I think that most players overlook this at first; in my game, I prompted the players to award fan mail, but I think that they would have picked up on it pretty quickly.

So, all these things combine to create a fairly safe environment to try out this “roleplaying” thing.  At least, that’s my current theory.

Not a deep game, but hey, do they all have to be?  It was a good time, and that’s really all I ask.

Thanks for the game, Matt!
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
GreatWolf
Member

Posts: 1157

designer of Dirty Secrets


WWW
« Reply #1 on: January 02, 2008, 03:35:22 PM »

Oh yeah.  I have a recording of this session.  Quotables abound!  Here's one as a sample.  Crystal turns to me and says, in a shocked voice, "You had an affair with Matt Snyder?!?!"

It had something to do with a game of Blue Moon played at GenCon....

So, um, it was one of those nights.
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
Redone
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Posts: 8

adopted bunny ninja princess


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« Reply #2 on: January 06, 2008, 04:12:26 AM »

What’s so friendly about Primetime Adventures?

It’s a scientifically documented fact that people who play Primetime Adventures with each other have a 73% chance of being better friends and closer people as a result.  Why is this?  I have an idea.

Primetime Adventures is a standout among many indie RPGs in that it lacks a competitive edge.  Even conflict feels more like gambling on desired story outcomes than actual character opposition.  Character “failure” is not the result of another player’s opposition, be it another PC or the Producer, but ultimately the vagaries of the card draw.  As a result, the circle of the game is quite friendly.

Mostly, you are right. But... there is place for characters opposition. In my last PTA session I didn't like the choices my friend Filip made, his character was in love with a woman that was my character's biggest enemy. When he was in a conflict whether he will be with her (if he wins) or not (if he losses) I did something interesting. I gave all my fanmail dice to the GM and as a result Filip lost the conflict. Ha was a bit shocked about this, but the truth is, there's a lot of room for being nasty to other players in PTA :D
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GreatWolf
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designer of Dirty Secrets


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« Reply #3 on: January 06, 2008, 10:16:34 PM »

Mostly, you are right. But... there is place for characters opposition. In my last PTA session I didn't like the choices my friend Filip made, his character was in love with a woman that was my character's biggest enemy. When he was in a conflict whether he will be with her (if he wins) or not (if he losses) I did something interesting. I gave all my fanmail dice to the GM and as a result Filip lost the conflict. Ha was a bit shocked about this, but the truth is, there's a lot of room for being nasty to other players in PTA :D

Oh, that's true.  I do think that this is actually an example of that whole "betting on the outcome" thing that I talked about in the original post, though.  You bet against Filip's character, because you wanted the story to go the other way.  And lo, you won.

However, this isn't really "nasty" in the same way that I mean.  I mean the "I'm getting up in your face and opposing you" edge (aka "face-stabby") that you find in games like Universalis, Dirty Secrets, Polaris, Bliss Stage, or Dogs in the Vineyard.  In Primetime Adventures, the most that a player can say is, "I'm voting against your success".  In some of these other games, a player can say, "I am now going to destroy what you love."  In PTA, you just don't have the tools to do this in the same way that you can in other games.

Why am I making this point?  Partly because I'm trying to pay attention to such things for my future design work.  The role of randomness in RPGs is oft debated.  I'm suggesting here that PTA shows us one potential reason to use randomness in a game:  as a scapegoat to keep the friendly nature of the game intact.  Ever notice how "light" boardgames tend to be highly random?  I think that's the same factor in play.  The high luck factor can reduce the confrontational nature of player choices, as well as simplifying the gamestate, thus reducing the game's intensity.

Conversely, if you want to encourage "face-stabby" behavior, then reduce or remove the random elements, thus making player opposition more direct.  Just think of the boardgame Diplomacy.  No randomness, just outright player confrontation with each other's lies and deceptions.  Now that's face-stabby.  At the same time, it increases the confrontational nature of the game to such a degree that friendships have been broken over it.

Finally, the majority of the other mechanics in PTA tend to work against a competitive circle.  Consider the fanmail economy that drives the game.  The fanmail pool is stocked by the Producer pushing against the rest of the group.  However, from this point forward, the fanmail economy is driven by the engine of awesome.  I award you fanmail because I like what you did.  You spend fanmail on me, because you think that my preferred outcome for the stakes would be awesome.  Conversely, you spend fanmail on the Producer's side of the conflict, because you think that his preferred outcome for the stakes would be awesome.  And, in this way, the awesome gets spread around the table.  The game falls flat without the constant passing of the awesome.  In this larger environment, it's difficult to muster up a truly competitive edge.
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
Filip Luszczyk
Member

Posts: 771

roll-player


« Reply #4 on: January 07, 2008, 12:08:14 PM »

Seth,

In fact, the situation Magda refers to was totally "nasty" in a totally "face-stabby" sense. The conflict was about to resolve my character's Issue definitely, and what Magda did was effectively mitigating the impact of randomness to the point that one of the courses of action we agreed on during stakes setting became effectively nigh impossible (it was like, a bucket of dice, the whole remaining Budget and all Magda's remaining Fanmail against my three SP dice). In that game, normally, we'd discuss the stakes until everyone was fine with both possible outcomes - the only thing Magda needed to do was to clearly state she wasn't fine with my stakes, and I'd adjust them.

Back then, I felt effectively stripped of my choice, in the moment that was possibly the most important for my character in the whole series, after about thirty hours of building the context. And at that point it was already quite emotionally heavy. Magda's decision made me wonder whether we've been playing the same game for that whole time, actually.

Now, that was also the very first time I've seen Magda pushing her goals in the story via means different than her character's direct actions. I can't deny that it was the strongest choice she took during the few months we've been playing together. But at the same time, in that particular context, I consider it a failure at successful play.

Either way, I'm a bit sceptical about your statement. I think a lot depends on how the group decides to use the game. It may not have an in-built competitive edge, but at the same time, I don't think there's anything that effectively blocks competitive behavior. It's like saying D&D can't be used in a non-competitive way, while thousands of people across the world play it that way.

I wonder to what extent your position is affected by cultural influences. You're obviously immersed in the whole Story Gamey culture of awesome, and as such, you're heavily soaked with those awesome memes. Now, here, on the other side of the ocean, we're effectively outside this whole awesome bubble. Furthermore, the culture of our country generaly promotes passive-aggressive behavior, so go figure. The accounts of people's experiences with PTA I've seen here in Poland, however rare they are, vary widely from what I usually read on foreign forums.
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GreatWolf
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Posts: 1157

designer of Dirty Secrets


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« Reply #5 on: January 07, 2008, 02:14:52 PM »

Hey, Filip.

Quote
Now, that was also the very first time I've seen Magda pushing her goals in the story via means different than her character's direct actions. I can't deny that it was the strongest choice she took during the few months we've been playing together.  But at the same time, in that particular context, I consider it a failure at successful play.

Could you expand on this?  How was this a failure?

Quote
Either way, I'm a bit sceptical about your statement. I think a lot depends on how the group decides to use the game. It may not have an in-built competitive edge, but at the same time, I don't think there's anything that effectively blocks competitive behavior. It's like saying D&D can't be used in a non-competitive way, while thousands of people across the world play it that way.

I wonder to what extent your position is affected by cultural influences. You're obviously immersed in the whole Story Gamey culture of awesome, and as such, you're heavily soaked with those awesome memes. Now, here, on the other side of the ocean, we're effectively outside this whole awesome bubble. Furthermore, the culture of our country generaly promotes passive-aggressive behavior, so go figure. The accounts of people's experiences with PTA I've seen here in Poland, however rare they are, vary widely from what I usually read on foreign forums.

That may be.  I don't mean that dismissively; my observations on PTA are mostly limited to American play, so that's what I have to work with.  I'd be curious to hear from other people about their PTA experiences.  Anyone have an analogous situation to Filip and Magda's?
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
GreatWolf
Member

Posts: 1157

designer of Dirty Secrets


WWW
« Reply #6 on: January 07, 2008, 04:00:57 PM »

I've thought about it a bit, and I'm going to modify my position a bit, to wit:   PTA does not require competition as a core function of the game.  I'll still point at the various items I mentioned above as reasons why this is.
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
Filip Luszczyk
Member

Posts: 771

roll-player


« Reply #7 on: January 08, 2008, 09:46:13 AM »

Quote
Could you expand on this?  How was this a failure?

It's in this:

Quote
Magda's decision made me wonder whether we've been playing the same game for that whole time, actually.

Up to that point the game was, or at least seemed to be, totally collaborative. Then, a sudden backstab in a very crucial moment. Then, myself, I insisted on another scene (even though everyone but suggested closing the episode), as some Budget got replenished in the conflict and I wanted a second chance with my Issue (chances were still against my character, and the overall outcome didn't change in the end - but I got my choice and addressed the Issue in a generally satisfying manner).

It all felt totally out of place to me - I suppose we should have stopped to discuss it, but it didn't occur to anyone at that moment.

We discussed it after the game, but we didn't manage to determine for sure whether it was a totally accidental SNAFU or just the first time an inconsistency that was there in our assumptions from the beginning surfaced. I suspect it could have been the latter.

Now, Magda's motive, I believe, was her noticeable fixation on ruining her character's rival life. She seemed quite serious about it at that time, to the point that it seemed nearly personal, and definitely very emotional. Up to that point, she seemed to avoid affecting fiction via means different than her character's direct actions. However, the tools for it were lying in front of her openly for the whole time, and this was probably the first time she actively reached for them, breaking from her standard play patterns. So, the situation had a very strong impact on her, I think.

However, this is not how the rest of us had been using these tools from the very beginning. It's just, Magda shouldn't get fixed on destroying the NPC in the first place, as it made completely no sense in the context of that game. Had she grasped it, she'd have used the rivalry for her purposes as a player (i.e. technically, nothing but our possible lack of agreement could stop her from just "winning" with the NPC - her attempts were like trying to fight with thin air). So, she misunderstood the way we've been using NPCs in the game, and we didn't identify the problem and didn't do anything to improve her understanding early enough.

Also, since Magda didn't try to veto the potential outcome she wasn't fine with during stakes setting, it's possible she was accepting such stakes in the previous conflicts, and we didn't notice. Which would mean that the whole collaborativeness of the game was undermined all the time.

This is why I think that event could have been an indication of our failure at successful play as a group.
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