[PTA] Storms of Hokkaido

Started by Willem, January 14, 2008, 04:31:06 AM

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Hey. Played my first PTA game this evening. I've just started experimenting with indie role playing games after not having played one of any kind for about 15+ years. I've wanted to play with new ways of teaching storytelling skills and so stumbled across the whole indie rpg scene. I've only played Polaris, which turned out a really bad idea. Don't get me wrong: I LOVE Polaris. But I had forgotten the complexity of role playing games and the tremendous front-end prep involved. I don't play computer games either, so my play group doesn't have much familiarity with the complexity of these kinds of games, and how long it takes to 'flow' with the rules so you don't have to look stuff up anymore. All the players completely burned out on learning the rules for Polaris - headaches all round by the end.

Someone recommended I go easier on our group and try PTA or 1001 Nights instead, so we decided to give PTA a shot.

I read the rules as thoroughly as I could until I thought I at least knew where to look stuff up when in doubt.

Play group: Willem (the Producer), Jana, Rayne, Tony, and Norris. I've known Tony a long time but have only recently met the others, so not a huge amount of group cohesion.

Definitely a mix of personalities - Jana has an admitted anxiety with 'coming up with stuff', Rayne and Tony felt really comfortable riffing on whatever, Norris had a more precise manner but opened up on the story telling when it came down to it.

The process of brainstorming the show ideas and characters really intrigues me. I run some brainstorming techniques and games as part of my living, so I wondered whether I'd need to bring out "the big guns" (piles of stickies and index cards, flipcharts, and fun clustering games) to move things along, but folks did pretty ok. I don't think we could have gone much faster.

I told the group to start throwing out a list of themes and settings that interest them at the moment, anything at all.  After some starts and stops we zoomed through a short list:

Golden Compass
Feudal Japan

Then I asked them if they could weave most or all of these themes into a show they'd like to explore. This took about 10 minutes to figure out. Finally we end up with:

Show Premise - In post-apocalyptic Japan, on the remote island of Hokkaido, sundered by impassable stormy seas from the rest of the traumatized world, heroes, driven by Love, and endowed with unusual powers, fight against the man-eaters that rule the new age.

So. Kinda cool, you know? I basically summed up for them in one paragraph all the ideas that they threw out to tie the themes and setting together.

Then came the title. After some awkward silences and periodic blurtings of titles that folks either didn't respond to "the Rising", "Hokkaido Blues"), or responded to but dead-ended ("Hokkaido 3039"), I threw out "Storms of Hokkaido". Which I really dig. Folks didn't block the title (though I could tell they wish they could've thought of something even better), so we moved forward with that.

We all decided our tone would embody "Epic Adventure".

Then the characters. This took the rest of the hour of play prep. Whew! Kinda like pulling teeth. We all worked on the ideas as a group. Tony kicked it off, describing a character concept that excited him, so I encouraged him to take it. Jana took the longest, to the point where after we started the second scene of play we realized she still didn't have a name for her protagonist. :) I didn't want to pressure her, so I definitely erred on the side of giving her space to come up with an inspiring character. For quite a while she didn't come up with an issue (actually several folks had a similar problem), as she had a hard time separating 'character flaws' from an issue that would drive the character (i.e., halitosis does not suffice as a driving issue, that it certainly expresses a disadvantaged character). She tried 'unpredictable', but I didn't feel confident I could drive conflicts based on her unpredictability. How would that create a dilemma for her? Why would she care about her own unpredictable nature? Then she moved to dark secret: cannibal, but again, why does it matter? does it make her feel guilty? or does she simply have a practical concern over reprisal? or both? I don't know if I did nit-picking there, but I felt we needed to clarify that to make it an actual issue. We settled on guilt.


Kimbro (played by Tony): sword swinging gunslinger kid w/ only a 100 bullets left
-Issue: Revenge for murdered family
-Nemesis: Wetiko Clan
-Traits: Gunslinger, Swordsman, Wetiko Clan General connection (former childhood friend)
-Personal Set: When ever he meditates on the edge of his katana blade, or holds bullets in his hand

Huweeshu (Norris): Neo hunter-gatherer
-Issue: Grief (tribal band murdered)
-Traits: Hunter-gatherer, Warrior, unnamed tribal woman connection
-Personal Set: Any quiet spot in nature

Oda (Rayne): brooding independent ex-businessman haunted by wraith
-Issue: Driven by Love for missing ex-Lover ("Otsu")
-Traits: Ex-high-class businessman, Jack connection (a wraith that provides intuitive messages), Jack connection (also provides unnamed physical power)
-Nemesis: Jack (wraith)
-Personal Set: Shrine made of feather, ore, sweat

Baba (Jana): shape-shifting were-shark hermit granny
-Issue: Guilt (eater of human flesh)
-Traits: Were-shark, Wilderness hermit, Mentor connection (old shapeshifter)
-Nemesis: Man-eaters
-Personal Set: Flashback to a beach next to shark-possessed waters

Whew! That took a lot of work. I noticed that Tony (others too somewhat )kept wanting to practically write the episode right there, by explaining back stories and potential plots so much that we didn't have to do them (kind of like movie trailers that show you pretty much the whole movie, so you don't really have to go see them). I had a hard time explaining the purpose of creating the show premise and protaganists, that we want to leave most possibilities open, and just have enough to get started.

Then I announced we needed to run a Pilot Episode, and start with a beginning scene/kicker. They had a hard time wrapping their heads around Focus, Agenda, and Location as the only questions to answer, and kept describing the whole scene without us playing it. :) This kind of thing happened a lot - I thought it obvious what we had come there to do, to enact a story as we went along, but the players kept thinking that we would somehow write it now and enact it later.

I wanted them to decide what they wanted out of the first scene, as I wanted it to hook them. I think that they didn't quite know what would hook them in terms of plot pressure, They came up with a scene focused on Plot, located in a just-raided and smoking village, right after an old seer had told them a distant village where they would get the next answer to the mystery of fighting the man-eating clans that rule the age.

We struggled with how they would work the dialogue - funny enough, at first all the players thought they could only do action by speaking in pure dialogue ("Gosh, I guess let's go, huh? - Yes, here we go! -Alright, we're going now!"). It kept amusing me how much of the whole role-playing thing comes across as a bit counter-intuitive (or at least, not obvious). I explained they could narrate their character actions ("i saddle my horse", etc.), and then they clicked with it. I brought the first conflict in right away, having a villager accost Kimbro, pleading with him not to leave, as Wetiko clan members (his Nemesis and Issue) would soon arrive to finish off the village! I wanted to move a conflict that would break the group up, as I knew the rest wanted to go, and so demonstrate the game conflict resolution system. He responded by saying, "Alright, I'll stay!".

Obviously I have a bit to learn about conflicts. 5 minutes later I finished talking him into coming up with different stakes than mine so we could have a conflict. We did, I won, he had the high card, so he narrated staying and engaging the man-eaters while the rest of the heroes watched from a distant hill, as they departed.

Whew. Perhaps I'll finish this later - we only made it one more scene, as the constant rule-checking in the book (even knowing how lean PTA runs!) had made the game a bit slow and folks had gotten a bit tired. The game lasted two hours total, and everyone voted on keeping the show premise and characters.

This talk me a lot about stake setting (which I still don't understand), worthwhile conflicts (which I still don't understand, but at least I know in what way I don't get it, rather than just having no clue as before), and finally nailed down for me the PTA rules.

What I wonder: for games like PTA, can we include processes for brainstorming and creating show premises, characters, etc., rather than just saying "do it"? why would we do that - could it have sped things up, created a more compelling series title, and a more powerful sense of potential plot arc?

I like PTA for its potential to drill the 'basic storytelling skills' of scene setting, character issues, and worthwhile conflicts. I think if the players get this from it, and nothing else, it will have more than served its purpose.

5 minut