[Primetime Adventures] unexpected upsides of new play style

Started by David Berg, January 28, 2008, 09:11:13 PM

Previous topic - Next topic

David Berg

Let me begin this by saying that I've never played Narrativist before.  I'm assuming that the instance of play I'm about to describe was Nar, but I could be completely wrong.  Regardless, it was very different from any other play experience I've had.

Saturday night at Dreamation 2008.  GM is Remi, players are myself and 6 other folks.  Here are my personal highlights:

What's this gonna be about?

Other player suggestions included:
"Spin - how the perception of reality is deliberately distorted."
"Neutral ground with its own rules."
"Football, or some other form of competition."
"Pre-Boxer Rebellion China."

I added:
"A secret organization that may or may not be benevolent."

Remi eventually came up with, and the group agreed on:
"A port city in a China that never quite was.  The colonial British police are at war with the Chinese gangs (tongs).  The two sides can only meet peacefully in a certain tea house.  The British police includes a secret department."

Character creation

As soon as the genre/setting were chosen, I came up with a character:
"A Chinese man who has bought into British cultural imperialism, thinks of Chinese as backwards, and works for the head of the secret police."

Some of the others players chose:
Fred: "An old British cop gone native, who often lets off Chinese criminals."
Jonathan: "A racist British officer."
Julie: "A female tong leader bent on driving out the Brits."

Fred and I instantly agreed that our characters should work together, with mine being more of a loyal Brit than his despite our races.  Awesome!

Someone suggested that I be the brother of the tong leader.  Awesome!

Someone suggested that the racist officer be my boss.  Awesome!

Collaborative scene-framing

At some point a Chinese thief needed to be caught.  Jonathan saw an opportunity to hit on both my issues and Fred's issues -- as my boss, he ordered me to go catch the thief, and then said that I obviously couldn't do it alone, so the Fred's cop had better go with me.  Naturally, my character was incensed, and told Fred's cop that his local-loving ass wasn't needed.  But I didn't actually want him out of the scene.  So Fred and I agreed that Fred's cop would pretend to leave, and then secretly get to the thief and keep the thief one step ahead of me by clumsily following him.  Awesome!  A few rolls later, the thief was home free, but I'd spotted Fred's cop and suspected he was up to something.

Later in the game, Jonathan suggested he'd frame me for an illegal move he wanted to make.  I said, "Can I find out?"  He said, "Hell yes!"  We both wanted to drive up the tension between my love for the Brits and my mistreatment by this particular one.  Awesome!

At the very end of the game, after I'd forsaken the local Brits and returned to my family, Julie said that her character stepped down to allow me to claim my inheritance as leader of the tong.  Remi asked me for a final scene.  I described the tong council meeting room, with my character marching in, wearing Chinese traditional clothing but striding in British military step, and saying, "There are going to be some changes in the way things are done around here."  Awesome!  Rather than trusting the Brits to bring British virtues to my people, I was gonna do it myself, in my own way.

Julie then came up with an even better final scene for my character.  After the council scene, I was seen at home, reverently folding up a British flag and putting it away, and then finally going to show my respects at the shrine of my father, who I had hated in life.  Awesome!


After reading a lot about Sorcerer, Dogs in the Vineyard, and Shadow of Yesterday, I had formed this impression of Nar play as very serious and intense and weighty.  It seemed like a focused drive to make personal statements so deep and challenging that they'd affect the players emotionally in a profound way.  So when I went into the PTA game, I was very curious to see whether I liked that.

What I wasn't expecting was the constant authorial creativity.  I get to make shit up beyond what my character does?  I get to make shit up about what's going on in the characters' enviornment, and what other people's characters might do?  And they get to make suggestion for my character?  And we hash it all out based on what we agree is coolest?  Hell, I know I like that!

The emotional impact for me was minimal in terms of "loyalty to those close to you is more important than obedience to an organization you respect", but was huge in terms of "that was a cool story!"  What a pleasant surprise!
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development

Joshua A.C. Newman

Hey, Dave!

I'm happy to see you having a good time! I'd like to hear how this is influencing the design of the game you were talking about if at all. Can you post some AP about it to contrast (if you haven't already)?
the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.

David Berg

Hi Joshua,

The PtA experience isn't influencing my current game design at all, but it's making me more eager to finish my current game and move on to other things!

Alas, I don't have any AP that reflects the current state of my game.  (Though this thread, particularly this post, shows an earlier version with similar styles of immersion and small-scale setting-interaction.)  Hopefully I'll have a playtest of the current version to post about in the next two months.
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development

Robert Bohl

David, it was great to meet you and I didn't realize you were a virgin to this kind of play before. Cool. I can also precisely sympathize with your reaction to PTA, because it was the exact one I had.
Misspent Youth: Ocean's 11 + Avatar: The Last Airbender + Snow Crash
Oo! Let's Make a Game!: Joshua A.C. Newman and I make a transhumanist RPG

Remi Treuer

Hey David,
It was really great playing with you.

The last time I ran the Miniseries at Camp Nerdly it was among the most emotionally-impacting games I've ever played, and I was wondering what was different. There were a few more people, but everyone at the table at Dreamation had shown up to play, so that wasn't it. There was a bit more disparity in play style and experience with the system, but not much. I realized on the way home what it was. I believe that I insisted at the Nerdly PTA game that everyone have their issue pointing at a specific person. This avoids the abstract idea trap that some of the Issues fell into, which is fine in an extended game, but makes life hard when you're going for short and sweet.

Having all the characters pointed in a real way at a person I could threaten gave me a big grip to push the game along without being quite as, ah, authoritative as I was at the game on Saturday. This theory is borne out, as you and Julie were among the easiest people to frame or suggest scenes for, exactly because of that, and it made the last third of the game the easiest (beyond the loss of players) story-wise to run. Unfortunately, I was pretty dopey by then, and so the game remained pretty loose.

Also, the intensely shared narration in the game was something I hadn't encountered much before. Usually people take responsibility for their own scenes, or look to the Producer, maybe with occasional input from other players. I think the amount of back-and-forth we saw happens when there's a bunch of people who are suddenly handed lots of narrative authority for the first time. I'm glad it turned out OK, with a good amount of back-and-forth between everyone, and strong suggestions all around. I'm glad there wasn't a, "Hey, don't do that" moment among the players.

Thanks for bringing it to the table. I would totally like to play with you again. Next year in New Jersey!

David Berg

Quote from: Remi Treuer on January 30, 2008, 05:11:32 AMthe intensely shared narration in the game was something I hadn't encountered much before. Usually people take responsibility for their own scenes, or look to the Producer, maybe with occasional input from other players. I think the amount of back-and-forth we saw happens when there's a bunch of people who are suddenly handed lots of narrative authority for the first time.

It's interesting; my scenes were the last ones in which I looked to take responsibility.  My play history has been all about "use character to react to all other aspects of gameworld"; it was much easier for me to make suggestions in other people's scenes, cuz that felt more like GMing.

I'd be curious to play a more "normal" PtA game and see what my favorite parts of that would be.  The intense sharing was a huge highlight for me.

Your "aiming an issue" point sounds right to me.  We had one player, Bruce, whose issue was something about "proving he could do what others said couldn't be done", and it was tough to hit on that in a way that was really meaningful.
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development

David Berg

Quote from: Remi Treuer on January 30, 2008, 05:11:32 AMI'm glad there wasn't a, "Hey, don't do that" moment among the players.

Actually, there was, early on, but you shot it the fuck down.  Great job wrangling that many loud personalities into being focused for 5 hours!!!
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development


This is so funny, because I guess I've never really played anything other than shared narrative-style RPGs, at least with table-top stuff, so when people suggest that there are games where the GM runs the show utterly, I'm like, "huh?  The players don't get a say?  Weird..." 

Anyway, PTA is my absolute favorite RPG.  Now, I don't have the breadth and depth of experience of everyone else, but I know I can trust PTA to be awesome, because with the way it's set up, the focus is on making the story as interesting as possible.  Like Remi said a couple of times on Saturday night, if he can make life suck for the players, it makes for great TV, great drama, and ultimately a great game.  That being said, I have to admit that I still panicked at that Tong vote of no confidence thing, even though it drove the action (at least for me, Bruce too) for the rest of the game.

And I have to give out a massive shout-out to Remi for running the game with seven players.  Remi, you did an awesome job pushing the action first and not letting any little side-tracky arguments get out of hand.  Even with seven, you managed to keep everyone involved and valued.  Talk about herding cats.  So, thank you.  The other thing I liked is something Dave mentioned, that you didn't let people say, "no, no, this instead."  It kept things really positive. 

Also, Dave, just so you know, the last time I played PTA, it was 180 degrees different.  We made a show called Bounty...Hunters!  It was a reality show (probably aired on FOX), about regular people who want to become bounty hunters and have to live together.  So I guess it was a cross between Dog the Bounty Hunter and The Real Life (that reality show that was on MTV -- I think that was its name).  It was hilarious, and totally awesome.  So you see, another brilliant thing about PTA is its diversity and ability to transcend every taste. 

Both times, when the game was over, I thought "Wow, I would totally watch this show..."

"I am Galstaf, Sorceror of Light."
"Then how come you had to cast Magic Missile?  Myahahaha..."
This is Julie, BTW.

Remi Treuer

That vote-of-not-confidence scene was really interesting. I ran at you really hard, but there wasn't much behind it. Your reaction didn't read so much as panic as, "There's nothing happening here that threatens anything I care about." It was only after I made the scene about you being a traitor like your assimilationist brother that your eyes lit up and you were like, "Heck no!" I finally hit on the thing that you DID care about, which was your relationship with your brother.Your business didn't matter, your family did. That made Wei Fa an enemy who you then went after with all your guns. That was cool.

Thank you for the compliments. My main worry is that I'm stifling player input in the name of equality of fun, and as I mentioned, I really did feel like I was swinging the facilitator stick pretty hard. I'm glad that it managed to get to the fun instead of bringing everyone down.

Ron Edwards

Hi Dave,

I wanted to post to this a few days ago and finally got the time.

Your statement about Narrativist play is a common expectation from those who haven't really gotten into it, but it's inaccurate. The typical reaction is much as you describe: "Gee, that was easy. I didn't have to do any English 101 at all. Maybe we were playing Sim or something." Which is itself an inaccurate attempt to cope with the inaccurate expectation that was not met.

I think I've posted the following point in dialogue with you before, or in threads you've probably seen, but it would have been before you really came to grips with the Creative Agenda concept. The point is that all my essays and discussions about defining Creative Agendas are about what people do, but not at all about what each one (or its many applications) actually feels like to do.

When people read the essays or the relevant definition-debate threads, they scratch their heads and say, "I don't do that, it doesn't feel like that, that isn't it," and so on. The closest they can get is the Simulationist emphasis on the SIS, and, mistakenly thinking that their necessary SIS-platform must be what I'm talking about, they say, "Gee, I guess I like Sim then."

A most common phenomenon at the Forge, over and over, is someone who's never really managed to get his or her Narrativist bone on, and has often settled for Zilchplay, because grappling with the difficulties of Sim/Narr clash, or with those associated with Typhoid Mary GMing, is too agonizing. They read the essays and therefore find Sim closest to what they "want."

When that person finally gets some Narrativist play in, they tend to react a lot like you're doing now – "Hey, that was fun and definitely different, but it didn't hurt or seem all theme-y like in play itself (well it actually did but it was easy)." They can also get distracted by the new techniques involving shared Authority or lots of unfamiliar Stance work, which are certainly relevant but not as definitional as they might feel at the time.

The thing is, all functional play is easy and fun.

A couple of clarifiers:

- by "easy" I mean that play clicks together well at the social and creative level (sometimes it's hard in other ways which are OK, like complex tactics or whatever)

- given that that particular kind of game is something the people enjoy in the first place

Best, Ron

David Berg

Hi Ron,

I think we're in total agreement here, but you lost me a little bit with your first paragraph, so I just want to check:

  • My expectation that Narr play would feel all weighty and serious was inaccurate.  I assume that some Narr play does feel this way to some players, but there's nothing inherent in the connection between this feeling and Narr.

  • My experience that "that was easy and fun" is normal, and I am CA-savvy for not saying, "...so I guess it couldn't have been Narr!" like others (I guess?) have done.



P.S.  I've related the story of this game to a few gamer pals, and their reaction has been, "Sounds neat, but that isn't role-playing, Dave."  Heh.  I think they identify "roleplaying" by mode/feeling of SIS-experience (and, accordingly, Stance) -- which I honestly find quite understandable.  I think if I called this PtA game "story-gaming" instead of "role-playing", it'd go over fine.
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development