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46709 Posts in 5588 Topics by 13297 Members Latest Member: - Shane786 Most online today: 33 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?  (Read 28098 times)
David Berg
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Posts: 997


« Reply #45 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.
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Valamir
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« Reply #46 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.
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jburneko
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Posts: 1429


« Reply #47 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



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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #48 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
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David Berg
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Posts: 997


« Reply #49 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
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morgue
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« Reply #50 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.)

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Joel P. Shempert
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« Reply #51 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
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #52 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
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Halzebier
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Posts: 216


« Reply #53 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
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