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Author Topic: [The Eye in the Pyramid] Bananites  (Read 1120 times)
David Berg
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« on: January 24, 2011, 02:00:23 AM »

I learned some things today.  I learned that only smoking banana peels can protect you from the nanites your prosthetics use to control you.  I learned that the evil tech company that makes these prosthetics is just a pawn of The Theorem, a Pythagorean cult who controls food-bioengineering on a quest to depopulate the bean-eating world.

I also learned that Ford is trying to start World War III to boost sales, while stealing the un-Taoist elixir of immortality from the half-Aztec temple of the Wu Dang clan.  Henry Ford may be alive somewhere, but Wu Dang may help you stop his evil plans, as they're not out to take over the world after all.

I also learned that Lady Gaga appears in ancient prophecies and won't make out with 80-year-olds, but that was incidental.

For 3 hours, this was one of the most fun sessions I've played in a long time.  Kind of shocking for a first playtest, to be honest.  Apparently, in the right crowd, conspiracy theory play is friggin' gold.  There's something very satisfying about presenting lunacy as someone who believes it, rather than just making jokes directly player to player.  I've actually found "one-up each other with absurdity" play to get old real fast, and this session absolutely did not do that.

We did get worn out eventually, though.  After 3 investigations of brilliance and hilarity, we were a little drained for the final investigation and denouement.  Still, that part wasn't bad, and will probably be better when not played after midnight following a ton of rules-refining.

I'll write more in a bit about the rules I had to change.  They were not at all what I thought they'd be.  Original doc is here.  Also, Ronnies feedback thread is here.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: January 24, 2011, 05:53:19 PM »

That sounds like the perfect playtest, David!

Keep an eye on that endgame, though. I want to see what happens when the group is A-OK with the rules up until that point, and everyone is still firing on all cylinders.

Best, Ron

Quote
Lady Gaga appears in ancient prophecies


Oh come on, everyone knows that.

Quote
and won't make out with 80-year-olds, but that was incidental

Incidental to you, maybe! To me, that is a relief as I will no longer see certain horrific images flashing before my mind's eye.
« Last Edit: January 24, 2011, 05:54:54 PM by Ron Edwards » Logged
jenskot
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« Reply #2 on: January 26, 2011, 11:15:22 AM »

Dave, thanks for running. I enjoyed participating and I hope it was helpful for you.

In play it reminded me of my favorite card game that feels more like a role playing game than many RPGs... The Big Idea. I can't recommend it highly enough. That said, here are specific thoughts regarding our playtest...

Parts that worked:
- everyone has their own conspiracy
- fleshing out that conspiracy
- 4 random elements
- coming up with 4 person, places, things or events around those elements
- GMing each other
- drawing random elements
- connecting random elements
- when we ditched the rules for dying / survival and focused on... "creating crazy theories and determining who's right"
- changing the rules so who GMs is not random
- changing the rules so when the last clue is revealed, in the final 10 seconds, only 1 crazy theory is allowed so we don't end up talking over each other
- the end reveal... who is really the conspiracy and how does your character react to the truth

Not so sure parts:
- we didn't use all the info we wrote down about our conspiracies
- I feel the chips needed to affect more which conspiracy is real in the end
- in games where players reward each other with chips, like PTA, they tend to even out as nice players try to distribute spotlight. You get a situation where people often have ties rather than actively compete

Me being an arm chair game designer, feel free to ignore:
- Instead of getting a chip when you say a cool theory... at the end of a scene, everyone grabs a token and gives it to the person who they think had the best theory (excluding themselves). Person with the most tokens decides who GMs next. And tokens earned can go towards determining whose crazy theory is right in the end (maybe roll a die and add the tokens earned as a modifier to determine what happens).

- A variation to the above that may allow less creative players a way to compete with people better at improvisation. GM secretly picks which theory they like the most in the scene. Everyone passes a token to the person they think the GM will choose. GM reveals. Everyone who is right, gets +1 to their conspiracy being real.

- Ability to add elements to the table as facts are discovered.

- Scene 1, you must connect 2 elements to come up with a crazy theory. Scene 2, you must connect 3 elements and so on. Every new scenes adds +1 to the number of elements you must connect.

- Elements get checked off as they are used? Can they be re-used? Transformed? Something else?

There's something very satisfying about presenting lunacy as someone who believes it, rather than just making jokes directly player to player. 
I felt this was essential.
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David Berg
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Posts: 997


« Reply #3 on: January 26, 2011, 01:03:53 PM »

Thanks for chiming in, John!  Some good stuff there.  I completely agree that the tokens need to be reworked.  I think "get a token for narrating a connection" is a solid core, but beyond that, there's a lot of room for improvement.  I see coolness in every one of your suggestions, but they also get me worried that the spontaneity of connection-suggesting, and the related momentum and energy at the table, might suffer.  I'd like to discuss this further in a bit; if you're game, that'd be great!

I have some questions for you about GMing: 

Segues

I am having a lot of trouble remembering the segues from one GM turn to another in our session.  I believe our order went like this:

Terry (Pythagoras Monsanto conspiracy)
Ryan (Ford Motor conspiracy)
John (Better Living Prosthetics conspiracy)
Mendez (Wu Tang Clan conspiracy)

My intent had been that, during Ryan's turn, everything the PCs experienced would implicate, or be viewed as implicating, Ford.  That would be first and most obvious; after all, the PCs are at a Ford-specific location of Ryan's choosing.  The connections to other conspiracies should be secondary: less frequent, and requiring greater imaginative leaps.  Then, when Ryan's turn ends, with the PCs trapped in a building, and you poised to GM next, something is supposed to happen that makes the PCs think, "Oh shit, the real culprit here is actually Better Living!"

You did this by having the PCs wake up in a Better Living facility.  Awesome.  That was our best transition of the night, I thought.  The transition out of your scene was quite different.  I can't remember the details well, though.  A stolen car to go somewhere in some hurry... but I don't remember the goal being related to Better Living.  And then Mendez's scene began with the PCs arriving at the Wu Tang temple?  But I never had the sense of the PCs going, "Oh shit, the culprit here is Wu Tang!"

Do you remember what happened here?

I'm also fuzzy on how Terry's turn transitioned into Ryan's.  I can't remember what compelled our investigators to go from a Berkeley drug party to a South American military camp, and whether there was any, "The real culprit is Ford!" involved.  Do you remember that?

In the end, I'm not sure whether my intended "one conspiracy at a time" focus for the PCs is actually important.  I was hoping it'd make it easier to keep track of the evolving understanding of "what's going on here".  However, I think the rule Ryan proposed, where each character gives an update on their thoughts after each investigation, is better.

GM Focus

My expectation was that GMs would play to reveal and implicate their conspiracies, with specifics inspired by the task of driving toward inclusion of their four random Elements.  I got the impression that you, Terry, and Ryan did this, and enjoyed it.  Is that accurate?

Mendez, on the other hand, tried one experimental approach (vindicating his conspiracy rather than implicating it) and one additional narrative task (tying up previous investigations and connections into some sort of whole and climax).  This was rather taxing for him.  I'm inclined to think it was a bad idea on both counts, but maybe without some efforts at tying things together, an unsatisfying randomness and sense that "nothing previous mattered" could emerge?

Creating some sort of persistence from investigation to investigation might be a worthy goal for the token economy.  If it's on the GM to manifest that persistence in play, that seems burdensome; persistence in character suspicions might be better.  Perhaps the tokens could establish, "All PCs believe in a certain connection, and should try to connect new info to that going forward"?
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David Berg
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« Reply #4 on: January 26, 2011, 01:11:47 PM »

I also really wonder what would have happened if someone had GMed twice and someone hadn't GMed at all.  The group was very clearly against that, but I wasn't sure why.
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jenskot
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« Reply #5 on: January 26, 2011, 01:33:17 PM »

I also really wonder what would have happened if someone had GMed twice and someone hadn't GMed at all.  The group was very clearly against that, but I wasn't sure why.
A combination of reasons:

- GMing is very improv oriented in this game and requires a lot of energy
- You also have a character, GMing more means playing your character less and less making up crazy connections which is fun
- Since we had 4 scenes, if anyone GMed more than once, that means someone misses their chance to GM
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jenskot
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« Reply #6 on: January 26, 2011, 01:43:51 PM »

I had fun GMing.

The GM order you describe above is correct.

My scene ended with the players driving to Staten Island which worked well with the next Scene.

When I was GMing... even when I wasn't... but especially when I was GMing I was eager to push my conspiracy. Not everyone focused 100% on their own conspiracy but they were certainly the priority in each scene. There was no mechanical incentive to do so but I think because we were invested in our own conspiracies... by developing them at the beginning, we wanted to show off the parts we wrote down on out conspiracy sheets. At least I did. I was also more invested in my own conspiracy than the one my character was pursuing. Although I enjoyed both.

I don't remember the transition from scene 1 to scene 2. I think the GMs exhibited some hard core scene framing to get us to the middle of the action... there was almost no transition in many cases but plenty of reincorporation.

GMing felt like major railroading but fun. We were all very giving and saying yes a lot to players' proposed actions but in general, whatever the GM said is what happened. In our actual play this was a non issue so I don't want to speculate too much how that would work in other people's games. That said, I suspect anyone who would find your game and want to play it probably already has the skills to make it work.
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David Berg
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Posts: 997


« Reply #7 on: January 26, 2011, 01:49:49 PM »

Not so sure parts:
- we didn't use all the info we wrote down about our conspiracies

I think the name and general aim are key.  I assume the current goal is vital context for narrating; I'm curious to see what you guys thought, but I bet I'd have a hard time without this.

At least one location and attack seemed vital.  Three is probably overkill.  But options are good.  Maybe two?

My guess is that the steps toward the current goal have the exact same concerns, but I dunno.

As for timing, I could see how creating location, attack and maybe steps might be done right before GMing, rather than pre-game.  That would minimize wasted effort.  On the other hand, pre-game creation separates them from the other tasks of gearing up to GM, hopefully minimizing creative battery drain.  It doesn't seem like a big deal to me either way; what do you think?

I still think defining a symbol and a front are super cool, but I'm fine with those being optional.  

I'm curious whether paring this down as I've suggested would have reduced your investment in showcasing your conspiracy.
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David Berg
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« Reply #8 on: January 26, 2011, 01:54:12 PM »

I don't remember the transition from scene 1 to scene 2. I think the GMs exhibited some hard core scene framing to get us to the middle of the action... there was almost no transition in many cases but plenty of reincorporation.
I've got no problem with weird scene cuts.  What I'm wondering about is the attitude toward the conspiracies.  Did we have a, "Wait, it's not just Monsanto, it's really about Ford!" moment?  I don't remember one.  I would have thought this was really important before our game, but now I'm not so sure.
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jenskot
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« Reply #9 on: January 26, 2011, 02:02:20 PM »

I don't remember the transition from scene 1 to scene 2. I think the GMs exhibited some hard core scene framing to get us to the middle of the action... there was almost no transition in many cases but plenty of reincorporation.
I've got no problem with weird scene cuts.  What I'm wondering about is the attitude toward the conspiracies.  Did we have a, "Wait, it's not just Monsanto, it's really about Ford!" moment?  I don't remember one.  I would have thought this was really important before our game, but now I'm not so sure.
From what I remember, there was no... "oh shit... Ford is involved to" feeling. Partially because we had an intro scene via the IRC chat room where we laid out who we thought was involved. Probably the only OMG moment was in the third scene because of how insane the opening was... strapped to tables... marks all over your body where your limbs will be replaced... lady gaga face transplant... drill gun... statue of liberty outside our window... faceless doctors... Mendez's character has a leg transplant... we're all chained down... guards and doctors are coming and... GO!

I also had the advantage of being the 3rd scene. Lots to reincorporate, nothing to introduce or wrap up... just escalate!
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David Berg
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« Reply #10 on: January 26, 2011, 08:20:59 PM »

I've uploaded a 2nd draft of the rules here, reflecting the system we used for the "Bananites" playtest session.  If anyone needed that context for this thread, sorry it took me this long!

I'm already working on a 3rd draft, incorporating some post-playtest ideas and feedback.
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