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46709 Posts in 5588 Topics by 13297 Members Latest Member: - Shane786 Most online today: 25 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: [PTA] Driving Towards Conflict  (Read 2581 times)
David Kay
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Posts: 6


« on: December 18, 2011, 12:44:36 PM »

Hello Forge community,

This post is not an actual play report, so much as a request for actual play reports. I'm quite new to indie games, but I'm planning to produce a game of Primetime Adventures when next semester rolls around. My inexperience is giving me trouble with understanding something important in the system though; how exactly am I, as the Producer, supposed to drive the players towards conflict? Since I have no direct authority over stake setting, I'm just not sure how I'm supposed to encourage the players to take interesting risks with their characters.

I've lurked for a while, and I know that there have been lots of threads on stake setting and conflicts in PTA, but so far none of them have really directly answered my question. I'm perfectly happy to go back and look at an old thread again though, if you think it will help answer my question.

I would also love to see new actual play reports that could shed light on my question. I'm specifically interested in Producer techniques for driving towards conflict, and how the table talk around that looks.
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Chris_Chinn
Member

Posts: 280


« Reply #1 on: December 19, 2011, 08:18:52 PM »

Hi David,

Quote
I'm just not sure how I'm supposed to encourage the players to take interesting risks with their characters.

The big thing to look at is Issues.  When you sit down to play, the Producer and the Players are coming together with this understanding- the Issues are what we're going to drive at, and drive at hard.   You shouldn't have to "encourage" the players, that should already be their goal, and your job is to facilitate them driving to their Issues and applying pressure to make them see their Issues in ways they may not have thought of.

Anyway, Actual Play links from my play:

My friend Sushu who hasn't GM'ed games previously ran PTA for a short season (6 sessions) and wrote about some of her experiences here:  http://summercomfort.livejournal.com/541550.html

Our Star Wars PTA game:
http://bankuei.wordpress.com/2010/05/23/pta-star-wars-a-galaxy-divided/
http://bankuei.wordpress.com/2010/06/27/pta-star-wars-pt-2/
http://bankuei.wordpress.com/2010/08/29/pta-a-galaxy-divided-ep-3/
http://bankuei.wordpress.com/2010/10/10/pta-a-galaxy-divided-ending/

Jono's thoughts on the game: http://evilbrainjono.net/blog?permalink=843

My reflections on Issues and Stake Setting:
http://bankuei.wordpress.com/2010/08/31/advanced-conflict-stake-setting/

Chris
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David Kay
Member

Posts: 6


« Reply #2 on: December 20, 2011, 10:34:51 AM »

Hello Chris,

Thanks for all of that material, it was a fun read. I'm still struggling a bit to understand this aspect of PTA though. Let me try to unpack exactly where my question is coming from.

I think my confusion about the Producer's role is tied to a deeper confusion about the nature of stake setting.

I understand that PTA is all about conflict resolution, as opposed to task resolution. The players create their character's Issues in the pitch, and all conflicts should tie into their Issues, through the stakes. The PTA book gives the example of a character with the Issue of self-doubt; the player sets the stakes for that character as "does my character show bravery in the fight" as opposed to "does my character beat the bad guy". Here's the thing though; why wouldn't the player in that situation just say that his character shows bravery, instead of having a conflict over it? In your play report, you said that you thought the stakes should never make a choice for a player (specifically in the scene where one of the protagonists had to decide whether to kill his clone or not). Doesn't the above example suffer the same problem? (Perhaps you could solve this by saying: "does my character impress NPC A with his bravery in the fight?"). Good stakes should tie into character issues, but I think I'm not understanding exactly how they should do that. I need a clear understanding of that before I ask more questions about the Producer's role.

I think what would be most useful for me is an actual play report that, instead of focusing on what is happening in the fiction, describes the process of what is happening around the table, specifically focusing on what the Producer is doing to frame the conflict and how the players respond to that by setting their stakes.
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Chris_Chinn
Member

Posts: 280


« Reply #3 on: December 20, 2011, 11:41:11 AM »

Hi David,

Quote
Here's the thing though; why wouldn't the player in that situation just say that his character shows bravery, instead of having a conflict over it?

When you do stakes setting, you have a quick conversation with the player and the group about what they are finding the most interesting thing that is up in the air, at stake, unresolved and in question.

Why would the player have a conflict over being brave?  Maybe because it seems like the most interesting thing and the player himself or herself isn't sure of the outcome.  "Is Dumbo ready to fly?  I dunno!  Let's find out!"

If the player is genuinely invested in the Issue of their Protagonist, and excited to explore it, these situations happen often enough.  (If the player is stuck in Deathtrap Dungeon D&D mode, where every conflict is to be avoided, the game will not work.)

And the places where the player chooses to make a statement instead of a question, "No, this thing doesn't faze me.", then your job as the Producer is to make suggestions and ask questions and find out what the REAL thing the conflict should be about.

From our game, the Jedi had to fight his father:
"I hope I win!"
"Of course you'll win.  You're a Jedi, he's a politician.  No, the stakes should be, Do you win without hurting him?"
"Oh geez! Oh geez! How much Fanmail do I have?!?"

These things take from a few seconds to a minute to figure out, usually.  And everyone at the table can make suggestions - these are also the people who are handing each other Fanmail, so they're also going to suggest things they think fit with what's entertaining.

Everyone has to go in accepting that conflict is going to happen - so there's no point in avoiding conflict - instead, the attitude is, "What is the most interesting conflict for the story I want to explore?" and to use the rules to aim towards that.

Chris
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David Kay
Member

Posts: 6


« Reply #4 on: December 20, 2011, 12:30:19 PM »

Chris:

So you're saying that in PTA, players have to actively choose to engage in conflicts and take risks when they set stakes because it makes for an interesting story. I can dig that.

Back to the Producer's role: What specific things does the Producer do to get the players into the game? So far, I'm seeing two specific things in your examples:

1. The Producer needs to get everyone on board with the premise of the game during the pitch: get them out of a competitive mindset if they are used to that and get them to buy into the idea of exploring character Issues.

2. During stake setting, the Producer has to push players to come up with stakes that involve their character's Issue (if they haven't done it on their own). Ultimately only the player can decide what their stakes in a conflict are. The Producer's role is more along the lines of making interesting suggestions.

Are there any other techniques that the Producer should employ (before, during, or after conflicts) to help drive players towards interesting conflicts? I'm asking this on a really basic level; don't assume that something you do is so obvious that I would already know to do it. I might, but it would help me to spell it out.
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Chris_Chinn
Member

Posts: 280


« Reply #5 on: December 20, 2011, 02:18:16 PM »

Quote
Ultimately only the player can decide what their stakes in a conflict are. The Producer's role is more along the lines of making interesting suggestions.

Not exactly.  The point of Stake Setting is to answer this question - "What do we (the group) find interesting?"  The Producer, the player, and all the players, should be invested on some level with answering this question.  When you've got good stakes, everyone is excited to see what happens, even if the stakes are potentially mean to the protagonists.

Techniques aren't actually that complicated:

1. Remind yourself that you're making good TV.  Judge everything you might want to do based on that- if it fits the genre, if it would be interesting on TV, or not.

2. Can you think of interesting outcomes for both success and failure with these Stakes?  (Note, nearly always, "Do you survive?" is not a good set of Stakes.  Think TV and plot immunity.)

3. What are players most invested in?  When you set the stakes do they get excited, anxious?  Do they spend lots of fan mail or agonize over whether to spend it?

If you see these things happen, take note and aim future conflicts along those lines.


Chris
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: December 21, 2011, 10:27:22 AM »

Hi David,

I'm going to try a different approach from Chris ...

Tell me about any time in your experience in which, in a role-playing session, it seemed to you that what happened mattered a lot, both to the character and to you as a participant at the table.

If that seems like an easy question, then good. It's not intended to be subtle or Zen or anything special.

Best, Ron
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David Kay
Member

Posts: 6


« Reply #7 on: December 21, 2011, 04:57:51 PM »

Hi Ron,

Off the top of my head, here's a fun experience I had in an Apocalypse World one-shot:

I was playing a Brainer named Smith. I had decided my Brainer was interested in another PC, a Touchstone named Road. Smith asked Road about leaving their hold and traveling elsewhere together, but it turned out there was something in the way; Road's mentor, Traffic. Earlier Smith had the chance to use a Deep Brain Scan on Traffic, and our MC decided in response to my questions that Traffic was in love with Road, and that he had killed her mother. I took the first chance I had to get Smith alone with Traffic and use In Brain Puppet Strings to compel him to confess his past to Road, which led to my favorite scene of the session. Traffic was compelled to speak to Road, and I had Smith hiding out of sight, watching them. The compulsion had mixed effects; the GM decided that before Traffic was forced to confess to killing Road's mother, he would confess his love for her! At that point, I spent some of my hold to do harm to Traffic and intimidate him into finishing his confession. It was a great dramatic moment, changing the relationships between the NPC and PCs, and suggesting that Smith's intentions, while not malevolent, were darker than we had originally thought.

I'm looking forward to hearing what you make of my questions/experience.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: December 23, 2011, 09:35:43 AM »

Hi David,

I apologize for the delay. I'm battling two viruses, one in me and one in the computers. I'll continue as soon as I can. Didn't mean to be a tease.

Best, Ron
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David Kay
Member

Posts: 6


« Reply #9 on: December 24, 2011, 08:28:25 AM »

Ron,

There's no rush. I hope you feel better soon. Actually, I'm about to go on a trip, and I may not have internet access next week. I'll be looking forward to seeing what you have to say once I return.

David
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David Berg
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Posts: 997


« Reply #10 on: December 24, 2011, 10:05:45 PM »

2. During stake setting, the Producer has to push players to come up with stakes that involve their character's Issue (if they haven't done it on their own). Ultimately only the player can decide what their stakes in a conflict are. The Producer's role is more along the lines of making interesting suggestions.

Are there any other techniques that the Producer should employ (before, during, or after conflicts) to help drive players towards interesting conflicts? I'm asking this on a really basic level; don't assume that something you do is so obvious that I would already know to do it. I might, but it would help me to spell it out.

My buddy Jeff applies that "push players to address their character's Issue" m.o. at all phases of play.  The method varies, though:

During scene framing, it'll be a quick check-in: "Does this seem important to you, and worth playing through?  If you're not sure, check your Issue."

During roleplaying a scene before identifying a conflict, it'll be a watchdog approach for when players flounder or get aimless: "Is there anything you really want out of this situation?  If you're not sure, check your Issue."

These are facilitator techniques and can be employed by anyone at the table; so, depending on your group vibe, you might want to encourage others to use them too.  Once everyone starts getting good at the game, then you can phase out anything that feels too hand-holdy or intrusive.

As far as techniques for using NPCs to create juicy conflict, whether it's time to create NPCs or roleplay them, I fall back on "deal with the devil" when I'm drawing a blank.  That is, one of the following:

1) "I can get you something you really want!  But in exchange, I need you to do something that's extreme in terms of your Issue."  (E.g. "loyalty" - sell out an ally to the mob, "family" - never see your brother again, "empowerment" - trade in your Girdle of Giant Strength.)

2) "I am going to really fuck you up!  The only way to stop me is to do something that's extreme in terms of your Issue."

That's Plan B.  Plan A is to just do something that inspires me and that I'm confident will be cool based on gut & experience.

Hope this helps,
-David B.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #11 on: December 26, 2011, 07:44:40 AM »

Hi David,

My goal is to stay concrete, but given limited time, I might fail a bit. Let me know if anything I write here slips away from exactly what people do.

What I'm seeing from your account is that in traditional/railroady terms, the GM had to do ... well, nothing. Which is part of the AW design or more accurately, that of the family of games it's drawing from (The Riddle of Steel, Sorcerer, others). You played Smith, you provided his motivations, you had Smith take action, you drew upon previously played material, and so on. At first glance, it looks like the AW GM is much like an interlocutor in the later works of Plato, the kind whose "argument" is generally limited to repeating, "Yes, Socrates."

But that's not true. The GM is Moving too. He's not doing so because he's secretly guiding and tracking the plot. He's doing so as something else. I could go into that "something else" at length, but that's not your question, is it? Your question is how.

OK, it's simple actually. Character actions are made of both scene framing and narrated events. Both are much more distributed across GM/player/other players that anyone likes to think about. You wrote that "Earlier Smith had the chance to use deep brain scan on Traffic," and I say, look closely. "Had the chance." How exactly, exactly did that happen. Did you have to traverse dangerous adversity to get that chance. Did you move Smith to get near Traffice at all? Did the GM place Traffic there? In fact, did the GM place Smith there?

You don't need to answer those questions for me, only for you. My point is that there are many ways to have found those two characters, doing the actions they were doing, in that location, such that in retrospect you can now say, "Earlier Smith had the chance to use deep brain scan on Traffic. Those many ways are all variations on who framed the scene(s) and how, and on what the characters were initially doing as assumed/said by whom. In that sentence, both "who" and "by whom" can include both player and GM at different times and in different ways.

PTA rules are very, very well made to get many of those ways into play ... if you use them exactly as written, which is a tragically rare phenomenon.

1. Scene framing is all done by you, the GM. I don't recommend using it to make character's decisions for them, e.g. framing right into the middle of a character's wedding when no such event had previously been involved (not a serious consideration anyway, I trust). I do recommend using three concepts.

i) What the character ordinarily does - job, habits, hobbies, necessary personal time, et cetera.
ii) What happened recently, if anything, which implies the character might be doing something different.
iii) Whom the character would really rather not deal with at this moment - unexpectedly/expectedly, likes/doesn't like, whatever, doesn't matter. For whatever reason.

Bear in mind that you are really and actually playing the character in framing the scene, however fleetingly and tacitly, but quite concretely. Be sure to validate and appreciate him or her in doing so, in such a way that the player knows you get the character. And don't ever, ever share the task of framing that scene in PTA. The rules give it only to you.

2. The best way to do conflicts in PTA is not to. Or rather, not to engineer, discuss, plan, or set them up, as a committee. That is horrible ass and it's not what the rules say, although God knows why people read them that way so often. Instead, given a scene framed according to the points above, go with these points:

i) Everyone says what their characters say and do, including you as GM
ii) You then make sure everyone at the table knows what now looks different: changes in character's locations and body language, anything in the environment which joins in, relevant bits or points of the scene's location
iii) Repeat (i), then (ii)

Now, presuming we're talking about a Conflict Scene in the first place, sooner or later some character will do or say something that another character wants to stop, subvert, or retaliate against. There, that's the conflict, and it's time for the cards.

What I'm saying is that just because it's been designated as a Conflict Scene does not, not, not ever mean anyone has to know what the conflict is at the start!! When Matt says "Drive toward Conflict," he really means "Find it in what's happening when it happens," and nothing else. Not "engineer it" - rather, "don't miss it."

Annndd, drum roll, my final point - Stakes are actually a minor subset of the bigger issue of "conflict." I'm saying that if you do #2 right (which entails #1 sometimes doing the heavy work even before then), then the Stakes for a given conflict will be so obvious and easy that you'll wonder what the big deal ever was. People fuck this up constantly, calling conflicts then debating Stakes tediously, or yelping out Stakes in the absence of interesting conflicts.

Rim-shot! And the skills for #1 and #2 are very, very much the same things you'll find listed as the GM's Moves in Apocalypse World.

So you're really all set, already. Go to it. Do not ever pre-plan or storyboard or shoehorn ... or God help us all, get into those horrible bad-PTA planning/chat/not-play muddles. Frame as stated, thinking of it as Moves. Play the NPCs as makes most sense, thinking of it as Moves.

Let me know if that helps or makes sense.

Best, Ron
« Last Edit: December 26, 2011, 07:50:39 AM by Ron Edwards » Logged
David Kay
Member

Posts: 6


« Reply #12 on: December 27, 2011, 05:37:39 PM »

Ron:

That all makes sense. I think I knew those things already, but had twisted myself around into believing that there had to be more to it. For now I think my questions have been answered.

Thanks to everyone who replied.

David
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czipeter
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Posts: 13


« Reply #13 on: December 31, 2011, 03:53:33 AM »

1. Scene framing is all done by you, the GM.
But what about this:
Quote
Creating a Scene
Scene creation starts with a request from a player. In play, everyone takes turns requesting a scene, and the player whose turn it is to make a request must declare three things to the producer: the scene’s focus, the scene’s agenda, and its location.
I think this invalidates (i) and (ii) as well. Am I mistaken?
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My real name is Peter.
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #14 on: December 31, 2011, 06:42:04 AM »

Shoot. You're fight, I have to modify my point. I will follow up soon.

Best, Ron
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