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Author Topic: [InSpectres] Second try...  (Read 3217 times)
Jon Hastings
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Posts: 95


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« on: September 15, 2005, 07:14:41 AM »

A few weeks ago, I tried to run InSpectres for the second time, using a lot of the advice I got after posting the play report of my first attempt.  Only one of the two players from the first session returned for seconds (Nick)--the other player (Kevin) decided that though he thought the game was "interesting and funny", he didn't really have fun playing.  Nick had a great time and convinced two of his other friends to play (Ethan and Matt), who I had never met before.

The game went better this time than it did on our first try.  We ran through three short missions (an 8-dice, 10-dice, and 15-dice) instead of one long mission.  This took a lot of the pressure off and we didn't "stall out" this time around.  If anything, we finished at least one of the missions a little too quickly.  Doing it this way also gave us a chance to see how the vacation mechanic/recovering from stress stuff worked.

I also called for more stress rolls that were specifically tied into the corporate-franchise set-up.  However, I'm not really happy on how this turned out (more detail later).

Player Issues: In the first session Nick took the lead in terms of narrating/solving the mystery.  The resulting tone was very "National Lampoon's Ghost Busters".  This time Ethan really took the lead, which made the game somewhat more serious--more like the "goofy" episodes of the X-Files.  Nick didn't seem to groove on the change in tone, but he also didn't seem to want to really take the reigns.  Instead, he started playing his character as a kind of comedic, lowbrow boor, which was a real change from how he played his character in the first game.  He also started talking "in character" a lot, using an all-over-the-place accent (it started as a Brooklyn accent but had become a Cockney accent by the thrid mission).  I got the impression from talking to him afterwards that he wanted to inject comedy in this way because he felt some disapproval from the new players whenever he tried to take the overall plot in a lowbrow, comedic direction.  And I actually noticed this disapproval during play, although it generally took the form of Ethan's character putting down/making fun of/getting fed up with Nick's character.

Both times I've played InSpectres, one player (a different one each time) has taken the lead in terms of setting the tone, telling the story, and both times at least one of the other players has felt left out.  Something I would like to work on as a GM is to try to make sure that everyone is engaged, but so far I am having a hard time with it, at least with InSpectres.

Another thing I've noticed is that my players do not behave at all like the players from most of the Actual Play threads I've read.  My players have not blown anything up or tried to solve any of the problems with anything resembling violence or mayhem.  Rather, they tend to solve the mystery and then provide an "Oprah"-like resolution.  For example, 2 out of the 4 missions we've played so far have involved the characters dealing with a haunting by setting up a reconciliation between the haunted and the hauntees.  Everyone hugs and cries and then "the End".  I was a little more hopeful when during the last two missions they outfitted themselves with some hardcore weaponry, but they ended up those missions with almost complete non-confrontation.  Mechanically, this has worked out that they earn 80% of their mission dice through research and then go into the field to kind of test out their theory.  There has been zero "monster busting" in our games.

The last player issue I've noticed is that in both sessions one player (Kevin and then Matt) made loner, highly skilled, super "effective" characters.  I've read on other Actual Play threads that a lot of the time long time rpgers make these kinds of characters when they first play InSpectres, but neither Matt nor Kevin had ever really rpged before.  They have played a lot of console/computer rpgs, though, and I wonder if this has something to do with it.  (I also think some of Kevin's disappointment with the game was that he wanted to play a highly skilled character who could really effectively manipulate the game world in the manner of a highly skilled crpg character).

GM Issues: I had a hard time making the corporate/everyday aspects of the game grabby.  Generally, whenever I introduced an element that didn't have to do with investigating weird stuff, the players would deal with it as quickly as possible, half-heartedly even, and then jumped right back into solving the mystery/earning mission dice.  This lead to a kind of downward spiral: I hit them with my best stuff at the beginning of the game, and when I got zero response, I was less enthusiastic about pushing the corporate/everyday stuff the next time around.  Before beginning the game, I explained the importance of the "building and running a start up" aspect of the game, and pointed out that the vacation/mission dice assignment was an in character decision, but my players seem to have no interest in this stuff--they just want to get it over with so they can start solving more mysteries/coming up with weird stories.

Because of this, the sessions have been enjoyable, but there's really no tension.  The players have nothing invested in role-playing the corporate/everyday aspects of the game, and they ignore these elements when I bring them into play.  Though I could try to make this stuff bigger, grabbier, and harder to ignore, my feeling is that it would be a waste of effort, because my players don't actually enjoy that aspect of the game as much as they do making up mystery stories.  At this point, I'm tempted to put InSpectres aside for a while and try playing something like PTA, where the conflict is front and center and cannot be sidestepped as easily.

Overall though, I'm pretty happy about our 2nd attempt.  There were fewer kinks this time around in terms of running the game.  The game was a hit with the new players, and they are excited about playing rpgs again.  I'm feeling a little more confident as a GM, although I 'm definitely still rusty.
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Tim Alexander
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Posts: 304


« Reply #1 on: September 16, 2005, 06:55:57 AM »

Hey John,

I've only had the opportunity to run Inspectres once, but it's been on my mind a bit lately. My group's Sorcerer game is tumbling steadily towards it's conclusion and we've been looking at a few options for our next choice; Inspectres being one of them. One of my players seems to be a fan upon first reading, so I've been keeping it in my head. My previous experience was pretty much slapstick. I didn't press the stress, I mostly ignored the dot-bomb aspect of the game, and goofy was definitely the tone set by the players. It was fun, but not very weighty, it sounds a lot like your experience. Alright, let's get into it:

Because of this, the sessions have been enjoyable, but there's really no tension.  The players have nothing invested in role-playing the corporate/everyday aspects of the game, and they ignore these elements when I bring them into play.  Though I could try to make this stuff bigger, grabbier, and harder to ignore, my feeling is that it would be a waste of effort, because my players don't actually enjoy that aspect of the game as much as they do making up mystery stories.  At this point, I'm tempted to put InSpectres aside for a while and try playing something like PTA, where the conflict is front and center and cannot be sidestepped as easily.

Yeah, either that portion of the game isn't interesting to them, or it hasn't been as grabby as you thought. If it's the first then it won't much matter what you do with it. Can you give some examples on what you did with this? Also, how much stress did you put on the characters during the mystery portions of the game. Did you feel like you couldn't stress them because of the extreme investigation before fieldtesting? How much talking about the game did you guys do before play? Any discussion of mood, or theme, or anything of the like to try and get everyone on the same page?

Thanks,

-Tim
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Jon Hastings
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« Reply #2 on: September 16, 2005, 12:44:53 PM »

Tim,

Thanks for the response.

Yeah, either that portion of the game isn't interesting to them, or it hasn't been as grabby as you thought. If it's the first then it won't much matter what you do with it. Can you give some examples on what you did with this?

I introduced a corporate "Qaulity Control Manager" NPC, who showed up at the beginning of the session, and then, throughout the missions, I tried to bring in real world, office-type issues (i.e., whether or not the computer system was working, or if they'd have to deal with getting an electrician to come in after hours).  I must admit, my presentation of this stuff wasn't as good as it could have been: in general, I kind of tossed it out there, and then when I got no response, I gave up on it, and let the players get back to mystery-solving.  If we do end up playing a third InSpectres session, I want to try to do a better job with that stuff.  However, I'm leaning right now towards playing something else (maybe coming back to InSpectres later), because I'm pretty sure that even if I made the corporate/office aspect "grabbier", the players would still look at it as crap to get through before they can start "actually playing"--in the way when I first started playing D&D the scenes where the characters meet and find out about a dungeon are really just something to get out of the way before the players can get down to the real business of killing & looting.  Another concern I have is that the players really seem to groove on the "collaborative storytelling" aspect of the game, but not so much on the "role playing".  By this, I mean that the players don't seem that interested in playing out the situation, but rather are focused on improvising a clever mystery story. 

I'm tempted to say that what we've been doing with InSpectres isn't "real roleplaying", although I realize that that's a problematic/unclear concept.  However, one of my InSpectres players (Nick) and a mutual friend (who had never rpged before) played The Shab-al-Hiri Roach not long after this InSpectres session, and I couldn't help noticing how much more invested everyone was with their characters and the setting during the Roach than  we have been with InSpectres.  Or, to put it another way, with the Roach, our focus (as players) were on the characters and what they were doing, while with InSpectres, the focus has been on telling a mystery story (i.e., the players get an idea for a solution and then fill in the blanks to get there), with the character providing color every now and then.  (This is partly why I am interested in trying to get the InSpectres group to play something like PTA: its conflict mechanic seems to lead to the kind of play we had with the Roach).


Also, how much stress did you put on the characters during the mystery portions of the game. Did you feel like you couldn't stress them because of the extreme investigation before fieldtesting? How much talking about the game did you guys do before play? Any discussion of mood, or theme, or anything of the like to try and get everyone on the same page?

My issue with the extreme investigation isn't so much that I'm not able to stress them, but rather that it has led to 4 very similar-feeling missions. 

In terms of getting on the same page, before each session I made reference to Ghostbusters and The Office, but we didn't really go into detail about the theme.  I did make it explicit that a big part of the game is role-playing the ups-and-downs of a startup company.  During the game, I kept trying to bring in the "massive property damage" aspect of Ghostbusters, but my players would have none of it.

Personally, I didn't have a problem with the mood/tone, but I could tell that change from the gonzo frat boy humor of the first session to the goofy X-Files parody of the second session wasn't sitting well with one of the players (Nick).

One of my problems is that I have been a little hesitant about bringing these issues up with the group because, (1) aside from Nick, I don't really know them very well yet and (2) they are beginning players and I don't want to come off as a know-it-all who is telling them "how to do it right".

I guess my dilemma is that on the one hand, I'm happy that playing InSpectres has been a hit with my players, but on the other, I think I'd definitely be having a better time if we tried something else.  (I think the players would, too, of course).
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Jasper
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Posts: 466


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« Reply #3 on: September 17, 2005, 10:00:49 AM »

Regarding the office/company stuff. It seems like some of your example office material (e.g. computer system is down) didn't offer much of a hook for riffing-off because they were too straightforward of problems (get a repairman and fix it). Is this how they seemed to perceive it? Maybe something that requires a real decision, with some trade-offs involved -- like, do we attend a business conference to get more money, or do we blow it off and lose resources?

But it seems like the bigger problem is that the office stuff pales in importance and drama compared to the ghost-busting stuff. Maybe you could integrate the two, by saying something like, "an angry poltergeist is in the computer system, and thus it's not working." And that gives them something super-natural, as they are expecting, but also happens to involve their own company more directly.
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Jasper McChesney
Primeval Games Press
Tim Alexander
Member

Posts: 304


« Reply #4 on: September 19, 2005, 09:37:47 AM »

Hey Guys,

Looks like Jasper has some good suggestions. Also, don't neglect the social setup. I think with new people it's even more important that everyone get their cards out on the table. In worrying about coming across as a know it all with the 'right way' I'd just be really careful in listening to what the players are telling you. If you find out everyone is looking for incompatible stuff then moving on to something that gels better for you is probably a good idea. Since you're perceiving a lack of comfort from folks on some of the theme it's probably best to get it out in the open early. That's the sort of stuff that can often carry across games. You may find that once everyone knows what everyone else is looking for that things fall into place.

-Tim
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