[Burning Empires/Primetime Adventures] RPG Weight Training

Started by jburneko, January 22, 2010, 04:32:14 PM

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Hello Everyone,

So right now I'm GMing Burning Empires.  It's a massive undertaking and it's very demanding.  We're four maneuvers into the Infiltration phase.  I'm really struggling with the game as the GM.  The players are hammering me.  Every week I have to come up with a Maneuver intent, in private by myself.  Then I have to figure out how to coordinate my Figures of Note to play into that intent.  Working within my Scene budget towards that agenda is tough.  Trying to figure out what I can get away with in Color scene for myself versus what I really should use a Building Scene for.

Since Burning Empires uses much smaller scale skills like Signals and Security and so forth.  I have to really focus in on what the player is trying to accomplish, not only to make sure we test the right skill but to really understand the scope of what failure means.  Making failure interesting on that smaller scale requires more attention and thought than some other games with more uniform resolutions.

On top of that in a Firefights and Duel of Wits it's not enough to just stop the players I have to ask for things myself.  For example, I've more than once run into the case where we thought we were about to go into a Duel of Wits because a player asked something of an NPC and I had the NPC say No.  Then, we come to setting the Body of Argument and I remember, "Oh that's right, I have to have a goal too."  So I think for a minute and I say, "Okay I want THIS." and immediately the player says, "actually, in trade for what I asked for I have no problem with that."   And suddenly, no Duel of Wits after all.  So I find myself having to ask for MORE and MORE and MORE.  It's insufficient to simply stand in the character's way I've got to find the thing they're unwilling to *trade* for what they want.  That's really, really hard.

I consider all of these good things, just to be clear.  It's just a lot of work and I feel like I"m constantly missing the mark.  So I just have to push harder.

Okay, on another night of the week I've just started a new Primetime Adventures game with a different group.  We just played the pilot.  The last two PtA games I've run have been okay but not great.  This one, however, rocked hard.  I think it had a lot to do with how I ran the game as Producer and in particular I think working so hard at Burning Empires has actually improved my GMing over all.  It's like Burning Empires strapped all this creative weights on me and then said, "Hit this!"  And I was like, "with these weights, are you kidding me?  Okay, I'll try."  Then I go back to PtA which doesn't have the weights and while I was pretty okay at hitting the target before it's like I'm suddenly able to break boards.

Things I'm doing in PtA that I can pretty much attribute to Burning Empires experience.

More assertion of my own input into scenes.  I'm really using the the fact that the Producer frames all the scenes (after the player gives Location, Focus and Agenda) to push my own content into scenes that is really helping to tighten up the action.

Kind of an extension of the above is simply more aggressive NPCs and less fear on my part that their capacity for adversity will be used up or shut down.  Burning Empires made me realize that I have a habit of giving up on my NPCs when they face set backs.  I realize I've been mistaking a set back for a strong NPC as the climax of a story. 

For example, in my Burning Empires games as a Maneuver intent my player successfully removed one of my GM FONs from political power.  There was a real sense of, "it's over" on my part but I was staring at 14 more points of Disposition in The Phase which meant by the rules, it's CAN'T be over and yet I felt like it was.  They beat the bad guy.  Nice little short story about a political coup.. time to move on.  I had to fight through that to figure out what my NPC was going to do now that his defining point of political adversity had been removed.  How was he going to shift or adjust to come back strong.  That has led me to be less concerned about what my NPCs might be risking by taking certain actions or establishing certain scenes in the PtA game.

I'm spending my Budget more aggressively.  In the past I've spent Budget a lot more slowly often simply matching the Screen Presence of the player I was facing.  I did this for two reasons.  One was that I didn't want the game to be too short and two because I figured that around 50/50 odds was pretty good.  In Burning Empires you're LUCKY if you have 50/50 odds and the scene economy keeps things really tight.  In the PtA game I spent budget a lot faster.  Rather than 1 to 3 per conflict, I was spending 3 to 5 per conflict.

First of all, it made the game much snappier and the tension level was much higher.  But more importantly it made it really easy to sus-out the players real priorities.  It was very clear what they were really willing to fight for (by spending game resources) and what was less important.  Also, I realized that sufficiently high risk of failure in the pilot episode is great way to lay dramatic foundation for future episodes.  One particular player after the game said, "I can't believe how awesome it is how badly we're doing."  Another player simply said, "Wow... that was intense." 

As a point of amusement another player said, "I had not idea any of that was going to happen."  To which I replied, "That's okay, neither did I."  Because I didn't.  I honestly had no idea I could run a game that way.  It just kind of happened because I've been throwing so much weight behind my BE game.  Seriously, it's like BE is weight training for GMs.


Per Fischer

Jesse, that's a great post, I agree completely and have had the same experience GM'img Burning Empires, bearing in mind that BE is pretty hefty on the players as well. Maybe it's simply weight training for GM and players alike.

The learning curve for BE is steeper than in most other roleplaying games, and this unfortunately scares potential players away (those I've tried to get to play anyway), some feeling that gaming shouldn't be this hard or demanding.

Did you take on the classic GM role as in buying and reading the book and being the local "expert" in the game while introducing your players to the game, or did you ask the players to buy the book or read parts of it?

Oh, and how the hell did you persuade your players to try BE in the first place?
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


When Burning Empires first came out I bought a copy for my friend Patrick because I knew he'd really dig on it.  He's been cursing me ever since for, "giving me that awesome game, I'll never find anyone to play with."

My friend Will also owns a copy and just about every time the "What do we want to play next?" question has come up he's said, "Burning Empires" and I've always said, "Hell, no."

I finally said, "Yes" after getting some Mouse Guard experience under my belt.  So I didn't have to persuade my players, my players had to persuade me.

I sprang for Laura's copy of the book and Christopher Kubasik bought his own copy just before we began playing.

Two players out of four have been committed to playing Burning Empires for a couple of years and the other two bought in fast.


David Berg

I haven't GMed BE, but just from playing, I think I understand where you're coming from.  In my game, the GM kicked our asses.  He wasn't trying to entertain us, he was trying to demolish us.  Seeing all the work he put in, I said "more power to him", and I hope he relished his victory.

Once you get good at the game, being able to coordinate your FONs can be a big advantage if you can find ways to pull the PCs in different directions.  If they're at odds, or have personal stuff they're more eager to attend to than a unified goal, you can win some big ones.

I remember how stoked we players were when we got the NPC Imperial Magistrate to resign his position.  Then he took his still-high Resources score and proceeded to bankroll the other NPCs' plans to ruin us, now that he was free from all his govt responsibilities.

Our GM put the game up on the BE Wiki.  If you want to see his path to victory, just look for The Kiril Belt.

here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development


Sorry to revive an old thread, but, Jesse, can you provide some concrete examples of aggressively framing scenes as the Producer in PTA to inject new elements.  I've played PTA as Producer several times, and I've always felt a bit constrained by the players' requests.  There always seems to be a clear way to frame the scene from the Focus, Location, and Agenda, and I don't feel like there is much more I can insert.

Can you provide an example of what you mean?
Brenton Wiernik