robotnik2004: (Default)
[personal profile] robotnik2004
(This is the Producer's Commentary for this, my most recent game session recap.)

So the thing about using Primetime Adventures for a supers game is this: The game, as most of you know, makes zero effort to model superpowers in any consistent, coherent, or rigorous way. Screen presence and a simple draw of the cards settle everything. To some people, this would be a complete deal breaker. To me, it's mostly a good thing, but it does cause occasional weirdness.

The good thing is, it's effortless. The players don't have to stress about their powers any more than saying: "I'm big and ugly and basically indestructible." I can think up a superhero or villain and toss them into play instantaneously. Big crazy fights with half-a-dozen different heroes on each side--fights that I'm sure, even in a "stripped down" "rules light" supers RPG, would take all evening to resolve--I don't even break a sweat. We can stretch them out to a half-hour or so if they seem important, or resolve them in thirty seconds if they don't.

It is, however, hard to throw serious system-based opposition at the players. At least, that's how it felt in this episode. Both the previous episodes, you may recall, featured climactic throwdowns with Generation Z. And both times, Generation Z ended up looking like punks. OK, no problem--they are punks. But in this episode, I wanted to up the opposition a little bit, make the PCs sweat, make it clear that not everybody they tangle with is going to be such a pushover. It didn't work out that way. The PCs busted into, and out of, the headquarters of their major adversary without any major difficulty. Mexico's shiniest bounty hunters didn't last two rounds against the team. And because I had an idea I liked for the next episode with KD trapped in Kane's mind, I held back 5 budget through the whole session so Kane could clobber Klaatu in the final scene. No dice: I drew all black, and the little mind-bugger got away clean.

(In episode 4, Karl's spotlight, Lady Luck's can opener was on the other foot--Colin won maybe one conflict all night.)

Now before you jump all over me for my gamer baggage, let me stipulate two things: 1) I embrace the way that chance and play take the story in unanticipated directions. I do! And 2) I know that I can throw opposition at the players in all kinds of richer, meatier ways than just the combat of the week. I also know how to frame conflicts so that certain outcomes are not in doubt. "We know Buffy kills the vampires--the conflict is whether she can make it to her prom." That kind of thing. But sometimes, like when one superpowered individual is trying to pound the head of another superpowered individual, the conflict is the conflict, you know?

Actually, maybe it is gamer baggage. I admit to loving those FASERIP charts in the old Marvel Heroes RPG, laying out everyone's stats with mathematical precision: who has the feeblest endurance, MODOK or Aunt May; who can punch through planets and who can merely punch through schools. It's just weird not to be able to decide--not even to know before play--whether El Dorado is going to be a formidable opponent or a pushover.

The funny thing is, because PTA makes no effort to model powers mechanically, it ends up modelling rather accurately the way superpowers usually appear on TV--right down to creating the very sorts of inconsistencies that drive certain kinds of fans nuts (but nobody reading this, I'm certain). Why can't Geordi just do that thing he did with the warp coils six episodes ago? Why doesn't Superman turn time backwards every time something bad happens? If Klaatu can just waltz in and out of the US Building by hopping from brain to brain, why doesn't he do that every time the PCs need to get anywhere? Just how long and versatile are the Kraken's tentacles supposed to be?

The truth is, there is no objective standard. It all depends on where we are in the season, where we are in the episode, screen presence, budget, fan mail, and how the cards drop.

Date: 2010-10-19 03:52 am (UTC)
bluegargantua: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bluegargantua

Offer PCs currency to take a dive or play it up a bit? Give higher-powered opposition a couple of free cards (and give PCs the option to avoid the fight)?

You can frame scenes as I recall, right? So you could start with the PCs pulling themselves out from the debris, having just gotten their butt kicked and then roll into a flashback sequence to show a.) how they got beat and b.) why they need to pull it together, track down the bad guys who trashed them and get some payback RIGHT NOW.

Just some ideas. I assume you're playing with geeks who have some idea about genre conventions in comic books, you can probably work out something.

Date: 2010-10-19 08:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Those are all good ideas. I don't have any big problem with framing scenes so that an outcome is not in doubt or just declaring things by fiat. How else could I have gotten Brant's Unknown USA character to sleep with his arch-enemy? It's just an idiosyncracy of the system I hadn't noticed until using it to run this genre of game.

Date: 2010-10-19 12:27 pm (UTC)
bryant: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bryant
This is what I find problematic about PTA for some genres. When conflict's boiled down to one roll, the mechanics are unable to generate a feeling of tension, because it's over too quickly. Further, it's very difficult to keep the single decision point from being extremely random. To go to the other extreme: Champions combats are so many die rolls that you tend to get the expected outcome, which is why balance is so damned important. Somewhere in between, you have Feng Shui, which uses 2d6 for a fairly swingy curve. This is an excellent simulation of the unlikely events of a Hong Kong action movie.

Date: 2010-10-19 08:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yes. In most PTA draws, the players and the Producer will have close to the same number of cards, so the system is pretty darn close to flipping a coin.

I will sometimes stretch a scene out into a couple of conflicts, but in the long run this works against the Producer as it eats up his budget.

Date: 2010-10-19 08:19 pm (UTC)
bryant: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bryant
Probably one reason it works so well for simulating the unpredictable world of Wes Anderson. Hm, there's something there about asking the players to create the tension post-facto...what if all the supers fights were flashbacks, and every scene is followed by an explanation of why that exact outcome was so important?

Date: 2010-10-19 04:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I like your thought about how PTA models super powers as shown on television well.

Also, I must say that I really enjoyed how Karl failed at nearly everything in episode 4. Maybe that was just to my taste, though.

As far as creating more predictable power levels for NPCs, having both the player and the storyteller creating random results causes a greater spread of possible results, than if only one random result were created, and then compared against a static value.

So, since each card drawn has a potential value of .5 of a success, you could try fixing an NPC's successes at half the cards that the NPC draws (ignoring the actual successes), and then compare that result against the PC's result normally. Then, you use the cards you drew to determine who gets narrative control normally.

This would have the advantage of not disrupting the normal balance of budget and game difficulty, so you shouldn't have to retool any of that.

Oh, and a reminder: You were going to look into how to resolve a tied result.

Date: 2010-10-19 08:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
That would reduce the randomness somewhat while keeping the odds and budget the same. But I'm really fine with how it is all working for us. As you say, the cards all went the other way in episode 4, and that was fun too. If any given conflict going one way or another is going to wreck our fun, that really shouldn't be the conflict.

PTA is doing exactly what it's supposed to do: emulating a TV show about supers, with all that implies, as opposed to emulating a comic book or emulating a "realistic" or "consistent" super hero universe, the way some other supers RPGs would strive to do.

Thanks for the reminder about ties. I looked it up, then forgot, but will do so again. I know it involves comparing suits, I just can't remember how they rank them.

Date: 2010-10-20 02:45 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Say true, and I have been enjoying the game.

Still, sometimes useful to have these tools in your toolbox, for emergencies.

Date: 2010-10-20 01:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yes, definitely.

Date: 2010-10-19 08:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
>it ends up modelling rather accurately the way superpowers usually appear on TV

I was just going to say this, only in the context of comic books themselves. My comics nerd friends get irritated whenever they're having a Who'd Win conversation and I, as the one with actual superhero comics-writing experience, point out that Who'd Win is entirely up to the writer.

"There is no king in Israel."

Date: 2010-10-19 08:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
What are you saying? The third great pillar of fandom is its pedantic regard for consistency. I always assumed Stan the Man had to vet the outcome of every comic book confrontation.

Re: "There is no king in Israel."

Date: 2010-10-19 08:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
What the fans want, and what the fans have always actually gotten, is the difference between what Americans *think* democracy is, and what their actual political system is.

Re: "There is no king in Israel."

Date: 2010-10-19 08:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Another way to put it: the "consistency" of superhero comic books is a strange attractor: there are oases of more-likely outcomes among deserts of actual impossibility, sure, but you cannot predict or enforce the placement of any individual conflict before compute time.


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