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(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.
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July 2014

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