So Dave is getting ready to run a Primetime Adventures game, and in between bouncing actual Show ideas around, we’re talking about PTA’s system itself, and getting used to the weird parts. I’ve been thinking a lot about the stuff he’s been thinking about, and I thought the ensuing conversation was valuable, so I’m posting it here, somewhat rearranged from the emails so that it’s… umm… readable in this format.
Green is me, blue is Dave.
What can the Producer actually “Do” in Primetime Adventures?
I’m still pondering the questions of responsibility/control that the Producer has toward plot. Aside from:
1. Creating the introductory scene of the show (albeit with consensus).
2. Responding to the ideas bounced off by the stars/actors/players.
That said, I’m still struggling a bit with some of my favorite aspects of RPGs, the Deep Dark Plotting That The Characters Themselves Only Learn About Over Time. It seems to me that, in PTA, there’s actually very little of that — a lot of the action (and even the What’s Going On) is driven by the group as a whole.
I’d say it is, perhaps, more accurate to say that a lot of the action with regards to the characters is driven by the group as a whole — that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not shaping things within the overall plot.
First, I think it’s a dial. On one end, you have nearly a free-for-all of ideas where no one really has more input than anyone else (a la Inspectors, though I think PTA does something VERY GOOD in that there’s a strong ability within the group to say “No, too silly” or “Hey, dial back on the foreshadowing of my character’s issue, please.”) all the way up to “I’d like a scene focusing on my Issue, mister GM, Sir, because my screen presence is a 3, but I’m leaving everything else, including the Where, the Who, and the What up to you, mister Producer, Sir, If’n it please you…”
Agreed. And I’d rather neither course be the one we usually take. 🙂
Second. The Producer narrates the start of every scene. That matters. I believe it’s on page 26: the player who’s turn it is (and note that it doesn’t have to go around the table in order, but moves from one person to the next in a logical order, once everyone’s gotten at least a turn) gives the Focus, the Agenda, and the Location for the scene. The producer than (a) narrates what’s going on there, adding stuff as deemed necessary, and then (b) PLAYS ALL THE NPCs.
This must not be overlooked: Yes, narration of “what happens as a result of a Conflict” moves around between people, and that’s all very well and good, but the PRODUCER is playing the NPCs because they belong to him/her, the producer gets to say what they’re doing, and has them act in accordance with those desires. That right there, nine times out of ten, is “plot.”
It’s one of the (many) things you can steal from Dogs in the Vineyard in that way… you set up the town, then play the hell out of the NPCs and let the chips fall where they may. As far as THAT goes, PTA gives you even more control than that, simply because you can actually say “this guy right here is a bad person,” instead of letting the Dogs pick out who they think that is.
Which makes sense, since it’s television and we can do things like that. Also, playing all the NPCs is a huge thing. The Producer narrating the beginning of the scene — hmmmm. Yeah. I don’t recall us doing that in the game we played, but, then, our actual in-chair time with this has been limited.
We weren’t doing that all the time, you’re right. I think we were erring a bit toward the InSpectres side of things, but I was doing that a bit intentionally since I was winging it more than is even usual for ME. 🙂
I’d intended to sort of go back and emphasize/demonstrate that role for the Producer last weekend — that the game really isn’t as ‘out there’ as it seems at first blush, and that we’re really making it more-narrative-plot-influence-than-normal because shared narration is one of the ‘different’ parts, but PTA can (and should) often play like a typical RPG.
For obvious reasons, I wasn’t able to do that. ((For that, I entirely blame you, as you got Margie sick. 🙂 ))
Players are only picking the starting three elements for their scene and getting rights to narrate what happens after the cards have already given us the generall outcome of a conflict — who got what they wanted, and who didn’t — don’t inflate that ability to the point where players are assumed to have the right to say “Well, I want a scene where the AGENDA is ‘We find out that this is all an evil scheme to turn the Belgians into Cybermen!'” Players don’t get to do that (YMMV). Players get to say “The agenda is ‘We find out what the big scheme-of-the-week is.'” It’s still 50% to 90% up to the Producer (depending on how each group plays) to say what that thing is.
Okay, now I’m starting to get intimidated. 🙂
And it’s not like the Producer can’t kick in stuff to be included in someone else’s narrative. Just as the narrator should respect some addition a player is bringing to a scene for their character (“my guy is wearing grey flannel pajamas in this scene”), the narrator should respect an addition the producer is bringing to a scene for the plot.
Dave: “I’m going to narrate my guy having a vision of the place we actually need to go for the McGuffin-of-the-week.”
Producer: “Cool. Put a church in there somewhere. I’m going to need a church.”
Dave: “Okay. I’m also going to have it be exactly the opposite direction from where we’re going.”
The Producer narrates the opening scene of the show, in which something is revealed to be going on, PLUS they have all the NPCs acting on that thing. Now, I as a player might be focusing all my scenes on my dirty, forbidden obsession with my half-sister, but the bad guys are all trying to get the World Ending MacGuffimicon, and that does move things a certain way that cannot be ignored.
It is, put another way, not as incredibly non-normal as it looks — it’s just that, with the game working the way it works, and Player Issues being a Big Big part of each episode, you don’t have to come up with:
1. stats for bad guys
2. at least half of the storyline for each episode. At least. Usually less. 🙂
Look at the example on p. 26 (I think) from the fake Bridgewater show, where they’re setting up a scene. It is not THAT different from a ‘traditional’ RPG’s GM saying “Okay, what’s your guy doing right now?” It’s just more explicit in who gets to say what, and when.
So … let me conceptualize this a scosh.
1. What’s the show about. – ALL
2. Overarching JMS-style plot – PRODUCER
3. Character arcs – PLAYER-OF-CHARACTER
4. Episode setup – PRODUCER
5. Scene metadata – PLAYER-OF-SCENE
6. Scene setup – PRODUCER
7. What’s at Stake – ALL
8. Conflict resolution/scene pay-off – HIGH CARD DRAWER
Yeah, I guess there’s enough in there (!!!) for the Producer to do.
Accepting feedback from everyone: what you should ‘declare’ and what you shouldn’t
And I’d simply note that any of those things is, in practice, probably 80% the baliwick of whomever you noted, with the other 20% coming from officially-recognized input and generally “Hey, how about this idea” kibbitzing.” But you already know that.
With pretty much all of it open to veto of varying degrees.
I would say “with all of it open to additional input of varying degrees,” but otherwise, yes. I think ‘veto’ is a momentum killer, though it CAN be valuable when used sparingly. It’s more challenging, but potentially more rewarding to at least try to say “Okay… that’s weird, but… I can work with that… let me focus about what I LIKE about that idea and ask that we steer things that way.”
Pretty much the only absolute veto I’d give would be to someone who strongly disagrees with what their character ends up doing in a scene — with due respect going in all directions.
Of course, if I introduce something that people think is spiffy, they may decide to go along with it (and adopt it as their own) up front
“… and when the glamour drops, Fred realizes it’s … his sister.”
“Sister?” “I didn’t know you had a sister, player of Fred.”
“I, ah, thought I was an only child, too.”
“But we like it. Let’s see what happens next.”
How that works for everyone at the table is going to be different from group to group also. In a game like PTA, I’d really lean heavily on the Improv rule of respecting everyone’s input and not saying no to the Elephant that someone introduces… provide we all have careful respect of the integrity of someone else’s character.
In the example above… if I were narrating, I’d be more likely to say…
Me: When the glamour drops, the woman revealed looks at Fred and says, “Hello, little brother.”
Player: Fred blinks and… says… “Whosa what now?” Eloquently.
Me: Perfect. Commercial break.
Player: Also: I have a sister?!?
Me: Well, I dunno: does she know something you don’t, is she bonkers, or is she lying?
The primary difference in those two scenes is in Version One, we’re telling Fred what he realizes and forcing him to accept that internal thing. In Version Two, we saying What Happens Externally, and leaving the “fallout” for play and the kind of discussion that doesn’t make the scene grind to a halt right there.
Yes. Dagnabbit. You are quite correct. Narrating how someone’s character thinks/feels (subjectively) is a no-no (making suggestions, maybe). Providing the objective appearances and letting the character reveal it (show, don’t say) is the right way to go. It’s not as though we can put subtitles at the bottom of the screen of the ‘television’ and say ‘Fred feels surprise here.’
Another thing to possibly steal from Dogs
Another potentially useful thing to port from Dogs in the Vineyard (something I’d meant to propose this weekend) is the way that (in Dogs) you include Traits into the RP/narration first, then you get use them (roll them). In the last PTA session, I think we weren’t actually rping our characters much, for a couple different reasons, and I think that if we simply use that guideline (“You should try to work an Edge/Connection into the scene in order to get Cards for it when the Conflict hits the fan(mail).”), we’ll get a situation that specifically calls out for some ‘normal’ RP.
I’m not saying that you narrate the fight before we do conflict resolution, just so you can use “Army Veteran” as an Edge, but you can clearly show that your guy is going to be using that background in this scene. Also, we really have to remember that, once the cards are flipped, there’s roleplaying to do… it isn’t just the narrator who takes over there. It can be: doesn’t have to be.