The one where he figures out why he often screws up Primetime Adventures

So, there’s this thing going on with my Gaming People where PTA isn’t working for us. We’ve put Dave’s current PTA game on hold for now, to try out In A Wicked Age in a completely different setting (both from the PTA game and from the IAWA default), with a view toward possibly using that for running the PTA game.
The problem is with conflicts. They just take fucking ages to work through. Fucking. Ages. It takes people out of the moment, it’s frustrating, and the end result is usually NOT a satisfying ‘thing’, cuz we’ve already discussed the scene to death, so when the resolution finally comes, we already know what happened.
I said in a post a few months ago that PTA seemed to work well for us when we used the “car chase” rules, which let us break up the action more, and while that’s true, that’s not the problem.
The problem is that we’re having the wrong conversation beforehand.
The one bright and shining scene I remember from one of our PTA games was when this girl that Randy’s guy was sleeping with says “I love you…” as he was getting dressed and leaving the apartment, and put him on the spot. BANG. His Issue was something like “personal commitment” or something, so the conflict was clearly about him trying to get out of the room without pissing her off while remaining emotionally ‘safe’ from her. In that scene, PTA really sang. We were so jazzed at the end of that game session that we jabbered about it all for an hour.
And never managed to get back to that point again. Why? Well, because I thought, based on that scene, that the trick was for the GM to pose conflicts in a kind of series of “bang” events… and that’s not why it worked.
It worked because it was about his Issue. The character’s Issue — and we constantly and consistently FORGET this — is the whole POINT of the character AND the game… it’s a game about TV Dramas, after all — of COURSE it’s about the Issue.
I re-realized this, reading something Matt wrote almost two years ago (emphases mine):

PTA probably adds some to the confusion, because the real Conflict has to do with the protagonist’s Issue, and you have to do a little digging around to figure out how it factors into the playing of cards and stuff.
You’re sneaking past guards. Your Issue is maybe “Insecurity”, let’s say. What’s at stake, in terms of the conflict, is your Issue, not the guards; how does what happens in your sneakery affect your Issue? You get past them… they spot you… does not matter*. Either outcome could be either a win or a lose as far as your Issue is concerned.
No, you don’t say, “if I win, I’m no longer insecure.” You do say, “if I win, my character addresses his/her insecurity in a positive way.”
Notice how the conflict of interest is clearly established, but nobody knows what will happen until the narration starts flying.

That’s what we’ve screwed up pretty much 70 to 80% of the time in PTA. Dammit.
Makes me want to run it again, just to get it right.
[* – and the events that actual happen should be informed at least somewhat by plot-stuff that ‘needs to happen’ in that scene]


  1. And, going back and looking at my character, I note that my character’s Issue has never, not once, been the point of a Conflict I’ve been in, and that that’s pretty much entirely my fault.
    I’ve never once framed a conflict in terms of “If I win, I deal with my Hatred in some way that’s good for me.”
    God. If I’d done stuff like that, I’d be HAPPY to lose, because at least during the build-up of the game, I’d WANT to totally lose it and beat some fey half to death during an otherwise normal interrogation. That would be utterly awesome.
    Dammit. Damn it.
    ((There’s also the small problem that I’ve never actually nailed down what my character’s personal set is, but that’s a smaller problem.))

  2. This happened to us too. As producer, I kept trying to tie things back to the PC issues, but I didn’t do a good job of making the episodes ABOUT the issues. That was a “duh” moment for me when I read your post.
    We made a lot of other mistakes, but I think that we didn’t highlight issues enough. They tended to be quirks rather than the driving thing about the characters– in spite of the direction to the contrary.
    We finished our first season and won’t be doing another for a while if at all. If we do, we’re picking a simpler idea; time travel is cool, but was overly ambitious for our first go.

  3. I think that we didn’t highlight issues enough. They tended to be quirks rather than the driving thing about the characters– in spite of the direction to the contrary.

    I think that’s a long-engrained way of approaching RPGs. You’re not a guy who’s desperate to gain approval from his father by becoming a renowned fighter, even though the last time you actually got some acclaim from the prince your dad scoffed at you and told everyone your older brother was performed the heroic deed; no, you’re a 12th level fighter who occasionally mentions — between battles — how much you hate your father. Quirks, something to differentiate you from every other 12th level fighter or to give you a funny schtick you can use in your dialog.
    I think the tricky part is going to be making it not about *solving* the issue. It’s not that you resolve your self-loathing because you accomplish x-y-z (this isn’t a 2-hour movie where the protagonist finally learns she really can do a pirouette, and then she lives happily ever after as a prima ballerina), but that you’ve maybe taken a step in that direction (or away from it), or used it in that helps (or hurts) you.
    See, now you’re getting me excited about it again.
    I feel reluctant as the Producer, though, to sort of intentionally play a scene that hammers your issues (even though I realize that’s not only just what you’re supposed to do, it’s the sort of thing I love as a player). It just feels manipulative, rude, mean (“Huh. The guy who just hired you for that big job? He looks *just like your father*. ‘Well, boy?’ he says, ‘What makes you think *you* can do this?'”), which I’m not (sigh) good at.
    But practice makes perfect …

  4. De pointed out to me, just after I finished up with the last IAWA session, that once upon a time, I would nearly break my back trying to keep people at the table from getting into any kind of conflict — I spent sometimes half my energy during a game on that.
    Now… not so much. Not at all. Lots of times, I help people set up situations where they’ve all got metaphorical guns pointed at each other’s heads and then engineer situations where someone has to shoot. That’s partly due to the games I choose to play, and partly just learning that it’s okay. The aversion to it comes from many years of games like DnD, where it is (rightly, I think, for that genre of game) still Not Cool.
    But in a game meant to do TV? It’s very much a cool thing to do. It’s the POINT.
    Whenever I forget that, I think about all the shows or books I love. BSG and, say, Deadwood most prominently in television, but ANY really good show or book — they do not pull back from putting the character into tough situations, and the scenes that result are usually jaw-droppingly good.
    Painful, sometimes, but that’s good too. Battlestar just makes me want to gape and jump up and down and swear… and cry. I swear.
    The thing I need to go back and think about for PTA, now, is this: when you have your guy in a conflict, and his screen presence is like a “1” for the episode… you really shouldn’t be framing up success/failure in terms of your issue. It’s not Your Turn.
    In that case, what IS the conflict about? I know there’s an answer, I just don’t remember it.

  5. In a Sci-fi feature on BSG before this last season started, they had all these folks talking about Battlestar. One of them was Joss Whedon, who stated without a trace of irony that BSG was the best television show he’d ever seen.
    He observed this about the show’s general practice with regard to the show:
    They take time introducing the characters, clearly defining what exactly is the ‘stone pillar’ for that character.
    Then, once that pillar is set, they take a sledgehammer to it, as hard as they can, and then watch what happens to the character when it’s gone.
    No one on the show escapes that treatment. When it’s done well (and it almost always is), the results are riveting.

  6. Nobody is *just* about their issues. It’s possible (on a “1”) to have the situation just about basic needs, even something as simple as avoiding pain.

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