The interesting thing is when all your roleplaying campaigns start to look in the end like really good television shows, and the nagging feeling rises in the back of your mind, "Why are we using this system and not simply abandoning it for PTA?"
Seed context! Here's something I said at the Forge the other day:
When you design a game, you design it for a certain particular social context (Ben Lehman's term), inevitably. You have a choice:
1. Leave your intended social context implicit, and hope or expect that the people who pick your game up will already have the social context you've designed for. "Hope and expect" means marketing, or luck, or fat chance, depending on how savvy you are and how common your intended social context is in the wild.
Funny story! Someone once wondered whether I'd ever played my game Poison'd with women in the group (because of shocking subject matter delicate sensibilities something something, I guess). I was quite taken aback - it plain hadn't occurred to me that anyone might play the game in a men-only group. I mean, bleh, what would be the point of that?
2. State your intended social context upfront and leave it up to the eventual players to create that social context for themselves. For instance, In a Wicked Age tells you to have hot friends who can and will commit, sight unseen, to an ongoing game, but it doesn't tell you how to make such friends.
3. Include rules in your game that create the social context you've designed for. This can include rules that reach right straight into the eventual players' purely social interactions, like Polaris' candle ritual.
I don't think it's worthwhile to classify Primetime Adventures' TV thing as 1, 2 or 3, of course. It might be worthwhile to notice where it's 1, where it's 2, and where it's 3, though.
Roger: that's totally true. And at the same time, I've found that most "bad TV" games of PTA I've played produce shows where I go "You know, I would watch this regularly, claim it was ironic, and feel ashamed about liking it."
I will admit that I've only played PTA once. However, at the beginning of the run, we all agreed that this show was a failed mid-season replacement that did poorly during its run but became a cult classic once it was released to DVD. (Yes, the Firefly pattern.)
And we all agreed that we would totally watch this show if it were actually on television.
Maybe it's because I only ran PTA once and fucked it up royal, but for me the impulse is stronger for, say, Solar System.
Except that Solar System IS kind of designed to be adaptable to any content you want to plug into it, so long as that content is amenable to the Keys/Buyoffs/Transcendence reward systems. Which for me, is most stuff that I feel like doing in a game.
On the other hand, if someone makes a game whose reward system is even more strongly suited to its subject matter, then I totally wanna use that instead of Solar System's. For instance Dogs and IaWA, My Life With Master, Polaris. But if someone hasn't made that specific game, or I haven't read it or own it, then Solar System is totally serviceable for, like I said, most of the stuff I wanna game.
So what's the lesson, here? Generic = Bad? Catch-all System = Bad? No, there's something more subtle at work, but I'm not sure how to articulate it.
I think maybe it lies in what Emily said about Matt's "Seed Context" When you say "Make Good Television" that functions as a seed to catapult us right into switched-on collaboration. Solar System on the other hand, doesn't have that built-in cultural buy-in point. And if you DON'T approach it from the starting point of "Good Television"...neither does PTA.
I think for the Solar System to work you need setting premise. Near drips setting premise, natch. When I've used Solar System for other stuff it's been other stuff that drips setting premise (Planescape, say.)
Then you have to design your bits (keys and abilities and pools and what have you) around that setting premise, at which point, yeah, you can actually have a game that answers the three questions that Vincent is talking about.
If you just sit down and go "okay, we're playing Solar System let's make up a setting" ... It'll suck. I'm like %90 confident it'll suck.
Yeah, I'd say that's why despite loving it I've played very little of it. A little Near here, a little Star Wars there...but when I'm just sitting there looking at my solar System book going, "gee, it'd sure be rad to play this, lemme think of a premise," I just draw a big ol' mental blank.
So yes. This is what I was getting at. SS is really cool for a certain structure of game experience, but you definitely (sans Near) need to bring your own Seeds to it.
I wonder if there is some secret other seed for PTA, where your completely not making a TV show, you're doing something really different but with strange structural simularities.
That alternate thing would have focus you towards resolving your own issues while being in almost constant conflict, and where there is some kind of generalised status or ability to wrap events arround yourself. Actually, sounds like politics!
Fanmail would be letters from your constituents, and the producer would represent the problems and events in the country. Issues could be something like political ideals that shift with practice, or actual issues if you want to go towards more dirty politics.
Josh W: "Private sets" could be a particular hotbutton topic that a given politician is comfortable with.
I do think there's another whole class of thing that PTA works well for: stories that mimic or mirror "great TV" in their structure and aesthetic. Like, I was reading Brian K. Vaughan's original "Runaways" series and going, this would be a badass TV show, PTA-style, then I read the afterword material and that was pretty much how he conceived and pitched it!
In the PTA season my group's playing, one of the things we started doing without much forethought was talk about the game from the point of view of "the fans on the forums." That meta-language has structured future episodes as, during the down time while we're hanging out for other things, one of us starts a conversation with "So, yesterday I was reading on our show forums that..."
I wish I could better articulate how using this language has helped our game, but I know it has. And I feel like that supports Ben's original bit from maybe another direction.