2010-01-12 : Something Ben Said

Something Ben said (here) has stuck with me.

I think there's a neat thing about PTA here.

PTA succeeds when we take seriously that this is about good television. PTA fails when you treat it as "GURPS with a different reward system."

I've been turning it over and over in my head. I think it's true.

Also, when Primetime Adventures came out, television was much worse than it has been since.

1. On 2010-01-12, Tim (Kalyr) said:

Having played PTA a couple of times, and GURPS a lot of times, PTA came over as a game in which everyone was a co-GMs and there were no 'players'.


2. On 2010-01-13, Andy K said:

Yep, pretty much what I think as well.

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?"



3. On 2010-01-13, Ben Lehman said:

By "GURPS" I mean of course

"I wanna play a game about Chinese martial artists. Huh, I can't think of a system for that. Oh, I know, let's play PTA!"

As opposed to

"I want to play a game about a television show. Let's use PTA. Oh, hey, I'm playing with Sushu, let's do a Chinese martial arts drama."



4. On 2010-01-13, Matt Wilson said:

"Seed context," maybe?


5. On 2010-01-13, Emily said:

Totally seeds. Our shared frame of reference is a percentage of the game! Mr. Wilson, you dog, using our cultural background to fuel your game economy. Quite brill, really. :)


6. On 2010-01-13, Vincent said:

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.


7. On 2010-01-13, Joshua A.C. Newman said:

Having played PTA a couple of times, and GURPS a lot of times, PTA came over as a game in which everyone was a co-GMs and there were no 'players'.

You mean because players can make stuff that matters happen?


8. On 2010-01-13, Roger said:

I think it's a property of RPGs in general, not PTA specifically.  GURPS can fail pretty hard if you're expecting it to give you a really good television show.

D&D got away with this for so long because of course everyone playing it came out of a wargaming background.  No one else knew it was around.

What I find interesting about PTA is that it succeeds (in my experience) just as well when everyone commits to making a terrible television show.


9. On 2010-01-14, Ben Lehman said:

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."



10. On 2010-01-14, Seth Ben-Ezra said:

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.


11. On 2010-01-14, Joel said:

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.



12. On 2010-01-15, Ben Lehman said:

Hey, Joel.

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.



13. On 2010-01-15, Joel said:

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.



14. On 2010-01-15, Josh W said:

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.

Hmm, I wonder if there's yet another seed..


15. On 2010-01-15, Josh W said:

On the other hand, that game might need a bit of hacking; what would private sets be?


16. On 2010-01-17, Robert Bohl said:

Maybe this explains why I've always loved PTA. I've always approached it as a television show first.


17. On 2010-01-18, Joel said:

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!



18. On 2010-01-26, Ryan Macklin said:

I cannot strongly enough shout "Yes, I agree."

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.

- Ryan


19. On 2010-01-27, Joe Murphy said:

All the best PTA I've played, I now realise, has been in genres where no other game could have brought the fun. A soap opera. A reality show. Highschool drama.

That could be because the group has to work harder developing or confirming shared language of a reality show, instead of lazily relying on, say, space cowboy tropes.


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