I'm out of books!

edited September 2008 in Directed Promotion
I know there's folks here who play my game. My last printing is out. I'm working on some revisions, making stuff harder to find, being less clear, that sort of thing.

Would love folks to chime in with their "please oh please do this" stuff. Think of the children! Wouldn't you want them to have a better book?


Here's some stuff I'm already doing:

Ditching all my suggestions about shows and asking frequent players to write up stuff for me. Well, okay, maybe I'll keep a couple. I might be the only person who's watched Swingtown, and it should go in there.

Wherever there's an important rule, I repeat it in a nifty bold callout.

Added in some new tips and tools to help you put together a series faster. Sort of like an oracle for IAWA but without as much detail.

Some of that text is really stuffy. I'm thinking, who wrote that? Was I trying to get into grad school? WTF? I must have been nervous or something. Stuffy goes out the door.

Index! It might be a short index, but gorramit I'll have one.

And will almost certainly have someone edit it. I dunno who though.


Anyway, share! Advise! Complain! Revolt! Pontificate!
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Comments

  • edited September 2008
    Matt, one of the things I hear about PTA is people's different play styles. Like, sometimes I hear the Producer takes a really active role in scene framing, sometimes they step back. Sometimes they hit the players with conflict, sometimes they throw NPCs at the PCs, sometimes it's player-vs-player.

    Like, someone told me last night that they're playing PTA, but that the Producer (let's call him Sigmund) has a particular way of running it, so that the game you play is "Sigmund's PTA" rather than "True PTA". And when I've played PTA with Scott, he has his own particular tips and tricks, so that everyone says "You should play PTA with Scott".

    So what I'd really like is a guide to those different ways of running PTA. Perhaps even authored by the Producers.

    Good call on making everything less clear. That means more forum threads.

    Graham
  • A word of warning about how easy it is to ruin a good scene by thinking too much about conflict (which is a bit like ruining a fun time with someone by thinking too much about having sex with them). Been there, done that (including the sex thing).
  • Add more examples. Lots of examples. And then, add some more.
  • Good stuff so far! Thanks.
  • edited September 2008
    Matt,
    Put our (actually it's Filip Luszczyk's) PTA gmless hack into book.
  • Can you mention that, like, a lot of groups play without a Producer and it works fine or even better? And that budgets can become basically arbitrarily-sized after you've played the game a dozen times and have a sense of how to manage the resources? Or maybe that's stuff people just DO without you having to tell them, yeah? Not sure.
  • edited September 2008
    I would ask JD Corley to write up a quick page about how he runs his role of Producer, in the greasy cigar-chomping slimeball active role.
  • edited September 2008
    I would love to see optional rules for a 2 player variant (producer and protagonist) either as an episode when everyone else doesn't show up or as a different type of show. SO, when it's only 1 on 1, there can be an episode that REALLY focuses on one character, like SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER in Six Feet Under when David has to deal with being carjacked, or in Battlestar Galactica when Starbuck returns to Caprica to get the arrow.

    As for creating a 1 on 1 show, I'm thinking of ongoing continuity-based shows that primarily feature one protagonist and lots of characters, like Veronica Mars or Dexter.

    I'm just sad that I can't play PTA as often because I can't rustle up enough people.
  • Posted By: Matt Wilson
    Added in some new tips and tools to help you put together a series faster. Sort of like an oracle for IAWA but without as much detail.
    This is awesome, by the way. My group always struggles a little bit with the pitch session.
  • Actually, a set of pitch session enabling questions would be great. Like ten or so that you can throw out there if people are unsure or hesitant.
  • Pitch session questions would be great, so would scene-creation questions.

    A lot of groups want every character to be in every scene (particularly true of one-shots), having that in the pitch session out in the open helps either 1) create a show where that expectation is fulfilled (Stargate) or 2) lets everyone know that expectation will not be fulfilled (Lost).
  • Oooh! Since you're taking requests...

    A boxed set with everything you need to play. I like boxed sets.
  • Something clear about the fanmail bottleneck and how it can be an issue would be good. Also something about... when stake-setting goes wrong (i.e. becomes a disengaged storyboarding).

    I mean, if you're taking suggestions.
  • Jonathan, I have a few questions regarding your post above...

    "Can you mention that, like, a lot of groups play without a Producer and it works fine or even better?"

    What do you mean by a lot? What percentage or numbers are we talking about? And is not playing with a Producer the only change they make? It seems that many of the other rules would also need to be altered. Also, is there any patterns in the group's experience or skills (game designers, improv actors) that come up in this style of play?

    "And that budgets can become basically arbitrarily-sized after you've played the game a dozen times and have a sense of how to manage the resources?"

    Could you unpack that. How would this actually work? The current budget seems carefully calculated for a certain length game. Usually much shorter than most other RPGs. But that's on purpose as you can simple play multiple episodes in a single session and shift screen presence as predetermined.
  • Advice for running convention or one-shot games.
  • What do you mean by a lot? What percentage or numbers are we talking about?
    I'm not sure how to figure that out without a survey. SGBoston has played it relatively Producer-lessly for the past year or so, and we probably play it one out of every three weeks. Basically, the budget sits at the center of the table and is spent collectively to determine the strength of challenges. And scene framing just rotates.
    The current budget seems carefully calculated for a certain length game. Usually much shorter than most other RPGs. But that's on purpose as you can simple play multiple episodes in a single session and shift screen presence as predetermined.
    In my mind, the budget is a tool to teach groups how to handle pacing effectively. Like, you don't want to spend everything here because then you need some tokens for the big finale or whatever. The problem is that, if a group has pacing under control, a lot of times the budget doesn't have enough flexibility to let you do what you want, or players aren't gaining/spending fanmail fast enough for it to replenish the budget. Like, what happens when you reach what you know is "the conflict right before the episode ends" but you don't have the budget to actually do it justice? You go against the group's instincts and have it happen in the next episode? Or do you say "hell with it" and just spend imaginary surplus budget like you're the US government?

    Basically, I think there are some cases, like in Geiger Counter, where it is warranted and highly recommendable to break the rules, especially in regards to budgeting. PTA, in my experience, isn't a tightly balanced mechanical system. It's a modicum of rules structure that floats on top of a much deeper well of the players' shared understanding of what should happen in their TV show, creating during the pitch and over the course of play. But there's this meme in post-Forge design that says "the Golden Rules sucks, etc.," which suggests that playing strictly by the rules (and the way the author intended) is the way to get the best play out of a game. In the case of PTA, I think strict rules-adherence, at least after the group becomes comfortable with the game, is more likely to lead to less satisfying play than it is to lead to more satisfying play.

    This is partially because, in my mind, the budget + cards system of PTA doesn't provide for a natural sense of give-and-take between the protagonists and the opposition, where a loss to the opposition makes a win more likely later, or vice versa. The winner of a conflict is still random and, even if I have several more cards than my opponent, I can still lose pretty easily. Fan mail mitigates this, because -- in my experience -- people often throw fan mail at the side of a conflict that they don't want to lose, but that still doesn't guide the action as strongly as, say, audience d4s do in Shock:, where, if you have a sizable audience, it almost doesn't matter what the involved protagonists roll, the audience will ultimate negotiate what happens.

    Consequently, again -- in my experience -- there is a sense in my play of PTA that groups generally want to continue play until a satisfying or appropriate conclusion for the episode is reached, but there's not necessarily a clear sign of when that will take place, because the semi-random outcomes of conflicts often steer the narrative in unexpected directions (usually a good thing) but ones that can be hard to wrap up, such that they feel like the conclusion of an episode. I think folks that are really good at framing conflicts can often get around this, because you can frame things such that either way the conflict goes, you'll finish with a powerful note to end on. However, in practice, especially in pick-up games or the first few episodes of a series, when things are still getting felt out, this is pretty difficult. I think you can see similar things in actual TV shows -- especially pilots -- where things end in a very mediocre way (Heroes pilot, Veronica Mars pilot, etc.). In such cases, having a few more points of budget can sometimes make a big different, allowing folks to end strong or groups at least have more leeway, instead of being forced to let things peeter out. It might be as easy as just having budget be more of a strong suggestion rather than a strictly limited pool.

    Anyway, just some personal reflections. I've been wrestling with some of these same issues with Geiger Counter, so I've been thinking about them a lot. Trying to combine strict mechanics with the arbitrary decisions of the group (based on genre and themes and whatnot) is really difficult. Something's gotta give, and I generally tend to think it's the mechanics.
  • You totally need some hot pictures of hot celebrities. Like Roselyn Sanchez making out with Mariska Hargitay for the "Lesbian Pulp FBI" series, and Dean Cain macking with Naveen Andrews for "Californiasexing."

    B, you need to use the word "pig" more often.

    Furthermore, you should put in a part in the Introduction where you talk about how awesome I am, and how the game wouldn't be the same without me.

    3) You must bring it up to date with current trends in theory, rather than that antediluvian shit that was hot when you were young. (IE, 2004).
  • I'd like to see a rules summary at the end of each chapter and/or at the end of the entire book. See, for example, what Mortal Coil does (which I ripped off). PTA is one of my favorite games, but I constantly need to look for little things, like tie-breakers.
  • Brand, I took #3 for granted when Matt said he was putting oracles in. "Lead with the fiction" is the new "fortune in the middle."
  • I'll second Rob's suggestion of a rules summary at the end of each chapter. Don't Rest Your Head is another good example of this.
  • I'd +1 the idea of a slightly more guided series creation process. Especially for newer players, having some guidelines as to what order to think about what would be useful.

    I guess this doesn't really work for the main book, but a kind of reverse example taking an actual TV show and looking at it as a game of PTA might be cool, and a very good way of pointing out why the rules as written work (I'm actually a pretty big fan of budgets and producers, YMMV). Taking a scene from Lost or something and saying "the scene is framed on the beach, one of the common sets, and Charlie is there writing a note since this is a Charley-focused episode. Charlie's issue is redemption, but he doesn't want Claire to know what he's doing to be redeemed, so there's conflict." etc. Something like this would be entertaining, but might not work for the core book because it relies on some knowledge of whatever show you use as an example.
  • Posted By: Brand_Robins

    you need to use the word "pig" more often.

    Furthermore, you should put in a part in the Introduction where you talk about how awesome I am, and how the game wouldn't be the same without me.
    I think I see a way to combine these two items...
  • Jonathan, thanks for the responses!
  • As a side note, Eric runs budget in PTA like budget in Agon, trying to give you as much opposition as possible with a limited set of resources. So, even in Boston, YMMV. Not all of us are dirty hippie freeformers.
  • Posted By: Jonathan WaltonNot all of us are dirty hippie freeformers.
    Some of you are dirty capitalist freeformers?
  • edited September 2008
    Okay Matt,

    I've made this suggestion to you before, but I don't think you took me seriously. (No one ever does.) But I was serious then, and I am serious now. Maybe if I make this case in a more public arena, people more credible than me can talk some sense into you.

    Premise: With PTA, you have the breakthrough game.
      a.) Not everyone understands ancient, inconceivably evil cockroaches or Buddhist elves or George Washington in clockwork power armor, but everyone understands television.
      b.) There are movements to turn people away from TV to doing more social activities. There are the anti-TV people, the Kill Your Television week people, etc. What better way to fight TV than with a make-your-own-TV-series game?
      c.) There are groups that are looking for ways to teach people to look at media critically, not just blindly imbibe it. What better way to understand TV and how shows are structured than to make TV shows within a game.
      d.) You have a game that is friendly to new players and that allows people to make better TV shows than they can watch on their TV. It uses common playing cards, which everyone has at home (except for people who associate them with dancing, drinking, smoking and cussing).

    So, design an edition of PTA aimed at the general public. On the back, there's a picture of you, wearing a cardigan and sitting in your study. There's a cat in your lap, you're holding a remote, and you are looking at the reader, half smiling, half thoughtful.

    Strategy:
      a.) Far enough in advance of your tour, draw up an itinerary. You are choosing cities with lots of bookstores and radio stations that fall along a roughly circular route.
      b.) Then, send press releases to the newspapers, public radio stations, radio stations with local talk formats and morning TV talk shows in those towns. You are trying to set up interviews in conjunction with Turn Off Your TV Week. Contact bookstores and set up signings and readings. If you're brave, contact college Communications and Education departments, and arrange to speak to students about the use of PTA for Media Education and the DIY Media Revolution, or whatever.
      c.) While you're at it, contact the national groups involved with media education and turning off TVs, and let them know about your upcoming tour and the possibility of tie-ins with their activities.
      d.) Starting the four weeks running through Kill Your TV week, do the following: Rent a van. Fill it up with as many crates of PTA as you're willing to sell. Then go on your road trip and do those interviews and book signings and readings, and sell the hell out your game. Leave bookstores the information for ordering more copies. Just be sure to leave town before people fully realize that you have just sold them an RPG.
      e.) Eventually, before your four weeks are up, the national press will catch up with you and your subversive game, and you'll be on Letterman and Colbert, and somewhere inside of Newsweek and Time.

    From then on, it will just be money pouring in. If you change society enough by turning people from entertainment consumers to entertainment creators, maybe they'll give you a Nobel Prize. I'm not sure which one. Maybe the committee will have to invent one just for you.

    If you are still not up to this project, then put my photo on the back of your book. I'll be Matt Wilson for a month. I'll try not to tarnish your reputation.

    (Edited several times because I still don't understand BBCode.)
    (Edited once more to minimize religious stereotypes and to remove a comment based on my misinterpretation of an LDS ad campaign which, apparently, may not have been encouraging families to turn off their TV and spend more time together.)
  • James, you are a wise, wise man.
  • James, that sounds pretty cool.
  • That is the best idea I've ever heard.
  • James, this idea is genius.
  • I think you should have optional rules for people who hate television.

    /sarcasm.
  • HA!

    I'M gonna do the tour with the new PTA book!


    ...

    right, it's been a strange day. good idea, james.

    actual content: so, recently i drifted your ( hello, Matt )masterpiece into a one-shot p v. p gmless toy-instead-of-game kinda.
    this is because 1) my friends tend to find conflict between the characters instead of with the situation,
    2) we never get to play long enough to finish off the budget pool anyway. (sleepyheads)

    so, now there's no budget. audience pool is generated by checking boxes in the Traits.
    All boxes are regained in a single trait from one personal-set-scene.
    All pacing is dramatic only, including ending the "episode".

    since we don't have an ongoing group and are using PTA as a gateway drug,
    and, well, half the fun is coming up with wackiness to make a show about,
    it's all one shot all the way.

    now,
    how do other people do gmless?
    i want to talk about it here for possible use to Matt's revision.
    also, hell, problems you see with my Hack job?

    much thanks for this excellent game, and i'll be glad to be rid of the stuffiness!

    -jackson taylor tegu (JTT)
  • Posted By: RemiAdvice for running convention or one-shot games.
    I really like how Remi handled PTA one-shot games at Camp Nerdly!
  • edited September 2008
    I really like how Remi handled PTA one-shot games at Camp Nerdly!
    Ultimately I have to admit that I made this suggestion because, like everyone else in this thread, all I really want to do is have my version of PTA included in the 'official' rules.

    Maybe a PTA: Advanced Script book?
  • Ah James, how you make me miss UGAX.


    Thanks for all the suggestions so far.
  • edited September 2008

    Posted By: Remi

    Advice for running convention or one-shot games.

    Yeah. Do what Remi does.

    I'm deeply suspicious of the Producerless/wubbly budget kind of tweaks, but exactly suspicious enough to try playing that way and have a good time to learn something about it.

  • Matt, of course, rather than touring Barnes and Noble, you could put up some Google Words ads to target that market, and see how it goes for you.

    Graham
  • Another hear-hear for Remi's miniseries rules.

    I'd love to see a Series Bible involved to encourage more reincorporation. Something like: at the beginning of each episode, every player notes down one thing they remember from last episode. Those notes go into the series bible. In that episode or any later episode, any player including the producer can get an extra card for reincorporating something that's been noted in the series bible.

    I also know our long-running group had some problems with the character/plot distinction in scene framing; better explication or making it clearly optional would be nice there.
  • Posted By: MatthijsA word of warning about how easy it is to ruin a good scene by thinking too much about conflict (which is a bit like ruining a fun time with someone by thinking too much about having sex with them). Been there, done that (including the sex thing).
    +1000
    This is precisely what shredded our game a few days ago to pieces. Imagine ruining a good scene over and over for several hours. Maybe a section on "known mistakes" to reference after you feel a session went poorly?
  • "Outtakes"
  • edited September 2008
    I've run PTA a few times at conventions and one thing I noticed was that first time players can quickly take the game into one of two extremes: "rampant crazy" and "carbon-copy of other games". Both can work, but they can also quickly derail the game into being very very silly or very very sluggish and confusing. I think it'd be good to address this somehow and pointing out that a show that's too far out there might run out of steam before the pilot is done, and a show that's too much like your regular GURPS game might play very differently to what you're used to or even comfortable with.

    As a Producer, I've often found myself trying to encourage some people to think more out of the box ("Don't just try to open the door, try to figure out what your character is actually after!") and at the same time encouraging others to think a little more inside the box ("the existentialist dilemma in the search for God as a meta-textual comment on consumerism is a pretty abstract idea... how about breaking it down a little?") to get the game going. I can imagine this balancing act might not be readily apparent to anybody picking up PTA for the first time.
  • It would be nice to see guidelines along the lines of only narrating what the tv viewer sees, rather than what characters are feeling, or what they have planned. It's s slight, but I think, important distinction.
  • Posted By: Josh Roby. In that episode or any later episode, any player including the producer can get an extra card for reincorporating something that's been noted in the series bible.
    Minutia for PTA! Brilliant!

    Additionally, I'd probably check off each entry until they've all been reincorporated, so there's no gratuitous repetition of some bits and ignoring of others.
    Posted By: jessecoombsIt would be nice to see guidelines along the lines of only narrating what the tv viewer sees, rather than what characters are feeling, or what they have planned. It's s slight, but I think, important distinction.
    Not so slight, in my opinion. I'm a big fan of more "show, not tell" in games, and PTA is an ideal vehicle for that.
  • On another note. . .I'll offer as a datapoint that when I first got PTA I tried it Producerless with two inexperienced (read: brand new) roleplayers, and it was fairly disastrous. With nobody to push for conflict we ended up with a lot of aimless and unsatisfying play. While I can buy that a lot of the failing was the result of local circumstances, I think it's important to at least note the pitfalls of Producerless play and the need to distribute that role differently if you cut the Producer out. When I read the game it looked to me like: "Gee, all I'd be eliminating is a GM with no Narrative Authority. . .yeah, fuck that, I wanna play a Protagonist!"

    Peace,
    -Joel
  • Posted By: YashaPremise: With PTA, you havethebreakthrough game.

    So, design an edition of PTA aimed at the general public. On the back, there's a picture of you, wearing a cardigan and sitting in your study. There's a cat in your lap, you're holding a remote, and you are looking at the reader, half smiling, half thoughtful.
    Great stuff Yasha. I've been saying this for months, but no one seems to believe me. Yes, absolutely. Make it clear enough for non-gamers to pick up and play, and then target them with a vengence. Although I wouldn't do any traditional book tour stuff, only best sellers do it any more, anyone less than a certain fame treshhold end up not making up the travel costs in sales. But, do hit small and local media venues, gatherings, bookstores and social clubs and iron out the tools to give your your legions of fans to do the same in their neck of the woods. Of course, none of this has anything directly to do with revising the book except that you should have all this in mind when you think of writing to your audience. Your potential audience isn't gamers who love TV. Its every person who has ever been a fan of a TV show or thought "It would be fun to make my own show". I'm not saying everyone who watches TV are your potential sales, or even audience numbers for Lost or CSI. But something more like Firefly or 30 Rock, in the single digit millions? Absolutely.
  • Producers have huge Narrative Authority, if you don't believe me, try abusing it sometime and see where the players push back. They won't push back as far as you went, they'll only push back far enough that the "gratuitous lesbian make-out scene to increase ratings" gets eliminated, not your description of the locations or camera movements, or music.
  • Oh, I believe you, JD. I'm just saying I didn't see it when I first read the book.
  • Please oh please don't change the rules again. Once was bad enough. I still don't know what the shit people are talking about when they talk about 'cards' in PTA.

  • I'm with the make-PtA-for-the-general-public crowd. Do it!
  • Posted By: JDCorleyThey won't push back as far as you went, they'll only push back far enough that the "gratuitous lesbian make-out scene to increase ratings" gets eliminated, not your description of the locations or camera movements, or music.
    Anyone who would eliminate a gratuitous lesbian make-out scene has no business working in television.
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