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I've been thinking about PTA a lot recently, and it occurred to me that it would be useful on a variety of levels to take a real episode from an actual show and dissect it down to its PTA components.
There are all sorts of good reasons to do this, which I'm sure everyone can reach on their own. The one reason which might be a bit surprising was that I wanted this to serve as a bit of a validation process for PTA itself. Does it really contain what's on its tin? What are the points of divergence between TV-television and PTA-television, if any?
The show I picked for this, mostly because it was still sitting around on my DVR, is Fringe -- specifically The Equation, episode 8 of the first season.
I have a whole stack of notes here that I'm still working my way through in an effort to turn them into something useful. That post will follow; it'll likely be long and rambling and may not be as useful to read as it was to write.
Before that's ready, I wanted to post something shorter that contains some of my preliminary conclusions. I think they might be more directly applicable to the average player out there.
First, a request: I imagine there are probably some big fans of Fringe out there who would be more than happy to point out that I'm completely wrong about a character's Issue, or explain how some plot element is in allusion to a brief cameo in the pilot. Please, I beg of you: resist those urges. If you must speak up, feel free to whisper me. But this thread is not really about Fringe per se -- it's about PTA, and I'd like to see it stay on topic.
So, in randomish order, here are my findings:
Comment: The average PTA session probably doesn't have that many scenes. That's fine. Still, I think I've learned that scenes aren't a precious resource to be hoarded, and they don't all need to be a big reveal. Sometimes the characters just need to get together and swap notes.
Comment: This one really surprised me. I've been a conflict-monger for a long time, so it was very interesting to see that a scene can chug along just fine without it.
Comment: This didn't really surprise me, per se, but the more I thought about chopping them all out, the poorer the game seemed to be. I think it's a useful tool in the Producer's repertoire, although it doesn't really seem to be supported by the strict text of the rules.
Comment: This is a little weird, as I back-constructed what I thought the Producer might have for this episode, but it still seems valid. PTA probably can be played as a low-prep game, but I think I can see the advantages to doing more up-front work.
Comment: I'm sort of guessing at this one a bit too, but I feel pretty good about it. As I laid out certain scenes with their conflicts, I can see how there was a conflict and a failure and how that resulted in an awesome scene. But I can also see how any player who had some affection and compassion for the character would be motivated not to throw the challenge.
Comment: I'm probably going to butcher terminology really badly here, but I'll try to make myself as clear as possible. What I mean is that when a scene starts off with two characters as friends, there's a pretty good chance the movement of the scene will result in them being enemies. If they start off as enemies, they'll either end as friends, or end as mortal sworn enemies. The start of the scene sets up either a reversal or an intensification of the situation. I think there's a lot for players to pick up on and use when it comes to scene movement.
As a very rough rule of thumb, it seemed like the scenes I examined were more likely to end in a reversal when the players succeeded in their conflict, with failure more likely to result in intensification. I'm not sure if that is useful or just an artifact of the system, though.
Comment: Really, I can't overstate just how enlightening it was to sit down with a show and go through this process. I highly recommend it.
I welcome thoughts and comments on this; don't wait around for my monster scene-analysis post, because it'll be a little while.