Last year, the final day’s question was What is your favorite roleplaying game? My answer was simple: without a doubt, it was Primetime Adventures.
Several years ago, we were playing Shadowrun, 4th Edition. We had played four sessions so far, each about four hours long. I was so taken by PTA, I suggested we play the next session using PTA rules. In that two, perhaps three, hour game session, I learned more about the characters in that Shadowrun game than I did in the prior sixteen hours of play.
How did it do that? Play in PTA is all about your characters and what they will do in different situations. A conflict is about your character, not about the actual. In Shadowrun (and most RPGs), a fight scene is all about the fight: the things in your way are not much more than the things in your way. In PTA, a fight scene is all about your character.
We’ve got two teams with a friendly rivalry, the protagonists’ team (think “PCs”) and a team of NPCs. One of the NPCs starts trash-talking and our “new kid on the block” protagonist jumps in to defend his teammates. We set the stakes for this obvious conflict. If David wins, he shuts down the NPC and his teammates realize he’s someone that’s got their backs. If David loses, he shuts down the NPC, but his teammates think he’s just trying to suck up to them. Either way, our new kid on the block is going to win this battle of words, but that’s not what the conflict is really about – it’s how he’s seen by his teammates.
All conflicts are like this in PTA: they answer questions about your characters or for your characters. And they’re fast, too, getting more story into your game.
We’re playing Pathfinder and there’s a big battle as the cultist leader is about to sacrifice the princess. We’ve got to get through the cultist’s minions and across the temple to stop the sacrifice in time. This battle is going to last at least a half hour, with rolls to-hit, a whittling down of hit points, and tactical maneuvering that showcases D&D/Pathfinder’s miniature wargaming roots. In PTA, it’s just a quick show of cards. I rescue the princess and she is enamored by my bravery./I rescue the princess but my acts of savagery frighten or sicken her. Because having heroes be defeated with a TPK sucks.
PTA lets your protagonists attempt great feats, fail and overcome them, making them better, stronger characters, just like a television show. Just like a movie. They’re characters worth telling stories about.
These ways to resolve conflict also do something else neat: they can give the players the opportunity to take control of the story and show you, the GM, things in the game you may have not thought of:
Ray wins the narration rights in the “rescue the princess” scene above. It’s him declaring how the princess reacts and what she says when she’s rescued, even though she’s scared of his character’s brutality. It’s him explaining how brutal his character was and if he tried to hide it from her but failed, or perhaps he was full on Hulking Out in front of everyone. Did he hurt her? Did he hurt himself?
Along these lines, the end of the game session has the players doing a “Next Time On…” sequence, like a television show’s previews from the next episode. Each player gets to feature a short scene that hints at something they want to see in the game. Brian’s character, a pacifist who grew up in and never set foot outside the Arcology, is in the city streets, surrounded by gang members who are looking to beat him up. That tells me that Brian wants more scenes where his character is outside his safe zone.
It’s fast. It really fleshes out characters.
If your character seems to be nothing more than a sheet of numbers, suggest you play one game session – and just one game session – of your regular game with PTA rules. You’ll find out why Fitor the Fighter is out there, fighting. You’ll rediscover your character and inform your GM what you want to see in the game, all through the process of playing the game.
It’s an amazing game that produces fantastic stories.
I love it.
It’s a year later. Is Primetime Adventures still your favorite roleplaying game?
Before I answer that, I had it politely pointed out that I was playing PTA incorrectly, interpreting the conflict rules in way that seems to be a common misinterpretation. When setting stakes in Primetime Adventures, we don’t say if I win, this happens and if I lose, this happens. What we do is pose a question: can my protagonist get what he or she wants? In the above “rescue the princess” scene, the question is When I rescure the princess, do I get her admiration? Or the question could be Can I rescue the princess without showing her my dark side? In the David example, the question is Can I show my teammates that I’m truly on their side?
The third edition of Primetime Adventures has become a reality since last year’s post. Things are a bit different in the new edition. Building to a crisis point (where the conflict resides) is a bit cleaner defined, but the resolution changed. In PTA2, you deal out cards — whichever side has the most reds wins their side of stakes, whomever has the high card gets to say what happened. In PTA3, you still deal out cards — whichever has the most reds still wins their side of stakes, but whichever side has the high card indicates the type of consequence that comes with the outcome. There are no narration rights in PTA3 which does remove some of the coolness from the Audience Participation rules. So, if your protagonist has more red cards than the producer, but the producer has a higher card, yes, you get what you wanted, but something interesting happens that you weren’t planning on. You really want to get the high card in PTA3 if you don’t want your protagonist to have negative effects happen to him or her (although that’s what makes drama television interesting).
The “no narration rights” in PTA3 threw me a bit. When we played PTA2, we had narration rights, where whomever had the high card effectively directed the last bit of the scene, but that sort of diminished the roleplay aspects of the scene. I didn’t mind it so much: during my PTA3 playtest, there was one player that would simply dominate a scene to a point where I couldn’t interject my protagonist into the scene even when the scene was about my character, I had won the conflict, and was attempting to show how the conflict’s outcome affected my protagonist. While I was perfectly fine with others taking control of other player’s characters — making the game feel more like we’re sitting around a writer’s table, creating the script and beats for the show — PTA3 puts the players more into the protagonists’ shoes than the writer’s. I’m not sure I like that shift.
It also weakens the audience’s role in the game, if you play in public. The audience gets one card still, and chooses which side that goes towards in a conflict/crisis, but that’s it. You can’t suddenly turn the show over to Berin, who has been watching on the sidelines, and have him declare that Killer Croc picks up our Gotham City detective and throws him through a glass window in a GCPD interview room.
So, there we are. A year later, and I still love PTA2, even playing it incorrectly. I like some of the changes in PTA3, but because I ran PTA2 several times and have memories of those games’ awesomeness, I’m still saying that Primetime Adventures, 2nd Edition, is still my favorite game.
However. If I liked Star Wars as much as I did before the prequel trilogy came out, FFG’s Star Wars RPGs might take that slot.