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After Action: Primetime Adventures

I recently completed a pair of short series of Primetime Adventure games, whose beginnings were described in Pitching Primetime Adventures: Two Recent Series [1].

A Brief Recap

Primetime Adventures is an independent roleplaying game, first published back in 2004, which proved to be an instant hit in the indie-roleplaying scene. The game was recently republished in a brand new third edition by the original designer, Matt Wilson, and his company Dog Eared Designs [2].

I was eager for the new edition; when I got the PDF, I was surprised at the extensive rewriting and editing. Minor issues that had tangled previous attempts with the system, as in our Time Preservers [3] game, had been revised for greater clarity. A new mechanic, Impulse, helped guide players’ engaging their issues. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In my excitement, I pitched the game enthusiastically, and soon had a table full of new players interested in a Primetime Adventures series, plus my home game group embraced slotting it into our calendar. The two groups each had independent pitch sessions, which resulted in wildly different games.

The two series were Planetary Pioneers and Peculiar, Mo.. Planetary Pioneers was a retro-50s inspired show, taped today, scheduled as relatively family friendly. Peculiar was inspired by shows like Night Vale and the X-files; a weird place with mysteries running underneath the surface. For more on the shows, the pitch article [4] goes into more detail about how we selected our shows and crafted our series.

The Series in Broad Strokes

Planetary Pioneers ran ahead of Peculiar, so minor irritations that manifested in Planetary Pioneers were corrected or rephrased when presented to the Peculiar group. One example from the pitch post: in Planetary Pioneers, I took notes of the extended cast on my own paper. For Peculiar, I copied the cast onto a whiteboard as I read the roles out, writing large enough for everyone to see. That minor change encouraged people to combine core NPCs and springboard off of characters proposed by other players, who became vibrant as suggestions and proposals zipped back and forth.

Each group was the producer plus five players. For Planetary Pioneers, we decided that the pitch session would be Episode 1 of the five Episode season, while for Peculiar, we set the pilot aside and ran 5 additional episodes, for a total of six. The main advantage to adding the episode was to avoid having two characters share a spotlight. In Planetary Pioneers, the third session was action packed, since both Coburn and Wolfgang had their spotlight. Unfortunately, despite pushing hard to foreground both characters, it was less clear to everyone (including me) who to direct each scene at. They shared a big plot development relevant to both of them (aliens!), but directing character development scenes proved trickier.

The groups also varied in that Planetary Pioneers was players meeting each other over this game, while Peculiar was a group that has gamed together for four years. The Peculiar group proved better at running with the elements that excited each other and at sussing out how a player wanted to wrestle with the character issues at the specific point in their character arc.

The final episode of Planetary Pioneers stumbled on a critical item–which we dissected after the session in a long, helpful discussion. In the final episode, the players were preoccupied with wrapping up the season–which totally stole the spotlight from Hank Houston. The problem made total sense–we all know how seasons end on TV shows, so consciously and unconsciously, we mirrored that framework. Unfortunately, the damage was more extensive than just costing Hank his spotlight–it was also weirdly dissatisfying as a session, in part because the steering of the game became more overt and contested.

Lessons Learned

In both games, I learned that I’m not a ruthless enough director. I fall a little too in love with long walk-ups and wasn’t sharp enough to cut straight to the action. As a consequence of that, the 2 to 2.5 hour sessions for each game only resolved three rounds of scenes instead of four. In the post-series breakdown, a few players mentioned that with only three scenes, they didn’t wander as far afield to develop their own story arcs apart from the main plot.

The resolution mechanic was much less problematic than my first experience with it back in 2008. It’s a little jarring at first to resolve entire conflicts in one turn of the cards, but both groups picked it up pretty quickly. It was also great–and sometimes very amusing–to see characters in both games willing to really struggle, and sometimes to put their character in very difficult situations. The absolute control over your character’s fate really seems to encourage players to put their characters in death traps–or turn themselves into fish–and count on the table’s creativity to make their escape and return to air-breathing exciting.

Long story short, if you’ve never tried Primetime Adventures [5], I strongly encourage you to give it a go. A con game will introduce some of the concepts, but if you have time to squeeze in a five episode season between your other games, I think you’ll enjoy what you find. If nothing else, it really illuminates some new and different ways to think about gaming.

If you have questions about the rules or anything else, please ask in comments!

2 Comments (Open | Close)

2 Comments To "After Action: Primetime Adventures"

#1 Comment By BryanB On July 24, 2015 @ 5:30 pm

What were the major differences in the latest edition of PTA? Did the resolution mechanic change in any way? Were things more clearly laid out overall?

#2 Comment By Scott Martin On July 29, 2015 @ 6:42 pm

The resolution in 3rd edition is almost the same as second edition. The big change is that you no longer “get narration” with the high card. For plot scenes, more red cards is still success, but if your highest card beats the producer’s highest, you keep it together. A lower high card means that your impulse is provoked. [For character scenes, more red=keep it together, more black=give into your impulse, higher card=silver lining, lower card=there are consequences.]

The text is rewritten almost completely, even to the examples. It’s more clear now, not that it was terrible before. There are also new visual presentations (flow charts, bubble diagrams) to provide key information in different ways.

A new spot on the character sheet is “Impulse”; it’s right below Issue, and relates to it. The advice about picking issues is better, and now introduces the idea of Impulses, how Issues typically manifest. This helps you think through how the character’s issue is going to manifest, which is very important, given how often it comes up!