Actual Play – Pirates in a Wicked PTA (10/25/2014)

In A Wicked PTAPlayers: Justin Evans, Sean Nittner, Dennis Jordan, Kristin Hayworth, Eric Fattig, Eric Bohr, and Bill Miller
System: In a Wicked PTA

I tried to describe this game (system) to Avery McDaldno and it started like this. “Oh, it uses In a Wicked Age Oracles, but with Prime Time Adventures characters and resolution mechanics…but we flip cards one at a time and each card flip includes some of the narration, and we used best interests in from IaWA instead of Issues, and each scene you frame can’t include your character so you act as a director like in Durance, and we use the Element Ownership rules from Archipelago, epilogues from Fiasco, and everybody creates a character to contribute to the group pool , and, and… oh, I guess this is just some hacked together game that Justin made. It works really well!”

We decided on using the Pirates Oracle and from it we drew four oracles that started us with this situation.

  • A drunk shipwright who betrayed his captain lost at sea with only a half full barrel of run to keep him afloat.
  • An aboriginal slave owner who sold out out to the parliamentary government providing cotton and tobacco from the sweat and labor of his slaves.
  • A young girl orphaned in a seaside port, overlooked by all. Enough so that she had obtained an enchanted necklace from the Sea Witch, left behind by someone carelessly.
  • A ship captain, betrayed by his carpenter to the parliament and now carrying slaves for them through waters only he knows how to traverse. Either the slaves make it safely to the plantation or his wife and children will be jailed.
  • A sea witch, supposedly enraged that her necklace was stolen, but in reality had cursed the seas in a rage from a lover that had besmirched her.
  • Said lover, a noble and foppish swashbuckler without a care who brought ruin to those around him.
  • A slave who was the leader of her people in captivity. They had been led by her sister who fought of the parliamentary government and were punished for it. When her sister was murdered the other captives turned to her for leadership. Locked up in a ship hull she plotted for her revenge and all of her people’s freedom.
  • A local officer trying to keep the peace in a harbor full of pirates.

After making the characters and giving each of them an edge, we each selected a character to play (which I made the rule could not be the one we thought of) and then added additional edges or connections. We then settled on a few domains that needed an authority. We decided on the sea, the supernatural, the government, and the indigenous slaves.

We each picked a best interest that was a direct attack against someone else. Some of those were vicious. Someone was going to die, be deposed, or otherwise have their life take a serious downturn before the game was done!

The Play Is the Thing

As we had so many players (seven people is A LOT of players for me these days) we just did one round of scenes (still seven scenes) and then capped it off with an epilogue.

The Captain got free of the governments grip on him. The carpenter failed to take the ship and now a worthless drunk. The slaves smuggled weapons into their holding cell and when they were delivered to the island attacked the few guards their and claimed island of their own. The slave owner was killed. The necklace was returned to the sea witch but as the thing she really wanted was companionship, that’s not all she kept.

Good times. For some at least.

Thoughts on the game

Neither Bill nor Eric Bohr normally play RPGs. I think they’ve each played one game before and didn’t remember much of it. I loved that in this game they thrived. Part of was the rules mechanics being very simple. Describe your actions until you reach a point of conflict and then flip a few cards to see who wins. I also think it helps that at a table where only two or three characters are active in a scene we had four or five people contributing as various authorities, helping the players articulate their stakes in a conflict, or otherwise adding content (even if it was just a bit of description) to the scene.

Justin’s system has everything but the kitchen sink thrown in. It’s got narrative and mechanical systems that are cobbled together from a bunch of games, and it works great. Specifically using the oracles, doing collaborative character creation, and having each player open a scene that doesn’t include their character, directs the players to be invested in each other and in characters in the story besides themselves. I super dig it.

Getting a bunch of people to play an RPG during a bachelor party is awesome! Also we did it for Extra life as part of their 24 hour game-a-thon that just so happened to be on the same weekend as my party woot. Shameless plug I forgot to do during the twitters: If you want to support us (retroactively) here’s the site to do it:


Actual Play – To Forgive is Divine (2/19/2011)

GM: Sean Nittner
Players: Shannon, Daniel, Duane, Cassie, Brent and Maggie
System: A variant of Primetime Adventures.

See here for more information about how this game was set up: To Err is Human…

Travis and I ran our Gods and Heroes game again at DundraCon. This time with a few new twists. We introduced some new objectives for the gods (to rally favors from the other immortals) and a more codified means of gaining influence in the island. I also started the gods game off with a kicker, they were all preparing for a race across the Mediterranean when the fates came to Olympus to tell them that only the god with their golden ship would win the race. The fate cast out three golden ropes for the gods to squabble over… and squabble they did.

We also had the advent of bronze age technology on our wireless connections. The connection started slow and degraded for the first hour until it was totally unusable. I was very frustrated by this but it created some emergent properties, such as the gods in Olympus having to use other gods and messengers to find out what the heroes were doing… and the gods weren’t always all that honest… go figure.

What rocked

The new props (actual laurel wreaths, golden rope, a crown, etc) were great.

The game still delivered forth fickle, greedy, child-like lords of Olympus, as it should.

Explain explicitly to the gods that they needed the heroes influence to claim island territories was very good.

What could have improved

Don’t bring olives. Nobody but you eats them Sean.

Game prep is at least 90 minutes, not 60. Best to shoot for 120 next time just to be safe.

Without wireless, the game is very frustrating to run. Backup plan for next time: Speakerphone calls between the rooms (with Gods on mute), A very long USB extension cable going directly to the camera in the heroes room (if gives enough power to make that work), co-opting the inevitable people who hang out to watch the game to act as our messengers, cast clairvoyance.

Explain to the gods that if they hide out in Mount Olympus the whole time they may be safe from the pranks of the other gods, but they won’t gain the heroes favor they need to win. I.e. get them downstairs!

Actual Play – To Err is Human… To Forgive is Divine (5/28/2010)

GMs: Sean Nittner and Travis Lindquist
Players: Lots, including Martin, Jay, Shaun, Kristin, Matt, Jennifer, Brent and others.
Systems: In A Wicked Age/PTA and Agon

The origins

This game, these games, sprung from an idea that’s been banging around in my head for years. Alex Miller was the one who pitched it to me, so many years back: “You need to do a game of Gods and Heroes, where you take your projector and a webcam and a couple laptops and let the Gods see everything the heroes are doing.” It was this bold, crazy idea but hell, I had all the gear, why not try it.

And then I wondered what system(s) would I use? How would I coordinate with the other GM? Who would the other GM be? How would I keep the gods entertained enough with their own petty squabbles that they didn’t get bored just watching the heroes? How do we adjudicate the gods effect on the heroes when they want to bring on some smiting? All these questions, most of all who would run it with me, put this project firmly in the “someday” category (read: never)

Then, on a lark I threw out the idea to Travis and he was like bring on the wine and olives, let’s do this! His energy and excitement really got the ball rolling. So we talked some, played some Agon (which we both loved) and finally submitted the games to KublaCon. I can say right now, if not for his energy, excitement and persistence these games would have never happened. Thanks man. Thanks a ton!

Building this from the ground up.

DundraCon – Part 1 (Friday 2/12/2010)

I was a little frazzled getting ready for DDC. I had totally ripped my game apart and rebuilt it from the ground up two weeks prior and I was tripping a little bit about getting it finished. The result of which, I’ll post in the S7S recap.

I arrived around noon, did the check in thing, commingled with peeps, and then went to lunch with Travis. I forget the name of the restaurant but it was awesome. (Edit: La Ultima was the place. Hella good). I had the chicken sopapillas and will definitely go back next year for the chimichangas as they looked good as well.  We stopped at Walgreen’s to get some pencils for my players and it turns out the cashier was into miniatures painting.  We talked for a couple minutes and she said she would swing by the con.  I never saw here there but that little exchange totally made my day.  It is always awesome to be a game evangelist.

We got back to the Marriott and I did some more meandering and socializing until six when I headed up to room 377 to say “hey” to the players in Travis’ game I was the backup GM if his wife happened to go into labor. It seemed like cutting it very close at the time but now, four days later, we’re still waiting for the little one to arrive, so the fortunes were on his side. Chris and Tracy showed up and, knowing I might be running the game, brought me a salad and drink. What sweethearts! That was really cool. As it turned out I had dinner plans so I save the delectable delights for breakfast the next morning and went downstairs to meet back up with the peeps.

After that I headed out for the same dinner Rich talked about here We had a really good discussion about player buy-in and agency. What can and can’t you do to their characters? Dinner was a Chicken pesto sandwich. Passable, probably several degrees above con crud but didn’t live up to lunch.

Actual Play – Sailing to the new world

The culmination of the evening was, as it should be, in the bar. Justin, Josh, Mike B, and Kevin W sat down, threw out some game ideas and settled on “In a Wicked PTA”. This was Justin’s mash up of In A Wicked Age and (go figure) PTA. It used the Oracles system to create character and plot seeds and the PTA system for conflict resolution.

The oracles we drew:

  • A stow away hidden aboard, there to recover something from the ship.
  • A cabin boy sees something that shouldn’t have been.
  • An abandoned ship, floating adrift for reasons unknown.
  • A cargo of criminals being transported to work on a plantation in the new world.

From these we opted for two ships, one with a cargo of criminals, captained by Captain Smyth, that found an abandoned ship, commanded by Captain Jeremiah, thought to be a ghost. We also had Elaina, a stow away posing as a cabin boy, there to break her brother Carl free. Selene, the siren who seduced and killed the men of Jeremiah’s ship (the Viper I believe). Finally, Enrique the chain mate of Carl, unrightfully imprisoned for the crime of killing Captain Smyth’s father, a crime he didn’t commit. We had three NPCs as well, Sven the first mate of Smyth’s ship and lover of Elaine. Ricardo, the jailor on the ship and the MF Kraken, there to see to all of our demise. Carl would have been an NPC as well if not for Macklin showing up just as we were going to start, looking and the set up and diving in as Carl, the convict who was determined to make Elaina loose all hope in his salvation.

The game was bitchen. It did a few things that I didn’t expect. The first was creating the kind of shifting alliances you see in a pulp film. Where allies turn to enemies and back again as the waves rock back and forth. I think this was largely possible because we didn’t have a GM and the NPCs that existed were minor. The only one we ever really challenged was the Kraken and that was our first challenge, after that things got much more personal. The other thing I didn’t expect was a natural progression of the supernatural influence. It started (in my mind) with Carl telling Elaina that she would be disappointing mother coming after him. Later Elaina upped it that mother hated him and had cursed him. Then Carl, faced with his old captain, the maybe Ghost Jeremiah, revealed he was the daughter of a siren and a sorcerer. Suddenly I looked at my character’s edges and relationships and they transformed in front of me. “Blending in” used to mean she could pose as a boy, now it was invisibility. “Keys to the ship” previously meant Sven, the first mate, had given her keys to free her brother. Now it meant she could walk through walls. Her connection “A lover on the ship” which was supposed to just mean Sven turned into all of the crew she would allure.

We had a great time and the continual supply of Tokyo Ice Tea as well as a botched but never the less very alcoholic NOT-Tokyo Ice Tea didn’t hurt a thing.

What rocked

  • No prep. It was killer just sitting down and rolling out a great story.
  • No GM. I like GMing when I’m prepared with something to offer. I don’t like going full impromptu. Justin’s mash up made each of us the GM (or narrator, or whatever) for one scene and then we moved round robin passing off narration rights.
  • The conflict system was tense. First we played till a conflict was eminent then we figured out who wanted what and laid down cards face down. Every red card counted as a point, but we did the reveals slowly. Every time someone flipped a card they added a bit to the narrative. This turned out to be very tense at moments.
  • Scenes flowed very well. I was feeling a bit uncertain about framing a scene before it was my turn as I wasn’t sure who I was going to put in it. By the time it came to me though the opportunity was perfect. Enrique and Smyth, who both hated each other hadn’t been on the screen for a while. A great fight with the Kraken smashing the ships had just happened so it seemed the perfect opportunity to put an abandoned blade in front of Enrique, just where the captain could see him and goad him into drawing it.
  • Story stuff mentioned above. Words and things.

What could have improved

  • Not being able to frame your own character into a scene made it difficult to fulfill your own best interests without somewhat hijacking another player’s narration. This worked out okay, it just meant we had to watch out for each other’s best interests and try to drive scenes toward that. The upshot is that we didn’t have a bunch of isolated scenes where the players reflected on their own characters without sharing the spotlight.

After the game was more drinking, but I’m old and retired around 1.