[Getting There in Time] Help me test my character and adventure creation procedures

I'm working on a game called Getting There in Time about a lone Chronomaster who travels through time and space with his human companions where they have sci-fi adventures, in a style reminiscent of a television program (i.e. essentially Doctor Who with the serial numbers filed off, though it should also work if you put the serial numbers back on). I started the design for Game Chef, inspired by both my ingredients and my frustration that the officially licensed Doctor Who RPG didn't seem to capture the heart of what I love about the show. In my first playtest the play procedures worked well enough to convince me that the game has legs, but since I was GMing the game and created the pre-gen characters myself it's hard for me to gauge whether my adventure-prep procedures and character creation rules worked because they're good procedures or whether my vision of how I wanted the game to play was doing most of the heavy lifting.

It would be helpful for me if some people would try to run through the adventure creation or companion character creation procedures and report their experiences. Basically, I'd like some usability testing on these parts of the game: people telling me their raw emotional reactions to what they're reading, where they're getting confused or having to backtrack, what tasks are difficult or easy, places where you felt bored or disengaged, etc., and showing me the results so I can see if the game is really doing what I intended it to do. The adventure creation rules are on page 5 and 6 of the PDF, with an example on pages 12 to 15. The character creation rules are on page 8 and the pre-gen characters on page 9 are examples. You might be able to run through the procedures by reading just those pages, but getting the full context by reading the entire PDF probably wouldn't hurt, although there are places where I think I was overly concise, due to the wordcount realities of Game Chef. (There's also an implicit expectation that the adventure and characters should be tonally appropriate, so the companions shouldn't be terrible people, etc.). The adventure creation rules cover only one style of story in the current draft -- eventually I intend to have multiple procedures that cover a few different styles of story, but I'd like to make sure I'm in the right ballpark with my procedures before replicating them in multiple contexts.

[edit: I posted a new draft of the rules since I started the thread: Getting There in Time rev0.3.1.]

Comments

  • edited June 2012
    Sounds like the perfect game for playing Inspector Spacetime! I have a confession! It may be the greatest show ever, no matter what Graham says
  • edited June 2012
    ARGH! I just spent an hour creating a character and scenario for this thing and my computer ate it when I tried to post!

    Okay, first: the fact this has a GM is a huge turn-off for me. But as a DWFCA Whovian since 1983, I am obliged to post the ersatz version of my favorite companion:

    Orgull Shivrot (Also known as "Shiv")
    d6 Trait: Alien Expatriate, Pos.Trait: Adanced, Neg.Trait: Inhuman
    d8 Trait: Agent of the Cosmic Beldame, Pos.Trait: Protected, Neg.Trait: Backstabber
    d10 Trait: Practical Royalty, Pos.Trait: Logistics, Neg.Trait: Arrogant

    When betraying or abandoning the Chronomaster to a boobytrap or ambush (Protected vs. Inhuman)
    When trying to worm out of a deal (Protected vs. Arrogant)
    When assisting hostile aliens to buy some time (Advanced vs. Backstabber)
    When ordering primitives (especially Earth Monkeys) about (Advanced vs. Arrogant)
    When fleeing a danger everyone else is suicidally facing (Logistics vs. Backstabber)
    When advocating a more efficient but ruthless way to do things (Logistics vs. Inhuman)

    FLOWERS ON THE DOLMEN
    (I was gonna turn this into a semi-feminist fan fiction with Jenny and Susan, but I'm having trouble finishing Hunger Below right now and this is way too close to the Pandorica Opens, which I didn't really like. So you can have it! Besides, it's lifted whole cloth from the Mabinogion, I think.)

    Step 1: Ancient Earth, The Salisbury Plain in Celtic Times
    Step 2: Folklore inspiration: The Flower Maiden, Bloduweth
    Step 3: Sci-fi twist: Bludaweth is a living component of an ancient "Landmine" left behind during a great conflict involving the Chronomaster's people. She knows she isn't human but she doesn't know her true nature is that of a detonator cap.
    Step 4: Characters: Bludaweth, Celtic Chieftan, Rival Chieftan, Roman Emmissary, Chieftan's Mother, Bumbling Druid
    Bludaweth is very beautiful but knows she isn't human
    Bludaweth resents being summoned into being as a political offering and the idea of arranged marriage even more
    Celtic Chieftan, Lew, is a pretty nice guy for a Celt, but he's clearly losing
    Celtic Chieftan, Lew, listens to his mother a little too often
    Rival Chieftan, Gron, is a brutal warmonger but has far more animal magnetism and raw virility than Lew
    Rival Chieftan, Gron, is also a clever schemer who is making secret deals with Rome
    The Roman Emmissary, Lucian, is a bored middleman who just wants to go back home
    The Roman Emmissary, Lucian, is a born-and-bred skeptic, secretly doubtful of even his own auguries
    The Chieftan's Mother, Arian, is a superstitious fanatic
    The Chieftan's Mother, Arian, is the real power behind the throne and a little over-protective of Lew
    The Bumbling Druid, Gwydion, is obviously a fraud to time travellers
    The Bumbling Druid, Gwydion, has an uncanny knack for accidentally accessing alien devices

    Step 5: If the Chronomaster and Companions can't defuse Bludaweth (or convince her to sacrifice herself) then Stonehenge will implode History, leaving a huge swath of Empty Time which evil entities, such as, Oh, I dunno, the Cosmic Beldame, can turn into a Garden of Chaos - which would be a Bad Thing

    Step 6: Add details:
    1 Bludaweth is clearly more attracted to Gron than Lew
    1 Gwydion's stupid little ceremony at Stonehenge shouldn't work, but it somehow shifts time
    1 Lucian of Rome and Gron are clearly plotting something
    1 Stonehenge contains markings left by the Chronomaster's own people
    2 Gwydion seems to do the same subtle thing each time he activates a Time Shift
    2 Bludaweth knows a lot more about her true nature than she lets on
    2 There's something horribly wrong with the flowers left behind after a Time Shift
    2 Gron is about ready to help the Romans invade
    3 The Stonehenge Landmine was left behind on purpose
    3 Arian actually guided Gwydion to the Bloduweth ceremony, but her knowledge is wrapped up in superstitious and fervor
    3 Bloduweth really wants to live

    Step 7: Create Seed List
    The Salisbury Plain
    Stonehenge
    Lew's Hill Fort
    Gron's encampment
    Gwydion's pathetic grove
    The Garden of Chaos
    Weird Areas of Empty History
    Secret Chamber below Stonehenge where the Apple Kid went after returning his book (kidding!)

    (Okay. That's all I got.)

    You want feedback:

    You need to clarify how to do the "When something happens, roll trait vs. trait" rules a bit more. I managed to work it out from the example but I have a feeling I still didn't quite get it.

    I should point out that I rather like the mechanic, however. It seems like fun.
    In order for me to create the character, though, I had to pretty much make a half-list of when statements first, then figure out some negatives and positives that would suggest those, then go back and finish the full six item list. I do like the way it forces you to think how the aspects of your own personality will conflict with itself.

    Is there a way you could do this between characters? My positive vs. your negative? I dunno. Maybe it's a rule I missed. I was just trying to blaze out a character.

    Adventure creation is quite a long process and I think it's going to be more dissapointing than fulfilling (at a guess, I'd say the average group will miss a majority of these plot points - the only real shot you'd have at following them is if all the players contributed the plot points in steps 6 & 7 and got some kind of reward for crossing them off. If I was trying to run this, I know I'd miss a lot of them as players took the story all over the place.)

    Have you thought about combining the criss-cross thing you do with the When you... roll Pos.Trait vs. Neg.Trait ... bit with having players create their own plot points to pursue? Also, about maybe playing with the single Chronomaster dynamic?
  • edited June 2012
    Arpie, thanks for trying it. It's certainly interesting to see your take on it.
    Posted By: ArpieOkay, first: the fact this has a GM is a huge turn-off for me.
    Everybody has their own tastes, that's cool. Personally, I try not to fall in love (or hate) with any mechanical element in isolation. What matters to me is if they're right in the context of the game. I felt that asymmetric player roles were important for this game, and that one of the roles in this game was close enough to what other games call a GM that it was the least-bad choice (the risk of seeming cutesy or pretentious runs pretty high when you name player roles). Personally, I think the GM role in this game is interestingly different from the way other games do it, but not everyone will see it that way.
    Posted By: ArpieIs there a way you could do this between characters? My positive vs. your negative? I dunno. Maybe it's a rule I missed.
    Not exactly. There's a subtle encouragement to play to each others aspects in the roleplaying, I mention it in the last paragraph on page 4.
    Posted By: ArpieHave you thought about combining the criss-cross thing you do with the When you... roll Pos.Trait vs. Neg.Trait ... bit with having players create their own plot points to pursue? Also, about maybe playing with the single Chronomaster dynamic?
    I think the "unfolding mystery" dynamic of a normal Doctor Who story is an important part of the charm, and I think that authoring your own plot details provides a subjective experience that's somewhat antithetical to that, so I don't think that's in the cards. But players have authority to frame their scenes around what they want, they aren't obligated to follow "the plot" (although they do have to play their characters with integrity, which will often involve them caring about things happening around them). The journey isn't the destination -- the mechanics of the game are intended to be orthogonal to plot, more about the characters' experiences on the way (i.e. "getting there" is the fun). The full game will probably have advice about creating non-human companions (there's only so much room in a Game Chef draft) but I think one main Chronomaster is also part of charm of a Doctor Who story (Romana has a very different role than The Doctor), so I don't foresee that part of the game changing much.
  • Well, I certain respect your arguments, although, as you can see, I have a very strong GMless agenda and I always prod designers just in case they suddenly get a breakthrough and say "Hey, yeah, my game would be awesome as a peer-driven system" or something like that. And I would consider a GMless Timespace game a huge chase-asset. Oh well, it was worth a try.

    From GMing experience, though, I still think that a lot of the plot points you list during the adventure creation process will be missed. If I was running this, I'd only list the most important plot points - the ones players absolutely must hit in order to make the story unfold "correctly" or - actually, that's what I'd do. Usually an initial plot point and one liminal plot point between each act and a final plot point which triggers the group climax (individual climaxes I would have to address on the fly.)

    The character I created for you, there, incidentally, is lifted directly from the series. He was a red-head who eventually reached Enlightenment. I went so far as to make the ersatz name an anagram. I just wanted to point out how extremely clever I tried to be.
  • Posted By: ArpieFrom GMing experience, though, I still think that a lot of the plot points you list during the adventure creation process will be missed. If I was running this, I'd only list the most important plot points - the ones players absolutely must hit in order to make the story unfold "correctly" or - actually, that's what I'd do. Usually an initial plot point and one liminal plot point between each act and a final plot point which triggers the group climax (individual climaxes I would have to address on the fly.)
    I am conflicted about responding to this. I personally suspect your concerns are misplaced and I could explain why, but generally getting into debates about feedback is a bad idea because it just encourages the designer to entrench their position. The short version is that I suspect you're looking at this game through the lens of how you'd GM a different game, but GMing this game is not like GMing other games.
    Posted By: ArpieThe character I created for you, there, incidentally, is lifted directly from the series. He was a red-head who eventually reached Enlightenment. I went so far as to make the ersatz name an anagram. I just wanted to point out how extremely clever I tried to be.
    Rest assured, your effort was noted. :)
  • edited June 2012
    Yeah, my concerns may, indeed, be misplaced. I can only give you my impressions upon reading the rules. I understand you've run the game a few times and it may totally fit your play style.

    Don't think I'm being nasty here, because your game does work and I think anyone who looks at any of my old posts, here or even back on the forge, will see my considerable bias in the matter of having GMs (and I really have trouble knowing when to stop pushing. We might even need slow down on this thread. Can I invoke one against myself?)

    I really was trying to help because I do like, you know, that one show which has changed out its lead actor a dozen times since Kennedy was assassinated and I think more than one game about it is a great thing.
  • edited June 2012
    Posted By: ArpieDon't think I'm being nasty here, because your game does work and I think anyone who looks at any of my old posts, here or even back on the forge, will see my considerable bias in the matter of having GMs
    Yes, I can see that you're trying to be constructive. I know you're deeply invested in the concept of GM-less games. I'm not saying this game works because it "fits my style", I'm asserting that this is a good and functional way for many people to play (pending further playtest results, of course). I'm not trying to force you to change your mind, but I'm suggesting to you that viewing every game through such a strong "GM yes/no?" lens may not be the best way to analyze games (I don't mind if you dislike my game, I'm cool with everyone having their own tastes, this is just my philosophy of how to best engage with new games in general -- I'd say something similar if your pet concern was something like dice vs. cards or fantasy vs. sci-fi, i.e. I think it's better to take each game on its own terms rather than to pre-decide what's the best choice for all games). You used the expression "peer-driven system" earlier, as another way to say GM-less, but I don't think there any reason to believe that the GM in this game isn't a peer of the other players -- this GM doesn't have any weird abusive powers or social role, they're just another kind of player that is bound by rules, it's just that the things they do in the game touch different rules than the things the other players tend to. GM-less games can be great (my first game was GM-less) but GMed games can be great, too, and either one can also be bad. But my game won't be everyone's cup of tea, that's to be expected. Hopefully some people will like it, though.
  • Oh, I think they'll like it just fine. It does seem to work.
  • I posted a new draft of the game: Getting There in Time rev 0.3. Mechanically it's nearly identical to the previous version, but hopefully I did a better job of explaining how to play. The Companion creation rules are on page 11 of this draft, and the adventure creation rules are on pages 8-9.
  • Cool, man. I was just looking for a time-slot this week to review your proceedures, and am glad to be addressing the latest version.
    Do you think it matters that I'm only familiar with the new series, from #9 on?
  • edited June 2012
    Do you think it matters that I'm only familiar with the new series, from #9 on?
    I think that should be fine. While I tend to prefer the classic incarnation, I'm a fan of both, and I think the game works for both, although it's episodic and doesn't have much support for grand arcs. (In an ideal world the game would be designed well enough to work even for people who aren't very familiar with the show).
  • edited June 2012
    Companion: Pamela (Inspired by having recently read I'm With The Band by Pamela Des Barres)
    Free Spirit
    +Impassioned
    -Flaky
    Artist
    +Creative
    -Perfectionist
    Nurturer
    +Empathetic
    -Needy

    When you joyfully take in everything around, roll impassioned vs perfectionist
    When you think of an unorthodox way out of a bind, roll creative vs flaky
    When you show someone a sketch of them you have been working on, roll creative vs needy
    When you inspire with your positive enthusiasm, roll impassioned vs needy
    When you stand in defense of the helpless, roll empathetic vs flaky
    When you rush to help those in need, role empathetic vs perfectionist



    1) In a gleaming undersea city utopia, all the people's needs are taken care of by the city's automation...

    2) Kelpie: eyes peeping above the surface of stagnant water. Under a blood red moon. A white horse tempts the innocent onto its back. An out of control ride to their doom. No escape:adhesive skin. Drowning.

    3) Sci-fi twist - kelpie is the failing AI's attempt to save the next generation from the doomed city. When chronomaster arrives, surprised to see the city polluted and decaying. Scavenger culture, re-purposing bits of found or stolen tech. City AI still tries to serve all the people, even though more and more of its subsystems and memory banks have been taken apart and turned into heating or power units. Nightcycle lighting has turned red-hued because of failing central power. Life support & air membrane are due to fail soon. AI is sending "kelpie" biodroid out to bring as many people as possible(starting with the youngest) into suspension in "stagnant pools" of gelatinous green protein nano-soup, for their own protection... Though those at the bottom the pool give the appearance of being dead.

    4)
    -Father of missing child
    -Unshaven and untucked
    -Wild eyed and desperate

    -Granny
    -Always spying through make-shift goggles
    -Loves to gossip, the kelpie being her newest subject

    -Scrappy girl who runs scavenger gang
    -Bright red hair and bulging backpack
    -keeps trying to get into TARDIS

    5) Greater threat is that the city floods, all the people die, the city reactor blows, contaminating the whole damn water planet... Maybe the planet will be the source of some miracle cure in the future, so it needs to stay clean?

    I've kind of run out of steam here, so I'll just give the feedback I've got now.

    Reading through the Companion creation, I was a bit intimidated by how many elements needed to be created. In practice, it was pretty fun once the process got going. I imagine it would be even easier as a group process, with everyone making characters together, giving feedback and inspiration. I think that the Companion creation process definitely helps build a practical model of how the Companion acts and is perceived, and provides a good starting point for play.

    The adventure generation was less smooth: I know there is an effort to assist with the creative burden of "blank page" strain, but for such a structured process and output there is a whole lot to come up with whole cloth. I like the folklore prompt, that is a good choice for this template. Even with all the incremental steps, it just felt like a whole lot of work, with occasional backtracking from conceptual dead-ends, and lots of creative inertia... And there was a bit of shock when I got to step 5, which talks about what the "bad guys" are doing to make the threat worse. Up to that point there had been no mention of bad guys, and I thought I had taken a wrong turn. Looking at the example adventure(which mine seems a bit derivative of), I saw there were no "bad guys" there, just negative effects of failing systems, so that's alright I guess. Also, trying to make the greater threat impact beyond just the local setting was a stretch. Mostly, having so many list items to invent, even built on incrementally, is pretty discouraging.

    Anyway, that's the feedback I've got at the moment. If you have questions or there is more you'd like my to try out, let me know!

    ttfn
  • edited June 2012
    I kind of felt the same way about adventure creation. Maybe some additional structure would be good? The list making is a bit arduous.

    Is there some advice or technique you use that can be codified there?
    It helped me to have a set number of list items from each stage of the story to shoot for.
  • Thanks, this is helpful. It has definitely highlighted some things I'll need to consider for my next draft (hopefully soon).
  • I posted a new draft: Getting There in Time (rev 0.3.1). I'd appreciate any more testing that people are willing to do.
  • Would you like some random tables for this?
  • I'm not sure I follow. I don't think I see any places where you'd use a random table with the game.
  • Well, I have some old random tables I wrote for the FASA RPG, subtly modified over the years. They may help people generate the various plot elements they need for the list in adventure creation.
  • I want the adventure generation step to feel intentional. I think the GM should be making decisions, not disclaiming them. My gut reaction is that random tables feel wrong for the game.
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