Sunday, 1 March 2015

Short Takes: Primetime Adventures 3rd Ed

So we've started playing a new game GMed by my lovely wife Megan, Shakespeare VA (based on one of the series pitches included in the HILLFOLK core book). We're playing it using the latest iteration of PRIMETIME ADVENTURES, fresh from its successful Kickstarter campaign. PTA has been a favourite around our table for many years, since our friend Rob introduced us to the game with his supervillains-fight-the-power game, T.H.E.M. PTA hits the sweet spot for us most of the time in terms of enabling the kind of drama-intensive play we do best around our table, so we were all excited to see what the 3rd Edition brought to the party.
My character from T.H.E.M. as imagined by the talented John Matthias.

A lot of the game looks pretty familiar to PTA veterans. The guts of player characters are the same, defined by Traits and Connections which help them do things in-game. A PTA "series" is defined as being either 5 or 9 episodes, with each character having a defined "screen presence" each episode. Screen Presence defines which characters are in the spotlight and how much of an influence on the story each character has. The GM's influence is limited by a budget of points they spend on challenges to the characters, which then become available to the players as "fan mail" points to be distributed to fellow players when they do something awesome. Scene conflicts are resolved by a draw of playing cards, as before, although the details have changed a little.

Here's what's new:
  • Each character now has a defined set of behaviours called Impulses. In earlier iterations, characters always had an Issue -- something that they were struggling with. Impulses are bad behaviours that are associated with Issues, basically what your character resorts to when he doesn't deal with his Issue so well. So if your Issue is Anger Management, maybe you shout and scream and throw things when you lose control of yourself.
  • Impulses are important because way scenes are resolved has changed. Now players are supposed to decide whether a scene is a Plot Scene or a Character Scene when they call for them. This is important because you are explicitly risking your Impulses getting out of control in a Character scene, which makes your life very difficult. Plot Scenes are more about advancing something outside the character; finding an answer to a question, asking someone to get on side with your plan, looking for a clue etc. 
  • Conflict resolution no longer includes narrative control over the scene as part of the stakes. Instead, whether or not the GM draws the highest card determines whether there are additional complications from the conflict. The game explicitly says that the players never lose control of their own characters; the draw says how the scene proceeds, but then the group plays it out instead of having the victorious narrator describe things. 
There is also very good advice about designing a Series collectively although I'm not sure that I would ever default to that, as opposed to bringing a pitch to the table. The GM needs to have a little more investment in the game than the rest of the players, I think, and being able to bring at least a starting point is important. GMs that try to please everyone else risk not pleasing themselves at all, and an unhappy GM is an excellent recipe for a failed game.

So far, we're enjoying the game (although some of our expectations have been adjusted a little to fit the new rules). Fans of earlier editions are sure to love this one too. If you've never tried PTA and you like drama-centric games, check it out - it's the bee's knees. I understand that print copies of the Kickstarter pledges went out recently, so it may be that PDFs and print copies will be available to the general public soon. When they are, you can buy it here

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