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Champion's Now Beta v0.5 Playtest, Seattle -- Emergent Plot?

Development, heroes, villains, and previous session notes for this game can be found at http://adeptplay.com/comment/1682#

Introduction

Our final session, after Breakthrough and his daughter encountered Arachnon and his daughter at the comic convention, contained a GMing decision I want to ask about.

Early in 2019, the Adept play forum had a discussion of the GM technique of creating events wherever the players go vs. having situation develop based on prep. At this writing I can't recall the term for the wherever-you-go-there-you-find-it approach, but I hope what I've said here is specific enough.

I will describe that game situation and the decision I made. I'm wondering where it falls in the range between those two approaches.

Situation and Play

AJ, Breakthrough, is now at the comic convention with his daughter (DNPC) Ellie and her friend, Angel, DNPC of the villain Arachnon. Breatkthrough and Arachnon, in their secret IDs, did not recognize each other. When an alien space craft crashlands a mile south of the convention, Arachnon gets a message and asks AJ to watch both the kids while he runs off to something urgent. The characters are ignorant but the players all know Arachnon is running off to get involved with the space craft.

Meanwhile the other player heroes, Radioshack and Gray Wraith are in the villain base they cleaned out the night before. They and the representatives of the Technology Oversight Security Service are escorting the escaped alien Vell Princess to see if she can use the dimensional tap power generator of the based to signal her fleet to come rescue her.

At this point, the spaceship of a Von Hunter slams into the cieling of the base and the heros must fight off the attempt to capture the Princess. This is of course the same incident Breatkthrough witness through the conventions window and the same event Arachnon was called away to support his team with. (they've got a temporary alliance with the Von).

Unknown to the players, Arachnon and Spinmeister are trying to sneak into the base during the alien fight in order to trigger the generator to self-destruct and wipe out evidence and research.

This is all developed from prepped material and what happened in the previous session.

Two of the players are involved in a phase by phase battle over the base, Breakthrough's player has decided his character is going to stolidly keep the kids safe. So, while two players are in what looks to be an hour of fighting in real time, I was anxious about Breakthrough's not having anything to do.

At this point, I decided to pull out something that wasn't originaly planned. One of Radioshack's hunteds was a kind of cyber-luddite group opposed to Amazon and it's secret villain organization APEX, which includes Arachnon and other villains mentioned in earlier posts. The Luddites had never made an appearance and had no prepped plans, but I decided to bring them in.

They show up in cosplay disguise and attempt to kidnap Arachnon's daughter -- only they make a mistake and grab Ellie instead. They're nonsuper, so Breakthrough takes them on and drives them off before they can grab anyone. 

Meanwhile the other two players have almost defeated the invading Hunters and their robots.

During Breakthrough's fight with  the luddites, Breakthrough puts together that Angel is Arachnon's daughter and, thus, the guy who ran off is a villain. When Breakthrough's battle is done, he borrows Angel's phone and calls Arachnon to tell him his daughter was in danger. Arachnon acts on his psychological limitation about his daughter and aborts what he's doing, saying he will return and pick up Angel.

I used an audience only cutaway technique that I've used a couple times before to show off stage activity. Eg "We see a cutaway panel where Arachnon is tunneling under the city towards the generator room of the base. Spinmeister is following him through the tunnel, carrying detonators, when Arachnon gets the special ring tone for his daughter, speaks with Breakthrough, and turns back, much to Spinmeister's annoyance. They won't be able to trigger the base self-destruct now."

This was the first time the players learned someone was trying to backdoor the base. While no one commented on it, I felt that letting Breakthrough know his actions had had major effect on the ongoing plot was valuable.

Breakthrough, AJ, had a nice little father to father scene where he and Arachnon, back in secret ID, tacitly agreed not to fight. Arachnon took Angel home.

The session ended there, with the Von Hunters and the villains driven back. Radioshack tuned the dimensional tap generator to contact the Princess's fleet through hyperspace and signal for rescue. 

Final Observations and Questions

I found the outcome of play was very satisfying and the final mood of the players supports that. But I did throw in some adversity just to give a player something to do. I guess that speaks to my own anxiety wanting to keep all the player's happy. 

After the session, Bill, Breakthrough's player said he was happy with the opportunity to play his character's concerns even if it meant not being involved in a time-consuming fight. He found it rewarding.

I might take Bill's response as a lesson that I don't have to be so worried about that. Breakthrough's decision not to find a way to ditch the kids and join the big battle was a statement of character that Bill enjoyed. I wonder how things would have gone had I not thrown the Luddites at him? It seems that some judicious use of creating conflict where none was planned contributed some great extra spin to the plot.

 

Department: 
Actual Play

Comments

Ron Edwards's picture

You’re jumping right into a current conversation with Manu and me! There are two posts: Star Wars: Dark Times and A few sessions of D&D.

The term is “intuitive continuity,” or rather, let me break it out into this:

Emergent plot

  • Intuitive continuity: tap-dancing or laying track in front of whatever players do so the resulting plot "bends" where you want or decide it should go.
  • Bang-driven: taking action with active agents based on current circumstances, to whatever degree of crisis or revelation or whatever is indicated by using the system.

You’ll find a couple of videos in the Star Wars conversation that go into it pretty thoroughly. I don’t know if you’ve seen Workshop: The plot thickens, my presentation at Lucca last year (or if you want to sit through it), but I’m planning on making a new easy-entry version of it soon.

Anyway, even without wading around in all that, I think I can hit this topic with a ball peen hammer. Specifically: improvisation, or its degree, isn’t the issue. Just because X wasn’t prepped or planned to be in there before play started doesn’t mean that intuitive continuity had to be employed.

To borrow a little from the Workshop, the idea is that intuitive continuity does require improv, but isn’t limited to it or defined by it, and that Bang-driven play does require concrete knowns, but isn’t limited to it or defined by them.

A good example from Manu’s D&D game is very similar to yours. In the midst of a big wallowing intersection of crises and personal goals, some group of nasty people activated a necromantic plague. Their presence in the area had been established in play, and their capacity to do this had been known to him, but thus far in this session they hadn’t shown up. But it struck him at some point that, given what was happening in play, it was quite understandable for them to hit their Go button for the plague.

The key issue is “quite understandable.” I contrast his decision to do this, which in many ways was merely playing those NPCs with the understanding that they were too crazy and mean simply to sit on their hands in the Green Room, with his decision in the Star Wars game to decree that some sensitive had Force-detected our heroes and a cruiser was showing up mainly to light some fire under their butts (“oh no, hurry! Let us flee to the, uh, to the plot!”). The former is working with stuff who now happens to be doing stuff, and the latter is throwing in stuff in order to generate a particular goal/action.

In your game, one nice feature of Champions is that the constellation of supporting cast and enemies is always on tap, especially for Champions Now which doesn’t designate their presence/absence in a session with rolls. So the concept of “stuff who now happens to be doing stuff” is ready-made to drop in there, especially if a perusal of the current Now indicates that this particular entity would understandably (that word again) take action at this point. Another way of looking at it is that all heroes’ DNPCs and Hunted are automatically “prepped,” all the time, with the only limitations being those characters’ current circumstances.

In terms of GM motivation or intention, I’d rather focus on precise actions taken rather than abstractions or internal narratives. In that case, what you did strikes me as sharing or adding spotlight time for a hero, as is only appropriate, and if that means glancing over the Now to see what sorts of things in there might be interested in or activated by what’s going on, why then, that’s what the Now is there for. It really doesn’t matter whether you do this before the start of the session or during its course.

Let me know if that makes sense.

Yes, this makes sense. It clarifies something for me. Having watched The Plot Thickens and read other discussions, I was worried that I was somehow channeling the player choices. But now I realize I had no direction in mind and just, as you say, pulled from what was implied by the existing material to give a player something to respond to.

It seems obvious now, but I see that I was identifying improvisation with track-laying, when it need not be. This is a relief, as some of the greatest moments of our game came from events that were inspired from the instant -- the unfolding wavefront, as you've called it. In fact, as I think back over many games, I think these moments have been the most profound in all the games I remember. They feel real.

Ron Edwards's picture

I have always found that realness to be unique. It's very different, profoundly so, quantum-level, from "improv" as performance art, and it is certainly different from planning the grand saga ... and yet, satisfies what both of those are apparently supposed to provide, as far as role-playing as created fiction is concerned.

The vocabulary remains elusive. Role-playing culture is terribly stuck between "having" a story vs. "winging" a story.

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