Saturday, May 2, 2015

Porting PTA card-based conflict resolution into Shock

Two days ago we (Barbara and I) played Joshua Newman's Shock with a bunch of eight-graders. This was meant as an (unofficial) hands-on workshop capping their school curriculum in SF literature: the setup phase of the game excels at demonstrating a framing structure and work-flow a SF author could plausibly go through in creating the premise for a story, and wished that the kids try it firsthand.
But - unlike some other times Barbara has used the game's setup phase in classwork - we also wished to go through the next step: authoring a thematically significant story. This required going through a full run of the game, with young and not very experienced players (they had role-played before, but only once or twice on average) and within a limited time-frame: the event was hosted in a public library, and we knew we had exactly three hours since the meet-up to closing time. We decided we need to take a few steps in order to simplify and speed up gameplay.

One thing we did was jettison most of the (dice-based) conflict resolution mechanics in Shock and replace them with a hack of Matt Wilson's Primetime Adventures. By doing so we managed to:
  1. Get rid of Praxis Scales completely. This saved us some time by cutting one (potentially time-consuming) step from the setup phase. In our experience, discussions about which Praxes to use for a story can get into very abstract territory, and this particular step - while interesting per se - is not as intimately related to the inner workings of social science fiction fiction as the other ones.
  2. Simplify Intents in conflicts. With this hack, each conflict only has one Intent at stake, the Protagonist's, with the Antagonist's implied intent being to make them fail. While having to declare opposing but not mutually exclusive Intents is a very interesting feature of Shock for more experienced players, that's one more (quite complex) set of concepts we didn't have to explain. Only having one explicit Intent also means each conflict took half as much time to set up.
  3. Reduce handling time thanks to simpler maths.
  4. Avoid the potential distraction of having unusually-shaped dice around (playing cards are instead a common household item to most Italian schoolchildren).
We didn't make any change to Shock *Tagonist sheets, though, except for ignoring Praxis Scales entirely. Here's the procedure we used, step by step (I'm assuming knowledge of both Shock and PTA):
  1. After formulating their Intent/goal for the conflict (with a little bit of negotiation involved sometimes, or rather a "free-and-clear" phase) the Protagonist receives as many cards as they have Features, face down. Thus, effectively, three cards to begin with, plus one per conflict they previously lost.
  2. The Antagonist draws 3-6 cards, face down: one per credit they choose to invest (13 credits total for a regular-length game, as usual with Shock, though we had to hack it to only 9 credits in order to make our game shorter).
  3. Each audience member receives one face-down card (as per PTA audience participation optional rules).
  4. Before looking at the cards, each audience member has to state whether they'll play their own card in support of Protagonist or Antagonist (again, as per PTA audience participation rules).
  5. Now, *Tagonists turn their cards face-up. As per regular PTA rules, the side with the more red cards is the winner. Audience members don't reveal their cards yet.
  6. The Protagonist can now choose whether to involve their Links in the conflict. Each Link involved grants them an extra card, played face up. The player can draw for one Link before deciding whether to also involve the other one.
  7. Now, audience members reveal their cards at last. Audience members whose card is red affect the outcome as previously declared, but - as per Shock conflict rules - they first have to pick one Minutia and say how it affects the unfolding conflict (should they prefer not to do so, their card doesn't count).
  8. As per regular PTA rules, the player holding the highest individual card wraps up the conflict by describing how the Protagonist achieves - or fails to achieve - their intent.
  9. If any Links where involved, this same player (the narrator holding the highest card) decides whether these Links are destroyed or permanently changed during the conflict, and how. The Protagonist player has last say in how exactly they'll rewrite their own Link(s), but they can't ignore events of the conflict as narrated.
  10. Finally, as in regular Shock, a losing Protagonist acquires an additional Feature for later conflicts.
The abridged game did in fact reach its end within the allotted time-frame, with all Protagonists somehow meeting their Terminus, and to the apparent satisfaction of everyone involved.