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[PTA] Why isn't my game sizzling?


fartiste extraordinaire
Validated User
Four of us started a game of PTA, a first for all of us. The game just isn't bursting with awesome as it's supposed to. Why, o forum, tell me, why? We're having fun, but for me it's not RPG fun, it's more like a bunch of friends sitting down and talking funny crap - and that's not going to hold my interest much longer. (I can do the same thing with the same people and without a ruleset.)

Every single element seems to work right on its own. The GM is coming up with awesome ideas, the players are being constantly creative in all the best ways*, characters are quickly gaining definition and the story is advancing. But something is missing.

* Well TBH my flatmate joined us for one session, was a bit lost (being a complete gaming newbie), contributed little, didn't enjoy it, and probably won't want to play in this particular game again.

After the pilot session, I complained that I felt too little had happened. The GM pointed out that the story had encompassed quite a lot of events given the amount of time we'd spent playing, that in most other games we'd be going through a lot of the boring stuff inbetween the cool scenes and we'd actually take a couple of sessions to experience as much "stuff". And you know what, he was completely right.

But after the second session, I again had that same feeling. I could repeat all the arguments to myself, but I still felt some meatiness was missing there.

I feel the reality of the fiction is constantly loose and up for grabs. We negotiate reality all the time. Again and again we imagine different things without realizing it and then we have to retcon them further down the road. Kind of like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=foTWM_OP4PE (skip forward to 07:50). This happens occasionally in every RPG, but this game is practically made of it. It isn't allowing me to just let go and believe for a couple of hours that the stuff is actually happening, because the fictional reality is so loose all the time.

Normally when I walk out of an RPG session, I have the feeling of having vicariously experienced something, the same feeling you get from reading an engaging novel or watching an engaging movie. With this game, it's more distanced, more like reading a summary. It's like we're playing Human: the Life, and our characters in the imaginary world are playing a "real" RPG, while we in the real world are only making up and playing out the highlights of those sessions.

I really want to love this game. But it's not working out between the two of us yet.

Are we doing something wrong with PTA, or is it supposed to be this way? Is it just not the right kind of game for me?


Registered User
Validated User
I've played 1.9 seasons of PtA (Sadly the last episode of the second season never happened). I've also played a few PtA con games.

Here are my top "Pitfalls of PtA"

Remember that the GM frames ALL scenes. After the player sets the Location, the Focus, and the Agenda the GM narrates the setup for the scene *adding whatever additional details he wants*. This is important because sometimes a player will only have an idea for the general elements of a scene but not a clear idea on the "point" of a scene. The GM should feel free to "spike" these scenes via his framing.


I was GMing a PtA game and a player gave me this:

Location: The city library.
Focus: Plot
Agenda: Violet (the player's character) researching the mysterious blueprints she found in her father's study.

There isn't much opportunity for action there so I said, "Okay, Violet is at the city library going through the stacks comparing the blueprints she found with other municipal documents when suddenly she hears the voice of her fiance on the other side of the shelf talking to another woman."

PtA despite its surface appearance is still a GM heavy game and the GM should be bringing in the adversity when the player's don't bring it themselves.

The next set of pitfalls concern setting Stakes.

Remember that Stakes are always *in-fiction character goals*. NOT player-level fictional agendas. Stakes should not resolve huge chunks of fictions.

Bad Stake: If I win he marries my sister.
Good Stake: If I win I convince him that marrying my sister is a good idea.

The first statement is an outcome of the fiction. The second is character goal and leaves the target character's reaction to being convinced WIDE open. For all we know the character might flee town realizing that he'll never have the love he REALLY wants.

If nothing else NEVER, EVER have Stakes be about "what happens" in a detached manner from PC action.

Ultra-Bad Stakes: If I win, Ninjas Attack!

Remember that the consequences for FAILURE are Never, Ever, pre-narrated. That's what the High Card is FOR. When a character fails to get his stakes the player with the High Card has carte blanche to narrate the consequences of that failure. Pre-narrating failure undercuts the power of the high card and uncertainty factor it brings to the table.

PtA Hard Core: The same is true actually for character success. The High Card player has carte blanche to narrate HOW the character achieves success up to and including methodologies and concessions the "owner" of the PC might not be comfortable with or wasn't expecting. The level to which this can totally overwrite the will the PC's player is customizable per group. The crazy-go-nuts nature of this rule is usually mitigated by making sure the player is clear on HOW his character is trying to achieve the Stakes.

Don't forget the Issues! Remember that the game should always always be circling the character's Issues. If the game has drifted too far away from the character's Issues the GM (and other players) should be pushing things back into focus on those things.

That's my advice.



Stuck on Thangorodrim
Validated User
I recently completed a Pilot + 5 Episodes game of PTA. Our show was called "No Man's Land" and was aiming for a Twin Peaks/Carnevale-ish surreal mystery set in the trenches of WWI.

We ran into a few stumbling blocks, mostly with how we handled conflicts. In the beginning, we pushed too hard for conflict and rushed through scenes without a lot of character play. We had difficulty identifying which scenes demanded conflict, and erred on the side of making every scene have conflict. By the end of the season, we had developed a much better feel for our characters and the scenes/conflicts became more natural and fluid, less contrived.

It wasn't until the end of the season that I developed a real feel for my character. In the last few episodes, I ran into some serious complications on my road to Atonement. I created my character as something of an anti-hero seeking redemption, and the events of the season were compelling him toward a dark fate (think: how did things end up for Agent Cooper?). I discovered that I really didn't want that fate, and my emotional connection to the character kicked in and the ending turned out well (including near-martyrdom).

I can see how PTA might be hard to play immersively...it can be done, IMO, but would require quite a bit of facility with the flow-of-play structure of the game. Keep with it and it probably will get better...

Craig Oxbrow

Ah, y'know. This guy.
Validated User
I really want to love this game. But it's not working out between the two of us yet.

Are we doing something wrong with PTA, or is it supposed to be this way? Is it just not the right kind of game for me?
That could well be it. It does play differently, and feel different, from a more "grounded" setting and system, and it's not to everyone's taste.


New member
You know, I thought about this before I got rid of my copy of PTA, its a wonderful idea, but frankly it feels unnatural.

What do I mean by "unnatural"? In short it feels scripted, enforced, undynamic, unalive. What happens in the game is pretty much set up in terms of flow before the game begins. This means that you know whose character will shine the most in a given episode, whose won't, who will have issues to resolve, etc. It's like watching a play you've never seen, versus playing in a play you've practiced over and over, and over. While still fun in its own way--it isn't the same kind of fun.

This of course wasn't for me. That's what I mean by "unnatural", what happens doesn't flow from the moment, from ongoing events, from ongoing emotional attachments. It may work like a TV show--but not all TV shows manage to pull off the same feel, same success. Everyone has a buy in point--where you find a show clicks with you. This is the moment where you "believe" for the purposes of TV or movies or books that the fiction they present works--that person a love person b, that there is something "there", if that worked the same way for everyone (every watcher, every actor) then every show would be a formulaic hit.

Since they're not there is a level that you must manage to keep a show on the air, this isn't something there is a formula too--you can PLOT a show using the formula, but how successful it is, or isn't, won't be based solely on the formula--but on reaching the total buy in level for enough people.

It's hard to do. Which is why we see so many shows each season that get pulled, so many shows that don't make it a full season, or a return season.

PTA gives you a start--ideas, the formula. But like any game, it still relies on YOUR skills both as players and GM, and the ideas you present, and how you present them to work.

If I had to use an enforced structure as presented by PTA's mechanics, I don't think any games I'd run would work out. It doesn't allow for human failings, human interactions that may lead somewhere different than the "You get to good this session", as easily as other games.

Now don't let it be "all about the mechanics" either--perhaps this game concept "show" just didn't work out. Sometimes that happens with ANY rule set and any premise, based on the people playing it and there interest at the time.

So might be good to try it out again, but it certainly isn't going to solve every problem games can have.

Some of the best games I've run had unexpected turns--people take the spotlight at a time I didn't expect, hadn't planned for--and made for a FAR better game because of that than might have otherwise shaken down.
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The ONLY way to be sure.
Validated User
I'm in a PTA game currently.

The creation process was outstanding. Coming up with our ideas for the series and our character concepts was a hoot.

I'm not so sure there is actually a game in there yet.

We have some fun exchanges and have had a great story going on but it feels more like structured storytime rather than a roleplaying game in the traditional sense. We are having fun, but it is different from the norm. Getting our heads around some of it has been a struggle at times.

One thing I don't like so far is that characters don't seem to have any mechanical means of advancement or development. I find the core mechanic of red/black cards to be unsatisfying (I like dice I guess).

We are continuing the series, but I can tell that I don't want to play this one long-term or as a regular part of our rotation. I like a lot of the setting creation ideas and the episode focus criteria (1, 2, 3) is an interesting concept.
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Mostly simulationist
Validated User
To the OP:

Have you played any other games that have as big a separation between characters and players? I'm asking this because sounds like one immediately occurring potential explanation is that the reason the game isn't holding your interest isn't found in the players or the campaign, but the ruleset itself. In particular, you complained about having the reality of the game events feeling nebulous and not feeling like anything was accomplished... Assuming you've played more traditional games, did they ever give you this kind of feeling?

It may be that Primetime Adventures simply isn't for you. I'm pretty sure it isn't for me, because I'm quite sure I'd have the same kind of reaction to it. (So yes, I do admit my bias, although I wouldn't consider PTA an inherently bad game, just one very ill-suited to people with my kind of taste in gaming.)


New member
The best thing I've found for PTA is having a Producer who will yell at the other participants. If someone has a half-baked idea for a scene, yell "SO WHAT, why should I not change the fucking channel, you Writer's Guild pencilneck?!" or "Sure, sure, just jump right to the third act, why don't ya? You know we're only eight minutes into this thing, right?" and do all the things necessary in order to keep the story alive for the participants.


This space intentionally left blank.
Validated User
It may be that Primetime Adventures simply isn't for you. I'm pretty sure it isn't for me, because I'm quite sure I'd have the same kind of reaction to it. (So yes, I do admit my bias, although I wouldn't consider PTA an inherently bad game, just one very ill-suited to people with my kind of taste in gaming.)
I can get on board with this paragraph.

Our PTA games didn't work out very well because at least half of the group simply didn't enjoy some of the main features of the game. By and large they don't like narrating, don't like playing a character within the game AND playing the meta-game of PTA at the same time (what their character does and says AND scene framing, agenda choosing, distributing fan mail, pitching ideas for conflicts, etc.), and they don't really like the way the card mechanics operate.

I started off feeling very optimistic about our PTA sessions, but as a game it just didn't click with me. And obviously I must have picked up on that problem before I was even consciously aware of it, because when we got closer to the end of the series I realized that I was being very careful to never engage with the system at all if I could help it -- because every time I did have to engage with the system, it wasn't much fun for me.

I don't know if there's a way for me to enjoy PTA, some tips or tricks that would turn it from a game that looks good to me on paper but isn't fun for me to actually play into the game that so many people seem to be raving about. Probably there isn't, and it hardly matters anyway: we gave it more than a fair chance, it flopped badly with good friends who I really love gaming with, so why not just keep playing the games that better suit our tastes instead? There's nothing wrong with PTA or with me or with our group, it's just that it's not a good fit. That happens.

and i can honestly say that i don't feel like we're missing out on anything
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