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Choke Hazard [Dec. 4th, 2010|01:24 am]
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Sylvester Stallone
Dennis Hopper
Danny Glover
Sigorney Weaver

Choke Hazard

Tonight we playtested Action City! for GameChef 2010. Action City! is a game of 80s action movies. There's no GM as such, but one player takes the role of The Opposition, in our case, Ivan V (Hopper) the nefarious Russian arms smuggler, his Ivan Drago-like muscle Rasputin and his functionary. The other players take the roles of the Hero and his friends: Newark's favourite son, the boxer Jim Falcon (Stallone); his ex-KGB trainer, Kitty Fox (Weaver); and his new friend Leroy Turner, Mayor of Newark (Glover).

The game uses a structure of three acts, each of which has a number of personal and cut scenes and ended in a set piece. We played through an entire movie in 3h 15min; including a fair number of rules discussions.

(In brackets after each scene is the character of the player who framed the scene and the type of scene it was.)

Act I
  • Scene 1 (Falcon, sub-plot): Falcon is training with Kitty at MacKenzies' gym when Ivan bursts in and throws them out. He's bought out MacKenzie (an NPC). Leroy convinces Ivan to have Falcon fight Rasputin for the title with the promise of kickbacks (Falcon's sub-plot, one box complete)
  • Scene 2 (Leroy, hang-up): Leroy (a crocked politician that's trying to turn himself around) tries to pull out of the deal with Ivan. (Ivan: "Ares you getting the feet that are cold?) He sees off Ivan's threats and convinces him that it should be a fair fight.
  • Scene 3 (Kitty, hang-up): Kitty and Falcon get jumped by Ivan's goons. Kitty beats them on her own (she's tired of playing second fiddle).
  • Scene 4 (Opposition, cut-scene): ? [There were several occassions in which we realised at some point in the scene that it wouldn't work well and pulled back to redo the scene. I suspect there was no cut-scene here.
  • Scene 5 (Opposition, set-piece): Falcon, Leroy and Kitty discover that Ivan is using the warehouse to store weapons. They escape Ivan's goons in a car chase, but photos come to light of the three shooting at their pursuers. The scene does not end with an explosion.

Act II
  • Scene 1 (Opposition, cut-scene): Ivan visits Kitty's apartment; a prior relationship between the two is established.
  • Scene 2 (Leroy, hang-up): Leroy convinces the crocked police chief to raid Ivan's warehouse.
  • Scene 3 (Falcon, sub-plot): Falcon and Kitty find evidence of Rasputin's steroid use, but fail to convince the FBI to take action (and fails to tick off an sub-plot arc box).
  • Scene 4 (Opposition, cut-scene): Ivan discusses his arms smuggling plans with his men. It's all going to go down at the big fight.
  • Scene 5 (Opposition, set-piece): Falcon and Kitty are training at another warehouse when Ivan's goons burst through the roof. Falcon and Kitty split up to take down the goons, but Kitty betrays Falcon. Leroy tips over some boxes and he and Falcon escape. The scene does not end with an explosion.

  • Scene 1 & 2 (Leroy & Falcon, sub-plot): In two inter-cut montage scenes, Leroy cleans up City Hall and Falcon prepares for the big fight against Rasputin (Leroy completes his arc and falcon adds his second tick to his arc).
  • Scene 3 (Kitty, hang-up): In Ivan's apartment, while Ivan watches, Kitty appears and chokes Rasputin with a garrote, taking his place as Ivan's muscle (and completing her sub-plot arc).
  • Scene 4 (Opposition, set-piece): In the climactic scene on a cruise ship in Newark harbour, Falcon appears in the ring to fight Rasputin only to find that he will be fighting Kitty instead! She fights dirty, KGB-style, and appears to have the upper hand, but is then knocked out by Falcon. Falcon and Leroy chase Ivan up the arena stairs to his helicopter and attempt to pull him off as it takes off, but Falcon's grip slips before Ivan's and the Russian escapes. The scene does not end with an explosion.

Denouement: Leroy, the election winner, awards Falcon, the title winner, the keys to the city. Falcon leads the crowd in a chant of "New-ark, New-ark" ("Ew-ig, Ew-ig") raises Leroys hand with his own and yells "Two Winners! Two Winners!"
Credits roll.

On reflection, our characters were a bit ill-suited to the genre (they all had a dark 90s edge) and our sub-plots were too externally focused and in Falcon's case, too connected to the main plot. Falcon would have been better with more Rambo and less Rocky.

A fun game which I'd certainly play again.

Playtest Notes

These are for Mike, really.
  • The game doesn't really tell you how to start playing. We led with a Hero sub-plot scene which ended up establishing all of the characters, but the Opposition whould perhaps get a free cut-scene to set up the bad guys and their plot right off the bat.
  • It wasn't entirely clear how to resolve conflicts in personal scenes focused on hang-ups.
  • Can the Opposition use the Arsenal? We said no. Is the Arsenal used after the Oppositions roll is known? We said yes. There should be an explicit note that the narration should include colour about the Arsenal.
  • "Bonus Dice" is a bad term for a mechanic that doesn't involve dice at all.
  • The game is begging for a special Montage scene.
  • The first tiebreaker going to the smallest dice pool has some odd effects, especially is the difficulty is low, the Opposition will win ties, so it's harder than it seems, and vice versa.
  • A final text would benefit from big lists of example edges, hang-ups and sub-plots.
  • The time breakdown was as follows: Chargen, 30m; Act I, 1h 30m; Act II, 45min; Act III, 30min. The first act involved lots of rules discussion, the second went quite smoothly, and by the third we kinda knew where it was going and didn't have any decent personal scenes to set (plus the game needs montages! 20min of the last act was the final set-piece and Denoument.

What have I forgotten, guys?

[User Picture]From: hafwit
2010-12-04 09:56 am (UTC)
Thank you very much for this! I love hearing about new game, of course. Besides I'll have to do something like this pretty soon myself.

It sounds pretty structured. Did that feel restrictive/limiting?

(Maybe it's the characters, but I'm strangely reminded of the arcade game Final Fight :-D)

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[User Picture]From: anarchangel23
2010-12-04 06:07 pm (UTC)
There is a common view of story/"indie"/hippie games as very loosey-goosey, make it up as you go along, "just tell a story, man", but some of the best are in fact very structured, like this. I personally finds that helps a lot, as pure openness is a bit too vague for me. Structure breeds creativity as they say. So yes, it is restrictive/limiting, but not in a bad way. There were a couple of times where we wanted to play a scene that ended without conflict (the rules don't allow that) and it caused some consternation, but I think we worked it out fine in each case, and the game was certainly tighter for it.

The structure is: three acts; each act ends with a setpiece (big loud action sequence) and has up to one personal scene per hero/friend, plus the Opposition can spend currency to have cut-scenes which elaborate the badguy's play. The personal scenes involve subplots (each player has one) and hang-ups (each player has one). That's pretty much the structure. So it gives the broad framework of a movie, but doesn't really restrict the content of the scenes very much.

Jim Falcon was a boxer (his edge, gives bonus dice when applicable) with a dead family (his hang-up) trying to get one last shot at the title (his sub-plot).
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[User Picture]From: Mike Olson
2010-12-05 04:50 am (UTC)


Good stuff -- thanks for playtesting! It certainly has some rough edges, but that's partially (I'd like to think) because of the short production time and absolute dearth of playtesting before submitting it. (I still haven't played it myself.)

Great suggestion re: including a capital-M Montage scene. Along with that, I'd specify that the scene be accompanied by Joe Esposito's "You're The Best Around." When the song's over, so is the scene. There's gotta be some neat mechano-narrative thing that can be done with that.

Can I ask who the other playtesters were? Anyone I know?
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[User Picture]From: anarchangel23
2010-12-05 06:03 pm (UTC)

Re: Thanks!

Esposito: A damn fine idea, sir!

Players: Beau, John and Julie. I don't think you know any of them, although Beau has attended a couple of Strategicons.

The rough edges are mostly that certain types of scene need pretty specific instructions about how the narration works. Chargen could probably use more specific guidance on how to get characters that will work well with the system. (I think this is pretty much the same feedback as the San Diego crowd gave, but I haven't looked at that thread since we played.) Perhaps we can talk about it at OrcCon? I'm thinking of running it there.

I did post a link on the Gamechef thread, but it's still awaiting moderation. :/ As is my membership to the rpg-San Diego gamers board.
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[User Picture]From: Mike Olson
2010-12-05 06:22 pm (UTC)

Re: Thanks!

Yeah, I know there's quite a bit more that could be done there to make things easier on players. Maybe the Hero and Friends could be generated/inspired the same way the Badguy is. If you're going to run it at OrcCon (!), I'll definitely put more thought into it. Part of the problem is that, in general, it's not actually the kind of game I usually play, so while I have a vague sense of its deficiencies, I don't recognize them instinctively enough to know what to do about them. (In fact, I don't think I'd be very good at it, myself -- I'd probably freeze like a deer in the headlights every time it's my turn to set a scene.)

Anyway -- I do want to make it possible for you to run it at OrcCon (it seems like it might be a good after-hours or BarCon-type game), message me on Facebook or something if you want to talk about how to make it better.

BTW, I approved your RPG-SanDiego.org membership, so... go to it.
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[User Picture]From: anarchangel23
2010-12-05 06:26 pm (UTC)

Re: Thanks!

Lots of things to say here. I'll get back to you in a couple of weeks when my semester is over!
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From: (Anonymous)
2010-12-06 09:21 pm (UTC)
Nice re-cap Hamish!

I need to go over my notes again and write up a more thought-out response, but you hit the major points regarding mechanics and questions.

My overall impressions of the game was that it was a lot of fun, and the tone and setting really helped the group be off-the-wall and creative. I also think it could benefit from another few pages of rules and some more mechanics (montages, team-up moves, mcguffins, etc.)

It was a good session that got our creative juices flowing in both for the narrative and for game-writing.

Also, how does one say, "The last words, they has not yets been spoken by Ivan V!"
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[User Picture]From: anarchangel23
2010-12-07 05:07 am (UTC)
"Mauuuugh mmmugh!"
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