KapCon Round 1 – Precinct ’77

Warning Label:I’m reviewing the KapCon games I played in some detail. There will be spoilers that make it impossible to play the game, and I will be naming names of people I played with and things I both liked and disliked. If you think you’ll be offended, I suggest you stop reading now and go hug a Koala.

I signed up to Precinct ’77 – Battle Royale (S02E12) because last year’s Precinct ’77 game got good buzz, and I enjoyed the setting stuff in the Mini-6 book when I read it at the time it came out. I had in mind some kind of pretty light-hearted action-comedy-investigation, a Magnum PI or a Remington Steele; maybe even dialled up a little higher to an A-Team. 6 seconds into reading my character sheet Sledgehammer seemed like a perfect fit.

60 seconds into my character sheet I realized I was onto page 4 or so of text, with a pre-configured character list out of a Russian novel. Well, I thought, it was billed as episode 12 of the second season – a bit of prehistory wasn’t unreasonable. I tried to get to grips with the names, but I failed miserably as the game got under way…

Murder, is there anything worse? A body washed up against a pier, pulled out by some wharfies. a young Asian woman murdered and dumped like so much garbage. Sledgehammer never had it so tough, by which I mean, he never really ever had a stone cold killing. I’m not really sure Magnum PI did either and I know Remington Steele didn’t, which means that I’m on the periphery of something a little darker and more serious than I’d thought. My partner, Lucy as Detective Bayder, shows the “T” for time-out and mouths that she has no concept of what to do or even what the possibilities are. Well, The Wire it ain’t, but this is a crime scene, so I begin investigating it

“Mash, this is not a police procedural.”

Oh.

But, as Dale helpfully points out, this is the guy writing his masters thesis on detective fiction. I dream about the stuff, and so this was basically just like chucking out some catnip. I snapped the hell out of it and Marcus cut across to Mr Elvy and Ms Harper. In this game Dale’s a big black guy and Ruth’s two days from retirement.

Dale is what you’d call a veteran, and he knows the real genre tropes. He screams out in his super-tooled auto and gets the swaggering underway, until it’s time to go back to the docks. With investigation ruled out by the GM as unnecessary, and Dale’s blackalicious lead to follow, I make my move and canvas the area for witnesses using a polaroid of the dead woman.

Oh.

Marcus takes some pity on me because clearly I haven’t got a clue, and throws me a bone, someone to haul in for questioning and at least get the fuck out of the area where crime could legitimately be investigated.

Meanwhile, Ruth’s nearly ex-detective goes for a donut.

Oh.

If you can’t spot the problem by now, then turn to the end of the post, check the solution and come back. I’ll wait.

It was, I think, the classic case of the group just not getting it (aside from Dale), and the GM not having a railroad tucked away in his back pocket to make sure that didn’t matter. About 2 hours into the game the wheels finally just fell off entirely with Marcus’ energy giving out and Dale heroically ploughing on by himself toward getting the bad guy.

I’m still not too sure I know who was killed or why. Not in any way that means a damned thing anyway.

The obvious thing is then – what about next time? Marcus is bound to run one of these things again – I can definitely see that in the right group this setup would be just bitchin’. And man, I’d love to be in that group.

From the game-writing perspective, it’s hard not to advise against a full-mechanics sheet plus 3 pages of text. While it gives that in media res feeling, it also feels more like a limitation than an empowerment. Hard-sell a situation in progress in the player brief, and leave them to make up the minor NPCs that are going to be snitches and tough guy contacts.

From the perspective of sitting at the table, I almost wonder whether we spent too much time trying to work around limitations of genre understanding. When I was on the investigative track the options were to try and get it sorted from within the fiction – basically what Dale was doing, or to make a player-level signal outside of the fiction – basically what Marcus did. Once you’re outside of the fiction, while it’s like giving a line reading to an actor, you might as well go whole-hog on that. I can see though, some potential problems with that as a general position, because it feels like deprotagonisation. I’d have happily gone where Marcus and Dale pointed me because I trust them, but that is not the general case.

The third way is to roll with the missed genre cues and change-up. This also has big problems, because it changes the fundamental nature of the game, and so is incredibly difficult to do on the fly.

One way or another, I felt like this game really didn’t work for anyone at the table, which is a difficult way to start off the con.

And for everyone scrolling down to the bottom to get the answer… the problem is everyone was on a different page, and most of those different pages weren’t page 1 of something.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Actual Play, The Mystery-Investigation Complex and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to KapCon Round 1 – Precinct ’77

  1. When I played Precinct 77 at Omega RPing Weekend last year, it was a lot of fun. We had Ants and Jon (and possibly Norm) and they all had high energy. I do recall a similar sense of being lost at the start of the game though, with things being so open and a lot of information on hand.

    • demonground says:

      Oh man… the contrast. My second run of the game, with Jon, Scott, Mike and Liam was totally different. More high energy, crazy chases, catchlines that saw a dozen or more enteries go into the Player Noms box, and a level of silliness that had the players talking about still that evening.

      It just went to reinforce my opinion that con games are more about WHO is at the table than WHAT.

      Happy to talk more at lenght about this…

      • mashugenah says:

        That’s a big spoiler for my discussion of both POTF and AWOP!

      • I know I have discussed with Dale the opinion of “con games are more about WHO is at the table than WHAT” before. It is something that I do not believe in as strongly as Dale from my experiences, and I think we chalked it up to the way my scenarios are written. Yes, players will always have a huge impact on the success of a con game, but there are ways of dealing with uneveness in players.

        I thought some more on this last night after the blurb/genre discussion, I had with you and Dale. I am wondering if this downside is emphasised if your game tries to appeal more broadly through blurbs and genre. This may also be a factor of differentiation as I tend to go something a little more focussed. That’s not to say I don’t try and maintain some breadth of appeal too, just that I don’t value it as much as Dale seems too.

      • Anonymous says:

        I have always come at this from a view that all players can be activated – indeed I wrote thousands of words on the subject in EPOCH. Part of the reason I designed EPOCH in the way that it is, was to try and tap into something more fundamental the regular RPG engagement, a creative experience, where the player had more control and buy-in then being assigned to read a character sheet, or getting a twenty minute lecture on the game setting/genre. Indie games use this stuff a lot, but EPOCH also tries to facilitate this through a trad GM/player relationship and a structured opening, intended to allow all the players to share and build off one another’s ideas.

        In my experience of running EPOCH at ‘cons this has been more successful then my previous efforts which involved character sheets, and trying to work with players ‘across the table’ to secure buy-in, enthusiasim and energy. However, it’s not a magical panacea that wroks for every player – there is no game I’ve experienced which can guarantee player buy in, I just think EPOCH comes closer than most (plus the nice thing about EPOCH is that the collective group is the adjudicator of the success of character interest, not just the GM).

        I’ve always been skeptical of Luke’s (described) methods because that requires a huge amount of enthusiasm and energy from the GM to almost shock and awe players. I’ve done that myself, but I don’t think it’s reliably replicable, so I moved on.

        As for Precinct ’77, as I said on my blog, i think starting in the middle of the action would have forced a degree of responsiveness from the players, and helped put everyone ‘on the same page’ right away with what kind of a game Marcus was expecting, and hopefully building on each others descriptions. I did feel that it was a bit of a mash up (pardon the pun) as Marcus seemed to take the investigative elements more seriously than many genre movies/shows do. Both crime scenes should have immediately pointed to subsequent action scenes, without much hard thought required in my view. Rinse and repeat. Watching Lethal Weapon the other day I was struck by how there are just a series of planned action sequences which the characters either discover via entirely obvious clues, or simply happen regardless.

        Finally, as I said on my blog, player numbers are a factor. You might get 1-2 players who simply don’t dig your game at Kapcon in any given round. The questiuon is whether thats 30% of your players or 50%. In the case of the latter, expect it to have a significant impact on the total energy of the game.

      • Cool. I dig what you are doing and think EPOCH is successful in that. I also agree that players getting on the same page is a factor in the success of any Con game, just not one that can’t be managed to reduce risk of negative impact.

        “I’ve always been skeptical of Luke’s (described) methods because that requires a huge amount of enthusiasm and energy from the GM to almost shock and awe players. I’ve done that myself, but I don’t think it’s reliably replicable, so I moved on.”

        TBH I am not sure it requires a huge amount of enthusiasm and energy from the GM, unless you include the prep where I personally think the key to my games at least lies.

        But I agree that I don’t think what I do is reliably replicable by other GMs, without similar experience, skills, knowledge to me etc. I don’t even know what I would do if I tried to EPOCHise it πŸ™‚ Then again, and said without any acrimony, I don’t think you have played in any Con games I have written myself (same goes for Mash and Marcus) so that makes discussion a little difficult too πŸ˜‰ (I am kind of dreading the day it happens now :D)

      • Anonymous says:

        “Then again, and said without any acrimony, I don’t think you have played in any Con games I have written myself ”

        True enough, my comments about what you did were based on our previous conversations of yesteryear. I have no interest in Anime and its affiliates, and therefore didn’t think I’d be doing you any favours playing it anything related to that. But, if you run anything else I’ll make it a priority to play ; ) I would have played Rejectamenta despite my dislike of world of darkness, and hope you’ll offer it at Day of Games or Confusion.

      • mashugenah says:

        Well, cf yesterday’s epic commentary – Luke didn’t run Anime this year, it was high fantasy! πŸ˜‰

      • Anime is a medium not a genre. As such, certain sensibilities found in anime can be applied to any genre (and are IMO well suited to a Con environment), much like comic books. Case in point: other than mecha, there was nothing identifiable in Arnimor that made it indistguishable from BSG or any space based military drama out there. Same goes for To Kill a Lie. But this is probably another post πŸ™‚

      • Cool. I have no issue regarding people having differences in tastes regarding content, though I note that in previous years I have also run post apocalyptic, wuxia and traditional fantasy, amongst others. Now I come to think of it, you did play in that trial for WFRP3e I ran πŸ˜€

        Oddly enough, Rejectamenta may not be all that respresentative of my style (or that successful). :/ πŸ˜€

      • Cool. I have no issue regarding people having differences in tastes regarding content, though I note that in previous years I have also run post apocalyptic, wuxia and traditional fantasy, amongst others. Now I come to think of it, you did play in that trial for WFRP3e I ran πŸ˜€

        Oddly enough, Rejectamenta may not be all that respresentative of my style (or that successful). :/ πŸ˜€

      • demonground says:

        You know I actually avoid the games you run at cons. Not because I’m not interested in them (well, often you do run Anime style games that don’t appeal to me), but more because I’m looking for one type of experience as a player at a con. The first time I realised this was in Dale’s Cthulhu game in the early 2000s (um, the one with Tony Powers I think), and is why I usually go for horror or… well horror only really πŸ˜›

        Nothing personal, hell I’m hanging out for the next regular campaign you arrange at your place (that you think I’d enjoy – I have my theories on Luke’s game selection that I’ll explain if you ever want to hear them :P).

      • No offence taken. We all seek what we want from Kapcon.

        I think that does go toward my comment made elsewhere that Kapcon is fragmented more these days by the differences between its old guard than any general movement in game styles such as LARPs or GoD πŸ™‚

      • demonground says:

        I don’t disagree with you on the majority of your comments, but I do rally at this –

        I did feel that it was a bit of a mash up (pardon the pun) as Marcus seemed to take the investigative elements more seriously than many genre movies/shows do.

        Precinct ’77 is a 70s cop show game. Watching shows like Starsky and Hutch, Cagney and Lacey or even CHiPs, and you will see that each episode has an investigative core that is more than just shooting guns and fast cars. Yep, there is an element of that, and often the big bangs overshadow the actual ‘mystery’, but it is there (often right in your face). Hell even the A-team has it.

        As for where or how the clues are found, well they are floating. You talk to the local hood – he’ll tell you one part of the story, while your regular snitch will tell you another. Together you should get the entire clue, which in turn leads you to the next issue. In the end, however, it is down to the detectives to do the feet work to gather all this and make it stick.

        You know πŸ˜› I could do an essay on the core structure of 70s shows and why modern day imitators fail.

        To be honest, the biggest mistake I made was giving Lucy the Bayder character. Patrick in that story has a real strong personal connection to the plot, and that never came out.

      • mashugenah says:

        Hmm… I’m a little unsure whether I really want to wade into this, but since this is right in my wheelhouse…

        Precinct ’77 is a 70s cop show game.

        If you’re going to allow an investigative approach, then you need to plant clues in the investigative spaces. You need to have some forward momentum from
        * A cop examining the body
        * An examination of the scene where the body was found
        * Information from the perfectly routine canvasing

        I don’t feel these things were really that strong in your game: we had a body that was a dead end. (haha)

        As for where or how the clues are found, well they are floating.

        I hate to say it, but this was also not ideally done in terms of an investigative process. The people we questioned were all obstructive and happy to stonewall us for various reasons. The action really only got rolling when you kidnapped whatsherface from the diner, which is a bit ex machina rather than us chasing down leads. I’m an expert in investigative narratives and investigative games, and I really don’t feel like we had enough information to gather everything up and make a case.

        You know πŸ˜› I could do an essay on the core structure of 70s shows and why modern day imitators fail.

        I think you should. I would be extremely interested in getting your detailed perspective on that topic.

      • Anonymous says:

        Ah, well – see I never much respected the 70’s TV show for their investigative components, I didn’t think that was ‘what it was about’ rather it seemed the shallow plot was just an excuse for some implusible plan, over-the-top drama, law breaking and getting the bad guy – that’s what I thought those shows were about.

        Now, when I look at your game blurb, it seemed to me that this was what you were offering:

        “Precinct ’77 returns for a second session of guns, gals and crime in Empire City. In this episode, Crane returns from suspension, Wilks edges ever closer to retirement, while James’ past in the ghetto comes back to haunt him. The trio also becomes a foursome, as they are joined by the rookie Bayder, an up and coming flatfoot with a thing or two to prove to the team. And, hell, we ain’t even got to the plot of the episode yet!”

        What is Precinct 77?

        Big collars, bitchin’ cars, side burns, Fog Hat. Yeah, you remember the β€˜70’s. Or at least you’ve heard of it. Welcome to Empire City, just upstate from Springfield. The heroes are the detectives of Precinct 77. This isn’t about procedural law. This is about kicking down doors, grabbing the punk by the neck and getting the information you need. Here in the cinematic land of 1977 men are men, women are women, the spirit of justice trumps the letter of the law, and political correctness only means that you just voted the bum out of office. The only rule to remember is the good guys never shoot first.”

        System: Mini Six
        System Knowledge: Not Needed
        Number of Players: 4
        Genre: Big collars, bitchin’ cars, side burns i.e. the 70s
        Genre Knowledge: Not Needed
        Role-playing Knowledge: Not Required
        Style: Humourous
        Age / Maturity: Roleplaying would be cool!
        Classification: PG
        Scored: Y

        The only part of the blurb that seems to imply any investigative component is bolded, and that sure wasn’t the sentence that I signed up for. Your post seems to imply that each element – witness or suspect only gives you half a clue (like a 50% off gumshoe game) and that was kind of how it seemed in play, which did seem a little frustrating. We grabbed a punk by the neck and still didn’t get the information we needed.

      • mashugenah says:

        I’d prefer to refocus the discussion in a way, back to where I began with my Gametime posts. That is – we focus almost exclusively on what the GM can do, as exemplified and typified by your little discussion with Dale below. Well, that’s all great – what we don’t talk about much is what another player can do from within the game, and that’s where I’d like to see this go. It seems like there is still a huge priveledging of the GM’s effort and even the most active players are regarded here as a bonus, and that’s not right. It’s a collaborative process, and the players can have as much or more impact as the GM.

        It’s all still “in production”, but James Plunket is going to be singled out here as a player who did a lot of heavy lifting in the three games we played together, and I will unfortunately be contrasting with some players who clearly didn’t get it, and trying to figure out what we can do for them.

        (And as an aside, I’d have to agree with Luke that games can and should be written in a way that player engagement doesn’t matter. e.g. The Salt Bond ran to time and covered all the plot with only one awake player at the table. That’s my personal standard at a con now.)

      • James is an awesome roleplayer. πŸ™‚

      • demonground says:

        Agreed! One of the best!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s