Choice Based PTA (v0.2.2)

These are an alternate set of conflict-resolution rules for PTA. The intent of these rules are to encourage more choice in the game and to better manage "large" conflicts. Conflicts are resolved by playing cards: high card wins. Extended conflicts have several rounds of card play, with the overall winner determined by the number of victories in each round. Traits and story-tokens add to card values; story-tokens replace both fan mail and budget. These rules refer to the "producer" as the "GM" to make it easier for non-PTA players to understand.

Conflict Basics

These rules use cards to resolve conflicts. The players and the GM each have a hand of cards. The players have 4 cards. The GM has 3 cards, plus an extra card per player; in a 4 player game, the GM has 7 cards. Hand size doesn't change; each time you play a card, you draw to replace it.

Game play in a scene proceeds until you reach some important and uncertain situation that need to be resolved: the conflict for the scene. First, establish the participants in the conflict. Then:

  • Each participant sets his stake (goal) for the conflict.
  • Each participant plays a card. High card wins.
  • Participants narrate the results of the conflict based on the card values.

Stakes: The stakes are what each participant wants to happen if he wins the conflict. For players, the stakes are generally (though not always) the goals of their characters in the conflict. For the GM, the stakes are the opposition to those goals.

Card Play: Cards are played faced down and revealed simultaneously. Cards are compared using standard poker rankings (Ace high). The highest card wins the conflict and that participant gets all of her stakes. The low card loses the conflicts and that participant gets none of his stakes.

Narration: When the conflict is over, narrate the results. Anyone may narrate, so long as the narration is consistent with the winners and losers in the conflict and their original stakes. All the participant should get the option to narrate part of the results, though individual participants may pass. If there is a dispute over what happens or who gets to narrate what, the winner gets to decide both who gets to narrate and in what order.

Traits and Story-Tokens: The players and the GM can spend character traits and story-tokens to get bonuses to card values in conflict (+4 each). Traits and story-tokens are discussed in more detail in the next section.

Extended Conflicts: A "large" conflict involving many participants may be played as an extended conflict. An extended conflict is conducted in several rounds, each a mini-conflict to determine the winners of that round. Being a winner in a round of conflict gives you a victory card. The participant with the most victory cards at the end wins the overall conflict. Extended conflicts are discussed in more detail in a later section.

Resources

The players and the GM have 3 sets of resources:

  • Cards: Card values determine who wins in conflicts.
  • Traits: Can be spent for a +4 bonus in conflicts.
  • Story-Tokens: Can be spent for a +4 bonus, a redraw or narrative control.

Player Starting Resources: Players have a hand of 4 cards. Players start with no story-tokens for new games, though they can gain them quickly. Each player has a protagonists with 3 traits, which can be used for bonuses a limited number of times per session.

GM Starting Resources: The GM has a hand of 3 cards plus an extra card per player. The GM starts with 2 story-tokens per player. This may seem like a lot, the GM is opposing multiple players, and the GM's characters don't have traits. Also, story-tokens spent by the GM go to the players.

Other Starting Resources: The game starts with a pool of 1 story-token per player, which the players can award to each other. Story-tokens spent by the GM go into this pool.

You should have at least two decks of cards, one for the GM and one for the players. For large groups, one deck per player is better. You should use some token (like poker chips) to represent story-tokens and another token (a different colored chip) as marker to indicate that a trait bonus is being used.

Card Play

Each player has a hand with 4 cards. The GM has 3 cards plus 1 per player. In a 4-player game, the GM has 7 cards. Hand-size does not change, so if you play cards, draw up to the correct hand-size afterwards. If your starting hand is terrible, you get one "mulligan", letting you discard and redraw your entire hand. You must accept your second hand, even if it is worse than your first.

When you play a card, you may play by choice or chance:

  • Choice: Pick a card from your hand. Draw to replace the card.
  • Chance: Pick a random card from the top of the deck.

Generally, you play by choice when you are invested in the situation and want a particular result. You can deliberately play for bad results as well as good results. You play by chance when you are not sure what you want to happen and would rather determine the result randomly. Typically, players to play by choice for their protagonists, the GM by choice for "major" characters and the GM by chance for "minor" characters. There are, of course, exceptions.

Cards are compared by value:

  • Number cards are worth face value.
  • Jacks are worth 11.
  • Queens are worth 12.
  • Kings are worth 13.
  • Aces are worth 14.
  • Jokers are worth 15.

You can spend traits and story-tokens to add a +4 bonus to card-values. Ties in numeric values are broken by suit, in order of clubs, spades, hearts and diamonds. You can remember this order by "red beats black, sharp beats round".

You may still end up with an exact tie if both the card value and the suits match. In that rare case, break the tie with random draws from the deck; high card wins. See also the optional "Hand of Fate" rules below.

Traits

Protagonists have character traits. You can spend characters traits to give a +4 trait-bonus to a card-value. To use a trait, it must fit the situation and you must incorporate the trait into your narration. It's best to be open-minded with trait use; if a trait can fit the situation is some way, even tangentially, it can be used.

Characters generally have 3 traits. Each trait can be used at most 3 times in a game session. Furthermore, you cannot use traits more than 6 times total. Put a tally mark next to each trait as it is used.

  • When a given trait has 3 marks next to it, you can no longer use that trait.
  • When there are 6 marks next to all traits, you can no longer use anytrait.

A character doesn't "lose" a trait when it is used up. A character with a "swordsman" trait is still a swordsman even if he uses that trait 3 times; you can use that trait as part of your narration, just not for any more trait bonuses.

You can represent a trait-bonus with a trait-token, which should be different color from the story-tokens. Each player should have one trait-token; you put the trait-token on top of your card when you use a trait-bonus. This will make it easier to tell who is using trait-bonuses in a conflict. The trait-token is just a marker; it isn't used up.

You may spend your trait to aid another protagonist as well as your own, if your trait applies to the situation. Your character can only use one trait-bonus in a round of conflict and only if your character is actually present.

Story-Tokens

Story-tokens combine the function of fan mail and budget from PTA. You can represent story-tokens with poker chips, pennies or some other handy token. In PTA terms, story-tokens in the hands of players function as fan-mail. In the hand of the GM, they function as budget.

Spending Tokens: You can use story-tokens as follows:

  • Give a +4 story-bonus to a card-value.
  • Discard and redraw your entire hand.
  • Bribe for narration to insert something into the story.

Story-Bonus: Each story-token spent in conflict gives a +4 bonus to card values. The players may spend as many tokens as they have, on themselves, other players or even the GM. In a round of conflict, the GM is limited to 1 story-token plus 1 per player participating in the conflict. You character does not need to be present in the scene for you to use a story-token.

Redraws: If you use a story-token to redraw, you must discard your entire hand and redraw that many cards. You cannot keep some cards and discard others. You may only redraw during conflict and you must do so before you choose your card.

Bribing for Narration: You may suggest alternate or additional narration to another player or the GM at any time. If the player or GM likes the idea, he or she can simply accept it. If the other person is on the fence, you can bribe them with a story-token to encourage them to accept the narration. Alternately, if someone is asking you for special narration, you can ask for a story-token as the cost for including that narration.

Bribing for narration can also be used to have your character enter a scene that did not originally include your protagonist; the bribe goes to the player or the GM, depending on whose scene it is.

Story-Token Flow: Players and the GM gain tokens in different ways. Tokens can be in one of four places:

  • In front of the GM for the GM to spend.
  • In front of a player for the player to spend.
  • In the pool (GM tokens go here when spent)
  • In the bank (player tokens go here in extended conflicts).

The Pool: Story-tokens spent by the GM do not go directly to a player. They go to the pool, a pile of tokens in the center of the table from which players can award the tokens to each other. Each player can give out at most one story-token from the pool per scene. Players can give out tokens that were added to the pool during the current scene. Tokens left in the pool are available to be given out in later scenes.

The Bank: Player tokens spent against the GM normally go directly to the GM. In an extended conflict, though, they go into the bank beside the GM. The GM does not get those tokens until after the conflict is over. This way, the players never have their tokens spent against them in the same conflict. The GM takes all the tokens from the bank after the conflict is over.

Player-to-player tokens: Players can use story-tokens on another player, either in a player-versus-player (PVP) conflict or by bribing for narration. If the player spends the token in conflict against another player and wins, the token goes to the pool. If the player spends the token in conflict and loses, the token goes to the GM. If the player is spending the token for a bribe, it goes directly to the player being bribed.

Player-spent tokens and failure: If a players spends a story-token for a bonus but loses the conflict, the token does not go to the opposition. If the player was spending against the GM, the token goes to the pool instead. If the player was spending against another player, the token goes to the GM.

The following diagram illustrates the story-token flow:

story-token-flow.gif

Simple Conflicts

Simple conflicts have the following steps. The people involved in the conflict are called participants. Each conflict should involve at least one player. The GM may represent more than one participant.

  1. Set Stakes: Participants set stakes for the conflict (opposing or compatible).
  2. Play Cards: Participants play cards face down.
  3. Set Bonuses: Use traits and story-tokens to increase card values.
  4. Reveal: Cards are revealed, with higher card values beating lower values.
  5. Narrate: Losers and winners narrate the results of the conflict.

Stakes

Each participant in a conflict decides what he wants to happen if he "wins". This is your stake in the conflict. In a two-person conflict, stakes must be opposing. For example, the robber may want to steal the store's cash and the cops may want to capture the robbers. The winner of the conflict gets his stakes and the loser does not.

Multiple Stakes: More complex conflicts may have multiple sides, some opposing and others compatible. For example, in a three-way conflict involving cops, robbers and the storeowner, the cops want to capture the robbers, the robbers want to get away with the money and the storeowner wants to protect the store and retain its cash. The robbers' stakes oppose the cops and the storeowner, but cops' and storeowner's stakes are compatible. The end result of the conflict depends on who beats whom:

  • If the cops and the storeowner both beat the robbers, the robbers are captured and the store is saved.
  • If the robbers beat both the storeowner and the cops, the robbers get away with the store's cash.
  • If the storeowner beats the robbers but the robbers beat the cops, the store is saved but the robbers get away.
  • If the cops beat the robbers but the robbers beat the storeowner, perhaps the robbers trash the store but are then captured. Alternately, the robbers manage to get the money to their getaway car, which escapes, but the rest of the robbers are captured.

If there are ambiguous conflicting stakes, you may want to clarify what it means when various participants win or lose before you start the conflict. If there are still ambiguities at the end of the conflict, the participant with the highest card value decides how things work out.

Allied Stakes: Some allies may have nearly identical stakes. For example, officer Michelle and officer Bob may both want to see the robbers captured. If Michelle's result is better than Bob's, she has a more positive result than Bob.

  • If the robbers were captured, Michelle would be more responsible for the capture than Bob.
  • If the robbers got away, it would be due more to Bob's mistakes than Michelle's.
  • If Michelle beat the robbers and the robbers beat Bob, perhaps the robbers are captured by Michelle but Bob does not contribute to their capture. Alternately, Michelle could capture one robber but Bob would let another robber get away.

GM Stakes: Player stakes should represent the goals of their protagonist. The GM stakes can be more abstract. If the heroes are trying to disarm a bomb, the GM stakes could be that the bomb explodes. The GM can define any set of stakes necessary to provide opposition to the protagonists' goals. The GM may even have multiple stakes in a conflict to oppose player goals, but never more than the number of players.

Cards, Bonuses and Winning

Participants play cards (by chance or choice) face down. Before the cards are revealed, you may add trait and story-bonuses by setting out the appropriate tokens. Players can only use one trait token but any number of story tokens. The GM may use at most 1 story token plus an extra token per player. Tokens can be added to any card in play.

To add a trait-bonus to another person's card, your character must be in a position to help the other character and your trait must be relevant. You can always use story-tokens on another person's card, even if your character isn't present. Other players may ask you for help, but cannot reveal what their actual card value is.

Once everyone has set down cards and tokens, reveal the cards and determine the winner. The high card wins, with each token adding +4 to a card's value. In a multi-way conflict, the highest card does the best, the lowest card the worst and other card values fall in between.

Narration

Once cards are revealed, you must narrate the results. Each participant gets to narrate, but the loser's narration cannot contradict the winner's victory. You can narrate in any order that feels natural. If you are not sure, narrating from lowest-to-highest tends to work. If there is any dispute, participants with higher cards values may decide whether they narrate before or after participants with lower cards values.

Losers may choose to give up their narration and let the winner narrate the entire results. Alternately, the loser may narrate his own defeat to put a better spin on his failure. This can either be before the winner narrates or in response to the winner's narration. Winners narrate their part of the conflict's outcome, either building on the loser's narration or narrating the entire outcome if the loser chooses not to narrate.

In complex conflicts with multiple opposing and compatible stakes, some participants may be both winners and losers, getting some but not all of their stakes. You should negotiate the exact outcome of how the stakes work out based on the order of victory. This tends to result naturally from higher value cards being able to veto lower value cards.

There are limits to what you can narrate, even for the victors: your narration must be consistent with your stakes. You cannot narrate results that are outside the scope of the current conflict, that are significant additions to your original stakes.

Extended Conflicts

Extended conflicts are reserved for more dramatic and climactic situations. Don't use an extended conflict if there are only two participants in the conflict. Extended conflicts have a victory goal (generally 3 victory cards) and are conducted in multiple rounds.

  1. Set Stakes: As with simple conflicts, but stakes apply to the entire conflict.
    • Victory Goal: Determines the number of victory cards needed (typically 3).
  2. Play Rounds: Conflict is conducted in rounds:
    • Play Cards, Set Bonuses and Reveal as in simple conflicts.
    • Victory Cards: If you are in the winning half of the card values played, keep your card as a victory card.
    • Narrate Round: Narrate the action for the round, low card-value to high.
    • Conflict ends when one participant meets the victory card goal.
  3. Final Victory: Victory is based on card set value.
    • Sets with more cards beat sets with fewer cards.
    • Break ties by comparing highest card-values in sets.
    • Each participant may give one victory card to another participant, thereby changing victory totals.
    • Losers and winners narrate the results of the conflict.

Stakes and Victory Goal

Extended conflict stakes are always multi-way and complex. Stakes are set as for simple conflicts, but apply to the entire conflict. Each round, characters work towards their stake, but they cannot conclusively win or lose their stake until the end of the conflict.

Extended conflicts have a victory goal. The conflict ends after one participant is a winner in that many rounds of conflict. You keep track of the victory goal with victory cards. If a participant is a winner in a round of conflict, she keeps the card as a victory card in a victory pile. When a participant has victory cards equal to the goal, the conflict ends, with the winner determined by whoever has the best set of cards. The victory goal is generally 3 cards, though especially important conflicts may require more.

Multiple GM Stakes: In extended conflicts, the GM may have more than one set of stakes. The GM's stakes may represent the goals of different characters or they may represent multiple goals for a single character or group. The GM stakes can win and lose independently of each other, further complicating the possible conflict results. The GM's stakes cannot oppose each other, however; they must oppose the protagonists.

Playing Rounds

Each round in an extended conflict is like a mini-conflict. Participants play cards, set bonuses and then narrate for the round. Participants with higher card-values do better than those with lower-card values. Each round, the participants should narrate the characters working toward (or failing to work toward) their stakes based on their card value, but the final outcome cannot be determined until the end of the conflict. Round narration can be in any order that seems to work, with higher card values dictating order in case of disputes.

Each round is broken up into winners and losers. The top-half (round up) of the card-values for that round are considered winners. In a 3-person conflict, the best two card values would be winners; in a 6-person conflict, the best three. Each winner keeps her card as a victory card, which goes into her victory pile. The losers discard their cards. If the GM has multiple stakes, they win and lose each round independently of each other.

In future rounds, you play new cards on top of your victory pile. Victory cards from previous rounds have no effect on the current round; only the current card-value does. Once any participant accumulates victory cards equal to the victory goal, conflict ends. It is possible that two participants will meet the goal at the same time.

Players are limited to one trait-token per round, but can use any number of story-tokens. The GM may use one story-token plus an extra token for each player, but may apply no more than 2 tokens to any individual card. Tokens modify the card-value in the current round, affecting who wins and retains victory cards for that round.

After the round, story-tokens are removed and no longer affect card values. GM story-tokens go to the pool. Player story-tokens go to the pool if they lose or the bank if they win. After the conflict, the GM gets all the tokens in the bank, but may not use these tokens during the conflict. The players can award each other tokens out of the pool during the conflict, subject to the usual limit of giving out one token per player per scene.

Final Victory

Conflict ends when one of the winners in a round of conflict reaches the victory goal in victory cards. Skip the round narration and go straight the final narration of the conflict's outcome. The final winners are determined by comparing the value of each set of cards. A set with more cards beats a set with fewer cards. For sets with the same number of cards, high card-value in the set determines the winner.

You cannot use story-tokens and traits for bonuses during the final narration; use only unmodified card values. Before or during narration, each participant may give one of his victory cards to another participant. This lets you sacrifice some of your success to help someone else. If you give away a card, you must indicate in your narration how you are helping the other person. Once you have narrated, you may no longer give away victory cards. As card set values are adjusted, the final result of the conflict be in doubt until shortly before the end of narration.

Since winners and losers may change during final narration, you may need to adjust earlier narrations if someone gives you a card after you narrate so that you are no longer losing. If you are losing and narrate early, you can narrate in a way that is open ended in the hope that you can encourage one of your allies to help you and narrate a success for you. If you find this confusing, make all victory card adjustments before you begin your narrations, then narrate based on the final totals.

Example Conflicts

The following examples illustrate how the rules should be used in play.

Example Simple Conflict

Stephen's character Bob has been casually flirting with his co-worker Jane, played by the GM. Bob screws up the courage to ask Jane out on a date. Bob and the GM roleplay the interaction for a bit and then play cards. Bob wants the date to happen and plays a 10 chosen from his hand. The GM doesn't have anything particular in mind and plays a card by chance from the top of the deck, which turns out to be a Queen. The GM wins.

Stephen declines to narrate for Bob, so the GM narrates how Jane politely refuses, telling Bob she already has a boyfriend. Bob is crushed.

Example Conflict with Tokens

Angela's character Samantha needs to steal the personnel records of a suspect she is investigating. She and the GM roleplay her entry into the facility, up to the point where she nears the record office. At this point, the GM calls for a conflict. The GM sets his stakes that security guards hear Samantha and she is captured. Angela sets stakes for Samantha to evade the guards, get the records and escape.

The GM lays down a card and a story-token, saying that the guards are especially alert. Angela uses Samantha's "Thinks like a criminal" trait, laying down a card from her hand and a trait-token for her trait-bonus. She considers adding an additional story-token, but decides against it. Angela reveals a Jack for a total of 11 + 4 = 15 and the GM reveals a 5 for a total of 5 + 4 = 9.

It may seem strange that the GM's card was so low after he spent a story token. Maybe the GM's had a crummy hand or maybe the GM wanted the conflict toseem tough to tease out some high cards or tokens from the player. This kind of bluffing is important to the game. Players can bluff too.

Since the GM lost, he narrates first, describing the guards coming around the corner, with flashlights sweeping. Angela narrates Samantha slipping into the shadows as they pass, then sliding into the office behind them. Samantha quickly finds the necessary records and leaves. The GM's token goes into the pool, allowing players to award each other story-tokens in this or future scenes.

Example Multi-Way Conflict

Samantha (played by Angela) and Bob (played by Stephen) are arguing with the police sergeant (played by the GM) about whether they can continue the investigation. The sergeant wants them to drop the investigation, which has become a political hot potato. Samantha and Bob want the investigation to continue, but Bob thinks the investigation should be led by the police (and himself) while Samantha want to claim the credit for her Private Investigation agency.

All three lay down cards. The GM played a 5, Bob a 10 and Samantha a Queen. The GM narrates the sergeant giving in saying, "You'd better not mess this up or there will be hell to pay". Stephen narrates Bob thanking the sergeant saying, "You won't regret this". Angela narrates that sergeant decides to avoid trouble by making the investigation unofficial and putting Samantha in charge. The GM likes this and has the sergeant say "I'm glad you feel that way, Bob, because you're going to have to work on it in your off-time. You'd better listen to the PI, since she knows what she's doing. You can make this official only after you have concrete evidence."

Example Extended Conflict

Bob the cop, Michelle his partner and the PI Samantha have cornered Vinny the snitch and are interrogating him in a bar. Suddenly, Riso and this squad of 4 goons burst in, guns blazing. The GM suggests this be an extended conflict, since there is a lot going on.

The GM declares separate stakes for Riso and his goons.

  • Riso wants to gun down Vinny and then get away.
  • The goons want to keep Riso safe and separate the cops from Vinny.

The players declare stakes that oppose the GM's characters:

  • Bob wants to capture Riso.
  • Samantha wants to keep a hold on Vinny and get him away safely.
  • Michelle wants to protect the bar patrons and take down the goons.

Vinny is a character controlled by the GM, but he is basically a bystander in this fight and has no stakes. The same is true for the bar patrons.

Round 1

Everyone plays conservatively, saving tokens for later rounds. The GM plays by chance for the goons (they are mostly cannon fodder) but by choice for Riso.

  • Michelle: 4 (saving good cards for later)
  • Samantha: Jack
  • Riso: Queen
  • Goons: King (a lucky draw)
  • Bob: Joker

Winners: Bob, the goons and Riso are the winners and keep their cards as victory cards. Samantha and Michelle don't get to keep their cards. The victory cards are:

  • Bob - Joker
  • Goons - King
  • Riso - Queen

Narration: Michelle warns the patrons to get down and draws her gun. Samantha pull Vinny under their table. Riso opens up with his pistol, blowing some holes in the table. The goons move in to grab Vinny. Bob charges through the goons, pushing them aside to get at Riso.

Round 2

Since things don't look so good for our heroes, Michelle's player and Samantha's player both use trait tokens. The GM adds a story-token for Riso. Bob's player also adds a story-token.

  • Goons: 2 (a bad draw, oh well)
  • Samantha: 10 + 4
  • Bob: Jack + 4
  • Riso: Ace (spades) + 4
  • Michelle: Ace (hearts) + 4

Winners: Michelle, Riso and Bob are the winners. Michelle's heart is better than Riso's spade, so she is doing better. The cards for the goons and Samantha are discarded. The victory cards are:

  • Bob - Joker, Jack
  • Michelle - Ace
  • Goons - King
  • Riso - Queen, Ace

Narration: Two goons try to shove Bob aside to protect Riso, while two more flip down the table Samantha and Vinny are hiding behind. Samantha pushes Vinny ahead of her trying to get to the kitchen. Bob decks one of the goons in his way, then dives for Riso. Riso jumps out of the way, then takes a shot at Vinny, spraying bits of wood chips from the wall at the near-miss. Michelle pistol whips a goon, knocking him to the ground bleeding.

Tokens: The GM's story-token goes to the pool and Bob's story-token goes to the bank. Bob's players gives Michelle's player a story-token for the cool pistol-whipping description.

Round 3

Samantha's player really wants at least one victory before the end of the fight and lays down both a story and trait token. The players for Michelle and Bob both lay down one token each (trait and story-token, respectively). The GM lays down 2 story-tokens for Riso, none for the goons.

  • Goons: 9
  • Bob: 10 + 4
  • Michelle: Jack + 4
  • Riso: 9 + 4 + 4
  • Samantha: 10 + 4 + 4

Winners: Samantha, Riso and Michelle. Riso has 3 cards, which ends the conflict. The conflict moves to final narration. The victory cards are:

  • Samantha - 10
  • Goons - King
  • Michelle - Ace, Jack
  • Bob - Joker, Jack
  • Riso - Queen, Ace, 9

Final Narration

The players decide to narrate from lowest to highest, adjusting victory cards as they go.

Samantha's player decides she has no chance of beating Riso and gives her 10 to Bob's player (Joker, Jack, 10). Bob is now winning. She then narrates that a flying wood chip cuts Samantha above the eye and the dripping blood temporarily blinds her so that she loses hold of Vinny.

The GM takes the King from the goons and gives it to Riso, so that Riso is again winning (Queen, Ace, 9, King). He narrates the two remaining goons stumbling into each other and falling to the ground.

Michelle's player can safely give her Ace to Bob and still be beating the (now cardless) goons. This puts Bob over the top (Joker, Jack, 10, Ace). She narrates kicking one of the goons in the head, knocking him out, then covering the remaining goon with her pistol while crying out a warning to Bob.

Riso is no longer winning completely, but he did beat Samantha, who was protecting Vinny. The GM narrates that Riso steps out into the open and shoots Vinny in the chest. Vinny slumps to the ground.

Bob's player narrates the cop tackling Riso to the ground so that Riso's gun spins out of his hand. Bob points his own gun in Riso's face. "You just gunned down a man in front of two cops," Bob says. "Bad move."

Tokens: The GM's two tokens go into the pool. Samantha's story-token goes to the bank since she won the round, but Bob's goes to the pool, since he lost. The players award each other tokens, with Samantha getting a token for her clever "wood cut" narration and Bob for his gritty dialog. There is one token left in the pool. The GM takes all his tokens out of the bank for use in later conflicts.

Extended Conflict, Alternate Ending

Suppose the previous conflict played out differently, with Samantha getting her allies to help her rather than Bob.

Victory Cards: Before final narration, the victory card totals are:

  • Samantha - 10
  • Goons - King
  • Michelle - Ace, Jack
  • Bob - Joker, Jack
  • Riso - Queen, Ace, 9

Final Narration: Samantha's player decides she wants to gamble on keeping Vinny intact. She narrates a flying wood chip cutting Samantha's face and dripping blood blinding her. She then narrates Riso taking aim directly at Samantha's chest to increase the tension. Samantha's player asks the other players for help.

The GM lets the goons keep the King. He narrates the remaining goons pushing Samantha aside and grabbing Vinny, which he can do since the King beats Samantha's 10. He starts to narrate the goons dragging Vinny away, but Michelle's player (who has better cards) vetoes that.

Michelle's player gives her Jack to Samantha (10, Jack). The Ace she kept is still enough to beat the goons, so she narrates kicking one in the knee to knock him down and covering the second one with her pistol. She then calls out a warning to Bob (this time to get him to protect Samantha instead of for him to get Riso).

Bob's player gives his Joker to Samantha (10, Jack, Joker). Since his cards are no longer good enough to beat Riso, he narrates tackling Riso and pushing his gun arm out of the way. This is enough to save Samantha without necessarily "beating" Riso.

Riso's cards are good enough to beat Bob and avoid capture, but no longer good enough to beat Samantha and shoot Vinny. The GM narrates that Riso elbows Bob in the face, knocking him down, but seeing that his goons are also down, he runs out of the bar and gets away. This leaves our heroes with the goons and Vinny. Samantha's player adds that Samantha grabs a stunned Vinny before he can get away.

In the end, Samantha is the winner, but she could easily have been shot without help from her friends.Â

Optional Rules

The following rules are optional. They can be used or ignored on a case-by-case basis.

Mooks

In an extended conflict, you cannot defeat the opposition until the end of the conflict. This generally means that the main bad guy cannot be taken out until the end of the fight. The same is true of the protagonists.

The GM may include a group of lesser bad guys, goons, minions or underlings as part of the conflict. These characters are called "mooks" in Kung Fu action movies. The mooks generally operate as a group, with one stake for all the mooks rather than individual stakes for each mook.

Unlike the main bad guy (who has an individual stake), mooks can be taken out in the middle of the fight, provide that (a) the player taking out the mook has higher card value for this round and (b) enough mooks remain so that they can still plausibly achieve their goal.

Hand of Fate

In a conflict, if you and your opposition are exactly tied in a conflict (same card value and suit), something especially dramatic happens. Play a random card from the deck to determine who wins the conflict; trait and story tokens are ignored. The winner enjoys an especially dramatic victory, beyond their normal stakes. The loser suffers a spectacular setback, worse than expected.

In multi-way conflicts, the Hand of Fate is only invoked if you have an exact tie with one of your own opponents. If the opposing stakes in a conflict are very specific, you may only have a single direct opponent in the fight. If your stakes are very generic (beat the bad guys), then being tied withany opponent triggers the Hand of Fate. This makes generic stakes dangerous, especially in extended conflicts.

In an extended conflict, if you suffer from the Hand of Fate and lose, you are eliminated from the conflict. You lose your stakes immediately. Your character and all your victory cards are removed from the conflict. This generally means you are badly hurt, you cannot continue to fight and your worst fears come to pass.

Alternately, you can choose to stay in the fight and you only lose the current round. Your character is serious harmed instead of eliminated, but you choose to struggle on. If you lose to the Hand of Fate a second time in the same fight, you are destroyed. You character must be permanently disabled, killed or ruined, depending on the nature of the conflict.

If your character is destroyed, you keep all your victory cards and story-tokens. For the rest of the fight, you can spend tokens to help other players. At the end of the fight, you may give your victory cards to other players, describing how your character's sacrificed helped your allies triumph. You may give away all your cards either to a single player or split among multiple players. If you have no victory cards, you can give one random card to another player. Furthermore, you may get another player character to adopt your stakes, so that even though your character is gone, your goals are still met by your allies.

The Hand of Fate is pretty rare; you can play an entire game session and never see it. If you want an especially lethal game, you can invoke the hand of fate any time you tie in card value, ignoring suit. This is appropriate for settings that are extremely dangerous such as war-stories, but be prepared to suffer disasters regularly with this rule.

Rules Ramifications

The intent of these rules are to add a greater degree of choice into PTA. Players and the GM have the option of playing cards out of their hand. Trait and story-tokens provided fixed bonuses. Bluffing and decision-making become more important to the game. If the players don't want to decide in advance what they want, they can play by chance instead of choosing from their hand.

The rules increase the amount of narration for all the players, since both winners and losers narrate in conflict. Furthermore, the winners always narrate their own result rather than there being a chance of someone else winning narration. Losers can narrate their own defeat as a way of softening the blow and keeping their characters from looking too bad.

The rules distinguish between "little" and "big" conflicts by having different rules for simple and extended conflicts. Extended conflicts can be used for big fights and climaxes. Choice is still a big factor in the final narration of an extended conflict, because players can shuffle victory cards between each other as the narration proceeds.

The story-token flow is now a closed economy. Story-tokens never leave the game; they only flow among the players and the GM. This should better support longer games with more players. The GM has two factors to control dramatic tension, one visible (story-tokens) and one hidden (card values).

The Hand of Fate rule is designed to add a degree of uncertainty into the game, out of the control of either the players or the GM. It is also designed to allow characters to make the ultimate sacrifice of their lives, but only if the conflict is important enough to be worthy of that sacrifice and in a way that ensures the sacrifice is meaningful.

These rules don't (yet) have a concept of "spotlight characters". Right now I am aiming for one-shots, so the concept doesn't apply. Once I figure out the rules and look into longer series, I will figure out how to retrofit spotlight characters back into the rules. Currently I am thinking on something based on shifting character traits, but the ideas are ill-formed at the moment.

Play Testers

Thanks to the following people for helping me play test the rules.

  • Brian
  • Chris
  • Greg
  • Karen
  • Mike
  • Rich
  • Sean

I will get last names when I get a chance.

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