How to Run:Primetime Adventures

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The content of this WikiPage is based mainly on the thread by Judd "Paka" Karlman, "My Pattern" on the Dog Eared Designs forum, with extra notes from the eighteenth Sons of Kryos podcast (which Paka co-hosts). Additional threads will be cited as they are included.

Primetime Adventures, "the game of television drama", is written by Matt Wilson and published by his independent outfit, Dog Eared Designs.

The Pitch[edit]

  • The goal of the Pitch session is to create a show idea that everyone around the table, the Producer included, is excited about ("Dude, if this were a real show I'd be in front of my TV every week!"). Thus, it is both the most important and most difficult part of any Primetime Adventures game. Group excitement is ultimately what drives Primetime Adventures.
  • Paka's biggest PTA tip is that the Pitch session should go on for as long as it has to. The book recommends an hour, and while some Pitch sessions take around fifteen munites, don't expect that.
  • A neat trick Paka uses when Producing a Pitch session is to roleplay that he's "(A)n obnoxious producer from Hollywood, except not stupid... and these imaginative people are getting together to make something out of my money." His objective is to keep things moving.
  • Tell the players that the group will be brainstorming ideas; some, possibly many, will get rejected, and that is okay. When the group has its show idea, there will be an almost audible CLICK in the air and things will start to come together.
  • Start by asking the players what kinds of show they don't want the game to be, or any issues they don't want in the game. Establishing limits early on not only ensures everyone's going to be comfortable, but also makes coming up with engaging ideas easier.
  • Bring a couple of ideas to the pitch: "I usually have a couple of unformed concepts that I can drop in, just to start conversations going. They don't have to be elaborate. Last session, someone said 'Orwellian', which generated half an hour of discussion. Sometimes just saying something like "I'd like seeing shows with subtext" can be enough." [1]
  • Guide the brainstorming by asking leading questions and writing down key words. Sometimes Paka stops the brainstorm to read over what the group has so far. Remi Treuer of the Durham 3 describes this pause-and-review as "synthesis", as when he does it as Producer, he tries to draw concepts together and connect them to each other.
    • Make sure no one is getting walked over; make sure everyone is having a say.
    • Talk to the quietest person: "I specifically look for the person who hasn't been contributing as much, and ask them what they think about what's going on. And I keep the attention on them until they start to open up about what they like and don't like, and any other ideas they have. Even if people start over-riding them or jamming on those ideas, I keep trying to bring it back to the quietest person." [2]
  • Get the group ready for when someone says, "Naaaah, I don't like that." It is okay for anyone at the table to flat-out reject an idea if anyone doesn't like it.
    • Vincent Baker wrote something for Dogs in the Vineyard that's very applicable to Pitch sessions: "... the thing to observe... isn’t what the group’s doing, but instead who’s dissatisfied with what the group’s doing. The player who frowns and uses withdrawing body language in response to someone else’s (idea) — that’s the player whose lead to follow."
    • The Sons of Kryos recommend Producers be ruthless, but politely so, with show ideas. If the group has a pretty good idea but not everyone in the group is excited about it, tell everyone you're putting it on the shelf for the moment and ask them to move on to the next idea, ideally something as different from that first idea as possible. (The group might decide to revisit the first later, which is cool.)
    • Remi Treuer uses a neat trick when Producing the Pitch: "I insisted (quite strongly at one point) that there be NO negative input, only positive. I think that for a compressed game, this is the only possible way to eventually reach consensus. It also has the added effect of everyone adding information and no one getting denied on their Big Thing and disengaging." Remi details this further here.

The Click Moment[edit]

  • Nearly every Actual Play report which talks about an "awesome!" game of PTA mentions that a during the Pitch session, when the group in question hit upon the idea for their show, there was an almost-audible CLICK in the air. It's the moment when everybody in the group, including the Producer, suddenly buys into a specific show idea; they stop tossing general concepts around and start milking the Chosen Idea for Setting Conventions, Tone and Characters.
  • Don't settle for anything less than the CLICK moment. If anyone in the group is like, "well, I'm a bit whatever about the idea but I don't want to make waves or slow things down, so I'm fine", the game will most likely be dull, no matter that everyone else at the table is firing on the idea. Shelve that idea and get that player to discuss what he'd really like. Everybody needs to buy into the show idea or else they won't bother coming back for the next session.
    • A neat trick is to ask anyone who's not buying into the group's idea is to ask him or her, "How can this idea become interesting for you?" Matt M noted of a play session, "One of the players isn't really on board with the concept. Something just isn't clicking. So the GM asks her 'what would it take to get you onboard with this?' And she ponders for a bit and says 'What if I was the Queen in disguise.' And suddenly everything clicks into place, from why the rookie captain has such a great ship, why his first officer resents him and what the series' story arc would be." [3]
    • A good sign that you don't have your CLICK moment yet is any of your players not being excited about picking a character out for themselves.

Creating the Cast[edit]

  • Choose your Screen Presence 3 first: "Sometimes I’ve found players get intimidated with the various different combinations their SP 1,2,3 could go in. When I ask them to just focus on where they think their pivotal episode will be (beginning, middle or end), they find things fall into place much more quickly." [4]

Final Checklist[edit]

DO NOT start your first session without identifying:

  • The name of your show.
  • The theme music for the opening credits.

TRY NOT to start your first session without identifying:

  • The actors (as in actual, real life actors, not made-up actors) playing the lead characters and any important supporting cast you've identified.
  • Some general visuals for the opening credits.

Playing Episodes[edit]


  • Paka tells his group that everyone will be going around in a circle for scene framing but this format might break down a bit and that is okay, as long as we get back on track and everone gets their turn.
  • If someone can't think of a scene, others should help.
  • Scenes you propose do not have to have your character in them.
  • The scene gets set, we know which characters are involved, and we go from there. Sometimes there will be a discussion of the general intent of the scene (this scene is where the prostitute and the wife meet for the first time, with disasterous results), but not always. At some point during the scene it will often become apparent that there is a conflict brewing, but sometimes someone will see a good conflict to drop in and propose it. Either way, this is the point when the group sets stakes.

Conflict Resolution[edit]

  • Set stakes that aren't about success but about price. If you've watched a lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you've probably noticed that the big action scenes ultimately aren't about whether Buffy defeats the Big Bad (most of the time the answer is "of course she does") but about what price she must pay to do so, whether it's her test scores, her relationship with her mother or even the lives of her friends. Paka sets rocking stakes for those first few conflicts so that the players can see how it's done; before long, everyone is helping with setting stakes. This communal stakes setting is really important.
  • Paka's group role-plays for a while and then comes up to the conflict. Paka makes sure everyone is heading toward the conflict and not dancing away from it. If stakes are set right, people will be looking for conflicts and welcome them. Sometimes a scene opens and the player won't know what to do until a conflict is resolved. That's cool.
  • Paka has noticed that it's cool to have a scene with no conflict maybe once or twice an episode, but if there are more he gets nervous. Watch out for folks avoiding using the system. It could mean stakes setting is going wrong or there is some other disconnect.

Fan Mail[edit]

  • If you, as a player, chuckle, wince or have some other visceral reaction to something another player says, does or otherwise introduces to the game, you should be giving that other player Fan Mail. If the group is shy about it, Paka loudly notes a good, Fan Mail-worthy contribution; the shyness tends to evaporate after the beginning of the episode, though.
  • As the Producer, Paka puts Budget in the Audience Pool and drives play towards conflict so that he can put more Budget in. If the Pool is empty, he spends more Budget on the next conflict. Sometimes Paka puts more Budget into a conflict, not just because it's a big deal conflict, but also to give the players more opportunities to show their appreciation for one another.
  • Remember: Although the players can't give you, the Producer, Fan Mail directly, they will tell you when you're doing your job well by spending Fan Mail to get extra cards in Conflicts. If your Conflict wasn't cool, they wouldn't be spending their Fan Mail on it.

The Fingerwave[edit]

The finger wave is an unofficial method of showing appreciation to the Producer (who cannot receive Fan Mail) or other players when the Audience Pool is depleted. Basically, you point your hands towards the Producer (or player) and wiggle your fingers in his/her direction.