Friday, April 26, 2013

Unknown Ponies: One Bad Apple (Part 1)

Yes, it's the post you've been waiting for! Thanks for your patience, everypony. I've decided to break this into pieces because this post is getting quite large.

OK, a few assumptions before I begin the dissection of an MLP episode as a game of Unknown Ponies:
  • The Cute Mark Crusaders are PCs; all other ponies are NPP (non-player ponies). 
  • The PCs start out with completely empty Friendship Tracks and no Magic points.

The Show Begins

0:00   The Ponymaster informs Apple Bloom's player that her cousin from Manehattan is coming to visit for the first time. Apple Bloom (henceforth AB) looks at her character sheet, sees the lack of Friendship Points, and decides to do something about that. She then describes AB running around, trying out increasingly silly ensembles in an attempt to make a good impression. This causes the PCs to laugh, and thus a point of Laughter is earned.

During the role-play between AB and Applejack, the Ponymaster casually references the Harvest Day Parade. The PCs might notice this, but probably might not; the Cutie Mark Crusaders have shown an inability to pay attention to crucial details, especially when spoken by adults.

AJ lets it slip that the cousin also doesn't have her Cutie Mark. AB realizes this is going to be critical to the plot (heh) of the episode and runs off to gather the rest of the PC group. This does not gain her any specific Friendship Points, but it moves things along and gets all the characters together in one place.

Opening Sequence

1:09   It's entirely possible that some or all of the PCs will sing the opening song for the show. Depending on how many of them participate or how funny they are, points might be awarded:
  • Loyalty if everypony sings along
  • Laughter if somepony does a silly or hammy performance
  • Kindness if somepony does a really awesome and sincere job of singing
It is my suggestion as writer of these rules that points for singing along should be awarded only for groups that meet infrequently. Regular players would likely get tired of singing along every week. It is my contention that the Cutie Mark Crusader PC group meets regularly.

Act One 

01: 45  All the PCs are gathered at the train station, giggling and running around and generally acting like kids do. As this is good role-playing, the PM allows Sweetie Belle (SB) and Scootaloo (SAL) to roll for Unicorn Magic and Flight, respectively. They do so, and roll well enough to score an improvement with those skills, and thus SAL is described as making wing-enhanced jumps which have lots of air time and SB's unicorn horn produces a brief burst of magical light. Since this is charming goofiness and the other CMCs are exhibiting the same giddiness as Apple Bloom, the PM decides that both SB and SAL get a Laughter point as well. Now all the CMCs match.

02:09  The train from Manehatten pulls up, and AB starts with "That's her! No, no, that's not her... ooh, that's her!" routine. This might be worth another Laughter point, depending on how well it's received at the table, but it's already been established that AB is looking forward to seeing her cousin and this action doesn't bring anything new to the scene.*

* This might make for a good guideline to be added to the rules:  acquiring Friendship Points only happens when it brings something new to a scene. This prevents lawyer-ponies from arguing that giving away 10 cupcakes to 10 different ponies earns them 10 Generosity points all at once.

02:30  Now we have more role-playing interaction, which is good. (I half-wonder if the PM has brought in a friend to role-play Babs Seed, but that's not important.)  And hey, the CMCs mention the Summer Harvest Parade, which means at least one of them was paying attention to the NPP giving out important information!

03:00  The Cutie Mark Crusaders are trying to recruit Babs into their organization. It is worth stating that this is categorically NOT worth any Friendship Points, because when you think about it, the founding purpose of the CMCs -- to find their special talents -- is inherently selfish.  They are not a service organization like the Filly Scouts; their only purpose is to advance the abilities of their members.

However, this is a new scene, so any humorous role-play is worth another Laughter Point. 

04:28  Another new scene, another chance to convince Babs to join the CMC. However, the Ponymaster has something nefarious up her hoof, and decides to have Silver Spoon and Diamond Tiara show up.

  1. I imagine that Tiara's father, Filthy Rich, was visiting Granny Smith at Sweet Apple Acres to talk business and dragged his daughter along. She in turn brought along her best friend, and the two of them got bored and wandered off to find something to do. 
  2. It is a testament to the strength of this show's writing that I despise these two bitches more than some actual people that I actually hate. The writers seem to have tapped into a rich vein of catty schoolyard mocking that brings back all sorts of unpleasant memories for me.
  3. Watching these two in action makes me wonder if there should be an inverse of the Friendship Track, which monitors the Elements of Discord. I like the idea in general, but am not sure if it would improve gameplay or just be another bit of bookkeeping. If you have opinions on this, please let me know in the comments.
It's not entirely clear to me how this scene would play out in an actual game in terms of mechanics, but here are the salient points:
  • The CMC are totally oblivious to the fact that Babs in insecure about not having a Cutie Mark, despite having covered her flank with her tail both times it's been brought up. This lack of empathy on their part is the core of this adventure. 
  • Tiara and Spoon, on the other hand, wig to this immediately. Part of this is due to them being run by the Ponymaster, but part is due to the fact that they get special joy from harassing blank flanks. 
  • Presented with the option of joining one side or the other, Babs chooses the team she thinks is less likely to rub her lack of a Cutie Mark into her face. 
  • Some destruction and bullying occurs, which again makes me think of Elements of Discord, as Babs demonstrates anti-Kindness quite well. 
06:23  Here is another recurring CMC motif:  One of the PCs knows what should be done, but the other two shoot it down. It's unclear whether the players of these characters are clueless or really, really committed to playing the roles of "kids who frequently miss the point."

Act Two

06:42  Presented with a clear problem -- "How do we deal with a bully?" -- the CMCs brainstorm to figure out what to do next. AB exhibits her proto-special ability by suggesting they build another float, which is shot down by SAL, and SB once again is the voice of reason and is once again shot down. Eventually it is resolved that they will solve their problem by hiding from Babs until she leaves town.

07:24   Sweetie Belle's player, annoyed with this, decides to concoct a musical number to highlight the futility of this plan. The other Pony Characters play along -- perhaps Apple Bloom's player is the "set builder" and thinks up venues (soda shop, movie theater, etc) where they could be minding their business. Scootaloo's player is all about action, so perhaps she contributes the chase scenes, the awful things Babs could do, etc. Loyalty Points are awarded for participating in the song.

While this all seems like script padding, this is actually an important development, and it is as critical to this episode as any scene in The A-Team or MacGuyver where the heroes build stuff to the accompaniment of music, because the characters now realize (with perhaps some help from the Pony Master during the song) that they must be proactive instead of reactive to solve their problem. (This is reinforced at the 09:20 mark where Babs steals their clubhouse, leaving them without any safe haven.)

10:01  They're all in Sweetie Belle's room. We know this because Apple Bloom says Babs kicked her out of her room, and we see SB's father fishing on the dock in front of the house, and for all we know of her home life, Scootaloo is a homeless orphan who mooches off her friends to keep from starving.... wow, it just got Dickensian here for a minute, didn't it?

(As an aside to Newbiespud:  in your Friendship is Dragons comic, Scootaloo should totally be a courier/smuggler who is used via cutout (Sweetie Belle) by Rarity the Rogue.)

10:32  Either AB's player has a moment of insight, or the PM shows mercy* on the characters by having her spot the preparations for the Summer Harvest Parade as a clue-by-four. Regardless, they realize that the Parade is going to be critical to their plans... despite the fact that revenge is not how polite ponies behave.

*It is a point of philosophical debate whether the Ponymaster is setting the PCs up to fail by suggesting they do something which is contrary to the principles of Friendship, or if she is simply mad at them because they have failed to Get A Clue and Talk To An Adult, or the players behind the Cutie Mark Crusaders are more than a little masochistic and enjoy catastrophic failures. Were I to guess, I would say that  #3 leads to #2 and then to #1, with the PM thinking "If you're going to mess with me, I'm going to mess with you right back!"  As long as everyone at the game table is having a good time, I see no problem with this.

11:16  They are finally putting a plan into action! Hooray! The players are probably being circumspect and not letting the PM know what they are plotting. This is also fine, as it is both amusing and worthy of a Loyalty
point for all concerned.

12:03   OH MY CELESTIA IT'S A DELIBERATE A-TEAM HOMAGE. Laughter point for all ponies!

12:19  It's funny that two of the three CMCs are  progressing towards their cutie marks with this sequence:  AB with her general "build stuff" skill, and SAL fast-talking the PM with a "I like going fast on my scooter, so that should mean I know how to tweak a transmission" line.

12:37  After working all night, the ponies have finally finished their build. As this was hard work, aka Honest Labor, they each earn an Honesty point. If Scootaloo had said "I think we're golden" that would have earned her another Laughter point, but she didn't.

12:50  End of Act 2.  Current tallies for the Cutie Mark Crusaders are as follows:

Laughter Points:  3
Loyalty Points:    2
Honesty Points:   1

NO points in Kindness, Generosity, or Magic.  Hmmm. It's almost as if the Cutie Mark Crusaders are missing the entire point of the episode...


  1. It's funny as for the first bit I thought this was an actual game that was run and went "Huh this is a bit railroaded."

    I suppose the Discord track could be optional. And pulled out if a PC starts playing deliberately bad.

    Why's scoot's name shortened to SAL?

    BTW revenge Applebloom is adorable.

  2. Scoot-A-Loo. SAL.

    As for railroading, I'm pretty sure that in every CMC episode there is a moment where, as the viewer, you think "This is what they should do" and then they completely go off the rails. I am nearly convinced that the players of the CMCs are deep method roleplayers who get so into character that "winning the game" no longer matters; they are far more concerned with acting the way a child would act, and then dealing with the consequences of those actions.

    Perhaps they're all frustrated drama majors? Set design (Applebloom), Music (Sweetie Belle), and Choreography (Scootaloo)...

  3. Ahhhh, that makes sense for Scoots.

    Well being in char is winning the game. Though that does make the GM have to deal with what's essentially a pack of fillies.


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