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From the prow of your ship you see the island come into view. At first it is nothing but a glint on the horizon, then a shining sphere.. a ...

Monday, November 18, 2013

Play test 2, breaking the rules of Playtests, the PASS that FAILS..

Play test number two, breaking the rules of play testing.
The first or second rule of play testing is “don’t test with your regular group, you know them too well.” And while I agree with that, I feel that breaking that rule at this early stage is acceptable.  Better to test early and often with whomever you can get than not to test at all, in my opinion.
With that in mind I broke our normal gaming group up into two groups of two, and ran two separate play tests. This was for two reasons, one the scheduling of it all made breaking the group up just easier. Secondly small groups give fed back in ways that I can digest more easily. Two opinions coming at me is fine, four or five might be  overwhelming all at once, at least it would be right now when everything in the game is still fluid and could be changed. Once the game is ready for bigger groups we will merge the groups and move forward.
So onto the play test:
Importantly this play test featured start to finish character generation, at the table.  This is a part of the game that I feel is extremely important for the rest of the system. The process took about 2 hours to get two characters from blank paper to ready to play including the “party sheet.”
(The party sheet is in effect a character sheet for the party showing the relationships between the characters and their group assets.)
The players seem to like the process and feel the party sheet is a nice piece.  They did feel the  creation might have took a bit too much time , but  also agreed more familiarity and less BS-ing at the table they could have knocked it out faster.   I also know that these players take their time with their characters in general, and are not the types to bring a binder full of fifteen first level characters to the table for a game of D&D.
The players had some great goals and great starting areas that really added a great flavor to the game.
We had Satha a magic using investigator type who carries a think cane and walks with a limp.
The second character was Seven a swashbuckling pirate of the skies, with his own ship and a gold in his eyes.
The players started out in a casino on a floating island that is dedicated to vice and gambling, the island is named Queens Gambit and the casino is The Lady Luck. There is a brief but worried conversation by Satha concerning some money he owes..
(Without going too far into the setting right now (Friday!) think steam punk sword fantasy in the remains of a destroyed world which happens to consist of floating islands..)
We picked two character goals as kickers “pay off my debit to Big Louie” and “Find the treasure of Dar-Quatan.”  This is new. I have decided to make part of the games mechanics using player defined goals at the beginning of each session as kickers. The characters have goals that they can spend earned experience to accomplish. These goals are set at character creation and can be added to, changed or even resolved in play. Starting with this second test they are also used to jump start each session. I feel it helped get us moving in a direction, rather than stumbling about for the first 10 minutes or so.
The session also killed a few ideas right out of the gate.  My resolution system had two parts one called the PASS which was a pure narrative phase where I would ask the players how they are solving problem and give them experience for good answers and then move on to the next phase if they get stumped. The second phase is called a TEST that involves dice, which would only happen if a PASS fails. In both sessions the PASS never worked as I felt it should. It is too loosely defined; it is too, difficult for the GM to know when it starts and when it should end or even remember to use it. The PASS is one of the Keys to the system and I have to admit, it does not work as I intended.  I need to rework the PASS from the ground up so that it is a tighter mechanic or I have to drop it all together.  The Test die mechanic seems to have worked well and was engaging which I was very happy with.
The second DOA concept is magic as player character ability. Found magic items ok, magic casting not so much.  In the setting brief I wrote I stated outright that people no longer can use magic, but One of the players wanted to try it out, so this being a play test why not? We all moved ahead knowing something in the character might be a bit broken but could be fixed for the next game. The issue with magic as an ability is this, the game is a straight up Narrative story building game, so for a guy using magic there are really very few limiters as to what he can do how often and when. I put some social restrictions on the character, and pretty much every time he cast anything something blew up or caught fire, but still it was a bit too much.  It all made for a fun story, and that is the goal, but in the end the  idea of a player character calling lightning, does not fit the setting. (Hookers, flying rickshaws and hydrogen explosions do?) There is also this and it could be a whole separate blog post (and likely will be.)  I refuse to write separate rule framework within the game to address special situations such as spell casters. So if my current frame work is too loose to support spell casting properly, spell casting goes. I truly feel that unless a designer is super careful, subsystems to cover special cases lead to bad design. I don’t want to go down that road.
The concern came up again that perhaps the GM should somehow randomly generate difficulty numbers. Either in a pre-game pool, or as needed. I am still on the fence about that one I want the Gm to have that control of difficulty, but I understand where the players are coming from as well. It is worth giving more though to.
I will be lowering the number of points starting characters have to build their die pools, and limiting the number of starting skills accordingly.
I will also work to bring the role of connections into better focus.
Overall I though t it was an informative and useful session, we talked at length about game design and designers, both players having strong opinions on both topics.   We really hammered the game system, and the idea of producing a game in general around quite a bit. I appreciate everyone’s help deeply.

Thank you for reading!

Wednesday: mechanics a look at what Im working with mechanically, the how’s and whys, of it all..
Friday: Setting, I’m going to revise and post my initial setting document.
As always I might post some randomness in then meanwhile.