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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, January 20, 2014

Playtesting, Better than staring at a document for days.

We play tested Shards of Thimbral once again this morning.
 I feel that we made some good progress so lets break it down.

We started with character creation, each player making a completely new character and a new party. 
Character's were Edward a blacksmith whose goals were to expand his foundries and to reforge the hammer of Vulcan.
And Blake who is a noir detective type whose goal is to find the murderer “Europe Malloy.”

Their group connection was Blake is helping Edward find the parts of Vulcan’s hammer.
The party connection is they are both members of tinkerers guild.

As the Gm I choose reforge the hammer of Vulcan and find the murdered Europe Malloy as the starting goals to use as kickers.

Edward's player had mentioned that he had a foundry on an island named DelFracked so we started there.

This is the first time we had tried the new “chapter” system in-which the gm gets a pool of d6's called “response dice.” After a player rolls back a die to take an action, if the GM wants to narrate a response the GM must roll back one of his response dice.
When all of the response dice are rolled back to zero the chapter comes to a close. It is a simple mechanic that gives the GM and the player's some control over how long the games focus stays on one set of goals.

For this game we choose to have 5 GM dice for the first chapter, and off we went.

After some descriptions of the foundry and the surroundings a representative of the tinkers guild showed up with a map that he thought might lead to one of the pieces of the hammer of Vulcan. Edward naturally jumped at the map.  Blake soon came to realize the map is a red herring the cave marked on the map is simply a distraction and that  a neighboring smaller island may have a better chance to contain the cave they are looking for.
At this point Edward's player invoked his “I am best at finding things” talent, which after the game we realized should be way more specific. Like “I am best at finding things using my deductive skills”, or “I am best at finding things at a crime scene.”

The two agreed to check out the second island and rented a skyship to travel there while avoiding the expedition already at the cave marked on the map.

Once at the island the boat could not get close enough for the characters to disembark due to jungle overgrowth. It became clear the character's would have to climb up some hanging vines to get to the surface.

from http://jackscrap.files.wordpress.com/ his pic and it's agood one.

This was our first impasse and the players built their dice pools pretty quickly. This game was also the first game where the dice pools were limited to 5 dice, a change didn't seem to make any huge difference from a play perspective.
Edward built his pool using his physical approach and his skill “strong grip” and Blake used purely his physical approach to build a smaller die pool.

I set the difficulty and the number of success by writing them on a piece of paper and placing it face down in front of my Gm position.
Blake started and dialed back a die describing himself moving deftly from vine to vine, I rolled back a response die to let Blake know that as he is moving the vines are very wet and slimy making it hard for him to keep his grip.

Edward relied on his strong grip to hoist himself up the vines, rolling back on point of his skill to describe his climb, I again used a response die to describe him rousting a lizard like bird that was roosting behind the vines it flew out screeching in face and trying to make him lose his grip. Blake continued his climb rolling back a die to describe himself dealing with the slippery vines and avoiding the bird things. Blake took the chance to use his strong grip to hold on with one hand an wail the crap out of a bird with his hammer.
I rolled back a response die to describe how he hit the first bird and it's screeching stirred up two more from behind the vines.

Edwards player decided to cash in the TEST.
I turned over the difficulty / successes number and he had plenty of successes to pass the test and described himself hurrying to the top. Blake decided that was a good idea and described himself fighting off the last of the birds and hauling himself up over the lip and onto the island.

They earned some experience and no harm was done.

The character continued through the jungle working their way towards a hill and clearing in the interior.
Once they arrived they found a crashed airship when examined they found it was named the Mary MacGeth and the damage done to to seems to have not stemmed from a crash but from some kind of attack on the ground. Infact Edward found large tooth wedged into the wood near a hole in hull, denoting some kind of large animal had attacked the boat.

They continue to explore the wreckage of the Mary MacGeth when the whole ship begins to tremble, the characters run to the deck and see a huge slug like creature with a tentacled toothy maw, sis black eyes, and two trunk like legs jutting from it's fore area .

This triggered another impasse, Edward went with his intellect bolstered by some physical skills. While Blake went with a pure and very powerful physical approach, managing to stack several skills for the encounter.
This was a decent fight so I wrote down a high difficulty level and number of success. From here things got messy.
Edward decided to try and find a cannon on the ships deck, and he did, but it was not loaded, he worked on that problem as the slug hammered the ships deck to pieces. Blake jumped on the creatures back and began trying to punch it's eyes out.
It was like this with ummm more eyes, and some elephant legs, and err slime.

This was a long encounter and from a play testing perspective a good one. In game mechanic terms I used a lot of my pool of response dice and the players dialed back quite a bit. Blake proved to get more actions without risk in a purely physical encounter, Edward was not quite as formidable. In the end Edward lost two dice from the encounter, and the party earned quite a pile of experience from the whole crazy affair.

In narrative terms the players described some great actions. Blake punched out two eyes and tried to muscle the slimy beast into a good position for Edward to shoot it. He also picked up a cannonball and chucked it at the slug thing underarm fast pitch softball style. Edward managed to piece together a cannon and shoot the giant slug just as the ships bow tipped over, putting a hole right through the giant worm-slug-mole thing. Mucus and slime were pretty much everywhere, and the thrashing slug gave Edward quite a slap on the way into the cave.

Once in the cave they found that it was the worms slime coated tunnel, however as they moved into the darkness they saw a glow. They discovered that the burrowing worm, had uncovered a buried workshop of some kind containing a still operating forge, and a vault.

Edward set to dismantling the vault door after realizing the lock mechanism was somehow linked to the forge making it grow in heat every time he failed to input a proper combination.
Mechanically Edwards player bought back one of his two lost dice using party experience and built a formidable dice pool to dismantle the lock.

Meanwhile Blake hung back.

This was also an interesting impasse, system wise , Edward had a nice pool of dice to describe what he was doing with little or no real risk. But Blake had much less of a pool to apply to the situation.

After discussing the game post play we decided it should have been split into two impasses one for each player (you will read why in a second) so that Blake could use his appropriate dice rather than being hampered. We will try this approach next game.

Narrative wise it came down like this, as Edward worked the lock, the forge started to belch out small “fire children” who when Blake smashed them would split into two smaller fire children. It was only through melting vault parts into the  creatures that Blake managed to stop them by inefect welding them in-place. In the end he used Edwards metal hammer to seal the front of the forge shut (destroying the hammer) just as Edward opened the vault.
hit this guy , you get two ... how fun.

I was out of response dice so we wrapped up the chapter. Edward found a piece of the hammer of Vulcan, in the vault and they traveled back to the ship. Once they arrive where the ship should have been,  they found it gone, they could see it off in the distance flying the flag of Europe Mallory's trading company, leaving our heroes stranded.

T.B.C. (or not we will likely make new characters again for a new test.. but ..)

What did I learn from this.

First of all the game as written can yield a heck of a story, BUT.

The first but is that the players have to want to create a heck of a story:
If the players only goal is to get from point a to point b, finish the goal and get out then that's what will happen. The players have to buy into the system, and there is no way to force that buy in mechanically. If the players choose not to do very much they will not get anything in the way of experience, and they will likely think the “game” is boring. It is in effect very easy to start an impasse put out a dice pool then say “ok I do this impasse over!” My players did not do that, but I could see someone who does not quite “get it” doing just that and thinking the system is broken, when in fact they are not  using the system.
I need to make very sure I put into words the hows and whys of the impasse system so that it's not misunderstood. When two players buy into it (like they did today) it creates a cracker of an adventure.

Second but:
I need a “simple” one die impasse.
Something that mirrors the function of “make a strength check” in dungeons and dragons. I see no reason to ask the players to come up with a dice pool to resolve finding their car keys. As stated above I am thinking a “simple” Impasse where only one die is involved is the way to go . It's straight forward and does not change the basic die mechanic. That will be in the mix next time.

Things that aren't buts....
Character generation went well. It was fast (if we cut out the chit chat but who wants to...) The start of the game using goals as kickers , places on the character sheets as starting areas, and NPC's culled from the characters goals and connections really went well. The characters felt rooted and part of the setting right from the offing.

The response dice tied to the length of the chapter really worked out well. The gm turning dice to inject elements into the players narratives, drove the players to turn their dice and answer the gm's new elements and made them take even more risks. Which is exactly what the game wants. Furthermore it put a good limit on how long the chapter could go. If we had played a second chapter I would have switched up the goals we were working towards and simply continued.

All in all, our play test went well, and things are moving along. I think the basic system is nailed. Now I just have to make things more clear and do some open testing. I really want to test it as a player very soon.
There will be more to come, plenty of work to do .

Thank you for reading , questions and comments are welcome.