This Blog 2019, Goals and Grommets

Inspired by the 2019 goals post over at Charles's Dragons Never Forget Blog, I figured I would do the same thing. 2018 right around ...

Friday, February 27, 2015

Play Testing Nova74.

The other night we successfully tested a game I had been kicking around called Nova 74.

Those of you who have been reading this blog or a while may remember I mentioned it once or twice in 2014 and specifically in a post about a game with a similar setting that popped up on kick starter.

This will not be an actual Play post. (no-one reads those any way, do they?) This will be more of a look at what we did with the game as it was for this first trial run.
For the record this game is very much a "Mark Game." Meaning it's  nothing like AAIE. While I love AAIE and can have a cracker jack night of gaming with it, it's a black sheep among my designs.


The  B rated, and over the top side of 70's of Television and Movie crime Fiction.
Influences include serial crime dramas, Blacksplotation films, Grindhouse films.
Barretta, kojack, Shaft, Super Fly, Coffee, Switchblade Sisters, Dirty Harry, ect. I wonder about  Blade runner ... Hrmmmm

So basically crime drama set in a mythological America where the saturation and contrast are turned all the way up.

Dirty Harry, 1971

The first thing I bump up against in this game not so much as a designer but a person is stereotyping. I can't look at this time period, and these genres of film through the lens of 2015 and not say, "Well damn.. EVERY character is some stereotype that in this day and age is either insulting or downright  racist / sexist / what ever."
Does that make it wrong to portray those characters in a game being run in 2015? I'm not 100% sure. This is a bigger topic than I want this post to cover but I had to at least mention it and promise to get back to it when I have a more thought out view and we have played a couple more times. If anything I have to remind my self that in making a game genre specific, a designer has to be ready to not dodge all the baggage that comes along with the genre.


A big bruising bounty hunter
Jonny Lee wong
A overweight kung fu fighter modeled after Samo hung.

First off both guys made characters separately  and brought them together in the beginning of the game. Like mos t of the games I  work on, this is the  least optimal way to  do it, in truth  I have an ideal about every one sitting around and making characters as a group. I rarely ever get to see this ideal in action.
For Nova the group part of creating characters consists of  the 10 character background questions. The answers to these questions often involve the other players. Particularly questions like  "which other player character do you know and how do you know them." It would be better to have everyone together in the room for the process.

The back  ground questions are:
  1. What does the character do for cash?
  2. Name one person the character trusts.
  3. Name one person who might help the character.
  4. Name one person the charter is friends with.
  5. Name one person the  character hates, and why
  6. Who does the character want vengeance against, and why? (yes everyone  wants revenge in Nova 74)
  7. Name one thing the character treasures.
  8. Name one thing the character absolutely believes in.
  9. Pick another player character this character knows, say how they know each other.
  10. Name one person this character and another player character (can be a different character than picked for question 9) both know, and how do they both know that person.
Numbers 5 and  6 need a re-write to make them more distinct.
Number 10 needs to be reworded.
All of them need honing so that they are more evocative, and genre specific.

The hard ride 1971

As the Gm I looked over the  answers to the questions and made a nice list of  NPC's that the characters already know.
the  players answers hit all those notes from old 70's cop movies. Among the cast of  characters, an old hobo named Lip Balm Bill, A pimp with  "A heart of gold,"  a Go Go  Dancer by night mechanic by day, and a naturally a nefarious drug dealer.

There's also Harley's motorcycle which might as well be  an NPC.

So we played a short game (very short) based on the  back drop of a hot summer night in the  city.
I got right into doing things so that we would have to roll some dice. I feel in my minds eye this would be a heavy talk kind of game that gets punctuated by moments of sudden violence, not unlike the movies the game is based on.

Because I like employing a light hand, I started with a brothel getting firebombed.

In the spirit of boring every one with  details, the dice work like this.
GM sets a difficulty.
Player rolls if the  player rolls under the difficulty it's a fail,  player rolls over the difficulty it's a partial success, player hits the  difficulty number on the nose , its a perfect success. The players descriptor values (1 to 3) can be used to modify the roll up or down in an effort to create a perfect success. When modifying the die roll the player must say what he or she is doing  to move towards a success.

In play it came out like this.
Harley was sneaking up on the  house where he thought the firebombing drug dealer was holed up. Two brawny guards are siting on the  porch.
Harley uses his streetwise descriptor (2 ) to sneak up.
He fails the roll by 1 so he uses a point of streetwise to raise the roll up one to a perfect success.
The player says how Harley  uses a stone to knock out a street lamp at the corner to both provide more darkness to sneak in distraction the thugs.

GM-ing, the  system I realized quickly it's not easy to fail if the  player has a score of three in a  descriptor. I also realized quickly that having the player talking that long about turning failure into success, is really helpful as a way to gather information about how the players wants that character to bee seen, how they want to portray that character and what's important to them. It's a win, win.

"Shaft in Africa 1973"
Combat was a bit rougher around the edges.
I wrote the game so that there are no "hit points" But rather damage levels for deadly and  non deadly combat. It is possible to get knocked out by one punch or killed by one bullet. That is genre expropriate and I thought worked very well.
Players have a way to avoid insta death, but we never had to use it in this game.
Still this genre demands that combat be deadly enough that players think twice before engaging, and  colorful enough that it's fun when they do.

However on the other side of things, I totally forgot to include what happens when an enemy scores a partial success against a player. That has been fixed, but it was a huge oversight that I just felt stupid about.

The combat involve rolling 2 dice and deciding which one will be the characters offense and which one will be their defense. The choice of defensive die becomes the enemies target number for their attacks.

Don't Bind Your Legs!
One good example is Johnny Lee Wong, side kicked a guy in the chest. The roll was extreme, one high die, one low die. The player choose the  high die as his  hit roll and the low die as his defense. The player  even said, "I hope I get this guy cause I KNOW he is going to hit me back." Luckily yes, he knocked him out cold.

Another good example is Harley scored a partial success while attacking another thug, who as a result of Harley  splitting his nose with a head butt dropped his lit joint and set the curtains afire.

All in all the combat clipped along nicely, and looked like it could be both cinematic and deadly.

A pretty successful play test over all. The guys enjoyed the game, and we even had a nice moment where the die mechanic clicked for one player and he was like, "yeah I love that." I don't care who you are that's the moment that feels good when you write a game.

So moving forward.

I am adding the danger system next, which  is whenever a player rolls a 1 on an action the group danger level goes up by 1, when that danger level hits 10, the next person who rolls a one will have something about their character change drastically, and unpleasantly. This should be a sword over every ones head.
Truck Turner 1974
Mechanically the answer to one of their 10 character creation questions will be dramatically changed. Is the only person you trust (No.2) your sister? guess what she was just found shot dead in the trunk of a car, or worse she double crossed you. The Gm will shatter what ever it is you believe in (no.8) What do you do for cash (No1.) guess what! Your job is the  front for the  drug dealer you want to take vengeance on.. and so on.
It's the twist in the movie, the knife in the back, it's what makes Truck Turner go on a shooting spree.
Danger will be in for the next play test.

Combat needs to be  re-written and cleaned up so that it makes better sense and so I can  remember to tie up all the loose ends.

Everything needs to be more genre specific and written to convey theme.

Thank you for reading.
Please leave any questions or comments in the trunk of the 1974 Nova fast back below.

This is an 8 track boom box.

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