Saturday, May 16, 2009

Playtest Report

Just finished the first playtest of the new v0.7.0 rules. Well, "rules" seems a little grandiose—more of an outline of rules, really. But still enough to test the basic concepts.

We (myself, my wife & my brother) wound up with an interesting story, with lots of interesting reversals, and lot more uncertainty about who would open or close than we've gotten before. It still didn't hit nearly the right tone, though. Personally, I think that had a lot to do with the lack of aids: defined land types and templates, oracles, bits of read prose for the creation story, etc. Those things really help establish the feel, and while I hoped that the three of us could pull together an acceptable playtest without those aids, my wife & brother ended up taking the blank space with a shrug, rather than an invitation to get creative. The shrug and "I don't know" feel perpetuated itself, giving us a very mechanic, superficial game. Even so, it yielded a good story with a few interesting moments. I blame it on the lack of aids, but my wife & brother had different interpretations.

My brother didn't like the warm-up games at the beginning, and felt they came across as too much metagaming. I intend those as tone-setting and warming up, but without the aids, they definitely failed at setting the tone, and while I can see what he means about it coming across like a metagame thing, I think this has more to do with the lack of aids. Next time, we'll use aids, and see if that alleviates the problem; if not, my brother might have something.

He also found it frustrating that he had few means of influencing what happens in an encounter. If the other closes, you have no way to get your stakes. We talked about some ways to address those: either an ability to impress someone with your names or deeds, and/or special Powers, an ability from your Home that gives you the ability to alter a specific rule under specific circumstances (inspired by "Specific Strengths" from In a Wicked Age). Both would require spending Will to use.

The Open/Closed paths, and the system for introducing and resolving Trouble, proved quite effective. We had some comments about the Endgame conditions creating too much metagame concern that disrupted immersion, but I'd like to see how that goes with some solid tone-setting aids in place before I write it off.


Jason Godesky said...

We had some jokes tonight about how unintuitive some of the infamous deeds could get. For instance, I struck against the Mad Forest (I closed, the Forest opened), and so it got an infamous deed, "Dreaming Bear healed the waters." The waters didn't want my healing, and I eventually came up with the explanation that because I forced Madness out, Madness had it in for me. But my brother had a good point: it didn't seem quite right.

So, what if I got rid of the famous/infamous division, and you just had Names and Deeds, that acted like Famous Names & Deeds? So, Names & Deeds always help you. Instead of infamy, striking could create trouble, or build up Fate--you create an imbalance in the Force, you might say. I think that makes more sense, really.

I have another problem that came up in this playtest: what "knobs" do I have to play with, that I could design Powers around? I have a few ideas. First, things you can get:

(1) The other person has to open (double price?)
(2) Reduce Trouble
(3) No Trouble from traveling a Closed path
(4) Free stuff: Travel, Introduction, Power use
(5) New Power (double, maybe even triple price?)
(6) Enter scene uninvited
(7) Create Trouble

Now, things that those might cost you:

(1) Will
(2) Reducing a relevant path (Open to Uncertain, or Uncertain to Closed)
(3) Increasing Fate?
(4) New Trouble
(5) An existing Trouble gets bigger

And finally, limits that you might place on those:

(1) Place where this takes place
(1.5) Fate in the place where this takes place
(2) A relevant path exists
(2.5) A relevant path not only exists, but has a specific state (Closed, Uncertain or Open)
(3) Number of Troubles in play
(3.5) Fate in a Trouble

So, now my questions:

(1) Do you see any other "knobs" I've missed?

(2) It feels like something should happen with the balance of Fate in different places, especially along different kinds of Open or Closed paths, but what? The game can't take much more complexity, so it has to happen in the flow of the game, and with some very simple changes.

Jason Godesky said...

Editing the rules tonight, I noticed one we ignored in this playtest: you can only draw a path connecting the place of your current initiation to the place of your last initiation. We even noted at the table how our very well-connected map made the story a little more disjointed. Had we heeded that rule, we would have had a much less connected map, made up of three paths weaving together. I had intended to produce that kind of weaving with that rule, but I hadn't realized how much it could impact gameplay. In this case, I might have solved this problem even before we experienced it.