Monday, November 16, 2009

GASPcon Playtests

GASPcon 10 expanded to three days, adding two RPG slots on Friday. I ran one of the two Fifth World playtests of the convention on Friday night. I wound up with a bit of an "all star" playtest group, including Jenn from the Trapcast, and "Mr. Teapot" Nick Wedig, designer of House of Masks, which won Game Chef last year. Ironically enough, the fourth fellow at the table—the one I didn't know—gave some of the best performances.

We returned to the Point. I must assume the Ferryman met a cruel end, since we now had a tribe living there who thought that the portal to the Underworld there required human sacrifice. They had taken Jossiah the Healer, and wanted to learn his secrets. So their chief assigned a teenager named Hawk Necklace to become his apprentice. My character, Sleepy Watch, had failed to protect Jossiah, so he enlisted Paws, who took the blame for that because of their uncanny physical similarity, to help him rescue Jossiah. Paws lived in exile in the ruins of Oakland. The panthers had returned there, and allowed no one to approach, but Paws had become kin to them.

Paws and Watch received the help of the people just for trying to fight the other tribe off. They even gave them their magical weapons (the last remaining weapons made of metal). Hawk Necklace met them while looking for someone his people could sacrifice in Jossiah's place, and hatched a plan to sneak Paws and Watch in as prisoners. Watch challenged the chief, and managed to kill him. Watch considered the tribe cannibals, so he ate the chief's ear; but, they didn't actually practice cannibalism, so the gruesome scene simply had the effect of frightening them with his apparent madness.

The slaying of their chief put their village into chaos. A new chief arose, concerned primarily with saving his people. He considered a war on the People of Watcher, Paws and Jossiah a task that could give them the purpose they needed. They looked for ancient propane tanks in Oakland, with which to burn the forests there to the ground and send the panthers back into the Underworld.

After slaying the assassins sent after them and learning of this plot, Jossiah enlisted the aid of the whole village in retrieving these tanks from the old tunnels. Watch kept solitary guard against their enemies, now overconfident with pride. When the enemies came, the panthers fell upon them, but Watcher made a sudden movement against one of the attackers, provoking a panther who scarred his face.

In the tunnels, the enemies swarmed the people. Paws stabbed his spear through one of them, and into a propane tank behind him. They all exploded, consuming most of their enemies. Those that remained mistook Paws for Watch, and began to scream, because the boy who had killed their chief could unleash a firestorm with the strike of his spear.

In the end, Paws returned to the village, and Watcher went into self-imposed exile among the panthers. Just as they had both initially desired, they switched places. Their appearance spread a legend about a boy with magical powers and incredible strength, who could even appear in two places at once. Hawk Necklace left his old people and joined a new people, and Jossiah found hope that the next generation might not always seem less wise and less strong than their ancestors.

The second playtest on Sunday afternoon I played with some of the folks responsible for GASPcon. That one I'd have a harder time recapping from a fiction angle. We had a lot of interruptions, and because it involved some of the folks responsible for GASPcon, exhaustion overtook the game and we ended early. But I still got a lot out of this game especially because of Todd. Todd has taken a real interest in the setting, and he's given me a huge number of really great ideas. Possibly more important than anything, with a project like this, you can easily lose your bearings, and you end up with very little sense of the quality of what you've come up with. Todd gave me a much-needed touchstone to gauge where I stand with this.

In previous iterations, at this point in the playtesting, I'd start to re-evaluate the most basic parts of gameplay. Now, not so much. The poem seems to work for getting into play immediately, helping keep the story's progression on track, and setting a different mood for each round by controlling which rules everyone has access to at that moment. I need to work on the progression of those rules, and as I'll write in some upcoming articles here, I've come up with some different rules to try out. But right now, I expect to bring a game to Dreamation that will look a lot like the game I ran this weekend, and right now, that alone feels like a triumph.

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