Thursday, February 15, 2007

[How We Came to Live Here] Results of Dreamation Playtest

The playtest I ran at Dreamation went extremely well. My rules are very rough, but the play that came out at the table (from an admittedly expert group of players) was pretty much exactly what I wanted out of the game. So, my task to continue to prepare these rules is to firm them up, and to deal with the problems that came out and the hacks I introduced in the playtest.

There are a couple of systems that need some serious work. I added player-character Ambitions as a sort of last minute tack-on, and they did not have sufficient influence in the game. These were basically goals the character had, and each time you attempted to move toward the goal and failed, it's value as a payoff would increase. I'm not sure they are entirely necessary. They did give some good role-playing hooks in the game, but I think the idea about player-imposed obstacles isn't really necessary, since everyone's passions about their character goals seemed to run so deep they weren't interested in purposefully failing.

The threat level of opponents is also something I want to really look at. Opposition outside of other player characters is formalized into three levels of threat, which basically translate into dice pools. The formal threat level needs to be balanced with the level of player resources available, but I think I may need to do fixed levels of resources in sample opponents, and indicate restrictions depending on stakes (simple, difficult, heroic). Some opponents may be too difficult for players to take on as heroic challenges until they have built up their resources over time. The playtest didn't get into the character-improvement mechanics at all. My main concern here is color: how to make these dice-pool enemies into something with some flavor that can be called on on the fly without a major demand on the GM's creativity.

I think that village building and relationships needs to be simplified a bit, too. The village relationship map was really complicated and confusing. I had four types of relationships for each PC, and I will probably reduce it to two types: friend/lover/ally and rival/enemy. That will result in fewer lines and some strong advice on how to build the village will help by introducing a "law of conservation of NPCs" sort of principle. I will also have specific rules about what types of social contests are required to change people's disposition, so you could have conflicts to turn someone's heart against someone else, or to win them over to your side.

Dice pools in conflicts are created by calling on one of four stats, related to a direction. How you choose direction in a conflict is pretty important and not yet sufficiently defined. The other problem I had with dice pools was that people were drawing on traits and rolling dice, and then failing to get the result they needed, and then drawing on another trait. This created a narrative dissonance, where players kept going, "And furthermore!" to call on trait after trait til they got what they needed. I think the solution here is to increase initial pool size, and let players call on traits to flip dice to the results they need. This keeps both a random and a strategic element to the conflict system.

Another thing to firm up is GM duties for conflicts and the like, and also what the GM does during interstitial scenes. Tension needs to be applied to the village on both the inside and the outside front each turn, which will help force the players to act and force them to make hard choices.

One last thought, it seems to be pretty important that you have both female and male characters in the game. I'm not sure how it would work without, but I can imagine some issues with player partisanship one side of the issue or the other. I may have to playtest with a single-gender character group and see what happens.

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