Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Fantasy: Gamex Playtest Report

We had a full table for the "SotS" game Sunday morning, including one woman who, as she mentioned only after the game, had never played an RPG before. I'm glad I didn't know in advance; the pressure would've been on. She did a great job with Fortunata, though, and she had a good time. Thank the Maker her first experience was a good one. Later, at the indie game table, Josh Roby, Alex Duarte, and I all barraged her with other game suggestions, like Zorcerer of Zo, Prime-Time Adventures, and... ooh, what was the other one? Well, it wasn't Burning Wheel, I know that. She was surprised to hear that the SotC's rulebook is so thick -- truly, a testament to how intuitive and newbie-friendly SotC can be.

Yves' player commented that she (Yves) didn't seem to have much of a motivation for participating in the party's mission, other than that she was hired. And he's right. I'm not sure why I had her a thief who only dabbled in magic, when I should've made her a full-blown mage. She was maybe a little too stealthy, which only encouraged him to make her even stealthier (with a great aspect: "When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Hide in the Dark"), and that meant that she essentially sat out part of the action. So lesson learned, there.

The good news on Yves is that the way the magic system works -- that is, the "First One's Free" mechanic -- encouraged Yves' player to cast at least one spell a scene. She never cast a second in a scene, because she was usually busy hiding, in accordance with her character skills and aspects, but that's fine. For that character, magic was seasoning, not the meat, and the mechanics backed that up. If I use that character in a future playtest, I'll reverse her stealth and magic emphases to distinguish her a little more.

Also, I started everyone out with a default of 3 Stress boxes, thinking that that would make things grittier, but y'know... it didn't. Only one character took consequences, and I had to work my ass off to make that happen. In retrospect, his player was right: I should've just paid him a Fate Point and said, "Something hits you on the back of the head and everything goes black." But oh no, I had to keep it real and try to get some legit consequences on him. Bah. Meanwhile, characters like Gregor the troll never came within a mile of a consequence -- at 7 Health Stress (including his armor) and a high Melee, there was no way any of my little thiefy or thuggy minions were going to put a dent in him.

Since the minions weren't technically "armed" with anything -- that is, they didn't have a weapon listed, or any aspects regarding what they were wielding -- the "Strong Against" armor rules didn't really come into play except at the climactic battle, when a few of the party fought a monstrously huge blue beetle in a subterranean chamber. Gregor tried to invoke his axe's Slashing aspect, but was unable to because the beetle had Heavy armor ("Chitinous Shell"). When we got to that fight and I saw the beetle's stats again, I thought for sure he'd be a "run away" encounter -- Superb Might, the Wrestler stunt, 8 Health Stress, etc. -- but they made short work of him. Specifically, the jungle elf hit him for something like 15 damage thanks to some generous Fate Point expenditures and his One Arrow Left stunt. I had 5 Fate Points for the scene that I could've used to bolster the beetle's defenses, but it was already after 2:00 so I just let it go.

Later that night, I played in Colin's "Spirit of the Force" Star Wars/SotC game (which was predictably awesome), and came away with a deep appreciation of his "No Stress, just consequences" mechanic. He's of the opinion that simply taking Stress is dull, whereas taking consequences is exciting, and I'd tend to agree. So he's done away with Stress tracks altogether, which means that whenever a character is hit, he takes a consequence. 4+ damage mandates a Moderate consequence, and 8+ means a Severe consequence. Those may seem like some crazy-high numbers, but it isn't unusual in "SotF" for skill efforts to be in the double-digits. Minor consequences go away at the end of the scene, and Moderate consequences go away with sufficient downtime between scenes (e.g., "Gash In Side" would go away if the character received medical treatment). Severe consequences, however, don't so much go away as become a permanent part of the character in the form of an aspect. Colin's example, from "Empire Strikes Back": Vader cuts off Luke's hand, a Severe consequence (then arguably deals him a Moderate mental consequence when he tells him he's his father). At the end of the movie (i.e., the game, or the story arc), Luke gets a cybernetic hand, replacing one of his aspects with "Mechanical Hand -- Just Like My Father." The transition from consequence to aspect is "in the fiction," and becomes an important turning point for the character.

I think that's pretty effin' rad. I plan to steal it wholesale.
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