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.


Matt Sheridan said...

Man, no stress tracks at all? Wow, that could really be extremely interesting. I need to think about that, some. Are there any design docs or actual play reports for Spirit of the Force?

I've been thinking for a while about some kind of Fate-based game with a structure inspired by In a Wicked Age and Polaris, and a mechanic like that seems like it would fit really, really well with the disposable PCs in such a game.

Tablesaw said...

Hello. I finally got around to writing up my Gamex stuff, including the game you ran: Endgamex.

Mike Olson said...

Re: no stress tracks and disposability, you'd be surprised. Our angried-up Jedi weren't disposable at all. At one point, I decided to take a Minor consequence. I could've sunk more Fate Points into my defense, but... nah. That was the only consequence I took, IIRC. Or maybe there was one more. Point is, none of us died, barring heroic sacrifices.

The cool thing about the No-Stress tweak is that your wounds are aspects -- there's a mechanical element, but no tracking of hit points or stress or whatever. It's just a lot of fun. I mean, that Minor consequence I took was "Overconfident," because I took on a whole grip of big-gun-toting badguys by myself out of reach of my compatriots (actually, I think Colin was trying to lay that consequence on me personally because I wouldn't accept or spend a Dark Side point, but that's as may be). It accurately reflected both the risks of the sticking to the Light Side and the potential negative effects of surviving something like that. Yeah, I could invoke that consequence to help myself later on (and I believe I did), but as a mechanism for picking up an aspect on the fly it was genius.

Like Colin says, stress is boring, consequences are exciting. Stress is the thing that tells you how long you'll have to wait until something exciting happens. *shrug* Why not have the exciting stuff happen right away?

Matt Sheridan said...

That really does sound great, and I have to agree completely: Aspects are the coolest game mechanic ever, and stress tracks are basically just hitpoints. Even with the 2/4/6 houserule, SotC, fights seem too slow and safe. I threw four named opponents and a pile of minions at my players a couple sessions back, and one PC took one minor consequence.

So did you do anything for high Endurance/Resolve characters? Allow them to take more consequences or something?

Mike Olson said...

Well, I haven't done anything myself with the No-Stress thing, beyond conjectural stuff. I don't think Colin had high Endurance/Resolve matter at all as far as that's concerned, though.

Me, I'm thinking of having high Endurance/Resolve grant the ability to take an additional minor consequence or two, but it can't be as easy to get as, say, extra Stress boxes. Being able to take more consequences is a double-edged sword, though: You don't take a moderate consequence as quickly as the next guy, but every consequence is another aspect that can be exploited by the GM.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to playtesting it sometime. I have no idea when. Gamex was the first time I'd run "SotS" at all, ever. It's not always easy finding guinea pigs. But hey, give it a shot and tell me how it goes!

Matt Sheridan said...

Whoops, I replied without even looking at your name. I think I thought Colin had showed up in your blog, there.

Anyway, allowing additional consequences does sound like the way to go, but as you said, it does create some odd questions. If I can take multiple minor consequences, and I get hit for four shifts of damage, do I want to take that as two minors (and let my opponent get two free tags) or as one moderate (and run the risk of still being saddled with that consequence when the next fight starts)?

Of course, tough questions like that are probably more a good thing than a bad thing.