Monday, July 5, 2010

Second Playtest

It's been a while since my group's first playtest, in which they made a daring raid against a castle in India after recovering the portions of a secret password from a Seattle drug addict, a member of the British House of Lords, and a Spanish ninja living in France (named Pepe). They landed a helicopter gunship in the courtyard after taking out the ground troops by dropping a bass boat (complete with trolling motor) on them, and then made their way to the secret datastore hidden in the back room of the castle brothel that was filled with 100 ugly women and one beautiful one who only had one arm. The goal of this mission? The Jade Dragon, which they decided was the flavor formula for Stuffer Shack's new soyshake.

They promised that they'd take the next playtest more seriously.

For that next playtest, I didn't let them define all the parameters of the run as I did last time. This wasn't because I didn't trust my group, but because they'd said that while the Wilderness of Mirrors style of creating the run mission themselves was a lot of fun, it wasn't something they'd want to do all the time. So I decided to present the next playtest session as a cannon continuity run in our campaign, picking up from where we'd last left off but replacing the mechanics.

Instead of asking everyone to make their characters, I made them up myself, trying to represent them in concept as closely as I could with the new system. Outside of aspects, I was done with all their numbers inside of 30 minutes. 4 characters in a half hour. Not bad at all. I spent a couple of days coming up with aspects for each of them, but I chalk that up to being new to the concept and wanting to really nail these, as they were the portion of the system I wanted to push the hardest.

My party consists of the following:
  • James - a street sam
  • Cinder - a wolf shaman
  • Sickboy - an elven hacker/rigger/face/physical adept
  • Dr. Rush - a physical adept with a concentration on medical skills
The basic character sheet took up half a page of paper. The hacker and mage required an additional half sheet for their specific information, and the adepts got a sheet describing their powers. Everyone had a sheet describing their aspects.

The run started as a straightforward job (don't they all?): grab a celebrity and hold her until she misses her scheduled appearances, then release her unharmed. (For those of you familiar with the adventure, this is the Queen Euphoria run.) This involved some planning, some combat, and a good amount of role playing.

How'd it go?

People loved the basic die mechanics. They got the hang of methods almost instantly, and were calculating their pools lightning quick. This followed in combat as well. The division of yin and yang dice took no time at all to figure out. However, I did notice that those who favored guns rarely bothered combining dodge into their pool and were content to blaze away without any defensive option. This resulted in high offensive punch, but the sam in particular took a severe mauling. He walked out of that fight with a deadly injury and almost his entire condition monitor filled.

As for wounding itself, as soon as people figured it out how it worked, and especially when they understood the role of injuries, it was a big hit. The sam, who took the worst beating of all, seemed really taken with the idea of injuries, especially because they were defined by the players, not by me.

Healing was something that didn't come across as nearly as intuitive, and the hacker pointed out why: I've avoided formulas for almost everything in this game. That makes most the concepts very easy to pick up and use because there is almost nothing to calculate. Healing, however, is formula reliant. There are comparisons between environmental factors and knack ratings modified by doctor skill rolls. This is both harder to grasp and slower to implement. However, given that these rules are for extended care and not field medicine the group asked that we try them again before changing anything, this time making the rolls at the end of the game day instead of in the middle of things. They seem to think that when not cluttered with a lot of other activity these rules will work fine. Here's hoping.

Our sam renamed the battle wheel the shot clock, and people like it a lot. People seem happy with how reflexes make the augmented go faster, but those without the implants feel like they still have a prayer in combat. An unexpected benefit I found was that by representing everyone on the wheel with a miniature, it makes tracking who's left very easy. As enemies go down, I'd pluck their mini off the clock. This gave the benefit of minis combat without all the tactical elements that slow down play. 

Sorcery seemed to work perfectly. The player playing the mage got the workings of the spellcasting process quickly, and managed both effects and drain rapidly. More than once I saw him weighing the implications of how to split his pool between effect and drain resistance.

Hacking works, sort of. That needs a little more work. Currently the system favors VR a little too much, and my hacker likes AR because he doesn't want to separate from the party. I prefer that too, so I need to boost that a little bit while still making the two different enough that there's a real choice to make between the two. For the moment I'm going to say you can access your System dice in any interface mode, including VR, and retool Matrix initiative to rely more heavily on interface. Thus you can be just as good in AR as VR, but you'll be faster in VR. That was the original goal anyway. As long as I make speed an issue when performing hacking actions, this should work out.

To that end, I'm also adding a Response rating to commlinks (there's my 4 that I was looking for) to deal specifically with initiative boosts. This brings Matrix initiative in line with meat body initiative in terms of options available for augmentation.

Combining knacks needs a little refinement. It's not so much that the rules themselves don't work, but there needs to be a little more nuance in how it's done. Sometimes having another knack, no matter its rating, should only help another knack roll, for example. I'm going to work on something for that and we'll try it again.

People also asked for some kind of delay on grenades. After thrown, they wanted time to try to pick it up and throw it back. Yeah, I've got a lot of Modern Warfare players in my group.

The adept/sam divide was received well. The hacker/adept immediately understood the difference, both thematically and mechanically and gave it a big thumbs up. It was one run, and we haven't had a lot chances to delve into these implications, but so far this is working out exactly as I'd hoped.

Oddly enough, there were complaints about the wound penalties. The idea of swapping to different dice seemed pretty neat, but the players didn't think shifting from a d6 to a d8 was severe enough. Most of them are more mathmatically inclined than I, and after running through a quick probability scenario they asked that we change it to a d9, which would be a d10 where you reroll 0s. Seems an easy enough fix, so next time we'll try that.

But without question the big stars of the game were aspects. As the players sat down and I explained how everything worked, people began reading their aspect lists. After looking them over, they asked to trade and read each other's. Everyone agreed these were great, and everyone used them in the game (mostly for the bonuses), and they really enjoyed how they worked, conceptually and mechanically.

All in all, everyone said this was something they'd want to continue with. Refinement was necessary, for sure, but the general consensus was that this was worth pursuing, and people looked forward to continuing.

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