Thursday, April 14, 2011

Heroes of Destiny: The First Playtest

After much revision an messing around with the game on my own, I finally had an opportunity to give Heroes of Destiny a try in a full fledged game session. My normal 7th Sea game had to skip a week due to the host being called out of town on work (in the middle of his scheduled vacation no less). While he offered us use of his place despite his absence, we decided it would be better to hold off until he got back.

That left us with a week with a slot of empty time normally dedicated to gaming. So I floated the idea of giving this game system a whirl. It's been background noise in conversations to date, and I've discussed it in various stages of development with nearly everyone, but none knew much about it in anything but the vaguest terms. They agreed to have at it. One offered to destroy it for me, since he views that as his role as the playtester (and it's one I appreciate).

While I call the game Heroes of Destiny, it's got another, in house development name: Fantasy, Bitches! For this inaugural playtest, I rolled out Swashbuckling, Bitches!, and set it in the same world and city as the 7th Sea game I'm currently running. I made characters that were identified as much by their nationality as anything else, just as 7th Sea does, and in short represented the setting of 7th Sea through the Heroes mechanics. This so that there'd be absolutely no ramp up in terms of getting a feel for the world. I wanted the only new thing to be the mechanics. In that, it worked absolutely perfectly. No one once complained that things didn't feel right or that there were aspects of the setting that were being forced into the game but didn't fit. Mind you, we played for 2 hours and no one was playing a sorcerer, so it was an extremely limited sampling, but as far as the pedestrian stuff, it worked.

I made the characters, and while that gives me both a bias and an advantage in that I understood how the mechanics of chargen are supposed to work, I found the process both quick and thought provoking. I concentrated on giving people talents and trainings that were both descriptive and broad, not only because that's how I think they should work, but to highlight how the system can work. One character had a training called "Work the Sword Cane," and another had a talent of "I know what kills people." Both were assumed to be combat skills, which they certainly could be used as, but I had opportunity to demonstrate how they could be expanded beyond that when the sword cane man decided to charm someone and I pointed out that he could add a little flare with the cane to added effect. After the session I pointed out a few examples of non-combat applications of kill knowledge, such as investigating a murder scene or performing an autopsy. That aspect of the game went over big. As soon as the potential breadth was pointed out, people ran wild with potential applications for what was on their sheet.

The target of 5 seems like a good one. It requires people to dedicate serious effort to anything they want to accomplish, especially in the beginning. Even with a large pile of Hope dice, people were routinely coming up with small numbers of successes. The need to throw in Destiny established itself early.

Something I didn't expect was how tightly people clung to their hopes. As soon as I explained destiny creep and how it eroded hope, I got hit with questions about reversing that, and once in play, there was a real reluctance to throw any destiny, even when people were loaded up with 9 Hope. I did expect the choice to be hard, but this was more than I anticipated. Someone did point out the possibility of a player potentially deciding to forever be mediocre and never use Destiny, but when I explained that bloodying Destiny counts as use, he figured it would be an ultimately self correcting problem. Another player figured that while the choice is hard, the desire to have a cool character (defined by higher levels of competence) would balance out the price of Hope.

There was, however, a fair bit of confusion about the conversion rates of points to dice. It wasn't a rules problem so much as it was a problem with explaining the concept. In the discussion that followed the game we came up with an alternate tracking method. It doesn't change the rules, but does change what you see on the table. In short, you start with all point in your pool. You then convert them to dice when you want to act at the top of an exchange, but track your damage in points still. Previously I was tracking Hope with dice (since they're always 1:1) and Destiny with poker chips (since they give more dice the more you spend). I'll be writing that up and we'll try this method when we have another game.

Finally, we didn't get much of a chance to try it out in a 2 hour session, but at the very end of the game someone endangered Hope, and while the extra dice didn't help our errant hero, the explanation of what happened to his hopes on account of his actions made a bell go off for the mechanic. I'd explained it before, but when people saw how it worked, both in terms of dice and in terms of the game narrative, they found they liked it quite a bit. There was a lot of reluctance to use the option because of that aforementioned tight personal cling to hopes, but it seemed well received when the effects came into view.

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