Monday, May 2, 2011

Heroes of Destiny: Second Playtest

Our second playtest for Heroes of Destiny was rough. There were a bunch of scheduling snafus that lead some, but not all, of us to gather. Since this was supposed to be the beginning of a short campaign, and a test of the character creation system, I wanted everyone there at once. Not only did I want to avoid having to schedule a second time to walk those absent through the process, but I wanted everyone together to see if they could work out the rules amongst themselves. In that way it was a test of the text as much as the system.

Since we were a man down, I instead decided I'd take the opportunity to run another game from the menagerie of "I'd like to try this" titles I have. I took a few so we'd have options, and headed on over...

...only to learn that we were indeed going to have a full crew, just a hour later than normal.

Well, hell. I hadn't prepped anything. Sure, I had some story notes, but no numbers. That meant play was more than a little halting. But I'm getting ahead of myself, because we started with character generation.

As I noted earlier, the group decided on a fantasy western. One of them was looking for D&D in the wild west, but wasn't very clear about it. Someone else wanted Deadlands with different rules, which is what I trended toward. Our world is less Brisco County than Deadlands, but the idea is similar: rising sorcey and grim magic have made a mess of the United States.

The players all came in with some idea of what they wanted for their characters, some more detailed than others, so we sat down and got to work. Even though there's not many points to spend in character generation, I was astounded at the agony of expenditure. It took a loooooong time to get those points spent. Normally I'd be demoralized, but in this case it wasn't because the rules were too complicated or unclear; they simply gave a lot of thought to point distribution. Hey, some people put a lot of thought into that. It wasn't a failing of text or system, so we rolled with it.

Talents and trainings were a problem, or the concept of them was a problem. One of the players still kept going to skills as a reference, and kept coming up with terms that were too grounded in game mechanics as opposed to descriptive text, and were in general too limiting. However, over the course of about two hours, we had a good list among them all. Some stars of the bunch included:
  • Small Town Sheriff - you're used to being the law in small communities. This means you know how to dig up information, throw your weight around to get what you want, intimidate those under your authority, and gather up a posse when the need arises. However, you're totally lost in cities, where the red tape and "proper channels" just baffle you.
  • I Work Alone - running dusty trails solo to avoid authorities almost all your life has made you very comfortable with adapting your abilities to any situation. Whatever it is, you have a knack for bending your skills to the task, but your mind has no place for others; their presence tends to foul up your instincts.
  • I Used to Be a Bad Guy - you've come west to get away from your criminal past, but some of it still lingers. Despite your best efforts, there are going to be people who have heard of you, and while that can be a problem with bounty hunters, it gives you extra leverage when convincing folk they don't want to cross you. Plus, having plied the bandit trade yourself, you have insight into how they think and act.
One of the suggestions that John (the person for whom the game was written) had was "Lucky with the Order," from Unforgiven, in which Eddie Munny describes always hitting the most dangerous gunman in a fight first, just because he does. It's a great name, but getting lucky with the order doesn't fit with how talents and trainings work. Get the bonus when hitting the right guy? Get the bonus when determining which guy to hit? I couldn't find a way to make it work, but I really want to because the name sounds perfect.

The big suggestion that came out of this is that the game needs a standardized list of talents and trainings. I resisted this initially. If these are supposed to be bits of description that really display the core elements of the character, picking them from aa pregenerted list seemed counter to their purpose. My players insisted, however, and one pointed out that some people will just pick from the list and that'll be that, but others will eventually make their own, using the list as examples. And he's right. Given that I want to keep the rules themselves genre neutral though, what I'm likely to do is create a list of example talents and trainings that have emerged in our various playtests. People can  pick from them if the campaign's appropriate, and they should provide a solid guide to help people make their own.

Okay, so we got our crew together and then had to take a break as I got my hands on some files, and I began scribbling notes and making stats on the fly. As I said, play was kind of halting, and the initial session had a lot of role playing and not much die rolling. That's okay. I do like those kinds of sessions, and given that this game is ultimately about having to make deeply personal choices and scrifices in character, the heavy role play is just as essential as checking the dice.

What die rolling we did see showed that the basic resolution mechanics are fine. They were a little slow at first, mostly on the differences between potencies and everything else, and the idea that your talents, trainings, and gifts applied to your entire pool once per exhange, not to each effort made. The latter only took a couple to tosses of the dice to work out; I suspect potencies will take just a little longer.

As we didn't really get into much heavy stuff, I noticed people were leaving Destiny out of their rolls, which sat just fine with me. Determining if someone was cheating at cards isn't the kind of high stakes risk that calls for the risk of Destiny. All fine.

XP is a little problematic, as players are having a hard time remembering to write it down, and I've missed reminding them a few times. I still like the idea though, so I'm going to hang onto it and hope that we'll grow into that mechanic.

The one combat we had involved guns, brawling, and some dangerous athleticism (a gunfight moved to the roof of a moving train, where it changed to knives and guns). People called on Destiny, risked Dreams, and invoked ideals. It was pretty cool. Damage sounds high when you deal it out, but given that starting characters have so many Hope dice, they take it pretty well. We didn't get a chance to try out healing at all, so that'll be next time.

What did I learn about the mechanics? Not much, I'm afraid. I spent so much time making numbers up on the fly on my end becaus I hadn't statted anything out that I didn't pay much attention to analysis at the time. I know it felt like more work than I intended to run a fight, but NPCs already only have a few stats and don't roll dice, so I can't simplify it much more. We'll just have to try it again with more organized notes. After all, low prep doesn't mean no prep.

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