Category Archives: playtesting

Adventures of the Space Patrol Playtesting

I’ve now run two playtest games of Adventures of the Space Patrol, and I’m now getting a much better idea of what I need to do to improve it. It’s the kind of game that somewhat depends on how the people playing handle things, and it’s the kind that isn’t likely to fly apart and become a big, interesting mess, so it took a while to really figure out where to go.

Stuff With Aspects
It will come as no surprise to anyone who’s played FATE before that making aspects and compels work properly is absolutely vital, and it’s a big part of why the first playtest was flatter than the second (though the fact that for me and one of the players our Skype session was very early in the morning was a factor too). I had been using compels mainly to represent characters doing something disadvantageous, but that’s actually severely limiting their scope. Compelling an aspect can also include stuff that will change the situation in a way that’s disadvantageous to the PCs, and for me at least it’s much easier and more interesting to come up with those kinds of compels.

I’m planning to go through and revise the characters’ aspects, with two things in mind. First, each character should have an aspect that’s clearly good for compelling. Second, each character should have an aspect that’s clearly about getting closer to others. Jono’s portrayal of Katrina, the Venusian Cat Princess was terrible and awesome, but I found she was a little more selfish than I really want characters to be for the same. However, changing her “Time to play!” aspect into “Play with me!” could make a huge difference.

Fusion Points
Jono and his friends are also into Primetime Adventures, and were actually in the habit of shouting “Fan Mail!” whenever someone did something they thought was neat (sometimes even when not gaming!). I’ve always found these kinds of reward mechanics to be a really powerful tool (Yuuyake Koyake has Dreams, and Peerless Food Fighters has Applause Tokens, and both work really well), so I’ve decided to try implementing something similar in Space Patrol in the form of “Fusion Points” that players can award to one another during the game. I love the atmosphere of creativity and improvisation they brought, and I’ve found that these kinds of mechanics help foster that. I’m also contemplating letting players use Fusion Points to do compels on other players.

Conflicts
More or less by accident, I stumbled on some stuff to improve the conflict rules. In the game I’ve simplified conflicts to basically being an effort to succeed at opposed rolls to give the opposition three temporary aspects before they do the same to you, and in the second playtest I did a conflict that was the PCs in a rocketship vs. a crazy volcanic moon. Reducing the sides to two active characters (with others lending a hand) and allowing characters to impose aspects on the other overall side worked really well. I need to sit down and refine this, but it goes a long way towards fixing the issues I saw with the conflict rules, while making non-violent conflicts that much easier. Also, turning a volcanic planet into a “character” was really neat all around.

In Conclusion
On the whole I’m really happy with how the game it turning out. I think I’ve managed to keep the bits of FATE that I really want and do some fairly novel things with the rules elsewhere. I’m grateful to Dan (whose Final Hour of a Storied Age needs work but is really neat), Peter, Jono, Sushu (whose Jiang Hu game has a ton of potential), and Aaron (who was awesome to do playtesting with) for lending a hand with my insanity.

Game Designer Needs Playtesting Badly

I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to look beyond my regular gaming group to get playtesting done. Don’t get me wrong, the friends I play with are awesome, but with difficulties with scheduling and sometimes a lack of enthusiasm in general, I’ve had a hell of a time getting more than two or three playtest sessions done in a year, and that’s nowhere near enough for whipping a game into shape. Although I’m still going to keep gaming and where possible playtesting with the usual suspects, I’m also going to start trying to run online playtests via Skype and IRC, and solicit external playtests as well. (Also, any advice for online play in general?)

The upshot of all this is that if you, one of my dear readers, is interested in playtesting one my games, with me online (I’m in the Pacific time zone BTW) or on your own, do let me know. I need to do playtests of both the games I’ve been designing–Adventures of the Space Patrol, Slime Story, and Raspberry Heaven (though the latter too will take some ingenuity to play online)–and some as yet undisclosed games I’ve translated and am working towards publishing. I’m also definitely willing to reciprocate with playtesting, though my ability to organize my own in-person playtest sessions is severely limited as I said.

Update: Thank you for the advice and volunteers! I’m going to work on getting the various games fully ready to playtest, pulling together the means to actually play online (Raspberry Heaven and Slime Story will require doing something clever with VASSAL or similar, and most of the games I need to test will require some kind of dice bot), and advertising in some other places to pull together at least one or two more people to form an online playtest group.

Slime Story: First Playtest Report

Yesterday I finally ran the first playtest of Slime Story. For a first run I think it was very encouraging, though it definitely needs more work. The 2d6+Attribute mechanic does seem to work well, and having Fumbles on snake eyes and criticals on double 6s adds an oddly nice random element.

(Incidentally, I’ve cross-posted on The Forge and Story Games Praxis about a particular element I think I need outside help on.)

Character Creation
Making character was a bit time-consuming, but basically painless. I think combining a clique and class to get your character worked well, and buying gear was the most time-consuming part. Of course, I haven’t implemented non-Base Talents, which would add another element of choice-paralysis.

I had changed how you handle character ownership from an earlier draft without changing how you initialize character connections to match, and wound up giving each character a flat 2 connection ranks to assign as desired. That was still kind of time-consuming, though I’m not sure that’s avoidable apart from changing where that element fits into the session.

Rita by StreyCat

Encounters
The encounter rules seem to work well overall, and from here on out it’ll be a matter of refining rather than rewriting. The abstract range system and the system of actions and attacks and such seem to have worked pretty well, but with a group of 5 hunters the monsters were never much of a threat. They fought a bunch of squishies, then two salamanders, then a mixed group of two shadow dogs and three stumpies.

  • Suichi’s monster tamer character wound up being at a severe disadvantage. I need to figure out a better metric for selecting pet monsters, and having the tamer and monster have independent initiative slots makes it so the pet monster too often winds up just sitting there. I’m thinking Monster Tamers need a Base Talent to assist their monsters better.
  • Monsters die pretty quickly. On the one hand I don’t want combats to drag on, but on the other hand they’re dropping like flies and not having a chance to do much. With their current HP totals there would have to be more of them per encounter or something.
  • The only time monsters won a Positioning Check was when the protagonist rolling for the party rolled a fumble (auto-fail). This is partly due to letting PCs Help one another. I’m thinking monsters (and maybe characters in general) will just get a flat bonus for how many they have on their side. Allowing Help on Positioning Checks also means that whoever’s got the second- and third-highest Hunter ratings gets a mark on their connection to whoever has the highest for every single Encounter.
  • Consumable attack items suffer the same problem as alchemy items in D&D4e, which is to say that they’re really expensive for a one-shot attack that can miss.
  • Having Aura attacks (like the salamander’s fire aura) be a Clash actually makes it easier to hit the monster, which is not at all what I’d intended.
  • The Assist action potentially puts you at a disadvantage, especially if you’re dealing with a monster that has a high defense rating.
  • Since I used all common monsters, the players never once had to do a Monster Knowledge check, which in turn made the Geek character’s Monster Encyclopedia talent irrelevant.

Interludes
Interludes, which are meant to carry the lion’s share of the role-playing, were probably the weakest part of the game. Some of that came from the fact that we had too many secondary characters that weren’t particularly involved in monster hunting, plus I think I as the GM wasn’t trying hard enough to drive the role-playing oriented elements. I’m not sure what exactly needs to happen with this part of the game. We weren’t in fact playing it quite how the rulebook suggests, but then it wasn’t a difficult mistake to make.

Some of it is that I need to try to as the GM to do more RP-oriented stuff with the existing rules, but I’m thinking it might also be a good idea to put something in the rules to push towards role-playing. I really have no idea what that would be though.

Conclusions
On the whole a good start, but I’ve got a fair amount of writing, revising, and brainstorming to do before I do another serious playtest. There were also a fair number of elements we didn’t touch on, including achievements and social conflicts, so we’ll have to see where those go next time.

Slime Story: Playtest Version 2

slime_story_christine

If you’ve been following this blog, then by now you know that Slime Story is my RPG of “teenagers hunting cute monsters for spending money.” Basically, imagine monsters from Ragnarok Online and Maple Story invading American suburbia. I finally have the new playtest document for Slime Story ready to go. It’s very different from–and hopefully altogether better–than the last one.

This game is a weird hybrid of traditional, indie, and Japanese RPG design sensibilities, or to put it another way, Meikyuu Kingdom, D&D4e, and Mouse Guard were all key inspirations (though there’s a long list of others). It has a rigid scene structure (you alternate between encounters and interludes), powers usable depending on the game’s time units, an abstract range map, characters defined by a “class” and “clique,” achievements (kind of like in video games, but a bit free-form), relationship mechanics, and other wacky stuff. It’s also meant to be largely player-led, and protagonists need to define and pursue their own goals.

Playtest Notes
I’m making this playtest draft publicly available so that people can read it and perhaps even try it out. If you do, I want to hear all about it! Tell me what you think, tell me how it plays, and share your war stories! However, it hasn’t been playtested yet AT ALL–I’ll hopefully be rectifying that fairly soon–so some of the stuff that I thought looked good on paper might not work at all.

The playtest version is deliberately incomplete, on account of me not wanting to try to come up with over 100 Talents and 40 or 50 monsters just to wind up having to rewrite them to make up for rules changes. I also left out the supplemental rules chapter (which is meant to have rules for experimental alchemy and quests, amongst other things) because it’s nowhere near ready. There’s enough to sit down and play the game though, and the overall goal at this stage is simply to make sure the basic design is sound.

Tasty, Tasty Files
I’ve put together the necessary materials in PDF form to the best of my ability, though especially for the character sheet I don’t really have the necessary skills to make something great-looking. For action cards, I recommend just using index cards, but most anything will do. Likewise, you can easily substitute miniatures for the battlefield tokens (which at this stage are just a placeholder using dingbat fonts).

Slime Story RPG Rules (Playtest v2) PDF
Protagonist Sheet
Secondary Character Sheets
Battlefield Map
Battlefield Tokens
Rules Quick Reference Sheet

Raspberry Heaven 0.2 Playtest 1

Sunday night was the first playtest of the new revision of Raspberry Heaven, and I think it’s promising (and a vast improvement over the old version) but in need of much more testing and tweaking. It probably didn’t help that I started coming down with a cold an hour or two before we started though. On the plus side I had time to go buy some Japanese snacks (Pocky, melon bread, rice crackers) to munch on during the game.

For those that are interested in looking at the current draft of the game:

Anyway, I was joined by Mike S., Elton, and Tim for the playtest. I’d e-mailed my current draft of the rules out to everyone, but Elton hadn’t had time to read it, so I had to explain the rules to him verbally. This is half of my usual gaming group. Although they’re a creative bunch (especially Mike and Tim), we haven’t had occasion to play many indie games yet (I’ve been working on it), and the players, myself included, weren’t always prepared to narrate on the spot. I’m not sure how much of it is simply not being accustomed to that kind of improvisation, and how much is just not being cut out for it. Anyway.

Me, Tim, and Mike got together around 5:30 p.m. and watched some Azumanga Daioh and played a couple rounds of Uno to warm up. I think I’ve mentioned before that I don’t really like board or card games (Magic and Monopoly helped ruin both genres for me), but I find that Uno scratches roughly the same itch that Tetris does. I guess I have a thing for simple games with some simple logic tasks to them. I’m thinking of including (1) optional rules for playing Raspberry Heaven with an Uno deck, and (2) putting together rules for a custom Crazy Eights variant card game to play.

Character Creation
Elton showed up at about 7, and after another round of Uno we got into character creation. With the exception of Mike, everyone only really gave their characters a name and the requisite three Quirks. The PCs wound up being as follows:

  • Karin Takebashi (Elton): Tsukkomi, Tsundere, Physically Gifted
  • Yui Kinomoto (Mike): Boke, Obsession (Puppets), Genkisugi
  • Yama (Tim): Jock, Obsession (Eating), Busty
  • Kana Ninomiya (Ewen): Space Cadet, Slow, Genius

Characters

The decision to omit the fluff (likes, dislikes, best/worst subject, blood type, etc.) wasn’t conscious per se, and more to keep character creation from dragging on even further. I might try to have some game mechanical consequences to it (e.g., you can draw a card for a scene involving your Best Subject, but you have to discard one for your Worst Subject).

  • As I’ve been planning for ages, we took out my box of Pinky Street doll stuff and made representations of our characters that way. This wound up working pretty nicely, and it seems like after some fiddling everyone was pretty satisfied with that part. On the other hand I definitely need to see about getting some bases for the figures (they make them, but they’re mostly sold separately), since the dolls often fall down, and in Karin’s case the head would pop off every time that happened.
  • One thing I’m thinking about for character creation and such is to have a PDF for optional Quirk cards. You could use them to tangibly pick out Quirks and ensure each one is exclusive to one character, or randomly generate a character, or use them for reference.
  • Another thing I’ve been thinking about is making a small collection of iconic characters/templates that players can use to get into playing the game more quickly.

Scenes and Cards
I made a quick “Scene Template” that I think will prove indispensable to beginners playing the game. It contains all of the basic information for the core gameplay, and is a kind of visual guide as well. Everyone seemed to catch onto the mood values of the cards and the phases of a scene fairly quickly, though I think feeling out what does and doesn’t fit into a phase and the border between the narration part and role-playing part of each phase has a bit of a learning curve. We got through a total of five scenes, and ended the game where it felt appropriate to do so, partly because it had gotten kind of late on a Sunday night.

I had originally planned for the length of an episode to be measured in terms of how many times you shuffle the deck, but I also set it up so that characters get 3 new cards per scene, which means that with the base scene cards the four of us would burn through 18 cards per scene, and we’d get through as little as two scenes before needing to reshuffle. As is, those five scenes required three reshuffles. Playing with two or more decks shuffled together might be helpful–a basic Uno deck has 108 cards after all–but regardless I need to do something about the economy of cards. The 3 cards per scene did keep people from being stingy with cards as I had hoped at least.

Template
On the other hand, I’m not sure what to do with the basic way the cards are played. In practice the free-flowing Uno-style matching game is very non-confrontational, but it perhaps excessively rewards players who wait for others to play their cards. I’m not sure having it be oriented towards high cards is what I want exactly (it was interesting to see players choosing their cards in order to maneuver towards the mood they wanted for one thing), but perhaps a more structured turn order might help. Tim’s suggestion (which Mike seemed to dislike) was to have each player get a hand of five cards per scene, and set out one face-down for each phase, then flip them over all at once to determine the narration rights by high card (the 5th card would be usable for Special Moves, but you could only use one Special Move per scene).

Each Quirk gives a character a Special Move that lets them play cards differently (such as by treating certain cards as wild cards) at the expense of needing to include something related to it in the scene, but in the playtest there was only one instance of a Special Move being used for something other than a wild card. Some of them need to be tweaked to be more useful (I’m thinking you should be able to drop the tens digit of Addition Plays, so that e.g. a 6 and a 7 could be played as a 3), and some need to be tested period (like Draw Two). Still, on the whole I think I’ve found an effective way to motivate players to bring their character’s peculiarities into the game. It also eliminates the original version’s worries about checking for conflicting Quirks, though Play Adjacent is perhaps over-used in the Special Moves.

Emergent Story
The four girls are classmates in high school, and their homeroom teacher, Inoue-sensei, is a lazy, short-tempered otaku. The episode was about physical examinations (once a year students are weighed and measured), and anxiety about such. I’d originally thought it kind of a narrow subject for a full episode, but for the 5 scenes we played through it was about right. In homeroom, Inoue-sensei came in late, fuming that the release of the new game she’d lined up for had been delayed, and she decided to leave early. That Kana couldn’t quite tell the difference between Yui (who’d decided to jump in to “teach” the class) and the real teacher was enough to get Inoue-sensei to get back on track.

Lunch in the cafeteria led to Yama and Yui, massively laden with food, colliding in the middle of the cafeteria, while Kana watched helplessly.

Then we moved on to the physical exams. Yui gave plushies to everyone, and Kana went into the nurse’s office with a penguin on her head. Mr. Tuxedo wound up getting his own report from the nurse. Yui bragged about her own “secret weapon,” which turned out to be plushies stuffed into her bra. When it was Yama’s turn, Karin and Yui decided they needed to peek in, and Inoue-sensei (played by Elton at that point) came into the nurse’s office with a binder and started writing things down for some reason. Mike played a Joker, and got narration on the Resolution phase, so he said that the door Yui was leaning against collapse in, knocking down the privacy screens to boot so the boys could see in.

I had the next scene (which turned out to be the last) be in the principal’s office, where he was talking to Yui, Yama, Inoue-sensei, and the nurse to figure out what happened. He decided to let Karin decide Yui’s punishment. That scene wound up being all Spades, which means a Dream Sequence, so we wound up with Yui in some crazy bear costume, and then Kana waking up from sleeping in the middle of class to be scolded by Inoue-sensei.

Table

Conclusions
The use of scenes, phases, and moods from the cards seems to work pretty well, though it depends on the group playing, and I’d like to see how it turns out with players more accustomed to group improvisation type games. The major thing I need to do is work on how the cards are played, both in terms of the overall flow of the game and making sure Special Moves are sufficiently useful. We never actually used the rules for Memories, and while I think those serve a purpose in the rules, they no doubt need work too.

Raspberry Heaven: Playtest Version 1

So, with the game proceeding at a nice pace, I now have an initial playtest version ready to go. I may be doing my first playtest in the very near future. :3

Get the Raspberry Heaven Playtest Version Here

Writing up episode descriptions turned out to be WAY harder than I expected (though I am kind of out of it because of school starting up…). I’ll definitely have to work on that more as I go along. Anyway, any and all feedback is greatly, tremendously appreciated.

Ichigo Mashimaro Characters
Okay, here goes:

Chika
Diligent
Tsukkomi
Plain

Miu
Boke
Genkisugi
Space Cadet

Matsuri
Delicate
Naive
Timid

Ana
Complex (English)
Nice
(crap I don’t know what the third one should be)

Nobue
Lazy
Obsession (Cute Stuff)
Obsession (Smoking)

The Status of My Games

I have no idea who I picked it up from, but I came down with a cold the day after I got back from GenCon. On the plus side, I also came back feeling inspired about gaming in general, so it’s time to look at my various back burner projects and figure out where I am and what I need to do. The most important thing, unquestionably, is that I need to make much more of an effort to playtest the stuff I create.

Raspberry Heaven
Today I finally finished typing up the descriptions of Quirks. I need to fill in a few things here and there, but at this point the only thing I really need to to for playtesting is have a single episode write-up ready to play. I actually slipped some elements of this game into a weird dream episode of my Divine Machine campaign (a long-term dimension hopping game using OVA), but the rules never really came into play. I’m trying to do a “Bonus Indie Gaming Night” kind of thing with my friends, and I think the first real playtest of RH will come after The Mountain Witch.

Anime Dreams
I looked through what I currently have the other day, and I’m thinking that I’m closer to having it testable than I realized. Mostly I need to work a little on how I’m presenting what I’ve already got, and maybe do a little bit of trimming. The game is essentially a conflict engine, a diceless version of games like DitV, FATE, PDQ, TSOY, etc., and while the setting creation rules have the potential to be really interesting, they’re a distraction from getting the engine running.

I also want to come up with a more evocative title. In no particular order, here are some titles and bits and pieces thereof that I came up with:
Anime Stars
Defenders of Tokyo
Dreaming of the Sunrise
Round Zero
Zero Saga
Zero Requiem
Zero Spark
Sea of Miracles
Starlight Breaker(s)
Raging Heart(s)
S, R, J, Super, Z, A’s, Zero, 1/2, +
Soul
Striker(s)
Code
Sparking
100%
Unlimited
Infinite

Tokyo Heroes
I think I mentioned this before, but Filip sent me literally 8 pages of feedback. I know more or less what I want to do with the game — an overhaul to make it much, much less handwavey — but it’s going to be pretty time-consuming. The main thing is I’m going to delineate game session structure according to kishoutenketsu as mentioned before, which in turn will require retooling several other widgets in the game to match. In particular, I want to take a cue from the GUMSHOE system and put the emphasis on when and how PCs find clues, rather than rolling dice to see if they figure things out.

Slime Story
I came up with this setting idea ages ago (and even put it in an episode of Divine Machine), and I’ve been wanting to do it in RPG form, either as a setting or an independent game. Right now I’m thinking I want to create a game that uncomfortably marries simple hack-and-slash with hippie/story game stuff about the protagonists’ hopes and dreams in the face of a bland reality brightened only by the monster hunting hobby that they’ll eventually have to give up. It’s still very much in the preliminary stages, and I honestly have no idea how I’m going to tackle the latter part of the game’s concept.

Thrash 2.0
The eternally delayed, hope to do it some day second edition of Thrash. Every time I get even remotely motivated Real Life starts dumping stuff on me, plus my tastes have changed enormously since I wrote Thrash in my first year of college, and while I still want to make a game-y hand-to-hand combat thing, I find assigning lots of points to be bland and cumbersome. I’m thinking that characters should just have set selections of maneuvers (say, 3 Special Moves and 1 Super to start with), and applying similar simplification all the way through. I’ve lost count of how many total rewrites I’ve done, but if I go this route it’ll be yet another.

we are flat
This is intended to be an anthology of three short-form games inspired by Superflat: Moonsick, Magical Burst, and Black Hole Girls. Right now it’s WAY on the back burner. Each game is going to be radically different from the others, and require its own development cycle.