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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 82 - most online ever: 565 (October 17, 2020, 02:08:06 PM)
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Author Topic: [Grey Ranks] Mechanical Playtest  (Read 5682 times)
Jason Morningstar

Posts: 1428

« on: December 02, 2006, 05:15:22 PM »

Me, Shane, Ian and Andy had a day of playtesting today, and I’ll be posting about the two games we kicked around separately.  We set it up as a sort of casual day, and we chilled with Tsuro and Wings of War as “palate cleansers” between tests.  Both the games we looked at were things I’m developing – Grey Ranks and Business Solutions. I warned them in advance that it might be less than fun, since the games might not be baked enough to deliver.

Grey Ranks is my game about Polish teens in the 1944 Warsaw Rising.  It has been quietly in development for over a year and is only now really approaching a state where I want to share it and get some testing done.  We put it through some mechanical paces without too much emphasis on roleplaying.

We generated characters and played through one scene in each of the three acts (there are a total of nine scenes in the full game).  Here’s what I learned, in no particular order:

1.  Shane, Andy, and Ian are good friends and smart gamers.

2.  I’ve been over-designing the game.  This was a criticism I’d gotten earlier from Ron Edwards, and testing bore it out.  I’m very concerned with thematic play and have a hard time thinking about the game being played “wrong” – wrong being defined as a way I don’t personally approve of.  This is obviously asinine and I’m working to change my attitude, but the design as it stands is full of areas in which I reinforce my own ideas of good play mechanically.  It all comes from my intense desire to honor ground truth and demonstrate respect for the tragedy that is the game’s core, but I’ve been going about it with some backward assumptions.  So that’s cool!  I’m on a much more positive track all of a sudden.

3.  The grid, which is central to the game, works.  It doesn’t work perfectly, but I didn’t expect it to at this stage.  It provided little character pointers, situation, and some measure of resource and reward all in one, and everybody thought it was pretty neat.  I believe it can be lethal as intended, although we didn’t have time to really find out.  Extreme jumps – from aggressive love to demoralized hate – can be dealt with in play easily and are quite interesting.  The corners are more dangerous than I thought, since every corner leads to two others (the grid wraps).  Doubling characters on starting squares presents no real problems (another over-design feature, forcing the players into different starting spaces).

4.  Reputations are useful but may need some work.  The die progression wasn’t clear.  I provide a list in the text of a dozen, but the guys commented that there was no need to be restrictive.  Shane came up with “Stubborn – Reasonable”, which is a perfect Reputation, on the fly.  Also, reputations going down on vignette failure is unsatisfying and leads to a death spiral – they should either go up or stay the same, I think.

5.  Sample missions – lots of them, maybe ten for each act  – will be necessary. 

6.  Die handling is a little unsatisfying – you roll a single die to resolve each conflict.  It just feels a little anemic, but I think it will be fine.  The first scene is awkward, because characters are almost certain to succeed brilliantly.  It’s a nice contrast to the brutal p0wnage they’ll encounter later in a full game, but it is a weird way to start the game.  Otherwise it seems to work fine. 

7.  I see clear ways to limit play, for groups that can’t devote three full evenings to it.  Hooray!

8.  The game will need some serious handouts and visual aids – more than I was envisioning.  It just needs more support beyond the situation generator.  Maps, names, stuff like that need to be at hand.

9.  This game will be explosive and intense with a committed group of players and plenty of time.  Even in our cut-up, patchwork, mostly mechanical playtest, there was some serious stuff going down - a pregnancy, an abduction, the death of a German child, street fighting, a lover shot on the barricades as we tried to evacuate a bunch of orphans through the sewers. 

That’s the brain dump for now...

Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Posts: 16490

« Reply #1 on: December 09, 2006, 11:51:22 AM »

Hi Jason,

Sorry I didn't get to this earlier ...

First, I'm glad my comments were helpful. Everything you wrote about that issue, in response to the playtest, sounds good to me. I'm also happy to see that the grid works; that really ramps up my desire to playtest.

Second, regarding the dice handling, I think that you might reconsider rolling the dice one by one, and instead have a group roll once they're all accumulated. You mentioned to me that this was all about puttting pressure on the final rol and possibly inducing inter-player conflict about it, but I suggest that your desire to see players at one another's throats and your desire for thematic intensity in the game itself are not synonymous.

That actually doesn't address the one-roll per mission issue, but maybe at this point the thing to do is try it a couple of different ways before forcing more nuances onto it.

Most generally, I want to focus on this point of yours:

This game will be explosive and intense with a committed group of players and plenty of time.  Even in our cut-up, patchwork, mostly mechanical playtest, there was some serious stuff going down 

Here's what I take from that: that you do not need to force attention to characters' depth, to the presence of relevant adversity, or to the potential for conflict as well as bonding among characters. These things are inherent in the material you've got and also in the desires of the people who are inspired by that material.

With that in mind, I think I'm also going to caution against providing a bezillion missions. I think you should provide a few examples, and then also provide some principles underlying missions so they can be easily created.

Best, Ron
Jason Morningstar

Posts: 1428

« Reply #2 on: December 09, 2006, 06:33:24 PM »

Thanks, Ron,

I imagine different approaches to play - there will be people who read chapter one and/or already have a clue about the actual events, and they'll be good to go with mission creation.  Then there will be people who just wing it, draw from their media experiences, and create missions just fine.

And then there are people who are really engaged but don't have much to go on.  So I'm worried about them.  I saw that in the playtest, a bit, and realized that I was coaching and leading by example a bit.  Andy said "I'd really like to see lots of example missions" and the other two agreed.  In retrospect I agree that a solid sample with discussion of how to build them is a better choice than a laundry list. 

I'm also really jazzed at a breakthrough I had that will be helpful in mission generation - I've planned all along to have some sort of info dump to be read before each scene, to provide some situation and set the stage, and it hit me recently that it should be in the form of a radio broadcast.  So one of the players will actually be reading a transcipt of Radio Błyskawica, the Home Army station that broadcast throughout the Rising. 

I'll want to test the die rolling procedure some more both ways - individual, progressive rolls and one final group roll - to see which is more effective.  It may be that the individual rolls for missions are just an artifact of the tandem nature of personal vignettes, which have to be individual rolls. 

I appreciate your feedback!

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