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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 137 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: [Dark Sands- 1st Run] Gearing up for DL-Quarterly Series #2  (Read 1653 times)
Troy_Costisick
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« on: March 05, 2007, 01:50:37 PM »

Heya,

So I'm starting to playtest the games I'll be releasing for DL-Quarterly Series 2.  Most of these games won't be released until 2008, but it's never too early to get started on playtesting. 

I'm not playtesting them in the order I wrote them.  I asked my group which one they would like to do first, and they chose Dark Sands.  For a bit of background, you can read my Blog Post about it (formerly called Blasted Sands).  It began as just a design exercise for me, but turned into a whole lot more.  Other basics about the game that you should know:  A) It's a tactical fantasy game set on a desert planet, B) the players have almost total control of when they earn rewards, and C) the key feature to each character is his Destiny.

Characeter Creation:

I gave the guys the rules a week earlier and told them to be ready.  When I arrived on that Friday (Feb 17), they had their characters ready to go.  Mike chose a Lizardman Wizard, Dave chose a Human Warrior, Jeff chose a Dwarf Thief, and Rob chose a Dwarf Druid.  Choices weren't too surprising, but that's fine.  They did make a few mistakes on the dice pools.  In this game, you earn dice from your Stats, Trade, Heritage, Weapon, Armor, Magic Items, and Artifacts.  Each starts at 1d4.  They misintrepreted that to mean you rolled a d4 to generate how many dice you got from each resource.  It was a small, but critical error.  Once it was fixed, I made a note and we were ready to go.  They understood the rest of the character creation rules just fine.

Opening Scene:

As a GM, I hate opening scenes.  I really do.  I never now how to start them propperly, and I'm way open to any suggestions.  Here's what I did.  I had each player roll a d12.  The highest is where I started.  It happened to be Dave.  So, taking control of the scene for a sec, I tell Dave that his character was walking down the road that morning and tripped over something.  When he stopped to look, it was a strange compass stuck in the ground.  It looks like a wheelbarrow had run over it.  Then I put the next step in his hands, "What do you do with it?"

I was really happy with what happened next.  Each of the characters start with a Relationship to one other Character.  Dave had a Friendship with Mike.  So he took it to Mike (who was at his small magic shop) and asked him to look it over.  Mike decided that it had something to do with nature and needed a second oppinion.  He had a Master-slave relationship with Rob.  So he went and found Rob tending his garden at his home.  Rob made a Magical Intuition roll, and stated that it points to a person, not a local.  This person must be outside the city somewhere.  Mike said, "well I know only person who can sneak us outside the city."  Enter Jeff!  He had a "Professional" relationship with Mike (ie, he would steel stuff Mike needed for his magical experiments).  So they snuck outside of the city and started their adventure.  As far as opening scenes go, it went pretty well. 

Playing:

My wife and I had just finished watching all five seasons of Alias, and since I was sorta strapped for time at this point, I just reworked several episodes into quasi-missions for the guys.  The compass lead to Mike's mentor- the guy who taught him magic.  I had the Mentor send them on to another cult back in the city who needed their help.  The motives of the cult remained mysterious, but Mike's bond to his Mentor and the Relationships the characters had with each other was enough make going on these missions sound like a good idea. 

Our first combat was with some Desert Beetles.  It's possible to make armor out of thier chitin, so the guys took them on.  Certain Relationships gave players different bonus dice if their worked worked together.  It was neat to see them examine their character sheets, plan a course of attack, and execute it as best they could.  It was the kind of tactical forthought I was hoping to see.  Then we started rolling dice.  Ugh. 

The resolution system works like this.  You take all the dice you get from your various resources (Stats, Trade, Heritage, Weapon, Armor, Magic Items, and Artifacts), roll them, and try to make groups of 8.  For each 8 you get, you can take one action.  The idea is to encourage players to combo martial manuvers and dodges/paries to avoid damage.  In theory, it should work nicely and give players a lot of flexibility in combat.  However, each character started with only one hit point.  And the reality is, you're going to get hit.  So yeah, combat was over real fast. So two things changed right off the bat:

#1- Weapon Damage was increased.  The weapons they had just weren't penetraiting the bugs' chitin enough to hurt them.
#2- All characters now start with 3 hit points instead of 1.  I still want to keep the HPs low.  The game should emphasize tactics over "tanking it"

I declared a do-over, and we went at it again.  This time it went much better.  The PCs defeated both beetles while only one PC got knocked unconscious.  That's about the ration I want in these encounters.

Our second real encounter was with a junk dealer inside the city.  The guys were sent to find an item in his shop and barter him down to a price the cult was willing to pay.  The item turned out to be a key, and Jeff declared a Destiny Moment.  A "Destiny Moment" is a conflict in which the result brings your character one step closer to reaching his Destiny.  Players are given broad latitude to narrate how the encounter relates to their Destiny.  They get to take control of the entire scene for a bit to decide how it all intertwines together.  Destiny is something that is decided during character creation.  Anyway, Jeff used a successful charm/diplomacy combo roll to get the guy behind the counter to cough up a second key.  According the Jeff, the guy "had no idea what the key went to, but came off the body of a dead thief."  Jeff's Destiny is to accumulate great wealth, so he earned a Destiny Point for the encounter.  I was really happy with how he took control of the narration and advanced his character's story.

Summary of the Rest and Reflection:

The rest of the night went okay.  Several more combats helped us treak the system a little more.  Guys started accumulating Advancement Points and their characters improved a great deal very quickly.  I was happy with this because who likes to be a newb in a gamist fantasy game for very long?  The guys finished about 4 more missions.  All I did was propose the sceneario and they went from there.  By the end of the night, however, they were starting to get suspicious of the cult.  I never gave any hint that they should be, but I let their own fears and suspicions play on them.  When it became clear that they were wanting to be betrayed by the cult, I gave them an option.  I had a druid meet them one night and say the cult was trying to create a second Sphynx to destroy the world.  The druid asked the PCs to bring him and his friends the next item they collected so it could be studdied.  They readily agreed.  I never gave them any proof what the druid was saying was true, but they wanted to go in that direction.  I thought it was great.  And that's how we ended.

Anyway, looking back, the game functioned really well for an alpha test.  A first combat is always full of problems, but these were easy to correct. The guys got the hang of skill synergy with ease and loved the idea that they can either take lots of actions in a turn or save the dice and get Advancement Points instead.  Jeff's Destiny Moment was really cool, and the guys liked having a more control over the story.  It gave me a lot of hope for the second session.

Peace,

-Troy
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