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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 165 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: [The Emperor's Heart] Uh... who needs names anyway?  (Read 4627 times)
Filip Luszczyk
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Posts: 746

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« on: August 27, 2007, 09:00:04 AM »

We playtested Chris Chinn's The Emperor's Heart yesterday, having some spare time late evening and seeing that it should work for a two player pick up game. We played for about three hours and finished around midnight, rushing the end as it was a bit late and we've been both fatigued (and, well, stupidity started hitting us in the last hour). We played it rather loose, and it shows. Cutting out the tabletalk, there were less than two hours of actual play.

All in all, I think the game is nice – it has a fun, concise and evocative setting and other than that it's basically PTA with more “zoom” on action in the conflicts. However, I think there are some unclear rules (many resulting from the roughness of the draft, probably), and some place for improvement.

Setup

The setup took us almost an hour and I don't suppose it's really possible in ten minutes. Even though checking out the rules and copying stuff to Gametable ate some time, I can't see how it could be done in less than half an hour, in a hurry. There are ten steps, so that's a minute per step on the average. However, the Quick Talk part alone took us over ten minutes, and we handwaved a lot of things we probably should have discussed. Also, we basically jumped over most of the awesomnification advice and the starting situation we arrived at was rather sketchy. Add one more player, and there would suddenly be half as much stuff to talk about.

We settled on The Phoenix Mountain Swordfighters and The Black Dessert scenario, choosing the Forbidden Weapon resource. We decided that the princess is actually the Weapon, but I'm not sure if it was the best way to go, as later in the endgame we weren't sure how to deal with the stakes limit (acquiring the resource equaled resolving the turmoil). We tossed in a kung-fu sage guarding the secret of the psionic princess, an airship pirate who was her lover, and an inept king.

I chose the old master archetype, as I wanted an experienced swordsman and this was the closest, and I created a character I simply called The Man in White. For my Drama cards, I picked Forbidden Love (to the Forbidden Weapon Princess) and Sworn Vow (protect the princess).

Kamil chose the assassin, with Debt of Honor (the Empire's officer) and Rivalry (my character) as Drama cards. We figured out my character was there as a bodyguard for the princess and his hero was sent to take her to the faction's hideout.

As a side note Kamil called his character Lucy Liu, concluding that he sucks at making up wuxia names. And who cares about the names, anyway? Well, I'm normally unable to repeat most of the names after watching a Chinese movie. Even though we named some of the NPCs, we wound up using labels such as Psionic Princess most of the time.

For the villains we chose the veteran, establishing that Kamil's character owes him her debt of honor, and elite troops.

Now that I look at it, I wonder if the order of preparation steps is the best one possible – maybe it would work better if the heroes were chosen before the scenario, and villains along with the rest of the cast? But maybe the rigid organization of prep is not really needed here at all? It's hard to tell after just one playtest, but I had some things in mind before the procedure asked me for it, and it affected my choices.

Story

We played out eight scenes. In every scene, we had a conflict.

Kamil's assassin encountered Grey Fox, the airship pirate while sneaking into the palace. They recognized themselves as enemies, and fought, having to deal with a cybernetic dragon guardian at the same time. The pirate managed to disengage and reached the princess's tower.

The Man in White heard princess's and pirate's love confessions from behind the door. His heart broken, he tried to stop the pirate from taking away the princess's, and finally convinced her that she's more safe in the palace. The pirate disappeared in the night, but declared that he'll come back for her.

The assassin sneaked into the room of the imperial officer, but recognized him as the man she owed a debt of honor to and stopped her blade. They talked about their past and future, their swords ready to thrust each other's heart. The veteran let her go away and didn't alarm the guards.

The officer presented the Empire's claims before the king, but The Man in White stood between them and refused to let the princess be taken away. For three days and nights they fought, and the girl fell for his protector. On the third night, the veteran withdrew, his energy reserves depleted.

Kamil's assassin attempted to kidnap the princess from palace gardens, but The Man in White refused to let her go, stating she's safer under his protection. They exchanged some philosophical arguments (“I'm using some philosophical arguments against you!”, heh) and they fought. The princess, like a butterfly leaving its cocoon, stripped of her clothing by the strikes of the dueling heroes awakened to her psionic powers and destroyed the gardens in a psychic storm.

The old sage wanted to punish The Man in White for revealing the secret of princess's power. The Man in White wanted to take revenge on the old sage for using the girl as a weapon. They fought in the palace and the hero lost. All Phoenix Swordfighters were exiled from the planet.

On a spaceship escaping the planet, the Man in White and the princess stopped on the edge of a platform, having no place to run from the approaching soldiers, led by the Grey Fox. The Man in White  fought, but fell into the void. The princess's was taken to the Empire's laboratories. The Man in White drifted in space, his last frozen tear shining like a falling star.

The assassin and the imperial officer met on a lab asteroid. They dueled for the last time, but ultimately she gave up and joined his side, agreeing to serve the Empire.

(Dumb luck. I rolled 10 dice against 6 in my final conflict, and Kamil had a lot of dice in his, as well. We both lost our conflicts in two rolls, heh.)

Conclusions

I suppose some of the problems we encountered were the results of the playtest document not being perfectly clear - what is understandable, of course. Also, it's pretty possible we misinterpreted or  overlooked something. Anyway, point by point:

*I find the initial piece of fiction completely out of context and confusing. It's like, something is obviously happening and it's poetic and all, but the paragraphs do not connect well.

*The setting could use some lasers ^_^

*The prep takes longer than 10 minutes. It's not necessarily a problem, though.

*Character creation is somewhat bland, as there's no way to customize the archetype. I think it could be more interesting if it worked kind of like in Final Stand or Capes. I.e. the player could create the character by combining two or maybe three modules, picking one or two traits from each of them.

*We weren't sure whether it's possible for two players to have the same Drama card.

*We came to a conclusion that villain cards for mooks are not the best idea. They are not interesting enough to give them all those traits – well, we basically treated the Elite Troops as an attachment to the veteran. I think mooks could be subsumed as traits on villain and scenario cards. Or, maybe there could be separate Turmoil cards that would include mooks and other secondary threats?

*As for villains and scenarios, I think it could be interesting if they were created by combining modules, too.

*I like “What ifs”. We didn't use them as much as we could, but they nicely formalize the input.

*I feel there wasn't enough Award tokens. I dig their pacing function, but as they are, they don't fulfill it well. We started with eight, and if we rewarded everything we considered worth it, the pool would run dry after two scenes. We artificially avoided awarding them at times. I think the game could use some mechanism that would replenish the pool. Maybe every time there's a tie in a conflict an additional token could be added, or maybe going all out could produce some tokens, or something like that. Or maybe it could simply work the PTA way, with some chance that spent Award tokens go back into the pool.

*We didn't have this problem in a two player game, but the rules don't specify whose character the scene should focus on in any way. There can be some spotlight distribution issues in a larger group.

*It's not clear how to deal with conflicts that feature more than two sides. Also, I felt strange when it came to setting opposing goals for the NPCs I controlled (i.e. in the first scene, when I introduced the dragon, and in the garden fight scene). All in all, we had some troubles coming up with interesting stakes after lumping together all the characters involved. We wound up not doing three side conflicts at all, but this part needs some work.

*The game could use some mechanic that would allow for changing stakes in the middle of a conflict. I can't recall which scene it was, but there was one in which the progress of the conflict suggested a change of goals.

*I wonder how the game would work if the number of dice was reduced by half.

*Going all out later in the conflict more often than not doesn't make much sense if some traits were already used. That is, if I understand the rules correctly, and the dice for traits and all are not added for one exchange only. It's kind of anticlimactic – you don't use your main cannon right of the bat...

*We had a number of conflicts in which I wanted to go all out for an NPC, but it would create a risk that the stakes or scenario goals become invalidated if the character dies. Notably, I couldn't go all out for the princess, as it could remove the resource and resolve the Turmoil before the endgame. It's possible our setup broke something, though.

*Generally, I think it could be interesting if the all out option added some bonus dice rather than pump the pool to 6, and if it was possible to add those dice after the roll. This would highlight the choice for the player – accept the loss or push, risking everything?

*I think spending scenario cards by supporting cast is tricky, as in some circumstances (an ally on hero's side) it effectively gives both sides access to the same resources. Generally, I think that public pools create some potential issues here. During the garden fight, I spent all the faction traits immediately so that Kamil couldn't use them against me. In my last conflict I basically tossed in all the public resources still available, and Kamil was left with only his archetype traits for his final scene.

*It's not clear whether Award tokens can be used by the Scene Player to boost NPC opposition, and if so, how the Drama Cards apply in such a case.

*I don't like it how the system tempts me to stretch Drama cards every time I want to spend Award Tokens. What if each Drama card could be activated for some substantial amount of dice, but only once per session or so?

*It's not clear when the use of traits should be narrated, and by whom. Should it be narrated when the trait is spent but before the roll, or maybe rather it should be included in the winner's narration?

*It's not clear who should narrate ties. Also, who narrates if there are two allied players on the winning side?

*It's not clear who should narrate the resolution of the conflict and the end of the scene – the winner, or the Scene Player?

Anyway, although there are some issues I like the game. Short, evocative, fun.
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Chris_Chinn
Member

Posts: 67


« Reply #1 on: August 27, 2007, 07:18:54 PM »

Hi Flip,

Thanks for awesome feedback.  Some of the issues you mention were ones I encountered in my own playtesting- need more Award tokens, for example.  Others, like the speed of setup, means I must be doing something I need to write into the rules.  Was any of that set up time explaining the rules?

Quick question- you mention having trouble coming up with stakes for NPC vs. NPC confiicts- you didn't roll dice for these, did you?  If no Heroes are involved, no dice get rolled, period.

Other question- so did no one actually run down their dice by way of ties, forcing them to go all out towards the end of a conflict?  I've seen it happen at least 3 times now, so I'm curious about your experience.

Chris
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Filip Luszczyk
Member

Posts: 746

roll-player


WWW
« Reply #2 on: August 28, 2007, 07:40:32 AM »

Quote
Was any of that set up time explaining the rules?

Yes, a part of that was checking out the rules, especially the awesomnification guidelines. Typying the traits and stuff took us a while, too. However, even not counting the time spent on this stuff the prep was pretty long (i.e. compared to the desired 10 minutes). What prolonged things was mainly discussion, and I feel we didn't cover everything we actually should - but then, we've been playing it rather loose.

Quote
Quick question- you mention having trouble coming up with stakes for NPC vs. NPC confiicts- you didn't roll dice for these, did you?  If no Heroes are involved, no dice get rolled, period.

Nope, I meant three-sided conflicts with two NPC sides. For example in the first scene we had Kamil's character against the guardian dragon and the pirate captain, and as we discussed stakes, everyone seemed to be against everyone. We decided to treat the dragon as a background element, in the end.

Similarly during the garden fight, we had three characters with their own agenda's - Kamil's character wanted to kidnap the princess, my character wanted to protect her, and she (or rather, the power in her) wanted to blow up the gardens. I did lump together my character's and "princess's" side for simplicity, with a goal like "I want to learn she's the secret weapon when she blows up the garden", but it didn't feel perfectly right to me.

Maybe stakes based on character intentions were part of the problem here. It could be easier if each of us as a player had his own side, with the winner deciding how the conflict as a whole turns out, rather than things being resolved from the perspective of characters' goals.

Quote
Other question- so did no one actually run down their dice by way of ties, forcing them to go all out towards the end of a conflict?  I've seen it happen at least 3 times now, so I'm curious about your experience.

Nope, we had some ties, but we never got close to losing all the dice. We had a number of conflicts that ended rather abruptly due to dumb luck. And as it happens, in those conflicts that had some ties we had rather big pools anyway, due to spending traits and tokens. Also, since both of us were losing the dice at the same rate, I didn't really felt endangered by pool attrition (i.e. the balance remained the same after spending some traits early in the conflict or going all out immediately).

Also, I forgot about the thought I had concerning award tokens and What Ifs. You could tie them more strongly by allowing awards only for cool and accepted What Ifs - in effect, you'd have something similar to Gifts from Unsung there, and I find that mechanic pretty interesting.
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Chris_Chinn
Member

Posts: 67


« Reply #3 on: August 28, 2007, 08:38:17 AM »

Hi Flip,

So who was controlling the Princess during the Garden Fight?  (I might have left out the rules about passing along NPCs if your Hero is in conflict with them)  Three sided conflicts work just the same way, except that one side/person has to get the Upper Hand twice in a row over TWO sides.

Also, one of the reasons Awards are not tied solely to What Ifs is that they're effectively Fan Mail- some people make better contributions through their characters, and some people make better suggestions through What If, and some people do both.  The particular way in which you do it isn't as important as the encouragement to do things other people find interesting and buy into.

I'll have more input later this week- I'm super busy in terms of a new job and a new living situation, so I can probably start working on revisions etc. next week.

Chris
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Filip Luszczyk
Member

Posts: 746

roll-player


WWW
« Reply #4 on: August 28, 2007, 09:18:29 AM »

Quote
So who was controlling the Princess during the Garden Fight?  (I might have left out the rules about passing along NPCs if your Hero is in conflict with them) 

I've been the scene player.

Hmm, dunno, maybe introducing my own character to the scene wasn't the best idea.

Quote
Three sided conflicts work just the same way, except that one side/person has to get the Upper Hand twice in a row over TWO sides.

Sure. What about ties - everyone loses a die, or only the tied sides?
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Filip Luszczyk
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Posts: 746

roll-player


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« Reply #5 on: August 28, 2007, 09:20:43 AM »

Also, it's Filip, not Flip Wink
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ja-prozac
Member

Posts: 41

nerd with an attitude


« Reply #6 on: August 28, 2007, 01:22:52 PM »

Hi.

I was the second player in the playtest, few thoughts:

1. Wrong prep order. Creating supporting cast before creating heroes and villains kinda hard
and forces participants to come up with an idea for the game before the prep. I would try
to change order that makes preparations more meaningful and intiuitive.
2. Awesomyfying is little troublesome. The advices are so generic that they don't help much
and I still don't know whether I should make up color/genre emulation or come with real
things to deepen and beef up the setup of the game.
3. While the cards help to emulate the genre, some of them are a little boring and don't have
"shit, I want it!" factor.
4.I didn't have a feeling I could do something serious before the Endgame phase - and Endgame
is finished in two-three scenes in which everything will be resolved immadietly in all or nothing way.
Earlier(before endgame) it was more like okay, I need to come up with some cool scene for someone.

Overall: I did like the game, anyway.
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Chris_Chinn
Member

Posts: 67


« Reply #7 on: August 28, 2007, 07:25:35 PM »

Hi Filip,

Sorry!

Yep- tied sides lose dice, everytime.  The problem isn't introducing your character, it's just that a) there's a reason you focus scenes on the other players' Heroes, and b) if you're going to have a conflict with an NPC, you pass that character's control to another player.  I probably wasn't clear enough on this, so stuff to work on for the next draft!  Thanks for the great input.

ja-prozac,

It's pretty interesting- so far, everyone I've played with found it really easy to come up with supporting cast before Heroes.  Though it's definitely a change from what most rpgs endorse- here you're looking at the general situation and creating characters who will play off of it rather than taking a bunch of characters and trying to build a situation around them.  In this way, situation becomes the meeting point for designing characters.

I'll see if I can better write setup to reflect that.

As far as genre vs. beef- the point is to do both- it's not an either or.  "You're really the lost brother of the Emperor" is completely genre, and often a huge drama spike for play.  Whether you decide to add color ("But all of the robot warriors have talismans hanging from their heads like hopping vampires") or situation meat ("But neither of you know that you're related...") the point is to push enthusiasm in play.

Also- the cards are designed to be pretty open ended- hence the reason you have to tie things together.  Sort of like "Fighter" is really generic, "Last knight of the Black Brotherhood Legion" is not.

Again, I'll need to focus on writing more clearly.

Finally, and something I'll have to explicitly put in the next draft- everything serious that isn't Endgame?  That's what those Drama Cards are all about.  Shifting alliances, friends getting killed, keeping/breaking promises, etc.   The whole Resources thing?  That's plot device to stake it against.

Thanks again for the input.  I'll probably have more time this weekend to revise and respond.

Chris
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ja-prozac
Member

Posts: 41

nerd with an attitude


« Reply #8 on: August 29, 2007, 03:07:31 AM »

Something that came to me regarding pacing and drama cards. You could tie Award tokens
with advancing drama cards. Player can be awarded with the token when he pushes or resolves
his plot from the cards in the scene. This way the mechanic and economy is more tight
and award tokens promote something more than just cool stuff(not to say cool stuff/color
isn't important, it is. Just the award token can do two things at once)

kamil wegrzynowicz.
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Chris_Chinn
Member

Posts: 67


« Reply #9 on: September 09, 2007, 01:01:18 AM »

Hi Filip,

Now that I have more time, I wanted to answer some of your questions.  Though there's lots of design reasons for certain choices, I'm just going to stick with the procedural stuff for now.

Award Tokens:
- You can spend them to boost conflicts for your Hero.  Period.

Narration:
Ties?  So far it's worked out with the tied players just working it out together.  Likewise, traits get narrated when activated.  I'll be sure to put something in about that.

Going All Out:
Usually kicks in late in the game- after players have burned out Traits.  From my own play, it usually kicks in right before or during Endgame, which is good timing, in my opinion.  Obviously, I've got some work to do with keeping the difficulty up after the NPCs have burned their Traits, and I have some ideas in mind.

Chris
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