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Author Topic: [Demilich] Feckless fools! Your skulls are now my fang cozies.  (Read 3737 times)
Ron Edwards
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Posts: 17707

« on: January 17, 2011, 12:20:21 PM »

The Dice Dojo continues its excellence as a place for playtesting Ronnies. This time included a bystander with a guitar (pretty good too) and beer, contributing a slightly different tone to the admittedly totally-gamer atmosphere. I was joined by Sam, Phil, and Jessica and we settled on Demilich, with me acting as rules ref and facilitator.

It started well with much enthusiasm, and I was happy to see that the learning curve for the asset types and card suits was brief and easy, especially once the players started building assets.

We decided to go for the classic dungeon fantasy genre, at least for this first try, despite everyone's agreement with me that a Fortune 500 lich game was too cool to ignore (so that'll be next time). The characters were ...

Jessica: Baelroth the Merciless, a dragon skull. Slain most unfairly by Sir Chumley Dogood, "the bastard!" as we would chorus at every mention of this name. Influence 1, Knowledge 3, Will 2, Ancient 1. Her starting Clout was the Mayor of Hamletvilleston, Fort was her Molten Volcano Lair, and Mook was Maelstrom the Drake.

Sam: Empress Ezra "the Nose," who took the concept of "head of the family" a little too far, slain (well, er not) in an assassination attempt. Influence 2, Knowledge 1, Will 3, Ancient 1. Her starting Clout was the Cozzi family fortune, Fort was her hedge maze, and Mook was Barney the PhD body-builder.

Phil: Kelvor the Dominator, who merely described his current condition as "semi-retired." Influence 2, Knowledge 2, Will 2, Ancient 1. His starting Clout was Randor the Puppet King, Fort was his Mountain of Madness, and Mook was Melchior, a wizard.

Overall I think the game stood up very well. The math seems to function very nicely, with more strategy than I anticipated, mainly lying in knowing whom to attack, what to attack, and with what. Best of all, play ended with a fine and surprising last-minute turnaround, with Sam seemingly on the ropes and then turning things around in his favor when Barney the Mook became, for a while, an unstoppable bad-ass. Jessica won at the very end, but things were exceptionally uncertain for the last half hour so, subject to both strategic decisions and dice rolls, the way it ought to be. (Jessica decreed that Baelroth subsequently used the two defeated skulls as fang cozies, and drew a cartoon to show how.)

We ran into trouble just about at mid-game. The problem lies in a crucial rules point, which is to say, the opportunity to argue for or against the use of a given Skill (i.e. card) when defending or attacking. I'm referring to any and all uses of the phrase "Relevant skill" in both Scheme and Fight explanations, but especially this text at one point: "that the player can argue and/or the other players or facilitator finds acceptable." Bluntly, this sucks ass. Play swiftly became an un-fun "battle of bullshit" which devolved eventually to everyone using every single card for everything or to hurt feelings. As facilitator, I initially ruled that since we didn't want to have every single card always be used for every attack and every defense, we'd go by descriptions of the actions and I'd rule in each case. Well, that led to hurt feelings very swiftly.

From all this, and through a heartfelt group discussion, we arrived at very strong recommendation for you: (i) always resist with Hearts and nothing else; (ii) always attack with everything except Hearts, no more and no less. We agree vehemently that the option to "justify" either additional cards for defense or Hearts for offense is totally unmanageable in practice.

It's true that with this more limited scheme, resolutions are biased in favor of attacks ... but so what? I think that this matches with the Color of play, i.e., it's not like your demilich is going to successfully build its ideal stronghold and network, and also makes for much more dynamic and fun card play. We switched to the recommended method halfway through and had much more fun with the game-y stuff from that point on, and losing nothing in terms of imaginative enjoyment.

This transition in play was not smooth, however. It raises a crucial point about playtesting - the person organizing and overseeing the playtest sometimes have to be a "bad GM" and people need to know this. In this case, Jessica, who is not accustomed to playtesting, reacted quite logically to what would ordinarily be considered very bad, at best clueless GMing. I changed the rules as she understood them right in the middle of play, to a form which would have led her to play differently up to this point and thus disadvantaging her current position which she'd arrived at in good faith. In other words, she was pissed off.

Seeing this, I called for a little discussion, and frankly stated that yes, in any ordinary circumstance of play, this was bad GMing and bad game management. I explained that in this case, we had clearly hit a point which was not fun, due to an undeniable and total ambiguity in the current text. In a published game, this would be a damning indictment of that text. But since we were playtesting, our job was to discover such things and adopt a helpful role toward the author, and also, since we wanted to have fun, to try it the other possible way now on, since there was no point in going through what would be several hours of agonizing justification-based wrangling in order to get to the end. I think it was the open admission that she was in fact right and that this was bad GMing that helped resolve the possible social break at the table. That and the fact that Jessica is a stand-up player who then took the new interpretation of the rules in hand and proceeded to kick butt.

From now on, whenever playtesting with people I don't know too well, and in fact now that I think of it, even with the ones I do, I'm going to open things with the statement that everyone needs to be prepared for breakdowns and re-assessments of rules which in non-playtesting play, would be deal-breakers.

Best, Ron
Phil K.

Posts: 31

« Reply #1 on: January 17, 2011, 08:53:50 PM »


My thoughts on the session: 1) I loved the tongue-in-cheek and self-effacing color everyone was throwing down; 2) a generic description/disclaimer for play testing needs to exist, and; 3) I want to go again.

1) Everyone needs to let the gas out of their favorite genre once in a while. Jessica and I just got out of a 2 year D&D campaign where the fate of the time-space continuum is at stake.  While there was humor involved, much more of the game was darker and more serious. The opportunity to play a character who is patently ridiculous was a lot of fun. Specifically, I think it made losing just as much fun as winning because losing was still fun and funny.

2) O! spiraling escalation of bullshit, how I loathe thee! First off, I agree completely that hearts need to only defend, everything else only attacks/schemes. The three players all got embroiled in the bullshit wars. Slightly dramatized excerpt:
Player A "I totally kill your guy with all of my brute power!"
Player B "Nuh-uh! I can use my wits to avoid the conflict."
Player A "But I sneak up on you and totally stab you in the back."
Player B "Nuh-uh! My magic wards warn me that you're coming."
Player A "But I..." Ad nauseum.
Secondly, I think once we agreed that everything but hearts always attacks/schemes, the narration became a lot more natural and less contrived. Whereas before we were working out elaborate schemes in order to bring all of our might to bear, once we just accepted that we get all of our cards, it was faster, more fluid and more interesting. Sometimes a lack of minute detail is a benefit.
Lastly in this section, setting the standard for a play test session has to be there. Like many other things in the hobby, I wonder if this expectation has often been assumed without ever being explicitly stated. Do you know of any archaic threads on how to properly play test in an honest, critical fashion? This would be a great resource for people here at The Forge.

3) I would definitely play this again. The lighthearted nature, combined with the fairly unique card mechanics makes for a very interesting and fun game. Sometimes you want to tell an outlandish, ridiculous story without having to worry about too many rules. This is a great facilitator for such an endeavor.


PS - Beer is delicious.

Posts: 7

« Reply #2 on: January 19, 2011, 08:01:35 PM »

Ron, Phil, et al.

Thanks for playing! I'm really glad that you guys had fun and I hope you play again.

This has definitely given me something to think about. I do think that the simplification of defense/attacks is something that I will end up adopting. And I agree that succeeding more often is not a bad thing and fits with the Color of being a Demilich as well as the light tone and fast pace that I think make this game work. These notes are really helpful so again, I really appreciate you guys taking the time to post them.

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