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46709 Posts in 5588 Topics by 13299 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 51 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: [Secret Hearts] Second Playtest - Getting Better  (Read 1535 times)

Posts: 49

« on: January 30, 2011, 02:53:30 AM »

Not sure if I need to post this again each time, but here's the version of the rules we used... http://www.mediafire.com/?5gcb6t74b29289r#1

Of course, those rules are largely obsolete by now.

The Day

Perhaps pointedly, the fourth player wasn't able to make it on Saturday. This left me with a problem - as Secret Hearts is designed for four, should I cancel everything or modify some things? In the end, I made a couple of changes, but it may highlight the need for Secret Hearts to be suitable for 3-5 people. Playing just with four is kind of neat but practically limiting.

The others turned up, I ran through the changes made from the last session, and we got stuck in.

In short, it was definitely an improvement. The various systems are gradually coming together, meaning players can test the boundaries without everything falling to pieces.

The narrative itself was again interesting, although probably a little less coherent. I'll provide a run down, straight after...

The Rules

The players are script writers cobbling together an episode of Secret Hearts, in the theme of X-Files style conspiracy. There is one protagonist character, which the players control in turns. Everyone takes one Idea from the front page of Wikipedia, as well as one randomly generated twist. The game is divided into three acts. Each act, each player receives ten cards from a modified deck (Aces to Tens, with no face cards). One person leads, and the other three follow with the following rules...

- They must follow suit where possible
- Where not possible, they can play any suit they have
- The highest on-suit card wins the round
- No off-suit card can win the round
- Aces are low but trump 10

Each suit is associated with a set theme. Each round of four cards is one scene. If you establish the scene (play the first card) or win the scene (play the highest on-suit card) you narrate incorporating that theme. If you continue the scene (play any other card) you do not need to incorporate any theme. The players are randomly split between conspiracy and protagonist camps. Players are trying to win rounds, which means they take the cards used in that round. At the end of each act, the cards won are checked for counter scoring combinations. These counters influence the end game after the third act. There is a meta-narrative involving the winning player(s) cashing in their counters in order to influence the plot at the end of each episode.

That's an incredibly terse description of the rules, in case you need a grounding to understand...

The Story

The three Ideas taken from the front page of Wikipedia were

- 27 people killed
- Anti-government protests
- Nukes destroyed

The three (secret) randomly generated twists were...

- History
- Alone
- Surveillance

I think of the story we created as the Origins episode of a science fiction series. A rogue element of the British government, working with (at least) one American general, used stolen British nukes to destroy Buckingham Palace and all the royal family. Their motivation is to declare war on Russia, whom they falsely accused of being behind it - and then attacked. A nuclear war was triggered, and we get the distinct impression life as we know it is over.

No nuclear weapons went off in regular play. Buckingham Palace was only actually destroyed in the Climax, which really was epic.

In terms of our protagonist and her (!) arc, Natasha was the daughter of a British nuclear scientist in charge of a silo. The silo was attacked, and she was brought in as a witness/suspect. There were a series of (occasionally meaningless) twists, in which we discovered the commandos attacking silos were actually British commandos. Bizarrely, the commandos used a mysterious "teleportation cream" to steal the nukes. It was a total macguffin but pretty fun.

Natasha was kidnapped repeatedly, probably (let's face it) a reflection of her gender and our subconscious bias. Her fiancée, a young member of parliament, was kidnapped as well and proved completely useless. After escaping, Natasha used vanishing cream to reach the queen but - in one of the coolest twists - the queen was actually in on the conspiracy! She was willing to die because the British people had grown soft and this would stiffen their resolve for the coming catastrophe.

In the end, Natasha, the recalcitrant queen, and a mystery figure known as The Scarred Man ended up holed up in a tunnel linking Britain to France while the nukes rumbled around the world.

What Worked

- This game was a LOT more fun, definitely more relaxed. I'd say that's because of a rule change from the first playtest. Now, you only have to play in theme when you establish or resolve a scene, not when you're just continuing. This allowed us to be a lot more freeform, and just run with the scene's natural trajectory.
- The gamist mechanics just keep working better. The players on the conspiracy side actually work as a team, while the protagonist players are each out for themselves. This really gave a different feel to playing the two sides.
- Although a little less serious than the last game, we established the protagonist had a fiancée, a father, and a profession - and each actually came into the story! This is a big step up for my group, which usually involves a bunch of people with no past and no family sort of kicking down doors and looking for stuff. I'd say that's because, with just one protagonist, it's very easy for them to be fleshed out between so many people.

What Sucked

- One player really made some awful decisions. I'm not going to blame them for that at all, rather the system wasn't structured (or explicit) enough to point them in a coherent direction. By an awful decision, I mean returning the protagonist (who had just escaped from prison) right back to the locked cell! The player had no idea why, it was just a random decision that didn't move the plot forward at all.
- Speaking of which, the protagonist really was de-protagonised on several occasions. They were locked up, talked to by a bunch of Big Serious Men, and generally buffeted by the winds of fate. I had to stop myself from sighing every time another player narrated that Natasha was knocked out, handcuffed, or taken somewhere by a big man with a gun. Somehow, the protagonist as a character who can really affect their situation needs to be emphasised.
- There was some confusion about just how far each side was able to push the narrative, and to what end. This is probably why Natasha was locked up so many times. As the conspiracy, you logically want the protagonist to be locked up or killed. I need to find a way that the two sides can (a) push for their own ends, while still (b) producing a meaningful narrative, without (c) pulling their punches at all.

Potential Changes

- I already have a Program Sheet, like a character sheet, detailing the show as a whole. I now want to make an Episode Sheet that details the specific episode. This will make it more explicit who the bad guys are, what's at stake, and what part of the story we're at.
- I need to find a way to make the protagonist side more likely to succeed. At the moment it's evenly balanced, but really you can't have a long running series where the protagonist's world is shattered 50 per cent of the time. This is just a matter of changing the counter acquisition rules.
- The conspiracy will be explicitly written down by the conspiracy player. That means the conspiracy isn't being established and revealed at the same time, which means you can be a little more subtle. The conspiracy player can reveal clues here and there at the beginning of the story, which will make sense after the end of the story.


- Are there any GM-less games that incorporate an element of hidden knowledge? Do any do it well? Do any do it terribly?
- How can you help players make narrative decisions that adhere to a traditional storyline? By that I don't mean I want to outlaw madcap twists or silliness. Rather, I want to stop players returning to a scene we've essentially already played.
- How do I go about getting people "out there" to playtest Secret Hearts? I'm not ready for that at the moment, but I think it's something I need to think about.

Thanks for reading!
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