[The Terminal Hours] Extended Game Chef Review

Started by greyorm, April 20, 2012, 12:39:13 AM

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The judges want just a couple paragraphs for a review, but as I had much more to say about this design, I'm putting those comments here and linking to it:

The concept of dying people suddenly able to cross into the spirit world and effect change in the physical realm is an interesting and evocative one, especially paired with the meddling spiritual entity/mentor idea, and I really like the idea of matching dice and using 5's and 6's as a separate currency.

There were a couple of points that were unclear or were not explained in the rules, and I was concerned about what looked like an identity crisis between being an improvisational, player-driven game and a scenario-based, pre-designed game, with no solid instructions on how to thread those two parts, and concerns about what sorts of situations required the players to roll in terms of how fine-grained conflicts are supposed to be.

Two mechanical points of confusion were, first, that I couldn't find an explanation of how to handle rolling all 5's and 6's? The other confusion was that, with one exception, characters can only die when the GM can not give them any stones...but then the rules state that when a character dies, the GM gives them all the stones left in the bag? (I took this to mean the GM just doesn't usually give the dead any stones, but was not certain if that was the intent.) Otherwise the rules were clearly presented and the intentions behind them seemed clear.

My first big question about play was whether or not rolls were to be conflict-based or task-based? There is no guidance I saw for this in the rules. I assumed the former, given 6-12 dice seem a lot of dice to roll when hours are counted down by the results of a roll. Given the small, limited number of rolls you will end up being able to make, I'm assuming only large-scale conflicts or big goals are rolled -- determining what happens overall in big scenes -- but not things like "Do we dodge the cars?" or "Do we convince the buffalo spirits to move off the highway?"

For a more fine-grained (task-oriented) system, you could consider removing stones based on matches of 5's and 6's, cutting down on the rate of attrition of the PC's hours.

I like that the game relies on player-driven input! I'm a big fan of systems that do so as a central part of play. But I also have some concerns with that aspect, and to me the text seems either a little sparse or a little confused on what it really wants from everyone. For example, it says GM should leave narration open to players, but then seems to strongly indicate failures are the province of heavy GM-input.

Similarly, the "design everything in play" style of play felt to me to conflict with the admonition to the GM to prep and tie everything neatly together, outline the city and its spirits, the characters' relationships, etc. My concern in playing this game would be the difficulty of that much pure and immediate improv. Sorcerer has a pre-play session solely for the GM to allow everything presented to gel before play, whereas this is supposed to be a game for one-off play that doesn't have multiple sessions, so I wonder if it might benefit from a different approach to structuring play, such as how the Mountain Witch provides a pre-designed framework as a touchpoint for everyone?

Related to that, getting the player-characters on the same page, and the GM to get them entangled, seems like it will require a great deal of group prep and agreement; would comparing prep to a novel-or-story-building exercise, rather than presenting it as creating characters for a game, help players build characters to serve the story, instead of the more standard gamer habit of "creating a character to play" and not thinking about the "story to be told"? Beginning by talking about theme and such before characters are discussed might help mitigate this?

In that case, you could expand the rules by explaining how to structure the game in pre-play, providing a loose framework. I know I'd definitely need more information on how to run and structure a game before I would be comfortable jumping in to GM a group through; even a full example of play would, I think, be helpful! As would a flow-chart or turn-summary chart would be useful to make sure all the fiddly bits with the stones aren't forgotten.

The setting takes cues from the common Western perception shamanistic myths, particularly the perceived myths of certain Native American tribes, but doesn't really explain why THAT is the spirit world, other than being derived as part of the theme for the contest. I suppose it doesn't need to. More helpful, I think, would be a more comprehensive overview of how the spirit world intersects with and influences or mirrors the physical world, and what the spirit world tends to look like, or what laws it tends to obey, given how big a part of the game interactions with the spirit world are.

All the contest ingredients are present in some form, though the use of the doctor motif seems merely tacked on, and I think could be expanded in the game to have an impact and effect on play itself. Mimics are interesting and the description of how they work and how players work together in the physical and spiritual world to deal with them was an enlightening point of the description of play.

Overall, I think it a good first draft and is an excellent start to what could be a very interesting game, in need of polish and fleshing-out, specifically in terms of explaining what play should look like and to solve some issues with what kind of game experience it wants to provide. I'm definitely interested in seeing this concept fleshed out, especially for a horror-themed game system as the author mentions.
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio