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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 150 - most online ever: 565 (October 17, 2020, 02:08:06 PM)
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Author Topic: [Grey Ranks] Full Playtest, Session One  (Read 10749 times)
Jason Morningstar
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« on: March 02, 2007, 05:33:46 AM »

I'm facilitating a local playtest of Grey Ranks and we had our first session last night.  The four players are members of my regular, long-time game group, and are all personal friends from way back.  We usually play TSoY, but they graciously agreed to take a three-week break to playtest a full game of Grey Ranks.  I'm observing, and can't resist piping up when I see a good opportunity. 

The group character sheet for the crew they created is here.

The session one situation elements are here (on an old version of this sheet!)

It was a good game and everything worked the way it was supposed to.  I'm learning that the first session is always going to be a little rocky, because every group has to develop normative behaviors.  What constitutes an acceptable scene?  How long is a scene supposed to be?  How much roleplaying is going to go on?  None of this is defined, by design, and every group finds its own way.  The first session also includes character creation, which happens across a conflict-free prologue, and this throws people, too.  Mike Montesa wryly commented that his group complained "If there's no challenge, why don't we just play Once Upon a Time?" 

Mechanical adversity is also low in session one, again by design - it's a chance to succeed and make your crew look awesome before the hammer well and truly falls.  Even so, our group had some close shaves - they needed to get 8 or more to succeed in the Chapter Two mission, and rolled 2d4, 1d6 and 1d8 - and got exactly 8 total.  Chapter Three had similar close results, which gave them a sense of foreboding about session two.  The other fun thing about an "easy" first session is that character Grid positions reflect this - at the end of the evening, everybody was jammed up against Love and Enthusiasm.  That's going to change, fast.

Very common Grey Ranks paradigm - a 17-year-old girl leading a crew of younger boys.  What's up with that?  I've seen it a number of times.

The players really got into their Personal scenes and started introducing (and reincorporating) NPCs right away.  One of the most powerful moments came in Chapter Three, when they decided to settle old scores on 1 August.  The Uprising had begun and the crew went out killing known collaborators.  Joel chose Nowicki the greengrocer, who Mike capably played as a kindly old man.  And Joel stated up front that Henryk, his character, knew that Nowicki was completely innocent.  And then shot him anyway, and then apologized to Mr. Nowicki as he bled to death.  It was great!  There was a lot of satisfaction expressed in playing teenagers doing misguided teenager things. 

Mike chose to play a character type dear to him - the guy who is hapless, a scoundrel and liar, who constantly fails and messes up those around him.  Since the game is geared toward encouraging attempts at success, this proved an interesting system challenge.  He's gunning for the suicidal depression corner of the Grid big-time!  So far his crew has won all the missions, which Mike laments.  It's working just fine.

Steve's set up a fantastic conflict - he's identified the German agent (is he Gestapo?  We don't know) who killed his father - a cool as ice Ed-Harris-in-Enemy-at-the-Gates type.  They've actually met.  It's going to be insane as they cat-and-mouse each other across Warsaw in session two. 

I'm really pleased with Grey Ranks and feel pretty strongly that it is almost ready for prime time.  We're all looking forward to session two, when the Uprising truly gets hairball. 
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #1 on: March 02, 2007, 05:42:48 AM »

One thing I forgot to mention - one player really didn't like the group character sheet.  Others backed him up, saying they'd prefer individual sheets. 

My reasons for consolidating character information on one sheet:

1.  It's important that everybody have access to everybody else's information in play.
2.  There's a lot of paper flying around anyway (situation sheets, Radio Lightning broadcasts, etc)
3.  It makes a statement about the crew being a single unit.

To which they replied:

1.  You need that information in TSoY and we manage just fine with discrete sheets.
2.  It's not a crazy amount of material.
3.  You are just trying to be a ridiculous hippie game artiste, knock it off.

OK, they didn't actually say that last one, but it may well be true.  What do I know?  They also expressed a strong preference for writing notes, names, and so forth on a character sheet of their own, for easy reference.  I'd be interested in hearing other people's reactions and thoughts on this point.  Again, the example group character sheet is here.


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madirishman
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« Reply #2 on: March 02, 2007, 09:55:53 AM »

Sounds cool, sorry I missed it.

As far as character sheets go, I like the group character sheet idea, just because it's different...but really, if the players want separate sheets (and I think I would likely fall into this category) then you should give them separate sheets.  Or you could make both and lets groups decide which they prefer.

If folks come up with their characters before the first session, you could always create a PDF form sheet which would pre-populate the same information on everyone's sheet for reference, while allowing each player to have his own distinct piece of paper.

Patrick
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Patrick M. Murphy, Ph.D.
Slainte!
Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #3 on: March 02, 2007, 10:25:29 AM »

Good point, Patrick, there's no reason not to have multiple versions available.  In fact, couldn't a .pdf sheet include the multi-character page as a layer? 
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madirishman
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« Reply #4 on: March 02, 2007, 10:36:04 AM »

You could do the group sheet as a layer, but I'm not sure you'd want to, particularly if you're going to use the form fields idea.  Adobe, unfortunately, doesn't allow but one forms "layer" (it doesn't count as a layer, but that's the best way I can describe it) and so if you switch layers (and presumably arrangements) your form fields are stuck in the same place for all possible layer combinations.  I need to look at your latest sheet design to know for sure.

P
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Patrick M. Murphy, Ph.D.
Slainte!
Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #5 on: March 02, 2007, 12:59:16 PM »

Something else the guys were mad about and found confusing:

Quote
Contributing to the Mission
The die size a player contributes guides their narrative - the smaller the die, the better the result should be.  Since there is a limited choice of dice to contribute, players will be restricted in the sorts of results they can describe.  Here are some guidelines: 
Contributing a d4 should carry with it some collective triumph - something going right for the entire crew, or a noteworthy group accomplishment toward the overall Mission goal.
Contributing a d6 should include some personal success - their particular moment in the spotlight going well, and their character achieving something worthwhile.
Contributing a d8 should indicate some personal failure - something going wrong for which they are to blame, or some task in their care being neglected.
Finally, contributing a d10 or d12 to the Mission pool requires some disaster for the crew - something very unpleasant, or very tragic for everyone...
This might seem counter-intuitive.  The idea is to apply mechanical pressure to narration - making a strong choice to complicate the situation is rewarded.  Hopefully there will be some temptation and a difficult choice, since the Leader will be watching your contribution to determine who to Single Out. 
A situation where the crew has a string of utter disasters ending in success, or a string of triumphs ending in failure, is very cinematic in a Kurt Vonnegut sort of way.  It might be more challenging to narrate, and it might stretch the bounds of plausibility, but hey - it's war.  Bizarre, cruel, miraculous things happen. 

My motivation for this was, in part, to provide an additional narrative hook, as well as put pressure on players to complicate an already messy situation.  Without these guidelines, there's nothing mechanical to help a player frame a mission scene.  The players felt that it was unnecessary and overly fiddly.  Any thoughts on this?
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #6 on: March 02, 2007, 02:27:32 PM »

Quote
My motivation for this was, in part, to provide an additional narrative hook, as well as put pressure on players to complicate an already messy situation.  Without these guidelines, there's nothing mechanical to help a player frame a mission scene.  The players felt that it was unnecessary and overly fiddly.  Any thoughts on this?

I haven't played Grey Ranks, so I haven't actually had the experience of this.  But, this was one of the items that excited me about the game design, because it gave some concrete focus to framing a Mission scene, plus it tied the mechanical choices to the narration.  Otherwise, what do you do in a Mission scene?

At the same time, you don't want to just blow off the playtest advice.  How do they want you to change these rules?  Just unconstrained naration?
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
GreatWolf
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« Reply #7 on: March 02, 2007, 02:33:57 PM »

One thing I forgot to mention - one player really didn't like the group character sheet.  Others backed him up, saying they'd prefer individual sheets.

I concur.  Go with separate sheets.  It seems to me (again, having not actually played the game) that there is something of a disjunct between Mission scenes (we are a crew) and Personal scenes (I have my own life).  Individual character sheets plus The Grid seem to capture this fairly well already.

I'm sympathetic to the massive amounts of material flying around.  (My current game has the potential to create a lot of clutter, too.)  However, my guess is that, in the final product, most of that will just be in the book.

That all being said, here's a crazy idea that might work.  Why not integrate the character sheets and the Grid?  Think of it like a gameboard.  The Grid sits in the middle, while each character sheet faces out towards each side, like a console.  That way, as you sit around the table, you are looking at your character information, which still feels like it belongs to you, but all the other information is available as well.  This could also allow for slots on the board to hold dice that are yet to be allocated to a Scene or whatnot.
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #8 on: March 02, 2007, 02:51:14 PM »

Thanks Seth,

I've ruminated on this and mocked up some 11x17 sheets with a grid and four character sheets on them.  Steve, who was in last night's session, suggested individual sheets plus the "group sheet" as an option.  So there's a bunch of ways to approach it.  Also, for dreamation I made up some sheets that were half character sheet (digest sized) and half die handling instruction, with circles to plonk your dice on, and the rules for what die size means what in Mission scenes.  I showed these off and got a positive response, but they are a litle training wheel-like. 

Re:  What to narrate in mission scenes, the guys last night felt that they had really clear ideas where to go, and what they wanted their characters to do, with zero mechanical input.  One of the guys said he was frustrated by going last (and having the overall mission outcome known - a win) and also having only one die, a d10, which said he had to narrate group failure.  That's a situation I anticipate and address, and personally kinda like, but if it's a big roadbloack I'll change it. 
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #9 on: March 02, 2007, 03:07:18 PM »

Thanks Seth,

I've ruminated on this and mocked up some 11x17 sheets with a grid and four character sheets on them.  Steve, who was in last night's session, suggested individual sheets plus the "group sheet" as an option.  So there's a bunch of ways to approach it.  Also, for dreamation I made up some sheets that were half character sheet (digest sized) and half die handling instruction, with circles to plonk your dice on, and the rules for what die size means what in Mission scenes.  I showed these off and got a positive response, but they are a litle training wheel-like.

Hey, those sheets from Dreamation sound great.  One of the things that I love in a game is player reference cards.  Sure, eventually you start to remember, but it's always nice to have the little reminder there as an option.

Quote
Re:  What to narrate in mission scenes, the guys last night felt that they had really clear ideas where to go, and what they wanted their characters to do, with zero mechanical input.  One of the guys said he was frustrated by going last (and having the overall mission outcome known - a win) and also having only one die, a d10, which said he had to narrate group failure.  That's a situation I anticipate and address, and personally kinda like, but if it's a big roadbloack I'll change it. 

Well, what if resolution of the mission (and appropriate narration) happens after the last Mission scene?  So, in a way, there are five scenes:  one for each player, and then an addendum to the last scene, after the dice are rolled, which has the narration of mission success or failure.

Alternately, what if the person who goes last is automatically allowed to be the Mission leader next Chapter to compensate for his limited options?

Shrug.  Just pitching out some ideas.
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #10 on: March 02, 2007, 07:23:53 PM »

Those are both actually good ideas.  Must consider the implications...
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Bryan Hansel
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« Reply #11 on: March 02, 2007, 08:36:33 PM »

Didn't you post the 11x17 grid/char sheet online somewhere. I remember liking it or I remember liking the idea of it, but if the players want separate character sheets, I'd give it to them. Maybe separate the team stuff onto a team sheet, and the character stuff onto a character sheet.

I'm confused, do the players roll the dice they contribute when they contribute them so the result is known by the next person and that's why the player felt his d10 was worthless? If so, why not have everyone wait. I should probably read all the rules for I can talk informed like about this.

An idea would be if the overall mission outcome is already known, have the players that go after that have a small advantage in the next overall mission and maybe those that have already won it have a little disadvantage.
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #12 on: March 03, 2007, 06:23:51 AM »

I'm sure I posted an 11x17 version at some point.  My principal concern over that format is that it is something of a bother to print out.  Of course, the book will be 6x9 so there are issues with letter sized handouts anyway. 

The way the game is structured, Bryan, Personal scenes are pretty traditional - you frame a scene, invite others to play roles opposite your character, set a goal and positive and negative outcomes.  You play the scene and at some point roll the die you've allocated to it to determine success or failure, re-roll, invoke things held dear, etc.  The mission scenes are different - entirely descriptive with no immediate resolution - you contribute a die to a pool that is rolled immediately prior to the final player's Mission scene, once everyone has added a die to the pool. 

I'm really trying to steer clear of rewarding players for things they'll do anyway (like going last on the Mission, or reincorporating situation elements).  Also, success and failure are misnomers - the real question is destruction by martyrdom or destruction by suicidal depression.  The Grid allows some tactical play in avoiding those outcomes, but the only "success" is choosing your own path.
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #13 on: March 03, 2007, 06:37:13 AM »

Some more playtest data: 

  • Chapter One played out in 34 minutes, with an additional 21 minutes to finish characters after its conclusion.
  • Chapter Two took 50 minutes.
  • Chapter Three took 47 minutes. 

So that's right in line with my estimate on an hour per Chapter, particularly since I was there to smooth over rules questions. 

Here are some at-table photos:  Session prepMaking a characterAfter Chapter TwoAfter Chapter Three
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #14 on: March 03, 2007, 08:35:16 AM »

A somewhat frantic revised character sheet, based on feedback from the playtest and in this thread.  It's letter sized and includes a bunch of supportive material - die handling rules and a place to put down your dice (which acts as a signal to other players indicating how many scenes you have left), a sequence of play list, and (I think this is cool and hope Patrick can find a way to make it look reasonable in the final version) lists of names as a semi-decorative border.  So in play you can just grab one as needed and scratch it off or circle it.  Because names are important.  I'm no visual designer, so I looks like crap right now, but all the functionality is there.  Feedback welcomed!
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