Actual Play – The Doom of Siegsburg (5/21/2010)

GM: Tracy
Players: Mike, Marianne, Sean and Jessie
System: 7th Sea (with Cthulhu variations)

Tracy was running a play-test of the game Chris and she had run at DundraCon and were going to (now have) run at KublaCon. There were some changes that she wanted to try out and I think we gave them a good run.

The story was a well done mystery that leaves the characters spending a lot of timing trying to find something but having very little idea what it is they are actually looking for… and whether or night they’ll like it when they do. Was that sufficiently cryptic enough or should I vague it up a bit more? The downside of AP reports on play-tests is that I don’t want to give too much away.

That being said…

What rocked

The characters (mine in particular, but others for sure) were extremely compelling. I sank my teeth right into Misha (the Eisen ex-soldier mercenary) and played him as a broken man who has fought in a horrible war and returned from it to find his home destroyed. Very cool.

As well as having individually interesting stories, the assembled cast had a fun dynamic. I love games where everyone has the same job but people feel differently about it. It creates a very fun environment when you can have some verbal banter that has the full range of camaraderie, personal curiosity and antagonism. We felt little bits of all three in the game.

There were certain things we took for granted that we shouldn’t have. Good reveal! Others that we were never really sure of till the end.

The game was creepy. Tracy and Chris used an “terror track” system (inspired from the Arkham Horror board game) to ramp up the eeriness of the game as it progress, which created a nice feeling that we shifted from interest to desperation. Never quite to terror, but I don’t think that is what they were going for.

We had a painfully sympathetic danger. The waissen looked and acted like zombies, but they weren’t dead, just people whose minds were shattered during the war. And one of them was my sister. Good times.

Chris and Tracy did a great job of getting rid of the unnecessary 7th Sea crunch. We didn’t have different TNs to be hit based on environment, we weren’t limited by skills like swinging, sliding, rolling or hop scotch playing. VERY thankfully they eliminated that level of complexity both by running a darker game (with less flamboyant swashbuckling overall) and by skipping over nearly all of those rules.

What could have been improved

First, let me distinguish a lead from a clue (at least as I’m using them). A lead sets the stage for the next scene (example: That servant is hiding something in his pockets, I’m going to go find out what it is). A clue has significance to the greater story but by itself doesn’t tell you want to do from there (example: You find a strange pen that is much heavier than it should be). A lead makes it very clear what players should do to follow up on it, where as a clue requires further (usually trial and error) investigation before it leads to a direct action. In some cases I may be splitting hairs (a clue left where the action soon becomes obvious or a lead where the action produces no new information all can blur into each other), but that’s my general distinction.

That said the start of the game was clue heavy and lead light. We spent a while trying to figure out what was significant to the story, what was setting flourishes, and what was there just to creep us out. We talked to Tracy about this after the game and offered up a few suggestions as leads.

Some of the characters had some pretty kick as combat abilities that they very rarely, if ever, got to use. This was only problematic because so much of their point resources were spent on cool combat abilities that they we pretty weak in other regards. My character was a pretty good example. He was rolling 7k3 on most combat rolls, but somewhere in the (2-4)k2 range for most social or investigatory rolls. Considering that the game was nearly all social/investigation, I felt a bit short changed. What it comes down to is that in the roll and keep system, having a 2 in a trait means hitting base TNs (15) can be really tricky, where has having a 3 in a trait makes it trivial. Since almost all our rolls were based on Wits, I felt a big disparity between myself (with a Wits of 2) and the other characters (with a Wits of 3). This is a hard problem to address in many systems because they prize combat so highly. I can’t really say what to do about this except to make sure that every character has something they can do well that will work most of the game.

This is an easy one to do, I’ve done it myself a lot. Tracy forgot to give out drama dice during the game. She’s already got one fix built in (which was to give out an extra one at the start of game) but I think an additional way to make sure the dice are flowing is to put a bowl of them in the middle of the table and allow players to reward each other with them. This is taken right from Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies and it’s a rule I love. Way less pressure on the GM.