GM: Sean Nittner
Players: Matt, Rich, The Russian, Shaun and Travis.
System: Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies
November play-test of the same game: http://seannittner.livejournal.com/90148.html
This game is a lot of fun. If you are going to DundraCon this weekend and free Saturday night, you should be in it. Either that or walk the plank into the Blue! As usual with playtest AP reports, I’m not going into details but I will break down the mechanical/pacing bits as well as what worked and what didn’t. A more detailed report will come after the con game.
The game is broken down into five components (if I was really crafty I’d make it 7 but this is a six hour time slot so I’m not pushing my luck): Introduction to the mechanics and setting, finishing the half baked characters, and then three acts.
Of all those pieces, the first is the roughest. I spend a good 20 minutes as people look on doe eyed while I tell them about the dice mechanics, damage system and the style die economy. Then I do a brief intro the world. This always either feels too vague, which doesn’t give them enough to grab on to, or two exhaustive leaving the players… well, exhausted. But it’s kind of a necessary evil. The Pedagogy of Play Project (http://seannittner.livejournal.com/72475.html) is a noble one indeed, but it means making another game to teach people how to play the game, and I’m too impatient with this game. I definitely do some of it, but I don’t have a fully automated system for unraveling the game in play yet. See the bits below.
In this step I also set some of the parameters of the game. The Viridese are bad guys who want to rob skysailors of life, liberty and loot. Add to that a horrible disease that only grows worse as the Tree of Life has been contaminated and life in the 7 Skies is grim. But just as things seemed their worst, hope appears on the horizon… the mythical Flagship Atlantis, the ship who sailors swear by their mothers grave can fare the Sky of Fire, has been spotted. Can you find it before the Viridese put you in chains?
Finishing the Half Baked Characters
Putting the finishing touches on the characters. This part is all about taking six players and convincing them that they are playing characters that really do care about each other. At least a little. We go through a couple of exercises, conjuring up superstitions, creating the their ship, and finally narrating short scenes where each character in turn get to pull the previous character’s ass from the fire.
The last exercise in particular gives everyone a reason to be in debt to the person on their left and introduces the dice mechanic in a very safe environment. It also focuses the group on thwarting the Viridese, as they constitute the opposition in each conflict.
In both play-tests this has been a lot of fun, the players get to play with narrative control (no name dropping here) and there is nothing like a good superstition to get people in character.
Act 1 – 3
In each of these acts I start the scene setting up the sandbox. “This is what is going to happen at the end of this act. How you guys actually make that happen is entirely up to you.” To keep things moving in the right direction, I’ve got a mini game that pushes the pacing and ratchets up the tension. That just gave me an idea… Dread with an hourglass…. Getting ahead of myself. For another game.
Like I said this is the point where I don’t want to reveal too many details but suffice to say, Act 1 (which we play tested) was buckets of fun. My big concern is having time to fit in Act 2 and 3.
What rocked (based on my thoughts and feedback from the playtest group)
- The connection scenes were awesome. Everyone got a chance to first be someone’s hero, then be in need, all in very short order.
- The character “The Jailor” is very, very strongly inspired by Jamie Lannister from the Song of Ice and Fire and is therefore very, very awesome.
- Physical props associated with the mini-game were great.
- Katya, the Viridese outlaw was wicked brutal. She was lots of fun to play.
- The character dynamics, both those written into the character back stories and those developed made the group and really fun mix.
- I was fast and loose with Style Dice, but also made people spend them like crazy, this created an very fun economy that showed awesomeness = win!
- The “Leads” deck were cards from the Story Cards game by Carl Klutzke (http://storycardsrpg.com/) the players really dug the freedom these allows in creating their own leads to the ship.
- The Act 1 Minigame as a whole ran smooth and kept the players engaged. It reminded me a lot of running the gift, where I basically set things in motion and then watched the players unveil the story.
- Revealing character secrets was highly incentivized and three of the four came out in Act 1. Super cool.
What could be improved
- The missing element of the ship I forgot, always the most interesting part… her foible!
- There were some physical bits missing. Dice cups for both players rolling off in flashy challenges and a physical prop for players opting to take a Vexing Misfortune scene.
- I forgot how many style dice go in the bowl… gotta look that up.
- I need to read up on Vehicle Duels… did it in the first playtest but not the second and I don’t feel confident about it. Only a single failure rank was taken in the first act, I need to make a few more of the challenges “dangerous”.
- To ramp up the challenge in Act 1, after three Complications appear I may either clear the Lead cards or stop putting out new ones. Either that or I’ll require more Leads and fewer Complications to win, focusing people more on the leads than. This part needs some fiddling with.
- The character sheet is convoluted. Some people like how it reads like a story, but most have a hard time finding things, especially techniques as they are split up in two places. The sheet has all the info I want on it though, so I’m going to leave it and just use a highlighter to mark the techniques for easier visibility.
- I need to remind people to offer each other good form dice for their actions in the beginning. Encouraging (read bribing) other players to help you is a great tactic.
- If a character is not played, remember to remove his “vexing misfortune” card.
- The fleet in act two needs to be presented as a timer rather than a dues ex machina. This allows players to work with limited resources rather than feel jacked.
- The stakes of the vehicle duel need to be personal (revenge, love, etc) rather than defeating the ship, as the fleet will simply overwhelm them anyway.
- The second part of Act 2 needs map to encourage the feeling of exploration.