Thursday, March 14, 2013

Apocalithic Playtest #1

It's been nearly a month since I last penned anything here. Between work, Illness, and a new video game, I haven't had much time to write. And what time I have spent writing has been putting together Apocalithic's skill list, which has turned out to be a harder proposition than I first thought.

But in this last week, I had my first playtest of the game. So that's progress.

I had eight players, myself included. Which is two or three more than I like, but it seems gathering playtesters is feast or famine. This included about half my regular gaming group, and half were friends out of town who wanted a one-shot. So we ran through Tribe Creation, character creation, and then started a community change contest.

The Tribe took shape as a Polynesian-like tribe of Fishermen who lived near an abandoned resort arcology. The arcology held lots of good salvage, and also tons of malfunctioning robots and other hazards. The men of the tribe make runs into this arcology to get salvage and prove their manhood. So the high concept was Arcology Runners.  The Trouble was, last year all the adult men died running the arcology, leaving the tribe with A generation of young men lost. Other aspects included the genetic mutations Low-light vision and Aquatic Adaption, and the cultural trait of History in Song.

Players report they found the process of coming up with the tribe very fun. More than anything, I think I made the right choice to restrict the tribe extra to just aspects, because it turned tribe creation into a conversation. I think adding any more mechanics would have bogged down people's creative process here.

From there we made characters. To keep things simple, I'll stick to high concepts. We had the Elder and Loremaster come out of retirement to take up his old role. We had his son, the Loremaster in training. We had a Rebellious Tomboy who wanted to do the arcology run, and her Supportive Friend. We also had an Eager young scout, and a Skilled Boatmaker who had never made the run despite being old enough and thus was a Social Pariah.

Next we discussed what the conflict would be, and at first everyone assumed we would do an arcology run. I asked if there was any way we could do a tribe change conflict first because that's what I wanted to test. We decided to make the conflict about who got to go on the run at all. The only men of the right age were the loremaster's son, and the boatmaker who'd avoided it so far. The eager young scout was too young, the loremaster too old,  and the two girls weren't allowed due to gender. My favorite quote of the evening was one playtester exclaiming, "Yeah, actually, after all that conversation about the tribe, that conflict sounds way more fun!"

So far so good, except that it was getting late. We were only able to play out two scenes into the conflict, and both of them wound up being arguments. The fun thing is that I didn't have to provide NPC opposition to the players, because they split up into several camps over the issue by themselves. The Loremaster and the Boatbuilder became unlikely allies in arguing that they should skip this year's arcology run since there weren't enough eligable men. The two young ladies and the kid scout tried to argue that they should go. And the Loremaster's son was caught in between, as he wanted to have the girls come with him but couldn't be seen to go against his father.

However, the most useful information from playtesting is what needs to be improved. What I learned this playtest is that I need more solid mechanics for having arguments. Both scenes boiled down to people trying to get their way without being open to compromise, and trying either to get the other to back down, or to sway the crowd that gathered to their side. Intimidation checks and Mental stress worked OK, but felt like intrusions onto the scene rather than aids to the fiction. This is where I need to focus my attention next.