Tashiro (tashiro) wrote in roleplayers,

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Breaking the System (game design notes)

For those not interested in my talking about game design, here's a cut!  :)

The end of last month included CanGames, the yearly RPG and wargaming convention held in Ottawa.  At my company's table I got to run Fox Magic, and playtest Cloak and Dagger, two games which use the Story Point System I designed for the games I'll be developing.  Because I got to run six games in total (to last year's one), I got to take a good, hard look at how the system works with a large group of excited strangers, and it allowed me to see what flaws may exist in the game.

Unfortunately, Fox Magic was already at the printer, and anything I wanted to change wasn't going to be in that book.  On the plus side, the changes I wanted to make are minor, and don't have to apply to Fox Magic, which has a specific feel and is very much a 'first go'.  Fox Magic works fine as-is, thankfully, and if a game master happens to get their hands on my SPS document (in the next Grimoire), they will have advice, examples, and tweaks which they can use in their game -- or not.

So, what did I learn?

Well, first of all, I learned that people at a convention, on a sugar and gaming rush, will throw anything into a game if given free reign.  (Seriously... Inspector Gadget and his crew wound up in one Cloak and Dagger game, while Charleton Heston controlled an army of green micro-chimps in green gorilla robot outfits in our second one...)  This obviously made it hard to keep control and direction in the game.  Now, admittedly, a group familiar with the game master and his/her playing style will probably be a bit more reserved, and thus the silliness quotent could be kept down, but the rules should give the game master some tools to ensure that things don't go as south as they could.  Of course, there's the 'you can say no' rule that's in the game, but that's a bit heavy handed, so I've been tweaking the system just a bit, providing the game master with the tools to help keep guidance in the game, and flat out telling the game master how to keep a hand on the steering wheel.  The players aren't losing any control, but the game master is gaining some equal say in the game itself.

Secondly, the idea of keeping track of 'aspects' -- a mechanic used to prevent someone hogging a bunch of turns in a scene, was too much when the group got excited.  People don't want to stop to do checkmarks on a character sheet, and keep track of what they've done when they're excited and the group's working well together.  So, I altered the aspect rules.  Way back, I had 'flaws' as a penalty a game master used to cause PCs to spend attribute points... but decided that wasn't very fun.  Players don't want to be punished, and game masters tend not to want to be vindictive.  So, I'd altered the rules so a game master could trigger a player flaw to penalize a character -- or the player could trigger it themselves to give themselves a bonus.  This worked much better during the convention, and I decided aspects would work that way as well.  A player, rather than 'expending' aspects just by roleplaying, could 'invoke' an aspect for a bonus if they did a good job narrating in a scene.  The limiter became how many times you could get this bonus, rather than being how many times you could act.

There's really nothing like a convention to put your game through the wringer.  Fortunately, I had a full table for each game, and this allowed me a really good chance to see what the game system can do with strangers.  They learned the mechanics incredibly quickly, and that's good -- I want the mechanics to be easy to learn, and when people from ages 12 to 40 can all pick up the mechanics in a minute or two, I know I've done a good job.  :)

So far, out of the 45 or so people who have ever used this system with me GMing, only two people have ever stepped out of the game.  One was at a house playtest, where the player simply didn't want to have to 'GM' as part of the game.  The other player was at the convention and bowed out (with some polite excuses -- lies, but understandable for saving face all around), and I think it was more the same.  Not everyone wants to have to be 'in control' when they're gaming, but the numbers so far show me I'm onto something with this.  :)

Now that the game's actually out and for sale, I'm really hoping to see more reviews of it, so I can see what other people think, and I can see how game masters have experienced the game.
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