State of the Conspiracy: Major Feedback from Dragonmeet

I posted a quick collection of thoughts regarding Dragomeet 2016 over on my G+ page but I wanted to give the Project Cassandra feedback a post to itself.

What happened

The setup for the game was the same basic questions that I used during the Stratigicon playtest, that Apollo 11 had discovered something and President Nixon was due to be assasinated prior to announcing the discovery. The discovery this time, shapeshifting aliens on the moon who had already infiltrated the USSR and were now trying to take over the US government. The assasin was non other than the vice President who had already been replaced. Thrown into the mix was a Soviet Null, immune to the powers of the party (but not, as it would turn out, regular bullets).

The adventure went by fast. Too fast, as the players blew through every challenge with ease thanks to a combination of difficulties that were too low, great teamwork and some amazingly inventive use of Powers.

Feedback

The primary feedback was pretty unambiguous, actions weren’t challenging enough, which resulted in the group not failing for the first two thirds of the game. This had a knock on effect in that it prevented other mechanics from coming into play, namely conditions and spending premonitions on re-rolls. It was only towards the end of the game that I started raising the difficulty that we started using all of the mechanics but by then it was too late to have a major impact.

The second negative was with the skills themselves and compounded my GM error with the difficulties. Essentially the players found that they either had too high a skill level for a given task or were lacking the skills entirely (and therefore didn’t attempt actions). This is something that has come up in playtests before and I had hoped that the current skill list addressed it. Unfortunately this does not appear to be the case.

It’s a blow to get this close to having the game finished before running into a major issue but on the other hand I’m glad it went badly. It’s the first major catastrophe I’ve had but it also feels like it is workable rather than an impassable issue.
Beyond this the feedback was quite positive. The players enjoyed the scenario and being able to influence it through the questions plus liked the fact that the powers weren’t mechanically constrained to prevent them being overpowered. As these are all aspects I’d put thought into I’m glad that the players picked up on my design aims. Following the game I’m also convinced that the single scenario design (of saving the President) was the right approach. Once the game is finished I may add a bonus sheet on running additional highly defined bonus scenarios (I already have ideas for one based around the Berlin Airlift).

Going forward

I’ve been pondering how to change the skills since Dragonmeet but before I dive too deeply into it I thought it important to look again at the probability tables, the results of which are plotted below. The x-axis plots the number of successes and the y-axis the percentage chance of rolling at least that many successes for a given skill level.

2016-12-06

Looking at those numbers it’s clear how off my perception of the difficulties was. With a skill level of 3, which the players were regularly achieving, there is still a 66% chance of rolling 3 or more successes. In my head 3 successes should have been difficult and definitely not in their favour so often. Those odds rises to a staggering 90% at a skill level of 4 and drops to 32% for a character with a moderate skill level of 2.

It’s clear therefore that the first thing I need to do is adjust my idea of difficulty levels and then add explicit descriptions to the game. My current working template is:

1 – Trivial – Only worth rolling if the individual is unskilled
2 – Normal
3 – Challenging (with intention of this being a typical roll for the game)
4 – Hard
5 – Heroic
6 – Impossible

The second approach is a limit on the maximum skill level of a character. The players at Dragonmeet suggested setting it at 3, which I’m thinking of implementing. At this level a skilled individual will pass a Challenging roll most of the time but still fail at a noticeable rate.

The biggest change, which I’m still working on, are the skills themselves. Under the current design players add up related specialities to get their skill level and tend to either end up with a high level or none at all. If I keep the current system the specialities need completely rewritten to provide a wider breadth skills with only a small number that overlap enough to give a high skill level.

The alternative is simply list a set it skills with a rank by each of them. That has the advantage of simplicity and also makes it easier to deal with edge cases as I can give each skill group a rank for when no specialities apply. For example using brute strength might just fall under the general umbrella of the Physical skill set at rank of 2 for the strongest and 0 for the weakest. The downsides of this approach are flavour and rigidity so more thought will have to go into it before I settle on one over the other. I may also split the skill groups further by adding Social to the existing mix of Mental, Physical and Specialist.

All in all I’ve got a lot to think about and a valuable learning experience for future projects.

Advertisements

State of the Conspiracy: The Candidate Release!

It’s been a while since a ‘State of the Conspiracy’ post has incorporated any new material so here’s a big one: A brand new version of the game that has the potential to be damn near complete. Download Project Cassandra: Candidate Release.

I say near complete for the simple reason that with the addition of a couple more pieces of artwork I think it would stand well as a finished game. I like the material, I like the look and it feels like it has everything it has to have.

But… there are a few things that the game could really do with. The first is some proof reading and external playtesting. I’ve been collecting feedback from a few people and playtests as I go but I still feel like it would be great if I was able to find somebody who was willing to pull it apart and make me question / defend what I’ve produced.

The second is that while I’ve run it for a number of groups I’ve not had the chance to get somebody else to run it and I need to know how well it stands up without my presence. Third, Scribus and Acrobat. Yeah, publishing tools strike again. There’s some weird issue with the fonts that I suspect are down to how Scribus is embedding them but on certain versions of Acrobat for Android the text just comes out like this:

Screenshot_2016-07-22-14-04-14

So I’ve got to sort that out, luckily one of the kind folks at Adobe Support is having a look at it for me but in all likelihood it’ll mean running the document through Acrobat Pro but I’m holding off on that until everything is done just to save on subscription costs. Even with those caveats though getting to this point is a great feeling especially with my target release date of the US elections in November.

Then it’ll just be a case of deciding on my next project…

TowerFall Micro RPG

Following on from the 200 word RPG challenge I decided to expand upon TowerFall and flesh it out into more complete micro-RPG, limiting myself to a single page. The extra real estate allowed me to do two things, rework the main rules to clarify areas I wasn’t too happy with originally and to add in an entirely new section: character classes. My intention with the classes has been to add a mechanical depth to the characters while, hopefully, evoking the classical fantasy genre.

So here it is, TowerFall by LunarShadow Designs.

I’ve still got a final round of proof reading / error checking to do but want to put it out there now (if you spot any glaring issues please let me know). The final thing that comes with this first game is a new name, LunarShadow Designs and a logo to go with it. I’m still getting used to it but LunarShadow.net, while fine for my domain name, just doesn’t work as a name for publishing under hence the change. Next up, redesigning this blog and setting up a drivethruRPG publishers account for another place to share what I produce.

logo

Tower Fall: A 200 Word RPG

The 200 word RPG challenge is an interesting take on micro-games and one that I didn’t get around to participating in last year. The level of creativity in the submissions is really high, as is the level of diversity. The contest, and most of the submissions, seems to be very much orientated towards focused single scene descriptive games. For mine I’ve tried to the other way, with a bit more traditional narrative and use of dice to overcome challenges (though you stack rather than roll them). I’ve also got the initial outline of a 200 word supplement for the game which adds special class abilities, expect to see that posted soon.


 

Tower Fall

The Wizard has been vanquished but can you escape before the Tower Falls?
A game for 3-4, each requires 3d6, 1d8, 1d10 and 1d12.

Together: Name characters equal to the number of players – 1. Describe them.
Roll 1d12, highest narrates the first scene.

Narrator: Describe the current floor. Let the characters explore, as they do describe challenges equal to the number of characters. In order assign difficulties of 3, 2 or 1.
Next player clockwise: Pick a character for the turn, attempt to overcome a challenge.

To overcome a challenge:
Create or add to your dice tower by stacking a number of dice equal to the difficulty. The tower must be only 1 die wide.
If you run out of dice steal them from another tower.
If you collapse a tower remove dice from your pool (and the game) equal to the difficulty. Try again.
If a player runs out of dice their current character dies.

Once the challenge is overcome play moves round clockwise. At the end of the round the surviving characters escape to the next floor. Narration moves around 1 player, play continues for a set number of levels or until all but one character has Fallen.

JFK assassination: Photo showing Lee Harvey Oswald with same type of gun used to kill JFK ‘authentic’

One of the results of working on Project Cassandra is that I’ve been trying to learn more about the central events of the Cold War. Being born in the early 80’s I only vaguely remember the tail end of it, such as the Berlin Wall coming down but the bulk of it is something that I’ve had to learn about. The JFK assassination was something that I studied in school but I’ve avoided diving into while working on the game as I specifically didn’t want to focus on that tragic real world event.

Even so this coming across this article – Photo showing Lee Harvey Oswald with same type of gun used to kill JFK ‘authentic’ – got my attention and has set thoughts moving again, specially this time about the ideas of conspiracies and secret plots while I expand on a few sections of the game, most notably scenario advice for the GM.

Project Cassandra Draft 1

After quite a bit of work and tinkering with the game that’s included more than one rewrite of the system Project Cassandra is finally at a stage where I’m happy to put it out there as a fairly complete document that includes both full rules and mostly complete characters. At this point the core game is, I hope, there and the rest of the work consists of editing, layout and getting some artwork together. Then finally try and spread the word about the game, while just being able to say I’ve written a game was my real goal it would be nice if people outside of my own group actually played it.

Download Project Cassandra Draft 1 (pdf)

5 minutes into the future (that never was)

One of the things I often find myself doing when working on a game concept is to look for inspirational artwork that captures the genre I’m aiming for. I came across this article today which details an 80’s inspired look into the future as envisioned by Simon Stålenhag. The work brings together the boxy aesthetics of the 80’s that actually happened with smoother, curved robotics and technological developments without making either feel out of place. Many of the future developments are reminiscent of the future tech of the original Star Wars dropped into the Swedish countryside, or for a more recent feel that of Looper, which mixes technological advances with a downbeat, almost depression era setting.

Now I just need to work out a game that could be dropped into such a setting.