Careful Preparations

20150517_153648As I have UK Games Expo in less than 2 weeks time and a session to run tomorrow evening, a little prep appeared in order for The Dee Sanction. I have spent some of today doing just that – having spent yesterday assisting with more general event prep.

Today, I have:

  1. Tweaked the rules for completing tasks
  2. Created an updated ‘character sheet’
  3. Added 8 new cards to the character stack
  4. Asked nicely for a special All Rolled Up dice bag

The task resolution system now supports losing something to push for success. You might get hurt, lose faith, or fall flat with a damning slap to the ego. Power, Penance, and Prestige can each take temporary or more permanent damage – the former ticked off in the boxes, the later written out as something more permanent.

So, you could tick off a Power, which indicates a twist, bruise or cut; three ticks mean something more permanent, like a broken bone, a minor concussion, or the loss of your favoured weapon.

The new character sheet has spaces at the bottom for your three character creation cards – in order A, B, and C – and room at the top for marking your state of wellbeing.

I have added more character cards – two new professions, three new affiliations, and three new bad books. That means I now have just one short of 12 cards for each – with the books falling short at 11. That works out as quite an array of skills, backgrounds and suggested period-appropriate names.

Finally, my wife was good enough to offer to make an All Rolled Up dice bag for my game – and I helped pick out material. I can’t guarantee that anyone else would want a bag in the combination of fabrics selected – but, you never know. I’ll post a picture when it’s done.

Aside from getting a handout or two prepared for the game, I should be ready for Expo (and tomorrow evening).

Token Fiddliness

gongfermor-tableWe playtest to make games better. You accept feedback to allow that process to progress and allow a game to grow. I have been running games of 214 for that very reason – and I hope to run more. I have games at Seven Hills and UK Games Expo over the next couple of months, and I really should pop the old Hangout cherry and run a few games online (but, overwhelming introversion and general shyness continue to plague my good intentions in this regard).

Anyway, one piece of feedback from the games at Concrete Cow came from professional Angel Summoner, Steve Ellis:

Good fun, reasonable system with a bit of token fiddliness (and no real use for Penance).

I’m happy to break that sentence down, as it holds considerable feedback for such a scant array of words.

Good Fun: On the very plus side, the adventure itself provided enough entertainment to keep five players engaged for a 3-hour slot. I have now run The Holy Wax Infant of Prague on two occasions, and I’ve touched on it before – a nice little sandbox where the actions of the player characters determine the course of the adventure.

Reasonable System: I like any feedback on the system that doesn’t entirely slate it! I know that it needs work, so if I can get from A to B without too many slips, I can say “Good.” I have been listening to all the feedback, although it will always take time for me to take it onboard and do something constructive with it.

I want to find a better system, for example, to handle occasional combat. The game isn’t about fights, but they will happen – and right now the system really doesn’t do anything. The focus on narrative means that I can tell you how or why things go for or against you, but the outcome can get a bit fuzzy. I’m inclined to opt for some kind of vaguely realistic injury system. But, I did say, “occasional combat” – and the fact it doesn’t happen often means I’m inclined to work on it later when I’m trying to fill out the gaps.

A Bit of Token Fiddliness: I used narrow character sheets for this event, rather than whole pages. The counters pooled above the line, the character cards below. I’m increasingly feeling that I can find a better way to handle the counters. I think I may experiment with both a team pool mechanic or something finite and personal, but singular. By that, I mean one pool of tokens per character, rather than the current three.

Right now, we have Power, Prestige, and Penance for The Dee Sanction. These represent your ability to drive toward success through personal ability, association with influential organisations, and engaging in beneficent teamwork, respectively. You draw on the first two pools to directly tweak dice rolls, while the third pool starts with tokens and loses them whenever you selflessly help someone else.

Adjusting other people’s rolls costs 2-for-1 on Prestige, 1-for-1 on Power – because it’s easier to assist with success yourself than expect your contacts to help others.

Adjusting your own roll costs 2-for-1 on Power and 1-for-1 on Prestige – because the roll represents your best effort, so applying more personal expertise proves a lot harder than drawing on the good will and influence of your contacts and associations.

The tokens represent a resource to allow you to drive success when it matters, help team members when they need it, and allow you to look good helping them out. It could well work with a single pool, but, in a way, I wanted to stay away from something that just looked like another Fate / Hero / Force / Whatever mechanic. The single pool of tokens to be heroic when it matters has been done – a lot. I wanted something a little different.

I will have to ponder on this one.

No Real Use for Penance: Well, there is – but some games it comes across strong and others it doesn’t. Penance gives you a reason to help the team. Oddly enough, some groups of players require a carrot on a stick to get them to work co-operatively. In Penance, the characters have cause to assist their companions both to drive success and to look good in the face of critical outsiders. They can redeem their sins and show a willingness to improve in pursuit of a goal of personal freedom.

Possibly, a dozen tokens of three different colours might be overkill. It could be resolved by doing away with the tokens and just have markers on a character sheet to cross out. On the other hand, I might find resolution in a revelation over the pool mechanic.

I might need to take a shower

The Dee Sanction at the Cow

gongfermor-playersThis weekend, I ran two games of The Dee Sanction, at Concrete Cow in Milton Keynes. I suspect I will ruminate and post more than once on the outcome from these sessions.

I ran two adventures, both of which I’d run before. ‘The Gongfermor Deception‘ has been run at least four times now, and I don’t think it has proceeded the same way on any of those occasions.

The adventure has a timeline in the background, to which the bad guys aspire to keep. The player characters have the opportunity to interfere with this timeline, if they can – though it depends on what information they can uncover.

I think I could benefit from applying some kind of countdown mechanic to this game so that I have the timeline forefront in my mind and give the players a greater sense as to their progress. I daresay seeing the counters slip away would add to the stress. The actions they take along the way occur within a confined location and getting a grip of distance and time expended wouldn’t be too hard.

I recently read (and posted a review at RPG Geek of) Levi Kornelsen’s Mechanisms For Tabletop Roleplaying. The short supplement offers five interesting mechanics to add elements to an existing game, one of which is a Countdown Stack that might work well in introducing this. I’ll have to give it some consideration.

The other adventure – ‘The Holy Wax Infant of Prague‘ – has more of a sandbox environment within which the events unfold. The characters have less pressure to face, but a wider range of options to consider. In investigating the mystery around the disappearance of an important relic, they have a whole valley of suspect people and locations to consider.

I ran this adventure at Dragonmeet and it ended quite differently to the one this weekend. It ended with a very different culprit to the original – and in writing this up, it will be very much a place with a detailed list of places and possibilities. I allowed the players this weekend to guide their own destiny and their actions gave form to the outcome.

In the end, they found themselves running for their lives from the rending claws and gnashing teeth of evil spirits. Finding solace in a church, they desperately called for the intervention of the angelic host to save them – and pulled off a credible success by slaying the unholy host with heavenly fire.

Both adventures ran well to time. The ‘Infant‘ ran 5 minutes short of the 3-hour slot, while the ‘Deception‘ closed 15-minutes off four hours. In both instances, the players managed to reach a satisfactory conclusion.

I really like the way the second session (Deception) ended, as it would have made the perfect start to a campaign, while definitely offering a single-session conclusion. The characters discovered a place of significance that could have served as the basis for long-term investigation and complications. Here, they walked away as Walsingham’s agents sealed the way with a thick black wax disc, bearing the insignia and motto of The Dee Sanction.

Quite satisfying.