Thursday night (i.e. yesterday), we got a chance to play MDR, my latest-greatest RPG brainstorm, featuring a grim post-apocalyptic wilderness, hazardous danger, and cannibal mutants. In other words, the usual caffeine-inspired weirdness. Players included Josh, Randy, and Heron plus my brother’s buddy, Joel, who is a homeless alcoholic street musician. My brother was not present for the game.
Josh played “Out of Time” with me a couple weeks ago (the system upon which MDR is based), but the game was brand new for Randy and Heron, and…well, Joel says it’s been 10-15 years since he’s played ANY role-playing game and it’s unclear how much he retains from those days. I had to explain what my role as GM meant (he didn’t get why I wasn’t making a character myself).
However, I designed it to be interesting and playable and somewhat intuitive “out-o-the-box” and everyone seemed to grok the way to work it. Josh and Randy were quick to pick up on (and utilize) the creative interpretation of attributes, and Joel got the card-burning mechanic down pat. In fact, Joel ended the game having emptied his hand of cards, something I was kind of shooting for with all the players (emptying your hand generally being a sign that a lot of action is taking place and characters exerting themselves).
Much fun was had by all…a surprising amount, from my point of view. I was worried how the game would feel to be PLAYED. However, from the player’s seat, the dice-card interaction/mechanic appears to be an entertaining one.
The GM doesn’t feel that part of the game (hoarding/spending cards) as NPCs don’t have “cards,” only dice pools. On the other hand, not having to worry about NPC resources free up the GM’s time for other things…like managing the game and providing info to the players. Which feels simple, even as the mechanics of the game keep the players on their toes.
The players also said they liked how the mechanic allowed them to develop their character’s story or personality based on the way they use/spend cards. Or maybe they liked the idea/story of the game: mutants in the wasteland searching for acceptance and homes. I know I heard a couple comments directed at these aspects of the game, but I don’t remember the specifics (I’m still a little rummy from the lack of sleep…sorry!). Maybe the players will comment about this (*hint*hint*), but for now I am simply pleased that the players felt any kind of character/story developing out o play, since the adventure was mostly randomly generated and the action of what occurred was mainly on the players, and they made it neat.
Now there were some issues that still need to be tidied up. The endgame (yes, there is an objective to MDR) needs to be tightened up, as the players felt it a bit too much like “mandatory retirement” (my words, not theirs). If we were running an actual on-going saga instead of a one-off playtest this might have NOT been such an issue, but even in a real campaign there would be the (small) chance of being “retired” after 6-10 sessions, especially if the characters perform well. Perhaps complications (another game mechanic) can be “bought off” by spending Renown/status points, thus accomplishing two things at once: preventing negative consequences and keeping the characters wandering.
Oh, yeah, and armor rules. Ugh…that REALLY needs to be re-worked. I really like the idea of PCs being able to start with whatever piecemeal armor they want, but making characters harder to hit (a personal bias from my love affair with B/X) just didn’t work; combat was tough enough without that. I think I’m actually going to have to do some form of damage reduction (*shudder*) as the exploding damage dice can have HUGE impacts. Such an event is like piercing a vital organ…and shouldn’t armor be protecting those vulnerable spots?
Anyway, we had so much fun that we didn’t even get to Heron’s B/X game, something that I'm personally looking forward to; hopefully he can run it next week. That should give me enough time to file down the rough edges on MDR.
Oh, yes: I think it’s safe to say it WILL be back.