Friday, December 9, 2011


Some mornings you just can’t find the right pithy phrase to name a blog post. Today, I’m just going to go simple.

Last night was round 2 of play-testing for my space game. Again, I was limited to two players (of four) players due to prior commitments. Also again I was operating on very limited sleep…about two to three hours…and a loooong work day. And, yes, while I stayed away from the whiskey, I did quaff (most of) a pitcher of beer…

BUT, I am going to call the game session successful. Much more so than last week. In fact, I’d say it went better than any prior iteration of the card mechanic RPG (Out of Time, MDR) due to certain changes I instituted…namely, the need to spend cards to utilize ANY thing more than “average effort” in a success check.

This had all the desirable types of results I was looking for:

  • Cards got spent and played, depending on the “stakes” necessary
  • In turn, this led to decreased effectiveness over time as resources ran slim. This is the way I had originally envisioned the game being played, but previously the dice mechanic was too “easy” with players steering tests into areas of high suits and not needing to expend cards for extra success. NOW they do the same thing, but once the cards are spent, they have to switch to a different “arena” (where they still have cards).
  • Players were forced to use different avenues to accomplish tasks (see the last note) because of running low on cards. This was also how I imagined the game being played, and forcing card expenditure accomplished this, causing players to take different tactics when one suit ran low.
  • The use of cards provided the “game balance” I was looking for…as one player ran low on cards, the other player was forced to step in and step up. Perfect…everyone gets their turn in the spotlight.
  • Doing the card play in this way made ALL the cards important. Whereas before players would short suit themselves during character creation to keep a bunch of Aces and faces, now having “depth” in a particular suit is just as important (if not moreso)…at least if you, as a player, are attached to a particular style of play. For example, if you want to solve problems with your fists, you better have a bunch of clubs. Heron had a single Ace of Spades and had to hold on to it until he REALLY needed it since it was his only spade. This was cool…though now I’m thinking a 7 card hand might be better than 6.
  • Or Not: Drive points (given as a reward for role-playing certain aspects of your character) can be utilized much like cards. By limiting the cards in a player’s hand, it forces them to complicate themselves in order to “regain effectiveness.” This makes for interesting play, and I imagine it will come faster and easier as players get more comfortable with the concept (I hope).
  • The complication die/card draw (what Josh calls “the calamity die”) worked well in practice, helping to add depth to a roughly sketched scenario…in addition to being fun.

Since the wholesale change of the system turned out to be so effective, it means I will need to rewrite much of what I’ve previously written (doh), AND I will also have to re-tool many of the character advantages (double-doh), and probably the entire credit/purchase system (triple-doh!). However, that’s a small price to pay for sporting a system that does what the game designer (me) wants it to do…pretty exciting stuff, in my opinion. It was a great session from my perspective and the only thing that kept me from being more giddy was my extreme fatigue and the knowledge that I would have another looong night with sick baby once I got home.

[and I did, too]

Some other random thoughts of things learned from last night’s playtest:

Classes work well with the system, even the new rules. Unfortunately, for long term play some of the classes seem mutually exclusive. For instance, Josh’s “mole man” (a fringer/survivor with a home environment advantage of “space station”) worked great for this session that happened to be ON a space station…but Heron’s spacer pilot didn’t get to do a whole helluva’ lot of flying. And if they HAD taken off in Heron’s ship, what would Josh have done? The key may be a lot of cut scenes and environmental (scene) changes…or possibly finding a way for PCs to operate towards the end of a single scenario objective even when separated. Think Return of the Jedi (Luke’s on the Death Star, Han and Leia are on Endor, Lando flying the space mission).

NPCs (named versus mook) worked well enough for me, but needs to be even MORE simplified. This may just be my own leftover baggage from wanting “major villains” to be as competent as PCs (think my favorite Star Wars baddie, Count Dooku, who kicks an incredible amount of ass). However, there are ways to do this withOUT assigning cards. I’m going to have to mull over this.

ALSO (regarding NPCs), I have a rule about bestowing names on NPCs automatically gives them significance and importance. This actually came into play during the session, when Heron christened some nameless mook “Butt-Boy” (or something equally descriptive). Under the terms of the rules I should have dealt him some cards and converted him to a “major NPC;” instead I skipped the step as it was too complicated for the quickfire action of the time. In retrospect, I think dealing a “named” mook a single card (and assigning hit points) would have been an easier, simpler way of accomplishing what I wanted. I’m going to have to mull over this as well.

Frenetic pace and lavish card spending was definitely the way to go. I think Josh had more fun doing this then he had in previous sessions (he tried both Out of Time and MDR). He definitely seemed more engaged in the action of the game…but then, he was also digging hard on his mole man character (“Jub-Jub”).

Finally, although it’s a space opera trope to have the occasional alien protagonist, I’m thinking of making non-human PCs a completely optional side rule, and getting rid of the Jokers all together (dammit! I forgot about the Jokers!...they need to be revamped for the rule changes, too!). It’s just more fun to do “humans in space” and keep the aliens as NPCs or sidekicks (sorry, Spock). Even a weird human (like Jub-Jub) is easier to grasp (as a concept) and relate to than a “mostly human” type o character. Dralasites and vrusk are cool and all, but…well, I don’t know. It’s another thing I’m going to have to think about.

All right, that’s enough debriefing for now. I’ll be working on the space game over the holidays (hopefully getting some writing done in Mexico)…at least when I’m not pestering my artists to get their submissions in for the new book. I don’t plan on doing another space opera play-test till 2011 (got to get back to Heron’s BX game and I understand the DCC experiment may be finally over as well…we’ll see what’s up next down at the Mox)…but you never know. It’s certainly possible that we’ll run another session before Christmas.

: )


  1. I believe I referred to the NPC in question as "Dicknose", not Buttboy. That would have been, you know...crass.

    I also referred to him as "Fonkin Hoddypeak" a couple of times, but I don't know if that affected the number of cards he was allotted.

  2. Intrigues by this, especially the mook to named.

  3. @ IG/Heron: I honestly don't know which name was more insulting.
    ; )

    @ Simon: Oh, it's a good one...still in development, though.