Monday, February 22, 2010

Very Belated OrcCon 2010 Wrap-Up

OrcCon was the weekend before last, so I apologize for just now getting around to this. However, it's not for lack of enthusiasm -- the playtests of Leftovers went very well, and I'm psyched to get more going soon. I came back from the con with some great feedback and ideas that'll make the next version a better game. I also gave away four ashcan copies of the current version of the rules, and have received assurances that total strangers will playtest it in distant lands (like Utah!) and report back with their findings.

The basic plot was this: One or more of the PCs has a younger relative named Suzanne, who uncharacteristically doesn't show up for dinner one evening in the Trench. Asking around reveals that she headed out into the Ruins by herself to find "something cool" and prove that she's old enough to be on her own. She's mischievous and cocky, so this comes as a disappointment but not a surprise. Of course, anything outside the Trench is so dangerous that nobody should go anywhere alone, but she doesn't quite get that. So the PCs saddle up and go out there to find her before it's too late (literally and figuratively).

While poking around the Ruins, they encounter a thousand-claw. During the fight (or shortly thereafter), four Grafted-up guys show up and either help kill the Horror (Friday night's game) or just start hacking its many limbs off (Saturday morning's game). What with one thing and another, the PCs learn that they're initiates of the Order of St. Eurosia, a weird religious cult who think that Graftliness is next to godliness. In addition to being crazy, they're also known as enthusiastic proselytizers. So when they freely admit that they have seen a little girl matching Suzanne's description and, in fact, she's back at their church awaiting some sort of ceremony, the PCs get extra-worried.

The loony Eurosians are happy to take the PCs to their church -- which, since we're in Downtown LA, is in the remains of the Disney Concert Hall -- and aren't threatened in the least by their presence. For one, the church is full of initiates and a few higher-ups, and four outsiders aren't going to be a threat. Two, they take the PCs in through the obvious, dangerous entrance (instead of the hidden, safe entrance): a darkened parking garage crawling with creepers (imagine a sentient tumbleweed made of tentacles that wants to eat you). The initiates, being more or less totally insane (as has been mentioned), walk willingly into the parking garage, confident that God will either protect them, if He has more for them to do in this world, or "call them home," as it were, via his heavenly agents. They call them heavenly agents; we call them Horrors.

One big scary creeper fight later, the PCs manage to escape deeper into the parking garage while their guides end up, uh, "nearer to Thee" (though in both games, one PC was wounded nigh unto death by the things). Our heroes find themselves in the foyer of Disney Concert Hall, and can hear deep, throbbing music coming from the auditorium itself. Inside, they find a bunch of initiates singing tuneless hymns, accompanied by the hall's formerly awesome pipe organ. Onstage is a shocking sight: Two priests stand over a young girl strapped onto a makeshift altar. One holds her arm out, while the other raises a meat cleaver as if to chop it off. On the floor beside them are a few other "prospective members," bound but not gagged, awaiting their turn. Behind the altar, intoning twisted scripture from a large tome, is the bishop, a barely human muckity-muck whose lower half has been replaced by what appears to be the body of a giant slug of some kind. Behind him, chained to a wall at the back of the stage, is a Horror, commonly called a hookface, either dead or unconscious.

Oh -- and the girl on the altar is Suzanne.

It's immediately clear what's going on: They're going to chop off Suzanne's arm and replace it with part of a Horror. Probably something from that hookface, by the looks of it.

Naturally, a hell breaks loose as the PCs attack. The methods varied between the two groups, but the aims and results were basically the same. Partway through the fight, the hookface awakens, tears itself free of its chains as if they were made of balsa wood, and rampages rather indiscriminately through the assembled. See, they only had a short window of opportunity to hack it to pieces before it woke up, after which... well, that thing that happened.

The Friday night group ended up being almost all pure humans, with one exception. That was interesting and unexpected, though not statistically improbable. It meant that, on the whole, they were very well-equipped, and the thought of Suzanne receiving a Graft against her will seemed a little more repugnant. The Saturday morning group was the opposite: two d6 Human Nature/d10 Horrific Nature types, one d8/d8, and one pure human.

The latter group was seriously effective in combat, thanks to their Grafts. Where the Friday group had a bit of trouble taking down that thousand-claw (even going so far as running over it with a semi), the Saturday morning group nearly one-shotted it, thanks to one character's high Violent Trait (d12) and combat-applicable Tool (a weaponized stripper pole) and Graft (a toad-like tongue, often used to wield the pole). Still, the Friday group was more effective at range, which was important.

One character in each group ended up getting a large vehicle as a tool (a semi Friday night, and a Coast Guard dump-truck Saturday morning), and that vehicle ended up being mechanically useful exactly once for each of them. However, in narrative terms, they were very useful: They gave the PCs the assumed ability to get to the Ruins in a hurry, plus the ability to haul pretty much anything they wanted.

Character creation was quick enough, and we definitely weren't short of time, despite an investigation scene, a talky scene, and three combats. And they weren't wimpy combats, either -- even the Saturday group was worried in that last combat against the initiates, priests, bishop, and hookface. Well, I mean, who wouldn't be? They were outnumbered five to one by the initiates alone. Every combat scene felt like it had real risk. The one character who never had anything to worry about (the stripper-fu fighter) was also maximized for combat (d12 Violent, 17 PD, 8 Vigor), so I didn't really have a problem with it. I mean, if that's the one thing your character can do well, they should be able to do it well.

Friday night, I forgot to include all the mental attacks I'd wanted (every time you see a Horror...), so that meant that the Saturday group got it in spades. I regret not integrating those vehicles into the narrative more, but after a while there just wasn't a place for them. I didn't want to tell them "Hey guys, don't take those big vehicles!" because I wanted them to just make characters with as little input from me as possible.

Probably the most successful element, though, was popping dice. It was just fun in play, and the players really seemed to enjoy it.

A few changes I'm making to the manuscript as a result of the playtests:
  • Spend a Hit in combat to do something other than cause a Wound. We had a player want to shoot the cleaver out of the priest's hand, and off-the-cuff I said he could either do damage or disarm the guy. It's a real no-muss, no-fuss solution to "combat maneuvers." If you want to disarm the guy, knock him down, or grab him, spend a Hit -- or spend 3 Hits to do all three.
  • Wounds and Shocks proved to be problematic as written. Not because they didn't work, but because they were kinda... dull. Plus, when it came right down to it, I really didn't want to impose steps backward. Instead, Wounds and Shocks will be assigned a die type, just like everything else. When you attack someone with a Wound or Shock, include that die in your pool. So instead of Wounds and Shocks making you less effective, they make your opponents more effective. It's a little more heroic that way, too.
  • Bonds need to be reworked to be a little more open. The current implementation is pretty clearly an artifact of the Game-Fu contest that spawned this thing in the first place, and there's no need to keep it as-is. Bonds will be split into Allies (PCs) and Contacts (NPCs), with a series of rather generic phrases instead of the trust/distrust/etc. thing I have now. Plug the Ally's or Contact's name into the blank, assigned a die type, and you're done. For example, "Sharky can't be trusted" or "Cooper has my back." It makes them easier to use in play, and is reflective of how the players were phrasing their Bonds anyway, when they used them.
All in all, a successful couple of playtests. I want to do another one soon at Dicehouse, probably on a weekend; I'll post here about it when I know more.

Thanks again to all my playtesters! And to Larry Harala, who didn't show up for the Saturday game, but has taken a copy of the rules home and will be playtesting it out in Utah to atone for his disgraceful absence!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Leftovers Playtest Last Night

So last night my ol' gaming group and me (plus one) did a brief playtest of Leftovers via Skype and Google Wave. This included character creation, which ended up taking way, way longer than I'd hoped -- but I chalk that up to having to mediate everything through our Internet interfaces. I wanted it to take 30 minutes; it ended up being more like two hours.

This would be bad news for OrcCon this weekend, at which I intend to include chargen in each of the two 4-hour sessions, but I've made a character sheet that I think should sort out most of the confusion in advance. I know part of the problem was people rating their Traits, then later on finding out that, for example, if you don't rate your Violent Trait at all, you'll be terrible (and dead) in a fight. Personally, that's a feature, not a bug, but I don't want people getting screwed over by their lack of familiarity with the system. The character sheet has the formulae for the four derived stats (Physical and Mental Defense, Vigor, and Spirit) right there, along with a list of the 18 Traits and what kind of dice you get to spread between them at character creation.

As for the playtest itself, it went pretty well, although I made a pretty egregious mistake of putting them up against three really tough Horrors right off the bat, which led to a really grindy combat that I'd rather avoid in the future. But hey, I was pretty much making it all up as I went along, so I'm going to take the lesson and leave the rest.

The PCs were:
Lebowitz, "a 'former' smuggler of goods" with an acid-spraying duct of some kind, a tentacle foot, and a few other Grafts (Human Nature d6/Horrific Nature d10)
Chrissy, a rather literal combat monster with wings, a claw hand, and a tail (d6/d10)
Tretch, a mechanica-oriented guy with a "hand of worms" and a compound eye (d8/d8)
Chuck "Phat" Loot, a material opportunist with a fin behind one ear that improves hearing (d6/d10)
Beckers, a pure-strain human scientist (d12/d4)

The story begins in the Trench, when Chuck is approached by a wealthy scrounger named Rinaldo. It seems Rinaldo's found a topographic map in the Ruins that, he says, clearly shows the location of an underground military base -- the fabled Bunker. Unfortunately, it's rather distant, and the journey would be prohibitively dangerous. But he knows that Chuck owns a former news helicopter (thanks to Chuck's high Human Nature and d12 Resourceful), so he wants to "bring him in on the deal," as it were. The reward? Finding the Bunker means safety, security, and all the comforts of the pre-apoc world. Or most of them, anyway.

So Chuck rounds up the PCs, starting with Chrissy (with whom he has a loyalty Bond -- although ironically, Chrissy has a betrayal Bond with Chuck) and Tretch, the best pilot he knows. Those two bring in Lebowitz and Beckers. The next day they all say goodbye to the Trench forever and head out over the Wasteland.

An hour or so into their flight, though, the Action News Chopper is attacked by three Fly-By-Nights, aka Flying Vs. And they were tough. Really tough. One would've been enough. But what with one thing and another, Chrissy leaps out of the helicopter to fight them in the air, Beckers falls out the open door when a Flying V yanks on one of the helicopter's runners, Lebowitz is nearly stabbed to death (5 Wounds!) by a Flying V's barbed prehensile tail, and Tretch pulls a nose dive to cut one of the things neatly in half with the helicopter's rotor blades.

That last event means that the windshield's covered in thick, dark blood, making visibility impossible and turning that nose dive into a much more dangerous proposition than intended. He manages to land the thing, but not without significant damage. While he repairs he, a few of the others set out to find that downed Flying V so Lebowitz doesn't, y'know, die. It isn't hard to find on the flat, cracked plain: two huge black triangles lying in pools of blood. They graft the wings onto Lebowitz and the tail onto Chrissy -- who already had a tail, but wants a new one, apparently, which means convincing Beckers to cut off the existing tail with a sword -- and each of them ends up more Horrific (and less Human) as a result.

(Oh, and more significantly, Rinaldo is killed in the crash -- Tretch's player failed his Pilot roll to land safely, so I made Rinaldo a casualty of his failure. Nobody else can make heads or tails of Rinaldo's map.)

Some time after their return, while Tretch continues to repair the helicopter, Chuck hears an odd noise wafting across the overcast plain: a car engine, and an especially well-tuned one at that. This can only mean trouble, so Chrissy and Lebowitz fly up to get a better view. In the distance, they see two Jeeps and a small military transport following the long gash the helicopter left in the plain when Tretch more or less landed it. There's nowhere to hide but the helicopter, so everyone chooses to meet these strangers head-on in a dramatic pose.

When the vehicles arrive, armed and uniformed soldiers pour out, taking up positions around the PCs. One or two PCs figure out that they're Humanists, a hard-line pro-human faction that often kills anyone with even a single Graft on sight. A commander of some kind steps forward and says, "Anyone of you that's human, you'd better step forward now. Wouldn't want you getting shot."

And that's where we left things. If we continue, I honestly don't know where it'll go from there, since everyone but Beckers should probably be cut down without hesitation.

Those Flying Vs, as I said, were extremely tough. A PD of 15 and a Vigor of 5 meant that they had to roll at least a 20 to deal a single Wound, which happened... not often. They could Rattle them plenty, but a disheartening number of those were 18s or 19s. So close! Later, I realized we forgot to include Bond dice when we should've, which definitely would've made a difference. Still, Lebowitz managed to nail one of them with a 25 on a Violent roll, so that was pretty impressive.

All in all, it was a valuable session, if a brief one. Looking forward to OrcCon when I can test it again!

Monday, February 1, 2010

EN World Contest: Deadline? What Deadline?

So I didn't end up submitting this game by the contest's deadline. I just got too preoccupied with FATE stuff right smack-dab in the middle of the contest and didn't get around to it. Frankly, though, whatever. I've made enough progress that I'm going to see it through regardless. It strikes me as a great game for cons. The rules couldn't be much lighter, and the way the mechanics encourage -- nay, require a make-it-up-as-you-go approach seems ideally suited for a con one-shot.

Once I'm done with it, I'll either put it on a wiki of some kind or get a rudimentary PDF put together for download.