22 March 2012

Play Test Report

So last night we tried adopting the Magic Realm rules to tabletop, face-to-face RPGs with mixed success.

The good:

  • The free form story setup for a one-shot play test ended up engaging the players' creativity more than usual. Folks generally liked the improvisational, low preparation approach as it left the story arc more open to player input. I've always been a fan of the "Yes, and..." approach to RPG stories and encouraged players to contribute more to the story direction; but, it was so painfully obvious that I had no story line prepared that the players had to step up to the plate and create their own. This is the way it will be going forward for all our sessions in the near future. Although its not a direct outcome of the game system, its something that I really welcome.
  • The fatigue and wound system in the Magic Realm board game translated really well to tabletop RPG. Its simple, elegant and gives a good cadence to the players abilities. Character fatigue set in at just about the right time based on what was happening in the story. It just felt right. We didn't go through the rest/healing rules as it was just a one-shot play test. If I could only find some way to use a fatigue system like this that didn't have the drawbacks noted below I'd be very happy.
  • Encumbrance also worked really well. It resulted in more fatigue and less quickness in characters, as expected.
  • Dying Earth is a wonderful game setting. Although none of the players had red the stories, it resonated well with the player's sensibilities. The burning red was palpably hanging overhead.
  • Seventh Sanctum f'ing rocks! The elves and dwarfs came from the Seventh Sanctum random generator. They were unique, unpredictable and flavorful without loosing the normal fantasy tropes. Its also virtually zero prep time for the referee.
  • I ended up creating colorfully named maneuver cards to replace the board game's chits. For example, the Swordsman's Fight M5 chit became an "Overhead Swing" card with a picture of a scrawny kid flailing a sword over his head. This added some interesting twists to the combat descriptions. The best one was when the Berzerker knocked in the door by flexing his pecs in a Manly Pose maneuver card.

The bad:

  • Armor sucks. It just doesn't translate well as written in the board game rules. We couldn't find a good way to tweak it easily either. Either the lighter characters like the Swordsman became useless or the heavier characters like the White Knight choose not to wear armor. This needs serious attention if we're ever to play this system again.
  • The maneuver speeds are overly complex. Trying to keep track of two numbers for each combatant for each round was just overwhelming for me as referee. Big show stopper.
  • The maneuvers started to feel repetitive after a while. I think that's because there's not much in the way of contextual advantages written into the rules. This can be pretty easily addressed by adjusting attack strength or speed for advantageous or disadvantageous circumstances.
  • Nobody died. Its always a bummer when the characters make it through the session relatively unscathed.

After the session we chatted about our next games. Most of the group wanted to pick up Pendragon where we left off last October; but, we'll need someone else to referee if that's the case. The Pendragon story has come to closure for me when young Arthur pulled the sword from the stone. My heart isn't into continuing the story right now. Pendragon is nothing without a heartfelt and powerful storyline. So I have to pass on that offer.

D&D4 was another option bandied about; but, again, I'm not going to referee it. The rule system is just too heavy. I cannot see myself devoting a month to learning the rules when I'm really not interested in that style of game.

We ended up deciding to do another play test, this time of the Sorcerer rules by Ron Edwards. I'm thinking a one-shot horror scenario, perhaps set in 20th century New England or maybe 17th century France.

Assuming the Sorcerer play test dies after a session or two, we'll then go back to the Young Kingdoms setting of Elric. This time I plan to use the Pendragon combat and skill system; but, adapt the Stormbringer 1e magic system to it. That sounds like a match made in Hades! I'm really looking forward to it.

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