Instructions for Playtesters

Instructions for Playtesters

When you are evaluating elements of the system, I’m looking to use the following criteria. Putting feedback in terms of these criteria gives playtesters a rubric and a shared vocabulary for constructive critiques:

1) Intuitive – the mechanic should be reasonably easy to learn and understand, and be consistent across the game.
2) Varied – the mechanics should encourage variation on character design and style because carbon-copy, generic characters are boring
3) Balanced – there shouldn’t be a single skill or ability that it is wasteful NOT to take (7th sea’s Academy/University advantage, or Athlete skill), or that is savagely underpowered (7th sea: Ride skill)
4) Rapid – any given aspect of the mechanics should be quick-paced – avoiding multiple rolling and such as much as possible. The mechanics should limit in-game slowdown as much as possible (post character-creation, given a reasonable learning curve).
5) Flexible – in addition to being intuitive, the mechanics should be considered in terms of openness and the ability to extend logically as the game grows.
6) Meaningful – the mechanics should promote the story and should allow for a streamlined “behind the scenes” functionality for otherwise valuable mechanics for the times when they do not contribute to the story. The focus of the game should be on plot and drama, not superfluous die-rolling – if dice hit the table, there should be something significant at stake

For example, a character skilled in Weaponcrafting has a very valuable talent, but one that often will have only a limited use within the story. Rather than the tedious process of a complex check for something simple (a basic sword), instead the player (with GM’s permission) can cross-reference the character’s skill level with the difficulty of the task, declare how long the crafting takes, and move on. If, however, the character were attempting to reforge a magical blade that had broken when its wielder fell before the fortress’ defenses are breached by an enemy army – then there’s something at stake, and you can expect to see dice hitting the table.

Ultimately, while there is no “right” way to play, I hope to shape the system to benefit a character-driven plot while still maintaining interesting mechanics.
Ideally, I want an RPG that lives as much off its participants’ imagination, as off their will to exert that imagination, but I also want both Players and GMs at ease in this mode. While this type of game play will be encouraged, it will never be enforced at sword point.

Discussion of Goals

It seems like, whenever fantasy RPGs are played, it’s a constant struggle for the GM to try and convey to the players the world as the GM sees it, while, because they are essentially in the dark, the players just react rather than interact and invest their characters into the fabric of the story and the world. This is unfortunate, especially since many of us got into this hobby because of the inherent potential of fantasy as an entertainment to share with a collective group.

While the above guidelines (Intuitive, Varied, Balanced, Rapid, Flexible, and Meaningful) explain the mechanical goals of the system, I am a firm believer that mechanics are not story neutral. The realities of the resolution system affect the nature of the play experience.

Consider the hobby-defining example of Dungeons and Dragons. Except at very low levels, D&D encourages highly unrealistic (some will say heroic) behavior – you have a finite, readily discernable measure of how much more abuse your character can take at any given time. There is rarely a threat that a single well-landed attack can slay a perfectly healthy, unwounded hero at one shot, and indeed, if that possibility does exist, generally the GM is considered at fault for assigning an unreasonable challenge. To boil it into a simplistic question – how realistic should the resolutions be? A high-level D&D fighter could literally be stabbed 100 times with a knife and still keep going. Groups desiring a more gritty D&D game would be forced to explain the hit-point system away, perhaps as a “near miss” or a small cut, or any number of other explanations. Can you play a gritty, lethal D&D game? Yes, but the system is clearly a liability, a disadvantage to be overcome, rather than a tool to benefit the experience.

1) I want an Immersionist RPG
I want an RPG that lives as much off its participants’ imagination, as off their will to exert that imagination, but I also want both Players and GMs at ease in this mode. While this type of game play will be encouraged, it will never be enforced at sword point. However, the mechanics of the system should contribute to this sense of immersion.

2) I want a Simulationist RPG
As far as possible, “rules” and “realities” will exist, which will hold for practically all aspects of the game, obviously excepting situations where the game ceases to be Simulationist and becomes Narrativist; a good understanding of these two definitions is essential.

3) I want an RPG that can become Narrativist
I want the Players to feel more than that, to be able to use their creativity and imagination for more than to simply describe how they beat up a mook, and the game will have mechanics for that: if, on a given moment, the right conditions hold, the Player will be able to interrupt the GM and describe what happens next, not only regarding his own character but also other characters and the events themselves and surrounding environment, within the bounds imposed by the game’s theme - this sounds worse written than it does in my head, believe me. That’s a tall order, and some distance away, but more than anything else, I want a system that supports a game growing through collective storytelling.

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