Sunday, 26 March 2017

Across the Endless Sea: First Playtest (#4)

(Across the Endless Sea is a storygame I’m writing, blogging the process here to entertain and hopefully get some advice/feedback. For the introductory post that lays out the design goals of the project, look here.)

It's been a while since I've last written about this project, and in that time a fair bit has happened! 

After finishing up the Aspect playbooks, I press-ganged my housemates into service as additional sources of ideas and rolled right on to designing the Threat playbooks.

At the present moment they're fairly barebones: some open-ended options for the aesthetic and the dangers that can be chosen for each encounter and then a summary of the Threat player's side of the encounter rules. 

I then spent a leisurely afternoon going through the various choices presented by the Aspect playbooks (the tales known by the Voice, the warnings known by the Eyes), some randomly-selected inspirational tweets from @str_voyages, and the imagery that's been coalescing in my head around this setting for years to extract a list of 35 encounter prompts.

As it stands I think that number is a little thin, but I didn't want to force ideas.

In the end I think I'll probably end up aiming for 50, ten from each Threat (Dwellers, Islands, Travelers, Waters, Weather).

More importantly, with all the basic elements needed to run the game in place, I ran a playtest!

My housemates and I sat down after dinner, and we ran through the game. Nothing caught fire, no friendships were destroyed, and everyone seems keen to play again and actually finish so I'd call that a rousing success!

To be a little more serious, it was a very enlightening process. 

There's certain things that didn't occur to me but that it's clear the game needs: a list of names (to establish a shared feel), a sheet to summarize the resources of the People, a more detailed outline of exactly how the encounter process works.

It turns out that to someone who isn't living in my head, the procedure I wrote isn't quite as clear as I thought. Who knew...

On the plus side, the core game is great. The resolution mechanic works great, and won over even those who were skeptical about a lack of dice; the game seems to have some real replayability given that I knew all the prompts ahead of time and was still engaged and surprised, and the setting and mood of the game was a real hit. 

To return to my original design goals for a moment, here's where things are at:
  • I want it to be GMless, not least so that I actually get a chance to play it (unlike anything else I write).
    • Done! It's definitely GMless, though I do want to see other groups run it or my group run it with me taking a back seat to figure out if it's clear enough without me to explain.
  • I want it to be inspiring, the text capturing a mood to put the players in the game’s tone and mood.
    • Big success here. Everyone was very invested in the setting, and adding in some great stuff.
  • I want it to be invisible, a framework that helps create great stories and guides creativity in organic and unobtrusive ways.
    • This is where a lot of work still needs to be done. There's the promise of an invisible system, but the explanations of mechanics need a lot of clarifying/expanding to get there.
  • I want it to play with ideas of collaboration and opposition in RPGs/storygames, allowing fluid movement between the roles of environment and explorers.
    • Another big success. Everyone tonight got a turn at both, and seemed to enjoy moving between the two roles.
  • I want it to leave a space open for groups to shape their emotional landscape: longing, or bittersweet, or joyous, or desperate, as the group deems appropriate
    • Assessing this will have to wait on more playtesting and more folks playing it. Early signs are good? 
  • I want to be able to release it for first-stage playtesting on my Patreon by the end of April
On this last point I'm actually a good month ahead of schedule! 

Even though there's work still needed, I'm happy to say that the game in its current state is already complete enough for preview playtesting on my Patreon. Hopefully by the end of April I'll have the entire thing done!

Next steps: write the new material needed, playtest a whole bunch more, and talk to my dear friend John about layout and making it look nice.

Stay tuned for another post sometime in the next fortnight...

(Find this post useful/interesting? Enjoy the content I'm putting out on this blog?

Want access to the playtest preview documents to give the game a run yourself? 

If you'd like to support me to keep creating material like this and working on other RPG/game-design projects, check out my Patreon to help me do more cool stuff and get access to monthly Q&As, early-access playtesting of my story games, or a place on the credits list for any game I make).

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