Sunday, April 26, 2015

Crimson Dragon Slayer playtest #1

"Couple hot girls, a wizard, and a cyclops... that's all you need for a good night." ~ Steve

I finally got a chance to play it myself... to see if this was something actually worth pursuing or if I'd taken too many wrong turns to even bother continuing.

I tried to pay attention at every juncture, every moment of immersion, laughter, confusion, annoyance, flipping back and forth through the rules, and twinge of nostalgia.

I came away with about two pages of notes on what didn't work, what needed a quick fix or facelift, and a couple things that felt awesome but needed to be reworked until they really shined.

Some things look good on paper but just feel wrong in the heat of the moment, either because they're unbalanced, clunky, or flat.  As a game designer, it's my job to notice the discrepancy between how something reads and how it plays.  Years ago (see my cringe-worth Empire of Satanis), I was more likely to power through a crappy mechanic or, worse, a lackluster or overblown premise even if it seemed less than wonderful... even ignoring constructive criticism.

Anyways, that's enough game design philosophy and peek into my shady past.  Onto the session report!  I had four players, below is a look at the party...

  • Robert  played an infernal elf ranger (defender) named Pin.
  • Steve played a dwarf thief (spell scoundrel... formerly known as "arcane trickster" named Alfonse.
  • Daniel played a human warrior named Stan Gruberman - the man with a mop!  (a reference to the movie UHF)
  • Ethan played a dwarf wizard named Jerry.

After about an hour of character creation, there was backstory and a cave.  My chief objective with Crimson Dragon Slayer is to emulate a science-fantasy computer roleplaying game from 1983.  Like a gonzo version of The Bard's Tale or sword & sorcery version of Ice Pirates.  It's meant to be funny and retro and kind of dumb in a (hopefully) awesome sort of way.

The first area inside the cave was full of dazed Infravision programmers with red glowing eyes.  They dispatched them well enough.  I found myself turning the 18 page manual back and forth between the initiative system I came up with and whatever other part of the rules I needed.  After that first battle, I realized initiative needed an overhaul.  

The thief rolled to see if he could find some treasure on the dead bodies.  Yes, the senior programmer had a wand.

The next area contained zombie cannibal ninja and a human bound and gagged on the floor.  

Even though it seems like combat is only taking off a few HP here and there, every once in awhile (about ever third round, I'd guess) something dramatic happens.  A character rolls a few sixes or exploding damage goes through the roof.  This might be a case of seeing what I want to see, but it reminds me of watching a sword fight (or any other battle on the screen).  For the first bit, it seems like it's a draw between warriors as not much is happening.  They seem equally matched or at least both seem decent at not being harmed.  And then all of a sudden, Ka-Bam!  Someone gets a sword through the throat!

But the thief wasn't special enough.  I mean, when you only have four core classes, you've got to differentiate.  That was also part of the initiative problem.  It wasn't until the drive home that I came up with a solution.

They saved the henchman tied up.  He gave the party his magic ring and wanted to serve them.

The last battle was against a wizard, his demon, and a black knight.  The ranger rolled double sixes in his dice pool and though it was clear that doing extra damage was the default benefit of such critical success, I pursued the matter further.  "You could do something else, like a called-shot to the wizard's amulet that had summoned the demon."

"Is the wizard wearing such an amulet?"  Daniel asked?

"Yeah, sure.  Why not?"  I replied.  And so it was.  

The ranger did just that and the demon vanished.  The wizard was dispatched with the newly acquired wand and the black knight was killed by a ton of damage from the warrior.  

That battle ended too quickly for everyone's liking, so there was an invisible wizard who shot one of those metal balls from Phantasm out of his hand.  Between that and his glaive, Stan the mop man was nearly dead.

For reasons that are still unclear - it may have been a really low intelligence or wanting to get back home or because he couldn't wait to find out what purple lightning strike did - the party wizard decided to betray everyone and started casting his spell.  Some damage was done.  Then he was charged by both the ranger and warrior while the thief hid.  

The best Ethan rolled that day was his death save.  He rolled 2 sixes and was up with a few HP to his name.  He attempted to cast another spell.  Failure.  The fighter types bashed him again.  I could see where another roll on the death save table would be ridiculous so ruled that since he was unconscious again, a simple coup de grace would do the job.

A lot of fun was had.  Some of it bad fun that went horrible wrong.  Hey, that's what playtesting is for.  Changes have already been implemented.  Go check out the g+ community for Crimson Dragon Slayer to download the beta version PDF uploaded on dropbox.

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