Monday, September 26, 2022

Playtest Palooza


Got to run another playtest session of Encounter Critical III this morning [wrote this yesterday afternoon].

Here is the Encounter Critical III kickstarter.

Fantastic game and fantastically weird!  I tried to incorporate as many of my proposed ideas as possible.  This contains the various concepts and mechanics I wanted to test out.

There was some combat, but not much, and no one rolled a critical-success or failure.  So, Obsidian Escalation didn't really come up.  Which is fine, I tried it out last session, and will include that in subsequent sessions.

I don't know if the stars aligned or what, but I had SIX players.  Normally, it's two; occasionally three.  Text only, I feel, is easier with bigger groups than voice & camera, but still challenging.

Before I dive-in, let me give you an overall impression:  I feel like the playtest was a success because the ideas seemed to fuel an immersive, fun-filled game.  And one of the highlights was having Jeff Rients as a player!  Achievement unlocked, bitches.  ;)

All the information gathering prior to the session's start had a specific purpose - to give players a better idea of their characters, so they actually had backgrounds to roleplay off of.  Any RPG can encourage backgrounds, but what I'm trying to accomplish with the new rules is in-game incentives.

The scenario was to search the interior of a dimension traveling space-worm and find an unknown artifact.

Here's a window into my playtesting soul... good, bad, and ugly.  Instead of a carefully crafted scenario providing a curated experience, I like to playtest by the seat of my pants.  Given enough time and creative juice [Venger juice], I feel like the GM can turn a shitty system with dumb mechanics into something pretty cool.  I don't want to do that because engineering a fool-proof experience isn't going to help me figure out if I'm doing something right or headed in the wrong direction.

Instead, I prefer to attune myself to the world in the campaign setting, rules, vibe, and whatever else... becoming an integral part of the game..  Having a few ideas in the form of loose notes and winging the rest will show me what I need to see.  

Every designer eventually hands-off his ideas to another GM in hopes that he'll get it and be able to run a great game.  So, the improv also helps put me in the perspective of the GM who most likely has a vague notion of what I said in the rules, or was trying to get across.

Can this anonymous GM take what I give him and make gold?  That's the question.

The players did great with coming up with background stuff.  I didn't need to break out the random tables that I had ready to go just in case.

Since this was just a one-shot, I didn't meticulously write every flaw and obsession and drive down in my GMing notes.  Everything exists in the chat log on Roll20, though, which is another good reason for running games as text-only.

But I realized the PCs had plenty of material to riff, and riff they did.  I told them about the point of Divine Favor they'd receive for roleplaying their backgrounds.  If this was several adventures into a campaign, I can only imagine the heights of roleplaying and social interaction we'd reach.  As it was, there was enough to prove my theory - an "old-school" RPG focused on social interaction (as opposed to combat and exploration) is not only needed, but totally awesome.

And I asked them to take part in a flashback scene.  I neglected to mention that relationships should include another PC, my bad, so the first thing that came to my mind was a tavern where they hear the proposed mission.  That went well.  For instance, without even realizing it, one of the players, Judd, came up with an identity for the "quest giver"... a wizard.  

The free exchange of ideas before solidifying what's going on is exactly the sort of Fiasco-like scene creation I was hoping for.  The vibe was assuredly set because a little later, when I was describing the immediate, present-day environment, one of the players provided some bonus description all on his own.  "Reeks of  bile, but then again, what doesn't?"  Excellent!

So, the PCs are wandering around the inside of a space-worm traveling through dimensions... and PSYCHOCOSM was had by all.  Well, certainly me.  Staring into the psychedelic depths of the Kort'thalis meta-sigil didn't hurt.

They follow a trail of popsicle sticks (a subtle nod to Cremza'amirikza'am that one player picked-up on) to find something pretty weird, dark, and gross.  I'll save that for another time, or perhaps a future adventure that you'll be apart of.

The PCs fought some toadlike humanoids who desired tasty flesh.  Combat ensued, but the adventuring party was so large that 4 toad dudes didn't last too long.  It was pretty much over before the spellcaster could do anything.

After a bit, and learning of Xedra'as, an evil sorceress currently residing within the space-worm, the PCs came face-to-face with Xedra'as and her demon minions.

The PC sorcerer who didn't get a chance to act wanted to go first.  Since combat hadn't even begun, I said Hell yeah, go for it.  He cast a spell, and I had him roll a couple of six-siders (because I'm also workshopping an alternative system of magic for EC3 - check back here in a couple days).  He rolled really well, a critical-success, in fact.  Xedra'as and the demons were caught in the sorcerer's ectoplasmic webbing.

The session was coming to a close, all too quickly.  Some of the PCs were wondering if they should keep searching for the mysterious artifact the tavern wizard told them to recover.  They had found a magic item (and a powerful one at that), but was this what they'd been seeking?  Others wanted to leave as the space-worm seemed to be blinking out of existence as we know it.  Since we had about 6 or 7 minutes remaining and there wasn't enough time for another encounter, I decided we should do another scene.  This time a flash-forward.

The "kid" who'd been traipsing through the space-worm with the adventurers was all grown-up.  Another player volunteered to be part of the scene but only if he could roleplay an NPC who was also present during the scene.  I was all for it.

The young man who had grown since that adventure taking place several years ago was accompanied by his butler Gerhart.  The wizard from the tavern addressed him, asking what he found in the worm.

Sadly, there wasn't much interaction between the young man and the wizard, so the wizard said his peace and promptly vanished... again!

"That pain was necessary for this world to grow, to change, to become what it must. There is no stopping the evolution of Cha'alt. Freeing the Duke allowed it to evolve. That's what was needed."

It was an extremely bizarre adventure (even for me), but it was equally awesome.  And just as the camera faded to black, there was a little bit of not-quite-necrophilia, thanks to one of my favorite recurring players.  Why have an online game tagged "sleazy" without a cherry on top?

Below are a few choice lines copy/pasted from the chat log...

  • "I have never been inside a purple space worm before, unless you count this one tentacled lady in Port Grenthak."
  • At a lull in the conversation, full of liquid courage, the kid asks "How come you're not going?"
  • "WHERE IS THE CONTROL CENTER? I WOULD HAVE HIS BODY." You see the inner mole rat tugging at various nerves/wires within the golem-body.
  • Mork Borg draws his untrustworthy blade.
  • "This transdimensional space-worm gets a lot more traffic than I expected."
  • "Ok, here's what we need to do.  On the count of three, I pull the sheet and whoever can kill her the fastest gets it done. Ready?"
  • Once again, the playthings of gods and wizards. Thus is always the fate of honest, hardworking adventurers.
  • "I assumed he had a name like Slartibartfast."
  • "I am Barry Fastslart, or Duke Fastslart, if you prefer.  Do you know of me?"
  • I was going balls-deep as we faded out...

In a couple days, I'll post what I have for the proposed magic system (working on the details right now).

As always, thanks to the guys for playing; and thanks to you for reading.  Don't miss the next session (I'm going to squeeze-in two sessions a week for the next couple months).


p.s. Like what you're reading?  Want to be part of the action?  For $5 a month, you can have first-crack at playing in one of my weekly one-shots!  Subscribe to me on SubscribeStar!