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General Forge Forums => Playtesting => Topic started by: Sebastian K. Hickey on January 21, 2010, 06:48:47 AM

Title: [Hell for Leather] UCD Playtest
Post by: Sebastian K. Hickey on January 21, 2010, 06:48:47 AM
Some people are scared of rejection. Me, I’m scared of playtests. It’s all about control, or the lack thereof, and the false understanding that somehow I can make my game work if the shit hits the fan. I stay awake all night running it through in my head, and all I achieve is a mild sense of nausea and a couple of baggy eyelids.

That is not to say that all playtests are gruelling, confrontational and indigestible. Some run smooth, with a convivial ambience, and still proffer the essential ores of the process.

Recently I had the opportunity to visit UCD (University College Dublin) for a Hell for Leather playtest event, run by the GameSOC ( auditor Rory Heffernan.

Lesson 1 – Blind Audience

It went well. There were two tables of three, and the rules were presented by Rory to all players collectively. This was my first chance to test the copy. That is, this was the first time someone was explaining the rules of Hell for Leather who wasn’t me (nor someone I’d contaminated). It was an amazing opportunity.

It took around 30 minutes to explain the rules, and Rory went through them in great detail and with charming enthusiasm. From his explanation I was able to pick up new and interesting alternatives to the manner and style of the rules presentation. More gratifying, however, was the opportunity to pick out ambiguities and misinterpretations.

Lesson Learned: If the rules are presented in full, with enthusiasm, people understand how to play (whether or not they are familiar with the indie game paradigm). In other words, if someone bright reads the text, they will understand the mood and intentions of the game.

Lesson 2 – Rules Presentation

Though nearly everything was explained with awesome clarity, there were a couple of problems.

Lesson Learned: To help players understand how to set up scenes properly, the rules will need to explain why they should keep their Backdrop descriptions brief (less is more). Also, there is no incentive to roleplay in character. That needs to be addressed. Lastly, the Run Track doesn’t make sense. There will be a completely new revision (renamed “Power Dice”).

Lesson 3 – Game Play Difficulty

During the gameplay I noticed a couple of issues. First of all, the game was too difficult. Partly this was down to some avant-garde throwing techniques, but the overbearing hostility of the game’s all-out toughness also played a part. In other words, Hell for Leather is too hard.

Also, the wobbliness of the table contributed more to the difficulty of the game than the skill of the players. If I hope to demo this at a con, I better get used to wobbly tables or come up with a handicap solution.

Lesson Learned: Just because I can play HfL easily, it doesn’t mean anyone else can. I’ve been throwing dice at the Event Target for months now. I’ve got to alter the scale of the Event Target, force a standard dice throwing technique, and consider changing the size of the dice used to build the Heat stack.

Lesson 4 - Number of Players

Rory Heffernan raised an important issue concerning the number of players. Hell for Leather is designed for 2-4 players, the perfect one-shot, zero-prep RPG that a group can quickly set up and play together (in case one of their group drops out for the week).

Rory advised that this message should be clearly exposed to the players/sellers. In the name of transparency, until the copy gets an edit, I've posted that here.

Lesson Learned: Maybe some groups will want to try the game with their full compliment. Consider expanding the rules to accomodate five players.

Lesson 5 - Creativity

Some of the players got stuck. There was a juntion where shyness met creativity and the traditional roleplayers (probably skewed by my shadowy presence) were leaning to the former. That's because much of the game was written to support the showbaoters, the GM-full hippy gamers that make up the bread-and-butter of my playtesting normality. These showboaters love the spotlight, so putting them on the spot is just the chance they relish. Not so for normal folk.

Furthermore, and this was probably the most important nugget of this playtest, the Hell for Leather system was tailored to pair physical failure with creative punishment. In other words, when you messed up your roll, your story was impeded. Bad rules.

Lesson Learned: Failure ruins the game. It is oppressive, enduring and dull. Fix it.


Muchos kudos to Rory Heffernan and the UCD gaming community. This was by far my favourite playtest. Lots of useful stuff learned, lots of respect going both ways, and lots of laughs and creative swirls. If they could all go this well, my life would be ace.

Title: Re: [Hell for Leather] UCD Playtest
Post by: Ar Kayon on January 22, 2010, 04:27:44 AM
First off, I would like to congratulate you for coming up with such a clever and interesting design concept.  Most of the time, I read someone's concept and my eyes glaze over.

In response to your concerns about your playtest, perhaps you could have, say, 3 different target sizes to represent easy, moderate, and hard levels of difficulty.

Title: Re: [Hell for Leather] UCD Playtest
Post by: Sebastian K. Hickey on January 22, 2010, 05:59:49 AM
Thanks for your support Christopher. I'll upload the modified Event Target in the next release.