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Title: [Thornes] OrcCon 2010 Playtest
Post by: jburneko on February 16, 2010, 06:17:21 PM
I got brave and took my game Thornes to OrcCon.  Previous discussion of the game is here:

http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=28949.0

This was the first time I've run the game with multiple people.  It went SLOW.  Like most people didn't exit their opening scenes slow.  That seemed odd to me because the mechanics are rooted in Sorcerer (Hell, Thornes is basically a big Sorcerer hack).  I don't have that problem in Sorcerer why did that happen here.

I think PARTIALLY that's because it was 9am on Sunday at a convention and I wasn't at the top of my game.  There were at least a couple of situations where I should have clarified the intent behind the action more which lead to 1 or 2 unnecessary die rolls.  I also pushed for orthogonal conflicts  in a few places where I didn't really need to.

However, there are a few components of Sorcerer I've removed that I think might contributing to the problem.  One problem I was aware of and had tried to correct for (perhaps unsuccessfully) but the other was something I had completely not thought of before until this game.

Thing 1) Bonus Dice and Demon Powers.  Raw Stats under the Sorcerer system is very volatile.  It creates dice driven outcome flailing.  Getting Bonus Dice and Demon Powers is pretty much vital to getting consistent results.  Roll over dice are a big deal too.  Thornes has roll over dice but no Bonus Dice or Demon Powers.  I knew this would be an issue and tried to correct for it with Colors, Motifs, and Locations but I'm not sure if those are ENOUGH.

Motifs almost work the way I want them to.  Motifs are environmental features that you assign a few points to.  When those features are present in a scene then the points you assign to them become dice in the center of the table.  Anyone other than yourself can then assign a bonus die from that pile to any roll in the scene, even against you.  I still really like this.

However, I think the process needs to be more formalized.  What I observed a couple people doing is grabbing something in the scene to justify creating a motif mid action.  I didn't really like that.  I think I will instigate a rule that Motifs can only be created at the END of scenes and can only by introduced at the BEGINNING of scenes.

Colors however, didn't do what I wanted them to do at all.  The way I imagined Color working is pretty much tagging central NPCs and McGuffins and giving players a little more control over their fates.  I didn't realize how much I wanted this to be a cross-waving mechanic until it pretty much wasn't a cross-weaving mechanic.  I really shouldn't have been surprised since it's one of the few things in the game that break my rule of, "No self rewarding bonus dice."

What I saw people doing was tagging pretty much anything in the scene at hand with Color to grab dice from it.  What I will probably do is alter this rule such that you can only influence the outcome of conflicts involving whatever it is you have tagged with Color if your character is NOT involved in the conflict.

Locations.  Basically Locations work like Global Motifs.  When a scene is set in a recurring Location a player can either increase the value of the Location or choose to add the current value of the Location to the pool of dice to be awarded by other players to any die roll being made.  Locations never really got used at all.  I think perhaps it takes too long to "grow" them for them to be useful.

A possible solution is for creating several Locations before play begins.  Basically "seed" Locations.  Still I don't know if Color + Motifs + Locations will give the system the same "push" that Bonus Dice/Demon Powers do in Sorcerer.

One thing that I'm not happy with is how a players Image works.  His Image is basically a list of 5 significant features of the character's look.  I think I want it to do more but I'm not sure how to make it do more without it turning into a self rewarding bonus dice situation I'm trying to avoid.

One kind of RADICAL idea I had was to basically have parts of the Image work like Demon Powers from Sorcerer.  So that ring you have can Daze an opponent and those boots give you Travel.  I don't know if I want to go down that road but I thought I'd mention it to see what kind of feedback it generated.

Thing 2) Humanity. I didn't realize how much Humanity helps Sorcerer move along at a faster pace.  When every action is evaluated for potential Humanity Gain/Loss it tends to hone player decision more precisely.  There's less willingness to try any and all tactics to get what you want.  I mean, that makes sense but I never realized it before.

There is no Humanity like mechanic in Thornes "limiting" (for lack of a better word) the character's actions.  There's a score called Empathy but it doesn't work anything like Humanity in Sorcerer.  Maybe it should?  I don't know.  I'd like to avoid it if possible.

All of this fed into a bigger issue that I really couldnít get any cross-weaving going to save my life.  I found this equally as odd since I have ZERO problem doing this in Sorcerer.  Again this may have been the fatigue as well as the slow place of individual scenes but I think there was something more to it.

In Sorcerer players start with their relationships and a Kicker.  Thereís more room for the GM to pre-weave those NPCs together and perhaps center things around one or two key antagonist figures.  In Thornes the characterís situations are much more insular to themselves. 

Character creation consists of answering four questions: What do you want?  Who do you love?  Who stands in your way?  What is your crisis?  This creates a pretty complete self-cycling situation.  Iím okay if the PCs never ever meet each other but Iíd like to promote more NPC and Location cross weaving and Iím not sure how to do that.

One thing that struck me is that Vindication pretty much got ignored.  I think this is partially because I didnít explain it very well but also because it isnít as grabby as I intend it to be.  Vindication is supposed to be the central reward system for the game.

One of the things I noticed players doing was angling to kill their opposition rather than crush their Egos with Vindication.  My intent was to create a setup in which killing was relatively easy but ultimately unsatisfying but totally decimating your opponent was harder but more satisfying.  I realize that one of the mistakes I make in my game designs is that I accidentally build my own values and judgment into the rules when I donít mean to.  Perhaps killing the opponent IS the playerís idea of the most satisfying form of Vindication.

What I may do is simply remove permanent death as an option until a characterís Ego has first been crushed by Vindication.  That kind of mess up my trio things you can do gain Ego: Have Sex, Kill Someone or Crush Someoneís Ego.  But I may have to evaluate that whole mechanic as well.

If anyone who has previously the read the game or participated in this play test has any thoughts on all this, feedback is appreciated.

Jesse


Title: Re: [Thornes] OrcCon 2010 Playtest
Post by: Noclue on February 18, 2010, 10:40:26 AM
Hi Jesse, I've given you some feedback already from watching the playtest, but I thought I'd chime in here. Morgan's on his way to Dreamation, but I told him about this thread, so he may chime in some time. Overall, I thought the game had lots of neat stuff and there's definitely a game in there full of passion and pain. The comments below are meant as constructive criticisms that may help with the issues you raise:

It went SLOW.  Like most people didn't exit their opening scenes slow.  That seemed odd to me because the mechanics are rooted in Sorcerer (Hell, Thornes is basically a big Sorcerer hack).  I don't have that problem in Sorcerer why did that happen here.
Couple of thoughts here: Everyone was tired and none of the players had Sorcerer experience, so there was some of that. However, essentially the game started off with everyone's "boss fight" and those tend to take a long time to resolve. Contrast that with the Sorcerer and Sword game you ran a few years ago where my child character spent the first scene cowering in a church while some weird dialogue played out and then RP'd with the townsfolk and then traveled to his nobleman father's castle before getting into a fight with getting poned by a snake demon.

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What I observed a couple people doing is grabbing something in the scene to justify creating a motif mid action.  I didn't really like that.  I think I will instigate a rule that Motifs can only be created at the END of scenes and can only by introduced at the BEGINNING of scenes.
I've been thinking about motifs as well. In literature motifs function as recurring images that communicate through metaphor. So, I think they really need to be tied into the character in a strong way. They should become a persistent and thematic element that tells us something about the character and lets us know the scene is "about" them is some way. At the moment, the players are incentivized to create them in order to make fan mail available, but no gravitas is attributed to them as things in their own right.

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Colors however, didn't do what I wanted them to do at all.  The way I imagined Color working is pretty much tagging central NPCs and McGuffins and giving players a little more control over their fates.  I didn't realize how much I wanted this to be a cross-waving mechanic until it pretty much wasn't a cross-weaving mechanic

What I saw people doing was tagging pretty much anything in the scene at hand with Color to grab dice from it.  What I will probably do is alter this rule such that you can only influence the outcome of conflicts involving whatever it is you have tagged with Color if your character is NOT involved in the conflict.

I don't think the problem with color is the fact that they generate self rewards, I think the problem is that their sole function is to generate self rewards. They don't do anything in the fiction. They're structured as a fire and forget bennie, when you want persistent effects from the mechanic. To my mind, tagging something with your color should communicate that this thing/person is important to the character's tale. The player is essentially marking them as special. But there's no mechanical effect other than the character gets to kill them better.

I'd like to see color persist such that it gives a benefit to the GM if it appears in a conflict where the character is not present. Maybe something like, if another character is in conflict with the lass that I spent points on, she's getting the benefit of extra dice. Against me, I get that benefit. A little self reward isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Anoth different idea that would promote cross weaving might be to make them function as a refresh mechanic. So, if you're low on points you can have a scene where you bleed another players color off of the thing/person and add the dice to your pool.

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A possible solution is for creating several Locations before play begins.  Basically "seed" Locations. 
Yes! I would have each character start with a thematic location that they place on an index card in the center of the table. Locations start with a +1D available for anyone in the location. If anyone goes to an existing location the benefit goes up by +1D to some maximum. Creating a new location costs 1 point. This would promote reusing locations.

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One kind of RADICAL idea I had was to basically have parts of the Image work like Demon Powers from Sorcerer.  So that ring you have can Daze an opponent and those boots give you Travel.  I don't know if I want to go down that road but I thought I'd mention it to see what kind of feedback it generated.
Neat. Powerz! The image items look like WOW item slots. So, this works. I don't like the current damage sink mechanic as it functions to prolong conflicts when they are already too slow.

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All of this fed into a bigger issue that I really couldnít get any cross-weaving going to save my life.  I found this equally as odd since I have ZERO problem doing this in Sorcerer.  Again this may have been the fatigue as well as the slow place of individual scenes but I think there was something more to it.
There needs to be some hooks built into the character sheets to encourage players to cross-weave as well. It's a lot of heavy lifting for the GM alone. The Locations and Color ideas would help here. Also, having at least one cross over NPC relationship on the sheets would provide linkages that make cross-weaving more natural.

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One thing that struck me is that Vindication pretty much got ignored.  I think this is partially because I didnít explain it very well but also because it isnít as grabby as I intend it to be.  Vindication is supposed to be the central reward system for the game.
Yes on both counts. No one understood it. It sounded more like work than fun.

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One of the things I noticed players doing was angling to kill their opposition rather than crush their Egos with Vindication.  My intent was to create a setup in which killing was relatively easy but ultimately unsatisfying but totally decimating your opponent was harder but more satisfying. 
The game encourages killing by making it easier and more colorful and more fun. It discourages other things by making them seem a difficult route to the same end. I couldn't explain the value proposition for eschewing killing in favor of ego crushing, for example.



Title: Re: [Thornes] OrcCon 2010 Playtest
Post by: jburneko on February 18, 2010, 04:45:50 PM
James,

Thanks for the feedback!  Lots to think about.

One of the interesting things about Thornes in its current state is that almost all of its pieces individually are Okay or better.  But the thing doesn't quite hang together right.  The pieces don't inter-relate properly.

Jesse