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Author Topic: [Infected] Silent Hill meets The Wall meets The Ring. One step closer to groovy  (Read 1770 times)
Eric Provost
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Posts: 581


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« on: February 04, 2006, 08:15:20 AM »

We gathered at Andy K's place again last night for the third playtest of my monster-movie game, Infected.  The gathered players included myself, Lisa, Andy K, Remi, and Ullyses.  Lisa and I hadn't seen Ully in months and Ully hadn't yet met the other guys, so it was a nice social occation as well as a great night of playtesting.

I suspect that there aren't that many of you following this design, so lemmie give you a quick overview.  Infected began as Shamble & Moan, a zombie survival-horror game I jotted down one particularly long day at work.  There's a traditional GM/player split where the players take on the roles of survivors in a city overcome with monsters and the GM takes on the role of the monsters and the horrors around the protagonists.  There's an objective of either escaping the city or just plain surviving 'till help can arrive and in the meantime players try to arm their characters up or get them to relax.  There's a strong currency system of Will to Live points (WTL) and Weapons Dice (WD).  The players try to earn the currency and the GM tries to take it away. 

If you're interested in the current version of the text you can take the Designs link in my signature to my page.  The game is currently a 14 page PDF.

Andy started the session off with a little mind-reading and started discussing what the monsters should be like for this session before I even mentioned that I'd come up with a paragraph for the game that requires the players to do just that.  He suggested shambly, static-spewing monsters like what you'd find in Silent Hill.  He further suggested that the Infection was more spiritual in nature and less organic.  Everyone nodded & smiled, so we went with it.

In the previous playtest we'd discovered that the numbers were severly skewed against the players.  So much so that it quickly became unfun with player choices dwindling almost immediately.  For this playtest I ramped things up pretty high.  The results of which became apparent very quickly in Act 1.

All four of the players deftly dodged the monsters in the first Travel phase, each going to seperate Locations.  Apparently everyone decided to start out fired up by their Agendas.  Which is a legit choice, but being a solo PC in this game is supposed to come with consequences.  Those consequences just didn't show in Act 1.  In the first Action phase I tried a Creepshow attack against Andy's character at his college Dorms and in the second I tried Creepshow against Remi's character at the Circus.  Neither one suffered any losses.  I think part of the issue was the new Dependant rules that I'd put in only recently.  Both Andy and Remi were able to start right out with 2d6 or 1d6+1d8 as their base dice.  Against the GM's 2dX, that's pretty powerful in the first act.

In Act 2 the Agendas came out with a fury.  Andy's character moved from the Dorms with his not-a-girlfriend Dependant in tow.  They went to a location that I'd authored pre Act 1, The Creepy old House, where he set out to find the evidence that pointed the finger at whomever created the monsters in the first place.  Andy authored a sub-location to the house; The Occult Library where the characters found occult texts as evidence.  It was an Escalation result, so Andy narrated that they needed to find a camera to take pictures of the evidence.  On my action as the GM I initiated an Over Run action.  During the ensuing fight with the monsters, Andy's protagonist was injured by the high-volume of static the monsters were putting out (blood trickling from the PC's ears), the Dependant was turned to a monster, and the PC was eventually forced to flee the scene, the Creepy House being removed from play.

Lisa's character saved her lover from the Catholic School, putting her on the last bus out of town.  Ully's character got to the chemisty lab in the industrial complex and found a stash of the character's favorite designer drug.  Remi held onto his Agenda for later on.

I think it's worth noting here that I never actually learned any of the PCs' names from last night's game.  I remember most, if not all of the Dependants' names, who they were, what relationship they had to the PCs, but not the PCs themselves.  Normally I'd have written all the PC names down on a sheet in front of me to keep them fresh in my mind, but somehow I never did that last night.  I haven't created a play sheet specifically for the GM yet, but I suspect that I will eventually, and it'll include a place to jot down all the PC names.

In the middle of the game I felt that the pacing had kindof died down.  The GM cards I was drawing were fun, but short-lived.  As the players went about making Relax and Arm Up rolls there was little conflict that I could throw at them.  Seemed like a bit of a bummer from my side of the table.  But with a quick query to the other players, they all seemed to be enjoying it still.  There was plenty of location authoring, Dependant death, new Dependants authored, and general mayhem.

By the final act the PCs were cruising from place to place in a minivan they'd picked up early on.  They drove through a series of secret underground "Freak Tunnels - a Waystation" to their Final Stand location; The TV Station.  They were accompanied by the lunatic ringmaster who taught them all the occult spells they'd need to fight the monsters, Jenny the invalid from the children's ward at the hospital, and Prof. Goatboy, master of higher mathmatics.  When the tunnels started oozing & pulsating to a heavy bass beat (music and noise had become standard at that point), two PCs freaked out, but the two in the front seat of the minivan just passed the bong and grooved to the beat.

At the TV station there was this wonderful chaotic mess of monsters oozing out of video and sound equipment, wearing megaphones for heads and carrying key-tars (you know, the ol 80's synthasizers in the shape of guitars..) as weapons.  In the penultimate battle with the monsters the PCs were accosted by a big-band formation who had them cornered, threatening to blind them all with their screechy-staticy synth-pop music when Ringmaster found the main power for the station and pulled it apart with his bare hands

Zoomy narration from Remi on that one.

I'm inclined to say that the big-dice of Act 4 are what kept the pace up so high.  All of the monster attacks were at 2d12 and the players were getting d12 bonus dice to their actions.  I'm not sure we would have had a similarly exciting final scene if the Locations had been authored as d8s instead of the pumped-up d12s that they were.

But, all in all it was a pretty good playtest.  We found some dangling problems in the system and everyone seemed to come away from it feeling like they had a pretty good time.  I'm excited about the game and it seems like every little bit of fine-tuning makes it better and better.  I'm hoping for playtest number four in two weeks time.

-Eric
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Eric Provost
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Posts: 581


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« Reply #1 on: February 07, 2006, 06:52:17 AM »

After some reflection it occurred to me that I'd put up a really crappy AP post.  So, in an effort to heal my AP-fu, I offer you a little bit of more focused thought on what I thought went right in the playtest and what I thought went wrong in the playtest.

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What went right;

Dependants
I'd added the Dependant rules only a day or two before the playtest.  The idea was to "add a slice of Nar pickle to the big, fat GAM hamburger of play"  I think it turned out pretty well.  I can't name a single PC from that session, but I can tell you all about Rachel, the not-a-girlfriend tagalong that turned to a speaker-headed monster.  I can tell you about little Jennifer, rescued from the Hospital after the loss of Rachel.  There was The Ringmaster, insane mentor to Remi's character, and Prof Goatboy, master of higher mathmatics.  I loved them all and they all stuck in my head as groovy and fun.

Act 4, the Final Stand, and Waystations
In the early drafts, these three elements were very rigid.  In Act 4 the characters were all expected to travel from one location to another in order to survive the city, and for the players to be able to declare that they 'won' the game.  I was regularly dissapointed at how terribly confined this seemed, so I incorporated the current reading of the Final Stand and Waystation locations.  I was pretty nervous.  I was afraid that allowing PCs to arrive at the Final Stand location early would be tactially unfun, meaning that it would be too much of an advantage for the players.  Turns out those fears were pretty much unfounded.  The finale was pretty exciting and, IMO, probably had some of the most fun narration of the game.

What went wrong;

Used up locations and the OverRun
There was one GM action where Ully's character, Andy's character, and Remi's character were all in the same place and I mistakenly assumed that they'd like to stay there into the next phase.  But when I initiated an Over Run action I immediately got the vibe that no one cared that the Industrial Complex was about to turn to dust.  Everyone was ready to move on anyway.  After all, the Hardware and Comfort of the place had been used up.  Suddenly I was faced with a terrible situation;  There was no win or loss condition for the combat that was starting up.  If the location was OverRun, no one cared.  If the location was not OverRun,  no one cared.  Crap.

We fixed the situation with a stop-gap measure of no longer having Comfort or Hardware reduced as part of an Arm Up or Relax action.  This change in the rules may stick to later versions.

Act 1 and starting "Everywhere Else"
This rule effectively -requires- that the game start out with a bunch of un-connected Travel actions.  I'm concerned that it's crappy crappy pacing to start a game out with.  I'm further concerned that it's just unfun and unnecessary.  If that's so, then I need to figure out what other way the game might get started up and how to make sure play is invigorated from word one.

Agendas did not fire like I wanted them to.
Now, it seemed that everyone enjoyed their own independant Agenda stories.  Problem was that while one player was telling the story of their Agenda, everyone elses' eyes kinda glazed over.  Agendas kept PC and players in bubbles to themselves. 

In my eyes, this was the most severe failure of the game on Friday.  Everything else was about tuning.  With a little help I've come up with a possible solution to this problem.  I've posted the basic framework of new Agenda rules here.

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That's all that's coming to mind right now, although I'm sure there were other things.  I hope this post is a little more illuminating about what happened during the playtest than my last post was.

-Eric
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knicknevin
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Posts: 105


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« Reply #2 on: February 10, 2006, 01:59:46 AM »

I downloaded Eric's excellent game on Sunday 5th February and played with 3 of my friends at our weekly games group on Tuesday 7th; this is my report on that game.

How we set up
First, the players picked a setting; after some creative discussion started going off at tangents, they eventually settled on Houston, Texas, in the 1980s. The infection was described as the spirits of angry Aztecs possessing the bodies of the living to wash away the usurpers of their land in a tide of blood, so we a had a little bit of a Ghosts of Mars riff going on.

Next, we created characters; I made an executive decision to skip Archetypes and Quirks and just gave each player on index card on which to write down a quick description of their character along with a Niche they felt was appropriate to them. I also let them pick their own Agendas and write those down on the back of the cards, stressing that they should pick something with the potential to involve other PCs... you can judge for yourself how well all that worked.

Robin: Playing a wealthy Yuppie who had contacts everywhere (Arm Up) but saw the 'zombie apocalypse' as merely an obstacle to acquiring a really expensive new suit!
Richard: Chose a muckraking journalist who had seen it all (Creepshow) and wanted to get a sleazy story to sell.
Noah: Created an 80's style soft-metal rock musician with a liking for drugs and groupies(Relax) who secretly wanted to write an historical novel!

Act 1
I skipped having pre-authored Locations on the table, on the feeling that there was a strong possibility that no-one would like my choices! Instead, I introduced the players to the authoring rules and let them create a couple at the start of the first Travel phase. We ended up with the exclusive and expensive Dimaggio's Restaurant and the Airport.. I could see right away that the latter could be trouble...

Looking back, I can see its at this point that my assumptions about the game set the players up for an easy ride; I settled into 'Fair & Impartial GM' mode, so I wasn't actively trying to kill the PCs! In the first Travel phase, I let Richard & Robin off with a Creepshow as they made their separate ways to the restaurant, describing how a bloody, angry Aztec stepped in front of Richard's bicycle and almost made him swerve under the wheels of Robin's taxi! I hit Noah with a horde of possessed Hare Krishna at the Airport entrance and he ended up across the road in the car rental office with 0 WTL.

Inside the Restaurant, Robin insisted the waiting staff help him to clean up after his near-accident in the taxi (Relax), but Richard went straight for his Agenda, leading to a great dialogue with Robin about how he had built up his business on the bodies of his rivals! This Agenda worked really well and Richard got an Escalate result, so it stayed active..sadly, we never got a chance to explore this further, as I felt it could have lead to the revelation that Robin's company were implicated in the infection!

Meanwhile, Noah got busy with the receptionist as the car rental office (Relax)

On my action, I had 'zombies' burst out of DiMaggio's kitchen; it became clear later that I had got the rules wrong on this, since I had assumed that all Oustings resulted in the PC moving to a Location of the GM's choice. As a result, Robin simply left the restaurant as normal, but Richard got pushed into the kitchen during the scuffle! I was happy with that result, though, since the actual rule would imply that there was no consequence of losing to an OverRun as long as one player in the group succeeds... but given my record so far, I may have got that wrong!

Noah exploited the vehicle rules and chose to stay where he was (i.e. he travelled back to car rental office).

Robin was now at Crazy Enrique's Guns 'n' Suits! Yes, he was pursuing his agenda, but also leaving an opening to Arm Up later. Richard grabbed a time out in the kitchen. Noah searched the office and found a gun!

Act 2
By this time, we were all a lot more comfortable with the rules and started to pick up speed; it was cool at the start of this act when I removed my giant d6 and replaced it with a giant d8 and said "That's what I'll be rolling now..."

This time around, it was Robin and Noah who ended up heading in the same direction; Noah authored a Location called 'The Best Little Gunhouse in Texas' and just drove right over any zombies who got in his way! Robin ended up taking a secret tunnel from Enrique's basement during this act... I think we got a little carried away here, since Robin nearly managed to get a taxi down here! Mind you, it created a good Creepshow, since Robin now had his suit and was terrified of getting it dirty.

Richard headed back to the Airport, but went straight for a plane waiting to take off! We were all really getting to grips with the Sub-Location rules by now and having a lot of fun with them. I also, belatedly, introduced Dependant NPCs by letting Richard acquire the pilot of the plane as a companion, after they had fought off a zombie together. I just houseruled that instead of gaining a WTL for his Relax, he got the DNPC instead... I even went a little bit crazy and let him author the DNPC with a Niche! This is just another example of my being too lenient!

We were running out of time by now and barely made it to the end of the act, by which time Robin and Noah were in The Best Little Gunhouse's backroom and heading for its bunker! Richard had a claymore mine and Noah had a rocket launcher! Fortunately, with 2d8 to roll for the Danger here, I was able to put up a good fight and we ended on an exciting combat; at that point though, we had to pack up and go home, so for an epilogue we said that Richard and the pilot flew to safety, while Noah and Robin sealed themselves comfortably in the bunker and waited the crisis out.

Reflection
We all enjoyed this immensely (thanks Eric!) and are keen to have another go, this time getting all the way to the Final Stand! Reflecting on my own implementation and interpretation of the rules:

 - We didn't really miss the Quirks; I thought they might be a bit of an information overlad for a group just learning the rules and, on later study, found that some of them were significantly weaker than others, to the point where 'Fan of MacGyver' is actually a hindrance! It halves your WD gain, but lets you exceed the Hardware stat of the location... but with only half the gain, you can barely afford to meet the Hardware stat and can never afford to exceed it! If I'm reading this wrong Eric, let me know, but my only other interpretation of the Arm Up table would mean an average result of about 8d6!

 - I was way too easy on the players: though they often ended up with 0 WTL, they never get gained so much as a point of infection between them. This was entirely my fault: your rules for WTL gain and loss seem well balanced, I was just skipping some of my attack actions to try and give the PCs a chance, without realising that they already had a chance and I was supposed to be trying to Infect them!

 - As I stated in my post on your 'Reinvigorating the Agendas' thread, after the game I thought up a more structured way of assigning dice to agendas. In fact I've thought of a lot more to do with the agendas to spice them up and encourage creative, dramatic narratives! More to follow when I've put that down in writing and read it back to myself though.

 - Overall, we had a great time and we'd love to provide further assistance in developing this game. I'll keep the thread posted about any further sessions and if Eric has any questions about out experience or wants to discuss topics with us, we'll be happy to do so! Thanks again Eric! Sorry about all the ass-kissing, but this is such a great, straightforward game concept that I'm jealous I didn't think of it myself!
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