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Author Topic: [Manaka] Playtesting my game  (Read 1775 times)
dyjoots
Member

Posts: 91


« on: February 14, 2006, 11:35:58 PM »

Actual Play: Manaka

I've been working on a game called Manaka for the past several weeks, and I've gotten the rules basically together, so my wife Susie and I play-tested it last night.  Some background:  My wife has only been playing RPGs for about 2 years, and I was the person who introduced her to it.  She is a big fan of fantasy and romance stories (she loves the Valdemar books), and she prefers games that don't have extensive rules and lists, which she says “get in the way.”  I, on the other hand, have been playing RPGs for around 12 or 13 years, and I've managed to have a bit of experience with every game I can get my hands on, even those which I suspect may not appeal to me, just to experiment.  As a player, I'm into a wide variety of stuff, but I have a strong preference for setting-explorative sim.  As a GM, I like to give a lot of authority to the players, I like to get their input into as much of the game as I can.  My favorite games to run are PTA, Trollbabe, and Dogs in the Vineyard.

Manaka doesn't come with a built in setting, and is designed to be run “no-prep,” so we started from the very beginning.  First, we decided to play in a quasi-generic fantasy world, something akin to Steven Brust's Dragaera but with less magic.  Character creation in Manaka works similarly to The Pool or HeroQuest; the players write down a short narrative that describes the character, and further traits are extrapolated from that.  The narrative also must include a situation that kick-starts the story, not entirely unlike Sorcerer's kicker.  Susie wrote up a changeling of sorts named Charlotte, an orphaned teenager who could transform into the shape of any animal she had ever seen.  The character had been recruited as a courier for the king due to her natural talents, and the story begins with Charlotte delivering a message to the king's mistress, who she finds brutally murdered in her bed.

She narrowly escapes the assassin, who had not yet left the scene of the crime, and follows him in the form of a bird to see if she can find out who he is.  While she loses him in the busy crowd and winding alleys of the city, she is able to catch a glimpse of a scarred face and distinctive hair.  She quickly reports the murder to the king and his personal guard Rutherford, who is also her best friend.  The guard recognizes the assassin, and every one is shocked... it's his long lost brother Geraldo!  The king, wanting to keep his affair discrete, sends Rutherford and Charlotte out to track down Geraldo.  After a couple of days, they find out that he has a meeting scheduled in an abandoned home, and decide to spring a trap.  Charlotte waits inside, hidden as a mouse, while Rutherford is hidden outside to prevent Geraldo's escape.  However, the first person to arrive isn't the brother, it's the queen, carrying a large purse.  When Geraldo does arrive, it is revealed that the queen found out about the king's mistress and hired him to kill her.  The purse is his payment.  At this point, Charlotte returns to human form, and springs the trap.  A fight ensues, and while Rutherford holds his brother at bay, Charlotte swipes the purse as evidence, and escapes to the king.  The session ended with her giving the king the bad news and the evidence against his wife.

The basic resolution mechanic of the game is similar to Trollbabe and With Great Power, conflict resolution where the player has a chance to get a bonus for a failed by voluntarily inflicting damage on the character.  It worked pretty well for the most part, and fit with Susie's preferred style as it only requires one roll and it goes really quite fast.  There was a minor issue with the speed, but I talk about that below.

My favorite part of the rules is the Experience mechanic:

Quote
Whenever a player's character gets involved in a conflict, whether the outcome was in his favor or not, he gets an Experience. Once the conflict is over, he should record the outcome of it (in other words, the goals of the successful party, as they relate to the character) and the final Action rank that was rolled in the Experiences section of your character sheet. For successful conflicts, record the Experience in the Positive section, and for unsuccessful conflicts, record it in the Negative section.
   Any time later, when your character is involved in a conflict that is related to a negative Experience he has had, you can choose to roll a number of penalty dice equal to the Experience's rank for the first roll of that conflict. If you do, then you gain one Experience Point or “XP.” Whenever your character is involved in a later conflict that is related to a positive Experience he has had, you can choose to roll a number of bonus dice equal to the Experience's rank. If you choose to do this, you must first spend an XP. Once spent, an XP is gone and cannot be regained except through the use of negative Experiences.  I suggest using some sort of physical token for XP, such as coins or little glass beads.  It gives XP a bit more impact when gained or spent.
   This is how characters change and develop, and how players can work towards their goals and progress their story arc; it's a really big deal. Anything that the character does can have a lasting effect, although the trick is that is doesn't have to. Did you have a shouting match with your husband and lose, becoming convinced that it's not his problem but yours? If you never want it to have a mechanical effect in the game, if you never want to risk future failure because of it (especially if the Experience rank is Abysmal (-4)), then the only penalty is that you won't be able to benefit by gaining XP. Did you finally manage to defeat the Lord of Dueling, and gain the medal that displays your card-playing prowess to the rest of the world? It only matters if you have some previous failures upon which to build. It's a tricky thing, but it promotes both success and failure at conflicts related to the character's Set-up, and maybe it makes the choice of whether or not to risk injury in a conflict a little more significant.

The idea is that it's both a character development mechanic and a reward for getting into a series of connected conflicts that build off of each other.  It worked like a dream.  When Charlotte lost the assassin in the crowd, she gained a negative Experience.  Later on, Rutherford was trying to hide the fact that he knew the identity of the assassin from the king, Susie used that Experience to get penalty dice for Charlotte's attempt to help him, gaining an XP.  They both failed hard and the king discovered the truth.  Later on, she used the Positive experience that she got from successfully tracking down Geraldo and the XP that she got from the above scene as a bonus to springing the trap and escaping with the queen's purse.

There were only two problems we had with the game.  First, she only had to use the Injury/Bonus mechanic once to succeed.  Since this mechanic functions as one of the primary forces behind building tension in the game, it was a little disappointing.  This can probably be fixed simply by increasing the strength of the opposition.  The second problem we ran into was that the final conflict, where Charlotte was attempting to escape the fight with evidence against the queen, was anti-climactic.  After a bit of discussion, we figured that something like Pace in Trollbabe might help out.  The problem, it seems, was that because normal conflicts require only one successful roll to get past, the conflict was built up and as soon as the dice were rolled, it was done.  It seemed too quick.  Susie has the same issue in Primetime Adventures.  We decided that an Extended conflict could be a “best of X rolls” sort of thing, where the player must make a certain number of successful rolls to achieve the full goals of the conflict.

Our favorite non-mechanical part was the scene where Charlotte was revealing the identity of the assassin, due to the cooperative narration of the scene.  Susie described telling the king how the assassin looked, I described his appearance, then she described Rutherford's reaction to recognizing his brother.  I suggested a conflict where he tried to hide the knowledge out of embarrassment, and we were off.  Any time ideas just bounce around at the table, I'm pleased.  There was a lot of this sort of thing happening during the game, but in this scene it just popped.  I think that the emphasis of the rules on player-empowerment helped a lot in this case; they put us in a particular mode where these things just seemed natural.

Overall, it was a really cool experience, simple but rewarding.  Maybe I'll get the game finished soon so others can give it a shot.
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-- Chris Rogers
Troy_Costisick
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Posts: 802


WWW
« Reply #1 on: February 17, 2006, 09:42:17 AM »

Heya Chris,

I'd love to see you do a post in Indie Design that answers The Power 19.  Your game sounds really intrigueing.

Peace,

-Troy
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dyjoots
Member

Posts: 91


« Reply #2 on: February 17, 2006, 08:47:28 PM »

You know, I realized that I had posted this without actually posting anything about my game on The Forge.  I posted something in the RPGnet game design forum, but I forgot to get something up here.  I've been looking at how to answer those questions anyway, so I'll try to get something up soon.
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-- Chris Rogers
Troy_Costisick
Member

Posts: 802


WWW
« Reply #3 on: February 19, 2006, 06:13:41 AM »

Heya,

PM me if you need any help :)

Peace,

-Troy
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