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[Covenant] Last Days of Judgement and Sorrow

Started by Matt Machell, March 23, 2006, 08:33:27 PM

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Matt Machell

Last weekend, in preparation for Conpulsion, I tested my two 1-hour scenarios for Indie Games Track with a few friends. Inspectres was, of course, easy and fun. It came in under time and was riotously funny.

Covenant was a slightly different beast. It's my own game, and it's been in "tweak stage" for too long. It's just starting to coalesce nicely, but there are a few issues and a high octane one hour session was a great way to focus the mind on what needs tweaking. Given I've set my sights on having it published in book form by my summer trip to GenCon, Indy, I expect to do a fair few more of these.

As an overall exercise, prepping a quick and to the point 1 hour scenario is a great way to focus on the bits of the game that you want to pushed and how effectively the mechanics push them. It's also a great method for seeing just how quickly people "get" the way the game works with little prior experience. I found it also helped with exactly nailing down the process by which the ideal scenario for the game should be produced. Of course non of that is really in the rules as they stand, so it's an area I'll have to revise.

I used a pregens built into a relationship map, with the Covenant Cell Judgement and Sorrow starting to self destruct as play begins. A couple of bad wordings on the pregens came to light at the start, so that helped with the Con prep. I gave a brief rules intro (and decided that a summary playsheet would be a useful addition at this stage).

What I am pleased with is the outer layer of rules. Truisms work brilliantly (trusisms are BW Beliefs seen through a conspiracy-thriller lense). No matter how a conflict ends, resolve a truism and pick your piece of character development or scene reframing to drive the story on. These nicely get players focused on the "before played begins you believed these things, now they're up in the air, how do they fall?" style of story and reward them when they keep playing towards this.

One of the players, who hadn't really played a more narrative game before was worried by his starting consequence of "I'm holding my guts in with my hands". But the whole system fell nicely into place when a starting conflict about whether two PCs reached the hospital, or were cornered by the assasin hunting them, proved a perfect resolution of "my friends will see me through" which cleared the consequence.

Motifs (player-defined recuring descriptions) and conventions (player agreed genre tropes) are great story fuel, and accorded us some nice moments as they were drawn in to give characters advantage in conflicts. Some nice John Woo moments from the "flocks of birds" motif being used and the "superiors cannot be trusted" Convention was drawn in a few times. Unsurprising given the nature of the scenario, where a hidden faction makes its move on the London Cell.

The inner level conflict resolution mechanics still need work though. Flipping dice around is a bit too fiddly and increments don't cause enough of a turnaround in events, even with a convention or motif tagged onto them for extra oomph. I'll wait for a bit more testing, but suspect I'll be tweaking those rules for greater impact. Similarly, while the players liked style and focus as a method of character definition, there were a couple of points of confusion over how these related to descriptor edges, and what got used when.

Overall though, response was very positive. Players were especially keen to try again with self created characters rather than the pregens. Exactly the situation I wanted the demo to create.


Ron Edwards

Hi Matt,

I just went over the download version of Covenant pretty carefully, and you know, I see what you mean about being in the endless-tweak stage.

What I'm seeing, I think, is too much gibble-gabble about the details of individual characters, and not enough about the actual crisis situations they'll be in. I'm seeing amazing potential for important focus - specifically, the individual's Truism cross-referenced with his or her faction - and no way to address or develop that in play.

Perhaps a kind of ... I don't know ... mechanical approach to play setup is called for? Just deal out or roll for factions or the Eye-Crown-Sword distinction, just pick from a list of Truisms, and then get on with it? My current impression is that you ask a bunch of really cool questions to start, then we get into "RPG-make-up-character" land for a long time, and then end up with some hand-waving about how play is supposed to get us to those cool questions.

Or maybe I ought to ask in a different way ... let's say that your job was specifically to write the section about generating situations, making sure characters were in those situations, and applying the reward system after the situations were played out. Pretend some other people who you know are absolutely flawless experts will take care of all other aspects of the game, but they aren't going to start until you pass them this section in at least basic, usable form. What's often called "GM Advice" in other RPGs, but this time, everyone knows it's unique and central, based on your unique but never-before-voiced GMing skills and habits.

What would that section say?

Best, Ron

Matt Machell

Thanks Ron. You've pretty much hit the nail on the head with that analysis, I think. Too much character, and not enough support for the process of creating a situation to get the most out of the character (you won't be surprised that I played a lot of heavily drifted White Wolf stuff in my time, I guess).

The hints are there, the Schism, opening scenes, factions and truisms, but the process needs to be more coherent and less diluted by other elements. As I said in my first post, that process was already clarifying itself nicely via the execrise of trying to cram in the ideal elements to a one hour game, so I'm going to ponder that process some more, write it up and post here again when done.


PS. For reference, the scenario in question can be downloaded here.