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[Covenant]Thoughts on 15 minute GenCon demos

Started by Matt Machell, September 05, 2006, 10:19:36 PM

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Matt Machell

Now that I'm back from vacation, I've been mulling over the 15 minute demos I ran of Covenant and thought that it would be worth covering a few points that really helped me and may help others.

You can download a copy of the demo materials on the Realms site. The scenario follows the meeting of a pair of siblings, both members of a Covenant cell, just has one has killed the cell's overseer because of his lover. Pretty much the norm for a Covenant game, personal and factional agendas in conflict and everything kicking off.

First off, the best piece of advice given to me in pre-con feedback was to strip the character sheet down to the minimum (thanks, Malcolm!) While everything on the sheet is important in genuine play, it's designed for games with full preparation and buy in. Having to explain the detail just distracts from getting to the situation at hand and giving people a fun taster.

The slimmed down sheets give you a few key facts to play with, and demo the coolest bits of the system (conflicts and resolving truisms). I think I did go a bit far in having only two truisms, rather than the normal three. They are the center of the game and one being missing limits your options a little. One mistake was there's one duplicate edge, across the two characters, which I didn't notice until I'd already printed them.

It's worth noting that I introduced the system elements incrementally during conflict. First stage in a conflict I'd just let folks use edges to get extra dice. When they were happy with that, I'd shake things up by explaining how they could use consequnces to kill their opponent's highest dice. That'd also get the tension going. Finally, if nobody had included one in a narration already, I'd explain how they could bring in conventions and motifs on top to get re-rolls. This approach works really well, you can see the points at which you should introduce the new element, people get that "Oh, right" glint in their eye. Just be sure the new element you add is as awesome as the one before.

With regard to this, one thing I changed about half way through GenCon : I dropped using arenas in the demo. When folks are getting really into your demo, it's a great shame to pull them up and say "Hey, if you want to do that you have to bow out and frame in a different arena". It breaks the pace and takes time to explain, and that's not something you can afford to lose in a 15 minute game. You want the next mechanic you add to easily create awesomess, not put the breaks on. Maybe I just need a better way of introducing the concept quickly.

Before arriving I was worried that the demos might all go in a similar fashion. Nothing could have been further form the truth. Every group picked up on certain elements and ran with them. Some went straight into vicious physical conflict, with the shattered glass and rooftop violence motifs. Some went for intense social conflict, with the siblings using every cheap shot to sway each other, making good use relationship edges and the "Operatives will do anything for hope" and "Honour is all things" conventions.

It was players takes on resolving truisms that really impressed me. The situation is intentionally primed to resolve "You can always count on family" or "You can't trust emotions". But uses of moments of truth often surprised me, I expected more framing of new scenes, but people were pretty liberal with extra consequences, including doubt and misplaced trust all over the place. Neat followup scenes included, "so I do believe that you can always trust family, and as such the next scene is my
brother and I, with his lover taped up in a chair."

Overall, there are places to improve, but I was pretty happy with how they went. I'd be interested to hear what other folks thought from the other side of the table. What worked for you and what didn't?



You know, if I hadn't already bought Covenant at Gen Con this article about the demo would have made me want to buy it.  And thanks for the links to the downloads, handy!

Have you considered whether, if arenas slow down play in the demo, they might also be omittable in the full game?  Although demo and full game, different things, I know.


Matt Machell

Quote from: cdr on September 06, 2006, 05:00:16 AM
Have you considered whether, if arenas slow down play in the demo, they might also be omittable in the full game?  Although demo and full game, different things, I know.

It is something I thought about. In fact, it was one of the mechanics that zig-zagged in and out of the playtest document in different forms. However, playtesting showed that if I wanted to get the feel I was going for, arenas were important. They serve two purposes. The first is forcing an escalation: if you don't get a goal you want, you might have to resort to a method that you don't like. The second is the turnaround, you start off in an arena you didn't instigate, but bow out, taking a small hit and go for the same goal in an arena of your choosing, where you're edges are more suited. Both of these were important to the fiction I wanted the game to produce, so arenas stayed part of the game.

Really, I think it's a case of that mechanic being easier to explain in print than mid game, and that's maybe a problem with incremental introduction of the mechanics.

And that's for buying the game! Did you play the demo?