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Author Topic: [Hell for Leather] First blind playtest using students  (Read 781 times)
Sebastian K. Hickey
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Posts: 141


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« on: December 10, 2009, 06:30:11 PM »

This evening I facilitated my first blind playtest. Well, it was more near-sighted than blind, as there wasn't time for anyone to read the text. Instead, I turned up and issued instruction. How did it turn out? Mixed feelings.

Underneath Trinity College Dublin, beneath the railway station, there is an oddly shaped room housing a gaming society. It was generously donated, along with a handful of young gamers, for a night of play testing. I knew as soon as I arrived that these weren't the kind of kids who regularly experimented with hippie, indie games. I wasn't phased, not until I had to explain the idea of a GM-less roleplaying game. There was a gap in their understanding of some core narrative gaming paradigms that I was totally unprepared for. Like the idea that a player can generate narrative content without the say so of a GM.

When the table was finally arranged, and some of the rules explained, it was clear that the tone of their gaming was not sympathetic to mine. Maybe it was the age gap, maybe something else, but there was a fair bit of squeakiness there which I couldn't ignore, and rudeness in the way that people interrupted one another and sought out attention. Pretty frustrating.

Instead of me learning how to read the text of the game, and how rules are interpreted by a blind audience, I found myself being challenged from a new, unforeseen angle. There were gamers that were interested in the game, who tried to learn how to play the game properly, and then there were those who did not. From the latter I learned one important rule. I won't be able to write a game that will please everyone. I knew that already, but it's different when you're faced with game loving people who have nothing in common with you.

From the former I learned a lot more. If you've read any of the Hell for Leather playtest drafts, some of this might make sense... (If not, skip these lines and go to the second last paragraph)

The game was badly paced (not quick enough), so I scaled up the number of Victory Points earned from success rolls
Hunters were too harsh. I took out the Hunter Marks rule completely, and now have them increasing the size of the Heat and forcing players to discard their pips
Checkpoints were too open ended, and some gamers didn't know how to interpret them. In response, I'm going to offer a 'first game' provision where they are structured for you. My answer to an intro scenario.
Calls for Help cost too much and weren't being used. Now Calls for Help cost Pips to use, not VP
To improve the power of a Risk (so that Felonies become less essential), they can now be repeated indefinitely

The biggest thing I noticed, the biggest issue, was that although the game is geared toward violence, none of the violence tonight had any real impact. That's because there was no contrast. The game started with bloodshed, and it carried on through. In most of the other playtests I've performed, there was a kind of ramp-up in the level of gore and bloodshed. I thought that this was happening because of the game design, but it wasn't. It was happening because the people who were playing the game understood what I intended, and went along for the ride.  But for people who haven't met me, who haven't helped me to write this game, or playtested it with me or discussed it over coffee, they won't get it. So I have to make a decision. Do I go heavy handed, and get the rules to force the kind of game I envision, and which I think is fun? Or do I push the text to indicate what I wanted from the game and allow people to make up their own minds?

I think I'm going with the first option.  I reckon the simplest solution is this. You cannot commit a Felony until you've completed your first Checkpoint. If I structure the Checkpoints in tandem, that might keep things synergistic. The result would be that for the opening third of the game, a powerful mechanic will be out of bounds. Would that frustrate you? Maybe it would entice you. It might be a clumsy approach, but it would certainly ensure a period of humanity before the blood starts to spill, and I'm starting to think that's just what the game needs...Lots to think on.
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northerain
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« Reply #1 on: December 11, 2009, 06:42:39 AM »


The biggest thing I noticed, the biggest issue, was that although the game is geared toward violence, none of the violence tonight had any real impact. That's because there was no contrast. The game started with bloodshed, and it carried on through. In most of the other playtests I've performed, there was a kind of ramp-up in the level of gore and bloodshed. I thought that this was happening because of the game design, but it wasn't. It was happening because the people who were playing the game understood what I intended, and went along for the ride.  But for people who haven't met me, who haven't helped me to write this game, or playtested it with me or discussed it over coffee, they won't get it. So I have to make a decision. Do I go heavy handed, and get the rules to force the kind of game I envision, and which I think is fun? Or do I push the text to indicate what I wanted from the game and allow people to make up their own minds?

I think I'm going with the first option.  I reckon the simplest solution is this. You cannot commit a Felony until you've completed your first Checkpoint. If I structure the Checkpoints in tandem, that might keep things synergistic. The result would be that for the opening third of the game, a powerful mechanic will be out of bounds. Would that frustrate you? Maybe it would entice you. It might be a clumsy approach, but it would certainly ensure a period of humanity before the blood starts to spill, and I'm starting to think that's just what the game needs...Lots to think on.

It depends on what you want your game to do. If you want your game to do specific things, then yeah, make it do those things, otherwise what's the point? If you can see Hell for Leather being used to play other kind of stories, do the second option.

I'm not terribly familiar with the rules, but what you describe is what I would have suggested. There's nothing wrong with saying ''this first phase isn't about violence, it's about setting the stage''.
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Sebastian K. Hickey
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« Reply #2 on: December 11, 2009, 06:11:19 PM »

I got a great suggestion from Nathan Paoletta. He adivsed to use the height of the Heat stack to determine whether or not you can commit a Felony. It makes lots of thematic sense, so I'm going to give it a try at the big playtesting event in UCD in the middle of January. Sweet.
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Quizoid
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Posts: 19

Loving you is easy because you're beautiful.


« Reply #3 on: December 11, 2009, 06:28:42 PM »

Many designers are thinking about their audience as "non-gamers," and/or "story-gamers."  And, really, there's a large third important demographic which is, "main-stream gamers."  The best rules would be taught in a way that was accessible to all three groups.  And, there are some folks that are content in their ways and just don't want to learn new things, especially if that new thing is similar to what they're doing but different. 

I occasionally attend game brews for more traditional gamers to see if I can sniff out some indie-gamers waiting to be saved (O:  I remember talking a bit about systems that don't require an inventory system, or games where stats are not ability focused, and literally seeing one fellow hunch his shoulders, squench his nose, and shiver. 
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Sebastian K. Hickey
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« Reply #4 on: December 13, 2009, 03:39:33 PM »

Asking people to improvise narrative is a tough sell, and like you mentioned, can be especially hard when dealing with old school gamers. I learned the hard way, but I'm confident that my next rendezvous will be more successful. I just need to present the ideas with a gamer friendly rationale. Whatever that is.
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