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Author Topic: [Hell for Leather] Metalgear  (Read 1182 times)
Sebastian K. Hickey

Posts: 141

« on: February 05, 2010, 08:24:46 AM »

(Posting from the Cobweb games website)

I spent last weekend at Warpcon XX, one of Ireland's oldest gaming conventions held in the idyllic campus of the UCC. I've got some warm memories of the place, from the wonderful welcome I received at my arrival, to the creative enthusiasm of the local gamers, to the loveable passion of the convention staff.

More to the point, I played three playtests of Hell for Leather and learned a few lessons. Over the next few days I'll make an account of each, starting with Friday night's "HfL: Metalgear."


6 players. 2 1/2 hours.

Sticking to the plan, I went headlong into a discussion of narrative (and the Story Pip system[1]) before I talked about any of the gaming rules. None of the players were familiar with the "emergent game play" paradigm, so this was a useful test. I also spent a minute or two outlining what I wanted from the playtest before we started the game proper.

Result: Smooth sailing. Players understood the rules, embraced the idea of collective narrative and showed enthusiasm to go on.

World Building

Because of the sell-out table (6 players), I was not able to take part in the game, so instead I sat by to facilitate. More than ever before I felt I was watching someone else's game. Once I started asking for suggestions for the game's Theme & Tone, I realised that this session was going to follow whatever threads and ideas these players wanted to explore, not the ideas and threads that I would necessarily have chosen.

The game was set in a near future totalitarian state, where blood sports were televised to divert the attentions of the voiceless masses (a la 1984/Rollerball). The contestants for the show were six politicians from an overthrown regime, now unmasked to be slaughtered on public television.

Beginning in a Tokyo subway, the team would have to reach the Khalifa Tower in Dubai, the tallest skyscraper in the world. Their first Checkpoint, and this is where things got interesting for me, was to "Rob Metalgear." Exploring an alternate reality in which the prototype armoured walker (from the computer game Metalgear Solid) was hidden somewhere in Japan, the players decided to merge video game tech into their roleplaying session. I've never thought to do that with Hell for Leather, which is what made it all the more awesome.

The second Checkpoint was to evade an international assault. The last, and this was the biggest surprise and showed how well the gamers understood the game, was that instead of trying to reach the top of the skyscraper they opted to "Bring the Tip-Top to Us." It's exactly the type of epic scale that makes for a great Checkpoint: You have no idea how you'll make it work but you're sure it's going to be fun.

Result: The second Checkpoint, inappropriately guided by my own hand, ended up the weakest of all. I was determined to force the Checkpoint to the theme of "escape." In doing that, I realised how inappropriate an "escape" Checkpoint is within a game about pursuit. The pursuit is the overarching theme, not an individual component. Furthermore, the "escape" theme, unless applied to a particular place or person, is too vague to work with the HfL storytelling system. Checkpoints need specifics.

Game play

There were some brilliant moments, great intra-character discussion, and lovely rhythms in narrative pacing. However, it wasn't all smiles and easiness. Many times during the session the players didn't know how to proceed. Who's turn is it to speak? Where should we situate the next scene? When will the shy fellow get a chance to contribute?

Result: I got some great feedback on this. One player suggested an "initiative roll-off" to determine who would take a turn, while another suggested I use the more traditional round-robin technique. I gave it some serious thought, and arrived at a satisfying conclusion (which I'll talk about in tomorrow's playtest report).


At the end of the game, which I had to cut off early, I got a bucket load of useful feedback. I found answers to nearly all of the questions I'd proposed in my schedule, and I'd earned a few new questions for the next.

Result: This was a real success. I got all the answers I'd been looking for and took great strength and comfort in knowing my game was a little closer to completion. Happy days.

1 Story Pips are a currency in HfL which allow you to reward the narrative contributions of another player. E.g. If I describe a "rusty old garage with a drunk sleeping behind a trolley of bottles," you should award me a Story Pip. I've contributed to the narrative. These pips are later used to push the story toward completion using other rules.

David C

Posts: 262

lost in the woods...

« Reply #1 on: February 05, 2010, 11:20:12 PM »

Sounds fun!

I like that with Round Robin, everybody knows who's turn it is.  (Hey, the guy to my left just finished, I'm up!) But if you jazz up an initiative roll off, it can also make the game more fun.  I'd avoid doing an initiative roll unless you can somehow make it consistent with the rest of the game.

...but enjoying the scenery.
Sebastian K. Hickey

Posts: 141

« Reply #2 on: February 06, 2010, 05:27:47 AM »

My thoughts exactly.

As for the round-robin, I tried that method during early development. Players were obliged to introduce their characters at unsuitable junctions in the narrative, which made it awkward.

Instead, I now use a solution called "aftermath." Whether you fail or succeed a specific player takes over, helping to alleviate the "who's turn is it?" question. To determine which player that is, we take into account recent player activity. For example, if you fail in a conflict, the player with the most Story Pips must take up your challenge. If you haven't read Hell for Leather, it would be boring to explain it further, so I'll leave it at that. The new version, with updated content, will be available next week for download anyway.

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