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Author Topic: [Shipwreck] The First Playtest  (Read 926 times)
Malcolm Craig
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Posts: 263


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« on: May 04, 2010, 04:23:15 AM »

Shipwreck, as the name might suggest, is my game-in-design of shipwreck tales. It's inspired by the fiction such as Lord of the Flies and The Coral Island, films such as Alive and Flight of the Phoenix, and non-fiction sources like In The Land of the White Death and The Caliban Shore.

The game seeks to provide a means to tell a story of survival (maybe), death (almost certainly), rivalry, and co-operation. At least, that's the final goal. Last night we (myself, Gregor, Joe, and Russ) had the very first playtest of the game (the situation creation elements have been tried out briefly, but this is the first full run-through of the game as a piece). I realised beforehand that there were holes you could sail a tea clipper though and serious issues with both the economy and the mechanics. yet, that's what playtesting is all about. To me, the text (the version we were using is linked to here) seemed, if not great, then at least playable in some form. We had fun, but I came away with both three pages of notes and a much better idea of how to change the game for the next testing iteration.

Anyway, the game begins by sketching out when and where the wreck takes place. We stuck with the default era of the Age of Sail (the Napoleonic War, to be specific) and our unlucky vessel was an east Indiaman, travelling from China to the Cape Colony, driven far off course into the Pacific after being chased by a French privateer.

Our starting characters were:

Jack Bolland (me), the carpenters mate
Jan van Hoarse (Joe), a Dutch speculator
Emma D'Anton (Russ), a French prisoner
'Little Jim', an orphan from Northern England, cabin boy

We also had a bunch of other characters: Dr. Curtis, the ship's surgeon; 'Flogging' Billy, the bo'suns mate; 'Filthy Sally', a prostitute; Jakob Vermeer, a prisoner and spy; A nameless Cantonese servant; A Sufi Imam travelling to the Cape; Captain Hawthorne, the badly injured ship's captain.

When coming up with the characters we would initially be playing, the first chance to the system-as-written was implement there and then. In order to gain Advantages (skills, talents, traits, and whathaveyou) and Possessions (things that could conceivably be rescued from, or washed ashore after, a wreck), your character must get into Debt with another character. In essence, this means that they know some dark secret about your character that could be revealed in play. Now in the text, it said that the Debt should be detailed at this point. Joe asked why we couldn't just say we were in Debt, and have the Debt detailed as and when it was revealed. I went along with this, but it hand an interesting outcome: there were far more debts given out than expected.

How to resolve the Debts issue? Several things could help with this. Restricting starting characters to one Advantage and one Possession would help. Explicitly saying you can't have more than one Debt with the same person. And, perhaps, allowing players to offer a Debt on behalf of a non-player character, someone from the roster of other wreck survivors?

Some Things That Were just Plain Broken

Selecting another played character as the enemy of your character, making the player of that character your antagonist. Sounded good, but in play, rubbish. What if your enemy dies? Simple solution: a player is designated to be your adversary (duh!).

There was little differentiation between Personal and Survival Scenes: There were a few flaws subsidiary to this, including the unsatisfactory Outcomes stemming from Personal Scenes. Potential Solution: There is no scene differentiation, you just choose what you want your scene to be about, your adversarial player sets adversity, you go from there.

Tension ramped up far too quickly: Tension was a killer. Admittedly, going into the first test, it was difficult to see how the economy worked and play demonstrated that it was all kinds of wrong. Solution: tension is getting a big overhaul, with different break points across the three 'acts' of play. Also, the Threat gains its cards by depleting Tension, rather than simply using the Tension level to indicate the number of cards, e.g.: Tension is at 12, adversary decides to bring in the Threat, wants to really screw over the other player and so takes seven cards, reducing Tension down to 5.

Using Tension to gain cards: Another associated problem (the one that caused the Tension to rocket up in the first place) was that people got to take too many additional cards representing Tension. Solution: For each scene, three points of Tension are available. The scene-setting player gets to take one if they choose. Then the adversary gets to take one if they choose. Then players playing the role of other characters get to take one if they choose. If there are any left, it goes round again until there are none, or everyone has refused. When taking Tension, facts must be narrated saying how or why the increase in Tension is taking place.

Scene Outcomes: Many and varied flaws with this. One suggestion that will be incorporated is that through the outcomes of a scene, players should be able to reduce Tension: Having a scene where they give a stirring speech, comfort an injured survivor, make peace with an enemy. These could well reduce the ambient Tension.

Debts: The suggestion was given that Debts, rather than giving a bonus to your hand, allow an automatic victory if they are revealed. Need to see how this works in play.

There were quite a few other things that came up in play and I'll need to work on a new version of the text for the next session (next week, hopefully). Overall, I was pleased. The game needs and immense amount of work, but we got the bones of a good story, with some great scenes (the burial of the deceased Captain was particularly stomach churning). The collaborative play sheet became an interesting artefact, with the map, list of characters, tension, and threat all prominent (although it was suggested that having the in-play characters also written on the edges of this sheet was problematic. Maybe character sheets are in order!)

Hopefully Gregor, Joe, or Russ will pop by to give their critique on things. There's loads of stuff I noted down and I'm sure the others might see certain things worth highlighting.

Cheers
Malcolm
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Malcolm Craig
Contested Ground Studios
www.contestedground.co.uk

Part of the Indie Press Revolution
Malcolm Craig
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Posts: 263


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« Reply #1 on: May 06, 2010, 03:33:49 AM »

In light of some great feedback in this thread, there's now a revised, v1.3, version of the text which supersedes the version linked to in the post above. You can find this revised version here.

Cheers
Malcolm
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Malcolm Craig
Contested Ground Studios
www.contestedground.co.uk

Part of the Indie Press Revolution
Malcolm Craig
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Posts: 263


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« Reply #2 on: May 06, 2010, 04:42:09 AM »

Apologies, have had to change to link location, so the one above is now obsolete. Better trying here.

The text shows a lot of changes in light of feedback. Tension, the Threat, and endgame conditions have all be altered in quite a significant way. Hopefully it now encourages a little more collaborative play. However, it's still my feeling that the economy, especially as it regards the Threat and Tension, need a lot of work to get them ticking over properly.

Cheers
Malcolm
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Malcolm Craig
Contested Ground Studios
www.contestedground.co.uk

Part of the Indie Press Revolution
Gregor Hutton
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« Reply #3 on: May 06, 2010, 05:37:14 AM »

I think it was a good playtest and showed that the game has a solid basis for building on.

It highlighted rules that made no sense and needed fixed on the spot (assign an Enemy secretly, they play your antagonism... Um, what if no one assigned you as their enemy, or we had all picked Joe, we nearly did!). Other mechanical things came to light with repeated play (Bring the Threat directly seemed all powerful since we were all jacking up the Tension for cards).

I liked the characters we created and how we created them. I also liked the freeness of just adding a list of NPCs to the sheet.

Joe was thrown a little by the allocation of Possessions and Advantages when he passed over them on his last turn, and we then also passed moving them off to one side. I think this is fine, but it highlighted to me that the rules need to explain that to the player. Why they should or shouldn't go for one of the visible Possessions or Advantages. And what the consequences of passing are.

I'm unsure about loading multiple conditions on one test. Little Jim went Double Deranged and then was teetering on the edge of Death. He should have been killed off by a third Condition when he lost again. I rather think that it would give a slower burn if you can only get one Condition on a test. Or maybe only one in Act 1, two in Act 2 and three in Act 3? On the flip side of this, the mandatory Death is sudden, and especially puts pressure on the "who is in a scene" decision making. As it really does matter then if you are up for grabs.

At the moment you can win a scene handsomely for Possesssions, Advantages and so on, while the loser has a chance to get Narration. Ordinarily this is fine, but when the Narration can kill off a clear Scene winner it is jarring. In the scene Emma was killed she had 3 successes. The Gorillas also had 3 successes and won only because of a slightly higher highest card. The Narrator had 1 success but more Red narration rights cards, so the Narrator was the immune one (unless they opt to kill themselves, though why would youi?) But the winners were not immune from death, and the Tension declared someone must die, so a Winner had to. For me that sits a bit uneasily, but I don't know what I would do instead.

And I did find the death of the Captain and Emma not out of line with plausible outcomes in the story of shipwrecks.

I think at the moment it is a bit too competitive and having spoken to you about what you want from different phases of play you might want to have different rules for different Acts. I think It Was a Mutual Decision does this very well. Shipwrecked will need different rules (obviously) from IWaMD but the principle is the same and shows that it works. I also like how in IWaMD some qualities change throughout the story. Perhaps this happens when things become "Key".

I felt Little Jim's axe didn't change when it became Key (other than people might want to loot it from me more readily)??
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Malcolm Craig
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Posts: 263


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« Reply #4 on: May 06, 2010, 07:43:19 AM »

Thanks for taking the time to post your thoughts, Gregor. Much appreciated.

You're right about the highlighting of stuff that was simply nonsensical. It's good to get the utter dross out of the way and start concentrating on making the stuff that is valid playable! Character/situation creation is, to my mind, the bit of the game that actually works well at the moment. I'm glad that interesting characters and a strong situation came out of it.

Your comment about loading multiple conditions on one confrontation echoes stuff I was thinking about just this afternoon. As the 'mandatory death' option has been removed (for the moment, it may return. But probably not), I've got the feeling that a slower burn option, plus the opportunity for more drastic condition changes as the game progresses, might be the way to go. I'll have a think about that. Speaking of the mandatory death rules, your comments only highlight that it is, in many ways, fundamentally broken in terms of how it works.

With all the changes that have been made, I'm looking forward to seeing how the second session of play goes. As I said, now that a lot of the absolute dross has been cleared away, it might make the flaws of a lot of other bits clearer. Would you be able to bring your copy of IWAMD along with you? I've not got a copy of my own, and would like to have a glance through it in light of what you said.

Cheers
Malcolm
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Malcolm Craig
Contested Ground Studios
www.contestedground.co.uk

Part of the Indie Press Revolution
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