I was able to run a playtest of Hell for Leather RPG on Friday afternoon.
It was incredibly ridiculous with an ensemble cast of hateable celebrities (like Davina McCall), and therefore massively entertaining. Without going into a comprehensive recital, I'd like to use this playtest to showcase the latest in a line of rules tweaks.
Using the standard Frame, the three players (Eoghan Farrell, Feargal Keenan and Hugo Boylan of the UCD Games Society (http://gamesoc.netsoc.com/?q=node/2)) chose "cell-mates" as their Connection. In the new rules, character creation requires only three components: Flaw, Concept and Talent, where Concept links directly to the Connection. The guys liked the idea of playing action movie stars in the world of tomorrow and, with a little prompting, indicated their relationships to one another—overt and nationalistic camaraderie stemmed from gruelling co-habitation in a maximum security penal facility. There was Jason Statham and Vinny Jones, the British hard men, versus Vin Diesel, the brunt of extraordinary racial begrudgery.
Musings: The word "Concept" is not good enough for the subject it is supposed to describe. Players didn't easily subscribe to the idea of characters-as-part-of-something. The word "Context" might be more appropriate—it has connotations of the moment, which helps to link the character to the setting and situation.
In the new rules, the game uses a Dealer. He opens the game (describing a Backdrop), pushes the scene against the other players and awards players for their contributions (called Applause) and sets up the Challenge (so players get to use the dice tower). After a Challenge, the role of Dealer swaps. I started the game as the Dealer, to show the guys how it was done. After that, the game ran itself. It was nice to see that the new Target layout was useful. That is, Feargal referenced it to answer questions about the game (instead of asking me).
Musings: After the Dealer sets up a Backdrop, he must push the scene onto one of the players. I didn't explain this clearly enough. The guys thought that they had to Challenge after a Backdrop. In fact, the ideas of Backdrop and Challenge were confused. In one scene, Hugo set up the Backdrop as a sexy pool party in which Vin Diesel was taking off his shirt to join the ladies. He thought he had to make a Challenge, so he asked Vin's player (Eoghan) how he got his shirt off? That is, he meant it to be a Challenge worth rolling for. That's not what a Challenge is for, nor what a Backdrop is for. So, what's the difference? A Backdrop should build a scene in which characters can think/say while a Challenge should build a scene in which characters can do. I need to clear this up in the game text.
More Musings: Often the non-Dealer players were asking the Dealer to build on his description of a scene, probing for information. There was the "are there any guards on the boat?" kind of thing. Despite what my gut has always told me, I like this. It generates a bouncier creative space, and should be encouraged. However, it gives the Dealer a very GM-esque/responsibility-heavy role. But since the Dealer changes so regularly, maybe that's not a problem? To allow for this kind of play, I should formally give the Dealer the power of Veto. That is, if the Dealer doesn't like what you're adding to the narrative (non-character stuff), he can edit your description.
At the end of the game, we got to the Checkpoint too early. The Checkpoint was to "find the map to the launchpad" (in an Aztec temple). Hugo had been Challenged to deal with the local grunts, which he managed with eloquence. In the old rules, Hugo would now have had to roll a Checkpoint Challenge. In the new rules, that's no longer necessary. He added a bit of narrative epilogue to get it to make sense. It forced a longer piece of storytelling which helped with consistency.
Musings: The game was choc-a-bloc with conflict, failure and cinematic success. I'm not sure if the Dealer mechanic has fixed the issue it was designed to fix (to give more breathing space). You see, I'm still confused. Partially this is because Backdrops were used like Challenges (which forced the action too quickly), and partly I think this is what the players wanted (dense absurdity). They hit the game with their balls outside their trousers—ready to do action, murder and mayhem. There was never a dull moment. It's hard to see if the game delivers necessary breathing space when the players are, metaphorically, hyperventilating (and I mean that in a good way). Was that the game's doing or theirs? Either way, it was fun to watch.
Playing time: 2 hours. End Game: Deathamtch. Survivors: Jason Statham (aka Hugo) Ruleset: 1.05