Last night saw the second playtest session of Shipwreck. The first playtest session is discussed here (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=29756.0). You can download the version of the mechanics that we were using here (http://collective-endeavour.com/forums/?PostBackAction=Download&AttachmentID=7). As so much had changed from last week, we decided to start again from scratch, creating a new situation and characters.
We ended up with the tale of HMS Aurora, a sloop travelling from Plymouth to the Galapagos for scientific purposes. Or was she? Anyhow, she was wreck trying to escape the French frigate La Gloire as she rounded the Cape of Good Hope. The survivors found themselves washed up in the cold, inhospitable fjordland of the Tierra del Fuego. The Threat was the continued presence of Gloire and her crew, hunting for the survivors.
Because we were now more familiar with the situation and character creation, things moved a little more quickly than last time. The main changes when creating characters this time around were that you could only start with one Advantage and one Possession. To get these you must get into Debt with another character (a dark secret or wounding accusation that this other character knows about) and this debt must be detailed when it is offered. This was one thing that really helped to make the starting characters more vibrant and help to inform play.
We ended up with:
Gideon Proops, ageing naturalist/scholar
Debts: M'Bengo knows I am a homosexual, Jervis knows I am an addict
M'Bengo, Barbary Corsair turned Royal Navy seaman
Debts: Proops knows I spy for the French, The Lascar saw me with a goat...
Muralithian, aka 'Lascar Mike', an Indian sailor of long service
Debts: Jervis saw me kill the ships officers during the wreck; M'Bengo knows I practice 'black magic'
Lord Darby Jervis, terrified 14 year old midshipman
Debts: The Lascar knows of my cowardice, Proops knows I am a minor Royal in hiding
The number of Other Survivors that could be added to the big play sheet is now mandated at a minimum of one and a maximum of two per player. We ended up with: Simmons (the Captain's clerk), Obadiah Muddledrake (the incompetent 3rd lieutenant), Daisy Sullivan (the Captains daughter), O'Leary (the drunken ship's cook), Father Maynard (a Royal Navy chaplain), Brooks (a burley seaman), DuPont (a French Royalist serving in the Royal Navy).
Creating the map also proved to be quicker and smoother, a benefit of reducing the number of features each person adds at the start of the game from two to one.
In play, things were much better than last time, although there are still holes you could sail a three-decker ship of the line through. Positive things this time round were that, due to the changes, the Threat came in to the game in a much more interesting way. The Threat now draws cards based on how many chips it removes from the Tension pool. The first time the Threat appears in the story, it can only take four. The second time, it can take six. The third (and each subsequent) time it appears, it can draw up to eight. At this stage, each time the threat is beaten in a conflict, the maximum number of cards it can draw reduces by one.
There's a slight problem here, as after the first few encounters with the Threat, the Tension pool was depleted and the final time we saw the Threat in this session, they only had one cards to draw. Additionally, drawing eight cards is not as powerful as it might seem. One the characters had acquired a few possessions and another advantage or two, they could be drawing almost as many cards. So, either the number of cards drawn for the survivors goes down or the number of cards drawn for the threat goes up. Perhaps for each point of Tension taken from the pool, the Threat gets to take two cards, with a maximum of, say, ten cards? I'll need to think about that.
The ability to create Possessions as the result of a conflict win was something that came up during play. The way it currently stands, it's far too easy to create and take new possessions. The suggestion was that creating a new possession must be the explicit goal of a conflict and that this is the only way to create them (for example: M'Bengo says that his goal during a conflict is to create the new possession of 'musket'. He's facing the Threat in this scene, so fictionally he might take a musket from a French sailor). This would depress the possession economy and make them more valuable. Oh, and it was suggested (and adopted) that when you create a Possession, you can't immediately take it. It must go in to the general pool of possession, then you need to spend another success to have your character take it.
Many other positive suggestions came out of pay such as that in a character vs. environment conflict, you only ever get your goal and other success are burned off. The suggestion that NPCs can be killed off by a single Condition in early scenes also look to be positive as, compared with last week, there was very little in the way of injury, death, and madness. The game also needs to see even more that drives character vs. character conflict, as well as co-operation between characters.
By the end of ten scenes, there was a pretty strong story developing. Proops had become de facto leader of the survivors, browbeating the remaining ships officers into submission. Jervis had battered a French officer unconscious and taken his sword, only to be gunned down by French troops in a later scene. Lascar Mike had proved himself to be a skilled hunter (and killer), only to be wounded by the French in the same scene that Jervis was shot. Gloire bombarded some coastline, landed troops, and generally made a nuisance of herself. he Threat does need to be more threatening, though!
I'm sure Gregor, Joe, and Matt will all have additional comments to make. Playtesting will be on hiatus for the next three or four weeks as I make changes to the game text and get some out of play commentary on it. Shipwreck has changed enormously and beneficially over the course of just two playtest sessions. In a few months, with more revision and intensive playtesting, it might be in a more shipshape condition.