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[Genesys] My First Play-Test Report(tm)

Started by Vordark, May 08, 2009, 08:56:47 PM

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For reference, the system is here:

While I have run a number of sessions using the Genesys core rules, I haven't until this week had the opportunity to focus on a sub-system and give it the good throttling it deserves.  This week I chose the combat system, with a specific focus on ranged combat/firearms.  The result of this play-testing was...interesting.  Here are the highlights, in no particular order.

When first designing the system I wanted a more "realistic" approach to combat.  That is, I wanted the average person who was shot with a gun to be in a world of hurt unless they had taken some precautions (such as wearing a bulletproof vest).  This is something I've always enjoyed about games like Call of Cthulhu, a game where combat was something best avoided or entered into as a last resort and only if the characters were prepared.  Well, it seems like I got this in spades.

Two combatants with average hit points squaring off with 9mm pistols in the game, and no body armor, pretty much results in whoever wins the initiative winning the combat, possibly without taking any damage in the process.  Part of me wants to shout "Yay!  I did it!" but another part of me thinks that such situations could really suck for the average player, particularly if they are used to the "kick-in-the-door" style of game.

Going through the various combat options there is a definite emphasis on (and reward for) tactical thinking such as taking cover, fighting more or less defensively, etc.  My gut tells me that if the players are exposed to (indoctrinated) to think in these terms it will be fun for all.  The psychological effect of the combat system is at the top of my list of things to observe in future sessions.

Another thing I discovered was that it quickly became apparent that some combat options (full attack, for instance) were almost no-brainer decisions.  That is, a player would, in most cases, be nuts not to use the "option" every time.  This resulted in the bulk of the re-balancing I've had to do to the system.  I think what I have now is much better, with the various options forcing difficult questions with very different answers depending on the situation.  This has become my number two priority for observation (seeing if players choose the same options over and over, or how they change things up).  I must say that I am partially at a loss for how to properly evaluate the player response to these different options.  My plan is just to observe the ratios the players' choices end up following (how often the players choose one option over another and is that a problem?).  If someone has a better idea I'd love to hear it.

Finally, I realized that one of my attempts at creating simplicity actually resulted in complexity and confusion.  Genesys puts a cap on things called "situational modifiers" where the sum total cannot exceed -3 or +3.  But, as I deemed some things to have significant effects outside of this normal range I had some bonuses and penalties that did not apply to the cap.  I'm sure you can all see the clusterf*ck that sprouted up for this.  After going through the rules for the upteenth-bazillionth time, revising this and that in response to feedback and play-testing, even I was having difficulty keeping track of what was what.  So, I scrapped the caps and basically made all modifiers created equal.

In my next report I hope to be able to focus on the interactions between the players, write about how quickly they absorbed the idea of using the various tactical options and how they truly feel about the core rules having a fairly deadly combat system.  I've already updated the core rules to reflect many of the revelations I experienced as mentioned above, so the next report should also include some reactions to the tweaks.

P.S.  It should be noted that the first plug-in I created for Genesys is one that adds a "cinematic" flair to the game and makes combat much less deadly ("It's only a flesh-wound.").


As a thought, most people who do actually "kick in the door" like police or the army, use grenades or other explosives in order to disrupt potential ambushes. If you want your game to be about cover, then be sure to give attackers a way to produce it as well.

I once created a game where any attack that hit killed, and cover could nullify attacks. One important difference was that basically everyone did their movement/special actions in a normal initiative way, then fired, and anyone who did not have cover had a reasonable chance of death. This meant that high initiative or no, you couldn't just waltz into a fight and come out spotless by virtue of combat being deadly! This is the constant paradox of "lethal systems"; many are intended to discourage pointless gung ho combat, but they actually encourage it because of how people can take out a room of guys before they see them enter. I didn't use the system in the end because the way it included covering fire into the movement system was a bit ugly to some eyes, and also because it didn't fit any of the settings we were into.

Pure observation does work; the halo guys built the game by running thousands of people through it and tweaking it until the stats lined up nicely, so it works, but it's slow! The other classic way to do it, once you have an inkling of what might be wrong, is to run weird one-shot tests of the circumstances you think could cause problems, and talk to the players there about what "feels wrong" with it.


JoyWriter:  After tweaking the combat system and listening to the players I've come to believe that Genesys is not unnecessarily lethal.  With the tactics and various special combat actions, which can be reasonably held in the players' heads, combat doesn't have to end in a single round with the winner of the initiative winning the battle.  The tactics you describe (police/army) is a great example of how the players are expected to think (given just the core rules).

In other news, in response to the play-testing and feedback (I'll write up a detailed report that makes sense to more than just me, one of these days) I've just put up the latest revision (

I think it's safe to call this version the "feature freeze" release.  I believe that I have made all of the major adjustments necessary to make the game work and now I'm just trying to mop up stray imbalances and whatnot.  As always, I'd love to hear from anyone else on this board that is play-testing the thing.


For situations like these I always remember the high rates of fire vs how often people are hit in usual combats. The typical examples being how many rounds fired within 30 feet in what space of time and how many hits, with or without cover.

The end results I come up with is always that offense and defense come at the cost to one another like a bell curve. To excel in one is to have none of the other, and as long as your game system doesn't have huge chunks of action or time able to go unanswered, then your first actions should be defensive ones.


For those of you who are play-testing Genesys, or are thinking about it, the rules (and especially available plug-ins) have seen a new revision.  It can be found in the usual place (

I'm also happy to report that play-testing has moved beyond the core rules and extensive testing is being done for the plug-ins I've provided, especially the Wizardry plug-in.  For those of you interested in magic systems, I would like to strongly encourage you to take a look at Wizardry and lend me your thoughts and experiences.

As far as play-testing notes go, yeah, I suck.  I have scattered notes that make perfect sense to me, but I doubt anyone else would look at them and say anything but "What the hell is he on about?"

I do have some observations though:

1.  Character creation continues to be very fast.
2.  I am told that the way characters are created, and the usefulness of the various advantages makes for a lot of tough decisions (which I believe is a good thing).

The Wizardry plug-in has garnered a couple of specific comments as well:

1.  Creating a new spell is "fast as hell".  The average time from concept to finished spell seems to be three to five minutes.
2.  The various Components and Limitations to consider when creating a spell also result in a lot of tough decisions (again, a good thing I think).
3.  It seems people are very hard-pressed to figure out effects that can't be described in the system.

Now that the Wizardry plug-in is moving into regular play-testing I think I'll have a lot more to report in the coming weeks.

Something I continue hearing from people are the words "easy" and "fast".  Invariably these are being called Good Things.  I'm worried that I might have simply gotten a hold of a clump of people that are really into things being easy and fast, as opposed to a more diverse sample.  If anyone is play-testing Genesys I'd really like to hear what kind of reactions people are getting from their players in terms of these aspects.  Is creating a character or spell truly easy or fast?  Are your players gushing about this?  Do they not really care?

I really want to cast the play-testing net as wide as possible because (obviously) the people doing the most play-testing are people I know personally.  As I'm sure everyone here knows, groups of friends are self-selecting.  I'm worried that because I (like everyone else) seek out similar people for friendship that I'm missing out on feedback from people that enjoy gaming, but are otherwise completely different.