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Robot Clash Playtest

Started by AJ_Flowers, June 04, 2009, 09:28:19 PM

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I decided to run a playtest of the combat system/proto game idea that I tossed on to First Thoughts about a month ago.  Willow: I know I owe you a Tentacle City as well; we're hoping to get some Michiganders together again this month to play with it!  My usual groups play online a lot and that just doesn't seem ideal for Tentacle City to me.

So, that digression was just to mention that the players I worked with are used to playing on-line, and we did the playtest in a chat interface with a dice roller, not live.  One is my husband and three others are people I mainly play with on the internet, including one person who runs a D&D game for us occasionally. None of them are really used to 'indy' style narrative systems, so the way I was designing combat at first was a bit different.

I expanded character generation slightly from my first thoughts thread. My first post about the idea is located here: I'd read that thread to understand what I'm writing about.  I'm trying to replicate the feel of a giant robot anime without all the number crunching associated with giant robot games.  The thing that inspired me to do this was a game a few other friends run on-line that uses the same sorts of themes, but has a really complicated robot combat system with a lot of toggles.  You might wanna read that post just to understand where I talk about what works/doesn't work with the game.

We did a first-start session with character generation allowing players to choose the character types they wanted to play. For this I had a list of attributes and skills for them to choose, and told them to pick three for the player, and from the mech list, pick two from the mech.  Examples of those things should be on the character sheets players submitted (I would link to them in this report but it looks like my work firewall is blocking them, so I'll link them later).  Each character also has seven points of "risks" or bad things that could happen to them while piloting. These we totally free brainstormed.

For the play session, we had 4 player characters in the class of students, and 3 NPC students I also am playing to add some conflict. The students are in a giant robot piloting school in a space station.  The school is partially based on Gunbuster and partially on Ender's Game, including some simulations of space warfare for the students.

The students had some light roleplay where they met for lunch before classes and got to know one another.  For the game system so far, I have decided not to require players to roll on skills if their use is incidental.  This surprised one player, who asked if he needed to make a roll on his "destiny" skill to encounter another student at random.  I told him, as long as he had the skill, he could use it as much as he liked so long as he wasn't acting under duress.  The players are great at doing banter so that was a fun bit to do and required no rolling, just playing the characters off of each other with the occasional person stating they were 'using' a skill or personality trait.

What I really wanted to test out was statistical combat in a variety of things, so the second half of the session was the player characters and NPCs fighting in the simulator. I had a static challenge in the form of a hoarde of drone fighter ships for the players to fight.  This turned out to be a fairly easy challenge as it was 5-dice pools versus 2-dice pools for the drones.  A few players took a hit or two as the bad guys piled on, but for the most part the game didn't get challenging until it was mech versus mech, which is about what I expected.

I discouraged players from bidding death or crippling injury in the 'sim' training, but during the regular combat they otherwise could bid any of the risks that they wanted.  My current rule is that once a player has bid a risk, they can pull it out again and don't have to risk it further if it didn't happen. I think I'm going to change this, though, because in practice, everyone pulled their risks rather than leaving them 'live,' if they had bid them to begin with and won the following clash.  Therefore there was a bit less chance of fallout than I thought there would be and fallout didn't feel cumulative or as dangerous as it should have. Nevertheless, some risks that were bid were failed, causing some dramatic results.

For some NPC rolls I rolled on the table with colored dice as I designed the game rather than using the online machine. This felt pretty good and natural. It was fun to watch the "risk" dice slowly build up to take over the amount of power dice on a machine during a battle. It was also easier to see who was winning any given clash if you could just compare the pips rather than using integers.  However, the 'poses' for what people were doing with their mechs was really vibrant in the text interface.

The fiction of the game worked really well. Keeping characters to just three traits created the sort of broad stereotype characters that work well in this setting.  The two player vs. player fights were pretty amusing.  I'd write more about the fiction but it's sort of hard without linking the sheets. But just as an example, the last two fighters standing were: the Stoic, Heavy character, and the Russian Exchange Student with the trait "Flirtatious." She asked if she could play that trait against the Stoic character to distract him. The current rules for playing traits are, they add two dice to your roll, but are only good for one round per encounter, so you want to save them. He decided to play his Stoic trait to counter, but she beat him by one point.  So she flirted with him, threw him off his game, and won the match, which was a pretty funny result.

The players seemed to have a good time with the game itself.  The risk system isn't quite working as planned. I'm not sure if it's because, compared to rolling number vs number, stat vs stat, it's just "weird" for these players to bid fallout in, or, if it's because it was new, or, if it's genuinely awkward.  I'm definitely not letting people pull out their bids anymore, and we'll see how that goes.  What the players seemed to want is for risks to be more itemized. They liked picking their skills and traits off of a pre-generated list, and wished that risks were generated this way too, instead of being whatever they liked.  I'm not totally sold on this because I like the personal touch that adding your own risks adds.  I'm wondering if I can convert them to my method or if it's the a case of the group being new to this type of game, or if it really is something I should change.

Players also felt that there should be a system for adding additional "stunt" dice to trait rolls, so that all traits weren't created equally, if you had a really good explanation for why you were using that trait in that situation.  I don't want to base this too much on GM fiat, but I can see where it might be fun, so it might possibly work as a thing where either the GM, or other players, can give dice to you.  On the other hand, having been in situations before where players could add dice to one another, it seemed like they just did it all the time due to there being some peer pressure to do so, so it wasn't all that great for the game dynamic IMO.  (I know the term 'fan mail', which one of my other gaming groups used, is from Prime Time Adventures but haven't played it, would be interested in knowing more about how that mechanic works outside of the context of the theoretical 'players give dice to each other' part)

We're playing the game again this Friday and I hope to include a non-combat challenge under duress as well.  I need to make some NPCs and a new conflict for this week and keep at it.