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[Hell for Leather] Igor and the flying castle

Started by Sebastian K. Hickey, February 08, 2010, 07:53:02 AM

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Sebastian K. Hickey

In the third of the Warpcon XX playtests, I talk about a six player session of Hell for Leather.

The table was rammed full of creative beacons. Armed with the Gaelcon convention director (Andrew Coffey), my chief playtester (Daniel Klein), Warpcon troll (Ger Mulholland), two IGA GMs ("Hudson" and "Gogz") and myself, we were ready to blast the game beyond its intentional scope. It was a pleasure just to absorb the whirlwind of happy ideas. After half an hour of give and share, we ended up with a battery of wonderment. Hell for Leather Steampunk?

Setting: Steampunk, 19th century experimental science
Adversary: Bavarian Tyranny
Gore Threshold: 5
Connection: Project Thunder (Science experiment)
Drop-Off/Objective: Geneva/Castle Hybridine
Checkpoints: Steal the Iron Falcon, Destroy Castle Centinel, Start a Lightning Storm

One of the reasons I love Hell for Leather is that you end up with characters like "Igor, the negligent Igor," or "Werner von Hofstadt, the arrogant electromagnetologist," and there are rules to support their flaws. Ah, the joy of genre gaming!

The first Checkpoint was the clumsiest. The players took a couple of minutes to get a feel for narrative control, so there was some trickiness in stitching scenes together. Nevertheless, we persevered, and by the time we boarded the Bavarian war zeppelin, the game was coasting smoothly. The second Checkpoint was hilarious. We had to destroy the Centinel, a gigantic steam-centipede with a city on its back. The solution involved Igor, a big missile, and some rope. Ger Mulholland, who played Igor with reserved brilliance, toppled the Heat stack and incurred himself a wound. Using his Flaw, he narrated how Igor rode the missile toward his target (a la Dr. Strangeglove), forgetting to attach himself to the safety cord (a rope tied to the zeppelin), and leapt into the canopy before his iron steed exploded. Thankfully he survived. For now.

Cutting to the end, let me say there was some freaky shenaigans from the "sleazy engineer" (with robots and a kind of cock wrench), some brutal moments from the "obsessive disenfranchised coal baron" (with courier delivered granny bombs), and some glorious triumphs for Igor (just so he didn't have to rearrange all the cannons in the castle, he persuaded the army to attack from the other side).

Finale: Find out the Titan's weakness, Get into the Titan, Kill the Titan's captain, Take off in the electric castle

Not many of the playtests reach the Finale (the mini-game at the end of play). It's a measure of this playtest's success that we made it through. It was a legendary piece of gaming. We all died, of course, but Andrew Coffey survived to the very last pip. There was one roll left. If he made it he would have lived on. If he failed...well, he did fail, and got chopped up by an army of uncontrollable automatons. Sniff.

Result: It wasn't gory, bloody or dark, but it was great. I didn't have much time for feedback, as the convention hall was coming to a close, but I got the impression that the guys enjoyed the experience. Two of the players were explicitly interested in playing again, and that tells me that things are getting better. On reflection, the more I understand what about the conflict resolution makes this game fun, and the more I leave the rest up to the people at the table, the better the experience. Player investment = enthusiasm.

Rule Revision: We got a chance to test the Aftermath system[1] with a large group of players. The benefit was that individuals were singled out to spin new narrative after Events. While this on-the-spot attention sounds aggressive, it's actually a great way to draw shy players into the narrative. The whole "what now?" phenomenon had vanished.

New Rule: The Flaw "sleazy" doesn't work. It has been hacked form the game. No other rules were changed. Does that mean we're nearly ready to publish? How exciting.

1 A system to direct narrative control after events are resolved.