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[Hell for Leather] Blow up the Moon & Bean Sprout Murder!

Started by Sebastian K. Hickey, February 21, 2010, 10:18:42 PM

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Sebastian K. Hickey

For this week's Grind I'd like to talk a little about the results of a playtest I ran at Itzacon last weekend.

What a bunch of creationizers! The two newbies (Alan and Susan of Conpulsion fame) dished out superlative brilliance. We got to play space anarchists in a world of moon cities and uber-mines. Think of it as Hfl: Ecopunk.

World Building

Setting: Space, heavy machines (a la Aliens), mining facilities
Adversary: The Corporation
Gore Threshold: 5
Connection: "GreenWar," eco-warriors
Drop-Off/Objective: Drifting escape pod / Lunar space lift
Checkpoints: Travel to the Moon, Destroy the mining crater, Get on board the executive Express Lift


I'm not one to dwell on the characters, but we ended up with some total gold:
  • Bob "the Bean Sprout" Jones, the cowardly genetic scientist—"Helping plants fight back!"
  • Equality, the arrogant internal commissar—to make sure we did our terrorism by the book
  • Lars Moondust, the negligent demolitions guy—with tie-dye grenade belt
  • Sumant, the obsessive hacktivist—best line: "I'll find the info with my laptop," before using it as in implement of torture


So much good stuff. How to summarise? Here's how one of the players described it:
QuoteJust returned from ITZACON, where we had a brilliant game playing members of GREENWAR...plants for planets! Planets for plants!...blowing up orbiting nuclear power plants with modified bean sprouts, organizing a robot uprising on the moon and assorted shenanigans."

Assorted shenanigans = The most hippie-minded terrorists I've ever encountered in fiction. We even had hemp spacesuits and "the Volkswagen camper van of stellar technology." It was B movie extraordinaire, with a tinge of green, what you might think of as Hippysploitation.

Nevertheless, everyone died in the end. Well, nearly everyone. After we exploded the moon and replaced the surface with man-eating bean sprouts, our geneticist got hoisted by his own petard. Nyum, nyum, said the enormous vegetation. Lars got everyone to the roof with the obligatory "get to the chopper!" line before meeting a similar doom. Nyum, nyum, again. Sumant took bullets to the face just after he announced that we always survived machine-gun barrage. Which left Equality to bring the good news of the Corporation's destruction.

20 years later we get an awesome panorama. A gigantic space log trundles past the camera. Slowly it reveals all the planets in the solar system, each puffed up with vegetation like a gargantuan hedgehog. Plants for planets! Planets for plants!

Result: Very funny. But too easy. For this session I tried experimenting with a larger die size (16mm) instead of the usual 12mm option. It made the game too easy, which was still fun, but with reduced tension. Only in the Finale of the game did we adjust the die size back to normal. And then everyone started dying.


   1) Change Felonies so they scale with ethical impact (in the current system, killing ten goons has less impact than torturing an old friend). Good call.
   2) Scale the number of Checkpoints to the number of players. I considered it, but I'm not happy extending the length of gameplay (no matter how many players there are, right now, the playing time does not change).
   3) Punish Failure/Collapse with more Story Pips. Going to test it. Seems like a good idea. I'll discuss why another day.
   4) Siege Finale should be the default game. Agreed.
   5) Guidelines as to how to scale difficulty based on Wounds. E.g. "If you have 0 Wounds when you reach the 1st Checkpoint Challenge, you should all be using the Expert circle." Good call.

I've got another playtest coming up this Wednesday. I'll test out the first and third suggestions. Awesome.

Gregor Hutton

Hey Sebastian

Sounds good. When I next catch up with Alan and Jo (I think Joanne is who you meant by Susan, right?) I'll ask them about it. Alan, in particular, is really good for bouncing systems ideas with (most recently for me when I was on the plane home from Cork), while Jo played the other H4L only a couple of weeks before.

I'm particularly interested in your ongoing attempts with die size, circle radius and all that hoopla. It makes me think of Space Fleet from GW all those years ago and the art of dropping dice into a cardboard box. We got highly skilled at it after a while!

Sebastian K. Hickey

Yes, I meant Joanne. Something wrong with my naming-cortex.

As for the hoopla, I think I've got it figured out. The die size is determined by the sturdiness of the playing table (start at 12mm for a solid table, or try 16mm for a wobbly one). User discretion.  The circle radius is larger than before (with optional "expert" level). 95mm I think.

This all works assuming you use the "right technique." I'm going to film a "technique" video this week, which I'll pop onto the website in late March/early April. I think you can get very good at the die tossing. You can get good at tossing anything if you do it enough (ooh er!).

I found Alan a deep thinker. He brought me onto the topic of PvP and PvE, and the discomfort that some players have with the former, and how to alleviate it. Very interesting guy, with lots of experience and enthusiasm. It was great to see him free-form with the story. However, I have to say that I thought, on the day, Joanne showed us all up with her crafty, tangential storytelling and imagery. She has such a great handle on delivering cinematic dialogue.

Sebastian K. Hickey