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[TCoT] First Playtest

Started by Excalibur, March 07, 2010, 04:21:35 AM

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TCoT: The Chronicles of Taluria is a high fantasy/steampunk RPG I've been developing since WotC held their setting contest that gave birth to Eberron.

I asked about card-based and dice-based combat mechanics in the First Thoughts forum and pretty much what I expected to happen did happen.

The playtesting consisted strictly of the combat portion of the game, which is meant to be modular for those who want a quick fighting game and not a full-blown RPG.

The playtesters were taken through the original Warrior Dice game in order to set a reference point for them to understand where the new mechanics came from. One of the playtesters was a very experienced gamer with over 10 years under his belt. The other player was new to gaming via D&D and Magic (less than 6 months). Both playtesters were new to the game. I observed and provided rules clarifications and guidance for any rules issues.

We got 3-4 official playtests out of a few random characters. The combat techniques were created by the players. The first two runs were using basic, default attacks and defenses. One run was done with a modified dice mechanic based on the games Warrior Dice and Yahtzee. The other run based on my card mechanic. The next two runs were the same thing only with vamped up characters which simulated experienced characters.

After I went over the character cards and explained the functions of the numbers and boxes during character creation and gameplay, we got down to the actual testing.

The dice-based system. Both players had 6d10. 2 dice were used to determine who went first during each round (the speed Attribute's bonus is applied to either initiative or maneuver). 5d10 were used in a Yahtzee fashion in order to score 3, 4, and 5-of-a-kinds. The combat techniques were displayed on a chart in order from 1-10 so that a 3-of-a-kind (or higher) would trigger the desired attack or defense. This modified mechanic was done in order to curb the complete randomness that a single d10 provided. It gives the player a choice of which attack or defense to choose and therefore made things a bit more tactical during combat.

Both players (I was only able to score 2 playtesters this go around) enjoyed the dice. They found that the Yahtzee-style mechanic offered much more to the game than a straight d10 roll did. However, they also found that any character had a chance of winning if the dice were in that player's good graces.

Both players enjoyed the cards as well, at least at first. Due to the rules, the player with the faster character usually gained the upper hand and shut out the slower character's attacks, making it a very one-sided affair. The losing player had fun losing (RARE!) but admitted that if it kept happening over and over, especially with a min/maxed character, the game would no longer hold that entertainment. They did enjoy the idea of sacrificing their combat techniques in order to go first or gain maneuver (or both) but that left little to be desired for later in the game when it was their turn to attack or defend.

The vamped-up characters were slightly unbalanced on purpose in order to see what would happen in such a situation (more experienced vs less experienced characters).
The card rules were used first and the result was a bloodbath. The more experienced character killed off the less experienced one handily, though it was mainly due to some magic weaponry and tokens that did it.

The results reversed with the dice rules. The weaker character handily beat the stronger one due to the bad luck experienced by the stronger character's player. The dice would not cooperate.

In the end, it was determined that the hand limit for the card rules was too large. Out of 10 cards available in the combat style, one player received 7 and the other 6 (due to Attributes, hand limit is a derived stat). While the players shuffled the cards at the end of each full round (one attack/defense and counterattack/defense, if available), they were usually able to draw their more powerful cards and therefore able to win both initiative and maneuver (which negates the counterattack by their opponent). This became very one-sided and vastly unbalanced. Strategy and tactics using the cards was also a con for new players who may have never played Magic: The Gathering or any RPG.

It was also determined that using the 5d6 mechanic (for combat techniques and 2d6 for initiative and maneuver) was too simplistic. However, it is a rules system which is good for younger players who do not have the tactical and strategic skill to use the cards.

The character cards that were provided had too much information that confused players. There was also an issue with using black and white charts without "seeing" what was being used. I blame this complaint squarely on CCGs :)

Examining the pros and cons of the dice and card rules system, I have devised a new rules set which is going to be tested this coming Friday.

There is a rule which states that every character must have 1/4 (rounded down) of his total combat style slots (10 for starting characters) dedicated to attacks and 1/4 dedicated to defenses. This rule will also apply to the hand limit. Instead of being derived from the main Attributes, a character can only hold 1/4 of his combat style slots in his hand during any full turn (the cards are again reshuffled at that point and both players redraw the hand limit for the next turn). For example, if a character has 10 combat style slots, they must have 3 attacks, 3 defenses, and has a hand limit of 3. If the combat style has 16 slots (the Combat Style is a skill which may gain more slots through application of experience) the character must have 4 attacks, 4 defenses, and has a hand limit of 4.

Initiative and Maneuver are rolled on 2d10 (either of two different colors or two different denominations...i.e. 1s and 10s). To apply the Speed Attribute's bonus, a card from the player's hand is chosen and laid face-down next to the die it modifies. Once both players have played their cards, they are then flipped face-up to determine the outcome. The Force on the card (which determines damage) must be the same value as the speed bonus or lower. If the Force is higher, it is treated as the same value as the speed bonus. <-- This may change, actually, and I might have players write their combat technique initiatives (or buy them as part of the creation process) on the card. I will have to reexamine this.

The remaining cards in the player's hand are used for attack and defense during their particular phase in combat (attack or counterattack).

I am re-designing the character card to include only the final data from the character creation process and relegating the previous design to a generic creation worksheet (or work card? heh). Not only that, I am providing character art in order to display the character to the player and help them get more into the game. The experienced playtester gave me suggestions about marketing, of which I am going to take full advantage! They were awesome ideas.

Finally, each playtester received a free, printed copy of Warrior Dice for their participation (custom-created cards I designed which easily fit in a card protector sleeve--complete with copyright to Warpspawn Games for the original rules). They also received a custom, blank character card for the game. Each gave me their name for the playtester credits if/when the game is published (be it free to print/play, online, or in book form).

Was this a good report for the playtest? Are there any suggestions on what I should look out for or ask the playtesters?

David Berg

Quote from: Excalibur on March 07, 2010, 04:21:35 AM
Was this a good report for the playtest?

It depends.  When I write reports like this (describing what happened, mostly), I feel that I benefit from the process of writing them.  Yours looks thorough and thoughtful to me, thus probably worth your time.  I never get any responses, though, because I haven't premised the report with a question or request to readers.

If you do have questions, ask them near the beginning of the post; allowing them to emerge from a long account will effectively bury them for most readers.

Quote from: Excalibur on March 07, 2010, 04:21:35 AM
Are there any suggestions on what I should look out for or ask the playtesters?

Go into each playtest with some goals and questions in mind.  The players will tell you the most with their actions, but asking them too might help.

Focus on your main design goal(s).  These will allow you to figure out whether given feedback is relevant or irrelevant.  If a player says, "I liked it" or "I didn't like it," then you can ask "Which parts?" and then "Why?"  By probing the "Why?" you can find out if you've failed to achieve your design goals (work on this!), or whether you did achieve them and this particular player doesn't enjoy them (ignore this!).  Like, if you want a game of satisfying strategy and high drama, then you can ignore the player who says, "I like things more mellow, and having to think sucks."

These are just my suggestions, not proven industry m.o. or anything.

here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development


Thanks for the reply and advice! I ran my second playtest session this past Friday and got some really good feedback. It also helped that one of my playtesters was a game designer looking for playtesters so we traded games and let the good times roll!

Before I start with the second playtest, I need to offer a tip. It may have been suggested before, but I'm going to suggest it again. If you are going to demo your game, make sure that you use pleasing graphics and an easy-to-understand layout! A picture is worth 1,000 words and even if the design or graphics aren't going to be the final look for your game, it gives your playtesters a feeling of completeness. In this where the internet is so pervasive in our society it behooves you to spend the extra time to do up a nice design for your alpha and beta tests. It will make all the difference in the world in terms of landing and retaining playtesters!

We also had a few spectators who were asking questions about the game as it was being played (something that didn't happen last time). There were some good questions that helped clear up the rules in question and some were suggestions for the game which I liked (for the most part) and filed under future game expansions.

It turns out that the new card and dice mechanic worked beautifully. We played with the new rule where each player has a hand of 3 cards at the start of a full turn and a throw of 2d10 for initiative and maneuver. One card could be sacrificed to augment either initiative or maneuver in order to win both, win one, or to keep the other player from winning Maneuver.

Nobody really cared about losing initiative because the way maneuver works is if you win, you can choose to either see your opponent's defense card before you play your attack or see your opponents attack card before you play your defense (there are 2 attack and defense phases per turn, one set for you, the other for your opponent). Also, if someone wins both initiative and maneuver, their opponent could not counterattack (basically skipping their attack phase for the turn).

After finishing off my character, we went through the yahtzee mechanic that was tested in the first playtest. It was absolutely dull in comparison. I didn't like it and my playtester didn't like it. The spectators remarked that it would be better with d6's but they also thought that there seemed to be no risk or sacrifice involved. Everyone seemed jazzed about that aspect of the new rules.

I explained the previous set of rules as well, just so I could get input or other indication that the new mechanic might not be the best (of the 4 total). It was unanimously vetoed. And Warrior Dice's original mechanics were also vetoed.

Overall the new version was very well received and players were interested in seeing the updated version of the rules. With any luck, I'll have enough playtesting materials set up for the next round...I ran out of time to design and cut out everything due to RL commitments. So we'll see if a 2-week rotation until this part of the game is more nailed down will work.

I now have my combat resolution mechanic! A hand of 3 cards (out of 10) and 2d10. It seems to satisfy the dice throwers and the card holders equally well in addition to bringing risk, sacrifice, strategy, and tactics to the game.

***Brief intermission while I playtested a game based off of the Olde English Epic Poem Beowulf. Very interesting, a little rough around the edges due to the limited game exposure of the designer, and I'd have to say a solid B-.***

After discussion with the other game, we continued--a lengthy--discussion about TCoT (The Chronicles of Taluria).

It was pointed out that Attributes didn't seem all that interactive, only during character and style creation.
I will be working on this for the adventure-side of the game. The combat-side needs attributes when choosing combat techniques for a character.

It was determined that 12 points strictly for attacks and 12 points strictly for defenses was too limiting.
This started with a question I asked: "Do we really need combat technique points?" The game is supposed to be simple for a player to put together a character. By following the same type of rules that Warrior Dice had, I was becoming frustrated when trying to design combat techniques. We discussed a possible fix: Each character must have at least 3 attacks and 3 defenses in their 10-card deck. The remaining 4 cards may be either/or. This is where we make attributes important to combat: A character may have 1 attack or defense that has a "cost" equal to the full score of the attribute in question. So if you have a 10 Strength, you can have a strength-powered attack that costs 10. The character may have an additional attack at 1/2 that attribute (rounded down). So we could have another attack that cost 5. Another attack at 1/2 that score, rounded down and so on. So a character with a 10 strength can have 4 attacks at 10, 5, 2, and 1. This has met the 3 attack requirement rather easily.

Defenses are the same only the 5th attribute (5 attributes and 1 derived stat), Speed, can be used as wild points to allow for a more expensive defense. Speed is not used in the same way for the standard attacks based on the other 4 attributes.

Effects that raise or lower parts of an attack can be used to raise or lower the cost of a combat technique. So adding electricity damage to an attack might cost an additional +2 to the cost, but adding in another attack type (say a Strength attack with Magic) returns 2 to the cost. This is where we have the combat technique points come into play which may change. I'm thinking about allowing a combat technique to have a total force of 1.5 times the attribute. This still needs work.

Armor, weapons, and certain spells/powers/prayers are now activated/equipped.
I was having a hard time understanding how to add items to a combat style. It has been determined that since weapons and armor have ranks associated with them that would be the cost of the item as well as the force of the item, by default. These items are equipped during the initiative and maneuver phase. The player plays their card as normal (face down in front of the augmented die) and after the cards are turned over, they have the option of using the full force of the equipment to increase one of the dice or they may not add any force to the dice and instead place a number of tokens equal to the force of the equipment. These tokens determine how long armor lasts and parry/damage to weapons. We're very excited to work on this part. Players still retain a full 3-card capacity even though their equipment is now in play.

Spells (such as psionic shields, magic force fields, etc.) are slightly different. While still playing the card, the player may choose how much of the force to add to the dice and to keep. The player is limited to 2 cards in hand to simulate the character concentrating on the spell. Weapons and armor use an all-or-nothing principle and still allow for 3 cards. The player may trade in a magic defense token in order to draw one card (limited to once per turn during initiative and maneuver) representing a break in concentration to consider other options.

The tokens on armor, in both cases, are removed whenever a character receives damage of the type the armor protects against (one of 4 attributes, excluding speed). At 0 tokens, the defense card is returned to the player's deck.

Changes to character creation are being done.
Before the player could allocate 21 points across 5 stats with scores no lower than 1 and no higher than 10. They were also given 50 creation points to buy up their attributes or hits.

That system is going away and is being replaced with 24 points across 5 stats (or remaining 21 in order to curb multiple attributes with more than 10 points in them). The big changes are that the 50 creation point bonus is gone and everyone starts with 5 hits (before final calculation and is added to that). Again, to make things more simple. I may add the creation points back in when the adventure game portion is created. I don't know yet.

Damage types are reduced by 4.
Previously weapons and armor had 4 damage types: cut, chop, crush, and pierce. This caused havoc with the armor defense cards because it isn't uniform and is slightly confusing. So these will be transformed into FX (effects are modifiers to most things in the game and come in the form of prefixes and suffixes).

All costs have a primary attribute associated with them.
So, we've changed how attacks and defenses are purchased and we needed a good way to determine the purchase of a card. To do that, I'm taking a hint from the standard playing card. There will be a suit (symbol) associated with a rank (attribute score) which makes up the full cost. E.g. a Strength attack with 5 force would be listed as Strength:5, 5 Str, or 5<symbol> (some combination). This way players know which stat is required for the technique and allow the player to make a quick decision on whether or not to add the combat technique.

I am aware that this could also bring a new aspect to the game (sort of like Decktet--see boardgame geek's entry). And could make for a very interesting twist in the game through meta-gaming, variant rules, etc.

I have discovered that graphics, even demo graphics, on game parts make it more attractive to playtesters.
The first playtest didn't go so well and people weren't really interested after the first couple of rounds. The players just didn't seem vested in the black and white charts that were in front of them. So I spent a lot of the following week designing graphic-centered cards that were information minimalist. The result was a very pleasing card that represented the character well, displayed only the 5 base attributes, hits, the character's name, and their race. It made a HUGE difference in the attitudes and interest of players. One of the players even said "I would want to play the game because the graphics were nice." This was one of the first playtesters. What did this tell me? That he wasn't really interested in the game after he tried it once. With the new design, he wanted to play again! The ramifications of the simple act of adding graphics and simplifying the information may have gotten my foot in the door to a marketable product!

There was a lot more discussed, suggestions and the like that I won't print here, but I think this was a vastly successful run. I wish I could test each day, but due to RL...*sigh* :)