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[Final Hour of a Storied Age] Improving the flow of my mechanics

Started by Dan Maruschak, April 20, 2010, 11:28:06 PM

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Dan Maruschak

I've been working on Final Hour of a Storied Age, my GM-less "plot-first" game that produces stories in the Epic Fantasy genre (a la The Lord of the Rings, The Wheel of Time, or The Sword of Truth). I've done four playtests so far over several different revisions (playtest 1 audio, playtest 1 text AP, playtest 2 audio, playtest 2 text AP, playtest 3 audio, playtest 3 text AP, playtest 4 audio, playtest 4 text AP). Right now I'm feeling pretty good about the "situation setup" part of the game (although there are occasional rough patches and I'll definitely need to tweak it before the game is finalized). The gameplay that happens after that, which plays out in a series of "chapters" like an epic fantasy novel, has been more problematic.

In all of the playtests that I've conducted people have commented about the "complexity" of the mechanics. I had trouble understanding this for a while, since I didn't think the mechanics were ever computationally complex, but I think I did figure out at least part of the problem people were having. In a few places in the rules the results of certain game mechanical events would feed into multiple distinct subsystems in parallel. Since it's hard to do two things at once people would generally go down one path first and then have to mentally "back up" to deal with the other subsystem, which tends to be a lot more mental work than moving forward. For example, winning the bid to provide adversity for the chapter would both set the player's budget within the chapter as well as give them a currency that they would be able to use for the bidding rounds of later chapters. Additionally, winning an individual exchange within a chapter would result in giving that player narration authority within the chapter but also give them points that would determine whether their side was on track to win the chapter overall. I was always forgetting to track victory points because it was too easy to get invested in the moment-to-moment narration, and then play would get disrupted when we had to think back and reconstruct what the current victory point totals should be.

In the latest revision of the rules (rev 0.6, download from here) I've tried to eliminate some of the "feed into multiple subsystems" stuff. First off, I completely eliminated the bidding system that was used to frame chapters. Nobody was having much fun with it, including me (in addition to the issues I'm talking about here, the "compulsory spend" aspect of the system seemed to be particularly grating). I'm now using a dice-rolling system to determine who the Spotlight and Adversity players are. I do also use that same die roll to generate their budgets within the chapter, but I hope that it's less likely to cause confusion because the actual mechanism is to just leave the dice on the table if you win the initial roll, and then use the dice like tokens to purchase mechanical effects within the chapter. Second, I revised the in-chapter dice system to use attrition rather than victory point tracking, so the ultimate winner is determined at the end of the final exchange rather than via a parallel bookkeeping system.

I would appreciate feedback about the latest version of the game. Most specifically, I am worried that my "roll your Story Dice to determine your role within the chapter, spend the Story Dice based on the numbers showing in order to activate Traits, use the Traits to get Action Dice, roll the Action Dice to resolve an Exchange" sequence (see "Part III: Playing Out Chapters" in the rules, on pages 21 to 29, and the big example from pages 30 to 38) might be confusing since you have to use different dice in different ways at different times. Does the system make sense? Does the text explain it clearly?

Gregor Hutton

Hey Dan

I think it's all there in the rules, and I imagine having to go through it quite procedurally and slowly to make sure it's right. If I'm not so careful I feel I might get off track (OK, now I leave my dice on the table. oops, remember to count the exchanges, err, what am I rolling for again?). Like you say it's a lot of using the dice in different ways for different reasons at different times. I think that's hard to explain at the table without a cheat-sheet/summary in front of everyone. It's just that I feel the person who's read the rules might understand it with some reading but it's harder for everyone else and it's somehow got to be explained at the table. Kinda reminds me of one of my favourite Goon Show quotes:

Greenslade: Seagoon and Bluebottle traveled by sea. To avoid detection by enemy U-boats they spoke German throughout the voyage, heavily disguised as Spaniards.
Sellers: As an added precaution they travelled on separate decks and wore separate shoes on different occasions.
Seagoon: The ship was disguised as a train, to make the train sea-worthy it was done up to look like a boat and painted to appear like a tram.
Milligan: It's all rather confusing, really.

Hmm, so while it's GMless I think it's needing at least one, and ideally two or more, of the group to know the system quite well. I must say that my eyes also glossed over momentarily at the word "Tax"!

Would a "cheat listing" help for the order of play. Outed from the text and put on a single sheet for easy reference in play?

Do This.
Then That.
Now This.
Protagonist: d20 Stages 1-6, d10 Stages 7-9.
Antagonist: d12 Stages 1-9.
Next Part.
Do This.

I hope this helps.


  When I played it, the flow was pretty good. I like how the economy works.
  But, when I read the revision, I found myself confusing Story Dice and Action Dice.
  I do think the text would benefit from an "executive summary" at the beginning of each chapter. I think  you accidentally (or possibly intentionally) used a writing technique to draw the reader in, where you reference things that aren't explained yet. But, I think for a rules manual, this is not necessarily a good technique. It has the danger of provoking the reader to speculate on what the rule will be and causing a distraction from reading and comprehending the rules they are reading now.
  Overall, it is a good game and I like the rules as written. And I think you are doing a good job of playtesting it and revising based on the results of that playtesting.
  Keep up the good work man!
Dave M
Author of Legends of Lanasia RPG (Still in beta)
My blog
Free Demo

Dan Maruschak

I ran a playtest of rev 0.6 last week. I posted the audio on my playtesting podcast and a text summary of the session on my blog. There were elements that worked well, but we also messed up a few of the procedures. I'm hoping that poor explanations rather than intrinsic complexity were the problem. I'm going to try to make a flowchart to help illustrate the procedures to see if that will help with the explanations.

Dan Maruschak

Dan Maruschak

I did some major editing, especially to the confusing "playing out a chapter" section, and posted a rev 0.61 PDF of the rules. I'd appreciate any feedback anyone wanted to offer. (I'd also appreciate volunteers to playtest with me over Skype, but I understand that is a lot to ask).