My friend Rich, who was in my Wild Blue playtest this past Saturday, recently posted a comment summing up his feelings on the playtest. I think it’s important that everyone see the player’s side of things rather than just mine, and I realize that not everybody looks at the comments on this blog; so me of you just subscribe to the feed. As such, I’m re-posting his comment in this news post, and I’ll be replying to the comment throughout. Block quotes are Rich’s comments.
From a player perspective – Overall a very positive gaming session, lots of fun was had, bad jokes were made, the berserker went berserk and possibly ruined all our plans….*@#$ berserkers. (not that he shouldn’t of played that way, I mean, after all, he’s a berserker.) Oh, and quite possibly the most important side effect – creation of a new gamer. John really enjoyed himself, and wants to be in on future gaming. But now on to some comments on the system.
It’s always really good to hear that the players had fun, and it’s an even bigger stroke to my ego to know that I’ve helped convert a new player. Viva la hobby!
Things to improve upon -
Kind of hard to learn/So much to keep track of – I haven’t actually read through the rules (but I will soon, and post comments for you) so we all learned from Brian’s explanations. Since I’ve playtested the system before and I’m into working on rules systems and such, I didn’t have too hard of a time grasping the mechanics. Mike faired alright with it, but John was pretty well lost in it all. He was getting confused with all the options for activating skills, why traits don’t always apply, how specialization works, etc. In all, I might say that the system is too complex to recommend for beginners. However, as noted before, John did still have a good time.
I’m really glad John had a good time. Interestingly, my friend Chris played an older iteration of this system and thought it was really good for beginning players because of its focus on narrative over rules. Of course, he’s a big gamer (more board games than RPGs), so he’s pretty familiar with mechanics in general. I have tried to simplify things a bit in the current beta, though.
Character specialization – like most point based character systems, you run into the “highly specialized” issue. This is where characters are very good at what they do, and really bad at the rest. While this can make for some better roleplay (characters who are good at everything are so boring), it can make for excessively challenging conflicts. When the BBEG can attack anyone either Physically, Socially, or Mentally, it gets difficult to mount a suitable defense. The broad interpretation of the skill sets helps counter this, since we saw Academia, Subterfuge, and another skill used against mental attacks and even awareness and legerdemain as physical defense. I guess some of the issue may have come from the lack of knowledge that the players had in creating the characters – we were all mainly focused around physical aspects of the world.
Massive quantities of dice – not necessarily a bad thing, but it really starts to bog down play when counting out 27d6 then hunting for the successes. Play is even more bogged when you run into silly dice superstition like rolling one die at a time.
This is more a function of artifacts of the old style of character creation. Saga is not, strictly speaking, a point-based system, though you get some point-buy elements toward the end of character creation. It has elements of point-buy, but it also uses prioritization of assets and skills instead of point buy, and you get a set number of traits to start. Wild Blue works a little differently, using a sort of narrative character creation instead. In some ways it’s a little more free-form, like a point-buy system. Now, I agree that the system does lend itself somewhat to specialized characters, but it is possible to create a generalist in this game; at least, I think it is. I’ve never actually tried, but I did try to make it possible. Now, as to specialization being a bad thing; I think it can be, in the wrong hands, but I also think that (like you said), it’s boring when the PCs are good at everything. I think that the PCs should have to do something that they’re bad at from time to time, or else they become complacent and, even worse, bored. Challenge is good.
As to the massive quantities of dice, I agree that this is a problem. I’ve tried to remedy that in the most recent beta, though it remains to be seen if I succeeded. I did include a rule that allows you to trade in dice for automatic marks, on a 3-for-1 basis.
The fuzzy line – I’m talking about the one between RPing out an interaction and running a social conflict. In your post, you mention that we didn’t actually “win” any social conflicts – I think this stems in part from the habits we may have from other games – roll a gather information check and what you get is what you get vs. this system’s “roll to see if you break down the defenses, nope, try again, nope, try again, ok, you have worn them down” (it wasn’t quite like that, but in a way) Some of this may be settled by stating clearly “You are now in a battle of wills – if you win the battle, you get the info you want. If you don’t, you won’t get the info and you’ll suffer X as consequences.” Or, as players go along they’ll start to understand what the consequences will be and they no longer need to be spelled out. Since each “round” that we played gave us more info and we were talking a lot of it out, finishing the conflict “per the rules” didn’t seem necessary.
I think it’s probably a good idea to set down the parameters of a conflict before it happens, so everyone knows what to expect, and I’ll try to incorporate that into the game at some point in the future, for those who think similarly. Also, I should mention that while you didn’t “win” that social conflict with the old lady, you didn’t “lose” either. It ended prematurely, because John got information through alternative means. Which is fine. It actually worked out quite well, in the long run.
Kismet – What is this Kismet stuff, really? And why should it make damage into a 50/50 good/bad toss-up? I’d consider that every mark on a kismet roll can be spark, but every other result is doom.
I’ve made kismet a little more bad and a little less good. Hitches (1′s and 2′s) are always bad. Marks (5′s and 6′s) are only good if you have no hitches. This still might not be enough. I do like your idea of making everything below a mark a bad result, but that might increase player mortality rate a bit more than I want it to. Originally kismet was always bad, and I found that nobody ever used it. That’s why I made it sometimes good; to make it something of a gamble. You might come out ahead, but you might wind up bringing yourself that much closer to your Doom, too.
Wow, I can really get to typing sometimes, huh?
Yep. Welcome to the club.
What to definitely keep – FUN. We had fun. Therefore it was good. But more specifically -
Character creation – I had some fun with this, especially coming up with new traits and specializations. It’s also cool to see how you can use the traits in new and exciting ways once play has started.
Drives – While we saw very little in the way of mechanical “gain” for the players from the drives, I think it was very helpful for everyone to have these defined on paper, right in front of them. While I initially was opposed to the idea of a mechanical drive aspect that allows players to gain bonuses from the kind of roleplaying that they “should” do anyways, I found that having it there really was encouraging to all of us to try and fulfill those drives.
That was pretty much what I was going for. I wanted traits to be both a way for you to get out of tight spots or to hedge your bet, and a way for you to define your character in both narrative and mechanical terms. Rather than having a list of attributes that describe you physically and mentally, you just say, “this is what I can do.”
Drives came from the idea that I wanted to be able to give characters nudges in specific directions, as well as to give them some direction that they could define and follow themselves. I also wanted the most potent reward structure to be based off of what was important to individual characters. Rather than saying, “you get XP for killing things or completing quests”, I wanted characters to get rewarded for doing things that their characters would find rewarding, and gain confidence from.
“Spark” – used for narrative control and story effect was pretty cool, but might have had less impact than I would have liked. At one point it seemed that we would spend spark to undo things that could have been undone with fortune instead. It may be worthwhile to investigate the possibility of drive-generated spark for storytelling only, and scenario based XP or similar for character improvement.
I see what you mean about spending Spark when fortune would have done the trick, and I think that’s something that players and GMs will have to suss out for themselves. You guys could probably have spent fortune to make the darkness go away. Forcing the BBEG to stay in one form was definitely a job for Spark, though. As far as story-related Spark rewards, I had thought of that. I didn’t want Spark rewards to just be a way for the GM to say “good job”, though. I wanted Spark gain to be somewhat at the players’ control, even if the GM has the ultimate say (though a good GM will pick up on his players’ cues).
Story driven – the ability to run a game that everyone is into despite the lack of “overt conflict” is a real accomplishment. Not sure if this is more a reflection of the GM or the system or both, but whatever it was, it worked, and we’re all looking forward to playing again.
Thank you. Just, thank you. This is high praise, particularly in light of the fact that I ran the game and created the system and setting. Thanks. I’m really glad you had fun; I had a blast.
Skill usage – already been mentioned once or twice, but the ability to use almost any skill that can be made relevant in some way. Another great way that encourages some creative thinking and RP.
What I’ve found is that this particular aspect of the game really encourages players to describe their actions rather than just saying “I attack with my axe,” or whatever. I ran a playtest a while ago that was entirely combat, but there was a lot of description and improvisation going on, and it wound up being really memorable. For me, at least.
What to rattle around in your head -
Magic system – magic systems are tricky to nail down. I liked the broad, sweeping definitions vs. specific spells and effects. I like the idea of resonance. I didn’t like the seeming lack of effect that magic had (and some of that may have been that I wasn’t applying it to skills appropriately). I didn’t like the way resonance works – almost too arbitrary, and with more than one magic user, a GM would have to be painstakingly careful not to invoke resonance on one more that the others. May I suggest – Whenever a magic ability is used, a character gains resonance – For a discreet use, one resonance token is gained; Continued use in a conflict situation accumulates 1 resonance per round; Using a gift for an entire scene causes a character to gain 3 resonance. Whenever a character gains resonance, they make a resonance roll. Each mark causes the character to lose one resonance token. Each 1 or 2 invokes one of their drawbacks and causes them to lose a resonance token. A 3 or 4 has no effect. A character automatically loses 1 resonance at the end of each scene, but must make a resonance roll at the start of the next scene. As an option for GMs, each time a character gets a 1 or 2 on their roll, instead of immediately activating a drawback, they can pool those dice for use at an appropriate time in the game.
I like your ideas a lot. The magic system is still in its infancy. Saga, itself, doesn’t have a magic system, since it’s meant to be generic. The magic system I used was something I hammered out for Wild Blue specifically, and I’ll be the first to admit that it really does need some work. On paper, I thought the idea of building up a pool of tokens that the GM could use to hamper you with weirdness was a cool idea, but in play I think it creates an unnecessarily adversarial relationship between GM and magic-using players, and I often avoided using Resonance for just that reason. There’s a similar problem with traits in that I can invert them to hamper you, but you at least get a fortune token out of the deal if I do that. I’m thinking about putting that more in the players’ hands, allowing you to voluntarily invert a trait in order to get a fortune token (though I think I’ll retain the GM’s ability to do it, too).
Lastly, inverted traits – Allowing inverted traits to be bought off by fortune points is fine, but it’s also good to offer an alternative method – “I need a drink” should be able to be bought off by taking a round of conflict to do nothing but get out the bottle and take a swig. Lawman could be uninverted by intentionally commiting a crime (in view of those for whom lawman was a negative quality)
Yeah, that’s a good idea. I might pilfer that.
Thanks, Rich, for all the feedback; I think it’ll ultimately be very helpful. Go ahead and shoot me an email about the other stuff you wanted to talk about.