Sunday, 27 January 2013

Building the Playtest [Optional Core]

I am the Warden!!

On top of everything else going on this past week, there were two playtests for two different games in development: Optional Core and TPK. Today, we're going to talk about Optional Core because this one's actually on my to-do list and TPK is on my why-dude-there's-already-so-much-you-have-to-do list.

The Development Team showed up for their monthly game Friday night and it was the first time we sat down to specifically test out Optional Core. Unlike Killshot, which has a specific setting/timeline/genre, Optional Core is intended for use in nearly anything you can devise for your personal RPG. Up until the day before, I had intended to use an old setting of mine (if anyone happens to have read Combat Advantage #16 from my Emerald Press days, you may recognize Cassia) and adapt it accordingly to suit the characters everyone rolls up. But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed counterintuitive to the purpose of testing Optional Core. I'm not trying to make a game that works within an existing genre or setting, I'm trying to create a game that can handle any genre or setting. Therefore, we should devise the setting at the same time as the characters.

There were, however, certain conditions this setting had to include for playtesting reasons.

Magic: Whatever the percentage of campaigns circling around the world may be, there's no doubt a giant chunk of them using magic to some degree or another. Magic is something we dabbled with during the very early days of building the Optional System during 2011, but it never seemed to click. It worked, but there was something vastly different about magic compared to everything else in the game. It wouldn't do the game any justice if magic was not listed as a top priority in development.

Martial Arts: Killshot highlights the use of firearms and ranged combat, despite the offer of melee combat throughout. I've played a few offshoot games using the Optional System or Killshot in particular where a melee fight broke out, but I want to make sure it works perfectly in Optional Core as a whole. And what better way to test out melee combat than with martial arts?

High Fantasy/Technology: At the moment, I'm using Killshot as a basis for reality in Optional Core's design. What I need to know is how much is too much and do I need to add more to create something larger or is there a way to play something grand in scale with less? One way or another, using a high fantasy or high technology setting will help verify it.

The Answer: Wild West Kung Fu/Wushu

Really? You expected something different.

This one was almost a given, especially given the players involved - cough, FRASER, cough - and the fact that we're using martial arts. Asian cinema is loaded with examples of how the heroes are not just excellent fighters, but capable of superhuman feats and magic through their martial arts. Problem solved.

Here's how we're making it all work. After close to an hour of discussion and character creation, we drafted up some quick rules to handle some of the new features or directly applied those already in writing.

Qi Focus: Also known as ki (and pronounced "chi"), this is the magical source of the heroes' major abilities. Each character uses their qi to perform unique feats and signature moves/actions, but it all stems from this one source. Built as a focus, qi offers up focus dice (+1d12 to start) whenever the characters perform martial arts, use their powers, and jump from branch to branch on a tree.

Initially, we were working on a concept of qi allowing characters to perform any kind of cinematic action that defies reality. For example, while trying to catch up with a moving train, Jade Fist (played by Kieron) leap from their horseless carriage (AKA car) and used the trees to catch up with said train before leaping once more and barely grabbing hold of the caboose's railing.

Maneuvers & Fighting Styles: These worked incredibly well right off the bat and worked perfectly for these types of physical characters. Maneuvers work identical to skills. They grant trained dice (d6s) and are used up once spent until the start of the next scene. A maneuver utilizes physical actions, such as punches, kicks, spins, and others, to help players incorporate descriptions of their actions into extra dice.

Fighting styles are a clone of master skills in that they're more expensive, but represent true dedication to a particular maneuver. Players can name their own fighting style and whip up something crazy unique or design it after an existing one from history. Just like mastered weapons, fighting styles unlock additional potential throughout the game, including the Dual Strike options and master traits (to be found in Monday's release of Killshot Files #1: Blaze of Glory).

Wounds: A major alteration from Killshot was the amount of Health available to all characters. Instead of 5 Health, heroes and villains have as much as 10. Even thugs typically start with 2 Health, all of this in an effort to maintain longer fight scenes indicative of martial arts films. The biggest problem involves hit penalties at this level. Using the current Killshot rules, if a hero has suffered 7 points of damage, she'll have 7 hit penalties and therefore find it impossible to ever get anything accomplished effectively.

Instead, we toyed with a more optional version of wounds. If a character scores a critical hit on an attack roll, they can choose to benefit from the option's Critical function or inflict a wound on their opponent, thereby causing a -1 hit penalty per wound. This was much simpler to manage damage consequences and takes the pressure off the Director if they happen to deal criticals against the players (which is exactly what happened last night).

Signatures: Using an idea developed for an earlier superhero version of the Optional System, signatures involve expressions in the form of finishing moves, symbols, and other physical markers that would make a character identifiable to others based on their signature alone. For example, Iron Bones (Nick's character) had a unique signature of rising up the following morning when he should be dead by all rights. To make this work (and not make him immortal), he drops after taking 9 damage and so long as it's not 10. When he returns to normal on the next morning, he's applied his signature.

So what does a signature do? I'll have to get back to you on that one because this is the furthest its ever gone.

Time to Fly!

After going over all the details and trying out the characters for a short escapade (they had to fight a corrupt Japanese officer and his soldiers after they ransacked a local village... or something evil). It all took place on a moving train (as mentioned before) and it went very well.

The next step involves drafting up actual text for these individual components and build up a complete setting and start running some adventures. Stay tuned.