Saturday, August 25, 2012

Playtest Journal #2: Nothing to See Here

So for today's playtest, we mostly wanted to focus on our new Social Engagement system.  Unfortunately, because the players in attendance weren't able to build the character concepts they were looking for the previous session (given that those concepts weren't in the game--specifically, the Swashbuckler and Tosser), we spent most of the 3-hour playtest on character re-creation.

We did learn, though, that the new character creation model is solid, and that while there are actually more options now than existed two weeks ago, it feels like less.  That could just be familiarity with the system, it could be improved design.  We'll need more playtesting to be sure.

We were also really pleased to hear playtesters describing practically everything as "that cool thing."  One even stated that he was having a hard time choosing which talents to select for his character because they were all awesome.  Which was very gratifying, because we want every talent selection to be engaging, every talent to be a different kind of awesomeness that your character can bring to the table.  Feels good, man.

Once we got past character creation, we had an unfortunately brief session of social engagement between the playtesters' characters and the crew of a crashed, experimental flying machine.  They rushed in to help the wounded crew, and the Tinker in the party started examining the flying machine wreckage trying to learn its secrets.  We had to cut away before the next segment of the playtest--a group of outriders running in to fight whatever was still moving in the area--but the general consensus afterward is that it felt like there was no "system" backing the events at all.

Specifically, they felt like they were just socializing with the NPCs, that there was no penalty for failure and that it felt like I could be running it in any system.

And yet, behind the scenes, I was keeping a track of the things they did to aid the NPCs, as well as the things they were saying, calling for Speech checks as appropriate, and adjusting the behavior of the NPCs on the fly given the mechanics in play.

So far, the new social dynamic we developed this week seems to be meeting the criterion of "not being very visible."  Which is a huge plus over Tuesday's playtest, in which the mechanics were so visible that they literally distracted the players from simply having a conversation with the NPC.

And even better?  They accomplished more in 22 minutes than Tuesday's group did in over an hour

By gum, I think we're onto something here!  :-)

See you next week, with an update on how we're using the latest batch of Feedback to modify the system.  Have a great week!

Playtest Day!

Good morning, everyone!

Today we have another playtest scheduled for 1pm, the conclusion to our first two-week-long playtesting sprint.  We've gotten a lot of great feedback and have been steadily making changes and modifications to the Infinite Earths ruleset.

One of the biggest blows to our egos came this week with playtesting our social dynamics.  As it turned out, we were too successful at making the social system more robust (like combat).  Specifically, the players approached it like a combat, using words to beat up the NPC like a pi├▒ata until he gave them what they wanted.  Additionally, what would have normally taken probably about 10-15 minutes took nearly an hour and a half.

As we discussed the flaw with this afterward, thanks to feedback from our Tuesday-night playtesters, we realized that "wear them down until they can't argue with you anymore" does put you in the mindset that yes, the NPCs are basically just there to be verbally abused in order to gain advantage.

It's obvious in hindsight.

So we spent the last few days building a completely new social mechanic that emphasizes that where combat tears somebody down, social engagement builds relationships.  We'll be testing that today to see if it works better--we're very excited about it.  Additionally, today's playtest group will be checking out our new Swashbuckler and Tosser fighting styles, and we'll be introducing a new, simplified magic system as well.

This will be our last playtest day before a two-week playtesting hiatus.  We'll be spending the hiatus building out the system some more and fleshing out the chapters before hitting it again on September 11th.  One thing that the past two weeks has taught us is that we probably only want to run a single playtest a week, to ensure we can fully incorporate the changes we make to Infinite Earths between playtests.  So, given that, we'll probably be moving some playtest dates around in October and later.

We'll have a journal on how today's playtesting goes later this evening, and next week we'll follow up with a postmortem on new developments in Infinite Earths thanks to the playtesting.  Talk to you later!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Playtest Postmortem #1: Character Creation

Hello again!

Today, in honor of our 1000th hit, we'd like to announce that we're expanding our roster of playtesting with two sessions in October at Cary, NC game store The Gamer's Armory.  On Sunday, October 14th and Sunday, October 28th, we'll be hosting a two-part playtest with character creation on the 14th and a short adventure in Talover, our inaugural quest hub, on the 28th.  If you'd like to attend, please sign up for the event via the Raleigh Tabletop Roleplayers meetup group.

Our first two playtest sessions--the Kickoff, last Saturday afternoon, and the first session at Raleigh gaming hotspot Game Theory--are complete, and we've gotten a lot of feedback from our playtesters.  One of the best things about putting our game in front of playtesters is that it lets us experience what the game feels like from the outside.  Of course, we've designed it and built it and understand what we want to do with it, but can we clearly communicate our intentions through play and through the rules we design?  The biggest changes always come early in a playtest, with each set of changes honing the system closer and closer to the intended result.  Join us after the break for a breakdown of our first set of feedback and how we've responded to it:

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Playtest Journal #1: Options Overwhelming

Todays' playtest was designed to test the benefits and limits of the Infinite Earths character creation system.  And it worked like a charm, in that it pointed out to us that it kinda works and kinda doesn't.

One thing that came up straight away is that the Session Zero concept is fundamentally sound, with the chief complaint being that we didn't do more of the character development (I cut the character/party creation shorter than it normally would be, given that we weren't actually developing a campaign for these characters, but playtesting the character creation system).

The next thing that came up was. . .well, we've written the book backwards.  As we stepped through the character creation process, it became very quickly obvious that instead of being streamlined and efficient, character generation involved a lot of flipping forward, backward, sideways and frontways through the different chapters of the book.  As a result, "option fatigue" quickly set in among playtesters.

Additionally, our character sheet--which I was so proud of, when Sarah made it--was not as helpful as we'd hoped.  In fact, there were a couple of portions of it that were rather useless explicitly because of all the options.  The buffet, as it turns out, is so large (over 550 talents!) that it's impossible to remember what all the options are.

Add to that some ideas for character concepts that we just plain didn't have, and we had, overall, a playtest session that highlighted what we felt were some fairly serious holes in what we've been building.

Here's a picture of today's playtesters hard at work figuring out what they're looking at:



Now, normally it's considered rather poor business form to announce "hey, this thing we made?  It's got some flaws."  But in our case, we're happy to embrace that announcement because every flaw we uncover, we can excise.  Every hole that we fall into, we can fill.  And that will eventually make for a much more exciting and engaging game.

And make no mistake:  every playtesting session, we come away exhausted, invigorated, and enlightened.

So again, to Charlie, Bob and John:  thank you.  Your hard work in playing our game (or trying to!) will make it better.  And for our future playtesters:  praise these three, who braved these roads before, and helped to pave them.

Our first open-playtesting event is this coming Tuesday at Game Theory, in which we'll be playtesting a new method of character generation which should be more streamlined and less confusing.

See you soon!

Playtesting Kick-Off Day!

Good morning, everyone!

After many near-sleepless nights this week, we've got a 68-page-long series of playtest documents and are ready for our first pass at not us playing it!  Our playtest kickoff begins today at 1pm and should last until 4 to 5pm (Eastern US Time).

We don't have much to say right now, but we'll be posting an update after our first playtest to highlight what went right and what went horribly wrong.  Stay tuned for more, later today.

In the meanwhile, enjoy this picture of our playtest materials laid out and ready for the loving hands of players:

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Playtest Shout-Out and A Good Question

Hello, everyone!

We're one week closer to playtesting now, and in case you missed it, we've got a great announcement about Game Theory in Raleigh, NC hosting Tuesday night Playtests of Infinite Earthsyou can check that post out here.  Those aren't the only playtests we'll be holding, either, so in case you can't make them: don't fret!  We'll be making more playtest announcements next week.  We're aiming for early in the week, late in the week, and on the weekend, rotating from week to week so we can get as many people involved in the playtests as possible.

Earlier this week, Bill Collins asked me a really good question:  what will Infinite Earths do to combat players who try to grab and hog the spotlight?  The answer, after the break.