Playtest #01 - The first agent

It is time to put the game and rules to the test. There has been a series of challenges posted on the RPG Design subreddit, that I find to be a good starting point. During the writing of the rules I already had some doubts about certain aspects of the game. Mostly when it comes to combat and the compelling mechanism. The base system should work (as it is just a rework of the FATE core system) but I have this naging feeling it does not fit in what I want the play experience to be. But maybe it does work, so that is why we do playtesting.

The first challenge posted, concerns the creation of a new character.

The goal I want to achieve is to get the player quickly playing. So there should not be a overly complicated and long character creation. Since my characters are based upon FATE Core and that is fairly lightweight this shouldn't be a far fetched goal to achieve. One thing that might be a hindrance or obstacle is that you have to come up with aspects. For that purpose I want to create several Employee Profiles (kinda like archetypes, more on that at the end) that give you a head start. There is 3-4 options for each of the aspects that you need to provide and there is also a list of abilities (stunts in FATE) to choose from.

The eagle-eyed amongst you might have seen that the profiles are barely there. Since I do not know yet in what direction everything might go, I only kept some examples and pointers in the rulebook for now. This would be something to develop further along, when the core system is set in stone. I have several ideas where this could be going (and I'm eager to write them down, but deep down I know that this would be time wasted). This is something to keep in mind. Even though something might sound cool, if it hinges on a mechanism that isn't fleshed out yet and could change, it is probably wasted time. It is better to just sprinkle in some examples on how it might look like.

Best example would be if you would write a Monster Manual with all the animal, beasts and whatever in your world. But you don't have a system yet (or just a very simple one) on how to describe these monsters. You would write 100 monster statblocks only to go over all of them in a later time because you decided on a different system. For playtesting it is enough to maybe flesh out 1 or 2 monsters to see on how they would look like. It is a narrow line between designing and developing content.

Maybe a short tangent as well on "design" and "development". There is a subtle difference between both terms. Design describes the process of coming up with ideas and putting them together to form a cohesive system of mechanism and development is to put flesh, so to speak, onto this framework. To get back to the example above: Design would be to come up with the monster statblock itself and development would be to create 100 different monsters and their statblock. Or in other words: Design is like the architect and development is the builder of a house.

Tangent closed.

Character Creation

So for my playtesting I just follow my guidelines in the rulebook to create a character and see if I end up with one. The challenge says I should create a character that is stealthy, perceptive and can persuade someone. Since I only have a limited set of Profiles I pick one that comes closest I think. I could come up with one (and cheat) but for the purposes of this exercise I shall use the ones I have at my disposal and see how close I can get.

So lets follow the Character Creation as in the rulebook.

Choose Employee Profile

As mentioned above, the set of profiles is limited for the moment. I think the closest Profile would be Inspector. While writing this I saw, that this still has the old skill Investigate that I renamed to Logic. See already some progress in playtesting. Found a mistake. Back on track: The profile gives me Logic 2 and Notice 1 which I guess is a good fit to what the challenge expects from the system.

High Concept, Believe and Impulse

Since I do not have choices in my profiles for these aspects I have to come up with them myself for now. Let's go a bit clichéd for now, as we have to create a stealthy character I'm thinking of a former Private Investigator. Why he is no longer a P.I. who knows. It also fits with the profile, so we have our High Concept: I am a former P.I..

The believe is something that motivates the agent or explains why he does what he does. I think, since he is a man of logic, he doesn't believe in the supernatural. His believe is that everything can be explained by logic. He'd rather try to uncover the truth by digging deep than to believe there might be something outside of his rationale.

At last we have the impulse, an urge the agent can't ignore and gets him more into trouble than anything. Lets use a cliché again here: What logic can't solve, fists can. Maybe that is what got him into trouble in the first place and that is why he is no longer a P.I.

Skill Points

We can now distribute some more skill points:

  • one that fits the believe best: Since Logic is already at maximum I go ahead and put another point into Notice. So he is more aware of his surroundings and might see things that others can't see and with his logic deduce things. Quite a good fit for a P.I.
  • one that fits the impulse best: Well that is an easy one: Fight.
  • then two point I can distribute how I want: Let's go with a point in Intimidate (if fists alone don't suffice) and maybe one in Stealth (sneaking around unseen as a P.I. can't be bad).

Finishing Up

I don't have abilities yet. Lets play without one for the moment. This should be fine, we're not playing a full session and these are often just a one session bonus or very specific. The last thing we should do, is to give the agent a name. Lets fire up the random name generator.

Meet Trevor Stone


As expected character creation works, which isn't a big surprise. It is in essence character creation like in FATE. What is more important is on how relevant during gameplay the stats and descriptions of the character sheet really are. I could come up with a very simple character creation process that has nothing to do with the actual game, so it isn't a good measure if something is bad in the character creation.

I guess the big issue could be to come up with the aspects. This is probably something, where players could struggle as maybe most of them are more focused on distributing points on a sheet of paper than actually writing on said paper. Hving said that, there is also a group of players that are leaning more into the roleplaying part and for those this process is more natural. In the end, this is definitly the reason I want to have a multiple choice option to select the aspects. And for the "hardcore" roleplayer there needs to be a build-your-own option.

What I also liked is how the skill point distribution is linked to the personality. That way the "stats" are following the narrative. This is definetly a keeper.

Where I'm most concerned is how the aspects are really affecting gameplay or if they are just "cosmetic". Yes the game is built upon aspects and the luck point system of FATE, but I have my reservations if these come into play as much. We have to see for the next playtesting.

Random Thoughts

The creation process got me thinking: To fit into the theme of Bureaucracy, the character creation is basically a employee assessment. In certain parts of the worlds, they keep on believing that personality can actually be determined by some questions and that it is completely accurate. Sad part is, that it is complete bullshit but companies still rely on it to assess type of employees. But in a make believe world, this could be some fun way to determine your initial employee profile instead of rolling on a table to determine one.