Playtest #02 - A Warehouse at Night

It is now time to put our new agent to the test and put him in harms way (or try to stay out of it). Part 2 of the challenge sends us to a bad part of town to rescue a friend from a warehouse. As if the challenge was written four our system, the premise works perfect in our world. I wonder if there is an artefact in the warehouse as well.

As mentioned before, I have some reservations when it comes to parts of the game system. Maybe it isn't a good idea to go into playtesting with a bias already but I think it also gives me a focus to test on. Maybe I'm completely wrong in my initial thoughts.

Two major things I want to test is

  • interacting with aspects, creating more of a non-combat approach
  • all-in fists first combat approach

Setting the Scene

As outlined in the challenge, we want to access a warehouse, where our friend (maybe another agent) has been captured. There is a guard positioned at the front, which makes Trevor think that maybe more is going on and that the task at hand won't be easy.

Creating a scene follows a simple procedure to come up with certain aspects of the scene: Purpose, Location, People and Hazards.

Scene

Purpose: Get into the warehouse

Location: Outside of warehouse

People:

  • Trevor Stone
  • Guard (NPC)

Hazards:

  • Warehouse (ENVIRONMENT): to deny access
  • Bad Part of Town (ENVIRONMENT): to delay

We now also need to flesh out the NPC. It is described as a semi-skilled rufian. So it shouldn't be that easy to get around him. So I fleshed out the NPC as follows:

Guard (NPC)

Type: Minor

Impulse: to prevent access

Appearance: muscular

Occupation: Guard (obviously)

Stress Level: 2

Now I should have all the components to do some actual play.

Variant 1: Silent and not so deadly

I start of the scene by asking something about the world.

Oracle

Are there windows? (Likely)

45

Partial Success: Yes, but with consequences

A building normally has windows, right? Apparently the warehouse has, but there is a twist attached to them. Maybe there are no windows on the ground floor, so Trevor has to climb up to get to a window. What I realize here, that I basically created some truth, so this should probably be some sort of aspect. So I create a scene aspect Upper-Floor Windows to reflect that.

Since Trevor has to climb up it is probably best to not do this in front of the guard. So Trevor decides to move around the back of the warehouse and try to climb there. So he has to sneak around the guard and hope he doesn't see him.

Overcome Guard (Stealth 1)

1

Failure: Suffer Minor Consequences

Minor Consequences

55

An organization reveals something

Trevor doesn't seem to be that stealthy and his approach had some consequences. I interpreted the consequences as that the organization (whoever kidnapped my fellow agent) has put up more than one guard. So while sneaking around I stumbled upon some more of them. Boy, they really don't wan't anyone getting in. But did they see me yet?

Oracle

Was Trevor able to stay hidden (50/50)

5

Partial Success: Yes, but with consequences

Quickly before they could see Trevor, he snuck out of their view. But they grew suspicious. They are looking around and one asks the other: "Hey, have you heard something". They sure are alert now. So I add a new scene aspect Alert Guards.

Trevor thus tries to lure them away and into the wrong direction. The old throw a rock in a different direction should work, right?

Overcome Alert Guards (Deceive 0)

61

Failure

So Trevor grabs a nearby stone and steps out to throw it. But as he looks up he can see that a guard already has approached him. He didn't notice at all. He looks at him and the guard asks in a harsh voice: "What do you want here? This is private property. No trespassers allowed." Trevor musters the guard a bit. He seems to be muscular for sure, but maybe it is all brawn and no brain. So he tries to lie and intimidate the guard. He can pretend to be some sort of supperior to him.

Overcome Guard (Intimidate 1)

4

Partial Success

Trevor stands up straight looks the guard stern in the eye and proclaims in an equally harsh voice: "Don't you know who I am? The boss wants to see me, let me through!" The guard takes a good look up and down Trevor and smiles: "If you want to see the boss, I take you too him. Let's go together." And pushes Trevor in the direction of the warehouse doors.

Hey, at least Trevor got into the warehouse. But at what cost.

End of Scene.

Variant 2: The not so stealthly approach

Trevor isn't a guy for small talk. He acts on his impulse and goes in fists first and ask questions later. But lets take the opportunity and suprise the guard and try to approach him from behind.

Create Advantage Sneak up from behind (Stealth 1)

3

Failure: Do not create the aspect

Why are all these branches around the warehouse and why does Trevor need to step onto one. The guard turn around in our direction. Well then, there goes the element of surprise. At least it is a honourable fight. Let the fists fly.

Skirmish (Fight 1)

5

Guard and Trevor suffer 1 stress

Trevor was able to land a punch into the stomach of the guard. He promtply answers with a counterpunch that catches Trevor by surprise. He topples a bit backwards but catches himself. Alright, that fight isn't going to be so easily over. Trevor concentrates a bit, still feeling a bit groggy from the punch. There must be an opening in his defense.

Create Advantage Finding an opening (Notice 2)

13

Failure

The guard seems to be well trained. He keeps his guard up and it is hard to find any purchase against him. The guard and trevor are circling each others, fists up in front of their heads. Waiting for the other to make the first move.

Skirmish (Fight 1)

4

Guard and Trevor suffer 1 stress

Skirmish (Fight 1)

3

Trevor suffers 2 stress

Trevor makes the first move. He tries another jab into the stomach to bring his guard down. But the guard anticipated that move. A quick two punch sends Trevor flying. A hook connects with his face and he begins to see stars. Adrenaline pumps and Trevor can hear the quick beat of his heart in his ringing head. That last punch got him good. He suffers a fleeting scar. The guard comes in running. There must be a chance now.

Create Advantage Finding an opening (Notice 2)

34

Failure

Trevor is still groggy. He can just concentrate himself enough to not pass out. He has had enough. Lets end this here and now.

Skirmish (Fight 1)

6

Success

The guard comes running. Trevor can see that he also took quite a beating. One good punch should do the trick. With some last effort Trevor ducks away from the punch and delivers a powerful right hook. That was enough for the guard and he passes out.

Panting and bleeding from a broken nose, Trevor gathers his thoughts pats down the guard for the keys of the warehouse and enters.

End of Scene.

Observations

Oracles

As it is within the nature of oracle rolls, they create some sort of truth about the world. So it should be of no surprise that new aspects (most probably Scene Aspects) should be created after a roll. This isn't written explicitly in the rules but makes sense. But that also puts oracles in a weird spot, as this makes "Create Advantage" a bit weaker as an action. Creating aspects in this way should give some sort of disadvantage or be limited.

Combat

This is something I have expected and it showed in the playtest: Although combat is risky as designed and wanted, it is boring. There is no real interaction between the combatants. That is normally something that emerges from a gamemaster and the players. Most noticeably players and NPC take turns and can interact individually with the environment. I decided to forego all of that and mush it into one single roll. This leads to this kind of non-interactability I guess.

Furthermore, there isn't any real disadvantage of doing "Create Advantage" actions. There is no opportunity for the enemy and no downside if I should fail such an action. That is most clearly a design issue. Given the choice the player will most likely choose the option of least disadvantage to him. It isn't really an option in the first place. Ideally the choices presented should be equally bad. As it stands at the moment it is one bad option and one good option. It should be obvious which one gets picked more likely.

For example, in my playtest when I try to find an opening in the opponents defense. When I fail this should have consequences. It takes Trevor some time to concentrate on the patterns of the enemy and he might be distracted for the moment. So ideally the choice should be: Take 1 Stress or create the aspects but with a free compell. In both cases it is bad for Trevor. He could take a hit right now, or make his next attempt that much harder (and most likely also end up in a failure).

Of course that would then just lead the player not taking the action in the first place.

The other thing is, that the accumulating stress for the player can lead to situation where he takes two punches but then defeats the enemy. As per the rules, the agent then just heals all stress and goes out from the fight practically unphased. Every fight should have some lasting effect if it goes poorly for the player, no matter the final outcome. There should be bruises and these should have consequences later on on the adventure. Combat should be the last option an agent takes.

Compelling and Invoking

A keen eye might have gathered that I did not compell or invoke any of the aspects I created throughout the playtest. On one hand I might have just forgotten about that and on the other hand, I dindn't had the feeling that I could improve the outcome with invoking any of the aspects in a meaningful way.

Taking the reroll for example: I most often rolled 1 or 2 dice (sometimes even with a rating of 0). Rerolling these dice would give me a slight better chance overall to get a Partial Success or Success, but it doesn't have that big of an impact. The reroll should be there to get "rid" of a particular bad result and not to fish for successes. In FATE you normally reroll all dice when you roll something like a -4 or -3. Since the dice in FATE are non-linear you will very likely roll better (on average a 0). In my system, the dice are more linear and don't lead to better outcomes. The average lies somewhere between a 3 or a 4 and thus I would still end up in a similar situation nonetheless.

In FATE the point economy is an important thing of the play. The game-master is compelling the players. Creating these compells in this system seem to stop the play a bit. You have to think about a particular outcome and how it fits into the story. You have to come up with the twists and turns in the story all by yourself. But it should be the system that generates these twists not the player. As it stands currently it is more work for the player and produces overhead and bookkeeping.

Hazards

Although and interesting concept, hazards neither had an impact in the story, nor did they offer options. They all look a bit samey and I had a bit of an issue to come up with particular "interesting" ones for the scene. The guard and the warehouse also look completely identical (although it makes sense from a standpoint I mentioned in the rules - the guard is like an instance of the hazard of the warehouse). It felt similar and that is how it played.

The second hazard had no play whatsoever and was completely useless. This might be, because I choose the hazard wrong when creating the scene. Maybe I should have choosen something that had more impact. But if the system isn't giving me an interesting option in the first place, there might be something wrong here in the design. Again, the system should create the obstacles not the player.

I also felt, and I saw some of it already when writing the rules, is that the hazards will limit the design space drastically. I struggled to create the Sites and Singularities and I think this has to do with the concept of the hazards. I don't think that a different site will look much more different when it comes to the hazards presented. I think some sort of aspect generator would be much more interesting and opens up the design space drastically.

There is also a lot of bookkeeping and overhead attached to them. You have to keep the hazards in mind when determining the outcome of a roll.

Last but not least, and this applies a bit to invokes as well, the way hazards interact with the outcome is a bit counterintuitive and creates some more overhead as well. You have to manipulate the result of the roll before determining the outcome. The action roll is quite simple and you can quickly determine the outcome, but then going ahead and substracting (or adding in the case of invokes) to the dice, bring everything to a halt. The outcome should be determined quickly and easily.

There are also edge cases and different scenarios that could arrive. Consider the roll of 6 and 5. Lets say, there are 3 hazards that apply to this roll. Rules as written would be that I substract 1 from the 6 and then substract 1 from either of the 5s and then again. This would lead to the end result of 4 and 4. But now consider the ruling be, that you substract the hazards from the highest result and consider the end result as your outcome. So the 6 would turn to a 3 and thus a failure. So there's different outcomes depending on how you apply the hazards. This is a bit ambiguous.

Final Thougts

The playtest has confirmed some of my suspicions. Again, I don't know if it was a good idea to go on in with a bias in the first place. You might also ask yourself: If I already know that the system doesn't work, why did I write it down anyway? The answer to that is quite simple: At least I have something that I can argue about. I could go ahead and rewrite the rules all the time. But what the playtest has shown me is also some ways to improve it and exactly where the shortcomings are.

Even though I have now more work to do, at least I know where to start and what I want to prevent. It is easier to improve on something, then to rethink on something that doesn't exist.

Putting all the negative to the side, I still was able to create and interesting story in Variant 1 and it left me open to think what happens to Trevor next. So there are also parts of the system that work. And that is a light in the dark I'm looking forward to see.