M&A #16: Playtesting & Perspective
First off, I wish to offer congratulations to Dave, New World Alchemy, and VectoriaDesigns for a very successful Kickstarter. Addictive Alchemy is a fine game, one that I was happy to help playtest and promote. I look forward to receiving my own copy of the game.
So what’s been going on with my game design in since February? For the most part, playtesting has been the thing. Rather than just dive into playtest feedback here, I thought I’d touch on the process for this playtest.
Playtest Background and Perspectives
This time around, I felt that the core game was complete enough to put it through its paces on a grander scale. To that end, I wrote a four-adventure mini-campaign titled, “Deep in the Red.” The different adventures hit on a variety of aspects of the game. There was research, breaking and entering, espionage, murder, tailing baddies, being tailed by baddies, more murder, and even a foray into horror with a board member who wasn’t quite what he seemed. The players created their own characters and advanced them through the run of the campaign.
I sent this mini-campaign out to three different playtest groups. The GMs ran their groups through all four adventures and compiled feedback, both from themselves and their players, to send to me.
Additionally, I ran my own group through the mini-campaign.
Finally, I sent the game (sans adventures) to a handful of people to do a read & critique. Some of these people are players, some are GM-types, and a couple are freelance game designers.
I approached this round of playtest in this way in order to garner feedback from a variety of types of people – players, GMs, and designers. As the feedback came in, I saw the differences in each playtester’s “role” in their comments. In fact, I’m fairly confident that even if I hadn’t known what feedback was coming from what person, I’d have been able to determine whether a feedback list was from a player, GM, or designer.
The players tended to focus on the fun factor of the game, specific character creation bits, and a handful of their favorite (or least favorite) rules. They rarely disassembled the game system; instead, they pointed out a few notes on what they liked most and least.
The GMs tended to get more into the rules and the overall stories that were told in more specific terms. They offered more examples than the players generally did.
The designers were the easiest to identify in their feedback. They broke down the mechanics, talked about “passing the eyeball test,” and pointed out flavor/world items that are missing from the current version of the game (mostly rules) but that “absolutely need to be in the final book.” In short, they looked at the game as a product.
All of this is useful. In fact, I feel that getting feedback from people coming at the game from different perspectives is a must. As a designer who GMs the game (and hasn’t had the chance to play it yet), these differing perspectives are incredibly valuable.
I’m not going to go over everything from the playtest feedback, but here are some choice bits.
Turns out the player section of the book needs more information. Admittedly, I already knew this. The current rulebook is really a playtest rulebook and lacks a lot of examples and fleshing out of things. But it’s nice that the playtesters pointed me at things they felt needed inclusion.
Chief among these is more complete information on the skills – what each one covers, what each one doesn’t cover, etc. They also asked for an array of target numbers for each skill, showing what types of things can be accomplished by hitting higher and higher target numbers. I included this in the Supervisor section, but clearly it needs to be in the player section. The Supervisor section will get some expansion on coming up with target numbers for skill checks outside of those listed in the player section.
Even though the game is supposed to include optional add-on rules modules for things like magic, monsters, sci-fi, etc., I’ve always thought of the core rules as a standard, unchanging set of rules. Turns out that may not be the right way to go. Several playtesters (along with my own playtest experience) has shown that some rules deserve to be optional, for those who want the added complexity. This should help slim down the game even more, while still providing a bit more complexity for those who seek it.
The rules for delaying actions and readying actions are going to be optional. For those who want more tactical combat, they can use these rules. But the core game is going to stay more straight forward in combat.
Several playersters liked the inter-party conflict rules. Some didn’t…at all. I’m thinking this rule set is going to become optional. It’ll be available for players who want rules for messing with each other, but those who want to play purely cooperatively won’t feel beholding to those rules.
Then there’s stuff that I just forgot.
One of my game designer friends asked about fire, falling, poison, electrocution, suffocation, etc. rules. They’re not in the book. Oops. I’ll need to get that info in there.
The book also needs more Supervisor advice. As the book continues to get more fleshed out, this will happen naturally. But I think I’m going to have to give it an extra push before the next round of playtesting, just to make sure my playtest Supervisors have everything they need to run the game.
Finally, there’ the “Aid Another” rule.
None of my remote playtest groups brought this up but it was a point of discussion at several of my personal playtest sessions.
The rule as it was written involved the “aiding player” to make a skill check appropriate to what they were doing to aid the “acting player.” The rule is was pulled from games like D&D where it’s possible for one character to be so subpar in something that they might have trouble contributing to a task. It gave such players a way to help others succeed. We toyed around with a few different ways to do it at the table, but none of them seemed quite right.
Taking a step back, I note that Murders & Acquisitions is intended to be narrative-focused and rules-light. With that in mind, I’ve decided that aiding another will provide a mechanical bonus to the “acting player’ but without the fiddly skill checks often required of the “aiding player.” From this point forward, the “aiding player” simply describes what his character is doing to help the “acting player.” If the Supervisor agrees that course of action would help the “acting player,” the “aiding player” simply gives the “acting players” a Synergy Point of his own to the “acting player” to use on his skill check. Simple, clean, and narrative-focused.
Each player starts each game session with two Synergy Points they can’t use for themselves but can give to others for doing something funny, entertaining, or downright awesome. These Synergy Points can also now be used to aid another. After a player has expended these two Synergy Points, he can still give his own “standard” Synergy Points to aid others.
A Note on My Own Perspective
There are times, when I’m designing something, where I start to doubt myself. I often wonder if Murders & Acquisitions is too “niche.” That is to say, is M&A too narrow of a game; does it have appeal? That’s been my biggest hurdle. I love the weird little genre of RPG I’ve created with M&A, but who knows how well it will sell. In the end, it’s about creating the thing and not selling the thing, but you know what, I’d kinda like to sell the thing…to a bunch of people.
Anyway, after the third of my playtest sessions, I had a chat with my players. There was general discussion of rules stuff. A few minor tweaks I should look into. Brief discussion of how I implemented some out-of-the ordinary stuff (like whether or not someone will fall on a running handsaw or miss it by inches).
But the thing that caught me off guard was how every one of my players agreed that the game played really well that day. It had taken a couple of sessions for them to get the gist of M&A (like I said, it’s kind of “niche”), but by the third session they really understood the world, the tone, the system, the pace, and the flow of the game. Everything just sort of came together.
As I reflected on that discussion over the next few days, it occurred to me how that session was the first time running M&A felt simply like me running a game for friends and not specifically a playtest.
It all just sort of came together for me, too.