Murdering & Acquiring #10: Phase Three!
Moving Into Phase Three
Phase one of my little game was simply to write a game and try it out amongst some friends. I started last summer and completed phase one by the end of the year. It was slow going, partly due to my day job, but mostly because I wanted to take my time to get the groundwork laid.
Phase two started when I revised the game a bit and playtested a bunch more. That involved mostly me playtesting with friends and people at local conventions. But it also involved putting the game into the hands of a bunch of people around the country who had never played the game before. Feedback was garnered and a pretty hefty revision was in the works.
With the completion of Version 3 of the player’s guide, which I’ve officially named the Employee Handbook, I’m moving into phase three. It’s time to playtest this bad boy in a more complete form, complete with character generation and advancement rules, revised base rules, a few additional rules add-ons, and so forth.
This is, to me, a crucial time for the game, even more so than the previous year. I have a solidly designed game (I hope) and it’s time to put it through its paces in more complete terms. I don’t have the luxury of having a couple of local conventions coming up to use as target dates for things I need to do, so I’m setting an actual schedule. The timeline might change a bit, but the following is what I’m shooting for.
• By September 30th – Plan out a four-session mini-campaign of Murders & Acquisitions. Find playtesters for this mini-campaign. This involves outlining four adventures with an overarching story that hits on all the elements of M&A as well as generating stat blocks for all the adversaries involved along with generic stat blocks for a variety of other types of NPCs.
• By October 31st – Run the mini-campaign and garner feedback from my playtesters. As I do this, I’ll adjust some things and fully flesh out the adventure write-ups for future playtests around the country.
• November-December – Send these adventures along with all other game material to 6-10 game groups around the country. I’ll need to find groups that can actually commit themselves to running the full mini-campaign. While others are playtesting, I’ll run the occasional playtest, develop the Supervisor’s Manual further, and generate more world setting information.
• January – Collect feedback from my national playtesters and revise the game again. This should put me on track to playtesting the game further at SecretsCon in mid-March and AndoCon in the summer.
There are some other minor points to be included in the above, but they’re malleable, so I’m not ready to nail down a timeline for them just yet.
I’ve spent the past few months flying by the seat of my pants with M&A development. It’s time to buckle down and commit. Schedules need to be important if I’m going to keep this thing moving.
The Employee Manual
I debated whether I would post the full Employee Manual this month but have opted against that for the time being. In the near future, I expect I’ll put the entire Employee Manual up here for all to see.
That said, I want to put up some of the Employee Manual for your perusal. I’ve opted to include the first half of the book, which includes the game overview, a bunch of story, world, and tone info, the complete breakdown of the character sheet and all it entails, and the character creation and advancement rules.
I’m also including a completed character sheet for reference.
I’ve stated in past blog posts that I kind of lost sight of what the game was really about while wrangling rules and writing playtest adventures. I hope that I’ve remedied this, both in the story/world/tone areas as well as in how these things affect the rules proper.
Version two of the rules document was a fair bit shorter than the current version. The first half is where I added the most new content. It contains more info on the world, story, and tone of the game along with complete descriptions of everything on the character sheet. Round that out with character creation and advancement rules, and you have a nearly ten-page document.
The second half of the Employee Manual is comprised of the rules proper. The only big additions were in inter-party conflict rules, some heavy revisions to healing and equipment, along with a bunch of minor rules tweaks. But more on that in a future blog post.
Recently, Dave complimented me on how he feels I’ve really taken my playtesters’ feedback to heart. And I’d like to think he’s right. If you’ve playtested the game before, you’ll likely see some of your comments incorporated in both halves of the document.
As stated earlier, the game is at a crucial point. If I don’t take playtester feedback to heart, the game doesn’t change…it doesn’t improve. While I’m confident in my design abilities, I’d be lying if I said the game was perfect right from the get-go. A game, any game, can only evolve and improve if it changes, if the designer explores other avenues, if the playtesters provide useful commentary. While I still don’t think the game is perfect, it’s a lot closer now. So, thank you to all my playtesters, past and future.
The Body Count
Now I’d like to take a general look at what went away for version three of the game.
“Don’t be afraid to kill your darlings” is a phrase heard often in game design, as well as in other creative endeavors. This axiom comes down to not being afraid to drop or change the things you love most. Doing so forces one to explore new ideas, formulate new rules, expand the game, and otherwise totally screw with what you’ve done before and make more work for yourself.
Here’s a quick rundown of the big changes in the rules. Time for some overly-forced “murdering and acquiring” jokes.
• I murdered my favorite rule for spending Synergy Points, that of rerolling skill checks. It was just too good of an option, one that playtesters used all the time, going so far as to sometimes forget what the other options were. Murdering this rule led to me acquiring a completely new way to handle rerolling skill checks, one which is much more limited but still satisfying.
• I murdered my initial concept of the game being entirely cooperative. I acquired a bunch of ideas on how to incorporate player-vs-player conflict by reviewing other games and picking the brains of fellow game designers. I boiled these ideas down into a couple new rule subsets.
• I murdered the initial rules on character health (which involved being restored to full Wellness after each encounter) and acquired a new set of rules to deal with injury and healing. It’s a little tougher for a character to come out of a game session unscathed.
• I murdered 8 as the baseline target number for average tasks. Lucky 7 acquired that lovely spot. This resulted from adding d4 as the lowest die type a skill can be at and therefore expanding the possible progression of skill die types across multiple game sessions.
• I murdered some skill names and reorganized the skills a bit to reflect what people might actually put on a resume in the world of M&A. In turn, I had to acquire a few new skill names. I think they make sense and cover nearly all of what a character would want to do in the game.
• I murdered the Qualifications and Other Skills section of the character sheet as part of reworking some of the rules. The character sheet has acquired sections called Areas of Expertise and References, both of which play to new rule subsets.
• I murdered the Failure Point mechanic and switched to botches providing a Synergy Point as karma paying you back for screwing you over. I can’t come up with a good way to work the word “acquiring” into this bullet point, so screw it. Moving on.
Killing these darlings was difficult for me at first. However, once I got going and the bodies started to pile up, I found that the game started speaking to me again, telling me what it wanted to be, given these changes. As I dropped bodies in my wake, other things filled out to fill those voids. Murder things. Acquire new things. As stated in my very first blog post, I often feel that’s what game design is all about.
Murders & Acquisitions has changed a fair bit because of my willingness to kill my darlings. But it’s still fun, exciting, filled with story and action, simple at times and complex at other times, and more than a little bit ridiculous.
Now that I think about it, that’s not just how the game write-up has turned out; it’s how I want the game to be played.
It’s funny how that works out.