Easter Status Report

My current plan is to provide 6 chapters of content for the open beta this summer. In order to pull it off, I need to get those chapters drafted and revised by the end of the month. I am happy to report that I have already drafted two chapters this weekend (Introduction and Setting Creation). I am currently working through the Character Creation chapter and it is going well. I think I should make my targets at this rate, which is a heck of a relief.

The other thing that is taking up my attention is Game Chef 2012 – Last Chance. This week-long game design competition is great fun and an excellent testbed for new games. I have an outline of my submission ready and it seems remarkably solid, all things considered.

The Blood Oath Empire: Dreamation 2012 Playtest

Dreamation 2012 started with a bang and I snagged four players for a Thursday night playtest session. For ease of reference, let’s just call them players A, B, C and D. We achieved my goal for the session; to test the Setting Creation and Character Creation systems/procedures. Fortunately, we also got a chance to play the normal game for the second half of the session and a fun story emerged. Here is an explanation of our process and the lessons I learned from this test.

 Setting Creation

The first step of creating a setting was determining our Lines, Veils and Thresholds. I will warn you this gets a little dark. Lines are strict limits; topics absolutely forbidden during gameplay. By contrast, indirect references to subjects under Veils are acceptable. Thresholds are topics that you personally find sensitive, but you would be interested in seeing respectfully explored during game play.   We came up with rather dark lines and veils, and had thresholds of “Inbreeding” and “Ethnic Cleansing”.

Now we needed to determine what kind of setting we were making. I went around the table asking everyone to provide their favourite book, movie, tv show, video game or song. Once we got this together, I asked them to each state what specific aspect of their chosen media they most enjoy.   This is the list of inspirations we created from the process.

  • Army of Darkness – Comedy Horror
  • Mass Effect 2 – Mortality
  • Hardboiled – Heroic Bloodshed
  • Revolutionary Girl Utena – Dream-like Symbols.

We added a few more inspirational ingredients to add to that list:  Drug abuse, Duels and Mechs

Using the various inspirations as guidelines, we started to brainstorm potential setting Beliefs. After producing this list, we selected three of them (bolded) to represent our new world.

  • Change requires bloodshed
  • The ends don’t justify the means
  • Drugs are the only way to make it.
  • Everyone dies for a Reason
  • Laughter makes us human
  • Honour lost is blood lost.
  • The price of Honour is blood.

Faction Creation

Once we had the core themes of the setting established, we started on developing the various major factions and their relationships with each other.  We went around the table twice, with each person picking either a faction’s Name or their Mandate. The Mandates represent the organization’s core purpose and must be related to one of the setting’s Beliefs. Our final list was as follows.

  • The House of Crimson Shackles: To tell bereaved families the reason for their loss.
  • The Mechbuilder’s Guild: To ensure the weapons of war stay in Noble hands.
  • The Crows of Heaven: To punish lies.
  • Diviners of the Black Gate:  To eat dishonour from the dead. (Established as exclusively female)
  • The Children of the City: To tally the honour of the ruling houses.

Once we had the factions established, each player chose one relationship between different factions.  The House of Crimson Shackles and the Crows of Heaven became rivals for control of the truth. The leaders of the Mechbuilder’s Guild and the Children of the City are brothers. The House of Crimson Shackles apparently owns the Diviners of the Black Gate, who are plotting against them.   Lastly, the Mechbuilder’s Guild are apparently unwitting pawns of the Crows of Heaven.   It’s a great deal less confusing with a relationship map in front of you.

 Character Creation

This went by quickly enough, with four key characters established.

A’s character was a noble from the House of Crimson Shackles with these key beliefs: “The Children are our future.”  | ” I will control the future.”  | “Change requires bloodshed”.

B’s character was a torturer from the House of Crimson Shackles with these key beliefs:  “I don’t ask questions.”  | ”A man isn’t measured by his actions.” | ”A torturer is an artist”.

C’s character was a drugged out mech pilot with these beliefs: “The drugs pilot the mech” | My will is Reason enough” | “I follow a false purpose”.

D’s character was a jaded duelist with these beliefs: “Duels and honour are meaningless” | “Laughter is the Coward’s Way” | “Violence must be democratized”.

We took a break, two hours after starting the session, then dove into game play.


Gameplay Summary

We started game play with the prelude. I provided the group with a focus for play “Darshim, a Child of the City with a secret to reveal”. Each of them had a chance to narrate a short introductory scene where they showed off their characters and determined why they needed to reach the focus of play.  This went fairly quickly and we established some interesting facts about the world at that point.

We then got into normal gameplay where a duel had commenced in the royal dueling arena. We established that there were two kinds of duels in this world: The Duel of Wits and the Duel of Blades. We had various characters try to interrupt the sacred tradition of the Duel of Wits and they learned that the House of Crimson Shackles was plotting against the Emperor. Add some imperial adultery from A’s character’s wife, and you get a very tense and exciting scene.  It was short, but we ran the system through its paces and discovered a few spots deserving of attention.


Lessons from the Playtest

  • The first thing we noted was that by starting things off with Lines, Veils and Thresholds, the game became very adult and very dark, very quickly. Everyone at the table was comfortable with this, but it was a concern.
  • I need to give a list of potential lines and veils to kickstart the discussions.
  • It was hard for people to come up with Thresholds; likely due to the conflating of “Handle with care” and “request for others to handle”.
  • I need to create a separate setting-creation worksheet where the Lines, Veils, Thresholds, Inspirations and brainstormed setting Beliefs could be recorded.
  • We needed a stronger setting agreement before play. I resolved that in the future, we would create a title and tag-line for the settings during the process to help tie it together.
  • I failed to deal with the step of character creation where the players would provide their setting concepts to the group. As a result, the characters were only loosely related.
  • I need to more clearly define talents and conditions with more examples.
  • We were having a hard time remembering to narrate after pickling Resolutions.

My kind playtesters said they really enjoyed the process of using existing media and transforming them into tangible beliefs representing a new setting.  I have to admit, it was enjoyable on my part as well, so I will be keeping this in with a few minor modifications.

The Blood Oath Empire was fun to create and explore. I wish to thank all four of my kind playtesters for their hard work in crafting a world and PC’s in a span of a mere two hours.

Dreamation 2012 In Review

Dreamation 2012 in Morristown NJ was an astounding convention for a host of reasons.  I drove down from Ottawa with break in Syracuse to meet an old friend of mine in the flesh for the first time. It was a remarkably pleasant time to drive down through upstate New York, but I was most grateful for the opportunity to stop and rest in the hotel. The lack of affordable internet did not help matters, but at least there was a wi-fi enabled greasy spoon a few blocks away.

Thursday evening: The first event, where I ran my playtest of the Spark RPG under the title “The Spark of Creation”, where we cooperatively made a setting and a group of characters from scratch, followed by 2-hours of gameplay.  This playtest will get its own dedicated post.

Friday morning: I had my second playtest, titled “Seeking Suki”, using a premade setting and pregen characters. Three noble playtesters participated in this session and we tried out using the faction/organizational subsystem. I will give the blow by blow in its own post later on.

Friday afternoon, my playtest session imploded with insufficient players, so I jumped into a playtest of Project Ninja Panda Taco, which was a ton of wacky fun. We had a few slip-ups in terms of the procedures and the emotional reaction to the game was not perfect, but it was a barrel of laughs.

Friday Evening: My astounding girlfriend threw me a surprise birthday party and invited the other game designers at the con to attend. It was a real joy to meet people in the designer community and It was probably one of the best birthdays I have had in recent memory.

Friday Midnight: Microscope was excellent, starting with the touching personal story of a father who feared to abandon his sick daughter’s bedside until the dust storms left him no option. New artificial lifeforms, the Tunan, were discovered in the underworld. The Tunan were special in that they recycled of the same 1001 souls lifetime after lifetime. It was a short session, maybe 2.5 hours long, but it was a blast and worked better them I expected.

Saturday Morning: This was the second cancellation of my Spark RPG playtest, but It gave me an excuse to jump in on a session of Shooting the Moon with Emily Care Boss. It was the most emotionally powerful game I have ever played in my life. It is rare to have a game session with enough depth that I feel that I grow as a person. Thanks to all of you who participated in this experience.

Saturday Afternoon: I played in a playtest of Brennan Taylor’s new game “The Art of Power” where I tried to portray a commoner in a noble’s world. It was lots of fun with some novel mechanics and a lovely theme. Check it out if you can.

Saturday Evening This was the penultimate playtest session of Spark, once again following the “Spark of Creation” formula with a total of five players. Three of the players had been present in the Friday Morning game, one had heard good things about it and the fifth person there was Rob Donoghue. This was certainly the most fruitful of the game sessions, partially because I made several significant illustrative errors in running the game. Rob’s frank and accurate criticism really helped me understand some of the more subtle flaws in the game as written. This will get its own post later on down the line.

Sunday Morning I say in as an observer in a game of “Becoming”; currently a rich and fairly balanced betting game with minimal storytelling elements. Brian got a number of comments from this test and I can foresee a rock solid RPG (or board game) emerging from this. I am eager to pick it up when it is available for purchase.
Sunday Afternoon I ran a 7 player session of Dungeon World, Curse of the Bloodstone Idol. I hacked it to include an ambush of caniblalistic halflings and a prince of the Quasi-demi-paraplane of snow. In hindsight, running that game was probably foolish, but the sensation of running that was incredible. Without more guidance from an initiative principle, it was a bracing and intense experience. I can’t wait to run another session of Dungeon World.

I had a lovely time and I certainly look forward to attending more Double Exposure events in the future. I look forward to meeting each of you in person once more.

Dreamation 2012

Just a quick update to say that I will be at Dreamation 2012, running a crazy number of playtests of Spark. By crazy, I mean 5 games which could potentially include 28 different players over the course of the weekend.  I have managed to organize things as well as I can and with luck, I should get some priceless feedback out of this. I hope to see many of you there!

While I’m here, I might as well say something that I will later regret. As of this moment, it appears that I am targetting a late-summer open beta-test of the Spark RPG. While the text is not yet complete, the actual rules behind it are relatively solid. This target may not be reached, but it’s worth a try.

Thanks for reading and I hope to see you soon!