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.
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.
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.
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.
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.