Let’s keep it short and sweet. The last post was all about prep. That should consist of roughly 30 minutes to an hour of GM – player co-conspiracy. We now have a character sheet that consists of three phrases:
- “Race and class”
- Something that ties in to the initial statement made by the GM
- Something that’s highly characteristic for the character in question
We make two more things before we start playing:
- Grab a deck or two of normal playing cards. Each player picks a court card from ’em. Shuffle and place menacingly at the table.
- Give each player “a pack of cigarettes” – 20 tokens of your choice. (We used poker chips during our playtest to maintain that smoke-filled speakeasy feel.)
This is how it works. The GM usually says “Yes” or “Yes, and…” to everything that players initiate. “Yes, but…” might work, the important part is that you acknowledge the players initiative and contribution to the current scenario. (For more info about improv techniques, why not start out with this article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Improvisational_theatre#Structure_and_process).
But sometimes the GM says “No”. The player may either accept this, or make a gamble:
- Gambles are made by playing Black Jack
- The starting bet is 3 cigarettes (tokens)
- Whenever a phrase on the character sheets implies that the character would perform better at/be favoured in whatever we gamble about, the player may reduce her bet by one
- A player may also pay a cigarette to the GM at any time during the gamble to replace one of the cards in play with her chosen court card. (Any card in play; their own, another player’s or even the GM’s.)
If the player wins the gamble, the GM goes back on their opposition. But as the game progresses, the players will be milked slowly but surely of their tokens, until they no longer are able to make a gamble against the GM. A player are however allowed to spend their last cigarette (token) to automatically succeed a final(!) task – going out in style.
Did it work?
Yes, actually it did run pretty smoothly. Then again, story-games are often dependant on the social dynamics within the group rather than actual game mechanics. But as a conflict resolver, it worked quite well. I do have a couple of reflections worth mentioning, and they’ll influence further development of the game prototype, as GM/player guidelines or rules-tweaks.
Say “no” more often. It sounds really stupid, but the GM should throw quite a lot of obstacles in the players path, forcing the players to make gambles only when they really want them. This’ll be successively more important the further you’re into the game – the lesser cigarettes (tokens) they will have left to gamble with. Also, encourage players to initiate gambles themselves instead of offering it when turning their actions down. Player initiative is crucial.
Lift the scope from one-shots. We didn’t reach a conclusion during our 4 hour sitting. I managed to milk about a fourth or third of their alloted tokens. But the pace did feel quite appropriate. Perhaps the ideal amount of assumed game-time would be 2-3 sessions, trying to emulate the three-act structure. I’m not entirely in favour of reducing the amount of alloted tokens from 20 either. The players ought to feel empowered at the start of play, being able to “pay to win” their gambles.
Reorder the token economy. To emphasize the characters ability to defeat the opposition, based on the phrases we define in prep, perhaps toss around the economy of tokens and court cards a bit – having a fixed betting amount and then only allowing the player to replace cards with their chosen card only if they have a befitting phrase to invoke. Perhaps raise the (initial) bet value as time goes by, like with the blinds in Texas ‘hold em. This needs to be tested and trialed further.
I believe I did not succeed in slaying the Naga Demon before winter. I may have inflicted a griveous wound upon it, yet had not the strength to pursue it into the lands of ice and snow, and end its foul dominion over November. I will recuperate, regroup and revisit the prototype until an official release can be issued. This sword will not be reforged to a plow. Not yet.