[Trilogy] Playtest Report

I ran a playtest of Trilogy tonight over Skype with fellow game chef Dave M and non-game-chefs Nate and Shane. On balance things went well, and I got some great feedback for ways to improve things.

We started the situation/setting generation by rolling on the Theme Table.

Dave needed to create 2 seeds: Fire, Star, Small, Mountain, Large, Truth which he interpreted as “Fire from the Dawn Star will strike a small hole in the Devil’s Teeth mountains and reveal a great truth about the nature of good and evil.” He also got Crown, Rich, Family which he interpreted as “The Somerset family’s struggle for the crown will cause them to lose their riches.”

Nate needed one seed: Gold, Throne, Learning, Prophecy which he interpreted as “No amount of gold will allow the throne to learn of the prophecy.”

Shane also needed one seed: Rich, Noble, Summer, Love, Sword, Corruption which he interpreted as “The rich noble Berrengen seeks to end Summer’s Love with the Sword of Corruption.”

I needed two seed. Summer Division Inherit Rich Mountain Throne clearly meant “The summer elves are taking advantage of the dwarven dispute over the throne of the Gold Mountains.” Male, Duty, Star, Female meant “The bodyguard of the star priestess is ever vigilant.”

We cast the star charts for the seeds and Dave’s “Fire from the Dawn Star” became the source of the Protagonist/Status Quo and my “summer elves” sentence became the source of the Antagonist. Things got a little bit rocky here as we tried to work this into a protagonist/antagonist plot axis for the game, partly due to less-than-ideal explanations on my part and partly due to playstyle differences between me and Dave. Eventually we decided that “Gold Mountains” and “Devil’s Teeth Mountains” were different culture’s words for the same place, that dwarves were generally considered “evil” by the world at large and the elves usually considered “good”, that Dave’s character was a dwarf who knew the prophecy of the Dawn Star and wanted to overturn the good/evil stereotypes, and that my king of the elves wanted to seize the fragment of the Dawn Star which would enable him to perform a magic ritual to exterminate all dwarves. We decided that “Summer’s Love” was a reference to the summer elves’ desire to posess the dawn star fragment. Nate combined his “no amount of gold” seed with the “bodyguard” seed to create a bodyguard of the Star Priestess character. Shane created the dwarven noble Berrengen as his character.

We selected traits for our characters and that went pretty smoothly. Dave created Fursythe with the traits Power of Prophecy, Compassionate, _____ (I forget what it was originally, but he later changed it to Charisma), and Guardian. Nate created Egam with the traits Intimidating, Erudite, Semper vigil, Master Swordsman. I created King Goldleaf with the traits Elven Magic, My word is law, Grace and Speed, Elven Troops. Shane created Berrengen with the traits Shapechange, Spirit Control, Intimidation, Swordmage.

We then created the plot segments for the characters, and this part was a little rough. I went for “Assault on the Enemy”, “Acquire the Dawn Star”, and “Magic Ritual”, based on what we had talked about earlier for what the Antagonist would do that would alter the status quo.

Nate’s first instinct was to take “destroy the Dawn Star” as his plot segment, but that created a conflict with mine since it would preclude me from finishing my segment 2 if he finished his segment first (it was also slightly stomping on Shane’s seed, since we had decided that the “summer’s love” in his seed was related to the Dawn Star). Nate agreed to change his plot segment to relate more to the dwarven succession, and took “Place Star Priestess on the throne.”

If I remember correctly Shane’s original idea related to killing my character, but that had a similar problem of short-circuiting the story if he succeeded in completing that plot before the end of the game. He switched to “Acquire the sword of corruption”.

Dave took “Travel to potential allies”, “Make alliance”, and “Abolish Stereotype of Good Elves/Evil Dwarves”. We went back and forth on this for a while, since I was concerned that his segments were too similar to each other and would provide the kind of variability in the story that the plot-segment mechanic is supposed to provide. What we went with seemed to be working out in practice, though. Overall, I definitely need to do more work in the text explaining how the protagonist’s plot is supposed to work. Dave felt like I was constantly shooting him down in terms of what he was proposed, but I felt like his idea for a proactive plot for his character wasn’t properly mapping to the protagonist/antagonist axis that I think is central to the epic fantasy story structure.

We decided to skip the map-making step, since it didn’t seem like there was going to be a lot of global travel and questing. The setup phase took us about 2 hours. Using GoogleDocs to create the star charts was a pretty big time sink, though. Something that probably would have taken less than a minute with pen and paper took significantly longer. Despite some of the rockiness, everyone seemed to agree that the setting/situation creation mechanics were working pretty well, and established a good starting point for us to tell a cool story.

We finished the setup right around dinner time for one of the participants, so we took a half hour break and then moved on to playing out some scenes.

The bidding economy worked fairly well. Dave’s protagonist starred in most of the chapters, escaping from the dwarven lands to the elven lands where he made contact with the underground dissident movement, then escaping back to the dwarven lands to meet up with the dwarven dissidents. My character tried to lead an armed assault against the dwarves, but Shane provided the adversity both times and whomped me pretty soundly in both battles. Nate never got a chance to be in the spotlight, although he provided Adversity a few times, and Shane got one spotlight scene (I think). I definitely need to do some tweaks to the economy, though. I was close to bottoming out on tokens, and it didn’t seem like I would ever be able to get out of the hole I was getting into. The playtesters gave me a few good ideas for fixes here.

I really enjoyed the dice mechanic in the chapters a lot more than I expected I would (especially in King Goldleaf’s epic confrontations with Berrengen). There is definitely some tension between putting lots of dice forward to get more chances to win and not wanting to risk exhausting too many of your traits at once. There were a few times where there was a disconnect when people wanted to narrate things that couldn’t be supported mechanically (e.g. Shane had shapechanged into his dragon and wanted to decimate my elven troops with its fiery breath, although I still would have been able to bring in my elven troops dice on the next round). Dave also felt that there was some mechanical weightlessness to the mechanic, since there is no mechanical effect after each exchange, just at the end of the chapter. There were some ideas for how to improve this, the most promising of which is adding the option to spend victory tokens before the battle is over in order to establish temporary traits like “demoralized” or “on fire”.

We quickly discovered that there weren’t enough valid choices for the Adversity Player to spend his victory tokens on after the fight. I’m definitely going to have to revisit that.

I think it was a very useful playtest and I got a lot of useful stuff out of it, both from my own observations and from feedback by the participants.

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One Response to “[Trilogy] Playtest Report”

  1. […] I took Saturday off to do some playtesting of my RPG design project. I tried to get some work done Sunday, but I was too distracted by ideas I had for how to revise my […]

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