15 August 2005

The Devil & The Deep: Update

I was pleased that the ConFusion playtest went really well. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and the game played out as intended. Lots of scheming, daredevil plans and - as in the playtest - the game ended with the British and French ships engaging each other and finally the British winning after a climactic swordfight between the captains. Huzzah!

There were a few bumps to do with deferring narration. One was that a character had set up a watch for nefarious Frenchmen, and we went into Crisis mode to resolve what happened - I said that some were coming and we'd roll to see what happened. Of course, at this stage where they are coming from and even what they have planned is undefined. This only gets firmly established after the Crisis is resolved - at this stage it's just "A boat full of Frenchmen is threatening your ship." I guess I'll need to make that all very explicit - the Crisis when originally presented is just a more or less defined danger. When the player and gamemaster decide what is at risk, it gets defined some more. But only when the roll (and any follow on rolls, possibly) are done do we finally have an authoritative version of what happened.

Also, it's difficult to play troupe-style games in a convention. I should have planned for this and had a bunch of other crew members on small cards or something - just a name and description probably would have been enough. On the other hand, one player seemed to prefer the sailor who disliked another character's officer more than his main guy.

I'm planning to run another playtest with the regular group starting tonight. Rather than doing a full revision of the rules, I'm running off a new version of the two (now four) page summary that I made for convention players. This is much easier to handle and I think I'll stick with that until everything is settled.


Ivan Towlson said...

Yay! The game was a load of fun and I'm keen to participate in future playtests. (Sorry, though. I can't answer your call for campaign GMs. It's tricky enough getting my own game under way *grin*.)

I also wanted to say the playtest helped clarify and resolve some of the issues you and I and Luke discussed around "Dogs in the Vineyard." I found "The Devil & The Deep"'s mechanisms much clearer and more elegant; the "fatigue" mechanic alone, so simple on the surface, with one stroke eliminated all the "intrusive dice-grubbing" problem that so vexed me in "Dogs" and "Heroquest."

I still have some style issues, of course. For example, I was surprised when you put the lid on the negotation scene with the vizier. I understand why you did this and I was secretly relieved, but I need to resolve in my own mind when abstracting interaction is a Good Thing and when it is a Bad Thing. Most of my memorable RPG moments come from *not* abstracting interactions. And how do we know if a scene is going to be "social" (resolved through roleplaying) or "crisis" (resolved through mechanics) -- what if Harman's insolent questioning during the briefing or training scenes had developed into an outright challenge to Cresset or Cross' authority? Another thing I have to think about is the example you highlight, of the unknown threat. I think you are onto something here, and it certainly beats having the GM ask just-too-nonchanantly "So are you setting watches tonight?", but there's something intrusive about being asked to "respond" (put up stakes, apply skills, make roll) to something as abstract as "there's about to be a crisis."

I stress that I am not offering these as complaints but as difficulties that *I* have in adjusting to a different style.

I didn't think the troupe-style play was a problem. Seemed to me the names and descriptions from the "people you know" blurbs were enough. For myself, when I didn't "troupe," it was more because I wanted to stay out of the way and let other characters have their moments than because I was paralysed by a lack of 3x5 cards.

Anyway, I reiterate, it was a jolly good game and I would love to have another go. Any feedback is intended only in a constructive spirit.

By the way, my copy of "Baron Munchausen" has now surfaced from the unpacking; please remind me closer to the time and I'll bring it along to the next WARGS, even if I have to defeat every Frenchman between Lower Hutt and Wellington to do so. Huzzah!

The Gamester At Large said...

Thanks for the comments, Ivan.

Specific answers:
- I seem to recall that I stopped the negotiation scene mainly because it wasn't going to be any fun: we knew what everyone wanted, and the rest would be (boring) details. That was just me as GM, nothing to do with this game in particular.
- We know whether a scene is social or a crisis from the beginning. Every scene should be framed clearly so that people know which it is.
- Scenes that start as social and get out of hand, like the possibility you mention, are dealt with. Once the conflict is unavoidable, the social scene ends (with normal rewards) and a crisis scene begins with all the rules that entails. This may break the pacing a bit, but so far I haven't thought of a better way to do it.
- The 'generic danger' stuff... I think I was being a bit coy really. I should have set the scene up more dynamically - "You're on watch when the Frenchies attack! They're approaching in a boat, what do you do?"

It's kind of funny really, a lot of these issues hit me as well. Although it's my game, it's aiming at a style of play that I'd like to do rather than simply doing what I do already.

And you can certainly play more... I'll probably be running games at most WARGS meetings I make it to over the next few months.