I've run a few playtests using the current version of the rules, and with three different groups.
It feels like the rules are now pretty much right, with just minor tweaking required to get it exactly right (e.g. the exact values of risking specific things in a crisis are still being revised after each game).
Most importantly, each game has been fun. Everyone seems to have enjoyed themselves, although the explicit scene framing required seems to cause some stumbles. Last night's WARGS game suffered from this, with almost all the scenes being set by me, but as three of the four players decided to play at the last moment without ever seeing the game before, that's perhaps unsurprising.
Things that are working really well are:
- The sense of tension as people select what they are risking in each crisis. This is particularly emphasized if a roll fails and it needs to be saved, as each subsequent attempt has more and more staked on it.
- The rest of the crew develop really well. Players seem to quickly give certain crew members enough personality that they come to life when played for a single scene. This has the effect that people like to play these people instead of their main character, which was the idea.
Things that aren't working so well:
- Explicit starting and ending of scenes is important, but most roleplayers are used to letting them organically draw to a close.
- The order things are declared in a crisis is crucial and I keep messing up... the GM is supposed to declare the threat level first (i.e. is it harder than usual?). I keep forgetting this and going on to picking what's at risk. This is bad because players are supposed to select risks based partly on their knowledge of what their chance of success is. In short, they need to be able to know that the GM won't slam a huge penalty on them just after they risk their character's life and the ship sinking (for example).
- Maybe the free stuff you get at the end of a social scene should be more generous... and I think I just worked out how.
Overall, a lot of the problems come from the game's definite scene-based structure. It's not something that games generally do. In particular, it's rare for the purpose of the scene to be stated up front. In The Devil & The Deep, players should be saying (for example) "I want a social scene in which my character is pondering the deaths of his comrades in the battle earlier that day. He's in the wardroom so your guy might be there. I'd like someone to play the wardroom servant and someone else to be the marine officer." This is probably something that will develop fairly quickly as people get their heads around the rules, as there are some definite rewards in game for setting up your own social and crisis scenes.
Work has begun on the full playtest draft. Optimistically I dream it will be done in a couple of weeks but four to six is more likely. Too bad.