Playtest Postmortem #1: Character Creation

By | August 18, 2012

Hello again!

Today, in honor of our 1000th hit, we’d like to announce that we’re expanding our roster of playtesting with two sessions in October at Cary, NC game store The Gamer’s Armory.  On Sunday, October 14th and Sunday, October 28th, we’ll be hosting a two-part playtest with character creation on the 14th and a short adventure in Talover, our inaugural quest hub, on the 28th.  If you’d like to attend, please sign up for the event via the Raleigh Tabletop Roleplayers meetup group.

Our first two playtest sessions–the Kickoff, last Saturday afternoon, and the first session at Raleigh gaming hotspot Game Theory–are complete, and we’ve gotten a lot of feedback from our playtesters.  One of the best things about putting our game in front of playtesters is that it lets us experience what the game feels like from the outside.  Of course, we’ve designed it and built it and understand what we want to do with it, but can we clearly communicate our intentions through play and through the rules we design?  The biggest changes always come early in a playtest, with each set of changes honing the system closer and closer to the intended result.  Join us after the break for a breakdown of our first set of feedback and how we’ve responded to it:
To begin, I’d like to thank our playtesters again for their help.  It’s not easy to play the boring first-iteration of a game design that’s squeaky, creaky and unclean, but our guys have taken a real shine to it and I’m really appreciative of them for it.  You can check out who they are over on the right, on our Infinite Earths Playtesters Appreciation Page.

And now let’s get down to it.  I’m only going to cover the really big things in this post (rather than the bits like “We’ll change the name of that talent to help you conceive of it better”).  What worked, what didn’t, and what we’re going to do about it:

  • Session Zero:  The Session Zero technique of collaborative character and party creation has been a big hit.  The specific mechanics of it–who gets to speak when, making sure to ask the right questions at the right times, etc.–need only a small bit of refining to make sure nothing gets missed.  We’re very pleased with the results so far for this character generation technique.
  • Character Creation Mechanics:  The character creation mechanics, on the other hand, were terrible.  As is traditional, we were beginning with the attributes–Brawn, Agility, Vitality, etc.  Then we were moving on to which portion of a character is most important–combat, social, or vocational.  And then we decided on races and cultures.  And then the specific combat, social and vocational roles.  Character creation is complex, and intended to be a step-by-step process without a lot of required flipping back and forth between different pages of the book.  So, we scrapped our traditional creation mechanic and actually flipped it on its head, so that the roles are chosen first and the attributes are chosen last.  We tested this out in our second session, and character creation went tremendously smoothly, with character mechanical generation taking nearly two hours less time.  We were very pleased with the result.
  • Option Fatigue:  There are a lot of options for talents that we make available to players right from the start.  (Over 500, in fact).  This can be pretty overwhelming, especially since we initially presented the innate abilities of the different character roles also as talents.  And while, in a behind-the-scenes mechanical way, they are, expressing them as such led to player exhaustion between all the abilities they could pick from.  Modifying the presentation of the innate role talents, as well as spending more time in the Session Zero portion of character creation, helped out our second group of playtesters very much.  They were able to jump straight into the options and look for the kinds of talents that would best fit their characters’ personalities, and didn’t waste a lot of time looking for the “numerically best” talent.  We were pleased with this result, but will need to keep an eye on how future playtesters handle it, and continue to make adjustments as appropriate.
  • Roles Being Hard to Conceptualize:  The three-component “create your own class” technique that’s so central to our system is also hard to conceptualize when you’re first introduced to it.  For instance, if you’re used to “Rogue” from D&D or its inheritors, you’d probably be interested in playing an “Assassin/Scoundrel/Infiltrator” in our system. . .but we were not providing sufficient guidance to help players realize that.  So we’re introducing archetypes to help describe “classic classes” in terms of the Infinite Earths three-role system.  We’re hopeful that this will help introduce new players to our system, and it can be easily ignored by more advanced players.  Furthermore, we’re renaming Combat Role, Social Role and Vocational Role to Fighting Style, Persona and Vocation to help them integrate better together.
  • Missing Roles:  As it turns out, we didn’t give nearly enough credence to people wanting to play pirates and inventors.  So we’re adding some new roles:
    • Swashbuckler (Fighting Style):  Uses Medium weapons and fights in a very agile style, aiming to embarass opponents and show off more than cause lasting harm
    • Tosser (Fighting Style):  Specializes in thrown weapons such as daggers, axes and bombs.  And yeah, we know what that means in Ye Olde England.  We don’t always have to be serious 😉
    • Mariner (Vocation):  He’s on a boat
    • Tinker (Vocation):  Good at not only making strange stuff work, the Tinker can invent new stuff, too.  This will be presented as an optional role, since Nikola Tesla-types wandering around in the Middle Ages can be. . .well. . .we’ll just leave it at disruptive
    • The Alchemist Vocation will be splitting into three roles:  Apothecary, focusing on potions; Poisoner, focusing on poisons; and Transmuter, focusing on changing substances from one form to another
  • Character Sheet:  We found several aspects of the character sheet that just didn’t work as well as we’d hoped, so we’re rebuilding that.
  • Personas:  What we’ve found in testing so far is that the “Social Role” as we’d structured it just doesn’t work.  Humorously enough, in talking about it with our playtesters, it turns out that our original, discarded idea–allowing them to choose their own personality advantages and disadvantages, rather than grouping them together in predefined packages–is more highly-desirable and easier to conceptualize.

Sure, it’s a lot of work–but our big takeaway from all of this is that we’re on the right path.  So far, we’ve developed a character creation process that’s not just writing down stats on a sheet of paper, but instead is actually fun–a collaborative, creative, exciting process that gets the players working together and turns character creation into actual play, for Players and GMs, and lets  the GM know exactly how the players want to play and what they want and expect out of the campaign story.

For us, that’s the biggest part.  Not the rules (even though those are the most work by far), not the look.  Is it fun.  It can be the most perfect game in the universe, but if it’s not fun then it’s not worthwhile.  And so far. . .it’s fun!

Everything else is just details 🙂

See you next time, either here or in a playtest!