Alpha Playtesting Wrap-Up

By | October 27, 2012

Hello and welcome back!

Thanks to diminishing attendance at playtests over the holidays, and a shift in the type of feedback we were getting from playtests (from “major additions/removals” to “grammar and flavor text suggestions”), we’ve decided to end our Alpha playtesting phase and begin work preparing Infinite Earths for Open playtesting.  Once Open playtesting begins, we’ll be hosting the Playtest Documents here on our website so that anyone can download them, for free, and try out the game.  You’ll also be able to provide us feedback by emailing us directly or by signing up for our forums.

I’d like to send out a special thanks to our Alpha playtesters, most of whom have come back for multiple sessions with us, for their time and effort.  I’m going to talk about some of the lessons we learned from the playtest, after the break:

One of the first things we learned is that our character creation is more complex than we were at first hoping, largely due to the sheer number of options available to the player.  While it is technically possible to build a character in only twenty minutes–it’s probably not going to take that little time, especially for new players, as they examine all their options and decide which ones they like.  What we’ve found is that 2 hours for character creation, for players who aren’t familiar with the system, is appropriate.

We also learned that we should design the character creation chapters as a streamlined guide, walking players through the process in a step-by-step fashion wherein each step builds from the one before it.  We also learned that the traditional Attributes, Race, Class, Skills/Abilities sequence of character creation that most RPGs use to direct character creation is less effective in ours thanks in no small part to the options available.

We also had to go back and re-examine our Social roles and Social Interactions.  Since I’ve discussed that before at length, I won’t again.

The roles themselves also needed to be expanded.  Throughout the course of playtesting, we added new fighting styles such as the Swashbuckler and Tosser, and new vocations such as the Laborer and Tinkerer.  Many of these were things that we didn’t think players would clamor for or could be build using the flexibility of the system; however, once we sat down in play, what we found was that they were romanticized enough with different-enough abilities that building them as their own roles made sense.

Part of what we learned here is that pushing aside the veil of flavor text to expose an underlying mechanic can be very distracting for some players.  I’ll use an example from D&D 3.5:  the armor proficiencies of a Fighter are effectively 5 Feats:  Light Armor Proficiency, Medium Armor Proficiency, Heavy Armor Proficiency, Shield Proficiency and Tower Shield Proficiency.  This is usually presented as “Fighters are proficient with all types of armor and all shields (including Tower shields).”  In our initial presentation, this was presented as the 5 Feats they actually were, and that proved detrimental to player acceptance.

Additionally, we learned that our word choices just for the names of Feats (in Infinite Earths, called “Talents”) are going to be extremely important.  We had a talent called “Rebounding Throw” which allowed a thrown throwing weapon to return to the hand of the thrower after striking an opponent.  This proved acceptable if a hammer was involved–but using the exact same talent for a dagger proved inconceivable.  We eventually changed the name to “Boomerang Throw,” but I confess that while I understand the reasons why it was unacceptable, I personally still prefer the original name.

And perhaps most of all what we learned is that our core rulebook is going to have to be very heavy with examples in order to properly communicate the concepts involved.  Because we’ve broken down the traditional roleplaying archetypes (which are largely just different fighting styles, in Infinite Earths) into three different roles with three discrete levels of power, assembling those roles into a character concept will take some guidance.

For example, would you like to play a Paladin?  Excellent!  Would you like to play that Paladin as a magic wielder and melee combatant (Battlecaster Fighting Style), a tank-like protector (Guardian Fighting Style) or a wielder of a great two-handed weapon (Warrior Fighting Style)?  Would you like him to be a horseman, like the knights of old (Rider Vocation), an ordained member of his church (Clergy Vocation), a religious soldier (Soldier Vocation), a non-magical healer (Doctor Vocation), or a nobleman wandering the world to do good deeds (Aristocrat Vocation)?  Now, how important are these various aspects of the character?  Is he better with words than with weapons?  Is he better with weapons than with his skills?

Writing out these examples and providing a solid walkthrough of the system will take a tremendous amount of time, and we expect to spend the better part of the next two months doing it.  But one of the biggest lessons that we’ve learned is the lesson of time:  it takes a massive amount of time to develop this system and the information in it, and a good rule of thumb has been “however long you think it’ll take, double it.  Then double it again, for good measure.”

See you next week!