By The Stars — “No Dice-integrations.” — Week Thirty-Six

The “Myth of Planet Earth” playtest was extremely instructive. I took out the rules for being out-bid by your own Aspect tokens and the game ran way short and suffered for it. This is great! I now know that those particular rules are vitally important for both pacing and excitement. Perhaps the best part to come out of that was the post-game discussion where a number of ideas of how to put these rules back in (while still addressing the reason I had taken them out) were bandied about. Several of them look promising.

I also introduced Quest Cards. They provide a sort of overarching narrative/alternate victory condition to seek out. Players all start with one card which can be bid as a simple +3 if they choose they’re not interested in the Quest. If they are, then each card matches with a specific other card out there, to reveal other cards. So, if I have the Port Half of Ancient Starmap and you have the Starboard Half of Ancient Starmap, and we both play our cards together, we get the Oldest Known Starmap Card. If we apply that information to the Original Design Specs of Central Computer card, it gives us the Override Code we need to get the computer to reveal the ultimate goal: The Coordinates of Planet Earth. The Quest Cards need some development, but I think they seem extremely promising.

Also, the “big board” came up in the post-game discussion. And I realized that the reason I kept rejecting it was I kept conceiving of it as a timeline sort of thing. Like WGP’s Synopsis Sheet. But when the idea of making it a map was put forth, it seemed obvious how that would help to synchronize everyone’s ideas about the game world.

So, I’ve got my work cut out for me. Camp Nerdly is in a week and a half, and I’ve got a lot to get together before then. See you in 7!

By The Stars — “I want to become a Jedi like my father.” — Week Thirty-Five

Here’s a confession for ya: When I’ve got a really tough problem, I talk to myself. So late last week I turned off the radio on my drive home and thought I’d talk about what wasn’t working in By The Stars. As last week’s entry indicated, I figured I would be discussing “Big Board” solutions to the lack-of-a-central-story problem. What came out of my mouth surprised me (this happens quite a bit–it’s the reason I talk to myself about these things to begin with).

“Why isn’t By The Stars working the way you want it to?” I asked.

“Because the Oaths are just sitting there. They don’t drive play (at least not very hard) and rewriting them is lame in practice,” I answered.

through further discussion, I figured out that Oaths were about three simple things, and that these things together had the potential to both form an arc for each individual character AND touch on the monomyth stuff that I had set aside. The simple things are:

  • What your character is. The Prince begins the game as a naive youth

  • What your character wants to become The Prince wants to end the game as a respected leader.
  • What your character wants another character to become. The Prince wants the Overlord to end the game as a deposed tyrant.

That’s it. The Oaths need to be that clear. Your first Oath focuses on getting from your opening state to your desired final state. Your second Oath focuses on dictating someone else’s final state. I know more complexity will reveal itself in play.

Speaking of play, the next playtest is on Sunday and I’ve already got nine players committed to being here. It will be a grand adventure as they uncover “The Mystery of Planet Earth.” I leave you with a snippet of the event description:

Everyone knows the saying, but what if it were true? What if all civilized worlds in the universe started from one tiny blue planet called Earth? What if Earth really exists and is as real as the star map in an android’s data bank? What would you do to get a hold of it? What would they do to destroy it?

The road ahead is pre-generated

I’vebeen listening to a few episodes of The Sons of Kryos this week. One of their segments was on character creation sessions. Both on SoK and on innumerable threads & blog posts around the web, I hear about these great character creation sessions that get everyone excited to play. Everyone pitches in, gets interested in each other’s characters, and is anxious for the looming conflicts.

I’m listening and drool is leaking from my lips. That sounds good. I want that. I think. Then, I do a reality check. With the exception of a few MLwM one-shots, that’s never really worked for me. In general, character creation has always been a chore to get done before you’re allowed to play. You use skills in building a character that never get touched on again. I’m reminded of a post I made last year about “pregame prep is a bug, not a feature.” I still believe that.

The next SoK show had a segment on pre-gens! That’s what I’m going to do: throw character gen to the wind. On Mondays Kat and I will have some pre-gens ready to go for something we feel like running that week. If something goes long, we can pick it up the next week. If people are excited and want to play more, but with a different character, then they can do the whole character generation thing. Thanks, Sons of Kryos!

We’ll see how it flies in real life…

By The Stars — “Slowly Digested over a Thousand Years” — Week Thirtty-Four

Due to the holiday and some particularly horrid days at work, there was not much concrete progress on BTS this week. However, I have been jotting notes on the game’s biggest single weakness: Lack of a cohesive, structured story with a sense of dramatic pacing. Many of my ideas currently revolve around a large central whiteboard that will function similar to WGP’s synopsis sheet. No single concept is ready for playtest yet, but luckily, “The Myth of Planet Earth” day playtest isn’t for another week and a half.

Looking back on these last few entries, I realize I’ve been playing a bit closer to the chest than I’d originally intended. So, below the cut are the quick rules handouts I used for both the first and second playtests. Let me know what you think.

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By The Stars — An Unexpected Party — Week Thirty-Three

This past Saturday, I went to Policon, a small, annual, private convention run by Don Corcoran. This year it was at Don’s home in Philly. Kat and I were only able to attend for one day, so I had planned to run With Great Power… and she had planned to run Serial. On Thursday, Don announced that it looked like he would have more attendees than he’d have games being run. So, prompted by my muse-in-wife’s-clothing, I volunteered to run By The Stars again. Don asked that I pare the scenario down to 6 players, due to space constraints. So Friday night was spent implementing the rules tweaks we had discovered after the first playtest.

On Saturday, there were but five of us, but a great five it was. A big “Thank You” to Kat, Don, Matt Talli, and Scott Lesher for helping to test my game. The game was, once again, fun. Most of the rules changes worked well and did what they were intended to do.

After two playtests with slightly different groups, I can begin to see the strengths and weaknesses of the design. On the positive, it does give people both a mechanical and story-based agenda. Players are kept engaged and active throughout the play time. The mechanics encourage players to create detail and engage in conflicts that they might not on their own.

On the negative side, the multiple-conflicts-at-once aspects means that each person is paying attention only to their own story, and usually missing out on everyone else’s. The disjointed nature of the narrative means that the story doesn’t build, it just sort of happens, happens, happens, and then ends. Plus, while characters are extremely active, they’re not really developed all that much.

This is all very good. The positives give me fuel to continue development. The negatives give me goals to work towards–thorny problems to fix.

In passing, for those of you keeping track of these things, the young Singularity Pilot won the day, convincing his father, the Singularity Overlord of Illyria, to leave the planet in his hands. The Prince proved his courage and, IIRC, stayed on as an advisor to the Pilot. The Pirate gave up his criminal ways to woo the Cyborg Princess, who was also sought by the Pilot. We joked that this would be the kick-off of a romantic comedy in space.

I’ve got three weeks until the next playtest and a huge list of things to think about. Maybe I’ll sign up to run it at Camp Nerdly at the beginning of May.

In any case, I’ve got a game. The game’s got legs. But the race is far from over…