Saturday, March 26, 2011

Raw Playtest Data

Paul and the Yamanashi Crew playtested my latest revision of the Presidents of the Apocalypse.  It looks like the system may be serviceable but the presentation needs to be cleaned up.  I'm not so surprised by that, because I've been chipping away at writing/re-writing/editing it piecemeal.  Even though it's only a 16 page document, if I don't work on it for a few weeks then go back to it, it's easy to lose track of things.

Giving myself a hard deadline to get it into shape might help with that, but then this is just something I'm doing for fun.  I've got enough stress in my life without giving myself more.

Anyway, here's the email Paul sent after the game, and then follow up are some comments from players on a teacher's message board we use.

Paul wrote:

OK, we test-played PotA last night.  I will encourage folks to post any feedback they may have on the forum so you can see it as well, but the overall consensus was that it was more structured ---JD was also pleased compared to his initial foray with his 2-headed Clinton.  Of course there are still a few bugs that need sorting out.

More-or-less, I used the module I sent you, only changing up a few of the characters and tweaking a few stats.  We got started rolling up characters a bit late (7pm) so I kinda rushed through the adventure in places.  We managed to finish it at around 10pm ---so, after character creation, that left us just about 2 hours of actual play time I would guess. 

Here are some observations:
1---The big one being how to deal with combat ---what can defend against what. 
For example, if Obama's only defense is a Mind Field (Mental), can he even defend against an Eisenhowitzer (Tech)?  The answer was a little hazy, but I remember you mentioning something about defending at a level lower if the type doesn't match.  Anyhow, I basically assigned each Defense a power level for each of the 3 types in a notation similar to your Sample Opponents (I mentioned something about doing this in an earlier email).  It worked for the most part, but it made having multiple defenses a little less important ---so I've now gone and altered the numbers to more extreme levels so that one item might have a good defense in one area and a rather lousy one in another.  Of course players with more than one can switch out defenses on their turns once they realize one is offering less protection vs. a certain type of attack.

2---Next is the Offensive powers: Each President got at least one, and some two, depending on the type of character they made.  But generally, they ended up using and re-using the same power again and again.  Maybe we need to grant more variety in the initial powers and lessen the points to power things up (EP) at character creation.  Hopefully this will give more options and encourage more diverse play.

3---The election.  I was worried that it might bring things to a grinding halt, but it didn't.  Players were actually thinking about who to vote for, and they did it quickly enough.  Next time I might try to get them to do a little campaigning ---have each player briefly state why they believe they deserve to be voted for (reminiscent of White Wolf, remember?).  If the speeches were delivered in order of descending EP or something, then everyone would know where each player stood in potential votes, if that's a good thing…  

4---Anyhow, the players liked the voting thing, and I let them spend any gained points during this election time to kind of level up.  Most only tried to enhance the power(s) they already had though rather than gain new ones.
Only at the end did they realize that it's not always advantageous to vote for the best candidate as you'd be making it harder for yourself to win.  We ended with a tie between Clinton (Jacob) and Teddy Rosevelt (Ryan), but Ryan had more overall EP, and thus was elected Pres. because of the bonus 2 votes granted.  I assume Clinton then became the Vice-Pres of the Apocalypse…?
Unfortunately, we can't force people to spend their EP on new powers in order to help them diversify, so I propose that we either eliminate the EP buying thing and think of a new system, or we reduce the number of EP PC's start with and give them a free roll on any chart during an election period.
Spending EP can be a double-edged sword.

5---It could have been just the type of game I ran, but I noticed that some Utility tasks were trumped by Offense tasks. Ex: Hoover (Michelle) was faced with either trying to hack the computer or simply tack her Chainsaw to it… she opted for the latter as she had no real computer skills.  Fair enough, I found that in many situations the PC's were tempted to blast stuff, but in the spirit of the game they tried to do other stuff when possible ---Michelle talked down a rabid Barney and scared him off, for example.
Overall it was rather well balanced, though I did tweak a few things beforehand out of fear the Presidents would become too powerful---starting EP=20; cost to improve star levels also increased: 1, 3, 6, 12, 25.  This balance prevented anyone from starting with a 4-star Power.
During the adventure I "killed" various presidents about 4 times, but it was cool that they could auto-rez following each encounter.

6---Another more specific point is in the rule about character generation that says to roll once more for your Role, but not for your Class.  Following, there is an example that shows two new Powers being chosen.  Which is it?
I personally think the more powers, the better ---to diversify a character.  Also I'm a fan of the random roll over the choosing of a specific thing.
I still think we should assign a bonus of some sort to a president using a power that bears his name ---maybe an automatic star level.  Of course this can only be done if powers aren't chosen.

7---For Initiative we used a simple system: the person to the immediate left of the GM went first during the first encounter.  The next encounter we started with the person to his left, and so on...  Like how the button (dealer) moves around the table in Texas Hold'em.  It worked rather well, and kept things flowing quite nicely.  Of course the GM also eventually gets a turn to go first.

8---Some of the powers that people ended up with seemed a little broken, but since they mostly just had the one Offense Power, limitations on use were not really enforced.  Ex: Clinton had the Eisenhowitzer (which Jacob played as unzipping his pants to bring it into play).  Anyhow, it can only be used in a Medium range or further situation, so all he had to say was, everybody step back before he "fired."  And Ryan had the Fillibuster of Doom which has AOE as well as the ability to stun for d turns (he had ☆☆☆=d8) ---which means it could stun up to 4 opponents for 1d8 turns each ---too powerful if it hits, especially since there are usually only a few opponents to begin with.
I know these are small details that test playing will bring out, but just thought I'd mention them.

9---AOE worked well enough though we wondered if the attacker should roll to hit each opponent as well as roll for each damage (I recommend using the D&D system: roll to hit each individually, but damage is rolled once, makes sense for AOE where it is essentially one attack).  The only change I'd make to simplify it would be to limit it to 1 plus the star level, and not allow it to target any more beyond that.
Stun and Weaken also worked out fairly well and were easy enough to follow---one of the problems with 4E is that there can be so many effects in play that it is such a pain to keep track of.  Often when a character was stunned in this game, I just said you miss your turn, and if I forgot they reminded me.
Healing on the sliding scale was pretty cool too (again, Clinton unzipped his pants in order to bring forth his healing wand and touch the afflicted).  But a few other special abilities that some of the powers have might need further explanation.  We had to look a few things up and were curious about others like how Frighten works for Ulysses Undeath when it is a Defense power… 

10---What makes up a round.  This wasn't as much of a problem as I thought it might be (even for the power gamer).  Basically, a PC could move and do an action, be it an attack or a utility action like heal or a whatever.  It was simple and easy.  Nobody questioned it.

11---I assigned EP for doing all sorts of things, but particularly for killing bad guys.  One potential problem is that if someone is using an AOE attack, he's going to end up killing more enemies and thus earning more EP than the rest.  What can we do about this?  I guess, not assign EP per enemy killed as it should be a group effort.  I put some stipulations on how much EP an encounter would grant each PC depending on whether they "died" or not, but beyond that EP wouldn't matter in the election if it was shared equally.  Hmm, something to think about…

12---I'm not sure about Amendments to Constitution because they never came into play at all during our game.  I kind of think they are redundant.  I understand that they are meant to serve a few purposes, but we should just cut them and eliminate a system that the EP could easily handle.  I mean, you can spend EP to buy AC's, right?  And at the end of the game AC's count for votes (well points, but it's the same thing).  Why not just have EP handle all this? 
At the end of our game some people had as many as 30EP left---meaning, under this new idea, they could have spent EP to re-roll up to 30 times.  That seems a lot if we think Action Points, but we could set some limit (like once a turn), or make it cost 2EP per re-roll, or make a player pay a cumulative double EP for each roll throughout the adventure.
In the end, the EP spent hurt the players chance of being elected.
The Max Double rule could just be for growth then.

Anyhow, sorry, I know that's a lot to digest ---I wanted to get it all down before I forgot.  Hopefully you can understand where I'm coming from with these points.
One player suggested that it would be fun to have the presidents battle it out in the end to decide who the real President of the Apocalypse was.

On the message board, JD wrote:
Good things include originality of abilities and enemies, a very large comedy aspect and ease of play.  Taking movement out of the equasion saves a lot of time.  The instructions need to be rewritten though, as there are several parts that are really vague and other parts that just don't add up, for example you're supposed to have 4 abilities at the start, not 5 right?  I'm also not 100% clear on the body/mind/tech attack system.  According to how we were playing, A body attack can only be blocked by a body defense, right?  But if that is the case, why is there that 0/+2/-2 section?  That makes it seem like you can block any of the three attack types with any defense.  I'm not sure.... anyway that really needs to be clarified. 
And Michelle wrote:
The same thing as JD, I wasn't sure how defense worked. Can tech only block tech? Can tech block mind and body but at a penalty? Then why do some defense powers have B/M/T modifiers? My defense power was tech, but had a +2/0/+2 modifier, making me think I could use it against all attacks. The easiest way to fix this, is to give all defense powers a B/M/T modifier.

Here's my suggestion for a normal defense-power modifier. It's like rock, paper, scissors. Body attacks are strong against Tech defense, but Body defense is weak against Mind attacks, etc.

Defense Type       Vs.          Body / Mind / Tech Attack
Body                                   0   /  -2   /  -1
Mind                                   -1   /   0   /  -2
Tech                                  -2   /  -1   /   0

Some defense powers could be stronger or weaker, like -3/0/+4 or -1/+1/0.

Also, some of the attack powers were labeled Weak or Strong vs. X. I wasn't sure how that affects rolls or damage. Adding a B/M/T modifier would help.

This may not make a lot of sense to anyone who has never read the game, but I thought putting it all here would make it easier for me to find it later.

Paul's off to India for a week, but when he gets back I'll try to get him to write up a session report.  I saw the adventure he was going to run them through, but I'm curious about what sorts of characters everyone made, and how they handled the various challenges in a bit more detail than Paul sent me in that email.

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