Playtest 2, 15th April 2018
Two weeks later, and a bunch of polishing to the scernario, and I'm ready to run it again, this time for a group of complete strangers at a convention: Morgenstern (not her real name, but I know her Dad doesn't want her real name online), Judith, Calum, Sam, and Lu. I've made a bunch of changes to the character generation system based on Playtest one, but of course that has no impact on this session.
Luckily we get a nice location, a quiet table in a sunny upper floor area of the con, looking out on a rooftop garden. I got there with plenty of time to spare, and could set up the pictures of the Tribe Elders, the character sheets, and the stop-gap Tribe sheet.
The Con gave the game the following blurb:
The burrow of three rivers is under threat! Can your brave (or cowardly) mice find a way to save it, or will your nestmates be forced to pack up and brave the dangers of the Between to find another another place to live?
Note that one of the players this time was only 10, so there was a lighter tone that I really enjoyed, lots of squeaking and silly voices. Does this push the game towards "Intended for Children"? No, but it may make it "Child friendly".
Once again we open on the scene of the arguing Elders, but this time I've pared the sides down to two, Meeka and Ropicheep. Whether for this reason, or just that the con players are more proactive, they quickly take sides, and start trying to argue for further action. This time we get to roll dice, with the arguing sides being Obstacles. The players almost manage to argue for a scouting expidition before Chernovog turns up and makes his pronouncement. Chernovog and Oglun leave in different directions, with one of the player mice getting trampled in the stampeede.
Once again the group wants to go after the Seer, but this time they want to examine the body first. I get to break out the new Investigation rules (not yet written up, but at least existing in my head), and the players do a mix of asking for facts and making up their own, which works well. They also manage to pick up on the fact that Oglun's plan may well be very bad for the nest.
The encounter with Chernovog is less violent than in the first playtest (though he does get hit over the head with a watch battery). There is some inspired use of Legends. The player character Seer bites the battery, shocking herself to a 'higher plane of conciousness' so that they can understand Chernovog's warning.
Again the group wants to take up the trail of the wounded mouse, but this time they wisely decide to check on Oglun first. They find that he plans to connect live electrical wires (Burning Lines) to wires he has wound right around the nest, to make an "Electrical Shield!". The characters quickly realise that Oglun is likely to: (a) electrocute himself and (b) burn down the nest. They try to persuade him to abbandon the plan (no dice yet), and then when that fails, sabotage the device by chewing through the wires just outside his lab. Once again this groups' effective use of Helping, and Luck Dice, means that this goes without a hitch, though they use up some Stuff in the process.
The group leaves the nest and follows the hunter's trail. They have the encounter with the scavenger, who warns them to be careful of Tropp the Toad, who lives in a damp area on the other side of the vertical from the nest, close to where the level has been ripped up. They quickly find Tropp, and decide to ask him about the missing mouse. Tropp isn't sure whether to help or to eat them, so they bribe him with food (I give them the quick rule of thumb: 1 Stuff = +1 Dice, 4 Stuff = +2 Dice, 8 Stuff = +3 Dice). Tropp tells them he saw the mouse in question go into a nearby area of foam, and come out hours later terribly wounded. Just before she died she warned him about "The Beast"!
The group follows the trail into the foam, and uses some Scouting to try and find the Trouble before it finds them. This works well, and they manage to sneak up on a hole in the foam where the Beast (a rat-snake, though they flub a 'Knowing (Beasts)' roll and conclude that it is a lizard) is sleeping. They debate what to do, but their arguing wakes the snake, and they flee back to Tropp.
Some of the group are for hunting the beast, others are for trying to lead it away (with what? themselves?), still others for running back to the nest, but the consensus is to try and persuade Tropp to talk to it (Toads are the Between's translators). This takes a lot of food, and building a wall of dirt for Tropp to hide behind, but he eventually agrees. One mouse (the 10 year old) goes back to lure the snake out. This is a deeply asymmetric test involving a bucket of luck, and still gets the mouse wounded (with Afraid damage), but the snake comes out for some tense negotiation with Tropp.
The players, by this point, have realised that the beast is a missing pet, and the Eaters aren't going to stop tearing up flooring till they find it ... quite possibly destroying the nest in the process, if the snake doesn't eat them first. They need to get the snake to go back to its owners, as Chernovog suggested, but the snake is lazy, and cold, and has food right here. While some of the players keep the snake distracted the others tinker a fire out of their shorted battery, which heats the snake up enough that it is motivated to move. Unfortunately the heat also makes it hungry. Tropp beats a retreat, while the fastest mouse sprints for the area of missing roof with the snake in hot pursuit! It's a tense chase (buckets of dice on both sides) as the mice hand off on the distraction duty until the last mouse is all alone and about to be swallowed ... when an enormous hand comes down from the sky and snatches the snake away! Job done!
This session went swimmingly, in large part thanks to the enthusiasm of the players, and their co-operation, but also because of all the finessing I was able to do after the first (incomplete) playtest. It showed the clear difference between not-cooperating (failing many rolls, getting hurt), and co-operating (bigger dice pools, most encounters resolved in one round), which also suggests that the dice range for Trouble should be 2-12, rathern than the 2-10 I'd suggested in the rules.
Other things that were clear from this session:
- I needed to do more Damage as a GM, to encourage more use of Luck to get rid of it (which makes Luck more precious). That has to make it into the GM advice somewhere.
- That the rules for encumbrance were wrong, players need to be able to carry more than I'd allowed, but also have a penalty for carrying too much.
- That the bribery/Stuff rules were great
- That I needed to make the rules for opposed and unopposed tests even more clear and explicit than the changes I'd half made after the first playtest ... clearly a recurring theme.