Okay, Synanthropes playtest, time to do a little after the fact deconstruction and contemplation and all that rot. What’s WORKING, what’s NOT, and what needs to be CHANGED.
WORKING! All of the Synanthropic species. Okay, they’re not perfect yet… some Traits don’t have any real use, some are too easy to fall upon for everything. Some Mysteries and Legends are reliable at prompting fun clues and motivations, some are just a bit weird. Some species have more hooks for being appealingly alien than others. But at the capsule summary level, every one of them has worked as a character concept, and THAT makes me happy. Godspeed, you lot.
ALSO WORKING: Hoard points! Again, tweaking is needed, some ways to gain them are easier than others, some uses are more powerful than others. Some things didn’t come up in this last game at all, and it’s impossible to tell, offhand, the difference between an ability that wasn’t useful this one time and an ability that straight-up isn’t that useful, but the idea works, and has proven way more intuitive and functional than the fiddly dice. Mechanically, everything else is proving functional, expecially…
PROBABLY WORKING: The new method of finding Clues. Pacing-wise, we found nine Clues over the course of ten floors, which just about perfect. Narrative-wise, we found them in many ways: successfully making a daring leap, failing to hold our ground, knocking another character about, getting knocked about, all over the place. I was pretty sold on Clues being things that we stumbled across all over the place. On the other hand…
NOT QUITE WORKING: Narration privilege getting passed to whomever last found a Clue. As was pointed out last night, this meant that some people didn’t get to narrate very often, and others more than they expected (both lame). Now this bears a digression.
The Indie+ testers thought that shared narration might not have been worthwhile, that a single narrator might be more effective. I spent some time considering it, because, well, it’s an important issue, but ultimately I could not disagree more; the advantage of a single narrator in an RPG is a consistent voice. The GM has an idea of what’s going on, and can make sure that everything links up in a way that makes sense… which is not what I want. If the narrator wants this building to be military in nature, then suddenly it is, and every danger can be twisted to reflect that, every floor to somehow relate to that… even if the Artifacts can’t be directly military, their placement and other details can attempt to rectify that and produce a setting that’s internally consistent with the narrator’s vision.
That’s good, if that’s what you want. But I want the characters to be out of their depth. “What is this place?” isn’t just a question for the Synanthropes, it’s for the people at the table as well, and it should be shared self-discovery. Ideally, they will start forging toward a specific conclusion, but… it has to be forged. Not really knowing what this building is about isn’t a failure condition… knowing immediately and all-too-well what this building’s for IS, because that denies them the ability to truly explore something mysterious.
Having the narration ping-pong around semi-randomly was meant to facilitate this (and, incidentally, keep any one player from dominating the clue-finding field, since it meant nobody could find two in a row), keeping everyone off-guard with respect to who would be up next to narrate. Is that necessary, though? Just moving clockwise by scenes is more fair, perhaps, and gives folks time to prepare to narrate, while the danger oracle will still throw a wrench in the ability to craft a specific plan. Oh, incidentally:
WORKED BUT COULD STILL WORK MUCH BETTER: The Danger Oracle. Lots of ‘meh’ options to weed out, and it was suggested that some of the specificity could work against me, meaning that multiple games can get a bit same-y. Imagery over description might be a better bet, (not necessarily literal, but not necessarily not). It’s fine enough as it is, but I’m thinking of the ability to have a few smaller, imagery-oriented lists, from which elements are matched… an item from column A and an atem from column B sort of thing. It’s worth consideration, enough that I’ll give it a try on the next big test, I should think.
So, TO BE CHANGED: Passing of narration, format of the Danger Oracle, and the setup of the character sheets (in that there’s some blank real-estate that could be made more useful, which isn’t really a thing that WORKS or DOESN’T but is, you know, just a thing).
But yeah, the core game is functional and makes me feel good, so I’m smiling here. Woo, Synanthropes.