Heeeere Bessie, Bessie, Bessie…

Sacred Cow

Didn’t know sacred cows had ear tags, did you?

I learned several very important things in my Playthings playtest at Gen Con. First, I learned that creating an adventure where the characters can pop back and forth between two different planes of existence is twice the work and a real pain in the butt. Believe me, I won’t be making that mistake again. Sheesh.

Second, I found that the setting easily supports a darker tone. No one ever questioned the pairing of toys and horror. In fact, they seemed to relish the idea. The juxtaposition of such innocent things against creepy, unsettling surroundings played very well among my players. Including it as a play option is a must.

Third, I learned that while I’ve billed the game as playable for six years old and up, it depends upon the kid. I’ve run the game very successfully with six-year-olds before, but the adventure failed to hold this year’s six-year-old’s attention. Maybe it was the subject matter, maybe the kid was hungry or tired, who knows. Point is that instead of saying the game works for kids six and up, I think I need to say kids “as young as six” to set proper expectations.

But most importantly, I learned that the system – as written – has several major problems. First and foremost, because of the “pick 2” aspect of the attributes it means that every player has one attribute score that is zero. I’ve tried to make up for this by including complimentary “Features” and bonus “Proof Of Purchase” dice, but I still ran into instances where a player had a zero and was just screwed. That… Cannot… Happen! The players want to be awesome and the system should at least give them a chance, even if just a small chance, to be awesome.

In addition, the damage system is too complex. The adults in the game had trouble grasping it, so I can’t expect young kids to grok it. I like the idea of having simple levels, but the system used to move between levels needs to be far simpler.

Finally, the players are consistently confused about what number to roll. Maybe I’m just not communicating it well, but I think the circle graphic I’m using on the character sheet along with the using two attributes for any action is just too confusing. This goes directly to the core on which the system was based. As much as I hate to admit it, the “simple” idea I had is the very thing that is complicating matters. I’ve worked and reworked the system on and off for three years now. Since the setting is working very well, but the system is not, it’s time to slay the sacred cow and cut the system loose. Time to either develop a system that is more streamlined and will compliment the setting or else adopt an existing system that will work well with the setting.

Wish me luck.

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Posted in Game Design, Playtesting

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