Thursday, 11 September 2014

PowerFrame Land Vehicle Test

After Monday night's wargame playtest, we also did a little playtesting of PowerFrame's Vehicle rules.

The guys had previously made up characters for a Final Fantasy inspired techno-fantasy setting, so we could include both magic and a variety of vehicles in the same game. In the first test session, Sasha, Dave, and Tony's characters had attempted to raid a newfound ruin to uncover lost treasures, but had barely survived an initial encounter with hostile goblins. They withdrew to civilisation, and returned (with Mickey replacing Dave) just in time to see another crew loading up their car with plundered loot and pulling away from the site.

They gave chase along an unsealed road and partially cross-country - despite the rough terrain, Mickey in his sportscar quickly caught up to the opposition and started taking pot-shots out the window. Tony in his 4WD was lagging a bit, but just managed to catch up at the end after Mickey nudged the opponent's car to a halt with a PIT manoeuvre. Sasha's van was never really in the chase, with a poor acceleration, but he managed to get it up to top speed. At the end, just for fun, he attempted to jump over a large offroad depression and failed the roll spectacularly, almost totalling the van and injuring himself.

The driving rules worked fairly smoothly, although I had to make a few spot rulings using my expansive system knowledge. At the moment the Vehicle rules are fairly sparse, because I don't have room in the book for a detailed treatment of each different vehicle type. However, after this test session, I have a better idea of what needs clarification, expansion, or reference to the relevant rules.

One thing that needs to be constantly checked during play is what the movement in hexes means in real-world terms. Travelling at 5 Hexes per Turn doesn't sound like much, but when 1 Hex per Turn is 30 km/h, that's actually 150 km/h (around 95 mph). So long as the players understand the speed conversion, they can develop an appreciation for the results of attempting too many manoeuvres at once. Ground vehicles get a penalty to manoeuvring when moving 90 km/h or faster, although I might need to increase the rate at which the penalty increases to avoid low-skill drivers routinely burning around at well over 100 km/h.

The current draft of the rules includes one free 60º change of direction each turn (or 90º if travelling at 2 Hexes or slower). This seemed to work pretty well, since it removes the need to make a roll every turn just for driving in a straight line or cornering slightly. However, I may have to put in a clause requiring a roll if both speed and conditions apply a penalty – for example, in off-road conditions, or when the road is wet or icy. Perhaps I could simply require a roll for [driving with one free corner] if the total penalties reduce the driver's Ability to 0 or less?

We still need to test out the rules for skates and bikes, boats, planes, and powered armour.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Wargame Playtest 1

Last night I got together with +Sasha+Michael and Tony to do some playtesting. We started off with the tile-and-card wargame I've been developing (as discussed briefly in my last post).

Some of the tiles and unit cards.
I'd written up three colour-coded factions with six units each. At the moment there isn't a particularly strong and cohesive flavour to each faction; I'm just trying to get down as many unit concepts as I can to test out as much of the game as possible.

  • Mickey got the Red Faction, which is based around heavy cavalry and two units of medium infantry. They also currently have pikebreakers, crossbows, and a bargain-bin "convict legion".
  • Sasha got the Green Faction, which has longbow archers, skirmishing rangers and berserkers, a unit of pikes, medium cavalry, and conscripts.
  • Tony got the Blue Faction, which has harquebusiers, mounted archers, heavy infantry, light infantry (with javelins), chariots, and a fairly well-equipped militia.

I acted as impartial referee and observer, and the guys played through a round-robin of three one-on-one battles using 10 points of troops (2 to 4 units a side).

Sasha vs Tony

The first battle was fought on a 4x4 area map dealt out at random by Mickey. It was a learning experience for all involved, so it was really a case of throwing units at each other and seeing what worked.

Sasha fielded Rangers and Berserkers, with a reserve of Longbows and Conscripts. Tony fielded Harquebusiers and Mounted Archers, with a reserve of Light Infantry and Militia.

Both sides suffered losses, but in the end Sasha emerged the clear winner.

Mickey vs Tony

We extended the map to a 4x5 area, so the whole map couldn't be dominated by a single ranged attack. I set up a fairly symmetrical map around a fortified town.

Mickey fielded Pikebreakers, Crossbows, and Medium Infantry, with a Convict reserve. Tony fielded the same forces as in the previous battle, but started with all units arrayed on the field.

Tony took the advantage, using his mobile cavalry to take over the tower and setting up his javelin-throwing Light Infantry atop an escarpment. Red Crossbows and blue Harquebusiers fought it out on one side of the map, but the Crossbows were routed thanks to withering fire. With the advantage of position, ranged attacks, and experience, Tony held the advantage and forced Mickey's forces off the map without losing a single unit of his own.

I began to think that ranged units may be decisive, and also noticed that a longer map meant it took the melee units longer to engage the enemy while suffering ranged assault. I also noticed, after the battle was over, that Mickey's Medium Infantry's defence values were lower than they should have been, probably from an earlier draft of the rules (as they are the "standard" unit that benchmarks the rest of the system).

Mickey vs Sasha

Tony set up a 4x5 map filled with horrible terrain. Much of the map was chopped up by cliffs, walls, and deep water that couldn't be entered.

Mickey fielded his Heavy Cavalry and newly-corrected Medium Infantry. Sasha fielded Berserkers, Cavalry, and Conscripts, which only cost 9 points (but there's currently no 2-point cost Green unit).

In the first turn, the Red Infantry charged across the map and obliterated the Conscripts. Sasha's remaining units attempted a pincer manoeuvre, but the Berserkers got tied up in the complex terrain. They wasted a lot of time, and by the time they got back, the Red forces had managed to dislodge Sasha's Cavalry from the narrow pass and push them into the corner of the map. When the Berserkers launched an attack from the tower onto the Medium Infantry and pushed them back, the Infantry chose to move and box in the Cavalry - which meant the Green Cavalry suffered a Fall Back result and were Routed off the map. The Berserkers were mopped up in short order.


One victory per player is a good result, I think - it shows that there's no fatal flaw unbalancing the system. I'll need to run some more controlled tests though, to see if range, numbers, or quality are overwhelming advantages. Even if I find that something is exceptionally useful, though, it should hopefully just be a matter of tweaking the cost to compensate.

Some of the battles were fairly one-sided, but I think that's a reasonably natural outcome. Once a side is taking advantage of the terrain, has command of the field, outnumbers the enemy, and applies the right units against the right targets, victory is all but assured. The battles themselves are relatively brief, and if I develop the game for extended campaign play it is possible for an outclassed army to withdraw and concede defeat in order to conserve their forces.

I only made a couple of notes for rules revisions. Firstly, Ranged Attacks can't be used on adjacent Units. Second, a Unit that Falls Back must move into an Area with the fewest adjacent enemy Units; this will prevent losing ground from being used as a manoeuvring advantage (as Mickey did against Sasha), since it is meant to be a bad thing.

After the game I also introduced the guys to my idea for Commanders. They are rated from 1 to 3, and you get to pick as many points of Commanders as you have units in your army. Commanders are basically cards that let you break the rules in small ways, like activating a unit twice or rerolling an attack. Each time you use a Commander, you flip their card face-down. At the start of each round, you get to flip one Commander face-up again.

I did mention my concern that you might end up with the same mega-useful Commander being spammed every round. Sasha suggested that maybe you get one coin each round, and you can pay as many coins as a Commander's cost to flip them face-up. That would give some depth to the decision; do I flip a moderately useful Commander this round, or wait until I can bring my big Commander into play?

All up, I'm quite pleased with the way things played out. Everybody picked up the basics of gameplay pretty quickly. Nothing was obviously broken, and we didn't end up with any situations that strained the bounds of credibility. I'll run a few controlled tests on my own, but other than that it looks like I can move on to developing and refining themed army lists and playtesting Commanders.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

September Status

Sorry for the lack of posts lately; I've been working on a lot of stuff lately, and haven't found the time to write about it!

It looks like I've pretty much lost the impetus to write detailed Actual Plays - and most of the time if I try to write a brief AP it turns into a long one. I think, if anything, I'm more likely to write about impressions, thoughts, and problems with games, rather than detailed accounts of the sessions themselves.

After its successful Kickstarter, I've been working on various things for Fear the Living. I've made up a couple of record sheets and gone through two editing passes of the game document. I'm currently working on the layout so we can move on to the final pre-production stage. It's only taken a month to get to this stage, so hopefully it might be completed in another month or so? We're also waiting on art though, so I guess that might slow things down a bit.

I've been slowly plugging away at the art for PowerFrame, although not as much as I should. There are still a lot of art-worthy gaps to fill, and a few outstanding essential pieces (chapter heading-bars, and the cover). I'm thinking I'll concentrate on those and a couple of other pieces to fill large annoying gaps in the layout, and release it on DriveThruRPG. Since it's currently aimed at PDF-only, I can always update the file if I get the chance to add more art later.

I'm also about to do another round of art for the Strays RPG, though, so I guess that will eat up most of my art production time for the next little while...

In the meantime, since I've been working on art and editing, my game-mechanical brain has been chewing over a couple of new projects: Thunder Hunters, which I discussed part of previously, and a currently unnamed tile and card based wargame.

Oh! I also ran my first session of Dungeon World a couple of nights ago! It went pretty well although we only had two players. The Cleric and Paladin formed a low-ranking Inquisitorial unit, investigating a skeleton-infested floating tomb.

Thunder Hunters

I haven't done too much more on Thunder Hunters, since +Annette keeps dutifully reminding me to work on PowerFrame instead.

I have pretty much decided to go with the option of combining stats so you only roll one dice pool against your opponent's target number (also made from two combined stats). So to stab something, you add Hit+Might and roll that many d6 against your opponent's Agile+Vigour. Rather than reducing hit points, Successes indicate what sort of effect you have on the target - anything from missing and overextending yourself, to manoeuvring, inflicting minor wounds (in the form of stat penalties), and finally lethal or defeating blows.

One interesting thing I've come up with, is to have larger creatures use larger dice. So people use d6, but Allosaurs use d8, and Tyrannosaurs use d10. This makes larger things scarier, and also provides a tactile sense of struggling against a larger creature.

Another thing I've been mulling over has been the idea of Spirit Points. The original idea was that killing creatures releases Evil Spirits that plague the tribe or allow the GM to develop the ecosystem to introduce new threats; however, I need to make sure the economy isn't set up to necessarily de-incentivise fighting dinosaurs, which is part of the appeal of the game. I do want to reflect what happens when you upset the balance of nature, but the balance can also tip too far against the tribe and threaten to overwhelm them if the wild isn't fought back to some extent. I'm still thinking over ways to implement that, although I'm not actively thinking about it right now.

Tile Wargame

I've had the idea for this sort of wargame for a while - you use tiles for terrain to create a variable battlefield, and cards to represent units. It's set at a medieval tech level, since I want the basics of infantry, archers, and cavalry. However, there's nothing which would prevent the representation of early firearms and cannons as well.

The main mantra is "No Modifiers", although what that really means is "the players don't have to remember to add any modifiers during play." All of a unit's melee and ranged defence scores are listed on the card, with different ratings for each of the six types of terrain they might be standing in. Attack scores are generally fixed, although some units may have alternative attack scores against different types of enemy units, or against units in specific terrain.

I've based the terrain on the types described in The Art of War - Open (plains, fields), Entangling (forests), Temporising (swamps, bogs), Precipitous (hills, elevations), Narrow Passes (canyons, bridges, streets), and Fortifications (castles, towers, walls). Each terrain tile has a movement cost for the three forms of movement - foot, hoof, or wheel.

Units don't track hit points or anything like that - I want to keep the bookkeeping to a minimum. Instead, we abstract the unit's condition. They start in Solid formation, and if they take a certain strength of attack they become Broken - you flip the card over, which describes the unit operating at reduced capacity. A Broken unit that suffers harm Falls Back and gives up its space; if it takes more damage after that, it's Routed and removed from play.

I've been slowly putting together a playtest set, although as my printer's out of ink I've been hand-writing blank unit cards on ivory-board. The entire game exists on a sea of floating modifiers, so I want to be able to erase and rewrite the details if I decide something needs to be changed. It's taken me a while since each unit has a lot on its card, but I just about have three small armies ready to do some local playtests.