Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Blade Bind Playtest 1

Although I've been testing Blade Bind's duelling mechanics fairly thoroughly with a number of "white-room" tests, I recently ran a playtest of the whole game online via Roll20. It took a while to find enough testers, but Todd from FacebookLand put out the call and we ended up with five players (including me).

This is a pretty long post, but if you're interested in Blade Bind and/or playtesting, strap in!

First Session


Setup


Setup went fairly smoothly, although it did take a while. This was partly due to using a VTT and partly due to the Fiasco-like discussion about how all the characters relate to each-other and who they are, but I also identified some areas that could be sped up. I'm interested to see how long it takes in a face-to-face game.

A web of Threads
While the characters do have a web of relationships, this image is not a relationship map as such, but a map of goals. Each coloured line is a Thread, showing the Chosen's intent towards elements of the game world — characters, organisations, items, and locations, plus the other Chosen — collectively known as Knots.

You can also see some notes on "who hates who", which refers to the enmity the supernatural Blades have to each other. This enmity is independent of the characters' relationships, and is designed to cause problems. Originally it was completely random, meaning someone could end up with multiple enmities targeting them, or none.

I've since revised it so all Blades have an enmity to one Blade, and from one Blade.

Threads generate Will, which allows the characters to control their Blades. If a Thread becomes impossible to achieve (usually by its target being destroyed), then the character loses Will. If their Will becomes less than their Power, they become slaves to the will of their Blade, which then hunts down its Enmity.

This was the first time Threads saw play, and it showed me a couple of things. Firstly, it really doesn't matter what a Knot is. I had classified them into different types, but what they are makes no difference to their behaviour in the game. Secondly, some of the goals — although logically structured — were a bit convoluted and difficult to get a handle on. Some were also redundant or didn't make a lot of sense. I've now restructured the way Threads are written, and made sure to define how each one works.

Scenes & Duels


We finally got to the scenes, and had time to play through only one before we ran out of time. My character challenged her antagonistic twin brother to a duel to prove she could defeat him. The setup and descriptive play before the duel was excellent and evocative, and thanks to a good hand of cards the duel ended with my victory.

The winner gets to claim a prize, which I took to be the defeat of my brother, thus securing my Defeat Thread. Figuring out the aftermath was a little hazy since I hadn't actually seen it in play before, and wasn't sure if the "defeat" was just a thing that happens or if it should be a prize in its own right.

I've now revised things so the winner gets to either destroy or take control of a Knot, or rewrite a Thread belonging to either one of the losers or themselves. "Defeat" Threads work a bit differently now, but scoring victories against your rival is basically an "extra" in addition to the regular prize.

Second Session


We reconvened after a week or so and played through some more scenes. Things went pretty well, and I was able to identify the "shaky" parts of the Thread system and make some revisions.

In addition to better-defining prizes, I also removed the option to simply erase one of the loser's Threads. It proved too powerful. However, there's still the option to rewrite their Threads, meaning you can persuade them to stop attacking your interests and give them goals that align with yours. They don't have to follow the Threads you give them, but their decisions will affect their Will value.

The Wind Dilemma


A Wind (rhymes with "bind") is what happens after a Bind, where two Blades lock together. It's meant to represent the struggle for leverage on the razor's edge, where things can go either way. The original mechanic was for both players to play a blind card, with the high card becoming the attack and the low card having to scramble to defend. With a couple of card-counting mathematicians on the crew, though, this mechanic received the most negative feedback. They didn't like the way that it both came down to luck, and basically forced the loser to not only play their best card (in hopes of winning the Wind) but also an extra card (to make up their defence).

After some discussion and thought, I've come up with a new idea. Both play a blind card as before, but it's the suit that determines which card is the attack. Rather than the old guarantee that the attack would be high, now you can end up with low attacks or high defences. You can still end up with situations that force the defender to spend extra cards, but it's now also possible to Parry and gain the advantage.

This new idea is still untested, but I think it has promise. I have a couple of other ideas if it doesn't work out, but I think they might feel less satisfying.

Resonance Techniques


This game also saw the first use of the special Blade Techniques. We only used a couple, but even a brief look at them in play helped me get a better idea of their power level and usefulness in play. You gain Resonance whenever you Bind, and gain more when Binding against your Enmity, and then spend it to activate Techniques. In a duel where both of us were Enmities, we managed to Bind three times in a row off an Engagement; each time, he used Seal to cut off my access to another suit! By the end of the exchange I could only play one suit, but I managed to survive long enough to tag him with my (under-priced) Vampire move, steal a card, and then win in the next Exchange.

Techniques are the part of the game that needs the most testing. I've revised them given the latest version of the rules, and have a checklist set up to make sure they all get chosen and used in play at some point.

End-Game


We once again ran out of time, but I could see how the game was going to play out — several characters had become Bladebound, meaning they would sever their connections to things and then attempt to destroy their Enmity.

In the first session I was worried that characters were going to become Bladebound very quickly, but we managed to go around the table a couple of times before it started to kick in. I've revised the Will values from Threads (mostly downward for Threads that aren't quite so high-stakes), and also boosted starting Will a little. It probably also helps that it's no longer possible to simply erase someone's Thread, although you can still cause the same effect by destroying important things. I might boost Will by another point, but we'll see how the next couple of tests go; I'm not too worried if the games are fairly short, so long as there's enough play to make up for the setup time and to let a decent narrative unfold.

Next


I've spent the last couple of weeks revising and refining the manuscript. Lately I've been adding examples and a bit of flavour text, plus a couple of setting outlines.

I have a face-to-face playtest planned for tomorrow, so I'm keen to see how my changes work and if anything else needs looking at. Things seem to be coming together nicely, and playtesting is providing invaluable feedback.