Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Humanspace Empires GaryCon Playtest Report

School Master here, back from GaryCon! I must say that this is the sort of convention I like: small, intimate, and with an emphasis on actually gaming than on what's for sale in the vendor’s section.

Now, about that HSE game…

For a short time, I thought the game was going to be a complete wash. Since the “Open Gaming” area was far from the main gaming rooms, I didn’t think anyone was going to notice me. I made up some fliers and I got the attention off a couple or teenage boys, but I wasn’t sure that I was going to get enough people interested. Fortunately, my friend Victor Raymond was at the con and was aware of my plight, so he was able to send a few more players my way. Out of all the playtesters, only two had previous knowledge of the setting. We had a party of 5 that created the following list of characters: A Pé Chói Astronaut, a Human Adventurer, a pair of Human Warriors, and a Tinalíya Scientist.

I had created a three-level asteroid/dungeon and created a bestiary of creatures inspired on basic Labyrinth Lord monsters (I think I’ll post them up latter), but “tweaked” to reflect a pulpy sci-fi setting. I didn’t expect to get too deep into the scenario, but we had some fun role-playing opportunities where I hinted on Pariah God cult activities. Due to some lousy wandering monster rolls, we were only able to get in one combat session before a combination of a charity auction and players having to leave for other games forced me to cut it short.

While playing the game the following things came to light :
  • One player pointed out that limiting certain races to certain class levels (e.g. having Tinalíya warriors maxing at Level 8) would necessitate multi-classing. I’m not sure that would really be an issue since there are caps the classes in OD&D, but I thought I’d bring it up.
  • What’s the difference between Medic and Physician skills?
  • One complaint that was voiced by many were the rules for non-human PCs. They didn’t like that you had to have certain stat requirements before you could play a Pé Chói or a Shén, especially since the 3D6 rolls for this group tended to be rather mediocre. Stat requirements make sense for classes, but not for races. I actually recommend a traditional method for creating character races with Ability modifiers (i.e. +5 Strength, -2 Intelligence for alien X for example) along with the “perks” and “flaws” that come with that species.
  • Speaking of developing races, other than being an interesting role-playing option, there is no benefit to playing a Tinalíya. You might as well be playing a weak Con human.
  • I wasn’t sure if we were allowed to buy multiple instances of Class skills like background skills. If so, then I think there ought to be some clarification somewhere.
  • Personal thought: One of the things that I thought made little sense from original EPT was that when your character receives additional class skills upon leveling up, that you had to choose the “lowest” skills had to be bought first? I can see limiting their basic skills to a certain number at the beginning, but I fail to see any justification for making a Warrior learn “primitive weapons (Sword)” or “Primitive Weapons (Axe)” when they already know how to use a Space Sword and/or space Axe. 
That’s all that I can dredge up for now. In the meantime, I’m going to clean up my scenario a bit and unleash it on my semi-weekly AD&D group and possibly Victor Raymond's Madison Traditional Gaming group quite soon.

6 comments:

  1. Unfortunately I don't have much time now and won't be able to comment further until this evening.

    It's really cool that you manged to run this at GaryCon and some pretty interesting questions and issues were brought up. Easiest answers first:

    There are definitely a few duplicate and poorly defined skills in the current draft like physician and medic. The final book will certainly need some revision in the skills section though I want to keep skills somewhat flexible and semi-defined.

    A character can take a skill up to six times for a maximum of +5 as the rules are written. In the final, I think that this will be changed to allow no more than +2 at first level, +3 at 3rd level, +4 at 5th level and +5 at 7th level.

    i agree that the EPT holdover of buying skills in order is problematic but there is some rationale in it as some of the skills farther up the chart are more advanced and probably should be limited to higher level characters. There may be another way to work this out though.

    I don't think I would include multi-classing even for characters that max out. At one point I considered including rules for switching to a new class but I decided against it. As mentioned OD&D included similar caps.

    Finally 3d6 in order for character generation and tough minimum ability score requirements for some alien races was a philosophical design choice. I like the effect this has, not necessarily being able to conceptualize a character prior to generation. I think having to build an interesting character from random results taps into a much more interesting sort of creativity than a consciously pre-imagined character. I'm sure many would disagree but they will certainly find a way around and house rule character generation anyway. In the first playtest ckutalik house ruled character generation to 4d6 drop the lowest as I recall. The current method also means most characters will probably be humans and make certain characters like Shen, Nlyss, etc. more rare and special.

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  2. GRRR! I just spent 40 minutes typing something up and got an error and lost it all!

    I'll post my notes on my blog and put a link in here.

    Stay tuned!

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  3. @Drune
    I have to agree with you re: the desirability of using chargen to mostly funnel people into human roles. The extra hit points for Shen and Ahoggya are big advantages, best to keep them rare both for game purposes and to keep the humanocentrism of EPT.

    BTW I bumped them up to 4d6 (in order though) in part so we could get a wider range for the play-test.

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  4. @Aplus I replied to the post on your blog, cross- posting the reply here as well:

    Excellent report. I really appreciate the thoughtful commentary. Thanks for trying out the game and taking the time to write this up.

    I'm working on producing and acquiring illustrations of the various alien races in super-scientific gear and settings. I think that will help players with little or no knowledge of Tekumel get into the setting. Other than details of the alien races, there have been only a few mentions of the star faring ancients in all the published Tekumel material.

    I completely see where yo u are coming from regarding the skills. The skill system was not intended to be a key game mechanic and I don't think this is conveyed in the rules very well. Mundane tasks shouldn't require skill checks at all and any character can attempt any task (with a penalty). The skill system is one area that will be substantially revised for the final book.

    Thanks again for trying it out and sorry you didn't get a chance to kill some space monsters.

    Feel free to email me (thedrune at gmail dot com) with your name or other info as you'd like it to appear as a playtester in the final book's credits.

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  5. @ckutalik: Yeah, I'm not opposed to house rules or bending/breaking rules and I understand your rationale for going with 4d6 drop stats in the playtest. I think few players would house rule in 3d6 in order if the rules were written any other way though.

    Now I'm kind of curious about the probabilities of rolling up the various aliens with 3d6 in order. I may have to look into this. Is there a statistician in the house?

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