Saturday, July 15, 2017

Turn - Playtesting is Hard, Y'all

This is going to be a little more colloquial than normal, so bear with me. On playtesting in general, I've got some Feels™, but later on in the post there's some more about my recent work on Turn.

I took this of a bison at a local park. :D

On playtesting while designing in general: 

Monkeys on pogo sticks, playtesting is hard. While it is somewhat easier being a player in a playtest for Turn, being a Storyteller is exhausting. Now, it's not the game. It's not the players! I'm just an amateur GM and I struggle a lot with it. In both cases (player & storyteller) in playtests, I'm doing double-or-more duty of storytelling/playing and analyzing the ruleset and how it interacts with the players and itself and how the game functions as a whole oh and also I have to worry about how to fix things and where to clarify wording in the main document and ohmYGOD!

BUT. This is really an important part of the design and development process. Not all games need playtested, but many truly benefit from it, and Turn needs this a lot because it is a complicated game with many interlocking pieces and concepts, and for me, it must be perfect.

And like, here's the deal. I have three major documents in which I maintain Turn's text - two public facing for players (one for internal playtests, one for external playtests), and one private. When I make an update (which I typically do live), I update all of them. I use comments in the private document if I can't make immediate documents, and add identical text when I can to each document.

This is essential for my process. I have memory issues that make even taking brief notes difficult because they may be meaningless to me later, so if it's simple stuff, I change it as soon as possible. I design in-process, on the fly. I can't rely on future Brie. I need to make the game now, not later. So when I say running and playing these playtests are challenging, it is not simply the act of those things, it is those things and actively designing and critiquing my own work.

I have tried to make games without doing this. I can't. When I playtest face to face, if I don't have my tablet at hand, I struggle to fix the things that need updated at a later date. I can play and even storytell, to a degree, while I am making edits. I let players have some chatter while I make notes, or take a quick break. I can roleplay sometimes while I'm trying to determine how a mechanic might impact play, and can sometimes start using it while playing or running instead of waiting to try it later.

I don't know what I will do if I ever do an even bigger, more complicated game than Turn, but this is my reality right now. I wonder if other people experience this. Do you take notes? Do you edit and change rules on the fly? Can you put off changes until later? I don't know how weird this is.


Beast archetype: Otter
In playtesting Turn specifically, I've made some minor changes. The core mechanic has not been adjusted. The secondary and tertiary mechanics and structures, some text and interaction, have been fiddled with. I wanted to just go over some basic stuff.

Firstly, in combat, which I talked about on Twitter this week, I've finalized the basics. Shifters vs. small groups of humans is simple - shifters call the shots entirely. Any degree of violence, any amount of harm - but there are other consequences. For shifters vs. groups of humans (4+), it gets more complicated. Shifters can flee, if they want. They could sacrifice themselves for the good of others. Or... they can kill everyone. Everyone. But, that's all the options they get.

For shifter-to-shifter combat, I've added an assortment of options based on the beast archetype that the player has. If they have specifically chosen powers on the beast archetype, they may impact the combat. Then, they pick from a Consequences list to apply to their opponent. It worked alright in my first experience with it, though I did end up clarifying some wording.

Second, I had to clarify some elements of the core nature of Turn. Here is an excerpt from the current Turn document explaining the nature of shapeshifters in game and the stories that have freedom to be told:
How Shapeshifters Work
While there are some details players will fine-tune in their game, there are a few items of note for how shifters work in Turn. The most important things to note are that:
  • There is no concrete origin pre-defined. Shifters are not from any real-world cultural, religious, or scientific background. The designer of Turn asks that, unless you are of a particular culture or religion that has shifter backgrounds, you do not use that background for your game. 
  • If there is magic in Turn, it’s unknown and invisible to mundanes. There are also no external entities that hunt shifters, as that would violate the nature of the individual secrets of shifters and the premise of Turn.
  • Shifters are assumed to be effectively invulnerable, and any real injuries heal rapidly enough that it doesn’t matter. They have the natural bodily functions of their human and beast forms, however.
  • Shifters have super strength and super senses appropriate to their available forms - scent, sight, etc.
  • Shifters live the length of their longest lived form, and age at that speed.
Some of this is not like, totally loved by some people, and to be honest, that's whatever for me. No one has to play the game, like the game, or even acknowledge it. It's mine, and this is the game I want to see played. The things that I realized were issues the most are things like: are shifters invulnerable? is there magic? can there be threatening external entities? (yes, maybe, no.)

There are reasons for all of these. Shifters are invulnerable because 1) it's cool, and 2) physical threats, even things like aging, are not the dangers in this game. For the use of magic, sure! If you want to! But visible magic would be the death of all secrets, exposure would be rampant. So yes: magic is cool, but it should not be a function of the world that is free to mundanes.

The last one - the external entities - are because of a deeper issue in Turn that I hope doesn't fall to pieces when it gets wider distribution. Turn is not about external threats - not outside the town. The threats are within the town, those close to the PC shifters. It's about internal threats - themselves, their beasts, their desires and needs. It didn't strike me until someone wanted to include it, though I had considered the possibility very early in conception. But once I saw it, I had a very harsh emotional and thoughtful response, and had to really dig down at the problem.

Another thing that I've run into is people just really not grokking small, rural towns. There are things in small towns, especially USian towns, that are really common, and players have had a little trouble accepting them. The weird one I ran into most recently was the fact that virtually everyone drives in small-town rural US. One player from Scotland stated that he didn't drive at all, and didn't even have a license, and I was startled - this was not a thing I had considered at all! But it's true - especially in places like where I grew up, in small, rural towns, not driving is incredibly rare and also very inconvenient. It was bizarre.

Another I've encountered is some people's very significant resistance towards playing religious characters and an aim to frame religious groups as bad. This is problematic. I'm personally agnostic, but I grew up Brethren, and religion is very common in the US, and can be very passionate in rural places. It's not inherently bad, either. Frankly, having atheists and agnostics, secular people, in small towns like where I grew up? Not common. And people give them a strong side-eye, frankly. So, this is something I'll be covering, along with the infrastructure of many small towns, in some of the additional text for the game.

No red pandas yet. Be patient. They are cute and fuzzy still.
I also have been getting some minor grumps from people that my beasts are too focused on the US, particularly places near where I live, and that I'm not making an effort to expand my game, which, please take this as kindly as it can be said: fuck off. I have spoken before in many different places, including this blog, about my attitude towards writing what you don't know and do know. I have only lived in rural Pennsylvania. I'm writing what I'm familiar with right now.

Also, keep in mind, this game is barely in beta. I have a lot of plans for the future for how I can expand it, make it more accessible and more welcoming to players unlike me and who have different experiences. But holy sweet Cena, stop getting mad because I haven't started writing about small neighborhoods in Canada or rural China. This is a slow process, and you must understand that I am not trying to deny the possibility of those things - I just don't know them, and I do my best to not bullshit my way to telling stories that aren't mine.


It's been very challenging and very revealing, showing me both ignorance on my part, the part of players, and areas where I frankly just need more time and experimentation. But the core of the game stands strong, and I am still passionate about the future of Turn.

Thank you for reading! <3

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