You are here

Outer Inner Space

Here's the final session of Cosmic Zap, playtest epic #1! I'd intended to append it to the previous post in the comments, but then again, it'd be good to see a complete retrospective on the whole thing here.

The good news: it worked, and cognitively, procedurally speaking, there's an actual game here. Further playtesting is now refinement, a relatively minor task, and then the big task, how to present it for maximum understanding and inspiration. That latter is currently totally from scratch.

We've also come through the hardest part, which is observable in that this whole time, play itself was exhausting, procedurally. In this session, even eight sessions in, the learning curve displayed its most aggravating inflection point, when everyone understood just enough to impose irrelevant options and inaccurate rules invocations. I love you guys, but out of pity for the audience, I clipped out about 40 minutes of separate approximately 55-second snips that were all (i) pushing buttons almost at random and (ii) misunderstanding which button just got pushed. Fortunately that's never going to have to happen again, and also fortunately, the system seems robust enough to withstand it.

As for what happened? Remember my big criticism that the new Hero Wars risks falling into the Fate problem (presaged by DC Heroes), that the dice are a boring middle-out coin-flip which is utterly managed by Hero Points anyway? That's been solved. Watch this one carefully: the dice speak, boy, girl, and other, they speak loud.

Actual Play
Cosmic Zap


With a finished instrument, you play it (and see if you can play it with skill and learn to play it better) and then see if you like the sound it makes. With alpha play-testing, you can’t really do that. You start out playing a guitar and finish up playing a violin.

The shift in the meaning of traits is the most obvious example. At the start of play, when creating traits, they were all ‘stuff about my character and his abilities’. By the end of the play, I was treating them more like mini-kickers and/or constructive restraints.

As an example of this. The trait I was most excited about ‘Won’t return home’ ended up being kind of lame. If it was written as ‘fleeing home’ then it suggests something that will be resolved, one way or the other. Rather than something that inspires Thespian monologues that don’t go anywhere.

Traits selection also tied into character ownership. If my traits are only ever abilities then I retain a lot of control over my character. If I make a trait like disenchanted, then other players and the dice decide whether I remain disenchanted or not. I have mixed feelings about that.

The final procedure seemed to work well, it’s exciting enough that I’ll be playing the finished version with my regular group. I really like the idea of high trait turn-over, it seems to make the HQ system sing.

As to the fiction: Well guys, Zeb always said it was better to run away, you can’t fight the man. His death and everyone else’s death (or psycho-spiritual enslavement) just goes to show how right he was.

Ron Edwards's picture

I'm giving thought to the issue of messing with one another's characters' motivations. I don't like it much either. It's very close to the non-conflict nonsense people get into with Polaris - "If I succeed then you don't love your wife as much as you thought," that kind of thing.

But I don't want this rules-set to have any caveats, either; you're supposed to play it all the way, any way, irresponsibly. And abilities will therefore go up and go down, get invented and be destroyed.

There are a couple of angles from which to address the risk or problem, one of them being to say, "give it up, don't care about your character anyway," which I don't want to do. Another is to focus harder on augmenting, which is something we didn't do very much, and allows abilities to be showcased and detailed more often by the character's owner.

I remember we brought this up briefly during an earlier session, and perhaps this wasn't as true for Gordon/Alex/Ángel, but particularly during that final extended conflict I was getting the sense that most of my abilities were functionally superfluous given all the permanently accrued bonuses to 'psychology'.  There's little in the way of a mathematical incentive to switch it up if your top ability has broad descriptive application, as I think was true in my case.

The conflict-resolution mechanics themselves seem to work fine, but if I were to ask for one thing, it'd be incentives to fold in other portions of the sheet- either through evocative augments and/or changes to ability-advancement.  Stuff like 'police investigations', 'curious' or 'force manipulation' seemed mainly to act as descriptive flavour for azimuth.  (Not that descriptive flavour is bad, but giving 'em teeth would be nice.  Perhaps you could, e.g, allot a hero point for using a weaker ability in a conflict, not just the cosmic/super/personal cycle, and dispense with the 3 free points each session?)

I think what Alex mentions about personality-descriptors is interesting.  I don't personally have a problem with the idea of a character's personality being modified by conflict- if you can *die* from a bad roll, it stands to reason you can shift philosophy- and I thought that those interactions (e.g, with Diamonds) were one of the more interesting aspects of Zebediah in play.  This never really happened with Azimuth though, so I can't say how it feels to be on the receiving end.

Add new comment