Playing into design, designing out from play

Mid-design playtesting is perhaps the most intensive intellectual stage, but it doesn’t feel that way. It feels like gutting out a highly fatiguing task whose benefit, upon completion, is looking mighty obscure. This is our sixth session for Cosmic Zap, and in a lot of ways, it might have been the last. You can see, I hope, how the content we gained from it yielded real gold, but it’s mainly evident in the final two sessions, not here.

In this one, over half the time was design discussion, from which I’ve excerpted two parts: one about how plot, arcs, and story are expected to come out of play, and one about building and playing NPCs. They are really, really productive.

The remaining play time was far from great, from an audience standpoint. I’ve been trying to showcase the false starts and uncertainties during playtesting, rather than paper them over, but this time I’m taking pity on anyone watching. Over forty minutes of fatigue-driven mistakes and misunderstandings just had to hit the floor, and you’ll still see any amount of struggle just to figure out what to do. Every participant had a different endpoint of play in terms of prior sessions, and so everyone’s questions or assumptions were incompatible. We confused ourselves and each other repeatedly – I, for example, managed to say just about everything precisely the opposite of what I intended, whatever the name is for that.

Now, as it happens, what remains isn’t half bad; we did manage actually to play and to move things along. The content gained and grew in a fashion that matched both design excerpts.

We followed up on the energy-SF revolution from the prior section by tapping into a human-interest story, we got a wider range of abilities in use for all the sheets, one of the player-characters actually sort of became the Big Villain, and more.

You can see us wear out, and by the end, we just called the end of the session when no one was able even to think any more. Two sessions followed, one of which picked up beautifully from the ending you’ll see here, and the final one which – shock – actually concluded our epic.

I’m checking now with the Chaosium to see what is and isn’t permitted to share as rules here, so keep an eye out for an attachment in case they’re OK with any of it going public.

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