A few weeks ago I made a start playtesting what you could think of as an advanced version of Amazing Tales. I’m calling it Amazing Heroes, and I’m planning to publish it along with a superhero setting. The intention is to provide a game that lets you play through an episode’s worth of superhero TV – think Arrow or The Flash – in no more than two hours.
The game will remain simple enough to play with kids, with a target age range of 7+, but I want it to have enough depth to it that it can run an enjoyable game for adults.
While my usual in-house playtest team (Lisa and Ruben) have been helping me get things right for the kids I’ve enlisted my regular adult gaming group to test it out with grown ups.
What am I adding?
As I’ve said a few times in interviews, the challenge with Amazing Tales was taking rules out. It’s a very simple game and it doesn’t include some elements that people have thought of as essential to the role-playing experience. I want to keep that minimalist philosophy going forward, but I do want to add some things. In particular…
- Characters should be able to develop over time
- Characters should be able to take damage, and even die
- There should be limits to what characters can do, bringing a degree of consistency to a chosen setting
Trust the GM
Because it has so few rules Amazing Tales relies on the GM to do a lot of work. And that’s fine with me. The human brain is an amazing, creative thing, and when you get several of them working together – for instance playing a role-playing game – great things can happen.
So in a lot of the areas where other RPGs might have rules, Amazing Heroes will have GM advice.
Talk with the players
I’m currently part of a playtest for a new edition of Omnihedron Games ‘Duty and Honour’ (If you like the Sharpe books / TV series, check it out) and seeing Neil Gow’s collaborative GMing in person has been great. Effectively starting each session with a mini session zero where you can talk about what you want to get up to in the next couple of hours is a great technique.
I’m not sure I’ll be adopting it wholesale, but building more conversation with players about the game is going to be part of the advice.
Keep it simple
Amazing Tales works because it has very few rules, and what rules there are are very simple. While I want Amazing Heroes to have rules for more things, I want those things to be kept as simple as possible.
How’s it going?
Playtest notes: Character Generation
My first big note here is that I need to take more of my own advice. While everyone managed to create a character and people had no trouble getting a wide variety of concepts to work I wasn’t strict enough on the guidance that characters should all have at least one personality trait and one physical trait. This led to some odd rolls during the game as skills found themselves filling in for what were essentially defensive rolls.
For the second playtest session I added some structure in the form of character sheets that forces structure onto the players.
Something else we’ve tested is having some characters begin with fewer traits than normal (three rather than four) this was to accomodate their subsequent development of superpowers. This seemed to work OK, characters with three well chosen traits can function just fine for a session or so before their powers kick in.
Something for a future test will be starting heroes with additional powers. The default character in Amazing Heroes has a single set of related super-powers. Letting heroes start with a variety of powers such as super-strength, laser-vision and flying, will lead to a very different game I think.
Playtest notes: Difficulty levels
In Amazing Tales you normally need to roll a 3 or more to succeed at something. When I playtested with the kids I raised this to a 4, and for the sessions with the grown ups we started out using a ‘gritty’ setting of 5.
This turned out to lead to a lot of failure. Sufficient failure that it began to change the behaviour of the players. After a bit of thought I’ve changed to flexibile target numbers with ratings of 3, 4 and 5 for tests that are easy, normal and hard. Of course there’s no legislating against this kind of die rolling…
Playtest notes: Plot Matters
I went into the playtest with a relaxed ‘I’ve got a whole background drafted and I’m playing Amazing Tales, I can freewheel this’ kind of approach. And that might have worked for some styles of game, but since I wanted the players to be uncovering a conspiracy and learning secrets about the world as they went that didn’t really work out too well.
So – I guess I’ll be including some plot guidance in the game when it’s done!
There’s one more session in what will have been a five session mini-campaign, and it is feeling like we’re reaching a natural break in the plot. The heroes have developed powers, done some dramatic stuff and learned a lot about the nature of the world. Now it’s time for them to wrap up their origin story and find a stable way of being heroes in their world.
It’s been fun, and I’m looking forward to doing some more thinking, some more writing, and then having some more superhero flavoured fun.