The second Inferno playtest has been conducted, and once again much was learned. It featured five players, and the same characters as the first session, with the addition of Viscount Pusey. The scenario was the same, but played out differently. None of the players had used the card of fate system before, and only one had any familiarity with the world of Inferno.
The start: The scenario possibly needs a little nudge to get things started. For the second time, all the characters stood around and looked at each other for a few moments, unsure of what to do. ‘A bit like a blind date where you’re not sure if you’ve got the right person’ was the apt description.
Todo: I think I’ll add an NPC to get the party over the initial ‘are these the right people / are we in the right place’ awkwardness. I’m also wondering if the news is a little bit too long for a one-shot, I think I’ll try and focus it a little more.
The plot: Things went in rather different directions to the first run. This time the party went with the Hyde Park opening, which provided some good early challenges, before the embassy ball was dealt with as an Oceans Eleven style heist (well, that was the plan…) rather than an exercise in intelligence gathering. The final showdown featured a sky-palace crashing into the world’s first skyscraper, death defying aerial interventions, and a satisfying Mary Poppins moment to save the day. This was much closer to how I’d envisaged it running when I wrote it, so it’s good that we’ve checked out the ‘happy path’.
Still didn’t really manage to really trigger any of the NPCs. I suspect that this is down to the scenario.
Todo: Find a way to introduce one of the major NPCs at the embassy. Probably means pointing to them in the first scene.
Difficulty: The group were 2-0 up on their five challenge mission going into the last challenge, so to add some drama since the evening was winding down we made it ‘all or nothing’ on the last challenge. I also upped all the challenges to hard (5 cards) from moderate (3). The sudden change in difficulty was really noticable, and the heroes ended up winning their final challenge on a high card – proper nail biting stuff.
Todo: Make sure the GM guidance for setting difficulties reflects the play experience. 3 card challenges are about right for starter characters, and 5 card ones are a stiff challenge. The final challenge was 10-8, which felt suitably all or nothing…
Once again the characters all seemed to work. The players seemed a bit happier with the strength of the characters than in the first playtest. The strongest example of this was Dr Rook holding off doing anything magical until the finale – but still finding plenty of things to get up to. There might be two reasons for this – first, the rejigging of the skills list probably created slightly more capable characters. Second, ‘Go hard or go home’ was the attitude of the players, and that strikes me as good general advice for playing Inferno. A player doesn’t make that many challenges in a session, so it’s reasonable to throw plenty of resources (Reputations, Qualities) into each one.
This test was also further proof of Arians not being essential characters. Jemima Gosh certainly didn’t dominate proceedings, although she did buckle plenty of swash. Viscount Pusey’s willingness to engage in a spot of fisticuffs at the end was an enjoyable moment.
Todo: Time to get started on a character creation system! Still keeping an eye on the power level though.
Once again people liked the system. Loads of kudos for the tension of the cards. “Like when you need a natural 20, but on every roll.” Most of the players had read stuff through ahead of time, but all felt more comfortable once they’d seen the core mechanic in action. Fortunately Inferno really only has the core mechanic, and once the group had been through the process once there was no confusion. So – probably worth making a video or two demonstrating how challenges work.
By the end of the game the players had got properly to grips with things. I’m sure they’d have had no trouble working out what to do with their experience points, or making other ‘system related’ decisions for future games.
Stakes: Again – the importance of stake setting – and imposing the consequences for failures. I think it helps with Inferno to set failure stakes that have an element of fail forward built in. So the stakes for the embassy heist weren’t “Do you get the info or not?” but “Do you make it out undetected, or do the bad guys accelerate their plans in response to your heist.” It sometimes requires a few moments of extra thought to get these right.
Todo: Strengthen the GM guidance on fail forward. I think challenges on the main mission should be fail forward by default. It’s probably fine to have ‘that just fails’ as a GM option for personal challenges though.
Damage: We had our first proper example of someone being broken and a concession. Elias Halcyon supported Lord Pusey on an influence challenge that went disastrously wrong. Pusey’s boundless confidence was badly dented but Elias was broken, and ended up with ‘Humiliated by the Prussian Empire’ as a negative reputation. Elias did get to trigger his ‘indefatigable’ talent to recover from this – which worked as it should.
Todo: I need to tweak how this is written. As it stands the Prussian empire gains a ‘Humiliated Elias Halcyon’ reputation, but that’s basically writing the information in the wrong place for it to get remembered. Perhaps a space on the character sheet for ‘concessions made / concessions gained’ is the solution.
Personal missions: Players got more adept at building in their personal challenges as the game unfolded. This is probably something that just comes with experience. This also meant that the PvP stuff in the scenario didn’t get triggered.
Todo: Make sure campaign playtests have plenty of room for personal missions and some player versus player action.