Inferno: Playtest 2

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.

Scenario

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…

Characters

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.

System

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.

Five ways to make your child’s first role-playing game amazing

Do you love role-playing games? Are you waiting impatiently till your child is old enough to join you in your adventures? I know I was. So when my daughter was four years old I made up a game just for her. Since then it’s been played by thousands of families around the world.

But making that first game a success is still a challenge. Here are five ways to make sure that first game is memorable for both of you.

#1 Keep cool

For you, your kids’ first adventure might feel like a very big deal. They’re about to join you in your favorite hobby. If this goes well you’ll have a shared love that will last you for the rest of your lives. A joint gateway to your favorite fictional worlds and real life pastimes. And that’s great. But don’t tell them, it’ll only confuse them.

Tell your child you want to play a game, together with them, and that it’s going to be fun. Tell them they’re going to get to roll those cool dice you have. Give them the dice. Tell them that you’re going to make up a story together and they can be the hero. Kids love it when their parents want to spend time with them, and they can tell when you’re really looking forward to it. That’s going to be enough.

#2 Keep it small

For grown-ups a role-playing game usually means a Dungeon Master and four or more people sitting round a table with snacks and drinks. For your child’s first game keep it small. Just you, and them. Running a game for a child is different to running one for grown ups, and you don’t want to be distracted by friends, toilet breaks and the inevitable moments when attention drifts as the spotlight lands on another player. So for the first time out, don’t invite friends over, this is for you, and your children.

#3 Say yes to their ideas

The promise of a role-playing game is that you can be anything you want to be. So when your child says they want to be a pirate, with their own ship, a pet tiger and a crew of fifty ferocious cat-pirates you say yes. If you’ve been imagining the game as a classic fantasy quest to slay a dragon and they tell you they want to be a caped superhero with a laser-gun, you say yes. That dragon is in for a surprise.

Kids don’t know about genres or rules. Their first game is not a time to tell them what they can’t do, it’s a time to reward their imagination. And remember, with just one or two players you don’t need to worry about game balance at all.

#4 Take them where they want to go

Whatever your child came up with in character generation, make sure they get to show it off in their first adventure. The pirate ship has to sail, to fire it’s cannon and to race another pirate ship. The pet tiger has to growl and eat a bad guy. The fifty ferocious cat pirates have to do ferocious feline things. Make sure your child’s hero gets to be the hero they imagined them as.

#5 Make the ending awesome

Make sure your child’s first ever role-playing game features an epic ending. Face to face with the villain on a cliff edge as the counter ticks toward zero; returning the stolen jewels to the temple moments before sunset while pursued by ghosts; wrestling the controls of the star-ship from the pirate moments before it crashes into the sun. That kind of epic.

If your child’s first experience of role-playing delivers on these five things, I think you’ll have a gamer for life.

Introducing Amazing Tales

And if you’d like to give this a go, I’d like to recommend the Amazing Tales role-playing game. I wrote it to play with my daughter when she was just four years old, and since then it’s been enjoyed by thousands of families around the world.

Amazing Tales features a system so simple a four year old can explain it, and lets you fit a whole adventure into the time it takes to read a bedtime story. It’s grounded in the kind of stories kids love, fairy tales, quests in magical kingdoms, pirate voyages and adventures in space.

Take a look at the game in action. Here’s character creation, world creation and a whole adventure packed into half an hour of play.

You can get Amazing Tales as a lavishly illustrated 104 page hardback book, or as a PDF.

Meet the heroes: Storm Bird

This week I’ll be looking at the different pregenerated heroes who appear in the Amazing Heroes book. You’ll recognise them from the cover.

Storm Bird

Petra Lynch, aka Storm Bird, is a witch, but that’s not what makes her a hero. She was brought up in one of the United Covens, who believe in keeping to themselves and quietly protecting the world from bad magic.

Petra believed in going into the world, learning to program computers, getting a job as an analyst in a giant hedge fund, and living the good life. Until the hedge fund turned out to be a giant ponzi scheme and Petra had to combine her talents for building gadgets, hacking computers and performing witchcraft to save the fortunes of a lot of ordinary people.

That’s what makes her a hero.

Design notes

Petra’s a mix of modern day hacker and old fashioned witch, which should create plenty of opportunities for creative plans in play. Her ‘villains of choice’ are white collar criminals, a part of the criminal world that gets relatively little exposure in superhero stories, but which could add an interesting angle to lots of adventures. If your band of heroes needs someone to follow a lead back to the top of a conspiracy, Petra’s your woman.

Deciding to make a hero a witch meant I had to make some decisions about witchcraft and what that might look like in the game. The United Covens are somewhat inspired by the covens in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, existing (mostly) quietly and invisibly alongside ordinary society. So now, if you want to play a witch, you can; and if you want a bad witch, well, presumably they’re a rogue one; and if no-ones playing someone with supernatural knowledge and your heroes need help with a demon, then they can stop by that little village a few hours drive away and make some polite enquiries.

I didn’t set out to write a game with witchcraft in it, but there you go.

You can find out more by visiting the Kickstarter.

Meet the Heroes: Mesmeric

This week I’ll be looking at the different pregenerated heroes who appear in the Amazing Heroes book. You’ll recognise them from the cover.

Mesmeric

Dominic Blaze is an old school magician. An escapologist, a counjourer and an illusionist. He sells out the Old Review in the heart of Storm City for two weeks a year, and spends the rest of his time living a life of luxury in his Mountainside mansion. Every year the agents from Las Vegas offer him millions to put on a show there, and every year he says no.

Dominic Blaze is also a practioner of very different, very real magic. He guards a portal to the abyss, a portal which lies beneath his mansion, sealed with powerful wards. The portal is at risk both from creatures in the Abyss that wish to break out into our world, and those in our world who would use its power if they knew of it. Dominic’s job is to keep it secret, and keep it safe.

Design notes

Mesmeric is pretty obviously, a magic using superhero, and as such provides a route into all kinds of supernatural adventures. But his elemental powers make him well equipped for other kinds of adventure as well.

Dominic’s profession provides him with wealth, celebrity and a range of skills that might come in useful on an adventure. If you’re the GM you’d want to take every opportunity to have him wrapped in chains and thrown into deep water, or locked in a box that’s about to be cut in half.

Want to know more about Amazing Heroes? Watch the video below, or check out the Kickstarter today!

Meet the heroes: Kendra Shade

This week I’ll be looking at the different pregenerated heroes who appear in the Amazing Heroes book. You’ll recognise them from the cover.

Kendra Shade

Kendra came to Storm City to study martial arts at the legendary Ichi’s Dojo, which is located near the docks. Ichiru Sugiyama has taught her to achieve amazing effects by harnessing her energy, but he’s insisted she put her skills to good use, attempting to clean up the docks, and assisting him in his own battles against more mysterious, and sinister foes.

Design Notes

Kendra is a very ‘street level’ superhero. She’s got no alias, no mask and no costume. Just a cool sword and some awesome skills. If you want to haunt the streets at night while taking down all flavours of bad-guys with well judged martial arts, she’s your woman.

Although ‘end of season one’ Kendra has some super-powers derived from her martial arts she could easily be kept as a non-super, but still awesome character instead.

Kendra’s character could easily lead into adventures themed around supernatural foes, like those in season 2 of Daredevil, but she could equally develop into a Black Widow style superspy.

Want to know more about Amazing Heroes? Watch the video below, or check out the Kickstarter today!

Meet a hero: Crimson Lightning

This week I’ll be looking at the different pregenerated heroes who appear in the Amazing Heroes book. You’ll recognise them from the cover.

Jack Talon / Crimson Lightning

Jack Talon is the starting quarterback for Storm City’s NFL team, the Storm City Thunder. When one of his friends went missing, and neither the police nor the detectives he hired could find her, he decided to do the job himself. That summer Jack had tried out for a role on a new TV show called Ultraball, a hi-tech sport played in armoured suits. The TV show never caught on, but Jack reacquired his suit and set about freeing his friend with his armoured fists.

Jack’s the kind of hero whose early adventures might put him up against ‘ordinary’ criminals in Storm City. The gangsters and organised criminals who terrorise the neighbourhood where he grew up, and ruin the lives of ordinary people.

Design Notes

Crimson Lightning is a classic vigilante hero, who solves problems with his fists. He doesn’t have innate super-powers, just a reliance on his suit to keep him alive. He’s also upgraded it to deliver electric shocks through the armoured gauntlets.

Like all the pregenerated characters in the book Crimson Lightning is presented here as an ‘end of season one’ character. He’s upgraded his suit a few times and defeated his first villains. If you played him as a starter character your super-suit would be good – but not great at protecting you from harm. If you played Jack as an origin story, you wouldn’t even have the suit to begin with, as you set out to rescue Jamie.

Being the quarterback of the football team lets Jack’s player make use of a whole variety of related benefits and story hooks. Jack is a celebrity, with fans throughout the city, and is famous through the country. He’s a multi-millionaire, who lives in a gated, secure mansion. Of course these things also make maintaining his secret identity essential, he’d be recognised in an instant without his helmet on. He also has a lot of commitments during football season, which a GM could use to build a public life / private life story around him.

Want to know more about Amazing Heroes? Watch the video below, or check out the Kickstarter today!

Meet a hero: Aquila

This week I’ll be looking at the different pregenerated heroes who appear in the Amazing Heroes book. You’ll recognise them from the cover.

Professor Scott Danton / Aquila

This is Professor Scott Danton, a former astronaut who teaches astrophysics at Green University, in the north of Storm City. His NASA career was brought to an end when his experimental space ship was briefly pulled through some kind of portal before returning to our dimension with its crew members unconscious.

Since then Scott has learned that he can control the density of his body, from light as a feather to solid as steel, and beam cosmic rays from his eyes. This makes it possible for him to fly, and he’s even able to pass through solid objects by rendering himself gaseous.

A side effect of using his powers is that it turn’s Scott’s skin silver, except for the eagle ‘aquila’ tattoo on his chest. He had that done when he learned he was going into space, and no matter what he does, it remains visible.

Since developing his superpowers Professor Danton has encountered a number of strange and dangerous things connected to the hi-tech hub that is based around Green University. He’s also had a couple of interviews with a mysterious government agency that calls itself E.S.R.A. who seem to suspect that there is more to him than meets the eye.

Design notes

Aquila is an example of a character who gained their powers as a result of super-science. He’s got a science background himself, which opens up new investigative opportunities for any party that includes him. If a player created a character like this you’d start thinking about plots revolving around mad science, interdimensional creatures or aliens.

Density control is a very flexible power, that lends itself to creative use in play.

Like all the pregenerated characters in the book Aquila is presented here as an ‘end of season one’ character. He’s mastered his powers, developed a few new ones and defeated his first villains. If you played him as a starter character you might only have access to the density control power. If you played him as an ‘origin story’ you’d start out as an NASA astronaut / scientist who’d just had his first tattoo and was about to undertake an experimental mission.

Want to know more about Amazing Heroes? Watch the video below, or check out the Kickstarter today!