More dice for Dark Well

More Dice for Playtesting

Yes. More dice to use as tokens for playtesting Dark Well.

Due to having one block of small smokey d6 dice being stolen while at Metatopia I had to buy at least one replacement block. So I now have a block of opaque black dice. But in thinking about a comment that someone made about racial stereotyping with white as beneficial and black as dangerous I decided to buy three new blocks of small d6 as well which includes a green, orange, and purple set.

 

Dice Order 1

Recently I also ordered some new dice for Vigilance as I’ve noticed some people having trouble finding and replacing the dice when they are all black. So I’m switching the red d10s to black d10 (to be ordered when available) and the former five to their classical elemental color so to speak. The company did not have translucent d4s for Soul, but I was able to get green translucent d6s for Skin, yellow translucent d8s for Words, purple translucent d12s for Starlight, and blue translucent d20s for Blood.

 

 

Another Step Into the Well

Weeks later, I’m still working with the feedback from Metatopa for Dark Well.

For me, I often design for and from the character sheet, and for Dark Well’s, I had a lot of questions myself as a designer that the playtesting helped me revisit from their perspective.

With the Dweller File sheet I have the following goals:

  • To change as the character engages with the fiction through the mechanics so that when a Dweller gets a Dweller, a Threat, or a Crisis token, there is the potential for that to affect or change them—including a narration rule that helps to feed this back into the trait changes.
  • To address the more common approach to experience where you get better or more things and so I have that through the experience tracker and have all Traits with the option of two marks.
  • To have big changes for Dwellers to feed the game and this is where the growth of leveling up ties directly into the information on the Conspiramap.

As a result, I’ve made the following changes so far:

  • The traits for the three Stats of Life, Power, and Truth, work the same when it comes to engaging with the token pool drawing from the Well.
  • Instead of tags I’m using something called details which are touchstones or aspects to help players pick traits for their Dweller which won’t box them in.
  • A copy of the Well Operations is on the sheet to test its inclusion because I like to have procedural things easy to locate for players.
  • The experience system has been revised and now includes both noting marks to traits in the trait section, keeping tokens, change, growth, and clearing conditions with the experience tracker.

The next thing that needs to happen is for me to playtest this next version to test my new hypotheses and to change the rules to reflect what’s working.

Metatopia 2019 Dark Well session 2 with conspiracy wall

Post-Metatopia 2019

Metatopia 2019 was a great experience. As I have time I will post thoughts and feelings about the convention. I’m already working on some revisions for the two games I brought with me: Dark Well and Vigilance.

Schedule

The convention started Thursday evening with a social event. My partner and I were exhausted from the trip in so I checked in but didn’t have enough energy to really participate so we went across the street and had delicious Persian food for dinner. And there were a lot of great food places nearby!

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were a mixture of panels–many for first-timers to Metatopia, and playtesting. I’ll get into some of the panels later on. There were several that I attended which were a good fit for where I am in the game design industry.

I did get in a quick chat with Phil Vecchione about our love of conspiracies. His writings on Gnome Stew are an inspiration for what I’m doing with Dark Well.

Sunday afternoon was spent wrapping up my last playtest and then heading out asap to continue our trip to Philadelphia and then Washington, D.C.

Playtests

Dark Well: I’ve got a fair amount of redesign to consider for the character sheet to make it easier to understand and I’m hoping to simplify things considerably. The playtesters really enjoyed the conspiracy-generation and setting, with the Well part in second place, and character creation in last for ease of understanding. The suspense of drawing from the Well was consistent. The tags could be useful but were cumbersome. The differences between the derived traits under Life, Power, and Truth need to be easier to grasp and engage with since I modified them, though I have to figure out how to get the Change/Grow/Conditions part to work from scene to scene. In the short playtest sessions I don’t have enough time to use the pool of tokens to work with the game as the GM yet so I’m looking forward to doing that again at some point. Comparing the tokens to the chart works once people wrap their heads around it as it’s a novel approach. In the second group test of Dark Well, I was able to use some kindly donated yarn to make an impromptu conspiracy wall on the table (see the featured image above). We had a six-PC group for this one. I took the advice from the first group and used a completed character sheet to share visually with the second group and it helped immensely. While we didn’t get very far in the game I could see how the prop could be fun. It would likely be easier to maintain on a wall or dedicated surface–the group loved it so I’m glad I tried it and will see about testing it more location permitting. In particular, I’m redesigning the Conspiramap for Dark Well for the next playtest. These conspiracies freakin’ build themselves. More iterations to come, with half-baked Dwellers and conspiracies to get the players into the thick of things faster.

Vigilance: The playtesters loved the spreadsheet character creation and world creation and setting, with the dice mechanics being too easy-for-success. 1s for generating Chaos/injustice complications rarely came up which was very unusual and led to deflated anticipation and missed expectations for all. I definitely need to revisit to get more risk in the dice and possibly reduce or remove the Arena Dice pool. We didn’t get to test things at length, but I did have one of the groups do scenes that were non-combat to see how things flowed rather than worry about collaborative world-building, which definitely affected player investment and cohesion like never before. I think it also suffered from a late Sunday slot and me messing up a basic mechanics roll. We had a cool blessing scene and engaged with the constellations! The first group where we did build things together was a tighter fit but we weren’t able to engage as much with the mechanics with the time. Need lots more dice-rolling and tweaking to be more complicating/dangerous. Great suggestions on branding from the first group and I appreciate them throwing themselves into the game with heart and soul. Overall, there are a lot of strong pieces that I can skip over moving ahead with half-baked characters and precinct to get to play quicker.

Rebels of the Outlaw Waste: This is NOT a game that I’m designing, but rather one that I playtested Saturday evening and it was a hoot. Gonzo post-apocalyptic to 11. What sold me in the description was that it included stickers as part of the advancement system. The designer, Michael Addison of Nerdy Pup Games, has a fun rules-light RPG with potential and I hope that he continues to develop the game and share it with others.

Thanks

Thanks to all the playtesters who participated in my games and who make Metatopia a conversation rather than lonely fun–you are valued. I want to thank Avie Wing and all of the amazing people who help to make Metatopia be as successful as it is. I wasn’t very talkative as I was taking everything in, but I did appreciate the hard work and fun experience learning and sharing our love of games.

Putting the Pieces Together

As time permits, I’m pulling together my content for the two games I’m bringing with me to Metatopia: Dark Well and Vigilance.

Along with that comes the return to inspiration sources applied with some recent studies on writing: Steering the Craft, by Ursula K. Le Guin. I especially enjoyed chapters 9 and 10 that directly discussed her take on story and plot.

For Vigilance, I’ve been collecting books about and watching a BBC series on ancient civilizations. As a result, I’m probably going to include the Olmec. I just learned that the height of their civilization was at about the same as the others who fell suddenly at the end of the Late Bronze Age. And I just heard about the Sanxingdui civilization which was likely a contemporary group to the Shang Dynasty in China.

For Dark Well, I’ll be catching up on tv shows, such as Dark, Fringe, and Millennium. Maybe start reading about conspiracies again in between some other projects. It’ll be nice to have the company of ideas as I sift and edit content down to a portable and consumable version to share with others in NJ come November. And oh yes, there will be character sheet revisions!

Axe on stump

Chop, Chop!

I find that cutting content and ideas are always the most difficult to do as a designer.

Part of my struggle with cutting is that I’m never 100% certain I’ve made the best decision at that moment. Sometimes I have to live with the decision for a while and try to test the revised version. Sometimes the changes result in immediate improvements for clarity, and at other times it takes the project into an unexpected direction requiring further changes.

What helps me make and cope with the cuts is having a separate file with the chopped content saved as a backup. Should I ever consider a project finished I can delete this stored file of random bits. More likely I’ll keep it in a misc folder for future ideas. This reassurance helps me to manage my progress and expectations.

For my recent work with Space Station Omega, given the scope of the game, I’ve broken chapters into their own files, and then have used versions.

For the smaller NightMirror content, I’ve only needed a few different full version and now a bits file as I slowly write my way to a finished first draft.

For the two games I’m planning to take with me to Metatopia this November, I’ll be working to identify what I want to have playtested for each. At this point, I’m planning to take Dark Well and Vigilance. I’ll be weighing the strengths and weaknesses as a designer in September and perhaps (re)writing parts of the game as well.

Playtesting

Welcome to the AquaVertigo Playtesting post.

The following games are in playtest:

If you are interested in participating in a playtest of one or more of the above games, please let me know in the contact form below.

Games I'm Interested In (required)

 

Dark Well playtest at Forge Midwest 2019

Forge Midwest 2019 Recap

Forge Midwest 2019 was fantastic thanks to the organizers and participants. I even brought a couple new people from Eastern Iowa to the convention.

> About Forge Midwest

Friday

  1. Masks: A New Generation RPG – Masks: A New Generation is a superhero roleplaying game in which a team of young heroes fights villains, saves lives, and tries to figure out who they are. And kick some butt along the way. After all, what’s the point of being a hero if you can’t fight for the things you believe in?
    • I finally got to play this game and I was not disappointed. Thank you Jim for GMing and to all of the wonderful other players. I’ve run Masks once before at a Corridor Games on Demand: Playing in Public event and enjoyed it, but didn’t have a full grasp of it at the time. I can’t wait to play more and then run the game for a mini-campaign.
  2. Vigilance RPG playtest – Vigilance is a late bronze age post-apocalyptic fantasy roleplaying game about justice in an unjust world.
    • I ran a playtest of Vigilance with three players, one of whom had played in a prior iteration a few years ago at Gamicon. She brought her friend with her into this game. For much of Friday, I wasn’t feeling well and was low energy so I know that I didn’t run the game at its full potential. Also, I made the mistake of changing a mechanics rule a third of the way through the game and it wasn’t working for me. I should have stopped the game and changed it back but didn’t have the mental capacity at the time. The story and much of the flow of the game mostly worked. Enough to get us to a cathartic ending considering all of the things in flux. I was surprised that we were able to finish up within three hours, including the debrief and I was glad as I needed sleep. In the debrief we talked about the rule change with chaos dice and an alternate to it that may prove to be a good design compromise. I will need to test it out soon.

Saturday

  1. 5-Minute Dungeon card game – In this game, you’ll join forces with your friends to fight your way through five dungeons filled with deadly obstacles and dangerous monsters! You’ll choose to play as one of ten heroes, each with their own special cards and abilities. In 5-Minute Dungeon, there are no turns. Everybody will be racing against the clock to slap down symbols that match the current card from the Dungeon. You’re all in it together—either your party defeats the dungeon and moves onto the next one, or you all perish!
    • Willow and Tim introduced this to Robyn, Bryan, and myself and it was fun. We made it all the way to the final boss: The Game Master and lost! It was amusing to play. I would not buy, but would play again if need be.
  2. Clash of Steel card game – A competitive, low-luck, 15-minute card game for two players, focusing on the tactical nuance of a medieval duel.
    • Eli convinced me to give this game a try and it was okay for a strategy duel game, but not my thing. I would not buy, but I would play again if need be.
  3. FFG Star Wars: Edge of the Empire RPG – Participate in grim and gritty adventures in places where morality is gray and nothing is certain. Ply your trade as a smuggler in the Outer Rim, collect bounties on the scum that live in the shadows of Coruscant, or try to establish a new colony on a planet beneath the Empire’s notice… The Star Wars®: Edge of the Empire™ Core Rulebook provides everything you and your friends need to experience life in the shadiest and most remote locations in the Star Wars universe.
    • Jason ran a fun game with all of the players as bounty hunters. Fights were had. Stuff was blown up. Quips were made. Innocents were stunned. And we got our targets for a big payout.
  4. Dark Well RPG playtest – Dark Well is a science-fantasy thriller roleplaying game about exploring the unknown.
    • I pitched this game, including the word “conspiracy” somewhere in there and that got a lot of players interested, so much so that I had to turn some away. The playtest was great, in part due to the fact that I had more energy and all five players were engaged from start to finish. I used the conspiracy pool of headlines for the first time and that helped us drive things home through the scenes. The tokens from the Well worked surprisingly well–people outside of the game stopped by to see what we were doing and took pictures. This was perhaps the strangest playtest of Dark Well in that it really fed itself again and again in a creepy way. Less horror than usual. Closer to Unknown Armies perhaps?!? We played late. It took us four hours to get to the final dramatic scene, paused for the 11PM game pitches and then finished the game with epilogues and a feedback session, for which I am very grateful. It was a wonderful experience and I am looking forward to reviewing the notes ahead of the next playtest.

Sunday

  1. Feng Shui 2 RPG – In Feng Shui, the action movie roleplaying game, you play heroes of the Chi War, protecting humankind’s destiny in a titanic struggle across space and time. Victory depends on your gravity-defying kung fu powers, your ancient magics, your post-apocalyptic survival instincts, or your plain old-fashioned trigger finger. You might be a maverick cop, a cranky kung fu fighting master, an everyday hero, a masked avenger, or an enigmatic drifter from a post-apocalyptic future. In battle you are forced to face off against a legion of fearsome foes. This conflict rages between four key time periods, confronting sinister eunuch magicians of the past, imperialist oppressors of the colonial era, secretive conspirators of the present, and cyborg rebels–turned-tyrants whose excesses collapsed the future. This is Feng Shui 2!
    • I can cross off Feng Shui from my bucket list of game thanks to the one-shot game. Jim was a great GM and the other players were fun, but the fighting took forever and the story was too unimportant for my style. While I enjoyed our play of it, I don’t think that I need to play this game again and have no interest in owning or running the game. Robyn embraced the horrible dice rolls that she had for her character and the mantle of comedy relief, taking out the cyber-gorilla with an epic head-butt. Lots of laughs.
Dark Well One on One Playtest

One on one with Dark Well

Last night, a friend of mine agreed to do a one on one playtest of Dark Well and it went surprisingly well. We set the game in South America in the 1970s with my friend playing a mercenary archeologist who locates and sells rare artifacts to the highest bidder.

> Dark Well RPG

Dark Well has gone through a number of changes in recent time. The most recent evolution was tested at Gamehole Con, 2018, and proved to be a big hit with the group. Since then I’ve been working to refine the game. I playtested the game with two friends during a Corridor Games on Demand Playing in Public event not too long ago and they both really enjoyed both the system and the story setting.

The core of the token system works well. It’s the character + conspiramid changes that I’m still working to test and I feel that it will require more than one-shots to do this properly.

In the playtest that we ran last night, the archeologist’s greed seemed to get the better of him and neither the player nor me as the GM were certain which was “real” to the PC and which was a hallucination. This line between the two was exactly what was needed and we both played to it, even into the epilogue.

Now I just need to test the game’s setting and tone with more people I don’t know as well and then write up the prompts and structure that reinforces how this is done.

Gamehole Con 2018 My Little Scythe

Gamehole Con 2018

I attended Gamehole Con in Madison, Wisconsin, for the first time in 2018, where I got to hang out and play a few board games with my friends, such as My Little Scythe.

Additionally, I was able to playtest several games which I have in development. See below:

Friday, 1-4PM – Dark Well: Ground Zero

The game began with an overview of related genres and influences, and introducing the four players to the eerie world of Dark Well. This was the first time that I had tested the diceless / random token-based system.

Friday, 7-10PM – Armageddon Accelerated: Miami Viceroy

The game began with an overview of the setting and with Fate Accelerated. Two had experience with Fate Accelerated; one had familiarity; one had none, but had just purchased Fate Dice.

Saturday, 1-4PM – Blood & Violence: The Road Not Taken

The game began with an overview of influences and the concept of magical realism at the heart of the game with the four players.

Saturday, 7-10PM – NightMirror: Walking Over Our Graves

The game began with an overview of the genre of gothic horror and influences with the five players.

Sunday, 1-4PM – Games on Demand Indie Grab Bag

I had table tents for six games for the four players to choose from: Armageddon Accelerated, Blood & Violence, Dark Well, NightMirror, Space Station Omega, and Vigilance. The group selected Space Station Omega (SSO).

Gamehole Con 2018 Space Station OmegaSetup: The players leaned heavily into their love for The Expanse and we built an exciting story involving space miners, a space religion, and an Earth-centric military power, with a mafia-like sub-organization and in-laws generated from the character relationships.

Story: There were a number of nice character moments in between the larger scenes and actions. Ultimately, all major factions put aside their differences, coming together and locating the terrorist cell. The game closed in a wonderful final scene the characters all contributed to dealing with the threat in their own way.

System: SSO is currently somewhere between Cortex Plus and Cortex Prime. The goal is to embrace Cortex Prime once it is more done and then tweak for the needs of the game. The creation of our Space and Station continues to really get the players excited and invested in the game. We made heavy use of complications and opportunities generated, and mostly used simple actions.

Dark Well

You’ve experienced something you can’t explain. Something that changed you. Something that others want to know more about, hide from the public and use for gain in the world. What are you going to do about it before they find you?

Dark Well is a tabletop roleplaying game about exploring the unknown through the relationships of life, power, and truth through fringe science and conspiracies. You play Dwellers who pursue these relationships through each other’s lives and your vision that connects you to the crisis that started it all.

Together, your group works from a set of interconnected ideas and conspiracies in the world to build your characters, factions, secrets, and more through a Conspiramap. You play to find out using a set of tokens drawn from the Well and compared to a chart to interpret what you do next, and ultimately what conspiracy your Dwellers must confront.

Dark Well creates fiction like that of X-Files, Millennium, Twin Peaks, Stranger Things, and Dark, making it fun for lovers of conspiracy fiction and fringe science alike.

System: Tokens.