AquaVertigo Publishing

Open Hearth Design Workshop 2 Review

Thank you, members of Open Hearth Gaming Community, for offering these workshop sessions for us to talk as a community and work through our concepts and processes in a productive space.


We had two designers present ideas to the other attendees.

One was a discussion about how some games have components that seem to cancel out or reduce certain parts of play, such as one character having the character option to create a complication and then easily resolving it with another character’s option.

The other was my desire to test a specific revised set of mechanics for my game, Dark Well.

Discussion about Less-than-Great Character Mechanics Interactions

While I couldn’t recall encountering this as a big problem in the games I’ve been playing, the designer and another attendee had examples of where in character-builds in different games there was more or less conflict in this area. One example was from a Belonging Outside Belonging game with strong moves that could easily nullify or cancel out a complication or situation from a weak move, and this can make the experience less fun.

One way the designer was working to prevent this from happening in their own game was through the use of a document that maps out the options for the characters so that you can more easily see where problems may happen or where gaps for opportunities may be found.

I requested the designer put a version up on their page so that people could give them money for this tool and help the designer improve it. It’s definitely a designer-facing tool.

I can see value in using something like this as I plan to build out the Agent playbook for Starfall, comparing my new playbook with the MANY other preexisting playbooks. I would appreciate avoiding obvious mistakes early on.

Tangent Discussion

As part of the discussion, I mentioned how my brain freaks out when trying to design a tangled web of moves for PbtA games that don’t step on the toes of other playbooks, do cool things, interact with the setting (holding environment), and say interesting things about the playbooks. I’ve had similar mental blocks with stunts in Fate and talents in Cortex Prime.

images from: The Reborn Playbook from Feudal Fairy World RPG, title page from Legends RPG, and the Reputation Map from Legends of the Realm RPG,  David MK.

This “failure” led to me abandoning my game of Legends, an Arthurian variant of Feudal Fairy World (FFW is inspired by anime stories such as Inuyasha) that then became Legends of the Realm after encountering Unincorporated. 

If I ever return to FFW, I would like to start with three moves per character and then test the game. I may yet release it for fun when I have the time or if there’s demand.

Testing the Revised Results Matrix for Dark Well

Thanks to everyone who participated in the design workshop and helped me test the revised results matrix for Dark Well.

Photo: “Game Loop Sketch,” David MK.

I wanted to test the game loop during play using the revised results matrix.

After reviewing the content and background for the pregenerated characters and the rules, I moved the players into engaging with the fiction through their characters before drawing from the Well.

The PCs

  • Clio, a professor of the occult and member of The Academy, a secret society that wants Clio to bring Sam in.
  • Sam, a theoretical physicist who had been working for Julian on a secret corporate-backed research project to create a doorway into another dimension.

The Setup

The PCs are on the run following the explosion of a corporate lab in France. Sam had purposely sabotaged the lab to prevent Julian from succeeding with his crazy scheme to create a doorway for Angel-Aliens to freely enter our world. Sam wasn’t sure if the explosion had killed his former boss, Julian. Clio had helped Sam escape to a safe but temporary hotel room outside of Paris, where they were trying to figure out what to do next.

Scene 1

Clio decided they should investigate the news and see what could be discovered, and Sam helped.

Clio got a Stressed Success, two-of-a-kind (Truth) and the complication came from Life.

I asked Clio’s player how their profession was complicated or tested, and the response was that they had used their academic logins to help research, and now they were temporarily locked out.

They succeeded in learning that there was still energy from the site and that inspectors were going to begin digging through the “industrial accident.”

This simple complication result back to the player and out was a great demonstration of the loop working for both the player and the GM.

Because I like having input from players, and the player controlling Sam did add a helping token, I asked for input on something that was found, which turned out to be a deep element from the planet that was in the air and that it wasn’t a health risk yet.

Sam believed the experiment was still posing a threat to people.

Clio’s player took a Truth token, game a Truth token to Sam’s player, and gave the Life token to me. I added the Life token to the Crisis track, upping it by one — one away from the next option for the conspiracy to cause damage.

Scene 2

Sam was determined to turn off the experiment with his strange stone “key” and Clio joined him to make sure he would be okay and to support him so that he would be more willing to go with her to The Academy.

Sam contacted one of his old Tech Bro / Frat Brothers to come by and distract the inspectors. This was a fun moment of levity before the PCs descended into the dark reminder of something terrible.

Sam’s player spent a Power token, and Jerry was happy to help out.

Clio and Sam made their way to the lab, and the portal equipment was functional. The gate was still up.

I drew a token for the location as a kind of luck mechanic and got Power, which is a negative outcome, so I added a detail that in the corner in the lab was Julian’s still body.

I worked to try to build the uneasiness of the pair returning to the scene where everything got out of control. Sam found the equipment and started working on shutting down the gate.

Sam got a Stressed Success, two-of-a-kind (Life) and the complication came from Power.

With Clio on watch, Sam continued, focused on the work. The complication came when, as the experiment was shutting down, an energy discharge from the gate zapped Julian’s body, causing it to levitate in a broken puppet way before addressing Same in a strange voice, thanking him for returning to work.

Another demonstration of how much easier the result helps to generate ideas for the GM and offer options to the PCs in response.

Sam was frozen in response, while Clio was getting ready to try to sever the link between Julian’s body and the thing possessing it. And that’s where we called the playtest.


It was a lot of front-loading of information for the participants to take in suddenly for the test I wanted to do: Characters and backgrounds, setting and situation, and mechanics. We discussed a kind of system mastery and probability play style that has or could be involved, but until I test this iteration several times I won’t know how that will really affect this version of the game.

It seemed like the revisions were working. It did not punish the PCs for leaning into a particular area, perhaps because “success” was more separate and random. The cognitive load of this revision seemed less than the one I just had, which is good. The results led to questions and answers, which can slow the game down depending on how collaborative the group is but also tie into the pensive nature of the game where you are exploring what these sometimes disparate elements mean to you. I need to test them through a series of sessions to better evaluate categorically and then specifically what else I should revise.

An attendee commented about the use of conditions to tie into the history of a character, which is accurate. This recent change came about because I want the conditions to not just be a number or a tag, but to be part of the fiction of what happened as well as to suggest what you could do or need to do to resolve it.

There was interest in playing through Dark Well after this brief 1-ish hour test, so I will follow up when I get ready to run a series again.

Next Steps

I will schedule and playtest Dark Well in a series format again using the revisions. And of course, rules notes.


Let me know what you think. Was this helpful or insightful?


DMK, the founder of AquaVertigo, is a creatively curious artist, author, designer, educator, entrepreneur, and organizer based in the Midwest, USA.

Follow us