And so, the playtest begins, and from the get-go, I can see the value of playtesting a game whose baseline assumptions are over ten years old. Duty & Honour was borne of the indie revolution of the mid-2000s and a lot of the core assumptions were … vague. In many ways, ideas like shared narrative and conflict resolution have moved into different modern places and this makes the admittedly wishy-washy way I handled it previously just too lose. There was also a little bit of ‘no author included’ going on; people who have played in one of my games see me run it and then do the same, but those that have not always find a new interpretation of the rules to bring to the table. So there was a lot to question as we went along.
Rather than write up a blow-by-blow of the action, I’ll just highlight some of the questions raised, especially around new mechanics.
Q: Why are items tied to a particular skill?
This is the first time this has ever come up – personally, I blame Fate (my favourite system) as everything is an aspect. Why can my vintage brandy only be used in Diplomacy and not Courtesy, under the right circumstances? It’s a fair question, but I emphasised that at the core, D&H is a game that tips a lot of narrative horsepower into the hands of the players and ‘curios’ are just another way of doing this, without introducing a ‘+2 shoehorn’ that is applicable across numerous skills. Status: Pondering
Q: Why can you not gain a skill or a trait in advancement?
I’ve introduced a new advancement system, combining the rewards from Missions and points accrued as a balance of successes over failures in said Missions. Mission rewards are fixed, whereas Advancement rewards are dependent on how well you do in the Mission. Balancing this offers up some interesting questions. Originally, my intent was that improving Skills and Traits could only be achieved through Advancement points, but the feedback has been that this seems arbitrary and limited choices to make some meaningful Personal Missions. And the costs of all of these options are under close scrutiny. Status: Monitoring
Q: Breaking a reputation as a failure consequence is far punishing to someone with a high reputation than a low one.
A consequence of failure on a Mission was to have a reputation ‘Broken’ – under the new system, the same as being ‘Dead’ in original D&H. It was pointed out that this inhibited someone with one +4 Rep far more than someone with four +1 reps. This is true. This is being changed to the failure either reducing the Rep or denying access to some of the rep’s points in the next Military Mission. STATUS: Testing
Q: Wealth’s back – how does it work?
After proudly announcing that I had done away with Wealth, I realised that there was no way in the game to represent … well, being rich. And that is such an integral part of the stories – money coming and going etc. So I have introduced it back as a one-shot +1 cards per point spent in appropriate Tests. So if you want to bribe someone? Spend 1 Wealth. It also adds some small scale granularity for rewards and failures too. I’ve also built in the assumption that you have enough implicit wealth to live within your current social station. I’m considering what happens when you have to forfeit Wealth as a failure cost of a Mission … debt? STATUS: Testing
Q: Are Chosen Man and Cheat Death too good? Undercosted?
This is a perennial question – if talents are seen as ‘must-haves’ then are they too good. The brave playtesters have gone into battle with some, both or none of these. We will see how it plays out. STATUS: Monitoring
Q: Why is everyone ‘devout’?
It was pointed out that the fill-in-the-blanks section of the character sheet makes everyone a ‘devout’ member of their chosen religion. What if you don’t want to be? It’s an easy change to make. STATUS: Added to rules.
Q: An illiterate character can become a sergeant but sergeants had to be able to read? And do I get anything for being illiterate?
That little nod of simulation that the original game has raises it’s head again. Whilst I can see, in a world of balanced point-buy systems, how this would seem unfair, it seems minor enough not to matter. However, if its that minor is it needed at all? STATUS: Pondering
Q: Do characters still get the cards allocated by their officer in a skirmish if they disobey orders?
I had never even considered this, but apparently it’s quite a commonly used house rule – and a good one! STATUS: Added to rules
Q: Should there be an option for the Skirmish Challenge rules to be used in social situations? If so, is Command the best skill for the officer to use? And if it is not, can the officer devolve command to someone with a better skill?
The first part of this seems like a no-brainer; in certain circumstances, Command is not the best skill to a ‘skirmish’ challenge. For a forced march or building of defences, it would be Soldiering. For the group infiltration of a clandestine organisation, it would be Intrigue etc. However, that does suggest that the Officer needs to be good at everything? As they cannot be, they should be able to defer to someone else but that runs wholly against the grain of the game and the genre. Which leads us back to the question of whether Command is simply telling the troops the right thing to do, regardless of what it is? STATUS: Pondering
And one from me
Q: Does the standard 4/2 mission feel right now that failure is more likely and failing one challenge puts you at risk of failing the mission as a whole?
So the playtest group managed to fail their first Skirmish mission, with a straight forward 4 successes before 2 failures set-up. This changed the onus of the session a little bit as they realised that the next failure would mean a totally failed mission. In original D&H, 4/2 seemed right because the game was, to be blunt, competence porn. In this iteration, resources are diminishing and hand sizes in Tests are lower (the group’s highest skill is 4 whereas in original, it was usual to see a 5 or 6 … almost always Skulduggery!) Does the formula for mission balance need to be tweaked? STATUS: Monitoring
This is all exceptional playtesting, as it is questioning some of the very basic decisions that the game is based upon and making me justify it. In turn that is cementing what the game is really about and how to communicate that within the game text.
The adventures of the 103rd Monmouth Rangers continue next week…