Playtest Session #3: It Gets Personal
It’s the mix of military and personal missions that makes this game tick. One minute you’re trying to get your neck out from under the boot of a Portuguese crime lord (and replace it with your rival’s), the next you’re being held at gunpoint as a skirmish rages.Martin Lloyd aka Volunteer Gentlemen John Lace
This week’s playtest was more of a normal session really – we’re testing a new format for missions to see how it feels upon completion and have started to look at the regiment rules and spitballing ways that they could be improved to make the Regiment (and moreover, the Company) more relevant to the game. I think this is one of the areas where D&H needs to get into step with more modern games ideas – whereas in the past just having a few pre-defined NPCs was innovative, now things like a Blades in the Dark crew mechanic are common place.
The real difference in this session was the focus on the Personal Missions of the characters and the way that they drive the narrative between Military Missions and enrich it within them. For those who have never played before, the structure of the game is based on Military Missions; tasks given to the players by their commanders -secure the village, scout the enemy lines, find the Govenor’s missing son etc. This is a shared venture between the players. Then each player has one or more Personal Missions – get one over a rival, romance the love of their life, improve their lot with the officers etc. If, through the narrative, the two happen to intersect, then one challenge within the game can advance both missions.
The key to this structure is being agile and fluid with the framing and the content of scenes as they play out. Players are free to suggest the inclusion of certain plot points within a scene. In this game we had an officer’s social gathering that allowed our Lieutenant to attempt to find out more about a lost pocket watch he had pledged to find during a wager, whilst our Volunteer Gentlemen combined his oneupmanship with a rival Captain and his debt to a local thug in a smokey back room card game with his commanding officer! Meanwhile, back at camp, on the verge of battle, our Private talked around a potential deserter, increasing his standing with the rank and file and our Sergeant lightly tamped out some maudlin discussions of death from the Company old veteran.
These scenes played out over the first hour of the session, but they laid the ground for some great character pieces and in many places, raised the tension of the game markedly. One comment that has resonated around the group, is that the potential of failing a Personal Mission hits far harder than failing a Military Mission.
The question that all of this has raised is how to express this style of play in the text of the book. Writing an adventure for D&H is … difficult. The improvisational playstyle that I love runs through the mechanics, like ‘Blackpool’ through a stick of rock. The big test is can I explain it and provide guidance clearly in the text? How do I write examples? Should I provide examples through YouTube to supplement this? I want to get the way the game plays transmitted correctly, but I’m not sure my natural leanings towards procedural step-by-step instructions would work here.
Playtesting isn’t always about the rules. Sometimes it’s about how you express those rules and how you separate the personal from the procedural.
The game is off towards Oporto next session, scouting the French and making contact with the locals!