Playtest Session #4: Sacred Cows

One of the things that has inadvertently evolved from our playtest campaign is a willingness to really deep dive into the core mechanics and structures of the game and question them. We have already had a long, hard and testing look at the Mission system and worked it into a state where it seems fair, balanced and pays off well. It isn’t radically different from the original, but it does what it is meant to do, better. This session solved one of these questions – skirmishes – and raised another one – skills.

Skirmish Challenges and Sharing Spotlight

Skirmish challenges are a central part of the D&H mechanic; to complete a Challenge, the PCs all contribute a scene or action which they resolve, and then the Commanding Officer makes an additional check, modified by the net successes of PCs’ efforts. This puts the final success firmly on the Commanding officer’s shoulders – the weight of Command.

The question arose, in a non-combat Skirmish, whether a different skill other than Command should be used by the CO to make the final roll. If you have been running an infiltration challenge, surely it should be Skulduggery? I agreed, and extrapolating this, there are some obvious skills (one per Measure) that are obvious candidates (Soldiering in Guts, Command in Discipline, Skulduggery in Charm and Intrigue in Influence). We tested this and it worked well. This then spawned a question that this was unfair on the CO as they needed all of these skills, so why not allow authority to be delegated to another character? Ah, now this was interesting. We’ve tested it a couple of times and passing the baton works well. It really makes the game feel more like a troupe style of play and it also had an unexpected outcome.

It has become painfully clear that failing really packs a punch in D&H. Failing on one card flop can be devastating, especially if players have layered Personal Mission challenges into that collective conclusion. The pressure this puts on that player making that test is palpable. I like that – I like that a lot. I want to hear the groans of disappointment and the cheers of victory around the table. This shares the pain, and the joy.

Of course, the upshot of this is that some Traits now seem a little incongruous. ‘Born for Battle’ applies to ALL skirmishes, but seems wrong for a coordinated stealth mission. So there will need to be some redefinition and some new traits added

Too Many Skills?

The other big question that has been raised is that of Skills, and moreover redundant skills. After four sessions of play, there are several skills that have never been tested, despite some players having points in them; First Aid, Scavenge, Siege, Commerce and Quartermaster. Romance is also being questioned, asking what the difference is between it and Courtesy. The debate has three sides:

  1. Are these skills just not being used by the game and with other characters, these skills would become more important
  2. Are some of these skills now redundant in the game? Because your damage can be healed now by spending resources, the old constant First Aid scenes have disappeared, and thus First Aid has become redundant in its most obvious form. Could being ‘the medic’ become a trait?
  3. Should the core structure of the game be altered? Should some of the skills be removed? And if they are, what knock on effect would that have on something like character generation and character variety?

My gut instinct is that this may be a reflection of these characters in this game rather than all characters, but I am also becoming convinced that some are indeed, surplus to requirements. Do we need Commerce? Or Scavenge? Is Romance superceded by Courtesy? To quote our own Lt Featherstonehaugh, more data is needed!

So dear reader, if you have had games where these ‘on the block’ skills have been the shining light, let me know? Conversely, if this is the first time you realised there was a Quartermaster skill, let me know too!

Some other items that have come up?

Q: What happens if you lose all of your Critical Endurance (Guts) damage, before you lose your Standard damage?
Harsh as it may seem, you die. There has been a lot of discussion about including guidance text for character creation and one would seem to be ‘Don’t neglect Guts’ – this iteration of D&H is more dangerous and you can die, whereas in the previous game that was really quite hard to achieve. Status: Solved

Q: Include some play advice that suggests characters have a ‘Back at Camp’ style personal mission and an ‘In the field’ personal mission
This is a solid suggestion so that the character always has something ‘on the go’ wherever they are in the game. I have been adding a little more emphasis on the social side of things in this playtest, with the initial base for the PCs being Lisbon itself. There’s a sort of downtime influence from Blades in the Dark here, that works well in play. Status: Noted

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