2021 Fall Update
As of this writing, my next in-person playtests are going to be at:
PAX Unplugged 2021 as part of Games on Demand: Dec. 10 - 12, 2021 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
MAGFest 2022 as part of Indie Tabletop Showcase: Jan. 6 - 9, 2022 at the Gaylord Convention Center
Katsucon 2022: Feb. 18 - 20, 2022 at the Gaylord Convention Center
I've been continuing regular playtests of Alter Arms through the discord I set up late last year. By this point, I've run through one full campaign with a group of players, observing how they advanced their characters and the impact that had on things like enjoyment and the increase in their effectiveness in handling problems.
The big things I've noticed include:
I am able to increase player agency against stronger foes by giving them the default ability to create "assets," narrative objects they put into the game world based on actions they take using the core mechanic of making a move using the three core stats (MIGHT=physicality, WIT=Intelligence, SOUL=personal willpower). Think of it as taking a turn to punch the ground so hard (a MIGHT move) that a pillar of earth rises up that can be used to hide from enemy attacks and as a prop for your own.
Synergy of Special Abilities is a great avenue for player creativity. Players have special abilities tied to each of their transformations, and can gain even more as they advance their characters. A lot of fun has been seeing how players have been able to combine them for different effects. One player, for example, has collected defensive abilities that allow them to avoid taking hits. They would come under attack and first attempt to use the ability that allows them to redirect attacks that would otherwise be successful. If this failed, they still had the chance to use another ability that could allow them to dodge the attack altogether. This is aside from other combinations of special abilities, like using the ability to increase defense alongside the ability that allows a character to use their defensive value as an attack.
Old Character Sheet and New Character Sheet
Character sheets needed to be changed to give players room to include their multiple abilities. I wanted to stick with a 1-page sheet, but the original design focused on keeping track of the different aspects of a character's various forms. This left the room for recording ability rules slim.
I've updated the character sheet to a vertical format, with the space for forms minimized and the space for ability rules increased slightly. The space for forms doesn't need to be as large since all that's going to be written there will be either a single word for gimmicks (summarizing the general theme of a form) and numbers for things like defense.
The other change made was in regards to "drama." Drama is a stand-in for traditional hit points in other TTRPGs; when a character takes damage or must push themselves, they gain a point of drama. Drama can be managed by using certain abilities, or by transforming into a more powerful form.
On the initial character sheet, the stat of "drama" wasn't recorded on the page as the character sheet was designed for in-person games where I would hand out tokens to represent how much drama a character had, with the maximum number a character can take associated with their most powerful form. Virtual playtests required I change it so that players could record this on the page. I also added space to write out a character's maximum amount of drama they can take. I have also been working on a card game called Skrap Packs, which is a card-based TTRPG. Each card represents an item, with players building decks by searching the game world to represent a collection of odds and ends that their character has collected. Players use these items to solve problems, even combining them together in order to create unique items. Players even create their characters' identities by receiving a random assortment of cards and determining who they are playing given the items they have on them and the context they are in.
Example of a Skrap Packs card. The symbol at the bottom signifies that it is an item that is likely to become exhausted or used up. These things are determined by the game master based on how the player wants to make use of the item.
For playtests, I usually begin with a horror scenario: Players are high school/college students who are partying at their friend's cabin in the woods the night before graduation, when they are suddenly attacked by hooded figures.
Another example of a Skrap Packs card. The symbol at the bottom of the page represents that this item can both be worn (the shirt symbol) and also provide the wearer some degree of defense in certain situations (the shield symbol).
From there, the plot can go a number of directions based on what random items the players then find as the plot progresses. I have a number of cards representing plot-important items, many of which have unique abilities, that are drawn to help determine where the story is going. For example: One session had the players defeat the hooded figures and searched them to find a spell book. With this, I determined that the plot should go in an occult direction and decided that these hooded figures were cultists looking for sacrifices. I've had many positive responses from play testers who enjoy the creativity the game provides since they determine how they can use the items they have. They also have said they enjoy the collaboration it affords them, since different characters can accel at different things, and players can trade items between them to give everyone the best tool, or even have one character create a tool for an ally to use! That's the current state of both of my games. If you're interested in more frequent updates you can follow me on Twitter @DuffyA or by joining the aforementioned discord.