2021 PAX Unplugged Games On Demand Playtests
A photo of a Skrap Packs playtest by one of the players
Thank you to all the playtesters at PAX Unplugged 2021, Games on Demand for a very busy weekend!
It's always great to have a game, but I also got some great feedback:
Alter Arms playtesters at PAX Unplugged 2021
During Alter Arms, players pointed out that not all of the character archetypes were as beneficial for players as others.
For the sake of clarity, I'm going to explain the character archetype move rules in a way that doesn't require full knowledge of the system.
Character archetypes are subclasses for characters that give them access to moves that mechanically reflect the functionality of different members of a team you typically find in team henshin-hero shows like Super Sentai, Sailor Moon, etc. They are important because they give characters access to unique actions that can:
A) Allow them to lower their own or another character's drama (in this system, instead of characters losing hit points, they instead gain drama to signify how overwhelmed they become, and are defeated if they take too much) effectively healing them.
B) Earn them experience, the currency needed to advance characters and raise their strength.
Archetype moves are intended to mimic the behavior of character archetypes by rewarding players with healing and experience for doing so. To avoid players all choosing the same archetype and powergaming (a term in TTRPGs that is used to refer to when players abuse the rules of a system to betray the spirit of the game), I inserted a rule that the benefits of an archetype cannot benefit other players of the same archetype.
Currently, the three character archetypes that offer additional benefits to what's listed above are:
Support: The team cheerleader. They're meant to bring everyone together and help them work as a team, usually by some grandiose action or speech. In addition to healing/experience, their move allows them to either A) Lower one character's drama for a large amount or B) Rearrange the drama on the team so that the tension is alleviated. Players were using this archetype to help the whole team recover when they were on the ropes, and was used semi-often.
Planner: The team strategist. They're meant to help the team work together to come up with the best way to attack their opponents with one grand stroke. In addition to healing/experience, their move allowed them to take all of the drama they relieved themselves and their allies of and put it in a "plan pool," which signified how they took some information from their interactions with their allies (interacting with them to heal them) that they could use to coordinate their grand attack. mechanically this was enacted by the player choosing to perform an action and, if successful, could put all that drama on the target along with any other drama their action put on them. This archetype move is used fairly often.
Defender: The team guardian. They help the team by stepping in the way of any attacks that are thrown at their allies. They do this instead of healing allies, but possess the ability to possibly negate the damage they take in defense of their allies. This is used very frequently.
By comparison, the other three archetypes are almost never used. Below I'll list their old function, and their new function, which I hope will help increase their use.
Ace: The team champion. This is the person you can't help but root for; through gumption and hard work, even their enemies can't help but respect them.
Old Ace Mechanics: Get a bonus to perform moves that heal allies and themselves and reward experience. Pretty much the core mechanics that all the other archetypes are based around but with an added bonus to effectiveness. No additional benefits so I don't think players thought of a reason to use them.
New Ace Mechanics: Much like above, but without the added bonus to ensure their success at healing allies and themselves. Instead, the Ace now has the ability to heal all present party members for the same amount that they heal themselves for. The idea was that this role is for the underdog, and seeing them succeed rallies everyone.
Rival: The team challenger. This is the person who is always striving to be the best, and expects the same from their friends. They'll always challenge them, even at the most inopportune time, in hopes of making them push beyond their limits.
Old Rival Mechanics: Much like the Ace, the Rival exclusively focused on healing and experience, with the added wrinkle that, on their turn, they could allow allies to 'attack' them, which would heal the allies. Mechanically, it was interesting because it emulated the idea that they would set themselves in an antagonistic role for the benefit of their friends, but no one used it when other archetypes provided other benefits.
New Rival Mechanics: As with the old mechanics, the Rival could give up their own turn to have allies 'attack' them and lower their drama. Going forward, this will also have the added bonus of providing the ally who takes them up on their offer with a buff to their next turn. I am concerned that this could lead to powercreep (the issue of ever-increasing power levels as the only means of challenge/resolution), as it makes the 5th such opportunity to provide a buff of this kind to a move, but I feel it's appropriate because it better captures that aspect of sentai and overall tokusatsu where characters achieve new heights thanks to their friends giving them no quarter.
Antihero: The team(?) outsider. This is the person who is an uneasy ally with the team, and is only there to advance their own motives. As such, they make no qualms about friendly fire.
Old Antihero Mechanics: The antihero was designed to mimic the enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend characters on some teams, and their distinguishing mechanics reflected this by allowing them to heal themselves by attacking their allies and transferring their drama to them. Alternatively, to reflect the fist-pumping moment of when they actually do help the team out, they could heal an ally by just attacking the enemy. This is beneficial, but lacks the pizzazz of the more frequently-used archetypes.
New Antihero Mechanics. No real change, only when they do heal themselves, their allies will earn a corresponding amount of experience for how much damage they take. This, like with the new mechanics for the Rival, treads close to powercreep, but I think it could add an interesting risk/reward mechanic as players can push their luck to see how much experience they can get before they're defeated and lose that same experience (a consequence for defeat) they got for being the Antihero's punching bag.
I hope these changes will encourage players to try different archetypes and find new ways to play the game.
Some of the PAX Unplugged 2021 playtesters.
Skrap Packs is a card-based TTRPG I'm also working on where characters' only assets are the titles the players give them and the items they possess (in the form of cards); there are no stats whatsoever. The idea is that players go through an adventure and collect items to put together to craft new-more useful items to solve the challenges they'll face.
During the Skrap Packs playtests, players noticed a lack of detail in the scenarios they were presented with. This makes sense, because I designed the game to be ad-lib, with the GM deciding where the story will go based on the items they draw from the item deck to place in the world (For example: characters were wandering through the woods and encountered a locked door because I drew a pocket watch and thought "they should encounter something with moving parts").
They suggested that I add some flavor text to the cards along the margins to give the GM an idea of what tone or location for this card to represent. This is tricky because new cards are given to players for exploring locations, defeating opponents, and solving problems, so the language would need to be vague enough to apply to all of these.
Example of how margin text could help set the stage.
I want to experiment with this though because a prior playtest suggested something similar with full cards that represent locations. I want to limit cards to just items, so having flavor text on those item cards seems like a good choice.
If you're interested in trying out either Alter Arms or Skrap Packs, join the Alter Arms Discord and let me know you're interested!