I’m super late with the October Wrap-Up post. Mostly because work has taken the better part of my brain capacity as my students were in the process of making the pre-prod documentation for their first big scale video game project (65 students working together on a single game for 5 weeks, that ought to be interesting).
October was full of playtests as I went to both MidgardCon and RegnCon to present the latest iteration of Loop ‘n’ Loot. As I already wrote in the forementioned retro-linked articles, the feedback was really positive and people enjoyed playing the game.
But I was unsatisfied with some game mechanics and extra mental charge for the players and referee. By the way, should I keep “referee” for the GM name for Loop ‘n’ Loot? Should it be “the Dealer”? “The Croupier”? Let me know what you think in the comments! Or join the Discord server to start a discussion around it!
The hours dedicated to game design for Loop ‘n’ Loot allowed me to work on:
- Consolidating the Math around the new values for Attributes (ranging for 0 to 3 now instead of 1 to 5). It was especially important to make sure it worked because the hand size is now a consequence of these values.
- And to make sure it’s working in order, the Tool Item have been reworked along with a brand new mechanics called “Memories” attached to the soul traits. The key word association had really good feedback and help with the randomisation of the game (which is a pillar in itself). The Memories will be gain by absorbing Soul Traits and will have 2 keywords (ex: “kick” + “door”) and the player will be responsible to come up with a memory associated with them (ex: “the NPC from which I got the memory has his house on fire, family trapped inside, he kick the front to reach her daughter and save her from the flames”, any other player would come with a different example). Then, when making a test, the player could call back to a memory to increase the hand size by one IF the memory is relevant. In our example, the memory is obviously relevant to dramatically open a locked door, but it could also be used for a Test against Fear or how to extinguish a fire…
- Tools, taking your time, memories are mean to increase your hand size when doing a non-combat test. Let’s imagine a player want to bash a door open. Their Value in Clubs determine the initial hand size (3). The referee sets the difficulty at 3 (it’s a nice door, well crafted, and everyone knows doors are the main obstacle for adventurers). The player says they have a crowbar Tool, +1 hand size. They invoke the “Kick Door” memory, it’s relevant, +1 hand size. The total card to draw is 5.
- The Soul Trait mechanic has changed. You used to get 1 random trait on absorption. I was fine, honestly, especially for the players. But the referee had a lot of work to do create NPC and a lot to track in combat, especially with Humanoid character that can have Traits AND equipment. Now when absorbing a Soul, players will have to state where the Soul is absorbed: Head, Torso, Legs, Hand 1, Hand 2 or Mental slots. Each slot would have either a Trait or a Memory. It does not change much from a player perspective except they have more agency when they evolve their character. On the referee’s side, it means that the maximum amount of things to manage on a NPC is cap to 6. I’ll spare you the details but to come up with that solution, there has been 2 different new designed and trashed Soul Traits systems before reaching that – I believe – elegant solution.
- If you played Loop ‘n’ Loot before, you would notice that the number of Character Slots has been reduced. Everything is a consequence of something.
- Less Slots + Memories = New character sheet!
- All items and Traits have been re-balanced to fit the new system! It was a lot of work..
- Finally, I designed and created the NPC cards for Maze of the 4 Queens. I have 27 of them. The number might go down a bit, it sure won’t increase until the potential Kickstarter (which will likely have “create your own room+monster” pledge).
All in all, I’m really happy about the state of the game. It was a lot of headaches. A lot! But streamlining all the game components and make them simple while keeping them interconnected and supporting character versatility was primordial!
I will be playtesting that new iteration of the rules at HexCon in Trondheim, this week-end (12-13 November). So if you are in the vicinity or know people who would be, share the good words :).
As usual, let’s conclude the wrap-up with a sneak peak of what is happening behind the scenes with the NPC card.
The previous weekend, I was in Bergen to present Loop ‘n’ Loot at RegnCon XXX (literally the convention of rain, which is accurate given it always rains in Bergen). It was the occasion to see familiar faces, meet new ones and play some games!
I had three pools over the weekend, so 15 hours of play with 15 different players and I used the opportunity to test the latest version of the rules as well as see how the Maze of the 4 Queens is resilient over multiple runs.
Among the positive evolutions of the game, let’s note:
- 2 out of 3 groups died. Several times. Which is by design. The group who did not die had maybe a bit more luck with the randomness and almost always got the better initiative in combat, in addition to playing it safe. The various adjustments have paid off so far.
- The combat seemed to be capped at 2 or 3 turns before one side got obliterated, which is – once again – as per design. So, cool!
- I’m genuinely happy with the randomness and the emergent stories that the Maze creates. A group ended the playtest in a very satisfying way as they looted all the amphoras in a cellar and started a new vintage wine trade company.
- More players got to test the freeform magic system and they seemed to like it.
- The new Attributes and draw mechanics. I remove the fixed hand size to have it depend on the Attributes (putting emphasis on “my character is more sneaky than you”), giving extra cards given tools, environment, time… On paper, it works. Sometimes it felt a bit underwhelming to draw only 2 cards to solve a test. In a way, the new drawing mechanic feels quite similar to the narrative dice from the Genesys system and, as a GM, I need to put more emphasis on how the players intend to revolve an action to give them the adequate hand size.
Among the things that I mixed feelings:
- The new iteration of Soul Traits was not part of the playtest but I’m still thinking about it and what it could be. It seems like the playtesters enjoy absorbing souls a lot, and getting monster traits. I’m afraid the next iteration of the soul mechanics removes that excitement. But it’s a problem of a future playtest to determine.
- I made small equipment cards to facilitate the playtest while giving or switching equipment pieces. It was not greatly efficient. I would need to create color-coded equipment pieces to find what I need more quickly. Or find a different system.
- My brilliant idea of a character sheet pamphlet is looking less and less attractive, especially with all these tiny pieces of paper for representing equipment and flipping the character sheet back and forth. Maybe a boring single-sided sheet will have to be the way to go.
All in all, I can safely say that everyone liked to play Loot ‘n’ Loot. They enjoyed the game mechanics with the cards, they liked adventuring in the Maze of the 4 Queens, they appreciated my NPCs and how I roleplayed them…
Speaking of roleplay, a 1-hour improv’ course was available for those who wanted to know more about that kind of acting. I signed up for it and it was quite fun; it was not really targeted at role-players but I think I got one or two extra tips I could use.
It was a fun convention, with free ice-cream, free pop-corn, free fruits and free cakes! I met new people, got to spread a bit of love around my game and I hope to have something physical to show at RegnCon XXXI.
September Wrap-Up time!
I finally got an opportunity to playtest the latest iteration of “Maze of the 4 Queens” and the August changes with a live group in Oslo. The session was fun, but a bit clunky as the game was in an in-between stage, especially with the new WIP Traits.
Something was feeling off after the session, and it gave me a lot of headaches both trying to figure out what that “something” was and how to fix it.
- Players don’t die fast enough. It is still an issue. And it has potential fixes already. The amount of HP will have to get a second pass. But I think it also has to do with the pace of the game and how it is presented to players. Which reminds me of the latest article from Spriggan’s Den. Designing an adventure for Loot ‘n’ Loot is different from making an OSR module, in the sense that character preservation is not as important. Living YOLO and experimenting is key: shorter dungeons, clearer objectives, telegraphed traps & loot.
- The Referee has still too much to manage on their end with NPCs. Too many traits, too many weapons. And then, it falls back on the PCs who have too much loot to go through. The excitement of surviving a tough fight hits the ground pretty fast 4 Souls and 20 pieces of gear have to be sorted. But cutting content is not just enough to solve the issue. Or rather, it’s not enough if it’s not done mindfully. In order to do so, I had to go back to the root of my game, the pillars: Simplicity, Synergy, Fun. Willing to create too many synergies removed the simplicity of my game, on many different aspects: weapons, NPC, Traits.
Therefore, I took a lot of time pondering on the necessity of each element of the game:
- Too many weapons, I removed everything that was not “common gear “and decided to limit the game to 26 basic gear.
- Too many traits, especially on Humanoid characters who also have gear. A character should have max 4-5 abilities that have an effect in combat (Traits+Gear). The rest of the Traits, if any, should be for social/exploration. As of today, I classified Traits into “mostly combat” (126) and “exclusively non combat” (39), after a lot of merging and cutting.
- Upgrading Traits over multiple runs is a mechanic I removed completely. Now, at Death, a PC loses everything but Souls; they have the option to destroy some Souls to carry any piece of gear or Trait to their next incarnation.
- Gear and Traits now both occupy Character Slots (previously Equipment Slots) as Slots are mechanically cousins. Getting Horns prevents you from having a Helmet, right? Then it makes sense the Trait Horns and the Equipment Helmet should be put on a Head slot. So reworking the Traits also implied finding Slots for them.
- Speaking of slots, I removed the 8 slots for inventory. Now, they are only Character Slots and if a PC wants to carry more loot, they should grab a Satchel.
- The character creation has been revamped to enhance the randomness of starting gear.
- All these changes created collateral damage on other parts of the game, namely the Character Sheet.
Everything will be playtesting this very weekend at MidgardCon!
Let’s conclude with another small tease with a sneak peak at some of the new Traits.