Archive for the ‘playtesting’ Category


The Emperor’s Heart update

December 22, 2007

I’ve finally updated the playtest documents for The Emperor’s Heart.

I still have a fat stack of feedback notes sitting at home I need to incorporate, but honestly, I’m just happy to clean it up from it’s initial mindspew stage. I think the rules part is actually readable at this point. I will forewarn you though, I did this all on my friend’s outdated PC, so I had to save the rules themselves as a Word document instead of my usual PDF methods.

The big changes instituted thus far include an “icebreaker” technique to help tie together the Heroes with each others’ Drama cards, more fiddling the numbers to make better opposition on the part of Villains and Supporting characters, advice on conflicts with more than 2 sides, more setting bits, and hopefully just clear writing all around.

I’d love for folks to play it and give feedback.

The Emperor’s Heart playtest rules (12.20.07)

Drama Cards, set 1

Drama Cards, set 2

Outlaw Faction Cards

Hero Archetype Cards

Scenario Cards

Villain Cards

Things still on the to-do list: Examples, a name list, and updated cards. Hopefully this upcoming year I won’t be scrambling as much and have a little more time to set that all up.


Warriors of a Small House

December 1, 2007

(a game idea for 3 or more players)

It is Spring, and the heavy rains have ensured a good crop this year, though the rivers threaten to leap their banks.

Just across the raging waters, the neighboring lord has fallen, and his 3 sons struggle for power. Ronin, mercenaries, wolves of war come seeking wages for bloody work.

The festival is coming up, and many young people will be ready to marry in just a year or two, and we’ll see many promises made, and perhaps foretell of just as many broken.


Your samurai serves at the behest of the lord of a small holding, during the warring states era. Though the last few years have been peaceful, they’re not likely to stay that way.

1. Name something about your samurai that gives him or her the potential to change the fate of your noble house.

2. Someone else will name something negative said or believed about your samurai (whether true or not).


The first player will name a season (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter), and describe a current bit of news in the land- as if it were written by a court historian or in a personal journal. Don’t mention any years in the description.

Each player afterwards will also narrate a bit of current news, until each player has done so. Write down these little facts.


Anyone is free to set a scene, and narrate their samurai’s actions as well as anything in the environment, including NPCs, as long as the following rules are kept:

1. You may narrate hardship for any other Samurai

2. You may narrate your Samurai’s struggles with a hardship, or failing at it (including death)

3. You may narrate the success of any other Samurai’s struggles and attempts against hardships.

This constitutes the majority of any scene. If you finish narrating and feel it’s a good place for the scene to close, say “Bow” and provided the other players partcipating agree, so ends the scene and begin a new one.

If you’re not narrating at the moment, and you feel things are slowing down, and it’s time for the scene to end, and especially if two or more players keep going back and forth with no resolution to a conflict- any who hasn’t done the last two narrations may say, “Strike or Break?”

If all the players involved in the exchange say, “Break”, the scene is cut, and the concerns are left unresolved- go to some other scene and come back later.

If all of the players involved in the exchange say, “Strike”, then the person who asked the question in the first place narrates the outcome and the scene ends. Period.

If the players mix between Strike and Break, the person who asked the question can choose whether to Break the scene or Strike the conflict and narrate it’s resolution.

Seasons Change

If you ever find a yourselves having a hard time coming up with a new scene, or if everyone agrees to it, simply move on to the next season. A new player begins the season- declaring a season, a bit of current news, and everyone adds to it around the table.

Each Samurai (who is still alive) stays in play, and the player rewrites the positive aspect of that Samurai. It might just be subtle changes, or it might be a complete shift in character, depending on what happened. Again, another player comes up with something negative spoken about the Samurai, probably as consequences from the previous season.

Dead Samurai/New Samurai

If a Samurai dies and you want to keep playing, just do the basic character generation and make a new one, likewise if new players show up. Add as a bit of news to the current season, “So and so has died” without any further explaination of how or why.

Design thoughts

Though this initially started as me thinking about ways to make painless IRC games with structure, it’s really a simple flagging and pacing mechanics for freeforming in many ways. You can use Strike/Bow/Break to let other players know what you’d like to have happen without having to take lots of time away from the fiction. You also use it to cut short scenes that are dragging out, and it gives some tool against simple social bullying (though really, nothing can fully save you from it).

The real currencies of the game are spotlight time and player goodwill- how entertaining are you to other players?

I’m also kind of curious to see the artifacts of play- the bits of history and news, the changing Samurai descriptions, etc. Kind of like real history, where all you get are these random tiny tidbits of reports, and what becomes clear vs. what remains a mystery.

Honestly though, these mechanics are super fragile, and I think they’d only really work with groups that have good collaborative skills and social contracts to begin with. At first I thought that made it “not really a game”, then I thought about all the books on my shelf that have the same problem, 200 pages of mechanics or not.


The Playtesting, it continues

September 20, 2007

I’m starting to get more feedback, including the negative- which is good. The point of playtesting is to find the holes and weaknesses and fix them.

Things I already know I want to work on (though input always welcome):

– Unmurking “who controls who”, more than 2 way conflicts, and narration of ties

– Resources! Too much, too little- just right is hard to find.

– The fragile circle- Award Tokens drive so much- no awards, the game stalls out, very similar to PTA when people don’t give fan mail.

Anyway, more kicking at the tires! Let me know how your games are going so I can get to it.


The Emperor’s Heart- Long term play

September 16, 2007

Though the game is maximized for short term play, I know some folks will want to play a campaign to free the Empire from all 7 Immortals.

So here’s the idea for the rules. First Immortal gets four base dice in conflicts. After you kill or remove him, the next one gets five, then the next six, etc. The last Immortal gets a whopping ten base dice in every conflict.

How can you win? Keep snagging Resources. Each Resource counts as an additional Trait for your Faction. Don’t forget to Go All Out- a lot of heroes will die, but that’s how wuxia works.

I plan on having a total of six Scenario cards, with 3 Resources on each- meaning the hardcore group will have played at least 17-18 sessions and earned as many Resource Traits. Because the games tend to be short, this probably could be done in half as much time easily, or even less if you play ridiculous marathon sessions with games back to back.


The Emperor’s Heart- more playtesting!

September 8, 2007

Last night I finally got to play with 4 people in a game!

It was great to check out the resource economy as well as some fascinating differences in player demographics.  To context- I’ve played with 2 casual roleplayers, 3 traditional roleplayers, and 2 non-gamers who were writers to date.  So far, the traditional players have had the hardest time with setup and rules, the biggest sticking points being Award Token flow, creating scenes, as well as looking to each other’s Flags.  I’m looking forward to more play to really get a better idea on that kind of thing.

That aside, I’m starting to get ideas for how to a) teach the game and b) demo it.

Expect an actual play report some point in the near future, and yes, finally a damn update to the rules!