We just completed the second playtest of the ∞ Infinity Gaming System. Thanks to our three testers: Thomas, Bryan, and John.
These are some first impressions, based on the playtest.
1.) Distinctions are fun. A Distinction is a colorful phrase describing something your character does well. This is the first time they’ve been used in a playtest, and the players came up with some doozys.
Bryan came up with: “Think fast!” — My character is good at using objects to distract opponents during combat.
John came up with: “Don’t Throw Your Life Away.” — Garet’s fast-talked more than one bounty into giving up peacefully.
They allow players to individualize their characters. Players can pick what they want to be good at and the way they want to be good at it. You can choose to be good at charming people who are angry at you, members of the opposite sex, policemen, whatever. They’re free-form advantages.
2.) Combat is fast and brutal. The combat playthrough lasted 2 rounds before the bad guys were beaten. The first playtest lasted four rounds, with 3 times as many combatants.
We ran the same scenario twice. In the first, the players talked their way out of combat, driving off the bad guys with Interaction skills and talking. No blood was spilt. Quite impressive, as I was expecting violence. Had this been an actual game, I would have given bonus XP for it. Very satisfying and fun, all the way round.
The second playthrough was violence only (by design). Due to the length, it was less satisfying. Combat runs too fast.
The first playthrough felt like a struggle. Not an extended, brutal slog, but something the players had to work towards. The second had a little of that, but much less. It was much less enjoyable, because the players didn’t have time to develop or deploy tactics.
Combat needs to be longer. I’m going to think of ways to do this.
Why is combat so fast?
Well, as John pointed out, combat skills and Combat Interaction skills are rock-papers-scissors. Due to the low skill points and slower progression (when compared to Infinity’s immediate predecessor), no one character will be good at everything. Because skill affects Attack and Defense, all characters have weaknesses.
(Which is why the math was misleading. It presented a situation where each attacker had one and only one Attack score. Multiple skills weren’t part of the equation.)
This is a good thing. Compare it to D&D, where a character gains BAB in anything they have Proficiency in (including missile weapons, thrown weapons, melee weapons, hand-to-hand combat), and armor protects against everything. Buy the best armor, and you’re a tank. Infinity works very differently, and to its credit, I think.
But design (to this point) has assumed that combat will run long. And it won’t, right now. I’m going to have to make some changes to stretch it out.
5-8 rounds is long enough for players to make plans and carry them out. It’s long enough for a struggle over Initiative to play out. It’s long enough for the vagaries of the dice to be muted, and smart play to come to the fore (and be rewarded).
Short combat favors chance. Long combats tend towards the mean (more rolls), and favor intelligent tactics.
I have to address this.
3.) My current playtest procedures hamper full feedback. I’ve been running playtests like a GM — hiding my rolls, Success Ratings, and the enemy’s penalties. When discussing Combat Interactions tonight, I realized this opacity is great for a campaign, but bad for a playtest. To judge whether the mechanics are working, Alpha Testers need information on the results of their actions.
Accordingly, from now on, all rolling and penalties will be done in the open. Hopefully, this will help the testers understand the mechanics more thoroughly.
I’ll have some information about the rules changes arising from this playtest tomorrow.
There are some more observations, but I’ll save those for tomorrow.
(I’ll be uploading the transcript to the playtest group as soon as I get it into shape.)