PAX Playtesting for Inept Sorcerers

Posted on Tue Sep 01 2015 -- convention inept-sorcerers playtest

I attended PAX Prime's Games on Demand over the weekend, and both ran and played in games of Inept Sorcerers. Here's a brief rundown of those games, and what I learned.

Game 1: Steam Sorcerers in the New West

The first session featured a traveling troupe of steampunk con men in the American West, helping a widow protect her dead son's mining rights from a shady consortium of bad guys. In the process they summoned a golden golem and an army of undead miners, gave a whole town amnesia-inducing beer, and indirectly managed to blow up the widow's house while making her very happy about it.

This was definitely the most divergent setting of all the games, but very much in tune with the tone of the game. One of the players spent a lot of time constructing very long and elaborate spell chains, and while people had fun, it was a little distracting to watch people shuffle cards endlessly.

Game 2: Oxford Ghostbusters

This was a game I helped with, rather than played. One of the players was rather keen on a specific setting: Oxford University immediately after the Black Plague. Under threat of the Inquisition, the characters were dispatched to investigate a ghost-haunted village in the center of an ancient stone henge, talked to a creepy grave-robber, encountered the bound shades of family members being used in a plot by a lord of the Pit, and used a church to amplify a spell of purifying flames to end the diabolical plot.

This was the most low-key and serious of the games, with actual zombies, moral temptations, and a font of evil in play, to be dealt with through purifying flame.

Game 3: Culture Festival!

This third session followed a set of changes, and was intended to test those changes. This time, characters had a "Mastery" statistic, rather than "Chaos Capacity", and spell card costs were substantially revised.

The characters were university students, attending a magic academy in a fantasy world. Their goal was to coordinate the school's Cultural Festival, which coincided with an annual invasion of orcs. The goth necromancer, the greedy MBA, the hero-worshipping wizard trainee, and the drunken "teacher" went forth to stop the orcs, reanimate their fellow students as zombies, conjure a draconic professor's skeleton as a mount, and challenge the orcs' queen in single combat.

This was easily the most gonzo of the sessions, beating out the Steam Sorcerers session in terms of sheer weirdness. It probably helped that 3 of the 4 players had come to PAX together and knew each other.

Playtest Feedback

A few common points came out of these sessions, and I worked to deal with each of them.

  1. "We don't feel inept enough."
  2. Changing the spell chain is too cheap.
  3. The wrong spell cards are sometimes included, or omitted.

Point 1 basically addressed the feeling that success came too often for the players, and didn't match up with the expectations the game itself tried to set. My attempt to address this was to jack up spell card costs. Rather than a linear 1-to-6 cost structure for most cards, I went with a  1-3- 6-10-15 escalating cost for verbs (only).

Point 2 was addressed by removing Chaos Capacity and introducing Mastery, along with a cost to change the spells in the chain. Players earn Mastery Tokens by rolling more dice, and can spend those tokens to add, remove, or change a single card.

Point 3 was partially addressed by rewriting some of the spell cards. "This" and "That/Those" went away, to be replaced by a generic "Objects" card to represent what all those things really meant — small, inanimate things that should be easily affected by magic.

I still need to substantially rewrite the card text. My goal is to make the meaning of each card much crisper and more specific. If a proposed spell is going to work over an area, then "In An Area" should absolutely be required. I want to revise some of the other cards, like "Quietly", and replace it with something like a "Conceal" noun.

New Rule Requests

Every single game that I've run or sat in on has had players try to use some sort of mind control or psychic domination. I don't know if that's just a quirk of those specific games, or if it's going to be a common factor in most games. If so, I'd probably introduce a "Dominate" verb, with a cost around 15.

Several players were interested in a teamwork mechanic. The current PDF has one, but I think it has problems, and I need to carefully think about what teamwork would mean in this game and how to preserve the Bother-producing, fail-forward style of casting that I want to keep.