GenCon 2018 Playtest Thoughts

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eaton eaton's picture
GenCon 2018 Playtest Thoughts

Nearly 700 hours of EP games over 4 different adventures were run at Gencon this year, all with the 2ed ruleset. Although the intro adventures don't allow people to dive *too* deep into the setting, it's a great opportunity to get feedback on the rules from folks who haven't been neck deep in the playtest.

If you were running games at Gencon, or played in one, please post your experiences here! I'll write up mine but I'd love to hear anyone else's experiences.

eaton eaton's picture
All Destino, All The Time

I ran El Destino Verde three times in a row. It's a quick-and-dirty version of the "Rescue Bobdog From The Yakuza" story that appeared in the EP core books, and it's a good introduction to basic tactical situations in EP. There's a location to scout out, different ways to approach it, and some unexpected twists that reward careful planning and good teamwork.

If you haven't played any of the convention one-shots and don't want spoilers, don't continue!

Spoiler: Highlight to view

EDV, Group 1:

Mostly experienced 1ed players, and one newbie. They were extremely cautious and tried to do a no-casualties stealth run until they realized the Yakuza hideout was a front for Exsurgent breeding, then got the heck out of dodge and called in a meteor from orbit with a major i-Rep favor. They mistook Vidya, the async bartender who was masterminding the whole thing, for an innocent bystander and "rescued" her — allowing her to escape once she got the chance.

One thing that stood out was their effective use of Flex points for early recon of the bar. "I'll cash in a Flex and say that I know a Yakuza Guy. Can I talk to him about this?" and "I'll cash in a Flex point — I want there to be a bolt cutter in the supply closet" were some good examples. Of all the point pools, Flex is the one that I've been iffiest about during the playtest, but running this scenario convinced me that it's a great tool for investigation-oriented adventures that can otherwise bog down while the characters hunt for good angles to approach things.

EDV, Group 2:

Half Call of Cthulhu players, half EP 1.0 players wanting to get some scenario time in. The CoC player read her charsheet, skimmed over the rules for asyncs, and immediately said, "Oh, yeah, I can DO this!" The "personalities" of the Watts-McLeod substrains really appealed to her and she played The Architect to the hilt once things hit the fan.

They used their flex to scrounge around and find some demolition charges in Jake Carter's terraforming supplies, then worked out a good divide-and-conquer plan. Jake and the team's Async went in the front door to get a feel for things, the combat monster and the hacker infiltrated outside to cover emergency egress, and two support team members set up charges on outer wall to breach. Naturally, it all fell apart very quickly… but they did a great job of rolling with it and managed to get BobDog out alive with only one team member infected by the Exsurgent virus.

This group really kicked the tires of the async rules, and they seemed to enjoy things a lot. I can't emphasize enough how much the sub-strain types like Hunter, Architect, etc helped people click with the idea of an alien personality inhabiting their mind, rather than 1.0's fuzzy warnings about "otherness." Rolling for infection effects was a moment of high drama for the team, and when the infection triggered, she played it up — to the point of forcing a stress roll for everyone who witnessed her freak-out. Good stuff.

The only downside was the "infection rating," which wasn't very obvious on the charsheet and ended up being a bit of a hitch in the process, but it wasn't a showstopper.

EDV, Group 3:

All but one were experienced EP 1.0 players hoping to kick the tires on the 1.0 rules. They ended up spotting the Async bartender very early, scaring her into bolting, and trying to give chase. Her exsurgent-infected muse targeted the team's hacker, infected him, and — when the rest of the team had her cornered — killed her by detonating a hidden demolition charge rather than letting her be captured by Firewall.

The "new to EP" player did a solid job of room-to-room clearing, using stun grenades, full auto volleys, and reloading under cover to kee pthe Yakuza enforcers from being much of a problem… before reaching out to touch the body of the exsurgent whipper before the rest of the team could warn her not to. Womp womp.

Although I still think it's a bit of a wash, watching how all three groups rolled during combat and kept track of their ammo convinced me that the controversial "Shots per reload" mechanic that was floated earlier in the playtest wouldn't have been so bad. It wouldn't have been much better than tracking rounds, but it's basically how things end up being tracked when things are moving quickly. I feel bad about how much pushback I gave to it earlier.

Also, given how smoothly the new "Brute Force vs. Stealthy" hacking mechanics work in 2.0, I'd love to see more precision around how an attempted infection by the digital exsurgent virus plays out. I winged it for the one-shot, since it was timeboxed at 2 hours total, and had it conduct an aggressive brute force attack against everyone on the mesh; those who made their infosec roll (without knowing what it was for, other than an incoming brute for attack) had a chance to decide what to do. If they deactivated their mesh radios and went dark, they stayed safe.

Anyone who failed their infosec roll (or who kept their mesh radios on after detecting the attack) was compromised, with a copy of the digital exsurgent virus planted on their mesh inserts. Their muse warned them they'd been compromised, but if they shut down their mesh inserts entirely — losing access to their own muse, any smartlinks, tacnets, etc — I ruled them "safe from infection until they next rebooted their mesh inserts."

Anyone who dawdled for more than one action round after that, without killing their radios or mesh inserts, was pretty much doomed. The result felt dangerous/high-stakes without being an automatic death sentence for players who failed a single roll. I'm sure the final core book will have something solid, but for now? I think I'll use it in my 2.0 games.

An Inconvenient Death:

This four-hour adventure is very mystery/horror/investigation oriented. In a lot of ways it feels like the new Continuity, with a team of six waking up freshly sleeved in the TITAN-transformed moon of Iapetus. A research facility has been wiped out, and they have to retrieve a TITAN artifact so the Argonauts can devise a defense against it, but it's complicated by a Project Ozma traitor in the group.

I enjoyed running this game, the players really enjoyed playing it, and the pre-gen characters cam with a lot of amusing hints about what they thought of each other after 3 months of working together on the research station. It gave everyone something to play with, some existing suspicions to poke at, etc.

Most of the hitches with this scenario were related to the (fairly) complex starting point: secret information known by some PCs but not by others, false memories implanted by psychosurgery, and so on. When things really heated up, though, players made excellent use of their point pools — pushing for extra actions, making last-ditch attempts to hack suborned defense turrets, and so on. The group planned their rests to refresh pools carefully, and Were Very Much Not Fooled™ when a distress call from a lost member of the research team came in, begging for rescue.

TL;DR:

Most of my playtest games have been with one group; getting a chance to run things with a more diverse mix of players has convinced me that 2.0 is even more solid than I'd thought previously; it flows smoothly, skills as streamlined but distinct, and the stuff that's been cut wasn't even noticed, at least in the tight time constraint of convention play.

The point system works really well; SPD is dead, long live Vigor. Explaining the differences in how points can be used, which skills which points correspond to, and so on took some time — it's a great candidate for a quick reference card of some kind. But that's less of a concern outside of the tight convention time constraint, and it didn't take anyone that long to figure it out.

Exsurgent infection (especially digital) will benefit from clarification, but the new hacking rules make it feel less like "cheating" when an alien super-intelligence brute forces your mesh inserts in a single turn. It's just really good at what it does, and you need to stay on your toes.

The new async rules are good, and the infection rolls didn't feel too punishing even when they resulted in substrain compulsions etc. Infection Rating still took some time to explain, and I'm convinced it's an unnecessary tracking-stat that bogs things down without adding much. In our local playtests, we've gone with the following house rules, and I'm still convinced they'd work well:

  • Asyncs can't go crazy, because they're already cracked — their LUC and IR stats are effectively ignored, but their starting infection rating is their baseline stress level, and it can't be reduced lower than that.
  • When asyncs use Gamma sleights or push their powers, their infection uses the stress they've accumulated as its target for the infection roll.
  • The 'strain' modifier on various slights is the amount of stress they take when using the slight, driving their stress up and making an infection manifestation more likely.
  • Whenever an aysnc takes trauma, or when their total stress passes their LUC or IR threshold, they first make an infection roll. If the infection triggers, they are protected from the trauma but the strain effect kicks in.

The end result is that Asyncs are immune to stress in some ways but their infection can be triggered even when they aren't using Psi powers — giving the team a strong incentive to keep the async callllllm .