ORC Edinburgh has had an “interesting” year – in the same vein as “May you live interesting times!”. This has been my second year as defacto ORC webmaster (and general heid yin) for ORC Edinburgh. I’m going to try to create these reviews on an annual basis.
The year started off in a neo-Ice Age with many us either negotiating the icy planes of Edinburgh or trapped in drifts of snow. However, we persevered, both players and GMs alike traipsing through the snow and ice to game! Then in February, disaster struck: the Meadow Bar suffered an extensive fire that gutted the function room where we played, depriving both us and the Edinburgh University boardgame Society (FAQ) of a venue. It’s happened before: Cafe Nero, The Royal Engineers Club, the Three Tuns…
ORC Edinburgh has a history of getting together and adapting, and its definitely one of our strengths – for a community of (essentially) volunteers we do quite well. Thankfully a member of ORC (Deleriad) noticed that board games and the like were being played in Illegal Jacks, a new bar and grill on Lothian Road. It turned out to be an astute choice of venue, with very nice food and a fine choice of music (I might be wrong, but most RPGers tend to be fans of rock music of some kind).
With Illegal Jacks as our new “base of operations,” we were able to run two or more games a week there. IJ made us very welcome there, even to the extent that we had our own table! It gave us the chance to welcome screenwriter and RPG designer George Strayton and playtest his game, the Secret Fire RPG (then called Legends & Labyrinths). Edinburgh’s own Drunken Badger games also provided ORC with the opportunity to playtest their RPG, Cliché: The Roleplaying Game of Predictable Horror as well.
We also said hello to a lot of new members and farewell to others – and also farewell to some long-running campaigns. Both my Ashes of Freedom game and the New World were wound down, although it is likely that AoF will return later in the year. We’re also back in the refurbished Meadow Bar function room which has much nicer décor now as well, but still run games in Illegal Jacks and Cafe Renroc as well.
By far one of the most popular games to play at ORC was D&D. Love it or hate it, the granddaddy of them all was still going strong. Regardless of your feelings about the game it remains as popular as ever with many new people entering the hobby. Quite a lot of new players are looking to play D&D – some have been influenced by web comics like Penny Arcade or via computer games such as Neverwinter Nights. There appears to be a bit of a dearth of DMs running games though – however Embracraig is running a consistent game at Cafe Renroc on a fortnightly basis. This new venue proves popular with those gamers who live nearby!
Another old favourite, Call of Cthulhu, returned in the form of the mini-campaign Cthulhu Brittanica: Shadows Over Scotland. This is currently hugely popular at ORC – I may also run some of these adventures next year myself, as well as finally getting my Arunstoun setting completed! In related news, my Cthulhutech campaign (The Damsacus Road) has finally got off the ground in the Through the Looking Glass setting. The wh40k games have all been popular too with the most recent, Black Crusade, starting a new campaign at ORC this December.
ORC also hosted a few pub meets this year: these proved to be hugely successful and gave us all a chance to socialize outside of a game for once. It looks like we’ll be running a few more of these over the coming year – it gave those new to ORC the chance to chat and get to know the other members, old and new.
I think its safe to say that ORC is going to be around for a while to come. We have a pretty substantial membership now, although attendance fluctuates wildly – however this seems to be one of those things that happens these days. If you’re running a game, I’d suggest you get at least six players. That way you’ll also cover any possible absences and still have a fun game!
Anyway: Merry Xmas and Happy New Year!
Over the years, I’ve participated in playtests for a number of games, often as part of ORC. It’s a good community to run such games in as we have a variety of different gamer age groups – from younger gamers just starting out in their first RPG, to those who first played D&D in the 1970s: we’ve playtested Runequest scenarios, Traveller adventures for BITS (British Isles Traveller Society), Dogs in the Vineyard, and A/State in the past. Most recently we’ve playtested: Cliché: the Roleplaying Game of Predictable Horror from Drunken Badger Games, as well as The Secret Fire RPG.
If you’re making a commercial RPG, you’re going to need to test it. To do that you’ll need to “playtest” it (or “beta” test as it is sometimes called – this term is loosely based on software development), which basically means running games in a test environment – usually a single session game, or over a number of sessions – often with a particular group or groups. The idea of these sessions are to destruction test every aspect of the rules: to see what works and what doesn’t. Local groups like ORC Edinburgh are great for this, or you can use your own group (however, see below).
With that in mind, I thought I’d compile a brief article about playtesting for those who are taking the plunge in designing their own RPG system (I hope it’ll help!).
Seriously, if you want to run a game you’ve got to get players. The best way to do this is through the web although if you’re lucky enough to have a Friendly Local Gaming Shop (or FLGS) you can probably put up a flyer if they’re amenable. They might also provide you with the venue. Membership sites like GPA have their own press exploder, but this isn’t quite what you need for a playtest. What it is worth doing is visiting sites such as ORC or communities like UKRoleplayers and ENWorld and posting there.
Remember that if you’re looking for players you’ll need to find a GM as well, unless you plan to run the game yourself (see below). Make sure that you provide a clear link or method of communication, and make sure that you don’t post the same thing multiple times in the same forums. I’d suggest you ask them to contact you, either via web form or email – if you create a playtest pack later on, you can then send it to them. If you put it up directly on a website it will either be downloaded and never used, or (if its within a forum) taken down my moderators (and quite rightly too). Using email creates a immediate contact with a playtester and is far more personal than a download link. It also helps keep some control over what you may have spent years preparing, i.e. your Intellectual Property (IP), as well as providing a record of who has requested what. You can also set up a distribution list enabling you to contact all your playtesters easily as well.
RPG conventions are also great places to run games – you’ll likely get a bunch of people you’ve never met (or have never met each other before) and it provides a perfect control group. Make sure you watch the time though!
Create a playtest pack
A playtest pack is essential if you’re running a playtest. Ideally this should be in the kind of format that any pc or phone can read – PDF format is usually best for this, but make sure the file(s) are a reasonable size: less than 5mb is best and shouldn’t clog up an email inbox.
- A form to list all of the playtesters names (including the GM). Contact details should only be used to keep them informed of the game, and not used for marketing, and you should check that they are OK about seeing their name appear in the credits as a playtester.
- Quick start rules – keep the fluff; e.g. setting and background information to a minimum, save it for the sell sheet. Make sure that you have combat and PC generation (and abilities) covered. The players may not have all the information of the final game but it is good to have as much detailas they may need.
- Character sheets (blank or pregenerated). If you want to test out character classes or PC generation, the best way to do it is have the players create their own characters. Make sure you factor this into your Quickstart rules though, along with any extra setup time!
- A sample adventure. If your game is very background-intensive, then this adventure should introduce the players to the setting, but be careful not to overwhelm them. An introductory game should run 3-5 hours, but remember to leave some time for feedback at the end.
- A brief summary of what is required of the playtesters.
- A feedback form asking what they liked/disliked, what could be improved etc. or in regard to specific areas.
- A Non Disclosure Agreement (optional), or NDA as it is known.
Mostly playtesters are rewarded with a name check at the start of the book, but if you are partnered with a specific company (like The Secret Fire and their partners: LR Hobbies, The Dungeon Alphabet, and The Wilderness Alphabet), you may be able to offer money-off vouchers or a discount on the finished product (or even a signed copy). At the very least, a name check is the least you can do. Remember that these people are willing to spend time testing your game, so treat them accordingly.
I can’t emphasise this enough. If you’re not ready to run a game, then it isn’t suitable for playtest. You can’t create rules to cover every eventuality, be prepared to wing it, but make sure you have a clear idea about what happened or what you did with your rules. If you’ve found any errata, have it to hand or update any playtest materials ASAP. Carry a notebook to note down anything relevant during play – sometimes the most innocuous remark can have an impact on your view of the game, be an inspiration, or cause a moment of clarity.
Listen to criticism and identify what works
Not everyone will think your game is 100% great. Don’t be a smartarse or arrogant about your game. Be prepared to listen to what people say and respond positively, even if the criticism is negative – remember that your game is being judged, not you. If something isn’t working, change or remove it – at the end of the day, you should be your toughest critic. Don’t treat criticism as a personal attack (its not!) – if someone is overly negative find out why, without antagonising them.
Incidentally, one of the best ways to get feedback is to hang out with players after the game. You don’t have to get trollied with them in a pub (although it does work), but just socialising with them can provide a very good environment to get their thoughts.
Get someone else to run it
Just because you know your game inside out doesn’t mean that anyone else can. If you’re wanting people to pick up your game, you’re going to need to be sure that someone else other than you can run it. Find someone (or several someones!) to run a game using your system and a playtest pack. You may need to do a little more work but you’ll get a much clearer idea of what the problems are – as well a playtest pack you may also need to create a GM guide to running the game. its pretty simple to do – just think how you like to run the game: Light-hearted humour? Gritty realism? Make sure that any adventure includes staging notes for the GM, how to set the tone, etc. As with any players, feedback from a GM is just as important – they may also highlight rules that need tweaking and errors in your logic and rules set.
So that’s it. My thoughts on running a playtest. At close of play, you should be your own harshest critic: what would you have done differently?
Hopefully this article has proven of some use to any would-be developers. As always, I welcome any feedback. If you’d still like to engage my services as a playtester (or developer! ), please contact me using the form below.
Comments or questions are welcome.
Please do not use this form to send Unsolicited Commercial Email (UCE). I am not interested in SEO placement or the like.
It’s a little ironic that up until recently, the Open Roleplaying Community Edinburgh (http://orcedinburgh.co.uk) suffered from a lack of players and a venue. Now we’ve got plenty of players and venues… and no one to run RPGs
Seriously. That’s how much it has changed recently: from what used to be lots of people wanting to run their campaigns and one-shots, there’s now a small handful of GMs at ORC (myself included). We’ve got a lot of folk saying they want to play, but hardly anyone wants to run something (or are already committed to another game).
I know there are folk out there reading this and thinking that ORC only plays D&D: WRONG! I’m running a playtest of Cliché: the Game of Predictable Horror on the 23rd (from Drunken Badger Games, a couple of local RPG designers and friends of mine). Star Wars and Dominion: Tank Police are also running, as well as a number of D&D games (3.5, 4 and customised).
It would be nice to see some old faces coming back as well, even if it is only to play a couple of games. There’s no GM “screening” process, you just need to make sure that you’ve a bunch of folk interested in playing in Edinburgh. You don’t even have to come to Saturday afternoons: use ORC to recruit for your home game if you want (plus you only have to ask me to get your own wiki space for your game).
So if you’re looking for a chance to get back into gaming in Edinburgh and would like to dust off your GM screens, drop me a line (via the Contact Me page or the ORC Website).
Oh and before I forget, ORC are celebrating our birthday tomorrow from 5pm in the Chanter on Bread Street (see here for the map). Expect geekiness, RPG recollections, and much quaffing of ale (but no pole dancing: that was last year!)!