This week, I got together with three friends and playtested my current work in progress game Thornwood: School of Magic. It's an RPG about attending a magical school and dealing with the Mundane, Mysterious, and Menacing. The mundane will be things like schoolwork, bullies, and friends. The Mysterious are all the curiousities and strange parts of the school, as well as the mysterious machinations of the major NPC's. The Menace comes from dangerous magics, locations, monsters, and villains.
First we created characters, which was fairly quick but everyone was happy with how defined their characters were and we ended up with three unique characters. It was a 2 hour playtest all told and these people had never seen the ruleset before but we got it all done in about half an hour. Most of this was just people making choices about who their characters were, rather than having to work out complicated mechanical interactions.
The setting details (like Roshy and the broomstick caretakers and the green ship) we used here were a mixture of prep and collaboration with the play group, so the game can easily played with different sets of tropes and details.
We started the story with each character receiving their letter inviting them to attend Thornwood. They all came from magical families, so noone was particularly surprised but it was still nice to get that brief impression of their different home lives. Bryth decided to be a thoroughly disorganised type of character so they ended up being last to arrive to the large lurid green cruise ship. As they stepped aboard, the illusion melted away revealing a large medieval galley, still painted green. The ship had dining tables all about its deck and was rowed by enchanted broomstick people, with whom Bryth struck up an early friendship.
The characters bonded over preventing Rona's pet bird-dog from launching itself at another table, though Jonas got a bit scratched up in the process, Bryth was glad for the distraction from people asking questions about their burns.
They all get sorted into house Ash, associated with wild freedom.
Jonas' older brother is in his senior year and something of a troublemaker that smuggles banned items into Thornwood, so Jonas gets to work straight away on learning the skills necessary to become a valued member of the family smuggling ring. He starts learning a spell of invisibility, his initial experiments go awry though and people notice him more and more throughout the week. This comes to a head when Professor Splinterworth's attention is irresistibly drawn to Jonas as he is leaving class with a coat-full of illicit jinxes-in-a-jar. Luckily Rona is a bit klepto and is able to snatch the goods from him before ol' Splinty notices.
Bryth has an affinity for brooms, both their flying broom and the enchanted broom-people that are the caretakers of Thornwood Keep and the grounds. They decide to learn a summoning spell so that they can call their broom to their side at a moments notice. Being an intellectual sort, they are able to make good progress on the spell with no unfortunate side effects.
Rona, wild and free and enamoured with Roshy her little violent but cute bird-dog, decides to spend her first week at school planning and executing a break-in to the potions supply closet with her two new pals. She wants to procure some seeds that will turn the bird-dog into a living mood ring that will change colours based on its emotions. They sneak in after classes end for the day and narrowly avoid getting discovered on their way there.
While there, Jonas asks Bryth if they know any plants that would produce a pleasant stupor, they don't but a quick (and risky if they read something wrong and choose the wrong plant) perusal of some herbalism books points them toward something that will do the trick. Unfortunately it was also quite a conspicuous and rare plant, so the potions teacher is going to ramp up security and start an investigation for sure!
Overall it was an awesome playtest, nailed the feel of the game and pointed out a few things that needed improvement / thinking about.
- Play Aids are a must. Probably everything can fit on a character sheet, but having little cards for different parts of the game might be useful as well. The two things that we most wanted play aids for were the weekly actions, and the spell creation checklist. Things went pretty smoothly regardless, we got a lot done in the 2 hours of play including character creation. Still, the play aids would make everything silky smooth.
- I definitely need to work on my explanation of the core resolution mechanic. For the most part people understood the rules easily, but there was a lot of confusion at one point when the three characters were sneaking to the potions supply area and they were all contributing dice to the roll.
- Speaking of group actions, I hadn't considered what would happen when multiple characters are involved in a roll that both have a skill bonus. I decided that you take the highest skill bonus for a single roll.
- I think it is important to make sure you have clear ideas on how to challenge the weaknesses the characters choose / come up with. Bryth had the weakness "Emotionally Distant" which I wasn't exactly sure how to put them into a spot where that was causing them trouble. I probably should have just asked them for ideas (collaboration is good!), and if we couldn't really think of ideas then choose something else. Not everything is suitable for these weaknesses, sometimes it should just be part of roleplay. Not saying that "Emotionally Distant" is a bad example, there are probably some great ways that could come out in play and the player had ideas for that which I should have asked about.