Insomniacs Playtest: Flight Crew Bravo

Four brave and patient explorers joined me for an Insomniacs playtest over Hangouts. We found lots of rough edges, but they persevered and repaired a dangerous coolant leak, discovered a saboteur, and even saved the hapless 3d printing module from waste heat.

The Good:
The starting situation got right into the action. In the first test, I tried to weave worldbuilding into this committee meeting structure that ended up drawing tension out of the game. This time we didn’t even do character creation until the PCs were waking up from their stasis and things were overheating. I thought having the ship’s AI ask character creation prompts in the guise of check-in questions following coldsleep worked pretty well. I’d change up the order a bit but I think that portion of the game ran well.

We got to know the characters through the crisis. For the most part, seeing how everyone dealt with the problem of this coolant leak and waste heat buildup fleshed out every character in an exciting and immediate way. Secondly, the moves that prompted questions of the players worked really well. More of that!

The game mechanics were easier to explain. I made some subtle changes to how you actually roll for success based on confusion in the last test, and I believe it worked better this time. Maybe not perfect, but it did run easier.

The Not So Good:
The “hard question” wasn’t hard enough. Shunting waste heat into the materials module was the same answer the previous group did. It’s not a bug per se, and there are far more important things to revise, but I do wonder if it’s worth trying to toughen up the starting situation’s supposed dilemma.

It’s not clear how you stat your character so they’re competent in what you expect. I’ve already got a fix for this planned, but Harry was caught out a few times when what he rolled wasn’t what he was expecting.

The moves don’t match up well to the actions players were taking. I was keeping a tally of which moves got triggered and that was weighted heavily towards finding stuff out rather than doing the stuff. Furthermore, I believe I tried to get too clever with some of the moves and they just didn’t fit the actual play. I’m not sure PbtA moves as you might recognize them are the right fit for this, which is ironic considering in the last playtest I was looking to the PbtA move structure to help focus play.

The Existential:
The question nagging at me is whether I make this game just a direct hack of Fall of Magic, or if I can apply that game’s strengths to a more zoomed-in, mechanically-focused, GMed game. For the moment, I think I can. There’s going to be a lot of changes between Flight Crews Bravo and Charlie.

The Discussion:

If PbtA moves don’t support actual play, how will a FoM (Fall of Magic) hack do better?

Aaron Griffin

The thing that appeals about FoM is its structure – it’s a road trip, and this game is also a road trip, and the idea where you have choices but they’re curated, right? They focus and inspire a certain feel, and I’m writing this and seeing how that idea maps to moves and triggers anyway. Giving directed questions to players results in some of the most fun for me as a GM. FoM does that every stop – “what can you make out of this evocative prompt?” That’s cool, but I really yearn for more gamey mechanical structure than that personally.

I need to figure out if there are good places to mechanize giving players the space to riff on what’s going on. Some of my struggle here is that I’m designing a game that is fairly orthogonal to the kinds of games I usually run. That is to say, games that end every session like the final act of Commando. I want to hear about what a character feels when they’re alone on the hull repairing a coolant leak. I want to find out what the computer engineer eats after she’s brought the ship AI up from backup. I’m going to forget to do that in the moment because of who I am, so I am trying to mechanize that stuff in order to produce a story I’d like in spite of my habits.

A challenge in that “slice of life” goal is not losing direction during it. I think last night went pretty well when things were dangerous! Afterwards, however, there was an aimlessness that I’d like to avoid in the future, and if the system can be tweaked towards that goal, that’d be good.

To me, the moves seemed fine.

Harry Connolly

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