Horror RPG Feedback

As I mentioned before, I recently ran a playtest of our Horror! rpg, and I wanted to go through the feedback I got from the players and then talk a bit about what I’m going to do with it. Hopefully my previous post about the basics of the system will help a reader follow along, but this is also just a chance for me to put my thoughts out there (and maybe get some discussion if there are interested readers).

I’m focusing on negative and critical feedback here. The vast majority of what I heard was “this game is awesome!”, but the critical stuff is what will be most helpful going forward, as anyone could expect.

Notes from looking at the character sheets

One thing I was sure to do was save the character sheets, and to look at what parts the players used most, what they wrote on them as notes to themselves, that kind of thing.

Overall, the character sheets, though basic, were used the way I intended. The Traits section wasn’t used very much or very well detailed out, but that I connect with the fact that we’re not so clear on it either. One player drew arrows between the descriptions of Adrenaline and Virtue connecting them to Feats and Influences, respectively. So these need to be closer together (and there need to be headings on the character sheet for each section that coincide with the headings on a book). I also notice that when a lot of Traits are chosen in one category, people run out of space to write quickly.

My notes as GM

I also took notes for my own use. The first thing I did was flip over my typed up scenario notes and sketch out a mini character sheet for each of the players on the back. I realized I’d need to know their Attributes, and also added their characer names and archetypes with player names at the bottom.

Under each of these mini character sheets, I also listed NPCs connected to each character – just name and a couple of words were all I needed. At the bottom of this while page (which was what I most often looked at during the game as I recall) I wrote “needs to be a reward for awesome!” There were cool things that one player expeciall did that didn’t really fit under Adrenaline or Virtue. Maybe a random card dealt to them? But I’d like there to be some kind of reward, and what we have didn’t quite fit.

I made a note to myself that every card on the countdown should represent about 15 minutes of game-time. The way it turned out, by the way, was about 150% of that estimate, and this might be a normal thing – we’ll have to find out with more playtests.

Player feedback during character creation

One player used a Feat to resist things like intimidation, since it made sense to them…and it sort of made sense to me, since Adrenaline would help you resist being bullied. So maybe Feats should be broader than just physical…

There was confusion about the main attribute for each archetype, and I’m ok with dropping it, or just having it as a suggestion. Everyone expected it to have an in-game effect, and when it didn’t, it seemed like a wasted idea.

Player feedback during the game

The players reacted strongly every time a card was taken away from the Countdown. I think I should draw more attention to the event, though, and the phrase I saw to help escalate things, since a couple of times it was actually missed, and a player said “Wait, we lost a card when I wasn’t looking!” I want it to be a “gulp” moment, not a “huh” moment.

One player had the cool idea to give their own character a level of Fear in exchange for some kind of temporary benefit. This came up when a player was frightened and sickened and wanted their character to be frightened as well. Wow! I want to reward that kind of thinking! So maybe an Adrenaline when you give yourself a level of Fear and a Virtue when you give yourself a level of Pain. Actually…nice.

Player feedback at the end debriefing

Organized by the questions that I asked:

Were you ever scared? Anxious? Nervous? When?

FUCK YES! Player creepiness helped, th GM’s vivid descriptions of creepy things, and when there was no solution or no way out in a tight situation

Were you entertained?

Yes!

What was the coolest thing a player did?

One player had his character throw down his gun when he finally found one. Another player was totally nonplussed by most of the horrors going on around her (this creeped me out a bit as well). Lastly, players physically role-played some of their characers’ actions – and this is something else I want to reward somehow.

What do you wish your character could have done?

It was hard for some to figure out how to use the Traits in-game. I hope this won’t be the case when we work them out more clearly in the future.

Where were you most bored or disinterested?

Some people got caught up in cross-talk, and missed details. They didn’t like something that is my personal style, which is getting one scene running along via player interaction and then turning to another scene to engage the other players. The vote seemed like the players in this game would prefer a clearer situation where if the group splits (and in a horror game they should) and some of the players become the audience, and then the focus returns to them. That way, no one misses anything.

What was your favorite aspect of the system?

Everyone loved the Countdown mechanic and the cards for character creation. They also liked the open-ended definition for Traits and having physical cards on the table and in their hands representing their Adrenaline and Virtue.

What on your character did you never use?

Feats, Contacts and NPCs that they were connected to in character creation (my fault, honestly), and Hopes – which guided the players’ idea of their character and how to play them, but didn’t come directly into the game system-wise.

Anything else?

Some of the players said that this game needs a good GM to go well, that it relies too much on improvisation and wouldn’t be possible to run from a module. (This led to the challenge I took on that I’ll sketch out in a future post)

The players also felt there wasn’t enough use of Virtue – the idea came up to have rules written in small print on the character sheet, which really helped when I ran Mouse Guard (thanks Luke Crane for creating a game that can almost fit on two pages!) so I think it is definitely worth a try.

Lastly, the players wanted it to be clear whether they would be basically collaborative or basically antagonistic. It wasn’t clear at the beginning, and it led to some confusion with some players assume they should be suspicious of the others and other players trying to work together to get out alive. This might need to be something that is laid o ut clearly at the beginning of the session, since Horror! can definitely handle PvP.

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