I’ve just finished running my second playtest of my homebrewed RPG: Moment of Truth. This was also the second game I’ve run in my setting, Blood, Blade and Tusk. The first session was in GURPS and was a con game. You can look at my game prep documents in my last post
This most recent playtest can be heard in our actual play feed this Wednesday at happyjacks.org.
The system has been heavily revised from the first round of public playtests, as I got a lot of good feedback from both GMs and players about the system. A big “thank you” to all of you who contributed to it.
On the Playtest
The mechanics of the game seem to be sound. I have created more figured stats, which has helped with the uber-stat tendency. The dice mechanics seem to work well. They players are learning the Moment of Truth mechanic, which is a mechanic reward system that allows the players to gain a mechanic advantage or take some narrative control of the scene. It didn’t get much use, but it got more than it did in my previous test.
After the game we discussed the MoT mechanic, and I think the players now understand it more. This tells me that I need to revisit the explanation for it and maybe provide play aids for it as well. I’ll probably include a cheat sheet for this on the character sheet.
This was also the first time my magic system got used. JiB played a mage who is also a friar. Character story-wise this character is treading a dangerous path, as the setting takes place in 13th century Europe, where the Church is very powerful and the Inquisition is underway.
I member of the Church who is engaged in “witchcraft” would be doubly punished if discovered. They can’t exactly burn you at the stake twice, but I can imagine that the confession part of the inquisition would get rather unpleasant. JiB’s offered to help me write up more spells — as there’s only a handful now. When the next round of playtest materials is ready, I expect there will be a much more complete spell list.
The Game Itself and the Setting
I don’t want to talk too much about the story, as this adventure will be included in the next playtest packet. The basic setup is that the party has been tasked by the town elder to investigate why their supplemental food supplies for the winter, which are provided by a nearby monastery have not yet arrived.
To me, the most interesting aspect of this game and the GURPS con game I ran is that the PCs in this game were humans, and in the first game they were orcs. Each party was on opposite sides of the great conflict that defines the setting. Rather than fighting the Crusades, the kingdoms of Christendom are fighting to take back large portions of France from the great orc tribes.
I tried to make sure that both sides felt they were the just side, as such conflicts are more interesting if there is no clear “good guy” and “bad guy.” Currently, the party believes they are the good guys, but there were certain fact that came out to cause at least one of the players to question this.
The Church and Its Role in the Setting
I made one misstep in introducing the setting to the players. I over-vilified the Church. More precisely I over-simplified the Church’s role in the setting. The Church in this setting is in a very critical position. They are the unifying force amongst the kingdoms of Christendom against the orc tribes. As such, they do a lot of necessary but terrible things to ensure that the economies of the kingdoms remain viable to continue this 200-year war. Some of the players interpreted this to mean “Church=bad guy,” which was not my intent.
Here’s an excerpt from the setting book I’m currently writing:
The Roman Catholic Church, under Pope Innocent III, is the most powerful institution in human-controlled Europe. Since the arrival of the Orcs 200 years ago, both commoner and nobleman has been strengthened by their faith, as they were truly facing what they believed to be demons walking the Earth in the form of Orcs.
The Holy Church has been the single organizing and rallying force of humankind in Europe to hold the line against the Orc onslaught. It is the local priests who rallied men-at-arms to fight for Christendom, provided comfort and support to those left behind during the campaigns and to provide absolution to those who fell in battle.
The vast land holdings of the Church were used to feed decimated villages and towns after the Orcs burned them to the ground. They procured weapons from the more secure parts of Christendom for the war-torn border regions. And in the end, they brought about peace.
Because of these things, the Church is well-respected by commoner and nobility alike. Many people will say with great sincerity that the Church saved Europe from the Orcs. These blessing from the Church, however, come at a price.
The coffers of the Vatican must be refilled after two hundred years of war, for at any moment, war may come again, and the people will again look to the Holy Father for support.
The Church is also ever-vigilant of threats to the unity of Christendom. These threats may come in the form of witchcraft, mages who have learned and practice the magic brought to Earth by the orcs. They may come in the form of dissent within the peasantry or nobility, questions of faith and the Church’s supremacy, challenges to the social order and European feudalism.
When these threats arise, the Church acts quickly and decisively. The apparatus of the Holy Inquisition can and will be used to maintain order and unity among all the citizens of Christendom.
So the Church is not just the big authoritarian bad guy. They are a necessary unifying force that allows the struggle against the great orc tribes to continue. In the final setting book, and armistice will have been established between Christendom and the orc tribes, which was brought about by the direct actions of the Pope. For the first time in two centuries, young men of fighting age will not have to fear being conscripted to fight blood battles and perhaps never return home.
This is a much more complex role for the Church in this setting. Player characters might not understand the intricacies of the Church’s role, and that would be up to the players, of course.
Certainly as the scenarios in the playtest unfold, the party may discover just how far the Church is willing to go to maintain order, unity and economic viability. Perhaps they will see this as justified. Perhaps they’ll be horrified by it.
We’re planning on running a second session, as the first session, which unraveled the mystery, certainly didn’t end in a satisfying way for the characters.
To be continued.
Filed under: Misc