By Will Hindmarch
Last week, I finished the first playtest campaign for RAZED. This is bad because I wasn’t planning on ending the campaign when I did, but I’m moving 700 miles and so the campaign had to come to a close. This is good because RAZED is meant to be a game that supports and rewards multiple campaign frames, and now I have a chance to start up a wholly different test of the setting and the mechanics with all new players, to see what resonates and what whimpers. And this is all at the alpha stage of development, before we enter deeper playtesting of the actual manuscript at game tables other than my own.
At this stage, playtesting means experimenting with mechanics and the game-world in equal measure. One week, a faction of alien invaders might be armed with charged-particle guns that incinerate human flesh, the next they might use stunning bolts of electricity, all the better for harvesting human subjects. Firefights might play out very differently from one week to the next, depending on the rules we’re using. (Lately, I’m using the combat rules from The Esoterror Factbook, though I expect to change those up in the next campaign.) Everything is up in the air at first, yet things narrow with each play session as I learn what works and what doesn’t—what’s frightening and what’s funny, what’s frustrating and what’s fun.
The major alien factions are settling into place, right now, from the enigmatic Hexapods to the legions of hovering A.I. drones to the monstrous air-worms that sail through Earth’s blasted skies. Still more continue to develop, getting into position so that you can include them in your own apocalyptic vision of the future. In the end, I hope to have half a dozen antagonistic forces for GMs to cast in vital roles for their own post-apocalyptic play.
RAZED, as a GUMSHOE game, is still about mystery and investigation (and survival), and throughout all the testing one central element of the game has stayed sturdy. RAZED campaigns are all about answering this question: Who killed planet Earth?
The question I’m wrestling with, in the meantime, is how much (or how little) I need to tweak the GUMSHOE rules to model the kind of play I’m after—a combination of hectic, desperate action and tense, mysterious exploration. GUMSHOE is a simple but flexible rules set, responsive to a wide variety of narrative styles. I want to add a few new mechanisms to play, but I don’t want to mess too much with a machine that runs just fine as it is. The game responds very well to changes in the narrative style; how you describe the loss of 4 Health matters more than needlessly complicating combat to determine how those 4 Health are lost. So, instead, I’m focusing more on using the established GUMSHOE systems to raise dramatic questions—like whether your character stays civil in the absence of civilization—and less on trying to fasten a lot of new gadgets onto the GUMSHOE chassis.
Stay tuned for more RAZED updates as I enter phase two of the playtest after Gen Con.