Friday 12 February 2016

The Hat Club Playtest, Part One

Edit: The names have now been changed to protect... something.

Every week, more or less, since 2003, I've met with a small group of friends to play games. When I was writing regularly for White Wolf, they got to playtest with me, too. For Reasons Lost in the Antediluvian Aeons, we call our group Hat Club.

(Note: these reasons predate the filming of Chuck Palahniuk's most famous novel, so we don't have any actual rules, comedy or otherwise.)

So, of course they were going to do Chariot. No choice, see. For reasons tied to family and jobs and stuff these games aren't very long. A couple of hours. Therefore, it's become tradition for the person running the game to generate all the characters and hand them out in advance.

We can't generally be having with wasting a whole session on character generation, see.

Except, Chariot being a) what it is and b) something I wrote, I sort of felt that for the first time in well over a decade it was time to break tradition and do a Character Generation session.

Aside from me, Hat Club is currently Herbert, Brian and Enid. These are pseudonyms. Enid brought cake to celebrate Chariot reaching its modest funding goal (it still has ages to go so you really should support it if you haven't, because stretch goals).

Enid is a dream at times like this. Not only had she read the game, she'd got her husband to read it, and had talked it up at Games Night at the local games shop. I like Enid.

Brian had read some of it. Herbert hadn't opened the file, but being a university lecturer in the latter part of exam season with approximately fifty-eleven hundred exam papers to mark I forgave him. It did mean that there was a bunch of explaining to do, but that was all right.

So I explained the cultures. Who these people were, how they interacted, what their relations were. No one wanted to be a Rmoahal or Muvian. Herbert had no clue. Enid thought about being a Lemurian, but eventually decided to be an Atlantean too. They talked about where they were from.

Herbert, reluctant to choose, said he wanted to roll dice. I pointed out that there were no dice. Enid helpfully said she'd brought hers, so he rolled a d10 and ended up being an Atlantean, and then rolled again to decide he was from the North, and the lands of the White Sun.

Enid picked an Atlantean too. She rolled a die rather than choose a homeland, and picked the South. We talked a little about the South and Enid decided to be from Kudra, and from the Akâshic College.

Herbert, inspired, suddenly said he wanted to make a talking mechanical head. I said, what? A talking mechanical head, he said. To talk about philosophy with. What would he have to be to do that?

A Priest-engineer, I suppose.

There we go. So we had two Atlantean Priests. Herbert picked the one that adds two points to Machines. Enid picked the one that adds two points to Body. Simply by dint of concept, they are very different characters already.

Brian said, could he be one of the Pirate People? The Tlavatlis, I said? The piratey ones, he said. The Tlavatlis. Had to spell it for him. Fair.

He decided he was a Noble. Brian nearly always plays some kind of fighting aristocrat (basically Lord Flashheart from Blackadder, every time). So, a pirate prince with a glint in his eye? No surprises there.

Brian: Does that mean I get to say "yarr" a lot?
Me: No.

OK. Now at this point I'd pulled out the Major Arcana from my trusty Rider Waite Smith deck (cos I haven't got my own printed yet) and told them to draw.

Herbert got the World.

That means his character is the Lover of the World, his other card being the Lovers.

I explained how that he could change sex and also bilocate, a thing otherwise forbidden to Atlantean magic, only that when he did so, he would have one male body, one female.

Herbert: Ooh. Can I have sex with myself?
Brian: Can I watch?
Me: Um.

I moved on.

Enid pulled out the Hierophant. So the Prophet, then. Her other card is the High Priestess and no one will raise a hand to her in violence. Enid liked that.

Brian, you must realise, is the giant slayer. In games of old, Brian's characters have given cheek to Nyarlathotep the Black Pharaoh in the middle of his own pyramid, reduced the Lady of Chains to a quivering wreck, won the right to an Orc Kingdom through trial by combat, and saved the Magic Faraway Tree from alien invaders on flying islands. So as I handed him the deck, I thought, Invincible Charioteer, what are the chances?

Judgement. The Invincible Charioteer. The one who never loses a fight. The other card is the Chariot of course.

Now that they had picked social classes, cultures and Fates, they got to add their three extra points, pick magic techniques and divide up Suits. 

Herbert's character has Psychic 7 and he spent a fair amount of time picking which of the first eight magic techniques he would miss out on. In the end he picked Nurturing, Withering, Precipitation, Dissolution, Clairvoyance, Projection and Harnessing.

Enid, also with Psychic 7, picked Nurturing, Withering, Precipitation, Clairvoyance, Projection Harnessing and Unleashing.

Brian had no points in Psychic. He was fine with that.

They divided up Suits. That was straightforward enough, inasmuch as it's only now looking at the sheets that I can see the choices they made. Brian had a pretty even spread, Herbert and Enid picked high scores in one at the expense of others.

So all that was left was the drawing of relationships.

Herbert drew the Knight of Pentacles (an ally, a comrade), the Queen of Wands (an opponent or obstacle with whom some emotional history was to be had) and the Knight of Wands (a rival).

Enid got the Queen of Pentacles (an ally with an emotional element), the King of Wands (an authority figure who gets in your way) and the King of Pentacles (an authority figure on your side). 

And Brian got the Page of Cups (a beloved person junior, like a child or a younger sibling), the Page of Swords (a younger person implacably opposed) and also got the Knight of Wands.

So at the end of all that our three so far nameless characters look like this:

Brian's Character
Culture: Tlavatlis
Social Station: Noble
Fate: Invincible Charioteer
Suits: Cups 4, Pentacles 6, Swords 4, Wands 6
Attributes: Animal 1, Body 5, City 1, Hands 0, Machines 5, People 5, Wilds 0, Will 4, Psychic 0
Magical Techniques: none
Relationships: Page of Cups, Page of Swords, Knight of Wands

Herbert's Character
Culture: Atlantean (Caiphul)
Social Station: Priest (Priest-Engineer)
Fate: Lover of the World
Suits: Cups 7, Pentacles 3, Swords 7, Wands 3
Attributes: Animal 0, Body 2, City 3, Hands 3, Machines 4, People 3, Wilds 0, Will 1, Psychic 7
Magical Techniques: Nurturing, Withering, Precipitation, Dissolution, Clairvoyance, Projection, Harnessing
Relationships: Knight of Pentacles, Queen of Wands, Knight of Wands

Enid's Character
Culture: Atlantean (Kudra)
Social Station: Priest (Akâshic Nun)
Fate: Prophet of the Lost
Suits: Cups 8, Pentacles 3, Swords 7, Wands 2
Attributes: Animal 2, Body 2, City 3, Hands 3, Machines 0, People 1, Wilds 0, Will 3, Psychic7
Magical Techniques: Nurturing, Withering, Precipitation, Clairvoyance, Projection, Harnessing, Unleashing
Relationships: King of Pentacles, Queen of Pentacles, King of Wands

Brian, who, when it's his turn to run games, always runs Dark Heresy, expressed appreciation that everything you needed fit on one side of a page with plenty of space.

Herbert was pleased that although he did not have much of an idea for a character at the start of the session, once given some skeletons by the game and drew some cards, he came up with, in his own words, quite a colourful working model for his character.

I'd be interested to know if you're playing it yet. Let me know.