I had an eye-opening experience at Dreamation while running a playtest for Becoming.
Let me back up a little bit and tell you what I don’t like about Burning Wheel/Mouse Guard.
I managed to luck into a playtest with Luke Crane; he and his friends were playtesting a REDACTED game using a modified Mouse Guard. Now, I own Mouse Guard and loved the hell out of reading it, but I’d never played it before. Playing a version of it was eye-opening experience number one.
I think that most of the moment-to-moment gameplay in MG is fine. I like the basic mechanics, I like the helping mechanics, I loved character generation. I’m not a fan of the conflict resolution mechanics.
Some of you may not be aware of how conflicts in Luke’s systems work. The idea is that each side scripts out a set of actions from a predetermined list. Some of these actions are more effective against others in a sort of rock-paper-scissors dynamic (though not that simple). Once you’ve shown your action and rolled the dice, you describe what happens.
Here’s the thing I don’t like: mechanics and story have virtually nothing to do with each other. Nothing you describe in the narrative has any impact on the mechanics of the conflict, and nothing in the mechanics encourages you to describe the action in any particular way. It’s a cool system, but it doesn’t really encourage roleplaying.
Now, back to eye-opening experience number two. In one of my playtests at Dreamation it was pointed out to me that Becoming suffered from the exact same problem. What I had created was an interesting, complex, and tactical table-top bargaining game. It had a lot of depth and people came away having a lot of fun, but they weren’t having fun for the reasons I wanted them to have fun. They often forgot to explain what was happening in narrative terms. The narrative was, in many cases, an afterthought; much more attention was given to the metagame. This would be fine if what I had set out to create was a complex and tactical table-top bargaining game, but what I had set out to create was a role-playing game. I had not done so.
It’s sometimes hard to hear feedback like that, but this is why we playtest. I was lucky enough to have a number of playtesters who were both honest and constructive in their feedback so, rather than curling into a fetal position and crying myself to sleep, I got ideas. I started thinking about it. I started trying to find a way to encourage the behavior that I wanted to see at the table because, as we all know, if your game doesn’t mechanically support a thing, it is not about that thing.
It was difficult but absolutely necessary. I’ve since redesigned the game, hopefully in a way that encourages role-playing and narrative much more. Playtesting will tell the tale, and I’m excited to see it happen.