Actual Play - [Sunshine] First Actual Playtest

Posted by: Malcolm Craig On: Aug 31st 2010 edited

Edit: I egregiously omitted to mention this playtest took place at the excellent Glasgow Indie Gamers monthly meetup. While only on it's second meeting, it was an extremely friendly, relaxed social occasion, with lots of interest in different styles of game and gaming.

Last night saw the very first test in play of the situation and character creation system for Sunshine. A brief explanation: Sunshine is a sort-of-a-pastiche of cyberpunk, set in 1974 in a fictional city at the nexus of the Cold War. Imagine cyberpunk with early 70s technology, design aesthetics, and so forth. The version of the text used during the playtest is attached below for those who might be interested. There's also a jpeg of the first draft cover.

First off I would like to express very sincere thanks to Jonathon, Dasha, Alex, Samantha, and Sean for giving up their time to test out what pretty much an unknown for them. It's always gratifying when people offer their time and energy to help out like this.

The playtest was immensely valuable in that it highlighted a large number of procedural faults with the game that need urgent rectification. This wasn't helped that my last minute printing of a temporary character sheet failed miserably, making the entire process even more confusing. More on that later.

In the version that was tested, situation and character creation occur simultaneously, with a bit of character creation following on from a bit of situation creation and so on. I'm beginning to think that this is such a good idea. On paper, it seems like a great was to get people thinking about the situation and how their characters fit into it. In real life, it seemed to be confusing and slow. Alex pointed out a very obvious and worthwhile thing that I just hadn't noticed: why do we not create our NPCs then create our character agendas and relationships. And he's entirely right. That's the way it works in Hot War and Cold City, and it's been proven to work well in play. So why change it just for the sake of it? No reason. So, I think the first concrete change to come out of testing is that the situation/character creation system needs to be Situation, followed by Character. And entirely necessary, and worthwhile, retrograde move.

Some parts of character creation also took far longer than I imagined. By these points, the bar had cranked up the music which wasn't helping in the slightest, but that's pretty much a side issue. The creation of relationships especially was troublesome due to the lack of a character sheet and a lack of understanding (because I didn't explain it, foolishly) of how relationships integrated into the conflict resolution mechanics. However, this needs to be clearer and more intuitive.

Agendas took longer than expected, even in their new form. The new form is that each type of agenda (personal and factional) has six cards. These cards are randomly handed to players and they create their agendas based on a single word at the top of the card (such as Allegiance or Love) and question to be answered now, and a question to be answered in play. Things dragged a little here and I think a lot of it was to do with the abstract wording.

We glossed over traits because, with the aforementioned character sheets, it would be almost impossible to impart how they are selected. Although, this does highlight that the game cannot be played with just some pens and paper, unless you are willing to put in some time. You really do need a character sheet in front of you.

And what were the positives? For me, I really appreciated the patience of everyone round the table and the thought that they put in to creating the situation and their characters. Near there end, there is a point where each player must describe a scene in the form of a Polaroid picture. There was some great stuff coming out of this, really imaginative uses of a deliberately limiting setup.

Overall, I found this a very positive playtest. Not in the sense that there was nothing wrong with the game, but that it highlighted a huge raft of changes that need to be made in order to make first contact with the system smooth and flowing.

Any comments, queries, or thoughts would be greatly appreciated.


Posted by: Matt On: Sep 1st 2010

Now this is an unexpected pleasure...

Just reading the intro now and I wondered if you'd read any of the Jerry Cornelius books by Michael Morecock? Seems to be a similar touchstone.

Also, you might want to look at the Modern Tech in a 70s style ads that's been doing the rounds.

Posted by: Malcolm Craig On: Sep 1st 2010

Matt:Now this is an unexpected pleasure...

Just reading the intro now and I wondered if you'd read any of the Jerry Cornelius books by Michael Moorcock? Seems to be a similar touchstone.

Also, you might want to look at the Modern Tech in a 70s style ads that's been doing the rounds.

A big 'Yes!' to both of those. I have stacks of JC stuff on various shelves and should really put it in to the mediography. Thanks for mentioning it. And the 1970s/modern tech design stuff is something that has really inspired Paul and I. In fact, it was initially seeing those ads that sparked off Sunshine as a concept.

Ads, newspaper cuttings, flyers, posters, and so forth will be the bedrock of the setting information in the game. We plan on splitting it into two full colour, digest sized books: one contains the system stuff, plus some artefacts from the wider world, the second book is a tourist guide to the city, wholly made up of ads. Plus, there will be a black and white booklet of characters sheets, agenda cards, and so on.


Posted by: Matt On: Sep 1st 2010

That sounds like a great approach.

I'm liking the system bits so far, seems like a more optimised version of Hot War with more pick-up-and-play-ness about it.

One thing I'm unsure of is that you have two ways to create on-the-fly NPCs (threat-based and quick roll). I almost want to see some kind of "rolladex" of NPCs that are built up in game prep and on the fly, and then re-cycled/incorporated if they match the needs of a scene... Law of conservation of NPCs and all.

Also, not sure what purpose the GM's PC serves. What's the reasoning? A framing device or a hint at rotational GMing? I may have missed it if it is in the text.

Good stuff so far though. I almost want an equipment book, Polyester Book 1, if you will, for this.

Posted by: Malcolm Craig On: Sep 1st 2010

Yes, you're quite right about the Hot War basis for it and the optimisation for quicker picking up and playing.

Your thoughts on the 'NPC rolladex' are interesting. With the re-structuring that I'm doing based on the playtest, there would be far more scope for creating NPC stats there and then, during situation creation. Perhaps each NPC could be 'tagged' with a descriptor: Violence, Rumour, Sex, etc. When a scene involves one of these elements, it's cool to bring that NPC in. Maybe.

As far as the rotation GM thing goes, yes, the GM does rotate. But it seems from your (and others) feedback, that the text just isn't clear about this. It currently says:

_A chapter is a series of connected scenes, of indeterminate length. A chapter ends when a character either achieves a resolution to an agenda or is written out due to a crisis point.

When a chapter ends, the person who was GM for that chapter takes up their PC and become a player. The person whose character just left the game now becomes the GM.

Some chapters will obviously be longer than others, depending on how aggressively players are putting their agendas forward and what the outcomes of conflicts are._

Plus a couple of mentioned elsewhere in the text. But, it seems that this needs to be brought out and made crystal clear, right from the very start.

Thanks for the feedback, this is all good stuff.


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