The 101 – Playtest Report

Hey ho, 🙂

At long last, this is my playtest report of The 101, the game I sketchily laid out in my last post.

This report is going to be sketchy as well. Mainly, that’s because almost everything important that needs to be said about playing it, I’ve already said it, in person, to the game author, at the sessions.

Still, I think the game works rather nicely and is worth the buzz, so there. 🙂

Context: Recall that the playtest occurred during my June Retreat. (Yeah, this report is kinda late.) Players were myself and my wife Ana, Rogerio, the house owner, and Rui, the game author.

We played exactly three sessions of it. The first two were run by Rui and the last one was run by Rogerio, as Rui wanted to see what the game looked like from the other end.

In order for any of this to make a little more sense to people unfamiliar with the game, I want to explain a little bit more about the mechanics of characters in The 101.

A beginning character in The 101 is a name, a distinguishing feature, a motivation, two traits, a burden, and Cool Factor. Cool Factor ranges from 1 (cool, but not so much) to 5 (uber extra super cool). Motivations and traits are things that help the character, whereas burdens are things that hinder him. Each burden is tied to either a motivation or a trait, and enters play if and only if that motivation or trait are used. The initial burden is always tied to the initial motivation.

As characters grow, their Cool Factor will vary, and they main also gain extra motivations and traits. However, each extra motivation means one extra burden, tied to that new motivation, and every time the number of traits hits a multiple of 3, the character also gains an extra burden, to be associated with a trait of the player’s choice.

Rolls are made with 1d6, to be rolled equal to or under the Cool Factor. You roll an extra d6 for each trait you can claim is related to the roll. You roll an extra 2d6 for each motivation you can claim is related to the roll. You add 1 to each rolled die for each burden that was activated by bringing in those associated motivations or traits.

Characters take damage in their Cool Factor. When it reaches 0, their player can narrate what happens to the charater, but the character is out of the mission. Players can also spend one point of Cool Factor to buy narration rights for the remainder of the current scene. Cool Factor rises whenever a player describes his character doing something that is utterly cool. All the other players at the table vote on the coolness of the description, and a majority of yea votes will bring your Cool Factor up by one point. (Conversely, if you describe something totally lame, a majority of yea votes can also bring your Cool Factor down by one point.) Cool Factor resets to its initial value after each mission, though, after which, players again vote for a permanent one point increase or decrease for each character, according to their global behavior during the mission.

The distinguishing feature is just something that is always true about the character. Every time the effects of that feature are narrated in, they succeed in happening. For instance, if your distinguishing feature is that you can always slip by unnoticed, then you can always slip by unnoticed, no questions asked, no dice rolled.

A point of note: everything about an initial character is created by the character’s player, with suggestions from other players at the table, except for one thing, which is the initial Cool Factor. So how does one get one’s initial Cool Factor? Simple. Everyone else at the table votes on how cool they think the character is. 🙂 Your initial Cool Factor is the average of all the votes, rounded nearest, like we did at school. So… want a high Cool Factor? Make sure you listen to those suggestions, eh? 😉

This was our first major intervention on the game rules, by the way. Initially, Rui had it so that you could only vote 3, 4 or 5. We quickly convinced him that it was way too hard to distinguish between a 3 and a 4, and that there was no reason not to start out with a 2 or a 1. He resisted a bit, arguing that 1 was just uncool, to which we responded that no, it wasn’t. Uncool is for people without Cool Factor. Uncool is 0. 1 is still cool. I finally convinced him when I quoted from The Matrix about the difference between Cool Factor 1 and Cool Factor 0. “No, Lieutenant, your men are already dead.” So, we changed so that now, you can only vote 1, 3 or 5. The 1 is reserved for characters you think are really bland and/or blah. The 5 is reserved for characters you think are really wow, super neat. Everyone else, you vote a 3.

Ok, so now you know, on with the report. I’ll begin by describing the initial characters. (Note: I’m doing this from memory. This is the only game we played for which I didn’t keep all the stuff, because, well, Rui kept it, him being the game author and all.)

Ana played a martial arts femme fatale with a past with the chinese triads. For visual inspiration, I think she based her character on Lucy Liu’s Agent Sever from Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever, but I could be wrong. Her motivation had to do with returning to her roots and her burden was tied to the triad thing. Her distinguishing feature was her cat-like physical prowess.

Rogerio played a rich socialite with a secret laboratory. Think Bruce Wayne without the Batman part. His motivation was figuring out the truth behind the masks and his burden was maintaining his own mask within his social circles. His distinguishing feature was his absurd wealth.

I played a guy no one had ever paid any attention to all his life, until he finally ceased to be noticeable. His motivation was to have an impact on the world, whereas his burden was that no one ever knew he was there. His distinguishing feature was his invisibility. We struggled a lot to find a cool name for this character. Ana finally came up with Unsub, which we found was just right. Also, I was the only one to start with a Cool Factor of 5. Apparently, that’s because I surprised the hell out of everyone with my initial description.

Just so you know, “distinguishing feature” wasn’t in the original rules and it wasn’t part of the first mission. It was just something we found ourselves naturally using, and it crystallized for us when we figured out what the distinguishing feature for each current character would be. When we did so, we reworked the characters to include them. In my case, for instance, the invisibility was my motivation, not my feature, so we had to switch things around a bit. By the way, at the time, traits were called motivations, and motivations were called primary motivations.

(Sounds confusing? That’s because I’m describing the mechanics as they are now, rather than as they were when we got started. I could go the other way, but that would mean I would have to write a lot more…)

Onwards. The first session was a pre-designed mission, written especially for playtest purposes. Right off the bat, at the initial mission briefing, Rui showed us the kind of world he envisions the agents of The 101 moving about in. I shan’t repeat his words here, as I have no way of knowing the age of my readership, but they were way too… colorful. 🙂 Don’t get me wrong, I got with the program and enjoyed the session, but I most say, I was sort of slightly surprised at the initial tone.

Throughout the session, we were struggling to figure out how to establish where the next scene would be, what each roll would mean, and when can a player pay to earn narration rights. Bear in mind that this wasn’t the first playtest of the game. However, it was the first time that Rui was playing with people that weren’t his habbitual playing partners. (It was, in fact, the first time he was playing RPGs with us at all.) So, that meant we could rely on what we knew about how Rui thinks to figure out where the game was to go next, which meant he had to keep specifying it, which meant there were holes in the sequence and procedures of play as written.

To top things off, we’re the type of players I’ve learn to call “experienced” (read: jaded). I’m the type of player who goes on the Lumpley Games forum to ask for official rulings on the fallout inflicted by fists, or on the Muse Of Fire forum to ask about the official limitations of free narration, or on the Anvilwerks forum to ask on the official, well, anything… 😉 That means I kept pounding on Rui to formalize this stuff. But hey, that’s what playtesting is for, right? 🙂 By the end of the session, we had pretty much figured out where all the holes were, and we spent a few moments afterwards suggesting ways in which to patch them.

So, by the time the second session rolled around, things were way more solid and the game progressed way more smoothly. How smoothly? First session, character building, half an hour, actual play, over three hours, total session time, just a little under four hours. Second session, total play time, two and a half hours. Number of scenes: about 20% more in the second session, as compared to the first.

Also, a major difference between the first session and the second one. In the first, the whole thing was pre-plotted and Rui kept trying to twist and stretch to make things fit into where they were supposed to be going. In the second, all that existed was a briefing. Everything else was built from the ground up. The big baddie appeared when he was supposed to appear, which is kinda easy when it’s not determined who the big baddie is. 🙂 It really was a lot smoother.

On to the third session, where Rogerio took this trend even further. He had us make up characters the night before. (Rui needed a character and I wanted a new one, seeing as how Unsub had become such a been-there-done-that one-trick-pony. Ana just kept hers.) Then, he used flag framing to build a mission briefing, making it so that our characters were correctly chosen for the mission by Chios because of their skills, instead of because “hey, this is what I want to play now”.

So, characters. Rui played a fictional character, grounded into reality by a machine built by a 101 scientist that could bring fiction into being. His distinguishing feature was that he could switch out of focus and become immaterial. His motivation was to return to his home and I forget what his burden was.

I played an artificial, contructed being, which ended up also being my distinguishing feature. My specific burden and motivation also elude me at this point, but they had something to do with understanding humans.

This third session was also the one where we really explored the hell out of the concept of the Final Question. The mission itself climaxed with a rather cool fight with the big baddie and his two cronies, but the session’s high point was immediately after, as we were all confronted with what to do with the stuff the big baddie was pulling together.

So, conclusions…

This game works. You can’t build a campaign out of it, as it grows old fast, but it’s just about perfect for one-shots, or as a two-hour filler for other stuff. The best way to make the game work, we concluded, is for each player to have a portfolio of perhaps five or six agents, from which, the group picks one to be played, in some manner, while the GM has Chios put together a flag framed briefing. In other words, a return to my gaming days of yore, where I would come to the local gaming club with my character portfolio and innocently ask, hey, what’s up? 🙂 (Well, actually, I never did that, but I know of people who did…)

Also, the game supports Rui’s initial design goals rather well. It is clearly a Simulationist-supporting game, with a touch of underlying Narrativism as a secondary CA for those that want it.

Was the playtest successful? Check.

Was the game better off for it? Check.

Is it going to be a good game? Check.

Three for three. Good job, Rui. 🙂


P.S. I did say this thing would be sketchy, but it hardly reads like that, now, does it? Still, it is. There was a lot more going on at the table than what I’ve listed here. There were a lot more changes induced into the game than the ones I’ve mentioned. Listing everything exhaustively would just bore the hell out of me, though, especially as Rui was there to begin with, so there. Take what you can get. 🙂

One Response to “The 101 – Playtest Report”

  1. Rui Anselmo says:

    Hello my friend!

    I just wanted to say “thank you” for this.

    So, thank you. 🙂

    On another note: it’s cool as heck to see other people’s interpretation of the game. 🙂