The first playtest of the game took place amidst blizzards in the tranquil and very pretty setting of Derbyshire. Sadly, this meant that we were missing two of the expected players, but we did still have a very respectable four victims, ahem, testers.
R. had volunteered to run the game to see if his system design would work, so I would be playing. We had two other experienced roleplayers, N. and J., and a complete novice, A. It had been decided that we wouldn't use the background that I'd written but a more familiar one. This would mean that only the rules were being tested, not all of it. Yes, spot the scientists at work here - we're only testing one variable :)
The background we would be using is detailed here on the Company's home page. I would be playing my old favourite Isabel, N. would be playing Prof Wilson, and J. would be playing Miss Forsythe. As for A., he bravely volunteered to play Wilson's sidekick Lacy. It proved to be rather a different interpretation of the character to the one we all knew and loved!
Character creation proved to be very quick and easy for the experienced players who knew their characters and what would suit them. It was trickier for A. who didn't know either the character or much about table-topping, so we gave him a hand. It still took only about ten minutes to create four characters. Each character ended up with 3 skills, one of which was their primary. All of the skills were given appropriate, fun names to give a sense of character (inspired by Spirit of the Century)
As a final touch, R. asked if there were any features that the players wanted to see during the game. J. wanted a tea party and chickens, N. wanted dinosaurs/giant crabs and I wanted sky pirates. Well who wouldn't? The adventure would be entitled "Crimson to the Core"...
The story opened with the Prof requesting certain maps from Miss Forsythe, who obligingly took Isabel up to Loch Ness with her in order to deliver said maps. The Prof had toddled up to Scotland in his submarine with Lacy and had nonchalantly parked Loch-side. The ladies were subsequently invited on board for dinner, having learnt that the Prof was in search of diamond-like crystals that could be burned cleanly and efficiently. These just happened to be found in Africa, an area Isabel is very familiar with, having been raised there.
Whilst the group were dining, there was a very strange occurrence; the submarine, despite being moored, was apparently moving. At first, thoughts ran to being swallowed by the Monster, but having discovered an anaesthetising gas flooding the corridors, all agreed that we were being hijacked. The characters decided that an evacuation was required, so headed for the handy mole-machine that just happened to be stored in the cargo bay of the submarine.
But all was not safe, as those dastardly Men in Smoked Glasses were there trying to booby-trap the machine! Still, Lacy and the Prof gave them a sound drubbing and the characters soon strapped themselves in ready for escape. Yes, they suspected that the sub was currently being hoisted through the air under a Zeppelin, but the Prof assured them that the machine could withstand such drops if required.
Well, it sort of did. The plummet out of the back of the submarine was rather impressive, if panic-stricken, but thanks to Lacy's primary skill of "Drive 'Owt", the machine landed nose-cone first, burrowing rapidly into the earth. To determine this, A. rolled a single d6, adding +3 for his skill. R. then compared this to a difficulty table (nice and simple) to see if he succeeded, which thankfully he did. Not that the characters noticed, as they were all knocked unconscious by the impact.
When they woke, the mole-machine was tunneling away nicely, but with broken dials it was impossible to tell how far down the craft had gone. It then began to break into strange voids, which led to a bit more panic. But only a bit, as they were all Victorians and being terribly proper. What caused more consternation was the greenery in each of the voids...
Finally, Lacy and the Prof managed to regain control of the mole-machine, bringing it to a halt on the edge of a massive, verdant void. Thankfully, the chickens proved that the air was breathable by graciously not dying when the doors were opened. The Prof decided that he must stay and fix the machine, but that the others should explore.
The ladies, accompanied by Lacy, made their way across lush grass, through a mushroom forest and across a pavement of broken dressed stone to reach a mighty ziggurat. The light in the void appeared to be coming from the myriad of magical crystals embedded in the ceiling of the cavern. On the wall surrounding the ziggurat there was a clam shell and trident motif, which caused more consternation and some mumbling about Atlantis as Miss Forsythe recalled seeing the motif in a book somewhere (her primary skill).
The ziggurat was in a bit of a state, which allowed the group entry into the building. The inner walls were covered with the Prof's crystals and an open sarcophagus lay at the bottom of the tomb. The corpse was wearing very silly wingy armour, but the characters were more interested in the sudden arrival of a T. rex outside, which rather interrupted their transcribing the hieroglyphs in the tomb. Thankfully the creature fell asleep, so the characters affected an escape. Which didn't work. Because a clumsy librarian dropped her photographic plates and made a bit of a clatter.
Funnily enough, the T. rex woke up and decided to charge. Its at times like these that you're glad you've brought along a big game huntress who, by rolling a natural 6, managed to peg the brute right in its beady little eyeball, bringing it crashing to her feet in a most satisfyingly cinematic manner.
Not long after the Prof arrived in the mole-machine, alerted by the rather odd noises he'd heard. He and Lacy stripped several box loads of crystals from the walls before disturbing rather a lot of irate mechanical crab creatures. The party were forced to flee in the mole machine, taking out another T. rex on the way. That removed a few of the crabs from the body-work, but one little blighter managed to gain entry, attacking Lacy as he navigated the vehicle back up through the rocks. Removal of the glowing crystal from its back caused the little thing to fall to pieces, which the Prof gathered for later examination.
The adventure finished rather unfortunately in many ways; despite having escaped dinosaurs and marauding mechanicals, the mole-machine decided to re-enter London via Harrods Food Hall. Funnily enough, the Police weren't impressed, promptly arresting the Prof, Miss Forsythe and Isabel as they attempted, rather forlornly, to explain matters. The mole-machine was last seen breaking through the Police station walls, as Lacy executed a daring rescue of his compatriots...
In terms of the rules, we were all surprised by how many failures we had. The system is theoretically skewed more towards success, but that didn't stop some cringingly bad dice rolls from causing some high drama. Still, they came through when we needed them; the first roll of the game was A. rolling "Drive 'Owt" to make sure the mole-machine landed nose first and he got a natural 6! I also got natural 6s both times it was critical to succeed (the dinosaur shot and disarming the crab).
Everyone enjoyed themselves and the game lent itself very nicely to the pulp style of play I was aiming at when writing it. Several useful suggestions were made, too. It was felt that the skills were a bit too broad in their usage and that they needed tightening up to prevent potential abuse, with examples of skills provided that could act as templates for the development of unique ones. It was also suggested that some mechanism for character development could be included. The other suggestions made were related to potential scenario structure, further background information and layout of the contents.
And now, to the corrections, fleshing out the background and writing some scenarios. The game will probably appear in two formats now: a free pdf containing the rules and some historical/setting information and a much larger pdf containing a great deal more detail and setting that will be available for sale (probably via Etsy).
Watch this space...