Thursday, March 31, 2011

Playtest Report: Humanspace Empires

This report is a player's point of view in response to the referee's report, which can be found here. You may want to read that post first in order to get the proper context for this response.

First, let me start by saying that I don't know jack about EPT/Tekumel. I understand it is very popular amongst the old school crowd. However, this turned out to be a bonus with regard to this particular game, since I was able to come to the table free of any preconceived notions about what I was getting myself into. I was introduced to the world through play, and as far as I could tell, the referee was well-grounded in the setting. He did a very nice job explaining the state of the world, and illustrating all of it's weird little qualities.

The referee was well-prepared with copies of the rules for everyone. However, he did not have premade characters, so character creation along with a late start ate a significant chunk into the time we might have otherwise spent playing.

As far as rolling abilities 3d6 in order - fine by me. Minimum ability requirements for weird alien races - fine with me. I didn't qualify for any of the non-human races based on my rolls, but even if I did, I probably still would have played a human, since I didn't know what any of the other races were (no pictures of them in the rules), and I couldn't pronounce their names. I went and looked at the rules afterwards, and they are described, but it would have been impractical to sit there and read them all at a con game.

Then we got to the skills. I don't really like skill systems in the first place, so honestly, I was relieved at rolling the lowest possible number of skills, so that the guessing game of trying to anticipate what skills might be useful was minimized. Again, sitting there and reading through all the skills would have been impractical.

I did go back and take a look at the skills afterwards, and my concerns were reinforced by the text. There are skills that seem reasonable, like brawler (better at hand-to-hand fighting), air pilot (can pilot aircraft), and survivalist (wilderness survival stuff). Then there are others that bother me, like driver. Really? I need to spend skill points to know how to drive? Can't we just assume characters know how to drive in a sci-fi rpg set 60,000 years in the future? Maybe there is some setting thing that I'm unaware of that makes this logical, but it wasn't apparent to me. There is also some overlap in skills, as in the case of thief and spy, which are nearly identical in their descriptions.

There was a situation that came up in play where we were on our ship approaching an asteroid and we wanted to scan for lifeforms to try to get a clue as to whether or not the guy we were looking for was there or not. Basically, we weren't able to do it because no one had the use computer skill or whatever it would be called. This kind of bugged me. We were on a ship that we supposedly owned for some time before the adventure began, so it would seem to me that we should have been able to do that simple task. Even if the answer was "no, your ship doesn't have any equipment like that" I would have been totally cool with that. But the fact that we couldn't because of a lack of a skill selection really bothered me.

There are two pieces to this. Part of this is in the referee's hands, as far as figuring out how to adjudicate these sort of requests, and it can be a matter of style that is different from one referee to the next. The other part is the responsibility of the designer - to give the referee the information he needs in order to make the skill system something that enhances play rather than being a roadblock to players' performance of mundane tasks. I would be happy to see a paragraph or two added to the beginning of the skills section that addresses this.

I can't really comment on combat mechanics, since I had to leave before we got to fight anything. In fact, I had to leave right as we were entering the "dungeon," which is kind of like participating in foreplay with no sex. (Did I just draw an analogy between D&D and sex? I really need to have my head checked...) This made me sad, since I had purchased a space sword and a Z-ray rifle... no idea what either are, but they sounded fucking cool! I really had an itch to jam my SPACE SWORD in someone's left eye.

So, in looking back and reading this thing over, my comments on the skills kind of took over the post, but I want to make it clear that I had a lot of fun in the short time I got to play. The referee clearly had a love for the world, and it showed in his rich descriptions and in-character NPC representations he gave. I would definitely play again.

Now, as a complete neophyte when it comes to EPT/Tekumel, I'm not sure I would be able to run this game for my friends. I have almost no experience with sci-fi games to start with, and I think it's aimed at the EPT enthusiast that already has a lot of knowledge about the world this game is set in. The game mechanics do seem simple enough to use in any homebrew setting without much trouble, but I'm pretty sure it was the designer's intent to marry the game with the setting.

Summary
3-1/2 of 5 big fucking space swords. Would play again!
Pros: Simple rules, pretty much a sci-fi skinned OD&D. Made me want to learn more about the setting and explore it some more.
Cons: clunky skill system (note that the author of this review is predisposed to dislike skill systems of any sort)
Other notes: As presented, the game is tied heavily to the setting. This may be a feature for some, and a bug for others. To play as it is presented, it seems advisable for the referee to have strong knowledge of EPT/Tekumel, but setting knowledge is not required of the players, unless they want to have some basis of understanding the alien PC races that are available.