Author Topic: Upwind on RPPR - Playtesters Wanted!  (Read 32029 times)

Biohazard Jeff

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Upwind on RPPR - Playtesters Wanted!
« on: May 19, 2016, 06:20:56 PM »
Hello RPPR Listeners!

Ross suggested I post here in conjunction with his release of an actual play session of our new indie-style rpg, “Upwind.” My  name is Jeff Barber and I am the owner of Biohazard Games ( Upwind is nearing completion and we are looking for some motivated gaming groups for a final round of playtesting. If you are interested, please contact me at ( and we can exchange the necessary information and files.

Thank you for your consideration and help.

Upwind - A Wind-powered Fable of Lost Science and Elemental Magic

"Upwind" presents a strange setting where the laws of nature are unorthodox and the remains of a long-destroyed world drift through a boundless ether. The skies are divided into the Dark and the Light and the Wind constantly blows up from the former towards the latter. The Kin, the people of the Kingdoms in the Light, live on the vast islands that float through the Realms, and the Children of the Dark dwell far below where the Light never reaches. The Wind is both a physical and magical element that powers the ships and electrical grids of the Kin and is the source of the magical Potential they can all manipulate. Advanced technology is the economic engine of the setting and is scavenged from the leftover science of the the Master's of the Wind - the lost civilization destroyed by the long ago Cataclysm. The young civilization of the Kin has been reborn and struggles with itself and against the Children of the Dark as it strives to recover.

The game focuses on the adventures of the Explorer Knight's Guild - a storied, naval brotherhood of explorers, scholars, engineers, elementalists and peace-keepers who search the Twilight Frontier for the lost technology of the Masters and protect the Kingdoms from both the Children and each other. The player characters are Explorer Knights - unique individuals with exceptional elemental powers, highly trained skills and duty-bound motivation for adventuring across the skies. The setting has a distinct maritime flavor as Wind-powered skyships and their Guild crews serve as the lifeblood of trade and the heart of defense. There are intentional themes of mystery, exploration and the recovery of, and looming threat to, a young civilization. The Age of the Grand Amplifier is said to be drawing to a close, the Children of the Dark threaten from below and the Kin misunderstand the truth about both.

Upwind uses an original game system called Q. Like most game mechanics, it provides a framework of objectivity and unpredictability that guides the game’s story. Unlike most systems, however, Q does not shape that story by resolving individual character actions one round at a time – instead it drives the story forward by determining singular outcomes for entire encounters. Q resolves these encounters through a sort of quantum mechanic, determining which of a pair of potential outcomes for a given situation will be used to continue the adventure narrative. These potential outcomes are determined by cooperative negotiation between the game moderator and the players and are proposed as stakes for which the participants bid using hands of playing cards. The participants then tailor the narrative to the winning outcome, and the story progresses in a quantum rather than incremental way. As a result, Upwind plays as fast as you can tell your story. 

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Biohazard Jeff

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Upwind Design Notes from RPPR Playtest
« Reply #1 on: May 23, 2016, 06:50:42 PM »
As usual the RPPR crew provided fun, funny and helpful playtest for our new game “Upwind”, but in case any of you have a design interest in answers to some of the specific questions they raised I thought I would share the following.   

• The gm makes bids by suit just like the players. He does not have to "assign" suits to npcs in advance, but when he choses cards to play, they have to all be of the same suit. It's a game balance issue - intentionally limiting his numerical power - and why the GM needs to play from a hand rather than draw randomly from his deck.

• Crowning is supposed to only happen within a suit. Meaning, if you play a face card as part of a normal, in-suit bid AND it fits the circumstances associated with crowning that face card (jacks = nefarious, queens = wise, etc) then you can crown. In other words, you may not use face cards of one suit to crown plays in a different suit.

•  The rule used to be that players could cooperate/help each other whenever they wanted. When they did they NEVER lost the bid unless I played a joker. Players therefore started cooperating on every play and that got problematic. I linked it to the blade cache to intentionally limit this, but this limited it too much. The new rule - post the RPPR playtest - is that players with an applicable attribute can add a 2, 3 or 4 card from the associated suite to assist other character’s plays if they can justify how they can help. So far it’s working well and gives a useful mechanical value to low cards.

• Ross is absolutely right. Upwind plays MUCH faster than more traditional rpgs and you get through stories much quicker as a result. It's actually one of my favorite things about the system - makes more room for role playing - but it does take getting used to and the gm needs to be prepared.

• I am trying to balance play so that the players win bids about 75% - 80% of the time. All rpgs are skewed towards the players, but of course to keep it interesting players have to fail sometimes. Though the moderator has an 8 card hand, remember that in effect the players have a 10 card hand (6 play + 4 Potential) - and they can also help each other. Additionally, players have about 2-3 times the number of cache cards at their disposal. On a related note, players keep only 1 joker in their deck, and the gm keeps 2 - which means the gm's jokers are still outnumbered if there are more than two players.

• Joker’s now “die” once they have been played. Once it’s been used as part of a play a given participant’s joker is removed from play for the duration of the session.

• I get not wanting to play jokers or other high cards against players when you think that will make them lose a bid. That's part of the design intent however and a central reason for using cards instead dice. Combined with stakes negotiation, it creates a different sensibility, allowing both players and gms to push the story in the direction they want it to go rather than just hope it goes that way. I frequently bid stinker hands to let a player win a particularly cool outcome or to save big cards for something more interesting. On the other hand, when there is a useful, fun or important plot point, I will ruthlessly play a joker. It's an intention of the game and it's supposed to feel different.

• Negotiating stakes takes some getting used to, but once you have a feel for it, it can make encounter resolution much more interesting and consequential than traditional, incremental systems. It's definitely a different aesthetic, but one I hope makes the game a nice change of pace if not actually original.

• I struck by something Ross did near the end of the session and it gave me a new idea. Though there are specific rules that allow players to vie to go first (initiative-like) in complicated action scenes, I liked how he nested a series of plays within each being dependent on the outcome of the previous. I feel like there is some cool potential in trying to formally incorporate something like that into the system. Thanks for that.

• There used to be an actual initiative rule in a previous version. Anyone who wanted to go first had to blind play an "initiative" card - highest card goes first - but the winner could not replenish his hand until he had made the play for which he was trying to go first. Seemed elegant to me, but no one ever used it - I guess because going first is not as important when the encounter is resolved in one descriptive step. So, I morphed it into the current collective rule. When more than one person wants to do something at the same time, all those interested negotiate a stake and make a play - the gm either having one collective, opposed stake for everyone, or individual, opposed stakes for each player, depending upon the circumstances/group preferences. Everyone bids once, including the gm, winner takes his stake, everyone else gets their losing outcome. Needs more playtesting, but that's where it sits. You tempt me to put the initiative card rule back in on top of this just for those who want the option.

• Another subtle but impactful intent of the game is the way stakes are built. When people first start playing stakes games (like "With Great Power," "Dogs in the Vineyard" and now "Upwind") they seem to invariably try to map their traditional rpg expectations onto the stakes systems. They assume stakes are just versions of success/failure, players try to react to stave off the consequences of failure and the actions and outcomes are often small scale - approaching incremental progression. After playing them a couple times however, you realize that they are different beasts - maybe analogous to the differences between competitive and cooperative board games.

The intent is to focus on telling/negotiating a good story with binary outcomes that are interesting and either of which would be cool. Bigger, more meaningful, consequential and holistic results. Not "you defeated the creepy monster," but "you tamed the creepy monster, you can now use it as an able mount while exploring the Dark, doubling the terrain you can survey and while sleeping it will defend your camp by providing a 1 card cache for any defensive actions.” You can raise the difficulty and add something like, "you collect enough data on the creature to write a monograph which leads to a cushy teaching gig at the Academy for the next cycle." The story grows fast and meaningfully and outcomes like that are hard to create with an incremental system.