Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Playtesting Crucible

One of the original goals of the Domain Game wasn't just to design the game  in a vacuum from the bottom-up concept-wise, but to build it up through actual play.

Looking back at two of my greatest inspirations for the project, Tony Bath's Hyboria and Dave Arneson's Blackmoor, you see long-running campaigns that evolved through the twists and turns of where play was leading them. Not just adjustments or house rules, but iterations of the written rules themselves followed in the wake of what was happening on and off the table between the players and the free-form rulings of the referee.

When we started the first PbP playtest I tried to put my money where my proverbial mouth was and hold back on presenting many of the rules concepts a priori. Instead I wanted to see where play went and evolve the sub-systems out of that.

Occasionally, I would simply use whatever system I had thought I had might use perhaps with a tweak or two, the hunting and gathering rules changed very little, for instance, from what I had imagined. But more often than not I would either scrap the intended ones or shape entirely new ones that I would never have imagined being necessary: guidelines covering a nomad's band's migration or what difference between hard and soft wood would make for lumber.

It was exciting, stimulating, and just felt right. And it was a hell of a lot of work.

The resulting sourcebook, Hill Cantons: Borderlands, is way beyond that open-ended phase now, but as we get closer to print I am starting to look around for the next round of beta playtesting.

Noting that Dangerous Brian and a few others have been kicking around introducing domain play into their homes games, I would like to make the following pitches:

Beta-Test in Your Home Campaign. If you are interested in experimenting with the “plug-and-play” subsystems of the Borderlands I would love to recruit your game table to the cause of the beta-test. You don't have to use the entire system, in fact, I am interested in seeing what pieces you do adopt and how well (or not) they fit into your existing campaign.

Beta-testers ideally will be using any older pre-3rd edition D&D set of rules or a comparable first or second wave retro-clone.

If you are interested, I will make available by mid-August both the draft of the sourcebook and a select collection of supporting material intended for future publications.

Play in A South Texas Mini-Campaign. At the end of August I am going to start up a new once-a-month campaign in the San Antonio area to play second fiddle to the ongoing Hill Cantons campaign. I am imaging that the game will feature 2-3 regular players (one entirely new to role-playing games) but allow any number of drop-ins with a playable supporting cast of NPCs.

The game will begin play at 5th level and use both the first and second layers of the Borderlands rules. Players will essentially be playing a high-end political game close to the same setting. Events in either game may inform what happens in the other.

If you are interested in either beta-test, drop me a line at kutalik at gmail dot com.

(BTW there a number of interesting cross-conversations going on various nooks of the ether on ACKS, Borderlands, and the promise of second-wave retro-clones. One stop to check out is here on the Mule Abides.)


  1. Hi,

    This is very timely. I just pitched a Red Tide sandbox game to my group with the intention of stitching together a rules set from DCC, LL, and ACK (which I'm backing). I'd love to see your rules and what we can add from it to our game, however since its a new campaign it would be a while before we got around to domain management.


  2. Very cool, let me know if your players take the bait and you want to playtest Borderlands.

    ...since its a new campaign it would be a while before we got around to domain management.

    I should point out that a significant chunk of the first sourcebook is designed to help transition low and middle level characters into this kind of play.

    Thus I have sections for class background, non-adventuring activities that engage players with the big ticket institutions of the campaign world and a newer longer timescale of play (ala Pendragon).

  3. Ive got three players and likely to get more, so game on. If you'd like to email me the draft rules I'm stormyknight at gmail dot com. Happy to sign an NDA. :)