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Magicians of England First Playtest (long)

It's 2 am and I can't sleep, so this is the perfect time to write up the first playtest of Magicians (albeit without notes, which are in my office).

The mechanic I want to highlight for this write up is the plot obstacle mechanic. My experience with un-refereed games (i.e. Universalis) is that plot quickly runs away into random land with little chance of any really satisfying completion.

To fight this tendency, during a scene in Magicians, players can narrate an obstacle (originally called an adversity). Once there are one or more obstacles, players can attempt to remove an obstacle. Once there are no obstacles left, the scene ends. See below for how this worked in practice.

Again, this is without notes, so bear with me.

SCENE I - Rainy Street Oxford.

John suggested that we make a rule limiting obstacles per scene to three. All agreed.

My character (Winthrop "Soddy" Todd, a weedy though cunning fellow) was chosen as protagonist. This means that I narrate the scene set up and that the scene is about my character's goals.

Soddy approached a door in the darkened street. He tries the door finding it locked. The person narrating the door being locked added that this would be an obstacle. I jumped in and narrated that Soddy finds a key under the mat, attempting to remove the obstacle.

When an obstacle is confronted in this way, it is always removed from the game. The goal of the ensuing resolution round is to determine the results of the attempt. There was a bidding round which John won. John narrated that in fact, the door swung open at a touch BUT that a huge mastiff guarded the way. He also added that the house belonged to his character Mortimer (a rather dull member of the nobility, obsessed with newspapers). The mastiff was added as an obstacle.

This illustrates a useful part of the game - the player who wins the narration of an obstacle resolution can add another obstacle. It's a way of saying "I don't want the scene to end yet."

It was also added (I believe by John as well), that the Mastiff was not a real dog, but rather a faeries agent in disguise - something that's sure to come up in later sessions.

I immediately jumped in to resolve this second obstacle. Having player characters does seem to draw you into the action - another thing that I like. My character, being rather intelligent, had the foresight to bring a packet of fish and chips. At this point, Gabe narrated the entrance of his character, the somewhat comical Dr. Nott, and expert on bookshelves and the history of spoons. The two of us rather inadequately tried to bribe the dog with food.

In the ensuing bidding war, several outcomes were suggested, including serious injury to Soddy. Nobody seemed to think that Soddy should be allowed to get by unscathed. I have considered requiring players to narrate getting past an obstacle unscathed when they are controlling a player character, as it encourages the others to bid for narrative control of the results and make things more interesting.

In the end, however, the mastiff was called off by the cook, Orkgrrrl's character. Her character, whose improbably Welsh name I cannot remember without my notes, is a cunning chef with a book of magical recipes and a plan to influence parliament using magical scones.

Scene I was a fairly dull scene, but served to help everyone get their feet wet and establish some hooks for the next scene.

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good start, looking forward to the next scene

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