Phoenix Bound does not currently have elements which require extremely protracted playtesting. This could change if the impact of a phoenix in the lives of their charges contributes to a long term goal or become intertwined over the course of play. Even so, there are several parts of Phoenix Bound which could benefit from simpler development tools prior to proper playtesting.

The two most crucial elements of Pheonix Bound that can be tested and refined on their own is the collaborative setting creation and the task resolution mechanic. In the first case, the setting creation system is entirely quantitative so testing it requires multiple players willing to add creative inputs. I suggest testing this for a few round with a willing group before a full playtest to ensure that there is enough guidance and structure and that the procedure produces the desired styles of setting for the game. Otherwise problems in this system could disrupt and taint the results of several full playtest sessions.

The task resolution mechanic, which involves choosing cards from a deck involves too many player decisions to reduce to simple probabilities. However, in systems like this it is often useful to consider a statistical player who simply plays a random card from the remainder of the cards they have available. By simply repeatedly resolving against such a “player” it is possible to estimate the impact of counting or not counting cards, as well as other intermediate strategies. It will also give a reasonable idea how often the deadly – you get twice or more than your opponent – outcomes actually occur among the different ways to play. I suspect this will reveal card counting makes enough of a difference to become necessary for the players, which may be more mental load for a task resolution mechanic than suits this game.

At its root Phoenix Bound is an interesting game about supernatural champions. I suspect that by delving further into what it means to protect and guide your charge an even more compelling game can be created. But, ultimately the proof is in the testing.

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I introduced and discussed the concept of Pheonix Bound earlier. Now on to the subsystems.

Pheonix Bound has three major subsystems:

  • Collaborative creation of characters (including antagonists)
  • Semi-random situation generation
  • Blind-bidding task resolution using a fixed set of cards

The collaborative creation of characters works by listing categories for each body and enemy on index cards and then passing them around in a circle to fill out one answer at a time. This sort of approach is pretty popular at present for collaborative setting creation, but could benefit from a bit more guidance to spur creativity. If that guidance can also be a random table to act as an extra player, so much the better.

The situation generation is done by having the players decided what mundane task their phoenix is doing and (in classic maho shoujo style it appears) the GM randomly determines if today an enemy will appear and if so, which enemy. This harkens back to random encounters in D&D, but its important to note that random encounters work because they exist in the context of progress (typically travel). As I noted earlier, this game needs a goal for the phoenix in protecting her charge. This is one of the most important reasons – if the enemies don’t attack some sort of progress needs to be made to counter-point the danger. Otherwise there is really no tension in whether there is an attack or not, only marking time until it occurs.

The last, and arguably most unique, subsystem is the blind-bidding task resolution. This is done by playing a card from a small hand initially containing the numbers 2 through 10 (one hand for the GM and one for each player). I originally disliked this mechanic much more, but considering how the random situation draws also come from the GMs deck – and hence help to balance a large number of enemy occurrences by eating up high cards or conversely a period of quiet causing a reduced number of low cards. Likewise, the need for players to take some losses to clear the bad cards in their hand in order to redraw a new hand is also potentially interesting. The problem is there is only one mechanical consequence for the lower bid, other than the task failing, at least immediately – if your opponent doubles your bid you can be killed. This is too much, if you play your two you are already almost certainly going to lose, but now you are also almost certainly going to die – unless you weasel it into a non-lethal task situation. Instead there should be concessions or other impacts of failing your side of a task and those could lead to defeat or death, of you or your charge, but it shouldn’t depend on the amount you lose by. One possibility that comes to mind is a first to three wins, where the phoenix and the enemy can have a few setbacks before losing their goal for the day. In any case, this means wrapping this task mechanic into a wider conflict mechanic to determine the outcome of the enemy’s assault.

In my next feedback burst I’m going to talk about development tools which may help Phoenix Bound and some of the ways things can be tested with and without playtesting.

Internet conversations are vulnerable to assumptions, especially about what is actually shared between the participants. Sometimes it helps to trim all those away. Assume as little as possible about what the other person knows or believes. And ask yourself if you can think of a reasonable motive and perspectives for that person to have written what they have. And really, you ought to be able to think of several.

Now, ask yourself, do any of those reasons or perspectives give you a better way to communicate, or will they just prevent you communicating with each other? That ought to tell you what to do next. And remember, if you can’t think of a motive or perspective, then you shouldn’t assume there isn’t one. It’s just one you don’t know or understand. And that’s fine.

And at the end of the day, they are either not a reasonable person or you can’t find a way to relate to them as one. And in either case, you’re not likely to be communicating much of anything. So, perhaps you should be asking if you are being unreasonable too.