(*It was apparently played once in Italy, but I have very little info on what happened there.)
Since the playtest happened, I've been meaning to write up my thoughts on what happened. Mostly I'm writing this up for my own memory, and so that I can think more about what happened. But if anyone has any interesting or useful advice, I'd be happy to hear it.
Some things seemed to go pretty well, while other parts were much more rocky. About two-thirds of the way through, we got bogged down in a discussion of the game wherein one player had been misunderstanding everything about the conflict system and no one had caught it. We ended prematurely shortly thereafter, rather than playing out the final bits. We had gathered what data we could.
The characters and situation were the most successful parts of the game: everyone liked the high fantasy setting and the natural web of intrigue that would lead into conflict one way or another. The story that unfolded in the fiction was consistently interesting, exciting and cool, with loads of scheming and backstabbing. It was suggested that the three physical PCs will lead to an uneven conflict most of the time: two PCs will gang up on the third. Of course, there's the other Aspects of each PC coming into play to complicate matters. The dual goal cards proposed below might help a bit here. The eventual revamp of the conflict system might as well. Perhaps the game needs a system for rewarding an underdog, whereby yo position yourself better later in the game by taking a hit now.
The Out players worked very closely with their respective In players. It was an interesting dynamic, seeing how the Out player would give advice and confer with the In player. One player seemed pretty reserved, and having the other Aspect there to give advice and such really seemed to help. This definitely worked well for me in externalizing internal discussion and in allowing for the sort of dramatic and comedic irony that I like a lot in my games. At the same time, it let people stay immersed in their characters. This part here feels like a winning combo to me, even if I have to abandon the entire core conflict system.
As expected, some characters switched control more often than others. Inanna/Kur was most likely to switch, Castor and Pollux switched occasionally, and Thalia/Melpomene switched least often. It definitely seemed like the switching and having slightly differing goals and such all worked as they should.
It was proposed that the random goal cards should be for the pair of Aspects: one card has a goal for both Castor and Pollux. This would guarantee that the two Aspects are aligned the right amount (and also misaligned the right amount). So Castor is trying to acquire power or whatever, and his goal makes him somewhat sympathetic to Thalia, while Pollux wants a compatible goal but it makes him sympathetic to Inanna. This will help prevent a random card draw leading to everyone teaming up on one PC/Aspect pair.
So those bits seem like they work or could work with slight revisions. What fared less well was the Cut the Pie resolution system. It turned out to be too difficult to create good new stakes for the situation that could be applied equally. This part will definitely need revision and reworking. I may need to reread that old thread I just linked to and rethink. Or I may need to replace this system altogether with something else.
Now I need to figure out what to do with this game. The way I see it, there are a few paths forward for the game:
1) Write the game off as a learning experience. Abandon it, and focus on tonight's playtest of a different game design that I think might be much more successful. There's some good ideas in here, but maybe they'd be better broken off and used in other games rather than kept as a cohesive game. (Sort of unappealing as an option, but if I don't figure out how to solve the problems this might be the path forward.)
2) Rework the basic conflict resolution to actually make it work and be fun. The simplest way to fix it would be to add a GM role that sets stakes but isn't involved in the game otherwise. That would also make it a seven player game, which is pretty big. Or somehow make it simpler to make a good set of stakes? Steal more from the stake-setting minigame of Polaris? (The preferred course if I can figure out how to make it work, but I have the least idea how to get there from here.)
3) Remove the conflict system, keep the characters, setting, situation and switching and Boons. But replace the conflict system with something else. I'm unsure what to replace it with just yet. Some sort of resource based system? Steal a line from Archipelago and give each character or player spheres of control? Steal a bit from the "What did I do then?"/"Or was it?" in A Penny For My Thoughts? Otherkind Dice are always a good thing to steal.
So that's where I am right now with House of Masks. Tonight we'll be playtesting Department Nine, which I hope will go better.