Playtesting: Samsara

Samsara is set in Bengal in 1757. The British East India company is trying to gain more influence over India, and the Seven Years’ War in Europe threatens to inflame colonial rivalries with the French. You play an honoured adviser in the Nawab’s court, raised up despite your low birth because you have a powerful gift: the ability to walk in dreams.

(So, you know, it’s entirely historically accurate.)

You can play the opening episode (the first “month”) of the game at

Any feedback you have would be greatly appreciated! It’s very much a work-in-progress at the moment, so I’d be particularly interested in any notes on game-balance (are there any resources you absolutely needed more of? were flooded with? is there enough variety in difficulty?) & atmosphere / character / plotline (as it’s the first “month” of five, many people & broughts are brought up with plans to return to them later). And definitely let me know if you manage to find yourself completely stuck somewhere.

I’ll be making changes & tweaking & adding a little more flesh to the bones over this week, so apologies if anyone is caught out by them.

(Also, just a note: the ‘Visions from the Gods’ quest only has one part at the moment, but the others are playable through to the end.)

edited by betterthemask on 9/20/2012
edited by betterthemask on 9/21/2012

I’m not all the way through yet, but I’ll keep on playing through this. You have a unique setting and concept going here. I like the dual decks between the dreaming and the waking. Good initial impressions on the prose as well (I’ll try to bring some better feedback once I’ve had a chance to play more). The only criticism I have so far is that it starts to get a little jargony from time to time. Having culturally specific terms is absolutely a good idea, and in most cases you’re doing a good job of dropping context clues on them, but it’s a little clustered with lingo. That the setting is different and culturally distinct is obvious. I’d like to see more of that described, instead of just having terms dropped in.

Curiouser and curiouser.

Clever use of Must requirements in character creation. I’ll have to employ that trick myself.

Curiosity appears to be missing an image.

The first meeting with Cani, those range of options. The extremes of comfort, anger (revulsion?) and lust speak louder than anything I’ve yet read to what it feels like to be in a dream. I chose comfort, if it interests you. And then I wake and… ohh… maybe it’s just because it’s gone midnight, or because of the half a bottle of red I’ve had but I could cry at that image.

The first time I pull a hand of Sometimes cards, two of them (‘Inspiring your imagination’ and ‘And evening of ghazals and intoxication’) had no branches I could complete. I just count myself lucky the third card had something I could do or I really would have been stuck.

Now I wonder how hazardous to your health camphor is.

Sa-ilu, jati, puja - I love a story that makes me feel like I’m learning something.

I like how many paths to follow there are. Gives me a sense of agency and choice.

All this advisory text in red is helpful and gives a sense of security.

Take it as a good sign that I keep wishing I could echo branches.

This is a really nice game – I love the tone and the dreamscape idea. Just beautiful.

The quibbles:

  • The “Investigating the Situation” card. It’s available very soon, so I clicked on it, but it seems to me to give away an awful lot of information. More like a reward than a first step, if that makes sense. Maybe you don’t want the player to see this until they’ve done some – or all – of their Investigating?

  • In the early part of the game I’m coming across a ton of cards that need a lot more Perception/Curiosity/Serenity than I have… and so far, nothing of Modest or lower difficulty to improve those qualities has presented itself. I’m a cautious player. I don’t like playing stuff unless I’ve got a Modest chance of success, and so far, I have not seen a single one of those. I would suggest more low-level challenges, or – if you’d rather not – a clear indication that failure is okay and you won’t be punished for the more, ah, timid players. Like me. :)

More nastily, I keep flipping cards that I can’t do at all, since none of my qualities are high enough… and there’s no pinned way to build qualities and no way to get them out of my hand… and now I’ve just locked “The Cowrie Shell tattoo” into my hand by failing one too many challenges. I’m bopping in and out of the dream via the Pinned card just to clear my hand. That’s probably not what you intended, and it’s very frustrating; I don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere at all.

Still, very interesting game. I shall keep poking at it.

This is good. I’m really enjoying it.

You’ve got a typo and an unclosed tag in, er, “Recall your first meeting wtih the Nawab”. If you succeed at the challenge, the stat gains are included in the light-coloured div with the story text. It also looks like the young Nawab might not finish speaking, on that success.

[quote=]At the end of your meeting, you are smiling. “You will be my sa-ilu

Perception is increasing…[/quote]
(And so on through the other gains…)

Thanks for the feedback so far, everyone. Lots of very, very helpful notes & criticisms. I’ll be making some tweaks in the next day or two.

More detailed replies below.

@Becks: You’re right about being careful about jargon / words. I think it’s a balance between being (relatively) accurate not only to place but time, and wanting you to just immerse yourself in the experience. I’ve been trying to use words and concepts multiple times so that it doesn’t feel throwaway (ie, you play a game of chaupar in one of the Imagination cards, where its board & implements are described, but there are references to it in some dream results etc.) Love to hear more of what you think, though!

@Lily - what a wonderful comment, thankyou. Not sure why Curiosity doesn’t have an image for you - it should have a flames icon. What browser are you using? Might be a SN issue. Also, raw camphor isn’t hazardous to your health - it’s be used cooking ingredient in some Indian (and Chinese) desserts. So just an unpleasant / perfume-y rather than toxic experience.

@katastrophe Re: Investigating the Situation - I know exactly what you mean, it was a bit of a toss up whether (for the purposes of the “prologue”) to show the card from the beginning to give players a sense that there was an overall mission / story (and the requirement, in game terms, to increase the ‘Investigating the situation for the Nawab’ quality) - or whether to hide it. It’s also infodumping a bit at the moment on the card itself rather in the result - because right now the result thanks you for playing the game and restarts. Will have a poke and find a more elegant solution.

Easier challenges - definitely want to include more of these for the early stages, especially in the waking world - because in a way, the dream world is much more treacherous / difficult to navigate, so it might be interesting to keep the dream consistently more difficult than the wake.

Locked options on cards - this one ties in to the last issue, I think, which is that there just need to be more cards - so that some of the higher value challenges can be locked so they only appear when you hit a quality threshold that doesn’t reduce / fluctuate, like Curiosity, Perception & Serenity. That should help with the problem of locked cards. It may happen now and then, with cards like the Cowrie Shell Tattoo which depends on a fluctuating quality (Marked by Shadow) but hopefully won’t force you to exit from the dream into wake or vice versa just to clear your hand!

@Levineg65: Thank you!

@ruaidri: Thanks for letting me know: should be fixed now. :)

I’m enjoying this a lot - the stucture looks solid and the writing is very good indeed.

I’d echo the point about unplayable cards. You might want to add a branch on some cards, which gives minimal rewards and doesn’t have any quality requirements - so players don’t get stuck with a card in their hands that they can’t play.

[color=#009900]One of the ways we addressed this issue in FL was with sidebars. It’s possible that we might include a sidebar-like mechanism in StoryNexus: it’s low priority at the moment, but if we see a demand in multiple worlds, it’ll climb the list.

betterthemask - I use Chrome. I’ve seen ‘flames’ just fine in the creator’s image gallery, so maybe it was just a hiccup.

Alexis - Not to de-rail the thread but… the rumours, songs and myths that appear on the right of the page? I’d love that functionality.

Jaw drops at the third ‘lover’ option Oh, betterthemask, you’ve just made my day. ^_^ And this have just come from Asylum with James and Hel and the fairies.

EDIT: I’ve spotted a typo in ‘Investigate the mood of the town’ > ‘An unpopular ruler’: “One of offers the name of a neighbour girl, who was seen by the Nawab on the riverbank and carried off to the palace.”

Another, this time from ‘Investigate the court’ > ‘The inner courtyard’: “… she is packing wrapping her belongings and locking them in boxes, glancing over her shoulder guiltily.”
edited by lily on 9/21/2012
edited by lily on 9/21/2012

@Nigel Glad you’re enjoying it so far. And yes, you have a good point about the cards. Hopefully, all of them that require qualities of more than min 1 (which you’ll have at the start of the game) should have a no-qual branch now. Though of course, you can still have all your cards locked off in the dream if your Imagination falls too low, intentionally so - changed the instructional text to make that a bit more clear.

@Alexis & Lily - sidebars could be useful indeed. Any game that veers towards fantasy / alternate history could probably use it. Hm, though, would its function be more a glossary/codex or a journal? Both metaphors have their particular uses.

Lily - thanks for those typo catches. Fixed now. And, the third lover option is my favourite too. :)

I’m enjoying this immensely. The texture of the atmosphere is fantastic.

Are you not entering this into World of the Season? Deadline for entry closes at midnight tonight, UK time.

@Lily I am - thanks for the reminder! Was just being rubbish about actually making the post, and making changes to various storylets. Last minute changes before midnight are a go. :)

Great =D I would have been saddened to not be competing against Samsara.

This is an incredibly unique world, and I love the historical backdrop. If I didn’t have classes and writing to work on, I’d definitely be inspired to do some research into this era. I have only one minor quibble, and that’s that it takes a bit long on the later storylet cards (the multi-quests in between dreams and reality) to go between having enough of a quality to qualify for the action and having enough of the quality that it isn’t “almost impossible” for me to succeed.

this has been my autumn of indian literature – by which i mean, i read life of pi, and am in the middle of midnight’s children – so when i saw this concept, i pounced. i’m so glad i did! it may be my favorite storynexus game so far. the way you flesh out the place and time bit by bit and card by card is wonderful – i never feel adrift, but i always feel intrigued – and the prose is beautiful.

@CharlottePike If you ever get out from under your courseload, I’m adding (slowly) to my delicious stack of research for the game here: which has lots of amazing, and in some cases, first hand writing translated from the persian for the period. THe research has been as much fun as writing the game, honestly. And thanks for the feedback on the later storylet cards, I’ve adjusted them a bit - and possibly will make the requirements a bit less difficult going forward.

@permanent_blur Yay for reading lots of indian literature. I’m so glad you’re enjoying the game - hopefully the next “month” will be out relatively soon, I have lots of plans. If you’re in the market for another indian lit book to add to the list, I can’t recomment Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil enough. I’m only halfway through, but it’s on the Man Booker shortlist - and deservedly so. It’s contemporary, but very dreamy and textured - if you enjoy Midnight’s Children I’m pretty sure you’ll love Narcopolis! :)

Now that we’ve turned monetization on, worlds like this one that have playtesting threads can request if they’re ready.

You can work out whether a world is ready for monetizing here: