Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Game session review; the good, the bad and the rewritable

Last friday I ran the longest adventure yet with Era, the game I'm developing.  It was an exciting running it with a group of players that hadn't had any real exposition to the rules.  I was worried as to how well we would start off.  How quickly we could get the characters up and running and how the mechanics would work out.

What can I list as observations and lessons learned?
  • Setup was quick.  The players had a session with me a week earlier where they developed their characters without any actual stats.  Just describing what they were.  This helped a lot when getting down to the numbers.
  • Character templates helped a lot.  Although it's a point buy system I created templates that looked D&Dish so players familiar with the game could get a quick start.  We just rolled ability scores and determined initial role points.  Then selected from the templates that fitted those values and trimmed from there.
  • Combat.  Oh combat was exciting and deadly.  The game mechanics don't allow for an increase in hit points ever.  The improvements are in combat skills and a certain amount of endurance called stamina.  That aside a well placed blow will stun you or kill you outright.  This made for a quick fight.  Monsters dropped or were stunned and killed quickly.  The players handled their cover and spells well and they survived even after taking a couple of blows.  I really liked the parry and dodge mechanics.  Made for some fun action.  The pain threshold mechanism worked well and didn't slow down play.  I took advantage to stun creatures and add a spin to combat.
  • Spells.  Well that worked nice too, but there are things I didn't like from the rules.  The initial idea of spell schools and levels doesn't truly charm me.  I'll cover that in the next section.  We ended up making spells on the fly which were very handy and fun to play.  There were some powerful "first level" spells yet the adventure was still challenging since the mana mechanism worked well and lasted for about one encounter.  An interesting observation: one spell allowed the spell caster to raise attribute scores, but Era grants bonuses based on averages between certain scores.  So a boost in one attribute didn't result in excessive benefits for the caster.  This dampening effect was set in the rules to hinder min-max players and so far seems to be working well.
  • While the two characters were radically different and one was played by the min-max type player obsessed with magic users they both had enough to do in the adventure.  They made a good team  and overall they enjoyed the game without worries of one overshadowing the other.
Lessons and rewrites
  • Spells!  Spells are getting a complete rewrite.  Levels and schools are going out the door.  Spells will come packaged according to the settings.  The witches of dark forest have their list.  The priests of the shadow priests have theirs. The marshland wildlings have their spells.  I'm working on a spell flux mechanism to control the relative power of characters and through it control their progression and spell power level and availability to characters.  The spells we created in the game by mixing different aspects of magic are not compatible with the initial grouping of powers and effects.  Limiting the character to certain schools would go against this type of creativity I enjoy and am looking for in the game.
  • I'm going to replace the attacks per round to actions per round.  Sneak peek I've got an idea for a fatigue based mechanism I'll be posting sometime this week.  Some spells take actions to cast while others may take rounds.  Magic users should be able to make many actions per round like the fighter.  Maybe just stab once with their dagger, but cast many action spells.  A good fighter might get three attacks with his weapon of choice, but one attack with a magical device.

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