Academic Year AAR

Despite Advanced Lab’s best efforts, I have not yet died, and have now returned to blogging. This post really should’ve come little less than a month ago, around when we actually stopped playing, but what with finals, final projects, and just general end of semester malaise, it got pushed back a couple weeks. Then with my holiday of sleeping in 16 hours a day, followed by the traditional post-semester sickness (must be a stress thing) it got pushed back a bit further.

Edit: Just now remembered you might want to be able to see what it is I’m talking about: Google Drive Document Link

What Worked

Well, people wanted to play. I always take that as a good sign, so yippee.

At some point I moved away from 3d6 in order to 1d4-1d4 in order, with the score and modifier becoming functionally identical. The modifier distribution is much different now, with extreme scores far more common. It makes characters fun, but since I have no interest in making people play characters they don’t like I still let them mulligan if the sum of scores is less than 0.

I may also allow them to “normalize” scores by allowing them to move a negative score closer to 0 by reducing a positive score by the same amount (only to 0)

Character creation in general seems very straightforward to most players. After doing it once, on of my players was able to explain it to a new player. Though I credit most of that to my brother, since they’re a modified version of his rules. The only snag I hit regularly is the “roll one take the higher result, roll another tale the lower” which I added back into represent different human lineages.

Sorcerers are a riot, and probably the most popular caster class. It’s probably top three of all classes, which is pretty impressive considering it’s only a subclass. Unfortunately motifs and metamagic have yet to be thoroughly tested. The mishaps table was a lot of fun, but too harsh and in my mind a little too small. I’ve upgraded it to a percentile roll, with more focus on mutations and less on “immediately irradiated/kill everything around you.”

What Did Not Work

Oh boy. Here we go.

Armor class has proven a constant confusion for my players and equally constant annoyance for me. However, I suspect the confusion is a matter of communication, particularly with how the armor class is listed on the character sheet. The current setup simply has different scores listed for “base” AC or “touch” AC with no mention of what constitutes the scores. In future I’m going to redesign the character sheet so that the players list the contribution from dexterity, shield, armor, etc. This way I can just ask them to subtract contributions from their actual AC, based on the nature of the attack.

That issue is easily fixable. The rest isn’t. Spellcasters in particular seem to have issues. The adept is the better of the two, but suffers from really tedious bookkeeping o  the part of the players. I expected this to be a problem when I chose a spell-point system; however, with all the points they lose and gain over the course of an adventuring day and the fact that they don’t regain all their lost points after resting is pretty annoying to keep track of.

They also don’t really interact with the spellcasting roll. I’m not a fan of this, and I don’t want this already highly specialized mechanic used for only one class. So in the interest of tackling both issues at once, I’m going to revamp the spellcasting mechanic for adepts. It will still be a spell-point system, I think, but with a lot of changes to usability. The numbers involved will generally be a lot smaller, and the players won’t need to subtract off points every time they cast a spell. The class as a whole will be more oriented towards better reliability but more limited power than a wizard, which was my original goal. But I’m seriously cutting back on their ability to sustain themselves (magically speaking) throughout the day, especially the more martially based ones. Also, the adept will probably have their XP progression changed to match the wizards. Magic ain’t cheap…unless you’re a rogue.

But on the note of the wizard, this brings me to the biggest issue. No one wants to play wizards. Now, this might just be an issue of having mostly new players, and I do recommend that newer players avoid the class. But I’ve been thinking about it, and the wizard I’ve got now is definitely even more fiddly then the Adept is. You’ve got more spell slots than a 5e wizard, and each slot has to be prepared with a specific spell, and then you can invest some of your slots into panoply items, and your grimoire can only hold 10 spells, and you can’t prepare duplicates unless you have two copies of the spells. It’s basically a fucking mess, and may end up running more like a spell-point system then I would like, because panoply investment also takes into account the level of the spell. So I’m going to have to simplify some shit.

First of all, the panoply will no longer take into account the different spell levels. It will just be “X slots for Y abilities” and that’s that. Yeah, players are going to preferentially invest lower level slots, but it’s not a big deal, since the most spell slots you ever at each spell level is like 5 when your still filling out your panoply.

Spell preparation is now 5e preparation. You got spell-slots of high enough level and the spell prepped, you can do it, boss. Actually, you can do it without, as well. There will be a penalty to the casting roll if you use a lower level slot, and a roll bonus for casting with a higher one. I may even allow casting without spell slots at a massive penalty.

Duplicate spells flummox me yet again. Once I thought duplicate spells were necessary to game balance, but came around to one each. Now I’m thinking they may be necessary again. I think I’ll go for some kind of compromise, with a penalty to spell-casting roll if you’ve cast it already today.

Aside from the changes above, the panoply could do with more simplifying. The familiar is going to be removed and folded into the Servant, which is going to get a few more rules to guide me and the players through the process of finding and binding one. It will also be a more mutual agreement between and servant and master, in general. Forcing a devil to do shit for you against its will should be a challenge. I may potentially add the Cabal to the panoply to round out the lost item/spell level.

The spell levels for stat bonuses can stay, but probably in a diminished form. I’m probably going to totally rework talismans.+X to Y Save is pretty darb. We’ll see though, because I’m probably going to slash save progression past ninth level.

Fighters seem to be popular and playable. With the addition of Specializations and weapon-perks and all the other crap, I kind of feel like they may be overloaded with too much. They’re supposed to be the simplest class. I’ve considered many times removing one or the other. I also feel like they’re at constant risk of being overshadowed by rogues or martially oriented adepts. Both of those classes are supposed to be pretty good at fighting as well, but they should basically always lose in a straight fight against a fighter of the same level. This basically is what caused me to add Specializations in the first place, to give them something the other classes could never have. But never is such a strong word, and I’d be inclined to rule that a rogue or adept of sufficient level could learn some tricks of the trade as a special ability*. I’ve also given an AC bonus to fighters as they level. In addition to probably skyrocketing them to the most popular class right then and there, this should make sure they stay well ahead of the curb in terms of fighting ability.

I’ve gotten to the point where it feels like I’m not going to remove either of them, but I have already removed Break Their Ranks! as a class feature. They get enough extra attacks with their weapon perks, and I personally have never got much enjoyment out of throwing hordes of humanoids at them. The orcs in my game are sort of their own thing that’s been metastasizing in my brain and not intended to (always) act as cannon fodder. Humanoids in general are pretty thin on the ground. The last post I made about them may have made it seem opposite, but most of those are getting retconned the hell out. It’s really down to the goblins, kobolds, and Anilins, and the last aren’t really vicious fighting spirits. So with so few humanoids, why not use humans? And if we’re using humans, what reason have we got for ruling out diplomacy? None, and it tends to go that way a bit in my games- so much that I’ve come to plan for it.

I’ve also got something of an idea (maybe more of a quality of life improvement) for dealing with large groups of enemies without minis or strict positional record keeping, which will be coming in another blog post.

Miscellaneous Suggestions/Reminders So I Don’t Forget Them

*to self: actually write the fucking special ability rules you fool
Rogue combat talents, especially ranged/pugilism ones need a look over. Musical talents need to be ready before fall semester. Beastmaster talents whenever.
Actually use the calendar you wrote, asshole. Better time records.
Convert/prep some dungeons over the summer, for god’s sakes.
Decide what is going on with the Spirit Realm. Release related classes.

Setting Discussions

Lastly, we come to setting issues. Turns out most of my players weren’t even aware they were on a fucking Bishop Ring till after the fall semester, so…yeah. But with loftier idea’s out of the way, I was going for more of an East Asian flavoring over fairly typical knights/kings/medieval fantasy/etc. but may have leaned too heavily on the foreign language dictionaries. From now on  place names are going to be more unassumingly and descriptively English (Black Hills, Yewhill, etc.), and people will be more referred to by title. It fits the sort of feel I’m going for better anyways, I think.

What I really want is for my players to “get” my setting. Not all the deep lore or whatever, but that sort of familiarity/desire to know more that permeates successful fantasy settings it. When Luke walks into a seedy bar in Mos Eisley, when Harry Potter has to go around buying all his shit from Diagon Alley, I think the viewer or reader “gets” the setting through the subtle details of worldbuilding sort of seeded throughout. It’s familiar but all different again, and it hooks people in. I think those franchises owe a lot of their success to those particular scenes and the ones preceding them.

One last thing that’s been bothering me if how high magic things have been getting. I”m more attracted to low fantasy games and settings, but I’m also fairly committed to it for this project, mostly to see if it can work. So much fantasy I see nowadays has got spells whizzing all around the place and weird magic and magical abilities for every wizard and monk that comes hopping down the lane. I like fantasy where everything works the same way it does in real life, except when it doesn’t, because then that’s special.

Adepts have been particularly troubling in this regard, especially the ones that have ties to organizations in the greater world. Adepts in general are meant to be rather rare, and the guys who are under the control of a church structure definitely need a reason to be running around with these yahoos collecting treasure. I’ve considered giving them a fate point cost at character creation and forcing the player to explain their character’s relationship to their hierarchy. It should give them incentive to roleplay a bit more and maybe actually observe their tenants, while cutting down on the number of adepts overall.

I’ve also had an idea, which I may or may not elaborate on in a future post, of bringing them campaign into space. Not Spelljammer, no. No, something more like what I always thought Spelljammer should be. Namely, comparatively technologically primitive societies who by luck or shoddy homegrown tech or maybe a bit of magic or whatever figured out hermetic seals and solar sails and now have spaceships. Meanwhile, their most opulent palaces lack indoor plumbing. Space works same way it does in real life. You need a crew and a biological calculator, not a wizard… although a wizard may help for that last part.

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