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Zahira is an Ezreffiri halpfae armed with a scimitar, shortbow and padded jack who has an obsession with some newly discovered fish found in the neighbouring land of Marrashk (don't ask me, I don't understand why either). Herts is a Tyuschian angelkin of the Lutgeran Faith who has journeyed to the Southern Continent briefed by Maertzt Lutger himself to make contact with the Zhoranians, but has arrived in pagan Ezreffir and now has to travel through Marrashk to reach Zhoran. Both are capable of magic:- Zahira can bless, curse and heal; Herts can heal, speak with the angelic host and cause those who are evil [for which read - anyone who doesn't venerate the angels, including Zahira] to cough up their dark and filthy souls.
Zahira and Herts first meet at what is essentially the guides' guildhouse, each looking for a guide to take them through Marrashk. Zahira spies a man with a book on taxonomy. She tries to strike up conversation, presumably intended to attempt to persuade him to engage in some form of cooperation, but gets a totally rubbish result on her Persuasion roll, so I roleplay him as obnoxiously as the situation can justify. Zahira takes umbrage quicker than you can say "are you here with your brother or husband? do they leave a woman like you to be bothersome unsupervised?", returns to her seat and quietly curses him. This is quite a powerful spell because it is completely undetectable, and casting it leaves her, among other things, eldritchly fatigued for a week (-2 on spellcasting rolls). [Dana is not amused by this and thinks the whole thing is terribly unfair.] On his way home the obnoxious man knocks a torch off the wall and his fancy and newly commissioned book catches fire, which ruins it and burns him painfully. (And there may well be more to come.) Meanwhile Herts books a room on the floor above and in the privacy of the room speaks very briefly to the angelic host to get a better idea of what lies ahead. This is just as draining for him as Zahira's magic is for her.
Zahira and Herts are both impatient and therefore decided to leave in a small caravan consisting of themselves, two guards and a guide. Before they even reach the (nearby) border with Marrashk they are attacked by bandits. The bandits circle in with a crossbow, shooting dead the guard who is twenty yards ahead of the main group - but Zahira actually hears the arrow coming through the air, her Perception roll is that good. Zahira, Herts and the other guard engage with the bandits, Zahira firing her shortbow (shooting the crossbowman dead) and Herts defeating two bandits in melee combat. Both Herts and Zahira suffer minor injury (Zahira's would have been a grave injury but a well-placed luck token saw it reduced to a minor injury). One of the bandits is still alive but badly injured, having been thrown off his camel. He is shackled by the remaining guard, trussed up on the camel and taken to the border post where he is summarily executed by one of the border guards.
The party are permitted to stay at the border post overnight. Herts finds a quiet spot and heals his injury. Zahira won't do so [Dana is too stubborn as Zahira is at -2 with her magic rolls] but fortunately this injury will only take 4 days to heal [a very lucky dice-roll!] and the first day passes without wound infection. As Zahira has some skill in physick, her risk of wound infection is somewhat lower than for untended wounds, but still quite high due to the climate and because spirits of disease love picking on the "anointed" (i.e. player characters and, essentially, adventuring NPCs).
Playtesters intended to be taking part in this playtest:- Giles, Dana, Pete & myself. "Internal" because I am involved, so this lacks the purity of an external playtest.
Dana, Pete & I convened earlier today.
Dana & Pete genned up characters essentially independently (save for selecting spells, and slightly in relation to weapon stats), albeit at the cost of some time, puzzlement and effort. I have identified many, many small changes to the presentation of the CharGen material which now seem desirable.
It baffles me what people can misunderstand. For instance, there is a little table which says how many points of Fate you get if you have X social status and Y starting wealth. Then later on there are little paragraphs which say things like "Elite social status is worth 5 points of Fate (this is already included in the totals listed on the table)" [original emphasis]. What I have been asked so far by three playtesters out of three is "do I get to add those 5 points onto the Fate points I already have?". Er, hello, people!?!?!? Why do you think I wrote the words "already included in the totals listed on the table"? For my own amusement??? It seems it might as well have been. There's no use in wondering why people don't understand this even though I have pretty much spelt it out. I'm just going to have to get rid of that sentence from the little spiel about social status, and replace it with something completely different.
FWIW, I think part of the problem is that people are not content to be told "during CharGen, you do XYZ". They want to immediately understand why they are doing X, why they are being given information Y and what the advantages/disadvantages/implications of these different things are, and if you don't tell them, they seem to invent reasons in their heads, which often have nothing to do with the reality, and cause them to impose interpretations on the rules which actually fly in the face of their literal wording. It's an interesting learning experience to watch it unfold, albeit, as you can tell from the tone of this post, somewhat frustrating.
Anyway, the characters. We got two very decent characters out of CharGen with perfectly reasonable stats. Soul's Calling gives you a clear roadmap for CharGen and they managed to follow it. So far so good, more or less.
Then the warm-up stuff. Two pre-game exercises which I'll call the "ref's pre-game patter" and the "meeting of spirits". As for the first, Pete went with it fine, but Dana just wasn't interested and gave the impression that she felt she knew better. As for the "meeting of spirits", I couldn't get them into the spirit of it; IMHO, it was just too am-dram for them. I think I'm going to have to stick a health warning on it accordingly, if I leave it in at all.
Then a short start to the adventure. Mechanically, this included a short roadtest of the Persuasion system (no issues there), some General Observation checks, a bit of spellcasting and some impressionistic combat.
Frankly I am starting to think very seriously about cutting the magic system down to a simplified version. I've just had an idea how to do it on the journey back, which is all about pre-packaging things based on the existing system, but wrapped into little packets so it's easier for people to operate. It will be rather painful to make that change, but the most important thing is that the system has to operate easily in practice, because if people stop to add up a bunch of numbers, they are going to break character and lose sight of immersion.
One way or another, there is definitely work to be done, but I guess that's what playtesting is for. If I do revise the magic system (or the way it's packaged), that's going to set back the release date. Still, I'm confident of being ready to run things in a Con-friendly way for Indiecon, and that's the main thing.
- Thanks: 182 given/235 received
I am not changing the fundamental rules which govern how magic works. I am changing the way magic fits into CharGen and adding one small mechanic to how it works during the game. The essence of these changes you could probably scribble on a postcard. What's taking up my time - the real business of reworking the magic system - is not about what the rules are, but about the player's interface with the rules.
Basically, the version in the current draft Core Guide lets you customise your spells during play; I am swapping that for ready-made templates called "invocation patterns" which contain combinations of customisations for your spell, and give you pre-calculated the one unified dice-check modifier which comes out the other end. This means what you do is pick a spell (called "eldritch powers"), pick an invocation pattern, put them together and hey presto! you are ready to roll. (Literally.)
The trouble is, you need rather a lot of invocation patterns to get anywhere even vaguely near the practical level of flexibility that the version in the current draft Core Guide allows for. In fact, you need more invocation patterns than spells... but that's fine. They are going to be a joy to use, and relatively speaking simple too, even if they will probably inflate the page-count somewhat. There may be some stuff I can take out as a result though, so the net impact on the page-count may not be dramatic. We shall see.
This means there will be a change to CharGen to reflect the fact that you are picking not combinations of lines of variation for your spells, but simply one or more invocation patterns for each spell (in essence). Because I think this system tends to make characters more effective I am going to reduce the number of spells in the most basic package from 8 to 6.
The other new mechanic is an eldritch flux table which players basically only get to roll on if they pay fate or luck tokens to do so, or if the ref is very kind. It can curtail the penalties they suffer from spellcasting gone wrong. I think it's going to help to make it a very neat system once it's in place.
The big question is... what will Dana make of it?
You will have to wait a while to find out, as the next session of Internal Playtest II won't be for a little while.
- Thanks: 182 given/235 received
So it kind of ended up that in effect I was challenging Giles to min-max the system if he possibly could. And after I had pointed him to the relevant pages and discussed the options with him at some length, I hung up for him to spend a good half-hour or so (maybe a bit longer) poring over the stats.
His conclusion? He had to "give me my due", it was not easy to see how to min-max this system! He did think he had found one set of stats which was marginally superior to the others... until I pointed out that that was for a non-spellcaster, and he was comparing it to spellcaster stats (so the better stats are balanced out by not having any magic). So he ummed and ah'd about it quite a bit, and eventually settled on a set of stats which I think I can fairly say is bang in the middle between Pete's character's stats and Dana's character's stats (both of which were randomly rolled) - I don't mean in the sense of one being better than the other, but rather of one being one kind of stat-pattern, the other being another kind of stat-pattern, and Giles's being in the middle between the two. They are all equally balanced. (Giles's character actually has a slight advantage in combat-type stats due to a vow of poverty, but IMHO it's balanced in the round.)
So, it seems I can give it a tick for the non-min-maxability of the system. To be fair, Giles is basing his assessment of what are desirable stats on the way I apparently ref (with, allegedly, a heavy tendency to emphasise directly aggressive stuff, especially melee and direct attacking magic), and seems to think he is getting the better end of the deal by putting his best stats into magic and melee combat and trying to dump-stat ranged attack (which doesn't really help much given how the numbers work). Well, I'm just going to have to confound his expectations and make the game all about (obviously the general roleplay and immersion in the first place but when it comes to the aspect of challenges) things like persuasion, empathy, stealth, observation and maybe some nice ranged combat. I have a few very atmospheric ideas in mind, so wish me luck... I have some tough customers to crack!!
[The thing is, you see, that when they have pigeon-holed you into a certain category, it's very difficult to get away from that, because it's self-reinforcing as the players live up to their expectations for the game... yet when I run a game for a different group of players, it's a totally different scenario. I mean, kind of. I'm not going to pretend that my games don't have a bit of a tendency to end in bloodbaths and arcane insanity, but it isn't ALWAYS that way!!]
P.S. I have finished all the invocation patterns now... just have to proof-read them and pair them up with the spells, and away we go!
- Thanks: 182 given/235 received
During the night Herts stayed up all night for some reason best known to himself to cast Blessing of the Spirit upon himself by meditating and praying. Although this does not create any visible, audible or otherwise perceptible signs of magic, Zahira may have subconsciously sensed something... in any event, she took umbrage, and left during the night.
However two new travellers arrived during the night, both of the holy faith:- Malakhaim (a Zhoranian imam) and Gridgey (a lady marine from Olbia seeking adventure). They spoke to Herts and agreed to travel with him and his guide Mermul and remaining guard Narim, as Malakhaim was aware of further bandit activity in Marrashk. Gridgey was agreeable to this only on receipt of payment - two silver coins, which is about two or three days' pay for a mercenary.
Herts got so hot in his chainmail on the road through Marrashk that he took it off. When the party stopped to rest at midday, he slept very heavily, and when woken had a headache. The party passed some of the locals, who have a very curious custom - they carry lightweight frame-and-hide boats with them everywhere (the road is not far from the sea... all decent Marrashkans live close to the sea). This provoked some mirth from the Tyuschian and the Olbian.
The guide led the party to a village where they could rest for the night in the home of some people he knew - a mud-built dwelling but one of the largest in the village. The family's daughter Nahia was missing - she had ridden off on a camel after an argument with her mother about religion (her mother Marqeya being pagan, she and her father Gammul being of the Zhoranian faith, which is a variant of the Holy Faith... Marrashk is one of the few religiously tolerant nations in the Enshrouded Lands). Mermul thought she had probably circled around to the coast... being Marrashkan after all... and would probably be home within an hour after dark.
Herts and Malakhaim have somehow subtly sussed each other out through conversation as being holy men whose prayers were often answered... and go into the desert away from prying eyes so that Herts can pray for guidance in his special way. They see a man on a camel riding towards the village with a spare camel in tow.
The man is a bandit from the Old Nails gang. He rides up to Gammul and Marqeya's home, leaves the spare camel there (it is theirs) and tells them that Nahia "is ours now", then rides off. Marqeyz shrieks and wails and Gridgey comes rushing out from the back room where she has been supping on a leaf-tea. The man has ridden off - Gridgey will not be able to catch him.
Herts and Malakhaim see the man riding out in the desert with only the one camel this time, and call out to him; he approaches to within a hundred yards or so of them and they shout out to ask him if he knows of the missing girl, and he calls back "she is ours now", and rides off. Herts slings a stone at him but misses.
Herts then meditates to seek guidance from the quasi-angelic minor spirits of the area and begins to glow with a holy light... Malakhaim interrupts him and suggests that he can do the same thing - and perhaps Herts may be able to sense his magic and join in with it? Malakhaim begins to pray loudly for guidance with his holy symbol out, but he invokes this magic in a spiritually open manner, which Herts can in fact sense [Malakhaim does not have the ability to sense the openness of magic cast in that open manner], and Herts is able to join in, so they can cast the magic cooperatively together. Malakhaim is the one who actually communes with the spirits, and ascertains that the girl is alive and unharmed with the associates of the camel-rider. (The spirits are very minor spirits who only know of things in the very near area and whose knowledge is greatest in relation to matters of damnation and redemption, but they were able to sense the rider's thoughts and memories of the girl somehow.)
Herts and Malakhaim return to the village. They are told what the rider has said. The Old Nails gang are notorious as demon-worshippers [it being clear that none of the common folk have any definite knowledge of things magical - demon worship is a far more mundane activity than that, though human sacrifices are involved]. Herts, Malakhaim and Gridgey decide to go to the desert and seek out the bandits.
They encounter some wandering vigilantes who lead them to the secret entrance to the bandits' hideaway - a rocky outcrop in a canyon, linked to the side of the canyon by a bridge; the outcrop has a trapdoor which leads down to a tunnel. Herts and Gridgey bundle across the bridge and try to open the trapdoor. Malakhaim, who has been warning them that he suspects a trap, stays on the same side as the vigilantes, but doesn't spot until too late that one of them is flicking a lever which releases the lock which held one end of the bridge in place... the vigilantes are of course in fact bandits and this is a trap!
Malakhaim gets ready to engage with two bandits in melee as the others draw shortbows to shoot the trapped adventurers. Gridgey shoots one dead, and one of the bandits getting ready to fight Malakhaim withdraws and pulls out his bow. Herts is busy trying to beat the trapdoor in with his morning star. A bandit shoots Gridgey in the leg (a grave injury) before Malakhaim and Gridgey between them kill the remaining bandits. The trapdoor turns out to be a fake, but fortunately the adventurers have brought rope (in case of sandstorms - as well as protective gauze, headgear and cloth and sticks for temporary shelters), and are able to throw a rope across which can be tied to the (solid) bridge posts at each end. The two trapped adventurers just about make it back without falling to their deaths...
The adventurers then see vultures circling ahead. Even in the dark Gridgey is able to make out that they have skull-like features - these are no natural birds. She also feels faintly nauseous. She uses her crossbow to shoot one... and Herts (ever wary of the Shrouding!) summons a bolt of lightning from the (now somewhat cloudy!) sky to kill another. At the sight of holy lightning, the vultures fly away. Malakhaim examines the fallen vulture and is able to identify it from his knowledge of the arcane as one of the demon-spawned Death Vultures of Ezreffiri legend.
Herts and Malakhaim wait until dawn when their spirits have recovered from the fatigue of speaking with the angelic spirits the day before, then set about using cooperative magic again to heal Gridgey. This is successful... it will take a couple of days for the injuries to close up, during which time Gridgey must be kept hidden from the common folk, as she is glowing with magical light. Herts and Malakhaim then speak to the angelic spirits again, and their magic works better this time... they are able to ascertain that the girl is somehow voluntarily with the bandits (they infer she has been tricked) and are able to find out the location of the bandits' camp, four miles south-south-east, near an oasis. They also ascertain that the vultures are not controlled by the bandits, but were drawn to the party as they included holy men who were of the anointed.
The adventurers reach the bandit camp dressed in the dead bandits' clothes including full headgear, Gridgey scales the wall, sneaking past the guards, briefly spies on the bandits from the courtyard (noticing a number of children in the main hall of the bandits' encampment through the window), climbs the wall back out again and reports to the other adventurers.
- Thanks: 182 given/235 received
Everyone seemed to agree that the [detailed] combat system which was used for the fighting was relatively simple, or at least "simpler than Omnifray"...
The magic system was used in play and as expected the invocation patterns made it very easy to ref. I have worked my way through about a third to a half of the eldritch powers now, working out which invocation patterns go with them. This is helping me to get a better handle on the numbers / probabilities, and I may rework some of the difficulty scores [called Resistance scores] for casting some of the spells.
The rules on persuasion, stealth and observation worked without a hitch.
We had a slow start partly because Giles and Pete (both playing holy characters) spent a considerable time telling me that holy characters needed to have more magic available to them. Page-count, however, is beginning to be an issue, and I think that for a basic Core Guide there is plenty.
What is disappointing is that (1) both Dana & Pete outright refused to join in with the pre-game "ref's patter" warm-up, Dana clearly stating that she is imaginative enough to roleplay without it, and Pete clearly stating that it is too basic for him [so I did a hugely abridged 15-second version with Giles], and (2) Dana just doesn't seem to like the game, in particular the changes I made to her previous character Zahira because of simplifications I had made to the magic system [and limitations on what Zahira could achieve by way of magic which she hadn't previously understood the full implications of], and also thinks that on the whole it is too complex (by which I think she means chiefly the magic system), although she also thinks that about Omnifray, yet she quite likes playing [full-fat] Omnifray, so it is not complexity which is the key issue here.
We have discussed at great length what it is Dana doesn't like about Soul's Calling and it seems to fall into a small number of categories:-
(1) complexity - but this is not the central issue (she quite enjoys full-fat Omnifray] and anyway magic [which I am currently revising] being left to one side everyone seems to think that most aspects of the system are comprehensible
(2) the strong theologies and religious / philosophical conflicts of the game-world - but it is the same game-world as full-fat Omnifray, she is just seeing a different side of it which she hasn't seen before - and it all depends on the player characters
(3) changes I have made to her character due to changes I have made to the rules with a view to simplifying their application in practice which inevitably reduces some of the (still incredible) flexibility of the magic system - but Dana's character wants to do really unusual things (e.g. bless people without them knowing about it... and bearing in mind that the power of blessing mildly changes another character's behaviour too, this has issues...), and I really don't think that this is in any way a fair criticism
Overall, there seem to me to be two issues:-
(1) Dana likes a light-hearted game where she simply "has fun" - not a game which involves having to think very hard about
what your character is doing, nor as far as I can ascertain deep psychological commitment to the game; I prefer games which involve you being very deeply psychologically committed to the game and thinking hard about everything you are doing [not so much about numbers and stats, but more about tactics, etc.]
(2) Dana likes a game where she can feel in control and powerful - in full-fat Omnifray she plays a demi-goddess who is "25th level" but in Soul's Calling the players are playing newbie starting adventurers with far weaker abilities, and a lot of Zahira's magic for instance is very difficult to cast - Dana likes it when her character can simply do the things she wants them to do, not struggle to do them; I prefer adventures to have a heavy element of challenge.
I think Dana prefers a more light-hearted style of game. Soul's Calling demands that you involve yourself heavily in the game during the session itself. Dana seems easily distracted by what the dog is doing, what's going on in the kitchen, social chit-chat, even (kindly) sewing up a tear in my clothing. That is not the stuff which Soul's Calling is made of.
However, Pete and Giles quite enjoyed the game (despite the fact that Pete and Dana's refusal to engage with the ref's patter warm-up combined with Dana's general antagonism towards both the game and specifically my reffing decisions in relation to Zahira's powers really detracted in my view from the central playing goals of the session) and Pete and Giles both seem keen to know more about things like character advancement and when we will next play.
So, my enthusiasm for the game is undimmed but there are definitely some revisions to make to it, including more work to be done to the presentation of the magic system to make it more user-friendly and changes to the difficulty of casting some spells.
- Thanks: 182 given/235 received
I do like the short fight table and thinking about it, the table which gives a character's stats depending on which die roll comes up, is very helpful when you get the hang of it.
What she means by "the short fight table" is presumably the little box on the character sheet which sets out the double roll dice-check mechanic which is used among other things for attacks against player characters. It's also used for non-combat stuff, including spellcasting. (The other little box on the character sheet which sets out the single roll dice-check mechanic performs a similar function but in a simple pass-or-fail way.)
- Thanks: 182 given/235 received
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