Play Testing from Artus and Veketshian

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Artus
Adventurer Conqueror King Contributor
Joined: 2011-07-12 02:25
Play Testing from Artus and Veketshian

My wife, co-contributor Veketshian, and I wrapped up our second play testing session on Friday August 5th. What follows is a brief description of what happened, questions about rules that occurred, and additional comments.
The playing group consists of Veketshian, three of our friends, and myself. Experience in gaming ranges from some 3rd and 4th edition D&D players to 2nd edition DMs.
Session 1: Friday July 22nd
Character Creation
Players formed to create characters with little knowledge about the system. We used the "Roll five sets of stats, and keep three for personal use" system with HP rolled for level 1. Party ended up consisting of the following: Spell-sword, mage, thief, and night-blade.
//GM Note: I don't like rolling for HP at level 1. The Spell-sword and night-blade ended up with 3 and 2 HP respectfully. The mage and thief rolled natural max HP.
//I also note that the system of character creation doesn't seem to ask the question, "What do I want to play?" but "What am I going to be allowed to play?". The players also had a hard time understanding the scope future gameplay as the entries for each class includes only a small piece on the lower level potential of a given class.
//The saving throws for the elves looked off from the other classes until I noticed that the discrepancy stemmed from Alex having applied the elves bonus to certain saving throws as a reduction to the throw's target number. My players and I couldn't agree on what method would be better, but the introduction to throws earlier in the book currently has it so that a player should be keeping track of two different numbers. One number is the target number, and the other is the relevant bonuses.
//Rolling for spells is odd. The mage and spell sword ended up with a small assortment of spells that didn't show much combat potential. Maybe a player could trade starting with 2 spells they don't want in their book for the knowledge of one they do. Call it the "magic missile/shield" tax.
//End GM Notes
Picking out proficiencies took some time as the players had difficulty assessing the relative potential of the myriad of abilities. The organization in the section also stymied forward progress.
//GM Note: Why are proficiencies chapter 3? Step 8 of the character creation process is select proficiencies. Step 9 is wealth and equipment. Shouldn't proficiencies come before Weapon and Equipment.
//Why does Step 4 of the Character Creation Process mention writing down abilities "described below."? In a finished book the abilities would be located several pages later.
//What is the standard roll for most proficiencies? I'd wager 11+ would be a good guess, but maybe the system embraces a more karma based outlook.
//Why are there three ways of finding food out in the wilderness?
//How does a soothsaying allow the character to use contact higher plane (as the spell) when the spell makes you go insane. The description of the proficiency makes it out to be a GM driven tool to help players, but the final sentence makes it seem like the player chooses to have a dream that answers specific questions.
//Some class abilities are copied as proficiencies. Wouldn't it be easier to just list the ability in the class as a rules version of a GOTO statement? Example: Just say, " Bards receive Arcane Dabbling, Diplomacy, Loremastery, Magical Music, and one Performance as free bonus proficiencies in addition to their chosen profieciencies."
//End GM Note
Picking out equipment went well, although some players had very little clue what would be considered standard equipment for dungeon-delving.
//GM Note: Why are the item descriptions listed alphabetically instead of the order from the table?
//End GM Note
The players were introduced into the setting, and after some time spent discussing their options, they decided to venture forth to a nearby dungeon with a hired guide. The players encountered two giant rats living in a refuse pile, and the spell-sword dispatched them both on the first turn.
//GM Note: Handling initiative seems cumbersome, and the system of AC, target number, and associated bonuses cropped up again. The vernacular for having this information flow needs to be added somewhere in the book.
//End GM Note
The players continued to explore the dungeon while avoiding some traps and setting off others. A lone goblin surprised them from across a pit trap. The players had difficulty engaging the goblin until the party's thief and night-blade leaped the pit trap and killed the blighter in melee.
//GM Note: So one goblin across a pit gave them more trouble than two rats. The thief leaped over the pit first engaging the goblin. At this point, the other party members were left out of the fight as they couldn't shoot into the combat. Archer's without precise shot seem like a liability in these situations, but choosing to play an archer seems like a safe bet when faced with the uncertainty of this kind of system.
//The night-blade rolled for Acrobatics and got a natural 20. I allowed her to end up behind the goblin some fifteen feet away across a pit trap because this allowed her to contribute to the fight. Somersaulting is explicit in how it can be used, but the rest of Acrobatics is fairly hazy on what you can accomplish with it. I'm guessing its an all-in-one parkour style ability.
//End GM Note
The players explored onwards only to find a hidden door behind which they found a sickly and emaciated looking ogre. The spell-sword charged the ogre, the rogue and night-blade held back, and the mage fled. The spell-sword missed the ogre, and the ogre retaliated taking the spell-sword down to -3 HP. The rogue tried to stall the ogre while the night-blade dragged the spell-sword to safety, but the rogue fell to the ogre's mighty swings. The ogre was unable to fit through the secret door, so the night-blade successfully pulled both downed characters through to relative safety.
//GM Note: Ogre equals bad. I tried to remind the players as they went through the dungeon to always consider retreat if things look bad. and I admit the ogre was a test to see if they would think before they leaped. They leaped.
//Running the encounter with a higher level monster meant much flipping back and forth through the book. The monster section needs a bit of a revamp. I think ACKS can deviate from the old standard looking blocks to create a more user friendly experience.
//End GM Note
Outside the dungeon, the guide attempted to stabilize the two PCs. The spell-sword rolled a net 6 on her d20 which was as good as dead for a level one PC. The thief did better rolling a net 19 on the d20 and a 3 on the d6. This left the thief with one less ear.
End Session One
//GM Note: There is a disconnect between the table, and what can actually happen in game. If a 5 is rolled with a 5, the resulting dead character is a bloody mess that is dimly recognizable. Me thinks a player carrying such a body to a healer would notice that the deceased is beyond care. The chart is fun, but I can't shake that it will lead to head aches in the future.
//Also, wow. 0 HP, relatively good roll, and still one less ear. Fairly deadly system this.
//Would be nice to see the monster section give some charts organized by XP or maybe HD. Just something to help a GM designing a dungeon.
//End GM Note
Hope that helps. I'll post about Session Two in a bit.

Beedo
Beedo's picture
Patreon SupporterLairs And Encounters BackerBarbarian Conquerors of Kanahu ContributorACKS Heroic Fantasy Handbook Contributor
Joined: 2011-07-12 13:55

This feedback seems really useful to me; it's a lot different seeing how things work under fire vs just reading the book. These days, I want a fair amount of at-table usability and speed. I also would think many of these char-gen related issues wouldn't be triggered in structured play tests that rely heavily on pre-generated guys.
For instance, I hadn't considered (for my own group) that character generation would grind to a complete halt when a bunch of new players had to master the proficiency chapter before making their first choice. I might have some recommended 1st-level proficiencies pre-selected for classes and let players swap them out later once they read the chapter. For instace, all level 1 fighters would only pick a fighting style proficiency - done - move on. Should there be a formal retraining mechanic for proficiencies? (4E style).
I don't like purely rolling for spells - rather I'd want each 1st level M-U to have at least one attack spell (charm, sleep or missile) - 1/3 chance for each. I don't mind randomizing the utility spells. But the guy that starts with Floating Disc and Ventriloquism wants to cry. We'd probably house rule it.
Where proficiencies duplicate a class ability, just having the class ability reference the prof seems intuitive.
Fast Packs for equipment is becoming a staple of modern gaming - the old B4 Lost City "Ye Fast Pack" or a quick random equipment generator like what Ckutalik did over on the Hill Cantons Blog.
We're hoping to get up to NYC some time in September for a game by Tavis, whereas I'm also going to start using the economics, campaign rules, and troupe-style play in the home game right away. I do know my players that dropped in on the gencon play test had initial issues getting their heads around THAC-10.

Alex
The Autarch
Joined: 2011-06-30 18:10

Thanks for doing the playtest! I've made a lot of comments below. In a few places I've asked for clarification. It would be really helpful to me if you could elaborate in a few places.
//GM Note: I don't like rolling for HP at level 1. The Spell-sword and night-blade ended up with 3 and 2 HP respectfully. The mage and thief rolled natural max HP.
ALEX: I personally use the optional rule that PCs start with max hit points at level 1 for the same reason, but some GMs prefer to be more hardcore.
//I also note that the system of character creation doesn't seem to ask the question, "What do I want to play?" but "What am I going to be allowed to play?". The players also had a hard time understanding the scope future gameplay as the entries for each class includes only a small piece on the lower level potential of a given class.
ALEX: That’s true. Characters are generated rather than created.
//The saving throws for the elves looked off from the other classes until I noticed that the discrepancy stemmed from Alex having applied the elves bonus to certain saving throws as a reduction to the throw's target number. My players and I couldn't agree on what method would be better, but the introduction to throws earlier in the book currently has it so that a player should be keeping track of two different numbers. One number is the target number, and the other is the relevant bonuses.
ALEX: Good point. I think what I could do is re-write the class description to say that the target value for their saves is reduced. It’s not really a “bonus” as there is no circumstance in which it doesn’t apply. For instance, if you get a +1 bonus v. fire, you need to keep that separate, but if it’s a +1 bonus to all saves all the time, then it’s easier to reduce your target value.
//Rolling for spells is odd. The mage and spell sword ended up with a small assortment of spells that didn't show much combat potential. Maybe a player could trade starting with 2 spells they don't want in their book for the knowledge of one they do. Call it the "magic missile/shield" tax.
//End GM Notes
ALEX: Again, I personally use the optional rule of having the GM assign the spells.
Picking out proficiencies took some time as the players had difficulty assessing the relative potential of the myriad of abilities. The organization in the section also stymied forward progress.
//GM Note: Why are proficiencies chapter 3? Step 8 of the character creation process is select proficiencies. Step 9 is wealth and equipment. Shouldn't proficiencies come before Weapon and Equipment.
ALEX: Hmmm. I didn’t want to have a separate section for equipment, but perhaps I should.
//Why does Step 4 of the Character Creation Process mention writing down abilities "described below."? In a finished book the abilities would be located several pages later.
ALEX: Because I’m sometimes a sloppy writer!
//What is the standard roll for most proficiencies? I'd wager 11+ would be a good guess, but maybe the system embraces a more karma based outlook.
ALEX: The standard roll is 11+ for most proficiencies. That gives a 50% chance of success. This works nicely for several reasons. First, it means that there is room for 2 characters to have the same proficiency, avoiding the “why did I waste my proficiency if you already have it” debate. If Quintus and Marcus both have Magical Engineering, the party is better off, because odds are Quintus will fail half the time. Second, it also means that a character who spends two proficiency slots (and therefore succeeds on 7+) has approximately the same chance of success as two characters who each spent one proficiency slot.
//Why are there three ways of finding food out in the wilderness?
ALEX: Hunting, gathering, fishing?
//How does a soothsaying allow the character to use contact higher plane (as the spell) when the spell makes you go insane. The description of the proficiency makes it out to be a GM driven tool to help players, but the final sentence makes it seem like the player chooses to have a dream that answers specific questions.
ALEX: I will clarify the fluff v. the rules.
//Some class abilities are copied as proficiencies. Wouldn't it be easier to just list the ability in the class as a rules version of a GOTO statement? Example: Just say, " Bards receive Arcane Dabbling, Diplomacy, Loremastery, Magical Music, and one Performance as free bonus proficiencies in addition to their chosen profieciencies."
//End GM Note
ALEX: No, that’s a very deliberate choice. I wanted to make sure each class was playable even if the particular campaign wasn’t using our proficiency system. The whole game is built such that you can strip out the proficiency system and it’s still playable. And you can take a Nightblade or Bard into a LL or S&W campaign and not worry about having to explain about ACKS proficiencies.
Picking out equipment went well, although some players had very little clue what would be considered standard equipment for dungeon-delving.
//GM Note: Why are the item descriptions listed alphabetically instead of the order from the table?
//End GM Note
ALEX: Alphabetical seemed like it made more sense. I did the same thing in the spell lists. I find that when players are shopping, they want things in tables “weapons” etc., but during play when you need to look something up, alphabetical is much easier.
The players were introduced into the setting, and after some time spent discussing their options, they decided to venture forth to a nearby dungeon with a hired guide. The players encountered two giant rats living in a refuse pile, and the spell-sword dispatched them both on the first turn.
//GM Note: Handling initiative seems cumbersome, and the system of AC, target number, and associated bonuses cropped up again. The vernacular for having this information flow needs to be added somewhere in the book.
//End GM Note
ALEX: What was difficult about initiative? It should be simpler than 3.5 or 2e… What caused you problems? The way I run it is to do a countdown from 10, 9, 8, down to 0, and when their number gets called, players act.
The players continued to explore the dungeon while avoiding some traps and setting off others. A lone goblin surprised them from across a pit trap. The players had difficulty engaging the goblin until the party's thief and night-blade leaped the pit trap and killed the blighter in melee.
//GM Note: So one goblin across a pit gave them more trouble than two rats. The thief leaped over the pit first engaging the goblin. At this point, the other party members were left out of the fight as they couldn't shoot into the combat. Archer's without precise shot seem like a liability in these situations, but choosing to play an archer seems like a safe bet when faced with the uncertainty of this kind of system.
ALEX: That’s by design. My sense is that allowing unlimited archery fire into melee eliminates a lot of the tactical decisions and the game gets decided by weight of numbers and firepower. But, for instance, a fighter can protect himself against enemy archers by engaging in melee.
//The night-blade rolled for Acrobatics and got a natural 20. I allowed her to end up behind the goblin some fifteen feet away across a pit trap because this allowed her to contribute to the fight. Somersaulting is explicit in how it can be used, but the rest of Acrobatics is fairly hazy on what you can accomplish with it. I'm guessing its an all-in-one parkour style ability.
//End GM Note
ALEX: Yes.
The players explored onwards only to find a hidden door behind which they found a sickly and emaciated looking ogre. The spell-sword charged the ogre, the rogue and night-blade held back, and the mage fled. The spell-sword missed the ogre, and the ogre retaliated taking the spell-sword down to -3 HP. The rogue tried to stall the ogre while the night-blade dragged the spell-sword to safety, but the rogue fell to the ogre's mighty swings. The ogre was unable to fit through the secret door, so the night-blade successfully pulled both downed characters through to relative safety.
//GM Note: Ogre equals bad. I tried to remind the players as they went through the dungeon to always consider retreat if things look bad. and I admit the ogre was a test to see if they would think before they leaped. They leaped.
ALEX: Ooops!
//Running the encounter with a higher level monster meant much flipping back and forth through the book. The monster section needs a bit of a revamp. I think ACKS can deviate from the old standard looking blocks to create a more user friendly experience.
//End GM Note
ALEX: What caused the flipping? What info was missing?
Outside the dungeon, the guide attempted to stabilize the two PCs. The spell-sword rolled a net 6 on her d20 which was as good as dead for a level one PC. The thief did better rolling a net 19 on the d20 and a 3 on the d6. This left the thief with one less ear.
End Session One
//GM Note: There is a disconnect between the table, and what can actually happen in game. If a 5 is rolled with a 5, the resulting dead character is a bloody mess that is dimly recognizable. Me thinks a player carrying such a body to a healer would notice that the deceased is beyond care. The chart is fun, but I can't shake that it will lead to head aches in the future.
ALEX: We make the roll the moment ANYONE reaches the body. The fact that only the healer/cleric will provide a bonus on the roll forces the healer/cleric to risk life and limb to rescue wounded comrades.
//Also, wow. 0 HP, relatively good roll, and still one less ear. Fairly deadly system this.
ALEX: Well, our starting point was OD&D/Basic D&D, where 0 HP = instantly dead. So relative to OD&D and Basic D&D, ACKS is fuzzy and warm. But yes it’s much deadlier than D&D 3.5 etc.
//Would be nice to see the monster section give some charts organized by XP or maybe HD. Just something to help a GM designing a dungeon.
ALEX: Agreed.

Beedo
Beedo's picture
Patreon SupporterLairs And Encounters BackerBarbarian Conquerors of Kanahu ContributorACKS Heroic Fantasy Handbook Contributor
Joined: 2011-07-12 13:55

Talking to my players on the ride home from Gencon, they raved about the simplicity of the initiative system and campaigned to have it incorporated. The countdown is used in a lot of games and I'm surprised no one has brought it into D&D earlier.

Veketshian
Adventurer Conqueror King ContributorPlayer's Companion ContributorDomains At War Contributor
Joined: 2011-07-10 01:52

Hey guys. I'm just jumping in to clarify a couple things. Art was still doing the "tell me your initiatives and I'll keep track" because we both missed the initiative rule where the players are more responsible. We played our third game using that rule and it was a lot better.
As for the game as a whole, I think Art and I are still going, "Are we doing this right, and is this what is supposed to happen?"
Art started with 2e and I started with 3e, so we're used to more player survivability. Most times, a player dies to an unlucky roll, and I understand that people can die due to the bad luck of just being at the wrong place at the wrong time. So it's probably very realistic in that regard. After three sessions, we can actually see level 2 over the horizon. Our mage, who has decided to just be a coward after seeing 6 people kick the bucket, almost died to a skeleton's strong blow but made it out with minor scarring. I suffered two PC deaths already, so I have a fighter with 9 AC and 9 HP, and I found that that only buys me a couple rolls. For what it's worth, the dice gods have never smiled on our table, as we usually roll under 8 to hit. So, yeah, the player survivability is a tad jarring from the later editions, and we're testing what strategies and mindsets should be employed to become successful ACKS characters.
As for flipping through the pages, we'll have a question about a morale roll or the treasure tables or charging rules or looking up a monster, and it's just not very easy to flip around in the Word document. I for one am looking forward to the paper copy so we can read it more at our leisure and be able to browse for information more.
Art will eventually post the other sessions, but I'd like to go ahead and add that I was being stupid, remembered an old D&D story, and chose to re-enact it to the dismay of my party. I'm responsible for the next story's near TPK because I busted down a door when we should have retreated.
Oh yeah, that's a question of mine. Should we, at level one, be running into places, having one fight, suffer some damage, and leave afterwards just to repeat the process all over again? We generally come out of a single fight beaten up and in no condition or desire to continue onward, so we're spending a day's travel going between our town and the location in question. Should we be camping more, be more successful, or are we just missing some key concept that our 3e-addled minds are not grasping?
Thanks.

Alex
The Autarch
Joined: 2011-06-30 18:10

Veketshian, thanks for the feedback!
Your casualty rate is not unexpected. In the playtest campaign of ACKS, of the original starting 5 characters, here's what happened:
Marcus survived
Quintus survived
Massimo died and was replaced by Dalwhynnie, who survived
Corvus died and was replaced by Balbus, who survived
Deciums died and was replaced by Corwin who died and was replaced by Cork who died and was replaced by Morne. (Morne later also died, was replaced by Viktir, but then later return as a reincarnated Centaur.)
So before we had 5 characters to 2nd level, we had 5 PC deaths.
Here are the tactics I would recommend to survive low-level ACKS:
1) Make very short adventuring runs
2) Charm enemy monsters if you have Charm Person (a charmed Ogre from Keep on the Borderlands was very handy)
3) Always hire at least 1 mercenary or retainer for each PC as his bodyguard/companion
4) Fight in formation -- use a front rank of fighters with sword and shield, a second rank of fighters with two-handed spears, third rank of archers with precise shot and mages.
5) Avoid "lost" actions -- Just because characters are in the rear doesnt mean they can't help. Equip your mage with throwing daggers and burning oil, and attack anyone who is not engaged in melee. Equip your cleric with a sling and do the same.

Veketshian
Adventurer Conqueror King ContributorPlayer's Companion ContributorDomains At War Contributor
Joined: 2011-07-10 01:52

Thanks for the information and advice. This makes me feel a little better considering I'm having Decimus' luck, and I will be sharing the tactics with the other party members. The poor mage was a bit frazzled at first because darts are listed as one of her weapons but she could not find it listed with the equipment, so we just talked her into treating it like daggers since they do the same damage and the price sounds about right.