30 August 2013

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Discipline 28 - Wizard Part 2, Talents

This is part two of the twenty-eighth Anatomy of a Discipline in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.

Overview

A Wizard values knowledge above everything else. Well, maybe not more than power or their own pride. Nonetheless, to these adepts, knowledge is power and they take great pride in their knowledge.

Coupled with their need for information is a desire to categorize everything. Wizards will often develop complex models and theories (don't tell them it is merely a "theory", however) for the ways of the world, particularly the magical ways, based on what they have learned and their experiences - though these spellcasters may plead the latter is not the case.

This can easily, and often does, result in a superiority complex with regard to other adepts, including other spellcasters. Wizards frequently believe that only they can have a truly objective perspective, and that their vast learning and knowledge of the past puts them in the unique position of always being right. This is not to say all members of this Discipline carry such beliefs, simply that they and their attendant arrogance are far too common.

They are a lot like a university professor: very well educated with intricate ideas on why things happen which are very well developed. They will create specialized vocabulary just to support that and share with others that are like-minded. Of course, there is also the arguing and looking down their collective noses are those who are not so like-minded.

Wizards are also very level-headed and rational. They are planners and often capable of looking past various prejudices to get at the heart of a situation. As well, their dedication to learning means they are unlikely to repeat any mistakes - preferring to learn from others before making their own in the first place. As long as you do not require action at the drop of a hat, they will be patient and exacting in what they do.

When creating a Wizard, consider who Initiated them into the Discipline and what their theories on magic are, from which the character should develop their own. Do they have a particular thesis they are trying to test? What topics fascinate them the most; magical and non-magical?

Discipline Violations

These are best employed not as a stick, but as a chance for the player to take a deeper look at what it means to follow their Discipline. The most important thing to any Wizard is their gravitas. They must remain cool, calm, collected, even detached, in all situations. Any serious disruption to that projection can be difficult to deal with; it indicates that they are no longer in control. Emotional outbursts are particularly troubling, because it is virtually impossible to be objective and rational when your base instincts are ruling your decisions.

To a lesser extent, situations where they have nothing to fall back on, they have no knowledge to help in any way, are problematic for these adepts. Completely new situations, outside of their comfort zone, anything that prevents a Wizard from establishing some level of control over their surroundings is uncomfortable at best. This can easily lead to situations where they are not making decisions from a place of objective reason, but from "hunches" and "feelings". This is something for other Disciplines.

Talents

Initiate
Talent Options: Arcane Mutterings, Conversation, Creature Analysis, Evidence Analysis, Spell Matrix

First Circle
Discipline Talents: Astral Sight, Karma Ritual, Read/Write Magic, Spellcasting, Spell Matrix, Thread Weaving [Wizardry]

Novice
Talent Options: Abate Curse, Detect Weapon, Item History, Search, Speak Language, Spell Matrix (2)

Second Circle
Discipline Talents: Durability (4/3), Read/Write Language

Third Circle
Discipline Talent: Book Memory

Fourth Circle
Discipline Talent: Research

Journeyman
Talent Options: Detect Trap, Direction Sense, Enhanced Matrix (2), Lifesight, Lip Reading, Orbiting Spy, Willforce

Fifth Circle
Discipline Talent: Steel Thought

Sixth Circle
Discipline Talent: Book Recall

Seventh Circle
Discipline Talent: Resist Taunt

Eighth Circle
Discipline Talent: Hold Thread

Beyond the spellcasting Talents, the majority of a Wizard's Discipline Talents are based around gathering information. Astral Sight, Read/Write Languages, Book Memory, Research and Book Recall all support this. If we remove Astral Sight from the list and group it with Hold Thread in "magical support", which isn't an unfair association (it gets dual citizenship, really), then those Discipline Talents are all based around mucking about in musty old tomes. Which works for them and is often pretty useful in the world of Earthdawn.

The theme of information stretches well into most of their Talent Options and a number of spells as well (covered in detail below). Their Talent Options are less about studying for power, but it fits nicely with the overall characterization of the Wizard: knowledge is power. What this is really getting at is that Wizards have ways to learn pretty much anything.

To a (much) lesser extent, they also offer some defensive Discipline Talents with Steel Thought and Resist Taunt. What is notable about this list is that they have no Talents (including Talent Options) for dealing with physical attacks. It is notable how weak their defenses are. Even their spells (up to Fifth Circle) don't offer any stellar defensive options.

When it comes to the Initiate Talent Options, there is a tragedy to be had: there is only one answer, but there are a number of good choices. Specifically, Spell Matrix is the answer. The odds that you come back here at Novice are pretty good.
  • Arcane Mutterings - This is a curious Talent and can be used in support of your comrades by being "the creepy guy" during social interactions, or by weirding out someone bothering you enough to get them to leave. Outside of that, it's pretty useless and will cost a Karma.
  • Conversation - Together with the spell, Bedazzling Display of Logical Analysis, it corroborates the image of Wizards as professors engaged in debate. And crushing people with their minds (see the "Crushing Will" spell). Also, this is a rare social Talent, so it is worth considering just on the principle of broadening horizons.
  • Creature Analysis - Pretty much all of the good damaging spells for these magicians affect Mystic Armor, so this Talent plays more into their field of gathering information rather than directly supporting any particular strategy (as contrasted with the Nethermancer).
  • Evidence Analysis - If you can find a way to make it work, this Talent should make your short list. It plays to the overall theme of gathering information and can really move the plot forward on any game that features investigation and mysteries.
  • Spell Matrix - This one. You are going to want this one here. You might be okay with just two for a long time, but you are going to need at least two Matrices and it's a long time to Fifth Circle.
Novice tier is when all spellcasters have the most latitude with their Talent Options. Not much, just some:
  • Abate Curse - There are probably a few scenarios where this would be useful while Dispel Magic would not. I don't know if there are enough to warrant taking this, particularly if you have a Weaponsmith, Horror Stalker, or some other character that will eventually end up with this Talent.
  • Detect Weapon - While it is thematic, there are better options. So much better options.
  • Item History - If no one else in the Group has this Talent, someone needs to have it. That may be you.
  • Search - It you don't need Item History and are okay with your Spell Matrices, then this is the best option at this tier. Search is going to come up. In every game. Till the end of time.
  • Speak Language - This will tie in nicely with Read/Write Language, though if there is another character (preferably a social one) with this Talent, it is easy to pass on it.
  • Spell Matrix (2) - While you may not want both of these, you will probably want one. Each of these gives you another option, and that is powerful.
Fifth Circle, when you first get to Journeyman, is going to have the most agonizing choice you may ever have to make - especially when looking at Talent Options. Which do you get first, Enhanced Matrix or Willforce? Beyond that, there are some other good Talent Options here as well, but even then one rises above the others.
  • Detect Trap - Just keep right on going. There are limits to gathering information for the sake of gathering information.
  • Direction Sense - This is a neat Talent and useful in general. However, there are a number of Disciplines with access to it and this tier is pretty tight with Talents between Willforce and Enhanced Matrices (you're getting both of them, right? You're going to want both).
  • Enhanced Matrix (2) - Odds are reasonable you will want both of these. After all, you want to cast Aura Strike and Mage Armor without Weaving Threads first, right?
  • Lifesight - This is a neat Talent and has some nice scouting applications. It is one of the stronger contenders at this tier.
  • Lip Reading - If you happen to be in a very political and intrigue heavy game, this Talent could come in handy. Even then, there will probably be a better Talent.
  • Orbiting Spy - This is the best non-Willforce, non-Enhanced Matrix Journeyman Talent Option. It is powerful and versatile - it is almost certainly going to be useful. 
  • Willforce - Take this. It supercharges your spells and is arguably the most powerful Talent in the game for its sheer versatility (barring Versatility, of course). The biggest dilemma is do you get Willforce or Enhanced Matrix first? Willforce pretty much always wins.
Spells

There is a lot to like in the Wizard spell list, but there is also a fair amount to get bored by. Bonuses are good and they get a lot of them. The fact that most of them require a Thread limits how much the combat oriented bonuses will get used, but the odds are pretty good you can find something to give a bonus. Especially climbing. Seriously, there are a lot of climbing boosts. Also a lot of healing boosts, one each Circle starting at Third, which are almost always worth looking at.

It's hard to distinguish between their information spells and their pure magic spells at times, but suffice to say: there are quite a few of those. Wizards have a variety of spells dedicated to gathering information and manipulating magic. Their dispel works against everything; it's pretty amazing and a First Circle spell compared to Third for everyone else.

The damage spells available to these spellcasters are strong, as long as you steer clear from any that affect Physical Armor rather than Mystic Armor. The former are very weak, while the latter are decent, up to Aura Strike which is amazing. The range isn't awesome, which is good because for a Second Circle spell this is probably broken. Beyond that, there isn't particularly anything worth mentioning for the first five Circles.

Finally, this brings us to their miscellaneous spells. While not quite as diverse as the Elementalist, they bring a lot of curious effects to any Group. Kaer Knocking and Kaer Pictographs fall into this category and are rather intrinsic to the setting. To the point where it is tempting to make them spells available to any spellcaster, not just a Wizard. Levitate is like its own mini-game with the explicit ways it can be used and abused, while everyone knows what a game-changer a flying Wizard is.

Races

Elves, humans and windlings tend to bring the most (mechanically) to a Wizard (as well as my house-ruled dwarfs). Elves have a bonus to Perception and Willpower, by far and away the two most important attributes. Humans have Versatility; they can be good at anything. Windlings get a bonus to Perception, increased physical defense, flight, and their penalties to strength and size are pretty much meaningless.

What the other Namegivers have to offer isn't of much use to a Wizard. Dwarfs get a bonus to Strength. Orks get the same, but also a penalty to Willpower. The benefits that both obsidimen and trolls get (increased size, Strength) are of little use to a Wizard, and each get a penalty to Perception. T'skrang don't have any penalties, but their bonuses aren't extremely helpful and a Wizard has no real need for Tail Combat.

While these can be effective Wizard (these differences start to become less meaningful as you advance in Circle), it is important to be well informed about your decision. This pretty much goes for everything.

Equipment

Equipment for spellcasters is of minimal concern compared to all other Disciplines. On the plus side, there are no restrictions on what armor you can wear - an espagra scale cloak on top of other armor is always in style.

27 August 2013

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Discipline 28 - Wizard Part 1, Spells

This is part one of the twenty-eighth Anatomy of a Discipline in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.

Overview

The heart of what a spellcaster brings to any Group is their spells. They determine most of the play style and focus for a given Discipline, but also can represent a significant task to wade through and weighing the various options. The goal of this post is to analyze the spell selections in the first five Circles and give some idea of how those options may inform the emphasis of the Discipline, play style, as well the relative use of a particular spell. The reason this will only address the first five Circles is that you get to pick spells at those Circles - starting at Sixth Circle, you are on your own and it is largely in your GM's hands.

Depending on the Optional Rules used in your game, how you address picking up new spells will change. If spells can be purchased and do not cost Legend Points, there is little reason to not learn everything you can get your fingers on. If they do cost Legend Points, you may want to be more selective of what you include in your grimoire.

First Circle

Astral Sense: This marks an awkward first entry on this list because how this spell is going to function may differ heavily from game to game. It is very similar to the Astral Sight Talent (which is an Initiate Discipline Talent for Wizards, making this even more difficult to distinguish) with some subtle differences. The primary functional differences seem to be cost (this spell has no Strain), time (once cast, the spell lasts in minutes and is a Simple action to use) and information (the spell provides significantly less, but there will also be less interference). My suggestion is to talk with your GM about the functionality of this spell. Which is incredibly helpful, I know.

Bedazzling Display of Logical Analysis: If you group engages in a great deal of social interaction, this is definitely worth looking into. There is a caveat to that, however: you must be the one doing the talking (and this specifically refers to debate). The bonus only applies to the caster, which may limit the long-term use of this spell. In the short-term, it's hard to be for it's application.

Crushing Will: Just like Astral Spear, only slightly worse in a few ways (damage and Weaving difficulties). Also, likely to be replaced by Aura Strike at Second Circle, though it doesn't have the range of Crushing Will. 

Dispel Magic: Pretty much the best Dispel option available, since it is accessible at First Circle and can work on anything. It's hard to justify not having this in your toolbox.

Divine Aura: Amusingly, the name of this spell often leads people astray, since "Divine" is most commonly an adjective, not a verb. Pointless semantics that I forced you to read through aside, this is a useful spell, particularly if you are engaged in social and/or investigative games. I'm always a fan of information gathering spells, no matter how minor, because information is always powerful, but can also box your GM into a corner. When cornered, GMs can be very dangerous.

Flame Flash: Inferior range and damage compared to Crushing Will, it also affects Physical rather than Mystic Armor. This is almost always a worse option, but particularly at low Circles when meaningful Mystic Armor is a rarity (practically non-existent), compared to scorchers with a Physical Armor of 10.

Ignite: This may seem funny, but I like this spell more than Flame Flash. Ostensibly, Flame Flash can light things on fire just as well (even better!) than Ignite. However, that Thread which needs to be Woven and the slightly higher reattuning difficulty make it less useful as a utility spell when you can take advantage of a situation where something needs to be one fight right now.

Iron Hand: Odds are pretty good that there will be at least one character that deals close combat damage in your Group. This is an excellent buff for them, though the Thread makes it a two-turn investment. So, recommended for combats that seem like they will be going for quite a few rounds.

Mind Dagger: What we have right here is Spirit Dart with a longer range. This is going to be the mainstay of your offensive spells until you get an Enhanced Matrix with Crushing Will in it.

Silent Converse: Unless you are involved in hardcore kaer-crawling (possibly even then), there is going to come a time when this spell is going to be useful. This is a great spell and one that should be in every Wizard's grimoire.

Triangulate: It's like a laser rangefinder. If the exact distance is incredibly important, then this could be incredibly useful. It is just too situational to give a real assessment, but it might come in useful at some point. Or might really annoy your GM who must now always give accurate distances to the yard and everyone will joke about how funny it is that distances are always in quantities divisible by five.

Wall Walker: With enough time, this can completely bypass any need for your Group to have Climbing. It's not going to be so useful in a hurry, however. Subtly different from Crunch Climb.

Second Circle

And His Money: If anyone in your Group has Haggle (not all Groups have this Talent), then this spell should be on your radar. It is pretty much going to make money for you. It isn't likely to be a major priority, however, since there are more interesting options.

Astral Shield: With no Threads and a decent duration, it's hard to argue against this spell. It may not come into its own at this low Circle - Spell Defense isn't a common target - but can be a winner at higher Circles when the combatants need to improve this defense that is likely to be lacking.

Clean: Pretty much exactly as advertised. It's fun, but practically that is about it.

Dodge Boost: Very similar to Astral Shield in application, just to Avoid Blow and with a slightly worse duration. It's a solid spell that is likely to see use, just not terribly sexy in function.

Rope Ladder: It can be deployed faster than Wall Walker, but doesn't necessarily provide much help to those that are utterly helpless at climbing. You probably will not need both of these spells, but if you can get it for free, it's always worth it.

Seal: There are some fun uses for this spell, and can certainly be used to provide a brief reprieve for characters in dire straits.

Vines: Probably the most useful spell at this Circle, particularly against single targets that are more threatening (getting the Harried is always a bonus).

Wake-Up Call: It falls into the same category as Clean, above.

Third Circle

Aura Strike: The same range as Mind Dagger, but with significantly better damage and always causes a Wound. This spell is an absolute beast and will be the go to damage spell when an Enhanced Matrix becomes available.

Catwalk: Another spell that helps with climbing. That is three for three, so far. This one also gives bonuses to resisting Knockdown. It might be good (however, the Thread requirement and duration make it of dubious value in combat), but it's hard to get excited about this spell.

Combat Fury: Remember Iron Hand? If you've been getting some mileage from that, this is very similar. It just happens to give a bonus to attack rolls instead.

False Aura: Any game that features a lot of intrigue may get some significant use from this spell. Other games may find it fun, but probably not as much. That being said, NPCs are likely to use this spell more than anyone else.

Healing Sleep: Take this spell. Take it. Take it now. You may only be able to use it once a week and have some other extremely mild restrictions on when it can be used, but every Group should jump at all of the healing they can get their hands on. This just happens to also be some very good healing.

Identify Spell: If you are getting a lot of use from Dispel Magic, this can be a solid companion to it. Not precisely the same, but it can give some insight into the capabilities of other spellcasters.

Leaps and Bounds: Everyone (effectively) gets Great Leap. It's pretty fun and can be a little awesome to throw it on all of the combatants immediately prior to an encounter.

Levitate: A classic that also has some discussion on ways it can be combined with itself to greater use. Another solid pick from this Circle. 

Notice Not: Grants a bonus to sneaking tests. Useful (if someone in the Group has Silent Walk), but not exciting.

Ork Stoke: Whoever created this spell is probably an enormous jerk. However, there can be some good uses for this spell if you want to make an ork ruin everything. Political themed games will probably get the most from this.

Quicken Pace: Make your entire Group (with enough castings) move faster for a day. It's hard to argue with that.

Seeking Sight: Similar to Combat Fury, but it works with ranged attacks and you affect the target of the ranged attack, rather than the attackers. This makes it better if you have multiple ranged attacks and a single target.

Shatter Lock: Though it doesn't come out and say it, this spell destroys the lock. Everything about how it works says that (especially Repair Lock, see blow). If you don't have a Thief (or someone else that selected Lock Picking in some capacity), this is another good Third Circle spell. If you do have that capacity, it probably isn't worth since you just put that lock on a one-way trip.

Water Wings: If you have a windling in your Group, they will appreciate not having to worry about their wings getting wet again. If you don't, maybe you will meet one?

Wizard Mark: The mystical equivalent to writing your name on something. Also works against Namegivers. The actual function of this spell is suspiciously close to that of a Horror Mark and the populace at large is somewhat aware of that fact and may respond accordingly (this is to say: poorly). There are benefits to putting a Wizard Mark on each member of your Group every day, though they may not appreciate it. It would definitely be more fun if the duration was longer.

Fourth Circle

Ball of String: If you suspect that your GM may try and get you lost, it is suggested that you look into this spell. If you think that your GM would never want to get you lost in a maze or by some kind of contrivance, squint real hard and think about the person at the other end of the table. Then consider picking this spell up if it becomes available.

Binding Threads: This is a fairly powerful entrapment spell and a good way to lock someone down. The number of Threads (two) limit its usefulness in a chase scenario, however.

Buoyancy: Another spell that grants a small bonus to a specific task. This time, it's swimming. With a Thread, it's hard to cast this at a moment's notice, though the duration is in hours, which is a nice change for these spells. Decent, though nothing to be excited over.

Dust Devil: The strong indication is that this spell will affect your Group (except for you), making it of dubious use (two Threads is an awful lot for something like that). If you can convince your GM that it only affects those that you want it to, then you should probably take this spell.

Hair Frenzy: Much better than Dust Devil: no Threads and it Harries a single target. While it isn't going to be your first pick for the Circle, try and get this one eventually.

Icy Protection: With one target (you) and a limited range of use (fire effects), this isn't the most useful spell out there.

Identify Magic: This is like Divine Aura, only for the person's magic. Including up to their Discipline and Circle. It's hard to imagine how this wouldn't be useful.

Inventory: Right here is the ability to reduce all searching and endless cataloging of a room's contents to a couple of rolls. Not going to make the "absolutely must have" list, but is going to make things easier on you out-of-character. Or at least have the fiction support how you handle things out-of-character when it comes to the loot.

Juggler's Touch: A movable area effect spell (with a manageable area!) seems incredibly enticing, right? Turns out that the math just isn't in its favor. The area effect is nice, but it can still go wrong and the range isn't so great that you can easily ruin the ranged attackers of your opponents. Really, the downside is the setup time (two Threads) and the actual effect, which is decent enough damage, but affects Physical Armor. There are better offensive spells at your disposal and much better spells for this Circle.

Kaer Knocking: Subtle and possibly the spell with the most specific use ever. Also, a spell you are going to want. It may very well not be your first pick for this Circle, but it should definitely be high on your list.

Karmic Connection: It's hard to really get the most out of this spell since it has a Thread (and also hard to justify using a precious Enhanced Matrix early on). That being said, the Karma cost isn't that high (5 points) and it can be a game changer in combat. This can bring a heavy hitter from the brink back into the swing of things in a big way.

Relax: Another solid healing ability, this increases the effectiveness of Recovery Tests and reduces the time required to use them. One more good spell for this Circle.

Repair Lock: Remember how you were totally wrecking all of those locks with Shatter Lock? This is the other half of the equation that repairs them. If you have Shatter Lock, you may consider picking this up at some point. If not, then this is of dubious use (between reattuning on the fly and the three Threads, it's hard to make use of it in a pinch.)

Thorny Retreat: So... this spell. It seems like a great idea. It can come in handy and I wouldn't be surprised if there are stories of how this spell saved someone's bacon. In general, I would consider those the exception rather than the rule. To make it work: You need to either be at peace with raw casting or have it in a Spell Matrix. This means you have to be planning a "hasty" retreat at all times. From my experience, not how most Earthdawn Groups roll. Then you need to Weave a Thread. This is cutting down on the running time. When encountered, anyone trying to get through will most likely fail the Test, but there isn't a guarantee on this one. Particularly considering how frequent the ability to spend Karma on a dexterity-only test is available. Also, the damage it does is utterly laughable; to be fair, stopping pursuit is the main goal here. End result: it's hard to make this spell work for you and there are a lot of good spells.

Trust: Right here, this is one of my favorite utility spells. The difficulty is pretty high and it is very easy to accidentally end the effect (PCs tend towards deception as a matter of course - it's just a reflection of the twisted world that is inflicted upon them). That being said, to prevent and NPC from deceiving or harming you for a few minutes? Sign me up.

Wizard's Cloak: An anti-divination effect. It's fun, but the duration isn't spectacular (minutes). The short duration makes being effectively defensive with it difficult. If you are in an intrigue heavy game, then you may be able to use this proactively to some effect.

Fifth Circle

Counterspell: If you are facing a spellcasting enemy (like, I don't know, a Horror), accept no substitutes. The raw bonus isn't spectacular (+2), but it will affect everyone in your Group, has a good duration and requires no Threads.

Giant Size: This seems much cooler than it actually is. What it comes out to be is a good bonus to strength and toughness-only Tests with a pretty short duration and limitations on the area you can use it in (there has to be enough room to fit the no longer fun-sized character).

Heat Metal Armor: Even with the two Threads this spell requires, it is exceptionally brutal to use against very tough opponents that are wearing metal armor (yet another reason to wear crystal). The range is dangerously short, but it is a damage-over-time that bypasses armor. Brutal.

Invigorate: Another good spell that improves Recovery Tests. They're high enough Circle (starting at Third) to not seriously step on the Elementalist's toes, but the sheer number of them is somewhat boggling.

Kaer Pictographs: The next level of Kaer Knocking, and it works even better in conjunction with Kaer Knocking. Once you have their attention, you can start to communicate with them through a magical etch-a-sketch.

Mage Armor: More spells to add to the "good, but uninteresting bonus" category. This one gives physical armor with one Thread and a duration in minutes. Which is quite good. In an Enhanced Matrix (because everyone has one of those lying around unspoken for) this can buff an entire Group in short order.

Makeshift Missile: I was going to do a flow chart of how to see if you should take this spell, but I realized there isn't much point. This isn't a good spell. If you have a character that uses Throwing Weapons and often runs out of things to throw, they need more help than a Fifth Circle spell with a Thread can resolve.

Mystic Shock: Very short range (4 yards) and great damage. You don't have to be able to see your target - it will go right through that wall to get the person you are eavesdropping on. Shows them talking where someone can sneak up on them! The only downside is the two Threads. This is a spell built for tagging someone through a wall, floor, or ceiling. Not a whole lot of use in combat.

Sanctuary: This is a pretty serious "buy some time" spell. It will seal off and reinforce and entire building for minutes. Three Threads is steep, however.

Slow: A touch spell; risky. It is a powerful debuff against any opponent that relies on physical attacks and/or going quickly. The two Threads make it a relatively steep investment, so it is best saved for prolonged combats against few opponents. It's nice to have, but not a spell that is going to come up often.

Solo Flight: Yeah... you're probably going to want this. Let's just be honest. Generally, this is the first spell that Wizards take from this Circle. Don't feel bad that you aren't being an individual by taking this spell. Think of it as upholding a grand tradition of realizing that walking is for suckers.

Study Thread: Beyond reducing Strain, I'm not entirely certain what this spell is really supposed to accomplish.

23 August 2013

Spark

Spark, by +Jason Pitre of Genesis of Legend, is a collaborative game of beliefs.

In many ways, that isn't just the very short soundbite for the game, it is the game. In a good way. Everything in Spark is directed at creating beliefs, for the characters and the setting, then setting about questioning those beliefs. When a situation arises that challenges your belief, do you confirm that belief, or do you refute it? That is the essence of the game. While that is the core, it is the rest of Spark which supports it 

There is a GM and player division, though it is not a standard one. The GM may be best considered the steward and representative of the setting as a character, representing the faces of the various factions in play - in essence, the player representing the setting. The players, in turn, are given considerably greater responsibility for establishing scenes and moving the fiction and drama forward. It appears to work well as a hybrid between a traditional setup and a fully cooperative game.

Three example settings are presented in Spark, Neonippon a Shogunate Science Fiction, Quiet Revolution a Montreal Police Drama, and The Elemental Kingdom a Fantasy Under Siege. All of these are interesting and provide different examples of what can be done; Neonippon serves as an on-going example throughout the text, but the game will be at its strongest when working with your own setting that your group has investment in and serves to explore their interests.

Creating a setting is a straightforward collaborative procedure, though I hesitate at calling it "simple". This has nothing to do with the structure that is presented, and everything to do with getting everyone a the table to contribute and commit. There is also some good advice about making boundaries explicit. It is nice to see this front and center in a game that is about pushing beliefs and potentially

After you develop the basic premise of the setting, the group will create the setting beliefs that will drive the action and drama within the setting. Since they are playing the setting, the GM will select three of the proposed beliefs. Following this, each person (GM and the players) will create a faction for the setting, then create the mission statement for that faction. These must either confirm or refute one of the setting beliefs, and should give a general indication of where their goals and motivations lie.

Next, each faction will get a face. This is an NPC that represents that faction within the game (though other NPCs from those factions may show up). The faces will get the most development of any NPC and only the GM can portray then in a scene. After that, the relationships between the various factions are established and finally the agendas for each faction. 

Agendas are specific activities that the various factions want to accomplish. They need to be within the grasp of that faction and something they could reasonably do within the time frame of the session. Because at the beginning of a session, each player will have a choice to make and one of the options is to prevent an agenda from succeeding; thus setting the stage for the events of the session. The other options are to choose a faction's next agenda, or create a new tie between two factions, or alter an existing tie.

Creating a PC is a simple prospect. There are attributes and talents, but most important are your beliefs. As with the setting, these are going to drive you personal actions and drama. In general, they should support or clash with a setting belief, or the same with another player's belief. This will serve to keep everything relevant and ripe for tension.

When actually playing the game, each of the scenes within a session is framed in a particular fashion. There is the platform, where the scene takes place, the tilt, what has triggered the scene, and the question, what is this scene about. One person will choose each of those, and anyone that doesn't get to make a selection has the option to portray major NPCs involved in the scene (just not any faces that may be present, those are only for the GM).

During the scene, the action will proceed through declarations. These can be statements about the scene, facts, or an action that a character is taking. If any other participant doesn't agree with your declaration and wants one different one, then you have a conflict. Whoever wins a conflict gets to use their version of reality for the events that actually take place. Any participant can spend their resources to help them win a conflict, but the winner of a conflict will always pay a cost.

After the question for a scene has been answered, the scene closes. From there, everyone will evaluate what beliefs were examined during the scene. The conflicts and collaboration that took place during the scene will determine this. By challenging beliefs, you earn influence and when you earn influence from all three of your beliefs, then everyone participating will earn an influence.

Influence can be spent to help win a conflict, or as the cost for victory. It can also be spent inspire a PC to change one of their beliefs. When that happens, both characters involved get an additional talent. When you get to the point that every PC has changed a belief, one of the setting beliefs will change, which will bring an attribute boost to everyone.

All of this is ultimately going to encourage everyone playing to be invested in all of the other characters (including the setting) at the table. Advancement is intrinsically related to everyone challenging their beliefs and working together as the people playing the game to move the story forward. It is a very collaborative style of play where the best results are going to come from setting up others and shining a spotlight on their beliefs and ensuring that everyone contributes.

This style of procedural play isn't going to appeal to every gamer out there. Every scene has a great deal of structure surrounding it, which means that every scene will have a discrete purpose and end, but there may not be a strong narrative link between the scenes. As well, the level of drama and tension built up within a scene can be easily diffused by the meta-game activities between scenes. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing.

Good in that it forces everyone to take a step back and examine the events that just took place from an objective point of view; seeing them without any personal investment. Given the charged nature the game intends to evoke, this could be important. It is problematic because all of the momentum that was built in the previous scene may be lost by breaking that tension, or by having the subsequent scene be unrelated to the previous events. It is a situation that will vary from group to group to a large degree.

In the end, this game is at its strongest when a group wants to explore some difficult and complicated concepts. Spark provides an excellent framework to examine different perspectives and build some meaningful discussion through this medium. This isn't really a pick-up or a beer and pretzels game. To get the most of of Spark, everyone will be best served by investing in a setting they create together, then populating it with characters they find interesting and asking questions they find compelling. This is going to be a rather personal game, for better or worse.

20 August 2013

Double Cross: Part 2 - After Action Report

Part 1 - Review

While a reivew of a game is good, there is nothing quite like actually playing it. Since there was a request for information on how it runs, it seemed like a great excuse to get one of my groups together and put Double Cross through the paces.

Stating the obvious, this game isn't for everyone. Not every game has to be, nor should it be. Double Cross is no exception to that. That being said, all of the players and myself enjoyed Double Cross a great deal, despite some of the stumbling that we encountered. Be aware, it doesn't necessarily play how it reads, for better or worse.

What it offers is a game that has a tight narrative structure. The Encroachment mechanic keeps each scene focused and players generally don't feel the need to get involved in every interaction. This keeps the action moving forward and reduces events from getting bogged down; everyone was invested in maintaining the pacing.

Some groups may find this to be a bug, rather than a feature. If players are likely to be distracted if not directly involved in a given scene, then a structure where everyone has something to do in a given scene will be important to maintain. In a more global sense, this means that your scene economy will likely be reduced as players accumulate more Encroachment simply by interacting with the world around them.

The session was overall low intensity; I was more interested in getting a feel for things than really stressing the limits. Even then, I expected Encroachment to be a more significant issue than it was. Whenever the opportunity presented itself, every character let loose with the biggest combo at their disposal. Despite having no restraint whatsoever, only one character was in danger of becoming a Gjaum at the end of the session, and they backtracked from the edge.

Behind this disparity is, without a doubt, how combat proceeded. Since I wasn't familiar with the nuances of how the powers interacted on my first read-through, I decided to trust in the wisdom of the pregens. While this wasn't strictly a mistake, none of the characters at the table had a defensive ability to their name. One NPC had a defensive ability, though it was okay, and the other just had a big sack of hit points.

The overall impact of this is that there were four glass cannons at the table. The fifth character, Evergreen Apostle, was... really boring. Don't let anyone play that character as written (there are better ways to put together a support character in the system). Without fail, if a PC took damage, they were taken out. Luckily, there are a variety of ways to bring them back into the fight, so it wasn't really a deal. At the same time, they could dispense with ridiculous quantities of violence as well.

For example: In the first combat, the antagonist was downed with the first attack. Then I realized he had a guard ability (see below). My players graciously allowed him to use his power and live, take someone down, then go down to the very next attack against him.

There are two forms of defense: dodging and guarding. The former is all or nothing, the latter reduces the damage you take. They are mutually exclusive and it is a very straightforward setup, which is nice and easy to communicate. None of the characters had anything that really impacted this. Dodging was pretty useless since attack pools were considerably higher and invariably reduced the result required to critical.

An aside: Typically 10 is a critical, allowing you to reroll until you don't roll a critical. Some powers allow you to reduce this number, 7 being a common limit. When you reroll a 7, it still counts as a 10. The end result is relatively fast to deal with, since you are just counting the rerolls, rather than adding up all of the dice (you only take the highest number rolled).This is very effective and worth doing every time you get the chance. When rolling against someone that has not reduced their critical, it isn't a competition.

The good news is that there are a number of powers for each Syndrome that can affect this in interesting and thematic ways. Some have powers that give them bonuses to dodging (which allows you to reduce that critical value), others give bonuses to guard to directly reduce damage. Some: all of the above. None of the pregens had them. Any of them. So keep that in mind.

There is a certain amount of system mastery required to begin to take advantage of the power structure. It isn't difficult to acquire that system mastery in the first place, which is always a bonus for everyone. The Syndromes don't have any hidden traps and a specialist and a generalist can each be effective.

While everything moves quickly when it is tallied out ahead of time, if your players start combining powers on the fly, things can potentially slow down. This is where the system mastery really comes in. There are some simple and straightforward guidelines on what can be combined, but there is also a lot of information to process. If they want some variety, I would suggest putting together a few different combinations on notecards (one listing for below 100% Encroachment, another for over 100%) and just using those.

As I indicated at the beginning, Double Cross is a fun game. The crunch is quite crunchy, but it isn't complicated and there is a sense reward behind that for some players. I honestly wouldn't consider my players really into mechanics, they certainly don't shy away from them, but it's not their thing. Despite that, they picked up on everything quickly and at least seemed to have fun with the mechanics. Which is a definite plus.

It plays quickly and has a nice narrative structure; if you have long enough and/or your players really keep up the pace, you could easily fit two scenarios into a session. Just play your first scenario knowing that mistakes will be made and to roll with it; it should all fall into place without too much effort. Plain and simple: my group had fun, despite the fumbling around at times. That is a pretty good litmus test for how it will go when everyone is familiar with the game - also, they are interested in playing it again.

16 August 2013

Kickstarter: Part 15 - New Projects!

This is the fifteenth part in an ongoing series about crowdfunding. Overview and Index.


We have the return of two old games, back for a second edition, and a new game that is likely of niche appeal. This month doesn't have much to offer in terms of new projects for me, though there were two that I backed up until reviewing this and decided that they just were not for me. The former because I don't think that I need another D20-based game, no matter how neat, and the latter because I don't quite think I was the target audience after reading the descriptions of the system and knowing nothing about the setting.

Now, this hasn't stopped me from pursuing a few projects that aren't directly RPGs. I do like a good pen.

New Projects

Space: 1889

Closes: 25Aug2013
Funded: Yes!

The rebirth of a Victorian pulp game from the 80's/90's where mankind takes to the ether and explores the inner solar system. Inspired by the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, this game is a classic and the second edition has been funded. This is a game of gentle(wo)manly exploration of the mysteries that humankind can reach, from earth to the stars. Certainly the biggest appeal has always been the pulp visions of the planets, Mars and its inhabitants in particular. This edition will bring additional focus to Mercury and Venus and the strange things that can be found there. Space: 1889 is a classic and anyone interested in pulp (or steampunk) gaming should take a look at this project.



Rosemont Bay

Closes: 25Aug2013
Funded: Yes!

Essentially a game in the style of a modern prime-time TV drama with the elements of supernatural romance crossed with gothic horror. A game about normal-ish people with their screwed up problems and relationships in a setting where they cannot avoid them. This game is decidedly not going to be for everyone, but it is something that I am very interested in. If playing anything from Twin Peaks and American Gothic, to The Vampire Diaries and Teen Wolf interest you, this may fill that need. Similarly, fans of Monsterhearts should take notice.


Tales from the Floating Vagabond

Closes: 14Sep2013
Funded: No

Okay, I'm trying to come up with a way to describe this game succinctly and somewhat at a loss. So bear with me on this one. Anyone that walks into a bar, anywhere and any time in the universe, has a chance to walk into the Floating Vagabond instead of Lucky Larry's Lounge (or whatever classy establishment they intended). The Floating Vagabond is a bar at the center of the universe and home to ridiculous adventure (which becomes the de facto occupation of anyone who "finds" their way there). This setting pays homage to no one genre; it does all of the equally well. Which may be poorly, depending on how you look at it. Tales from the Floating Vagabond is a slapstick game of adventure where the laws of physics got crazy drunk and are now too hungover to do anything about what is happening.

13 August 2013

The Demolished Ones

The Demolished Ones, by Brian Engard and Rite Publishing, is a game of memories and mystery set in a fictional Victorian setting known as the City.

This game's basic premise is that the characters wake up with no memories to something terrible, something vaguely familiar, but also something out of place. That sense of unease follows through the story as they unravel the mystery. They will experience the power of knowledge, as well as the price and horror that comes with it.

In this game is a setting, a story and all of the system that you will need to play. It is a Fate-based game, but even people familiar with Fate should go over this variation of the system to cover some of the subtle differences. In addition to the minor changes, there are some significant additions to the basic Fate foundation that give this game a great deal of it's flavor.

This is your official spoiler warning. If you are going to be a player in this game, you would do yourself a service by not reading any further. If this sounds pretty good so far (hopefully it does, because this is a good game) and you want to play, find a kindly GM and direct them here in hopes that they will be inspired to acquire and run this game for you.

To really discuss this game, secrets are going to have to be divulged. As mentioned previously, this is a game of memories and mysteries. Even more than that, this is a game of truth and lies. I've already lied to you: the setting is only known as the City to those within that don't know the truth; to everyone else, which is a small group, it is known as the Dome.

Have you seen Dark City? If the answer is "no", do yourself a favor and watch that movie. Now that everyone has seen it, if you liked that it and thought that there was some amazing ideas that would be great in a game, then this game has been written for you. While it isn't just Dark City, the game, it has certainly been heavily influenced by that work with some changes, such as the inclusion of horror elements and the price of power and knowledge. I'm getting a little ahead of myself.

There are changes to the basic Fate formula in The Demolished Ones. To begin with, your character is a blank slate, no Aspects, no skills, no stunts. Nothing. These, along with your memories are developed during play. Characters will have flashbacks that initially give some insight into who they think they are, along with an associated Persona Aspect and related skill.

Eventually, they will get more sinister memories about who they really are, which is a terrible individual. Unlike the previous suggestions, these come from the GM, not the player, and reveal truths about the setting and the character. Nearly everyone in the Dome is living as a part of some inhuman experiment towards unknown ends. Those that start to learn the truth, of which the players will be some, gain power because of that.

They will gain Aspects and skills like the previous memories, but these Aspects can be used to fundamentally change the world within the Dome. Through these True Aspects, these characters can perform superhuman feats, influence and bend the will of those around them who do not have True Aspects, or even shape their surroundings. All of these come at a cost - mental consequences are just the beginning. These powers rely on embracing their darker nature and utilizing the power that it gives them. Eventually there will only be the darkness and they will simply be a monster.

True Aspects are also more difficult to resist when compelled. Doing so is resisting a fundamental part of your nature; it is one of the only truths to your existence to rely on. However, by doing so for long enough, you can change your stars. You can become a different person. In this noir setting, it may not rain every day after all.

The story itself is presented as three acts, with the first two acts being a relatively well scripted mystery with enough hook to get the players moving in the right direction. In the first act the groundwork of the mystery is laid as the players regain their "memories", though there is the unshakable feeling that nothing quite adds up. Act 2 introduces their actual memories and begins to fill in the blanks. The players will ultimately be caught in the middle of a struggle for the fate of the Dome. Finally, Act 3 will has the players doing whatever it is they want. They will have the information and the tools to profoundly affect the setting. For better, or worse.

There is a lot to like about this game and it definitely uses the basic framework of Fate to its advantage as the story unfolds. The way that memories, Aspects and skills work together is elegant. It is worth mentioning that mental stress and consequences are going to be a headache as the game proceeds and the more monstrous elements appear.

The layout of the book is clean and easy to follow, though with one small, but at times glaring, issue: the font used for titles has virtually indistinguishable capital "C" and "G". While a minor distraction and easy to sort out, it's distracting from an otherwise very pleasant flow of the text. All of the art maintains the moodiness of the setting. It tends towards high contrast use of dark and light, and has a Victorian noir sense about it. There are a few pieces that are distinctly not Victorian, which gives a feeling that they do not fit. Naturally, this supports the concept of the story and the setting of it being amiss and out of place.

One thing to be wary of is that this may not be a great fit for all players. Not everyone is willing to cede so much control of their character, nor will everyone be pleased about what could be termed a bait-and-switch. On the other hand, this can be a great introduction to Fate. It introduces the core concepts slowly and shows how the various pieces (character background, Aspects and skills) can all be linked together.

The Demolished Ones offers a unique game and premise that is certainly worth looking into for those interested in Fate, and those looking to do some new things with Fate.

08 August 2013

Little Wizards

Little Wizards (Contes Ensorcelés), by 7ème Cercle (7th Circle), translated by Franck Florentin and Amanda Valentine, and distributed by Crafty Games, is a game of magical adventure in the fictional setting of Coinworld.

Above and beyond everything else, Little Wizards is cute. The premise is that you play a young Wizard of either the Sorcerer or Magician tradition and travel Coinworld having adventures. These generally take the form of seeing and learning new things, meeting new people and making friends, getting into some mostly harmless trouble and generally helping out.

Coinworld itself is a curious place and the name mostly gives it away. This disc-shaped world has two sides, named Heads and Tails; though the sides are mostly unaware of each other. Each of the sides is made of five archipelagos that appear somewhat as reflections of each other. There is even some musing that everything on one side has a counterpart on the other, but it is expressed as theory (though clearly a plot seed in disguise). 

The Heads side of Coinworld is full of light and cheerful, while the Tails side is darker and appears a little more dangerous. Don't be fooled, the Tails side just seems that way, underneath the craggy exterior, it is just as fun and welcoming, only in a different way. The various island chains on each side at times operate on their own rules - Coinworld isn't a place where you try and make sense of these things, rather you accept them for what they are.

There aren't any known ways to move between Heads and Tails, which is why the existence of the flip side is largely unknown, but there are some magical effects that can transport a Wizard between them. In fact, that very thing happens in one of the included adventures.

While every Wizard has magic, it isn't the end all, be all of the game. It is encouraged (and mechanically reinforced) to have magic simply be an aid which allows you to do things you couldn't normally, not be a replacement for your creativity and natural talents. Creative problem solving is the most useful tool you can bring to the table in this game.

Each of the traditions is different in how they practice magic and what they can do with it. Sorcerers have magic passed down through their lineage - somewhere there was another Sorcerer in your family, even if it wasn't your parents or grandparents. The unique magic a Sorcerer can gain access to are Alchemy and Divination. Magicians, on the other hand, learn magic the hard way: through training. They can gain access to Conjuring and Shapechaging. Every Wizard has Broom Riding and all can learn Spellcasting.

The system behind Little Wizards is very simple, requiring only 2d6 and applying a modifier (up to a +2, unless you get a little help) compared against a difficulty from 5 to 10. Character creation focuses primarily on describing your character, from their appearance and personality, to their signature feature that really sets them apart and tastes. There are tables for all of these elements to give ideas and provide some guidance if needed.

Beyond your traits and powers, which have bonuses, the most important things to choose are your Wizard Gear. This includes describing your Broom, Hat, Wand and Familiar. Every Wizard has those and they make up an important part of your character, often relating something about them; visual clues to what they like and where they come from. Perhaps your Sorcerer's hat was handed down from a favorite aunt, or your Magician's wand a gift from a mentor?

The exception is the familiar, which is your Wizard's constant friend and companion. Familiars come in every variety of animal out there and you can have any color you want, as long as you want black. That being said, there are obviously some considerations to make for size and being exclusively aquatic. An orca is pretty awesome, but going to limit the kind of adventures you can have quite a bit.

With all of that, what is Little Wizards really good at? There are a couple areas that it really excels in. One is a game for younger players, particularly to introduce them to gaming. There is quite a bit of advice given regarding children as players and the nature of the game encourages teamwork, creativity, building friendships, and generally making good decisions. The lack of any violence whatsoever also plays to this strength a great deal.

Another area where Little Wizards shines is as an introductory game into GMing. The system is simple and emphasizes applying a difficulties with minimal modifiers; there isn't a lot to keep track of. As well, the setting is very light with some strong themes, but very little content to master. This makes it easy to have a place to start, but without the sense that you have to know everything. It seems that can be an easy place for prospective GMs to stall out.

Throughout the book, GMing advice is given and frequently repeated when it is relevant. One of the techniques discuss is failing forward, which is a valuable skill to learn and can have important lessons for younger players: it's not that you failed, but that you learned from your failure. This is built on by the inclusion of three adventures, each building on the previous in both story and complexity. The first is a simple, linear adventure with minimal setting. It focuses on telling the story, setting difficulties and introducing situations where players can explore creative solutions.

In the second adventure, one of the archipelagos is discussed in some detail as the setting. This gives some information regarding world-building. The adventure itself has more interactions and is a little less linear. The players are encouraged to explore their surroundings more and eventually engaging in some adventure.

Finally, the third adventure introduces a more detailed and different setting. There is simply more to learn, but it shows off a great deal more variety in what can be accomplished. The task itself is very open ended and requires learning pacing, as well as multiple avenues to victory.

In the end, this is a fun, lighthearted game that is wonderful for families or any groups with younger players. Even adults that are looking for something cute will find something to like here. Anyone that is interested in, but intimidated by the prospect of becoming a GM can also find some valuable techniques and information here.