I’ve had a chance to actually playtest some of my systems posted on this blog in the last few months, so here’s some additional lessons learned and other notes on using them.
This system has had immediate, positive results at the table. The book system is very abstract: you roll Negotiation and the Johnson promises you an indeterminate amount of money for your success, but you won’t know exactly how much until you collapse the wave form and finish the mission. Now I can tell them up front what they can expect on the run, and they’re excited when their good work (or unexpected additional hardships) means that they can demand a bonus. Last night, the face told a teammate, “We’re getting paid 16k for this job; let’s get it right.” You can’t get quotes like that with a system that doesn’t suggest up front what the run will pay.
This system, though, may need a little more work, primarily due to the swinginess of a dice-pool-based system and the diminishing returns of the SR5 extended tests system. Trying to get a cost break on gear with the system results in pretty high hit thresholds (24 hits needed for a rating 12 item). Statistically, you’d need 12 dice to make a 24 hit item, but that’s just with the total average third of a success per die; with a lot of luck, that many dice could hit the threshold in the first three rolls, and with no luck, you might not get anywhere near it.
Also, the interaction with Edge is problematic. With the time frames involved, do you not let the player regenerate edge during a downtime spent crafting? What if the crafting has to pause for a mission? If you’ve limited Edge for the duration, you still have the issue that it’s best used early (when there are more dice, and thus more 6s to explode), than later (when the player will start thinking about Edge since the successes aren’t yet close to where they need to be).
The prototype system does make the swinginess more palatable, though, as it allows giving the player something for an expensive crafting project that didn’t get enough hits. But it probably needs a much smaller number of times it has to glitch before providing a bonus; 12 glitches to have a better chance on the next rating 12 crafting job is a lot of bad luck to count on.
But, on the other hand, in a tightly-constrained Nuyen game, having an option to get something expensive at half cost maybe should have a lot of chance at minimal success. And plus I get to play a glitchy prototype Agent (that my group’s decker half-successfully programmed) as a demented Clippy, which is a lot of fun.
I enjoyed this, as I enjoy all of my Smallville chargen hacks, but the system has one glaring flaw: if most of the party takes Resources primary, very few NPCs make it onto the map early on, and that means the few NPCs that are there in the first round have way more tags and connections than ones added later. My group only had one non-primary-Resources character, and wound up with a super-connected NPC dominating the center of the map. It was interesting in the situation, but not really ideal as a general rule.
I haven’t been using this super formally in my latest Pathfinder game, but I have been using it as a rule of thumb for recurring NPCs. Since it’s Kingmaker, there are a lot of NPCs that get signed on as allies and support staff, and it’s nice to have a consistent way of leveling them up as the party increases so they don’t lose relevance.
The system does not really interact well with the Leadership feat. I’m running into issues where the players’ cohort NPCs are supposed to remain two levels behind them, but the compression chart suggests that several of their other friendly NPCs should be only a level or two behind them, and it feels like I should slow the levels of the non-feat-powered NPCs down. Also, the feat gives out a bunch of followers that are meant to be extremely low level. At level 10, it’s weird to have a bunch of feat-granted followers that are arranged into a specific array of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd level when the compression chart says everyone should pretty much be 5th level by that point. But the Leadership cohort is already probably too good for a single feat while the followers are essentially useless except as color, and I get the impression most GMs ban Leadership anyway… so it’s probably not a big deal if it conflicts.
I finally got to try this out at my last couple of sessions. They’re entering the section of Kingmaker where they need to fight with armies. Also, as mentioned, they have a ton of NPC allies and cohorts at this point (and a bunch of alternate PCs that join the core group when someone else from the office wants to play). So while I was looking at using one of my more formalized mass battle hacks, I remembered I’d written this one and was keen to give it a try.
The first part, with individual allies going on missions, was a lot of fun. With a lot of allies it becomes fairly time consuming; the players became very focused on optimizing their allies’ time usage to make sure missions were completed in the most ideal way. But they seemed to be having a great time doing it. I might try to standardize the time per cycle for a given game; having some missions updating weekly and others updating monthly made the time calculation even more complicated at the table.
The second part, the simplified mass combat system, went very well. The whole group seemed to be really enjoying working out through discussion how to match their cards to their enemy’s for their greatest advantage, while moaning about their individual PCs’ units being put in situations where they were guaranteed to break to accomplish another tactical goal. They didn’t really think it felt a lot like D&D… but had a really good time regardless. One thing to be careful of with it is to make sure Morale tends to not get too high; if only units that double up or have a named character leading them can break other units, the battle can turn ugly quickly. If one side has a bunch of units break, there’s really no point continuing the next round, so battles would probably be more interesting if roughly equal numbers of units on each side could break each round. Conversely, doing damage at the cost of some broken units (as can happen when fielding a lower-strength but higher-morale army) is actually interesting, assuming the army can retreat effectively.
In general, a no-surprises numerical comparison where the gameplay is in correctly deploying troops to take out the maximum number of enemies with the minimum losses to your own army winds up being intriguingly strategic as opposed to the more on-the-ground tactical combat of D&D and the wargames it inherits from.