Monday, November 19, 2012

Sertorius Playtest: November 16

This playtest involved three players. I ran them through a very casual scenario that was mostly one combat after another followed by an off-the-cuff adventure. The purpose was to see how much punishment Sertorius can take without rest, but also to get a sense of their ability to impact the setting through magic. The party consisted of two halflings and an orc.

Their first battle was against The Beast of Sardonia, a Monstra (same one faced in playtest one). Couple of characters took wounds, but they were able to defeat it without too much trouble (though there was a close call when it paralyzed the whole party).
This was immediately followed by an attack of 10 Korvars (tribal creatures distantly related to kobolds). These were quickly dispatched through a Captivation spell. However I re-examined the spell and realized it should only have been able to affect 6 Korvars. The misunderstanding was due to an error in the entry format (which we have since fixed). Still the combat would have only gone another round or so.
As they walked back to the town the characters were attacked by four Blemmeyes. These succeeded in wounding one character (Player A). Player B used Scars Upon Scars to good effect here, which made him very hard to wound. In the end, Player C cast Captivation again to end the combat. Clearly Captivation is a useful spell, potentially too powerful.
Following the attack of four Blemmeyes, they were assaulted by a Banshee. These are different from Banshees in other settings and linked to the whole Grimming process (see previous blog entries on Sertorius). Skinnless monstrosities with a "flay flesh" ability, they also have the traditional howling power associated with the creatures. In Gamandria Banshee are powerful, requiring a good deal of research and planning to kill, so the party fled (with one member of the group falling behind and narrowly evading its Flaying touch).
After this they strode into Thana (A Sardonan settlement), and met with the Emir. He decided to employ them after they made their magical skills known (he even gave them a wing of his vizier’s palace--promising to erect individual palaces for them in the near future). To gain permanent employment with the Emir, they agreed to assassinate the Emperor of Ronia.
Arriving in Ronia they found a contact who arranged an audience in the Palace with Emperor Nicephorous (their cover was they were priests of Lurolai seeking to erect a new temple in Rostanba). I should say at this point, that this was not the best strategy in my opinion. Attacking the Emperor in his own court just didn’t seem as likely to succeed as attacking him away from the security of his palace, so I decided to play the guards and courtiers to the hilt. However, I may have miscalculated how many guards the emperor should have had (this was run off the cuff, had I prepped the court in advance it would likely have been more secure and challenging).
Based on my calculations of the number of Sertori available in the Fellowship of Promestus (somewhere around 55-60) I decided the emperor would only have two permanent Sertori in his court (this was a number I decided well before the session, based on the need to have the sertori fill other posts in the empire). Outside his own court, this number would be increased (say when the Emperor is travelling). He also had 8 Ogre guards in a line before his throne. His throne is a magic device that floats above the court (again in hindsight it probably should have an arch of protection spell imbedded in it, or something to that effect). In addition to this he had 10 human guards directly next to his sertori (and their function was to absorb attacks directed at the wizards).
I still think 2 Sertori is a reasonable number for a frugal empire that is somewhat stretched. But maybe four would be a better number. For Ogres, I think realistically, the court really should have had closer to twenty five. Plus there probably should be a century or so of human soldiers who can reach the court in seconds to respond to any threat (and a full cohort soon after that).
All that said, the battle didn’t go the players way initially. They had a few lucky breaks. Player C used captivation, but she said she was using it on the emperor, so I assumed she was not trying to project it onto other people in the room as a way of not attracting attention to herself as a Sertorius. Had she attempted to use it on multiple targets, things may have gone better. It did work on the emperor, but I gave the Sertori Detect rolls to notice (something the rules are going to have to address). They immediately cast Avalanch of Flame, followed by Bolt of Fury. The combo worked well so they continue that for the rest of the fight.
Player A was killed. The emperor was never harmed (though he had one close call). They didn’t really manage to do much. But Player C was able to save the characters by using captivation on the Sertori and convincing them it was a misunderstanding (that Player A was the assassin and she and Player B were innocent). This seemed a reasonable use of the spell to me, though I imagine a temporary measure as there were witnesses who might contradict her account. Had to end it there because we were running out of time, but I believe they may have escaped unharmed (with the exception of Player A). At the end of the day though, they failed to kill the emperor, so they didn’t achieve their objective.
I sent them against the Emperor deliberately, just to test how powerful Sertori are in terms of overthrowing or attacking political authorities. In hindsight, I should have run some of the spells a bit differently (particularly Captivation). I also think some of the spells require revising. While Captivation is intended to be a potent spell, it isn't meant to cause people to not do their job or behave unintelligently. Some rewording will go a long way toward fixing the issue.
Everyone had a good time and enjoyed using their spell abilities. It is still very early, so marked some spells for observation and made a couple of changes. In the coming weeks we will put together an excel chart to map out all the different spell effects and peoples' impressions of them during play.

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