Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Sertorius Playtest (November 10)

Our latest playtest proved interesting. We learned a good deal about the system and will be working in the coming weeks to adjust based on feedback and observations.

For this playtest I ran a full scenario, with all the players as Sertori (sorcerers) belonging to The Fellowship of Promestus, an order of Sertori who work closely with one of the major empires in the setting. I should give a bit of background here to help provide some context. Will try to keep this brief.

The basic premise of the setting has been stated in previous blog entries, but the core concept is Sertori are the reborn fragments of a dead god and this gives them their powers. They are also rare, and highly prized as court officials. In the region where the scenario was set, there is a small empire called Ronia. This used to be massive, but declined significantly in recent centuries. However it is on the rise again through a policy of southern expansion based on client relationships with powerful kings and chieftains (in the past its territories were mostly in the west and north). One of these client regions is a valley inhabited by ogres. Today ogres are a cursed race, forced to live as nomads and incapable of wielding magic (this is because one of their kings killed the god mentioned earlier). A long time ago they ruled powerful civilization while humans, halfings and dwarves were still living in caves.

The present Emperor of Ronia has an agreement with the King of the Ogre tribes. He sends them five Sertori from the Fellowship of Promestus to remain in his court for two years at a time (every two years they are replaced by new Serotri). In exchange he pledges troops to the emperor's army and promises safe passage to Ronian merchants. So the players were sent there to fill this post.

Upon their arrival they learned that a rival chieftain, named Bayya Ka, was forming an alliance against the Ogre king (Doru Khusat) and spreading a new religion (worshipping a god called "The Merciful One").

I will spare readers the details of the adventure, but it is enough to know they faced a number of challenges including a band of hostile ogres and the cult of "the merciful one" deep in a forest along the valley.

What was interesting about this scenario is it featured ogres and one Sertorius as their enemies. The game has three basic choices for characters (there are multiple races in the setting, but these options are of tremendous consequence): Mundanes, Ogres and Sertori. Mundanes are regular folk, and can come from any race except Ogres. They are weak, only able to take two wounds before dying, and not intended for player characters. Mundanes have no magic but do have a Devotion rating that alows them to gain benefits by worshipping gods or Sertori. Ogres are tough, are without any magic (Sertori are never born as Ogres) and have a Resistance rating which protects them from magical attacks. They also can take six wounds before dying. Sertori are the primary player character type. They are magic wielding, and can be from any race except ogres. Sertori have spells, plus they are tougher than Mundanes due to their natural divinity, taking up to five wounds before dying. These are not intended to be balanced choices, it is objectively better to play a Sertorius than an Ogre or Mundane (though Ogres are not that far behind). This is by design and allowing people to play non-Sertori is merely there for those who want the role playing challenge it presents.

So a group of Sertori facing a challenge of only Ogres and another Sertorius, is much different from sending them against mundanes or monsters that can just take one hit. It proved challenging for them, but they came out alive and successful. Ogres are definitely a substantial challenge to Sertori, but their spells, when used wisely, usually give them the edge they need to overcome.

For the most part the spells did function as we expected. This wasn't our first playtest, but it was our first playtest with a fresh batch of spells to try out. Every spell can be cast over and over again as long as the caster wishes, but casting it at full potency exposes the Sertorius to Afflictions. So there is a naturally built in incentive to casy cautiously.

We did find some problem areas with a couple of the spells. The spells are powered by emotions and every Sertorius has a rating in one of four emotions. One of our spells for example is called "Bolt of Fury" and it is powered by anger. When you cast the spell, your ranking in anger affects damage. Casters with ranks of 2 to 3 in a given emotion do just fine, but those who try to balance their emotions and take one in each, did seem to strugle a bit because of how the math works. So we went back and made some fixes for "Balanced" Sertori. Next session we will find out if our solutions work.

Of course the best part of the adventure was when the players happened upon the cult encampment of "The Merciful One". The woods around the camp were part of what we call a Grim. And I will discuss exactly what a Grim is next blog entry.

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