Saturday, March 27, 2010

Running away with WFRP 3rd

In the FFG forums devoted to the 3rd Ed of Warhammer Fantasy RPG, people keep posting various house rules and special action cards for Running. They vary a bit in execution, but the goal is to allow player characters to move much faster, with no fatigue penalties, if you're doing nothing but move.

I've been managing to stay polite thus far, but it's not easy. I feel this whole notion is horribly misplaced, because WFRP 3rd already has the most generous running rules in gaming history, it just didn't specifically label them as "running", so people are too dense to figure it out. That's a little harsh, but pretty much spot-on.

How running works in WFRP 3rd:
The game allows you 1 action per round, plus 1 free "manoeuvre" per round, plus as many additional manoeuvres as you'd like at a cost of 1 fatigue each. Your attributes range from 1 to 6 (2 to 5 for starting characters), and you never want more fatigue than your lowest-rated physical attribute. So, most PCs don't want to take more than about 3 fatigue.

Instead of measuring things in feet, the game uses abstract range categories. If someone is within "Close" range, you can pay 1 manoeuvre to engage them in melee. If they're at "Medium" range, you can pay 1 manoeuvre to move to "Close" range from them. If they're at "Long" you can pay 2 manoeuvres to move to medium, then 1 more to move to close (and 1 more to engage them). The furthest possible range is Extreme, which takes 3 manoeuvres to reduce to Long. So, you could for 7 manoeuvres, run from Extreme to Long to Medium to Close, and then engage someone in melee combat. Doing this in a single round, you'd suffer 6 fatigue. If you wanted zero fatigue, it would take you 7 rounds, which is just too much for some folks, and thus the various house rules keep getting thrown around. I think they are being unreasonable.

Compared to WFRP 2nd Ed: To illustrate my point, let's explore how this system compares to it's previous incarnation. (My 2nd Ed is really rusty, so if anyone spots any mistakes, let me know).

In 2nd Ed, most humans have a Movement statistic of 4. This allows them to move 8 yards per combat round normally, or up to 24 yards in an all-out run where they're doing nothing else. Within that system, bows and firearms have a range of 48. So if you were attacked by someone with a bow at long range for their weapon, it would take two full rounds of just running to get within melee range. If you were taking a more cautious approach (not running or charging) it would take 6 rounds to reach them.

Now compare that to 3rd Ed WFRP, where the equivalent weapons (the shortbow and handgun) have range "Medium". Moving at a full run, you can get there in a single round, for 1 fatigue, and you still get to attack. (You spend your free manoeuvre to move from Medium to Close, and then pay a fatigue to engage them.) If you take a more cautious approach (no fatigue), you get there in just two rounds. So, characters in 3rd Ed are, by default, moving much faster than characters in previous editions.

Compared to D&D: Running the numbers, we'll again see that WFRP characters are by default moving really fast. In 3.5 D&D (likewise, my 3.5 is kinda rusty, so correct me if I'm wrong), a shortbow has a range increment of 60 feet, and it's maximum range is 600 feet. You won't often take shots at that kind of range because your odds of hitting at 10 increments are pretty dreadful, but a reasonably competent archer is likely to be willing to take shots out to four range increments, aka 240 feet. An unarmored human PC can walk 30 feet per round, or run 120 feet per round. So again, to travel from the likely archery range to melee range takes 2 rounds of full-out run, or more than 6 rounds of more reasonable exertion. And if you were taking fire from some hotshot archer who wanted to hope for natural twenties at the full 10-increment range of their shortbow, it would take you 5 rounds of full running to reach them.

What I conclude from all those comparisons is:

  • a) WFRP 3rd Ed assumes your basic movement in combat is a hearty jog, not a calm walk.
  • b) If you're taking one or more fatigue from movement maneouvres in WFRP, it represents a full-on run.
  • c) WFRP 3rd, as written, is much kinder on the melee-only character than either 2nd Ed or D&D, at least in terms of them trying to get into range while taking fire.

So, given those conclusions, I see no need or reason to allow any better movement than the default manoeuvre rules in WFRP.

Taking it to Extremes: Just to make sure those conclusions hold up, I also ran the results on a longer-range weapon.

In WFRP 3rd Ed, a Hochland Long Rifle or a Longbow can hit to Extreme. It takes 7 manoeuvres to reach that distance. You can cover the whole distance in a single turn if 6 fatigue isn't enough to knock you out. Or you can cover the distance over 7 turns at a slow pace without fatigue.

In WFRP 2nd Ed, a Hochland Long Rifle has a range of 96. A typical Move 4 human can cover that ground in 4 turns of all-out full running. If they try this without running, it'll take them 12 turns to get there.

In 3.5 D&D, a composite longbow has a range increment of 110 feet, so from the point where they start having a better than 5% chance of hitting to when you reach melee is about 3 or 4 turns of all-out running. At a non-run pace you're looking at about 14 rounds of walking.

So, in terms of getting somewhere in a hurry, WFRP 3rd is being very generous to the guy who rushes into melee. He moves 3 or 4 times as fast as his equivalents in other games if he's willing to take a modest amount of fatigue. You may be able to shrug off all or some of the fatigue with the right Talents or Career Ability, and even if you don't, you still get an action on the turn(s) you run, unlike the other systems. If he's fatigue-averse and insists on "walking", he'll get to sword-swinging range in half the time that D&D allows.

If my players complain about there being no running option, I'm going to politely tell them that spending fatigue for extra manoeuvres is the running option, and that it's far more generous running rules than any non-supers game I know.

I suppose I could see room for some sort of enhanced move Action being added to the game, as in one you pay an Advancement to purchase. You'd have to be careful not to make it too good, though, or else it would become an automatic upgrade for all melee characters. As it is, various Talents and Career Abilities within the game make it very easy to build a character that can cover Extreme to Close range in 2 or 3 rounds without taking more than 2 fatigue, so I don't think there's much need for extra specialization options in running.

Portions of the above appeared in a slightly different form on the FFG forums, posted by me.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Core Clues ported to Savage Worlds

This started as a short tangent in my last post* (about using Gumshoe's "Core Clues" in Warhammer FRP), and grew long enough to need a post of it's own:

When I was running Savage Worlds on a more regular basis*, I borrowed from Gumshoe and set my difficulties for clue-gathering at a 2, usually with some added bonus/benefit if the PC got an 8+.

Didn't matter if it was an interrogation using Streetwise, or search involving Notice, the only way you could fail was by getting double 1's, and choosing not to spend a benny on a reroll. That way, the PCs either got the clue, or I was given an opportunity to narrate how some ridiculous blunder or bizarre coincidence kept them from getting the info they wanted.

It sounds better than it actually plays, unfortunately. I've found that some Savage Worlds players horde their bennies and only expend them in combat. Which means that in practice, there's still some danger of things stalling out because of a bad roll. It's still better than failing to get the clue because you rolled a "3" on a d8 and a d6, but not as much better as I'd imagined it to be. And should someone be so unlucky as to roll the critical failure, spend a benny and get a second critical failure, then you're adding insult to injury.

*: Link to the post using on "core clues" in Warhammer FRP
**: I'm still running my Savage Worlds fantasy game whenever my wife and I go visit our friends in Portland, but that only happens 4 or 5 times a year, so I hardly call that "regular".

Core Clues ported to WFRP

GUMSHOE has a concept called "Core Clues", clues that are so vital to the plot that you literally can't miss them. Whatever else you think of GUMSHOE, there is something very nice about knowing that a fluke bad die roll can't derail the plot and make the players spin their wheels for hours without a lead.

Let's face it, even when players get all the clues without the dice ever hosing them, there's still a good chance they'll misinterpret those clues, chase a red herring or accuse the wrong NPC, argue with the other players, or decide "my character wouldn't try to solve this mystery or pursue that clue". We've all seen situations where some player gets a wild idea and runs off tilting a windmills. What the GM thinks is crystal clear, turns out to be opaque to the players, and now he has to improvise some windmill stats. :)

Today, at the FFG forums, someone was asking about search checks in WFRP 3rd Ed. They were converting a 2nd Ed adventure, that relied on a lot of "A difficult search roll will reveal..." statements. I started typing up a reply about how it all depends on the nature of the clue. That if it's vital to advance the plot and make sure the players have fun, you should just give it to them automatically, but if it's a roll to find some treasure that's not a needed McGuffin, then dice are appropriate.

As I was typing that reply, though, I realized that the mechanics of WFRP are actually perfect for the whole "core clue" concept. You could make all (or the most vital) clue-gathering rolls succeed automatically, not even need a single success to get the info. Then, you just come up with some fun benefits for Boons, Sigmar's Comet or the "triple hammer line", and some nasty disadvantages for the Banes and Chaos Stars.

Here's an example of how it might play out:

The PCs are searching a nobleman's personal library, trying to see if there's any damning evidence of his guilt in some previous crime. The GM has decided that yes, there's some personal correspondence with his co-conspirator tucked behind some books. Without this bit of info, the players are unlikely to call out the nobleman, and will probably never connect the dots to the co-conspirator. Instead the game would bog down as they argue amongst themselves about whether or not he's guilty.

So the GM decides that any search roll will find the main clue, that being the letters behind the book on the shelf. However, a roll of Observation + Int is still called for, with the following possible effects based on the other symbols rolled:
  • Boon: You also find a loaded pistol resting out-of-sight and above your head on top of the same shelving unit. Taking it would be theft, but it would also prevent the sinister nobleman from using it against you later.
  • Bane: The household servants overhear your search, or notice that you've moved things around. This raises their suspicions of you. Any social rolls vs the staff or residents of the manor are now penalized by 1 misfortune die.
  • Chaos Star: The nobleman himself comes home early and walks right in on you. Everyone in the scene takes a point of Stress. He knows you're on to him. Since you've been ransacking his office, he'd be in his rights to grab the pistol from above the shelf and arrest or shoot you. It'd be foolish and dangerous, but within his rights as a nobleman, so depending on how many PCs are present, he just might do it.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Strange Eons and WFRP

The new edition of Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play has all sorts of beautiful components, which can make it a little daunting for the GM who intends to house rule a few things, or make up other new content. You don't want your personal creations to look dreadful and amateurish next to the official products.

Luckily, there's this program called Strange Eons. It was originally designed by the Arkham Horror community to make home-brewed full-color expansions for that game.

Some WFRP fans have made a plug-in for Strange Eons that allows you to make WFRP cards with the software, and I was impressed by their initial release. They were still in need of card backgrounds, so I decided to help generate some background art for the card types they hadn't made yet.

To the right you'll see my take on a card frame for Item cards.

Below that is my first stab at a card frame for Location cards.

Neither is nearly as ornate and detailed as the official cards, but they're not bad too shabby, either. They'll look much better once text and the other image files have been layered into them.

The Pit-Fighting Scribe

A couple weeks ago I got WFRP 3rd as a present. It has happily sucked up most of my free time of late. I've done a lot of reading and analysis, and my wife and I have run several test battles (and a test chase scene and a test social encounter), so I'm feeling I've got a pretty good notion of how the game works.

At this point, I'm in love with the way the game plays. Combat is fluid, the mechanics are easy to grok, and everything at the table just flows smoothly. The GM's job during the game is super easy. Prepping for adventures is surprisingly easy, as well, as the Game Master has a lot of tools, tricks, and shortcuts provided for them that allows you to prep with a minimum of fuss. All the fiddly bits that kept me from ever running WFRP 1st or 2nd Ed are gone, and have been replaced with a system that's just a dream to run and play.

The one area where I'm not pleased, however, is character creation and advancement. While they did a great job of fixing all the during-play fiddliness and book-keeping of the old edition, in the process they seriously watered down one of the things that made the old editions so cool. I never ran it, because it was too complicated, but I always admired the integrated tiers of character classes (there's about 100 of them in the main book for 2nd Ed) and the way they resulted in characters who were realistic and packed with history. But like I said, 3rd Ed sort of watered that down.

Watered down, both in that it has less flavor, but also watered down in that it's all so soggy now you're trapped in a marsh of possibilities. Once I really turned a sharp eye on the 40 existing character careers in 3rd ed, I realized they weren't very coherent. There's a lot of orphaned careers, with no obvious decisions when you level up to a new class. On the plus side, there's not much restricting you, which is nice. But on the negative side, there's no guidance, and it's a point weasel's paradise full of hidden options.

If your group is mostly casual gamers, but with one or two kinda munchkiny min-maxers, I think it'll be problematic. The casual gamers will get mired or lost, and the munchkins will figure out how to break something (starting with Rapid Strike). Even if you're blessed with only good players (as I usually am), the lack of organizational charts will make the advancement process take far longer than it rightly should. I'm thankful that the ugly complicated bits are all shoved off for end-of-the-night advancement, and never rear their heads during a tense in-character scene. But at the same time, I'm scratching my head and wondering why these problems exist at all, when the previous edition was so good at providing the players with a workable balance of guidance and options.

One of my earlier paragraphs mentioned in passing that the flavor had been drained out of the advancement system, but I never really presented evidence to support it. I'll take a stab at it now. In 1st & 2nd Ed, your character leveled up from one flavorful career to the next, so you might go from Student to Apothecary to Barber-Surgeon to Physician to Guild Master, with an immediately understandable progression.
In 3rd Ed, the careers are still flavorful, but the progression from one to the next has been rendered free-form. At first I thought that was cool, because you were never pigeon-holed, and a radically different career might just cost 1 or 2 more XP. Then it was pointed out to me that the Keywords that dictate the XP costs leave a lot to be desired. The worst offender is the "Specialist" Keyword, which appears on a completely random assortment of careers, making it such that being a Hunter or a Pit Fighter gives you an XP break on later becoming a Scribe or a Barber-Surgeon. Between those keywords and the way Talent cards are slotted, the most logical or sensible choice for a new Career is are rarely the most mechanically rewarding next career, and vice-versa. This is a big disappointment for me.

Sadly, the solution to these two branches of the same problem are contradictory. That is to say, the most obvious way to fix the flavor problem is to throw out the keywords and implement a career flow-chart much like what the previous edition had. But since the existing careers are so unconnected, to make a sensible flowchart you'd have to add a lot of additional careers. Which seems a little counter-productive if the other biggest problem is that there's too many things for players to sort through and consider when they're leveling up. Throwing another 20 or 30 careers into the mix will compound that issue rather significantly. And yet, I expect that's exactly what I'll do. So sad...

Friday, March 5, 2010

StarWarsderness of Mirrors

Last night I ran a one-shot of Wilderness of Mirrors, using the setting from Star Wars.

I replaced the 5 stats of Wilderness of Mirrors with five similar, but subtly different stats. The five attributes were:
  • Droid - used for tech, repair, and computing
  • Flyboy - used for piloting and acrobatics
  • Jedi - used for The Force, Luke
  • Princess - used to charm, inspire, and command
  • Wookie - used to intimidate and battle
Effectively, I folded the "Saturn" and "Mercury" roles from the main game into each other, since my previous experience had told me that "Saturn" was too weak. I used Saturn's power, with general social-roll utility of Mercury. This left me with Mercury's special power sitting unused, and I realized that being able to tell a perfectly convincing lie was very much like "These aren't the droids you're looking for", so I added in the Jedi stat. The end result was that the five attributes felt much better balanced, instead of Saturn having the awkward "dump stat" status it has in the main rules. I was very pleased with that.

If you look at the attached character sheet I made, you'll notice I also tweaked the power of "Pluto". Stealth isn't really center-stage in the Star Wars films, it's got it's place, but it didn't seem it should be a central character focus. So, I made "Flyboy" cover acrobatics and piloting, with the modified special power to escape from any one tight situation. This is a slightly more frenetic and active version of Pluto's power, and it can be used in a ship. Again, I was pleased with the way it played out.

Overall, things went well. My only complaint involved my own memory issues re: the rules. The main rules are so simple, I didn't re-read them before play. I got about half way through the session, and then commented "I don't remember this being such a cake-walk for the players. I feel like the difficulties should be higher." That's when one my players (thanks, Erik!) stepped up and reminded me about the tokens/points the GM is supposed to get. Off the top of my head, I couldn't remember the rate the GM earns these Setback points, so we went with one every 30 minutes. Turns out that it's supposed to be one every 20 minutes, which would have been much more challenging, and probably far better to have the extra 3 or 4 Setbacks, but we had fun anyway.

As always with Wilderness of Mirrors, the GM just sets up a very brief mission proposal, and then lets the players roll with it. (The bulk of my game prep was making that character sheet.)

Players have a lot of narrative control, and you never really know where things are going to go. We started with the PCs having to steal the Death Star plans and convey them to Princess Leia. By the time all was said and done, the plot involved Wookie and Gamorrean porn stars, evil architects with brain-sucking Dark Side powers, lots of EVA (zero-G combat in space-suits), and an escape in a garbage scow. Very amusing... but trust me, the less you know about "the Wookie Wax", the better.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Drives'R'Us, v4.0

I just uploaded the absolute best version yet of my Drives'R'Us mod for the video game Weird Worlds: Return To Infinite Space.

The 4.0 version of Drives'R'Us expands on my 3.1 version with 4 new spaceships, and over two dozen new quests. I've added colonies for most of the alien races, a few random invasion fleets to attack Glory, larger maps, and even the fabled fortified vault of Fomax. In addition to all that new stuff, I've also ported over the best bits from my "Teeming With Life" and "Sgqwonkian Crisis" mods. The variety of encounters and experiences is very high, to maximize the replayability. The file size of the download is nearly 3 times that of the previous version. I put a lot into this.

Future Plans:

Since the best bits of Teeming With Life and Sgwonkian Crisis are now in Drives'R'Us, it's unlikely those mods will see any future updates. There'll no doubt be a 4.1 version of Drives'R'Us somewhere down the road. There's always little things worth tweaking. A musically-gifted friend of mine offered to make me some new music for the various quests, so as he finishes up those sound files, I'll be updating the mod, probably with new quests and items.

I'd also like to make a mega-mod that incorporates content from other people's mods into one hugely unpredictable compilation. There are some technical limitations to the game engine, though, which I've been looking at and trying to chart out how much I can actually accomplish. If I go ahead with this, it would probably be published as a separate mod, not a new version of Drives'R'Us.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Hundred-Dollar RPG

In this post, I present a fairly detailed review of what I do and don't like about the 3rd Edition of Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play.

You may or may not have seen the latest edition of Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play, the version that comes in a big box full of custom dice and full-color cards, with a $99.95 price tag on it. I've wanted that game ever since it released last fall, and just couldn't justify it. Luckily, my birthday is this week, and my wife is the most amazing woman on the planet.
A quick aside about that $100 price tag: That number nearly scared me off, which is kinda weird. I mean, I'm more than willing to spend more than twice that over time for any RPG I really like. The dollar value of D&D books, or 7th Sea books, or d6 Star Wars books, or Cyberpunk books on my shelf is way more than $100 for any of those. Just to run 4th Ed D&D you need three $40 books, so that's more than WFRP. Looking at it from that perspective, I don't know why I held off for so long.
Now that I've had a few days to look it over and play a sample combat, I feel like I can at least share my initial impressions of the game. There's a lot to love about this edition of WFRP. Let me fill you in on the things I like best...
  • The Dice: Okay, I'm a sucker for dice, and WFRP has 36+ of them, with all sorts of crazy little pictures on them instead of numbers. So, right out of the box, I was smiling. Reading the books and running a sample combat, I was happy to learn that the mechanics and the dice really work together to make a fast-playing fun-filled system.
  • Minimal Math: One of the cooler features of those dice is that there's almost no math during the game. You could, with a really awesome attack roll, maybe have to be able to count up to 110 or 12, but that's gonna happen very rarely, and when it does you're guaranteed to have killed your enemy. For the vast majority of rolls, you only have to be able to count to about 2 or 3.
    (In WFRP you'll never hear: "I rolled a... lets see... 6 + 6 + 5 + 3 + 2 + 2... +4... +1 more for higher ground... 29! Is that a hit? Nope, nope, I needed a 30!"")
    Actions are resolved quickly, and without being torn away from your mental image of the action.
  • Succeed but with side-effects, Fail but with a silver lining: That is to say, those funny little dice are designed to allow for benefits and drawbacks to happen in addition to your overall success or failure, so actions are no longer simply binary. Quirky little developments that happen in novels and movies can finally appear in games.
  • No damage roll: I've always hated that every single combat action gets two rolls, but saving the day with science or chutpah is usually just one single roll. I'm always on the lookout for games that either streamline combat, or expand out non-combat actions to get the same love and attention. In WFRP, damage is contained organically within the attack roll, and the same system is used for talking, tinkering, running, etc.
  • Simple situational modifiers: You're on high ground? Have a fortune die. You're rescuing your true love? Have another white die. It's raining cats and dogs, add a black die. All three are happening at once, add two white dice and one misfortune die. Fast, simple, on-the-fly. I love it.
  • Abstract combat positioning: This came as a big, beautiful surprise to me. Previous editions of WFRP have always been fairly miniatures-reliant. Now, I like my minis, but they usually come with a fair amount of baggage about character positioning, movement rules, attacks of opportunity, etc. So I was pleasantly surprised that the game uses very abstract positioning rules, with the assumption that a melee is "like a rugby scrum" with everyone in constant movement. If you're part of the melee, you're engaged with everyone. If you _need_ to get somewhere, you just do, but it costs you a few fatigue points. This is a completely different paradigm, and it feels fresh and innovative.
  • Cards for all your feats and spells: Beautiful, full-color cards, that put all your rules and tactical options at your fingertips. No more leafing through a 200-page rulebook to find the data on your special ability or obscure combat rule - it's on one of the dozen or so cards you've got next to your character sheet.
  • Reckless vs Conservative Stance: Before getting the game, I'd heard some grousing about "the little puzzle pieces that complicate battle". I'm pleased to say those complaints were unjustified, and most of them seem to be made by folks who haven't actually run a combat with them. Once explained, the system is simple and intuitive, and the stances provide a lot of flavor. Charging into battle full-tilt and headstrong plays very differently than opportunistically waiting for an opening. It accomplishes this without any obvious rules holes, and without breaking you out of the in-character scene. This is a very well-constructed mechanic.
  • Party Tension Meter: While not quite as awesome as the stance system or the fancy dice, this mechanic is very flavorful, and certainly unique. The concept of what your party is, and why it formed, gives you bonus abilities and a fine-tuned tension meter. If the party is at cross purposes, if the characters are squabbling, if the enemy tries bribing you, if the group's thug uses his "Fear Me!" power, the tension meter goes up. In short, you get rewards and benefits for selecting a theme that unifies the party, combined with a weakness the NPCs and situations can prey upon. I like it.
  • Unified Rewards: Experience and Fortune Points don't go to individuals, they go to the group as a whole. The problem with bennies or xp bonuses in most games is that if your gaming style and the GM's style don't match up 100%, you get shorted valuable resources. Meanwhile the person who really clicks with the GM gets the intangible benefit thereof, but also gets the lion's share of the out-of-character mechanical rewards. WFRP sidesteps that trap completely by giving bennies to everyone when one player does something good. No longer will you envy and harbor a grudge against the wittiest player at the table, or the guy who steals the spotlight, instead everyone gets to reap the rewards evenly.
  • Miscellaneous Tools: The game has figured out a clever way to get all the best aspects of crunchy systems like insanity rules, critical hit charts, fiddly combat options, fatigue, morale, etc, without requiring complicated rules and mid-game page-references. It's pretty darned amazing just how much they managed to retain amidst all the streamlining.
  • The Setting: This post is about the rules, mechanics, and components, but the reason you really play WFRP is because of the rich setting. It's not just generic fantasy, it's a grim, gritty world where the supernatural is really evil, the peasants are really smelly, the conspiracies are far-reaching and sinister, the orcs are football hooligans, and Monty Python quotes are not out of place for once.
Overall, I'm really thrilled with this game. In terms of character options, and how much it's got going on at once, it's every bit as crunchy as D&D or Savage Worlds. But if the sample combat my wife and I ran last night is any indication, the moment-by-moment math and resource tracking is so much simpler than most crunchy games, that it plays like something a good deal lighter. I'm very pleased.

But, of course, nothing's perfect. Here's the places where I think they dropped the ball...
  • You can't play the race card: The vast majority of your powers and stats come on these lovely full-color cards. The only exception is the racial abilities. The dwarven abilities such as ignoring penalty dice from darkness, and gaining bonus dice when fighting orcs, should be summarized on a card somewhere. They're not, and there's not even room on the character sheet to add them yourself.
  • No Weapon Cards: Like racial abilities, weapons have special abilities that don't appear on cards, and don't really have room to summarize on the character sheet.
    (I've got a bunch of item cards from Paizo's GameMastery line, which I'll slip into cardsleeves with rules summaries on little note-card scraps to take care of it, but it's a shame to have to go to that effort myself for a game that puts everything else at your fingertips)

  • No summary chart of Actions: It's awesome that all your actions and special abilities are on little cards, so you don't have to pass around a rulebook, but they should have been in the rulebook as well. What if you lose a card, or spill soda on it? What if you'd like to read up on higher-level powers between games? There's no easy solutions for either situation, and character creation (see below) is exasperated by it, too.
  • Hard to House-Rule: Since everything is on cards, and there's no good index or summary chart, house-ruling or customizing could be a pain in the butt. You want to be damn sure your new house-rule is a good one before you start inking it onto the relevant cards. Balancing new monsters or spells is a bit trickier than in a numbers-based system.
  • A weird approach to Niche Protection: I'm all for the idea that players shouldn't double-up on special abilities. You want your character to be unique, and to do something special no one else can do. Putting all the powers on cards does this, but game never clearly states whether or not two characters could "share" a card. The existence of multiples of the basic action implies you can't share. If they can, then there's no niche protection at all, which is a little sad. If they can't, then there's serious benefits to making your character first, spending your experience first, buying a particular card the moment you qualify for it, etc, which is equally sad.
    (Now, maybe I'm missing something, but it seems to me that there's nothing that stops a person playing a Student or Scribe from taking cards like "Troll-Feller Blow" or "Berzerker Rage". Nor does anything stop a two-bit Thug from taking "Honeyed Words" and "Winning Smile", which blurs the lines between character niches.

    The impact on a character introduced late in the campaign, when all the most interesting Action Cards have been bought by others, would be bizarrely limiting. "My randomly-generated character class is Elven Wardancer, but unfortunately, all the Ritual Dance cards were already taken by the group's Dockhand," seems guaranteed to result in hard feelings.)
  • Analysis Paralysis in Character Creation: The default rules assume a semi-random approach to character class. You shuffle up the deck, deal out three classes, and pick the one most interesting to you, instead of choosing from the 35 different starting character classes. Unfortunately, the rest of the options in character creation involve individually reading through 154 action cards, a couple dozen talent cards, etc. And then you spend your 20-25 character points on bonus dice, skills, wealth, and the aforementioned cards, with a completely open-ended point system and no solid advice for what's good to start off with. There's several thousand different viable starting builds, which is admittedly kinda cool, but it makes creating your first character very daunting.
  • Opacity in Card Evaluation: As mentioned in the first section of this post, I love that the game provides flavorful non-binary results, and that I don't have to do any math while playing. But boy does that make it tricky trying to figure out which card is best for my character, or for the current battle. The cards seem pretty well balanced so far, but there could easily be hidden brokenness that a munchkin might exploit, but a casual gamer would completely miss.

The phrase "diamond in the rough" springs to mind. The game has many beautiful polished facets, which shine brilliantly in the spotlight, but are sometimes going to be obscured by the shadows cast from the rough edges that surround them. Figuring out how much the genius of the game outweighs or is outweighed by the downsides will take some time. At first glance, though, it does seem apparent that the rough bits are at least outside of the action. While actually playing, the game is an elegant dream. All the downsides lurk in character creation and advancement, which can probably be house-ruled and simplified without impacting the way the game plays.

I'll have to haul this one with to my weekly one-shot group from time to time, but when I do so, I'll have pregenerated characters, with the relevant cards prepared and sorted. Teaching this character creation system to 4 or 5 people at once would take far more effort than is justified for a one-shot.