Tuesday, January 17, 2012

NERO: Developing a Playtest

I figured I'd do a little talk about developing playtests for NERO, since it's one of the major jobs for National Rules right now, and that there's some talk about the Nature Magic Playtest in WAR.

As it stands, the Nature Playtest gives some examples of things that should not be included in Playtest submissions. Even though the system as a whole is a decent idea, there are a number of small details that derail the objective of the system. This post will use examples from Nature Magic on what not to do. Next post will be on the aspects of the Nature Playtest that are beneficial and would make for a good playtest.

So without further ado, here are things that you shouldn't do when writing a playtest.

1. Violate Core Concepts without that being the Goal of the Playtest
Nature does three things that are basically in gross violation of core concepts of NERO.

First, the Cocoon spell states that you cannot refuse touch casting. That rule that allows refusal regardless of the situation is in place in part to curb uncomfortable and unwanted physical contact. Cocoon basically allows other players to continue to touch a player while they are essentially helpless, causing an uncomfortable situation for players who don't want to ruin immersion, but don't want to be touched.

The second instance is from the Natural Carapace Cantrip, which is the only in-game effect that actually varies based on class. All distinctions between the various classes are intended to be off-board.

The third instance is the Revival ability (cantrip and formal) which prevents players from resurrecting normally, which is a pretty significant part of the game.

Now, if the goal of the playtest was to reduce the chance of death, then Revival might be appropriate for that playtest (but still might not be accepted if that goal isn't shared by National). But that's not the goal of Nature. Nature is supposed to add more choices and add an archetype that isn't currently represented by the game.

2. Add Excessive Effects and Complexity
Adding effects to the game is something that should be done slowly to prevent players from having to remember more effects. Nature has at least four new effects to 9th edition and a new damage type. These can be overwhelming for new or traveling players who don't use the playtest. Simply put, there's too much going on.

Mend could just as easily be cure light wounds without causing too much trouble. Entangles could just be made into physical pins/binds/webs (with the spell level brought to the appropriate point). Pestilence is too complicated. Petrify is very close to another effect, so again, it could be a physical imprison instead of it's own effect.

Those small changes would remove half the complexity from nature without a lot of substance/balance changes. So when there's an effect that almost works for what you're going for, use it. Additionally, don't use flavor as an excuse to add complexity where it's not needed.

3. Consistency with Other Skills
There are some serious consistency issues with Nature. Regenerate operates differently and is a different spell level from an identical spell. The moving of bind effects from key attack levels 5 and 8 causes some imbalance with regards to takedowns. Armor buffs are not congruent with other magic schools.

Rules are a lot easier to follow when they follow a pattern. Additionally, some of the things that you think are a minor change (reducing entangle spell levels by 1) might actually cause a greater imbalance than expected. In general, try and keep the bulk of things identical, if possible.

What do you think?


  1. Mark Henry ~MariusJanuary 17, 2012 at 4:54 PM

    I agree 90%. I think Nature needs to have enough of it's own stuff to remain unique and prevent it from being deemed a hybrid tree. I wouldn't overload them with other tree's spells and I wouldn't give them something with a different name that fills the same role as you stated.

    I think the major thing that needs to happen on the local level is player feedback before it is submitted for play test.

    Some things seem under-powered to me, and others overpowered.

    I also didn't see too many lower levels go nature. Their perspective will be important for balance just as much as the high level guy.

    As it stands now I think it is too complicated from what I gathered.

    Now for the positive. I think it is an amazing class option, it just needs some refinement.

  2. I still feel that the playtest's goal would be achieved by adding some nature spells to the earth school. See, I was always told Earth WAS the "Nature" school, the one that taps into life and death and the cycle of the seasons. That's why people talk about unusual weather being caused by necromancy.

    If the goal is to simply "add more choices" to the game, I think it'd be better to give choices to fighters and rogues, rather than adding MORE complexity to the complex end of the pool.

  3. @Dan

    I agree with many of your sentiments, but I plan on covering that in the next post on playtests.

  4. I think everything is fantastic.