Saturday, November 9, 2013

ACKS Post-Mortem III: That We Might Improve

Matt mentioned "the problem areas we had before" in a chat with me, and I wasn't sure which ones specifically he was talking about.  In turn, and in preparation for Scales, it might be worth enumerating and analyzing alllll the things.  No names will be named, except where things were my fault (spoiler: it's all my fault on some level).

And if there's something I missed, players of last campaign, feel free to chime in.  But here are the things that I perceive made you unhappy.
  • Level inequality.  We had folks bringing 3rd-level characters into a game with 7th-level characters.  In principle, this should work because of exponential XP progression; lower level characters should catch up with higher levels ones within the time it takes the higher-level ones to gain a whole level, assuming equal XP shares for everyone.  In practice, this assumption was disrupted by lack of treasure and separate domains, and became a perpetual source of discontent.
    • Solutions: bring new players in with more XP, or allow existing players to burn reserve XP they probably won't need to boost starting player XP, or allow expenditures from the party treasury to generate reserve XP for a new player which is immediately spent.
  • Lack of treasure.  We were focused on clearing hexes, rather than exploring, finding the high-value lairs, and stealing the fat loots.  Caused by lack of understanding of how to play the mid-level game (and my consequent mishandling of treasure maps) and exacerbated by early domains.
    • Solutions: give many treasure maps, provide clear encouragement to players in the mid-levels to focus on stealing treasure from dragons rather than fighting giant catfish.  
  • Early domains.  We had a 5th-level character basically running a town at one point because they had demolished the existing power structure but none of the other players wanted a domain.  This was the beginning of separate domains, below.  Early domains also led to hex-clearing efforts by weak characters, who ran into a lot of trouble with things that a domain-level character would have dealt with easily.  
    • Solutions: Avoid early domains to force PCs to either trade or raid to reach domain levels, at which time they will have the requisite personal power to clear hexes with relative ease, avoiding boredom and frustration.  Threaten low-level PC rulers with 9th-level bandit leaders and other would-be usurpers on a regular basis.  Strong centralized rulers also good for keeping upstart PCs in their places until strong enough to challenge directly.
  • Separate domains.  Not directly causal of negative symptoms, but a contributing factor (and more of a contributing factor than early domains, I would argue).  Led to loss of cohesion, below.
    • Solutions: make the wilderness threatening enough to domains that PCs must unite or lose their holdings in the early domain levels.  Just like all other levels, really.  I was getting there with the Witches of Bleak, but took too long / damage already done.  Provide for division of domain income among the entire party, reducing incentives to personal domains at early levels (particularly to smooth differences in income between thieves' guilds and fighter domains; develop a cooperative domain ecology).  Standard of living costs may also be intended to restrict available individual cash to the point where unification is the only way to finance a new domain.
  • Loss of cohesion.  The lack of treasure forced people to pursue domain activities in order to gain XP and level.  Because we had separate domains, this led to conflict of interest, 'exploitation' of lower-level players to do dirty / bloody / boring / non-profitable hex-clearing work they weren't really equipped for, and subsequent disenfranchisement.  Seeds of conflict of interest were also present due to conflicting visions / reasons for playing, but probably resolvable if not aggravated by economics.  Multithreading to handle six unrelated schemes at once and stock many hexes contributed to DM overload, quality of game deteriorated, game over man.
    • Solutions:  Avoid separate domains, attempt to maintain common set of party goals.  Communicate!  Less good solutions (patches) include DM intervention in player planning and socialization ("You really ought to hold out for more money to go after those ankhegs..."), and unifying existential threats.
So.  How to avoid these this time?  Fixing lack of treasure and avoiding early domains are clear goals of the operative structure of this game.  Level inequality is a very real possibility with infrequent players, but if most expeditions are acquiring significant treasures, they should end up perpetually one level behind or so rather than four.  This is a mainly numerical problem, hence amenable to any number of mechanical / numerical solutions.  I'm most concerned about loss of cohesion with a playerbase this large; with this many people it would be very easy to let folks run hither and yon for a hundred reasons.  I suspect the best means of maintaining cohesion is player awareness that it is at risk; please communicate your goals with other players and be willing to help others toward their goals with the expectation that they will later help you towards yours (and then hold them to it, rather than clearing hexes for them indefinitely!).

1 comment:

Chris Blauwkamp said...

I have a similar problem with occasional players. My solution was to just have them play a long term henchman. Depending on your players, YMMV, but this seems like a good way to have them be able to contribute even if they can't show up very often.