Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Alchemy over Essence?

I remember that when I ran Thracia a few players that bought the Alchemy skill complained that it ‘never worked’, was ‘broken’ or was ‘too complicated’.

There were a number of reasons for these complaints – but, the most common was players ignorance and bitching.

Now, I’m not going to blame the players here. A few failings on behalf of the Game Team:

  1. Complaints were never dealt with. I wasn't 'allowed' to approach players because then I was “being a bully, telling them what to do” and the other referees dismissed players concerns as “they’re just being stupid
  2. The process should have been presented and described to players. I was told this would lead them to “cheating based on OOC knowledge". I was also told this was a bad idea because “LARP and magic shouldn’t be number crunching” – despite the fact this is exactly what I had been planning with Alchemy; magical maths!
  3. I should have described the process in the rulebook – see the above negative comments
  4. There needed to be a blog-like post issued which handled the concerns and addressed issues – so there was an official response to worries and people had a frame of reference. I was told it “would only upset everyone. People would moan about it
  5. Players needed official feedback so they could see what they needed to do better – I was told any feedback was “fuel for the bitching fire
  6. Clearer indications of how powerful something was, was needed. I was told that “players prefer being in the dark because then there’s more exploration” – the nature of “game” and “risk” being entirely ignored by the referees

However, players began to neither listened to, nor attempted to understand the rules for Alchemy – which is understandable, as the Game Team had effectively let them down just one too many times.

I remember one player left to play Aftermath because he thought the Game Team was out to get him and was trying to cheat him – when I approached him about it he cited the last 7 times his Alchemy ‘failed’.

The thing was, his Alchemy hadn’t failed on any of those times. They’d done exactly what he requested, exactly what he wanted, each time. What was wrong was he was expecting the Game Team to “you know what I meant” and “be able to get the gist of the way I wanted it”. He was also expecting Alchemy to be like other spell-casting (a ‘point and click’ approach) which it wasn’t. Alchemy was not battle magic; it was a tool and should have been used as such and not twisted to meet his own subjective interpretations we desperately had to guess at.

Alchemy was a process of points. To link two objects via Alchemy was 1 point. From there, the second object could be manipulated through second – it was a ‘sympathetic’ link.

For example, if I had 2 twigs, I could sympathetically link them for 1 point. A further 1 point could be expended for the second twig to empathetically respond to the first when I set the first on fire. The second twig would then also burst aflame.

I could do this from 1 twig to 2 others for a further 1 point – 1 more sympathetic link.

Where it got a little weirder was if the second object wasn’t like the first – say, if the second was a stone. Well, I’d have to expend more points to heat the stone, simply because the twig wasn’t like the stone.


Well, the first object – the ‘focus’ was given a mark out of 5 by the referee – 1 being “not at all like the target” and 5 being “the same thing as the target”. This was added to the player’s points total.

Then it was divided by 3. This gave the spell a ‘Rank’.

All spells in the game were listed by Rank. The equivalent of Level 1 spells in CP (‘Confusion’, ‘Mend’, ‘Lesser Healing’) were Ranks 1-3. The equivalent of Level 2 spells in CP (‘Greater Healing’, ‘Magic Missile’) were Ranks 5-6.

Following the example above:

  • 2 metal armours, linked – 1 point
  • 1st armour is like the 2nd (same material, same shape and size) – 5 points
  • Total: 6 points
  • Divide 3:  Rank 2
  • Effect: Equivalent to a Level 1 (Ranks 1-3) spell – i.e. break the first armour = reduce the second armour by 1 point

  • 1 twig, 1 stone
  • Stone in circle, not like the twig – 1 point
  • Total: 2 points
  • Divide 3: 0.3, No Rank
  • Effect: set light to the twig, nothing happens

The only real thing the players needed to worry about was the wording – players had to tell us what they wanted the spell to do – and this is exactly the same for any other magic, anywhere. The problem was exactly what I just said – the player waved their hands vaguely and used to tell us that “well, I wanna… you know… with…. That…. And them over there…. And… yeah”

Finding him bitching to another game system about our rules not working and putting off potentially new players due to his lack of effort and understanding was… disappointing.

Age of Essence is a LARP that has spell-casting rules developed from the Alchemy rules from Thracia. Luke Still, the creator of Age of Essence was a Thracia player – one that for 3 years described my game as “the best system he has ever played”.

I remember talking to him about possibly changing Alchemy so it was a system of beads of ‘crystallised magic’ that could be drawn from a variety of sources.

We discussed a player possibly being able to draw only from certain materials to start, and as they progressed, the skill expanded to allow drawing magic from other sources. The idea became that crystallised magic – a things “essence” – were exchangeable and tradeable by Alchemists, who then used the beads to fuel Alchemy.

The beads would be a physical reminder of the power you’re using. I was also suggesting that herbal and crafting material cards have numbers on them which would also be their value for affecting the Alchemy. The rules would otherwise be the same.

I then also had the idea of having all the beads as white, and introducing red and blue beads to the mix – red was ‘corrupted’ essence and blue was ‘crystal faith’. If you drew a number of red or blue this became a secondary effect to the Alchemy – the number drawn being the Rank, rather than divisible by 3. This would be the inherently unstable nature of Alchemy – red meaning the caster possibly suffers the blow-back event.

Luke developed this idea onto the colours being from ‘elements’ and Alchemy becoming spell-casting.

I see Luke has since developed a system from this that allows for some interesting spells, and interesting magic – it works, and that’s good. I do think it’s a bit DnD, and lacks the investigative, explorative and dangerous (read: exciting) nature of what I had in mind, however. Its is also, unfortunately, ridiculously complicated to the point that I'm not sure how playable it actually is in practice - seen by the numerous changes that have occurred to it, and still are occurring.

I also think that his dividing it into ‘Lawful’ and ‘Chaos’ was developed from my idea of the red and blue beads somehow creating additional effects, which along with the way Thracia was set up (like LT) with ‘Light’ and ‘Dark’ alliances, strengthened to  imply that sides were ‘good’ and ‘evil’, like any good’ol fashioned RPG. It's not my taste, and it's way too restrictive for the clever uses that could be gained from a more neutral perspective, but if that's the way it's working for him, cool.

Maybe one day I’ll get to play around with my original idea and see how well it worked or didn’t. I’m pretty confident it’d work quite well, and I reckon it’d be fun where the beads could else be used – Rituals? Forged into armour and weapons?

Anyway, I’m glad someone got some good use out of it and that it’s going well.