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Aysle Review and Balance Comments

Posted: Wed Aug 07, 2019 12:08 pm
by Fuzzy
This is not an Aysle Q&A thread... it's just for commenting about the initial release, likes and dislikes, and balance.

I am surprisingly pleasantly surprised... The put out a lot of content here, and they really changed the play and feel of the Aysle domain in a very significant way. On the whole, they've done quite a good job balancing the Aysle book, and especially of creating different play types WITHIN Aysle.
Non-spellcasters in Aysle are extremely viable. The magic item diplomat perk is another good example. Most advanced Ayslish characters would take it in a heartbeat, but just can't.

I was initially very skeptical of how they are managing item limitations, but I think it's actually done quite well. I don't know about fully sentient items (voices to manage), but the notion of empathic jealous items is OK. Balance wise, it works. Aysle mass armies are still quite weaker than tech armies, even if equipped with common magic items, but this is accounted for in the Law of Heroism. (I especially like the flip side of that law... most ords are not heroes, and they KNOW IT, so when danger comes they just wait for heroes to show up... kind of the opposite of core earth where anyone can be a hero).

The only global thing that still annoys me is how expensive additional powers are beyond the first 3... Not only do you need skills and stats focused on those powers, but it's 1 perk 1 power. The elven perk (3 spells) has another elven perk as a prepreq, and that perks is nearly 100% useless. So that's a 3 for 2 perk ratio, once. Compare this to Nile's pulp powers, you don't need a Mind of 11 and 5 adds in Alteration to learn invisibility, and you can keep invisibility active without concentration (but, yes, there are flaws). I generally think a global 1 perk = 2 powers ratio would be appropriate given what it takes to learn spells, but this is obviously a ship that has sailed, and we limit house rules to things that are 100% broken or game breaking. In general, the added spell perks like spell book are crippling because they retro-actively apply to ALL your spells, even your workhorse combat spells, so no real mage can use them. Memorized spells are useful in other games (i.e. D&D) because you get a lot of them, and slots that can be repeated. Here, you get 6 spells, each with one use. And... done. If you get stuck in a long combat, you run out of stuff you can do in 3-4 rounds (assuming 2-3 spells are utility instead of combat, which is likely). If you have Magister, even faster. Same is true with the arcane knowledge perks... 5 perks that all come from one knowledge (which requires different skills to master) is not really feasible for most players. Compare this to Sorcerer Supreme in Nile, which is *just better* than spellbook since you can basically get access to every utility spell in the realm without having to know it. The primary thing that sets Aysle magic apart (other than items) is not the perks (Nile is better, and other realms aren't that much worse), it's the high axiom spells. Here, I think they did a good job. Teleport, for example, is Skill 18 to learn... you need a 13 stat and 5 adds. Not easy, but it's something no other realm can do. (The limitation is also harsh... not just "take a wound", but something with real permanent consequences and serious risk that you don't mess with except in real emergencies.) Kudos. Well done. It's hard to create abilities that are really different and balanced, and not just re-skins of the same basic trope.

The feel of play is actually quite unique. In some ways, it feels like 2nd edition D&D. It's a bit campy, though not as campy as Nile Empire. Anyone who has played RPGs recognizes the memes immediately. It's pretty easy to go along thinking that you know exactly where everything is heading, but then just when you get comfortable with the plot it takes a serious twist, and sh$t can hit the fan really quickly. For example, you're in a scenario where you recognize a fable, and you know exactly what part you have to play and how everything will turn out, and then just when you think you're in charge, you realize the realm is playing you rather than you playing the realm. There's this exultant sense in Aysle of getting to play heroes out of legend, but then finding that you are trapped in the same legend that originally trapped those heroes.

I'm also glad they ramped up the threat levels... You don't have to use them, but the deadliness in Aysle is significant. The monsters are real, they have powers and stats, and they can kill you. It's very different from other realms where you generally face hordes of troops and then some villains. In Aysle, you can fight a bunch of chaff, and then find yourself staring down some gigantic beast with a toughness of 20 or more, hits like a freight train, and has really high skill. What it does not have is low skill ord troops that can shoot you with a tank round for 33 damage... several times. So it's different, and that's hard to achieve.

Also, a lot of character concepts are fully viable... You can play a paladin with a holy weapon, magic shield, and a few other magic items and perks, and stand toe to toe with a tharkoldu just as well as anyone. The spells, likewise, are a good selection, and they push the boundaries appropriately.

The perks list has standard issues... there are a lot of perks that generally no one will ever take. Even some that in concept are good (the Drake rider sequence), in practice are very expensive for what you get on the other side. One thing I do like, however, is the differentiation by alignment. For example, Seeker is NOT available to anyone who has Light or Dark perks. Seekers are therefore by nature selfish, balance-oriented Outsider types... mercenaries who get hired by both the Light and the Dark, or who temporarily align with one side or the other.

On the dark perks, it seems the intent is to allow anti-heroes... but, in practice, Dark is so corrupting in Aysle that you can't really do this. IN general the book does convey the sense that Dark is winning, and it's easy to fall prey to corruption. We have yet to see Orrorsh, but even Aysle the Dark in Orrorsh feels more Orrorshan than it did in Otorg.

Overall, I give the Aysle book a solid 8 out of 10. The only reason it's not higher is because there are some things that could still be refined a bit (particularly on the perk side), but the overall structure is really done well. Unlike Otorg, it sets up Aysle as a realm that I think will become a favorite for players and GMs alike.

Re: Aysle Review and Balance Comments

Posted: Wed Aug 07, 2019 1:28 pm
by Spatula
I agree they did a great job with the book.

You’re misunderstanding Spellbook, however. It’s not one-use memorized spells. You can keep using each spell until you suffer backlash for casting it - usually from failing to cast it. And if you’re an elf you can reduce that to “rolling a Mishap” because you can eliminate regular backlash. That plus Elven Magic (and higher attribute limits) gives elf mages a lot of potential.

Re: Aysle Review and Balance Comments

Posted: Thu Aug 08, 2019 7:45 pm
by fougerec
Spatula beat me to it but yes, you only lose the spell if you backlash. We have a spellcaster in our game who has only suffered backlash like once per session. Definitely nothing that would make Spellbook a detriment.

Re: Aysle Review and Balance Comments

Posted: Thu Aug 08, 2019 11:41 pm
by Greymarch2000
Likewise I had a character with Spellbook in my game who only got backlash, well, never.

Re: Aysle Review and Balance Comments

Posted: Fri Aug 09, 2019 2:12 am
by utsukushi
I think... I mean, Rabbitball or Deanna can weigh in more officially when they have a chance, but that can't be the intention, can it?

The way Backlash is covered in the rules is a little weird. The term is used pretty consistently except in the rules that talk about it most directly, where, for all three Power types, it just says the caster/invoker/psi "suffers 2 Shock" on failure. Likewise, the Resilient and Elven Sorcerer Perks don't mention Backlash, they just say you suffer 1 less Shock. The actual word "backlash" comes up under Heretical Magic, Hexxers, the Targeting inset on p188, and... the Portal spell, vaguely. And, of course, oTorg.

I don't know if Resilient and a Hexxer reduces your Shock to 0. The Hexxer halves Shock but rounds up to a minimum of 1, so that would depend on which order they happen in -- if a Resilient Spellcaster with a Hexxer reduces it by 1 for Resilient and then the Hexxer applies, they still take one. If the Hexxer halves the Shock and then Resilient applies, they would take 0 Shock. I think it is probably the second, largely because I'm certain that if you have Resilient and a Vav Sensation Suppressor, that works just like Resilient + Elven Sorcerer, reducing 2 Shock to 0.

But there seems to be a little bit of separation between actually taking Shock, and causing Backlash. I think Backlash happens whenever you fail a Power roll, whether you actually suffer Shock or not. Even speaking purely as a player, if I had the Spellbook Perk I wouldn't expect that just because I've reduced the Shock of my Backlash to 0, that means Backlash isn't happening. I think if you have Spellcaster and Spellbook, Backlash means "2 Shock and you forget the spell until you have a moment to review". If you have Spellcaster, Spellbook, and Resilient, Backlash means "2 - 1 = 1 Shock and you forget the spell". If you have Spellcaster, Spellbook, Resilient, and (Elven Sorcerer/Sensation Suppressor/etc) then Backlash means, "2 - 2 = 0 Shock and you forget the spell."

But I do wish it was clearer in the rules, because I can totally see the argument that reducing Shock to 0 means you're not experiencing Backlash and therefor Spellbook is just, whee! More spells, no strings! And granted, those Shock-on-Backlash reducing Perks often feel like very low-powered Perks, so maybe letting them build up to that big bonus is worth it. But I don't think that Shock-from-Backlash and Backlash are strictly synonymous.

Re: Aysle Review and Balance Comments

Posted: Fri Aug 09, 2019 3:37 am
by JohnBiles
I would definitely interpret it as 'if you fail with the spell, you can't use it again until you have a minute to study it'. This is a pretty small limitation.

(I also have to note that Sorceror Supreme lets you use one spell by spending a poss and posses don't grow on trees in this edition. Whereas Spellbook lets you use three spells and not spend poss, unless you fail, but it takes a very short time to relearn it.)

Re: Aysle Review and Balance Comments

Posted: Fri Aug 09, 2019 10:43 am
by Greymarch2000
Especially while adventuring in Aysle itself it isn't that difficult to engineer simply not failing spell checks. Spending Shock for the bonus before the roll, spending cards or possibilities (or both) after the roll and using cards to reroll Mishaps you can more or less always succeed depending on how many resources you want to spend.

Granted, for me this was mid-to-late-Beta characters so they had higher skill adds than fresher characters. Skill totals of 15-19 really help.

Re: Aysle Review and Balance Comments

Posted: Fri Aug 09, 2019 12:52 pm
by Spatula
Another way to avoid backlash except on Mishaps (or being in the Cyberpapacy, or getting hit with Heighten Backlash) is to be a specialist and get an appropriate orb (pages 59 & 61). I do agree that Spellbook would be better if it keyed off of failure, because it does seem strange that several varieties of mages can all but eliminate the downside.

Re: Aysle Review and Balance Comments

Posted: Fri Aug 09, 2019 10:09 pm
by Rabbitball
I will let Deanna answer the question about Hexxer, but Backlash is defined as the Shock taken from failed spells. So theoretically zero Shock is no backlash, but I would be very happy to rule that any failure forces you to relearn the spell from your Spellbook.

Re: Aysle Review and Balance Comments

Posted: Sun Aug 11, 2019 1:21 am
by utsukushi