Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Level 1

Ya, lots of chatting in the blogs about how level 1 D&D magic users are hard to play and how it's all a meat grinder.  I have no problem with that, I've run monty haul campaigns and cakewalks and they are no fun.  No stakes.  I'd happily play a level 1 magic user as long as the game was fun and the DM was good.  Now since I support this opinion it's impossible for me to act in any other way because this is the internet and everyone has to pick a side.  Well screw that.  Just because I see this as a good thing in OD&D, I don't have to think that that's the only way to play the game.

In Beacon, level 1 isn't nearly as 'hard' as it is in OD&D.  Firstly you get a pile more hit points - Strength score + 1d6 HP to start. Even the weakest possible PC would have 4 hp to start, and the toughest possible dwarven fighter would have 27!  Maybe that's too much, but it sure makes it easier for the players starting out and it means you are most likely going to survive first level unless you are very unlucky or you charge ahead blindly all the time.  And it's not like I didn't kill some PCs in the play test either.  First level Beacon isn't hard, but it's not a cakewalk.

But it's not all about surviving at low levels, it's about getting to do things.  In Beacon you can usually get into a couple fights before you need to flee or heal.  This is by design.  Since fights are quick you can get through a couple fights pretty fast, and you can get into a lot of them in the course of an evening.  Having to stop and rest after each skirmish would slow things down.  Also magic burns hit points.  Forget about casting one spell a day in Beacon, you can cast 4 or 5 pretty handily - you don't even need to pick them out ahead of time.  However even though a first level Beacon 'magic user' can cast way more spells than a D&D magic user, they can also use crossbows or short swords.  Ol' Thedric sure finds his crossbow in a hurry when the goblins come a running.  What I find the most interesting about using HP as spell juice is that players ration their spells, they don't want to be down to 3 or 4 hp - even if that is all they would have in peek condition in D&D.  It's a visceral thing but it works well - it's a metagamey reaction that simulates character tension/motivation, kind of like the fear players get from level stealing undead.

So I'm of the opinion that this Beacon low level game is working - working for me anyway.  The play test we've been running has characters up to level 3 now and despite a couple little grumbles, I think that the characters are pretty capable but not overpowered.  Really it comes down to what you throw at them at first level, and I'd have no problem throwing a half dozen goblins or a couple of giant frogs at them.  I think it's working for the players too, they seem to have enough to do that they aren't pulling 15 minute adventure days - but have also learned that if they don't ration their resources they are not immune to loosing half the party or flirting with a TPK.

So does this mean I'm not old sckool?  Well I think a lot of my game preferences are OSR certified even if I run a d20 system.  I like descriptive actions, random encounters, unbalanced encounters and resource management.  I'll kill your PC, I'll kill them dead.  I just hope I don't loose any readers because I didn't make everything into charts or subscribe to the meat-grinder chargen philosophy.

1 comment:

  1. I gotta agree with this. During the play test it was the right balance between pathetically helpless, which is no fun and practically invulnerable, which is boring. There were a number of times where it was simply quick thinking or dumb luck that kept us from TPK, which always kept the edge on when we got into combat.