What is Creative Destruction?
For those who aren’t familiar, it essentially means dismantling (or destroying) existing work to make way for something new. When creating a roleplaying game this can refer to both the setting and the rules. Currently, with Nevermore, it applies to the rules.
It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to update the blog. However, that means I’ve got a lot to say and you’ll likely see a bunch of these in the coming weeks. This week I want to talk a little about creative destruction. To be honest, I’ve never really liked the term, but it’s also a necessary part of any creative process and it’s definitely the phase I’m in with Nevermore right now.
A few things about Nevermore have been bugging me, and with Origins and GenCon coming up quickly, I knew if I was going to make any major rules changes, it was going to have to be soon. There have been two core rules that have been troubling me for a while and this blog post is about why I felt they were a problem and what changes I made.
The first issue was always holding two cards in your hand. The test resolution system for Nevermore previously had players always having two cards in their hand (so you always knew two of the cards you could play) and then drawing one to three additional cards based on your skill level. When polling people, it seemed about 30% hated it, 30% loved it, and 30% were indifferent. Now, this alone wouldn’t necessarily be enough for me to change a rule. Honestly, a lot of rules pan out that way. Some people like ‘em, others don’t. But there was also the fact that a few players (not a lot, but enough) were getting really hung up on the cards in their hand. If they had a pair of hearts, they would take an action until it was something social. This is something I definitely don’t want. In my mind, a game system is there to support the story, not be a part of the story. And I definitely don’t players to feel that their actions are limited by the cards they have in their hand. So, although there were a lot of things I really liked about always holding two cards in your hand, in the end, it had to go.
I’ve been contemplating this aspect of the rules for quite a while so coming up with a change was fairly simple. Now, rather than always holding two cards in your hand and having one to three skill levels which add cards, now skill levels range from one to five and you draw a number of cards equal to your skill level. For example, if you have three levels of a skill, you draw three cards, and those are the cards you play. That simple. Since you can now play just one or two cards (the minimum used to be three) the odds of gaining successes shift downward somewhat, but I’m OK with that since I was feeling that successes were coming a little too easily anyway. Of course, that was just the beginning and caused a cascade effect through all the rules. Character creation would need to grant more skill levels. But not only that, a lot of ancillary systems rely on changing the two cards in your hand to a Blind Draw. Since all draws are now technically “Blind Draws” that no longer makes sense. (A Blind Drawm meant that you had to draw the two base cards in your hand when the test is made so you had no foresight in how well you would do in the test.)
It was a lot of work to get things ready for Origins. I want to give a special thanks to those of you who played the emergency playtest session of A Winter’s Tale: Dara, Robert, Chela, and Jack. That session helped me verify that the changes made sense. In the end, I think the extra work to get ready for Origins was worth it. The game plays much more smoothly, and it’s one less wrinkle to have to explain to new players.
Despair to Courage
You might recall that I mention that I changed two major rules. The second was the Despair system. I just wasn’t happy with how it was working. The method of resisting gaining Despair wasn’t intuitive. And I felt that it was confusing that you gain Despair but lose Grit. So what did I change? Two things:
First, I change Despair to Courage. Now Courage functions just like Grit in that when you encounter something unsettling or terrifying, you lose Courage (whereas you used to grain Despair). When you run out of Courage you start taking Psychological Conditions (exactly like you take Damage Conditions when you run out of Grit). The Psychological Conditions are based on your character’s current Weakness, so they can change if your Weakness changes. The important thing here is that now, dealing with psychological trauma works almost exactly the same as taking physical damage which makes the game easier to learn and play.
Second, I added Hardening which is your resistance to taking Courage damage. In a fight, you can avoid taking Grit damage by making an opposed Fisticuffs test or an Escape test. This gives players a test they can make to eliminate or reduce Courage damage. There are four types of Hardening based on different events that can cause you to lose Courage, and each is associated with a card suit: Loss (Hearts), Violence (Clubs), Identity (Spades), and Horror (Diamonds). You can have up to five levels (the same as skill levels) of Hardening against each. Each level of Hardening allows you to draw one card (using the connected suit), and each success reduces the amount of Courage you lose by one. For example, if you encounter a monster that causes 3 Courage damage, and you have two levels of Horror Hardening you get to draw two cards for a test. Hardening tests work pretty much just like every other test in that you get a success for each card that is equal to or less than your Quality in the indicated Quality (in this case Pneuma) and for each that matches the Quality’s suit (in this case Diamonds. The only difference is that in this case if you would get a success from both suit and number you must spend your Fortune immediately for an additional success, even if you don’t need it. That’s about it.
The games at Origins gave me some additional thoughts and ideas for a few more tweaks but I think we’re past any major changes from now on. More on those later.