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General Category => Your Stuff => Topic started by: Ron Edwards on June 28, 2013, 04:18:51 PM

Title: [Atlantis] Playtest and feedback
Post by: Ron Edwards on June 28, 2013, 04:18:51 PM

I'm writing about one of the Sorcerer Kickstart playtest pledges: Atlantis, by Jerry Grayson (see here ( and here ( It's written as the third of a trilogy of games, united through certain motifs and a common system (Omega). It's pure pulp-fantasy romp, antediluvian to the max: Lemurians, Atlanteans, Vril, all that stuff. Jerry's determined to invoke raw fun, inspired as far as I can tell by Clark Ashton Smith and Jack Vance.

I read through and marked up the text I got, then called Jerry for a conversation, and then I played the game. This sequence has evolved into my procedure for all the Kickstart playtest texts I've received so far (four out of pledged eight).

Complexity upon complexity
The main concern I raised with Jerry is that he has grafted an engaging and complex reward system on top of an equally complex and point-structured creation/resolution/improvement system. Which means there's a lot of moving parts – both their interactions and their own subroutines need clarity and elegance.

See figure 1 ( for how the baseline system works (look at the first figure in the file).

The idea is, you could merely use ordinary resolution, gain experience points, and increase your attributes and skills like any "normal" RPG character. But if you do great deeds, then you also get Renown, which along with various in-fiction benefits (social impressiveness, e.g.), raises your initially small Hero Point Pool and also permits you to spend more of it for bonuses per roll.

You have your basis skill + attribute – penalty rolling system (the deadly/gritty part), and the bonuses are pretty much necessary for doing the really crazy-cool stuff and surviving to tell about it (the pulp/plot-armor part). Therefore if the GM is making great deeds sufficiently difficult and dangerous, then those bonuses really matter. And it's a positive-feedback cycle yielding a positive exponential curve in effectiveness; there's no downside to doing great deeds and getting Renown and thereby being even better at doing the next deeds.

This in itself is a well-built version of a lot of post-80s play, in which so-called experience points were also used as an expendable pool for bonuses, and in which in this case is sensibly divorced from the meat-and-potatoes improvement system. You always start a session with a full tank of Hero Points, so raising its capacity is a serious resource, and raising its per-use limit is too – therefore Renown is a fine thing to accumulate; it's not like you're racing to replace the one's you've spent.

But that's not all. There's a whole tertiary layer built onto this structure, and to understand it, you must first understand that the game is built – so far – on entirely free and freewheeling player choice, in terms of character behavior and obligations. As explained so far, this is about free spirits ranging far and wild into a colorful and crazy world, doing whatever they will in any way, whenever they like. There is no intrinsic behavioral positioning whatsoever, not even personality.
Title: Re: [Atlantis] Playtest and feedback
Post by: Ron Edwards on June 28, 2013, 04:24:19 PM
Unlike the rest of the game (the part I've explained so far), the third layer is (i) entirely player-optional and (ii) affects characters' behavioral and other positioning. See figure 2 ( for how the third layer of the system works (same file, just look at the next figure).

The point of the third layer is to provide juicy bonuses far above and beyond what your hard-earned Hero Point Pool can provide – at a cost to your character's freedom, in one way or another.  They directly invoke fictional content and provoke fictional effects.

Disadvantages are Relationships (basically emotionally), Internal (basically psychology), and External (basically socially). There isn't much risk from the player point of view, but quite a lot of risk and stress from the character's point of view – you simply inject capital-D drama into their lives as some feature of the situation.

The gods entail lots of rituals and obligations and mandated behavior. The risk is that in this setting, the "gods" are actually merely big, hungry, amoral monsters, and devotion to them puts you in their reach. (more on the mechanics of this below)

Atman includes three complex pairs of elements which shift between differing values in a zero-sum fashion; drawing on them for bonuses tends to increase one of the relevant pair and decrease the other. The risk is becoming a Paragon of a given element, seriously restricting your personality and skewing your effectiveness in specific ways.

Granted, these are typically fun costs, especially the Disadvantages, which you get to invoke and narrate, rather than the GM. And one might even enjoy temporarily becoming a Paragon for an Atman Element, perhaps depending on how reversible it turns out to be in the final design. But the thematic motor is quite distinct; this is the only way in which the character becomes complex, whether psychologically (Internal Disadvantages), morally (Atman), institutionally (the Gods), socially (External Disadvantages), and emotionally (Relationship Disadvantages). If you want to play the cares-about-nothing do-as-you-want free spirit character, go ahead, but you'll have to do it without oodles of bonus dice.
Title: Re: [Atlantis] Playtest and feedback
Post by: Ron Edwards on June 28, 2013, 04:26:08 PM

I hope you can see that this is seriously complex RPG design. To avoid it becoming an indigestible mess, the parts should work together painlessly, without exclusion between cycles, without any arrows that interfere with the indicated cycles, without big skews in the currency at any point, and without complicated subroutines.

Fortunately the rules contain no exclusion, by which I mean, there's no bullshit devaluing of great deeds in terms of Renown by using the tertiary level. You know about rules like this: for example, ordinarily you get extra experience points for critical hits, but not if the critical total was achieved via secondary modifiers. More generally, "Doing X is great, but not if you use this particular means which we have provided which actually permits you to do more X." It's pure cock-blocking and bad design. In this case, it would look like, "You only get Renown for great deeds if you didn't use Atman/Disadvantages/Gods to do it" – which would be bullshit. The fact that it isn't there is a good sign.

I did find one interfering arrow: that Renown sets the limit on how many bonuses may be drawn using Atman, which I recommended to Jerry to remove. It seems to me that all the tertiary (green) mechanisms benefit from the "enough rope to hang yourself" principle, without limits; and it keeps Renown's "hands to itself" in the red-marked rules, where it belongs.

Gods stuff seems pretty borked along the same lines, and if the texts I'm reading are any indication, this material is still under heavy revision. It's not clear how you get bonuses from invoking or worshipping the gods, and it's all mixed up with spending Hero points and levels of Atman. I recommend that it needs to be a genuine subsystem of its own, independent of those mechanics.

Perhaps my point of view makes more sense when I refer to multiple sections in the text which makes it clear that the power/might/institution of the gods has nothing to do with morality or spirituality. Therefore nothing about the mechanics should reference the Atman whatsoever. Jerry, I don't know if you've seen my discussion of the components of religion (Estimated Prophet (, but check it out – in that breakdown, the Atman is belief and any manifestation thereof into actions, but the gods are observance and institution.

I also observed that the currency for disadvantages is skewed, making them very stingy compared with Atman. It's easy to fix, as we discussed, by  one major skew in the currency: disadvantages were piddly compared to Atman – easy to fix, just making them 2:1 like the Atman units, and that's how I played it.

The real problem is that fucking subroutines are everywhere throughout the rules. If they must be kept (e.g., the pairing/tradeoff among Atman elements), then they must be made consistent among the tripartite free bonus dice mechanisms. But most of them don't have to be kept, as I see it, but rather must, absolutely must get removed, especially from ordinary character creation and resolution.

For example, in the text I first received, the Atman system featured a complex subroutine of permanency points. The good news is that Jerry had already scrubbed it by the time we got to our phone call – which is also good because it means my eyes/point-of-view are merely helping him in a process he was already embarked upon. (It's important to me that I help an author with his or her intended game, not impose Ron's game onto it.)

However, the most important target for this concern, as I see it, is anything and everything about the base-line system, the stuff illustrated in black in my diagram. Years ago, this was Jerry's post-D20, does-it-all system, and it shows that history by containing dozens of nested points and fractions and rolls. After all, in such a system (GURPS, Rolemaster, BRP), all those modifiers, details, and reactive rolls are what give the fiction any nuances at all. Think of all the weapon types and encumbrance rules. But here, all that stuff needs to be rendered easy as pie or left for simple Color.

I call the technique toward this end "sandblasting." Look at what the most fun effect could be for any particular detail that you really want to have in the game, and make it happen. Remove any contingency beyond the basic resolution.

The perfect example is the knockdown rules for hafted weapons. The text says:

When attacking, if the attack roll is a critical hit the attacker has a chance to knock his opponent down. To resist the knockdown, the opponent rolls his STR with a DoD equal to the damage. A partial success means the opponent is shaken and suffers a penalty of -2 for his next action. If knocked down, the opponent must spend an action getting back up.

When I sandblast this, here's what it says instead: A critical hit with a hafted weapon knocks the foe down, and that's it. Why? Well, a critical is already a subset of a hit, itself a contingent event, and a hafted weapon is a subset of a weapon. We're already well into if-and-if territory, so adding a Fortune-based step at the end of it is nothing but procedural pain in the ass. That is, in the context of the three-layered system we're talking about here. If you got this far, then fucking knock him down already.

So I recommend going through every single feature of the basic point-and-resolution system (all the stuff in black in my diagrams) and sandblasting the living hell out of it. What should remain is only the bare functional bones of the Omega system.

Here's another, more general example. The resolution mechanic is a d20 roll, with 10 and over being a success, and 20 and over being a critical success, always. Here I'm talking about the total, after calculating in bonuses and penalties. And that's great. However, the system also includes some results based on the raw roll itself, what he calls a "natural failure" of 1-5 showing on the die. I recommend that all such rules be scrubbed. The results table based on the mathematical table is great – to add another thing that the die reveals as a parallel success/fail system is completely unnecessary; it's like running two resolution systems in your head at once, the last thing I need in one of the components of a layered system like this.

The point-based character creation system needs some sandblasting too. I think that the 30 customized points provide way too much choice about way too little units – at the very least, turn them into six units of five points. Another way to look at this is that every character needs some Evade, so bake it into character creation rather than provide the "choice" to put it in at this step.

Another, more severe example comes out of our phone conversation, which concerns the traits. I think they are a curse and a blight even in their original context of the basic (Omega) system, just like they are in all such systems. As I see it, if you want to the character to be extra-cunning, just buy up the INT attribute and the relevant skills – including a Cunning Trait in the rules is nothing but confusing at best (is my character cunning without the trait, even if he or she does have the INT and the relevant skills?) and a numerical breakpoint at worst. Similarly, if you want to do something awesome in a particular moment, like cut multiple opponents in half, the difficulty penalty is already there for the GM to impose, and for you to overcome with Hero Point bonuses and narrating whatever you'd like – so putting in a Cleave Trait is utterly redundant. 95% of the listed traits are accounted for by those rules, and the other 5% could just as easily be found as neat Lifepath items, like an animal companion.
Title: Re: [Atlantis] Playtest and feedback
Post by: Ron Edwards on June 28, 2013, 04:29:43 PM

The game we played
I played with the guys who'd just played one of the Sorcerer Kickstart pledge games, Tony and Bruce, as well as Bruce's eight-year-old son, Sam. I made up some characters for them, basically a power trio: an Atlantean Shaper-Sorcerer, a Human Slayer-Warrior, and an Anubim Taker-Assassin. I decreed them all to be from a single culture, Aztlan, specifically the Aztek people, which gave me all kinds of fun with Central and Southern American pyramids and Moebius-style imagery surrounding it. The characters' life-paths were pretty easily adapted into a history of them coming together as a trio. In an all-adult group, I would have made either the sorcerer or the warrior a female character merely for the awesome pulp visual value, but given the group, I made them all male. In retrospect, that logic seems suspect to me and I should have left that up to the players, per character.

A bit of context: the sorcerer was a local noble with some political problems, a drug habit (purple smoke), and strong ties to his human-centric home culture; the warrior was slave-born but king-destined; and the jackal-man assassin was friends with the sorcerer and a good tactical teammate with the warrior.

I found the life-paths to be surprisingly generic, meaning that the category you choose didn't offer that much different a table from any other. You might choose four Warrior life-paths in a row and get nothing but scholarly pursuits, for instance, and you'd get the same scholarly pursuits table that anyone else might get. I had thought that character concept would factor into it more heavily. I also would not have minded getting less skills defined from the professions or free choice, and more from the life-paths.

During play, we learned and performed most of the mechanics more or less on the fly, but the game is remarkably easy once you get into it and we were comfortable after the rolls in the very first scene. Each subsystem (magic, combat, et cetera) is an honest application of the same basic system (much like HeroQuest), so you don't have to grind your way through differing equations or point-structures per type of action.

As for GM content, well, the setting is basically Clark Ashton Smith meets The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, so I was right at home. I had a couple of ideas going in, but otherwise improvised with great joy. Whacked landscapes and hallucinatory dangers are my one talent in role-playing, and I'd been listening to Uriah Heep in the car all the way to Tony's place. My real goal was to come up with as many reasons to roll as possible, anyway.

We began with the trio's winged sky-boat traveling over the lands into wilderness, and eventually to a bad-ass, ancient pyramid. They encountered living lightning beings who mischievously tried to stop them at first, but were made agreeable through a spell. I got weird with their attempted landing on the pyramid's top, which disintegrated their boat and sucked them through the energy-field there; I called for Will rolls to see whether they could remain corporeal, and only the sorcerer made it. He ended up in the Thing's brain and the others became part of its mind. (Yeah, the acid was kicking in pretty hard about now.) The warrior convinced it that he was real with an awesome display of self-aggrandizement, including a battle with a minotaur-statue-lava monster; the assassin actually blended into its mind so that it believed him to be a home-grown thought.

Long story short, all three found themselves helping the Big Thing deal with an infection, i.e., a more traditional break-in and looting session by some NPCs, including scary Lemurians with all manner of high-tech. They won that fight quite dramatically, including a terrific back-stab by the assassin, and more-or-less founding a new cult to worship this Big Thing.

The players embraced play with verve, to the point where they apparently relished the savage penalties I inflicted upon their rolls, even proposing more outrageous actions (but good, not goofy) toward that very end. Sam was fun as the dickens, seizing upon the three prior adventures written onto his character sheet as motivational history. In fact, one of Tony's character's prior-adventure events provided the whole justification for the adventure anyway, in that the sorcerer had read something on a magical wall that led them here.

Most importantly for our playtest, we saw plenty of Disadvantages and Atman elements in use. The whole adventure was given its back-story, at least in terms of character history, by people bringing in stuff from their Disadvantages. I already mentioned the writing on the wall, and the invading NPCs turned out to be led by the jackal-man's rival and funded by the sorcerer's enemy. (One of the nice things about the game, too, is that if you're bored with a disadvantage, just forget it, and assign its points to any other sort that you'd like – so say if "my enemy the senator" gets old, then you don't have to be stuck with him.) All of the characters utilized various Atman elements for bonuses; coping with the energies of the pyramid Big Thing was Void, for instance, and we got to see several others too. Sam's character came close to becoming a Fire Paragon, and it was cool to see him totally understand the mechanics. "So if I don't want to do that, I need to do lots of Water stuff and fail."

I fully admit I plowed roughshod through the more complex subroutines of the basic mechanics, including the nuances of damage, the subtler point-based effects of magic, and similar things. I most violated the basic system in designating the Lemurians "two-hit" foes rather than the more difficult opponents they'd have been if they were built using the system. Unfortunately that aspect of the rules – mechanics for non-PC foes as well as various creatures – wasn't available to me, so, Lemurian, hit you twice and you're down.

However, we did honor basic resolution fully and I think we confirmed that it's an effective chassis for the higher-order reward mechanics, which is specifically what Jerry had asked me to analyze. As I implied above, the lesson was and is, "GM, do not wimp out! Impose the harshest possible penalties you can, which you do by throwing way more danger at the characters, of any kind, than you ever would imagine was reasonable for a game like this, and do it all at once." I thought in terms of increments of 5, i.e., -5, -10, and so on, and occasionally I hurled -20 at them. I don't think there was a single roll without such a penalty.
Title: Re: [Atlantis] Playtest and feedback
Post by: Ron Edwards on June 28, 2013, 04:30:37 PM

What I really don't get
… is the official way, in this game, to come up with situations: the characters being together, them wanting to do stuff, and stuff being there for them to do.

Obviously, I can make it happen, in the way I did this time, which is pretty much me saying, "You're here, this is minimally why, go," letting them fill in the blanks by using Disadvantages, and effectively keeping up The Perils of Pauline ( until it seems like a great deed has been done. But as the author of Sorcerer & Sword, it pains me to juxtapose passionate, exciting heroes with completely GM-imposed problems, turning them into dancing monkeys for my organ grinding. Great-deed-doing heroes need to want to do stuff. What sort of context is available for those desires to emerge?

It all goes back to my essay Setting and emergent story (, which in this case especially applies to character creation, but also to situation/scenario creation of all kinds. How are opportunities made for great deeds? How can that be done without the GM always going into play with a great deed in mind for them to do? Because relying strictly on that mechanism starts the slippery slope to railroading.

Jerry, the best way to answer that question is also easy: when you play, what do you do? When you write that down, it becomes your GM-rules section. I'd love to see it.

Best, Ron

Whew! My intended posting got screwed up a little, but I made it work.
Title: Re: [Atlantis] Playtest and feedback
Post by: Jerry D. Grayson on July 02, 2013, 01:54:56 AM

First of thank you for the help and insight into the game. Its more than I expected and its helping me look at the game from a different perspective.

Of the Atlantis is by far the most difficult game of the three that’s I’ve done since it isn’t solely my creation. There are a lot of expectations at conflict in this game and I’m having trouble making all the parts click. I want to pay homage to what I loved about the game as a young man but I also want to create something a bit more focused that brings out the potential I see in the setting. Its hard  and sometimes the game suffers and meanders.

What I’ve done since we last spoke:

You confused me at first by calling them “Traits” but I’ve trimmed down the Talents from 54 to 15. You were correct that many of them were redundant and didn’t add anything to the game. The ones I did keep are now exclusive to the 4 different professions with three being non-exclusive.

I’ve made Renown even more important in the game by getting rid of Experience points and making the character advancement a part of gaining Renown. At certain levels of Renown you can now just raise a few skills, buy a Talent or raise an attribute. I’m not sure how well this will work in the long run but now it gives players a bit more incentive to be dynamic and do things.

Again, I’m not sure how well this will work but I’m curious and want to give it a go.

I’ve raised the amount of points in Disadvantages to 10 so that they have parity with Atman.

Changed it so that that each group of atman is a pool of Hero points that can be used with certain skills. Fire for active skills like fighting, running, and the like, water for skills that help others, Empyrean for creative endeavors, etc.

The Atman pool is now finite just like Disadvantages making them a bit more valuable.

All of the above is just busy work and skirts my biggest problem.

With GODSEND Agenda and HELLAS I have a definite focus about what the game is about and what the ultimate end game is. With Atlantis all I have are catch phrases and words that mean many things to many people.

“Antediluvian”, “Sword and Sorcery”, “low fantasy”, “Vansian”.

I can explain the game using these words and people nod their heads in understanding but really, what does it mean?

I’m at a point where making a fantasy game isn’t enough and I’ve realized that the game hasn’t got a real hard them behind it. My intent is not to make a generic fantasy game, I want players (including the GM) to know right out the gate what they are in for.

This is the part that I’m failing at and its really starting to bum me out.  I’m not sure I’ve figured out how to emulate RE Howard and CA Smith stories using the tools at my disposal.

I have 12 revelations that I wrote for the game when I began writing it. Some I’ve achieved while others I think I’ve kinda ignored.

One goal was to make Atlantis play like an Atlantis game and nothing else. I want anyone who plays the game to know that this is Atlantis, not Pathfinder, D&D, Shadows of Yesterday, Reign. Not that any of those games are bad, I just want Atlantis to have its own unique “stink” that can’t be scrubbed off so that it can be repurposed for something else. You could do a dungeon crawl with Atlantis but it wouldn’t feel like D&D at all…Does that make any sense?

I think if I can crack that nut I can make the game really work they way I want it to.

Anyway, Lets address the comments you’ve made.
Title: Re: [Atlantis] Playtest and feedback
Post by: Jerry D. Grayson on July 02, 2013, 02:50:32 AM
For reference the character creation file can be found at the link below

I’ve hear what you’re saying and I’ve tried to whittle away at all the superfluous stuff in the game.

At the moment Im looking over the entire game and pruning. Sometimes I feel like a hoarder on a reality show not wanting to let go of a small rule here or a set of modifiers there.
Title: Re: [Atlantis] Playtest and feedback
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 02, 2013, 08:19:00 AM
Hi Jerry, and welcome to the forum!

I totally understand what you're saying about finding the goals of the game, the primary issue.

The good news from my perspective is that this "stink" (a great term for it) was present in our game. One way to look at it is that you might capture that feel with, e.g., Pathfinder, but only through intense GM care both prior to play and during play, and all too vulnerable to a single player's disruption - and long history shows us that no amount of inspirational (desperate) game text will replace that effort or correct that potential problem. Whereas here, I think it would be hard to play Atlantis "free from stink" - that would take a high degree of willful ignorance. The best parallel I can think of is that, sure, a group might be able to play Space:1889 without its distinctive late-Victorian British-centric "stink," but again, only through willful ignorance up to and including ignoring a great deal of the technical rules as well as intangible features of play. My take on Atlantis is that you're way toward the Space:1889 end. You may have succeeded more in this central issue than you currently think.

I talked a bit with Bruce and Tony, who are following this thread but haven't posted yet, and one thing Tony mentioned was being unsure - for purposes of feedback - how much of the game's feel was "it" and how much was "me," which is totally understandable considering they had no contact with the text beyond the character sheets. Certainly the feel was present in the game because of how I spoke at the table, but I think I was honestly presenting what the game has to offer, working with its Color as closely as I could. Fortunately I like that Color a lot (more colloquially, "the setting" in the broad sense), and as I said, am pretty good at it - but I really don't think I was making it up independently of the game's content. And very importantly, a great deal of the players' investment in their characters came straight from their prior adventures and from their disadvantages.

In fact, let's look at that bit a little. Given that those features are a prominent part of character creation and play, and really afford the player the most obvious windows into playing the character, it seems to me that making them in particular "antediluvian" is really important. The prior adventures generally do a good job of that; you obviously had a hell of a lot of fun writing them and they're a hell of a lot of fun to see on one's sheet and to use. The disadvantages benefit from being individual player creations, so I'm hesitant to

Which leads me to the cultures. That right there, is a big opportunity that you might not be exploiting enough. I'm saying, if the culture gets punched home visually in terms of local ecology, human ethnicity, and customs, then the disadvantages take on a distinctive setting-heavy life. And now that I think of it, we definitely did that! We did it because I saw the words "Aztlan: Aztek people," and took to heart your textual point that any race can be found in any culture - and really hit the Aztek thing hard in the initial imagery. I think everyone at the table had a real southern-Mexican, pyramid vibe going on, especially regarding clothing - well, OK, Aztec by way of Moorcock's Elric stories, anyway. And given our group's ethnic makeup, I can't swear that we honored the implication that the human characters weren't white Europeans, but at least our spoken play-content never stated or even implied that they were. In fact, when Tony pulled up internet searches of "Aztec warrior" and we found a solid three images that screamed "Sam's guy," Sam was totally all about it, and those images weren't white people.

So maybe you're closer to that than you think too! A solid phrase or image per culture that gets stated very clearly during the first moments of play seems like precisely the catalytic component needed, and it's not as if you didn't already lay extensive groundwork for it in the cultures in the text.

Finally, I want to say thanks to you, not only for backing the kickstart generously with this specific pledge, but also because the game was genuinely fun and easily fun, providing what I needed for my spoken content at the table. I was afraid I was doing too much of a hatchet-job in the above posts and not getting it across to the reader that we're looking at a fantasy-adventure game which scratches a pulp/pop itch that many RPGs have attempted much less successfully.

Best, Ron
Title: Re: [Atlantis] Playtest and feedback
Post by: Tony M on July 02, 2013, 11:53:47 PM
Hi all,

I was one of the play testers in Atlantis.  Before even starting I was pumped about the game.  I am an avid fan of RE Howard and Clark Ashton Smith and have also run games before in my own version of Atlantis.

A couple very minor first impressions.  After playing, I understood the color scheme of the character sheets but even so it was a bit much.  They were also not entirely intuitive though Ron suggested that some of the parts might be remnants of previous rule iterations.  I might almost go more heroic fantasy with the sheet.  Maybe artwork?  Either way, B&W with color where needed might be a better choice.

I was given the sorcerer to play.  We instantly were thrown into action as Ron described with our flying boat.  My character was an Atlantean who was a risk taker and a bit of a drug addict.  We kept that PG with 8 year old Sam being present.  As the Sorcerer, I assumed I was the one piloting the flying boat and I flew it right into a raging storm.  The story continued as Ron described. 

We quickly learned to bring in our weaknesses to gather extra points.  I have a comment on this and have a slightly different viewpoint from Ron on using disadvantages.  While I agree this seems like a game where you need to go big and weaknesses/flaws can change as the characters choose, it seems to me that drawing on them constantly might get both a little old and little cheesy.  My suggestion on this might be that Flaws/weaknesses work on the same scale as your Atman Elements.  If a character uses a flaw a lot to get extra dice and then fails at the role, the flaw might become that much worse.  Just a thought.  I like systems where things have a price, but I don't want to confuse your system with a completely different way for it to work.  Make it all uniform if you can.

As the Sorcerer, i really had no idea what I was doing.  I have spell areas but no clue what they really could do.  A quick easy scale might prove handy.  Example- i think my total create element score was around 14 which meant I add 14 to a 20 sider and needed to be over 10 to succeed.  But doing just that would have little effect.  The more of those 14 points I drew from the great effect would become.  It would have been nice seeing a scale that said 1 point per target and 1 point per target per damage.  This way I could have taken 10 of those 14 points and blasted one target for 9 damage.  I didn't press Rob too much as the GM to hash those rules out with me so maybe that is how they are written.  A quick and easy cheat sheet would have been nice.  I honestly sort of like simple magic systems without a million spells to memorize.

I will note though that in my interpretation - magic/sorcery in an Atlantean setting seemed to almost always be shown as corrupting in most RE Howard and Ashton Smith texts.  I might incorporate that corruption into the system somehow.

Over all the game was fun.  I think we were getting full into the swing of things by the end and it would be something I would be interested in trying again as you refine it more and when I can read more of the rules as you wrote them.  Good job on the game and thanks for giving me a chance to play.   

Title: Re: [Atlantis] Playtest and feedback
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 04, 2013, 12:27:12 AM
Hi Tony, and welcome to the forum!

I totally didn't share the magical rules' details with you at the table because as far as I can tell, none of them really mattered given the scope of our game. For example, your character had a Magic Rating of 7, so as the rule goes, the eighth spell you'd cast in a day would be at -1, the ninth at -2, and so on. We didn't even get to seven spells, so that wasn't worth mentioning. You didn't roll any Mishaps when casting, so the weird effect table didn't come into play. And you didn't do anything fancy like hold an already-cast spell for a delayed effect, partly because you didn't know about it, but since your character had Fast Cast anyway, that tactic wasn't especially relevant. Any and all the nuances of duration and range were never relevant either, given the characters' situations. Trust me - you could have pored over the detailed rules like how much duration increased for a Summons per -1 you accept for the roll, and it might have paralyzed you or any other player at the table, and again, in the context of our game's situation, doing that stuff wouldn't have changed a bit about the spell's impact. So although you ended up playing "Atlantis magic-lite," everything we did was fine by the rules. I just went over them all and couldn't find anything that would have advantaged you had you but known.

I do think that the next time I play, I'm going to go way more nuts with the Vril, the witchcraft, the alchemy, and all that other juicy magical detail in the rules. The Vril rules pretty much defeated me during my game prep reading (I definitely do not process reading well off a screen, compared to the printed page), so I decided to mention it a lot without doing much with it mechanically. When I print'em out and read them, I'll be better prepared.

Best, Ron
Title: Re: [Atlantis] Playtest and feedback
Post by: Jerry D. Grayson on July 15, 2013, 12:57:32 AM
Sorry for the late response Im totally crushed under outside commitments and travel at the moment. Thing shave finally flowed down enough to have free time and energy to post.

Tony, thank you for the comments. It really means a lot to have someone not connected to my table play the game and give me their feedback.

Below is a system that I used in HELLAS and was thinking of using in Atlantis instead of Atman. There are a few thing smentioned in the text that wont be familiar but hopefully you get the gist of it.

The text is very HELLAS centric but can be scrubbed for Atlantis.

Tell me what you think.


A code of honor and a sense of justice go along with being a Hero, but all great Heroes also have a Fate, and most often they are tragic. Those who ignore their ideals erode something from their Heroic nature, represented by Fate Points.

The Moirae
In Hellene mythology, a triumvirate is believed to control the destiny of everyone from the time they are born to the time they die. The three are called The Fates, or Moirae. They are Clotho, the spinner, who spins the thread of a person's life, Lachesis, the apportioner, who decides how much time is to be allowed each person, and Atropos, the inevitable, who cuts the thread when one is supposed to die. In some Hellenic myths, the Moirae are demi-goddesses, former heroes who now serve the god of death, Hadon. In other myths, the Moirae are merely incarnations of three other Hellenic goddesses: Athenia, the seer (Clotho), Aphrosia, the lover (Lachesis), and Artesia, the hunter (Atropos). The truth of the matter is not known, and in any case the Moirae are not worshipped as such. Nothing is done against the ordinances of Moirae. Life must meet its end at some point and at the end of life another realm takes over.

Most Heroes learn of their fate during their many adventures. The fate of a great Hero can become part of his legend and known far and wide.
A character may receive a Fate Point to use in any situation when he asks for one. The character’s eventual demise is completely in the hands of the player. He may decide when he is pushing his character further toward oblivion.
Fate Points may also be acquired by acting in a way that disgraces their name or shows their patron god in a bad light. If, for instance, the Hero is begged for help by an elderly woman and then turns his back on her, the gods will not be pleased. Not only does such an act blemish the Hero’s good name, it tugs him closer to oblivion.
Note that no matter how unbecoming the Hero acts, he can only gain one Fate Point for his action or inaction.
Once a character’s Fate Points reach 10 he has come to the end of the line and is ready to succumb to his fate. When this happens there are three ways of going about sending the character to the worlds beyond.
•   The player can describe his character’s death as he sees fit using aspects from the Fate roll at character creation.
•   The Game Master and the player both create a satisfactory death scene for the character to occur at the next gaming session.
•   The player allows the Game Master to work up a fitting but tragic end using the aspects of the character creation Fate roll.

What Happens Once He’s Dead?
After the character dies, the player may make a new character that is in some way related to the Hero. This new character may be a son or daughter, a close friend, or a brother or sister. The character also receives 20% of the original character’s Glory and, with the Game Master’s approval, may have his Special childhood gift. The new character may take aspects of the original Hero’s Life Path and use them as his. Doing this over the span of several characters creates a legacy and a myth for the original character and his family.

Why does my character have to die?
HELLAS is a role-playing game that spans generations. A character must die to make room for the new Heroes in the saga. One of the great things about Hellenic mythology is that the Hero goes through life-wreaking havoc, walks in the wake of disaster and all sorts of collateral damage, and comes out okay. But the one thing that the Hellenic Hero can never escape is his eventual death. Hellenic Heroes didn’t fear death — they feared not being remembered. Being remembered in tales told and songs sung made the Hellenic Hero immortal. All good stories have an end, and all good Heroes should have a fate. For a Hellenic Hero, it’s not that he died — it’s how he is remembered living his life.
The other reason for a need for character death is the generational quality of the story being told. Once the character dies, he is followed by his children or friends who take up the cause and move on. In Hellenic mythology the main characters were always in touch with someone or something greater than themselves. Heracles is the son of the woman Alcmene who is the daughter of King Electryon, who was the son of Perseus. How cool is that? We haven’t even included the fact that Zeus was their father and already the legacy of the Hero is colorful.
Don’t fear the character’s death — embrace it. It will actually help with the story of the game knowing that eventually your character will die. The X-factor of death is taken out of the equation and leaves room for the story leading up to his death.

In most situations a Hero cannot get rid of a Fate Point by repenting for his actions; the damage is done and the die is cast. In some extraordinary situations the gods will see that the Hero is truly repentant, however, and alleviate him of his Fate Point. This should be extremely rare and the Hero must have done some act of heroism that sings to the heights of Olympos.
The one surefire way to get rid of a Fate Point is to complete an Ambition. Completing an Ambition allows the player to negate one Fate Point.

Escaping One’s Fate
A Hero may escape his fate if someone pleads on his behalf for his life. If another is willing to trade their life for the life of the Hero in peril, then the fates may take pity and accept the offer. The Hero will escape and his Fate Points will reset to zero but the one making the trade will perish. This can only be done by another player character and is never accomplished by an NPC. The Fates see no value in the fates of common Hellene; the currency the Moirae most value are the fates of great Heroes who can change the world.
The Hero who dies in the trade will gain an additional 20 Glory posthumously.
Title: Re: [Atlantis] Playtest and feedback
Post by: Jerry D. Grayson on July 15, 2013, 01:00:24 AM
During the course of play the Hero is constantly trying to complete Ambitions and reach his destiny without succumbing to his Fate. While in the pursuit of these goals his drive manifests in the form of bonus Hero Points that can be used when these goals become paramount. Destiny may be called upon a number of times when the Hero is in a situation that is appropriate to one of his Ambitions. The Hero Points acts as normal Hero Points in every way, and have a few other benefits listed below.

Hero Points
Destiny points may be used in the exact same way as Hero Points with the same effects and benefits. The Hero can spend these points in addition to his normal limit as per the Glory rules.

It may be the Hero’s destiny to help another person reach his goal because doing so may benefit the Hero. A Hero may spend the points on another player’s roll. The Hero can spend up to his maximum amount in this way.

A Hero may choose to use either Destiny or Fate in the pursuit of his goals and does not have to use the full amount listed. The difference is that Fate allows for the use of more points at a lower level of Glory. Fate is more enticing and easier to use but ultimately leads to the Hero’s demise. If any of the Fate Points are used and roll a natural failure (a roll of 1–5 on the D20), even if ultimately the roll was a success then the player takes a number of Fate Points equal to half the amount of points used (round up). If Fate Points are used for negating damage, the Hero takes a number of Fate Points equal to half the number of points used automatically and no roll is made. As discussed earlier, once the Hero has 10 Fate Points he has caught the attention of the Moirae who enact their dark fortune upon him.
Fate is easier to call upon, but Destiny is more rewarding and safer in the long run.

Destiny Points
Destiny Progression               
Hero Points   2   3   4   5   6
Uses Per Adventure   DYN+2   DYN+4   DYN+6   DYN+8   DYN+10
Glory Range   1–50   51–100   101–150   151–250   251+

Fate Progression               
Hero Points   4   6   8   10   12
Uses Per Adventure   DYN+3   DYN+6   DYN+9   DYN+12   DYN+15
Glory Range   1–40   41–75   76–150   151–200   201+

Example: A Hero with 65 Glory and a DYN of +0 is in the pursuit of his Destiny. She may call upon up to 3 extra Hero Points in her pursuit. She may do this 4 times during the game.

The same Hero may Tempt Fate 6 times and get up to 6 Hero Points. If she fails the roll or rolls a natural 1–5 she gains up to 3 Fate Points

Example: Iolaus, still fighting the giant machina, rolls to his feet and gains cover from the assault in the ruins of an ancient building. Explosive missiles pound away at the structure and Iolaus must think quickly or be killed. At the moment the young Iolaus has 51 Glory and could use either Destiny or Fate Points to help his cause. If he uses Destiny Points he would get a bonus on his next action of 3 Hero Points, but if he uses the darker Fate Points he would have 6 Hero Points at his disposal. Iolaus decides that this a desperate situation and Tempts Fate to target the machina’s fusion power core, an action that requires he roll with a DoD-6. Iolaus normally has a Throwing skill of +1 but adds the 6 Hero Points to the skill for a total +13 (each Hero Point adds +2 to the roll)!
Iolaus hefts his spear and throws it at the mighty behemoth hoping to the gods that his aim is true. The player rolls the D20 and gets a 4 but still manages to pull out a success with the +7 to the roll. With the success the spear drives home rupturing the fusion core, which causes the machina to explode! Iolaus is successful, but in tempting the Moirae he has garnered 3 Fate Points from his action, pushing him slowly closer toward his fate.

Note: Fate Points can be used at anytime during the course of play and do not have to be tied to the Hero’s Ambitions. If a Hero wants to tempt Fate on trying to impress a young woman at Aphrosia’s sacred grove, then so be it.

Why would I ever Temp Fate?
The repercussions of tempting Fate can seem harsh and self-defeating despite the greater Hero Point yield and times it can be used. Heroes will Tempt Fate more because it can be used in any sort of situation, therefore it’s easier to use.
It’s also fun to gamble with your own destiny and Heroes are constantly taking risk they will someday regret.
Title: Re: [Atlantis] Playtest and feedback
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 23, 2013, 11:34:22 AM
Hi Jerry,

I guess I'm kind of bummed. I totally get the Fate concept for Hellas, and not only does it seem perfectly tuned to that setting, it also makes me really want to play Hellas. What bums me out, though, is the thought of trading it into Atlantis.

The Atman system shone brightly for us during the playtest, ranging from me (late 40s) to Samuel (10). It was fun and inspiring, the perfect mix of system prompting play but being informed by play as well. It seemed just right for the free-spirit motif of the game, and the idea that legendry is a two-edged sword. I don't see any need for it to go away, and certainly not for it to be replaced by a system which, although itself gorgeous, seem to me to be thematically out of of place.

Best, Ron