I was late getting my hands on a copy of the Anthology. We were nearing the end of a Torchbearer campaign when it finally arrived, and after a first reading my passion for BW re-ignited. We decided to start a new campaign at once.
Scheduling conflicts and internal party turmoil meant we only played three sessions of a game set in Colonial India. I’ve posted several of the Fighting Arts I designed for that world to the forums already. Afterward we moved back in a high fantasy direction, deciding to play all Elves while using the Anthology’s rules closer to as-written to see what we thought of them. I created Arts for several Orc LPs and every Elf martial LP and we set off.
We played our fourth session last night (and the seventh since starting to use the Anthology). This new campaign is going very well and I expect it to have a long and healthy life–but I’ve decided my mind has been more or less made up on the Anthology. I thought I might therefore provide some of my thoughts for Luke and Co. here on the forums.
Treatment & Injury
My group has always had a lot of frustrations with Gold’s normal injury rules. My gripes as a GM were that Sup and Li wounds were so easily subdued and removed that they were basically useless as failure consequences or as a complication for a messy Fight!, while Midis and above were likely to be fatal if delivered in combat–but often felt too serious and long-lasting to deliver outside a subsystem’s use.
I was excited then when I saw the Anthology includes one of the house rules we’d long-since adopted: Li wounds now require treatment. They can also now degrade, so they’re much more interesting than Gold RaW as complications for failed tests. There seemed to be some potential issues in the abstract as I looked the rules over: burns are effectively impossible to treat, which I’m not sure I’m in favor of, but I still thought this would be a general improvement.
And maybe the rules are, when employed properly. Over the last seven sessions we haven’t been able to stomach making it that far.
In our first session set in India, a servant PC was ordered to be beaten by the bodyguard (also a PC) of the princess (also also a PC). This was to teach him respect and send a message to his master, the prince. The servant wasn’t fighting back and I decided it made the most sense to simply inflict a Midi wound; the princess’ bodyguard intentionally used his fists so as not to do as much damage as he might otherwise. Once the wound was inflicted the princess called for her doctor, and we sat down to treat the servant.
Then we found out that apparently the princess had made a horrible mistake. Had the bodyguard used his sword to inflict this Midi wound–you know, a lethal, deadly weapon–the Ob to treat the Midi would have only been 2. A lowly two! But because he had opted for the actively non-lethal tool, his hands, the Ob was at +3: treatment was five because the wound was delivered via blunt force.
This was so absurd that none of us could believe it. It made no sense fictionally, and it didn’t even make sense in the rules. Had we rolled to Strike the servant again and again until a sufficient wound was dealt, first with our fists and then with our sword, a FATAL INJURY would have only been Ob 5 to treat with Surgery–the same as a Midi delivered with fists.
I decided to keep the Ob at 2. Treatment and recovery was a success.
We didn’t encounter the Injury rules again until our first elf session, whereupon our Sword Singer PC was dealt a Li wound by a spear from a goblin (two of them, actually). Our Soother went to treat him. Ob 1, but because it’s a Puncture wound, +2Ob, so Ob 3 total.
We didn’t have tools for Song of Soothing. That meant it was actually Ob 6. Ob 6, twice, for Li wounds, that were now guaranteed to get worse in minutes.
I decided to go back to the old Injury rules.
Some Li wounds degrading could be cool. The systems further into the new rules seem interesting, and perhaps a general improvement. I like more codified direction for what a GM should do when inflicting permanent stat reduction on a PC. I dislike not having clear guidelines to follow, like TB has, when the consequences are so severe.
But we never made it that far. The Ob modifiers from injury type are obscene. They’re so high and they don’t make any sense; they feel completely arbitrary.
I don’t like these new rules at all.
So I was disappointed with the Injury section, but it was FAs that had me really excited to GM BW again. I’ve spent hours and hours writing them for our campaigns. There are 20+ of them in my various documents now. They remind me of Torchbearer classes and they’re just as fun to come up with. I thought the idea of restricting certain actions–like Lock–was extremely interesting, and a potential way to fix some of my issues with Fight! as a whole. But above all I was ecstatic that there was finally some workaround for BW’s flatly nonsensical weapon skill rules, where a greatsword–despite being used more like a spear historically–falls under Sword because…it looks like a sword.
Even in the abstract I began to encounter problems with action restriction. How, for example, did an Art restrict access to Avoid, when Avoid tests a stat–not a skill? How did we determine when certain bonuses to engage were in effect, when a player had multiple bonuses in multiple Arts? The Anthology gives alarmingly little guidance on what Arts actually look like in play.
To get around these issues I ruled that, when engaging, a character must declare what Art he’s fighting in: it can be one he has or one he doesn’t, but he’s limited to that set of basic actions for the following Exchange, until positioning is re-tested.
That worked fairly well. Onward we continued.
In the first Elf session, one of my players discovered a way around his Captain LP Art’s lack of Feint: Change Stance - Neutral. Change Stance - Neutral counts as a Feint.
My cheese detector went on high alert. But at the same time, Arts grant universal access to stance actions, and the rules are clear: Change Stance - Neutral counts as a Feint. It didn’t make sense for Neutral to become nothing, and ultimately this seemed a fair-ish way to get around Block and Counterstrike spam. So we let it stand.
That was just the beginning of wonkiness with Arts. A group of goblins got into Shortest with a Sword Singer; they wanted to charge him down, grab him, lock him, and claw and fang him. Unfortunately they had neither Charge nor Lock, because it wasn’t available in their fairly shit Art–and even if they’d had it listed as a Technique, they wouldn’t have had the skillpoints required to buy those actions anyway.
Call me crazy, but it’s probably within the powers of a horde of untrained goblins to charge someone down while screaming murder. I also think it’s within their power to grab at his arms and restrain him when acting as a group. I do not think training would be required for either of these things.
Maybe if you do a good enough job designing Arts there are ways around this. “Snotling Swarm: You can Lock with your Anvil of the Black Legion skill when acting as a group.” But I’m not mentally equipped to do that much design for every single Art, for every LP, in an entire campaign.
Issues like this came up every session. I gave one Art potent offensive abilities but took away access to Push–but, like, why can’t the character push? It doesn’t make sense. The same can be said for Charge. I noted that Charge was one of the actions in the Anthology’s sample Arts, along with Feint, that seemed heavily restricted; I carried this through into my own.
But…just charge? Does that really require training? Really?
All this reached a head last night, when I decided I’d had enough. A pair of orcs doubleteamed our Captain PC. He used defensive actions very well and had some insane rolls…
…and tanked them while he waited for his companion to return. It was an awesome Fight!, except for my poor Orcs’ armor:
Anyway, having my orcs Strike into Block and CS over and over and over again was well enough for two or three exchanges, but there eventually came a point where the lack of Feint in their Art became seriously befuddling. Neither Orc could Feint, neither Orc could Lock (the most realistic thing to do, once one of them got into Hands with Fangs and Claws), and while both had Charge, they had no way around the Captain’s shield with their actual weapons.
So I had to get creative. To make a point to the Captain, since he was the one who first tried the Change Stance cheese, I did the same to him. From Aggressive Stance I scripted Change Stance - Neutral - > Change Stance - Aggressive → Strike → Change Stance - Neutral.
This was ridiculous. I mean I felt absurd putting that script down. It’s stupid and I can’t possibly explain it ficitonally. What is this Orc even doing? I don’t know how to narrate it. But this is the sort of thing that action restrictions were forcing me toward, and had been for everyone at my table since we started using FAs.
Techniques are really cool, especially for an Elf campaign. My Sword Singer Fighting Art is tremendously overtuned and it’s a lot of fun to watch it in play. They make Fight! more interesting; they give it more depth, especially for a group like ours that has played a lot of BW and had a lot of Fight!s over the years.
The condensing of weapon skills was also desperately overdue. I’ll never forget a moment from one of my first sessions of BW: my character knew the Cudgel skill from Burning, or maybe had gotten the equivalent from Brawling, but upon picking up a haunch of bone off the ground, I was informed by the GM that I had to Beginner’s Luck the Mace skill instead. This, he informed me, was a mace, not a cudgel.
“Can’t I use it like a cudgel?” I asked. “Can’t I cudgel someone with it?”
“Nope,” he replied. “That there is a mace, not a cudgel. Roll Beginner’s Luck.”
Fighting Arts put a stop to that BS. In reality a master swordsman will be a master spearman–swords are harder to use than spears, and the fundamentals carry over (largely, if not entirely).
I like the new rules for training skills, too. They’re much more interesting than before, and I like that you can create FAs that are specifically armored or unarmored. That adds more depth.
But action restriction introduces way more problems than it solves. Maybe BWHQ has some way around the issues I identified, like how you prevent someone from rolling a stat during BL from an FA he doesn’t have, but when combined with my fix–still the best option IMO–the whole system basically crumbles. It’s confusing and contrived and it’s a pain in the ass to keep your Arts separate and we can never remember which actions we have access to, and when a PC finds himself in a position where the only mechanically and fictionally logical option would be to Charge, it sucks for me as a GM to say, “No, sorry, you can’t Charge; Luke says it’s not allowed.”
After last night I’ve made up my mind to ditch the system. Maybe for future Arts I’ll restrict specific actions, but I won’t positively affirm which can be used. We’ll continue using Arts for Forms and Techniques, but the rest of the subsystem is more trouble than I think it’s worth.
(My players, incidentally, have been telling me this all along, but I wanted to get a good feel for rules before making up my mind. Five Fight!s in five sessions feels like enough playtesting at this point.)
We haven’t made it to War yet. I haven’t bothered using the Faction rules, because we haven’t needed them. I can’t comment on the rest of the Anthology. Concerning the new Injury & Recovery and Fighting Arts rules, though, I feel like I’ve seen enough at this point to say that I find them pretty frustrating. They’re working to address problems I and my group have always had with the game, but after about two months of testing I’m ready to keep only bits and pieces and otherwise go back to Gold RaW (or, at least, our version of Gold, which certainly has its fair share of hacks–and may have even more in the immediate future).
This was just our experience. Maybe we’re doing something wrong. It feels that way sometimes. But at this point, I’m pretty sure we weren’t.