Krendel - Stances of Tomorrow

Several weeks ago I made a post about some tinkering that I’ve done with Krendel, and at the time I also talked about a plethora of options for expertise, including the direction that I would likely take it in the future. I was planning to post more regularly, then I found myself working on SHARDS for a game design contest. Well, I’ve got a bit of time this afternoon to finish a new post, so let’s talk about another feature in Krendel and how we might see it change. Let’s talk about stances.

When designing Krendel, I wanted warriors to be just as interesting to play as mages and thieves. Where part of this naturally flows from a skills and powers based system, you still need to make sure they are fun when doing what they do best: fighting.

Those other archetypes always had options. In fact, up until 1st ed AD&D Oriental Adventures introduced martial arts and then 2nd ed AD&D Skills & Powers introduced fighting styles, I always felt the warriors in all games felt pretty much the same: You optimize your weapon and armor and there you go. Where this has definitely been changing in games, I had my own ideas of where to go. Stances were part of the solution to fix this perceived problem. They codified fighting styles, helping differentiate types of combatants, and delivered a significant impact on combat viability. Arguably too much of an impact.

One of the comments I’ve received is that stances are too powerful, and, because they are too powerful, you are an idiot for not taking one. First, yes, if you are going to be a combat oriented character, then you should totally take a stance, but are they too powerful? Maybe; let me talk about their development history a bit before we come back to that.

In a few earlier versions of Krendel, most powers had built in growth potential. You would buy the power, then, when you either exceeded the requirements by two or four levels or picked up another power, you’d get an automatic improvement. Here’s text from one early version of diamond leaf:

  • The character can perform a Melee counter to protect another target.
    • If the action is one that uses reach, then the target must be within the character's reach.
    • If the action is one that uses range, then the target must be within the character's reach or the line of effect from the attacker to the target must be within the character's reach.
  • A successful Melee counter gains one additional success.
    • Level 4: This bonus is increased to two successes.
    • Level 8: This bonus is increased to three successes.
  • Level 4: If not penalized by armor, then once per round, the character may perform a Melee counter as a free action.
    • Level 8: If not penalized by armor, now twice per round, the character may perform a Melee counter as a free action.

Unlike the final version, you don’t automatically get the bonus free counter, unless you already have level 4 Melee.  That’s cool. You grow into it, so what it wrong with this? First, you don’t necessarily grow into it. That’s an illusion. You could buy this power when your skills are level 8 and immediately get the full advantage. Perhaps more importantly, it’s a pain in the neck for the new or even average user to know exactly what you can do with your power since you have to cross reference your skill levels with the power and run some numbers. Now, if you are used to the system, that’s not a big deal. That happens in a lot of games with crunch, but it was consistently hard on playtesters, which meant it had to change.

The solution was to simplify all stances into single purchase flat effects. It was much simpler to use, but it also made them much more powerful. This meant that people in stances consistently got pretty heady bonuses, like extra actions. It also squished growth, and, upon reflection, that is another problem.

See, I like character growth. Krendel’s growth is purposefully attenuated on the vertical scale to encourage horizontal growth, but stances don’t grow, or didn’t until the Focus method [re]introduced it. Take a look at golden sanctuary. Its base effect is to give the environmental adaptation trait, and if you learn the awakened aspect development, then it upgrades to the resistance trait. So it starts out pretty minor yet flavorful, but then it morphs into something more powerful as you buy powers that specifically augment it. Interestingly, this approach was more palatable and easier for playtesters to quickly grok.

With that in mind, I’m looking at a reboot and expansion of all the stances. You can actually see the first run of most of them in SHARDS. You buy the stance as a lesser power and then an upgrade two tiers later at epic. Sapphire flame is, of course, the exception: you can buy it as a greater power, and then… well I have its expansion sketched out for the new tier of legendary powers.

In terms of power, this chains things out a bit better, spreading the vertical growth a bit more. Rather than getting constant free actions as a lesser power, you can first get them as greater boosts, and then a consistent thing at the epic tier.

Where I feel that each stance already had flavor, spitting them up like this forced a re-evaluation that helped give some even more flavor. Ruby waters and topaz mist probably benefited from this the most. They are both melee attack stances, but one was to focus on using a one handed weapon and the other a two handed weapon.

Ruby waters is now pretty clearly a stance for an opportunist, but it augments anyone in the thick of things.  You are encouraged to pick a new target every round to maximize your bonuses, but even just dueling you still gain a defense bonus. When upgraded with ruby river it gives that extra attack, which just makes those bonuses from ruby waters come up more.

Topaz mist now focuses on striking first. The comparative reach should let you pull off reach attack regularly or prevent someone from using it against you, which helps you charge with some abandon. The charge bonus also encourages you to move around the battlefield. When upgraded with topaz spray you are again encouraged to move. The extra attack comes when a target enters or leaves your reach. So if you back up, they leave your reach and you can attack, and if you charge into someone’s reach you get an extra attack. So for this fighter it becomes a game of mobility and reach. The extra damage doesn’t hurt either.

All of the stances are changing like that, giving you reasons to do something other than just stand in one place an take aim (except citrine perch, the sniper stance is all about taking aim). Emerald hail forces you to be a close range shooter, pearl tear helps you move as you dodge and encourages you to shed armor, and quartz reflection is changed to help ranged mage combat. With this comes the opportunity to expand the types of stances too. For instance, you can look forward to ivory feather, which focuses on mounted combat, and I may even bring back amber eyes, a berserker stance that was cut during development.