Updated Our Journal (48): Third Alpha Systems Test Released, Crisis Gameplay Demoed
TL;DR: Jeremy on AST C0; Gameplay Video
Jeremy here to talk about our third Alpha Systems Test (C0), which gives our backers the first chance to get their hands on one of our Crisis scenarios. If you need a reminder, we provided this PDF describing our Crisis concept. I wanted to take advantage of this release to describe some of the mechanics and interfaces of Crises, both so our alpha backers can hop in and play, and so all of our backers gain more insight into what we're doing. I think the best way to start is to crack into how a Crisis actually works.
Crisis System Rules
When things get tense (and, more importantly, time-sensitive) in TTON, we enter a turn-based mode. Each individual character, as well as some elements of the environment, take one turn at a time. The order in which characters act is based on an initiative roll at the start of combat. Items, skill training, and abilities can provide an edge on this roll.
In a Crisis, you control the Last Castoff and any companions you may have. When it's a character's turn, they can take one Anoetic Action, one Occultic Action, set up one Defensive Maneuver (disabled for C0), as well as move (with the movement distance available determined by items, skills, and abilities).
The Anoetic Action is a quick, optional action, useful for triggering support abilities and cyphers. These include switching weapons, activating buffs, or employing traversal abilities like teleports – for instance, the companion Aligern can activate his Living Tattoos, providing a buff to the next action he takes. PCs don't need to use their Anoetic Action every turn, but when the circumstances are right they provide an opportunity to maximize effects and add to your tactical advantage.
Occultic Actions are the main actions for the turn. Attacks, most esoteries, and more complex and powerful cyphers consume this action. Alternately, PCs can use this action to interact with objects in the environment or even strike up a (fast-paced) conversation with their enemies. As described in the Crisis Concept document, interacting with objects and people is a key part of our Crisis design. Taking advantage of these options can tip the scales of a combat encounter or even end it outright.
For AST C0, we've chosen to leave the last type of action - Defensive Maneuvers - out for now. There are a couple reasons for this: 1) We didn't feel like the UI was quite ready for primetime; 2) We felt like there were plenty of mechanics for our players to learn as is; 3) The scenario used for C0 occurs early in the game, when your party would have relatively few defensive options available.
When we do include the feature in a future release, Defensive Maneuvers will function as toggles. You use them to set up how the PC will behave off-turn. For example, a crafty jack might choose to trade off some defensive readiness for the opportunity to attack enemies who become flanked or otherwise distracted. A brave glaive might choose to sacrifice for his allies, interposing himself between an enemy and his besieged friend.
Applying Effort in a Crisis
In our Crisis system rules, the player has three Pools - Might, Speed and Intellect. These Pools represent not just health, but also your physical and mental capabilities and resources. When you take damage, you'll receive it to one of your three Pools depending on which one the enemy is targeting. But, Pools can also be expended using the Effort system to power up your attacks and abilities with more damage, accuracy, as well as for lowering the difficulty on other checks, such as in conversations. While your first instinct might be to conserve your Pools, it can often be worthwhile to spend them so you can handle challenges in a Crisis more effectively.
If you'll recall, all skill checks in Numenera are Difficult Tasks, whether that's hitting someone in the face with your fist or talking them out of a fight, and Effort (and your Pools) is how you can lower the difficulty of that task. So, trading off your Pools often becomes a tactical decision in how you want to proceed in a Crisis - either playing more recklessly by hitting faster and harder, or more conservatively by saving your Pools for absorbing incoming damage.
There are other ways you can lower the difficulty of an attack, too. For instance, you can employ various tactical options to gain "Assets". In combat, you'll be able to get these from positioning (i.e.: flanking) as well as from Fettles conferred by abilities (Fettle is the TTON word for status effect).
For example, Aligern's Dazzle esotery showers a target in pyrotechnic sparks that leaves them with the Distracted Fettle for 1 round. This reduces the difficulty of hitting the target by 3. Keep in mind that the enemies will try to employ the same techniques to make your party members easier to hit, as well. When a PC is attacked, that PC makes a defense roll to evade the strike. If a party member gains a Fettle like Distracted, the difficulty of evading incoming attacks is *increased* by 3. Effort allows you to expend resources to compensate for or take extra advantage of the Assets provided by these tactical choices.
The top row of UI is the Effort Type selection. You can pick between "Accuracy" (which represents likelihood to succeed at a task) or "Damage" (which increases the amount of damage done with an attack *if* successful). Each level of Effort applied to Accuracy reduces the difficulty of the task by 3. Each level applied to Damage increases the total damage by 3, but if used while the chance of success is low, could be a riskier choice. On the other hand, if smart tactics have given you a good chance to hit, pumping up Damage can turn the tide of a fight.
The second row is for selecting the Stat pool from which the cost of Effort is drawn. For many tasks there is only one option but for others you may be able to choose between two or even all three pools. The first level of Effort costs 3 points from the chosen pool, and each additional level costs 2.
The third row is the most important. It allows you to select how much Effort to apply to the task. In C0, Aligern and the Last Castoff can only apply 1 level per task, but Callistege has already taken an upgrade for Tier 2, meaning she can apply up to 2 levels of Effort. You can also clear any Effort you've selected by clicking the pip labeled "0." As you mouse over and select Effort pips, the difficulty updates accordingly.
Applying Effort is optional. At any time you can press the big "check mark" button to attempt the Task. The button to the right of that is the "Sudden Inspiration" feature, which allows you use Discovery Points to automatically succeed at key tasks without spending Effort. The cost in DP depends on the difficulty of the task.
Crisis Gameplay Video
There are several more gameplay elements to discuss (possibly in later updates), but this should give you a sense of how to play out a Crisis. Beyond the specific mechanics, the Crisis in C0 has been handcrafted to react to your playstyle in believable, interesting ways. I strongly recommend trying the encounter out a few times, taking a different approach in each playthrough. Even simple decisions like which enemy to take out first can trigger different chains of events through the scripting and AI we've created.
If you want a taste of that variety without playing through C0 (or if you don't have Alpha access), you can check out the video we've made that highlights just a few of these outcomes.
There are even more options than what are shown in that video. We'll leave those to our Alpha backers to discover for themselves!
Until next time,
Lead Crisis Designer