Category Archives: Organized Play

New! Witch Hunter Character Creation Workbook. A Late Christmas Gift.

I hope everyone has been enjoying the holidays.

Of all the cheat sheets and references I’ve made for Witch Hunter, probably the most valuable for us has been the Character Creation cheat sheet.  It doesn’t get used very much, but it proved its worth when we welcomed a new player a few months back.  It’s also very handy for auditing characters.

Having it as a Evernote note has had its ups and downs.  So last year, I set out to create a PDF version.  The result morphed into something very new.  And now I’m making it available here on downloads section.

The Witch Hunter Character Creation Workbook was envisioned as a four-page folio with a double-sided worksheet insert.  It walks you through the character creation process, complete with page references and highlighted rules references.  The format, I think, is even better than the older Character Creation worksheet.  I think Witch Hunter: Revelations players and GMs will find it especially useful.  It does make one assumption, that the group will be using the Heroic Power Level (as opposed to Gritty or Cinematic) when it comes to Advancement.

So give it a look.  And may 2016 be a good year for Witch Hunting!

Examining Experience Points, Part 3

And so we come to the final installment of our series on Survivor Points in Witch Hunter: The Invisible World.  In this installment, we wallow in theory-wank and psychobabble about things I have no control over (which is pretty much why it’s taken this long for this installment to hit the blog).  This time we set our crosshairs directly on Witch Hunter: Revelations, the “living campaign” produced and maintained by Paradigm Concepts and the primary marketing arm (so far as I can tell) for the company.

I’m posting this article in the interests of creating a vibrant and thriving community around WH.  A rising tide lifts all boats, as the saying goes.  The response to the previous articles on this subject matter have been…let’s say less than thunderous.  I can say from the few WHR I’ve run and played in, it IS an issue among the players.  But apparently not enough of one for more than a handful of people to speak up on.  So I’ll say my piece and let that be the end of it.

If you’ve read the previous articles here and here, you know that the changes in SP costs to advance a character made a dramatic jump with 2nd edition.  Unfortunately, while the core book recommends awarding 15 SP for each game session, the WHR rounds remain locked into an anemic 5 SP (MAX!  That’s with good roleplaying, defeating the villain, bringing cookies for the GM and walking his dog while he finishes prepping the round), which makes for impossibly slow advancement.  When you need to play almost a year’s worth of rounds just to afford a low ranking Talent, something is wrong.  This was pretty obviously a severe correction from 1st edition, so its a sure bet that advancement in the original was too fast, too cheap, too easy.  So a correction was needed.  But the current state of affairs just makes no sense.

Before we start crunching numbers, lets talk a bit about organized play.  I don’t see eye to eye with a lot of the assumptions in living campaigns and organized play.  Back when I was part of the Living Greyhawk Bandit Kingdoms Triad, my first draft of The Bleeding Moon, featuring rain-soaked spider-climbing zombies and a baby mimic, also included a +1 sword.  Show me the 1-3 level AD&D adventure that does not pony up a +1 sword!  You can’t!!  It doesn’t exist! Yet that was edited out because it was too much, too fast (translation: we want to save the good stuff for core, but you guys have fun with your regional events).  Instead, what the RPGA gave us was the first of two ridiculously convoluted, broken treasure rewards systems, both of which may have only been a hair more fun than 4e’s Treasure Parcel system.

OP Advancement is about the slow, creeping burn.  The idea is to maximize the life of available rounds.  You don’t want your regulars outgrowing these rounds too fast or you won’t have easy inroads for new players.  And since you have a limited budget of events per year, you need to able to address the widest possible audience.  A wide gulf between regulars and new players makes it harder to seat tables.  The RPGA had to employ weird nonsense metrics to allow high level characters to sit in with low level pions.  So anyway, I do GET the logic behind the decisions PCI made for the first year.  But, like I said, when you do the math it doesn’t add up for long term play.  Not when advancement is part of the game.  You can make a game where advancement is not an issue.  WH is not that game.

So lets get to the numbers, shall we?  First, lets recap. Assuming 5 SP awarded per session (remember, this is the maximum available), here is a comparison of the advancement costs and sessions required to accumulate the required SP between 1st and 2nd edition Witch Hunter.

Ability Increase Cost (1st) Sessions Cost (2nd) Sessions
1–2 10 2 60 12
2–3 10 2 90 18
3–4 20 4 120 24
4–5 30 6 150 30
Basic 5 1 50 10
Greater 10 2 75 15
Heroic 20 4 100 20

In this next table, we take an SP award and measure how many sessions it takes to raise Abilities and buy Talents.  We’ll leave out skills since those costs remain unchanged.  We start at 5 XP per round and move up the chain until we match 1st edition for advancement.  That should allow us to find a happy medium that allows for a sense of accomplishment and advancement without blowing open the barn doors completely.

Survivor Points Awarded Per Session
Ability Increase SP Cost 5 SP 10 15 20 25 30 35
1–2 60 12 6 4 3 3 2 2
2–3 90 18 9 6 5 4 3 3
3–4 120 24 12 8 6 5 4 4
4–5 150 30 15 10 8 6 5 5
Basic 50 10 5 4 3 2 2 2
Greater 75 15 8 5 4 3 3 3
Heroic 100 20 10 7 5 4 4 3

As you can see, the closest match 1st edition’s rate of advancement would have each round awarding 30 XP.  That’s 6 times the current max award!  You could award 10 points per round, the minimum recommended by the core rules, and advancement would take 3 times as long.  15, the maximum recommended by the core rules is twice as long.  Either one of these awards would make more sense based on the number of sessions it would take to advance your character.

A Radical Suggestion

A more unorthodox solution, but best in my opinion, would be increase the award given based on the Tier of the character.  Witch Hunter characters have three “tiers.”  These aren’t “levels” in the same sense as DnD, but they do give a vague image of a character’s experience and power.  In WHR, characters begin at Tier 1.  Progression to Tier 2 is pretty quick (450 SP, or roughly 10 sessions, 5 if the character is loaded up on Flaws).  Progression to Tier 3 is much slower (600 SP or 35-40 game sessions, so about 2-3 years of regular play).

Because Skill rank is limited by Attribute rank, advancement costs increase as the character increases in tier.  Increasing awards based on the character’s tier smooths out the curve. Of course, this also shortens the span between tiers of power, but that has an almost negligible effect on the character itself.  Only Order Powers are tied to tiers.  Everything else costs SP.

So my proposal would be:
Tier 1 Rewards: 5 SP
Tier 2 Rewards: 10 SP
Tier 3 Rewards: 15 SP

This would keep most 1st year characters on an even keel, focusing on skills.  Tier 2 characters would have enough buying power for Basic Talents and Rites, maybe 1 attribute increase.  Tier 3 characters will be focusing on bumping their 3 and 4 ranked attributes to be able to maximize their skills.  But that still takes 8 and 10 sessions respectively.  At least they might be able to choose a Heroic Talent (7 sessions) as an alternative.

This would be relatively simple to implement.  Every achievement in a round would be worth 1, 2 or 3 SP depending upon the character’s tier.  Tier would have to be clearly marked on the Adventure Record, and any increase signed off by the GM.  It would still take 15-20 sessions for go from tier 2 to tier 3, easily a year’s worth of rounds.  So we aren’t talking leaps and bounds here.  But it would give the player the satisfaction of character momentum and make a lot of the advancements that are currently out of reach a bit more reasonable.  I don’t see where it would break anything, though I could be missing something – I’m a writer, not a mathematician.

With that, I’ll leave it for others to argue over.  I’m satisfied that the slight changes I’m making to my home game awards will be well received and easy to manage.  Whether Paradigm chooses to consider any of these suggestions is completely out of my hands.  However, if you are a player in the Witch Hunter Revelations campaign and you are dissatisfied with the rate of advancement, you should make your thoughts known here.  You don’t have to agree with any of my proposed remedies.  I’m certain someone smarter than myself can come up with a suitably brilliant solution.

FYI/CYA: The first of the year two WHR rounds debued this month at Origins.  It is very possible that the year two rounds have already begun to remedy this issue.  Which is great!  Hooray!  But those rounds are not available for general play yet.  These figures are all based on “Year One” rounds.

Examining Experience Points, Part 2

Last time we broke down the relationship between XP (Survivor Points in Witch Hunter, but we’ll call em XP here so everyone can follow along) and Character Advancement in Witch Hunter and compared the two editions.  To recap, its a pretty big change.  Now this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.  Honestly I can’t remember the last time I ever questioned the XP recommendations in a game, let alone with any scrutiny.  And it isn’t as though WH is some gross offender.  It’s only after a year of playing it that I feel comfortable mucking around in the engine.  Would anyone do this for a game they weren’t enjoying?  Hell no.  Oh, they might do so to use it as a stick to beat on the game they love to hate (witness the ridiculous ongoing controversy of d4s vs d6s in Savage Worlds), but that isn’t really the intent here.  My purpose here is to fine tune the game experience for myself and my players, and in so doing fine tune Witch Hunter into the mean, lean, swashbuckling monster hunting machine it really wants to be.

At the same time, the last thing I want to do is tear the game down to build it up again.  So I’m trying to stay within the established framework as much as possible.  So I’m not going to redo advancement.  That would only serve to screw my players over or force them to completely rebuild their characters.  Dick move, toolbox GM!

So let’s focus on XP Rewards.  That seems easy enough.  Why argue the cost of the components when all we want to do is open the throttle a bit here and there?

As it stands, the core WH2 rules offer these guidelines for XP rewards:

  • You get 10 XP for successfully completing a session (foil/kill the villain, stop the apocalypse, save the town, whatever).
  • +2 XP for Good Roleplaying
  • +3 XP for Outstanding Roleplaying

So 10-15 XP Range/session.  That’s…ok I suppose.  A little vague.  Lots of wiggle room.  It also assumes that the challenge of all the adventures remains pretty consistent, which we all know never happens.  But that does give us our default; an average session should award from 10 to 15 XP.  I can work with that.

So here is my proposed revised Experience Award scheme.  To create it, I’ve borrowed a bit from 7th Sea, (New) World of Darkness (both being d10 dice pool games with roughly the same value ranges, it made sense to compare), All for One: Regime Diabolique and (gasp!  shock!) Mythus (because it’s my first love and does so many things other RPGs have since forgotten to do).  I even peeked at Shadowrun (the grandfather of dice pool games) to see if it had anything to offer…and found that it matches WoD almost note for note.  Ready?  Let’s break it down.

Witch Hunter Survivor Point Awards (Revised)
Session Difficulty Base Reward
Routine 5
Easy 10
Hard 15
Challenging 20
Epic 40
Special Conditions Reward
Good Roleplaying 1–3
Heroism/Sacrifice 1
Wisdom 1
End of an Arc/Chapter 10
OOC* (Game diary, etc) 1–2
Gratuity* (Hosting, food, drinks) 1–2
Specific Awards Reward
Ability/Tradition 10
Skill 2
True Faith** 1 point

* Alternatively, award an extra Hero Point at the beginning of the game.
** Not experience, but a full 1 point increase to True Faith.  Alternatively, award 2 banked hero points (or 0.2).

Most of this is pretty obvious.  The GM judges how difficult the session/scenario was based on expectations and how well the players did and awards those points accordingly.  Most of these should fall in the Easy or Hard range (10 or 15).  Challenging should handle any session where the players snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.  Epic should be reserved for the big stuff.  “Hey, great job visiting the 3rd circle of Hell and sealing that Hellpoint!  Sorry Bob and Heather lost their souls, but you guys can worry about that next time.”  That sort of thing.

If any of the players qualify for a Special Condition, the GM should award that as well.  If the session marked the end of a major plot arc or “chapter”, add 10 points to the final award.  Heroism/Sacrifice is for those times when a character gives up something important to him or her for the sake of the group (a contact, a relic, etc).  Wisdom can be awarded for clever ideas, smart deductions, and moments of unexpected brilliance (Yes, you could award a Hero Point, but that sort of gives it away, which you don’t always want to do).  OOC awards are for things like keeping extensive game notes, a play diary, maintaining the game calendar, mapping, whatever.  Gratuity awards are for things like hosting the game, bringing food or drinks.  You can alternatively award extra Hero Points, but that works better with RPGs that keep costs and awards in the single digits (like 7th Sea or Savage Worlds).  Really, these are to distinguish players who go above and beyond showing up.

Let’s talk about Specific Awards though, since I don’t see a lot of games that use these.  I love them.  It’s a way to really reward a player for something without opening the throttle too much.  If a player uses an Ability or a Skill, including a sorcerous or fighting tradition, the GM awards XP that MUST be spent on that Ability or Skill.  You could award Hero Points for this too, so keep this for something really special.  10 points towards an Ability, or a Talent in the case of a Tradition, really isn’t that much, but it can be just enough to put the player over the edge.

True Faith awards should be truly special.  As it stands, it requires 10 “banked” (my term) hero points to raise True Faith 1 point.  True Faith is used to resist lots of nasty creature abilities, so you really don’t want this going up too fast.  But that makes this reward all the more special.  The players don’t expect it, either.

But couldn’t I award Hero Points for a lot of this stuff?  Yes!  Sure!  You should!  But HP don’t apply to Character Advancement, and you don’t retain them from session to session.  My advice here is to do both. Give the player a HP that can be spent in play, but award an extra point of experience for a job well done at the end of the session.  Trust me, 1 or 2 bonus XP are not going to break the game when you are trying to save up 50 to pick up a BASIC Talent.

Now since we’ve boosted things a bit, let’s talk restrictions.  These really aren’t covered in the rules—probably because players are extremely unlikely to be able to afford to do so—but these things need to be addressed.  A player may not:

  • raise any skill more than 1 level per game session.
  • raise more than one Ability per game session.
  • add more than one Talent per game session (including Rites and Fighting Styles).

Yeah, that may suck for some players who are just stockpiling away.  But it keeps the character from leapfrogging in ability too much.  It’s not like those unspent points are going anywhere; use them next time.

So that’s what I’m going to be doing moving forward.  I figure I can always adjust as I’m going if things look like they are moving too fast.  That’s the great thing about tweaking XP Rewards over Advancement Costs.

In the third installment, I’m going to take a look at OP rewards and stick my hand into that hornet’s nest.  Until then…

Examining Experience Points, Part 1

Recently I had an opportunity to create a character and play a round of Witch Hunter Revelations.  Which was great, because while I run WH on a regular basis, I haven’t actually PLAYED the game since DragonCon in 2008 when the game was first released.  And as any GM knows, the experience on the other side of the screen is completely different.  But one of the biggest revelations (haha) I had was when it came to Survivor Points (Experience Points in most other games) and Character Advancement.

Character Advancement and Survivor Points received a big overhaul in WH 2nd edition.  Suggested SP awards went from 3-5 to 10-15 and, with the sole exception of skills, character advancement costs are completely different.  I’ll go into those differences more in a bit.

In a post DnD 3e world, fast advancement has become the norm, based on the new reality that 90% of RPGs that are NOT D&D (those including Pathfinder and most OSR games) do not get exclusive play by most groups.  Usually, your talking about episodic one-shots or a dozen sessions before the group moves on to something else (usually back to some formula of D&D).  Now, that’s not always the case, of course.  Our game is an example of that.  We’re a year and a half in and the big mysteries are only now starting to be revealed.  Savage Worlds is a great example of what I’m talking about.  Advancement is pretty quick (level ups happen every other session on average) and the expectation is you play through a plot point campaign, then create new characters for a whole new world book.  You finish 50 Fathoms and jump to ETU, then follow that up with Deadlands.  Point is, quick advancement is now the norm when before RPGs were built for much slower progression.

Organized Play adds an extra wrinkle to this.  When I started writing for the Living Greyhawk game, one of the things I found curious was that while the core DnD 3e book sped advancement up considerably, the RPGA guidelines slowed it back down to a crawl.  I get it; the idea was to maximize campaign playability.  A player who lives in the NE could hit a different game day every week, play 3 different mods and quickly outgrow the available scenarios.

So back to Witch Hunter.  As I’ve said before, I’m willing to bet 90% of Paradigm’s audience is built around their Organized Play.  Don’t believe me?  Check out this thread from their Arcanis RPG forum.  When I started my game, I low-balled SP awards for the first few months, hoping to slow down fast advancement.  It soon became clear that “core” WH is built on slow(er) advancement.  Not AD&D slow, where it can take years of continuous play to reach modestly high levels, but definitely not DnD 3e or SW rates of advancement.  So I corrected and started awarding SP as recommended in the text (10-15/session).  Flash forward a year as I prep my character for a night of Revelations play, it hits me.  There is no way my character will EVER advance in a meaningful way.  That led to a full re-examination of the SP/Advancement scheme.

Here’s a table where I break down the WH1 vs WH2 advancement costs, as well as the number of sessions it takes to raise any one character feature (Abilities, Skills, Talents, Rites, whatever).  Remember for this latter figure, these are the number of sessions it takes to save up the SP to advance these features at the exclusion of anything else.  So when I say it takes 10 sessions to raise and Ability level from 4 to 5, you aren’t advancing anything else during those 10 sessions.  You’re not dropping a few points here and there on skills or a new Talent.  You are saving exclusively to raise that Ability.  For 10 sessions.  Our game meets twice a month.  So that comes out to 5 months of play, assuming we don’t skip a game night in there. WHR rounds max out at 5 SP, which matches the SP award recommendations for 1st edition, but remain unchanged with 2nd edition’s new advancement scheme.

Ready?  Here we go.

Witch Hunter 1st Edition Witch Hunter 2nd Edition
Required Sessions Required Sessions
Feature SP Cost Home (5) OP (5) SP Cost Home (15) OP (5)
Ability 1 to 2 10 3 3 60 4 12
Ability 2 to 3 10 3 3 90 6 18
Ability 3 to 4 20 6 6 120 8 24
Ability 4 to 5 30 9 9 150 10 30
New Elective Skill 10 2 2 10 1 2
Skill 1 to 2 (Background/Elective) 10/20 2/4 2/4 10/20 1/2 2/4
Skill 2 to 3 15/30 3/6 3/6 15/30 1/2 3/6
Skill 3 to 4 20/40 4/6 4/6 20/40 2/3 4/6
Skill 4 to 5 25/50 5/10 5/10 25/50 2/4 5/10
Skill Specialization 30 2 6
Basic Talent 5 1 1 50 4 10
Greater Talent 10 2 2 75 5 15
Heroic Talent 20 4 4 100 7 20
Rite 50 4 10

As you can probably see by the different advancement schemes, WH 1st edition put a LOT more emphasis on Talents.  WH 2nd edition appears to put more emphasis on skills.  But since the skill benefit is still capped by your Ability score, that doesn’t do you much good.  It makes for some interesting priorities in play.  But these numbers assume you are such a boss player your GM is handing you 15 SP after each game session.

Now as someone who favors slow advancement, these figures don’t bother me too much (expect with organized play which is pretty abysmal once you realize there are maybe 10 rounds available each year).  But I do see a point at which advancement is going to come to a dead stop no where near the top of the power curve.  And right now, I’m not sure if that’s because WH breaks beyond that point or if this was a simple advancement scheme (“hey, 30 SP x next level sounds about right”) that just has that unintended side effect.

In the next installment of this article, I’m going to re-examine the suggested SP Awards in light of all this.  Stay tuned…