First off, let me say that the event was very successful. Everyone had a great time and the system ran very smoothly. I had done my research pretty well (though I forgot a few things and had to look them up), so I had to go to the books very little. The players didn't touch a book or a pencil at all other than to check them out. There were no accidents, no lost or damage pieces (that I'm aware of), even though everyone in the store handled the pieces at one time or another. At the end of the session the players had a clear idea of how the game operates, were excited about playing again, and were asking how soon they could get a copy.
--ARRIVAL and SETUP:--
I scheduled the first game for 11:30. I arrived at 11:00 to prepare the play area and lay everything out. It took me about 10 minutes to clean off the Mountain Dew stained table, set everything up, and take a picture. I ended up with time to spare so I sat around and let people handle the materials and answered questions.
I set the Gray Wizard and the Troll Slayer closest to me. I figured if anyone would need help, it would be them. Turns out, they didn't need much help at all. It doesn't look very space consuming here because I had the cards stacked, the counters and dice in the box lid, and the GM stuff neatly stacked. We spread out a bit more once things got going, but there was still plenty of room for play.
People started coming in and sitting down in front of characters. I took the first four seated and away we went!
--DEMO (GM and 4 Players):--
I explained the basic concepts of the system to the players but didn't give them a lot of mechanics information. I prefered to do that as we played. I expounded a bit on the opening scene to get my players in the mood. By the time we entered the first combat I had their full attention.
I set the scene and walked them through the first round of combat. I suggested some action cards, told them their options, and explained the dice. By the second round, players were picking their own actions, building their own pools, and interpreting the results.
The party devastated their oposition in the first round. No one took any damage and there was very little fatigue or stress to be seen. They entered the second act confident and prepared.
--** MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD **--
'The Wargor made his entrance to a clap of thunder as the storm grew near. I added a bit of cinematic detail to him. He snorted as he stepped from the trees. Steam billowed from his flared nostrils. His nose ring clinked against the one jagged tooth that protruded crookedly from his snout. The Troll Slayer saw this and vowed to wear it as a bracelet (the players words, not mine). The ground shook as the hulking beast advanced.'
--** END SPOILERS **--
The second round was a lot tougher. I put the players on the ropes in the first turn, and in the end actually killed one of them. I allowed that player to take the reigns of one of the NPCs and we continued. There were wound and crit cards flying all over the table!
[I was sitting on the far right during the game]
In the end, they vanquished the primary antagonist. A thunder strike signaled the end of the final act and the demoralized minions fled into the forest.
We began the final act of the scenario and I soon had the players rolling on the floor with lines like:
Envoy: Listen Heir Rothstein...
Klaus (interupting): Ah, I see you've heard of me. Now be a good lad and pick up my packages. Be quick about it and there's a shiny shilling in it for you.
Grey Wizard: You will let us have the package now (Intimidate)
Klaus: You filthy begger! Do you have any idea who I am!?! I could buy and sell your hide a hundred times over. I've fired piss boys with more clout than you! Why I 'outta...
... and on and on.
We had to cut the session short soon after. One of the players received an emergency phone call (much to his dismay) and we decided it was a good place to stop. I accelerated things a bit and wrapped up the session.
The session, from the opening line to the last, took 2:10.
It took a bit longer to pack things up than it did to lay it out as there was some sorting to be done (and I wanted the characters back in their proper boxes for another game). In the end, after I got all the loose pieces gathered up, I spread out some of the more impressive parts to let people get a closer look. I set the books out, fanned out the career cards, and set the decks where everyone could reach them.
When that was over, I folded everything neatly into the box and handed out some of the cool advertisement post cards that came with the demo set.
--CONCLUSIONS AND OBSERVATIONS--
The players where quick to catch on to the system. They seemed a little bewildered at first and one of them even got a little glassy eyed during a run down of the dice pools, but after the first turn our rules lawyer had it mastered (with the help of the printed dice reference). He helped one player that seemed to be having trouble, and the other two had it mastered by the end of round two. By then they were interpreting dice rolls themselves and studying their cards to see what options they had by flipping them over to explore the other stance.
There were so many highs and lows in this demo, the players were perpetually excited. They were elated and haughty after the first Act. They felt powerful. Everyone got a solid hit in during the first Act. After I killed one of them in Act 2 though, the mood changed dramatically. The ferocity of the Wargor came unexpected after their previous success and they were put on the defensive. They were scared and worried and working together to try and survive the fight by discussing strategies, comparing actions, and using defensive options.
The tension breaker involving the social encounter at the end gave everyone a break from the chaos (no pun), and things ended on a very upbeat note.
I didn't have a lot of problems accessing needed rules, but then I wrote up a cheat sheet and tabbed the books before running the session. The system could certainly benefit from an Index. The two page layouts in the Bestiary are pretty slick. I ended up just laying the books on the table and tossing tokens as needed onto the page. There was a moment of OMG as I bumped the book, but other than that, it worked out great.
I would recommend printing the Dice Reference sheet from the web page, my, or another cheat sheet (posted in forums), and perhaps some type of explanation sheet for player manoeuvring (there were lots of questions about that). It would have been nice if the Manoeuvre list had been printed on the back of the ToA like the dice reference was printed on the back of the main rule book. Hindsight...
Story Telling Dice
I used the cinematic interpretations of the dice sparingly, but to good effect. I didn't use them as often as I intended, but reserved them for important moments, like particularly telling blows. It wasn't long befor the players were doing it as well. One of my players commented that the abstract symbols invoked a 'symbol recognition' response, that after you used to the system, it was easier to comprehend than numbers because... I became lost here in psychological theory that I do not understand. I don't know what he said, but he sounded very sure of it. I will take his word for it. Symbols = Good.
Larger than recommended group
We had 5 players instead of the recommended 4. Sharing the basic cards between the players was no problem at all. After I explained to them what was going on, they quickly devised a swap system and I didn't have to get involved in it again. No one complained about this, but the Adventure's Kit will be most welcome. I could run as many players with this game as I could any other. Sharing didn't seem that big a deal.
The tokens were a bit of a mess at first. It wasn't long before they stopped distinguishing between the markers and the counters (which I heard someone refer to in another review as 'Emo Tears') and just used the first token at hand. There were some tense moments when one of the players looked down and realized he had used his Fortune markers to track a crit condition. We talked a bit about using paper instead, after the game, but no one could come up with a better system than the tokens. The final verdict was that the tokens weren't a problem and that the players would, after a few games, learn to manage them better.
I found the combat to be quick and painless. The players spent the time before their turns deciding what to do and planning their actions. They quickly caught on to the fact that the different stances had a significant impact on the characters performance. Once they did, there were tactical shifts in stance nearly every turn and (some) players intentionally stayed closer to neutral in case they wanted to flip.
Building the pools and interpreting the rolls wasn't an issue after the first turn. By act two the players were building their pools before their turn began, and asking for multiple dice at a time. The rolls themselves caused shouts of excitement and groans of dispair. The dice really enhanced the game.
One of biggest problems we had were all of the modifiers. Actions like Guarded Position, combined with parry, and stacked with modifiers from critical wounds, conditions, and talents made for big adjustments in dice pools. We quickly decided that any card that caused a modifier like that should be put in one place of the players play area. We also stacked the modifier dice on the cards in some cases as a reminder that they would affect upcoming rolls. After we worked out a system for it, it wasn't so bad. It was actually fun.
There were some concerns from the players at first that the damage wasn't dynamic enough. The bulk of each roll was a fixed number with a little variation depending on the results of the roll. But, once I informed them of the 'minimum one wound' rule, and demonstrated how crits could be converted to wounds in some cases, no one was too worried about it. There actually seemed to be quite a bit of variation in the damage rolls, but it mostly came in the form of many small fixed modifiers added to the rolls. This actually made our digit head of the group very happy. He was counting up mods with a sparkle in his eye – lol.
Over all the combats seemed exciting and engaging, easy to run, and fun to interpret. There were some parts that were faster, and some that were slower, but the net result was about the same length in player turn as previous editions. It just seemed the emphasis had shifted from going through charts to building a scene. Sort of, visualizing the action as you built the pool for the roll.
The social encounter was more roleplay than rollplay. While the mechanics for this were very similar to physical combat in form, they were less intense and seemed to fade into the background during the Player/GM interactions. We spent a lot of time bantering back and forth, and occassionally a roll would pop up to affect the situaion. I was generous in handing out modifier dice as the players roleplayed their positions. I slid them the modifier dice AS we roleplayed, so building the pools was fast and didn't break the mood.
I think the engine does a great job of getting out of the way during these type of engagements so as not to muddy the player interaction with mechanics and dice rolls. There were still action cards, rolls, initiative, modifers, everything that's present in combat, they just seemed (inexplicably) subdued so as to keep the focus on the conversation rather than the mechanics.
We did have a few rules questions. While the books are generally laid out in a very logical and easy to read format, you will find cases where there are important rules buried in odd places. I can't think of an example at the moment, but I think you'll find that you have to read ALL the rules and take some notes here and there. Just skimming through some section isn't enough to properly arbitrate this game. This is actually a good thing, because you might read some section you normally wouldn't. I found the sections for new GMs particularly entertaining, educational, and very efficient at explaining the concept of the games design and feel.
One of the biggest issues we found was manoeuvres for monsters. I found rules in the books that indicated monsters never suffered fatigue or stress. It went further to say that any time they were forced to, it was converted to a wound. Since multiple (fatigue causing) manoeuvres are an important part of movement, that caused some serious issues with monsters being able to quickly close in on the party and performing other important actions. I'll be making a post to clear this up on the FFG forums.
Another minor issue is that monsters seem to have no CR (or Crit Rating) by default. If you arm them manually, and don't just rely on the stats as they are presentated, this won't be an issue. I simply 'assumed' that my monsters were armed with standard hand weapons (DR:5 CR:3) and moved on.
[Your intrepid GM]
It is my opinion that this system is written with story tellers firmly in mind. Everything about the rules are designed to promote, and even reward, creativity and flexibility. I think therein lies one of the biggest points of contention for people that are reluctant to take a closer look. They are used to rules heavy systems, systems that have a rule to control everything. Systems that grant and encourage freedoms instead of imposing restrictions are a little difficult to grasp at first if you aren't used to it. I know it was for me. You spend your time looking for things that aren't (and don't need to be) there.
This system reminds me of the old RPGs that didn't rely on gigantic stacks of rule book in which every possible situation was covered, but instead provided a solid framework that allowed the games GM to logically arbitrate situations as they were presented. This actually provides for a much wider array of options for both players and judges.
This game is fun, playable, and has a strength of design capable of long term play value. Moving forward, I will be using this system for WFRP campaigns at my table. If this system enjoys the support of the fans, and in particular, the publisher, it could develop into something very special. I had a blast playing and so did my players. I'm already looking forward to running it again.
I interviewed the players as a group after the game, regarding their thoughts on the demo. I asked them if they enjoyed the game, what their favorite parts were, and what their least favorite parts were. I also asked them if they planned on purchasing the product.
Everyone had a blast. They were still laughing and joking about the game long after we packed up.
The players listed the dice and the double sided cards (and consequently the stance system) as their favorite things. They seemed hard pressed to come up with negative comments, one of the players, a mechanic heavy fan, was sad there weren't more numbers involved. There were also some comments about the confusions listed above, but some of that is probably my fault.
Two of the players (and a couple of the bystanders) stated they would be pre-ordering. One of the players already had it pre-ordered (as did another bystander). Counting mine, that's 7 sales, 4 of which were based on the demo. Edit: The last player opted to let his GM buy it and just use his material.
There were more people that wanted to play, but I was exhausted. I took a raincheck and have two more sessions planned. Everyone that played wants to play again. I love this game.