Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Providence v3: The story so far...

Years have come and gone, and Providence has been in a state of evolution, although do to personal activities, I haven't made any posts about it!
   Since being sampled at a few conventions and by some tabletop aficionados, there were some valid points raised which forced me to put Providence back into preliminary drafts. Of course, that's hugely depressing - I just finished writing those magic lists!
   The positives are very positive; character customisation is deep and rewarding. None of the playtesters felt railroaded into any build, and each of them managed to achieve their own personal image without sacrificing the typical party dynamic. One player raised an eyebrow, and asked to make a druid style character that could transform into an owl, had an owl pet, and was still a primary spellcaster, and could still be a viable combatant. Primal Magic, Animal Companion, and Primal Soul with talents focussed toward spell slots and improved Longbow damage proved an acceptable answer.
    The range of options, including backgrounds and racial options proved to be very popular, as did the revamping and simplifying of the crafting system. It was a barebones table during playtesting, but it made planned downtime a vital piece of certain parties for tinkering and item creation.
   The actual game handled well, which was expected, given that it was drawn from a mix of Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 and 4th edition. However, this is also a key part of the problems.
   The origins of Providence are visible within the game design, which detracted from the overall experience since players familiar with Dungeons and Dragons didn't just take to it, they knew it almost inside and out. Whereas this made them feel comfortable, knowing roughly what was going to happen, how the mechanics worked and how best to fight, it was also taking them out of the game - it still felt like a homebrew mod. To put it bluntly, it still wasn't different enough from the original games.

   The other key problem was the world itself. Originally created as a generic fantasy world of 'points of light' equilibrium for a campaign, the world of Providence has been grilled as boring and uninspired. Race selection is standard, and as a result players often fail to attach themselves to the world. And why should they be emotionally invested, if everything is in a state of equilibrium, and nothing is at risk? In a world of elves, men, and dwarves, what differentiated it from the next adventurer's domain? Nothing, not really.

So, back to the draftboard!
   The changes I want to make are drastic in scope, and while I have started I am still working my way through the numerous kinks. To explain the extent of the changes, I must first tell you a brief story of the first ever campaign and the evolution of the new world.

   Providence was drafted for a 4E campaign. The campagin was entitled The Glory of the Fiendking, and was a tale of how an enigmatic figure, the self-styled Fiendking, began a terrible war against the entire civilised world. The established kingdoms of men, elves, and dwarves were crushed against a foe that knew the outcome of every skirmish, and understood the weaknesses of each kingdom. The adventuring party were a group that were caught in the crossfire of the Fiendking's war, and had to deal with a world where old, content realms were suddenly plunged into chaos.
   The campaign was never finished, although it was started multiple times with different groups. Later, the campaign was renamed The Glory of the Shining King just to avoid confusion (the King never actually enlisted the aid of Fiends to his army). Despite this, the end of the campaign had been written, just never played through.
   The story was fairly straightforward - the Shining King was a demigod, the son of the god of time. Over the course of his very troubled life, he discovers that aberrant creatures are pouring in from the Silent Beyond, and it would only be a millennia or so before the dark realm breaks through into realspace and those creatures consume all life. At which time, the gods of Providence would abandon this reality and create a new one. The Shining King discovers that this is a cycle that has repeated countless times. Thus, to create a world that could withstand the rigours of the Silent Beyond and fight against the horrors that wait there, he hatched a plan to unite the world under his rule, and ascend to godhood via a ritual of apotheosis. The adventuring group would get caught up in his machinations, and eventually defeat him by interrupting the ritual. Of course, doing so causes a fracture in reality...
   This is where the new Providence world starts. After the defeat of the Shining King, the sky cracks in a cataclysmic event, known as the Fracture. All demigods, divine descendents, and the most faithful suddenly disappear. Angels cease their interactions with mortals, and deities cease answering prayers. Divine Magic ceases to work, and without divine healing properties the world turns foetid almost overnight. Freakish aberrant creatures randomly appear through slips in reality, devouring or capturing anyone they can get their monstrous hands on. The tears in reality appear anywhere, and once mighty fortresses crumble in the face of the creatures. They are the Blighted, a scourge on the land.
   The weather is random and rampant; whole islands are thrown into the boiling seas and storms split the sky. The ground heaves in protest, and whole cities fall in on themselves. Worse still, through the crack in the sky sits a world that is getting ever closer. It is a monster planet, looking onward to Providence with a mad, squid-like eye. It is coated in the ruins of the civilisations, and the surface can be seen with skittering creatures. If one were to look past the horror, distant lights are moving toward the crack, for there are more of these monster worlds. They are known collectively as the Tyrannous Stars.
   The end of divine rule has created a terrible schism amongst the populace. Catechists and flagellants perform witch hunts on spellcasters, claiming that overuse of magic caused the Fracture and the Blighted incursions and only abstinance from magic can win the Gods' favour. There is some measure of truth to that assertion, as the Blighted seem to swarm places of magical power, and target mages in the midst of battle. There is no divine salvtion awaiting, sadly. The gods have moved on with their most loyal flock, and have left the universe to die in the tide.

   There is some hope and progress, however. What spellcasters remained created a spell, Reality Bind, which prevents the tears in reality from appearing. This stops Blighted incursions, but it also prevents spellcasting. By maintaining the spell, civilisation has been allowed to regrow to a certain extent. There are a handful of city states scatted across the surface of the tattered world. Trade is difficult, as the great distances are fraught with danger. Magic has been set back, with much of the knowledge gleaned over thousands of years being lost to the catechist purgings. Magic is now treated as something of a controlled substance, and education is highly restricted to colleges and institutes. Oddly, more and more people have been exibiting unnatural powers and magical talent. Technology has slowly filled the gap that magic has left, although it is still fairly simple. Basic steam engines are in wide use, and blackpowder weaponry is largely considered the height of offensive weaponry. Each city state has their own standing militia, but many businesses operate individually to reclaim some of the lost world beyond the walls. These are called the Free Companies.

   This is the world that the new players are thrust into. It is desperate and visceral, and the planet faces impending disaster. Everything has been lost, but there is everything to reclaim.

   The gameplay is also getting a significant change, but it's more of a rework than a complete overhaul.
   The create - a - class feature is still the key part of character creation, although a handful of abilities are getting reworked to make them fit, or being removed because they no longer match the lore of the game.
   Status effects are changing with duration and DC. Saving throws are becoming specific instead of just a duration timer, and their conditions can be more vicious a la 3.5e.
   Skills are changing, as are skill point allocation so you can spend points based on the bonus of your base attributes. Defences, attacks and all of the secondary maths of character creation have been rolled into their own skills. To that extent, skills are expanding to include weapons and defences. To improve one's expertise, you must spend skill points on the weapon skill. Defences are being overhauled - AC has been removed, and now armour grants a flat damage reduction.
   Magic is being redone (yes, damnit! Again! I know, right?!) to reflect the destroyed state of magical knowledge in the world. The five branches of magic - Arcane, Divine, Psionic, Primal, and Meta - are being stripped down and removed. Now, there is one magic list with an extensive number of spells, but there is a system in place for players to edit their spells or to craft completely new ones. Spellcasters are also encouraged to go forth and discover old spellbooks, so to reclaim spells that they otherwise couldn't research. The secret to mass teleportation, for example, has been lost long ago.
   Crafting is being tweaked and expanded in the form of more options and new skills. Accompanying this is the new Basic Craft Blueprint table. If a player wishes to craft something that has no rules or guidelines, the Blueprint table can be used to allow the Narrator to make a judgement call as to how the craft will be performed. It's uses will be rare, but it allows players to construct large scale items such as ships or buildings. In a world where technology is becoming more important, complicated crafting might just be the cornerstone of a late campaign.

   It's a lot to digest, I know. I'll be back sooner than you think with another Ability Spotlight to keep you interested and up to date! I hope you're excited about the new world. Tell me what you think in the comments below.

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