Aether Development Update
Well isn’t this neat, first blog post up on the website (because I’m trying to get used to using it more), and it’s a development update for my absolute pride and joy passion project that is making me go grey and want to tear my hair out.
TTRPG dev life. It never gets old. But that said, let’s get into what’s going on and what’s new shall we? It’s been a long couple weeks and if you’re coming here from Twitter you know I’ve been talking about some of these changes publicly already, but now that they’re in a place I’m comfortable with I wanted to make a more long form explanation.
That’s right, no more dice! Aether’s 2.0 version is moving away from variable dice pools and complex overlapping level up mechanics into a more streamlined Skill-based progression… and cards?
The game’s being rebuilt from the ground up to be playable with a single standard deck of playing cards, and there are a few reasons why that I want to run through. First, it helps make sure that players and game runners only have to remember one set of rules for resolving actions. Second, it scales much more simply than the dice pool system did, but in a similar way that retains the feel of “I’m getting better at this thing but there’s still chances of failure involved.” Third, decks of cards are fairly accessible and for people new to TTRPGs they might be easier to get a hold of than dice. And last, I hate paywalling my work. I had the thought of, “well, a lot of folks have decks of cards in their house, so let’s build around something they don’t necessarily have to go out to buy.”
It’s all about onboarding new folks and keeping the cost of entry to the game as low as possible, and cards can do that more effectively than dice I feel. There’s also some mechanical things I want to detail next that come along with the change in core resolution mechanics that I think are just really neat and I’m proud of.
This is a kill your darlings moment for me and it hurts, but it’s necessary. While Vocations were fun, Aether is moving into being completely skills based, combining the old ability tree approach and the old skill system into a single unit. Many of the over 300 player abilities are going to be condensed, shuffled around and built into levelled Skills so that as you get better at things you choose to be good at, you get cool powers.
It just makes sense. Is it easy to let go of those class based systems, no. Is it going to make a better game? Yeah. So out they go. Luckily, this means that many abilities are going to get trimmed down to fit on 3×5 notecards as well, a long-running personal design goal I’ve had that I am VERY hyped for.
All New Mechanics!
Considering the core resolution device of the game has changed from dice to cards, a lot of the gameplay has streamlined itself. Difficulty has been simplified from a massive, averages-spanning chart, to a simple scale of 1 to 5. The Narrator declares a skill check, the player decides which of their skills they want to use and how, and the Narrator sets the Difficulty according to how well the action applies to the skill check, with 1 being easy and 5 being the most difficult.
Then, it’s a draw-off: the Narrator pulls cards off the top of the deck equal to the Difficulty set, and tallies their total value. The Player plays cards off the top of the deck equal to their chosen Skill’s Level, and if their total beats the Difficulty, then they succeed.
Triumphs and Tragedies live on, as you pull a Triumph when you play a King and a Tragedy on an Ace, (aces are low). This way we get some more fun partial successes and failures.
We also get the introduction of cascading face cards. If you’ve played games with exploding dice, cascade works the same way where if you play a face card (jack, queen or king) during a skill check, it counts as 10 and you get to play a bonus card. And they can chain! So if you pull face cards off a cascade you just keep pulling cards until you don’t play a face.
Welcome to the stage some explosive checks and criticals 😀
Combat runs entirely on the same skill check system as above as well, its just that you pit your combat skill(s) of choice up against a creature’s Defense. Card suits determine the type of actions you can take in combat, with Clubs being weapon attacks, Hearts being magic, Diamonds being defense and Spades being movement or interactions, and players get a limited hand that they draw at the start of their turns to determine how many actions they can take.
No dice, bigger numbers and faster pacing all make for some (hopefully) more fun encounters overall.
Character Creation Changes
Character creation is going to see some small tweaks so that the social encounter mechanics wind up being symmetrical between player characters and NPCs. So, player characters are going to get a Fear and a Love in character creation, since they already have Secrets and Goals. Two more ways to gain experience, and it makes certain mechanics symmetrical across both sides of the game.
The next few weeks are going to see the game getting revamped into what I’m calling the full 2.0, and once the new core mechanics and skill builds are settled, I’m hoping to get the hardware and start streaming walkthroughs of starting a campaign and creating characters! Keep an eye on Twitter for stream announcements and here for other various updates.