Did a Long Dissection of my First Emberwind Playthrough: From a Playtester


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This is a copy-paste of my thread on the Emberwind Subreddit.

Me and my friends finished our first play-test! Here are some of the stories, opinions, and experiences. My hope is that this helps people come up with ideas, and that this contributes, ultimately, to the collective understanding of the community I foresee encompassing this game.
Background on me: I was a professional GM for 2 years and I do play tests for random stores and developers all over. I have GM'd since I can remember.
What we did:
  • Rules read-through of the Emberwind Hero Manual
  • Tier 2 Character Building
    • 1 Player did Aspects
    • 3 Players tried each Array within attribute building
      • House-ruled 2 Players with quick and dirty multi-class
      • 1 Druid, 1 Rogue, 1 Invoker/Ardent, 1 Spiritualist/Warrior
  • No Keepsakes beyond Emberwind Spark
  • Basic items
    • Weapon, Off-Hand, Ranged Weapon, Armour
      • 1 Custom Weapon 'created'/house-ruled
  • No Anchors, mostly combat with minor RP in between battles
  • Varying terrain and terrain mechanics uses/ideas each fight
  • 6 total combats
    • Every 2 combats was a milestone that returned one Tide-Turner Charge
  • House-Rules used and created
  • Questions and discussion points
Onto first thoughts and ideas.

Rules Read-Through

I spent a fair amount of time talking to Derek at a convention, hello BTW, and the whole concept was intriguing. I felt as though I could see the branching tree of complexity; how the game starts you out with Premade Characters, into archetypes, into aspects, then into attributes. Each facet, even the monsters, had varying stages of complexity. The most powerful aspect of this system, to us, was that each stage was designed to be compatible. A player using the Aspect System didn't feel like they were missing out, but they still had power within their desired field. In character build heavy games like Pathfinder, a game whose system is designed for expansive character builds, it was quite possible for certain builds and character concepts to 'brick' themselves, and this means that those builds would be utterly ineffective while they seem, flavor wise, perfectly built for the concept. On the contrary, there are heavily bounded systems, meaning all numbers scale similarly such as in D&D 4e, where you never brick a character, but you never feel as if you are much stronger or better than a non-specialized character within their aspect. The system appears to hit the mark: One player focused Stealth, another didn't, and another was kinda good at it, and everyone felt like they were where they needed to be in that regard. The exact stealth numbers were 16,12,8. You can do the math on what that means in a D20 System. :p
The system is DM'less, and that shows in the enemy A.I. system. More on that later. The whole system for being DM'less is one of the greatest things here.
The classes were well defined, synergistic, and easy to read through. Derek phrased the simple creation as a 'simple personality test', and it is a very true definition. You can derive a whole character based on the flavor of their personality, and not feel bad about the outcome. For players looking for a first experience, Emberwind is extremely accommodating. I first read the Archer through with a friend who gravitates toward that style, and was happily surprised at what I saw. The Archer can be a switch-hitter, which means swapping between melee and ranged attacks, and excels in both with archer-esque flavor. An example that sticks out to me is the Shearing Tempest Ability, which boosts the range of a melee attack/exploit by +3 and it counts as ranged and melee! This made it possible to play a Greatsword Archer and still be an Archer with a range nearly rivaling a bows! In other words, "The Archer Class is really made up of Archers!" This varying combination of, what I call, Build Enabling Mechanics were the pinnacle of the experience for me.

The globalized definition of mechanical abilities was nice. Transforming effects into tags, or simple and transferable definitions, makes creating abilities much easier and assists the players ability to understand them. Burning for one class did the same as Burning for another, and made it possible for two different classes and players to come together to work with a mechanic. Tag systems offer HUGE levels of potential within a system as it expands.

Combat rules were defined and streamlined. Not to much else to say, as the previous stuff translates directly into combat. You felt like your character did what it was meant to do.

However, we found some rulings slightly lacking, but not a hindrance that couldn't be overcome through some house-rule/abstract thinking. First thing we noticed was issues with Two-Weapon Fighting. I can wield a Crossbow with one hand and a Sword in the other, and the Sword gave my bolts +3 damage? How do I reload said Crossbow while wielding it in one hand? Derek's answer was that game-balanced worked best as having it as a damage bonus maintains the most balance, which was understandable, but we had new questions arise as a result.

There were a lot of questions, so I will leave the unanswered ones at the end in their own section.

Character Building:
So we had one character build utilizing aspects, and three of us used the attribute system. Character building happens across 4 tiers, each one gaining power in ascending order. Essentially, every character and build has 4 levels of power.

First off, after reading through the classes, we all had the same idea: Multi-Classing seemed amazing, but there were no rules in the book that guided it. I didn't get my PDF to work, so I couldn't CTRL-F to find the keywords for it, and I may have missed it. However, the system itself made it easy to come up with a solution. Obviously, classes had separate abilities which means that separation is a balancing tool, otherwise the game would've been designed with all players having access to one big pool, a balancing nightmare that leads to shoehorning (see Pathfinder: Feats) With respect to that, our quick and dirty Multi-Class House-Rule worked as such: For each class pool you had access to, subtract -1 to the total number of Class Actions you can know. You can only learn Tide-Turners from the class you have the most skills from, and if two classes tied you picked one. Has some issues I can foresee, but for the time being for us it suited our needs and offered a quid pro quo: More access to a greater number of Actions/synergies at the cost of total Actions known. So take it with a grain of salt, and I will gladly take better/cooler options!
Aspect System vs. Attribute System: Mechanical Differences and Observation

First off, each system starts players off with different base stats which become altered as you select Aspects/boost Attributes. There were a lot of things the Attribute System did that could not be accomplished within the Aspect System, and vice versa. One example that sticks out to me: The only way to boost your Critical Strike Chance within the Attribute System is by having a strong Strength at a 3:1 Str:Crit, and Strength boosts one of your defense stats, Toughness, at a 2:1 ratio. Using the Aspect System, our Ardent/Invoker had a base Crit of 4 and a toughness of 4. This is completely unreachable through Attributes. In order to have a base Crit of 4 one must have 12 Strength, which grants one a Toughness of 6. Naturally, this granted a different form of give and take within the Aspect System. Not inherently a problem, but a different way to accomplish ones character goals and it offers Devs a tool/channel to balance and expand. This will overall lead to more player choices, something I am in heavy favor of.
Conversely, the Attribute System can accomplish things the Aspect System cannot, and we had an example of that: The Druid I built had a Sustain Limit, a mechanic that determines the number of continuous effects one can have active, of 4, and the highest I could get with Aspects was a 3 (Utilizing the Class Trait Beast of Burden). Again, a new avenue to expand a concept.

There was one issue I noticed within the Attribute System, and it interested me to see further discussion on: The final Stat Array is straight up worse than all other arrays unless you spend all resources for the entire characters career on one Attribute. The array in question gives you a stat spread of 2/4/7/8 with 2 points to spend as wanted. The other Arrays it competes with are 5/6/6/6 and 3/6/7/7 with 2 points to spend as wanted. Two Arrays have a total value of 25 while one has a value of 23. The obvious benefit noticed is reaching certain stat thresholds a tier sooner than the other arrays, but that can only occur if you spend all points for that character on a single stat. If you ever stray from that, the Array becomes worse than any other option. Also, the 'early breakthrough' benefit of the 2/4/7/8 Array only occurs once for each Attributes 'Capstone' due to the math of Break points. Theoretically, it means you get a single tier of early access to an single Attributes Key ability, most notably Intelligence granting addition Trigger/Sustain/Amplify limits, a mechanic that alters aspects of players actions. The cost was a bit hard to justify for our builds and no build we could come up with was made or broken due to this design choice. I am only curious if someone can examine it and show me how this Array can be a substantial build choice! :D

After that, you select gear and Voila, the base of your character is complete. You selected your 3 Aspects, or you placed all of your Attributes, and all base stats can be derived from that.


I won't delve to hard into this. The skill system is simple: Select one skill to be your main skill, and three minor skills. All other skills were based on raw ability. I didn't go to deep into the skills, but took them at face value. They worked well and suited our needs while making us still feel strong and specialized. I can see mechanically inclined players wish to expand the system on their own, but its general simplicity leads to a good deal of abstract derivatives.

Next Was Selecting Items:

I touched on this a bit earlier, but will expand slightly. You select One Melee Weapon, One Ranged Weapon, One Off-Hand weapons, and Armor that most closely describes your armor. The game pulled back from providing a specific definition for each individual weapon, and then it gave a general idea of the weapons use. It was refreshing to not get caught up with weapon semantics due to shoddy definitions, like in other systems that try to define every, little thing still looking at you Pathfinder. A 1-H Sword, like a Machete, functioned similarly to an Arming Sword, etc. The system makes it easier, and you can derive from it, ways to custom-tailor weapons. An example we had was the game had a definition of a Pole-Arm, like a Long Spear, and an Axe, like a Battle Axe. Each weapon class had a special feature and you can derive basic values and quid pro quo's made within the system. Axes had better Critical Strike chance at the cost of Accuracy, and Pole-Arms had a range of 2 as opposed to a range of 1. Using Two Handed weapons added penetration to the weapon. We were able to combine them to make a 2-H Pole-Axe: Which had a range of +2, a +1 Critical Strike chance, a -2 accuracy, and a +2 Penetration.

Other issues and House-Rules will be placed at the end of this post.

Class Actions (Not the Lawsuit Kind):

There was so much to unpack, it deserves a review of its own. So I will leave this one as a TL:DR: Actions and abilities that, mostly, alter the combat function of your character. A LOT of synergy within classes, combined with our quick and dirty multi-class rules, made Action selection a simple, yet you could be as complex as you wanted, trait found as a common theme within Emberwind.

End Class Results:

The Druid: My character I made with the Attribute system. I desperately wanted to multi-class, but felt it more important to experience it as intended to form a better opinion and understanding. It was designed to utilize Intelligence to stack as much Penetration as possible, then turn that penetration into accuracy to stack 4 sustainable damage effects, Wither in my case, to deal Piercing damage, damage that bypasses enemy Defense. This ability also cumulatively applied Weaken, which is an effect that reduces damage an enemy deals. After starting the wither, saved all Action Points, a resource that dictates the number of Actions one may make, to react to the battle and keep allies topped off with Health. When an enemy died, I could transfer all the Withers onto a new enemy. It worked smoothly and as intended.

The Rogue: A friend who used the attribute system. Utilized a Greatsword to get the most out of Pinpoint Strike, an Action that can double damage, with flat damage while stacking poison effects on enemies and festering their wounds. This build hit like a truck, and it put a timer on single targets.
The Ardent/Invoker: Created using Aspects. This character started out as a Rogue concept which evolved into its final form. Utilized Mana Echoes, Disintegrate, and Ground Zero to apply nigh unstoppable burn damage that reduced enemy Defense over time. With a stealth of 16 and Fade Away, a skill that makes you untargetable, he placed a Well of Power, which boosted the damage of one who stood in it, on the ground and stepped into it and went invisible. Started the fight off by creating a Transference Field, which let him decide targets for overkill AND overheal on the battlefield. The 3rd build that relied on stacking degenerative effects.

The Spiritualist/Warrior:The last Attribute build. Inspired by Piccolo from Dragon Ball Z. His whole shtick was using Kiai Strike to its max potential and punch someone a thousand times with the occasional energy blast. Could pump out some solid crit/sustained damage through attacks, and the build was within the category of 'benefits strongly from any buffs given'.

Overall, the process felt good and we all managed to find something we were looking for, as well as see some interesting concepts. The Greatsword Rogue stuck out the most to me.

The Simple Setting:

The four of our characters entered a series of Arena matches. The simple RP premise was each match added to our parties fame and fortune out of character, and that we already knew and trained with one another. I roleplayed the Arena Master and an Arena Rival we fought and defeated. It went fairly well, and utilizing the simple skill system we could make good fun happen and serious roleplay that made our characters feel unique.
My only issue at this stage is the lack of RP abilities within classes. Classes are PURELY combat focused. There is a certain void left, for some, with the lack of a dedicated class for RP style skills, such as Charm style abilities or Illusion. However, I am familiar with the idea of having a mechanic/design purpose to separate the ability to derive RP options to heavily in conjunction with Combat options, again pointing at Full Casters Vs. Martial classes in Pathfinder. With this in mind, we just roleplayed that our Spiritualist's Smooth Talking abilities were magical in nature, and that accomplished the exact same goal

The Arena itself was a series of 6 battles. Each battle utilized a different terrain mechanic, which was all house-ruled and experimental, utilizing the idea of Field Effects and Local Field Effects, abilities that encompass the whole battlefield or one spot in particular, respectively. This led to a lot of questions and rulings we had to quick and dirty, more on that later.

Each set of creatures was designed to fit the environment given to them, which also utilized different game mechanics themselves.

The Monsters:

I won't go to much into this, either. The Hex System with Evolving A.I. for some monsters was absolute genius, mad props to Derek for utilizing it. By far one of the strongest components of the entire system. What it does is give monsters simple OR complex A.I. Whatever suits your parties/players needs. It is what makes the DM'less part of the system possible.

The Arena Battles:

To much to extract, but I will leave a general impression: We felt specialized and non-static the whole time. Each fight allowed us to evolve our style with the retraining system, and it allowed us to still remain true to our core character idea. Our dream team of, quite literal, degenerates functioned well and had issues with enemies that we predicted would be problematic, specifically those that remove ALL bad effects, looking at you Thistleweave Bear. We had the opportunity to try to study them and learn their abilities, and that bear and her cubs was very annoying to fight with her ability to remove all stacks, regenerate, and put up a shield. We learned that fight that stacked effects remaining on fallen enemies, such as poison, make reviving them very hard!


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What the CAP is that?

CAP stands for Critical, Accuracy, and Penetration. When you target anyone not yourself with an ability you must roll and see whether you hit (Accuracy), whether you bypass defenses (Penetration), and whether you deal maximum damage whilst bypassing defenses (Critical). The system makes it possible to have higher penetration than accuracy, meaning you swung hard enough to slice through them, but your hit went wide, and every other metric of a stat being better than another. It is possible to tank your accuracy and penetration to get a massive Critical strike chance!
This is what I call a 'modular damage system'. What that means, is that every attack and ability has multiple stages to its use and effect. Modular damage systems expand the developers and the players ability to effect combat and balance. I think the foundation of a solid system relies on access to simple, yet encompassing, guidelines to what it means to effect another player/npc/etc.

CAP also puts the power of all abilities into the players hand. No longer rolling, shouting a number, and asking 'Did I hit?'. You can see if you hit right on your sheet, and see what type of hit it was. This level of self regulation, for players and monsters, streamlines combat.
CAP is only utilized by the players, so how do we know how a monster affects you? Well...

Defenses and Barriers

There are two ways, inherent on the character sheet, to mitigate damage. This adds to the modular damage system. The ways are Defenses and Barriers. In D&D terms, Defenses are your Armor Class and Barriers are you Damage Reduction. The best part is these, too, are self regulating. They encompass Physical and Magical protections.

Dodge and Toughness are your Defense and Barrier against physical effects. When targeted with an arrow you roll against your own dodge, and if you succeed the arrow flies by to no effect. If you fail, you subtract your toughness from the damage.

Willpower and Resistance are your Defense and Barrier against magical effects. When targeted by a Fire Bolt you roll against your own Willpower, and if you succeed the fire bolt has no effect. If you fail, you subtract your Resistance from the damage.

Certain abilities are Auto-Hit, which means they are either all encompassing or hyper accurate, meaning you do not roll CAP or Defense for those effects. This, however, means you don't roll to Crit or Penetrate, so Barriers are tougher.

A lot of good definitions that put the onus on the players. Monsters hit no matter what, but players check if they don't.

My only critique, that we didn't deal with but I can foresee, is that there are some damaging scenarios in a gray area. An example would be making sense of a Burning Stack piercing the defense of a fire-based creature. This is easily dealt with by just giving the creatures 'Cannot Have Burning Stacks'. The monster creation rules are super free form, so it is up to the table and/or storyteller to come to that answer on their own.

Onto those House-Rules!

House-Rules we utilized:

There were a lot of things we did that was not explicitly in the book. I am of the opinion there is no single way to play a rule system, and that all rules are malleable. With this in mind, me and my party might still do things 'wrong', different, or less efficiently. I love to hear of new, fun, and different approaches to systems, as it allows me to adapt, learn, and grow! So if any of these house rules has a glaring problem, a better option, or I missed the actual rule leave a constructive comment! Onto it, chaps.
  • When using a Main-Hand and an Off-Hand weapon, the player decides at the start of their turn which weapon is their active weapon, you can change this choice at the start of your next turn.
    • Two-Weapon fighting can be an interesting monster to tackle, and this fixed a little bit of its issue that exists at the moment. One issue is that it only incentive is in using two different weapons, and not two of the same weapon. Potentially remedied by granting a boosted version of the basic effect, such as going from +2 to +3 Accuracy for using two Swords. But I can see some strange balance issues occurring from that. This was another example of quick and dirty
  • Recreating the Dagger: [Tier+1]d4 damage +1 Pen/+1 Accuracy.
    • We ran into a scenario where we needed a dirty rule for utilizing an arrow as a melee weapon. It made no sense for an arrow to do the same effects as a full blown sword, so we made a less efficient option that seemed reasonable. Also offered an interesting concept for a switch hitting Archer
  • Multi-classing: For each class pool you had access to, subtract -1 to the total number of Class Actions you can know. You can only learn Tide-Turners from the class you have the most skills from, and if two classes tied you picked one.
    • I went more in-depth earlier in the 'Character Building' segment.
  • Cover/Concealment leading to a new Condition: This is lead to the creation of a new condition known as Fortification. Fortification boosts barrier values by +1 per stack, stacking infinitely. You gain Fortification for every corner that draws line of sight through obstructive terrain when an enemy targets you with an ability. Obstructive terrain is anything that reasonably hinders an assault, magical or physical.
    • A common concept in games that makes sense in specific scenarios, attack an enemy braced against cover makes certain attacks less effective. Ducking by a low wall while under the hail of crossbow fire, fighting enemies while surrounded by dense jungle, or by peaking corners with a wand in hand to zap a foe.
    • The Synonym, in game terms, to fortification would be weakness, which reduces damage a target under its effects deals. However, there are abilities that exist that interact with weakness as it stands, so creating a distinction between what happens as a result of inhibiting effects vs. debilitating effects was important for us. We also wished to maintain the concept of Self-Regulation that runs within the system.
  • High Ground: Fighting the enemy from an overwhelmingly favorable position made them Off-Guard, similar to Flanking.
    • Punching up at an enemies feet is tougher than an even fight. This is more of an overarching rule stating that if you have a serious advantage against an enemy, you hit more often. Following the same spirit as Flanking.
  • Range Increments: Ranged Weapons can multiply their range an additional time, each multiplication provides a -5 penalty to CAP checks.
    • The most controversial for me, for the strict ranges are obvious design choices, hence the steep penalty. If each square is roughly the size of a person, or even a bear in some cases, the range of a bow/crossbow/wand is roughly 25-35 ft. I did archery and hunt with a bow, and shooting at 90 ft is close quarters with traditional wood bows.
    • No effect exists that boosts bow range. While you can boost the range of a melee weapon to insane levels, up to an unholy 10 squares with a double Shear Forced, Galerider Strike while using a polearm, it is important to note that we only applied this rule to ranged weapons themselves. Shear Forces flavor is swinging with such force that you send a shock wave to the enemy, which dissipates to ineffectiveness with distance.
    • Spells/Abilities with a range are not subject to this, for it is assumed magic must work within certain guidelines etc.
  • Fall Damage: Every 2 squares fallen deals 1d6 damage, rounded down.
    • The game shies away from making hard rules for forced movement sending people off of cliffs or into the air, but comes with the clause of 'do what makes sense to you'.
    • This let our Ardent utilize Gravity Well in interesting ways, such as utilizing it to pull allies up ledges.
  • Using the optional rule for friendly fire
    • Not a house rule, but worth a mention. Opens up a lot of options with certain skills. Allows the targeting of allies with 'Target Foe' skills.
  • Custom Gear
    • I described a Pole-Axe weapon in the 'Next Was Selecting Items'
  • Utilizing 3.5e D&D and Pathfinder square increments. Every other diagonal counts as 2 squares.
    • Distances more closely resemble real life, closer to Pythagorean. I have always hated moving diagonal being the same distance as moving horizontal, but that is a personal issue. :p There is no reason to ever move horizontally without this rule.
    • Because it's all encompassing, it targets players and foes equally with the same mechanical changes. This is has an inherent balance.
  • Hampered Vision, How much sandstorm is too much sandstorm?
    • Our answer largely varied, we dealt with fog, sandstorms, and thick jungles. Our answer was this: Light, Moderate, and Heavy Concealment tags on local environmental effects.
      • Light/Moderate/Heavy concealment offers +1/+2/+3 fortification stacks, respectively.
      • Portions of the environment can be designated as L/M/H Concealment. Each square you draw line of sight through compounds. Looking through 2 squares of fog, which is considered light concealment, count as moderate concealment. If you go beyond Heavy concealment, you can not draw line of sight.
      • Being able to draw line of sight AT ALL without touching a concealing square means they are not concealed, gaining no fortification.
      • Concealment can also be Cover, in the case of dense Jungle as an example. It hampers movement and vision, almost like a wall, but you can still walk and attack into it. For example, being in the middle of a dense jungle and fighting another enemy who is in the dense jungle right next to you offers both combatants a whopping +7 fortification stacks.
      • Concealment such as fog, which does not hamper movement noticeably, offers no Cover.
  • Drawing and Sheathing equipment: Putting away, Pulling out, or both simultaneously all cost one Fast Action
    • Putting away a sword and drawing a crossbow was part of the same Fast Action.
      • We have funny stories about the abuse of certain free actions that make little sense in a time lapsed fight. How do I sheath a sword, draw and shoot the crossbow, stow the crossbow, and then redraw my weapon without it being slower than using a simple sword swing?
    • People think more about whats on their hands, an important distinction.

These are the only house rules we have utilized, thus far.
The system seems well designed and tailored for this level of use. It has a massive amount of versatility and potential; you can make it as simple or complex as you want.

I will wrap this up with a simple statement, I think, encompasses the game system: The game was designed with the intent to be versatile; All players can play as they like. While on the surface the system looks to be 'missing' odds and ends, a conversation with the Developer and some imagination that was a design choice with HEAVY emphasis.
As a DM/GM, I can empathize with that sentiment. There are a lot of different people, and henceforth different player types. Emberwind does a solid job of fulfilling that. I have had a fair share of Rule Lawyers that make it hard to bend a system in ways to tell a story, and I have had a fair share of, what I call, 'system-inhibited players' who are players whose play style can not be supported by the mechanics available to the system.
While Emberwind doesn't have the answer/rule for every little thing, it gives you a good system to make what you need as you need it, while providing structure to the sporadic and abstract environment of an RPG.
However, this comes with its downfalls. Some players might be discouraged by a some areas of 'emptiness' that are apparent on the surface; it is a system designed for all players but those who wish to have it handed over to them. That play style isn't bad, some people have heavy schedules that don't accommodate that effort, and others don't feel like a game should be work.
The fortunate thing, is the game is in active development with a Developing Team that is actively expanding the game. I asked about Two-Weapon Fighting, and they answered as well as confirming the development of it. That is a HUGE positive for the game as a whole and gives me faith in its continued advancement. House Rules can, very well, be added in expansions or reprints as the game and its team, community, and content grows.
I appreciate everyone who took the time to read this, and I hoped you learned something or, at least, enjoyed this little dissection!

Good Luck, Wherever you are
TL;DR Enjoy the game, it has something you are looking for.