Skies of Axia Campaign Report (SPOILERS)

#1
I finished up my Skies of Axia play through this week, and wanted to give some thoughts. Overall, I really enjoyed the game, and everyone involved is looking forward to more. We played on normal difficulty, and didn't use the hard mode options. I think when I end up playing again I'll try out hard mode, even with a new group.

The characters played were:

Rook (myself, basic atlanta version) - I ended up having Rook serve primarily as healer, and literally never made attacks except when I was trying to Skewer a full-health minion. I usually just moved once or twice a fight, to stay closest against all enemies and protect our mages. Spare actions went to Guided Weapon on Rath on turn one, or spamming Exhilerating Anthem thereafter.

Piper (basic ardent version) - I don't have much to say about Piper. She blew shit up real good, and was especially terrifying with Warrior Rath's defense-dropping.

Laureat (basic druid version) - Of all the characters Laureat use the most of her package, focusing on keeping Primary Fury up on Rath, conditions off on the party, Wildfire for damage, and Rusting Entanglement + her ranged basic attack when she got the chance. Bloom was used a bit near the end, but mostly sidelined for Rook's Atlanta healing.

Rath (Warrior option) - We wound Rath up and watched him go. Guided Weapon + Primal Fury made him terrifying damage wise. I think Rath used cleave once or twice, in the last fight, and mostly just spammed Heroic Strike. It turns out spamming Heroic Strike when you're at 14 Accuracy and 12 Penetration is enough. Tide of Iron and Execute never got used (although we may have missed viable triggers for them), and Counterstrike and Patience and Cunning didn't get used. We didn't need them. Rath chewed through stuff.

General comments:

-Everyone really liked the action system and all the different actions in general!

-I wish the conditions on the back of the sheets were in an alphabetical order, or some kind of more obvious order, to be easier to find

-Sometimes monsters would just... not do things? Rift Mages in the second encounter healing dead summons, or a slaughter fish failing to attack Rath for 3 turns in a row because it's trying to use Shoaling pod when it's alone, and it just ends up feeling a bit weird.

-One terminology bit I stumbled over was "Vulnerability vs (Willpower)". I keep thinking it means "Lower Resistance" when I'm trying to track stuff, even though I know that's not what it does, or at least not all of it!

-The game really really needs to better flag social stuff in a "X will remember that" sort of way. I'd appreciate the game just outright saying "And write down 'Hold Inspected'" or "Write down 'Told about store'" or the like. A LOT of times we had to stop and consider - wait, did we do this last time? Did we succeed? ESPECIALLY hard to do when there's a two week gap!

-I way preferred the Divergence Crossroads that let everyone make their own skill checks instead of voting on what everyone is doing as a team. I would have liked to see some high stress positions, like the crashing ship, be done with that - deciding who's piloting, who's shooting, who's reinforcing the hull, etc, maybe even as a snap vote without having time to discuss. Rook's got to decide - is Rath enough of a ship guy to go for the wheel and should be left to it, or is he reckless enough to go for the guns, and leave the wheel open?

-A lot of the character-specific stuff like "Rook has Advantage on this skill check" seems like it wouldn't interact well with making your own characters. I'm not sure if it's necessary, but if it had to be included, would it maybe be possible to have "backgrounds" you could choose from or similar? So as the Military, Sailor, Scholar, or Merchant backgrounds, instead of just calling out Rook, Rath, Laureat, or Piper? It still seems redundant with just having a good skill, though.

Act 1

We fought the houndmaster. Him and his minions slowly funneled towards us, and we picked them off one at a time, never really overwhelmed, although a few rough pounces caused us some issues.

Overall, the Narration bit - > Combat - > Narration bit felt really good in this chapter. It was a great start with good flow.

Choice quote of the session:

Piper's player, OOC: I don't trust [The Baron]. ... he was a relative of mine, right?
Me: Yeah, grandfather.
Piper's player: Yeah, then I REALLY don't trust him!

Act 2

I think this was the easiest fight of the campaign, although on hard mode it looks utterly terrifying due to the close quarters and cleave of the summoned creatures. We mopped up from on high. The party ended up being extremely disappointed that our cheese wheel didn't do anything secret at the end. Lots of questions on why Laureat knows street drugs - damn rich kids and their 'study aids'. This is also where we started to get a bit confused on what we had already done or not.

Act 3

A good finale, but it would have been nice to have some breathing room for RP - it felt like there wasn't really any room for it. Everything was exciting, but felt very rushed.

The slaughterswarms weren't too much of a problem, as we were able to pick some off before just diving for all the targets, but we went into that final fight with Laureat greatly weakened. We couldn't find anything on what a surprise round was - I assumed it was just "One group gets an extra action".

This would have no doubt been a weird gimmick fight if we had to try to tank the Doorcrasher while she slowly wore herself down. That's... not how it worked, although it was still a blast, but in a different, blitzier way. We got the surprise round, with Piper setting up her Recurring Nightmare on the Doorcrasher, and Rath diving into the center of everything and whiffing a cleave. In response, I ended up giving Rath bonuses to his next shot, so his next cleave hit and set up vulnerable, and peeled the minions away towards me. At which case Piper just went to town with Soul Strikes and Raging Infernos as the Doorcrasher came to her, an ended up in the center of the minions. The Doorcrasher got a single attack in, before dying from self-damage on her next turn.

The Mistwalkers were the actual threat - they ended up tying up Rath and keeping away from him, while posing a threat to Laureat with their silence while Piper picked one off, and I had to shift back into full healing focus. In the end, Rath was down, and Piper limping a bit, but we won - and with only 9 on the campaign clock!

I'm a little concerned about the branching paths at the end - I'm willing to take a lot more railroading, or dropped branches if it means that a book that comes out isn't a "non-canon" path to a specific group.

Overall, I really enjoyed the game, I'm glad I picked it up, and I'm eager to take a shot at writing my own adventures!
 
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[NOM] Lance

Administrator
Staff member
#2
Hey Karrius!

I’m glad you and your group had fun in your game! We love hearing feedback from our players and I wanted to take the time to reply to your thoughts. There’s a lot to unpack here, so if I miss anything please let me know!

I think when I end up playing again I'll try out hard mode, even with a new group.
When you do, please let us know how that turns out as well! We’ve had players on tell us that Hard Mode was too easy and others who have told us that it was too difficult. However, most groups only played easy OR hard rather than both, so your thoughts will be invaluable to us and how we balance our future releases.

We wound Rath up and watched him go.
We absolutely love hearing this about Rath, and there are even memes about him (as a Rogue) that other people have made available on our Subreddit. All of our Classes can be transformed into beasts when they’re provided with the support from others to do so. We’re excited to see the builds--and even more, the parties--that you and your group come up with.

I wish the conditions on the back of the sheets were in an alphabetical order, or some kind of more obvious order, to be easier to find
There’s actually some method to the madness here . Each condition has been invisibly grouped based on how it affects a combatant. For example, Burning and Poison are both damage-over-time effects so are grouped together on the sheet. Same with Daze, Off-Guard, and Prone, all effecting a combatant’s Accuracy. (I can list the other groups if you’re interested in a later reply.) We believe that grouping by function is better for accessibility than by organizing things alphabetically, but not when it hasn’t been made clear that that’s what we’re doing. We’ll be looking into how to address that in the future, and at the very least, introduce alphabetical organizing within each of the function-defined sub-groups.

Sometimes monsters would just... not do things? Rift Mages in the second encounter healing dead summons, or a slaughter fish failing to attack Rath for 3 turns in a row because it's trying to use Shoaling pod when it's alone, and it just ends up feeling a bit weird.
A part of EMBERWIND’s design is for our Foes to not do anything once in a while, which you’re right, seems silly when it comes to gameplay. The reason we do this, though,is because we believe this will add depth to EMBERWIND’s meta-gameplay.

As you get deeper into EMBERWIND’s combat system, you’ll start running into Foes that have Trigger Actions. On the surface, Trigger Actions appear like a fizzled Actions, where the Foe does nothing on their Turn. But rather than being actually nothing, they’re waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting player with a reactionary counter. For Trigger Actions to feel fair and fun, we needed to make sure those A.I. patterns weren’t 100% predictable and having Action Chains where some things could be wasted on occasion was a way to safeguard against that.

Another reason is because we want players to be able to force Foes to not act under the right conditions. The Druid’s Rusting Entanglement, for example, can stop a foe from moving, which could then in turn invalidate that Foe from having a valid Target for its Attack. This rewards that player by trading a single Fast Action to nullify an entire Foe’s Turn, and provides variety in how they can handle a threat rather than always rely on a tank to absorb damage and a healer to restore the health lost.

The last point to consider here is for a feature we’re looking to release in the future as well. There is a system we’ll be releasing where Foes can even “learn” how you play and change their tactics in response. For instance, a Rift Mage who no longer has any Slitherspines to heal may learn to summon a Slitherspine instead.

Still, all of this requires careful balance and we need to get the ratio between Turns where Foes do things versus “don’t do things” exactly right. This is less of a problem with Foes with larger Action Chains, as they’ll consistently do at least one valid thing each Turn. This issue is most significant with Grunt Foes where their chains are relatively short, and a series of bad dice rolls can make a Foe seem really silly by just standing there. We can minimize the chance of this happening with feedback like yours, but can never 100% remove it due to how rolling dice works. In those circumstances, we hope that each playing group will recognize that and enable “Storyteller Mode” where you manually control that creature so that it performs more optimally than by being content to stick it’s thumb up it’s nose and leave it there.

The game really really needs to better flag social stuff in a "X will remember that" sort of way. I'd appreciate the game just outright saying "And write down 'Hold Inspected'" or "Write down 'Told about store'" or the like. A LOT of times we had to stop and consider - wait, did we do this last time? Did we succeed? ESPECIALLY hard to do when there's a two week gap!
We're on the fence about this one, honestly. Some people have expressed the complete opposite, where they don't want this stuff labeled so explicitly since it will effect immersion. (Once you know, you can't unknow, you know?) The best approach we've come up with so far is to ask people to track their decisions on a separate sheet of paper instead.

A lot of the character-specific stuff like "Rook has Advantage on this skill check" seems like it wouldn't interact well with making your own characters. I'm not sure if it's necessary, but if it had to be included, would it maybe be possible to have "backgrounds" you could choose from or similar?
The "x character has advantage" is actually a simplified version of the "Anchor" system that is coming out with the custom hero manual. Anchors will be featured in Songweave and they'll be added to the Skies re-release, too!

Act 2

While a hilarious interpretation, Laureat recognizes it not because it because of it being a “study aid”, but because of her familiarity with crystals. The street drug “Pixie”, is made from ground crystal shards (p. 69 for reference). More on this in future campaigns, though!

Regarding the confusion: This is where we recommend tracking the outcomes from your Crossroad Choices on another sheet of paper.

Act 3

We got the surprise round, with Piper setting up her Recurring Nightmare on the Doorcrasher, and Rath diving into the center of everything and whiffing a cleave.
That’s a perfectly valid strategy to use and it really can lead to some epic damage (Minus the whiff, of course). It sounds like your group used the Tide-Turner at the best moment to deal with the threat.

We couldn't find anything on what a surprise round was - I assumed it was just "One group gets an extra action".
We’re really sorry about that. To clarify when a party gets a surprise round, they each get to take a full turn before combat actually begins. The interpretation you used is exactly as is intended, but we’ll make sure that gets corrected in the book.

I'm a little concerned about the branching paths at the end - I'm willing to take a lot more railroading, or dropped branches if it means that a book that comes out isn't a "non-canon" path to a specific group.
We understand what you’re looking for here, and again, other people have expressed the complete opposite. We’re doing our best to walk the margin and make sure both sides get what they want, and we’re currently employing a strategy known as "diamond" storytelling. “Diamond storytelling” refers to a plot structure that starts at a single point (i.e. Skies of Axia) that will expand out (i.e. the four Skies sequels) and then pull together again.. If we do this right, you’ll get a structured and satisfying plot without other people having to miss out on the branched storytelling they want, too!
 
#3
When you do, please let us know how that turns out as well! We’ve had players on tell us that Hard Mode was too easy and others who have told us that it was too difficult. However, most groups only played easy OR hard rather than both, so your thoughts will be invaluable to us and how we balance our future releases.

...

We’re excited to see the builds--and even more, the parties--that you and your group come up with.
Yeah, one of the reasons I'm most interested is seeing how it goes with different groups is the wide variety in class strengths. Our strategy for the last fight HEAVILY relied on Rath lowering the boss's resistance by 8. Without that, it would have been a very different fight!

What I think might end up "helping" a lot though is a sense of how long the campaign is - I already had some kind of inkling midway through Chapter 2, and I knew the fish weren't going to be the end of it, but knowing how many fights you have left, so how to spend your remaining resources (and when you can safely burn them) seems like it'll help a lot. Which isn't necessarily a problem - it just might skew some results. In any case, we ended the campaign with a lot of tide-turners left: Rook, Rath, and Piper all used 1, and I don't think Laureat used any at all.

As you get deeper into EMBERWIND’s combat system, you’ll start running into Foes that have Trigger Actions. On the surface, Trigger Actions appear like a fizzled Actions, where the Foe does nothing on their Turn. But rather than being actually nothing, they’re waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting player with a reactionary counter. For Trigger Actions to feel fair and fun, we needed to make sure those A.I. patterns weren’t 100% predictable and having Action Chains where some things could be wasted on occasion was a way to safeguard against that.
I assume an example of this would be the Chaser Streetjack's Spiteful Thrash and Attack of Opportunity? This did come up, but because we were running GMless, everyone knew what was happening - when it was rolled, I read the ability aloud to everyone, so everyone knew exactly what was happening. During the fight, when this ability happened, it DID stop Rath from going after the mages they'd much rather be fighting, and forced them to engage with the highest health of the three Streetjacks going after them. If they weren't aware, well, Rath would have flat-out died at this point from the attacks of opportunity. I honestly feel that's a more interesting result than one, not-GM suddenly announcing Rath was getting hit, and avoids the complication that well, whoever was running the monsters knew what was happening and could avoid it. Seeing as at least one player knows what's going on, I'm personally more interested in trigger actions that you're expected to have to play around, and modify your tactics, rather than ones that punish you if what you were going to do happened to be bad. Even if I was GMing, I would have been pretty clear SOMETHING was going on, even if I wasn't 100% explicit about the consequences - "The man moves in close, waiting for you to take your attention away from him for a second."

Another reason is because we want players to be able to force Foes to not act under the right conditions. The Druid’s Rusting Entanglement, for example, can stop a foe from moving, which could then in turn invalidate that Foe from having a valid Target for its Attack. This rewards that player by trading a single Fast Action to nullify an entire Foe’s Turn, and provides variety in how they can handle a threat rather than always rely on a tank to absorb damage and a healer to restore the health lost.

The last point to consider here is for a feature we’re looking to release in the future as well. There is a system we’ll be releasing where Foes can even “learn” how you play and change their tactics in response. For instance, a Rift Mage who no longer has any Slitherspines to heal may learn to summon a Slitherspine instead.
This part makes sense - although does make me consider that GMed opponents do end up being a slight bit more resistant to those things. What I would more expect is just if a character is trying to heal or merge with a character who's not there, for some kind of default action. Conditional actions might have other uses, but I'm just seeing: "If injured ally nearby (use heal), else (weak attack)" , "If adjacent to enemy (melee attack), else (ranged attack)" , or "If high health (draw attacks to self), else (try to retreat)" or even "If full health (fire attack), if low health (explode)". I'm not quite sure how that would fit in on the hexes, though...

We're on the fence about this one, honestly. Some people have expressed the complete opposite, where they don't want this stuff labeled so explicitly since it will effect immersion. (Once you know, you can't unknow, you know?) The best approach we've come up with so far is to ask people to track their decisions on a separate sheet of paper instead.
Double-checking, the page references I was thinking of needing are there on the "if you did" parts, which I forget, so I don't think anymore necessarily needs to be added, but it would be nice to have known ahead of time how those were formatting and what I should be writing down.

Would it be possible in the tutorial sidebars to maybe add an example of like how this is written: Delayed Outcome: If you asked Elise about potential dangers (Into the Fold Part II, Path A, p. 40), so people know to write down "Into the Fold Part II: Path A success" ? Maybe I just missed it, but taking notes on that hadn't even occurred to me, and would have solved the issues.

While a hilarious interpretation, Laureat recognizes it not because it because of it being a “study aid”, but because of her familiarity with crystals. The street drug “Pixie”, is made from ground crystal shards (p. 69 for reference). More on this in future campaigns, though!
In seriousness, this is what we figured, but it absolutely did not stop the others from giving her some shit about it.

We understand what you’re looking for here, and again, other people have expressed the complete opposite. We’re doing our best to walk the margin and make sure both sides get what they want, and we’re currently employing a strategy known as "diamond" storytelling. “Diamond storytelling” refers to a plot structure that starts at a single point (i.e. Skies of Axia) that will expand out (i.e. the four Skies sequels) and then pull together again.. If we do this right, you’ll get a structured and satisfying plot without other people having to miss out on the branched storytelling they want, too!
I'm not worried about there not being structure, more just - if I want to buy the newest book out, whatever it is, and play a campaign starting from the beginning that goes through it, I'd rather not have to fudge the ending, you know? Maybe when I see what the next books are like it'll make more sense, or not be as jarring to just pick one we didn't unlock. I understand you're trying to thread a tough needle here - I'm mostly comparing to other games like Arkham Horror LCG or a classic RPG adventure path (where you go through X missions, in order, no matter what) or Gloomhaven (where you have a ton of missions and aren't expected to do all of them, because there's just SO MUCH), and you're squarely in the middle. I'm not sure there's any game out there that's done branching modules like this before - so I'm a little way, but still excited.


Oh, and one last thing - are we likely to get rules on User-Developed content with the kickstarter preview material coming out? I'm especially interested in monster/combat guidelines, and would like to take a shot at writing an adventure of my own, and sharing it. While I know it's by no means guaranteed, I think it would be great if you ended up doing any sort of open license, especially for the production of adventures.
 

[NOM] Derek

Administrator
Staff member
#4
Trigger Actions: Better examples of Triggers are actually the Thistleweave Cub's Charge and the Landcaster Stag's Grasping Earth, but you have hit the nose on an interesting point. We've found some groups enjoy the explicit knowledge while others enjoy not knowing what's to come. To support both types of play, this was the compromise we had to make. Our soft-fix for groups who like explicit knowledge and dislike rolling Action Chains where the Foe fizzled most of their Actions was to just enable Storyteller Mode and do what makes the most tactical sense for that Turn.

Conditional Actions: You're right in that the more specific the A.I. gets, the more interesting and nuanced combat, gets too. I'm someone who absolutely loves this type of gameplay and it sounds like I would be right at home playing in your group! However, we've got a very fine line to walk depth to a Foe's behaviour and becoming too unweildy for players who prefer simplicity to use easily. As we continue to release content, there will be Foes that fall to either end of that spectrum, though I'm not sure we'll ever be able to put that much coding into the A.I. without overwhelming the majority of the player base. Don't worry about fitting it in a hex, though. The conditional scripting will go into the "Effect" box the same way that the Bloodhound's Pounce has a specialized Targeting script to it.

Page References: The side-bar idea is brilliant. I'll mention this to the editor and cross my fingers this fits onto the page and we can get it into the updated edition.

Laureat and her "street-sugar": Oh, absolutely! Humour is important to having fun!

Campaign Progress: Yeah, this is something we're experimenting with too. We made the decision to that we'd give people all of the starting points to see what people would enjoy most first. After that, our plan is to play it based on what your opinions are: do you want one sequel to each? Do you want all of the sequels to Skies? All of the sequels to Songweave? etc. What we prioritize will depend on you guys. We wish we had a large enough team to release more, faster, too :p!

User-generated Content: Actually, we made sure and have already done the legal work for user-generated content. However, we did something slightly different than a standard OGL. We're aware of the pitfalls to standard OGLs, so we're doing a different take on it to go around those while ensuring the best possible outcome for everyone. Our plan from the start was to not only develop content for players but to create a community of creatives where you all can generate whatever you want, share it, and hopefully even be rewarded for it. This is much further down the road than where we're at now (like, this Kickstarter is literally just us getting to the starting line), but my plan has and forever will be to empower our players with every tool in our box. Our DevKit, once it's been made easy to use by everyone, will be turned over to the community to freely use.
 
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