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exhominem
2014-01-02, 01:21 PM
(NOTE: As this is an open letter, you might see it posted to a couple different social networking sites, g+ feeds, or forums you visit. I apologize in advance for the spam)

Hi! My name's Erik Bernhardt, and I'm the Co-Creator / Product Manager of a tabletop roleplaying game called Crone (http://www.cronerpg.com/about.html), and I'm writing this open letter because I want you, yes you to review our game.

Here is a link to our Press Kit (http://press.cronerpg.com/sheet.php?p=Crone). It contains some basic information about Crone, some images, a zip of some logos and promotional art, and of course, a link to the 'review' copy of Crone (http://cronerpg.com/beta_activation.html). You're free to use these materials in any way you see fit, though we do ask that you don't edit the images besides the usual resizing, cropping, what-have-you. (Obvious note: don't charge for or try to pass our work off as someone else's. Not that you would, but, you know, gotta cover our bases)

Of course, there's probably a few questions you might be asking right now:

What the heck is Crone (http://www.cronerpg.com/about.html)?
Crone is a tabletop roleplaying card game about witches. It is a time of shattered empire, the untamed wilderness threatens to consume the whole of humanity, and only you can hold chaos at bay. Crone an innovative, card-based combat system designed to speed up gameplay reduce player down-time. Learn more about Crone at our website (http://www.cronerpg.com/about.html)!

Why do want me to review Crone?
Because even though I might not know you personally, if you're a gamer, I know you. I know you're passionate about games; why else would you be writing about them? Finally, I know you'll give Crone a fair shake, critiquing it's weaknesses and praising it's strengths.

Why now?
We're gearing up for our Kickstarter run, and things are going to start moving very quickly. First off, we want people to have all the information they need as to whether or not they should back our kickstarter. Second, but just as important, if there are any glaring errors or problems with our game, we want to know it now so we can fix it before it's too late.

Why not just pay for advertising?
Advertising is great and all, but it's still just that; advertising. No one's going to take it as seriously as a friend's or a critic's honest opinion. To us, an honest, unbiased review, whether good or bad, is worth more advertising than money can buy.

Why not just send out press releases?
There aren't very many big names in tabletop games right now. Well, except Wil Wheaton. And he stopped returning my calls after "the incident." Besides, it doesn't matter whether you have ten readers or ten thousand. If you can write and express yourself, your opinion has value.

Why do you want capsule reviews too?
I think it's easy to spot a bad game just by how it's rules are written and the way it's material is presented. It takes a bit of skill and mechanical knowledge to recognize a good game without actually playing it, but a lot of reviewers have that in spades. Personally, I don't think you need to play Crone to like where we're going with it, and the mechanics presented in the manual and on the cards should be able to carry their own water outside of play.

What if I hate it?
That's fine. The way I see it, better to hate it now when we still have time to consider criticism, fix things, and re-adjust than to hate it after our release date and not be able to do anything about it. We're still at a point right now where Crone can be made better by criticism.

And hey, even if you're not feeling that altruistic towards us, wouldn't it be better if people knew our game sucked -before- they pledged us a bunch of money to make Crone happen?

Why do you specifically want reviews?
Philosophically, I believe there is important, intrinsic value in the relationship between critic and creator. Criticism pushes the creator to do better, to not be complacent with just 'pretty good.' Furthermore, criticism ensures that there is a lively discussion around what is valuable in a work, what could be changed, and what could be added. Creators yelling into a vacuum does not create progress. The dialogue between critic, creator, and audience is what makes us better.

Also, pure morbid curiosity as to what you all think about our game.

Hopefully that covers the broad stuff. If you have more specific or additional questions, fee free to send me an e-mail at erik@croneRPG.com.

All we ask is that if you do decide to review Crone, please mention that the public, 'beta' version of the game is available on our site, www.croneRPG.com. Also, it'd be cool if you could send me an e-mail linking to your review, as stuff occasionally gets past the Google Alerts and such we've set up.

Thanks for considering Crone, and happy reviewing!

Sincerely,

Erik Bernhardt

Links:
About Crone: http://www.cronerpg.com/about.html

Our Presskit: http://press.cronerpg.com/sheet.php?p=Crone

Digital Review Copy: http://cronerpg.com/beta_activation.html

Just to Browse
2014-01-02, 05:47 PM
Crone: A Review for Prospective Players
"Hag."
"Fascist."

Chapter 1: Introduction
In which we learn how much these people love headings
This is filled with the usual "what is a roleplaying game?" verbage that I'm going to skip over.

So crone is a deck-based P&P TTRPG. You need:
A character sheet (about the size of an index card)
3d6 (for all rolling)
The printed deck of cards (you need to print/cut them on your own)
Chips or tokens for tracking things
They recommend index cards and sticky notes. I'm sure we'll find out why in a second.

There are a lot of sub-headings throughout this book. Rather than go through all of them, I'm just going to summarize.

The Geography
The world is set in a parallel version of romanticized 500 CE, and is conveniently broken down into the cardinal directions. The mountains are in the north, crappy civilization in the south, an endless sea to the west, expansion pack material to the east, and a forest in the center.

The southern "civilization" is home to a shattered empire called Rome The Imperiate. The empire used to rule "the entire world" (not my words), and got a lot of trade from people we assume live far to the west. A while back The Imperiate imploded due to corruption, and can probably be correlated to a warmer version of The Hobbit's Laketown.

The northern mountains hold barbarians and old kings, who apparently managed to wrest control from The Imperiate. They're still around, and they raid places.

The eastern mountains are super vague, probably so there's more stuff available for Crone II: Electric Boogaloo. They also did not seem to be under control of the Imperiate.

The western sea is also pretty vague, but apparently there are people out there who conduct trade and are also not under the control to the Imperiate...

Lastly is the central forest, which seems to follow D&D 4e's "points of light" flavor, in that there are pockets of civilization (peasants) surrounded by dark forest filled with horrible monsters. Though the Imperiate technically controlled this land, they probably couldn't do much with the monsters.

It honestly doesn't seem like the Imperiate had that much control. They failed to map the world along an entire major axis, so I'm surprised anyone thinks they controlled it.

The small size of the setting makes me think that high-level heroes are going to end up in all of the major places at least once, which makes me a little worried about this game's replayability.

The History
A long time ago, there were mages with lots of power. Then a Deux ex Machina (called "The Culling") occured, and all the mages lost their power and/or disappeared. Kings filled this vacuum of power by rallying big armies and started taking over. In response, a civilization called the Romans Imperiate rose up and beat the crap out of the barbarians. They pioneered a lot of good things (literature, architecture, science), but they were also very greedy and dickish.

Around the time of the barbarian kings, residual magical phlebtonium made ladies get witch powers and turn into Crones. These Crones have similar powers and stigma associated with witches, so the Imperiate totally hated them and tried to kill them. In the end, the Imperiate got a little too aggressive and the Crones assassinated the imperiate emperor. Apparently that collapsed the empire, and so all the Crones feel kind of guilty for throwing the world into chaos.

More on Crones
PCs are all crones. The backgrounds are similar to that of D&D sorcerer or Harry Potter--some sort of undeniable natural talent crops up for a child, and then they realized their magic powers and start training. When Crones are about 50, they get a big boost of magic and start heeding prophetic visions called "portents" that the DM gives them.

Crones are capable of single-handedly razing a city, and civilization has adapted around that. Old ladies that ask for help or housing are treated very nicely. Infrequently, people will try to trick witches into doing work for them, or witch scares will cause the death of an innocent woman. The most telling part of this section is that the Imperiate actually killed real Crones despite their immense powers, which means wandering crusaders are still something to fear.

Crones are also one of the few people that will wander the scary woods, and wandering Crones keep the knowledge of science flowing.

Chapter 1: Game Rules
Math in this game is pretty simple. You have 4 attributes (Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, Willpower) and a list of skills (not written yet). When you roll to do something, it's 3d6 + Attribute + Skill versus Target Number (TN). TNs range from "Moderate: 11", to "Legendary: 19".

There is no TN below 11 which is... weird. I assume that there are easy things with a greater than 50% success rate, but might still require rolling, but perhaps those are graded as automatic successes. The highest TN is also 19, which means that anyone with at least 1 point in an attribute or skill can accomplish legendary tasks with enough tries. Only future reading will determine if these are important or not.

The use of a 3d6 means +1 through +3 bonuses are a huge deal, while bonuses beyond that are less important. I'm not a fan of bell curves because of this, but if numbers are reigned in enough then it could be OK.

Combat
Crone is unmistakably a combat game with RPG elements tacked on to it, so of course the combat is the most important part and the most complicated.

At the beginning of the battle, each player draws 5 cards from their "Character Deck" (this has yet to be described to us), and then gets some tokens to represent their initiative: Combatants that are more prepared for the fight get more initiative. The GM does something similar, except he a different number of cards from an Encounter Deck and more initiative tokens.

Combat rounds proceed as follows: the GM plays all his cards, the players play all their cards in response, the players play the rest of their cards, and then the round is over. The game also takes a step back from common practice and encourages players to use "Chaotic Resolution", in which every player simultaneously plays and resolves their effects. The writers claim that each round goes faster this way, but I personally have a hard time imagining that 3-7 people talking at the same time would cause anything to go by fast at all. At the end of each round, players take their cards back and the DM reshuffles his cards into the Encounter Deck.

Initiative is important because it determines how many cards you can play. Each card has an Initiative Value, and a player's total value of cards played cannot exceed his initiative (a class-derived ability). You can spend initiative tokens to temporary boost your initiative for 1 round of combat, so getting the jump on someone lets you nuke them really hard in round 1.

Lastly, crones don't die easily. If you would be reduced to 0 HP, you're just knocked out and fellow party members can drag you away. Even in the case of a TPK, the DM is encouraged to fiat some sort of re-awakening or new subplot.

One of the things I'd like to note is that the card-based combat system is... not very card-based. At character creation you are given 5 abilities. In each combat you choose 5 abilities. So the combat engine isn't doing anything except giving the players additional pieces of paper to hold, because you are limited solely by your initiative and not by your available powers. The only real benefit of the cards comes as players accumulate more powers and have to start selecting certain ones to keep, but the benefit provided from that is awfully small in comparison to the pain in the ass of printing/cutting/storing a bunch of power cards you might never use.

Chapter 3: Chargen
Now we get into how to make a character. This begins with generic RPG talk about character concepts, but the process itself is pretty simple:
Pick a class. It gives you your 4 attributes, plus initiative and HP
Pick 5 ability cards from among the 10 exclusive to your class and extras available in the book]
Assign 5 skill points to your skills, to a max of 3.

There is an optional reputation system, a section of character development, and how to advance your character. The important parts of these are that no skill can go beyond rank 3 (meaning you can max out your attacks in the beginning), skills are gained through XP which is assigned by DM fiat, and abilities are gained on a separate track through DM fiat.

This seems very thrown together, with a lot of Oberoni to fill up the holes. I also get the feeling that advancing abilities and skills without increasing the stat cap means that attack powers slowly lose value as Crones get stronger.

Also, my guess is that there are a couple go-to Crone powers for each class, and that each Crone of a given class will look pretty much identical from beginning to end.

Chapter 4: Classes
Here we refer to the class decks for descriptions.

There are 12 classes: Fleshreaper, Shapeshifter, Shieldbearer, Hedgewalker, Magister, Spellweaver, Hearthmother, Shaman, Apothecary, Soothsayer, Stormkeeper, and Summoner. About 7 of them are thematically well-set, and the other 5 seem to be tacked on just to increase volume. Heck, there is a category of class called "Healer" and the flavor of one of the classes is that it's a Healer... why?

Another consideration is that each class has the same number of stat points, which sets of alarm bells in my head: For example, the fleshreaver has 3/1/0/1, but the shapeshifter is 2/2/0/1. This means that the fleshreaver has a large and permanent advantage over the shapeshifter when the two use their strongest abilities because of the nature of the 3d6. Perhaps the shapeshifter gets a greater benefit from his flexibility, but nothing so far indicates that.

Looking at the class abilities... well, I don't know what's going on. There are 3 pages dedicated to the Hearthmother, but only 2 dedicated to the Shapeshifter ("the most flexible" of all classes), and there are 0 cards for the fleshreaver... beyond ability discrepancies, this is just obviously unfinished.

The more abilities I look at, the more combat appears to be a grind. The average encounter has something like 40 HP, and the most attack-focused characters will be hitting 70% of the time for an average of 4 damage. Couple that with similar move usage each round, and enemy armor/block/decoys, and fights are going to take a very long time.

Chapter 5: Encounters
In this section, we learn the GM's magic. In each fight, the GM has a number of initiative tokens, cards-in-hand, and hit points relative to the number of players. There are no example encounters, monsters, and only 1 recommended way to differentiate combats (+/- 10 HP for a hard or easy combat).

The Encounter Deck looks to be a single deck for all purposes. All enemies you face--dire wolves, crazy hags, mobs of peasants, etc.--use the same combat resolution and attack system. The Encounter Deck consists of attacks ranging from 1d3 to 2d6 damage, attacks with smaller damage and special effects, blocks and armor that prevent damage, and decoys that mitigate it entirely.

I'm losing faith in this game the more I read. Right now it looks like there is no way to make combats more dangerous for stronger Crone parties, nor is there a way to represent monsters at all. Maybe there will be more rules later, but this just seems like the dregs of a combat system.

The Encounter Deck itself is a mess. The attack system ensures that very enemy you meet will have tactics totally irrespective of what it is. You may as well make the enemies the same creatures for all the different it makes. One dude by himself has 40 HP and can use heavy and medium armor simultaneously, and an army of dudes have only 40 HP and can't actually make mob attacks unless they all want to be armorless. How the heck does that work?

Lastly, the designers' attraction to the d3 confuses me. It's a non-existent die with very little variance and a higher-than-normal time cost to emulate. Dealing 2d3 + 1 damage is very much akin to 1d6 + 1 damage when you're doing it 10 times in a combat, so why make players' lives harder?

Chapters 6 and 7: Campaign Stuff
These sections are the least related to the game, and (coincidentally?) the longest sections of the book. They consist of run-of-the-mill gaming advice for writing plots and NPCs, plus a bit at the end about how long campaigns should aware more experience. There is nothing unique to find here.

In Conclusion
Overall, Crone seems very hacked together and not well thought-out. Even if most of the non-existent rules were added, the game would feel very empty. I predict that most Crone sessions consist of walking from hour-long identical battle to hour-long identical battle while the DM makes up 90% of the world around you. Crone doesn't have unique storytelling elements, the battles are largely cookie-cutter, and even the basic combat engine fails to deliver on what could have been a promising concept.

If you want to review this for yourself, you can make your life easier by reading just Chapters 2, 3, and 5. Then go to the Encounter Deck, and lastly read the classes.

exhominem
2014-01-02, 10:57 PM
Thanks for the review! You make a lot of good points, and we obviously still have some work to do. I appreciate the feedback :)

exhominem
2014-01-04, 01:21 PM
Crone: A Review for Prospective Players


Thanks again for your feedback, I've gone back over the manual with it hand and tuned up a number of things.



The Geography


As you pointed out, this section was pretty hacked together and suffered from an over-abundance of cliche. I took it out, and replaced it with a section later on about some of the adversaries the players might face, which I think gives a better 'ground-level' view of worldbuilding.



In the end, the Imperiate got a little too aggressive and the Crones assassinated the imperiate emperor. Apparently that collapsed the empire, and so all the Crones feel kind of guilty for throwing the world into chaos.


Yeah, in retrospect, this sounds pretty silly. I removed the reference to the emporer's death somehow bringing down the entire empire. That doesn't even happen in Star Wars.



[spoiler=My Thoughts]There is no TN below 11 which is... weird. I assume that there are easy things with a greater than 50% success rate, but might still require rolling, but perhaps those are graded as automatic successes. The highest TN is also 19, which means that anyone with at least 1 point in an attribute or skill can accomplish legendary tasks with enough tries. Only future reading will determine if these are important or not.


I added some language in "Setting TN's" to clarify this, but you're right, the idea is that a Crone's magic is powerful enough that anything below a 'moderate' difficulty is childs play and even a bit of a Crone's magic makes the Legendary possible.




At the beginning of the battle, each player draws 5 cards from their "Character Deck" (this has yet to be described to us), and then gets some tokens to represent their initiative: Combatants that are more prepared for the fight get more initiative. The GM does something similar, except he a different number of cards from an Encounter Deck and more initiative tokens.

I've done a fair bit of work trying to clarify this in the combat section, players actually choose 5 cards from the cards they have available to them while the GM draws from a "deck" of encounter cards. Also, initiative tokens are 'boost' on top of the GM and player's base initiative, a point I've tried to clarify in the text.



The game also takes a step back from common practice and encourages players to use "Chaotic Resolution", in which every player simultaneously plays and resolves their effects. The writers claim that each round goes faster this way, but I personally have a hard time imagining that 3-7 people talking at the same time would cause anything to go by fast at all. At the end of each round, players take their cards back and the DM reshuffles his cards into the Encounter Deck.


I've added an example of play to the text that I think helps illustrate the value of Chaotic Resolution. It's not so much that everyone's talking at once so much as it is everyone rolling and resolving their cards at once.

I've also tried to clarify the role of the wrap-up "narrative" phase where the players and GM narratively describe the action of the turn.



[spoiler=My Thoughts]This seems very thrown together, with a lot of Oberoni to fill up the holes. I also get the feeling that advancing abilities and skills without increasing the stat cap means that attack powers slowly lose value as Crones get stronger.


This is true, and honestly the advancement system probably still needs quite a bit of rework



Chapter 4: Classes
Here we refer to the class decks for descriptions.


Based on your feedback, we've finished up the work on this chapter and added examples of how each class differs in roleplaying and tactics, as well as providing examples of how two characters of the same class can be played very differently.



Looking at the class abilities... well, I don't know what's going on. There are 3 pages dedicated to the Hearthmother, but only 2 dedicated to the Shapeshifter ("the most flexible" of all classes), and there are 0 cards for the fleshreaver... beyond ability discrepancies, this is just obviously unfinished.


Looks like the formatting of the ability cards got screwed up; each page is supposed to correspond to a different class for 10 cards per class. We've gone back and fixed the formatting error, thanks for pointing it out.



The more abilities I look at, the more combat appears to be a grind. The average encounter has something like 40 HP, and the most attack-focused characters will be hitting 70% of the time for an average of 4 damage. Couple that with similar move usage each round, and enemy armor/block/decoys, and fights are going to take a very long time.


We've gone back and added a "Tactics" section to the class chapter which I think does a better job of explaining the tactical variation of the classes / their roles. I think you'll find that there are some interesting tactical synergies in the ability cards. For example, the "Reave" ability of the fleshreaper has the highest TN in the game, but the TN can be driven down by the player in exchange for taking damage. As the Fleshreaper has the most health in the game, it provides a good dovetail for her character's overall strategy.



Chapter 5: Encounters


Per your feedback, we've gone back and added examples of how to vary the difficulty of an encounter, added an explanation of how to build a varied and themed encounter deck, and added some example encounters to illustrate how encounter generation works.

Thanks again for all of your feedback, it's allowed us to catch a lot of issues that slipped through the cracks during playtesting, and I think the game as a whole looks a lot less hacked-together now with all your feedback taken into consideration.

Kalmageddon
2014-01-04, 01:56 PM
Don't take this the wrong way, but if a single review from some Internet stranger is enough to make you go back and redesign entire sections of your game you probably shouldn't be taking reviews yet.
Presenting a game in an unfinished and unserviceable state will only give you a bad reputation and as a whole this seems unprofessional.

It can't be that hard to spot that there are entire rule sections missing and that some features are tacked on, even through the rose-tinted glasses of the creator of this game.