I FUCKING LOVE GAME MECHANICS
Original SA post
I FUCKING LOVE GAME MECHANICS
So. This is going to be a different kind of review for me. See, the fluff in Ironclaw didn't really change between editions. And I already wrote up 2e. So if you're interested in the fluff and setting of Calabria and the history of Walt Disney Presents: The Borgias
(Thanks to Mors Rattus for that alternate title for IC, it's pretty perfect) that stuff's all over in the archive under Ironclaw: Squaring the Circle. Instead, we're going to be talking about nothing but game mechanics, all the time! This is because Ironclaw 1e is the first Cardinal System game, and it's really, really mechanically interesting for what ended up getting carried over and what got dumpstered in the transition to the later incarnations of the system. Part of why I'm interested in Cardinal is the consistent effort to change and refine it as the company has made more games with it.
Ironclaw 1e is a very
different game from IC2e or Myriad Song. In many ways, it's much more conventional and less sure of itself. This is because the Revised Edition I have on hand is marked March 2001 and mentions being worked on since 1999. This game is 20 years old; game design has changed a lot in the last 18 years. This game came out about when I was first getting into RPGs, and was one of my first experiences with games outside of the D&D milieu and my own hacked together creations in high school. It tried to do interesting things with dicepools, things that would end up getting refined down in 2e to be easier to run and more mathematically sound. We don't see systems like Rote yet (which I believe first showed up in Albedo, which was itself a very experimental variant on Cardinal, trying to drastically cut down the number of dice involved), though advancement is still primarily based on buying Gifts and Skill Marks as before. Focus and actions work much differently, there's generally no Counter/Threat system, magic has actual magic points, and there's a Flaws system to go with Gifts, where you buy mechanical or plot impediments for more character points.
What's truly interesting, and why I want to cover all of this, is that almost everything I can point to as a flaw in IC1e gets addressed in later games. I want to talk about this because there are whole subsystems and concepts that get thrown out and entirely reworked over the course of Cardinal's development as a system in the name of making it better, a process that largely succeeds. Also, there were things that made IC1e fun to play; it was a good game when it came out, warts and all. They kept the same setting in 2e because Calabria is a legit fantasy setting; I haven't seen people do 'low fantasy, but because magic is actually fairly common and mostly pretty mundane in its own way' very often, and the focus on being set in a liminal period of history and being about conflict with other people rather than battles with slavering monsters or demons was really fresh for high school era Night coming off getting introduced to D&D. The animal-people thing works as a way to make a fantasy setting with highly diverse playable races and lots of different mechanical abilities, and they were actually more mechanically distinct (to a degree that could get intrusive) in 1e.
Also the entire character size and encumbrance system in 1e is fucking trash garbage but hey, we'll get to that.
Also to note, they begin the book with an actual changelog from the first printing, which I've never actually seen; the 2001 Revised Edition is the only book I've owned for this game.
One thing the game does well is start out defining terms, explaining why it wants to have rules, and walking you through creating a PC. It also explains the dice scale and what things mean before you create a PC; this is good! Games should tell you what the stuff you're putting on your sheet means before you put it on your sheet. When we get to the table on PC size, though, we see something that will be a shock coming from 2e: Your Body stat can go above d12! All stats can! This was a thing in 1e, and something they dropped in later games with good reason. Let me tell you, it could lead to some crazy dice inflation and when people are throwing around 7d12 or whatever, the chances of a draw at 12 go way, way up. Your Body and the various Gifts you took used to determine your size, measured in Stone, which would then determine the weight of all your armor, meaning bigger characters suffered more encumbering from heavier armor, at a rate that made increasing strength nearly useless for being able to wear heavier armor. Ouch. Also, PCs ranged in size from 1m tall and weighing as little as 13 kg, to 2.3m tall and weighing 131 kg. It was a little silly. Ranks of the Gift of Strength (and your base 'level' of Body, from 1 at d4 to 8 at d12+d8 and so on) would directly contribute to melee damage (there used to be whole separate damage rolls!) and 'Lift Bonus', how many 'stone' of equipment and gear you could carry.
Speed used to vary your Dash and Stride a lot more, but Dash and Stride have always been with us. Combat actions are going to be really different when we get there.
Mind, Will, Career, and Race didn't used to have derived characteristics and things. I suspect a reason they moved away from directly derived stats is because that overvalued Body and Speed. Trust me, Speed is gonna get so much play in this game, it's going to be crazy.
Also, your stats were much higher, dice-wise. You started with d12, d10, d8, d8, d6, d4, with the same Mind, Will, Speed, Body, Career, Race traits. Then you got 20 character points to spend on Gifts and skill marks, with the ability to take another 10 points in Flaws. You also had to pay for the Gift/Flaw balance of your species, but the Gifts from your Species didn't count towards the 10 points of Gifts you could take. So someone who was, say, a Rhino would pay 5 CP for Strength+2 and another 5 for Robustness (Damage reduction/endurance)+2, and 1 their natural Horn weapon, but get 3 points back for their Poor Eyesight flaw. They'd then be able to spend 10 of their 12 remaining CP on Gifts, including upgrading their Strength and Robustness (which, both being +3, is effectively 3 more levels of Body, Rhinos usually did this because they were goddamn powerhouses) if they wanted, then take 10 more points of Flaws if they wished and still have 12 skillpoints.
There's a reason Flaws were first transitioned into 'dubious gifts' in Albedo, and then dropped entirely as a main line concept. Merits and Flaws systems are always difficult to balance. And when your Flaws can be things like Heroic (4 point flaw, have to try to be a hero), that's just stuff the player wanted to do anyway. You could load up on plot hooks and quirks you wanted to play/be challenged by anyway for significant starting mechanical benefit. This was a product of an older time in game design, and as far as Merits and Flaws systems worked it wasn't that bad.The other interesting thing is you could buy off Flaws with EXP later on, as you started to learn better or made peace with your enemies or whatever. It wasn't bad
, but you can definitely see why it was dropped.
The other really huge change was the skill list was goddamn HUGE in IC1e. HUGE. Every individual weapon type was its own skill. Sword, Axe, THROWN SWORD, THROWN AXE, it was madness! Careers used to include 4 skills instead of 3, and that's partly because there were so goddamn many skills! You had separate skills for Cryptography, Dancing, Digging, etc etc etc. It was a mess and I wholly approve of the tendency in later games to cut the skill list to the bone, reduce the number of skill marks you get, but make every skill mark really matter because each skill is covering a very broad range of abilities and actions. In fairness, at least a Sword and an Axe were significantly mechanically different?
Looking at the Gift section, there's also an early version of the Gift of Personality, where you could buy extra traits as passions. So for instance, you could buy a Joy die, and include it whenever your being really happy mattered. This implementation did not work as well as the later '+d12 on one action a session that really exemplifies your character's most important personality trait' version. You could also buy extra traits like second Careers fairly cheaply, or a special trait die like Toughness or Quickness. This idea was dropped in later editions with good reason, because it was very awkward and by including, say, the Trait of Dexterity you end up saying Speed isn't used for fine motor control, making Speed more awkward in favor of having extra traits not everyone has anyway. Much simpler to make Speed count for all general precision and agility later on. Also, you used to have hitpoints! We'll get to those when we get to combat. Also, Gifts don't Exhaust/Refresh in this edition; that's a later innovation.
Characters were much different. Much more narrow, but with much higher starting traits. You still generally had the sense that a starting PC in IC1e was competent, but they were much more limited in what they were competent at, and it was much easier to make a more useless PC who would end up sitting out parts of adventures than in later incarnations of Cardinal.
Next Time: We Make a PC
What's a PC look like?
Original SA post
What's a PC look like?
Let's show off some of the interesting quirks of character creation, and how some of this has actually stuck around since.
We'll start, like many good things, with a bear. We are going to build the holiest goddamn bear, you don't even know. Being a Bear gets our character Strength+2, Claws, and Teeth, for 7 of his 20 CP. Bears are, naturally, flawless.
As our Bear is going to be huge, he starts with d12 Body, d10 Speed, d8 Career (Paladin), d8 Will, d6 Mind, d4 Bear. He is very good at being big. He is not so good at being bear. Our bear desires being huge, so he spends 2 of his Gift points to go from the 5 point Gift of Very Strong to the 7 point Gift of Incredibly Strong, for Str+3. Our bear then spends 6 points on Increased Body, raising his Body to d12+d4, and his Lift Bonus to 9. This is important.
You see, our Bear is going to carry the biggest goddamn sword. He spends his last 2 points on Possessions. Each Possession Gift grants you an additional Expensive item to start the game with. The actual cost of the item does not matter. Thus, our Bear selects a suit of Proven Plate Armor, the finest in the realm, and a Full Stone Sword. The size of weapon you can use is determined by your Lift Bonus, and 9 is enough to make even the biggest weapon 'easy'. Note that our bear is so powerful, so mighty, so bear, that he can wield this massive sword one-handed. That's right. When they put a crossbow bolt in his left paw, he simply shoulders the sword and keeps cutting people in half one-handed. Note that our Bear is so huge that the size chart for his armor weight does not actually cover bear. His armor will weigh 14 stone. A stone is 14 pounds. Our bear is covered in 196 pounds of armor. He is wielding a 14 pound sword. How is this done. Because there is no way our Bear will ever dodge anything (He simply cannot. His Dodge dice are limited by how encumbered he is, and at minimum he, the mightiest possible starting PC, is at -5 Encumbrance for his armor alone and thus dodging with only d4s), he will simply get a Heater Shield and Parry/Block. These are unaffected by . Characters can start with as much non-expensive gear as they want. Also note our Bear can go down to -20 Encumbrance from the Body/Strength table. He will never be swift, but he can carry something like 406 pounds of gear and supplies and still fight, because that's his 9 Stone lift bonus and then -20 over it. The Bear is a mighty creature.
Now our Bear only has 3 character points for skills, and this is insufficient for his plans. Thus, our Bear will accept some flaws, but only the kind that do not interfere with his majesty. Our Bear is Heroic, giving him 3 points because he cannot believe anyone could possibly stand in the way of his holy will. He will always do what is right and just, and 'others may try to use this to trap him'. They are welcome to goddamn try, they will get an 8 foot sword through the dick. Our Bear will also select Honorable, because he is a knight of honor and justice. Note that he does not actually have the Gift of Investiture (Knighthood). No-one has ever actually knighted our Bear. As he is immense and carrying plate armor and sword and shield, most will assume he is a real knight, or not correct him when he declares he is a Knight of S'Allumer (God). He will also take Overconfident for 3 more points, maxing out by taking all the personality traits an enormous man-slaying paladin was going to play anyway. 10 free points for being self-confident, just, and willing to face his problems Bear to Puny Person Who Cannot Fight Bear? Bear accepts this.
Bear can only take 5 points in a single skill at a time, so he will, because he is Bear, max out Sword. He will also take 3 in Resolve, 2 in Leadership, 1 in Oratory (he is very inspiring), and 2 in Dancing (He is allowed to have hobbies).
Thus, we have created a man who strikes others at a base of d12 (Skill), d8 (Class), d10 (Speed), which will only get better if he's aiming or something. When he hits, he hits for 2d12 (Weapon), d12+d10 (Hugeness) and again, he has ways to boost this. He parries with an extra 2d10 for his shield. He is both immense and mighty, and resists damage very well with his immensely heavy armor and huge Body. You might also notice that he's got a fuckton more high dice than a 2e or Myriad Song character. The context of Bear's equipment will become plain later, but suffice to say he has a really good chance of shrugging off musket fire and looming angrily over any normal foe in the game. He even has a pretty good chance of just chopping down enemies in a single blow, while having a good to-hit and good defenses. I made this ridiculous character partly to demonstrate how much easier is it to do that in 1e. You'll also note he doesn't really pay anything for his flaws; 'I want to play a righteous, honorable paladin who is tremendously confident in the fact that I am the mightiest man in the realm' is a character concept, not really a drawback, but it got him 10 character points. He could have taken things like '-1 Hit Points' (That is a big deal, as it effectively has you act as if you've taken 1 damage at all times and you only have 12 HP, with bad stuff starting at 3 missing and death threatening at 6) that have mechanical weight. Why would he do this. That is for fools.
The main thing you'll notice that does stick around is how he paid 2 Character Points to start with the heaviest, most expensive armor and one of the heaviest and most expensive hand weapons in the game. Also, if I'd felt sillier, I could have given him a Full Stone Fencing Sword and Fencing as his weapon of choice/skill instead. It would reduce his damage slightly but give him +1 to Parries. Oh god, we'll get into bonuses and penalties next time because that's the path to madness. As he also gets any other Average item he wants, he also takes an infinite supply of wooden lockpicks for inscrutable Bear purposes, since they have no actual weight. Also a large quantity of forks, for the same reason. Outside of some very unusual equipment in IC2e, getting gear is less of a concern than in many RPGs. The Bear will probably never upgrade his weapon, shield, and armor, because there's nowhere to upgrade them to. He is as powerful there as he's ever going to be.
Character creation can be a silly place. I suspect the move to much more directed character design is to cut down on characters such as The Bear, Knight of Ursine Might. You can build much more balanced characters, true, but you're kind of disincentivized from it because it's much harder to be 'generally' skilled in IC1e. When you're both able to specialize to such a huge degree, and kind of unable to be 'broadly' skilled, the rules end up rewarding The Bear significantly more than, say, one of the example characters, a bat scribe named Annushka. She is not actually that good at anything adventurers are going to do, having had to spend all her points on loser traits like Craft: Calligraphy. If she was in a later game, she could put all that under Academics and still have room to do other things. She is not. So she is sad, while the Bear chortles. Thus, we see why there was a strong shift towards consolidating skills and trying to lower starting dice somewhat. If your ceiling is high and specializations are narrow, you will end up rewarding hyper-specialization, and that ends up siloing each PC into specific roles and then they can't contribute outside them. The Bear is not going to do great at much besides fighting and a little light religious work, plus his dancing skills. To be a dedicated thief, or scholar, or whatever can often take similar dedication. That's before getting into how Wizards and Atavists have to spend skill points on individual spells and powers (Wizards and Atavists kind of suck in 1e).
And so you see why things changed to what they are in IC2e, and then later in Myriad Song. You can still make a huge character like The Bear in IC2e; one of my players did play Italian Fox Musketeer Guts. But that character will not be as dominant in combat, while having more resources to spend on rounding themselves out. Later games enable a concept to stand out like The Bear, without taking over their role completely and without rewarding you so much for only doing one thing.
Next Time: Dice Mechanics, All Of Them
Bears With Dice
Original SA post
Bears With Dice
Alright, so, last time we created a minmaxed murderbear, known only as The Bear, because if the signature Rhino merc can get by with just 'The Horn' through the whole book the Bear can do the same. The reason I created such a character is both to show off that it was significantly more of an issue in 1e, but also because he's going to help us show off why the dice system changed between games.
I should also take a moment to note, IC1e's layout is generally pretty good for a game of its time. It tries to explain concepts in order, it tries to get the basics across before going into the weeds on character creation, and it's generally pretty well organized. It does mix its fluff and crunch significantly more than later books, which are clearer for separating the two more fully. It also does a good job of placing direct in-play examples after key concepts to demonstrate them in motion, which is pretty critical because this party is going to get crazy in short order.
In Ironclaw 1e, there was no 'Roll dice vs. fixed TN and count successes'. In fact, the only time you count successes at all is during a damage roll. Instead, in the original Ironclaw, there is what's called an Overwhelm. You see, every single check in the game is rolled against a variable TN, as a contest of dice pools. This includes when you aren't actually in contest with another character; one of the example difficulties is 'The most complex lock in the world' at 4d12 difficulty. You Overwhelm your opponent if your highest showing die is 5 higher than their highest showing die. This causes special moves to trigger in combat, it causes damage dice to do more damage, it causes successes where you do something really impressive, etc. This means that your critical chance drops enormously
if you and your opponent are both throwing around piles of d12s, which is not that uncommon. Similarly, as you go up in d12s on d12s, your chances of a tie increase an awful lot. There's a reason it's much harder to get piles of max dice in the later games!
Overwhelms don't work as well as multi-successes. They work; the mechanic still came into play regularly when I was running the game years ago. But they don't come up as often and they lack for granularity. It's a binary 'did you crit, yes-no'. This is definitely a place where the new mechanic was better. What was fun about Overwhelms is that the Defender can Overwhelm in combat, too, sending the attacker Reeling. Hey, it's our old friend Reeling. There were also a ton of weapon-based special hits that you got if you Overwhelmed on an attack; most weapon special mechanics were based on Overwhelms. I'll get to that in a bit.
Because first I have to talk about Bonuses and Penalties and God help me but these were a nightmare to calculate. See, back in IC1e, you got +1, or +2, or +3, or -1 or whatever to actions, instead of just getting extra dice assigned to one contestant's pool. What this would do is grow the die size of every die in your pool if you had an overall positive modifier to a check. If you had an overall negative modifier, you would roll the test twice (or more, if you had a -2 or something) and take the worst result. If a die was already a d12, bonuses would 'spawn' and pass over to stack onto lower dice, or spawn new dice if all your dice were d12s and you still had 'size ups' left. This sounds confusing, right? It sounds confusing because it is. Let's get Bear to help us out on this.
Bear is trying to kill a man, something that happens to him regularly in his everyday job. He's hit the fellow, and he was using an attack that gave him +1 to damage. His normal damage pool is 2d12 from his weapon, d12+d10 from his hugeness. This becomes 4d12 from the +1 making the d10 into a d12, and then the 3 d12s that existed before pass their +1 on to a new die, making his total pool 4d12+d8. Let's say he was somehow in a situation where he could get +2 to damage from circumstantial modifiers. He would take his normal roll of 3d12+d10, then apply +1 as before, reaching 4d12+d8. He would then do this again, going up to 5d12+d8. Both of these damage rolls, by the way, are the kind that can potentially kill someone in one blow.
So you can see why having to do this regularly was a pain. More importantly, once again, this is the kind of rule that aids and encourages the Bear; the higher your pool was, the more benefit you get from a +1 modifier. Similar, there were many skills and situations that didn't necessarily use one of your 4 basic Traits, with the rule that if you had to default to a Trait you did so at a -1 penalty. Meaning you rolled your Trait die twice and took the worse result. All 1s showing still botches in 1e. This was not a good combo, especially not with the highly restrictive skill list. This also caused Mind and Will to get somewhat undervalued; if Haggling just uses the Haggle skill and nothing else, it doesn't matter how smart your character is. They can have a d4 and be the cleverest merchant alive by pumping points into just the skill. This also made Botches much more common. Similarly, some test types needed specific Extra Traits; lockpicking required Dexterity, an extra Trait, or you'd just use your Skill. Your Speed, while extremely useful in combat, wasn't used for fine crafting or lockpicking or whatever. This hurt the general competence of characters and along with the bonus system, encouraged specialization and then staying in your lane, so to speak.
I cannot say enough that I am really glad they shifted the Trait system to what it became in 2e, and later Myriad Song. The issue with the Bear, and why I made him for this, is that I wanted to show off how the bonus system specifically advantages that build, to the extent that he can mechanically overcome almost any foe in combat (he might need more to-hit in time, but he's still pretty good). He has a few things he can try to do outside of combat, but not much. More importantly, a non-specialized character has much less chance of contributing against him in combat. And with how non-combat tests often didn't even include your base Traits in 1e, if you wanted to be good at non-combat skills you needed to invest a lot of points and EXP into them, leaving you insufficient space to pose any kind of challenge to the Bear. The mechanics of the system encouraged specialists, even as they were much more open and less structured due to the focus on point-buy. Meanwhile, over in Myriad Song (and Ironclaw 2e), 'I have 3d8 combat dice from my traits and skill, and I can Aim for a single d12 from Veteran' is often enough to be a serious soldier, while giving you enough space to be good at other things. The much more generous interpretation of skills and the removal of penalties for 'only' having a Trait or two also opens up a lot of room to have a character branch out and establish broad competence.
You can see the contours of that already in ideas like the Career die and Species die. Species dice were much muddier in IC1e, and let's be honest, IC2e, since they also cover checks in favored senses and habitats in both games as well as natural weapons and listed skills. Moreover, in IC1e, some species had more species skills than others. For instance, Horses only included Horse with Hiking and Tactics (Tactics was also much less powerful) while Foxes included Fox with Stealth, Sixth Sense (Foxes are very mystical and attuned to danger I guess), Tracking, and Climbing. So a Fox benefited more from being better at being a Fox than a Horse would benefit from being in a state of supreme Horsemind. I much prefer the Myriad Song version, where they're used with some specific natural weapons and a set array of 3 skills. They were, at least, standardized in how many abilities they covered by IC2e but IC2e also had some races give much more 'powerful' Gifts like Increased Trait. Myriad Song specifically keeps Legacy Gifts to minor/species specific things instead of trying to say that one species is outright better on various Traits than others.
Still, Career started out as a way to say you'd be at least baseline competent in your job no matter how out of whack the rest of your rules were, and it's stayed that way. I appreciate it both as a mechanical and a flavor concept; it's neat that you can play the hardbitten professional who gets by on training and experience from a fluff point of view, and it's nice that even back in the day, the Bear could still properly read the bible and handle basic theological questions despite his specialization. Career is less important with the skill lists no longer being as crazy specialized as they used to be, but it's a nice legacy mechanic that remains a fun part of the Cardinal system.
Next Time: The Bear Kills People
Original SA post
IC1e's combat system is overcomplicated, there's no getting around that. It's interesting, but overcomplicated. And I say this knowing the other systems (I believe they called the variant system for Albedo 'Magenta'?) are also quite complex when it comes time to cut people in half. IC1e wanted to give you options and strategy beyond just 'I hit him with my sword', even if you're a character who is as simply built as The Bear, and what I've always found especially intriguing is how much more complicated and detailed melee is compared to ranged combat in this first incarnation. It will also be valuable to examine what got cut down, why, and how, for future games. At the same time, we'll still see the bones of this initial combat system in all of the Cardinal releases to date.
There was no two action system back in the day. You only chose and took a single Maneuver. There was an Initiative system, but it determined when you went within a larger, wide Initiative Rank; some combat actions would resolve before others, no matter the speed difference in the combatants, and this was actually a core part of the combat system. Especially because an attack that hit could still send you Reeling and cancel your declared maneuver, forcing you to Recover from being hitstunned instead. Combat Maneuvers listed their Init Rank (Zero, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, for the 3 phases of a round, with Zero being things that happen instantly), what sort of movement you were allowed while performing them (Stride, Dash, etc), what kind of Defense you can use while using it, and what the maneuver does. You could also elect not to act, instead concentrating and gaining Focus. Focus would let you spend it on various other effects later, or let you interrupt enemy maneuvers, so long as you did this before getting sent Reeling and losing your Focus.
One thing we'll immediately recognize as very different: All weapons just use Speed+Skill as to-hit. There's no provisions whatsoever for using other stats as to-hit, neither the ability to take Gifts to replace your base to-hit die like in IC2e nor the way weapons distinguish themselves by what Traits they get to include in MS. I think MS is clearly the best of the three for this, because while IC1e's approach is obviously a bit tied to it coming on the edge of the 90s (I think 'Agility is an extremely super-powerful stat' is the only full 90s-ism of IC1e) IC2e's system was mostly a novelty on this front. Myriad Song provided a means to not only make it easier for any sort of PC to at least contribute in combat ("Oh look, our guy with a high Mind can still handle a rifle okay") but a way to meaningfully distinguish various weapons from one another (Having more dice was a positive trait, after all).
But I digress. Not only is Speed and Skill very important for actually hitting people, you need Body and Strength like Bear in order to hurt people, because IC1e still has separate damage mechanics. Moreover, most things work more to favor a defender over an attacker, which can make combat take a fair number of exchanges before something decisive happens. IC1e is also the only game in the Cardinal line where you have limited active defenses: You can Parry once a turn (use your weapon skill, plus your cover dice from your shield if you have one, against their attack to stop it) in melee. You can Block with a shield or cloak (Shield skill OR Cloak skill because that needs to be a separate skill right, Speed, Cover Dice) against ranged (but not guns) or melee once per round. You can Dodge any kind of attack any number of times, but if you're wearing meaningful armor Dodging is not going to be great for you (though you again, still get your cover dice). As you might note, cover dice fucking rule and being able to easily get +2d10 from a medium shield is a huge argument for using one.
Why might you not use a shield? This gets back to Body and Strength. You remember the Bear's Lift Bonus being 9? If it was any less, he couldn't use his sword one-handed Easily. Each weapon has a Light, Medium, and Heavy Lift Bonus. The Bear's sword, for instance, has a Light of 9, a Medium of 6, and a Heavy of 4. These ratings determine when the weapon is Awkward or Easy, something that gets completely removed in future games with good reason because this system is overcomplex as hell. Light means you can use the full set of melee maneuvers with the weapon wielded 1-handed. Medium means that if you use the weapon one-handed, you only get a single choice of maneuver: Strike Awkwardly, which is just worse than all the other ones, being a 2nd Init Rank attack at 0 bonuses. You can also wield the weapon two-handed to get the full list of maneuvers. Heavy means you can only wield the weapon two-handed, and even then you can only wield it awkwardly. This means, by the way, an average character with a d6 or d8 Body die can't even lift and swing the Bear's weapon. Why use big weapons? They do more damage, and they have more reach. The Bear's sword, compared to a Quarter Stone saber/shortsword, does double the damage dice (2d12 vs. d12) and strikes at 1-3 paces compared to 1 pace for the saber. That's a huge advantage of power and reach in melee, especially when most people are going to be moving at their slow Stride while exchanging blows.
So what are these other Maneuvers that make using a weapon Easy so worthwhile? There's Strike Fast, for one. This attacks at 0 bonus or penalty, but in Init Rank 1. That gives you a chance of stunning the enemy or dropping them before they can strike back, which is always valuable if you think you can do it. Strike Hard gives +1 damage in Rank 2, Strike Sure gives +1 to-hit. Remember how much a +1 can mean to a skilled combatant or strong striker in this system, and those are both very attractive options compared to Strike Awkward. You can Strike Tandem if you have two Light weapons, with your off-handed Light weapon taking -1 to its attack (and remember, -1 to an attack HURTS) unless you're Ambidextrous. Two attacks, when your opponent has a limited number of what might be their highest active defends, is a strong action economy advantage. If you have Focus, you can choose to give yourself +1 to hit (which can stack with any of the other Strike moves, though it will only apply to one of your Tandem moves) OR you can choose to wait for Rank 3 and make a Focussed Strike. If this hits, it's essentially an automatic Overwhelm, letting you do your weapon's special attack without needing to Overwhelm. This can be extremely good but effectively takes a turn to set up. You could also forgo attacking and Guard for a massive +2 bonus to defenses and doubled Parries and Blocks; useful if your opponent just Focused and you know they're eying the special move button. Not to mention if you Overwhelm on a defense you can send your opponent Reeling as it is.
Ranged doesn't get any of this Strike rigamarole. If you're using a Ranged weapon, Easy/Awkward affects reloading crossbows and which Init Rank a bow fires in. Enemies include the Ranged Penalty die for your range (Ranges were not standardized at this time, each weapon listed its own Short, Medium, Long, etc Range in paces) in their defense, along with cover. Guns had an early form of Function dice from MS, where you rolled a d10 Spark Die against the difficulty based on how much it was raining, etc. A 1 would botch and your wheellock would hang-fire, and it would be a mess to get it to shoot again. Guns also took 10 rounds to reload, with the idea that you simply didn't reload guns in combat. Guns and crossbows could be braced for +1 to hit if you didn't need to dodge this turn.
All this *still* hasn't gotten to what damage was like. Unlike in later games, where damage was rolled into attacking, damage not only had a separate roll in 1e but also worked differently from a normal dice pool. You would roll your damage dice (Strength+Weapon damage, or just Weapon Damage for ranged) against their soak dice (Armor+Body). You'd compare your highest showing die to their highest showing die. Then your NEXT highest showing die to theirs, etc. If you had more damage dice than they did soak dice, you compared those dice to 1s. Every die you got that was higher did 1 wound. A die that was 5 higher did 2. If a weapon was Slaying (only used to happen on special moves; this was the Gun special!), every success counted as an Overwhelm and did 2 wounds. If it was Enervated (Trying to kill a fire monster with fire, etc), you did 0 wounds on normal successes and needed Overwhelms to do any. Everyone had 12 HP. If you'd lost 3 HP, you'd start checking your Resolve+Will against increasingly hard dice every turn not to drop unconscious and out of the fight. At 6 wounds, you start testing Body against being mortally wounded, rolling a death test for every wound you take. It was, generally, easier to drop than to die, and even if you 'died' there was magic and medicine that could turn 'mortally wounded' into 'just made it'. If you actually ran out of HP, you died, but most characters would drop for one reason or another before then.
Let's look at a damage roll in motion with The Bear. The Bear Strikes Hard against a bandit (+1 damage) and hits him. The Bear does d12+d10 damage for his strength, 2d12 for his weapon, for a pool of 3d12+d10. With a +1 bonus, this becomes 4d12+d8. The bandit's an ordinary sort, wearing some heavy leather armor, and so has a damage reduction of 2d8 from his d8 Body and d8 Armor. You will note the Bear is already at an enormous advantage in this exchange. The Bear rolls a 9, 9, 8, 8, and 5 for his damage dice. The Bandit rolls a 7 and a 5. The Bear compares his highest to the Bandit, 9 vs. 7, and so inflicts 1 Wound. He compares his next highest, 9 to 5, and it isn't 5+ better, so he still 'only' inflicts 1 more wound. However, the bandit is now OUT OF DICE, so the Bear compares his two 8s to 1s. Both inflict 2 Wounds. And then the 5 inflicts 1 Wound. The Bandit takes 7 wounds in one blow, and now has to test against Unconsciousness at d12 difficulty, and death, twice, at d4 and d6. He's probably fucked.
This should also show you why The Bear is running around in 2d12+d6 Armor. With that, his own soak is 3d12+d6+d4, enough to potentially stop his own sword, and he's not going to face many enemies with better.
Note how long this takes to resolve when you think about it. Add in calculating the bonuses and penalties. Add in that you roll checks against Will+Resolve against the highest damage die on every wounding hit to test Reeling on any injury. The amount of rolling, the number of rules, etc it was insane. Special Attacks and things got moved over into exhaustible gifts and other special maneuvers in later systems to make using them a decision, rather than make them a totally random 'critical hit' rule.
I will say the original Strike system did make it easy to convert intention and game results to fiction, and did help players feel like they were making choices in melee combat. It was fun to come up with 'patterns' based on personality and what kind of enemy they were facing and let them pick Strikes and Guards to get around it. Melee was actually quite fun once you got used to it. But I'll gladly give up that 'feel' for combat that doesn't involve so much goddamn rolling at every step and that gets rid of the insane Bonus and Penalty system. Combat is much improved for larger scale fights, or fights with multiple mooks, in later games. But as an example of how much some of my players enjoyed the original system, they would do stuff like play out 'training tournaments' within their mercenary company to pit skilled characters against one another for prestige and practice because they actually liked doing duels. Fights between company champions during actual battles were something they looked forward to. This was partly a function of coming to this game off of D&D and horror games, but it did add something to the feel of combat. It just took so much effort that I'd gladly take the much more streamlined version (and especially the removal of the separate damage roll, though I found the HP system worked well in practice) over it any day.
Like much of IC1e, it wasn't bad
, especially for the time. Just insanely complicated and it could be really time consuming without practice, and I'm glad it was addressed and streamlined in later games. It also still had the problem of providing huge rewards to a specialist like The Bear; +1 means a lot more the better you are, and there are lots of routes for +1.
Next Time: Thank God They Changed Magic
How the hell do you pronounce synedoche
Original SA post
How the hell do you pronounce synedoche
Magic in 1e is one of the game's big mechanical weaknesses, and the entire magic system was overhauled for 2e and Myriad Song for a reason. The funny thing is, even in IC1e, magic has always been one of the more interesting parts of the setting from a fiction
perspective, even when it was a particular point of mechanical weakness. To understand why the magic of Ironclaw struggled with balancing itself, you have to understand its intended role in the setting (or at least, what I get out of what's there), so we're going to talk a little about fluff despite this being a purely mechanical examination on the whole.
You see, the thing that makes magic stand out is that in the current age in both editions of Ironclaw, magic isn't special. It's a skill. It's something you learn by training. Any PC can learn it, though like any other skill, some of them will be better or worse at it. Any PC can learn magic in IC1e and 2e if they're willing to pay for the requirements during play; it just takes being literate, getting access to the right books, and spending time learning. There's no mystical gift required, no powerful mark on the soul or bloodline. You just need a strong will and some dedication to your education. In return, magic isn't nearly as powerful as it is in a lot of fantasy settings. It was
once, but you know how it is. Ancient wizard kings blow everything up, shit gets crazy, no-one knows if they were ever even real depending on what directions you want your interpretation of the setting to go. But wizards in Ironclaw aren't like, say, wizards in Warhammer: There's no warping of the soul, no contact with a great and mysterious and beautiful and terrible otherworldly force. Most wizards in the setting are just professionals, and I always got the impression they're as likely to be hired to help move earth to build a road as to do anything related to blowing people up.
And so, when you want to model that kind of magic and you have the clear goal of NOT making magic drive the majority of plots by itself, you obviously want to come up with a more generally limited impression of what mages can do. Without the idea of 'exhaustible gifts' to limit special moves in 1e, they instead had a system of Magic Points. You get MP equal to the size of your Will and your various Wizard career dice. So if The Bear learned Cleric magic and picked up Extra Trait d6 Cleric (As Paladins sometimes do), he'd have 8 (d8 Will)+6 (d6 Career) for 14 MP. You regain MP by rolling your magic Careers when you sleep for 8 hours and adding the results together. That's how much MP you regained. Mages can also meditate for an hour and roll the Meditation skill to try to get back 1 or more points faster.
The first issue with magic comes up with the Spell Casting Skill. You see, every spell has a difficulty to cast it. And every spell uses a skill for that difficulty. EVERY SPELL IS ITS OWN SKILL. Also, the whole 'need to roll to cast the spell' thing goes out the window once you have skill points equal to the spell's MP cost in the spell, becoming 'adept' at it. Then you just cast automatically, spending MP and rolling effect dice. The other mechanical issue with the spells as skills thing is that effect dice are also the spell's difficulty dice. So before I'm Adept in a spell, say, that does 3d12 damage, those 3d12 damage are also the spell's difficulty to be cast, and I don't make a separate damage roll for the spell and the casting difficulty. I just roll 3d12 once, test my Wizard trait dice and spell Skill against them, and if I succeed the difficulty dice become my damage roll. Effectively, this just becomes a massive EXP and skillpoint drain on wizards. They also need a skill called Spell Throwing if they want to actually hit with non-homing magic (speaking of, there's Homing, Targeting, and Explosion magic!) which is explicitly and intentionally NOT part of any of the magic careers and has to be bought separately and used with Speed.
So to be a good wizard, you need to buy a Career trait high (for MP, and because your Career trait often determines the effectiveness of buffs). You need a high Will. You probably want a decent Mind. You need a high Speed if you want to be a combat mage. And you're spending tons of EXP on individual 'skills' that then stop being skills at all as soon as you've spent 1-5 skill advances worth on them. You can also only get at the Journeyman and Master lists for your spell type by mastering enough spells from the prior list. Oh, and mages are also expected to multiclass between Elementalist (kill shit with magic, the basic combat mage), Green and Purple (Status Wizard, fairly useful), White (Heal people, protect people, usually actually very useful since it's one of the few things magic does outright better than mundane means), and Thaumaturgy (Metamagic). There are simply so many points of EXP sinking for a dedicated caster character that not only does it silo them off specializing in magic, but they also don't tend to get as much out of it as a mundane character like The Bear.
The other issue is, of course, that magic is complicated as hell. Take the spell types: Homing spells hit automatically, but the opponent can use their Block or Dodge as part of their Soak, to represent getting a shield up to deflect the fireball, etc. Explosion spells do the same, but they can only use Dodge as extra Soak. Targeting spells work exactly like a weapon, just with the Spell-Throwing Skill+Speed, then the spell's Effect Dice as a damage roll. There's also Defense spells, cast once per round as an equivalent to a Parry or Block. There's also a magic called Privilege, which lets a Journeyman try to stop Apprentice spells or a Master try to stop Journeyman spells by rolling a Privilege spell check against them at the cost of 1 MP per attempt until they stop trying or fail, which sounds really frustrating to go up against.
Elementalism also has the issue where it's disciplines all pretty much do the same thing. They're all mostly novelty utility spells until you've spent 5 skillpoints mastering the apprentice spells for an element, then you get a spell to call an Elemental (which can be quite useful but is also entirely dependent on the GM deciding if it works or not even if you cast it), a spell to do 3d12 Targeted damage, a buff that lets an ally include your Wizard dice with a check type (Like Stone letting them use your Wizard dice with Soak), a debuff for enemies, and a 4d10 Explosion. The Master levels are similar. And more importantly, with all the investment necessary, combat/direct damage magic just isn't that great in IC1e; if you put the same effort into 'shoot man with bow/crossbow/gun' you'd get similar results. Master Magic does include the ability to bind Elementals into items and make magic items, which gets at another element of magic: Delayed Spells. Delayed Spells let you put part of your MP into a spell, where it will stay, until you end the spell. You can't recover that MP until the spell ends. So every magic item in the setting, if it remains permanent, is costing its caster some portion of their magical ability forever.
At the same time, the actual effect of elementally bound weapons and armor is pretty elegantly done. You bind an Elemental, and then if the item's a weapon it gets +Elemental Trait (As in, the Elemental's Species die) to damage and a new critical hit option like setting people on fire. Bound to armor or clothes, the Elemental trait gets added to two check types, like Digging and Armor for Earth, or Dodge and Acrobatics for Air. It's a simple but very powerful effect that makes a magic item very desirable. Also, you can stab ghosts and your weapon gives off cool magic special effects. Everything's better if you can stab ghosts with it now.
White Magic is one of my exceptions to 'magic usually isn't hugely worth it' because 'fast and efficient magical healing' and 'let people reroll failed death tests 8 'o clock, day 1' are really good tricks to have around. You can even preemptively heal someone, adding in extra HP that will get chipped off first as a buff. It also destroys the heck out of undead, which is a little situational but potentially useful, as undead are one of the few consistent supernatural plagues of Calabria. Also has powerful defensive magic. The big thing with White is that even Apprentice White Magic is really useful. It can be very MP intensive, though, which also means Adepting White Magic can be EXP intense. It also gets a cool thing where you can Delay a spell on an ally, giving them a little prayer to say to invoke the spell themselves at a later date. He may have been an NPC, but the fat raccoon priest who liked to gamble that served as company chaplain in the merc company game was really goddamn helpful at keeping the company alive. White does stuff you can't easily do without magic, and can do it with less investment necessary to get started, which is key.
Green and Purple is all about mental status effects and mind control. Blinding, frightening, mind controlling, and stunning enemies is as useful in Ironclaw as it is in almost any other RPG, though it's less of a sure thing for a wizard than it is in a game like D&D. They can also make bound magic items made out of Shades, which are elemental thought/fantasy/dreams (and sometimes the quieter spirits of the dead). They succeed in being able to do stuff that you can't quite do better by taking lots of 'be good at shooting a man' points, unlike Elementalists, but they're still a huge investment like all wizards.
Finally, Thaumaturgy is generic metamagic and utility magic. Open locks, dispel magic, silence people to stop them using magic, summon light, protect yourself from rain, you know. General wizard tricks. It's implied most talented mages will learn at least a d4 of Thaumaturgy because it's the 'state of the art' magic type. It also lets you alter the targeting of magic, turn things into Synedoche spells (spells where the range is dependent only on you having, say, a lock of hair from the target), stop people using Synedoche magic, etc. It would be much more important if magic in general was more useful.
It's notable that the book feels a need to include suggested builds for wizards, and only wizards, because their builds at PC creation are much more complicated than any other character type.
There's also our friend Necromancy, which is in the back of the book because it's evil and not for PCs. It uses a lot of d6s because if 666 comes up on the dice, some bad stuff happens. You cannot, RAW, start as a black mage and have to learn their spells in play. Black Magic is only for the GM's eyes early on, and it's meant to be 'unpredictable and dangerous' because 666 causes basically whatever the GM wants it to. It focuses on creating and controlling undead, causing curses and afflictions, and it's generally the evil (and less useful, really) opposite of White magic. You see, healing people of terrible wounds instantly
is something you can't really do without magic. Killing people with magic is sort of a sucker's game because you can kill people just fine by being The Bear. The focus on 'only the Host knows what darkness this terrible magic can inflict!' also makes it a little too easy to be arbitrary with the miscasts.
To talk about learning magic, we have to talk about EXP. EXP is awarded in chunks; an average session will see a 4 point aware, a 3 point award, a 2 point award, and a 1 point award, plus several extra little 1 or 2 point awards for moments that stood out. You spend that EXP in a block, on long-term self-improvement goals. In general, everything costs 5 EXP per one character point it cost at creation; I appreciate keeping this exchange rate steady as that eliminates the need to optimize your character creation as heavily. The only difference is buffing traits is always 20 EXP (even though starting with a d12+d4 is 6 CP, rather than the 4 CP to raise a trait up to d12 or less) and adding a new trait is always 15 EXP. You also need GM permission on spending your EXP, which is not so good. You can only assign a single chunk to one goal per session. So if I got a 4 point award and a 1 point award, I couldn't put them both in Gun to immediately raise Gun by a rank.
Wizarding careers are special: You need either a teacher or literacy to learn magic. If you have a teacher (who has to be better at the spellcasting skill or Trait they're trying to teach you), you roll Mind and they roll Wizard. The lower test result between the two of you is the limiter on how big an EXP chunk you can spend on that Trait or Spell right now. So say the Bear is trying to learn to be a Cleric, and Vesper the Raccoon Cleric is teaching him. He rolls his d6 Mind and gets a 4. Vesper rolls his d12 Cleric and gets an 8. The Bear can spend up to a 4 point EXP chunk on Gaining Cleric (marking it as 4/15) and is well on his way. You can also do the same by checking your Literacy against a spellbook if you have one, with your result on Literacy limiting your EXP spending. This is also all optional and can be dropped at will.
What really stands out is how magic takes all these extra hoops and then doesn't really do a lot of special stuff for you. In 2e, by contrast, magic still isn't the mightiest method of killing people ever, but it settles into a role of 'A wizard is a talented academic with some useful, easy to get utility abilities, who is with minimal investment able to contribute about as much as a crossbow, but who can also occasionally pull out some bigger tricks'. Which is a much better place for a wizard. 2e Wizards also fit a lot better into the system and don't require adding on additional subsystems the way 1e does. 1e magic just adds too much mechanical complexity for how little it actually does. It comes out of a place of trying not to let the wizards run away with the setting and plot the way they often do in fantasy settings, and I appreciate that. I don't herein mean that wizards are meant to be useless, or to not have means to affect the plot; what I mean is that Ironclaw is not generally a setting where 'stop the evil wizard from using evil wizardry' is the sum total of the plot. 'That guy's an evil wizard' is rarely the sum total of someone's abilities, because that doesn't grant them the far-reaching and immense power it does in, say, D&D. They're usually an evil wizard who is ALSO the widow of the Don Rinaldi or whatever.
From a fictional standpoint, magic has always been a neat element of IC's setting. From a mechanical standpoint, 2e really, really improved it as an actual playable element. It feels like a system that, in seeking to limit magic's influence, ended up limiting it a little too much and really benefited from the introduction of new ways to make something cost 'actions' or take time to recharge. The move to Gifts as a fundamental building block of advancement also worked a lot better for discrete magical powers and powerful tricks compared to trying to make each separate spell cost a ton of skillpoints.
But magic can't get the badge of 'most improved' individual mechanical block in the transition from 1e to 2e, because that's reserved for what's coming next.
Next Time: AWOOOOOOOO
Cat people run, run like the wind
Original SA post
Cat people run, run like the wind
So, Atavism. Atavism is really important to the Bisclavret-Phelan conflict in the setting, and to the Phelan in general. The idea is meant to be that there is a tremendous power within characters, represented by the Species die in general, and that many of them trade it off in return for learning, the trappings of civilization, etc. The whole setting is called Ironclaw because the idea is that the world has traded claws of flesh for claws of iron, that the world is changing, and that there were other directions the world could have gone. Atavism is the power of reaching deep into a character's natural gifts to do superhuman feats of crazy animal power.
It is also the worst power set in 1e by far. Like just terrible. There are so many bad ideas in 1e Atavism. For one: You always include your Mind die in the difficulty of your powers. Yep! You make your crazy furry physical adept powers better by being stupider. Atavism is also limited by Encumbrance, and gets a big bonus for being 'sky clad', by which I mean naked. Thankfully, not in the original Gardnerian Wiccan sense, so you are still permitted the trappings of 'basic modesty', just no armor or fancy clothes. Atavism requires a 3 point gift to learn, and like spells, every individual power is a skill of its own. All Atavism powers are 3rd rank maneuvers, and most of them are self-buffs of some kind. You can heal yourself. You can spend a round charging up to make a natural weapon like claw or bite do triple damage (but only the weapon damage, your Strength dice are unaffected). You can buff your Speed dice (up to doubling them if you're lucky) or your Strength dice (not your damage reduction) with repeated checks that give small bonuses until you fail one. You can heal yourself. You can move faster. And you can scare people with your howl. That's it. That's all you can do with Atavism.
It's an entire power set that requires you to tank your mind, asks you to fight unarmored and generally unarmed, and often requires spending whole turns yelling to buff up before a big attack. Let's take a look at what 'tripled damage' actually works out to with a claw attack: 3d6 Weapon Dice. Let's compare that to someone very strong (not even The Bear strong, just strong enough to two-hand this thing) using a two-handed Full Stone axe. That does 2d10+d4. Even on number of dice you're not ahead (though the d4 can't overwhelm even if it's up against a 1). And remember, the Atavist has to make a check that they can fail in order to invoke that, and has to be unarmored, and is benefited significantly by being unarmored, and takes 2 rounds to pull that off while opening themselves up to get sent Reeling before they can invoke. The main use for Atavism is if you're a lightly armored dodge tank anyway. The seeds of a concept for a power set are there, but there's just not much to do with it.
Now let's look at what 2e ended up doing. I went over this in the 2e review, but again we see that Exhaustible Gifts are a huge boon to the Atavism system, even more than they were to magic. Atavism doesn't roll against Mind anymore because the authors realized that making all Atavists mechanically incentivized for being idiots wasn't a great look for the Phelan (and the setting is better off if the Phelan aren't idiots anyway). There's also a good mix of passive Gifts (Like Claws of Iron, which just makes Claws a really solid weapon option) and Gifts that are big, superhuman feats. You want to leap a wall with a superjump? That's there. You want to perform an incredible feat of strength, or just shrug off some incoming damage by flexing so hard you don't get hurt? Those are there. There's also more focus on non-combat abilities, like superhuman senses. Going without armor and weapons isn't required at all, it just enables the really great 'recharge my Atavism Gifts much easier' Gift. Also, armor is noticeably less extreme in 2e, so losing it to rely on Will and Body (you probably have Resolve if you're an Atavist) is a more reasonable trade-off.
One of the things that's come up over and over again is that IC1e suffers a lot for not having 'resource' systems. As a result, everything in it is based around limiting things by rolling dice. Which means, with a fairly complex dice system, you're rolling dice a lot, and the dice rolls can slow the game down. There's a mechanical reason for almost every bit of complexity in IC1e, but it doesn't always ask if it's needed, so to speak. Take magic; without another broader resource system, they had to use the MP system to limit spell use. Then they added all kinds of things that make magic work differently from weapon combat, without asking 'why don't we just treat magic like a summoned weapon' like they do with IC2e. There's design logic to the mechanics in IC1e, and it did produce a game that was playable (if extremely complicated) and reasonably balanced (even if it really rewarded specialization), especially for its time.
The reason I wanted to bring it up and talk about it in detail here is because I can point to just about every bit of standardization and streamlining in 2e and say exactly which issue from 1e it was trying to solve. Most of the changes are for the better, but more importantly they're all specifically addressing actual issues from previous games in an attempt to make the future games more open, playable, and streamlined. Cardinal will always be a complicated system, but it tries to cut out unnecessary complication where it can and the willingness to radically rework elements of the system like the Bonus and Penalty system or the entire magic system when they didn't work in previous editions is laudable. Look at how many systems we see covered in this thread where the solution to a broken subsystem is 'eh'. Fuck, look at all of RIFTs.
That's why I keep covering these games like Double Cross and Cardinal; I feel like they're an instructive and useful look at what it takes to make a complicated and crunchy game actually work. Crunch gets a bad rap because of shit like 3e D&D, and rightfully so. Unconsidered crunch, pointless complication for the purpose of complication, does nothing but waste your goddamn time. But crunch that's designed to give you interesting mechanical decisions to make can also help reinforce tone and even help tell a story. Sometimes it's fun to have a lot of game elements in your Roleplaying Game when those game elements were actually well thought out and designed to let you mechanically distinguish your characters. Which is part of what's interesting in the shift in Cardinal; what was originally just a function of a Merits and Flaws system (Gifts) ended up shifting to be the main point of mechanical distinction between characters. The general shift was towards a system where characters are broadly competent in general, and then the main mechanism for distinguishing them in more detail would be their special powers through the revamped Gift system.
I'm also really glad Flaws went into the garbage bin/optional rules section because point-based flaws systems are usually impossible to balance. The player with Heroic is getting points for doing what they wanted to do anyway and playing a character, while the player with Weak is getting mechanically punished.
Not all the solutions are great; I actually think, with experience, that the damage system in IC2e and Myriad Song is one of the weaker systems in the game. The reason being the extra +1 damage you get for being Hurt (and +2 for Injured) ramps up how quickly you get turbo-fucked so fast (especially with #Finish lurking in the wings in MS) because the seriousness of effects goes up very quickly in general. I also would've preferred a 'Down' level of damage to 'Dying' being the 4th damage level. The damage system in IC1e worked about as well as the later stuff, with the later mechanics being more of a side-jump into a different concept of damage as states rather than a more traditional HP system. But this will get addressed, too, when we get to Urban Jungle.
There's a lot more I could potentially get into the weeds on with IC1e, but you get the gist; it's an unusual game for its time of publication, it's mechanically interesting, but very over-complex and without as much consideration of how much time calculating and playing out some of the mechanics would take. It also lacks the level of standardization you see in the later Cardinal games; there are far more subsystems, exceptions, and special cases where something works differently. It was also lacking a lot of the mechanical elements like Rote, exhaustible Gifts, or counting successes against a static TN, and it's easy to see how many of those were introduced specifically to cut down on the over-reliance on complicated dicepool vs. dicepool contests that marked 1e. It was a good game for its time, and it's especially notable for how much better its successor is, because there was a conscious effort made to go through and address the over complexities, special cases, and issues that plagued it.
And in this hobby, that kind of thing is worth talking about.
Next Time: I knew something was wrong, but I needed the dough.