A&A Early Playtest Reflections

I’ve been rather quiet both here on the blog and on social media lately, so I thought I’d give a quick update. Despite my lack of updates, I’ve actually had games happening! My Deadlands Fate game had it’s second session, which you can listen to a podcast of over at DnDAcademy.com. If you are interested in hearing this method in action, you really should give it a listen. I also recently started a once-a-week  lunchtime gaming group at my office. This one is a modern fantasy game heavily influenced by Dresden Files RPG and World of Darkness. I’ll get more info up on those soon!

Some Basic Reflections

 Both of those are using my Approaches & Abilities method (A&A), and thus far, I’ve been very pleased actually seeing it in action. My one disappointment is that neither campaign lend themselves to any sort of politicking, or power struggles, or even needing resources (yet), so no one in either game has made any use of the “Influential” ability. I think I can safely say that many campaigns will ignore this ability, but I don’t think I can safely say that it doesn’t matter yet. In particular, I have my eye on an Age of Arthur game using this method, which I imagine having a very Game of Thrones kind of feel, and I think that ability would see excellent use in that game. I also think my other games will see some value in it at some point, but not often.
One thing that I have really started loving about this system is that the abilities are all interpreted through the lens of the character’s aspects and Approaches. Two characters may both have Athletics at a +2, but between their different Approaches and their individual aspects, that ability means different things to each character. This is especially true for the Skilled ability.

Approaches, and Player Psychology

 One thing I’ve found myself doing is that a player will make a basic statement of what they want they want to do. I will respond with something like, “Great, that’ll be a Combative check, but HOW are you doing it?” Basically, I nail down the Ability that is being used, but let them determine the Approach. It seems to help provide helpful structure for the players. If they state an Approach without any further explanation, I usually say “What about how your doing this makes it [Approach]?” and at that point, I always get a good colorful description of what they’re doing. I feel like my original hypothesis of the A&A method is playing out as I predicted. The Abilities provide a clear anchor for the action, which makes it easier for the Approaches to drive flavor, description and characterization.

I am also occasionally finding myself saying, after they state a desired course of action, “based on what you’ve described, there’s no way you can use [Approach].” Or “if you try to do that using [Approach] then it will be harder, how else might you do it?” I usually only bother doing this to push them off of their peak Approach, to get some variety in things, and keep them on their toes. Also some things I just lock into a certain Approach. For example – I’m handling Initiative by always calling for a roll using their Quick Approach, plus an ability appropriate to the conflict. For combat (the most common example) they can use either Athletic or Combative, their choice. I’m finding that these factors keep players from always relying on their peak Approach.

To be honest, I’ve actually been surprised at how often players happily volunteer to use their secondary Approaches and Abilities instead of their peak approach. They pretty much NEVER use Approaches or Abilities that they have zeros in, but I’m honestly not surprised by this. My wife straight up said this after our first play session with her swashbuckler, Scarlet VonRosen. “Those other things may as well not exist, because I’m going to do my darndest to figure out how solve every problem using either Combative, Social, or Athletic, while being Flashy, Clever, or Sneaky.” To which I say, bravo! Instant character style and identity. There’s enough variation there to keep things interesting, but it also keeps characters focused on what makes them awesome.

I’ve also just updated the playtest doc with a few minor additions. You can get it here, if you want to give it a spin for your own game.

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