So, I finally had the opportunity to play-test Dark Earth last night.
The Toughness mechanic seems to work as expected, but there is some streamlining to do, naturally.
The original “Stunned” condition in the damage chart caused the injured party to lose their next turn, and this was thrown out as too harsh, considering that with the Toughness mechanic as-is, accumulated damage makes you more likely to take more damage. Likewise, the “Bleeding” condition can now be reduced by 1 at the start of each turn with a successful toughness save. A single bleeding wound is unlikely to kill an opponent, but accumulated bleeding wounds will drop an opponent really quickly — but maybe not before they get their revenge.
Also thrown out were rolls on the Injury table for 0th-level/minion opponents. For hordes or swarms, this is simply too much bookkeeping. So any 0th-level opponent or creature now dies from any failed Toughness save.
We decided to modify the magic system, too. Now everyone has spell points equal to half their level, minimum of 1, and spells cost a number of spell points equal to their level. This gives players access to new spell levels at 1st, 4th, 6th, 8th, and 10th level, more like the d20 sorcerer.
Decisions were made about spells being acquired during downtime or during play, with the consensus apparently being that “downtime” or “off-stage” acquisition was easier and more fun than shaking scrolls out of a random table. Currently, Intelligence affects the number of spells known and the rate of spell acquisition (with the “Spell Mastery” feat re-tooled to provide extra known spells), with Wisdom affecting the Save DC of all spells cast. So far, it has produced an interesting divide between the “utility mage” and the “attack mage”, which I hope come to replace the “healer/blaster” archetypes.
My party of 4 with 12 henchmen took out a troublesome ogre in 7 combat rounds of tense skirmishing, losing 3 henchmen in the process. On the way back to town, they took out 4 1st level and 9 0th level bandits in a single round, with a combination of fighter cleaving, a single sleep spell, and a fusillade of arrows, after winning the perception check to see them hidden and the initiative check once combat began.
So far, so good. Next order of business is to produce a feat list appropriate to the game mechanic, which also allows the production of the familiar D&D character archetypes.
As it stands, each level gives you 2-3 feats, 1 from your specialty list (2 if you are an expert), and 1 from a general list. 20 or so feats should be sufficient for now, with the focus being on the “archetypal” feat trees like Turn Undead and skills like Alchemy or Lockpicking.
Things like Power Attack and going to need re-tooling, since Damage is way more deadly/important now, since it’s no longer merely moving you closer to 0 hit points, but also cumulatively increasing the chance of a “critical hit” (significantly failed Toughness save) that puts you down for good.
Interesting note: DE currently has nothing like weapon proficiencies and nothing like arcane spell failure chance for armor. Everyone bought longbows and the heaviest armor they could wear without slowing themselves down. I hope to keep the armor calculus (what should I wear?) focused on encumbrance, sneak penalties, and movement rate, rather than other magical concerns, although slowing down spell point regeneration according to armor worn has been discussed.
More to come soon!