MCDM RPG Prototype & Mouthfeel

· Caio Lente · #podcast  #mcdm  #ttrpg 

This episode was originally published on YouTube and Spotify. For links and references, please see those platforms as this page only contains the transcript.

Intro

Hello everyone and welcome to the seventh episode of The Dice Society podcast!

In case you’re joining me for the first time, my name is Caio and I’m the author of thedicesociety.com. This is a show about the upcoming MCDM RPG, where I talk about its development, my playtest experience, and, once the time is right, first- and third-party content being made for the finished game.

In today’s episode, you’ll get caught up in the most recent MCDM RPG news. We have new ancestry sneak peeks, a VTT demo, and an update on the release of the next playtest packet. I’ll go over all of those and a bunch more in the News segment of the podcast.

As for our main topics, I have some exciting stuff. First I’ll talk about the Tactician prototype that Matt shared with the patrons, and then I’ll tell you all about a playtest I took part in; I’ll share my impressions of how the rules are coming together, the class I got to play, and the general mouthfeel of the game.

As usual, however, everything we’re going to talk about is subject to and probably will change, so don’t get your hopes up if you really like any of the stuff I describe here. Cool? Cool. Let’s draw steel and get started.

News

As always, we’re gonna start with the news. Let’s go over them in an algorithm-friendly numbered list:

  1. Devil sneak peek. This ancestry is exactly what it sounds like: people native to the Seven Cities of Hell. The main way they become citizens of Orden is by being summoned through a ritual and having the summoner die, leaving them with no way back. Customizing a Devil might involve “buying” features like horns, wings, detachable limbs, tails, etc. Oh, did I mention detachable limbs? Yeah, detachable limbs.

  2. Polder sneak peek. These are MCDM’s Halfling analogs, and we got a Patreon post from Willy explaining some of their characteristics: they are nimble enough to ignore difficult terrain, their footsteps don’t make any sound, and they can flatten themselves as a shadow into the wall. Is that dope enough for you?

  3. The VTT is getting cooler by the minute. Go check out Denivarius’s post on the subreddit showcasing the ability to stack multiple maps to get a nice parallax effect, indicating each region’s height. I promise you it’s gonna blow your mind.

  4. Magic items are online. In this game they are called Treasures because they encompass psionic items as well as magic ones. James gave an example on stream of the Knife of Nine, a dagger that increases its damage bonus with each new attack you make with it (up to a limit, of course). Then, at level 5, with each new enemy you slay, the knife gains a charge that can be converted into even more damage. Finally, at level 9, it grants a huge damage bonus whenever you attack after falling on top of an enemy.

  5. Research and Crafting are also online. With these systems you can use alchemical ingredients, monster parts, knowledge of languages, and much more to create Treasures by yourself. If this makes into the final game, it’s probably going to be a big hook for players to find adventures on their own instead of just waiting for the Director to throw something at them.

  6. The Talent might be replaced by the Summoner in the core rules. This is due to the fact that the Talent overlaps a bit too much with the Elementalist right now, so the Summoner could be an interesting substitute. The team will have a clearer idea of the future of these classes once they have kickoff meetings for both.

  7. The packet date has been updated. As of right now, the team believes that the Patreon playtest packet is coming before GenCon, that is, by the end of July, but do not hold your breath: this is not a promise, only an estimate. As for the backer packet, it looks like it will be coming in August. If everything goes according to plan, the game’s license is also coming out at the same time so that the community can start to get to work on their own third-party products.

  8. The lightning round! Caster kits were reflavored as casting styles and now they also give your hero a Maneuver. The devs have estimated that the Monster Book will feature somewhere between 350 and 450 statblocks. The Conduit has been slightly redesigned to work with only one resource, now called Piety, instead of two. And lastly, Basic Attacks have been renamed Free Strikes at the moment.

And that’s it for our news. Now feel free to sit down and relax, as the next section is a long one. I’m going to talk about the Tactician prototype, one of the most interesting Patreon posts up until now, let’s go!

Tactician prototype

I’ve talked about class prototypes in the past, but they were always skeletons meant to test game mechanics, not actual class mechanics. Now, for the first time, Matt has shown us the real Tactician class prototype in a recent Patreon post. It’s a chunky post detailing their whole design process, so I’ll do my best to summarize it and get as soon as possible to the juicy bits. If you want to learn everything they can teach you about tabletop RPG design, I highly suggest becoming a patreon, ‘cause this post is gonna be your jam.

Anyhow, the first thing we should know is… What the heck is a Tactician? If you were not here for the previous episodes, in the MCDM RPG, the Tactician is their martial warrior class, closer to D&D 4th Edition’s Warlord than to 5e’s Fighter. They are masters of the battlefield, tactical geniuses, and the best at using weapons. The fictional analogs the devs usually mention when talking about this class are Aragorn and Captain America.

So, in practice, what are Tacticians good at? In their Theory of Classes meeting, the designers outlined their current thinking for what each class is good and bad at. Our tactical friend has high stickiness and command, meaning it’s hard to get away from them and they excel at leading the party. By contrast, they have low mobility and damage, for example.

Knowing this, we can start talking about the broad stuff every Tactician has in their arsenal. For instance, they get an ability called Mark, which incentivizes the party to attack a specific enemy by granting bonuses to anyone who attacks the poor target. The inverse ability is Taunt, which encourages enemies to attack you by penalizing attacks against your allies. Besides these two features, they can also grant extra attacks to other party members, give them extra movement, redirect attacks, etcetera… See how all these features make the Tactician good at commanding the battlefield? Well, that’s the goal.

Seeing all of these mechanics, the three subclasses I mentioned in episode 5 start to come into focus. The Mastermind is a Mark-focused Tactician: a character who leads from the rear, who conducts the battle like a maestro. The Knight-Protector, on the other hand, is Taunt-focused, leading from the front, drawing fire to themselves. Lastly, the Insurgent is more of a guerilla warrior that focuses on dirty tricks like buffing and debuffing, redirecting attacks, that kind of stuff.

And don’t you forget that all of these names and features are subject to change! Don’t come complaining to me when these subclasses switch names and do different stuff by next month, I don’t know… You’ve been warned.

Now that we know the high-level overview, we can move on to… Wait, I almost forgot! We haven’t talked about weapons yet! In the beginning, the designers were also considering a fourth subclass, one that focussed on being the weapon master. Well, turns out that this fits the fiction of every archetype, so it got merged into the base class. With the Field Arsenal feature, every Tactician can wear two Kits and keep the best bonuses of both. Cool, right?

Now I think we’re ready to move on from the high-level stuff. The devs got into a meeting and brainstormed the hell out of the features for this class; in total, they listed more than forty abilities that Tacticians might be able to get over the course of their careers. I’ll spare you the nitty-gritty details, especially because the list will probably still change a lot, but here are some of my favorites:

Unfortunately, none of this comes into play for the level 1 prototype. I just want you to see what a Tactician might get as they level up and how cool this is compared to a D&D Fighter, which basically just gets to swing their sword more often. Anyway, from this big list of 40 abilities, some were selected to make up first level and then an MCDM producer created the pre-made Tactician we got in the Patreon post.

I’ll go over each part of the character sheet and tell you a little bit about every single ability this Tactician has. It’s a lot of stuff, but I’ll try my best to make it as digestible as possible. Are you all sitting comfortably? Let’s begin with the basics:

And that’s it for the basics; now we can talk about equipment, class features, and subclass features. None of these are directly related to combat, I’ll get into that afterwards. Let’s go:

Phew! We’re almost done, I promise. To finish off, we have to talk about combat abilities, arguably where the Tactician really shines. There are 10 in total, but some are more important than others, let’s check it out:

Aaaand that’s it! We did it! You get a gold star for hearing me list all of these abilities for this long without any visuals. Now I want to know what you think about this prototype… Is it cool? Does it fit the fantasy that you pictured when I described the class? Is it too complicated?

Personally, I like it. I think it’s a bit complicated for a first level character, but not enough that it’s overwhelming I think? I’d have to play it to be sure, but it feels on par with a third level Wizard in D&D; it’s got fewer abilities to choose from, but more side effects on each ability, so I’m guessing I’ll be a wash.

Now that we’re done with the Tactician, let’s go to the next segment of the podcast, where future Caio is gonna tell you all about the playtest he participated in. See ya there!

Mouthfeel

Ok, so where were we? Oh, that’s right, the Tactician prototype! Since I wrote the previous segment, I took part in a playtest of the RPG with some of fine folks of the MCDM Discord. It was an awesome experience and I hope I get to do it again in the future. The people were super nice, our Director was very patient with our questions, and overall I had a great time. 10/10, for real.

What did I think of the game, though? Well, to answer that I need more than a few lines of script, so here’s how this segment is gonna work: first I’ll talk about everything that happened before the playtest, then I’ll tell you a little bit about our actual session (trying as much as possible to not spoil the adventure), and finally I’ll summarize my thoughts and answer a few questions people had for me on the Discord. Does that sound good?

Before the session

So, without further ado… I was selected on a Tuesday to participate on a playtest pool session that was going to happen that Friday. It was going to be a test for the adventure MCDM is taking to GenCon, so each player had to create a level 1 character and get ready for four hours of heroic combat.

The rules document was, and I’m not exaggerating, 196 pages long. But it wasn’t that bad, hear me out. A bunch of the rules hadn’t changed that much since they were shared with the patrons and some chapters were not going to be used in this particular playtest. All in all, I was able to choose my class and read the necessary rules in a couple of days.

The biggest chunk of the document was character creation, which still follows the structure I outlined in episode 5 of the podcast. To create a hero, you simply go through the following chapters in order: Ancestry, Culture, Career, Inciting Incident, Class, and Kit. Once you’re done choosing those, the rules include a nice optional set of questions that help the heroes in the party forge some connections.

Then there are chapters detailing Tests, adventuring, Abilities, combat, Negotiation, Research, Crafting, and Treasures. Most are self-explanatory, except for adventuring, which includes rules that “will be organized differently as the game is developed”; right now, this chapter talks about Resistance Rolls, hiding, languages, Renown, and Wealth.

To be 100% honest, I’d love to talk about every single detail contained in the rules, specially Renown, Wealth, Research, Crafting, and Treasures. The problem is that they haven’t shared these rules with the patrons yet, which means that they’re probably not ready for prime time. If I talk about them now, I’ll likely have to spend another full episode explaining everything that changed in the meantime.

Instead, let’s talk about the character I created: Sohan. Sohan was a Devil; he had horns, glowing eyes, and a tail. He was also from Capital, an Urban environment with a Bureaucratic culture, and had a Noble upbringing; a true gentledevil. Before becoming an adventurer he was a Mage’s Apprentice, but everything changed once he found out that he was going to explode some day. Yup, you heard it right. If Sohan ever went more than three days without casting magic, he would explode and wipe everything in a 100 mile radius, including himself. Shout out to the Baldur’s Gate 3 crew.

For his class, I went with Elementalist. I know I said in the previous episode that my most anticipated build was the Harlequin Mask Shadow, but after I saw the Elementalist class… Boy, I just had to go with that. For my subclass, I kept a little bit of the flavor of the Shadow and went with Void for my element of choice. Void mages are good with illusions, teleportation, and other obscure arts. Finally, his Kit was the Missile Kit, which allowed Sohan to throw his implement at his enemies like a dodgeball player. He was a cool dude, not gonna lie.

If now you’re waiting for a full breakdown of all of his abilities like I did with the Tactician prototype, I’m sorry to say that I won’t. This episode is long enough with only one character breakdown, and I’d rather talk about Abilities that MCDM trusts enough to show the patrons than Abilities that might be more susceptible to changing. Once we have an official Elementalist prototype, then I might do another deep dive like today’s.

Anyway, character creation was pretty straightforward; I just followed the chapter sequence, making choices whenever they were necessary. My main takeaway of this process was how cool the Inciting Incidents are! In my opinion, a few of them have the potential to be disruptive for some campaigns, but overall I thought they were dripping with flavor. Honestly, if they removed the Culture chapter and added more Inciting Incidents, I’d be fine with it.

Since there isn’t yet an official character sheet, I copied all of Sohan’s stuff into a Google Docs. When I was done, I looked at the page count and gasped. Four pages. 11 abilities that I could use in combat. A handful of others for outside of combat. It was so much stuff that I started to seriously wonder whether I was even gonna be able to play this level 1 character. Then came the playtest.

During the session

In order to protect the privacy of my fellow players, I’m going to be referring to them by their characters; besides my Devil Elementalist, we had a Dwarf Tactician, a Wode Elf Fury, a Revenant Shadow, and a Time Raider Conduit. As for the adventure, I can’t say much… Since they’re going to run it at GenCon, I really don’t want to spoil the setup. Suffice it to say that it took place in a three-story building and we had to work with some time pressure.

We strategized and began to fight the enemies. Since we get to choose our order in initiative, my allies moved into position and started to chip away at the enemy forces while I waited for an opportunity to jump in. Once my turn came, I realized that my character sheet wasn’t too large, and in fact it was quite manageable.

First of all, about one-fourth of my makeshift character sheet was for outside of combat features, things that didn’t matter at all in the moment. Another full page had rules for casting spells, making abilities persistent, generating Essence (the Elementalist’s Resource), and that sort of stuff; it’s the equivalent to adding the rules for spellcasting and Concentration in a D&D Wizard’s character sheet! This is important information, but you get used to it after a couple of rounds and it doesn’t add any decision points during a combat.

Then, of my 11 combat abilities, two were Free Strikes, that is, stuff that you’re only supposed to use for Opportunity Attacks and the like. Another one was a one-off thing that granted my allies the ability to see invisible creatures; again, it wasn’t something that came into consideration during a regular combat. And lastly, two of my abilities required three or more Essence; since I only generated two Essence per round, they only came up at most every other turn.

On average, I only had to consider around seven abilities per round: two were Triggers, two were Maneuvers, and three were Actions. A regular-ass level 1 D&D Wizard has something like nine spells available at all times! I didn’t have to worry, Sohan only seemed complex because my character sheet was kinda bad…

Once round three came, I was able to run Sohan like any other fantasy caster I had ever ran, except that I didn’t need to worry about running out of spell slots. Which is to say: it was fun as hell.

Since I reliably generated 2 Essence every round, I could think ahead and really plan my next turns. Since you do some damage even if you roll low (and I did that a lot), I never felt like I had wasted a turn. Since I had abilities that teleported my allies, interrupted enemies during their movement, and let me throw my crystal ball at people’s faces, I was able to focus on the action and not on, I don’t know, slots. Since the game gave me dope options, I was just having fun being a freaking Devil that was able to surround himself with explosive fire. And there you go, the four keywords of the game: it was tactical heroic cinematic fantasy.

This is not to say that it was perfect! No, the game is still not finished. For instance, I felt like I wasn’t generating enough Essence to do as much cool stuff as my fellow heroes. But it did confirm to me that the game is going in the right direction and fulfilling its design goals, even if it’s not a game for everyone.

The playtest went on for four hours and it was epic. At some point the Time Raider Conduit was holding on to a ledge with their upper arms when the Tactician was pushed off of the same ledge; using their lower arms, the Time Raider caught the Tactician and held them just long enough that they could climb back to the battlefield. The Shadow took damage on purpose a couple of times so that they could teleport into a more advantageous position. And the Fury must have pushed half a dozen minions off of our floor after making sashimi out of their captains. As for myself, I’m proud of casting Explosive Ward and triggering a few Opportunity Attacks in order to damage and push some nearby enemies.

You might think that four hours is a lot, but we were five heroes and the Director must have run around 40 monsters across the three stories of the building. If my D&D sessions can be considered typical, this was a pretty good time to run so much combat.

After the session

After the session, we had one hour of feedback. Most of our critiques were related to the adventure itself, so it’s not particularly relevant for me to go into that right now. Overall, though, people seemed to like the system! There were some one-off comments about resource generation, ambiguous language, and character creation, but I felt like everyone enjoyed the game.

After relaxing about character complexity, however, I was left with the impression that the system was asking a lot of the Director. Since I wasn’t the one running the session, I can’t be sure if that was because of the adventure or because of the system, so I’ll have to report on that once the Patreon playtest packet is out.

Only time will tell, but I’m super excited for the future of the MCDM RPG. All in all, I think the system has an amazing potential and, if this playtest was any indication, it could very well replace D&D for a lot of people.

And speaking of people, let’s answer those questions I got on Discord. Starting with Koulga, who said “I’d love to hear about the differences in Heroic Resources between classes, and how that affects the vibe/feel for those classes”.

Well, I haven’t played any other class besides the Elementalist, but I could see that the Resource of each class really impacted how it felt. Shadows, for instance, get Insight by attacking with Edges, so this incentivizes them pretty heavily to get into advantageous positions. On the other end of the spectrum, the Fury rolls for Rage at the start of the round, so their biggest tactical decision is whether to use or keep it.

The next question was from Mandored, who said “I would really like an in-depth dive into the mouth feel of whatever class it is you playtested as.” I hope this whole segment of the podcast works as my answer, but the gist of the Elementalist for me was: predictable Resource generation and persistent spells made Sohan feel like the most consistent of the heroes, like the only dude who was able to keep their cool during combat. But again, I rolled like ass, so someone else might feel differently.

Bella’s comment was “personally I’d love a look on how you feel about character creation”. As I’ve mentioned a few minutes ago, I found Inciting Incidents to be the highlight of character creation. Culture feels a bit lukewarm to me, but that is super personal; another playtester even noted how cool they thought the whole process was. Generally speaking, I think layout and wording can have a big impact on this aspect of an RPG, so I reserve the right to change my mind once the finished game is out.

MeatShield wanted to know about the actual experience of the game, besides the “on paper” side, and I think I mostly answer that with my playtest report. They also had two specific questions: “on a scale from 5E Champion Fighter to 5E Wizard, how mentally taxing is it to play during combat?” and “does it feel like the martial/caster divide will be a problem in this game too?” Playing the level 1 Elementalist felt close to playing a 5e Wizard at level 2, maybe 3, but without having to understand what spell slots are. As for a martial/caster divide, I think this won’t be a problem because they are specifically trying to bring martials up to speed with the casters. The Fury and the Tactician felt as tactical and heroic as the rest of us in the playtest.

Lastly, Zenward asks “How does it feel to face off against Squinions?” Similar to fighting against Flee, Mortals! minions in that they are easy to kill but can mess you up in large numbers. The only big difference is that their captains give them special abilities, so you have to be more strategic with regards to who you’re going to attack first: minions or captains.

Before I leave you with the outro, I just wanted to thank everyone who sent me their questions and all of the fine folks at the MCDM Discord. Y’all are really a great community. A special thanks to the people who playtested with me and contributed to having such a great time. It was really awesome playing with you guys.

Outro

And that’s it for today, folks. I hope you guys enjoyed the episode and the topics I chose this time.

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See you all next time… Thank you very much and goodbye!