Version 10 “Alpha’s End” By the Numbers

Version 10, “Alpha’s End,” the newest version of Aes, has finally been released! This has been a long, extended undertaking for us, fraught with delays, but also yielding some very high quality results.

Pages: 389
Faculties: 249
Modifications: 718
Testing time: 15 months

The first major difference: time. Version 10 had the longest development cycle of any single version. In the 15-month span it took us to finish this, we’d completed the first eight versions of Aes!

We’d like to say all of this was testing and refining. Indeed, quite a lot of it was. We wrote entirely new crafting material and went through several versions for each. We added dozens of pages of lore. We radically altered how distance and motion work in the game’s engine. However, there was a distinct delay in development caused by personal life issues during this time. We’re only human, so we’re glad we were able to work through it in the end.

No surprise version 10 was tested at the most conventions of any version before it. This was the first one tested twice at the same convention and the first to be used twice for other annual events in the fall. We doubt it will be the last in this regard. For weekly sessions, we actually paused running Aes in stores for a few months to help focus energy on development. However, even with that pause, there were well over 50 sessions of Aes run using this incarnation. The extended testing cycle meant we caught a lot of typos and the wording for several faculties got tweaked several times to be easier to understand.

The new content is evident in the other numbers. Compare them to the stats of version 9. Fifty-seven new pages and that’s despite cuts! We removed items like charges and serums we felt worked better in expansion material.

As for material added, we had 23 new faculties (a modest gain), but a crazy 232 increase in modifications! This is not shocking given how much crafting we added on: vis tinnabulators, thrumbines, simuloids, capes, and bucklers. With their addition, we now have the fully realized stock of tinnabulators and turngears we wanted for the core book. We also added faculties supporting armor usage and some new tricks for Volition.

And the changes went far beyond more faculties and mods. Lore has been greatly expanded. Taking a recommendation to focus on Laton as the main setting rather than the entire nation of Aeneam, we zoomed in on the capitol city. There’s enough lore and hooks for each sector of Laton that an Invisible Hand can likely think of some clever ideas. Memberships have been implemented, accompanied with lore on several major groups in Aeneam that players can join.

To improve accessibility to new players, character creation has been revamped to flow even better. There are a lot of steps, but that’s because we unpacked each one for maximum clarity. Down the line we might group some of them together, but for now this highly detailed breakdown has tested well with new players. At the end of the book is now a glossary so all the jargon and pronouns are succinctly summarized for quick and easy reference.

We also did one of the first major system changes since version 5 and 6. Motion and distance are no longer measured in exact numbers. Instead, they are listed as relative speeds and proximities. This allows the Invisible Hand to “fudge” things in combat. The main benefit is an explorer caught in the wrong place during combat doesn’t have to wait as long as to come running in if they’re slow. It can be said just a single turn running is enough.

Range is now a set of approximate distances from one another, rather than a carefully calculated sum of meters. This addresses one of our major issues from testing since day 1: the accounting mini-game. Explorers want to play the game and do crazy maneuvers and stunts. Running the math to see if they can run and then attack with the AP they have and then being disappointed if they come up a little short goes contrary to good action. Now the Invisible Hand has greater freedom to handwave it away. (The official term for running an Aes game is “invisible handwaving.”)

The other major change we made relates to an earlier post about the Armor Problem. We’ve dropped the health point / body point system. Now, explorers start with sturdiness from armor. Once their armor breaks, they start taking damage to health. Health is hard to recover (only 10% per respite), so taking HP damage is quite dangerous. That leaves explorers to balance the downsides of taking heavier armor over ensuring they aren’t killed in the field.

What’s next?

Version 10 is the end of the alpha phase for Aes. At 2 years and 4 months, this is longer than we anticipated, but not well outside expectations. It can take RPG’s 5 years or more to see completion.

Our next version will be the beginning of the Beta. This will be noted in the numbering. When we began, we numbered the alpha versions as 0.01A. We later scrapped this in favor of 1.0A, 2.0A, etc. since people were reluctant to play a game with decimal iterations. With version 10, we’re now at 0.10A. The beta will begin at either be 0.1B or 0.2B – we’re still de-beta-ing (ha). We’ll likely refer to them as 1.0B and 2.0B, but the goal is that 10.0B will in fact be version 1.0 of the game – the final release copy.

To get the first beta version ready, we have several long-term tasks. First, talents need to be balanced and revised to match the lore focus on Laton. Second, the Invisible Hand section is going to get an overhaul so we can grow the number of game runners.

Third, and the largest task, we’re going to a broad meta-review of every faculty and mod to evaluate exactly what play styles and combinations are currently at work. We’ve already observed that certain faculties are more popular than others. We have a rough idea of what works as an individual faculty that makes explorers want to use it. Insight into synergy is what we’re missing at this stage. We want to make sure that many common types of explorer behaviors – combat and non-combat – are supported and encouraged in the core book.

These three issues will take time. As we begin work on them, we’re going to resume running games. Our focus is going to be developing a suite of adventures for Laton we can formalize and release to go with the core book down the line. It’ll also let us see what content is most relevant to the setting and what we can move to other planned releases in the future.

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Version 9 “Fully Charged” By the Numbers

Version 10, the end of the alpha stage for Aes, is currently in the final stages of being printed! Before that’s finalized, we wanted to give the summary of how version 9 came to be, as we see it exiting the testing landscape.

  • Pages: 332
  • Faculties: 226
  • Modifications: 486
  • Testing time: 4 months

Looking back at the numbers for version 8, several things are clear. Version 8 was focused on removing content we knew would not be a focus for the core book, such as sand shapers and grit tech. Version 9 focused on moving us closer to beta by adding core content: 34 more pages, 27 new faculties, and 122 new modifications.

On the faculties front, hurled weapons finally got support through specialized faculties. There were also additions made to self-defense and invention.

With crafting, the two biggest additions were charges and thrumbines. Players now had the chance to customize explosives, making a demo man a viable player type. Thrumbine mods allowed for personal vehicle creation, a definite thematic necessity. A new type of hybrid between mods and faculties – habits – were added, finally allowing explorers to customize their animal companions, at least a little bit.

Two major systems implemented with version 9: memories and vending points. Memories had been on the character sheet since it was first drafted. We always knew we wanted a system that players could use to signify special in character knowledge. It also gave us a way to impart more lore about the world from a “first person” perspective, so that players could put themselves into the minds of their explorers more readily. Version 9 saw memories added for each of the four main nations, with Aeneam and Zahnrad being the main focus.

Vending points are a system of special “chits” players can cash in once per game session. We’ve discussed their implementation and relation to the five ideals already.

In terms of testing duration, version 8 to 9 had one of the longest periods to date with 4 solid months and multiple conventions. There were 2 regular sessions a week for much of it, so the total sessions alone were easy above 20. That allowed for robust testing of all the new material and helped identify some bugs.

However, this length of testing time was quickly dwarfed by version 10’s dev cycle. Version 10 featured cuts and additions, but overall sported very different numbers from version 9, as we’ll see in its upcoming “By the Numbers” breakdown. We’re planning to have the print version ready before the end of November, in time for the holiday season and to close out 2017 on a high note!

Version 8 “Tinnabulate Rasa” By the Numbers

This post has been long overdue! Version 8 has been out since April, but a number of technical difficulties have plagued it, preventing us from uploading it to CreateSpace as planned. In the meantime, here are the version’s stats:

  • Pages: 298
  • Faculties: 199
  • Modifications: 364
  • Testing sessions: 6+

As expected, removing content caused a drop in pages from 332 to the current count, a reduction of 34 pages overall. This number is expected to increase, though, as the focus will be more new content in the next version before more cuts to the Expanse are made.

Version 7.5 had 246 faculties, while 8 only has 199. The 47 ones cut were moved to the Expanse and will be used for expansion material. Similarly, 7.5 had 519 mods while 8 has 364. Those 155 mods are now in the Expanse.

Version 8 didn’t only remove content, however. Balms and solvents became playable with this expansion, allowing explorers to heal and damage with chemicals. Aether tinnabulators were also finally implemented, replacing sand shapers. Aether tinnabulators allow for the control of light and introduced needed stealth support. We also did a faculty-by-faculty review, fixing typos and improving wording. This was very helpful for some of the oldest faculties from versions 1 and 2, which were using old verbiage or didn’t explain their mechanics in enough detail.

Sadly, the amount of time since the last post means we’re uncertain how much testing 7.5 had before moving to 8. Version 8 itself came out at HavenCon in late April and has since been at 2 cons and several weekly sessions. We can say that quite a lot of testing did go into it, with aether used several times before release.

Version 9 is planned for release before San Japan – our approximate 1 year anniversary of Aes! Our goal for version 9 is more new content. We already have new and revised talents, a new called shot system, an update to durability, and animal habits done. More faculties and mods are planned, as well.

Version 6 “Unit Cohesion” – By the Numbers

Aes: Brass Revolution Version 6, “Unit Cohesion,” has been created! This version represents an advance on several fronts, but not in obvious ways. Version 6’s name derives from one of the key pieces of new content – units – and the overall effort to tighten the game’s system.

The first major overhaul was new software: this is the first version assembled using InDesign rather than Page Maker. This presented some interesting challenges, such as with the Table of Contents, which InDesign is much less flexible about. Page Maker’s “check this box to include it” was much better for a TOC overall. Sizing images was also initially tricky.

The biggest improvement is that InDesign handles tables natively! This has allowed us to organize much of the content of the book much more consistently. Now instead of reserving tables for faculties and mods with more than one line, we’ve used it for all. This has given version 6 a nice visual consistency.

Here are the vital stats:

  • Pages: 226
  • Faculties: 160
  • Modifications: 294
  • Number of testing sessions before release: 6+

There are only 16 additional pages, the second lowest increase since version 1 became version 2. This is because version 6 focused more on revising what was there more than adding new content. For example, responsive actions have been clarified, as have surprise attacks. Lock picking is now possible.

The new pages were largely from units, locobustions, loot tables for the Invisible Hand, and some new mods for concoctions and range weapons. Balms got a few new mods, making healing potions are now purchasable for explorers. Equalizers also received more mods. Dozens more are written, but time did not allow them to be typed up. Likewise, roughly 40 new faculties have been written, but weren’t typed for this edition.

One thing version 5 had more than any other was testing. There were 3 normal days of testing with the usual players. This testing phase also included two major events: RealmsCon and GamExpo, both 3 days events with multiple game sessions. These two conventions yielded rich and detailed feedback from dozens of participants in Corpus Christi and San Antonio. The testing cycle for version 5 was the most robust to date and revealed a number of cracks and gaps in Aes‘s system – the Metric Steam Engine – that have been patched for version 6. It was this feedback that showed us we needed to solidify what was there rather than focus on content expansion as originally planned.

There are still some new rules that need to be written, such as how fire and floods spread, light sources, and coordinated attacks. These will be added eventually. Now with a better system, content expansion is the right course.

Version 6’s testing cycle began with the Extra Life event on 11/7 and 11/8. It’ll continue until Ikkicon and/or PAX South in January. With a longer cycle (~2 months) than previous versions, this will give time for the creation of new content and its testing. Range weapon mods, haberdashery, and turngears are all priority items. Another item is a short story set in the world of Aes, which has been solicited for an anthology and is due in December.

Version 5 “Arms Race” by the Numbers

Aes: Brass Revolution Version 5, Arms Race, has now premiered! Here’s how it looks:

  • Pages: 210
  • Faculties: 159
  • Modifications: 281
  • Number of testing sessions before release: 6

With 66 new pages of content, this tops version 4’s 50 page jump over version 3. The development cycle for version 5 was longer than version 4, with double the testing sessions, and the increased time and feedback to create content clearly shows.

This version focused more on rules and mods than faculties. The 7 new faculties since version 4 are all maker faculties. These come from the addition of new gear, including all the weapon types.The large bulk of mod development went into melee weapons, since they didn’t have any. General mods which can be applied to any weapon were also added. Range weapons now only have about a fifth of the mods as melee, so they will be the focus in later versions for development.

Most of the page content is from rules more than anything. The seven main playable kindred have been added. A character creation section is now at the front of the book (with image examples) to help new players. In addition to the gear, there are new status effects, the introduction of postures, a new subtype of modifications, and other expansion of the rules.

One of the most requested features is also in version 5: page numbers and a table of contents! These two basic items were left out of prior versions, mainly due to forgetfulness. Now that they’re present, it will make navigating the book a lot easier.

One of the goals of version 5 was to expand what the game featured so it felt more like a functioning game. The lack of kindred and gear were two of the “flags” that made people see it as incomplete. With them present, Aes feels more like a whole game. There are still elements missing (memories, memberships, etc.), but these are less immediately obvious. The last major missing element is the talents system, which we’re hoping to have ready by version 6.

This will likely be the last version compiled on Page Maker. We’ve finally gotten a copy of InDesign we can use, so we’ll be making the transition over for version 6. That should improve our speed and appearance of the manuscripts, since InDesign can handle formats Page Maker can’t.

Looking ahead, our goal with version 6 will be less in the way of adding new rule and play mechanics and more about expanding on what’s possible already. There are about 30-40 new faculty ideas we have in the wings that will get added in, along with more mods for contraptions, concoctions, and evo control. Autonomy needs to be redone to account for the addition of gear. Haberdashery (armor making) and range weapons will be finished off, as well, to try and put the combat elements of the game fully into testing. The one new thing we want to add is Saboteur, a means of adding negative mods to items. It doesn’t require new rules, but adds a very interesting approach that favors spies and stealth builds.

Version 5’s playtest cycle starts with a bang this weekend: RealmsCon (10/2 – 10/4)! Followed by GamExpo shortly after (10/9 – 10/11). The target is for version 6 to be ready for the next major event on the docket: Extra Life’s 24-hour Game Marathon on November 7th!

Version 4 by the Numbers

Version 4 of the alpha has just recently come out. Here’s how it looks by the numbers:

  • Pages: 142
  • Faculties: 152
  • Modifications: 162
  • Number of testing sessions before release: 3

By contrast, the page count for version 1 was 60, version 2 was 74, and version 3 had 92. So that’s the largest increase in page counts since the alpha began.

Version 1 started with roughly 100 faculties and we’ve added half again that quantity since. The end goal is 400 faculties, so at the current pace (3 versions = 50 faculties), it’ll be around version 20 when we reach that goal. Going by the time span (3 versions = 1 month), it’ll take half a year. We’ll be working on accelerating that pace as best we can, though we also suspect it may slow down once the initial rush of ideas starts to lessen.

Version 4 was the second most tested before coming out. Version 2 was created after only a single test session. Version 3 was made after being tested at San Japan for 3 days solid, with multiple game sessions, making it the most extensively tested to date. Currently, version 4 has been played twice since release, but even with a few more sessions, it is unlikely to be as well dissected. The next version to be brought to a con (which is likely to be version 6 or 7), will likely top this. The goal is for the three conventions planned in October, as well as an intended major event in November, to provide a wealth of information.

Version 5’s main focus will be filling in gaps and shoring up what’s there, rather than adding as much new content. For example, you can modify range weapons, but not melee or armor. Weapon types will be defined, since right now they’re purely aesthetic. Rough drafts of lore were introduced, so those need to be fleshed out. Basic rules for vehicles are in version 4, so we’ll add ways to modify them as well as faculties related to driving. There have been many new contraption ideas since they were first conceived of that need to be added. And so on.