Survey Data



I just wanted to share some of the data collected from the /5 and Maneuver playtests.

Did this playtest improve your game experience?

Average response: 3.72 out of 5, indicating improved


Should some form of this playtest be added to the core NERO rules?

Average response: 4.1 out of 5, indicating strong yes.


Do people find lower numbers easier to process?

Average response: 4.5 out of 5, indicating “much easier”



How did single digit numbers impact unintentional cheating via miscalculation?

Average response: 1.77 out of 5, indicating unintentional cheating was greatly decreased


Does this math make the game more or less attractive to new players?

Average response: 4.63 out of 5, indicating that it makes the game much more attractive to new players.




-Bigger numbers scare people away, even if the ratios are the same as the smaller numbers. Also, it is easier to add/subtract small numbers than big numbers at speed.

-When any game required a lot of math work just to play, people will feel intimidated by the system. It’s the very reason why I haven’t brought my wife to NERO, as she would only play occasionally and the rules would completely frighten her.

-Those with ‘less sword’ skills have the perception of being able to stand toe to to e with ‘the big guys’.

-[NPC RESPONSE] When I wasn’t fighting large numbers of PC’s the low numbers definitely helped make things easier to process.

-Perception of competence/effectiveness. Also, the way the numbers round on the low end, lower level people get a bump up in effectiveness. Coupled with perceptions of effectivness, they feel “shoulder to shoulder” with higher level characters more.

-When a player first starts off, they more or less feel like they are not impacting anything happening plot wise. Yes there are low level mods, but, people want to be heroes (or villains) and in a big way like the epic heroes and villains they have grown up reading. Not adventuring to kill bears in the wood, they want to do something that involves them affecting some sort of story somewhere. Tolkien, Martin, Butcher, Sanderson, Salvatore, Greenwood all of these major authors have produced characters and villains that are timeless ( and lets not even get into Marvel DC). You get the point. If someone has no LARP background they are most likely going to cite books by these authors that they have read, or seen a movie of, thinking that they are going to be like the characters in these stories. The /5 play test is a way to bring those huge confrontations we have seen or read down a lot of notches and standardize them making it so that the 2 or 3 points of damage a person will be stuck on while leveling a character far more effective against a villain. The Maneuver test is the perfect supplement to this by making that in between time to higher damage A LOT more fun. In fact, you could introduce this play test right now with the current system of damage by tweaking the bonuses from some of the maneuvers so that it is congruent to the damage scale now and you would be impacting low to mid level players in a huge way. Hell, even if you didn’t, imagine a fighter swinging 3’s, his or her second or third event and being able to call 8’s on something after using the Warrior’s dare maneuver because they have managed to pick up some crits in the current build system. This sort of stuff is exactly where NERO International should be going.

-New players have much to compete with on the field of battle amongst seasoned veterans. Big NPCs take a good amount of damage, and while employing slash five I got the feeling that I contributed more to the battle calling twos rather than the eights I would normally call, sans-slash five. If you do the math – an NPC with 65 body would take nine hits (not counting spell protectives and innert abilities and all that extra crap) when I’m calling eights. That same NPC under the slash five rule is only going to take seven hits to go down while I’m calling twos.



Did the game math involve more or less rounding / guessing?

Average Response: 4.36 out of 5, indicating much less rounding/guessing was needed.



Other Comments?

-The best thing I heard during the playtest mod was “slash 5 makes Celestial beast!”. Part of the point, glad to see it shine through.

-None other than I want to see more playtests with slash five with maneuvers!






Did this playtest improve your game experience?

Average Response: 3.8 out of 5, indicating improvement



Should some form of this playtest be added to the core NERO rules?

Average Response: 4.6 out of 5, indicating a strong yes


The lowest scoring maneuvers were Free Ally and Weapon Master’s Stance, both rated at 2.5 out of 5.




-Neat change, adds some verstility to fighters without invalidating any existing character builds. Not a “game changer” more of “neat flavor”. I liked it.

-I really enjoyed the critical attack mechanic.

-I really enjoyed the play test would love to have an entire event dedicated to testing it along side the slash 5.


Dan, what’s going on with these playtests?

I dunno.

Leave a comment

Slash Five / Maneuver Debut!

Several Slash5/Maneuver playtest modules were run this weekend at NERO Ravenholt. Got some great feedback! I’m still collecting data, but I thought you guys might be interested to hear some quick notes.

I just want to take a moment to thank the Ravenholt players that tried it out. There was some grumbling at first, but people approached it with an open mind and gave me their honest feedback.

The general impression was strongly positive. Ravenholt has a lot of level 35+ characters and a much smaller number of characters in levels 1-20. Recruiting new blood is hard here, because new players are so far below the average power level. Most plot is aimed at the average Ravenholt level, which I think is in the upper 20s. So I was pleased that we could bring the full level range on a combat module without the low level group feeling overwhelmed or the high level group feeling underwhelmed.


Here were the two modules that used the playtests:

Slash Five (standing alone) — one of Ravenholt’s staff members ran a module using the slash five playtest. I was not there to see it, but I talked to people that went on it. The feedback ranged from feeling neutral (it didn’t change anything) to strongly positive.

Slash Five + Maneuvers — I ran a module that used both playtests. We had roughly 35 players involved.

Backstory: the players were asked to help research a magical anomaly in a nearby region where the Great Celestial Cycle is in flux and things are not behaving as they normally do. My hook character (A scholar of Helevorn, the great Quentari library) had some research on how people behave when they’re in that area (ie, the playtest notes). I left the playtest notes in the back of the tavern with some paper, so people could draft out how their build would be spent under this playtest. On Sunday, I brought everybody out to the battlefield.

We divided the 35 players into two groups – a higher level group and a lower level group. Each group had a magical device (a gem) which was said to record the magical energy patterns in the area. The devices were not allowed to get within 50 feet of each other until the last wave of monsters (forcing the groups to stay separate, thereby making it easier for our NPCs to challenge each group). So the players were there, in-game, to collect data for the Black Tower of Helevorn. The new maneuvers were explained as the memories of ancient heroes who had died on that site in a previous era. By hanging out in that area, the spirits of these heroes aid you in battle.

Then the group of 6 NPCs attacked each group in turn. We started with 5 body, swinging 1s, and got a little tougher after each wave. We gave monsters a variety of maneuvers so we could test them out. As the module went on, we also drafted some of the players to join the monster side so players could be on the receiving end of archery, celestial magic, and earth support.

Finally, after each group had faced about 8 waves of monsters, we combined the groups into one, and attacked them with tough monster stats. The top stats we used were monsters swinging 5s, with 35 body, two Return Magics, and two slays. Each monster had a full set of maneuvers to call upon.

The Cons:

– Learning curve – people were not yet used to the new numbers, so there was some confusion / frustration  there. One person pointed out that it felt like the month after NERO implemented numbers after spell incants (you didn’t always have to say “20” after a flame bolt) – everybody was confused at first, there was some frustration and resistance to change, but people eventually got the hang of it. But not everybody “got it” instantly.

– One complaint was that it made new characters too effective – a few high level characters didn’t like that a brand new character can pick up a +1 weapon and compete in a high level module or encounter.

– Stance duration was an issue – if you activate a melee stance, it lasts until the battle ends, which the rules define as “line of sight” (meaning the battle’s over when you don’t see any combat for 10 seconds). However, in practice, this means your stance only lasts for one wave of monsters. The intent is that it could be active for an entire wave battle or module.

– Some people felt the call “weapon strike” was too long and is too easily confused with “physical strike” or “spell strike”. We are interested in suggestions for other words, the shorter the better!

– The cost of maneuvers may be too high, still collecting data on that.

The Neutral:

– Some people reported “lower math makes *everybody* feel more deadly.” One player said, “As a high level fighter, I used to be able to ignore a monster swinging 2s. But now even goblins have a shot at dropping me. Game feels scary again!”

– Some suggested this playtest puts a little bit more emphasis on real fighting skill (as opposed to character skill).

– Skilled Block was probably the most popular maneuver. A fighter with five available Critical Attacks and Skilled Block can take five more hits than a fighter without it… but is still dropped quickly by a Slay.

The Pros:

– People reported the math WAS much easier to process. Nobody was in a situation where they had 42 body and 12 armor and got hit with a 17… under slash five it’s more like 8 body, 2 armor, and getting hit with a 3. Much clearer!

– Nobody said the math was harder than current NERO math.

– People said it still felt like NERO. Even people that didn’t think the lower math was a benefit said that overall, they still felt as powerful as they did under regular NERO.

– People said it made celestial casters feel more powerful, though I’m still investigating why. Some said it had to do with low level spells being harder to ignore. When you’ve got a ton of body, you tend to brush off the odd magic missile or lightning bolt, but when the numbers are smaller across the board, you pay more attention to them. Still looking for data on this.

– Earth casters said it felt exactly the same, they felt no change in power

– Nobody said they felt LESS effective under this system

– Some really cool teamwork moments. Fighters with the Bodyguard skill would team up with casters and defend them. Players would set up combos with each other, where one player would fumble the monster’s weapon, then his buddy would move in to flank.Warrior’s Dare allowed a lone fighter to approach a group of people more tactically, using the line on the ground to single out a target and prevent the whole group from rushing forward.

– Several people said they were excited that the new skills help them better express their character concept (for example, playing a defender-style fighter vs a slayer-style fighter).

– More level playing field. Low level characters had an easier time competing against tough monsters.



Manevuer Playtest v1.1

The Maneuver Playtest has been updated based on community feedback.

The following changes have been made:

  • Reliable Might is now rolled into maneuvers by default (noted under Critical Attack). Now all weapon-strike maneuvers are active until you hit a target.
  • Melee Stances have been adjusted so as not to reward remaining stationary.
    • Their passive bonus has been decreased.
    • Instead of granting free maneuver abilities, they now give you a bonus to certain maneuvers, if you know them.
    • Added Dueling Stance – which is suited for one sword guy.
    • Added Weapon Master Stance – which encourages you to switch weapon types during combat.
  • Weapon Proficiencies and Backstabs are no longer scaled. We came up with literally dozens of different advancement curves, and I still think that scaled proficiencies are the right way to go — but for now,  we are keeping weapon damage close to where it is in 9th edition by keeping prof costs where they are now.
  • Stealth Attack and Martial Attack have been added as an intermediary stepping stone to buy on your way to the 75-build proficiency or backstab.
    • These cost as much as 3 critical/back attacks (~15 build in-class), and grant +1 vs all opponents for one battle and two free maneuver usages. (these usages must be spent on different maneuvers… if you have 0 or 1 maneuvers, you are not getting all you can out of this skill)
    • These, like Critical Attack and Back Attack, can also be sold towards the cost of a Proficiency or Backstab.
  • Strong-arm now grants 3 critical attacks per day.


The Maneuver Playtest

The latest NERO 9th Edition playtest introduces alternate fighting and stealth skills. In this post, I’ll go over what’s in the playtest and talk about some of the design decisions behind it. The Maneuver playtest is designed to accompany the Slash Five playtest, so — NERO with easier math. Slash Five is not meant to stand alone, it is a platform for playtests to explore different ways of handling fighting and stealth skills. The main issue with using Slash Five in an ongoing campaign (as opposed to testing it in controlled module settings) is that it takes too long to advance. And this is a magnification of a more fundamental issue – that advancement, as a fighter, is already really boring.

The traditional NERO fighting skills are two dimensional. You either buy all the proficiencies you can, or all the slays you can. That’s the only real axis of distinction between fighters. Yes, you can switch up fighting styles, or buy master proficiencies, but let’s face it: your main build decision is profs vs slays. If you wanted magic, you’d be a templar. Rogues have a bit more build space — aside from backstabs and dodges, they can buy fighting skills like a templar, and have cheaper access to alchemy, spells, and a bunch of utility skills. So while you see a lot of “20-magic fighters”, you don’t see as many “40-magic rogues” – after a certain level of damage, people tend to branch out. So we need different ways of handling fighting skills, and their cousins, the stealth skills. More on that later.

Enter Scaled Damage

In the Maneuver playtest, skills that increase your standard weapon damage are scaled in cost. (note: I’ll be discussing build totals from the fighter class perspective) We start with the assumption that +1 damage is worth about 75 build (5 proficiencies). There are two problems with this:

  1. It takes a really long time to save up 75 build
  2. New characters are stuck at base weapon damage until level 7 or 8.

One of the overall goals for the next edition of NERO is to get new players plugged into the core of the game more quickly. To that end, we made the first few weapon proficiencies really cheap. They get more expensive with each purchase. But how high do we want people to climb? How much should people invest in weapon damage? Currently we have set Weapon Proficiency +4 as the tide line – after that, weapon proficiencies are more expensive than 75 build.

Feedback from playtests may suggest recalibration – if melee combatants have become too deadly, we may want to move the 75-build point lower or increase spell damage. But for now, we wanted to address the concerns about slow advancement under Slash Five.

These Aren’t Your Grandpa’s Critical Attacks

We don’t want players to have to save up huge amounts of free build to purchase high cost skills. If you have to save up 75 build at a time, you might end up playing for years without feeling any sense of advancement. To that end, we are expanding the role of critical attacks. You’ll still be buying critical attacks to save up for a weapon proficiency (and back attacks to save up for a backstab). But now you can buy as many as you want, and sell them back to pay for the next damage increase. As it’s calibrated now, the first proficiency costs the same as six critical attacks, then nine, then twelve, and so on.

I know, I know, 9th edition critical attacks are lame and meaningless. A critical attack lets you deal +1 damage versus 1 target for one battle. And in normal NERO scaling, +1 damage isn’t terribly important. If you’re swinging 15 damage, using a crit only brings you to 16. If your opponent has 100 hit points, it takes 7 swings to drop him whether you’re swinging 15s or 16s. But under slash five math, and low numbers in general, a crit is a lot more important. If a crit takes you from 3 to 4 damage, you can drop a 20-body monster two swings faster.

Here’s the fun part: you can also buy Maneuvers, skills that let you spend your critical attacks (or back attacks) in different ways. These are pricey abilities which let you specialize your role in combat. You can focus in offensive, defensive, tactical, or supportive skills. You can pick a signature move or fighting style. Now you can distinguish your melee character from others through skill choices, and are not limited to the two dimensional decision between constant damage and burst damage.

Fighting With Style

Under traditional NERO logic, your character can probably only use one weapon. Weapon Proficiencies are learned for each weapon individually, meaning that unless you’re a fighter (and are learning Master Proficiencies), you will end up being pigeon-holed into one style for your whole adventuring career. But many people think that larp combat is more interesting when fighting styles are more diverse. And most people think that the ability to switch between a sword and a mace may be fun, but it isn’t a huge game advantage. From a plot perspective, there is a lot of pressure to send out only magic long swords, because that’s the only weapon most people can use. (hah, you THOUGHT it would be cool to send out a magic hammer, but did you hear everybody groan? Only a handful of people can even use it!)

Under the Maneuver playtest, all weapon proficiencies work as master proficiencies. The Weapon Master skill is no longer just “the ability to suck with every weapon”. If you’re good with a sword, it’s not going to take years of training to be just as good with a hammer, it only takes as long as learning the blunt weapon skill.

Mad Skills

Let’s take a look at some of the skills in the playtest. The feedback survey we’ve created for this playtest will have space to comment on each skill individually. If some seem too weak or too powerful, we can recalibrate them to taste. Note that only one ability can be used at at time – you can’t stack maneuvers on top of each other.

Stances – Several “stance” skills are designed around specific fighting styles. Generally, using one of these skills will give you a bonus with a certain fighting style as long as you’re standing in one place. This adds another tactical dimension to combat – you can pick a spot on the battlefield that is more dangerous than others. And if you spot a character planting himself in place, you can thwart it by forcing him to move. This is the same logic as the “magic storm” spell. As soon as somebody puts up a magic storm (or a Bane of the Dead cantrip), everybody suddenly becomes more aware of battlefield position. Teamwork becomes more important; some people have to guard the caster, others make room for him to cast. It becomes a group effort to keep the fight near the stationary character. Fighting stances are similar – when an ally is in a stance, you maximize his usefulness by directing enemies towards him, or thwarting them from getting away.

For fighters and templars, stances include a defensive sword & board stance and a deadly two handed weapon stance that can push people around. For rogues, there is a two-weapon stance that lets you share proficiencies in both hands, and a “juggler” stance that lets you throw weapons using your backstab damage (and if you can really juggle, you’ll get the most benefit from this skill). There’s also an Archery stance that pins your opponents in place, and can be activated with a critical attack or a back attack.

Weapon Strikes – Many of the maneuvers use Weapon Strikes – these attacks deliver a status effect but can be blocked by a regular weapon or shield. All PC weapon strikes are of the “physical” type, meaning they can be resolved with a Remove Physical Affliction spell in addition to whatever spell normally cures the effect (Why create a new delivery method? This was a hard decision. We didn’t want to use physical strike because those attacks cannot be blocked, and we didn’t want to give PCs carrier attacks). In general, we’ve tried to create skills which don’t make spell casters redundant.  Here’s a summary:

  • You can spend critical attacks to deliver Weakness, Fumble, Lesser Wither Limb, and Repel (a knockback that cannot be sustained like the spell), or a small damage burst.
  • You can spend back attacks to deliver lesser silence, lesser vertigo, slow your opponent down, or deal a larger damage burst from behind. The Ambush skill gives you a bit more sticking power when your backstab victim turns around to face you, but it’s lost as soon as he lands a hit.

Recovery – The skills Martial Recovery and Subtle Recovery keep you in the game after you’ve used all your critical or back attacks. If you are totally out of attacks, you can rest for one minute to get one of them back. You can do this as many times as you’d like, but only when you’re completely tapped.

Reliable Might – This skill allows you to call your critical weapon strikes in the same manner as a slay. That is, you have to warn your opponent that you’re about to use one, but the attack stays active until you land a hit.

Defensive Skills – A few skills make you better at survival. Crits can be used to purge a physical affliction (Fortitude). Back attacks can be used to escape binding (Escape Artist). In both cases, it takes 60 seconds to free yourself of the effect, so in the heat of combat, you still need to rely on your spell casting allies. Skilled Block is an important maneuver. It lets you spend a critical attack to parry a weapon strike or standard weapon damage. You can’t use this against a slay, assassinate, waylay, or other powerful skills – only regular weapon damage or strikes. Footwork lets you spend a back attack to gain 2 temporary points of dexterity armor.  Free Ally lets you to spend a crit to cut an ally free of physical binding (reminiscent of 8th editions cutting free from entanglement). When there are spiders around, it’s essential to bring that guy!

Tactical skills include Bodyguard and Warrior’s Dare. Bodyguard provides a niche for “guardian” style fighters (that want to make sure their friends do not come to harm). It gives you gives you two “lesser parries” (as per skilled block) that you can only use to defend a friend. Warrior’s Dareis for fighters that crave tactical battlefield control. It lets you draw a line on the ground and discourage an opponent from advancing past it.

“I know you’re out of bullets…”

After using five critical attacks, back attacks, or maneuvers of any kind, a character becomes fatigued and can’t use more until he or she has rested for a few minutes. This is intended to limit the potential for abuse (imagine fighting a guy with 20 lesser parries – unless you slay him or spell him down, YOU GONNA DIE). It also becomes another tactical layer: If you see somebody use five maneuvers, you know they aren’t capable of any more. Even a fighter that knows how to skilled block can be disabled by a weapon strike when he’s fatigued. I liken this to being in a gun fight with six-shooter pistols. If you count your opponent’s bullets, you know when it’s the right time to move.

What’s next?

That concludes this summary of the Maneuver playtest. In short, we hope it makes melee combat much more interesting without adding a ton of new rules people have to memorize. We’ve added almost 25 skills and only one new game keyword (weapon strike). This adds a lot of depth (but not complexity) to NERO combat. The playtest’s rough edges (mainly build costs and skill balance) can be rounded out through feedback gained from online surveys.

If you’re a NERO director that wants to try out Slash Five + Maneuvers, ask interested players to write up a copy of their character under these rules and bring it to the larp weekend. Have a copy of the playtest on hand to help answer questions. When you’re hooking the module, indicate that players will be venturing into an area of Tyrra where the Great Celestial Cycle is in flux (our usual in-game explanation for rules changes). While there, adventurers will fight through a few waves of combat. Start with easy monsters (3 body, swing 1) and gradually grind up to tough ones (20 body, swing 5, lots of maneuvers). It may be useful to separate groups up by level. By watching how tough each wave is, you’ll learn how to scale under slash five math.

I welcome your (constructive) feedback in the comments!


Depth vs Complexity

When attempting to streamline NERO for ease of access, we often hear feedback suggesting that players want the game to be more complex. And I think what they’re talking about is actually depth.

A good game has depth, not complexity.  What’s the difference?

Complex rules require a lot of memorization, mental math, and have tons of difficult exceptions. A complex game has a sharp learning curve, which is a barrier to entry.

Depth, on the other hand, involves the presence of meaningful choices. A deep game has interesting tactics and strategy, and a lot of material to explore.

You can have a deep game without it being overly complex. For example, the board games Go and Othello have very few rules, but extremely deep gameplay. A deep-but-not-complex game provides a lot of style choices and presents a curve of mastery, but is not overwhelming to learn or play.

I agree that we need more depth in NERO, but we also need to take steps to reduce complexity. Every edition of NERO has added complexity — at this point we need to scale it back to remain competitive.

Math difficulty (for those of you counting hits)  is not a factor in depth, only complexity.


Why NERO Needs Slash Five

I’ve been following the discussion about the Slash Five playtest for a few days now. A lot of people seem really excited, others less so. This post addresses the people who aren’t sold on it yet.

A lot of people seem to misunderstand the intent of the playtest – and they dismiss it because they think it’s supposed to be addressing something it’s not, like speed of combat, or fighter/caster balance. It’s just about making the math easier, an issue which some people don’t think is an issue. So today’s post is about Gameplay Complexity, one of those barriers to entry that we tend to ignore.

I enjoy trying out all sorts of LARPs. Including NERO chapters, I think I’ve played about 50 different games at this point. A few hours drive from me, there is a little cluster of LARPs which are based off each other. I think this is because of the “splinter effect” — you love a game, and eventually you hate it, so you drive 15 miles up the road and start your own LARP. (I’m willing to bet 50% of LARPs start this way) So that region has a half dozen games which are derived from each other.

As an outsider, some of their local customs seemed weird to me. At one game, my weapon failed safety check because it didn’t have tape on the grip (which doesn’t bother me because I wear gloves). According to local lore, graphite cores will shatter into a million pieces, and if a splinter get into your blood, you will probably die. I asked if that had ever happened and the safety marshal said “I saw it almost happen last month”. Okay, when in Rome… I had to borrow some grip tape from a player to fix my “broken” weapon. I noted with amusement that one LARP’s mortal issue is another LARPs total non-issue.

That particular community is influenced by MMOs in how their skills work. In one game, certain skills have a 1-5 minute “cooldown” (like World of Warcraft). You are expected to track your skill cooldowns yourself. You can’t use the skill again until enough cooldown time has passed. If you use three of these skills in a row, they expect you to keep track of all three cooldowns during combat. I sure couldn’t do it! I can count seconds pretty accurately when I’m focused on it, but not while I’m hopped up on adrenaline and yelling numbers while swinging a sword. But when I told somebody that I didn’t think I could accurately count cooldowns, they acted like I was missing some kind of basic cognitive skill – “Seriously, you can’t count to 60 seconds?”

I went to one of those games with my plate mail. In that game, if you get hit while wearing armor, you have to quickly perform three math operations.

  1. If you have a point of Durability left in your armor, you must subtract a point.
  2. This lets you apply your armor’s damage resistance to the number you were hit with (reducing it to a minimum of 1).
  3. Then you subtract that number from your remaining hit points.

The director told us, proudly, “It’s the most realistic armor system we’ve seen in a LARP.”

I watched people wrestle with all these complex gameplay mechanics, and I saw what kind of play style it rewarded. Some players were cautious about cheating, so they didn’t wear armor, and they only used their cooldown skills after they were CERTAIN enough time had passed. More competitive players used their skills judiciously — they would use those skills as soon as they had finished cooling down. And if it was dire need, maybe 50 seconds is close enough to 60 seconds that nobody would call them on it. And of course, nobody DID get called on it, because the rule is “do your best” (translation: we know you can’t track this stuff, so just keep the cheating to a level no one will complain about). It seemed like the people who play by the rules were at a significant disadvantage.

“This is really complicated!” I said to a director. “Yeah,” he said, “ehh it’s not for everybody.” I guess that includes me. The game was geographically close enough to me that I would have become a regular player if it wasn’t so overwhelming to keep track of everything.

To me, this was a good lesson that sometimes a game’s problems can only be spotted from outside of it. Nobody in the game saw cooldown time, or three math operations per weapon swing, as an issue. But as an outsider it seemed ludicrously complex. Survivor Bias means that we only get feedback from people who haven’t quit, so the issues that drive people away, or keep them from joining, are somewhat invisible to us. Our impression of the games issues are distorted, so we need to listen to outsiders and new players.

The Math in NERO is one of those invisible issues. Yes, most of us existing NERO players are pretty good at keeping up with the math. But not everybody is. And some people are really bad at it, but still want to play NERO. And more importantly, one of the most common complaints we hear from new or potential players is that it’s too hard to follow all the rules. To this, somebody will reply, “Well they should brush up on their math skills,” or “They’ll get it eventually.” (and what if they don’t?) This is just a way of ignoring the problem.

And meanwhile, we’re losing players to games which are more accessible. Lots of LARPs out there have figured out how to get players plugged into the heart of the game right at their first event. NERO’s math and progression curve mean that you need to be a newbie for a few YEARS before you get to play with the big kids. You have to wait for special newbie modules and can’t meaningfully affect many of the spotlight encounters. That doesn’t strike me as good business sense OR good game design. (but progression speed is a separate issue, another fish to fry on another day)

I was searching the web for feedback about the Slash Five playtest when I found a message board discussing LARP rules. The topic was “When are there too many rules?” One guy said it well: “I’m of the opinion the second your game has to regularly deal with numbers that go into 3 digits, you are officially in ‘too many numbers’ land. Even the NERO players are getting to the point of ‘This is too many fucking numbers, get back to sanity'”. Then he linked to the slash five playtest.

Take note of his phrasing: “Even the NERO players are getting to the point…” Our competitors love to point out that NERO’s numbers are higher and more complex than the numbers in most LARPs. And that’s because our math was never intended to be this high. In early NERO, people swung 1-5 damage and had under 20 hit points. If they had known that the game system would eventually lead to people swinging 17 damage against a monster with 115 hit points (while a nearby caster peppers the monster with 35 damage packets), they wouldn’t have set it up that way. If that player was supposed to kill that monster with seven swings, the same effect could be accomplished with much simpler math: the player could swing 3s and the monster could have 24 hit points and it would be the same exact fight.

Count by 3s until you get to 30. Now count by 17s until you get to 170. Do it now, quickly as you can! One is easier than the other. Maybe you are gifted and they both seem equally difficult to you. But do you want to limit access to the game to ONLY people who are above average at math? Now put yourself in the shoes of somebody trying to recruit new people for his or her game – why would you want to limit your potential customers to only math whizzes? What advantage do the high numbers provide over the low numbers?

I find it dismaying that many people have made up their minds without actually testing the system. Change makes people uncomfortable, I get that, but we have gotten a lot of resistance to the suggestion of even TESTING a new idea. Or worse, people that won’t test it with an open mind – they have already decided they don’t like it and are ready to unleash their poison at first opportunity. How can we collect meaningful feedback from playtest surveys when people test it purely to justify their distaste?

In 2006, the NERO Rules committee met in person. We talked about the many barriers to recruitment which NERO faces, and the ways we are falling behind our competition. Joe Valenti and Noah Mason and I had just returned from Germany, where we played a 3000 person LARP called ConQuest Mythodea — it opened our eyes. The rules in that game are very easy to follow, and as a result, combat actually felt more engaging. We talked about how to grow NERO into a larger game, and we realized that it’s a hard sell right now if you’re not already involved.

On that day, we developed a 5-year plan (okay okay okay, at present it’s looking more like a 10-year plan): first, get rid of the 100+ pages of playtest material, minimizing the amount of reading you need to do before you play. That was the scope for 9th edition. Second, once the table was clear, we’d focus the playtest system on making the game clearer, easier to run, and easier to recruit. Most previous editions of NERO have focused on putting bandaids on tiny game balance issues, and it’s caused the rulebook to grow and grow (both in length and complexity). People who already play under it think it’s fine, but 120 pages of text + 100 pages of playtests was far too much for newcomers. So it’s time to walk it back. (and to be clear, we’re talking about gameplay complexity, not gameplay depth)

It took a long time to get to where we are today, but it’s finally time to start thinking fresh thoughts about NERO. I think the core experience of NERO (and most Fantasy LARPs) is basically this: get together with your friends, talk to an NPC, go into the woods, slay a troll, and open a treasure chest. The question before us is: how can we make that experience as fun and accessible possible? Many of us are jaded, cynical, set in our ways. Maybe changing the game will be a breath of fresh air and get people charged up again. Or maybe not. But it’s worth trying, right? Otherwise we are committing to rigidity, we are refusing to adapt to the demands of the LARP market, and NERO will shrink every year until it simply fades away.


The Slash Five Playtest FAQ

What’s the Slash Five Playtest?

The Slash Five Playtest is a NERO playtest designed to decrease all the numbers in NERO by a factor of five.

The playtest text can be found here.

If you’ve played using this playtest, we want to hear how it went! Fill out a survey here.

Why would you want to do this?

A few reasons—

  1. Immersion. The less you’re thinking about math, the more your head is in our world and the things going on around you.
  2. Less unintentional cheating. Right now, everybody guesses. Most people make pretty good guesses about when they’re supposed to fall down, but it’s still a guess. People who can keep up with the math tend to fall down faster than the people who fudge.  It would be better to have a clear system that everybody can follow.
  3. The game was never designed for this math. When the game started, nobody expected that fighters would eventually be swinging 20s and monsters would have 200+ hit points. Let’s scale it back to math everybody can do.
  4. Math complexity is a barrier to entry. I have seen countless newbies and first-event players look like a deer in headlights when the are attacked by more than one person. We are in some ways deaf to this issue because of survivor bias – anybody that was scared off by the math complexity doesn’t give us feedback, they just stop playing.

Do you think players can’t handle basic math?

I don’t think the level of math in our game is “basic”. I have no shame in saying that even as a veteran NERO player, I have problems keeping up with the math. My character has a lot of hit points and armor and I can take a lot of hits. But how many exactly? Hard to say. When you have over 100 hit points (like many of our NPCs do) and you are getting hit with different numbers and spells at the same time, then our game is less guided by character skill than by what “feels right”. A math reduction would make combat clearer, fairer, and easier to track.

It’s really expensive to increase my damage now!

Yes, this playtest is not in itself intended in itself as a long-term fix. It’s meant to get us thinking about what NERO would be like if the numbers were scaled back. With numbers at this level, we need to think about fighting and stealth skills differently — otherwise it essentially costs 75 build (in-class) to increase your damage through profs or backstabs, which is a long time to wait for one skill.

We are hoping that chapter owners submit playtests which address fighting and stealth skills. We do have one more playtest on the stove, called the Maneuver playtest, which incorporates ideas from several other weapon-skill playtests. As a teaser — Under this playtest, melee oriented characters aren’t just spending build on profs/backstabs, they are also buying critical attacks/back attacks and maneuver skills (which let them use crits/back attacks in different ways). These are aimed at creating fighting-style niches… as you build your character, you will make strategic choices: are you the slayer that focuses on taking down one monster at a time? The guardian that defends your team with his sword and shield? Does your rogue prefer hit-and-run tactics or more a focused strategy? High level characters will have more options at their disposal.

How should scaling change under slash five?

The beauty of a flat /5 division is that the actual number of hits and spells being exchanged should not change too much. Think about it:

  • A monster with 40 hit points takes 4 hits from a guy swinging 10s, or 2 flame bolts (20 damage) to kill.
  • A monster with 8 hit points takes 4 hits from a guy swinging 2s, or 2 flame bolts (4 damage) to kill.

I recommend that event directors ease into scaling. Start with monsters that swing 1 damage, and gradually turn up the difficulty until you find the right balance. For most encounters, monsters that swing 1 or 2 damage should be fine.

A low level monster

Should have between 2 and 5 hit points, and swing 1s

A mid level monster

Should have between 5 and 10 hit points and swing 2s.

A high level monster

Should have over 10 hit points and swing 3-5 damage.

Most monsters, especially those with 10 or more hit points, should also have an elemental weakness (fire, ice, lightning, stone).

This makes it difficult to be low level

NERO was already pretty hard at low level–this doesn’t significantly change that. If a monster is swinging 5 damage (without the slash five playtest), it can drop most characters level 8 or under in just two swings. Just like under 9th edition rules, armor + protective spells are very important to all characters at low levels.

What’s the playtest process / timeline?

The 10th edition playtest policy is posted here. Essentially, chapter owners may submit playtests which address one or more of our 10th edition design goals.

The rough plan is that each playtest will have a six month review period, starting in January 2013. This playtest (Slash Five) has been approved to be used prior to then. Constructive feedback posted on the NERO Forum and submitted via surveys may be incorporated into the version that will be posted in January.

How does Strongarm work in slash five?

Treat it as a weapon proficiency before dividing by five.

This doesn’t do what it’s aiming to do: (slow down combat, rebalance classes, decrease weapon damage, provide new character options… etc) 

The objective of this playtest is just to reduce math complexity, just the degree of difficulty in knowing exactly how much damage you can take or have taken.  Smaller math operations also take less attention, which leads to fewer errors and less unintentional cheating. Try it out!

Right now, the ability to rapidly add 16, 12, 7, 19, 4, and 12 and immediately know the total (or pretend that you do) is necessary to play NERO. We would like to lower that bar of gameplay difficulty without significantly changing the number of hits / spells being exchanged.

This doesn’t change how combat works

Exactly! We wanted this to be a test of NERO at easier math, and didn’t want to confound the discussion by shifting how things are scaled.

Ask yourself this – if you can kill a monster in 4 swings, are you having a better experience if you were saying “16” than if you were saying “3”? Many people argue that they have a better experience when the numbers are easier to follow. They are less likely to be confused, and spend less of their attention on math.

I have not heard a convincing argument that high numbers and complex math result in more fun. But I have heard countless people say that overwhelming game math is the reason they don’t play NERO.

Version Notes

In response to feedback, the Slash Five playtest has been updated in the following ways:

Version 1.2

  • Based on feedback about low level survivability, added +1 body across the board
  • reduced Drae racial disadvantage to -1 body during daytime.

Version 1.3

  • Healing stabilizes before healing is applied. (getting a point of healing while at -1 should restore you to consciousness)
  • Extra weapon proficiences may be sold back for 4 critical attacks. Extra backstabs may be sold back for 4 back attacks.
  • Clarified Protection Aura
  • Clarified Sharpening