Microlite 20, first session review


I wanted to start a new table group with some colleagues and my girlfriend, and none of them have ever gamed before, so I picked the probably smallest system out there that's (not so remotely) related to d20: Microlite20.

The deal with that game is that it basically takes large parts of the SRD and makes them small, plus it adds an OGL levelling mechanic and very simple XP replacement system using encounter levels.

The original game came with just four classes, the original D&D classes, I guess, but there is a very neat downloadable version that adds Druids, Rangers and stuff. So I made each of my noobs a little booklet of the entire ruleset, and added some on the fly house-rules to make the world more convincing (my age-XP system from my PbP here, as well as a really simplified BIT system to get bonus D6s on rolls if you do something according to a belief).

The deal with this system is that its ultra-simplified. There are three stats, Strength, Dex and Mind, which are rolled by the usualy 4D6 method. Well, what we did is we rolled four stats and removed the lowest, to yet improve them.

The class desciptions are all of four lines. (Although as usually, spellcasters get THE BETTER DEAL(tm), because they get spells, AND almost everything else the other classes get). Which is basically BAB and skills, of which there are four, Physical, Subterfuge, Knowledge and Communication. Each skill gets a roll appropriate stat bonus added to it, and they are also used for saves. Every class gets full everything at every level (BAB, 1D6 HP and skills), and only a bonus of three points to one skill at first level. Fighters get some minor combat bonuses, too. Total HPs are quite high for everyone at very low levels, because you add your Strength stat to the rolls for HP, but don't add a CON bonus later.
The are also no rules for magic items, so it started out as character abilities only.

We started at level 4. The noobs wanted to play two rogues and a cleric, and just to prove my theory I made a Mage to back them up.  That well, did prove my theory. Casters OUTSHINE everything else like mad, at least it went that way in that session. The designers had sought to balance castes by making them cast with HPs instead of memorizing or spells per day. That's all good and well, I only cast Lvl 1 spells, and I could cast a fair amount of those - as long as I don't enter combat too readily, as HP costs rise very steeply compared to the HP gain with levels.
Rogues basically get sneak-attack, but ONLY on one attack, there is no flanking, and instead of rolling they add subterfuge. However, to a semi-seasoned min-maxer it immediately becomes apparent that this requires all of one level of the rogue class, and all other are entirely wasted. The cleric player made a real melee cleric with 20Str and a big two-handed hammer for big damage, and that should work out quite well, I think. I immediately noticed that nowhere did it say that I couldn't use all the weapons, so my gnome mage got a longsword and a heavy crossbow to back up his magic.

So I set them all up on a caravan with an evil plot to sell everyone out to slavers or some such. Of course PCs are suspicious, and one of them stayed awake at night, and sure enough, managed to uncover the plot while it was still taking place. However, I was quite miffed early on, because there is no such thing as perception rolls. I ended up ruling Communication + Mind, because that at least makes Clerics good at spotting things.

Combat ensued, and, first of all, my main beef became apparent right away. Rogues sucked for damage, while their +3 to Subterfuge made their stealth rolls really high. But again, they would have gotten all of that with one level. Rounds are one action only, so they had to use one round to hide, then they got one attack for sneak-attack, and basically had to hide again next round. There are no composite bows, so damage on ranged attacks sucked, while melee gets double-STR bonus with two-handed use. I had two enemy rogues sneak up on one of my rogues and the cleric, who miserably missed. They were then spotted, and then a series of all-miss attacks ensued. The cleric first tried hitting peope, but after missing, too, chose to cast Cause Fear at his two guys. Now there is another thing: The saves for spells like that, mind-affecting, Will-save spells, would be Physical + Mind. The bad guy fighters got a +6 on those saves, but the DC to make (and in the case of this game, surpass) is full 10+CL+Mind of the caster. They had to hit over 16 for the cleric, and over 18 for my mage, who cast sleep on two guys. So the casters ended up taking out four of the enemies, while one rogue got none, when they all started hiding on each other, and the other rogue could finish the fifth after a long series of  missed melee attacks. I could also have my Mage go into melee quite comfortably, since he got the same BAB as everybody else and my Str was ok. (As there is no mention of ASF or ACP, I could probably also have him wear a full-plate eventually, with a dip of Fighter. I'm not even sure Mage Armour mentions that it doesn't stack with armour.... hmm.)

Then the bad guys got some reinforcements, and the party fled the caravan, which was where the session ended.

My conclusions:
Class progressions should be PROGRESSIONS, not just one flat bonus at level 1, and never anything else. This makes multiclassing mandatory.

Casters rule, once again, at least at low levels. I'm not sure about later, when all my spells will cost a ton of HP. That kind of makes me think that gishes might be the most effective characters at this game, casting low-level buffs and then hitting things with pointy sticks. Then again, SoDs, like Sleep, were the most effective spells in the game that session.

Stupid rolling at low levels puts a lot of emphasis on random effect. The enemies hit hardly anything, and neither did the PCs. Without fat damage boost wearing down just 25HP with only D8 rolls takes a while.

Second session review, with house-rules:

For the second session, I put together some additions: I added progressions to all non-casters. I also added a set of maneuvers for Rogues (and reintroduced flanking), so that they could Stun, confuse, or do some other minor BFC effect instead of sneak-attacking.
This worked out alright, actually, although the total noobishness of my players is disconcerting at times. The PCs were pursued into a strip of forest, captured and killed a group of rogues tracking them, and then fled towards the next town.

On the way I set them up with another big fight: Six of their former caravan guards, lvl 3 warriors, and their boss, a level 5 Ranger.

Well, first up, Mages can blow basically ALL their HP amazingly quickly on spells - giving invisibility for everyone but the cleric was enough. Rogues still have it hard, due to having to sneak, and the Ranger I brought in was, while dangerous with his composite longbow, basically taken out with a single spell from the Cleric: Spiritual Weapon, which is quite strong in M20. I managed to JUST BARELY have him escape, with about 1 HP left or so :). Now I can have a recurring villain :).
Now from their invisibility the Rogues could open the hostilities with their new and shiny maneuvers, and managed to confuse one guy into attacking his mates, and stun another, IIRC. After that, though, they were pretty much just doing normal attacks, until they started flanking. They all had pets, who were conveniently positioned to let them do that.
The cleric was a damage powerhouse. In M20 a two-handed weapon adds double Str, of course no power-attack, but still. He only cast bless as a minor buff.
I noticed one major flaw, again: With only either a move or an attack, moving is just a bad choice. But you still have to do it. Charging is really necessary, especially for mounted guys, and it just didn't exist. (I wrote up some new Fighter maneuvers to let fighters at least do that, now.)

Suffice to say, remarkable fun can be had with insta-generated bad guys. This game is SO simple, that you can just make human (or monster) enemies up totally on the fly. No complicated abilities mean you just concentrate on running them with simple tactics, and you're done. Awesome, because now I can finally concentrate on making up the story.

Session 3:
Not much action, lots of roleplay, and the really cautious newbies dominated that session. I introduced a Perception skill, which was used, of course, and we had negotiations counter-subterfuging each other (I got my girlfriend's male character invited to a gay bar, instead of the secret trade market, well...) The system keeps working very well, with few short-comings.


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