I'm GMing a once-weekly lunch hour game for 4 players. We have one new player who has only played Pathfinder. The rest are old-timers, D&D, West End d6, Savage World, Call of Cthulhu, FATE, etc. I’m using "The Red Pit" from the JToE PDF as the intro scenario and am blending into "Vultrues of Shem" as the main story.
A good system hampered by a bloated rulebook.
- Fast - Did char gen in a one hour session. We've gotten through "The Red Pit" in about 3 hours, with a lttle trimming on my side. To my mind, this is a good thing for a combat-centric scenario. Unarmored opponents go down quickly. Armor adds a bit of enjoyable complexity, but since aimed shots only cost two momentum, a good fighter can take them out fairly quickly by attacking weak points.
- Perilous - PCs fear taking damage, but not so much as to paralyse them. The fast recovery of Vigour encourages them to take risks, the threat of Harm keeps them from being over bold. Once they realized they could take a turn to recover vigour, we got some fun pacing as they tag teamed an opponent.
- Simple - My experienced players found it a breeze and my less experienced player grasped it quickly. One player had a hard time believing in "roll under" for about two sessions. I like the balance of Expertise (ability to succeed) vs Focus (ability to critical).The d6 damage mechanic seems complex, but does yield interesting results. Certainly having the custom dice would make it easier.
- Momentum - popular with players. They enjoy making decisions about when and how to spend it. Momentum is a great way for non-combat players to contribute to the fight, or vice-a-versa in social settings. Assistance rule is simple and rewarding. Our barbarian often glowers threateningly when our Shaman makes the main Persuade roll.
- Consistent - Basic rules apply across combat, social, and skill tests. Short but broad skill set.
- Art - High quality and thematic. Doesn’t embarrass me in front of female players.
- Social/Mental Combat - a great idea but I have yet to figure out how to play it out. It may be that Resolve is too high, or that Vigor and Resolve need to be combined into one stat. It doesn't pay for a party to attack a single opponent with both Physical and Mental attacks. Luckily the non-combatants can generate momentum.
- Details - some combat rules are best ignored in large battles. Reach is a cool concept and might play well in a duel, but we ignore it. Ranged rules make ammo counting seem like an essential part of the game, then you realize almost all the weapons have the Volley attribute which nixes the need to count.
- Talents - these are really the meat of char gen. I rely on the players to keep track of what they can do, which is fine, but knowing all the talents for opponents is a burden on the GM, especially given the organization of the book.
- Reactions - Dodge/Parry etc. - not quite sure how this plays out yet. Most of the players have a talent that gives them one free Reaction, when they remember to use it. Some characters choose to take the blows instead of spending Doom, which is fine.
- Balance - The suggested NPC to player ratios are too high in my opinion, but maybe I’m a softie
- Doom has some good uses. Some reviewers complain that the GM amasses a pile of Doom. I did not have that problem, but spent it quickly on taking initiative and dodging. I did try to reduce the NPC dodging as it drew that combat out longer than I wanted. I didn’t hate it, I can see it working OK in most cases.
- Char gen involves creating story elements, which I think is great, but I’d prefer a FATE style pow-wow than the menu of tropes the game provides.
- Magic - haven’t tried it, may not be dangerous enough to really fit into Howard’s world. On the other hand players get cranky if they can’t have a little magic themselves.
- Book is wordy and hard to navigate. Seriously, I think this is a major flaw. Statements are constantly reiterated. Essential information is buried in paragraphs of fluff, or scattered in separate sections and side bars. Charts are broken up with fluff text. This disguises what is, at it's essence, a nice, simple system. What is needed is a per-topic summary with relevant charts in once place. This is so badly needed I think it should be included in the PDF retroactively.
Example - What can I do with my Momentum? Covered in 3 sections, one with a summary chart, the others with fluff text. Why not one or two charts I can hand to my players? How do I heal? Scattered in two or three talent descriptions and buried inside a multi-page section on “Damage and Recovery.” Also a side bar on Fatigue in the Skills and Talents section. Please, a single page could summarize all this information in one place.
- Gazeteer is cute but the “stories” are dull and lacking useful information. I use the Hyboria wiki instead.
- Above also applies the the "Vultures of Shem" scenario and the contents of JTotE scenario book. Maps and pictures are pretty but useless and are on the same page as GM only text, making them hard to share with players. Plot summary and character stats are scattered in sections and never summarized. How hard is it to climb the cliff in Red Pit? Scattered over several pages.
I compare this game favorably to FFG Star Wars, which I believe one of the designers worked on. Lots of the same ideas but with simpler bookkeeping and an eye on the end result.
[4 of 5 Stars!]