I ran a short adventure I wrote for Heroes By Trade on Monday. So far I have run three Level 1 groups through the adventure taking between 3-4 hours each time. The first group was aggressive (might I suggest crazy?) in the spending of their health to power abilities and ended up with one death in the final fight. The other groups had some serious damage taken but both ended up clearing out the adventure with no deaths incurred. The lesson I learned from this is that my monster balance guidelines are pretty solid. The final encounter was supposed to be quite challenging and people that entered into it injured were in extreme danger - exactly as its difficulty rating would suggest. I am really pleased with the system overall and the combat in particular but there are a couple things that I really would like to fix.
The first problem is the way skills work. In DnD people are all allowed to roll their skill checks for various challenges. If you need to recall something with History everybody rolls, same with listening at doors, picking locks, etc. I hate the system of 'everyone at the table roll and take the best result' because it feels utterly ridiculous to have all the characters crowding up to a door to listen just in case somebody rolls particularly highly. In HBT the person with the best check rolls instead. This makes the rolling a little bit simpler and emphasizes talent over luck but it has the problem that if Flavius has a +10 to Tools and Georg has a +11 to Tools then Flavius never gets to roll at all because Georg takes care of every Tools check. I really want to find some clean, easy way that allows people who are fairly skilled to matter even if they aren't quite the best. It does reflect real life in a lot of ways - in a small team having people specialize in different tasks is definitely the best way to go when you know you will encounter a huge variety of situations. Being the second best driver in a four person bank heist team is not so useful.
The other issue is positioning doesn't feel quite impactful enough. People either were in melee range of a given target or not and there wasn't much in the way of other states. Unfortunately in all my tests everyone ignored positioning abilities and went with defensive or damaging abilities instead. This sort of bias in ability choice means that I really lack good data on how I could potentially adjust things. If everyone is crazy and should have been using positional abilities all along I don't want to buff them but if my playtesters intuition on what they should take is correct it seems positioning just isn't important enough. It is a hard thing to determine. I definitely want to get away from the annoying attacks of opportunity that most systems seem to incorporate and let people move around more freely but if I make positioning too simple then a lot of interest goes out of the combats.
Aside from those two problems though everything feels awesome. The next step is to write a new adventure for higher level folks and see how things change with more interesting and flexible enemies and when characters have more selection in terms of abilities. I guess I will do level 10 first and see how it goes. Hopefully my simulators continue to get enemy stats in the correct ballparks.