PAX 15, Games on Demand, Sunday sessions.
I ran #IneptSorcerers "Pax Arcana edition" for a group of visitors. The changes made everything feel much closer to my intended vision. The group's feedback was similar - "we didn't feel inept enough" - but this time only at the end of the session, when I'd stopped making people roll for anything and simply tried teasing story out of them. I think this means I'm on the right track, and I just need to be more forceful about requiring certain spell cards to appear in a chain. This time, I was laying out cards for the players' consideration, and they were pretty okay with this.
I also got to play two other games: Dungeon World run by Jay Loomis, and Catalyst, from Cherry Picked Games. I played a blind paladin who could see justice in DW, and though I had to leave early, I got to end the big bad by tearing off his mask and my blindfold, and pronouncing judgement from my sun-god patron by staring the villain down until he caught fire. The most interesting character at the table was a half-orc-half-elf bard with low Charisma, clearly out of her league trying to sing songs or be charming, but trying anyway for the sake of family. We all had fun working around this character concept with our bonds.
I want to talk more about Catalyst because I expect more people will be familiar with DW. The premise of Catalyst is that 99% of the human race died off when demons came through extradimensional portals and attacked. Plague, paranoia, and demon attacks are the order of the day. While this premise sounded very interesting to me, I wasn't very impressed with the actual mechanics of the game.
Character creation was relatively complex. It felt like it inherited a lot from classic Hero System - lots of primary stats, lots of secondary stats based on division from primary stats, skill levels that depend more on invested ranks than core attributes, separate health and endurance tracks for powering abilities with a specific mechanic for accelerated regeneration when low, and more.
The combat system has an initiative system for determining resolution order, but actions are in theory simultaneous, and actions are pre-declared. Combat was a high-resolution GURPS-style model (actions take only a couple of seconds, there's Attack, Defend, Move, and Interact maneuvers, plus special actions like spellcasting).
The lesson I learned is that effective 1st-level Catalyst characters should specialize. Pick a single vein (a school of spellcasting) and one skill that you're good at, and give the skill 3 ranks. Characters can afford to branch out later on. Players should also understand how defense rolls are made, and plan their actions accordingly.
Overall I love a gritty, low-level survival game where the player characters have an edge but are still at risk, but I think there's ways to streamline and simplify Catalyst's stats and mechanics, and I'd love to see a new edition with such changes. Alternately, GURPS would be a great system fit for the Catalyst setting, and you could port over the veins easily enough.