After many, many hours of research feedback, three dozen iterations for improvements and over ten days from conception to finish my entry is ready.
Here are my thoughts on it, some of them may be quite meandering and long-winded:
What are first that come to mind regarding Chinese New Year? Color red, carnival, zodiac wheel. Through bit of research I learned more of Lion Dance, of Nian, of tie to lunar calender and of the days of celebration as well. In fact, my first thought was to tie the availability of previous items to lunar cycle - however, it appears that this is the first year this is done. Happy Chinese New Year, Adventure Quest!
Regarding the Chinese Zodiac: It is big, and paying due attention to all members with a single item is something I would like to call impossible - but few suggestions certainly try their best to challenge that notion. Year of the Goat is much easier, both in the literal and attributed sense - artistic, agile, stubborn, warm, providing, ramming...It practically writes itself!
Or, as I think of it, designing what people would want to use. Because, for example, an accurate defensive ice/earth armour when we already have so many earth armours isn't my prime idea, even if ice defensive armour is missing - it'd have to succeed only on the basis of it's effect while conflicting 10 other earth armours even for the build it is suitable for.
Thus, bottom-up consideration: What would be useful and non-conflicting to all?
First of all, anything elemental is only usable between 1/8 (single-element weapon) to perhaps 5/8 of the time (armor with perfectly aligned resistances for armor-element skill with EleComp to cost), with 4/8 being about the current best with dual compression.
Given the universal utility of pets and miscs - especially some in particular - I'm lead to the idea of double lives. From this was born the idea of Carnival, although the initial plan was based on 9th day. However, as it was both beyond 4th day and paid attention to only single day it had to be changed, thematically.
Chinese New Year is for everyone
Or alternatively, hiding in sugarcane plantation / dancing in carnival is a pure/defensive build weapon primarily for those with too much room in inventory.
That said, defensive options unfortunately aren't very popular, so this option definitely had limited demographic even ignoring the pure dynamic.
For offensive lovers, however, tradition of sending off red letters fit into pre-existing dynamic very neatly, especially with their known love of LUK and it being both a good luck charm and immediate payoff.
And for beast builds who do not care for player but care for room, the Nian was born. It's elemental alignment to Water or Earth and lack of Water options makes it for a perfect pick, too.
Well, not quite for everyone - a level 130 player will be out of luck, since they'll be looking at guest 20 levels below, an infusion that doesn't do anything and a status that only works half the time.
However, thematically the options were good, great and good fit. Nian's biggest problem, really, is how he is easy to scare off - thematically sensible, but makes him to be somewhat less than optimal. Meanwhile, Red Letter forces the odd tiering, for beginning with even number brings luck.
Working out Numbers
It gives status toggle, guest that disables pet and infusion. Scalar thus guest+pet+skill+misc - 2,25 total. MC for *1,1, /2 for GGB item.
Admittedly, past options like Damnation spell or Paradox Plate which enable usage of another piece of equipment in place of missing one do not get scalar increase for that, nor do toggles - which Carnival works as, for it doesn't provide any equipment, either. However, went with conservative option here.
The gold price for Red Letter was directly based off Lucretia's Regenerative Spitzer. However, for level 150G used "MPlevel" or "Gcost level", if you will, of 152 to get even starting number.
Costs and benefit
For Carnival, there were numerous options to use: For starters, Celerity pays nothing for ability to use offensive then defensive armor.
At the same time, Paralysis is listed by standard as 1,6.
The flat-out difference is worth 0,45 turns, perhaps - but spending 2,2* to be able to manage to fit that in same space just to break even is too harsh, that is close to 8 level penalty for no benefit.
In the end, I went for the difference between paralysis and celerity standard - 0,2 - for it synchs up nicely with player's SP regeneration being worth that much.
For Red Letter, the infusion cost typically, as in the Regenerative Spitzer this was based on, merited 150% boost, or 1,5 turns. However, up until about level 120 LUK isn't filled out for pure builds - so the lucky strike is worth less. Due this, initiative boost became very large - after all, guaranteed start is only about 0,5 turns. In the end left it as it is as to not clash with Ambush infusion too much.
And well, for those who get more LUK early...Not only do they pay for it during the rest of the time initiative boost is worth less for them too.
For Nian, thematically, snacking on player makes sense. Practically, auto-hit and Virtual stat is a must so that defensive equipment well-suited for BM wouldn't be even more suited and so that players wouldn't be punished for having more CHA than expected.
Thematically, fleeing from fire and light is strong part of Nian. How much is that worth? Going by what I've heard from others players on new elemental compensations, you're supposed to face monster with different worst element than opposite their base element 25% of the time. Judging by Mighty Morphin Golem Strangers, allied elements should be primary occurrences of this - here at half the time. Thus 1/8 of the time, player is out of Nian - the penalty corresponds quite closely with off-element penalty too, so replacement isn't a big problem. Since this is the opposite of a trigger, it gets half the boost.
For both thematic and similar reasons, Nian snacks on player harder than one would expect from a downtrigger for eating humans (side note: Like light undead, how many non-fire or non-light humans do we have that are weak to water? Not only are pirates strong against it they often use fire attacks as well. Older Ninjas, meanwhile, have fire/ice attacks).
Nian: doesn't scale like standard guest - thus this beast doesn't require any additional penalty.
Carnival: Like standard DeltaLevel, it worsens past the 8th level, so that after 12 levels it is only at half the efficiency(well, 52% - 4% is prettier) - at which point it begs the question of using.
Red Letter: The price for infusion increases by 11% (significantly less at low levels) per level. So to bring it into the line with other ones, the boost provided must weaken by the difference per level, with no resting period. Conveniently, this means that initiative-heavy options scale for about 12 levels like Carnival. Inconveniently, LUK-heavy options scale for only few levels, thus the reduction of Lucky strikes bonus on penultimate and near-ultimate tiers so it can still get that much scaling.
Thanks to help
I've gotten feedback and thoughts from many players on this. However, few stand out above the rest.
......Numerous compliments on the idea may not be direct improvements, but they are inspiring to chisel the concept nevertheless.
......Excellent discussions on how thematic this is and resulting balance considerations
AQ staff, Encyclopedia posters, ArchKnights like Kaelin:
......It may be true that good idea can largely be summed up in a single sentence that contains why they're good. In that way, numbers are chaff. But they are not pointless chaff for suggestions, for they let one know if their idea is workable - and whether there is a point in it compared to what exists already or could alternatively be suggested.
......Thematic considerations and choices for picks with Nian and Carnival details.
rmc,ss2195, Bu Kek Siansu:
......Sane balance considerations not directly on this item, but related.
SenrasWolf, Captain Bob, poopbum:
......Typos, wording issues.
And pretty much everyone:
......On catching confusing wordings.
Post Scriptum: My own favourites
(Excluding my own entry, of course :p)
Ogma's entry with all the "fill in the blank" was quite amusing to read, even if Spring one of the four seasons is the one closest to festival.
Aura Knight's 12-toggle staff is probably the most reasonable option for incorporating whole zodiac with distinct expressions for each beast, from art/coding perspective anyway.
Rafiq's ice spear, for it has strongest 'pure power'.
Lot of people submitted armors. I'm going to say ss2195's monk is most thematic, even if it is hardly the most usable compared to likes of Bu Kek's The God of Wealth or Nick.dant's Shenlong.
< Message edited by Luster Bladewarrior -- 2/22/2015 4:15:57 >