Tuesday, 21 September 2021

The Three “I”s

Doing some work on DEADLINE! Check the tag if you’re not up to speed on this one.

A big goal of this design is easy onboarding regardless of experience. Zero-or-thereabouts “RPG jargon”, a cool framing that makes people want to GM and makes the GM’s role clear and easy, making “play culture” explicit through text, etc.

Coming round to player actions - I want to codify these in some way, for said onboarding, but codification is the death of the playstyle. Once you name something or list options, readers get tunnel vision and the breadth of play available in a game run on imagination can be easily forgotten. Even the humble attack roll is often a step too far for me these days tbh.

So, how to structure play in a way that makes it digestible but not limited? Procedures are an answer - I’ve sung Errant’s praises in this regard before. How to do it but never what to do.

Here’s a play procedure I’m tinkering with for DEADLINE, early stages. (You may see some familiar language from GRAVEROBBERS. I know what I like!)

The main thing this misses I feel is delineating LIFELINE as the primary structure of play, but I’m sure I’ll find a balance once it’s all put in context


If there is no meaningful obstacle or danger preventing the Agent from following an order, they do so and the action is successful. The Agent describes the outcome, and the game continues.

If there is an obstacle preventing success or significant danger involved, the action succeeds only if the Operators direct the Agent to use an Item, some Information or their own Instinct.

The Operators must select from the options available to the Agent, or else plan another course of action.

πŸ‘️‍πŸ—¨️ Item. Any object in the Agent’s control that renders the task at hand achievable. This could be a gadget or anything the Agent obtains while on a mission. Find items and use them creatively.

You could take out a guard with a sleeping dart or distract them with an explosion.

πŸ‘️‍πŸ—¨️ Information. Knowledge that negates danger or obstacles. This could be intelligence about an individual or some other secret that precludes harm. Gather information and act on it.

One might bypass a guard with a password or avoid them by learning their schedule.

πŸ‘️‍πŸ—¨️ Instinct. Allowing the Agent to act without direct command. Agents can take care of themselves in a pinch, but acting without an Operator’s careful supervision can have unforeseen consequences. Select a relevant Skill from the Agent’s profile. Roll a die and advance the DOOMSDAY clock by the result.

Simply knock out a guard with Defence, charm them with Bluff or sneak past with Stealth.

Monday, 20 September 2021

Frames and Chains

 More notes on That Game! Last one for a while as I work on other bits,  but stay tuned.

Where we left last time we had an idea for the overall “”narrative”” framing of the campaign - fairy rescue mission - and something beginning to resemble a mechanical framing. Players leave Avalon, enter… somewhere, do Combat. Then exit the way they came, and repeat. It’s the town-dungeon-initiative trifecta.

Today, let’s have a crack at that “somewhere”, and see what other ideas might coalesce because of it!

I’m going back to some old notes for this. This is the idea for a frame I had, oh, two iterations of this combat system ago.

I was leaning away from it and trying to find something new because it doesn’t quite fit the image of the game I’d had in my head, but I couldn’t come up with anything quite as easily digestible (as I’ve said before in this little series of posts, mechanics that are good but not easy to grok are, in fact, not good).

So, we’re going to do the opposite of what we did last post, basically - change the ~lore~ to better fit this mechanic, rather than coming up with a new mechanic that better fits our currently established lore.

The mechanic in question is very much a case of me writing what I know - it’s an encounter table with a modifier that slowly ramps up, similar to things I’ve done before.


roll 1d6 on a table of encounters. Do the encounter you roll - could be a treasure chest, a trap, or of course a Combat. Once you’ve done the encounter, add 1 to your overall “score” (call it “progress”? Or just “delve” or something? Idk). Roll, again, adding your current score. Repeat.

There will be 9 encounters on the table at first with no. 9 being the “boss”, so you’ll definitely have a few non-boss encounters before rolling that combat.

A couple of caveats:

- rolling a “unique” encounter again (i.e., a chest you’ve already emptied, a foe you’ve already slain) means you slide back down the table until you get to an encounter you haven’t done yet OR a non-unique, repeatable encounter (the same grove of mushrooms could be found over and over, f’rinstance.)

- bosses block progress. Rolling over a boss’ number means you slide back down the table to the boss - until you beat it, then you can roll higher and continue.

Oh, and you can choose to go to a numbered encounter you’ve already done at any time if it’s lower than your “score”. So you can go back and find that mushroom grotto because now you’ve explored enough to know exactly where it is.

It’s incredibly simple! But I think it needs to be. At least for me, i can only keep track of so many things at once lol

Drew Duncan

So how and why are we amending the fiction to suit this new exploration mechanic?

Well, the initial idea I’d had was a vast, forested wilderness reclaimed by nature. The fights would be in ruined castles holding out against the tide of entropy, their lords clinging to life through misplaced chivalric will.

I’d wanted a map that could be freely explored, basically. Buuut this mechanic suits a more linear progression. I guess the fiction could make sense if you don’t think hard about it (why can’t you just pass by a castle and go to the next one if you want?) but I’d prefer something that clicks more coherently. Mechanics lining up with flavour and “just kinda making sense” is a hugely powerful tool in onboarding and teaching players.

So now it’s a megadungeon! The bosses guard the stairs to the next floor down, that’s why you face them in order and can’t pass one until you’ve defeated it.

(And geez… a linear progression like this will be SO much easier to design than an open world you can tackle in any order… board games are tough)

This thing’s been getting more and more game-y, JRPG flavour and I kinda like it >:)

Drew Duncan

Thoughts about bosses, then? Well I had the idea last post of fairies in cages you could free mid-fight and I kinda like that. Makes me think of the first boss in Persona 5, where there’s a special action you can send someone to do outside of the fight. Taking time out of attacking to try a new, special, optional action is a great decision-making moment I think!

(In P5 you have to do it and the decision is who to send, but here I think the decision is more whether or not to even bother doing it, or just killing the guy and freeing the fairy after.)

So first boss is probably like… the Lord of Chains, and there’s a special action while you’re fighting him to like… turn a crank to lower a cage until you can free the fairy. But if it gets to his turn and he sees the cage lowered he’ll just yank it back up and you have to start again. Can you do X amount of heavy actions on your turn? Or should you just fight the guy?

It’s a rough idea but there’s something there. The point is that after all this noodling about lore and whatever, I now have goals to work towards with the mechanical design. Instead of just messing with the rondel system to see what can be done, I have a character to try and bring to life with it. That’ll be fun!

I’m also thinking the next boss after that is where you get the bow maybe, and you can hide behind pillars to avoid being shot by him but you have to come out to actually hit him… and the fairy cage is out in the open so you’re a sitting duck while you’re trying to free her?

(And then the fairies you free… Maybe the first is a Tinker? I don’t think we’ll be doing weapon HP after all, if nothing else it’s just annoying to track another number, but maybe she can upgrade weapons? And the second maybe gives you an “elfshot” power to your bow, that’s nice and thematic.)

Just sketches of ideas, but if I’m having all these ideas already then I think this frame is a good shout overall!

So, we’ve got our three modes of play - Avalon, Bdungeon, Combat.

Looks like a good frame to start thinking about some campaign content! I’m going to get to work tinkering on the first level, those first 9 encounters and the boss.

As I’ve said I might not be posting as frequently as I have about this project going forward, but there will still be updates - and even if this ends up just being a thing i make for me, I’ll cobble something together so that you’ll all be able to play it too once it’s done :)

Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Fairies and the Campaign Frame

 The Arthurian-ish game continues. (Thanks for all the feedback last post! How did that playtest battle work out for you?)

Also - green Knight UK release confirmed! Finally! 😭 I’ll be seeing it with friends at the end of the month. Hopefully by then I’ll find a better tag for this game lol

btw I’m pretty busy with Journeylands and other projects right now so I’m going to take a break on this one - or at least take development a bit slower, workshop it some more. So posts about it will be a bit more irregular, but like all my projects it’s still going on in the background!


In this post I want to examine trying to reverse-engineer mechanics and gameplay stuff out of lore a bit more clearly. This has been a mechanics-first project in terms of the process of coming up with the game itself (I think all the best games are tbh!).

So far our “Influences” list has been useful mainly in divining the direction of these mechanical decisions. We haven’t really added any mechanics to the game entirely based on the flavour, it’s either been the other way round or a mish-mash workaround of both, and I think going flavour-first can be a valuable option.

The resulting mechanic will, hopefully, be a crucial part of defining the game’s feel, because it comes out of a purely theoretical space.

Not sure I’m making a lot of sense? And at the end of the day, this sort of thing doesn’t matter too much. Really it’s just a frame to talk about my most recent development notes.

Basically, I decided I wanted fairies in the game.

Creative decisions are nebulous things and there were a ton of factors, but the main ~lore~ tendrils leading me to this were

- I was thinking up what the standard healing item could be. Potion was my first thought and for good reason, but before I committed to it I wanted to consider other options. I thought “fairy dust” or similar would be a good item for that, or in general. Berserk has Puck the fairy companion for our grim knight, that’s a nice image from our Influences list.

- both Dark Cloud and Dark Souls have “repair powder” as items, and they’re both in the list. Though I’m still unsure about using weapon HP/breakage as a thing here, it got me thinking about including different “powder” or “dust” items with different effects. That could be the standard unit of consumable magic-thing

- Dust > fairy/pixie dust. And I’ve already got Morgan le Fay in the lore through the Morgen’s Favour item. Going back to the time in myth when elves and fairies and witches and ghosts were all kind of the same thing is a good fit for this project. So if she’s a fairy, or implied to be…

- A big commons thread in the Brythonic mythology on our Influences list is the idea of nine sorceresses - or witches, or sirens, or elves, or magic priestesses. Or, Morgan le Fay and her sisters. Blending all that up into some lore juice seems good to me.

- So, there are nine witches/fairies. We already know you’re the knight of one of them. What about the others?

it’s puck

My current train of thought is that Morgen’s sisters have been captured and that’s what you’re doing on this quest in the first place. I imagine fairies/elves/witches can’t die, so they’re just being held captive in these castles by these knights who are using their power or whatnot.

(This is… kind of a damsel in distress narrative, which I’m not keen on. It fits the tone I guess. Hopefully we can mitigate that through some other creative decisions. For one thing, there’s nothing saying the player character and the evil knights aren’t also women. And not all the fairies need to be women either. We’ll do our best to give the fairies agency in the narrative through mechanics, too. Maybe there’s an action to free each fairy mid-battle instead of rescuing them at the end, and they join the fight? Idk. Just something to think about going forward.)

Your progress in the campaign can be marked by freeing these fairies by defeating their captors in duels, then maybe a 9th “secret” boss battle. Each freed fairy would unlock something - which brings us to the mechanics again.

See, I’ve been going back and forth on what would constitute a good “campaign frame” for this duel system. There needs to be more game around the battles - whether that’s something as simple as an encounter roll/meter, a whole choose-your-own-adventure style branching narrative, or something else… I’m not entirely sure yet.

(I do know that I don’t want to write a whole book lol. And I reckon the frame should be as simple to grasp - and take up as little space on the table and in the player’s head - as the battle system itself. Or less.)

But I do think that an overall “progress sheet” is not too much to ask. I’m envisioning three layers to the game - the duels, something in the middle, and a kind of bookend “safe zone”. This is where you’d return between “missions” to tick off objectives, store items you weren’t using. Call it Avalon, or one of the many other mystic isles of the otherworld. This structure mirrors the zooming in and out through town>dungeon>combat in standard RPGs, and I really like games that use this structure. (Put things in your game that you have fun playing in other games! Good rule of thumb!)

So on your “Avalon” sheet, you can note down the fairies you’ve freed so far. And each one can unlock an ability that you can use when you go back there between excursions. Building up your “home town” through dungeon progress is something I love in games - including Dark Cloud, which is on our Influences list, so this is all fair game for inclusion!

Let’s say that Morgen, presumably already “unlocked”, heals you completely when you return to base - the kind of ability I think you should have from the start, so let’s tie it to her.

Other fairies could supply you with items - the dust! - or give other buffs. Maybe one can craft you items if you bring back the right ingredients. We can go nuts with these. Maybe some of the fairies can go with you as companions, taking up an item slot and offering a passive buff or special action. One could repair items, if we do indeed take that treacherous path…

This all begs the question of what that middle “level” to the gameplay is - our “dungeon”. Can you rescue these fairies in any order? How do you explore and traverse the world - do you have to “find” them? Or is the game just nine fights in order with loot and a new fairy after each? (That would certainly be easier to write…)

Anyway, I think we can leave all that for next time.

Hopefully this post was useful to some of you! Mainly I wanted to show how the spark of a purely “flavour” idea, adding fairies into the game somehow, led to me starting to create this overall 3-tier structure as well as the main thrust of the “story”, and making all kinds of mechanical decisions around it.

I find posts reverse-engineering the creative process like this can sometimes help me tackle challenges in future, thinking back on things more as a piece of work I did than an idea I had. Ideas are cheap! Work is where it’s at.

Happy gaming! x

Thursday, 26 August 2021

Big Hype x3(+1)

 So as it turns out there are currently three whole RPG Kickstarters running that I don’t just think look good, I don’t just want to back, but are - all three of them - projects I’m seriously excited for.

I’d be backing all of these right now at the highest level… if I had anywhere near that kind of spare change. At the very least I can share them and hope you get excited too.

In no particular order…

Mausritter Box Set

One of the best OSR-or-whatever games out there is getting a shiny new update. The conceit of mice doing adventure is a perfect one in my opinion, but mice or no mice, Mausritter’s rules are some of the absolute best fantasy adventure tools available right now.

This KS will also fund a bunch of new adventures written by such top-tier talent as Diogo Nogueira, Amanda Lee Franck and Nate Treme that can be run standalone or as part of a sandbox setting. And it’s a box set! You get lil cards and sheets and stuff!

This one only has a few days left, so hop on it.

The Herbalist’s Primer

This gorgeously illustrated compendium lists various real-world plants along with their uses and importance to various cultures, including any supposed mystical or mythological properties.

As a lovely little coffee table book I’d already be sold, but the Primer is also primed for use in your games, stuffed full of things like quest hooks, random tables and tools to generate your own fictional flora. There are even exactly d100 existing plants in the book!

A worthy tome for any arsenal.

Picaresque Roman

How much can one game be Specifically My Jam?

I’ve harped on many a time about the brilliant design ideas coming out of Japanese table-talk rpgs, how we need to support anyone sticking their neck out to get them translated and published overseas. And when a game has this level knockout art & production and a great premise? Deal me in.

Players are gangsters competing for underworld influence - yes, this is a PvP game. In fact it looks like it blends a lot of Japan’s favourite tabletop game features: simple rules, d6 based system, easy character creation with a lot of options, one-shot session structure… even social deduction elements. If the end result is as good as it looks - and as that soundtrack sounds - this will be something special.

You’re going to want to check this one out.

Bonus Hype…

there’s going to be a Lupin III rpg!?(?!)

This is celebrating the gang’s 50th anniversary, and the press release includes words like “sandbox” and “the same system as Star Wars d6”. I’m somewhat gobsmacked tbh.

More news in October apparently, so stay tuned.

EDIT 30 seconds after posting this: lol I forgot this one. One of the rewards is a coffin. One (1) entire coffin. Containing a fake skeleton, holding the book. Also the book looks good.

Wednesday, 18 August 2021

The Horror on Tau Sigma 7

 πŸ‘½New Mothership pamphlet just dropped from orbit! πŸ‘½

The Horror on Tau Sigma 7 is a prequel to Magnum Galaxy Games’ Dying Hard on Hardlight Station, but also works as a standalone adventure. (If you backed the Dying Hard KS as part of ZineQuest 2 you’ve already got it! Now it’s available to everyone.)

I had a great time working on this one! Packing all that ~level design~ onto a single piece of paper is always a fun challenge, and I was given a lot of freedom considering this is meant to be part of MG’s universe! And they made it look really, really good.

The MG team were fans of Ypsilon 14 (hence the name I think!) and I tried to get some of those starter adventure vibes in there, but it’s a very different kind of adventure overall. If Ypsilon is the Nostromo, this is the bit at the start on the planet’s surface… Things get messy.

The pamphlet is available here. Or here!


Monday, 9 August 2021

Items, Actions, Playtest!

 The main thing left to do on this Arthurian-esque project is player actions.

As I covered before, each player action in this mini game is tied to an item. Swords have an attack action, for example. And an action requires a roll, which advances a token (now a die) round the rondel. Read the last few posts if you need catching up.

(And yes, it’s a rondel I think. That’s already a board game term for a school of mechanics that are similar enough, and it’s a suitably medieval word.)

We’ll need to assign the different actions to items, work out a basic concept for how items are held/stored, and figure out what an item “looks like” in this game - is there any thing to them besides a discreet rules action.

I’ll also explore possible other concepts for items, but I won’t be finalising those for inclusion just yet. Once all that’s done, we’ll have a playable “test” fight ready to go.

Oh, and it should be clear by now that this is pretty much a board game and does not align with how ttrpg combat works best, in which PCs can attempt to do pretty much anything. So, uh, sorry if that’s what you come here for, but that’s not this game.

Ok then! Items.

There were 3 actions available to me in the last rough test based on the general ideas for actions in the original concept, and those worked fine.

(Oh, and I need to call the die that moves round the rondel something to make it clear when it’s mentioned over the other dice or whatever, so for the moment it’s called the heart die.)

Attack: “heavy” roll (2d6 take higher). If the heart die passes “midnight” on the rondel due to this roll, action fails. If the heart die does not pass “midnight” due to this roll, deal 1 hit (move the hit token 1 space clockwise).

Defend: “light” roll (2d6 take lower). If the heart die passes “midnight” on the rondel due to this roll, negate damage caused by overkill for this roll. If the heart die does not pass “midnight” due to this roll, reduce hits by 1 (move the hit token 1 space counter-clockwise).

Claim: “spell” roll (2d6). Roll equal to or under the current tally of hits (as indicated by the current position of the hit token) to claim the foe’s soul and end the fight. Roll over this number, roll fails.

Probably worth noting - these are written terribly. There’s probably no way to understand them unless you’ve read all the posts in this series so far and somehow understood those.

These are all just notes, remember - turning this all into a rulebook that allows the reader to teach themselves the game just by reading alone is a whole other battle, one that a lot of big-name board game publishers can barely fight. Some can’t! Thankfully you won’t have to see that bit of the work.


Let’s assign each of these to an item, and also decide how items are depicted in general. Dark Souls famously tells its story and world history through item descriptions, to the point that just the phrase “item descriptions” is something of a meme in itself. And I’ve always loved the little flavour blurbs that come with item logs or bestiaries and such across JRPGs in general. So let’s have a go at that (remembering this is all first draft stuff…)

Old Sword. Its blade is nicked and weathered but still holds true. It will not fail a valorous knight.

Black Ram’s Shield. Bears a sable crest beneath dents and scars. Lightweight and trusty.

Morgen’s Favour. A talisman from the witch queen of the otherworld. Contains a spell to bind the souls of those bested in battle.

Good for now!

Inventory-wise, I like the idea of having spaces for the left and right hand, creating risk if you want to switch things around mid-battle. So let’s say that you can freely use the actions of items in either hand, and putting an item you find into any space is a free action. But to switch the positions of two items in battle is an action that requires a 1d6 roll.

… Seems ok. Oh, and Morgen’s Favour is a vital thing that you’ll always have need of, so while I could make it eat an inventory space and force the player to switch it in and out, that seems kind of needless and unfun. So let’s say it’s always “equipped” (attached to your helm or something idk), and you can use the spell whenever as if it were in your hand.

Then for the rest of the inventory, call it 9 spaces total - enough for a spare weapon or two and some other fun items. With the two hands and the “favour space”, that brings us to 12 items altogether - same as the numbers on our clock. I like my numbers to align! (I mean, have you seen GRAVEROBBERS?) I’m sure someone could arrange the spaces around the clock in a very pretty way on the character sheet, too.

So what could those other items be?

Just a jumble of thoughts so far, but:

- Healing items. First thing that pops into my head is a magic potion, but I quite like the idea of fairy dust, like from Berserk. Dark Cloud has some great items and that’s on our influences list too. But yeah, a one-use item that you’d have to take out of your inventory to use in battle, that heals your heart die back up. There can be different levels of healing item, like all good JRPGs.

- Consumables. Other one-use items with fun effects. Buffs could make your next attack do more damage or eat up hits for a turn. Fire vials that deal damage to an enemy, poison that coats your weapons and makes your next attack have weird side effects. These could be fun and quite powerful, since they’d disappear after a single use. Offers a fun choice of if or when to use them.

- Armour. Each bit could be its own item, meaning you can mix and match armour sets with different effects, and choose how much armour you want to wear vs what other items you might want to take. Or, I might just handwave it? For some reason the idea of helms being the only armour item is really appealing to me - the rest is implied, and then the helm lends flavour and a special effect, and you switch between them depending on your goals and preferences. Dunno. I can make that decision later I guess.

- Gear. Not armour but items you hold to get a passive effect. I keep thinking about boots for some reason. Like, they could let you dodge attacks. Or “move” quicker - how could that be represented? Fun to think about. There could be all sorts of other passive effects, and the prep game would be in choosing whether each slot in your inventory should be armour or one of these, or a spare weapon or a consumable, or a free space in case you find good items… etc etc. The more “good” options the better.

- Other weapons. I think the concept of a bow you load and aim with a heavy action and fire with a light one is solid. Some more tweaking would need to be done to make it feel balanced and worthwhile. I also definitely want a greatsword in the game, something that takes up both your hand spaces. Beyond that… idk, weapons are fun. Whips, staves, maces, axes. Each with their own mechanic and potential drawbacks. I’d definitely treat these more like Monster Hunter weapons where none is “better” and picking one is all about what feels right to you - but then there could be different versions of each, like magic swords or whatever. A lot of the game’s potential longevity is going to be about making these feel right!

- Craftables? Ingredients that don’t do anything on their own but can make things. This would be… a lot of work, and it’s not something I want to do right away. An earlier version of this game that is languishing in my notebooks was built around a crafting system. Maybe worth a revisit down the line but… it really is a whole thing.

How does the player get their hands on these? Well, for now we don’t need to worry, we’re just focused on the Bridgekeeper fight and those three basic items. But once the battle system is down I want to start looking outside it - a way of exploring castles, making decisions about where to go and how best to explore before taking on the resident Lord using the various bits and bobs you’ve collected along the way. Y’know… dungeon stuff.

As for that Bridgekeeper fight…

If you’d like to play along at home, you should now have everything you need now to try out this basic fight! Remember that this is an early playtest - the point isn’t to work out whether or not the game is fun (it probably isn’t just yet!), but whether it works.

Are their points in your playthrough where the rules don’t say what should happen next, or are all the bases covered? Are there edge cases or freak occurrences that can severely disrupt the experience, or does the randomness feel logical (if mildly unfair at times)? These are the relevant questions for now.

For what it’s worth, I’ve tried the fight a few times and i think it works ok! It’s very easy, which makes it a good baseline for the future. But the basics are there, and I’m happy with how far this project has come in just a short time.

So, give it a go if you’d like - you’ll need 3d6, a coin or token and a clock face to play on (just draw one). Your three items/actions are listed above, and your opponent deals damage equal to Overkill, or OK+1 if you reach 9+ hits on them. Yeah, all the rules are spread across like 4 posts now and I can’t be arsed to compile them, sorry. That’s a job for future me to worry about!

For now - have fun, and next time I come back to this series I’ll start thinking about new ways to beef up fights, items and a structure to bind it all together.


A Worthy Foe

Work continues on the Dark Souls/Arthurian combat minigame! Today’s notes - enemies.

Before we start… I still haven’t named this thing. Going off the ~lore~ established in the last post, I’m going to to throw some ideas out off the top of my head as I write this and see what sticks uuuuuhhh… Chivalry Is Dead? Too on the nose maybe. Excaliburied. Ha. The Dolorous Stroke, of course, is already taken by Emmy Allen’s wargame for which it is perfect. Could just call it Overkill, but that sounds a bit too Heavy Metal to me. Onslaught? That’s just a word I like, but I don’t think it fits.

I don’t know, still thinking. Answers on a postcard. I’ll keep tagging these as The Green Knight for now, i guess.

Right! Let’s make a foe.

from Dark Cloud, on the Influences list

I think there’s just about enough of the mechanics in place that the easiest way I can think of designing an enemy is to imagine what a finished one will look like. I’m thinking the smallest of statblocks - a card or something, mostly art, with a name and a quotation that they might say before battle. That seems quite Dark Souls.

Then, mechanically, we need to know what they do on their “turn”, every time your dial passes 13, and how the Overkill concept factors into that action. (It might not at all - but so far that’s the only thread of an idea I have so I’m sticking with it.)

Anything else? Some loot you get if you win, their weapon or helmet maybe. Any other additionally info can wait for a more fleshed-out version of the game.

Ok, first step - going back to the ~lore~ and coming up with a character concept that fits! This is going to be a standalone enemy for our playtest battle, so I’d rather not think about castle layouts or anything just yet. This is going to be an open, standalone fight with a clear goal and an Implied world around it, but not much actual detail or complication. Something that gets across the potential of the larger world in one scene.

Here’s what I have right now:

Bridgekeeper Kalidor

“None pass hence that live. Have at thee!”

art: relatively normal knight with some plants growing through the armour in places. Male/ambiguous. Sword probably as weapon, emblem on shield of first “boss” Lord? Idk. Maybe his helm is lifted to reveal a skull.

And that’s just about all we need on that front. Normal, kinda boring first enemy - but sometimes you need a bit of boring before shit hits the fan later. Now for the actual work…

This doofus needs to teach the very basics of the game, not in terms of the rules but more what strategies and ways of playing are useful. Which as far as we know are: Calculate your risks, try to pass 13 with a low roll or some kind of defensive effect, overkill is bad.

So he has one big, obvious, slow attack that doesn’t really need any fancy effects. Like a training dummy, kinda. This will also help form something of a base to think of some future enemies from.

Also -what *can’t* we make a feature of this guy? Well as it stands the way to win fights is always the same, rack up hits and then try to finish them off when you think you’ve done enough. This means that we can’t really make fights longer or shorter, or give guys more “health”, without adding complications to the basic mechanics - and complications are not what this fight is about.

So how long will the fight take? Well, 2d6 averages at 7, call it 6 if we’re lucky. Let’s say you get 1 or 2 hits in a turn, maybe 3. That’s somewhere between 3-6 turns of combat before you can even start to reasonably think about risking your turns on the kill shot. Most likely more, and accounting for bad luck I’d say 9 turns is a decent rough estimate for now.

That’s… quite long? Turns should whip by once you know what you’re doing, but this is the first fight and we’re learning. Something to bear in mind, I guess.

Having said all that, if the action options and choices presented by the luck of the dice are engaging enough, this all shouldn’t matter too much or feel like a slog. Actually, it feels about right to me? But that’s all stuff governed by the player’s actions and items, which we haven’t really got to yet.

For now, let’s work out how we can make those 9-ish turns engaging using our enemy.

The “Duel” in question

First question: does he just do the one attack every turn? It won’t feel exactly the same because overkill will factor in there somehow, but over 9 turns that novelty might not sustain if the flavour is really just going to be “swings sword”. So we need some variance in behaviour.

We also need to get across to the player when is roughly the right time to start attempting the kill shot. So, two birds - let’s say that after you’ve dealt 7 hits to Kalidor he changes his action up in some way? This might have the opposite though and make players want to *not* rack up that many hits, since don’t forget this is a solo game and they can see all these rules and variances laid out. In that case, let’s call it 9 hits - plenty of space, and it can be comfortably avoided. If at worst case you’re landing a hit a turn, and still slogging away after 9 turns, it’s time to wrap up.

So what does this guy do when you’ve hit him 9 times? Better work out what he does normally first!

(Ah, the enemy action, the hole in the middle of this doughnut that’s been staring at me for so long now… What to do with you…)

For now, I’m going with Overkill = damage. A few reasons - mainly I did a very rough test and it felt easy to play. And since this is an introductory fight, what better way to get across the concept of overkill than making it literally the only danger you need to focus on? No additional maths or effects yet, just “look at the number”. Sometimes - often, I find - the best mechanic is the one that seems the easiest to wrap your head around. A good mechanic that’s hard to explain isn’t a good mechanic at all.

I know I said just one attack would be boring, and I’ll get to that. But the main thing is OK=dmg is an effective base for other things, bonuses and whatnot. There are all kinds of ways to make it more complex and add extra mechanics onto that base, like the “threshold” thing I mentioned in a previous post.

Speaking of - that idea of 9 hits being a threshold for some kind of change-up? It occurred to me that since 9 is the 3/4 mark on a standard clock, if we were to make this a normal 12-hour clock instead of 13 we could demarcate quadrants as “zones” indicating different behaviours. Four “seasons” with different effects or enemy behaviours as you rack up hits and the token moves around.

Then just make the 2d6 finishing blow a “roll equal or under” rather than just roll under, and we don’t really need that 13. It’ll make turns a little more scary and short, too. A 6 is now exactly half your turn gone, there’s no buffer.

Ok so Overkill is base damage, and different “seasons” can add or change that as the enemy takes more hits. Good enough for now!

So, uh… what’s damage?


We need to know about player health to know what damage means. I had a pretty simple idea for this during that little scratch play test fight, and it seems to work ok so I’m sticking with it.

The token that now moves around the rondel (better name than dial?) is now another d6. Starting on 6 and ticking down - that’s your health. I like that it represents “you” on the “board”, and it’s a simple way of tracking that eschews note-taking. Most Overkill hits are just 1 or 2 due to a bad or misjudged roll, and a 3 or 4 feels suitably devastating and Dark Souls-y. Nobody would risk more than that anyway, you’d have to deliberately make a bad decision to take any more damage in a single hit. Or, the enemy would need bonuses hehe.

And, there’s still a token on the dial for keeping track of your hits on the foe. Easy to differentiate between the two now that one’s a die.

So - bonuses! To stick with the initial idea of teaching when’s best to deliver the kill shot, I’m deciding that for now our Bridgekeeper deals base damage from 0-8 hits and gets a +1 bonus on 9+. So spring to autumn you’re relatively safe, but winter is coming. That should make it clear how you’re “meant” to approach the puzzle but still give leeway.

The other thing that became clear in my play test is that defensive actions felt a bit bland. I was trialling a “heavy” roll to attack and a “light” to defend (see the first post in this series) as my only two options, and that felt good, but a “failed” defend roll - i.e, one that didn’t push you past 13 and start the next turn - just felt like a fizzle rather than an interesting failure. My idea to fix this, which came from an earlier iteration of the mechanic from way back in my notebook, is that a “failed” defend roll actually reduces the current number of hits on the enemy. So they’re not literal hits, more like your current combat advantage - but basically flinching when you didn’t need to makes you lose a bit of momentum. Even more incentive to take silly risks!

Oh, and as for what defensive actions *do* when they succeed, I’m thinking -1 damage is good enough for this fight. I’m not too keen on all these numbers, but it’s fitting for the type of game this is. I wouldn’t put them in a straight RPG. I’ll need to test this though, it might not feel powerful enough.

(Of course, actions are tied to items, and there may be other shields or items that do other things…)

All in all these changes make the basics of the game feel solid. I feel like you could almost play this fight as-is now, but there are just one or two things I want to iron out first around items and player actions.

Next post I’ll sort that out, and then we’ll have a “tutorial” fight ready to play!