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.

👁️‍🗨️ 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.

👁️‍🗨️ 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.

👁️‍🗨️ 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