Finally, a Unified Mechanic That’s Good – Defining Game Principles

Ah good, you’re here just in time for another blog post! We pick up today where last week’s post left off; a continued look at the principles behind Let Thrones Beware. Today, we discuss the unified mechanic and fast resolution.


The Principles (part 2)

I anticipate that there’ll be a lot of (virtual) ink spilled here, so hit the bathroom, grab a drink, and we’ll be off to the races!

  • The game should run on a unified mechanic that is simple, but allows for progression as characters develop

When I initially started writing Let Thrones Beware, combat and non-combat were two disparate systems. Combat is still essentially the same, but non-combat used a more conventional D&D/13th Age skill system where players picked discrete skills, supplemented by additional areas granted by background and class. This skill system of old was ability vs. difficulty, and completely bypassed the power system.

Some of the feedback I received in the early days of development was that this disconnect made the game worse. All of this design effort was going into a robust combat mechanic, and there was tremendous gaping hole on the other side of the system. With that in mind, some two years ago I made a conscious decision to unify the game mechanics. Now, both combat and non-combat utilize the same attack/counter/interrupt power system.

Going down this road meant that non-combat needed to be somewhat more abstracted than a conventional discrete skill system. As it turns out, there were some amazing advantages to the switch. I designed combat from the ground up to be a thoughtful and tactical system. Adapting that system for non-combat challenges means that tables can take advantage of the same features.

Advantages of the Unified Mechanic!

For example, rather than a simple “dice + mods vs. difficulty,” or “X successes before Y failures,” non-combat challenges in Let Thrones Beware incorporate positioning and terrain (though these are abstracted into zones rather than being precisely gridded).

The switch to a unified system also means that hero backgrounds become much more distinct. In the old system, the difference between an Aristocrat and a Criminal was simply the name of the skills. Under the new system, each background has a totally unique set of non-combat powers that shape how a hero approaches a non-combat scenario.

Lastly, this means that backgrounds have non-combat features mirroring class combat features. For example, Criminals can bypass blocking terrain. Rather than starting at the beginning of the challenge, Aristocrats enter a non-combat challenge at any position that isn’t blocked.


  • Combat and skill challenges must be crunchy but fast to run – and easy to adjudicate

One issue I’ve been cognizant about throughout development is player time. I want to ensure that all this tactical work isn’t a tremendous time-sink. I’m an unabashed fan of 4e D&D, but I am very willing to admit that combat is a lengthy slog. Let Thrones Beware is designed with the goal of having combat resolved in under four rounds. There are a few system innovations to achieve this wild and crazy goal.

Not included are fiddly, cumulative modifiers; Let Thrones Beware includes two types of stackable modifier: The first is Advantage/Disadvantage, increases (or decreases) the size of the dice. Edge is the second. Let Thrones Beware incorporates Desperation, a continually increasing value that reflects how dangerous the fight is becoming. When a hero gains (or loses) Edge, they add (or subtract) the Desperation value from their rolls of the dice.

Beyond streamlining dice modifiers to just two aspects, the system math features adversaries that hit hard and have relatively low levels of health. Who’d have guessed punchy opponents result in faster combats than baddies with stacks of hp? Okay, everyone knows that.


Next Week

Next week we leave the heady world of game principles behind. We’ll turn to examining some of the inspirations behind this crazy game of mine.


Try Let Thrones Beware for Yourself

As always, you can download the playtest packet and try it for yourself. Visit drivethrurpg to download the beta and introductory adventure for free.

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