It’s Monday, and that means another blog post! This week’s post examines some of the inspiration behind Let Thrones Beware.
In case a few you missed it, last week’s discussion Finally a Unified Mechanic That’s Good was the second half of an examination of the principles behind the developmentally of Let Throne Beware; with a special focus on how I finally arrived at a unified resolution system after a whole bunch of initial missteps.
I’m going to talk about the bits and pieces that inspired the design, principles, and theme of the game. Some of the items below are written pieces, some are historical events, and other odds and ends.
Sylvia D. Hamilton
We had our own names
a past a present.
We worked we loved.
Sang songs to the wind
prayed to our Gods.
We did not know the future
would not be ours
The first of this week’s inspiration is The Passage, a poem by Sylvia D. Hamilton. Though I discovered this after I’d started writing Let Thrones Beware, it’s first on this list because it’s such a powerful piece. When it comes to discussing historical evils, I find that the writing is oftentimes so clinical that it’s difficult to comprehend the impact on individuals. Not so with Sylvia’s work. The Passage relates such a visceral hurt; it’s impossible not to understand the devastating consequences of enslavement on a people and culture.
The Passage is published online, and you can read it here.
Bronze Age Collapse
My father, behold, the enemy’s ships came; my cities were burned, and they did evil things in my country. Does not my father know that all my troops and chariots are in the Land of Hatti, and all my ships are in the Land of Lukka?
Thus, the country is abandoned to itself. May my father know it: the seven ships of the enemy that came here inflicted much damage upon us.
Imagine being the leader of a small kingdom in the Bronze Age. You receive a letter from your son, describing how his country is being overrun by a foreign invader. That panicked letter crying out for aid is the last you hear from him. As the weeks and months pass, contact with more and more of your neighbours is lost. You write to the one king who you know has fended off the invader, and the missive you receive in return is “build walls and pray.”
The Bronze Age Collapse is the primary inspiration for the theme of Let Thrones Beware. You see, once upon a time, I was planning a generic fantasy world. One day, as I reviewed the setting I’d pieced together, it struck me that the world probably didn’t need another “high middle ages with elves” fantasy rpg. I took a few steps back, and tried to think about what would make an compelling setting.
The collapse is what I seized upon almost immediately. With it, everything clicked into place. Obviously something needed to spark the collapse, and I decided that something was humans. Turning the everyman species into an unplayable villain certainly mixed things up. From there, it was a short jump to the indigenous species that populate Argohex.
The Conan movies, wonderful cult movies that they are, are what pushed me to develop the skill system in such a way that heroes are omnicompetent. When Conan and his compatriots are confronted by seemingly insurmountable obstacles, they don’t retreat and find someone with a class skill in arcana or rope use, they forge ahead and bring their own abilities and creativity to bear.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that fictional heroes don’t have rigorously compartmentalized skills as heroes do in most RPGs. Trapped at the top of Nakatomi Tower, John McClane doesn’t build a radio out of spare parts to contact the authorities, he triggers a fire alarm.
Let Thrones Beware doesn’t feature set skill lists. While your choice of background and class do inform how your hero approaches an obstacle, any hero can attempt to surmount any challenge. It just wouldn’t be heroic otherwise.
When I set out to write a roleplaying game, one of the mechanical issues I wanted to address was the dead time in combat. You know what I mean. Your turn comes up, you roll an attack, and then you’re done for 20 minutes, unless you get attacked and have to take damage.
The answer to this dilemma of mine came from fencing. When you’re standing on the piste, it’s very rare to land a hit with a straightforward attack. Generally, there’s an initial attack and an attempt to parry and counter-attack. Sometimes the attack or the counter is interrupted by some sort of stop hit (épée rules, foil drools). It’s only after a tremendously complex back and forth that a touch is scored.
It occurred to me that this could be modelled in a game. As with fencing, an engagement begins with an attack, the strength of which is based on a combination of dice and a Force Score provided by the attack power you’ve selected. That’s not where it ends. The target of your aggression has a chance to respond! If she is able to exceed the strength of your attack by using a counter power and her dice, she wins the engagement. Unless, of course, you have an interrupt power that exceeds the strength of her counter.
The attack-counter-interrupt showcased in the Let Thrones Beware system does a great job of addressing combat dead time. By ensuring that everyone is involved in combat throughout the round, battles become much more exciting. Suddenly everyone is checking their phones much less frequently.
Of course, inspirations aren’t all history, poetry, and sword-fighting. Plenty of games served as inspiration for Let Thrones Beware as well. Next week, we look at a few of the systems that helped push the game forward.
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.
P.S. Having spent a not insignificant number of years fencing, I’m acutely aware of just how easy it is to flip a sword attached to your wrist by a wire into your hand. A free action at most.