Dice Modifiers – Edge, Advantage, and Desperation

Welcome back to the Let Thrones Beware design blog. This week, we’re taking a look at how the universal challenge mechanic uses a few different systems as modifiers. Last week’s blog answered a number of community questions about how the mechanic works. If you haven’t read it, you can find that here.

Dice Modifiers

One thing that I really wanted to be sure of in designing Let Thrones Beware was that there were as few fiddly modifiers as possible. Too many games of my youth had a billion different pluses and minuses to track. To make matters worse, designers would purposefully limit the compatibility of  bonuses in an attempt to make sure that characters wouldn’t be too powerful.
Recently, there’s been a lot of great innovation in this space. Some designers have adopted dice pools, giving us games like Burning Wheel, Legend of the Five Rings, and Blades in the Dark. Others have attempted to simplify the number of modifiers, giving us 13th Age and D&D 5th Edition. Still others have introduced novel new mechanics, like Shadow of the Demon Lord’s great bane/boon system.

Desperation

Desperation is the first modifier mechanic we meet today. It’s active in every challenge the heroes undertake. Beginning at Composed (+1), Desperation climbs each round until it reaches Frantic (+4). Modelling how frenetic the challenge becomes, the role of this mechanic is several-fold.
First, Desperation interacts with Edge to provide the heroes with a source of enhancements to their rolls. Whenever a hero gains an Edge, they add the Desperation value to their Force Score. Conversely, when they lose an Edge, they subtract it. This is
Second, Desperation gives adversaries their combat AI. Each adversary type (Minion, Standard, and Commander), and category (Bandit, Militia, Condemned, etc) have behaviours which are triggered at certain Desperation levels. A group of militia foot will start combat in closely-ordered formations, but will break apart as Desperation grows, for example. These behaviours are just recommendations, but using them will provide each different adversary with a distinct personality.
Third, Desperation modifies the powers used by enemy adversaries. As the stakes grow higher and the heroes persist through combat, enemies will begin to use more and more powerful attacks. A brigand knife may open a fight firing arrows at a single target, but by the time Desperation reaches Panicked (+3) and shes’ grown worried about the battle, she’ll switch to using alchemical grenades that ignite entire areas.

Edge

The second modifier is Edge, which is gained when a hero has a temporary situational bonus (or penalty). It can be secured from a great many things. Examples include cooperating with an ally to flank an opponent in combat (yes, this means that positioning in combat is important), having appropriate repertoire for a non-combat challenge. Additionally, a number of  powers possessed by different classes and backgrounds provide Edge when used.  Unlike heroes, adversaries have a predetermined, set value for Edge when they gain it. In exchange, as the number of rounds in a challenge climb, enemies begin to hit harder and harder.
As mentioned above, Edge keys of the Desperation value, which means that it’s less valuable at the beginning of an encounter than it is at the end. This is important for a couple reasons – first, while cooperation is always important, it becomes even moreso towards the end of an encounter. Second, the escalation of values means that fights reliably end in the third or fourth combat round. This helps ensure that a battle doesn’t take hours and hours to resolve.

Advantage

The last modifier is Advantage (and Disadvantage). Relatively harder to come by, Advantage directly affects your dice. Always applied in the next round (i.e. a hero never gains Advantage in the current round), this mechanic boosts your Tier Dice. A hero with Advantage rolls 2d8 rather than 2d6, while a Legend with Advantage will roll a weighty 2d12. Certain terrifying situations could result in Disadvantage, which decreases your dice in the same way. Yes, that means that an unlucky hero could be forced to roll 2d4!
In designing Advantage, I wanted to achieve a system that felt meaningful and allowed heroes to punch above their weight. The act of swapping out dice provides a concrete heft, and a hero who is rolling above his or her tier in a challenge becomes a real force to be reckoned with on the battlefield.

Next Week

That’s it for the dice modifiers of Let Thrones Beware! As you can see, there’s not a lot of complicated fiddly bits to keep track of here. The design goal of “no million +1s” is neatly achieved. Next week, we’ll continue our examination of the challenge mechanic by taking a look at how it’s used in combat.

 

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.

 

Core Mechanic – The Challenge – Community Questions

Welcome back to the Let Thrones Beware design blog, community questions edition! We continue our look at the core mechanic that powers the system – the challenge. Last week we tore through the who’s, what’s, where’s and so on. This week, we’ll run through community questions about the universal challenge mechanic (and Let Thrones Beware more generally).

Community Questions

How Easy is it to Learn?

The core mechanic of Let Thrones Beware is a bit different than what you’re used to in a typical role-playing game. That said, everything I’ve seen in playtests (both at the table and virtually) suggests that the mechanic is really straightforward to learn. Just about everyone alive has played rock-paper-scissors, and the simple math of power + roll + bonus is very easy to remember too.

 

How the Mechanic Makes Let Thrones Beware Fun

The challenge mechanic brings an element of resource management and strategic choice to both combat and non-combat encounters. The engagement means that whether your hero is attacking or being attacked, you’re actively participating in the game rather than passively reading out an armour class or difficulty target. The tension between deploying a sure-thing power to win an engagement and holding on to that power for a more-needed exchange is palpable. Cooperation between players is important too – engaging a foe means exhausting its combat powers, ensuring that your allies are able to reliably land their own attacks.

These three aspects of the challenge – constant involvement, strategic tension, and cooperation with your friends combine to create a universal mechanic that’s fun and engaging.

 

I want to do X, how should I frame that in your mechanic?

In Let Thrones Beware, both combat and non-combat powers are loosely framed – this means that how you want to describe using a power is really up to you.

Non-combat powers are especially abstracted. As I’ve mentioned in the past, one of my primary desires was to create a system in which any hero can accomplish any task. With this in mind, you don’t need “use rope” to do fancy rope tricks. Instead, you declare what you want to do and a challenge is initiated. You can frame your approach to that challenge however you like. Perhaps you’re a powerful warrior who uses ferocious might to power through obstacles. Maybe you’re a cunning sneak who employs stealth and misdirection. The point is, it doesn’t matter how you describe your approach – everyone’s equally capable.  Win on an Act power, and you accomplish your objective on the first try. If the GM counters your first move, you’ve run into a setback, but you can still manage to triumph with an Overcome power.

 

Why Did You Want to Make Let Thrones Beware?

This is a great question, and it’s one with a simple answer. Having spent a long time away from roleplaying games, I returned to the hobby with D&D 4th edition. When I returned, I spent years playing it with with a bunch of different groups on the tabletop. While I loved the edition, there were a number of things that really bugged me. The classic D&D funnel of stats to race to optimized class was annoying. The slow pace of combat, even with MM3 was frustrating. Hard to track fiddly modifiers everywhere. The list of feats was incomprehensible. The gear treadmill was tedious.

I wanted to write Let Thrones Beware because I wanted a game that matched my sensibilities. Low prep, easy to run, with the players actively engaged throughout. The challenge mechanic, with its straightforward play cycle, streamlined numbers, and easy resolution is my attempt at addressing a lot of the issues I’ve had with RPGs in the past.

 

Why You Should Try Let Thrones Beware

I’ve spent a lot of time honing Let Thrones Beware into a tightly written, easy to play game. If you like streamlined, tactical combat that keeps players engaged; heroic characters whose actions aren’t limited by a collection of predefined skills; and a resolution system that doesn’t rely on a pile of fiddly modifiers, you should definitely download the beta of Let Thrones Beware and give it a spin at your table.

Next Week

Next week, we’ll take a look at how this base mechanic is modified by a few key concepts: Edge, Advantage, and Desperation.

 

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.

 

Core Mechanic – The Challenge

Welcome back to the Let Thrones Beware design blog. This week, we’re taking a look at the Challenge, the core mechanic that underpins everything in this humble RPG. Before we get to that though, a quick retrospective. Last week I finished up a discussion on some of the inspirations behind LTB as a system. In particular, I spent a great deal of time rambling about Quest for Glory and the New Easy to Master Dungeons and Dragons. If you’re up for a trip down nostalgia lane, check it out!

 

Let Thrones Beware’s Universal Mechanic: The Challenge

This week I’m writing about the Challenge, which is the universal mechanic powering Let Thrones Beware; it’s used in both non-combat and combat situations, although there are some slight differences to each application. I’m also mixing up the format of this post a bit today. Rather than just write about what I think is interesting, I’ve gone to the community and asked what sort of things people want to hear about. I’ll start with just the basics, and then move on to the community content portion in the second half of the post.

 

The Basics

What?

At its most basic, the Challenge vaguely resembles Rock-Paper-Scissors played between two contestants – (as there’s no PVP, it’s almost always the player and the GM), with a few important caveats. As we roll through the rest of this blog post, just keep in mind that instead of rock, paper, and scissors, Let Thrones Beware calls the options Attack, Counter, and Interrupt when heroes are in combat, and Act, React, Overcome when the heroes are attempting to surmount a non-combat challenge. For clarity, I’ll just stick to using Attack, Counter, and Interrupt for this post unless I’m explicitly talking non-combat, but do keep in mind that despite the different names, the mechanics work the same way.

Disheartening Cut and Hidden Blade, two of the Rogue's combat powers
Two of the Rogue’s combat powers

Who?

Heroes (the players), Adversaries (GM-controlled baddies), and Obstacles (GM-controlled non-combat stuff) all participate in the Challenge system.

In combat, there are a wide variety of adversary types, all of which present different types of opposition. Minions are weak, fairly ineffectual opponents that the heroes can dispatch easily, but who have a bonus action when paired with a commander. Standard foes are robust opponents, with a wider array of combat options and the health to stand up to the heroes. Commanders, more so than any other adversary, are fearsome fighters with the ability to call in reinforcements and direct minions around the battlefield.

On the non-combat side, Obstacles can be created to represent virtually anything the heroes must surmount. The abstracted nature of non-combat positioning means that you can build a challenge representing the stubborn, obstinate nature of a Noble’s opinions as easily as you can create a challenge for infiltrating a decrepit ruin or researching an ancient secret about the malevolent force that exists in the Deep Wood.

 

Why?

There are two big reasons why I went about creating the challenge system rather than using the more traditional ‘roll vs. difficulty’ approach one sees in most role-playing games.

First, coming from a combative background, I wanted a system that more accurately emulates the ebb and flow of information fighting an opponent. I recognize that attack and skill rolls are an abstraction, and in many systems represent the  multitude of feints and attacks carried out in the heat of combat. It was my desire to bring the adrenaline and rush of committing to the attack and the potential for sudden reversal to the table. Each engagement injects opportunities for triumph and reversal because of the attack, counter, interrupt system.

Second, I had a very strong desire to significantly reduce the time between player actions during a challenge. We’ve all been in games where players whip out their phones and start browsing the internet when it’s not their turn. Some might say that those are bad players, but I contend that this kind of distraction is a natural extension of the lengthy time between finishing a turn and the next time she or he gets to act. If your table runs through a few fights in a session, there’s an awful lot of ‘dead time’ that each player individually experiences. Since each individual element of a challenge involves both a player and the GM, there’s a consistent level of engagement throughout every conflict.

 

How?

Being engaged in a Challenge (whether you’re fighting or attempting to overcome a non-combat obstacle) means that you’re using a combination of your hero’s dice roll (which Let Thrones Beware calls Tier Dice, and begin at 2d6), Attack, Counter, and Interrupt power, and a Roll bonus innate to your hero to achieve the highest Force Score. Let’s look at how the Challenge works in combat.

Let’s pretend you’re in a fight, adjacent to an adversary, and see how it all shakes out.

Setting the stage

At the beginning of the round, all contestants roll the 2d6 Tier Dice and use this roll for the entire round (yes, this means that you can plan for your turn in advance). When your turn comes up you decide you want to deal some damage. You select attack power and determine your initial Force Score. You add your Tier Die roll, the Force bonus of the power you’ve chosen, and add your Roll Bonus (an innate bonus that begins at +0 and climbs as you grow in experience).

Making a Counter

The GM will attempt to respond with either a Counter or an Interrupt. In order to use either, your target’s total Force Score (dice + power; baddies don’t have roll bonuses) must meet or exceed your score. Counters can in turn be beaten by Interrupt powers, but have higher force bonuses. Because of this, Counters can be played in a wider range of situations. Interrupt powers cannot be beaten by any other power type, but have lower force bonuses. This means that their use requires careful timing.

Interrupt!

Assuming your target uses a Counter power, you have an opportunity to use an Interrupt power (as long you have one available).

The Engagement is Won

When it’s not possible for either combatant to play another power, the engagement ends. The combatant with the highest Force Score applies the damage and effect of the power used to win the fight. In the event of a tie, both combatants apply damage and power effects.

 

 

An engagement between a player and the GM mapped out on a graph.
How engagements unfold

When?

The Challenge mechanic can be used to handle just about any situation, from fighting and brawling to social engagements and clever schemes. Still, are times when you don’t want to make use of it? Absolutely. The mechanic isn’t good for what we call Trivial Challenges. Trivial Challenges are situations that don’t contain an element of risk or danger. While it would still work, the mechanic takes time to resolve. The system is designed for meaningful situations. Your table will get a lot more out of saving it for substantial obstacles.

Community Questions

Whew, that’s a lot to digest! We’re not done yet, however. As promised, this next portion digs into a few of the questions fielded by the community.

 

How Do Tier Dice Change Over the Course of the Game?

Heroes use different dice in each Tier of Let Thrones Beware. Beginning in the Adventurer Tier, heroes employ a humble 2d6. After some adventures under their belt the heroes graduate to the Champion Tier and replace the 2d6 with the 2d8. Finally, having reached the height of their power at the Legend Tier, the 2d8 are upgraded to 2d10.

“Huh, why?” you might ask. A reasonable question! Progression could be denoted by adding numbers to the roll, but I love the tactile sensation of upgrading dice. It’s a great physical reminder that your hero is growing in power and capability. The other wonderful benefit is reducing the number of fiddly modifiers you have to remember.

 How is your game supposed to be played and how does your core mechanic drive people forwards that?

 Let Thrones Beware is a game about heroism, hope, and teamwork. The Challenge system supports this style of play from the ground up! Classes and backgrounds manipulate the give and take of the attack, counter, interrupt system in ways unique to their role. The Oracle, a leader-style class, has a number of abilities that alter the Tier Dice in play. Knights, heavily-armoured defenders, are able to take over an ally’s engagement, lending their might to protect weaker companions.  The Rogue, a dangerous striker, has the ability that short-circuit the regular attack-counter-interrupt process.

Next Week

Holy cow that was so much writing! Next week, we’re going to continue with more community questions that I didn’t have time to address today. See you then!

 

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.

 

Appendix N Again – This Time: Roleplaying Games That Made A Mark

Whew, last week was so exciting – we launched a Beta 008, chock full of improvements, clarifications, and new features. Not only does the Beta include the core rules, it also includes a pre-written introductory adventure for you and your table. You can check out all the details at Breaking News Alert – Let Thrones Beware Playtest 008 is Live. When (not if) you do take a look, I encourage you to drop me a line and tell me what you and your group thought of the game!

 

Appendix N (2)

This week, we return to our discussion of Let Thrones Beware’s Appendix N; a review of some of the inspirations that have helped make Let Thrones Beware the game it is today. Today we’re looking at two roleplaying games that helped to shape development.

 

The New Easy to Master Dungeons and Dragons

That’s the good stuff!

This is where it all started. The New Easy to Master Dungeons and Dragons was an incredibly cool birthday gift I received in the heady days of the late eighties (or was it the early nineties)? Either way ,what it contained was astonishing. Forget the boardgames I knew. This had a map, and rules, but it was so much more sophisticated than the Monopoly and Life boardgames with which I was more familiar.

What has stuck with me for all these years isn’t the first few games I played with friends. No, what I remember most about this is paging through the rules, engrossed in a revolutionary new (for me) kind of game.

What Inspired Me

The thing about this particular D&D kit is that it was expressly designed as an instructional game. I used alongside the rulebook, dice, tokens, and map was something I haven’t seen replicated since. The box also contained Dragon Cards. Dozens of them. These two-sided cards walked new players through the concepts and rules of D&D. One side explained a concept in detail, and the other took you through and actual adventure that put the concept into practice.

I’ve always felt that this approach was a masterful one. Even at a young age I was able to understand the ides behind the game because the concepts were so plainly explained. Much later, I learned that the Dragon Cards were based on an actual educational tool used in classrooms. Who says learning can’t be fun?

I’ve taken to heart the approach used by the cards, and have built/am building a number of adventures which replicate the experience of Zanzer Tem’s Dungeon. Beginning with Rogue in the Woods and finishing with Bells of War, these adventures will explain and introduce you to everything you’ve need to know about playing Let Thrones Beware.

 

Quest for Glory

A graduate of the Famous Adventurer's Correspondence School
Ah, Spielberg!

Where to begin. The absolutely incredible Quest for Glory was the defining game quadrilogy of my childhood. Starting from humble beginnings, this groundbreaking game chronicled the heroism and growth of a graduate of the Famous Adventurer’s Correspondence School. You begin play as a fledgling fighter, wizard, or thief, in Spielberg, a mountain town cut off by an avalanche. As you made friends and righted wrongs, you’d gradually increase in ability. Eventually, sequels took you away from Spielberg. You journeyed Shapier, a city in a faraway desert. From there you travelled to Tarna, hidden away in the jungles. Lastly, you adventured in Mordavia, a decrepit gothic town plagued by the undead.

What Inspired Me

There are a few things I absolutely loved about this series of games. First, there’s an unapologetic goodness to the game. While there are opportunities as a thief to do a little burglary (don’t kick the cat), there’s no question that you are a hero and you exist to help solve problems and come to the aid of those in trouble. Though at first glance many of the monsters – especially in the first game – pose dire threats, creative thinking and thorough exploration reveal that not everything is as it seems. A measured approach can reveal unlikely allies and friends.

The other thing that Quest for Glory really impressed upon me was the idea that heroes of differing ability may approach challenges in distinct ways, no matter which class you’d selected when you started the game, you were equally capable of resolving the obstacles in front of you.

Dungeons and Dragons 4e

“No, really?” is what anyone who’s played Let Thrones Beware will say to the inclusion of this particular RPG on the list. Rather than write about it now, I’m going to come back to this a little later. I’ll spend some time writing about what makes the game tick and you’ve an opportunity to see how everything works.

 

Next Week

Writing about the things that have inspired Let Thrones Beware is a project that could last months! As much fun as that would be, next week I’m going to write about the design decisions behind the game. We’ll begin with the challenge, the fundamental mechanic that underpins the entire game.

 

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.

 

Breaking News Alert – Let Thrones Beware Playtest 008 is Live

Last week I wrote the first section of a two-part examination of the inspirations that led to Let Thrones Beware. Appendix N for this Modern Age. Inspiration Old and New is a great read for everyone who wants to learn about the creation of this crazy role-playing game. This week, I’m interrupting our regularly scheduled blogcast to bring you this breaking news – a new version of the Let Thrones Beware beta has dropped! Playtest 007 has been put to bed, and DriveThruRPG is updated with Beta 008.

 

Let Thrones Beware is a role-playing game about rediscovering hope in a post-traumatic fantasy world.

Despite its strength, the Eternal Kingdom of Man is no more, accidental victim of the very power it wielded to conquer your world. Bowed but not broken, the indigenous species that survived the brutal thousand-year occupation fled to the far corners of Argohex.

Despite your freedom, there is danger. Horrors stalk the Deep Wood in which you and your kin shelter. Isolated, vulnerable villages quake in the darkness, hoping they are overlooked by what lurks in the trees.

Despite the danger, you must end Age of Despair. The rebirth of Argohex awaits and now is the time for you to step forward and restore what was lost.

 

 

Features of Let Thrones Beware include:

  • A setting that challenges heroes to restore their world, shattered and broken by an otherworldly invasion
  • A universal resolution mechanic that uses attack/counter/interrupt powers
  • Gridded tactical combat and abstracted non-combat systems
  • A codified adventure cycle where success and failure have meaningful effects on the campaign
  • Stronghold and Domain management
  • Mass combat
  • Character portability between tables

You want to take a look at this if…

  • … you enjoy tactical combat, but dislike having nothing to do in between taking your turns
  • … you want a mechanically interesting non-combat resolution system
  • … you enjoy gradated success in games, but want a tactical component to your gameplay
  • … you like character building, but dislike item treadmills and fiddly feat choices

Game Principles

  • All players are equally capable of affecting the game narrative, no matter the combination of choices they make
  • Choices must be purposeful; a decision must have a significant mechanical impact, otherwise the details should be considered fluff and left to the player to define
  • The game should run on a unified mechanic that is simple, but allows for progression as characters develop
  • Combat and skill challenges must be crunchy but fast to run – and easy to adjudicate

 

Playtest Beta 008 is Live!

I’m going to unpack some of the new features in the core book:

 

Overhaul of adversary combat AI and updated powers

One of the biggest changes you’ll notice is that the adversary AI and combat powers have been significantly overhauled. Each adversary group (Militia, Cultists, Condemned, etc) now have a distinct AI, and there are even differences within each group to ensure that individual adversaries play to their strengths. Combat powers have been adjusted as well, and as a result, each individual adversary is more unique and cohesive than ever before.

 

Layout and formatting significantly improved

Holy cow, did you know that layout and ease of use is important? Turns out it is, which is why there’s been a layout tune up. You’ll find that the most notable change is the addition of a ‘quick tips’ sidebar, which appears whenever a new concept is introduced that benefits from some additional context. This beta also uses iconography to denote components of the rules that are essential to remember. As you read through the book, you’re much less likely to miss core concepts, thanks to this addition.

 

A new class feature system

Class features have been a part of Let Thrones Beware. In this revision, they’ve experienced an update. Before now, class features provided an “always-on” ability. In Beta 008, class abilities are split into two different parts. The first is passive; it always applies, no matter what your hero is up to. This is pretty much behaviour as expected. The second, more powerful component is an activated effect. In playtest beta 008, players are able to “spend” their non-combat powers in combat to activate these effects. The non-combat powers from class and background both count, so that means activating up to four times per fight in the Adventurer Tier.

Of course, class features won’t be the only thing to spend your non-combat powers on forever. This is the first step in implementing a stunting system in Let Thrones Beware! 

 

A number of rules clarifications

Since Beta 007 was published back in January of this year, the wonderful people who inhabit the internet have seen a whole pile of insightful feedback . Much of it directed towards the rules (no surprise there, eh?). Beta 008 contains dozens of clarifications, edits, and rules reorganizations designed to make Let Thrones Beware easier to pick up and play.

 

Bells of War

I’ve also updated Bells of War, the introductory adventure for new players and GMs, to incorporate the latest beta changes. You’ll be happy to discover that I’ve added a surprise for you! Each major inhabitant of Chael Hollow now has a number of different personality options. Not only that, but each personality option has a related reason why that individual is the traitor. This significantly increases the replayability of the adventure.

I hope you enjoy playing this latest release as much as I enjoyed writing it. Should you have any questions, feel free to catch me on twitter @ThronesBeware.

 

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.

 

Appendix N for this Modern Age. Inspiration Old and New

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.

 

Inspirations

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.

 

Conan

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.

 

Sport Fencing

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.

 

Next Week

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.

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.

Linear Everyone – Defining Game Principles

Hello, and welcome back! Last week we looked at how the heroes can restore the world of Argohex. This week’s blog post examines the guiding principles behind the design of Let Thrones Beware. Full disclosure: I didn’t design this game to appeal to everyone under the sun. That’s something I decided upon and made peace with early on in my writing. It’s my hope that while the total audience pool isn’t quite as wide as it could be, the ultimate product is substantially more appealing to those who do like it.

 

The Principles

There are four basic principles that drive the design of Let Thrones Beware, which I’ll go through one at a time. I’ll address two in this week’s post, and we’ll get to the next two on the 26th.

  • All players are equally capable of affecting the game narrative, no matter the combination of choices they make

This first principle really hints at my gaming past. As I’m sure you can guess from this approach, I’ve played more than my fair share of class-based role-playing games that privilege one set of choices above others. This design philosophy is commonly referred to as “linear fighters, quadratic wizards.” Recognizing that a lot of the rationale for this ingrained disparity is to provide a “starter” option for new players. I don’t think that such an option is a great idea, and here’s why. It’s my intention that Let Thrones Beware be a campaign-focused game; certainly a game that lasts more than one or  two sessions. I feel that intentionally designing a simple, less capable starter option for players is misguided in that context.

Sure, it’s slightly easier to learn, but understanding a new system takes at most a few hours. After that, she or he is stuck with a less capable hero for months or years. That’s no good. I feel that it’s far better to place an emphasis on ensuring that each option is clearly explained so that a player can easily pick up and play with any combination of options.

I addressed the core of this principle by creating an abstracted non-combat challenge system. Because of the abstraction of skills, we ensure that no combination of hero choices is significantly more capable than another. Naturally, there ought to be some differentiation, and that’s where non-combat powers enter play, as well as the background feature and choice of repertoire. That said, there won’t be situations where one can invalidate a challenge simply by declaring it to be so, while others must struggle.

  • Choices must be purposeful; a decision must have a significant mechanical impact, otherwise the details should be considered fluff and left to the player to define

My position as an indie designer guides this principle; I’ll never have the time nor ability to build out an entire game platform. Certainly not one with hundreds of classes and backgrounds across dozens of books. I need to be sure that people who pick up this system aren’t restricted by my limited capacity. To be sure that point’s conveyed adequately, the book is littered with a number of reminders that this is the case. A great example of this in practice is the non-combat system. Rather than codified skills (e.g. rope use, etc) or even player defined skills, the non-combat system is abstracted such that it allows players to describe for themselves how their hero approaches any obstacle in their path.

Want your rough and tumble criminal to be able to expertly sneak through a guarded gate? That’s fine. Want to bypass the gate by causing a distraction and diverting the attention of the guards? Great. Want to skip the gate entirely by luring your target outside through the power of song? Also good! How you choose to portray your hero’s skills and abilities is totally your choice.

After all, it wouldn’t be a compelling story of Conan was stymied by a tall tower. Similarly, there’s no reason for you to be thwarted because you wrote down use rope rather than climb wall. Specific skills are out, competent heroes are in!

 

Try it 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.

Beating Back the Darkness and Restoring the World

This week’s post is about restoring the world of Let Thrones Beware. Last week I wrote about hope vs. fear, and what I was aiming to accomplish with Let Thrones Beware. I feel absolutely floored by the discussion that post generated; I’ve never seen 280+ blog visits in a single day on a single post before! As always, I continue to welcome your thoughts and feedback – both here and on social platforms like twitter, and G+.

 

The Traumas of Let Thrones Beware

The last few weeks were spent talking about themes of trauma and hope. This week, I’m going to dive into exactly what I mean by trauma. To be clear, when I talk trauma, I don’t mean personal trauma. Setting Let Thrones Beware hundreds of years after the collapse of the Kingdom of Man was a design choice expressly made to allow players to avoid that sort of intimate and immediately personal hurt. In Let Thrones Beware it means two things: trauma inflicted on the world, and trauma inflicted on the world’s inhabitants.

The Inhabitants

Each of the five species in Let Thrones Beware has suffered at the hands of the Kingdom in a terrible and unique way. As you’ll see in the brief overview below, Man’s invasion has lasting repercussions on all the survivors.

Cabeiri

Relatively uncommon, legend tells that the Cabeiri of Argohex were once immortal, but their immortality was lost when the Kingdom of Man wrenched them from the forests. Today, every Cabeiri born is afflicted with the Curse of Ash, doomed to wither away to dust on their 30th birthday

Dactyl

It is said that the Dactyls sprang from the very cradle of Argohex itself, earth given breath to defend the planet from the those set upon its surface by the gods. To be sure, were that the case, not only would it explain the brilliant metallic colour of their hair, the mottled, stone-like appearance of their skin and features, but also their affinity for the earth. Their skill in constructing fortresses and defensive works was so formidable that Man used terrible sorceries to alter the very nature of the Dactyl, and since then, stone and mineral have been like terrible poison.

Echthroi

Unlike the other denizens of Argohex, the Echthroi are not natural inhabitants. Instead, Man gave them life, wrenching them from the very shadows to rend the last defenses of the Ipotane in its conquest of Argohex. Echthroi avoid others of their kind where possible. The horrid magics that gave them life still course through their veins. As Echthroi congregate, their willpower recedes, and their more violent tendencies emerge. Given a large enough congregation, a group of Echthroi is little better than a raucous, brutal mob.

Ipotane

The great Ipotane republics were last to fall to the onslaught of Man, many thousands of years ago. Man created the Echthroi to crush Ipotane resistance. After the triumphed, their defiance was punished with the Vanishing. A single, horrible night in which Man’s vile sorceries tore the vast Ipotane metropolises from the very earth itself. The great columns and massive populations to never be seen again.

Myrmekes

Before the coming of Man, the Myrmekes were as one, unified under the great hiveminds of Xzzryxy. Thinking as one, acting as one, existing as one, Myrmekes spread across the whole of Argohex. The vastness of their civilization made its shattering all the more tragic. Where there had only been one voice, suddenly a cacophony. The shock of sudden individuality was too much for most, killing many and driving others mad.

The Land

I mentioned two types of trauma above. The first, just described above, is intentionally designed as fiction. How (and whether) it affects each hero is up to the player. It’s not something I codified and enforce mechanically because people will have difference preferences about how deeply to engage with the theme. If players want to engage and explore this area, great. If not, that’s okay too.

However, that’s not true when it comes to the trauma of the land – which has deep mechanical integration. This trauma is primarily represented by the Primordial Forces of Evil, which I wrote about last week. While I’m still fine-tuning how they interact mechanically, these forces very much interfere with the heroes as they adventure. In combat, each of the four (Despair, Disorder, Greed, and Malice) have different effects that will alter the battlefield. The forces will serve to make adversaries more dangerous, alter battlefield terrain, and further complicate combat.

Restoring the World

Let Thrones Beware wouldn’t be a game about hope if there weren’t ways to overcome and conquer this trauma, especially when it comes to restoring the inhabitants themselves. With that in mind, we turn to a particular type of enemy – the Mythic Foe. I’ve mentioned this class of adversary on the blog before. These terribly powerful adversaries are more akin to an earthquake, forest fire, or tornado than they are to a regular baddie you face on the battlefield. Overcoming a Mythic Foe takes grit, dedication, and extensive research, as before the heroes can confront and defeat such a creature, they must undertake a series of trials to weaken it. They can only defeat a Mythic Foe after successfully accomplishing all of the related trials.

So what happens after the heroes challenge and slay a Mythic Foe? Well for one, hopefully the players feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment! Mythic Foes are complicated, treacherous, and more dangerous than any other encounter that Let Thrones Beware has to offer. More than that though, each Mythic Foe in the game has an explicit connection with a trauma inflicted upon the inhabitants of Agrohex. If the heroes end the dominion of the Mythic Foe Asag, the Curse of Ash is lifted from the Cabeiri; they are no longer fated to die.

 

That’s where I’ll leave things for this week. I’ll be back next Monday with another blog post, one that examines the principles of the game from a “what this game does and why you should play it” perspective. Until then, happy gaming!

 

Try it 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.

Let Thrones Beware: Hope vs. Fear

This week’s blog post is all about how Let Thrones Beware is a game predicated on hope. But before I begin writing on that, I want to take a moment to talk about how thrilled I am with the discussion that last week’s blog post touched off.

One interesting bit of feedback that was very universal was that describing Let Thrones Beware as Traumatic Fantasy didn’t send the right signal. As a matter of fact, the connotations of the term seemed to be that it would focus on the exact sorts of topics I’ve explicitly disavowed.

Obviously that’s not going to do, so coming up with a new description is something that I will need to ponder over the next little while.

 

Hope v. Fear

And with that, it’s time to the actual topic of today’s post. In writing Let Thrones Beware, I deliberately set out to make a game about hope. The real world is chock full of dangerous events and bad actors. It’s not always true that the good side wins. Designing a game and setting that centred around hope and the potential for good to triumph was something that I felt was important to me. A game of escapism in which evil is formidable, but through struggle, good will triumph.

Some Examples

In much of the media we consume, the protagonists are confronted with a rising evil. An ominous danger that threatens to radically alter (or even destroy) life as they know it. In the classic computer game Baldur’s Gate, your character struggles to defeat Sarevok, a villain with designs on becoming the new God of Murder (sorry for the spoiler, but the game’s 20 years old). In the Lord of the Rings, the Fellowship journeys to the fires of Mount Doom to destroy the One Ring, in order to prevent Sauron from regaining his full power (you’ve had over 70 years to read this one). This arc is prevalent outside of fantasy: in Die Hard, everyone’s favourite Christmas Movie, McClane races to stop a group of sophisticated criminals before they clean out Nakatomi Tower and murder all the hostages to cover up their crime.

A common theme in all of the above is fear. Fear of a dangerous new threat, that if left uncontested, will see a vile, violent plan through to the end, with tragic repercussions for everyone involved.

What’s Different About Let Thrones Beware

I’ve written that Let Thrones Beware is a game about hope – so what exactly does that mean?

For starters, it means that evil has already won. There’s no rising tide to thwart. The fiction describes the Kingdom of Man’s invasion and the destruction of the civilizations of the indigenous species. It describes Man’s enslavement of the conquered and it’s subsequent thousand-year rule. It describes the apocalyptic destruction of Man’s empire, and the frenzied flight to safety of those natives who were fortunate enough to be outside the maelstrom.

All of these events would be fascinating stories to explore, but they’re not what Let Thrones Beware is about.

Instead, the heroes of Let Thrones Beware exist hundreds of years after the fall of the Kingdom. Man is gone, vanished from existence, but the aftershocks of his empire’s annihilation have served to arrest development and stop progress. Life, especially in the Deep Wood, the focal point of the adventurer tier, is hardscrabble. Restricted to tiny refuge villages hidden in remote clearings, the denizens of the forest struggle to survive. Bandits and ruffians, seduced by the opportunity for easy profit or starving, prey on travellers who venture from behind the protection of ramshackle walls. Unnatural horrors lurk between the trees, feeding on those desperate or crazy enough to brave the mist between the trees.

I’ll readily admit that all of this sounds quite grim; where, you might ask, is the hope? As I wrote earlier, evil has already won. Depressing as all this might be, it represents the nadir. A party of brave heroes can confront this darkness, breaking it’s shroud and restoring light to the world.

Of course, this fiction wouldn’t be anything without supporting mechanics, and there are two of particular note that I’ll mention here.

Chapter Track

The first is the Chapter Track. This GM tool allows the table to chart the progress of the heroes throughout each chapter of their campaign. Succeed at an adventure and the heroes advance on the chart – the light shines more brightly. The domain grows as more people are attracted to the safe haven the heroes have created.

The players receive a domain enhancement (which, at the Adventurer tier, could be as simple as a blacksmith moving to town – and as significant as adding a new kingdom to a growing alliance at the Legend tier).

Fail at an adventure, and the the heroes falter, receding down the track. Their domain shrinks as it’s inhabitants flee the growing danger.

Primordial Forces

The second is the concept of Primordial Forces. Let Thrones Beware is a game about overcoming evil – evil so complete and all encompassing that it has manifested as malevolent entities. Four such forces exist: Despair, Disorder, Greed, and Malice. Each of these forces opposes the efforts of the heroes, interfering in their adventures. Each strives to thwart the emergence of light. As the heroes progress through an adventure, they have opportunities to reduce these Primordial Forces. These manifestations can be brought low by making positive choices and overcoming evil foes.

Primordial Forces have agency in game. As GM, you can classify a particular encounter as one being advanced by these forces. When you do such a thing, the Force itself can exert influence. For example, if Disorder champions a combat walls and structures may collapse, opening pathways that enemies can traverse. The Force is reduced, or even eliminated from the adventure, if the heroes triumph in such an encounter.

Next week, I’ll continue this discussion by examining the tragedies wrought by the coming of the Kingdom of Man.

 

Try it 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.