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!

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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.

Playtest 007: Power Management – putting powers to work

The Problem: Power Management

As you know, power management in combat is a huge deal in Let Thrones Beware. Having access to the right power at the right moment can help turn the tide of battle, and coming up short can leave your character defenseless in the face of an adversary’s attack. Lately, the need to manage powers has been butting up against the collection of in-game abilities that say “if you exhaust an additional combat power, you do [extra effect].” These powers are fun opportunities for players to have a big impact, but the cannibalism of combat powers can slow down fights, and that’s a big problem given my emphasis on combat wrapping up in three to four rounds at most.

The old Rogue class feature:

A Rogue who has an Edge while engaging an opponent can use an Interrupt power in place of an attack power (this means that your Interrupt cannot be prevented). When wielding a light weapon, you may exhaust a second combat power of any type to inflict its damage in addition to that of the Interrupt.

Upcoming Changes

I got to thinking about the how to refine this mechanic. My first inclination was to use a chit system to provide characters with a resource they could expend. Rather than making them deplete precious combat powers, they’d have a secondary resource (a pile of tokens). That seemed okay at first, but then I got to thinking about tiered play. E.g. what happens when they leave the Adventurer tier and end up in Champion or Legend.
In the Adventurer tier, heroes have a finite supply of chits that they can use – three total. In higher tier play, I want the players to have the ability to recharge their chits so they more functionality. Gradually over time (in Champion) or constantly (in Legend). It occurred to me that I already had a resource system: powers. Rather than requiring players find and use chits, I could use the non-combat powers they already have as markers.

The new Rogue class feature:

A Rogue who has an Edge while engaging an opponent can use an Interrupt power in place of an attack power (this means that your Interrupt cannot be prevented). When you have Edge, and are wielding a light weapon, you may exhaust a non-combat power to double the damage of the Interrupt.

Advantages of the New System

The new power management system provides flexibility for adventurers to exploit their powers while ensuring that they’d not left helpless; something that can be very boring if it happens to you more than once.
Now, when heroes leave the Adventurer Tier, the rules say, “when you use a non-combat power to charge a combat ability, place it in your pile of exhausted powers. If, when you are refreshing powers, you draw a non-combat power, draw an additional power.” At the legend tier, they say, “when you use a non-combat power to charge a combat ability, place it in a separate exhausted pile. When you are refreshing powers, draw both a combat power and a non-combat power.”
The increasingly potent regeneration of this resource will allow players to take advantage of the options provided to their heroes as they climb through the tiers of play – stunting and supercharged powers, for example.

Playtest 007: Adventures and Primordial Forces

It’s been a few months since I’ve last posted about the Let Thrones Beware playtest. How’s it doing, you ask? Great, I’ll reply; and then I’ll go on to explain some of what we can expect in the 007 iteration (no British spies will be included). There are two major highlights for today’s post: Bells of War, a Let Thrones Beware adventure and Primordial Forces.

Playtest Addition: Bells of War: A Let Thrones Beware Adventure

Bells of War is an introductory adventure for 3-5 players (plus GM). It is intended for groups who are new to the system, and was designed with several goals in mind:

First, Bells of War serves as introduction for everyone at the table to the core concepts, mechanics, and style of Let Thrones Beware. Through a series of encounters, players will learn how the non-combat and combat challenge system works. GMs will learn how (and why) the system works the way it does, how to build effective and challenging encounters, and how to respond to player decisions.

Second, Bells of War establishes the groundwork for a long-term campaign spanning the hero, champion, and legend tiers of play. Primordial forces, mythic foes, and settlement management are all introduced to the groups who complete this adventure.

Third, this adventure is a template for anyone who’s interested in designing their own quest for Let Thrones Beware heroes. The challenges, decisions, and structure of the quest contained herein are representative of the system. Following the example set out by Bells of War will allow you to construct balanced adventures that challenge players and take advantage of all of the functionality Let Thrones Beware has on offer.

Playtest Addition: Primordial Forces

Primordial Forces are a new addition to Let Thrones Beware. The Kingdom of Man’s invasion, enslavement, and eventual destruction has left Ceyenus a fractured, broken world . The Primordial Forces of Trauma are the anguish of Ceyenus manifested. Four forces exist: Malice, Greed, Despair, and Disorder. Each of these forces stands in opposition to the heroes and their efforts to repair the world. Mechanically, each Traumatic Force provides the GM will a set of obstacles and complications that are inserted into combat and non-combat challenges. The ability of the Primordial Forces of Trauma to influence Ceyenus will be reduced as players progress through an adventure combating evil and righting wrongs.

Future iterations of the playtest will introduce new options for the players. Heroes will be able to align themselves with Heroic Primordial Forces that seek to bring Ceyenus back into balance: Hope, Compassion, Love, and Harmony. As characters gain experience, their connections to these Heroic forces will deepen. This will provide them with advantages which they can exploit to counter the machinations of Trauma.


Playtest 005: Character, Combat, Adversaries

Holy cow, somehow it’s already June: that means it’s Playtest 005 time! This packet contains a multitude of improvements for characters, the combat system, and remade, challenging adversaries

Playtest 005 Updates: Characters

Death to Ability Scores

One of the most dramatic changes for 005 is the elimination of ability scores. I’ve looked at several different ways of making generalization and hyperspecialization equally viable options for characters, but nothing was satisfactory.

005 completely eliminates ability scores, replacing them with a single Roll Bonus that characters include on every roll they make. This is quite beneficial,  as balancing challenges and designing opponents that are equally challenging for generalists and specialists was a frustrating experience, and that dilemma is no-longer a problem.

As it turns out, removing ability scores was an exceptionally simple process, and the game isn’t appreciably weaker for doing so. This reinforces that DTAS was the right choice!

Class Refinements

Playtesters using the previous version suggested that two classes, the Rogue and the Oracle were in tricky spots with respect to their class features.


While the Rogue’s Penetration skill was effective in damaging opponents,  it didn’t work with the rest of the party very well. Sure, it did direct HP damage, but if everyone else still had to carve through armour, meaning that the Rogue’s ability didn’t do a very good job of contributing to the fight.

Consequently, Penetration has been scrapped as a class feature, in favour of a new mechanic that allows the Rogue to initiate an engagement with an interrupt, as a cost of two powers, when in combat situations where she’s got Edge. This transforms the Rogue into an automatic damage machine, and meshes it well with the rest of the party.


Out is the ability for the Oracle to allow hp transfer to allies while engaging. The heal capability has been transferred entirely to powers. This helps eliminate duplication within the class (why bother taking the heal archetype and it’s powers when you can auto-heal for free?)

In place of the autoheal is a similar ability that increases an adjacent ally’s Resistance by one, up to its maximum. This encourages the Oracle to be front and centre in the fray, and giving free Resistance rather than allowing a transfer from Reserve to HP is a huge tactical advantage for frontline combatants.

Playtest 005 Updates: Combat


Totally new to Let Thrones Beware is the Desperation mechanic, which is designed to encourage combat to end quickly. No more combats stretching on for hours. Desperation begins at Composed, and over four rounds, climbs until it reaches Frantic.

In order to streamline combat, the old Edge mechanic has been pulled out. No longer will you have to round dice up or down, depending on the result. In its place, combatants will add or subtract the Desperation value (+1 through +4). This saves time versus figuring out how to modify each die. Further, it also encourages teamwork and collaboration, as the boost is much more significant than previously available.

Initiative Stack

The Initiative Stack is another new system introduced in 005. The old roll+Response stat was quite cargo-culty in design. It went a long way in pigeonholing characters in initiative order. There’s no reason that an equally encumbered Knight shouldn’t be as fast as a Rogue, for example.

In the new system, which has its own detailed post here, the heroes will bid combat powers against their adversaries, with the side who has the highest total initiative score going first.

Playtest 005 Updates: Adversaries

I’ve punched up adversaries in 005! I added a little description to adversary, and they’re now hooked into the Desperation system.

As Desperation increases, the tactics that your foes employ will change. Where once footguard would strategically crowd together, they will break apart, each fending for themselves. Brigands, initially confident in their ability to cut down any foe will grow less sure of themselves.

Their powers too, will change. Ranges will shrink and damage will grow. Foes will gain additional effects as they grow more desperate to defeat the heroes.


Playtest 004 Errata

Whoops. These definitions were missing from the playtest packet.

Armour attributes


Heavier armour slows you down, imposing a penalty to your Response score.


Resistance indicates the number of points of damage that your armour can prevent over the course of a combat. Each time you cancel a point of damage, your armour’s resistance is decreased by one. At the end of a fight, your armour’s resistance is reset to its original value.