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.

Playtest 004: Character archetypes, more powers, and more choice!

I’m very pleased to announce that the Playtest 004 documents are complete and published! There are many new and exciting things included in this latest iteration of the Let Thrones Beware playtest, and the changes are sure to be a hit at your gaming table.


Playtest 004 Changes

Character Creation

I’m most excited about the pile of new options for character creation; the game’s approach to building your character has been significantly revised! Under the 003 rules, your character was completely determined by your choice of species, background, and class. Every character with same three choices would be mechanically identical. Under the newly revised system, your character will select between two different class archetypes, providing you with options to make your experience more diverse. The number of starting powers has also been boosted, and rather than being predetermined, they’re now for you to choose. Players now get to choose their starting competency and weaponry, providing even more choice to tailor your character.


Combat Powers

Combat power effects now have an associated secondary attribute, which determines whether the effect triggers or not. This determination is an easy process; simply swap the power’s attribute for the secondary, and if your Force Score still exceeds that of your victim, the effect fires. This change is being implemented in order to make stat diversification a more attractive alternative to focusing entirely on a single stat.


You might want to take a look at this if…

  • … you enjoy tactical combat, but dislike having nothing to do in between taking your turns;
  • … you enjoy gradated success in modern games like Fate and Dungeon World, but want a tactical component to your gameplay;
  • … you like the character building of D&D 4e, but dislike the item treadmill and fiddly feat choices; and
  • … you like the simplicity of D&D 5e’s advantages, but want a game with more parity between player characters.

Playtest Downloads

Play by Post – Adventure Online From Anywhere!

The Play by Post format is a great way to combine pen and paper rpgs with the play-anywhere style of the internet. Sadly, playing online by posting to a message board is a bit more complicated than sitting down in person. Regular pdf and printed sheets don’t work. Everyone hacking at their own best guess to share character status makes things confusing and unwieldy. Fortunately, there’s a solution available!

A BBCode-formatted character sheet for play by post forum games

I’ve created a special BBCode-formatted character sheet. This will allow you to bring the adventures of Let Thrones Beware to your favourite online forum. Simply download the form from the link below, plug in your character’s stats and gear, and off to the races you go.


Play by Post character sheet (171 downloads)

Class Powers Revised: More choices for everyone!

Class powers are a central way for a character to define themselves in Let Thrones Beware. Today’s post is look at how I’m revising how players select class powers
for the next playtest.

Old and Busted

A few weeks ago I ran the first playtests for Let Thrones Beware; one of the issues that came up was that players felt constrained. Each class provided two combat powers and one non-combat power, and this combined with a background which gave the opposite. All told, though each character had six powers, in practice, people found that to be too limiting.

(Another tester observation: class/background power assignment meant that every character with the same class and  background combination would possess exactly the same toolkit).

It was very obvious from feedback that a new approach was required. A new approach to ensure that characters are interesting to make and fun to play. Player advancement wasn’t covered in our first playtests, though it had always been the plan that as a character advanced in experience, she or he would gain more power options. What this meant was that there was already a body of unpublished class powers.

Which in retrospect made for a rather obvious solution.

New and Shiny

First, I split classes into two archetypes (for rogue, as an example, there is one archetype that focuses on traps and one on feints). Each of these archetypes automatically provides a character with a default power that highlights the archetype’s intent. Plus, five power additional options that can be selected during character creation and later on as players advance.

Second, I increased the number of combat powers with which a character begins play. Now everyone gets to choose three additional class powers above and beyond the default and the one provided by the background. Players may select from all the optional available powers to their class (including powers from the other archetype, with the exception of the other archetype default power).

Finally, a character receives a special capstone power only available to their archetype when she or he reaches the end of a tier. Presto, classes are immediately more distinct and far more interesting for players to choose between when creating a character. Plus, there’s another benefit: two characters with the same class will now play differently.

It’s time to fight: Looking at Adversaries

Let’s look at adversaries for a moment. Adversaries come in different types; minions, who automatically perish after an engagement, but trigger a condition if they win. A sentry minion who loses an engagement dies. Sentry minion that wins triggers an alarm. Minions also have a free ‘commanded’ ability.

Standard adversaries are regular foes; high damage, low hp for quick, punishing fights that emphasize tactical play at melee and range. These are the meat of any combat encounter, and generally are the hardest hitters.

Commanders are elite foes that can deal tremendous damage and issue commands to minions once a turn as a free action. There’s an incentive to target Commanders first, otherwise the heroes may find themselves in real trouble. Commanders generally have a power that allows them to spawn new minion reinforcements.

Last, legendary foes need more than damage to beat: e.g. Medusa’s reflection in the bronze shield or the fire that was used to seal the Hydra’s wounds. Heroes must identify and overcome weakness in order to defeat a legendary foe, and identifying the weakness is a quest unto itself. Kicking down the door and assaulting a Legendary adversary will result in a “heroes wanted” shingle going up at the local inn.


Every adversary belongs to a grouping; the Marauder, Knife, Sargent, and Hatchet are all brigands, for example. Grouping isn’t just a label, it has mechanical impact. Every adversary belonging to the same grouping shares a common tactic. In the case of brigands, it’s “Strike and Fade.” Each of them is able to make an additional move after winning an engagement. This makes brigands highly mobile opponents, unlike militia, whose “Form the Line” tactic shuts down forced movement when two are adjacent.  Immediately, the two types play differently in combat; brigands are going to move all over, and militia are going to try and link together.

Adversaries also have strategies. These are effects that apply across groups and are applied based on the most common adversary in the fight. If the players are up against 4 brigands and a criminal, the brigand strategy, “Encirclement” applies. If there were more criminals, it would be “Emboldened.” The strategy applies to all adversaries in play so that lone criminal also has access to Encirclement.
Encirclement means that any adversary may move off one side of the battlefield and reappear at the opposite after a round. If Emboldened was in play, each round more than half the baddies win an engagement, two new criminal minions are added. By combining different tactics and strategies, fights take on a radically different feel even when sharing many of the same adversaries.

A brand new playtest packet is now available

Hey heroes, exciting news! The Adversary, Obstacle, and Hazard document is done and uploaded, marking the completion of the first full playtest package. It’s now possible to run a full introductory adventure using the published materials.


Why you might want to take a look at this if…

  • … you enjoy tactical combat, but dislike having nothing to do in between taking your turns;
  • … you enjoy gradated success in modern games like Fate and Dungeon World, but want a tactical component to your gameplay;
  • … you like the character building in D&D 4e, but dislike the item treadmill and fiddly feat choices; and
  • … you like the elegant dice rolling system of D&D 5e’s advantages, but … 5e


What’s included

On the player side, this release includes everything you need for five races (Echthroi, Ipotane, Fey, Formian, and Insectoid), four backgrounds (Criminal, Noble, Merchant, and Guard), and four classes (Knight, Oracle, Rogue, and Hedge Wizard). All this in addition to the combat and skill equipment, competencies, and influences you need to be the shining hero you know yourself to be.

For GMs, this packet includes a host of helpful advice, three different adversary types (brigands, condemned, and criminals), a number of non-combat challenges (as well as an online generator to dynamically create new challenges on the fly), and three different hazards to incorporate into battlefields.

Looking to the future

The next revision (004) is scheduled to include additional competencies and class options (we’re ultimately aiming for two distinct archetypes per class), additional adversaries, an expansion of the non-combat challenge system to include actions in the foreground and the background, and a change to the combat power system that will link power effects with non-core skills.


GM Content

GM Playtest Packet (271 downloads) Adversaries, Obstacles, and Hazards (228 downloads)

Player Content

Character Playtest Packet (341 downloads) Character sheet (268 downloads)


Sneak Peek – Knight to Remember – Enriched Merchant

Next up in our examination of the Knight to Remember adventure is the merchant background. There have been some changes to the skill system; you’ll notice that the skill powers attached to this background have a new descriptor – skill damage, and that this background has a new item included – skill equipment. We’ll get to how this system works in a forthcoming update (and Rogue in the Woods will be updated to describe how it works at the same time), but for now just be aware of the changes.


Merchants are the lifeblood of the Deep Wood, the sole way in which goods vital to the survival of the denizens of the forest circulate between the fortified hamlets. It is a hard life, full of danger and risk, but for those who undertake the perilous journeys every Passage, it is one that surpasses all other professions.

More than just purveyors of goods, traveling Merchants are held in high regard for their knowledge of the goings-on of the Deep Wood. Their travel from settlement to settlement provides them with unique insight into the forest, and can often be found serving as guides and navigators when they are not leading caravans themselves.

Merchants are among the rare few from the forest who have ever visited the Gate of Thorns, a fortified redoubt built upon ancient ruins which guards the solitary mountain pass connecting the Deep Wood to the wide-open plains of the east.


Merchants gain +1 to Presence due to all their wheeling and dealing.


Inventory 3, Knowledge 0, Contact 1


Merchants also have the following combat and non-combat powers:

Trading Fortune

Skill Attack – SFRWP 1

Skill Damage: 1S

For every two Inventory influences spent, you can provide an ally with a +1 modifier in the same contest


A Wise Investment

Skill Counter – SFRWP 3

Skill Damage: 1S

You may trade two Inventory Influence for a use of a Contact influence


Glitter of Gold

Melee Counterattack – SFRWP 3

Damage 1W

You may move one square after attacking. This movement is not subject to Reprisal.


The Merchant begins with the following equipment:

Prodigious Research


Circumstance: The Deep Wood

Skill Damage 1S



Adventurers with this background are often motivated by a desire to find wealth beyond what they were able to obtain as peddlers. Merchants may also be inspired to take up a life of heroics by the banditry and violence that plague the winding trails connecting the refuge villages. A Merchant adventurer may also be driven to take up adventuring to supplement a flagging business.

Why Play a Merchant

The Merchant background is a good choice for players who want to have a character who gave up a lucrative (or not) past to pursue something greater than themselves. When adventuring, Merchants always seem to have just the thing to overcome the obstacle confronting them.