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 006: Domains, Mass Combat, Mythic Foes

August has arrived, and with it, the 6th revision of the Let Thrones Beware Playtest. This iterative build refines the campaign cycle, adds preliminary domain management and mass combat, provides additional adversaries, and introduces new, uniquely dangerous mythic foes.

Playtest 006 Updates: GM Options

Non-Combat Challenges

Non-combat challenges have been provided more depth with the addition of background and foreground components and blockers. These components will make resolving non-combat challenges much more interesting, as heroes have to contend with a variety of new complicating factors.

Domain Management

Domain management is a new way for players to make their mark on Ceyenus. The heroes success or failure at resolving adventures manifests as changes in the campaign track; advances along the track allow the heroes to construct new enhancements (e.g. basic buildings such as a smithy or a stable at the adventurer tier). These enhancements provide additional resources to the heroes whenever they undertake a new adventure, and will allow the heroes to field a larger army when it comes to the ultimate battle between good and evil.

Mass Combat

Mass combat is the capstone of the campaign cycle. Depending on how well the heroes advanced the campaign track, the nefarious villain behind everything may launch an invasion. The heroes will assemble an army of allies based on how well they performed, and the pitched battle that results will determine the fate of the Deep Wood.

Adversaries

Two new adversaries have been added – one another faction in opposition to the heroes, and one something new entirely.

Mythic Foes

While most of the foes heroes face are surmountable with grit and determination, there are some opponents that cannot be defeated by mere force. These mythic foes pose significant danger, and can only be defeated by the heroes with significant preparation. In fact, if the heroes confront these foes without research and adequate preparation, they will quickly find themselves in an unwinnable situation.

Cult of Man

There exist secretive groups that seeks to discover the vile magics harnessed by the Kingdom to further their own goals. Venerating relics, unholy artifacts, and the bones of the dead, the Cult of Man seeks to uncover ancient secrets that hint at unleashing untold power. The Cult comes with a full compliment of adversaries of all types.

Playtest 006 Updates: Player Options

While 006 doesn’t include a significant change to heroes, it does add one new item. Much like how each class has a special feature that provides additional utility in combat, each background now comes with an ability useable in non-combat challenges. This will help differentiate the different backgrounds from each other and will help make background selection even more of a meaningful choice.

Playtest 006 Downloads

Player Packet

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.

Rogue

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.

Oracle

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

Desperation

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.

 

Initiative Stack: Making combat order a meaningful choice for players

The Initiative Problem

I continue to churn along in the development of Playtest 005. One of the things that struck me the other day is just how dull and meaningless the current iteration’s initiative system of Tier Die + Response score is. It’s almost entirely luck-driven, and there’s nothing about it that would lead players to make interesting decisions. Plus, it shoehorns characters into acting in a relatively similar order every combat.

A Solution

After mulling this over for a little while, I was struck by a bolt of inspiration, and after a day or so of furious tinkering, emerged from the darkness with a brand new initiative system! The intent of this revision was to make determining initiative a meaningful decision for the players. The party can virtually guarantee that it will act before the baddies they face, but there will be an immediate impact in terms of reduced capability in the first few rounds.

How the Initiative Stack Works

Each adversary the players face has an initiative modifier: arranging these from lowest (typically minion opponents) to highest (fast, mobile enemies) before the fight provides you with the Initiative Stack.

To determine when they go in each combat round, the heroes first decide among themselves the order in which they would like to act. It might make sense for the nimble Rogue to go first in one combat, but in the next, the party may wish to get its heavily armoured Knight into position right at the outset. This decision is made by the party, and the GM has no role to play. Once the heroes have determined their combat order, they as a group exhaust combat powers (as many as they like), totaling the Force Score of the powers they have bid to form an Initiative Stack of their own.

The order in combat is determined by comparing the values of the competing stacks. The side with the highest-valued stack goes first, the largest value is removed from the stack. This done, another comparison is made, and the next-highest value is removed. This continues until the full order is determined. Once determined, initiative order does not shift for the remainder of the combat.

Players begin the first round of combat with all powers chosen for the purposes of determining initiative order exhausted.

 

An Example

In the above Stack, the heroes have committed to winning the initiative, and have exhausted five powers to try and make sure they go first. In the first comparison, their stack has highest total value (9 vs. 8), and Sue acts first. The heroes remove the rightmost value from their stack, and another comparison is made. This time, the adversary stack is largest (6 vs. 8), and so the Sargent is placed next in initiative order. The adversary stack is reduced, and another comparison is made, identifying Bill as the next to go (6 vs. 4). The comparisons continue in this manner until the order of one side is full determined. At that point, the remainder of the other side is appended to the initiative order.

These comparisons leave us with the following combat order:

 

Playtest 5: How the Campaign Cycle Pulls Your Game Together

With playtest 4 out the door, it’s time to start discussing new features that will appear in playtest 5. Today, the campaign cycle!

 

What’s the Campaign Cycle All About?

The campaign cycle is a way to organize your Let Thrones Beware games with a definitive beginning, middle, and end. The cycle is broken up into three distinct chapters (Adventurer, Champion, and Legend), one for each Tier the player-characters reach.

 

Overview

Each chapter focuses on a particular threat which, when resolved, leads into a more ominous threat in the subsequent chapter. In your default setting, the Adventurer chapter is about bandits plaguing the Deep Wood, led by a fearsome bandit queen. This leads into the Champion chapter, focusing on stopping a fanatical death cult that has infiltrated the highest levels of the Baronet’s court. Finally, in the Legend Tier, Heroes confront the otherworldly forces manipulating the cult which threaten to annihilate all of Ceyenus.

 

Campaign Chapter

Each chapter  is separated into adventures. Three’s normal, but you could do just one if you want to rush, or nine if you’ve got the time. At the end of an adventure, the GM adjusts a villain track depending on their success or failure measuring how well the evil plan progresses. The heroes also get to base-build when they finish an adventure, expanding the town, fortress, or country in which they reside.

Each campaign chapter concludes with a climactic battle between the heroes and their allies and the chapter’s villain the forces that the heroes can marshal against evil depend on the base-building they have accomplished over the course of the chapter. Finally, the heroes engage in a ferocious duel against the villain, and when victorious, transition to bigger and better things.

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

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.