Forge Engine beta feedback (pt. 1)

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Character Sheet, Combat, Forge Engine, Game Design, Magic, Mechanics, Playtest, RPG, Rules, Skills, Stat Blocks

This post and the next few blog posts include long and in-depth feedback and discussion from the recent Forge Engine beta playtest and feedback process. 

In the text below, the text in italics is the comment from the playtester/reader, and the following normally formatted text is my response and discussion.  Special thanks to Reddit user htp-di-nsw for this first round of feedback.

The discussion here is unfiltered and extensive.  One of the most interesting insights of this first round of feedback is the journey of the reader's page-by-page discovery of the system, the assumptions about how things work, and their reevaluation of those assumptions as they progress through the system.

So prepare yourself for some really deep discussion of the design intent of Forge Engine.

Gird your loins, fellow travellers.

Forge Engine editing

Diamonds are hard to read after 5 or so. World of Darkness used dots, but put a space between each 5 so it's easier to see at a glance.

Yes, noted.  I had segmented equipment with 6+ ratings, but I missed the examples, which still had ‘unsegmented’ die pools.

It's really unclear from just the name what your mental attributes actually do. I can guess it's Social, Smarts, and Perception, but most people wouldn't.

The Forge Engine mental stats are Influence, Intelligence and Acuity.  Influence is the character’s ability to get others to do what they want, encompassing their physical attractiveness and interpersonal abilities.  Intelligence is their straight-up problem solving and application.  And Acuity is their insight and connectedness to the world.

In D&D, these are Charisma, Intelligence and Wisdom.  There are a couple of minor differences here.  Charisma is defined as ‘physical attractiveness and charm that inspires devotion’.  Influence expands this slightly to broaden from ‘charm’ to generic interpersonal abilities.  Wisdom is ‘the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment; the quality of being wise’.  Again, there’s a lot of overlap of the traditional definitions of Wisdom and Intelligence.  To differentiate from D&D (for better or for worse), and to differentiate from Intelligence, I selected Acuity instead of Wisdom.

Ok, but what the stats actually do is identical. Nobody has thought of Wisdom as anything but "perception, willpower, and miscellaneous stuff clerics/druids do (like handle animal and heal)" for like three editions. The definition of these words means little in the long run. It's what people think they mean. Dexterity, for example, does not literally mean agility, but everyone who has ever played D&D probably thinks it does. I'm just saying, I think you tried too hard to be different for difference sake when something familiar would help people grasp what you're doing more easily.

We place a different value on the differentiation.

Energy pool being based on your three best attributes heavily discourages having average stats. It actually highly incentivizes dumping three in order to max the other three.

The philosophy here is to ensure that each of the attribute is useful (more on this later).  And the second philosophy is that the increasing cost of attribute improvements mean that eventually it’s more and more expensive to keep pumping attributes.

So while it might be a good character build strategy to max out three of your attributes, this is not a good long term plan.

They did not pan out that way because you created skills that undermine almost everything they actually do. The only hard and fast things I saw were: only Agility can do initiative (which you were even considering changing), only Stamina can do HP, and mental/physical stats can't cross boundaries for PD and MD. But there's a mental defense skill and an attack skill for every mental stat. There's a physical defense skill for all three physical stats, and two of the three have attack skills. It's almost like an express purpose of your skill system was "dump 3, keep 3." Or rather, dump 2, keep 4, really.

Yes, in many cases you can pay CP to compensate for low ratings in particular attributes.  As with all games, players can choose to build an all-rounder character, or can tip their CP into specialized areas to emphasize particular play styles.

Externalities is a terrible word and I think you just used it to make SAGE work.

I’m still looking for a better word.  The alternative was SAGA, which is already a whole RPG system.

Look, I could be wrong, but I don't believe that anyone is actually going to be sitting at the table thinking of SAGE to figure out what's next. Spend, Add, and Gain, are not even intuitive words for what's happening. If someone were to ask me how to sum up your system, I'd say something like:

"Your stats form your base dice pools, but each die you roll costs energy, so, you can use fewer dice if you want. If you use gear, it also adds dice for energy, but usually not 1:1. Bigger gear weirdly tends to have a better exchange rate, though, and there's no real incentive to not use the best ratio gear exclusively. Sometimes, extra skills basically grant maneuvers, and they let you pump the pools higher. Situational modifiers add/subtract at the end, but really, since most are location based, you had to spend energy to get them via movement, so it's more about "did you luckily start combat in a good spot?" Always save a couple for defense later, but not much. You get your full pool back every round, so if you don't spend it, it's wasted"

SAGE is just a cutesy ordering that I can't imagine helping anyone.

Interesting reframing.  Not what I would choose, but a different way of presenting the core mechanics.

Add seems to suggest your actions cost more energy if you are better at the action (i.e. because you're rolling more dice). Is that true? That seems wrong. Shouldn't being more skilled mean you can get more benefit for less energy? I guess it's kind of neutralized by the act that your overall energy is governed by your best stat anyway.

Okay, let’s break this down a little bit.

The spend cost of an action is the MINIMUM effort required to complete that action.  If you’re shooting a pistol, it’s pulling the trigger and vaguely aiming.  If you’re swinging a sword, it’s the effort required to swing the hunk of metal.

The add cost of an action is the additional effort that a character can put into the action.  Characters with higher attributes have more headroom here to add extra effort to the action (and by definition they also have more energy).

When you spend energy to swing a shitty weapon, you gain less dice in return (spend 3, gain 2).  When you spend energy to swing a big old two handed greatsword, you might gain slightly more dice (spend 4, gain 6).

The basic martial skills and the specialized martial skills only trigger from the added energy.  So now, when you add 1 extra energy to the attack, you also gain 1 extra die from your corresponding basic martial skill (e.g. Melee Weapons).  Here you use 1 energy, and get 2 in your attack pool.  Additionally, if you have other specialized martial skills that trigger, then this 1 added energy can put 2, or 3 or more dice into your attack pool.

The meta for Forge Engine is to maximize your attack pool for the minimum energy.

It feels like PD and MD are unbalanced. PD starts at 1, basically nothing, and raises mostly with actions and equipment. MD starts at your middle attribute, so, probably 2-3, but only really gets added via traits. I sure hope pools to attack PD and MD are formed differently, too.

Yes, PD and MD are asymmetrical.  MD is based on the middle of your Influence, Intelligence, and Acuity.  When defending attacks against their MD, characters can increase their MD pool by adding energy through skills like Coherent Mind, Iron Will, and Empty Vessel.

Why are they asymmetrical, though? I saw the spells and stuff later. You build pools against them the exact same way, just usually without a gear-based initial buy in.

Because there’s no ‘armor’ for spells, and I didn’t want to get into nickel-and-diming the spend costs for every spells.

It is insane to me that a short sword takes 3 energy to use, but a greatsword takes 4. That's the scale? I recognize that a greatsword isn't actually all that heavy, but a shortsword shouldn't start at 3...that's so high.

There’s always a limited resolution for the costs and benefits in RPGs.  So for D&D, the character class hit dice and weapon damage dice are constrained by the available set of polyhedral dice.

In Forge Engine, attack costs and attack effectiveness is constrained by the resolution of sets of d10 dice.

The smallest attack, with the least effort, requires only 1 energy.  The most strenuous attacks require 5 energy.

  • 1 Energy: Pull the trigger of a light pistol.
  • 2 Energy: Fire a heavy revolver or rifle, wield a light knife.
  • 3 Energy: Fire a heavy shotgun, swing a baseball bat/machete/fire axe, swing a mace, fire a shortbow.
  • 4 Energy: Fire a heavy machinegun, swing a heavy sword, fire a heavy crossbow, throw a war spear
  • 5 Energy: Fire a super-heavy arbalest, swing a halberd, fire a heavy sniper rifle.

So as you can see, there’s a fairly linear scale of increasing effort through the equipment.

I just think you worked yourself into a corner. You wanted it to be more energy to fire a heavy pistol than a light one, and nothing could be 0, so it had to be 1 and 2. Then you thought, "well, swinging any weapon is harder than pulling a trigger" so even light, easy to use weapons started at 3. I think you'd be better off if your energy cost scaling was different for ranged and melee. Just say aiming costs more energy than it seems. Whatever. That way unarmed or light knives can be 1 energy, a shortsword and weapons of that general size can be 2, and the medium weapons like longswords and stuff can be 3.

Aiming and reloading does cost a bit more than melee weapons, making these weapons less effective than melee weapons.

As for the other costings, they don’t leave enough granularity for my liking.

Ew, the opposed roll system is really awkward and seems time consuming. I love die pools, but changing the target number in a die pool is notoriously tricky and creates really opaque success chances. Defense pool is trying just to roll really high. You can have an awful defense pool, but if it comes up a 10, your attack is screwed. Meanwhile, a really bad defense roll just wrecks you. And yeah, you need to have the defensive roll first, so you can tell how well the attack did. Very time consuming. Opposed rolls are already time consuming enough when you compare successes.

Going back to principles; the core principle is that the player can choose how much energy their character uses on attacks, defenses, and other actions.  In play, this means that the player can choose to use energy to increase the size of their dice pools, or take a chance and use all their energy on attacks and rely on their basic physical or mental defenses.

The system’s inherent combination of attack pool sizes (6-12 dice), defense pool sizes (~3 dice), and character Health means that combat is generally over in 2-3 rounds.  The great thing about these numbers of dice is that the combats generally revert to the mean, they are generally predictable at a macro level, but unpredictable at a micro level.

By this I mean that there’s a fair bit of variability for the micro span of individual attacks, but that this variability isn’t generally reflected across the macro span of an entire combat.

At the table, we generally roll the attack pool and defense pool simultaneously.

Additionally, there are specialized skills like Sidestep that allow characters to add extra dice after the pools have been rolled to ‘fix’ a shitty defense roll.

Since the energy pool is so central to the game, I wish it was covered in more depth here early on. I understand how to add, spend, and expend, but I don't actually have any idea what typical values are, for example. That's pretty critical to understanding the game.

I figure we’re on maybe page 7 here.  I dedicate literally 4 pages to the use of energy from page 17-20, but I don’t think I can move that here ahead of character development.

Do all attributes start at 1, or do I have to buy the first point, too?

Yes, they all start at 1.  I have that up in the rules boxes, but I’ve added it to the first sentence of the section text.

If you spend the same pool of points on Attributes and Traits, they should not be separate character creation steps. And if you were to order them, Traits should go first because some of them alter the cost of attributes.

I’ve switched these.

9 pages into this, I can identify a frustrating pattern that is making it very hard for me to like/actually use this game: you keep highlighting a game term or rule or whatever, provide almost all of the detail I need to actually use that thing, then stop completely and move on to the next thing just when I am looking to complete my knowledge. It's getting really bad. It started with energy, which you have explained twice now, in slightly increasing depth, but still incompletely. But it was the worst when you told me to buy traits, then said "Oh, the list is like 15 pages away, though, so, you get to wait." GYAH! Just give me all the information I need for a single concept and THEN move on.

I feel your frustration.          

The book starts with a quick Fundamentals section, which covers the building blocks of the Forge Engine (including Energy, Action Pools and Defense Pools).  And then the Core Mechanics section covers Dice Pools and the use of the Energy Pool.  I could combine these sections, but I’m not sure that would alleviate your problem (but it might).

As for the Traits, I have deliberately separated all of the Traits, Skills, and Equipment into a standalone section of the book.  The intent of this Game Content section is for it to be separate and removable for players.  So once the core rules have been grokked, the players can simply use that Game Content section, without having to wade around through the rules to find the bits and pieces of content that they need.

It is not great that you can't increase a skill beyond its governing attribute. You basically don't allow anyone to get beyond their natural limit. What if someone is really bad at social situations in general, but really good at lying? They have a weak attribute with one good skill, but...uh...can't have that. You basically can't get better at a given skill without getting better at EVERY skill related to that attribute. Weird. This was the case in Godlike, too, which always bothered me. And it led to very symetrical characters. People basically had twice their attribute to every skill they actually cared about, especially since skills are so much cheaper.

I too have struggled with this.  The rule is there to make it explicit that in 95% of cases, the number of dice contributed to a dice pool will be governed by the appropriate attribute and the skill, and additional skill ratings will be wasted.  There are some rare cases where an attribute test might pair an attribute with a skill that’s not its normally association (such as and Intelligence (Perception) test to recall something a character saw in passing several days earlier).

In play, I’ve found that generally there are not enough character points going around for players to max out every one of their characters’ skills.

Step 9 just...why? That always cracks me up when that stuff gets included at all, but to put it last...? Shouldn't that be part of the concept when you first start, which actually isn't even a real step?

I know this comes at Step 9, but the second paragraph of this section is explicit about deciding your character concept ahead of creating the character:

‘Before creating your character, it is important to have an idea of the sort of character you wish to play and how that character fits in with your adventuring party and the game world where they exist.  A little forethought and planning here will save you the embarrassment of showing up to a post-apocalyptic wasteland with your halfling tinker.’

Yes, I know. That's why, if it's a step at all, it should be step 1.

Fixed.  Moved to step 1.

Initiative as a skill (looking at Wasteland Scavenger)? Yeah, there's no way that could go badly... <_<

So the Initiative skill gives bonus dice when making initiative tests.  These tests usually just use the character’s Agility attribute.  When you have the initiative skill, you have more dice for the test, but there are no absolute bonuses.  I’m intrigued to hear any possible exploits here.

Exploits are going first always wins in every RPG where initiative is measured. Going first matters. Making it a skill means it's a necessary skill. It's also some of the only (if not the only) skill dice with no energy cost. You're a fool not to max this.

Going first is good; which requires Agility.  Being strong is good; which requires Strength.  Having lots of health is good; which requires Stamina.  So instead of being fast and going first, you could instead tank and take the attacks, then retaliate even harder (Retaliation, Strikeback Attack, Hard to Kill, Weakpoint Strike, etc).

Actually, wait, I still don't know how much energy you get back every round? What's up with that? I should probably know that by now.

I’ve clarified this in a couple of places on pages 5 and 7.

Page 5: ‘All characters have an energy pool that reflects how much effort they can use in a short period of time, such as in combat.  All physically and mentally draining actions use energy from the character’s energy pool, which is replenished from round to round.’

Page 7: ‘Characters regain non-expended energy at the start of each of their turns.’

You don't see how neither one of those tells me an amount? When I saw "which is replenished from round to round." I was thinking "What the heck? How much is replenished? Why didn't he just tell me right now?!" Same with the second. Characters regain non expended energy. Ok, how much. If those are the sentences you want to use for this, you need to add words.

"...use energy from the character's energy pool, all of which is replenished from round to round."

"Characters regain all non-expended energy at the start of each of their turns."

Fixed.

The character called a Gunslinger has less skill in Hand guns than Brawling? Really?

My fault.  Fixed.

Wasteland scavenger has the same armor value as the Hospiter, but needs no skill while the Hospiter does?

My fault.  Also fixed.

The Hospiter has Engaged attack. I know it's meant to be hitting enemies that are attacking your allies, but, uh, doesn't that work the same as basically a sneak attack where you get better by attacking an enemy that's not paying attention to you? That's weird that it's the same thing.

So, the Sneak Attack ability in D&D-land is the rogue ability that targets unaware enemies, or enemies in reach of your allies.

For Engaged Attack, I wanted an ability that works like a combination of flanking and D&D Sneak Attack, but without the concept of facing or the necessity of grid combat.

Yes, I got that. But it's archetypally weird to give it to a Paladin, isn't it?

The Hospiter is more of a cleric than a paladin, and Engaged Attack is generally useful for any melee character.

None of these characters have 30 skill points. Most have half that or less.

This is the case.  I don’t have the page space to list all of the skills that 30 CP characters would have.

It is a personal pet peeve of mine when RPGs conflate Agility and Dexterity. It is so common, it's acceptable and doesn't make me hate the game or anything, but I do roll my eyes at least once at the idea of all those gymnast snipers.

I know.  I wish there was a better way, but I don’t want to try to separate these.

In the framework of your game, Acuity, which is basically just perception and traditionally Wisdom based magic, could do hand-eye coordination. It could be used for parrying and ranged attacks quite well. But that would leave blurred lines between physical and mental that I think you relied on. Again, though, this is minor. Everyone in the RPG world does this (except me...Agility and Dexterity are separate stats in my game).

Yeah.

You used the D&D 6 stats...why did you rename them? You didn't actually change any of their meanings whatsoever. Was it just to be different? You'd probably have more traction if you just went with the core 6.

As I mentioned above, I changed the definitions of Influence and Acuity from Charisma and Wisdom.  Agility and Stamina I changed so that Influence and Acuity wouldn’t be lonely.

Come on. You didn't. You changed the dictionary definition, but nobody uses the dictionary. Acuity does all the things Wisdom does in D&D. Influence does all the things Charisma does in D&D. You know it does.

I changed to the dictionary definition.  I don’t care greatly what D&D does.  That’s why I call the character’s characteristics attributes, and not ‘ability scores’.  D&D has ingrained some poor definitions, and I’d rather not perpetuate those.

I think writing numbers in the diamonds is fine, but you are inconsistent about what those numbers are, and that makes the notation more confusing than helpful. Sometimes, it refers to a stat rating, sometimes to the die pool total, sometimes to the number a die rolled, and sometimes to what the target number is. If you're going to use it, it should be for a unified reason.

As you point out, I use the numbered diamonds in two ways, to represent:

  • The number of dice in an attribute, rating, or pool (all through the book)
  • The results of rolled dice (only on page 7)

Seems like I need to find an alternate way to demonstrate the results of rolled dice on page 7.

How do you suggest people actually track energy? It looks tricky. I'd think you use dice, but there's a lot of uneven exchances and spending...could be very confusing very quickly. Oh, you explained literally one sentence later. I don't know, though, dice seem like it will get weird, but it's the best idea I have, too.

(I think we’re on page 17 here).

Yes, we use dice to represent energy.

There are two sets of dice, usually differently colored.  One set of dice is used for energy, and the second set of dice is for gained or bonus dice.

In fact, the playtest packet includes a dice mat that helps players organize and manage the character’s energy, action and defense pools.

So...wait, I get all my energy back every round? So, why does the game act like I shouldn't spend it all? I don't understand. It's an artificial limit, then. Your overall abilities are determined basically by your three best stats and that's it.

At your initiative you regain your energy.  However, Forge Engine combat takes place across concurrent rounds, and the game’s energy economy means that unlike traditional action economy games (like D&D), you don’t have to take all of your actions at your initiative.

Given that, you probably shouldn’t alpha strike all of your energy immediately at your initiative, unless you reckon you can stick the knock-out.  Otherwise you’ll be vulnerable further down the initiative order.

Yes, but you can and should spend it all before your next turn or its just wasted. So, only don't attack with what you're going to spend on defense.

Again, the concurrent rounds mean that you can’t always predict what you’ll need for attacks or for defense across each round.

Is there some kind of limit to how much energy you can spend to boost a die pool? In theory, I could just have a massive pool of energy and NO skills at all, but still have a big die pool?

You can only add energy up to the rating of your relevant attribute.  From page 5:

‘• Add energy up to the relevant attribute rating into the character’s action pool.’

Given that the target numbers are random, it seems like I'm way better off making several smaller attacks per round, rather than bothering to boost with energy. For example, with a Greatsword that is 4/6...if I had 8 energy, I could attack twice with 12 dice total, or I could attack and spend all 4 to add dice, which gives me 10...I'd need at least 3 skill to make that worthwhile.

I mentioned earlier the metagame of Forge Engine, which is to maximize the size of your dice pool for the minimum energy spend.

For any given energy pool (say, 10 Energy), a character could make 3 basic attacks or make 1 or 2 maximized attacks.

When making three basic attacks (where the character only spends the energy required to make the attack and doesn’t add any energy to bolster the attack), the character would spend 9 energy in total, and have three pools that sum up to 9 dice (across those three attacks).

Alternatively, the character could make two attacks, each of which gets 2 energy added to it.  So first, we have two attacks costing 5 energy.  Each of these attacks starts with 3 dice from the weapon, then gets 2 extra dice from the added energy.  Assuming that the character has the matching basic martial skill for the weapon, the 2 added energy is matched by 2 energy from the matching skill.  So even from just having the basic martial skill for the weapon, the character has spent 10 energy on two attacks, and each of these attacks has 7 dice, giving a sum of 14 dice for the two attacks.

Additionally, if the character has other specialized martial skills, then these dice pools could be even larger, depending on the other skills that the player can trigger.  For example, Engaged Attack is a fairly straightforward skill to trigger if the character has nearby allies.  Triggering this skill for the same attack cost and added energy would increase the sum of that dice pool from 14 dice to 18 dice.

Finally.  Due to Forge Engine’s concurrent combat rounds, each time a character makes and action, each other character (working down the initiative order) gets an opportunity to use their energy to take an action of their own.  So, when your hero makes their first attack, other characters have the ability to strike back or to move themselves into a more advantageous position (such as moving to negate some of your specialized martial skill combos).

I am frustrated that character creation was first, but I still can't actually create a character 23 pages into the game, because the absolutely critical skill and trait lists are later on.

As I mentioned earlier, the game content is deliberately collected together into a separate section for long-term usability.  So I’ve sacrificed a bit for this first read-through (possibly a silly decision), in order to optimize long-term use.

The other goal here is to allow space for other creators to come in and replace that entire game content section with a tailored pack of content that expands, focuses, or limits the available options.

I also can't really tell what attributes do anymore, besides cap skills and provide energy. It looks like maxing three and dumping 3 really is the smart move.

Don’t forget, you can only add energy up to the rating of your relevant attribute.

That wasn't made clear at the point I was at in the text. I understood that later, though.

I’ve emphasized this now.

Because of mental defense, you'd want to drop one mental stat, Strength (because Finesse Weapons makes strength pointless), and Stamina. I know you get fewer HP, but you get better energy, better Mental Defense, and no other obvious (at this time) drawbacks.

I’m enjoying your journey through build optimization.  Dumping Stamina is an interesting strategy...

Ok, so, attributes only matter during non-combat situations? When things don't cost energy? Why the stark separation of system here? Why is the primary factor of success in combat how much effort you put in, but everything else actually cares about your natural abilities? Ok, it's even weirder. So attributes matter during combat, just not for specifically combat rolls.

Attributes matter in adventuring and in combat.  Attributes cap the amount of energy that can be added to combat actions.

Ok, I understand knowing basically how actions and energy work, but I definitely don't need to know detailed movement rules before a list of traits and skills...

As discussed earlier, the game rules are self-contained, and the player-facing game content is self-contained.

What is the point of Empowered? You can't have more than your full energy, so, what, it's a buffer against incoming enervation?

You can have more energy than your maximum if it’s bonus energy (page 17).  This energy is over and above your normal maximum energy.

Ok, so, Empowered is incredibly amazingly powerful. Check.

Yes.  Which is why I haven’t found a place, or a way, to trigger it yet.

Blinded...doesn't affect attacks at all? You just get worse at perception and defense? Really?

Thanks for noticing, I’ve fixed this now.

‘You cannot see.

  • You automatically fail Acuity (Perception) tests that rely wholly on vision.
  • When making attribute tests that include vision (including attacks), your action pool is halved.
  • When defending attacks, your defense pool is halved.’

Grooming is a skill? Really?

Yarp.  Something about looking nice.

Why does initiative work like a defense roll?

I’m not sure about this; it’s a standard attribute test.

It's not. You aren't rolling for successes, you're rolling and looking for your single highest die.

True.

(Continued in part 2)


You made it!

Now jump over to the Forge Engine page to check out the latest playtest packet.

Why the Forge Engine?

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Classes, DnD, Dungeons and Dragons, Forge Engine, Game Design, HAD, Hero Kids, Heroes Against Darkness, Mechanics, RPG, Rules

Nobody needs another RPG system, so I made one anyway…

“Why?”

Well you may ask. Some RPGs are written as homage, some to extend a family of games to a new generation, others to solve a specific problem, or to introduce a whole new approach to role playing.

My first full RPG – Heroes Against Darkness – is shamelessly a love-letter to Dungeons & Dragons. But as much as it was a tribute to D&D, I also designed it to ‘solve’ a number of problems I had with specific editions of D&D; namely that game’s implementation of Vancian magic, the glacial pace of combat in the later editions, and the complicated character build and optimization process in the middle editions.

Heroes Against Darkness tried to strip D&D to a simple core, while preserving the modern and elegant mechanics of the more recent editions.

 

Heroes Against Darkness - Cover

My second RPG – Hero Kids – tried to solve a different problem; Can you make a high-quality fantasy role-playing game that’s playable by kids as young as 4, while still maintaining the essence of the genre? The answer appears to be ‘yes,’ so that’s good…

So why did I design the Forge Engine then?

The inception of Forge Engine was the idea of taking an opposed dice pool system (inspired by my work on Hero Kids), and combining that dice mechanic with a variable action economy and then wrapping it all up in a classless (but not classless), skill-based system.

 

Hero Kids - Cover

Now I usually laugh at people who laud their amazing new dice mechanics, so feel free to laugh with/at me as I explain that the goal of the Forge Engine’s amazing new dice mechanic is to combine the resolution of character attributes, weapon effectiveness, variable effort, skills, damage, and armor into a single opposed dice pool roll.

The final goal of the Forge Engine was (and is) to design a system that supports multiple genres; such as fantasy, modern, cyberpunk, steam-punk, sci-fi, horror, and post-apocalyptic. This system reference document provides support for all manner of genres and play styles.

Another way of looking the Forge Engine is as the anti-D&D. Where D&D has a binary success/failure mechanic, Forge Engine has degrees of success. Where D&D is a class-based system, Forge Engine is a skill-based (classless) system. Where D&D has a fixed action economy with discrete major, move, swift, minor, and free actions each turn, the Forge Engine implements a variable action economy based around energy.

So after many years of development and playtesting, Forge Engine nears completion.

Check out the latest playtest packet on the Forge Engine page.

Forge Engine hits Beta

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Adventures, Characters, Forge Engine, Game Design, Playtest, Role-Playing, RPG, Rules, Settings, Skills

Work on Forge Engine has continued, and I've now gotten the system to the point where it's effectively Beta.  For the non-software developers out there, this basically means that:

  • The core system is complete
  • The content is largely (or wholly) complete
  • Some bugs may remain

Check out the latest playtest packet on the Forge Engine page.

To stress test the system, I've been playtesting a long campaign which I'm calling Raven's Nest. 

My playtest group decided on a 'rip-roaring' WWII Indiana Jones-style game.  So, they created characters who were resistance fighters working in the northern areas of France in around 1941.

Players being players, their approach to the game was anything but 'rip-roaring'.  But over a series of sessions and missions they investigated strange deliveries that the Nazis were making to an ancient French chateau.

The deliveries, it turned out, were religious artifacts, relics, and icons that the Nazis had looted from across Europe.  Here in the chateau, the players came face to face with the leader of the Nazi Völkisch movement.  From Wikipedia:

The völkisch movement, as it evolved, sometimes combined the arcane and esoteric aspects of folkloric occultism alongside "racial adoration".

Unfortunately for the players, their characters were captured by the Nazis.

The Nazis used the captured characters in an arcane ritual that was fuelled by these religious artifacts.  During this ritual, and despite their attempts to escape, the characters were all sacrificed. 

Five dead characters.

Dead.

Dead dead.

Everything black.

Except that they weren't dead.  I took them back 2,000 years to the exact same location in northern France, which was now Roman occupied Gaul.  Here their characters awoke in the aftermath of a barbarian raid on a Roman fort.

From this point, the campaign took a sudden turn.  Here, the characters' mission became a chase, pursuing the Nazis across the Roman empire to thwart their nefarious time-travelling plans.

The Raven's Nest campaign is now in its 18th 3-hour session, each of which I record for post-game review.  And as I mentioned, this campaign has stress-tested key parts of the Forge Engine:

  • Character development (player characters now have 11 or more energy)
  • Transposition of 'modern' characters into historical situations
  • Mapping of modern to historical skills
  • Utilisation of modern equipment in historical games (it turns out the Nazis came back in time too - with machineguns)

I'm pretty happy with how this campaign is progressing, and I feel like we're building towards a truly biblical climax!

Check out the latest playtest packet on the Forge Engine page.

Hero Kids – Pets II

Posted Leave a commentPosted in DriveThruRPG, Hero Cards, Hero Kids, Pets, RPG
This expansion for Hero Kids includes ten new monsterous pets:

• Beguiler - The beguiler's eyestalks unleash powerful and versatile magic
• Boar - The battle-boar carries stalwart heroes into battle
• Gorilla - Enemies' attacks only strengthen the gorilla's attacks
• Griffon - The griffon swoops down to carry off its prey
• Hydra - Each of the hydra's three heads has a different ability
• Phoenix - The phoenix is shrouded in blankets of flame
• Salamander - The quick-footed salamander radiates intense heat
• Wyrmling - This juvenile dragon spits balls of crackling lightning
• Wyvern - The wyvern fledgling buffets enemies with its wings
• Yeti - The thick-furred yeti throws hard-packed icy boulders

Get them now from DriveThruRPG:
Hero Kids - Fantasy Expansion - Pet Cards II

Hero Kids Fantasy Adventure Compendium

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Uncategorized

The Hero Kids print trilogy is (partially) complete!

The Hero Kids - Fantasy RPG and the Hero Kids - Monster Compendium print books are joined by the Hero Kids - Fantasy Adventure Compendium.

The Hero Kids - Fantasy Adventure Compendium includes seven classic Hero Kids adventures ideal for novice players.

Explore the wilds of the Brecken Vale in these adventures:
•  Basement O Rats
•  Curse of the Shadow Walkers
•  Escape from the Ghost Pirates
•  Wizard's Tower
•  Fire In Rivenshore
•  Yuletide Journey
•  Tomb of the Lost King

The adventure compendium contains print-specific versions of these seven Hero Kids adventures. This book does not contain printable maps or monster cards, which are available in the Hero Kids PDFs.

The Hero Kids - Complete Fantasy PDF Bundle includes a 50% discount coupon for the softcover print version of Hero Kids - Fantasy RPG, Hero Kids - Fantasy Adventure Compendium and the Hero Kids - Monster Compendium (the coupon is emailed to you when you buy the bundle).

So if you want the whole lot (PDFs and print version of the rules), buy the bundle then use the coupon to buy the softcover print version of Hero Kids - Fantasy Adventure Compendium for half price!

You can get the Hero Kids - Fantasy Adventure Compendium here:
DriveThruRPG: Hero Kids - Fantasy Adventure Compendium

Grab the complete Hero Kids PDF bundle here:
DriveThruRPG: Hero Kids - Complete Fantasy PDF Bundle

The Road to Ruin aka Holiday Report Pt. 3

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Uncategorized

My original goal for The Road to Ruin was for it to be a 60-card game.  However, as development progressed, it was apparent that the game would have to be larger.  Instead, I settled for a couple of formats for the game:

  • Medium pro-box from The Game Crafter
  • 120 Cards from DriveThruCards

The DriveThruCards version of the game was planned to only use cards, so the game had to work as a boxed game with dice and character tokens, or with dice cards and BYO character tokens.  With this in mind, I laid out the materials for each of the games, and also costed out both versions.  The costs are now out of date, so don't read into these...

So the unreleased DriveThruCards (cards only) version of the game, has 120-ish cards:

And the version for The Game Crafter is significantly different:

I even did a mock-up version of the box from The Game Crafter, and compared it to the actual version in this video:

The Road to Ruin aka Holiday Report Pt. 2

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Art, Board games, Combat, Game Design, Game Publishing, Mechanics, Playtest, Rules, The Road to Ruin, Uncategorized

I tend, as a designer, to rush to artwork and layout quite early in the design process.  While other designers recommend waiting as late as possible before incorporating these graphical elements, I have not managed to internalise this habit.

With The Road to Ruin, I quickly moved from the white index cards to template cards that I wrote the various types of card text on.  These cards were modelled directly on magic cards.

The Road to Ruin - Development

This next set of cards I made myself using a 3x3 grid of 63x88mm cards on a standard sheet of A4 paper.  I print these double-sided at work, and then have them cut nicely at the local OfficeWorks.  I also invested in a corner cutter, to get nice round corners.

With my first deck of cards, I started designing, playtesting, and iterating The Road to Ruin.

Here, the core gameplay developed:

  • The players start the game at the Safe House location.  This is the only location that is revealed at the start of the game.
  • The characters' mission is to explore the grid of hidden locations to find the six hidden supply items.  The characters must collect the items and bring these back to the Safe House, where they are stored.
  • Each of the locations on the grid comprises two cards: the location and the threat card.
  • On each character's turn, they can move from their current location to an adjacent location (orthogonally for most characters).
  • If the adjacent location is hidden, it is revealed, flipped over to show the location and zombies or supply item there.
  • At the end of the character's turn, they must fight the zombies at their location.
  • Zombie threats are rated 7-12 (in the early versions, this changed later).  The player rolls 2d6 to determine their character's attack strength, and must equal or beat the zombie's strength.
  • The character's attack strength can be modified by the character's special ability, and equipment or weapons can allow the player reroll dice multiple times.

This section of design and development was not without some lessons:

  • I originally had the supply items in the equipment deck.  But I quickly learned that characters could sit on a scavenge location with a minor zombie threat and mill (a Magic the Gathering term for running through a deck to force that player to run out of cards) the equipment deck.  Doing this, they would churn through the cards in the equipment deck, waiting for the supply items to come up.
  • As mentioned above, the original version of the game had a single equipment deck that contained weapons and gear.  I later changed this to two separate decks, the weapon deck for weapons, and a second item deck for other useful stuff.  This allowed the player to choose their starting inventory balance between weapons and items, and also gave me leeway to design locations that allow the player to draw from one of these decks or from either.
  • My goal for the game was for gradual attrition of the characters' equipment.  To simulate this, I incorporated two mechanics: melee weapons that break and ammunition that runs out.  In the final game, both of these events are triggered off specific die rolls during combat.  Additionally, I also allowed the player to discard an inventory item from their hand during combat (such as a spare melee weapon, or some other superfluous item) to gain a reroll in combat to try to defeat their enemies.  Early in the development, I had ammo grant a reroll when discarded in combat, like discarding an item.  As a helpful player pointed out, this made ammo exactly as useful as any other item...  So I first moved from a single ammo card granting a single reroll, to an ammo card granting two rerolls, and then finally to ammo cards having a unique set aside mechanic.  The evolution of these cards, and underlying mechanics, is visible below.
  • Another area that I iterated (code for 'fucked up the first time') is the zombies.  Originally I had the zombies come in brutes, herds, and hordes, with one, two, or three numbers.  In combat, the zombie numbers would be added up to calculate their total strength, and items would interact with these numbers differently.  For example, a weapon or item might increase your attack score by 1, or it might decrease the attack score of each zombie by 1, reducing the zombies' total score by 1, 2, or 3, depending on the number of zombies.  This is a pain in the ass, so I consolidated down to a single attack score for the zombies to streamline the game.

Heroes Against Darkness review…

Posted 1 CommentPosted in Classes, Combat, DnD, Dungeons and Dragons, Game Design, Game Publishing, HAD, Heroes Against Darkness, Magic, POD, Review, Role-Playing, RPG

Well this is unexpected.

WQRobb over at Graph, Paper, and Games has just posted a review of my first RPG, Heroes Against Darkness.

Graph, Paper, and Games - Heroes Against Darkness review...

It's unexpected because it's been a while since I've had a review of HAD; the world of D&D variants has moved on from HAD since 5th Edition was released.

My inspiration for HAD came from my love/hate relationship with various editions of D&D.  While I liked (a lot) the mechanical robustness of 4th Edition, I had problems with the speed of gameplay, and some of the presentation and weirdness of the martial powers.

"If I had to summarize HAD's genetic heritage, I'd call it an early edition of D&D done using Fourth Edition mechanics.  If that early edition had 11 character classes."

Heroes Against Darkness - Cover

So I set out to make a simple and robust D&D variant, with faster gameplay and more differentiated classes.

"What makes this feel a little older-edition while still like 4E is that as your PC advances in his or her class, new abilities are unlocked (like 4E), but you don't get any choices about what those abilities are."

This is a similar approach to that taken for 5th edition, but I can claim no credit here :-)...

"That will likely be a turn-off to players who like to game the class system to come up with whatever "character build" they are seeking, but lately that's been my biggest turn-off in recent D&D editions."

One of the areas that hasn't improved in D&D 5th Edition, is the encounter creation, which is frankly terrible (especially at higher levels):

"Another Fourth Edition quality that HAD has that I like is its use of creating encounters using a budget of XP that is spread over multiple monsters who have different roles, like Brutes or Casters.  I liked the "monster ensemble" quality of 4E encounters because they gave mobs of orcs, et al diversity instead of being eight carbon clones of each other.  They also helped negate the advantage PC groups tended to have in their strength of numbers.  Where Halliday really shines in this edition, and arguably his best game feature, is that he provides an extensive framework for building your own custom monsters, including scaling them up by encounter level and monster type."

The other major break from D&D in Heroes Against Darkness is the replacement of 'Vancian' magic with a bespoke anima system.

"The magic system is the biggest break from D&D, insofar as they eschew the Vancian "fire and forget" spell structure and instead use a system of "anima points" which are burned to cast spells.  That follows a lot of non-D&D fantasy systems."

The important element of the anima system is that it allows spells to be cast with more 'power', ramping up their effectiveness, another element that appeared in D&D 5th Edition.  The idea of ramping the power of spells and attacks is an area where I'm clearly obsessed.  

In the Forge Engine, my in-development RPG, I'm incorporated this idea of variable effort into the core of the system.  All activities, magic, attacks, even attribute tests, allow the player to choose the amount of energy that they put into the action.  

So in Forge Engine an attack can be a simple swing and strike, or the character can dedicate more energy to the attack (such as by carefully aiming and swinging as hard as possible) to improve its chance of dealing more damage.

Back to Heroes Against Darkness.  In conclusion, our correspondent likes the system, which is nice:

"But the bottom line is that Heroes Against Darkness hits a lot of my sweet spots when it comes to heartbreakers, and for a great price, .pdf or hardcover."

Graph, Paper, and Games - Heroes Against Darkness review

And if you're looking for Heroes Against Darkness, you can get the PDF for free here, and print versions as well:

DriveThruRPG - Heroes Against Darkness