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…


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.

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

The Road to Ruin aka Holiday Report Pt. 1

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Board games, Game Design, Mechanics, The Road to Ruin

Last year I got involved with a local board game design group based out of the Games Laboratory shop here in Melbourne.  I'd dabbled with board game design, first with a largely depressing climate change game called Equilibrium.

Following that foray, I decided to try another board game.

My inspiration this time was from one of the greats, Matt Leacock's Forbidden Island.  In Forbidden Island, up to four players cooperate to recover a number of special artefacts from an island that is constantly sinking under rising waters.


The location tiles in Forbidden Island are randomly laid out, as are the locations of each of the artefacts.  The key element of the game, however, is the special abilities of each of the characters.  The diver can move through underwater tiles, the messenger can give cards to other players, and the explorer can move diagonally.

During play, the players move their characters around the grid of tiles, using their characters' special abilities, collecting the artefacts, shoring up sinking lands, before finally racing to the helicopter landing zone to win the game.

Forbidden Island - Characters

My core vision for The Road to Ruin was:

  • Zombie apocalypse theme (...I know...)
  • Co-op gameplay for 1-4 players
  • A grid of locations, laid out at random
  • Locations each have a special ability
  • Choice of characters, each with a unique speciality
  • Items (gear and supply items) and weapons (weapons and ammo) for the characters to use
  • All locations are hidden at the start of the game
  • When characters move to a location, it is revealed, along with the zombies there
  • Zombies are at each location, characters fight zombies using their equipment/weapons
  • Goal of the game is to recover six items randomly dispersed around the locations and to bring them back to the Safe House location

The earliest version of The Road to Ruin was a series of white cards, cut from index cards, and covered in my scrawling writing.