The Road to Ruin aka Holiday Report Pt. 3

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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  The costs are now out of date, so don't read into these...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.

Hero Forge Games’ new home…

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For a while I've struggled with multiple blogs for each of my projects:
Hero Kids main blog (
Heroes Against Darkness blog (
Hero Forge Games blog (

The Heroes Against Darkness blog was my first, and it was there that I chronicled the development of Heroes Against Darkness, Hero Kids, and the early days of Forge Engine.

However, the ongoing popularity of Hero Kids led to it getting a stand-alone blog, with development updates and announcements.

But, the combination of a dedicated Hero Kids blog, and the legacy Heroes Against Darkness blog meant that I really didn't have anywhere good to blog about my other projects that aren't either of those games.  I could have used the Hero Forge Games blog, but I was never really satisfied with that as an 'official' site...

Fast-forward to here and now, and this site ( is the new home for my games, as well as a blog for development updates for my unreleased projects.

Finally, all of the Heroes Against Darkness blog posts have been transitioned to this blog for posterity!

Forge Engine monster stat blocks…

Posted 7 CommentsPosted in Forge Engine, Game Design, Monsters, Rules, Stat Blocks

I’m still working on the Forge Engine (while juggling various updates to Hero Kids).

At the moment I’m developing the monster stat blocks so that the GM has all of the information they require at hand.   The trick has been to provide all of the monster’s information in a compact and usable form.   Ideally, I want to fit two monsters per page (in an digest sized printed book), or four monsters per double-page spread for a PDF.

The important aspect is to assist the GM in managing the energy pool and attacks of multiple monsters.   This has led me to include an attack line that shows the monster or character’s basic attack, which they make by just spending the energy cost of the weapon, as well as their strongest attack, where they spend the weapon’s cost and then add as much energy as possible to maximize the attack.

So the elements of the stat block are:
•   Name
•   Type and Size
•   Attributes (Strength, Agility, Stamina, Influence, Intelligence, Acuity)
•   Energy Pool
•   Physical and Mental Defenses
•   Health and Move Distance
•   Skills
•   Basic Attack and Maximum Attack
•   Specialized Combat Skills
•   Traits
•   Inventory/Equipment


Forge Engine combat turns description…

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Combat, Forge Engine, Game Design, Mechanics, RPG, Rules

One of the unconventional elements of the Forge Engine RPG is the structure of the turns.   Traditional RPGs have a round/turn structure where each character has a discrete turn within each round.   Their actions occur within their own turn, and time passes in a strangely linear fashion which requires some mental gymnastics to unravel.   Once each character’s round is over, play passes on to the next character in the initiative order, etc…

The Forge Engine’s combination of an Energy action economy and a system of actions and reactions that are individually costed means that the traditional linear round structure can be replaced with a more non-linear ‘do what you want as long as you have the Energy’ structure.   Characters can jump in and out of the action as long as they have enough Energy to perform their action; whether it’s moving, attacking, reloading, or some other costed action.

As with any system, there are several caveats.   First, characters can take reactions before their first turn in combat, but they can’t take actions.   Second, if a character is surprised, they can’t take actions or reactions until their first turn, which means that they can’t spend Energy to dodge when they’re being attacked.

(Dammit, that should be ‘Character #2’ up there, not Character #3…)

So, what other RPGs have non-traditional round and turn structures for combat?

Not Forgotten!

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Forge Engine, Hero Kids, Playtest, Role-Playing, Rules

You would all be forgiven for thinking that I’ve abandoned Heroes Against Darkness and this blog, but that is not totally the case!

First, I’ve spent most of the year continuing to support Hero Kids, which has had success beyond my wildest hopes.   Hero Kids now has ten adventures and a bunch of expansions that add to the game.

Second, I’ve also been continuing to work on The Forge Engine.   I first mentioned this new system in my previous post almost a year ago, which seems crazy.   Suffice to say that the system has had a lot of testing since then, including a number of major revisions to the core mechanics to ensure they work in all of the situations and genres that the system targets (fantasy and modern, and even sci-fi).

I’m always on the lookout for playtesters, so drop me an email at justinhalliday(a)gmail[dot]com if you’d like me to include you in my list of playtesters.

No, I’m not dead.   I’ve just been working on Hero Kids and its adventures, which are available at DriveThruRPG:

Hero Forge Games at DriveThruRPG

Playtesting the Forge Engine

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Forge Engine, Game Design, Mechanics, Playtest, RPG, Rules

Tonight was our first playtest of a new game system I’m working on called the Forge Engine, which is an Abilities and Skills based d10 system:

•   Ability and skill based system (classless)
•   Give players freedom to craft their own characters
•   Increased power through larger dice pools (d10 dice)
•   Opposed rolls for combat to keep participants engaged
•   Skill challenges against static difficulty numbers for simplicity
•   Dice pools give degrees of success (or multiple hits for combat)
•  Combat rolls combine abilities, skill, weapon, and armor into one resolution step
•   Energy depletion system reflects fatigue from exertion
•   Meaningful decisions for players during critical situations
•   Variable Energy economy replaces discrete action economy

Luckily, we had a pre-game run-through yesterday that ironed out a lot of kinks, so tonight’s game went surprisingly well (apart from almost getting killed by a pack of mutant rats).

And as an interesting experiment, I’m a player in the playtest, not the GM.   This gives me a much better perspective on how the system is working, and gives me more time to help the GM and the other players.

No, I’m not dead.   I’ve just been working on Hero Kids and its adventures, which are available at DriveThruRPG:

Hero Forge Games at DriveThruRPG