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Look upon my [game design] ye Mighty, and despair!



  • FuselageFuselage Bantha Three ValhallaRegistered User regular
    Holy crap, is the best, or is it actually the best?! I'm very pleased with it so far.

    Iron WeaselAuralynx
  • The SauceThe Sauce Alek Sandria Registered User regular
    It's time to make a new convention / event adventure for Triptycho. The previous adventure has served well, and I've learned a lot from running it. I'll still keep an up-to-date version around when I'm running a game for people with no RPG experience.

    However, from RPG veterans I'm getting consistent feedback about "missing" the roleplay part. I need to have an adventure ready to run for those types of players that shows off how the game can adapt to player choice and provide real opportunity to roleplay for those who want it. That way, I can hopefully earn some more social media followers (which will help the all-important Kickstarter campaign actually work out whenever I get around to that), plus get some feedback about the game from such experienced players beyond asking about the roleplaying.

    Another advantage of going this route with an adventure is that I'll have quite a few scenarios prepared. Instead of running the same 3 scenarios over and over, I'll get to engage a wider set of the game's mechanics and enemy types, which is great for more comprehensive testing. This would have been a negative last year where I needed really focused testing on the core mechanics, but it's at a new stage now. With new features like Backgrounds, I don't have to worry about the characters being so carefully built for handling the specific scenarios, either (which is a good thing for the game in general).

    So, here's the working synopsis and outline for the new adventure, Chains of Seclusion:

    The secluded barony of Ulin has become extremely reclusive of late, shutting itself off from the outside world and even posting an armed checkpoint to turn away any travelers or traders that seek to enter. With the dukedom currently dealing with a succession crisis, there are no authorities available to investigate.

    The PCs were hired to retrieve a runaway, an adolescent boy by the name of Suren. He was an orphan, apprenticed by a blacksmith in a nearby port town, but has entered a rebellious streak and fled after a heated argument. Suren was last seen heading down the now-barren road to Ulin; the smith fears either things went poorly at the checkpoint, or he somehow got past it and is now stuck in the strange village.

    In truth, the barony has given itself over to worship of an Unseelie Fallen, an evil fae exiled for practicing forbidden magics. The adolescents of the village (“Ulin Grove”) have been given over to the castle (“Ulin Castle”), where the Unseelie transforms them into her devoted Nibelung* army. She is known simply as “The Baroness” for having “married” the baron, although he has been poisoned with a mind-altering brew that leaves him largely unaware of any happenings, immensely suggestible, and asleep for much of each day.

    Suren, being a prime candidate for assimilation into the Nibelung force, was granted entry. He is now in Ulin Castle, hypnotized by forbidden Unseelie arts and about to begin the irreversible transformation process...

    * Commonly referred to as "nyblings," the Nibelung are essentially Triptycho's version of goblins. They're created from disaffected youth by forbidden Unseelie magics. The default version has the transformation as irreversible (because otherwise fighting them becomes a serious moral problem), but a campaign that de-emphasizes combat could benefit from having the potential to save the Unseelie outcast's victims.

    This throws a bit dark, but the base Triptycho game leans more heavily on classic faerie myths than on more modern Tolkien / D&D takes (no orcs or "modern" elves thus far, for instance). Evil fae that disappear children are a common trope, so this is the way I went about implementing that in a heroic fantasy game (while also seeking to create something a little distinct from the usual goblin and kobold fodder).

    1. PCs seek to enter the reclusive village of Ulin Grove, which has completely shut itself off from the outside world. The main road in is now a manned checkpoint turning away travelers and traders with threat of arms. Thick swamps run alongside the road, straight up to some fierce mountain peaks that are too difficult to scale. Players can choose their approach to enter the secluded area. They could try to talk their way through, attack the guards, sneak past at the edge of the swamp, or trudge through the more difficult portion of the swamp. Each option results in a different* scenario. A strong Interaction victory can result in the PCs learning of Suren's entry (if they weren't just trying to lie their way through).
    2. Past the checkpoint, the PCs eventually come to see both Ulin Castle to the west and Ulin Grove to the east and may choose to proceed to either. If they go to the village, they'll notice that there are adults and small children, but absolutely no one anywhere near Suren's age. Village folk tend to be both suspicious and fearful of the party, but the players may run an Interaction scenario to try to find someone willing to talk. If they succeed, they learn of Suren's location in the castle, as well as an old hidden path into the castle dungeon via a combination of natural caves and artificial tunnels. If the PCs head to the castle, they'll be stopped by guards. The PCs can try to talk their way inside, or they can attack the guards and enter by force.
    3. If the PCs learned of the secret path, they can run an scenario to get to the castle dungeon. If they came through the front entry, they'll see patrolling groups of Nibelung, which they can either try to sneak past or openly attack. Regardless of approach, they'll find Suren in the dungeon in a stupor and can rescue him, reviving him from his confusion and learning the horrifying truth of the barony. Getting out the way they came is no longer a challenge, and they may returned the rescued apprentice to the smith.
    4. Daring players may try to take on the Unseelie Fallen despite warnings about her power. If they do, they can make their way to her chambers, where she will meet them with a haughty attitude and take them on in a very challenging and entirely optional level 2 boss battle.

    * The plan is to have two options for trudging through the deep swamp: a combat with the swamp's denizens, and an exploration through treacherous terrain. I'll choose which one to run based on player role choices; if their exploration roles are set up to handle wilderness exploration reasonably well, I'll run that one, switching to combat otherwise.

    This part is the trickiest, because I have to consider each and every one of these scenarios as potential "first-time" scenarios for brand-new Triptycho players. So, each of them needs to be simplified as much as possible while still being interesting & gripping. That's going to require a lot of care!

    The other major trick with an adventure like this is handling failure routes for the various scenarios. Generally speaking, there are four typical failure-related outcomes: some kind of penalty (injury, disease, loss of wealth or karma); having to run another scenario (failing stealth leading to combat, for example); negative story consequences; and death (rare as fail-forward is the default). Death is no good here except at the end, because I don't want to cut a playtest short. Penalty scenarios are also out, because they'll make the game take too long. That means I need to mix injuries with negative story consequences in a way that still feels believable.

    I suspect I may have to resort at least once to saying something like "normally you'd have to play out combat now, but in the interest of time for this event/con, we'll fast-forward and have you survive the battle but come away with some injuries." If players really rebel against that, I can just run another scenario for them anyway and perhaps skip something later (castle is mysteriously without guards, a villager talks without running interaction, etc).
    Thoughts welcome! Thanks for reading another Sauce essay.

    Triptycho: A card-and-dice tabletop indie RPG currently in development and playtesting
    FuselagedoomybearAuralynxJPantsIron Weasel
  • The SauceThe Sauce Alek Sandria Registered User regular
    So uh

    I may have been just a liiiiiittle ambitious with that there outline

    The first draft of this adventure is clocking in at nearly thirty-five pages

    That's to run, on average, a session with a whopping 3 scenarios

    At first it gave me a bit of whiplash-induced doubt. Am I going down the wrong path? If it takes that much work to put together what is essentially a single gaming session, then how could this game ever be feasible? The whole intention is to gracefully handle players doing all kinds of random things, but a DM can't be expected to have the skills needed to ad-lib 35 pages' worth of design every single session.

    But of course, the reality is just that I way overshot on number of options. Three ways to get past the checkpoint is pretty reasonable; I didn't need to add another two for a total of five completely different scenarios players can run to get past one little piece of the story. Swapping the swamp for something literally impassible (or making it so dangerous that players wouldn't attempt it) would cut out two of them immediately, and even if I wanted to keep that option, I could have just gone with the exploration scenario and skipped the bog beasts. In truth, I included that because I have a bunch of neat monsters at level 1 that fit in swamps, and I wanted a combat possibility to use them.

    Likewise, there was no need to have the adventure split at the castle and the village with separate scenarios in each. Most adventures will gently nudge the players down the main critical path.

    Document length could be further cut down by replacing some of these scenarios with sidebars. For instance, maybe the adventure's story nudges the PCs to talk to the guards at a particular place, and rather than having a full combat write-up with a map and such, it just lists the names of the enemies to use and has a one or two sentence description of the terrain in the case where the players choose to violate expectations (and maybe put themselves into a bad situation).

    The biggest question mark at this point is how easy or hard it is to ad-lib exploration scenarios, as the other two systems tolerate plain / boring maps fairly well. You won't typically need to do so for things like dungeon delving or overland travel; however, if the PCs instigate a chase or stealth sequence when the module or DM's notes lacked a write-up for such an event, the DM will need to make one on-the-fly. And that's pretty difficult, because the layout is absolutely crucial to both the balance and fun factor of such scenes.

    This is why I resisted for so long putting a map to exploration. When it was just a deck of Trait cards, it was super easy to ad-lib a scenario. Just grab a set of relevant enemies and Trait cards for what the players are doing, and you're off. In the end, that just wasn't fun enough (and didn't feel enough like exploring).

    It's too early to reach any conclusions; rules for Stealth and Chase are relatively new (due to the map itself being relatively new), so even I lack the experience with the system to try to put a scenario together out of nothing. I'm still trying to figure out how to properly design them when I invest lots of time into the task! Which, as an aside, is a super interesting part of this whole game design exercise -- I make the rules and systems with a relatively general idea at first of how it'll all play out at the table, but then sitting down and implementing all of that into concrete story situations with fun and balanced scenario design remains wholly difficult. It's very much like trying to do such a thing for any other system you're new at, only I don't have any professional examples or official modules to turn to for advice or models! I'm literally supposed to be making those things!

    It's pretty interesting to walk the path of needing to learn to become an expert at a game you made. Like, it's not that much easier just because you happened to craft the systems yourself.

    At any rate, worst-case with chase/stealth scenes, I can always publish a whole bunch of relatively generic ones at each level online that DMs can quickly grab and adapt to in-game situations. Probably. I think that's feasible.

    Triptycho: A card-and-dice tabletop indie RPG currently in development and playtesting
    FuselageIron Weasel
  • The SauceThe Sauce Alek Sandria Registered User regular
    Another problem (tentatively) solved!

    Stealth Scenarios

    The way Stealth works in Triptycho is that each player contributes one or more Stealth Tokens to the party pool. Then, an Exploration scenario plays out as normal, except that a special type of enemy called Seekers generally functions by removing player Stealth Tokens instead of doing damage (there are exceptions, such as the max level Dread Eye inspired the Lord of the Rings that has an Eye of Flame ability, but I digress). If the players run out of Stealth Tokens, they're found and the scenario ends in failure.

    This works well enough as a baseline, but I ran into a problem: what if the players want to ambush / stealth-kill one or more of the Seekers? Previously, my assumption was that doing so meant that you were no longer engaging in Stealth but rather switching to Combat; so, end the scenario in failure as if the PCs were discovered, but maybe give them a bonus to Initiative or something. Otherwise, the rules were silent on the issue. You can play Actions against Seekers, but they had no Endurance Point (EP) total and didn't play Reactions; essentially, you couldn't defeat them, but you could impose conditions on them and the like.

    Well, this was rather unsatisfying, and it didn't cover at all for situations where the PCs have a single Seeker isolated on the side and want to take it out. Trying to design scenarios around that also felt way too limiting, artificially so.

    I needed to come up with a real solution. I talked with my playtest group, and ideas bounced around led to this one.

    Stealth Kills and Alerted

    Allowing for stealth kills means that Seekers needed to have EP pools. However, in the majority of cases, they need to go down in one hit. After all, if you whack a Seeker and don't take them out, now you're in Combat -- but doing this constantly for individual Seekers would be both annoying and unsatisfying.

    The solution is to give Seekers a single EP (much like how I handle ghosts in Combat). That way, if you hit them, you'll assuredly defeat them. But if you whiff, I can apply all kinds of effects through their Reaction, such as having the players lose a Stealth Token from the botched attempt. To make this even more of a risky move, Seekers have higher Endure dice than normal for their level & rank, so you'll want to have a pretty good Action to play if you want to take that route.

    Of course, the Seeker should get some kind of awareness that something is going on if a PC whiffs on it. In fact, they need this in general any time they cause the PCs to lose a Stealth Token, since that means they saw or heard something out of the ordinary. To resolve this, I've added the Alerted beneficial condition, which applies only to Seekers. Any time a Seeker causes the PCs to lose a Stealth Token, it becomes Alerted, gaining +1 to its Inflict dice level (making it easier to take away more Tokens with future Actions). It also interrupts any predetermined patrol route to start actively looking for the PCs in whatever way the DM determines is appropriate. That element in particular pushes these scenarios more toward traditional RPGs and a little less gamey, which is probably a good thing as I went a little too gamey in a few areas to start with.

    So, what to do with defeated Seekers? The PCs either killed, knocked unconscious, mesmerized, or bound the Seeker to defeat it, which means the results of this could be found by other Seekers. Therefore, if a Seeker ever shares an occupied region with a defeated Seeker during its turn, it becomes Alerted if it was not already. A PC can spend an Action to hide a defeated Seeker's body (if the DM permits it -- there needs to be some place and way to hide it). Since a PC has to spend an Action to defeat a Seeker in the first place, this encourages teamwork even from players whose Craft (Role in Exploration) is typically poor at Stealth. A single PC would need to spend two turns to defeat a Seeker and then hide the body, which gives time for nearby patrols to walk in, become Alerted, and start searching for the PCs with higher chances of success.

    The Alerted condition also gives me another lever to play with. I can put other effects on Seekers that trigger off the Alerted status, and lower-level mook Seekers can become Alerted on their Reactions instead of immediately causing the PCs to lose Stealth Tokens, lowering the difficulty in the early stages of the game.

    This also has let me buff a bunch of Crafts (and Expertise Gear) that were previously terrible at Stealth by granting them Action options to play against and defeat Seekers. The poor Pilgrim, who focuses on EP restoration and condition healing, can now contribute by taking out Seekers with high-Inflict, low-Damage Actions that are common to the Craft and its set of Mysticism Expertise.

    Further, these mechanics give me a lot of room for fun differentiation of enemy Seekers (which otherwise were mostly distinguished by the size of their dice). Higher-level enemies like Sentry Imps and Mercenary Companies, representing packs of foes, have higher EP totals than just 1, representing PCs taking them out in groups. And as their EP totals fall, they become Alerted, but lose overall dice rolls due to fewer eyes to keep a lookout. The Sentinel Magus, which uses scrying from a safe location surrounded by magical wards, has Defense dice on its Reaction, making it even tougher to land a stealth kill if you don't utilize Piercing damage on your Actions.

    Finally, since PCs now have a rather reliable countermeasure to use against Seekers, I can now put more of them in a scenario without that increasing the difficulty so much.

    These new rules will be put to the test in the new prototype adventure, which features two potential Stealth scenarios players can choose to attempt. I can't wait to see how it works in practice!

    Triptycho: A card-and-dice tabletop indie RPG currently in development and playtesting
    MarshmallowIron Weasel
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