Evolving Design

The-Enigmatic-Tower-1When I  revealed Shadow of the Demon Lord at Geek Media Expo in Nashville last October, I felt certain that the game was nearly done and that I would have scads of time to smooth the last bits while wrapped in the warm, fuzzy glow of post-design delight. I was, of course, optimistic and I am delighted to say that the keen eyes, insightful feedback, and experiences at tables from Asheville to Seattle, Fort Wayne to Birmingham have had their impact on the mechanical design and have helped me make a great game even better. Today, I want to talk just a bit about those changes to both show how the game has evolved and improved over the last few months.

Boons and Banes

The most recent change to Shadow of the Demon Lord came at Winter Fantasy and was suggested as a flavorful alternative to the clinical asset and complication names that were in place before. When I heard the new names, I made the change on the road back to Tennessee.

Action Rolls, Attack Rolls, and Resistance Rolls

For a long time, the game just used “roll” as the term for rolling to do something, rolling to attack something, and rolling to resist something. While sufficient in many cases, I discovered I needed more precise language to convey what was going on in the game. I could imagine situations when I would want a character to gain a boon for one type of roll and not another. I also figured out, pretty quick too, that roll was too broad a term for a game that involved multiple kinds of dice rolling. By breaking apart the “roll” term into action, attack, and resistance, I could bound the instances in which rolling a d20 occurred in play rolls and could also communicate to the reader the times when a boon or bane would apply to the d20. Now, the rolls work as follows:

Action rolls happen when the player describes an action and the GM is not certain of the outcome. The target number for these rolls is always 10.

Attack rolls happen when one creature choose a creature and attempts to harm that creature in some way. The target number for these rolls is always the score of the attribute or characteristic used to resist the attack.

Resistance rolls happen when a creature would attempt to avoid a harmful effect or reduce the severity of an effect. Incapacitated creatures always get failures for resistance rolls and the target number for these rolls is always 10.

Natural 20 and Natural 1

For several months, the game used the following rule: when you roll a 20 on an action, attack, or resistance roll, you have a boon for all rolls until the end of the next round. When you roll a 1 on these rolls, you have a bane for all rolls until the end of the next round. At Winter Fantasy, I was having dinner with my volunteer GMs who came up to run tables, my buddy Nat admitted to me that he felt the tech was hard to manage given the frequency in which they came up, at least when paired with the other sources of boons and banes. I saw his point and and tackled the fix on the way back.

The result? A roll of a 1 has no other outcome other than to be a crappy roll. A roll of a 20 on an attack roll with a weapon has an effect determined by the character’s novice path. For warriors, it adds 1d6 to the damage roll. For rogues, who are fragile, a 20 grants them one extra turn in the round. For priests, the target of the attack becomes impaired until the end of the next round (that’s a bane for all rolls). Finally, magicians get an effect based on the attack spell they cast—increased damage, longer duration, or a regain of the expended casting. Each tech helps make the character feel distinctive at the table and places the cool effect in the players’ hands.

Best of all, reserving special effects for PCs helps reign in some of the wonkiness that shows up when running large groups of foes.


Just Action and Movement

For a long time, I played around with two action types: complex and simple. A lot of this design inclination sourced from my work on other game systems. I discovered there was a great deal of static in parsing the differences between complex and simple at the table. Players wanted and needed a list of what action belonged on which list. It was too much and so I just blew up the simple action and now the game just uses actions.

Combat still follows the fast/slow, players-first structure as before, but now you have the following options on your turn.

Fast Turn. You can use an action or move up to your Speed.

Slow Turn. You can use an action and move up to your Speed.

You can do stuff that doesn’t count as an action—opening a door, drawing a weapon, and so on, but you are limited to one “non-action” on fast and two on slow. Easy-peasy.

There are more and subtler changes to the game you have seen if you have played so far, but everything serves to make the game faster, easier, and even more accessible.

We’re getting really close to the Kickstarter launch. I might as well tell you the date: March 12th. Mark your calendars and get ready. The Demon Lord, like Santa, is coming to town.