Week 4: TTRPGs
A storytelling RPG where players explore a mysterious and sinister world to fight monsters in order to return home.
A storytelling and action adventure game that envelops players in a world where the unknown creates a sense of urgency and fear.
Mechanics and Play Design Elements
Each player will pick a character from the character deck. Each character player will have a predetermined character board/card with differing health points (hp) and specific attack affinities according to card suit. These affinities will affect the characters’ strategies and gameplay.
Each player draws a card from the main deck and places it on the game board. The GM will present a different setting based on the cards drawn and the players must discuss and select one of these cards. This card will be the setting of the game.
Before the journey begins, each player will select a narrative card from the deck. After revealing their choices, the team must collectively agree on one card to provide the initial path for their team’s journey.
Then, each player will draw three cards from the main deck and place it in front of them, while maintaining its original orientation (up or down). In battle and boss encounters, these cards will be used for attacking.
The boss will be controlled by the GM.
The attacks from a boss ignores the orientation of the cards. Whether the card is right side up or upside down, the number on the die will always be added to the number on the card.
Bosses also have the chance to do an AOE (area of effect) attack once per fight when they reach lower than half HP, with an exception to the final boss. The final boss will do one AOE attack when their hp is lower than half and once more when their hp is lower than 5.
To attack, the players will select a card and roll the die. If the card is upside down, the players will subtract the die number from the card’s number. If the card is right side up, the number from the die will be added onto the card’s number.
(Note: These numbers are from 1-10. Ace being 1, king, queen, or knight being 10. )
Each character, aside from the fool, will also have buffs and banes, which is shown on the character board/card. Each character will have one suit affinity, allowing them to add an additional attack point. Each character will also each have a weakness suit , causing the character to subtract an additional attack point.
When a player attacks, they must say how the attack will be done.
If a player dies during any battle, the death card will be presented to them. They will have one additional turn allowing them to revive by rolling the die three times consistently higher than 3. If the player is unable to roll all three times higher than 3, then the player is out for the remainder of that fight.
Players have the chance to heal between boss battles during the storytelling phase. To heal, the player will draw one card from the main deck , orientation does not matter here, and roll one die. The number on the card and die will be added together. This new number will be the amount of hp that you recover.
If all players die, the game will be over.
To win the game, at least one player must survive and kill the final boss.
Deck of Tarot Cards
An erasable surface
Character info sheet
We immediately were drawn to an ominous, mysterious, and sinister theme for a TTRPG that heavily relied on storytelling and battling mechanics. We found a set of Tarot cards that fit our initial theme and idea which helped us develop storylines through the imagery. We wanted to create a sense of fear, urgency, and uncanniness through aspects of storytelling. Some of our most important priorities were: an intuitive game, no over-complicated instructions or rules, an interesting setting and story, giving the players choices.
During this conceptual phase, we also had several practice rounds for those who were unfamiliar with TTRPGs. Then, we discussed possible stories and scenarios that could be used as the basis of our game. After discussing some personal experiences that could be used for a game story, we decided to pull cards from the deck, bearing those concepts in mind and allowing it to guide where our story should head. Another important aspect that we found important was depth in a character. We wanted every character to have their own skills, personalities, and stories to fully immerse the players in the magic circle.
Prototyping and Internal Playtest
Initially, we began with simple play tests with very minimal and unfinished rules. We thought that these issues, changes, and additions would manifest as we were playing the game. Playing and discussing amongst ourselves helped us test and figure out the usability of certain game mechanics. During these playtests, we decided it would be a good idea to keep track of the time. After figuring out the majority of the game mechanics, we did many test battles to figure out how long it would take to defeat the boss. During these battles, we tested out differing HPs for the bosses and focused on detailed storytelling from the GM and the players. However, we realized that every battle we had took much longer than we expected. For example, one of our boss battles took up to 40 minutes to finish. After adjusting the boss HPs, we decided to playtest the entire game, including the entire sequence of storytelling and battles, with a GM and four players. The game initially started with 7 different scenarios where players would have to fight and storytell. However, this did not work because ⅕ of the way through the game, we already took close to an hour to play. So, we stopped and reduced the HP and the amount of battle scenarios to 5 and re-playtested; then, we further reduced the amount of battle scenarios to 3 and adjusted the storytelling to take less time.
After limiting the amount of battles to 3, we still wanted the players to go through an arduous journey to win the game. We also adjusted the healing mechanic to exist in between every boss round. This would allow the players to feel more hopeful and be more prepared in the upcoming battle. We also realized that we needed a reviving mechanic, otherwise it became significantly easier and easier for the boss to win. This reviving mechanic gives players a chance to revive during the fight by rolling a die three times, each must be higher than 3. If the player is unable to roll higher than 3 each time, the player is dead for the rest of that boss battle. They will have a chance to revive during the healing opportunity before the next battle.
After several more iterations of play tests, we finalized the game to have 3 bosses. The first would be a boss, with about 40 hp, that dies within a single hit of every player. This would allow the characters to experience and practice an easy fight to prepare them for the upcoming battles. In between this initial fight would be some storytelling and a chance to heal. The second boss, with 100 hp, is significantly more difficult and players will face the possibility of death during this round. Players will feel a level of fear and urgency when a player is taken out by the boss. The players must work together to defeat the enemy. After the second boss, the players will have a chance to heal and revive any characters. This will lead into the final battle. In this final fight, the boss has 250 hp, and is extremely difficult to kill. The players will constantly encounter death and players may die. This game is estimated to take around 1 hour to 1 and a half hours, depending on the storytelling from the players and GM and the amount of damage caused per round.
Class Playtest and Observed Dynamics
For the class play test, we decided to heavily modify the game we have created. Our priority was to make sure the game was fun but not overly complicated to play and explain in 20-30 minutes. We decided to include the instruction while playing the game. We found that visual learning and the act of doing, helped players learn more easily than a text instruction sheet. Because we needed to finish the game within a very short timeframe, we cut down to one boss instead of three. The storytelling was severely shortened to save time for the players to learn and experience the battling mechanics in the boss fight.
We wanted to focus the majority of the game on this final boss fight to demonstrate the improv storytelling, from the GM, using inputs from the player. For the playtest, we also considered that many students may not have experience playing TTRPGs. So, we wanted to give the players an easier time to play and have fun, without the anxiety of creating detailed and fantastical descriptions and actions.
During the play test, the players intuitively developed a system to handle their initial narrative cards. After the GM vividly describes four possible paths, the players agree to go to the East, following a dark, shadowed figure standing in the middle of a lake.
As the battle encounter with the shadowy figure began, Diana noticed that their player card was missing the +/- indicator for their Fool character. The character class affinities and weaknesses were explained and immediately understood.
At first, there was some confusion about card orientation. The players seem to naturally want their cards to be in an upright position. This prompts Andrew to explain the rules regarding character class affinities and weaknesses, and why Diana’s character was exempt from these buffs and banes.
On the first turn, Andrew attacks the player whose card was selected, saying that the shadowy figure took notice of them first, since it was their card that selected the path. He describes the movement of the enemy in great detail.
At this point, the players are ready to begin their attacks. During the first round, the playtesters used rather nondescript language to describe their attack. On Diana’s turn, an unexpected attack description is given and Andrew quickly improvises a plausible answer that maintains the aesthetics we initially set out to maintain.
As the players go through their turns, the enemy HP is hidden from players. Though Andrew is using descriptive language that ambiguously reveals the enemy’s HP. Anran (Ashley) starts to get into the roleplaying spirit and begins describing her attack in a similar manner to the style that Diana had taken during their turn.
Aesthetics and Feedback Quotes
“When describing my attacks, I was really trying to embody The Fool”, Diana said.
Hima remarks, “it was frustrating not to know how much HP the enemy has”. Diana responds that “if you were actually in a real life battle, the monster wouldn’t have HP, you’d just see how hurt it was”.
“The mechanics became clear after the first round of attacks”
“The +1/-1 buff and bane don’t make a big difference and they are easy to forget exist”.
“There wasn’t a ton of strategy, more of a story experience with the backdrop of combat”.
On the playspace: “The board added a lot to the immersion and there was just enough room to keep each player’s cards in front of them, though it did feel a bit cramped”.
“Wasn’t that shadowed figure headless?”
Evaluation and Ideas for Next Iteration
Some of the notes from the players hearkened back to our initial concepts for special abilities for each player. We want to play with special abilities that go beyond merely rolling and adding/subtracting and give players a bit more freedom with what they do. In a longer form setting, this could be easily achieved and provide a lot more immersion for the players.
In general, time was a constraint in the design of this game. We wanted to ensure the mechanics were simple enough that players could internalize the rules within one turn. Further discussion with the testers proved that the aesthetics contributed greatly to the experience of the game. Giving the players something with weight (the dice and character boards) against the backdrop of a themed board helped players to get into the role playing spirit. For future iterations, we would definitely look to create a better looking board either out of wood or plastic with a laser cutter.