Week #4 & 5: Tabletop Role-Playing Games

Prototype Prompt


Week 4: TTRPGs

Andrew Win

Chereen Tam

Christopher Strawley

Spandita Sarmah

A storytelling RPG where players explore a mysterious and sinister world to fight monsters in order to return home. 

Design Waypoint

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

Concept Phase

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. 

External Playtest

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

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.

Documentation Media