Board Game Session: Untitled Adventure/RPG Card Game Playtest

John Atkinson Grimshaw’s “A wet moon, Putney Road” (1886)

Due to some technical issues forcing me to wait on finishing the next update to my solo RPG, Winds of the North, I decided to return to working on an adventure card game I’ve been working on (off and on) for almost 4 years. I normally work on an update to the game, playtest it some, take notes, fiddle with things, then put it away again for several months. Returning to it fresh helps keep a clean perspective. If you’re too close to something too long, you start to lose sight of the fringe edges.

The original setting was much more of a traditional fantasy setting based on one I had been building on for several years. I like the setting. It’s a fantasy comfort food for me, but the tabletop industry reached a point where not only was traditional fantasy stale, even slight variations were getting stale. I needed something else.

After brainstorming a while, I decided to take elements I really liked from the game and build off of them. Specifically, there was a questline about a once-noble family that had fallen on hard times after a curse and become scattered to the wind. It was a dark, classic-style gothic story. There was also an encounter where you find an abandoned home in the woods where there’s evidence of a murder and a ghost haunting the basement. I decided to lean into the gothic horror themes. What I chose was a gaslamp fantasy/horror setting (not to be confused with gaslighting) mixed with some elements of the Renaissance era. I figure if most traditional fantasy settings combine elements of late medieval with early dark ages (easily 500-800 years of our history depending on what’s being borrowed), then Renaissance and early Victorian (about 300-400 years) are more than reasonable. There is also a TON of artwork from the period available online for free.

Louis Daguerre’s “The Ruins of Holyrood Chapel” (1824)

The Game

Character Creation

In the game, you create and customize your own character as you would in an RPG. There are 6 backgrounds to choose from and 6 professions. You choose one of each. Your background gives you your starting attributes and your first ability. Your profession gives you a bonus to health or stamina, a second ability, and your starting items. After, you choose two traits; one positive (+1 to an attribute) and one negative (-1 to an attribute). Your background and profession also have a starting quest, and you’ll choose one of them to begin the game with.

A Player Turn

Your turn is broken up into 3 Steps.

  1. Adventure Step. You can explore new locations, travel to town, or stay in your current location.
  2. Quest Step. Attempt to complete your current objective or begin a new quest at your location.
  3. Rest Step. Level up with XP and use items to heal and sleep.

The bulk of the game is a combination of exploring locations, each with a unique encounter, and attempting quests.

Main Mechanism

The main mechanism here is a good old-fashioned 2d6 roll with modifiers but with a modern update. You have a resource, Stamina, that you can spend to boost rolls at a 1-to-1 ratio. Managing your Stamina is one of the main things you’ll be doing, as there are a variety of recovery items, inns to visit in your travels, and a reliable tavern in town. This resource-based dice roll was inspired by Frostgrave, the first place I had seen it, where you can spend health to boost your spellcasting rolls.

The Playtest Session

The character concept was a young woman from the city with a healthy curiosity for mysticism and magic. Meet Océane Levett, the Mystic. She is Curious (+1 Intelligence) and Clumsy (-1 Skill). She begins with an Oak Staff, useful for fighting with magic in combat, and 2 Rations.

Starting Quest

For the starting quest, I took the Cityfolk quest, The Dhampir of the Woods. A young woman is “missing” but in actuality, authorities have reason to believe she is being held by a man named Sir Loren von Krieg, a suspected dhampir. Océane explores the Forest in order to get to her quest location and earns the trust of the wildkin, her first companion. Companions are allies that join your party and give bonuses (and can soak a hit in combat, but it kills them). And since Océane has a Charisma of 3 (her best attribute), she has unlocked the third companion slot. Once she finds the manor of Sir Krieg, she uses that high Charisma of hers to negotiate the release of the captive.

With some ducats in her pocket, Océane goes exploring to find the first new town, Ville D’argent. There, she meets a local animancer and helps revive a bard from a coma, gaining a second companion. While in town, Océane buys her first spell and stops by the market to begin her first real quest.

Quest 1

The intended way to play is that you select which storyline to play. Each storyline has 3 individual quests that can be done in any order, each offering a piece of the larger story. For this game, I chose The Doom of Mýrlendi, a storyline about a town that fell into ruin when the inhabitants turned into wildkin. Most have now become full werewolves and are readying to go on the hunt. Océane’s first stop is in the Swamp to track down the den in the old town ruins. On the way, she finds some people being held captive by a group of wildkin, but she fails to pick the lock and must leave them to their fate.

In the ruins of Mýrlendi, Océane quickly finds the den. Now is as good a time as any to attack the den. Océane chooses to remain in her current location (the Swamp) instead of traveling since it’s the correct location for the quest. The fight with the werewolves is brutal, but I knew it would be. It’s a really tough fight, but the reward is a very useful direwolf mount. Mounts unlock 2 additional inventory spaces and can provide bonuses. The direwolf provides 1 free Scout each turn (a chance to replace a location card in the display map to try and find a different location) and +1 attack and defense in swamps. Side note, I may be changing swamps to moors or marshes. In any case, both of Océane’s companions die in the fight, but she is victorious.

Quest 2

With some extra money again, Océane heads back to town to stock up. She buys a Silver Rod (bonus attack for magic) and a Buff Coat (bonus defense). The next quest is also going to be nasty, so she needs to be ready for some fighting. She’s also increased her Skill to 2 from leveling, which gives her a bonus +1 defense. To start the next quest, she heads back to the swamp. The new quest is The Duke of Mýrlendi. There’s activity in the old castle but magic wards are protecting it from entry. This one gives her trouble.

While playing solo, there are two options: play with the game’s timer (a fate track that has 8 spaces, but whether it moves each turn is based on a die roll and your level) or play in sandbox mode where you are in charge of when you stop (unless your character dies). Océane lost valuable time trying to get into the castle since I was playing with the timer. She eventually gets in, but it took all her Stamina to do it, so she heads back to town first (and also buys the Shield spell and a magic top hat). Once back in the swamp, she confronts the duke in combat (you also have the option of pledging loyalty to the werewolf duke and gaining full lycanthropy yourself, but it has some downsides). It’s a rough fight. Océane was not as prepared as I hoped, but she survives thanks to her Shield spell.

Quest 3

Océane will need upgrades if she’s going to do much more fighting, but time is running out. Spending an extra turn in town, she sells her Buff Coat and buys a Shield and a Sorcerer’s Cloak (increasing the maximum number of spell casts she has). The next quest starts in the forest. Océane completes an ancient puzzle, then meets with a sick man who is becoming a wildkin. Océane can save him with some Silver Blossom, a special discovery found in some locations. It takes her a couple more turns (time she doesn’t have) to find it. After failing to find the plant, Océane heads to town for one final visit to learn the Explosion spell, a huge spell that costs 5 Stamina but deals 1 automatic wound (enemies have 1-3 health). She also buys a Compass which gives an additional free Scout, helping her search for that Silver Blossom.

Océane is finally able to find the Silver Blossom and complete part one of the quest. Unfortunately, even though she needs just one more turn to remain in her current location and complete the final quest and win the game… time runs out.

One thing I’ve been very pleased with since first playtesting the game is that just a few quests and a handful of encounters (about 6-8 resolved per game) can make an immersive and satisfying experience. And with a deck of 60 locations, 18 main quests, and 12 starting quests, the game has a lot of legs for a small package.

Expect to see public playtesting to open soon.

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