A Healing Potion; a Cloak of Protection; a Mace of Smiting: Magic Items!

We at Catalyst are often audacious. After all, we’re huge geeks and gamers. And we want all the awesomesauce we can cram into every game we make, along with that extra cool vacuum tray (for some of us, that’s fantastic as well!), the unique game clip or die, and the kitchen sink (or in this case, a bag of holding).

Now that attitude can (and has in the past) get us into trouble. And it certainly made the development of Dragonfire even more complex and fraught with issues that turned into a lot of eighteen-hour days over the last few months. However, how could we publish a Dungeons & Dragons deckbuilder and not have Magic Items? And more importantly, not have them be something really different and special. Not only in how you use them, but even in how you acquire them.

After all, unless your Dungeon Master is exceptionally kind (and if so, introduce us…I’ve never met one yet), you don’t just wander into the first room of a dungeon and discover a Mace of Smiting leaning in the corner. No, that’s for at least the second to last, if not the last big boss in the dungeon that pushes you to the edge of your limits, and only after you defeat him do you get to walk away with that cool rare magic item.

So we can’t just hand them out willy-nilly. Not to mention you have such a wide variety of items, including a lot of consumables like scrolls and potions. How do you take that into consideration in a deckbuilder? And finally, we have an exceptionally well-working game engine that was already stressed significantly to increase the depth of how Features (the stickers from the previous blog post) worked. How do you mesh Magic Items into it without destroying the game?

And let me tell you, while some of the Feature work we did made the game wobble pretty badly before we corrected, the various iterations of the Magic Items absolutely broke the game several times. There were just so many moving parts, and trying to weave in such a new element proved very difficult. But at the end, I believe we hit all of the aspects we were striving for.

Here’s a highlight of those and how they all interact (it’s a lot of over-lapping bits, so breaking them out with headers to hopefully make it all easier to follow).

Earning Magic Items
First, you only earn a Magic Item if you complete an Adventure (like, say, the first one here that’s part of the linked campaign in the box). Remember from the last post about Features that you get XP for every Scene you start. Which means even when you lose an Adventure, you’re building up the necessary XP to spend on more powerful Features, to then go up against that Adventure again and ultimately defeat it. Not so with Magic Items. They’re simply harder to acquire. Only once you’ve completed the Adventure will you find the Magic Items.

Unless a specific Adventure says otherwise, at Adventure Level 1 the standard is a single Common Magic Item, randomly assigned to each player. (Just for comparison, at Adventure Level 3, if you complete an Adventure, you’d receive 1 Common and 1 Uncommon.)

Yup, that’s right. Random. After all, you have no idea what the troll, or owlbear, or even dragon has in its hoard. And they definitely don’t carry a neat little inventory list you can check, either. Instead, Magic Items are randomly dealt out face down, and once all players have them, you reveal them and determine if you can use them. And anyone who’s played the tabletop RPG knows that’s reflected in a whole series of progressively more fantastic and powerful Magic Item Tables in the Dungeon Master’s Guide book. Ah, so much fun rolling those items up to dangle in front of my players. And we’ve embraced that exact same aesthetic for Dragonfire.

Attuning
“What, I can’t just use the item if I receive it?” Nope. There’s several limitations you need to take into consideration.

The first is attuning. A player can only attune to a number of Magic Items based upon their Character Level. (Ah, I know some of you have been wondering how important Character Levels will be…and Magic Items are the king element woven into that part of game play.) After all, you’re just starting out as heroes, and don’t know how to harness such vast magical energies as later items will bring to bear.

For example, at Character Level 1 a player can attune up to two Uncommon Items.

Rarities
“Wait. You mentioned Common items above, but your attunement doesn’t apply to Commons?” Correct. You can have as many Common items as you can earn. However, just because you can add an item into your deck doesn’t mean you should. I’ll discuss that issue in a whole future blog.

In the base game there are Commons, Uncommons, Rares, and Very Rares. And attunement only applies to anything higher than a Common item. Above you’ve seen two Common cards and now three Uncommons in the Bag of Holding, Summoning Gem, and Master’s Longsword +1.

In the base game there’s a total of twenty Common, twenty-four Uncommon, eight Rare, and two Very Rare Magic Items. Note that is total cards; a fair number of repeats in there, especially among the Commons, to ensure some of the more usable items, like those Healing potions, are available to multiple players.

So as mentioned, once you complete an Adventure, based upon the Level you played and your Character Level, you’ll grab the appropriate rarity deck, shuffle, and deal out some Magic Items.


Magic Item Limitations
Another factor you must take into consideration is the Magic Item Limitations, which are found on the back of every Character screen. For example, on the back of the Half-Orc Fighter screen, that character can have any four weapons, any one armor, any one shield, and up to three miscellaneous items. For the Sun Elf Wizard, however, while that character may have any two weapons, the single armor the character can use must be Arcane; meanwhile no shields can be used at all, but six miscellaneous items can be used.

How does this work hand-in-hand with the attune rules? Well, let’s take a look again at that Sun Elf Wizard. And let’s say he’s at Character Level 3 and he’s completed two Adventures at that level and happened to receive that Summoning Gem and Master’s Longsword +1 already (both of which he can use due to the Magic Item Limitations as well as attunement limits).

Now let’s say they play one more game and the player receives the Mithril Chain Shirt after completing an Adventure. The player couldn’t keep that Magic Item for two reasons. First, he currently can only attune to two Uncommon Magic Items. So if they could keep the card, they would need to trade in either the Summoning Gem or Master’s Longsword +1 to make sure they’re not exceeding that attunement limit.

In this case, however, the Wizard Class due to its Magic Item Limitations cannot have Armor unless it’s Arcane Class. So the Mithril Chain Shirt simply cannot be used by the Wizard.

But What if I Don’t Like or Can’t Use My Items?
In the case above, the Wizard couldn’t use the Mithril Chain Shirt. Additionally, there’s a chance that depending upon the player, they may not have even wanted the Master’s Longsword +1; i.e. it has a Martial ability the player cannot use.

In both instances, the first plan is to see if anyone around the table is willing to trade. Even during playtesting we had some pretty heavy trades going on for Magic Items, with the Rogue pushing extra hard for concessions to give up a card he patently couldn’t use. He couldn’t help himself…Rogues….

The second option, for say the Master’s Longsword +1, is simply to write on the back of your Character screen in dry erase that you have access to that item, but don’t currently put it into your Equipment Pack in a game. Then, if an opportunity presents itself down the line when you might use it, then you pull it out for that game. For example, while this wouldn’t work for the Wizard, there are other ways for other Character Types to make use of various items in this situation. For example, a Cleric that hadn’t chosen a Subclass yet who received that Master’s Longsword +1 might suddenly decide their next Feature purchase will now be War Domain, which would then unlock the additional Martial abilities of that Magic Item card, making it worthwhile to keep and use. A great example of the synergy that can arise between Magic Items and Features.

Finally, in the instance of the Mithril Chain Shirt and the Wizard, if no player is willing to trade, you simply return that item to the deck. For that Adventure, the treasure hoard simply didn’t present you with anything of use. It’s going to happen now and then.

How Powerful?
You’re wondering what a Rare card might look like, right? Or even a Very Rare? Sure, here’s the Robe of Stars. And to make full sense of it, you need to see Magic Missile Market card. Remember all those encounters throwing out tokens? Yeah…you just became the party’s best friend in those situations.

Shiny!
I mentioned audacious, right? Well, it wasn’t just in all we wanted to accomplish with the new game design. We also wanted that audacity in the look of the Magic Items as well, and so we sprinted down the road to apply a laser effect to these cards; something we’d never tackled before. And as usual, it was nice and complicated as we stumbled around trying to figure it out. But we did figure it out. Here’s a few photos straight from the printer of the final results…I think you’ll agree they look fantastic!

So Much More
This is one of the longest blogs I’ve written in this chain…and that’s saying something. But there’s just so much awesomeness to convey. And even then I didn’t touch on all of it by any stretch. You may have noticed a variety of new keywords on these cards: Repack, Consume, Starts & Remains in Play. Not to mention the tactics of when and where to put in Magic Items. And so on. I just couldn’t cover it all without turning this into a novella. You’ll see a series of future posts where I delve into all the great tactics that arise out of Magic Item use in your games!

Until next time!

Randall

HEROES WANTED AT BOOTH 1611 AT GEN CON!

Dragonfire is a 2 to 6 player deckbuilding game set in the world’s greatest roleplaying game, DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. Players choose from a number of races, from dwarf to elf, half-orc to human, while assuming the quintessential roles of Cleric, Rogue, Fighter, and Wizard. Equipped with weapons, spells, and magic items, players begin their adventure along the famed Sword Coast, then expand to other locales across the Forgotten Realms, such as Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter, and Waterdeep, in future expansions. Along the way, players level up their characters, opening access to additional equipment, feats, and more. Join the quest, and build your own legend!

The base game will be on-sale at Gen Con at booth 1611! Dragonfire includes 270 playing cards consisting of dungeon, city, wilderness and adventurer encounter cards, as well as Market, Dragonfire and Magic Item cards! It also includes sixteen character screens, 160+ stickers, seven Adventures, rules, clips, tokens and more!

Also available at Gen Con will be the Heroes of the Sword Coast character pack that includes thirty-two additional character screens, introducing the Druid, Bard, Ranger and Warlock Classes. It also contains twenty-seven new Market cards, as well as 100+ new stickers!

We’ll be running a treasure-trove of demos! Play in one and get the free Gen Con promo Character screen!

In the meantime, feel free to download the free quick-start rules, along with an instruction sheet that walks you through what to expect from the base game, as well as what other expansions are coming!

Dragonfire will be available in store in October!

Visit www.dragonfirethegame.com for weekly behind-the-scenes Dev Blogs!

 

Download Quick Start Rules           Download Instruction Sheet

From Acolyte to Turn Undead to Life Domain: Features!


The base Dragonfire game is wonderfully fun. And I see a lot of players getting it out and diving into a pile of one-off games. However, like the tabletop RPG, Dragonfire is so much more when you play the same character across numerous Adventures, gaining Experience Points and trading that XP in for Features (stickers) to reflect the leveling up of your character’s capabilities.

To help players start off on that path more quickly, Dragonfire has a quick-start rules booklet. And within it is the Adventure The Village is Attacked: A Hero Is Born. A nice, straightforward way to dive into the game. Note that at this time you haven’t selected a permanent character yet. Why would we force that on you when you’ve barely played the game or grasped the nuances of the various Class Types and how they play just yet? However, at the end of the Adventure, while players are free to play the game as they see fit, we suggest that each player settle on a character and grab that Character screen. The player then selects from one of twelve different Background Features that they’ll apply to their Character screen.

Take a look at the Sailor, Soldier and Street Urchin Background Features. You’ll note each of these is a once-a-game effect. It’s not a big boost at all. But it’s just enough to let you select the type of story—and its accompanying game mechanic—you want to embrace (all the Background names are straight out of the tabletop RPG Player’s Handbook). And once again, you’ve got the QSR under your belt, so you know enough that these abilities aren’t intimidating, but should be exciting to put to the test in your next game.


While you can play the QSR several times—it is a fun Adventure—you can also immediately move onto the full rules and the Dungeon Crawl Adventure. There’s a total of seven different Adventures in the base game—yup, seven! But for the first few sessions, I imagine most players will get their chops in playing the Dungeon Crawl.

In Dragonfire, each Adventure is divided into a number of Scenes that block out how you’ll play through the challenges. And without exception, if you start a Scene, you will earn XP. If you remember all the way back to some of my first posts, I discussed that despite Shadowrun: Crossfire’s awesome play, it had some downsides. And one of those was how stingy it could be on handing out the points players needed to advance. But don’t think this is a walk in the king’s park. Dragonfire will be plenty challenging. But we more readily reward players for diving into a game.

For instance, in the Dungeon Crawl each player will receive 1 XP for starting each of three Scenes, and then, if you complete the game, you’ll receive a bonus 2 XP each, for a total of 5 XP. So if you’re either lucky or just that good out of the gate, there are 5 XP Features available, and you could immediately upgrade a sticker. For most, however, you’ll likely put in two to four games before upgrading the first time.

There’s a large selection (and multiple copies) of generic Features, meaning any Class Type can use them. For example, here’s two 10 XP and one 15 XP Feature to start to show you the ways in which you can quickly customize your play style. That’s all very similar to what we did with Shadowrun: Crossfire. However, here’s where we start to diverge and embrace Dungeons & Dragons.

First, you’ve got Character Class/Class Type Features. As you can see from the Features at right, they specifically tell you which Character Class or Class Type you must be to use a Feature (provided you’ve earned the XP to nab it, of course). For example, Turn Undead and Second Wind require a specific Character Class; i.e. Cleric or Paladin for Turn Undead or Fighter for Second Wind. Meanwhile Expertise and Arcane Recovery are Class Type, meaning a Rogue or Bard could take Expertise, while a Wizard, Warlock or Sorcerer could take Arcane Recovery.

Second, but wait, there’s more! You don’t just have Character Classes, you have Subclasses in the tabletop RPG, and we’ve fully embraced that in Dragonfire. For example, take a look at Life Domain. That appears to be just another Character Class specific Feature. However, this is a primary Subclass Feature. Look at Disciples of Life or Divine Strike. You’ll notice both of those require that you are both a Cleric—i.e. you must have the correct type of Character screen—and that you also have the Life Domain Feature active on your Character screen; i.e. you can’t ever cover it up or you lose the ability to use the Subclass Features.

And just because I’m sure some of you are already wondering about it…in the base game, the highest XP stickers are 100. And how powerful are they? Well, if you haven’t really played the game yet, it’ll be difficult to discern why some of them could be good. But take a look at Survivor. That’s a nice, easy-to-understand Feature, even with just the bits I’ve explained about the game to date. (And yes…that’s potentially dozens and dozens of games across months…ah, the campaign stories you’ll have to tell by then!)

And for the other question that might be popping up, there are two hundred and four Features in Dragonfire, with almost one hundred and fifty unique Features! Not to mention over a hundred more Features in the Heroes of the Sword Coast character pack to go along with the Bard, Druid, Ranger, and Warlock Character Classes introduced there.

Hopefully you’re starting to see the sheer depth of play and customizing that’ll be at your fingertips!

Until next time!

Randall

We Have Wyrm Sign

No matter how you spin it, I’ve been doing this a long time. And there are times when you begin to wonder has it been too long. Especially after six months of the longest, hardest project of my career.

Then a text arrives from the printer showing photos of the near final game…and I’m as giddy at a kid in a toy store. And I realize I still absolutely love what I do with a passion.

A big, big wall of boxes!

The two die cut (i.e. punchboard) sheets in the box filled with gold, encounter tokens and more.

And the Character sheets. I’ve mentioned before there’s a very good chance this will be one of the most enjoyable parts of the game. Ultimately you’ll all let us know the truth of that.

All appears on track to have this on sale for Gen Con, with it on store shelves in the fall! Will continue to keep these printer updates flowing as they come!

Enjoy!

Randall

Excitement Continues to Grow!

An unusual post this time, but I wanted to share.

Just as we love brick-and-mortar stores for all they do for our hobby–I don’t believe we could exist without them–the distributors are a crucial element as well. Alliance, ACD, PSI, GTS–just to name a few–help move the great games we love to play from game publishers to all our gaming tables.

They’ve started showcasing their excitement for Dragonfire as well, which is always fantastic to see.

Alliance has put these great lighted boxes in three hundred stores (with more coming this fall). Below are two photos showing this element, the later with more glowy!

Meanwhile GTS has put together this fantastic intro video. Check it out and share it where ever you think there might be excitement for our coming Dungeons & Dragons Deckbuilder!

Enjoy!

Randall

A Bow…A Spell…An Epic Move: The Market Cards

In the last post I thoroughly discussed the Equipment Pack, which is built from Basic Market cards and becomes your draw deck at the start of the game. However, as with any good deckbuilder game, Dragonfire is about building your deck.

The base game includes a sixty-card deck, split equally between the four colored Class Types: Arcane (blue), Deception (red), Devotion (green), and Martial (black). [By the end of these blogs, you’re going to have those colors and names down pat!]

At the start of the game, you reveal six cards. Well, the standard is six cards. You can reveal less or more based on a variety of situations. For example, one of the monthly Adventures I just turned over to layout—Chaos in the Trollclaws—includes a Market card that occupies a slot until they’re all purchased. And then you have the Half-Elf, which adds a slot to the Market! And so on.

Regardless, you’ll have a number of cards you may purchase during the game. Now the term “Market” represents purchasing cards with earned gold, not a literal market that springs up in the depths of a dungeon. Rather, the character has gained access to a new ability. For example, a Wizard who purchases a Fireball card is discovering, remembering, or preparing that potent spell. So it’s a mechanism that needs to work in this fashion for the game engine, but we try and skew the Creative aspect to help with any potential disconnects.

If you remember way back in the beginning, I discussed the color wheel: the flavor and type of play that comes out in a given color/Class Type. For example, the Devotion character heals heavily and color shifts. The Arcane player churns through his deck hunting for arguably the most powerful cards in the game: Lightning Bolt and Fireball. The Deception character continually draws their best cards back out of their discard pile. The Martial plants himself in the way of attacking encounters to take the hits, while trying to set match Sword icons on Martial cards to draw new cards.

Each has a distinct flavor that quickly starts to come to the fore. Though, even with those flavors, there are several different slants on those play styles, creating different games. Even two players both playing a Human Rogue in the same game might play two heavily different-slanted styles. And that’s not even getting into what Feature stickers will allow as we dive into Subclasses (more on that in future posts).

Let’s delve into one specific flavor that is arguably the most distinctive in the base game (I said I was going to to show some Rogue love). Let’s take a look at Twist the Knife—one of the best Assists in the game. That level damage allows you to knock down almost anything. (You’ll remember in a previous post I discussed that even with the Deception Purchase requirements it’s so good we introduced the Immune to Level Damage icon to shore-up the Encounters Decks.)


However, there’s only two Twist the Knife cards in the entire Market Deck. Not to mention, by the time you’re buying it, you’re likely already over a dozen cards in your deck. Which means it can take a while to cycle through and have that card show up again.

(The Devotion characters have the most difficult time at recursion—moving quickly through the deck—and having played a Cleric more than anything else…there are times I’m jealous of the Rogue’s ability.)


Yet there’s a hand-in-glove card for Twist the Knife in Expertise. Take a look at it and you’ll immediately realize what’s going on. Now imagine: there’s three total Expertise in the market and you manage to get two of them in your deck? Or the dream: you get all three Expertise and the two Twist the Knife. You’re slicing and dicing almost every turn through encounters as any slip-from-the-shadows-to-strike Rogue should be!

Remember that’s just one tactic the Rogue can use; albeit it’s the favorite. Two other variations are oriented around the Feint and Perception cards. The former opens the ability to stab anywhere along an encounter’s damage track, while the later lets you Skill Check for gold. So many great options. And every Class Type brings that similar flexibility to the table, which means no player will play the same Class the same way.

Until next time!

Randall

Equipment Packs: The Distinctiveness of Characters

A large swath of tabletop RPGs have long lists of equipment—gear, weapons, armor, you name it—that’s used to kit-out your character. And in some instances—I’m looking at you, Shadowrun—these lists are very expansive, even in the core rulebook. To try and ease players into building their characters and ultimately transition into game play quicker, games will often have ready-made kits of gear you can grab. In Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition, these are equipment packs. What’s more, you don’t even need to agonize over what will be more useful, a Dungeoneer’s, Explorer’s, or Scholar’s Pack. Instead, 5E ties the equipment pack to the Class you select.

For those that may never have played Dungeons & Dragons but are interested in Dragonfire, your Class—or Character Class, as it is termed—is the primary definition of what your character can do—their calling, so to speak. Be it Wizard, Fighter, Rogue, or Cleric, your character’s Class defines who you were born to be, finding and embracing your calling as you accept the call to adventure.

In the original Shadowrun: Crossfire game, the idea of a “Class” for the characters doesn’t really exist. And that’s because in the Shadowrun tabletop RPG, base Character Classes like these don’t really exist. You have the same general idea, but it’s much more fluid and you can do a fair bit of mixing and matching, both during character creation, and during play. That was reflected in Shadowrun: Crossfire by the idea that you select your Runner card—basically a race card; there are five them in Crossfire—and then you grabbed one of four role cards for what you wanted to play that game.


This worked very well, however, it also had a downside. The biggest one was that while we offered several different Runner cards for each race, the stats on each card were identical. They were really just illustrated differently. So it was only a Creative change we were offering, not an actual game play alternative.

That fluidity doesn’t really exist in the D&D RPG. Instead, you start by selecting your race and then you forever wed yourself to a given Character Class. I know, I know, I can hear it now: “But multiclassing!” And sure, even 5E has rules for working on multiple classes with a given character. But you pay a pretty hefty price to do so. And I personally don’t believe that really steps away from the core D&D philosophy that your Character Class defines who and what your character does throughout their adventuring career. (So, so many debates right there….)

With those key concepts in mind, when we started working on what would ultimately become the Dragonfire Character screens, we knew that the ability to switch up roles needed to go. Instead, a given screen would fuse race and Class into a single set of stats as your foundation for the character you would build across many adventures. (Dragonfire is a wonderful one-off game. But like the tabletop RPG, it really starts to sing when you play it across a campaign of inter-linked Adventures.)

I previously discussed this, but I’ll run over it again. Every Dragonfire character has four base stats that define them. Some of them also have a fifth stat. (Though technically they all have a sixth stat in Magic Item Limitations, but I’ll delve into that in a future post.)

The four stats all characters have are: Equipment Pack, starting hand, starting gold, and starting Hit Points. Then some characters also have an additional race ability on their card. This is often used both to balance the stats against other Character, as well as to bring out the Creative aspect of a given race.

Let’s take a look at the Shield Dwarf Cleric and the Sun Elf Wizard.

(As an aside, the Shield Dwarf Cleric is one of my all-time favorite D&D character illustrations, well…ever. Just makes me want to strap on armor, grab my hammer, and find a cave troll to take down. And then the Sun Elf Wizard show-cases an all-new D&D illustration. One of the wonderful aspects of working on Dragonfire is that we’ve had the chance to work with truly amazing artists—and the Wizards of the Coast team—to add all-new art to the magnificent D&D legacy. The Sun Elf Wizard is a great example of that.)

Okay, back to our comparison. The Sun Elf has a starting hand of 6 (the number of cards he draws at the start of the game), 3 gold, and 5 Hit Points; where he’ll place his clip along the Health Track at the top of the Character screen. For the Shield Dwarf Cleric, you’ve got a starting hand of 4, 4 gold, and 9 Hit Points. Pretty good and different spread of numbers.

You’ll also note that the Sun Elf has Keen Senses, a racial ability that helps to bring the Creative aspect out via an interesting tactical style of play.

Then we’ve got the Equipment Pack. The icons that make up the Equipment Pack are shorthand for the Basic Market cards you use to build the short stack of cards that will become your draw deck at the start of any game. Remember, this is a deckbuilding game.

You start out using Basic Market cards, which each have a very, well, basic ability. Then during game play, you purchase Market cards that have increased potency. Taking a look at the printed icons on the Shield Dwarf Cleric Character screen, you would select four Graces (Basic Devotion) for the green icons, two Glorys (Basic Martial) for the black icons, one Stealth (Basic Deception) for the red icon, and one Cantrip (Basic Arcane) for the blue icon, for a total of eight cards.

That all seems pretty straight forward, right? However, let’s start mixing that up some. First, let’s take a look at a Human Cleric. The stats change from 4, 4, 9 to 4, 3, and 8. And then for the Equipment Pack you drop a Glory, moving from 8 cards to 7. Now that’s only one card and two slight stat changes. Nevertheless, you’ll quickly discover that even just those mild tweaks create a different play experience. (You’ll also note that the Equipment Pack of the Human Cleric matches the Decker Role card from the top, even if the icons are different. One of the core touch-stones of the original engine as we then built upon that foundation.)

And just to show how it transitions across a given race, compare the Human Fighter to that Human Cleric. Obviously the Equipment Packs completely change to orient towards the Martial Type Fighter. But even looking at the stats you’re moving from 4, 3, 8 to 3, 2, and 10. That’s because, once again, the Class defines who and what you are. The human that becomes a Fighter absolutely is different in subtle ways to the human that becomes a Cleric, which leads to those great differences that ultimately bring altered game play to the table. Yet at the same time there are ties that bind all humans, just like all the races; in this instance, that regardless of Character Class or Class Type they only have 7 cards in their Equipment Packs, instead of the 8 (or more) of most of the other races.


Having run the numbers, there’s more than seven hundred combinations of Character screens we could publish! But of course we can’t possibly touch all that at the beginning. Instead, there are four Character Classes within the base game: Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, and Wizard, touching upon just five races—human, half-orc, half-elf, Shield Dwarf, and Sun Elf. Because they’re the baseline that’s usually the easiest to learn how to play, there are two humans—male and female—for each of those Character Classes, with the rest being unique combinations of race and Class.

But because we know that’s not remotely enough Character Class/race combinations, simultaneously with the release of the base game, we’re also releasing the Heroes of the Swords Coast character pack. In addition to more Market cards and a slew of new Feature stickers (which I’ll cover in a future post) it includes thirty-two new Character screens. That includes four new race/gender combinations each for the Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, and Wizard Character Classes from the base game. Additionally, it has sixteen new Character screens, introducing four new Character Classes in the Bard, Druid, Ranger and Warlock, along with additional races in the Lightfoot Halfing, Forest and Rock Gnomes, Gold Dwarf, Tiefling, and Wood Elf.

From that Heroes of the Sword Coast, take a look at the Forest Gnome Druid and you’ll see where we start to really push the design envelope. This character has the second lowest HP available at launch—a few of the Wizards push to 5 HP—and she starts with no gold. (Man that can be tough!) Additionally, she has 9 cards in her Equipment Pack, including “Color Spray,” a brand new Market Card for all Forest Gnomes. That pushing-of-the-envelope continues the pillars on which we built all the characters: trying to ensure balance between characters, making sure the Creative aspect is in full force every time, and crafting new game play experiences as you mix and match your party.

“What, no love for the Rogue?!” There’s still plenty to talk about concerning characters. Those Magic Item Limitations I mentioned. Those Feature Slots you see on the screens above. And so on. I’ll showcase the Rogue the next time as I delve into those details.

When we started this journey to create Dragonfire, we had no idea that character design would grow into a beast that would devour months of work as we hammered and hammered and hammered it out. But now, after all our designing and discussion and tinkering and retooling, I believe this may be one of the most exciting aspects of the game. I can see an endless series of debates coming soon that X or Y is obviously the best race in a given Class. (And don’t even think about knocking that Forest Gnome Druid…I’ve done some fantastic adventuring with her at the table!)

Until next time!

Randall

Tempering: Slow Heating and Then an Edge

After the hardening process of the quench, you then temper the blade. Which means to heat it again, but it’s more gradual this time, and doesn’t rise nearly to the temperatures used during the initial quenching process. Depending upon the blade, after it’s been initially heated and quenched, the tempering process may cycle several times.

For the encounters in Dragonfire, this involved playtesting. And playtesting. And more playtesting. Obviously I spent an entire post going in-depth about what that covers. Yet here we are, two months later, and if anything, the playtesting over that time simply intensified. There were times in the last month where seven out of eight straight days (baring Sundays) were spent playtesting. In fact, I just had a discussion with the family last night about this, as they were wondering when life might be returning to ‘normal’ craziness. I’ve been blessed to work in the hobby I love for over twenty years now. And I’ve been involved in a lot of heavy game design and production that felt like endless time-sinks. (Leviathans immediately comes to mind). But nothing compares with the sheer volume of work poured into this game in such a short period of time. I told them hopefully after Gen Con I’ll return to my normal 12-hour days and playtesting only once or twice a week. We’ll see if that works out…

Now most of that was focused on Features (stickers) and Magic Items. But during that entire process, we had to be flexible enough to know when a Market card needs some help. Or, even after months of locking an encounter down, realizing it needs to change to deal with the new dynamics created as players move beyond Character Level 1—due to all the great experience points they’ve earned playing games—and start to increase their potency via those advancements. Not to mention the wonderful new possibilities of the Druid, Ranger, Bard, and Warlock Character Classes we’re introducing in the Heroes of the Sword Coast character pack, which will be available alongside the base game release.

Additionally, we’re constantly stress testing every conceivable variation of the game itself: only two players; all six players; all of the perceived strongest Character Classes; all the perceived weakest Character Classes; worst combination of stickers; absolutely maxed combination; bloated and random magic items; most potent and slick combo of magic items—I think you get the picture. And all of that is not only about ensuring that things are working and creating great, tactical, challenging fun, we were always zeroing in on the fixed point that was settled upon for how difficult we wanted the game to be. And we’ve swung many times back and forth across the desired point. We’d introduce some new element on the player side, and it would almost wreck the game. So then we’d dump it or modify it and adjust on the encounters side for parity, and so on.

During this final tempering process, we introduced three last elements. Difficulty Rating 3 encounters, an Immunity to Level Damage icon, and Save +X. The two later were literally finalized within the last ten days, as we’re on the cusp of printing as I write this.



We’ll discuss these elements in reverse order. I previously covered Saves, and even showcased Crown of Confusion. But we’ll show it here again so you can see that you’re forcing an encounter to make a Save and if they fail, they not only must skip their next attack, but you’re able to use their Attack Strength as colorless damage against another encounter. An absolutely great card. However, as more similar effects arose—along with the multiplicative effect of overlapping abilities—it became apparent that it might start being a little too easy to punk encounters. And this is especially true of Difficulty Rating 3 encounters: the idea that one card flip could allow you to punk an Adult Dragon. Nope, that’s simply not appropriate. That doesn’t mean all encounters have the extra save like Raika, who has a Save +1 (he reveals two cards to make a single Save). But a few sprinkled Saves +X brought us back towards that central fixed point.


In the base game, each Class Type has one or two cards that define them. And in the case of the Rogue, Twist the Knife is king. Now we’ve built numerous decks that allow for a wide variety of play. But hands down the one most will gravitate toward is built around Twist the Knife. That level damage allows you smash any level, from a color icon(s), all the way up to, say, an 8 colorless level (which is brutal). Once again, as the various Feature and Magic Item abilities were brought to bear, the might of that level damage increased to a point that we needed some counter-defenses to swing the pendulum a little back away from how far it’d moved onto the character side. The square 4 level on the Shambling Mound’s damage track is an Immune to Level Damage icon. You can still add up damage values to defeat that level, but Twist the Knife’s ability—along with all similar effects—can’t touch it. Again, as with Saves, they are not remotely on all the cards. Just a few here and there to give the Encounter Decks their bite back.

Finally, we come to the Difficulty Rating 3 cards. I discussed in a previous post that we divided all the creatures from D&D into four Difficulty Ratings. And you won’t see Difficulty Rating 4 cards for some time. In fact, you won’t really see us starting to really flesh out Difficulty Rating 3 cards for a short time yet. However, it slowly became apparent a month ago that the base game needed a few such cards. This served several purposes.

First, the base game only goes up through Character/Adventure Levels 4. If we wanted to give you a way to play at Level 5 before we started fully supporting those in future releases, those Rating 3 cards were a must.

Second, those cards would significantly increase our ability to craft exciting, challenging, and story-immersing adventures. For example, of the seven Adventures in the base game—that’s right, there are seven of them!—five of them tie into a campaign, which includes an Adventure Campaign booklet with an expanded story, additional rules based upon choices you make during the campaign, and so on. And several of those Difficulty Three Rating cards make early appearances in unusual, challenging Adventures.

Finally, of course, is the bald-faced desire that when you see the deadly challenges you can face down the line, you’ll rise to face each one, blade ready, shield firm, magic sparking at your fingertips, and you’ll want to dive into the future releases.


The Vampire is my second favorite of the six Difficulty Rating 3 cards in the base game (perhaps another time I’ll talk about my favorite). It’s a beast that introduces three color-icons on a single damage level; a great mechanic that touches nicely upon its glamour ability; and finally an Immunity keyword. Note this is much stronger than the icon above. The icon on that Shambling Mound only protects that row. For the Vampire, which in the tabletop RPG is a Challenge Rating of 13 (compared with the Shambling Mound’s Challenge Rating of 5)…yeah, this is a terrifying lord of the night that will ruin your day but good. You don’t really have a chance to face him down until Character Level 3. And even then, he’ll likely chew you up the first time or two. But when you do bring him down…yeah, that’s the stuff legends are made of, sparking stories you’ll tell endlessly.

Well…after almost a dozen posts discussing encounters, that pretty much covers it from all angles, and gives the blade of our encounters a fine, sharp edge. Next time I’ll refocus on the characters and their screens, Feature stickers, and ultimately Magic Items you’ll use to conquer all those dangerous encounters!

Until next time!

Randall

Quenching: Rapid Cooling

We’re approaching the end of the process for designing encounters. But at this stage, we’re actually more focused on the encounter deck as a whole, not any individual card. Hopefully it’s already been made clear that the Encounter Decks are designed to work as a set. But more so than at any other stage, this is about setting the strength and cohesiveness of a deck for game play.

One of the ubiquitous movie scenes surrounding the forging of a blade is the quenching. When the blacksmith takes the heated blade and plunges it into liquid with a wonderfully satisfying spray of bubbles and erupting steam. Very evocative. More importantly, it’s a crucial element. A transformative moment for strengthening and hardening the blade.

Location encounters are that quenching process that most readily brings out the strength of a given Encounter Deck. That being said, I don’t believe there’s an element of Dragonfire that has caused more arguments and more contention. At the same time, even outside of the crucial design element that adds the hard into the puzzle that must be solved to win the game, they also bring a fantastic Creative aspect to any game table. After all, is there anything more quintessential to D&D—or almost any good story—than to separate the party or to place yet another obstacle in their path? The appearance of a Choke Point or Cursed Ground can throw all of your carefully laid plans out the window as the crucial Lightning Bolt you needed from the wizard or that Cure Wounds needed from the cleric are now off in a completely separate Location, away from the main party.

Location encounters are seeded into the deck; in the base box set, its usually two per deck. So as you’re revealing encounters throughout the game, you have no idea one is coming until its revealed and placed in front of a player. Once that Moaning Chamber is placed into play, you’re plunged off into another dangerous portion of the adventure. You’ll take your Class Type marker and move it from the Adventure Environment card (where all player markers start the game) onto your Location to visually show that you’re separated from the party.

The reason this can be so dangerous and is one of the key difficult elements to the puzzle of any given game is now there’s several elements working against the party.

First, normally you can play the damage from your cards against any encounters on the table. It’s a cooperative game, after all. Now, however, you can only play Assists into or out of a Location. In other words, if you’re inside the Location, you can only damage other encounters with Assists. And if you’re not in that Location and are trying to damage it or an encounter inside it to help the separated player…once again, only an Assist will do the job. And Assists are not very plentiful.

Second, another player could jump in if they wish to help you; as noted above, if they’re in the Location with you, they can play cards against the encounters facing you as normal. However, several issues with that. Primarily, there are specific limitations to how many players can be in a Location at once. Cursed Ground is wide open. However, if you check out Choke Point, the number in parenthesis is that limitation, so in this case, only two players can be in that Location. And once a Location is in play, there must always be a player in it until it is defeated. So you can move out of a Location if you’re the Wizard with the lowest hit points. But someone always must be in that Location. So you have to take the initial hit, wait for someone to jump in the hole with you and then move out on your next turn. And speaking of that hit, you could be facing both a Location as well as several other non-Location encounters. And they’re all attacking every turn!

Third, even outside of those player limitations and the extra attacks, the Locations often bring extra intense rules you have to deal with. For example, that Cursed Ground forces you to discard two cards the moment it is revealed…which is pretty brutal. And then Choke Point does exactly that…chokes off your ability to play a larger number of cards, making it so much more difficult to defeat the Location. And then you’ve got the Moaning Chamber, which I’ve previously shown. It doesn’t damage you…but it can separate you for a round or three, which weakens the whole party.

(For those paying attention, you’ll notice that the last level of the Moaning Chamber changed from a colorless 1 to a Deception icon since I previously showcased the card. Loren, Jay, and I have spent many, many hours over the last three days carefully reviewing every last element, card and sticker of the game, making any last tweaks we feel are appropriate, and that was one of them. And in fact, they were here earlier in the day for another several hours to get through the last of the review.)

At this stage you might be asking yourself, “Why did that cause a lot of arguments? That all seems great!” Despite the relative ease of understanding it once you play it, it’s the initial understanding of the concept that has proven a beast to effectively communicate. I don’t believe any portion of the rules received more attention. I rewrote its presentation at least a half-dozen times, and then it was re-written by one editor and then re-written twice by another editor, simply trying to find the best, most concise way to present the rules. And because of that potential complexity, we wondered if we shouldn’t even include it in the base game, and push it to a future expansion instead.

Ultimately, we decided it was too important to both the Creative as well as the design we wished to present. As you dive into the game in a few months, even if you stumble a little through how Locations work, we hope you stick it out. It really is one of the best parts of the game. As with any good story, when one of your party is abruptly separated, you may think there is no hope. But you dig deeper, search more carefully, and fight harder and smarter, you’ll most often come out the other end with a victory. And it’s all the more powerfully sweet for that extra danger you faced and conquered.

Until next time!

Randall

Impending Doom

Right about now, I thought I’d take another brief sidetrack away from encounters to discuss one of the single best aspects of Dragonfire: the Dragonfire Deck. (Utterly apropos, as it can so often turn encounter cards from manageable monsters into raging creatures of destruction.)

This deck represents the sound of orc drums in the cavern depths, the clatter of hoofs on cobblestone in pursuit, the spidery claws grasping at your cloak in the tangled wood. It is the driving pressure that keeps the game exciting and grows ever more dangerous the longer you take. At any moment, the orcs might appear, the horse might heave into view, or the claws might snap the cloak tight against your throat.

In terms of how this plays out at the table, once the game is set-up, the last thing you do before the first person (the Party leader) starts their turn is to reveal a Dragonfire card, read it aloud, and then place it on top of the Dragonfire Deck.

Each includes a bit of flavor text that helps to set the scene of what’s unfolding in that given round of the game. Then the rules text, as appropriate, is applied. Sometimes it can be rather innocuous, such as the Homunculus At Play. Sure, it can be annoying to discard a card, but you get a gold, so all things being equal, not a bad trade.

You can also have very situational Dragonfire cards, such as Magical Surge. If there happens to be no blue encounters active, and you’re below Dragonfire level 4, then no real worries. You’ve got a round without dealing with additional Dragonfire effects.

However, you have some cards that are always a pain and are a troll-kick-in-the teeth when they show up, such as A Master’s Hand.

And of course, you’ll note on both A Master’s Hand and Magical Surge that there’s a Dragonfire level to deal with; the dragon head icon, with a number next to it. The way this works is that as noted above, you start a game by revealing a Dragonfire card and applying its effects. But your Dragonfire level is zero. However, at the end of one round of play, after all players have taken a turn, the card on top of the Dragonfire Deck is placed into the discard pile. And while that card’s effects are no longer applied, the Dragonfire level is now one. The Party leader then reveals a new Dragonfire card, reads it aloud, applies any effects as appropriate, then places it on top of the Dragonfire Deck. At the end of the second round, it is discarded, and the Dragonfire level is now two. And so on.

I’m sure you can see immediately what I’m referring to from the opening when I mention this is the pressure that keeps the sense of impending doom constantly at your throat and pushes you throughout the game. The longer you take to get through the Adventure, the more harrowing and difficult it becomes. Take too long and the dangers simply become so great that all your vaunted adventuring skills likely won’t save you.

Goblin Uprising is probably one of the best examples of a Dragonfire card that can rotate from being annoying but fun (ish) at the low end to harrowingly deadly at the high end, depending upon when it shows up.

Now for those that played Shadowrun: Crossfire, we found that while it’s a keystone of the game, it can often be forgotten in the heat of battle as monsters are slain and loot is shared. Based upon player feedback from that game, as well as our playtesting and brainstorming for Dragonfire, we’ve come up with a series of great tricks that will be included directly in the rulebook. We’ve found if you incorporate these into your play, you never forget about the Dragonfire Deck or the active cards.

Excerpt From Rulebook:

  • When determining the Party leader, make sure that player knows it will be their responsibility to keep track of the Dragonfire cards throughout the entire game. Each time a player’s turn starts, the Party leader should do a quick review of the current Dragonfire card to ensure that the new player is abiding by its rules.
  • The Party leader should be the character with the most HP (usually a Martial Class). The order around the table can matter. A good rule of thumb: characters with the most HP should be near the start of a round; characters with the least HP should be near the end of the round.
  • The Dragonfire token is intended to help players remember to turn up a new Dragonfire card when it’s time. We suggest that the Party leader place the Dragonfire token on top of their hand of cards, after completing their turn. That way, when it’s time for that player to take their next turn, they will notice the token when they reach for their cards and remember to deal with the Dragonfire deck first.
  • Place the current Dragonfire card on top of the deck after reading it. That way it’s never confused with the Dragonfire discard pile, which represents the Dragonfire level.
  • Arrange the cards in the Dragonfire discard pile so that the number of cards can be easily counted at a glance to determine the Dragonfire level.

Until next time!

Randall