This is the second in a Design Diary series for MR-KR-GR: The Death Rolled Kingdom. It’s a game setting by Mun Kao and Zedeck Siew, and one I want to evangelize to others in the world. This second installment is a deeper dive into how I built the mechanics around supporting the game I wanted to play.
Changes since the last time
I removed the World of Dungeons mechanics completely, and created a character generation process which very much mimics that used in Fall of Magic. I used names from various places (the prior game, other Thousand Thousand Islands, World of Dungeons, and some I just made up). I used titles from hints in MR-KR-GR, some from the second Thousand Thousand Island book: Kraching, and a few that I made up. Additionally I needed to distinguish those who are Uplanders (only connected to the outside world through MR-KR-GR) and Downlanders (those from the rest of the world). And then Traits… I wanted everyone to start with at least one, to start defining their character:
I was considering having some sort of simple token economy, where each player might have fate tokens to determine a successful outcome for conflicts that occur. I’ve seen this work to good effect in some mechanic light story games and scene-framing games. However, in this case it just didn’t feel like it would hit the right tone for this OSR-style setting and play. I wanted some randomness to adjudicate conflicts that we, as the players, have to respond to. But, without the complexity of what you find in D&D with the mix of dice and overwhelming nature of stats, skills, saves, and so on. My experiment with World of Dungeons showed that conflicts came up very infrequently, and we desired very simple resolution.
One possibility was going with a straightforward “die of fate”, and rolling a d6, with lower results meaning bad stuff, and high results meaning better things. But this felt a little too random, and too open to interpretation as well. Don’t get me wrong, it could work, but it didn’t feel like it hit the mark.
I ended up going with a simple d6 roll for conflicts, and the mixed success levels provided by PbtA games. I stuck with an unforgiving 1-3 (miss), 4-5 (partial success) and 6 (success). This sounds tough, and is not terribly different from the mechanics of Blades in the Dark. However, Blades in the Dark mitigates this inherent difficulty by using dice pools. I ended up using a different method...
The traits would be similar to those in Fall of Magic, but perhaps used more frequently. In Fall of Magic (or at least in the rules of Autumn of the Ancients, the sci-fi hack), traits can be applied to add a +1 to the infrequent d6 rolls that show the outcome of some few, specific scenes. In general, however, there isn’t any conflict resolution mechanics in that game.
In my proposed conflict resolution described above (1-3 = Bad / 4-5 = OK / 6 = Great) the results skew towards being hard for the players to succeed. However with the addition of traits, this could change to generally add a +1 or +2 to some rolls, and therefore change the balance of difficulty significantly. And encourage players to use their character’s few strengths to their advantage.
I grabbed traits that emulated D&D stats initially (+Strong, +Smart, +Charismatic) but they felt lackluster. I instead ended up going with those that resembled Skills in World of Dungeons, as they are short one-word phrases, and more closely emulate the associated archetypes of character classes in fantasy games: +Hardy, +Seer, +Aim, and so on.
In addition to choosing a trait during initial character generation, I decided to add more focused traits during the first two scenes, where the characters get to establish their character through vignettes. In one the character chooses a positive trait such as: +Trusted, +Unflinching, +Lore, +Rich, +Chosen, +Unusual. In another I had them choose a negative trait such as: -Unnatural, -Cursed, -Distracted, -Destitute, -Poisoned, -Maimed. This combination of good and bad traits allows for some diverse interactions, mechanically and narratively.
Conflict Resolution in Play
After making the above changes, I found the second playtest worked exceedingly well.
The additional trait choices during those initial scenes lent a stronger gravitas to player choices. Having a total of 3 traits didn’t feel complex or difficult to manage. The play of positive and negative felt right.
In play, when conflicts occurred, the mechanics proved robust enough to give us a variety of outcomes, skewing towards failures when the task was out of the character’s strengths, and skewing towards success when it was grounded in their abilities, but always with uncertainty.
I wasn’t sure how character’s aiding each other, or multiple rolls for complex scenes might work, but I found in at least two situations in play, a character’s failure allowed others to be drawn into the scene to “help”, and doing so with their own conflicts and subsequent rolls. This caused some good interactions.
One of my criticisms was the positive trait of +Unusual, which was chosen by two of the characters. Although I specifically go for relatively vague traits, this one felt too vague and didn’t work well in scenes. I feel similarly about -Unnatural as a negative trait, and might try to find something that works a little better.
Image from Story Games Glendale meetup running the second session of MR-KR-GR on August 7:
The Robustness of the Game
I was impressed with was how different this game was then the last. The setting really isn’t that large, given the MR-KR-GR book is just a bit over 30 zine-style pages, with many illustrations and a sparseness of words.
The two games shared some similar entry scenes, as these are standard when building the characters. But the two games shared very little as far as the thrust of the story and the locations the players ended up visiting. And there are so many locations, star NPCs, and random tables that I didn’t use in either game, that I feel there is still a wealth to explore.
I enjoy that there doesn’t feel to be a repetitiveness, and that excites me to run it again. To that end, I’ve put up a two-shot version that I will run for the Gauntlet in September, and I’ve also posted it for face-to-face play at both Strategicon Gateway 2018 in Los Angeles, and at Big Bad Con 2018 in the San Francisco Bay Area.