[Delve] The Brad Is Down!

That’s not an accidental error in the title: during the most recent Delve playtest, the player of the Bard decided that he was the Brad, whose name was Brad. (There was some drinking going on this time.)

Reset button hit, we find ourselves at the entry to a new dungeon, with the Bard, Dwarf, and Necromancer. As a way to spice things up, I extemporaneously slipped in a theme for the dungeon to help guide narration: this particular site was the abandoned workshop of Caiphas the Clock-mage, which legend holds is the repository for an automaton that helps to control or manage the weather, and which seems to be malfunctioning. (I may hard-code this “quest detail” step into the rules; one of the feedback notes this time was that the gamemaster in general needs a stricter procedural framework. A gamemaster used to traditional power dynamics in fantasy gaming will find himself or herself prone to hijacking the narration away from the balance of agency as crafted in the rules.)

Rather than take one step by step through the adventure as in previous sessions, I’ll sum up:

* The dungeon table is going to be overhauled: halls and intersections are over-represented. Thinking of turning them into things that are just assumed to happen procedurally, rather than taking up entries on the chart to accommodate them.

* Magic continues to be a powerful special, due to its catch-all “add a detail” nature, and it will probably require a bulleted list that delineates more clearly what it can and cannot do. That’s balanced out, in a meta-game sense, by the fact that it’s really tempting to use it even when not strictly necessary; the player of the Necromancer made all but one or two attacks in combat with Magic rather than defaulting to a “magic-flavored” Strike or Shoot, consequently skimming AP from the Pool on a regular basis.

* Up for debate is whether to add a declaration step to the beginning of the turn sequence. It would encourage tactical thinking and speed up the actual resolution of turns by forcing commitment to a programmed series of actions, but at the cost of some measure of player agency, which is an important principle in Delve (and in a lot of my games, really). That said, emulation of old-school adventure gaming is also an important principle, and I need to think about which is more> important in this case.

* Currently, no healing ability means characters with 1 Health are in a precarious position. Still working on the idea of a Heal special, but as one playtester noted, that puts a meta-game pressure on the players, who would then feel obligated to take a Healer character for “party balance”. The alternate approach is to add in a healing provision to the AP rules: spend an AP, regain a point of lost Health. Then again, what D&D 4th did with “healing surges” wasn’t entirely popular, and contributed to the “it’s just an MMO on paper” criticisms. It also runs contrary to the spirit of early dungeon crawl games, many of which were very unforgiving with regard to character mortality. As above, time to put some thought into prioritizing the various aspects of Delve‘s design philosophy.