My most recent project, GOLEM, has just been released in time for the Lone Wolf Solo TTRPG Jam Mk 2. GOLEM is a solo roleplaying game that uses a single deck of playing cards to facilitate play. A player takes on the role of a being who was twisted by magic and is now feared by the denizens of the land. The game is in an early stage (version 0.5) and I have a growing list of ideas and potential changes for the game. However, I must await further play testing and feedback. In this post, I briefly outline a few of these ideas.
Regions and Calamities
A game of GOLEM involves the player randomly generating a hex map called a region alongside a calamity that dictates the overall framework for the adventure. There are two calamities outlined in the book currently – the plague and the tyrant. Each of these provide a player with some questions and possible inciting incidents to help with the telling of a story. I have mixed feelings about the hex maps and the calamities.
The hex map works fairly well, however I want an even greater feeling of exploration to occur in a game of GOLEM and to possibly meld the regions together. For this reason, I am considering implementing a point crawl system. I think this might give a wider sense of wonder and unknown to the world which is a core theme of GOLEM.
Alternatively, I could make the hex maps larger and have some blank spaces throughout that could be filled during play, but this would just add to the amount of work that is required before a game can be played. Point crawls win here.
Finally, the calamity system has some potential but I worry it might be too restrictive or too monotonous after a few games using the same calamity. I thought it would be neat to allow people an easy way to create mini adventures to be used in GOLEM as each calamity is quite simple in nature. One idea I had to open them up is to replace the encounter table with a themed action and theme table instead.
Currently I am not happy with how equipment is utilised in GOLEM. It feels undeveloped and does not tie into the mechanics of the world enough. One thing it does do is convey some of the lost and strange elements of the world, but I want it to do more especially because one of the three approaches a player uses is called gear.
This will probably be the first element of GOLEM I develop further. I intend to link the equipment to the gear deck more by providing added mechanical advantages to certain gear (similar to assets in Ironsworn). I think this would also provide a greater sense of progression throughout a series of adventures in GOLEM and make some of the consequences of botch card draws more impactful.
I quite like the set building for magic in GOLEM, however my only concern currently is using too many different points that need tracking by the player. Mana and Condition are two point pools that are required to track. I think I will consolidate these pools into a single mechanism much like in my solo roleplaying game, GRIMOIRE, that will involve the GOLEM becoming further twisted by the magic over time if abused.
GOLEM is currently early in development but very playable. I have a few concerns and ideas for the direction I would like to take the game, ultimately making it a more cohesive play experience, but it requires more play testing. You can download a copy of the current version of the game for free by clicking the button below.
Using playing cards in roleplaying games can provide a different feel to a game than dice do. Playing cards can be used to support the drama in the narrative mechanically by leveraging the memory of deck and I have been enjoying my time exploring the different approaches to using playing cards in the roleplaying games I design.
Why are playing cards great for resolution in roleplaying games?
Playing cards may be a little clunkier to use than dice for randomising the resolution of actions in roleplaying games, but playing cards have one advantage over dice: memory.
When I first started to design solo rolepolaying games, I found that I wanted some key elements to help with the narrative demand:
A gamified element that had impact to provide breaks from narration but ultimately supported it.
Mechanics that elicited tension by providing meaningful choice.
By utilising a deck in my solo journaling game, GRIMOIRE, to act as the health of your wizard and a buffer against game-ending prompts, I treated it as a resource.
Combining the deck as a resource with the ability to view what has been drawn already (the memory), I believed players were able feel the tension in the decision of what action to take next: do they draw more cards in the hopes to complete their quest or do they play it safe to avoid drawing that joker at the risk of not completing their quest?
As Chris McDowall codified in the ICI doctrine, players should always be presented with information, choice, and the impact of their decisions to ensure a game is engaging. At least, that was my take-away.
I have found some systems are very good at supporting the game master with providing players information, choice, and impact through the mechanics such as the tower of blocks in Dread (The Impossible Dream).
The way I utilised cards in GRIMOIRE seemed to achieve the same goals by providing:
Information via the cards that had been drawn.
Choice via the actions presented to players.
Impact via the effect of the actions on the deck of cards and, ultimately, the game.
How to use playing cards to represent a character in roleplaying games?
Though my thoughts here have been focused around my design of GRIMOIRE and solo roleplaying games, I think playing cards can be used to similar effect in group-based roleplaying games by representing each player character.
I like to keep things simple enough to reduce cognitive load and allow space for the narrative in players’ minds but not so simple that there is no mechanical support for a game master.
To accomplish this, here is a simple rule-set for quick resolution you could use in your roleplaying games that leverages the advantages of playing cards:
Each player requires a standard deck of cards. Each of these characters has three approaches to dealing with situations:
Body – used to resolve situations involving brutish strength or nimble acrobatics.
Mind – used to resolve situations involving acute awareness, logic, or verbal manipulation.
Gear – used to resolve situations using equipment or tools.
There is some slight overlap between these to provide some flexibility in the narrative. Each of these approachs is represented with a portion of the deck. Player should separate their decks to create new decks based on the following:
Body – A to 10 of hearts.
Mind – A to 10 of spades.
Gear – A to 10 of diamonds.
Jokers should be set nearby and clubs are not used.
Face cards should be set nearby categorised by suit.
Whenever the players describe their character attempting a dramatic or dangerous action, the game master may ask them to draw a card from a specific deck depending on how the player is describing their character approaching the action.
If a player draws a:
10, they succeed.
7-9, they succeed with a complication.
6 or less, they fail.
A, they critically fail with a complication.
Interprety that how you will for your flavour of doom.
Players can elect to exert their characters to draw an additional card from the deck of their choice and choose the card value that is used for resolution.
All cards are discarded to their respective discard piles (including exerted cards), e.g. the body card is discarded to the body discard pile.
If a character takes a wound, shuffle a joker card into the relevant deck, e.g. insulted by someone equal a joker shuffled into the mind deck. When a joker is drawn, the character fails and cannot exert. Shuffle the joker back into the deck.
If a deck would run out and a player is instructed to pull from the deck, they either immediately fail the action or can use another deck by describing a different approach, however, they must always exert in this instance.
To replenish decks, characters must rest in a safe location to shuffle the respective discard piles back into the decks for body, mind, and gear.
Additionally, once all decks are empty, that character is dead.
That’s the simple version of it!
My current project
My current project which is currently having an identity crisis over its name, uses the previously described system above but with a few changes, a few more complexities, and is designed for solo play – It is being designed for the Lone Wolf solo jam 2 after all.
The post is already quite long so here are a few of the changes and complexities:
Characters will also have traits that change how they can manipulate the decks throughout play.
Characters have boons and banes which are descriptive tags about the the character that can make encounters more or less dangerous.
A magic and travel system that involves drawing a card from each of the three decks to make sets which contribute towards success.
A combat system that utilises the sum of card ranks to determine the outcome based on the resolution system above.
Hex map generation tools along with themed calamities to flavour the hex map as its own adventure site.
You can follow my itch.io page or this blog to be notified when the early version of my current project is released. Additionally, check out some of my other games like GRIMOIRE at itch.io.
After several months of work and some development blog posts, GRIMOIRE is now complete and I have released it on my itch page. Throughout the development of this game, I have learned a lot that I will take into future projects. Anything from how long it takes to write hundreds of prompts to the difficulties of layout design. The future of GRIMOIRE is promising, and I already have many more ideas to incorporate into future expansions of the game. This is a quick blog post to reflect on the development of GRIMOIRE as a way to celebrate its release.
The development of GRIMOIRE was a slow one for me as I was (and still am) completing some university studies and working full-time at my day job which did not leave a lot of time. I originally thought it would be easy to write hundreds of prompts for many different locations and include them all in the final product, but I found that it was simply going to delay the release of GRIMOIRE by far too much. To compromise, I told myself that I would release expansions of these new locations with new prompts at another time and for now that I just needed to actually finish the game. While I was editing GRIMOIRE, I noticed some patterns in the way that I wrote journal prompts so I noted these downs to help myself convey certain tones and themes consistently for new sets of prompts to, hopefully, ensure each new expansion feels unique.
Something else I struggled with was learning how to layout everything. It was not so much the manner of doing something but the sheer amount of time it took to adjust text and image frames, ensure text is readable and consistent with size and font, etc. Lots of editing. Probably more is required. I think I will sketch my layout ideas before I try creating the layout designs in the software which will hopefully encourage me to finalise the text in a program that is designed for processing text… You know, word processors. That would probably help.
Though there are likely other aspects of the development process that requires some more reflection, the last thing I want to touch on is what is next for GRIMOIRE. The first expansion will include a new set of research and quest prompts for a new location along with some new bond types. That is a given. However, one idea that I have had is to allow for a more flexible way for players to respond to prompts instead of prescriptive consequences. The more power to the player, the better in my opinion. Currently, my thoughts on this are a vague set of descriptors for how a player would respond to a situation, e.g., success with a consequence, and have types of consequences tied to those. It would kind of work like corruption already does in GRIMOIRE. I will provide these as an alternative rule set in the first expansion and depending on how it is received will implement it or remove from then on.
Overall, I am really proud of my work on GRIMOIRE, and I hope you can all find some joy with the game. I would love to hear any and all feedback which you can leave here as a comment, on the itch page, or tweet at me over at twitter.
The development of GRIMOIRE is tracking well. In the past month, I have reworked the overall layout design for the book, collected some new art, rewritten the rules to implement the overhaul described in the previous post, and have tidied up some of the language used throughout many of the prompts. However, there is still some work to do – namely the refinement of the quest prompts.
Figure 1 above shows the new layout design that will be featured for most pages. I decided to incorporate the parchment texture back into the design – something similar to what I originally used for the fantasy spell generation that sparked this project. I think it works well to add some substance to the pages without detracting from the ease of reading the text. I have changed my use of bold text to instead highlight key points at the beginning of each paragraph to ensure rules or procedure references are easier, and finally I have incorporated boxes using the star background to act as a bit of a designer voice at times and a way to provide hints or instruction to new players. Overall, I am happy with the how the design is coming along and now I just need to focus on the content.
As I intend to write more research and quest locations as future supplements for GRIMOIRE, I feel that I need to refine the setting that will come with the base game – the City of Athanasia. To ensure that it feels more like its own setting rather than some generic fantasy land. To do this, I am rewriting many of the prompts and writing some new prompts. Before I write them into the book I must first organise what I have into a helpful spreadsheet and decide on what type of themes I want to portray for Athanasia. Once I have done this then I can begin refining the prompts and incorporating them into the GRIMOIRE book. This is the last job to do aside from some slight tweaks to the Quick Reference spread at the back of the book (another new addition!).
Overall, GRIMOIRE is tracking well and I hope to have the final version release within the next month or two as a free update for everyone who owns it currently and as a paid game for those that do not. Following the release of GRIMOIRE, I will begin developing a supplement for the game that will introduce new research, quest, and relationship prompts amongst some other projects that have been plaguing my tired mind. In the meantime, if you have yet to play GRIMOIRE you can download the ruleset for free over at itch but be sure to refer to the rules overhaul post to play something closer to the final version.
The development of GRIMOIRE has made some significant steps towards my vision for this solo authoring game over the past few weeks. In this post, I will outline the major changes which will allow you to play GRIMOIRE with the upcoming overhaul to the game. You will require the base game as this post modifies rules outlined there. You can download this for free from itch.
Due to some of the changes described the below and the base prompts lacking modification to suit these changes, the following conditions should be acknowledged:
If you are required to respond to a journal prompt for a card in which you have responded to all available journal prompts, that card is immediately discarded. If it is a face card, it will discard the entirety of your spell set too.
If you are required to reduce or extend the number of cards used in a Quest, instead respond to the face card prompt of the spell again for extension or skip the card prompt for reduction.
Ignore consequences that state Gain a Friend/Foe in journal prompts.
The following rules supersede the rules written in the GRIMOIRE Ashcan Edition. These are a draft and will likely be tweaked based on feedback from playtesting and organised in a more user-friendly manner, however it should provide an insight into how the complete version of GRIMOIRE will play.
Starting the Game
The face cards (Jack, Queen, King) are to be separated and stored face down as an independent deck. Draw the top card and play it to the table – this will be the beginning of your first spell when the game starts.
Creating Your Wizard
To create your wizard, you may ignore the drive, flaw, and commune tables in GRIMOIRE, however you may find them helpful for grounding the identity of your wizard. Instead, you will assign values to suits and create friends and foes that will also be assigned suits. Finally, you will determine an overall goal that drives your wizard to undertake magical research.
Your wizard’s values are how they see the world. In the final version of GRIMOIRE, these values will be changed throughout the course of play, however, they are static in this current rule set.
A single, different value is assigned to each suit: hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades.
Pick a value for each suit and write the pair down somewhere for you to remember. If you cannot think of any, you can roll on the following d66 table to generate four values.
Example: You might make the following rolls on the above table: 21, 33, 41, 64 and then prompt assign these values to the following suits:
Hearts – Beauty
Diamonds – Curiosity
Spades – Fame
Clubs – Security
This is the overall objective your wizard is trying to achieve – it is what drives them to research magic. The completion of this goal marks a positive end to the game. The goal will be tracked as a set of face cards that you may add to by completing spells.
A goal should be achievable through the research of magic and the creation of spells. Each time you add to the goal set, if the added card is the first card or has a matching suit in the set, then your wizard has made progress! You should include a description of how this spell has or will provide progress in the goal within the journal prompts.
Once there are three cards with matching suits in the goal, your wizard has found success. The final prompt should describe how all of this finally helped your wizard find success.
Currently, you are required to develop your own goal, however you can use the sample goal below. The final version of GRIMOIRE will include various goals for each research location and may be tied to suggested values.
Sample Goal: Overthrow the current regime in the City of Athanasia.
Friends and Foes
Your wizard will make enemies and sometimes friends of either individuals or groups. These are relationships that have reoccurring instances in the story of which your wizard has four slots that can track the most important relationships. Each slot is represented by a card suit and has a series of journal prompts that support or debilitate your wizard through their journey.
Whenever you have an available slot and are responding to a journal prompt, if another character is present in the narrative, they will fill an empty slot of your choice, or whichever is available. Friends can be assigned to either Hearts or Diamonds, whereas Foes can be assigned to either Spades or Clubs.
If no slot is available, then you disregard the instruction but be sure to use this in your journal response. Why did they not become a friend/foe?
Your wizard starts the game with two friend and two foes. Decide on a name for each and write a sentence fragment to describe how your relationship began. Use this process when you gain more friend and foes as described above.
Example: Hearts – Brandor Leezix, we were both the only wizards in town worth our ink.
Sample slots with prompts are below. You should use these for now, however the final version of GRIMOIRE will likely have several sets to choose from for your playthrough.
You sat for tea with a friend that closely listens. What did you rant about? Remove 1 Wound.
Your friend made time for you, but they seemed distracted. Why did you not notice? Remove 1 Wound.
The only thing left at your friend’s home was a satchel of tea and a note. What did the note say? Remove 1 Wound and Remove this Friend.
You take a stroll through the park with a friend. How did you convince them to fund your project? Gain 1 Coin.
Your friend seems excited for your progress. What did you tell them about your research? Gain 1 Coin.
Your friend seems exasperated as your explain your research. Why have they lost interest? Gain 1 Coin and Remove this Friend.
Your foe snickers as they walk past. What do you feel self-conscious about? Gain 1 Wound.
Your foes has a loud audience who fall silent when they notice you. What lie was your foe telling them? Gain 1 Wound.
Your foe arrived alone at your tower in the middle of the night. Why will they not bother you in the future? Gain 3 Coin and Remove this Foe.
Your foe cornered you in a back alley. How did you escape? Gain 1 Wound.
Your foe attacked you in broad daylight. How did you hold them back? Gain 1 Wound.
You had a plan ready for when your foe attacked you. What was it? Gain 3 Coin and Remove this Foe.
How to Create a Spell
A spell in GRIMOIRE is represented by a series of cards called a set. Once a set is complete, the spell is considered complete.
To begin a set, a face card must be played to the table (you begin the game with one played). This card will determine how many spell-points the set must equal for the spell to be complete. If a spell would ever exceed the number of spell-points required, discard all cards related to that spell – you have failed to comprehend the humming of the ley lines.
Jack = 11 spell-points
Queen = 12 spell-points
King = 13 spell-points
The first number card (A-10) added to the set determines the words of power. To find the words of power you open your chosen reading book to a random page and look for a number of words in sequence equal to the rank of the card played to the set. These words should be written down so they can be remembered.
Once the value of each number card sums to the required number of spell points (Ace is 1), the spell is complete. The last number card added to the spell determines which value of your wizard is used as a lens to interpret the words of power. Using the value, apply meaning to the sequence of words, rearrange the words, or drop words until you are satisfied with the meaning of the spell.
Write down what this spell does and create a name for the spell. Preface the spell name with something cool like “Invocation of-“.
Once the spell is complete, discard all cards in the set except the face card which is added to the goal set at the top of the table.
How to Create a Glyph
As a set grows so will the glyph. The initial face card of a set determines the base shape of the glyph according to the shape table below.
You should sketch the vertices of this shape using the sigil shape determined by the next card added to the set and the sigil table below.
Finally, the third card added to the set will determine how you connect each sigil to form the base shape using the connection table below.
Any cards added to a set after the third require the player to add something to the glyph of their own creation. This could be an extra base shape copy inside the glyph or extra details on the connections – whatever feels natural. However, the space in the centre of the base shape should be left mostly free to allow the player to draw a diagram in once the function of the spell has been determined.
Finally, the name of the spell is written at the top of the glyph.
Triangle (3 vertices)
Diamond (4 vertices)
Pentagon (5 vertices)
Each turn, you can now select one of the following actions instead of just RESEARCH and QUEST.
You purchase a magical artefact from a merchant or fellow wizard.
Remove 2 Coin.
Draw and play a face card.
You conduct research into the humming of the ley lines with the hopes to translate a new spell.
Draw a card from the deck.
Choose on the following:
Play a card to an existing spell set.
Gain 1 Corruption and discard the card.
Respond to the prompt generated with that card.
You venture out into the world to support your studies on a particular spell.
Remove 1 Coin
Select a spell set for which you will Quest to find something to add to your spell.
Choose one of the following:
Select a card from the discard pile to add to the spell and remove all other cards in the discard pile from the game.
Draw 3 cards from the deck and select 1 to add to the spell while discarding the remaining 2.
Note: You must discard the chosen card if you do not add it to the spell.
Respond to each quest prompt generated by the cards in that spell from left to write beginning with the face card and including the new card.
You may find it helpful to write down the prompts in your journal as headings to help you weave it into a narrative.
The most recent card will describe where you end up, this should include something that helps you understand the spell you are researching.
You take to the world outside of your study to hopefully meet with a friend.
Draw a card from the deck.
Use the suit of the card to determine which friend/foe you find. If no friend/foe has been assigned to that slot, then discard the card and terminate this action.
Discard the card.
Respond to the prompt generated with that card and the respective friend/foe prompt table.
You are desperate for coin, so you take on menial work to gain some.
Draw a card from the deck.
If the suit of the drawn card matches the last card added to a spell, discard both cards, otherwise only discard the drawn card.
Gain 1 Coin.
You are wounded and require aid, so you purchase healing services or materials.
Remove 1 Coin.
Remove 1 Wound.
I highly recommend that you read through the entirety of these rule modifications. Though each rule is simple, each has a place in the game and can lead to some disastrous consequences later in the game. Keep in mind that jokers behave the same so by discarding cards through perform, you are increasing the chances of ending the game before you can accomplish your goal. Though Research is free, you are risking corruption if you do not like the card and though Quest provides more options, it tends to be filled with more dangerous prompts and has an initial cost.
The next steps for GRIMOIRE will be to collect feedback from my play testers and anyone else who is kind enough to provide their thoughts. Using this feedback, I will modify the rules and publish them in the GRIMOIRE format on the itch page for all current owners of the Ashcan Edition.
If you find yourself playing GRIMOIRE, I would love to hear your thoughts on these changes. You can comment on this post, comment on the itch page, or tweet at me.
The last month has been an exciting one for myself as I have heard back from people playing GRIMOIRE. I received plenty of helpful feedback over the course of the development and I wanted to take a brief break in the hopes to receive more. In between some other life commitments, I am spread a little thin, so the development of GRIMOIRE has slowed, however I want to briefly describe my current thoughts on the game and what I am currently in the midst of experimenting with.
The Game Loop
I think GRIMOIRE works well as it is, however, it feels a little uninspired to me at times. A card draw dictates a prompt you respond to – it is simple and to the point. I want to make it somewhat more involved mechanically without slowing the game down too much and provide greater support for players to respond to journal prompts. My current thinking is to modify how the research action functions, incorporate the friends and foes more (or maybe drop them entirely), and finally incorporate a more explicit objective for the generated wizard.
Firstly, I have been tinkering with set collection for playing cards as a means to create spells. Rather than drawing all necessary cards for spell generation, as is the current method, players will instead be provided cards each round when they take the research action to add to their various projects that they are working on. These projects will typically be spells; however, a potential idea is to expand this to quests and the objective I mentioned.
One piece of feedback that I received was providing more support for responding to prompts to ensure that events were able to be tied together more easily. To do this, I considered adding unique types of drives per research location, however recent thoughts have expanded this idea to be an ongoing project that requires a much more difficult set to complete if I move forward with the aforementioned ideas of set collection.
Finally, the friends and foes mechanic does not occur frequently and is somewhat half-baked. I am considering dropping it entirely for now, although one idea that I could use is potentially tie it a round-by-round resource management system such as providing coin or not of which will be spent on research.
Since the beginning I have been intending to change the way spell generation works in GRIMOIRE. After some research into using playing cards and books together, I came across The Word as Spell by Samaritan Burden which is a simple way of generating spells for use with other systems on the fly. It is a lot of fun and I suggest you check it out. Using ‘The Word as Spell’ as inspiration, I want to somehow utilise the suit patterns on playing cards to provide the pattern in which words are chosen from a page in a book. So far, my experiments with this have highlighted several things I need to consider for the design:
How many words should be chosen as playing cards have ranks from 1 to 10 excluding picture cards which is highly varied and would likely not work at either end of the spectrum.
The time required for looking at a page as players may become frustrated if they have too many options to choose from.
How to determine patterns from the suits – currently I think straight lines either horizontally, vertically, or diagonally dependent on the pattern depicted on the card drawn.
Those considerations aside, to ensure the spell generation relates more to the wizard and to allow the player support when creating a spell. I want to add in values as an aspect of the generated wizard. These values would likely change throughout the course of the game as players respond to journal prompts but are primarily used to interpret the words chosen from the books. They will act as a lens for the player which will inform what the spell does.
These are my current thoughts for GRIMOIRE, and I hope it provides some insight in spite of a lack of explicit detail. It certainly helps me to write this out and log the development in some manner. Though the development has slowed, it will continue. In the meantime, download GRIMOIRE and give it a play – I would love to hear your thoughts either at itch, my twitter, or here in the comments.
The past month has been a busy one for me as I have been required to tend to other aspects of my life, but this week I found some time to draft up the next version of GRIMOIRE. The development of GRIMOIRE this week involved some basic layout, a touch of graphic design, and scouring the internet for some pretty pictures. Though I have many more ideas for GRIMOIRE, I believe that I need to step back from it and expose it to a wider audience before I begin implementing more changes – this way the experiences of more people can help shape my ideas and the development of GRIMOIRE.
In the hopes to reach a wider audience, this version of GRIMOIRE will be released as a PWYW. I believe there is a good amount of content already within the game, but I hope to add more study locations in the next edition of the game. I left the list of study locations that I am intending to create in this version so as to give people a better idea of the tone of the game. Maybe I will see people suggest some changes or additions to this list.
Speaking of changes and additions, I already have a few ideas about how to expand GRIMOIRE for the next edition. First, I want to see how others play and enjoy (hopefully) the game before I begin designing, though one system I will be tinkering with on the blog sooner rather than later is the spell generation. From the beginning, I have not been totally pleased with it as I find the tables can be cumbersome and limiting. I enjoy the cards and the referencing aspect of it because it feels a little like mystical research, I think an interesting alternative would be to somehow assign physical books that people own to card suits or numbers or whatever. This is something that I will be exploring in upcoming blog posts and will likely find its way into GRIMOIRE.
On layout and editing: Will I do it again? Yes. Will I enjoy it? Maybe. I do enjoy the design aspect of layout, but it can become very monotonous for me after a while, and it was difficult to come up with a cohesive design because I was only able to work on the development of GRIMOIRE intermittently. I like the final design I went with and I have learned a lot about using Affinity Publisher, particularly the quirks it has with tables *Shakes fist*.
If you are interested in playing GRIMOIRE, you can find it here on my itch.io page. If you have any feedback, criticisms, or ideas then I would love to hear about them. You can either post a comment here on the itch.io page, or on my twitter. Happy Wizarding!
Grimoire is making steady progress. I have just finished creating version 0.3 of Grimoire and I am opening it up for wider public testing. The first round of feedback was very helpful in the development of Grimoire and I am hoping that I can receive even more feedback to ensure that I can develop something that people will enjoy. This post will explore the series of changes that I have made to the game and describe some of the current issues I have or features to be included in future version.
Changes to Grimoire
I have a leaned further into my inspirations for this project and have now included multiple journal prompts for the Quest entries. To better utilise these entries, I have also introduced a new resource that will have players interact it: friends and foes. These are the two major inclusions of this version along with the beginning of a more in depth wizard creation and some random tables that can be used as inspiration for journal prompts.
In the first round of playtesting, I found that the game could become somewhat repetitive and with minimal player interactivity. To mitigate this, I included multiple journal prompts for each entry that is involved with the Quest procedure. Players will likely be spending most of their time with this action, as such, I wanted to include prompts that explored certain themes or told a small narrative. This current model worked well in Thousand Year Old Vampire by Tim Hutchings and it seems to work well here.
To work alongside the multiple journal prompts, I introduced a new resource that interacts with Quests. Friends and foes activate when certain conditions are met in the drawing of cards for a Quest. They simply work to make things more challenging or easier and provide another twist in the narrative for a player to include in their prompt. I have yet to fully implement it as it requires reviewing many of the journal prompts that already exist which will likely come in the next version. For now, players can simply create a single friend and single foe at the start of the game.
Finally, I wanted to provide players early in the game with a touch more structure to support them in responding to journal prompts. It often takes me a little while to fully immerse myself into a new narrative and by having a player do some initial development, I hope to make this process faster. This includes some simple additions such as creating a name, drive, flaw, and a way to commune with the ley lines. I intend to expand this with some details about the study, however this is a significant feature that will be included in a later version.
Features to be Included
As mentioned, I have several ideas in the works for Grimoire. Firstly, I need to fully implement the friend and foe resource which will require reworking journal prompts. This is something that I was intending to do regardless as they are still quite rough, in particular the prompts for Researching in the City as they mostly lack consequences.
Secondly, I am going to be including multiple options for research locations. Some of these can be seen in the current version, though they are struck out and do not have their respective prompts included. This is a large part of the study aspect of creating as wizard and I am hoping to finish a few of these before I expand on that further.
Finally, I am currently not happy with the manner of spell generation. I think it works well but the aspect that I am least happy with is the Offerings section. I feel like it should be vaguer and more open to interpretation. As it currently stands, it is far too prescriptive for my liking and feels somewhat jarring compared to the rest of the game. I also believe that providing some examples of spell generation within the document itself may support players in tackling that system.
If you are interested in trying out the current draft of Grimoire you can find a DropBox download link below. This is quite a rough draft, but I have included a table of contents to help players navigate the document. I am now one step closer to doing some nicer layout work in Affinity Publisher but for now my drafts can remain drafted up in a word processer. I am still implementing features!
Considering this is a rough draft please keep in mind:
There is inconsistent phrasing.
Likely numerous grammatical and spelling mistakes.
Useable but ugly layout that is inconsistent (tables in word processers hurt me).
If you would like to provide constructive feedback, you can leave a comment here or @BardicInquiry on twitter. I hope, at the very least, you find some joy in playing the game in its current form.
The Wretched is a solo roleplaying game by Chris Bissette that has the player take on the role as the lone survivor of a salvage ship. It is also an intense play experience that inspires dread through its choice of narrative tools and mechanics.
In the game your ship was struck by an asteroid which resulted in engine failure. The crew were all killed by an alien life-form, and now, you must strive to restore the engines and prevent the creature from getting back inside to finish the job. This post is a play report and my reflections of my time spent playing The Wretched.
How Do You Play The Wretched?
The Wretched utilises a deck of playing cards with the jokers removed, a Jenga tower, a six-sided die, some tokens, and wraps it all up with journal prompts. The game largely operates with the following procedure:
Draw that many cards.
Respond to the prompts.
Pull from the tower if required.
A game of The Wretched lasts around 30 minutes and left me in a delightfully heightened state.
Chris suggests that players record their journal prompt responses as audio or video logs after the cards have been responded to. When I played this game, I chose to type up my log and read them out loud as I did so, but I discovered that I may not have given this game the justice it deserved. Each time I read my entry out loud, it felt exciting and helped put me in the role of this lone survivor. It felt more real to say what was happening and act it out with my body than simply just type it on my computer. If you play this game, I highly suggest you record an audio or a video log like Chris suggests because he is right, it is the better experience.
The use of the Jenga tower blends beautifully with the themes of the game and helps to inspire dread. It is used to represent the state of the salvage ship. Most cards will have you pull from the tower and they typically make narrative sense. Each time I bumped my table while playing my heart raced when I saw that tower wobble. To further add to this sense of dread, when all four kings are drawn, the alien life-form will gain access to the ship. Never knowing when each king will arrive is nerve wracking, especially when you already have two or three drawn. And to top it off, you are rolling a six-sided die each day and could be drawing anywhere from one to six cards. I never knew how I would die or when it would happen, but I needed to draw those cards. I needed to survive! The Wretched creates an intense play experience much like that of Dread by imposing a feeling of urgency and suspense.
When I first began playing The Wretched, I felt at odds with the game. I believe this initial feeling was due to Thousand Year Old Vampire (TYOV) as my only prior experience of authoring solo RPGs which is an entirely different game. TYOV is a slow burn while The Wretched is fast and terrifying. Once I realised this, I quickly became hooked.
I am looking forward to the next time I play The Wretched. This time I am going to follow Chris’ advice record an audio log instead of typing it out. If you like sci-fi horror and feeling on edge, I recommend sitting down for thirty minutes and playing a game of The Wretched.
Day 1, salvage ship The Wretched. Flight Engineer Emir Bennett reporting. The other members of the crew are dead, and the engines remain non-operational, though ship integrity remains good and life support systems are still active. I successfully jettisoned the intruder from the airlock, but it remains alive and continues to try to access the ship. With a little luck I can repair the distress beacon, and somebody will pick me up. This is Emir Bennett, the last survivor of The Wretched, signing off.
Day 2, salvage ship The Wretched. Flight Engineer Emir Bennett reporting. I hear it scraping on the outside of the ship, the alarm rings and I try to close it out. I try to remember Lucy. We had the beginnings of something before it came, but I ruined it. Not that it matters anyway. I just wish I had said something, instead of being silent. She was opening to me, trying to be intimate and close and I just did not respond. Now she is dead. This is Emir Bennett, the last survivor of The Wretched, signing off.
Day 3, salvage ship The Wretched. Flight Engineer Emir Bennett reporting. The life system keeps making an unhealthy grinding noise, and I do not know what the problem is. I do not know what I will do if it fails, maybe I will try to survive off the reserve air in the portable oxygen tanks. They would not last long. I tried for an escape from the ship using one of the lander modules, but the blasted thing was damaged beyond repair from when the asteroid struck us. I jettisoned it in the hopes the creature would take for it. In disarray I sought some level of control. The internals of the ship were heavily damaged from the encounter with the creature. I fixed all the structural damage, at least the ship creaks less now. This Emir Bennett, the last survivor of The Wretched, signing off.
Day 4, salvage ship The Wretched. Flight Engineer Emir Bennett reporting. I still remember their screams, though distantly as I hid inside a large salvage bin. I returned to the bin today and found the journal of Lucy. I do not remember taking it there or ever having possession of it. She seemed to be missing her friends back home the most. I wish I did say something back to her. The audio scratched on today, it was the creature, I am sure of it. I cut the comms quickly but not before I heard a distorted chirping and clicking. Mold sprung up in some of the food stores and with the climate control on the fritz, I just sealed it up and hope it holds long enough. Something got into the vents today, I am not sure what it is but to be safe I have padded my feet to prevent myself from making noise when I move around the ship. This is Emir Bennett, the last survivor of The Wretched, signing off.
Day 5, salvage ship The Wretched. Flight Engineer Emir Bennett reporting. I have taken to calling the creature Chirp because of the noise it made earlier. Maybe I am right and that is how it refers to itself. I heard a faint hissing sound which set me to panic but I quickly saw an oxygen pipe leaking. It must have happened during the collision. It took some time, but it is fixed now. This is Emir Bennett, the last survivor of The Wretched, signing off.
Day 6, salvage ship The Wretched. Flight Engineer Emir Bennett reporting. That creature drags itself along the outside of the ship. It is the only way it could make that constant scraping sound. The water purification system barely works, and the water smells faintly of ammonia. It is nauseating. The power shut down and the backup generator did not work. I managed to salvage some parts from the backup for main gen and it is working now, but I do not like my chances of survival anymore. I remember Malak – he jumped in front of the creature to give us all time when it first broke into the ship. It did not buy us much and we could still hear his screams when we ran. Why didn’t I say something? Why didn’t I say something? Why didn’t I say something?
Day 7, salvage ship The Wretched. Flight Engineer Emir Bennett reporting. Lucy just wanted to talk about a dream, to talk about her fears of us being struck by an asteroid. I did not want to open myself up to that kind of fear. She seemed so stressed and fearful; I did not want to listen… I should have listened. When I was hiding in the salvage bin, the lights changed colour and warped like the particles were entering a magnetic field. That damn creature remembers things. It remembers the door I jettisoned it out of. I could not close the airlock and it comes around at least once a day to try its luck. I never did see the creature properly when it first attacked. It just chirped and occasionally clicked when it moved. This is Emir Bennett, the last survivor of The Wretched, signing off.
Day 8, salvage ship The Wretched. Flight Engineer Emir Bennett reporting. I had a close call today. The creature tore one of the habitat modules off, but I thankfully heard the tearing of metal in time to allow myself to close off that section of the ship. It could not get in. I followed a long corridor today. The gouges and scratches left by the creature. I think it must be covered in wide, short spikes it uses to drag itself about. I had a little hope restored today when I heard some comms chatter from a distant ship. I do not think they noticed me but maybe tomorrow they will. They were talking about some sport, I think. This is Emir Bennett, the last survivor of The Wretched, signing off.
Day 9, salvage ship The Wretched. Flight Engineer Emir Bennett reporting. I gathered the bodies of the crew I was closest too. It took most of the day. I did not know what to say to remember them by… All I said was that I was sorry, sorry they are dead and sorry that I hid. Lucy was among them. I could not jettison them. They are still there. I saw some movement amongst the bodies in a sealed off portion of the ship. I do not know what it was, maybe it was the creature feeding? I disabled the proximity alarms; I could not handle them on top of the constant scraping sound. I found a sample of the creature today, some strange looking maroon piece of flesh. Maybe it is an arm? It is covered in rigid spines. This is Emir Bennett, the last survivor of The Wretched, signing off.
Day 10, salvage ship The Wretched. Flight Engineer Emir Bennett reporting. I cannot sleep. I keep dreaming of Lucy. The creature. Everyone. That creature haunts my dreams and I hear my friends dying repeatedly. What is that? Something is inside. Ohhh the scraping. It’s… IT’S INSIDE THE SHIP! I HAVE TO HIDE!
Grimoire is steadily making some progress. As with all projects in the early stages of development, I have multiple directions that I could go in. In any case, it will be an authoring solo roleplaying games because I believe that will bolster the artefact created – the grimoire, bolstered by including journal entries from the wizard that created it. Currently, the game is set in a fairly standard fantasy city setting and its surrounding region. I am not sure if I will change this in future, though the inkling is there.
Currently the game works with two modes of play, both of which involve differing amounts of writing journal entries by the player. The reason they are different is simply to keep things feeling fresh and to ensure that spell generation is quick without needing to spend most of the time undertaking creative writing – that is not the sole point of the game. Spell creation is.
Modes of Play
My initial draft required many journal entries to be written, so much so that I spent two hours playing the game and I had only created 3 spells! Since then, I streamlined the journal prompt generation through the two modes of play: Research and Quest, and I made the game a touch more deadly. The game is much faster now and can be completed within 1-2 hours of play with more spells created and fewer journal entries.
Research is the first mode of play. It involves the player spending Coin to conduct their research in the safety of their office within the city. Currently, this mode works like the spell generation except at the end of it the cards that are used are shuffled and one is drawn to generate a journal prompt. After which, all cards are discarded to reflect the energy given by the wizard to interact with magic.
Quest is the second mode of play. It involves the player spending time away from their study or the city entirely in search of something – often Coin to conduct research with and sometimes other items like magical artefacts that allow cards from the discard pile to be returned to the deck. This is a far more deadly portion of the game as the journal prompts here tend towards the dangerous and instead of one journal prompt, a player will respond to a minimum of three to complete a quest. In this section, each entry for a card has three prompts much like Thousand Year Old Vampire portrays journal prompts. The reason I chose to implement this is to provide a more satisfying story arc across quests and because these cards are not discarded, therefore repeats may occur. It would be boring to have to respond to the same prompt time and time again.
So far, these two game structures work well, and it helps bring more flavour into the world while providing the player an opportunity to explore the wizard character. However, I am not entirely sold on this approach and I am considering changing it to focus even more on the creation of a spell and the drawing a glyph. Possibly extending the time of creating a spell by incorporating more of that into the Quest game structure. I am also undecided on whether or not to keep the original method for generating spells with cards or to adapt it more to Grimoire. It works fine as is, but I wonder if it could be better or, at least, different.
I was not sure about a setting and I am still not sure of the setting that I have chosen for Grimoire just yet. The game is set in a fairly typical fantasy world that does not try to be too different so as to not have the wizards and grimoires created feel out of place when transferred to your worlds. It is centred around the City of Athanasia which is a pearlescent city of white created by a mysterious figure: The Great Wizard. None know them and none speak with them but from time to time, people do see them. Several journal prompts refer to The Great Wizard so as to provide a moment for the wizard to reflect on magic and their progress.
The surrounding land is again fairly standard, though quite humanised. Wizards will meet a variety of characters from wizard hunters to dream merchants to simple mercenaries. It is designed to flexible and easily ported to your own world. In saying this, a part of is considering removing the surrounding area and focusing solely on the city or maybe changing the city into a university or library of some kind where wizards conduct research. Another option is to include both. After all, the journal entry prompts for the city are the smallest because they only have 1 prompt each instead of the 3 that exists for Quests.
Overall, the game is developing nicely, and my head is swimming with ideas. Soon I want to start having others playtest it and maybe then I will begin to have some answers to my questions above.
For now, you too should listen to the humming of the ley lines to keep up with news about Grimoire by following this blog below. I would also appreciate hearing your thoughts, questions, or ideas over at twitter.