Thornwatch Preview - Talking Cards & RPGs With Penny Arcade's Gabe

Jonathan Bolding | 24 Apr 2014 09:00
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When you die, you take what's called a Scar card into your deck - permanently - and then come back from the dead. Remember, you're a ghost after all. Scar cards have their own effects - none of them good. The Scar my character picked up, for example cause him to hesitate at key moments, knocking him down the Momentum track. Beyond simple penalties, Krahulik had big plans for the scar cards. "Over the course of a campaign we want the scars you get to be relevant to the adventure you're playing." He followed up with a hypothetical situation, clearly excited about the prospects. "Say I go to your house to play and I bring my Blade deck, and I pull a wound where I was run through by a unicorn. I want you to say 'When the fuck were you run through by a Unicorn?' and I'll say 'Oh, well I was playing last week at Jerry's...'I want these cards to be history. Just like warriors sitting around a campfire saying 'Well right here's when I got wrapped by that electric snake.'" Eventually, he went on to say, you'd retire your grievously wounded character in favor of one with a new personality and a fresh deck - once you had too many negative cards to deal with.

Monsters, however, don't take wound cards when hurt. That brings us to Thornwatch's other killer innovation: What's called the momentum track - it's row of cards that determine who acts when during a round. By itself, a basic visual twist on the bog standard roleplaying game initiative system. However, when a monster is hit with an attack, it moves down in momentum - literally slows down - until it's last in order. If it takes damage while last in order, it's killed. The momentum is a recent thing for the game. According to Krahulik, momentum was maybe three months old when they brought it to PAX East. "I think at one point Jerry just said, you hit the skeleton, he drops down. Kiko [Villasenor, Graphic Designer for Penny Arcade] and I started nodding. And I said, let's talk about this. Let's talk about this for the rest of the fucking day. Kiko was convinced somebody would break it here at [PAX East], but nobody has."

The game will be played on maps that, like comic book pages, tell part of the story of the mission that the Thornwatch is on. Panels of comic with text on the outside of the battle map grid will tell a story about what's going on, often dropping clues, hints, or game mechanics. Krahulik said they want to put puzzles into it, too. "Say you have some archaic statue with runes, and that describes some puzzle to you. What if as they're looking at the board it's right there? And [players] are like wait a second - there it is - almost like a hidden object." It's almost like the booklets of visual cues for players in old TSR Dungeons & Dragons modules, but with a more transparent and open flair inspired by the kind of storytelling that the game wants to do.

Some of the game's mechanical features more obviously stem from modern roleplaying games: Each character had a set of two traits, either randomized or chosen by the player, like "bloodthirsty" or "optimistic." Those traits serve not only as cues to what kind of spirit is playing the part of Blade or Guard this game, but as incentives to roleplay to the hilt. If you play out your traits you get a special D10 called the Action Die, which you can roll as a bonus to anything you've done or hand to an ally so they can hit with a clutch attack.

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