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

Jonathan Bolding | 24 Apr 2014 09:00
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Other mechanics clearly grew out of Krahulik's frustration with the table environments of many roleplaying games. "I got rid of players having to take notes or track their HP," he said. "My whole thing about Thornwatch was getting rid of all the bullshit I hated about running [RPGs] for two years." He went on to give examples. "I hated that it's not your turn, so you're on your phone. So, the Synergy cards - everybody's gotta be watching everyone's turn all the time." The Synergy cards were some of the simplest design in the playtest, you didn't feel obligated to pay attention to others' turns, or grudging - you wanted to use your interesting power, so you were always on the lookout. My Guard, for example, could take a wound for an ally before it went into their deck, or give an ally a chance for a free attack when an enemy missed. It was much like watching for the perfect time for an Instant spell in Magic: The Gathering. In the game's story, the synergy cards are the spirits being connected by the forest, able to push energy back and forth between each other.

Other personal frustrations drove some of the design decisions as well, like this one: When you miss by one point, if you can describe to the GM why you actually hit, then you do. A very straightforward rule, but for reasons that might surprise some. "I've played at a lot of tables where people are uncomfortable with roleplaying," said Krahulik. "I wanted there to be a mechanic that gave you the slightest thought about not you as a player at the table, but you as a character in the game." It's clear that though the game definitely straddles the nice between roleplaying game and board game, Krahulik doesn't seem worried about whether a mechanic fits one style of game over another - nor should he be. He should make a good game and let everyone else figure out what to do with it.

Some things did get left out for the playtest, Krahulik told me. "We have a Sister of the Eyrewood deck, which is sort of like our pet class, and then we also have the Briarlock." Where the other characters would use a combination of two core skills like Dexterity and Strength, the Briarlock deck uses Spirit - like, say, the Greenheart does - but also wounds. "It's a literal blood mage," said Krahulik. "The Briarlock deals damage based on wounds in hand , so the more fucked up the whole party gets the more damage he deals." The Briarlock's deck was mostly done, but the implementation of the Momentum system was, according to Krahulik "the big moment, and it was awesome and it broke the Briarlock deck."

So there are still kinks being worked out, but if what I saw was a realistic indication of what's coming, this is game is full of sound, and fun, mechanics. If it sounds like it's something you'd like, well, you can comfortably get excited. Look for more about Thornwatch later this year on Penny Arcade and here at The Escapist. The game is expected to release in 2015 - "whether that means PAX East or PAX Prime we can't gauge exactly," said Krahulik, laughing. Like much about the game, it seems like that too will be a process of learning.

If you're interested in what else happened with tabletop games at PAX East 2014, check out our extensive roundup.

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