Monday, April 4, 2022

Battle Report: Darkest Knight - Secure the Artifact


I have been working on a solo/co-op/versus game tentatively called Darkest Knights.  I have always liked the idea of doing a horror themed game, and have many starts and stops at this goal.  After a lot of work, I finally got to the point with a game where it is ready to hit the table and get tested.  However, there were a few design goals and hooks I wanted to put into the game.  

  1. RPG Light elements
  2. LOS as a resource due to darkness
  3. Solo/Co-op/Versus playable
  4. Escalating tension/difficulty
  5. Lot's of choices
  6. Scale and Model Agnostic
  7. Modern horror veneer
So, here we are with a Playtest of Darkest Knight on the table using my infamous Paper Templates!  The Paper Templates were made using random images of models on the internet.  The heroes are mostly images of Reaper Models I was eyeing up for this project.  

The concept is simple.  Each player gets a team of 4 models that are their team of "Knights" to go on missions against the forces of "Darkness".  Each of the 4 models can be customized by choosing their attributes and a template that applies starting gear and special abilities.  The game itself uses dice shifting and a target number of 4+.  Monsters also have an escalating level of dice based on the level of Fear on the board that accumulates from player actions.  The last hook is that the board is considered to be constantly shrouded in darkness, and LOS is limited.  Therefore, the use of sources of light and illumination are critical for success.  All "monsters" spawn randomly through out the game.  

Lt. Wulf adjusted the comms to clear the static to better hear her instructions, "The unknown artifact is located somewhere in your search parameters.  Locate it and bring it home."

She double clicked the communicator to indicate she had received the signal and understood the teams instructions.  Lt. Wulf and her team of "Knights" was ready and prepared to head out into the darkness once again.  

She glanced over at Liu Xujiang, and reached over to adjust her gear, "Don't worry.  Things will go better this time.  We know what to expect." The nervous psychic nodded slowly, but didn't make eye contact.

Lt. Wulf next went and checked Sister Winifred's gear.  She was a big, experienced woman.  She was strapped down tight, with her crucifix secured at her collar.  Lt Wulf whispered to her, "Keep an eye on Xujiang this time out.  Last time shook her a bit." 

Finally, she came to Heidi Kroft, who was busy re-assembling her SMG, making sure it was clean and ready.  To her she said, "It will be your job to scout ahead to find this thing, the rest of us will try to cover you.  You are the fastest, so you get point." Kroft nodded in acknowledgement as she finished re-assembling her weapon.  

The Knights were silent until their APC rumbled to a halt.  The back door dropped with a clang, and the internal lights went red.  Lt. Wulf signaled and the team sprung out of the back of the APC.  They were immediately surrounded by darkness.  The only light was coming from the open rear of the APC.

Lt. Wulf grimaced.  That was going to make things much more interesting.   

I made a few Mods to the rules since the last time we tested out the game.  I updated the activation process so it is a choice.  Activate with a 6 MU LOS, or make an Awareness check to activate to try and gain additional LOS.  Success can add 1 MU per success over a 4+ to LOS.  Failure leads to a failure to act as you squint into the darkness.  

The rules for generating Threats were also updated to try and skew the result to more, lesser threats; and fewer hard threats.  I also cleaned up the order of operations to be IGOUGO and removed Threat Markers starting on the board immediately.  As the game progresses though, the threats spawned will tend to be more often based on the number of Fear tokens.  Let's see how it goes?      

Our heroes are a team of "Knights" that have been gathered together and trained by a wealthy patron.  Exactly who this mysterious benefactor is is unclear, but they are loyal to each other and the mission of halting the spread of the Darkness across the land.  Our cast of heroes are:  

Lt. Ilsa Vulf
Shoot                  Fight                   Brawn                Brains                 Awareness
d12                      d4                        d6                        d8                        d10
Archetype: Leader                                                                  Keyword: Awareness
Starting Equipment: Battle rifle, Low-light goggles, pistol
Power: Re-roll failed Rally tests, Can activate another model rather than themselves on Activation

Sister Winifred
Shoot                  Fight                   Brawn                Brains                 Awareness
d4                        d6                        d10                      d8                        d12
Archetype: Devoted                                                              Keyword: Brains
Starting Equipment: Pistol, Holy Symbol, Flashlight
Power: Repulse Undead, Spectral, and Occult.  Use Occult texts with a Brains test
Heidi Kroft
Shoot                  Fight                   Brawn                Brains                 Awareness
D8                       d6                        d10                      d4                        d10
Archetype: Freerunner                                                         Keyword: Brawn
Starting Equipment: SMG, Knife, Satchel
Power:  Re-roll failed Brawn test for Dynamic Movement

Lui Xijiang
Shoot                  Fight                   Brawn                Brains                 Awareness
D8                       d6                        d4                      d10                        d8
Archetype: Psyhic                                                        Keyword: Brains
Starting Equipment: Pistol, Flashlight, Knife
Power: Freeze Target- Successful Brains test, the target is pinned

 For this test run, the team needs to "locate an artifact".  They need to locate it, secure it, and take it off the board.  

The game is played on a 36MU by 36MU board with 1 MU = 1 inch. 

The board has a variety of LOS blocking terrain in the form of walls and buildings.  There are 4 Shadowpoint markers starting on the board.  The Shadowpoints are placed randomly around the board.  There are no illumination points.  The artifact is a white marker, that was randomly placed per the scenario.  

Shadowpoints= Black Tokens
Threats= Red Tokens  
Artifact= White Tokens

The "Knights" all deploy along the top edge of the board as the Infil point, this same location will also be their Exfil point.  

Turn 1:
Sister Winifred auto-activates and moves to the ShadowPoint closest to her.  Xijiang also auto-activates and moves up next to Sister Winifred.  Lt. Wulf also auto-activates and moves to the edge of a wall, and levels her rifle.  Heidi follows-up and moves to make for the objective.  

Two Threat markers appear at the furthest Shadowpoint, and then move away towards the edge of the table.  

Fear Token: 2
Threat Marker: 2
Shadowpoints: 4

Turn 2: 
Heidi decides to try a traditional activation and barely succeeds.  She moves up to the second ShadowPoint just shy of the artifact.  Xijiang tries to shut down the Shadowpoint next to her, but fails miserably.  Since this is her key attribute a new Fear token gets added.  

Lt. Wulf gives her activation to Heidi, who grabs the objective.  Sister Winifred tries to shutdown the Shadowpoint, and succeeds!  The Shadowpoint is shut down through a special incantation.  

No new threats spawn.  However, the existing Threat markers move back towards the center of the board.  

Fear Token: 2
Threat Marker: 2
Shadowpoints: 3

Turn 3: 
Heidi runs back toward the Exfil point with the artifact.  Sister Winifred and Xijiang move into cover positions.  Lt. Wulf then gives her activation to Heidi who continues to move to the board edge.  

No new threats generate.  The Threat Markers move towards the center of the board.  

Turn 4: 
Heidi leaves the board with the artifact easily.  The rest of the Knights fall back to the Exfil points.  

No new threat markers appear.  The Threat markers on the board, one moves towards the Knights, while the other one moves back to ShadowPoint 1. 

Well, that was too easy!  Why would I even share this with you?  Boring! 

I am sharing it with you to illustrate a point.  Playtesting the changes I made were critical to "balancing" the action and the danger.  The Auto-activations coupled with no Threat Markers starting on the board meant that their was no danger.  Now, add in the new way to generate monsters and the clarified Order of Actions and this game was a snooze fest!

So, let's change it up again!  This time, I have made a simple change.  All ShadowPoints begin with a single Threat Marker next to them.  I will keep the auto-activation option..... for now.  I also modified the Order of Operations to be Alternate Activation between the Player and the AI.  Let's see how these simple changes impacts the scenario and adventure.  

The set-up is exactly the same: 

Turn 1:
Immediately, when Xijiang activates she can spot the Threat at the ShadowPoint.  It is resolved to be a Zombie!  She opens fire with her pistol at it, but misses!  Ouch! Seeing the threat also causes 1 Fear Token to be added.   

The Zombie goes next and charges into the Psychic!  It attacks her, but fails to injure her.  Sister Winifred activates next, and lays into the beast!  Since Xijiang is there, Sister Winifred's fight goes up +1 dice to a d8.  She manages to slay the beast by crushing its skull.   

Lt. Wulf, auto-activates and moves up to the edge of the wall.  A Threat moves closer, near the objective, but is not revealed.  Heidi rolls for Activation and gets 2 extra MU of LOS.  She moves up next to Lt. Wulf.  

However, two new threats appeared near the Artifact and ShadowPoint #3.  The new threats can be seen by Heidi, so they are revealed.  However, they are just shadows and strange noises in the area.  

Fear Tokens: 3
Threat Tokens: 3
Enemies: 0
ShadowPoints: 4 

Turn 2: 
Sister Winifred moved up to ShadowPoint #4.  Xijiang also moves up with Sister Winifred.  The Threats move around.  Lt. Wulf activates Heidi and she moves up.  This reveals two Threat Markers, one is nothing but a rat scurrying around.  The other is a Zombie!  

Seeing the Zombie, Heidi auto-activates her own activation and fired her sub-machine gun in a burst at it.  It is enough and the Zombies is killed.  

No new Threats spawn.  

Fear Tokens: 4
Threat Tokens: 1
Enemies: 0
ShadowPoints: 4

Turn 3:
Xijiang tries to shut down the ShadowPoint, which she does easily.  The last Threat marker comes up into Heidi's LOS and generates a Zombie with a Chainsaw!  

Heidi activates and tries to burst fire on the Zombie with the Machine Gun.  She also manages to behead the Zombie with several bullets to its face!  Lt. Wulf then encourages Heidi to move up and get the Artifact.  Sister Winifred goes to the opposite edge of the wall.  

A new Threat Marker is spawned at the ShadowPoint #2.  

Fear Tokens: 6
Threat Tokens: 1
Enemies: 0
ShadowPoints: 3          

Turn 4: 
Heidi activates and runs back towards the Exfil point.  The Threat Marker moves closer to the edge of the building.  Lt. Wulf also encourages Heidi to keep moving.  

Sister Winifred moved forward to unveil the Threat Marker.  It turns into a zombie riflemen, who fires at Sister Winifred.  He fires at her and misses, but forces a Suppression test, which she passes.  

Xijiang falls back to the Exfil point, and covers Heidi with her pistol.  

No new Threats generate.  

Fear Tokens: 7
Threat Tokens: 0
Enemies: 1
ShadowPoints: 3
Turn 5: 
Heidi activates and exits the board.  The zombie fires at Sister Winifred again, but misses her again.  She again avoids suppression.  She ducks back into cover. Xijiang moves through the Exfil point.  Lt. Wulf falls back to the Exfil point.  

No new Threats    

Fear Tokens: 7
Threat Tokens: 0
Enemies: 1
ShadowPoints: 3

Turn 6: Doomsday Turn
Lt. Wulf drops back off the board out of the Exfil location.  The Zombie rifleman fails a Dynamic movement test and falls to his death trying to pursue Sister Winifred. She falls back to the Exfil Point edge, but does not get off the board. 

A pair of Threats appear in the center of the board.  

Fear Tokens: 9
Threat Tokens: 2
Enemies: 0
ShadowPoints: 3

The end result of securing the Artifact still happened, but this time the danger was much higher.  I only had to Fear 12, and got to 9.  Plus, I had to deal with several enemy threats.  We ended up dealing with 2 d4 Zombies and 2 d6 zombies.  However, despite the more difficult scenario, I suffered no real damage.  Therefore, we see an improvement, but I still need to tweak the threat levels.  

All of this information and tweaks came from about two hours of playtesting with the rules.  I detail my system for Playtesting in a different post.  From that post, we are still at the  "Just You and the Table" stage of testing.  The focus here is on tweaking and streamlining the core mechanics before adding in all the Chrome of campaign elements to the game.  

So far, the game is moving along nicely but there is still a lot of work to do before it is ready for prime time.  I am not sure about the activation process yet.  It seems too limiting, and I have had little need to use "Illumination" actions yet.  Plus, there is still more work to do on tweaking the threat levels.         

Watch this space as the game develops. 

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