Jeff went to Genghis Con a few weeks ago and playtested Vrahode while there. In the process, he learned a ton and make lots of quality of life tweaks. In this episode, Jeff talks about what that means in practice.
Vrahode will be coming to Kickstarter most likely in quarter four of 2023. When that campaign goes live, you will not only be able to buy the core game, Vrahode: The Calteeryn Ascension, but its three expansions as well.
00:00 How playtesting went
05:58 Making changes after play-testing
08:24 Threat dice & rest mechanics stole the show
13:37 Throwing out mechanics
16:35 Adding the Vanguard mechanic
22:05 Experimenting with giveaways at the convention
Jeff Irving: You can learn more about the Vrahode…
Oh well. I’ll try again.
Brandon Rollins: You can just pick it up at that line.
Jeff Irving: My name is Jeff Irving, and this is the Vrahode Tavern Podcast. I’m the creator of the Vrahode Game System, and in this podcast we’re gonna do a deep dive into the lore and gameplay of Vrahode. I’m joined by Brandon Rollins, who will be acting as your stand-in asking many of the questions you might be curious about yourself.
Brandon, what’s the topic for today?
Brandon Rollins: So I was thinking for today’s topic, it’s been a while since we’ve recorded and in fact, we have not recorded since right before you went to Genghis Con. So that was your first big play test outing. Is that right?
Jeff Irving: Yeah, definitely.
Brandon Rollins: So tell me, how did it go? What’d you learn in the process?
Jeff Irving: When I started designing the, the rule basket or the rule system for, for Vrahode, I had all these, you know, these ideas and rationales in my head and I thought, you know, the only way I’m ever gonna find out which ones work and which ones don’t, you know, for these rationales and mechanics is to kind of follow them all the way through to the end and then, and, and that way we can see which ones worked and which ones didn’t.
I think a lot of times when you go down that rabbit hole, if you kind of start to modify a rule or a mechanic mid stride, then you’re kind of left with this feeling of which parts of it really work and which parts don’t? And, and so I had, I had gone through all the rules that were gonna govern, at least the demos at, at Genghis Con.
And so, uh, what they got was kind of the pure unadulterated, um, these are what I think work, you know, these are the rules and the mechanics that I think work. And I was pleasantly surprised. I mean, yes, there was, there was typos discovered. Yes, there were ambiguities in certain skills and things that quick, you know, were obvious.
Obviously bad and needed reworked. Um, but for the most part, I mean, the excitement level was palpable. I mean, people loved playing it, and it was hard to get people to leave the booth. And so I think I, I really felt like it was very vindicating kind of, Hey, it was smart to go ahead and you know, and follow these, these rules and mechanics out to their logical conclusion without changing the mid stride.
And I really didn’t find that any of those needed to be wholesale, you know, thrown out and replaced. It was just tweaks. So, I don’t know. I was humbled. There was one point I was in tears because I, I had this guy come up to me and say that, you know it, you’ve really got something here. You know, this is the next Catan.
And I mean, you know, you hear stuff like that, you discount it, you shake your head, and you just, you, you’re thankful, you thank them. Um, but it was stuff like that, that, that, you know, I’ve been working on this a long time and, and to finally get to sit down with people and play it, um, it was pretty surreal.
It was pretty heady. Kind of a heady experience. So…
Brandon Rollins: Yeah. And like what a, what an, a validating first outing for a game like this. I mean, like, first of all, everybody who I saw in the photos you were sending, it looked like they were smiling and they were hanging around for a long time. And people don’t do that unless they actually really, really like the game.
Jeff Irving: Yeah, I, I mean, we, we interviewed some people, uh, briefly on the, on the iPad and just ask them some questions and, I guess, I guess the one big, big change that came from, um, Genghis Con was we were doing, um, one, five a D10 wound tokens into these wound trays. Either the hero dashboard wound trays, when the heroes were taking damage or into the, the enemy wound trays that kind of hang on to the enemy dashboards.
And so we were, you know, when things, when we would do damage either way, that when the enemies would damage us, when we would damage them, we would place these wound tokens in all these trays. And it started to become obvious to us during play that it was kind of burdensome because when you’re, you know, when you’re going from five damage to eight, you know, you may have a five damage token in three single, you know, three ones.
But then when you get up to 10, you, you have to kind of make you, you know, you start wanting to make change, you know, you start, because otherwise you just end up with a tray full of stuff that you can’t even keep track of. And so one of the play testers, Dan McMahon, I think, um, he came up with this idea.
He said, you know, you really need to do a, a tracker similar to what’s on the hero dashboard, um, on the wound, on the, um, enemy wound trace. And I said, well, Dan, the tracker on the hero dashboard isn’t designed to, to actively track wounds. It’s designed to reflect what a hero’s maximum life is so that you’re not having to fiddle with it.
And so we came up with this idea. Let’s replace the one, five and 10 wound tokens with two D10’s. We’ll do one of the, one of the D10’s will be standard zero to nine. And, and the other one will be 00 through 90. It’ll be the percentile. And so we replaced, we thought what a cool quality kind of upgrade to the game system to go to this dual D10 tracking of wounds.
And we did that. And so it made, it made keeping track of wounds, so much more satisfying. Um, the tactile sense of, of actually just flipping a D10 over to the next number you need was very nice. It was satisfying and it didn’t, it, it kind of quick, it, it sped things up. So it was, it was a really good contribution from a fan.
And, um, yeah, his name’s going in the credits for sure.
Making changes after play-testing
Brandon Rollins: Yeah, I, I think that’s a good thing to be changing cuz like, you know, typo, typos and ambiguities, that stuff is all relatively minor. That’s copy editing, quality of life tweaks, those can be a little harder. Um, it’s when you start getting into like core mechanics and rules, that’s when things start to get like really scary.
Um, in terms of play testing, cuz that can really drag things out. Um, although it’s necessary, you gotta go through that stuff. But like, that’s a good and relatively simple quality of life tweak to be making, especially at the stage you’re in relative to like Kickstarter launching and even having review copies ready.
That’s a fairly simple fix. It’s not expensive, but it’s gonna make a massive difference.
Jeff Irving: Expensive in the sense that it increased the cost, unit cost of the games because you have to, you have six hero dashboards. So each of the hero dashboards needs two of those D10’s in the wound tray. And then you have six. Um, let’s see. Do you have six or do you have 12? How many, uh, enemy dashboards do we have in the, in the core box?
Brandon? Do we have 12? Or do we have six?
Brandon Rollins: I wanna say, I wanna say it’s 12, but let me take a look at…
Jeff Irving: No, it’s 12 wound Trays. It’s 12 wound trays and six dashboards.
Brandon Rollins: Yeah, that’s what I’ve got on on when I look at the…
Jeff Irving: Okay. Okay. So then in addition to those D10’s that go in each of the hero dashboards, then you’ve gotta have two D10’s for each of the 12 wound trays that plug into those enemy dashboards. So it, it, it upped the quantity. I mean, it made, it made for a lot of dice. Um, but they’re standard, they’re not custom So that, that helps with with…
Brandon Rollins: Injection molds. Like, thank goodness, cuz that’s like, that’s the hardest part right now is probably those injection molds.
Jeff Irving: And the other thing is, it’s like we’re not, we’re not trying to make the cheapest game we can possibly make. This is a kind of a quality proposition. And so for, like you said, it’s a quality of life upgrade. And so in order to, to offer that and have the, the play of the game be indicative of, of this kind of quality approach to what we’re doing, it made sense to go to dice.
And yeah, it’s a little bit more expensive, but I think that when people play it, they’re gonna realize, Hey, that would’ve been a pain to deal with all those tokens. You know.
Threat dice & rest mechanics stole the show
Brandon Rollins: Yeah. Absolutely. Now, would you say that from your play testing, anything in particular went over better than you expected it to?
Jeff Irving: two things, I think the people’s response to the threat die mechanism that we have in the game. Um, cuz when, when heroes enter new regions, they, they have to pay some fatigue cuz the regions are big, they’re like the size of a county. Um, so you have to pay some fatigue, which is like your tiredness factor when you enter new, every time you enter a new region.
Um, and so right after you do that, based on the number of heroes in the party, you have to, to go through this, this threat mechanism. So depending on the number, um, you, you roll a die and the outcome, it’s either a, you’re either elevating the threat from the region you’re entering or you’re not based on this role.
And we had four people in the demo, so they actually had to roll two of these dice. So, so the, this whole kind of push your luck, um, betting, like you’re betting cuz you have this activated threat dye you rolled and it says threat. So Yep. Now you have to figure out where to put the thing. So you can either put it on the top of one of these face down cards that each of the heroes had to draw or you can put it on the tabletop.
Well they loved that kind of talk amongst the group of where do we put these dice. So that we’re not creating bigger problems for ourselves, and they flippin’ loved it, they’re, they’re going crazy. And it’s like, and then when someone would put the dice somewhere that actually caused problems for them, then everybody wants to blame them because they put the dice there or the dice, it’s singular.
Um, and so that was really well received, like people really were, were excited. The other part that I did not expect at all is people are loving our rest mechanic. So like, when you’ve been beat up in travel, you, you know, your, your fatigue is high. You’ve taken wounds. Um, your ruhl, which is our re, our magic resources called ruhl in Vrahode, when you’ve spent through your ruhl and you need to rest to recover those things and reduce your wounds.
Then we have this rest mode, and it’s a whole different deck. It’s a whole different mechanic. And, um, you can be ambushed. You can have thieves take your inventory items, or you can have either restful or restless, restless sleep. And so they loved this idea because like most of them said, like in role playing, you just say, oh, well you slept 10, 10 hours.
You’re fine. You get up and you’re fine. No, we keep you immersed in the world of Vrahode even during rest. And, and one of our heroes, one of our hero classes or roles is called a dream catcher. And the dream catcher hero, she has to have restful sleep in order for her to, to enter this dream realm and summon a dream sentinel.
So she’s kind of like, um, a dream walker or something in a sense in that a lot of her power is derived from while she’s sleeping. And she can also benefit the party by helping them sleep better. And so it just, I mean, the rest mode just really became something that people were intrigued by and their response to it was like two thumbs up.
And they couldn’t get enough. They couldn’t believe that it was fun to actually make camp.
Brandon Rollins: Do you, do you wonder if it’s like, if some of that is because of the novelty of it, because other games aren’t doing that?
Jeff Irving: I think so. Or it’s either the novelty of it or, or it’s, it’s the way we handle it differently than other games. Cause I have seen other games. Do a kind of rest mechanic. I just don’t think it’s as satisfying as this one. I think the math of the deck is satisfying. I think the fact that if you have someone on watch instead of an ambush occurring, you can actually hear the the creature coming.
That would have been an ambushing uh, creature. Which would’ve given them a, a much greater advantage. And, and I don’t want to get too deep in the weeds on it, but then we have this other, um, negative outcome while you’re in camp and that thieves can come and they don’t wanna fight you. All they wanna do is steal things from your pack.
And so we, we changed, we recently changed the rest, the, uh, thieves mechanism by saying that if you actually light a fire, which requires a fire starter kit, and heroes sleep within two spaces of that fire, they’re exempt from thieves, um, taking items from their pack because they’re up close to this bright fire.
And also the person that’s on watch is exempt from thieves taking their items. And so we wanted to make the thieves negative outcome of the rest deck different than the putting a person on watch mechanism and how that worked. And so it, it just creates a little bit more richness, a little bit. Uh, it creates another little dynamic during the rest mode.
That to me is more interesting. It’s not too complex, but it, it just creates a little bit more texture.
Brandon Rollins: Yeah, that makes sense.
Jeff Irving: Yep.
Brandon Rollins: And, and you said there wasn’t really anything that you had to throw out, right?
Throwing out mechanics
Jeff Irving: I’m trying to think. Throw out, okay. There was one skill that was a no-go. There was this illusionary skill that casted fog. Illusionary fog. So it, you gotta understand when you, when something is illusionary, the enemy sees it as real, but it’s not really there. And so it doesn’t affect the friendlies, it doesn’t affect the heroes.
And so we had this area of illusionary fog created that was way too big. It took up half the battlefield. And so I had to reign it in to like a four by four area in order to make it practical for gameplay. Because if you can, if you can basically make the enemy think that they’re facing a wall of fog on the encounter map, that’s half the map.
Well then, I mean, you just basically hide behind the wall, you know? And, and so there has been a lot of little tweaks like that. Um, we, uh, one of the other ones that was super popular during the, the convention was the Mahorii racial ability to, it’s called feral kinship. It’s the ability of a Mahorii to copy the actions, which is like a special attack of an enemy in battle.
But they were able to do it at will every round. And so it made them super powerful. And so we decided since racial abilities are, they don’t cost any rule to use because it’s innate in your race. You know, it’s unique magic to your race. We decided to minimize the ability to use that to once per battle and it felt so much more, uh, balanced than just allow them to constantly use it.
Brandon Rollins: Yeah, I think that makes sense. And like sometime between now and review copies, you’ll just want to make sure that you get enough plays in there to like test everything to find more walls of fog and that kind of thing.
Although honestly, I, I don’t think you’re gonna have any trouble doing that.
Jeff Irving: No. Well, once, once I get off the, um, the phone with you today, we’re heading to Missoula for a weekend of play testing with, uh, friends and family, and we are, we’re actually gonna play test the final mechanic and rules that were created for the whole Vrahode Game System core rules.
Um, I just finished the last mechanic and the last rules, and it was, it’s so satisfying because I really wanted play in the Underlands of Vrahode to be challenging and strategic but controlled, you know, almost like a chess game. And so, um, we, we finally got a mechanic in and we, we addressed movement in the underland in a way that I think will, one, set Vrahode apart from other dungeon crawls.
Adding the Vanguard mechanic
Brandon Rollins (Overdub): Hey, it’s Brandon from the future. Just wanted to let you know that the mechanic that Jeff is about to mention did not make it past the latest round of play testing, so it’s not actually gonna be in the game anymore, but honestly, we just wanted to include it in this podcast anyway, so you can see what the development process is like.
Jeff Irving: Um, but also because our challenge level in the game is so high, it will allow a special, uh, kind of new skillset given to the party leader, which we call the vanguard, um, of the party. It will allow them access to this new table of skills and the skills, the magic to use these skills is given voluntarily from the rest of the party.
It’s like channeling ruhl to this vanguard and it, they can only do that, they can only bestow that ruhl, and the vanguard can only utilize that channeled ruhl when, when they’re not in battle. In other words, you’re, you’re tr you’re just entering a dungeon and the vanguard is the leader. They have to take, you take this group through a dungeon, and so you’re able to, to, if you’re, you have to be adjacent to them to be able to bestow this ruhl upon them.
Um, it’s like by, it’s by touch, but it, what it does is it allows that Vanguard to then have access to a table of, of unique skills only available to this particular character while they are acting as vanguard. And so once you go into a dungeon, they always go first every turn. Um, as the vanguard and the rest of the party.
They can go in any order they want, but once you lock in that order, Vanguard being first rest of the party any order they want. Once you lock in that order though, it remains for the entire Underland expedition, whatever, whatever space you’re in. Underland, anytime you’re not in battle, that order stays the same.
So it’s like marching order. But then once you go into battle, obviously you, you move over to the normal initiative rules of, of doing battle. So, but this is when you’re in the dungeon and you’re exploring, everyone has a set order and so it makes it feel super strategic. It gives the vanguard special abilities. To kind of help protect them so that they can get you through the dungeon. Because one of the things we did is we uncoupled the exploration cards, which are one of our big scaling mechanisms. We uncoupled the cards from the heroes like they do in the overlands and in the under lands. We give all the, the responsibility of revealing cards and enemies to the vanguard.
And so if the vanguard is up front and they’re going first, they’re leading the way through a dungeon, and they, they resolve a threshold, which is a, you know, where doorways can be, and all of a sudden they have to reveal all of the cards for the room beyond and enemies. Well, we had to give them something to help them survive that role because, you know, the rest of the party could be back in the dungeon, could be behind them and, and, and even quite a ways behind them.
And so in order for them to be resilient enough, And enough of a Swiss Army knife. As the leader, we can channel this ruhl to them and kind of power them up, and it’s so cool and it gives, it gives the dungeon experience in, in, in the Vrahode game system a really unique flavor. And I’ve played a lot of dungeon crawls and I’m really, really satisfied with this kind of vanguard, uh, mechanic.
Brandon Rollins: Mm-hmm. Because what’s neat about this, and I know it’s, this is very new. It, I, I think you said as much, but, um, I mean, what’s neat about it is it, it both streamlines play and it also adds that little extra element of strategy there. So I think that’s gonna play out very well.
Jeff Irving: Well, and it’s sim, it’s simple. But, but, but I also, the problem was our, our. In the overlands, the flipping the cards was more of kind of a travel mechanism. So like we would let you, the first, whoever wanted to flip their card over first, flip their card over. And if it wasn’t an enemy, um, then we would consider that, well, that’s what happened then if it’s safe travel or if they found an item, they could put the item right in their inventory and then the next card flipped over would be farther into the region.
So it’s kind of a travel thing. Well, in the underland you’re talking about rooms. And so you can’t give the players the luxury of drawing those cards one at a time. You ha if you have a party of four, every room has four cards to reveal in that room. But you gotta do it at the same time. Cause it’s, it’s a little room.
Right. And the vanguard is the one that’s up front and gonna take it on the chin. Every time a doorway, a threshold is res is resolved. So, yeah. A and the other thing I like is, is when you structure movement, In that way, when you say, okay, the Vanguard always takes their turn first when they’re not in battle, when the party’s not in battle, and then everybody behind the vanguard, they can, they can arrange their turn movement turns any way they see fit, but they’re locked in. So it gives you this really nice sense of, “Hey, we know who goes next. We know, we know what we’re trying to accomplish. We know that we’ve given the vanguard some ruhl to, to kind of give them some benefit to lead us through this dungeon.” And it, I don’t know, it’s just really satisfying. So I like it.
Brandon Rollins: Yeah. I, I think that’s a good addition. Did anything else interesting come out of the convention that you wanted to mention? Because we’re coming up on time on this one. I’ve got a lot of questions for the next show though.
Experimenting with giveaways at the convention
Jeff Irving: Yeah. Um, you know, one of the things we, we had a lot of fun with, and we’re gonna continue doing it was, um, in the, in the Vrahode Game System, um, you want to roll low numbers, uh, most of the time instead of high numbers because you want your roll to be within your skill range. In other words, if you have a, if you have a skill and, and it it’s a 12, well then a one to 12 is within your skill range.
And if it, it’s a 13, it’s above your skill range. And so we, we roll, uh, you’re interested in rolling low numbers in the Vrahode Game System. And so one of the, one of the things we did for fun just to see so that we could kind of track is every time someone would roll a critical strike, which is a one.
In our system, we would give them a D20. We would let them pick out a D20 from a cup. And so every time someone would crit, we’d go, here’s the mug. And they would, they would take a D20. Everyone loved it. They loved this idea of getting a D20 and D20’s aren’t super expensive. So I bought, you know, I bought a bunch of cool ones in bulk.
And so we just, every time someone crits during a demo, you get a D20, get a D20, and then if nobody died in the demo, then we would give away a prize at the end. It would either be a T-shirt or a BluRay, DVD, um, or um, an LED set of dice, something like that. Something a little bigger. And it was just fun.
And it was, it was fun for us, you know, to give this stuff away. And so we decided we’re gonna keep doing that.
Brandon Rollins: I, I think that’s a good little, um, door prize kind of thing.
Uh, people are crazy about their math rocks. So…
Jeff Irving: Exactly. They sure are.
Brandon Rollins: So it sounds honestly like a lot of just wonderful things came out of Genghis Con and that you were able to learn a lot from the folks that you were talking to there and that the game went over really well.
So, because we’re just about out of time today, I want to end here and then on the next one I want to ask you is Vrahode an RPG or a board game seris, and I think that’ll be a good one to tease people for the next episode in a couple of weeks.
Jeff Irving: Yeah. Absolutely.
Brandon Rollins: So with that in mind, you wanna go ahead and take us out?
Jeff Irving: Sounds great.
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You can learn more about Vrahode on vrahode.com. That’s V R A H O D E.Com. Link in the show notes. You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, where we are @Vrahode. Thank you again for listening. We really appreciate it. Keep an eye out for our next episode in two weeks.