How Scaling Mechanisms Make Vrahode Just Hard Enough

Vrahode is a cooperative game for 1-6 players. But how is it possible to maintain a reasonable level of difficulty no matter the player count?

That’s where scaling mechanisms come in. Vrahode has a lot of them, quietly working in subtle ways to keep the difficulty of the game just right.

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.

Learn more about Vrahode on the websiteFacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

00:00 How Scaling Mechanisms Make Vrahode Just Hard Enough
00:19 Genghis Con
07:49 Intro to scaling mechanisms
13:08 A quick overview of enemy tiers
18:07 Enemy Behaviors
20:56 Scaling & Oceans
24:44 Scaling in the underlands


Jeff Irving: My name is Jeff Irving and this is the Vrahode Tavern Podcast. I am 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 a stand-in for you, many of the questions you might be curious about yourself.

Brandon, what’s the topic for today?

Genghis Con

Brandon Rollins: So for this episode, I was thinking we could talk about scaling mechanisms, specifically how the game adjusts itself around the number of players that you have at the table. But before I get to that, I want to actually ask you about something first. So at the time we’re recording this right now, you’re about to go to Genghis Con.

In fact, you’ll be there when this thing drops. How you feeling about it? You ready?

Jeff Irving: Um, I think so. I think last year’s experience working the Oathsworn booth, uh, at GenCon with Jamie Jolly was, without question, trial by fire. You know, it was, it was a way to, to be at kind of, I mean, it wasn’t a great location at Gen Con. The booth wasn’t, it was kind of tucked back along the wall, but it was one of the hottest properties there.

Everybody was stoked, uh, about Oathsworn and well deserved. I mean, Jamie Jolly created a, a juggernaut with this game, and I got to, to, uh, work the booth with he and several other volunteers. And so, you know, once you’ve been through that, I mean, that’s, that’s a, that’s a pretty tall order and it was super busy.

Genghis Con, as I’m told, is kind of a chill con, you know, it’s, it’s much smaller and, but we feel like one of the things we hope to do at our first convention, which we know it’s not gonna be perfect, right? We don’t have all the plastics that we want to play the game. And so we’re gonna have to kind of curate the, the play a bit.

But, um, we’re able to build the booth for 2023 as designed. I spent a lot of time kind of designing how the booth would look and feel so that there was a lot of information about our world and our game built right into the booth even before you sat down at the table. And so, yeah, I mean, I feel like our booth design we’re, we, we had to work really hard to get all of the assets in place, like pipe and drape and stuff to do it.

But I really think, we’re gonna be able to have some fun.

Brandon Rollins: I think so. I mean, and if you’ve gotta pick a place to start, I haven’t been to Genghis Con in particular, but I mean it’s in the, it’s in the greater Denver area, which is a pretty relaxed city to begin with and that’s probably gonna rub off on the convention cuz you’re gonna get a lot of locals of this kind of thing.

So it’s like if you’re gonna start somewhere, that’s where you start.

Jeff Irving: Oh yeah. And Denver has one of the most robust board gaming, you know, and, and, um, collectible card game communities in the whole country.

And so who cares if the convention is small? We get to be with these people that are part of a, you know, an amazing game culture in, in that city. So, pretty excited.

Brandon Rollins: Yeah. What you’ll find just in general marketing and media honestly, is that there are, there are just some groups of people that have a lot more clout than you would think based on like the number of people watching them at any given moment. And this kind of applies to conventions too. There are smaller ones that are more influential than you would expect them to be, simply because there’s a lot of hardcore fans there who talk to one another and kind of drive culture.

Jeff Irving: Yeah, I mean, just because you’re not a metro that happens to have landed a really, really big con. Um, no, I, I feel like Genghis Con is a really good place to start because one, I think, you know, these are fans that are not gonna let us slide. They’re gonna expect a lot. They’re gonna expect us to deliver and Vrahode better deliver, um, as far as gameplay and artwork.

And we’re ready. I think we’re ready. I mean, this, this is a fun game. Um, it’s different. You know, our lore’s different. The, the, you know, the Harbinger system as being part of it is a different wrinkle. Um, so yeah, no, we’re, I think we’re ready.

Brandon Rollins: Your booth setup’s gonna be pretty remarkable as well, just based on the photos I’ve…

Jeff Irving: I’m so excited.

Brandon Rollins: Man, I am. I’m so glad that everything arrived when it was supposed to. You got your one pagers, you got all your, you got your sell sheets, all of that on time. You got the piping, you got the draping. You got everything you need right before this convention.

Jeff Irving: Yep. The one thing we’re, the one thing I’m, I’m hoping is there that’s a little iffy is the Harbinger system. The, it’s shipping from China and right now it’s in Denver. That’s the weird thing. It’s in Denver and it says it’s supposed to show up here on the 23rd. Well, we’re gonna be in Denver on the 23rd, so I’m trying, I’m gonna try to work with DHL today to make sure that we can get it.

Brandon Rollins: Yeah. Honestly, you might be able to have ’em hold it in a location. Hopefully this works out.

Cuz like if you can take that to the convention itself, um, that’s gonna be an awesome place to debut Harbinger.

Jeff Irving: Oh yeah. I’m so excited. I hope that works out, cuz it It is, it’s gonna, I’m gonna put a sign on it because these are just 3D printed versions of the Harbinger room and hall tiles, and so I’m gonna put a sign on it that says, please don’t touch because it’s brittle. You know what I mean? It’ll be brittle.

Brandon Rollins: And a review for anybody who ha, is just kind of finding out about Vrahode for the first time, harbinger is a system that will essentially allow you to build these kinda like 3D dungeon environments that you can play in a very tactile way. So that’s what that’s gonna be all about.

So, yeah, I mean, like, you’re, you’re gonna do really well at Genghis Con, I know you are.

Jeff Irving: I hope so. I, I’m trying to prepare myself for the fact that it may not be super busy. It might be a lot of downtime, um, and that people are just basically coming to do what they’re used to doing. You know, play the games they know.

I think every contact we make with someone at Genghis is one that will hopefully be able to give people as much time as they really want to learn about our system instead of being like, Hey, thanks for stopping by. Gotta go to the next person.

Brandon Rollins: Mm-hmm. I think that’s the best you can hope for at this stage too.

Jeff Irving: yeah, me too. So, yeah, I’m cool with that. And um, like I said, I’m, I’m excited to talk to people and I think, you know, I am initially thought we would run about an hour long demo to really let people kind of get into the meat of the game and just kind of do that repeatedly.

But I kind of wonder if maybe we need to take some time to just stop and, and kind of explain some of the mechanisms and some of the different play modes in the game because there’s so many. And if I have interest in that, Then I may try to find times that we can work in, in the day where we just, we just kind of have a round table.

Brandon Rollins: Yeah. And that might honestly be the right thing to do at this point because the thing about Vrahode is it’s very, very easy to get people to pay attention to the artwork, to some of the snippets of the lore that we’ve been showing people. It’s not hard to get email signups. It’s not hard to get any of this.

The ideas are working, but when you get to actually explaining, like, how the game works, that we still gotta craft our messaging on, and there is no place in the world better for crafting messaging in real time than actually just having these conversations with people, letting ’em ask questions. 

Jeff Irving: And that’s what’s the most fun, because that’s where you get those left hooks and upper cuts that you never expected, right?

Brandon Rollins: Yeah. And that you desperately need at times, too.

Jeff Irving: Yeah.

Brandon Rollins: It hurts, but you… 

Jeff Irving: It keeps you honest, you know, and it, it makes, it makes you prove that you are for real, and that you really know what you’re doing.

Brandon Rollins: Absolutely. And that’s just the way you gotta look at it.

Jeff Irving: Yep. I’m fine with it, man. I’m ready. Let’s go to battle.

Brandon Rollins: Absolutely.

Intro to scaling mechanisms

Brandon Rollins: So I, the main question I actually have for this podcast today, I just wanna get into that as well, is, um, so there are scaling mechanisms in place essentially, that allow people, whether they’re playing alone or in a group of six, to have a reasonably difficult game. Not too be easy, not too hard.

So my question to you is, how does that work? How do you make a game just scale to a different number of players on the table, especially a game like this?

Jeff Irving: Well, it’s, it’s definitely not something you do with a single mechanism. There’s no, there is no magic bullet for making a game fun for, for me to play by myself or you and I to play, or you and I to, to invite four of our friends to play with us. Now, the beauty of the Vrahode system is you can play one to six people.

But it took 30 or so scaling mechanisms in order for us to achieve something that we feel, that we feel has, uh, a level of excitement and challenge regardless of, uh, player count. And that’s, that’s really where it is. It’s, it’s a long, long series, a string of, of mechanisms and they have to be fun. They have to kind of fit, they kind of have to fit into the rationale that you’re creating for your game in order…

In other words, like with Vrahode, we don’t, we didn’t set out to create something that’s rule heavy. It’s, can I call it “rules light” with, you know, with eight separate biomes and all these different modes of play? Probably not. It’s probably not, I can’t really consider it rules light, but could we consider it, um, rules accessible? I would say yes, because we’re not going down any ra, any one or two rabbit holes of rules that are really complex. We’re going down about 15 to 20 that are pretty accessible and shallow. And once you’ve done ’em a couple times, you’re just gonna know ’em. 

S, so, you know, I think the best way to talk about scaling mechanisms within the Vrahode Game System is to kind of walk through the game experience and then we’ll just, we’re gonna bump up against all of them.

Let’s start the game in a region. Let’s say we’re in a Plains region. Okay? So when we go into a new region from that region, let’s just say we’re starting out, we started there, we’re going into a new region. Well, one scaling mechanism we do right away, after we enter that region, we all have to pay fatigue because we’re, we’re tiring because each of the regions is, uh, the overland regions is about the size of a county. And so it costs us fatigue to do that, to walk across them, and we pay that upfront. And so, but when we enter that region one scaling me mechanism, we instantly run into is the overland exploration deck.

So we have this deck that is used for all of the overland region types. 

So in, in that, if there’s just, if you and I are playing, um, a game with the two of us, each of us is responsible, our hero is responsible for drawing a card from that overland exploration deck and placing it face down next to our hero dashboard.

And so at that point, that scaling mechanism says, okay, there’s two heroes playing this game. Right? And the next scaling mechanism is a threat die. The threat die is again, based on the player count. You roll that die, and since there’s two of us playing on a roll of negative two or negative three on a D6, a custom modifier D6, if we roll a negative two or negative three on that, then we would have increased threat.

And that increased threat is part of, again, it’s a scaling mechanism. The more people, it modifies that role. If we had four heroes, if we were playing, if each of us brought a friend to play Vrahode, then we would have to roll die, and a minus three or minus two role, both of those would increase threats. So there’s another scaling mechanism.

Brandon Rollins: Do you worry that maybe increasing the number of threat dice involved, or the risk of a threat occurring could make it take longer for turns and rounds to play out?

Jeff Irving: It’s very simple. The mechanism is very simple. One to three heroes, one die. Four to six. Four to six heroes, two die, two dice, sorry.

So, no, it’s extremely simple. And that’s the thing. When, when you look at that and you say, “Hey, that’s not that hard to remember. I can do that.”

That’s kind of how our entire rule system is. It’s about shallow little nuances and subtleties between areas and play modes. But they’re, once you’ve done ’em a couple times, they just become second nature. You’re not gonna be looking in a rule book or looking at some a, a bunch of complex iconography that you don’t know what it means.

And, and, and we see that as a big, as a big positive in our system is allowing people to stay involved and immersed in the gameplay and the social time with their friends and not, not worrying about rules.

A quick overview of enemy tiers

Brandon Rollins: So do you have things like enemies scaling and the amount of health they have when you have a higher play count? 

Jeff Irving: We have a tiering system for all of the normal enemies in the game. So like when you start the game, um, you know, everyone has basically very limited gear, very limited life. And so all of the enemies that we come up against in the game are going to be common. They’re gonna be a common at common tier, which means their life is gonna be similar to ours and so on.

Once we reach a, a certain threshold of life or skills, the number of skills that we know, then the game automatically bumps the enemies up to the next tier. Well, it will, you go from common to rare. Well, we have four difficulty levels with normal enemies, and that’s common, rare, fabled, and mythic.

Well above that, we have legendary creatures and legendary creatures never scale. They are simply what they are, and they are scaled to be the correct difficulty for your party at the point you come up against them in the story arc. 

So they’re the one, the legendary creatures are the one type of enemy that we face that that doesn’t have multiple tiers. So like for example, if we’re gonna come up against Brask Sharga, which is kind of a large tiger slash dragon-ish kind of creature, it’s gonna be scaled so that in the core box, when we, when we reach it, it’s gonna, it’s gonna kick the crap out of us, but we’ve got a chance at defeating it later on as we advance in the game series.

Brask Sharga

Well, if we came up against Brask Sharga then, we would probably think it looked like a little kitty.

Smack it and it would be done. So that’s kind of how the legendary creatures work. They’re more time sensitive as to when the heroes, uh, face them in combat.

Brandon Rollins: Yeah. So for example, if, if they don’t really change in terms of, um, enemies tier, would you just encounter them later on in the adventure if you were, if you were working with a smaller party?

 Like, let’s say you get into a situation where 10 hours into a quest with, uh, 10 hours into the adventure with like five people, you encounter your first legendary creature, for example.

Would it just take longer to get to that point with a smaller party? Um, what, what I’m trying to understand is like, are you just given more time to level up when you have a smaller party before you run into these enemies that don’t really change?

Jeff Irving: Well, you gotta understand that when you have a smaller party, you’re still, we’re still tiering our enemies based on your accomplishments.

So if you’re able to reach a certain level of health or life, we call it, and number of skills, then we’re going to allow, will it be more challenging for you if there’s only two of us?

Absolutely. But we’re, we’re, we’re putting those, we’re, we’re fitting those enemies in to a time where you can expect, and it may take you a couple times to defeat them. You may, you may wash out on your first attempt and say, oh, we learned a lot from that, and you may have to go at it again. That is definitely something that we see as a positive in the game system.

You shouldn’t be able to waltz through the entire thing and on the first effort do it.

It’s just, I don’t want that. I don’t, that’s not the game we’re designing, you know? Um, so yeah, I mean, more people. But the thing is, you know, you gotta keep in mind a lot, a lot of these battles that we have, even with legendary creatures, they surround themselves with minions.

They surround themselves with lesser beings that serve them. And we have scaling mechanisms built into this game that address that.

And so, you know, one to six players is supposed to be challenging and, and, uh, difficult. And it is, you know, it’s, that’s, it…

Brandon Rollins: Yeah, and, and honestly, I could see that working out, if you have like a six player party, you’ve got a ton of minions that you have to fight on top of this legendary creature. It’s like, yeah, actually that does make it quite a bit more difficult. Whereas if you’re soloing, maybe it’s just a legendary creature.

Jeff Irving: Right. And the other thing that, that a legendary creatures do they, that they possess, that a lot of the other creatures do not: they have a long list of immunities. And so where you might be able to drop a, a 4X bleed effect on an enemy, a normal enemy, and just basically run away from it and watch it bleed out.

Well, a lot of our legendary creatures are, they’re immune to bleed effects or they’re immune to poison effects or sleep or paralysis. So good luck. You know. Good luck. Good luck with that. 

Brandon Rollins: That makes sense.

Enemy Behaviors

Brandon Rollins: What else do you do to, to kind of scale the difficulty in the game?

Jeff Irving: Okay, so we, we talked about the idea, this idea that we’re drawing cards, um, when we enter regions, then we’re, then we’re rolling threat die. Another scaling mechanism that we use. I love it. It’s been super well received in play testing. Everybody really, really enjoys enemy behaviors.

And so when you first, when you, when you enter the first module of the campaign, um, this is, and again, this is campaign play. The first module of play are threat, die or dice, depending on the number in the party. The way those resolve is we place those on those face down, uh, exploration cards that we drew.

And if there’s an enemy under one of those that we place that threat eye on, if instead of one enemy, it’s two. Well, later in the game, once you get past the first module, you can opt to not resolve the threat die by putting it on one of those cards, but just sticking it on the tabletop. And what, what happens if you do that is instead of it increasing the number of enemies, like doubling an enemy, it adds a behavior to any and all enemies that are revealed.

And so then what it’s doing is it’s, it’s increasing the challenge level of all the revealed enemies, but not the number.

Brandon Rollins: And that can add a considerable amount of difficulty on its own, not to mention just variety in the game.

Jeff Irving: There’s a ton of behaviors in that deck, and like one of them might be Parasitic or every time it attacks you successfully, it heals itself one, so it’s like, it’s like it’s parasitic. It’s like, it’s like it’s healing off of you. And some of them are Crushers where they’ll actually break your inventory items.

Some of them are Brawlers where they’ll knock you down. And so when you add behaviors, you really do add a lot of, of nuance to the enemies and enemies that you’ve fought before that didn’t have behaviors. When you add a behavior, they can be a whole new challenge to, to you because before the, the behavior that you know, you know the way to beat that enemy, but once you add the behavior to it, that may not work at all.

Brandon Rollins: Yeah, absolutely. And, and like I can imagine that what’ll happen is if you, if you’re playing with a smaller party, you’ll have fewer behaviors come up naturally. Of course they’ll still be there. And you don’t have to do quite as much tactical, you don’t have to weigh as many tactical considerations simply because you have less going on.

But if you’ve got a party of six and you’ve got all these enemy behaviors going on, all of a sudden you’re having to divide up the labor, like in a really, really, um, deliberate and careful way in order to be able to manage the threat.

Scaling & Oceans

Jeff Irving: Um, let’s talk about scaling mechanisms in the ocean since we’re on the topic, um, one of the ways we scale the game from one to six players, when you talk about ocean travel. Ocean travel is kind of essentially the combination of an exploration deck and a rest deck, kind of put together.

And so, uh, when you set out, normally it’s a restful time to be at sea because you have a crew of people, uh, manning the ship, which the main, uh, ship in the game that can carry you from land mass to land mass is called the Lady Virtue, um, captained by Captain Tentori. So you basically get a board ship.

They take care of you, but if there are problems at sea, they expect you as a passenger and a hero, especially, to step up and help them defend the ship. If you’re playing solo, then five crewmen will step up with you. So you’re six against whatever the enemy is that you’re facing. If there are four of us playing, then only two crew members are gonna stand up with us and help us defend the ship because, hey, we’re paying customers, but they still want us to carry our own weight.

And so that is a scaling mechanism from one to six with regard to ocean travel.

Brandon Rollins: Yeah. And honestly, that makes sense because it just seems like, I mean, especially when you’re talking about ocean travel in a, in a world where you don’t have any modern technology at all, it’s like you’re all on that boat together. You, you actually all have to stick together. It’s like or else you die out at sea.

It makes sense thematically that they’re gonna, that the other crew mates are gonna pitch in as well when you don’t have as many people because it’s literally, it’s a threat to every single person on that ship.

Jeff Irving: Right. Well, and the captain, uh, captain Tentori will not join the fight, um, unless one of his crew members is killed. If one of the crew members is killed, he will step in and fight because he knows he has to have enough people to help run the ship, to crew the ship. And so you won’t get help from him unless a crew member is killed.

But, but he will replace a crew member and help you fight off whatever you come across at sea if that happens. And I like that. I like the way the captain has to stay at the helm and he has to keep, you know, his, his eye on the ship. But if things start to get dicey, he’ll pull his scimitar out and he’ll start swinging with you.

Brandon Rollins: That’s awesome.

Jeff Irving: Yeah. And, and then of course.

Brandon Rollins: Gonna be a great character?

Jeff Irving: Yeah, Captain Tentori’s pretty awesome and I, and I can’t wait for people in the second expansion to meet Captain Baerald, who is another captain, that she is in fact, maybe more brave than Captain Tentori in that she’ll take her ship, uh, the Iniquity, she will take her ship into waters that Captain Tentori won’t even, uh, won’t even sail in.

So, um.

Brandon Rollins: Well, that’s just mysterious enough to tease.

Jeff Irving: oh gosh, I love Captain Baerald and I named Captain Baerald and Captain Tentori after two of the artists, um, that are pretty famous, that are part of our game system, that have done artwork for us. And so I thought it only appropriate to, to name these ships’ captains after.

Brandon Rollins: Honestly, I think that’s a great tribute.

Jeff Irving: Yeah. And they seemed, they were very flattered, both of them.

And they even commiserated between the two of them that how wonderful it was to have one of the artists creating a rendering of a captain that was the other artist and it just, it was a really cool exchange. I think they were, I think they were honored by it, which was my hope was I wanted to honor them and I’m a huge fanboy of Francesca Baerald anyway.

And so to be able to have a ship’s captain named after her was, was pretty cool for me.

Brandon Rollins: Absolutely.

Scaling in the underlands

Jeff Irving: Yeah. Um, let’s see, so we got, we got our scaling mechanism in the overlands regions. We’ve talked about how scaling works on the oceans. Um, let’s talk a little bit about the scaling mechanisms in the underlands.

Brandon Rollins: Okay.

Jeff Irving: Do we have time for that?

Brandon Rollins: Yeah, I think we can briefly go over the underlands.

Jeff Irving: Briefly. Okay. So basically to keep it brief, you know, again, when we are in the underlands, instead of an entire county sized region being the catalyst for us drawing cards, right, we’re drawing the cards, each hero responsible for a card, and those cards can actually kind of play out as we walk along through the region.

But when we’re in the underlands, we’re literally in rooms and hallways, and so we don’t have the luxury of letting cards play out if there are four of us playing the game and we come into a room, there will be four cards to resolve all together at one time, and we will face whatever those four cards say, if two of those uh, cards are enemies. Well, we’re, of course, we’re gonna face them all together. And if two of the items are, are cards, are items, well, we’re not gonna have the opportunity to pick those items up or equip them like we may in the overlands, in the underlands, those are loot and those must be recovered after the battle is resolved and the enemies are neutralized.

So it’s, it’s, it’s a much more concise version of overland travel. It’s much more dangerous. Rest is harder. Um, we have more tr, we have traps, um, to varying degrees. We have some traps in hallways, but we definitely, or in rooms, but we definitely have traps in hallways. Um, because diabolical minds want to hit you with traps when it’s a choke point.

When you’re have, you’re forced to go through a hallway, well, that’s where everyone puts a trap, right? 

Um, so that is, um, That’s kind of how the scaling works in the underlands. It’s just, it’s more one room at a time. You know what I mean? All the cards get flipped. One room at a time, boom, boom, boom, every time in, in the overland again, as if you had four heroes, everybody has to draw cards, but you can choose to un to, to, um, to reveal those cards one at a time. And if the early ones are items or safe travel, then we just consider that part of the travel as you’re moving through a big county sized region. So that’s the, the difference in scaling from overland to underland.

So much harder.

Brandon Rollins: Yeah, I like that it’s both a simpler system that also leads to it being a more difficult experience when you’re actually, in terms of the actual play and not the rules management of it, because it’s like the underlands are supposed to be very difficult. It’s something you voluntarily go into in order to basically get a lot of loot.

Jeff Irving: Yeah, the, the good stuff, the, the enemies that drop better stuff and different stuff, um, a lot of times are happening in the overlands. Um, however, I mean, we’ve, we’ve really done a good job of balancing and creating loot tables that are not quite, so the overlands are, are still gonna give you a, a chance to really upgrade your gear and, and find a lot of cool stuff.

But again, it’s, it’s not gonna be the same stuff that you find in the underlands.

Brandon Rollins: Mm-hmm. Yeah, that makes sense.

I think we should continue our discussion about scaling mechanisms when we get to enemy tiers, which I think is gonna be a future episode. Probably not the next one, but pretty close. 

So with that in mind, why don’t you take us out?

Jeff Irving: Alrighty.

Thank you for listening to the Vrahode Tavern podcast. If you enjoyed this show, take a moment to subscribe anywhere you get your podcasts. If you’re on Apple Podcast, please leave a five star review. It helps way more than you know. You can learn more about Vrahode on That’s V R A H O D Link in the show notes.

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