Vrahode’s gameplay is all about being fast, fun, and consequential. But as you get strong, how do you guarantee that the game still feels that way?
Enter enemy tiering – Jeff’s way of stopping balance issues in their tracks.
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.
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?
Brandon Rollins: All right, so for today’s show, what I would like to talk about is something that we hinted at a little bit when we were talking about scaling mechanisms, but didn’t quite get into in detail. And what I’m thinking of is enemy tiers. So this is pretty complex. I think that’s worth an episode of its own. So let’s talk about that.
Intro to Enemy Tiering
Brandon Rollins: What, what exactly is the enemy tiering system?
Jeff Irving: Well, one of the things that you have to do in, in board games is always be cognizant of scaling, of, of being able to scale a, a game challenge. Uh, depending on the, the number of players, but, but tiering is, if, if, uh, scaling is more of a kind of a vertical increase in challenge, then tiering in my mind is more of a, kind of a horizontal.
It’s, it’s what happens as you play out and advance through a story arc. Well, you know, if you start out and things are a certain level of difficulty for you at the beginning, your characters are going to gain skills. They’re going to gain life. They’re going to gain gear. You know, they’re, they’re changing, they’re evolving, they’re growing.
They’re becoming the heroes, you know, the ultimate heroes they were meant to be in the story. And so then you have to kind of have the enemy rise up to meet them at varying points of the story. And so you end up with this kind of ebb and flow where you start out, things are brutal, you know, and you’re trying like heck to just survive a mission to get some piece of gear or some reward that you long for, for your hero.
And then it starts to kind of click and then things seem a bit more lubricated. You found this new weapon, you have a new helm or, or a new skill that you’re really loving bringing to battle. And that’s wonderful. And so you go through the story for a while and you kind of get to feel like, “Hey, I’m, I really am that hero.”
Well, it’s important though that we have to remind people at the right times in the story that they’re not. That the challenges that they face are much greater than them. And it, you, it’s almost just like smacking down a, a, a petulant child. It’s like, no, you aren’t supposed to do that. And so we have a number of tiers for our enemies in the game series that kind of do that for us.
They help us remind heroes of their humanity, of their, uh, their limits that they’re mortal. And so, like in the core box, we’ve got, we’ve got four games in our series. We’ve got Calteeryn Ascension, we’ve got the Enlightened & The Enslaved, we’ve got Facing The Storm, and we’ve got, uh, the False God’s Deceit. Those are the, you know, the four games that are part of the series, the core box and the three expansions.
And essentially, if you, if you look at it in a very simplistic way, in the core box, we’re dealing with common enemies, the lowest tier of challenge level of all of the enemy types. And then as you progress into the first expansion, which is called the Enlightened & The Enslaved, then essentially they’re, they elevate from common to rare enemies.
So they, they gain as much life and they gain more skills, kind of like the heroes did as they progressed through the core box. And then you enter into the second expansion, which is called Facing the Storm. And I’m trying like, heck not to give away any spoilers. So in, in Facing the Storm, then again, we we’re dealing with fabled enemies.
These are much tougher than the rare enemies that we faced in the first expansion. And again, they’re getting more skills, way more life. And again, they’ve risen to challenge us appropriately as we’ve progressed in our development as heroes. And then finally in the, um, the final expansion, the third expansion called the False God’s Deceit, then our enemies will have advanced to mythic.
So they are mythic enemies at that point, and they have the maximum amount of life. They have, the maximum amount of skills. Their movement has increased, the damage output of their attacks has increased and so on and so forth. And so there’s that. But then we have kind of on a different level, we have legendary creatures. And legendary creatures, basically it’s its own tier, but that tier of legendary is appropriate to the point that the heroes face these enemies in the story arc.
So a legendary creature in the core box, for example, Brask Sharga, which is one of the first legendary creatures we have to face as we travel to the island of Duwara. And so we face Brask Sharga in the core box, and he is tiered as legendary, but also so that the heroes in the core box have a chance to defeat it. Um, so later on, as we face new legendary creatures, they’re scaled for the point in the story arc that we face them, their life, their skills. All of those things are tiered for the level that we, that we face them. And so it keeps that legendary creature tier appropriate. So that’s, that’s kind of the long and short of it.
Brandon Rollins: Mm-hmm, you know, it’s interesting because, actually, I’m gonna use a, a kind of a left field example, not in board games, but have you ever played any of the original Pokemon games from the nineties or any of the early ones?
Jeff Irving: Wow. I was awful at Pokemon. I was terrible at it. I, I don’t know how many, how many battles I ever won.
Brandon Rollins: Yeah. I, I honestly, that was one of my first introductions to like, proper complicated gaming because I was like, just the right age for that. I’m just 30 now, but…
Jeff Irving: …did some magic. I played some magic, the gathering.
Brandon Rollins: Yeah. Okay. And that’s a good that, that’s good for analogies as well. But of course, anybody who’s played any of the original Pokemons or anything, um, I don’t know how it works with Pokemon Go, but, uh, basically as you journey throughout the world, the enemies that you face in the wild gradually get harder and they have a level system.
So it’s an actual number. It’s not like tiers like what you’re doing, but of course part of it is just basically to remind you that actually, no, you’re kind of just a kid and you’re not that brilliant in the game, of course needs to maintain a level of challenge. So, you know, you go out in the woods when you’re, you’re like right outside of the first city in the game, you’re facing level two, level three, common stuff, baby stuff.
And all of a sudden it’s like, it’s eight, it’s 15, it’s 20 something. By the time you get to the end of the game, right outside of Victory Road or at the end of like the story kind of part, just about everything you run into is like level 40.
As you travel around, you actually can go back to the places where it was easier.
And I’m reminded of that because board games can’t do this as simply as video games can. They just can’t, there’s not enough. It would be too complicated.
Jeff Irving: You’re right. It’s gotta be a very simplified and easy to implement system, or it does, it gets burdensome really quick.
Brandon Rollins: But what you’re doing is essentially an analog version of that, but you also kind of, you get to do things that are more complicated than you normally would because you have dashboards on your side, and instead of crunching all these numbers, doing all the arithmetic in your head, you have essentially custom plastic abacus type things, where you can store all this information and it will make the math easier, allowing for this kind of scaling to happen in a natural way.
Jeff Irving: Well, it’s like the ocean creatures that we face when we travel in the ocean, they’re, they’re scaled even from in the core box to be challenging for six heroes. And if you have one, if you’re playing solo, that means you and five of the crew mates from the ship, um, they’re already kind of scaled up in a, in a unique way, you know, to, to face.
And the things on land are scaled differently than that. They’re, they’re scaled more individually based on the card draws that you’re doing. Um, and so we have to scale it that way too. You know, we kind of have to have those tiers represent how we’re facing these various enemies, um, in the game so that it’s a, it’s appropriately hard.
Brandon Rollins: How does this interact with other scaling mechanisms such as enemy behavior?
Jeff Irving: Well, if we’re overland. Travel is, you know, employs enemy behaviors, as does underland travel, but ocean travel, the, the creatures in the ocean are so, they’re so powerful. They’re so massive. They’re so much, they’re so calamitous in their size and scale that we don’t even attempt to add behaviors to them.
They simply are. Now on overland and underland exploration, yes, we’re gonna apply behaviors to all of those type of enemies. Um, legendary creatures, they have their own unique behaviors. So they don’t have random behaviors, but they have specific behaviors that you can count on every time you faced them.
But because they’re legendary, you just don’t face them very often. And if you’re playing in the campaign mode, you’re only gonna face ’em once. So they’re, they’re, those behaviors are predefined. So like if there’s an enemy behavior in the deck that’s called Crusher. Well, a legendary creature might have something called Crusher II, which is a more advanced, more destructive version of that lower level behavior.
And so a lot of times we see that in legendaries as like amped up versions of behaviors.
Brandon Rollins: Yeah. And that, that would certainly help with the legendary ones. But how about like, if you’re just talking mythic or, um, what’s the one below mythic?
Just like rare. Okay. Fabled. Well, what about just fabled or mythic, um, where it’s not necessarily predefined?
Jeff Irving: Again, that’s when, that’s when the game system runs the enemy tiering system up against the scaling mechanism of player count. Right. We’re pushing on this side. We’ve got this idea that we’ve got four heroes. Okay, so we’re gonna bump that up against the tiering system and say, okay, these heroes have X amount of life and they know X number of skills, which determines the tier of the enemy we’re gonna face.
And because there’s four of them, well now we have to also consider the threat that’s generated from four heroes. And so you have these two scaling mechanisms that bump up against each other, and you’re gonna end up with threat die that have to be resolved. And instead of facing common enemies because of their, the life and the skill skills known by these heroes, well now they’re facing fabled enemies.
And so it really, it maintains a challenge level, and there’s been so many, many, many hours put into this system so that you have enjoyment from the very minute you start playing as a solo player to the very end of a huge campaign with six players, and we’ve put in 30 or more scaling mechanisms and tiering of enemies in order for you to do that.
And that’s really kind of the magic of the system. And that’s why we really feel confident that as long as we provide a robust enough toolkit to content creators, they’re actually gonna wanna run their campaigns in our world and in our game system, instead of playing D&D. Because think about D&D, right?
Making a game that can handle “left turns”
Jeff Irving: It takes so much work as a dungeon master to create, to craft these intricate and deep, engaging missions for your players. And you as a DM, you always account for A, B, and C in your adventures. You say, okay, I’m planning them for them to do this. If they deviate from that, I’ve got plan B. Okay, well, if they really deviate, I’ve got Plan C.
Brandon Rollins: Then they always go with Plan D.
Jeff Irving: They always go with Plan D. And our game system is designed to remove Plan D. The game will pick up where you leave off. If they go plan D, the rule system will say, okay, you wanna leave this region that I was taking you through? Fine. Go to the next one. Everybody pay a fatigue because you’re going into a new region.
Everybody draw a card, put it face down by your hero. Dashboards now roll, your threat dice. Well, guess what? It’s already gonna, it’s gonna do that for you. It’s gonna keep you from being unprepared.
And so it, it makes, it makes it fun and it does it to a point where you don’t even need a DM anymore.
Brandon Rollins: You know, it’s like what you and Sean were talking about in a prior episode, you have basically created something that is tolerant of the left turn and just integrates it into the game.
Jeff Irving: Right.
Brandon Rollins: It’s just like, it’s just a natural part of the game, and the person in charge doesn’t even have to worry about it.
Jeff Irving: That’s it. And the, and the, and it, it does it to the point that there doesn’t have to be a person in charge. That’s the real beauty of it, is that we’re doing this, it doesn’t require a game master, and it truly does deliver on the promise of something that’s immersive and fun, and scaled properly and tiered properly.
And it has a large enough collection of, of robust card decks to make it an experience that doesn’t just seem like it’s repeating and it’s boring. And it’s, it’s same-same.
Brandon Rollins: Yeah, that makes sense. It keeps things fresh that way.
Jeff Irving: Yeah. It really does. And, and, and the considering that each of the biomes in our world, you know, you’ve got mountain, plains, forest, uh, icy tundra, you’ve got marsh, coastal, river, you’ve got ocean, you’ve got underlands. You know, all of these play subtly differently. And so by the time you’ve done a couple forest regions, well you’re in the plains now.
You’re gonna face different enemies there. You’re gonna experience different math there. In other words, the percentage of items that you find will be different, the enemies will be different, the rewards will be different. And so by the, by the time you ever get tired of something, you’re onto the next play mode.
And, and that’s where we really feel like, because we didn’t go down a rule hole and make it really complex, we kept it kind of light, that those textures of play in all of those different modes and biomes and terrain types are satisfying. And, and one of the things we didn’t expect in play testing that would be so well received was the rest mode. When you, because in D&D and stuff, a lot of times when you’re, when you need to rest, well, it’s like a black hole. You just kind of go into this black hole. You heal based on the amount of time you spend, and then you have to go back to the action, but you’re, you’re not immersed in the world while you rest.
We have a rest mode that actually creates, it’s designed to recharge your batteries and give you back your life and your ruhl, which is your magic, and reduce your fatigue, but things go sideways and so it keeps you immersed in the world. While you’re setting up camp, while you’re sleeping, are you setting a watch?
Can the person that is set to watch you while you sleep, can they stay awake? Well, our rest mode doesn’t go down any deep rabbit holes, but it makes that whole mode of play really fun and satisfying.
Brandon Rollins: Right, but it’s not particularly complex in terms of rules, but what it does is interject all these interesting decision points that are not even necessarily that hard to make, but you have to think like, okay, is it worth taking the risk of setting, not setting a watch?
Jeff Irving: Right. Just, just going to sleep.
Brandon Rollins: Yeah, it’s like you’re, you’re actually having to think about this stuff and you think, okay, there is a chance that some danger could happen this night.
So you’ve got, you’ve got that kind of wondering going on, and most of the time it’ll actually be okay and you’ll get this kind of flavor text that’ll keep you immersed in the world as well. So it’s like you’ve got mechanical stuff going on there, you’ve got thematic stuff going on there that all creates this kind of opportunity for immersion that you wouldn’t normally.
Jeff Irving: Right. Same thing with crossing Rivers, and I’m not gonna go into it, but I just suffice it to say that Rivers are different. They offer a different challenge to, to the world. You may not have fatigue from crossing rivers, but you may lose an inventory item.
And then the same thing can be said for, we looked at, we looked at how to, how to make a dungeon experience. And an Underland experience more satisfying. How is it not so fun? Well, we felt like traps were never introduced in a creative and satisfying way into board game play, same thing, hallways. Hallways are nothing but connective tissue for the organs of the dungeon, which are the rooms?
Well, we said, no. Let’s make hallways have their own mathematics, and let’s make them designed to provide a place for people to rest and to get away from the threats that happen in these big rooms where things might live. But it’s still math and math can still go astray. So hallways become this opportunity for flavor text and to modify the way the dungeon plays. And there’s traps in there that are creative and diabolical and they can hurt the players in different ways. And so you really end up with every step in a dungeon being a chess game instead of just being something you blast through and grab gear.
Brandon Rollins: I have a really left field analogy for you, but I think it’s a good explanation of what you’re doing. So obviously you’ve seen Die Hard. Yeah. I mean, like everybody’s seen Die Hard in the context. It was made as I understand it. Basically in the eighties you had all these like really, really off the wall action movies, Arnold Schwarzenegger types, just muscle bound heroes, Rambo, that kind of thing.
And it was very, very, very kind of like high fantasy in its own way, in the action movie sort of way. But Die Hard at the time was perceived as like a course correction to that because John McClane was pitched as this, like every man. And then the details that you didn’t actually think about, they’re what actually make it into the movie.
And this is how this connects to Vrahode. I mean, well, well first of all, it’s just a Die Hard was kinda like a reset to a kind of older kind of action movie that was simpler in the same sense Vrahode is kind of a Greenwood tale and goes back to fantasy roots in a way. But it, to extend this analogy, it’s like, well, you actually have to consider the fact that John McClane had to walk on broken glass without shoes that kind of thing.
Making like the literal act of walking around in an active hostage situation a dangerous thing. It’s like the other movies will gloss over this. They don’t think about this, but you see this and you see this guy like, um, grunting in pain and that kind of thing, and you’re like, you know, that is actually a lot more grounding than that kind of high camp that you saw the other stuff going on that time.
Jeff Irving: Exactly. Well, if you look at it this way, if, if, if the Vrahode System delivers on the promise of something that’s fast, fun and consequential and immersive and all of those little considerations and tweaks to the math that we do behind the scenes and within the, within the simple rule system, if those ultimately give the players an experience of realism without undue complexity, then I’ll feel like we’ve kind of delivered on the promise is that we’ve given you something that’s, it’s taken you in, you’re losing time.
You’re, you’re, you’re, you’re not even thinking about the amount of time that you’re playing it and what you’re doing, even though you don’t necessarily see it on its face. But if the math makes sense and it just starts to feel right, like feel like a real world, then I’ll feel like we’ve done it. I’ll feel like we’ve, we’ve delivered on the promise of, of something new, a fresh take on a fantasy world.
Brandon Rollins: Absolutely.
Jeff Irving: Yeah.
Brandon Rollins: So I’ve actually, we’re coming up on time, but I’ve got an unrelated question for you. So obviously at the time we’re recording, we’re preparing for Genghis Con, which will, at the time of this episode’s release, be in the past. What else are you preparing for right now?
Jeff Irving: We are, uh, I mean, keep in mind most game companies, big game companies don’t necessarily go to cons until they have a project that’s out and they’re trying to drum up support for it. We’re doing our, our cons this year strictly to get our name out there, to play the game, to show people how fun it is and how different it is from what they’ve been playing.
Um, so we’re, we’re, we can’t do every con, but this year, obviously Genghis Con is first. Um, we have a booth at Origins Game Fair in Columbus, Ohio, and I think that one is in, I think it starts June 25th and towards the end of June, uh, I have applied for a booth at Dragon Con in Atlanta. That is September, I think.
Brandon Rollins: Oh, Dragon Con. Atlanta’s not that far. I might be able to make that.
Jeff Irving: Oh, that’d be so cool if you could come up for…
Brandon Rollins: Yeah.
Jeff Irving: Gen Con. We, we applied for a booth, got turned down, but we’re still cooking on that option. We’ve had a couple companies talk to us about wanting to get booths, wanting to share booths with us. And so we’re just, we’re trying like heck to have a presence in some way because Indiana is where I’m from.
And so it’s kind of like home court advantage for me. I hope to have a presence. It may not be exactly in the way we want, but if I can sit down at a table and place some Vrahode with people, I’ll be cool with that.
Brandon Rollins: And a place like Gen Con, you just have to be okay with that. That alone would be pretty favorable.
Jeff Irving: Yeah, so that’s kind of the hope is to, is to do those three. If Gen Con doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out, I may replace Gen Con with another. Um, do you know when GAMA is, Brandon, in Reno?
Brandon Rollins: Oh geez. Um…
Jeff Irving: I am gonna look it up. Cause if we can, if we can’t get into GenCon
Brandon Rollins: GAMA
Jeff Irving: I may do.
Brandon Rollins: …is actually the 24th of the 28th. This 2023.
Jeff Irving: Yeah, it’s too soon. I can’t get there. April. Yeah, that’s a little early for me this year.
Brandon Rollins: Yeah.
Jeff Irving: But you know, if we have some success in the Kickstarter, then obviously next year is a whole different ballgame. Cause then we’ll have a product, you know, we’ll be looking probably at a reprint.
Brandon Rollins: Yeah.
Jeff Irving: So we’ll see.
Brandon Rollins: Yeah. By the time you’re talking next year, early next year, you’re hopefully looking at, you’re funded, you’re working on getting it manufactured, it’s on a boat, whatever. And then later in the year, I mean, like, you’ll probably have some copies, or you’ll be working on that second print.
Jeff Irving: Yep.
Brandon Rollins: Or you’ll be working on the movie deal.
I, I mean, who knows?
Jeff Irving: Well, I know that, I know that Sean Allen Dressler, the guy that our writer for the series is, has inquired with me early on. He said, “hey, this, this story really has a lot of legs. He said, you know, what would you think about me maybe doing some novels based on it?” I’m like, “heck yes.”
Brandon Rollins: That would be awesome. Yeah. I mean, like, you could, you could easily get some novel material out of it. You could get it into the movies too.
Jeff Irving: Yep.
Brandon Rollins: Uh, let’s get you a Netflix special. I’m telling you.
Jeff Irving: Well, it looks like…
Brandon Rollins: I dunno how to do that by the way. I wanna lower your…
Jeff Irving: Yeah, I’m kidding. It looks like Kristen is home from her ski lesson. So I’ll probably, we can wrap. Can we wrap it here?
Brandon Rollins: Sure. We can just wrap up here.
So anyway, regardless of what happens with the next handful of conventions, we know for sure that the next one is, I think it’s Origins will be the next one we know about, right? Yeah. Origins is the next one that you’re definitely gonna be at.
Some of the others are up in the air, so if you happen to be coming to Origins this year, be sure to go find Jeff and say hi.
Jeff Irving: Please do. Yeah, the booth design is killer. Um, we’ve got a lot of nice artwork and I’ve obviously we’ll be, uh, demoing Vrahode so you can sit and play, um, with the guy that came up with this craziness.
Brandon Rollins: Yeah. And that’ll be a lot of fun.
Jeff Irving: Excellent.
Brandon Rollins: I, with that in mind, you wanna take us out?
Jeff Irving: Sure. That sounds great.
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 Vrahode.com. That’s V R A H O D E .com Link in the show notes. And 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.