On the background and basics (Them Deeper Bones, design diary 1)

Hex Map with two structures and an X to mark the spot
A Hex Map of Apple Vale and surrounding areas, the setting of TDB playtests

Influences

The Basics

  • The mechanical bits of the system are designed in a way they always can be simplified towards a single rule, and for Them Deeper Bones that is to roll the dice to try get high. The typical die to roll is the iconic d20.
  • One thing that came up during the playtesting was how much fun it was for the players to add another dice result to the d20 roll instead of adding a static number to it. So, all bonuses that are added to a roll are in form of extra dice.
  • Although I’ve spoken about the dice now, the big idea for actual gameplay is that most of the game is the players tackling most of the challenges presented through role-play, while the central mechanic is the Saving Throw, that is more of a second chance for when the player has caused some danger to fall on their character than a “skill check” to solve problems.
  • Magic in D&D doesn’t feel magical to me. It is extremely controlled and more like a set of one-use tools that allow for clear effects meant to bypass certain challenges reliably. The magic system in Them Deeper Bones retains the tool-like approach to spells being specific effects, but adds a randomisation system, so that unless they have ample time, a spell result will be unpredictable.
  • There is no cleric class — the three main classes are expert, fighter and magic-user. The religious vampire-hunter/healer that the cleric archetype is built upon can be easily rolled from the other classes, and as hit points are not a resource that needs to be managed the same way it does in D&D, the need for a straight up HP manager role / healer is not relevant.
  • The base stats in the game are Physique, Reflexes, Stamina, Knowledge, Insight and Power. While you can map the regular six-set to these, there are some clear differences in how they work. Biggest being the Knowledge / Insight / Power trio versus the classic Intelligence / Wisdom / Charisma one and how the latter are extremely hard to match sometimes with a game that pits player ingenuity against the challenges in the game. “My character would be intelligent enough to solve this!” or “My character is so charismatic that I shouldn’t have to role-play this scene, but instead roll the dice.” Renaming and redefining the stats eases this part a lot.
  • And then there’s the combat system. This whole thing originally started as a damage hack for the red box after someone made the comment “If you abstract things enough, a single successful attack should reduce your hit dice by one.” And I started wondering how that could be made interesting. The combat system will be the focus of one of these design diaries, but at this point it probably suffices to say that any attack can be instantly lethal but there is a chance to survive pretty much any attack, while the combat keeps getting more dangerous the longer it takes.

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Game developer, cat owner

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Petri Leinonen

Petri Leinonen

Game developer, cat owner

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