Stages of play in Elf Games

I received some great questions on my past posts asking for more context on the rough draft spread I made. Here it is again for reference .

Again, not apologizing for my handwriting.

Let’s come back to this. For now let’s talk about “phases” of an rpg.

When I mean phase, I mean a distinct portion of the game that has its own rules. This is something you see in board games and not usually in rpgs. Catan has resource gather, trade, and build as distinct steps of the game, and twilight imperium has 8 distinct phases!

copyright Fantasy Flight Games

the recently released UVG has some of this design in it with the caravan rules which I love.

DnD and Phases

I would say that modern DnD has two+: combat and not combat, sometimes downtime. This is especially true in 5th edition, which is pretty clearly settled into “adventure mode” and “kill stuff: mode. The Adventurers Guild awards downtime for playing and despite the massive amount of flaws with public organized games, this system actually works very well.

I would also say that most old school DnD has wilderness, dungeon, and combat, sometimes downtime, sometimes domain.

Most other RPGs I know about are a little more focused than DnD and tend to have combat/not combat, or even just a single “phase” where players declare what they’re doing. There’s a lot of merit to this, and I enjoy these tighter, more focused games. However, that is not what I am designing here.

I want to expand this to combat, camp, watch, downtime, and explore, and build to include domain play. The general flow would be (domain)>downtime>watch> explore/combat>camp. Players would make Domain decisions, spend their downtime, travel, explore and fight, then camp after being exhausted. this camping step naturally ties into my feelings that a game should include 15 minutes or so after the game ends for players to decompress and talk about the game. camping ends the tension and naturally transitions into this.

The goal here is to expand the design space and organize things so I can plug in content easily and make rulings that are clear. For example, I can create camp actions, make new class abilities that are for the explore stage, or easily make a rule for what happens during a watch turn that’s outside the normal options. This also means different characters can excel at different stages of play without needing to be “balanced” a character can practice a vital trade like blacksmithing and have some rules to go with that during downtime and camping, where another player can stand out more during combat or exploration.

Stage Definitions

So lets come back to the control panel. How does the region control panel tie into the Stages?

I should just type everything for now on.
  • Combat – tense moments where your swords are out and every second matters. The region panel give you encounters in which you might die terribly.
  • Explore – 10 minute turns where you’re moving around a closed area, searching for things, or sneaking around. The dungeon turn. This is more of a hex thing, but the resource, encounter, and weather portions could be related to Explore if you wanted them to. For example, it’s probably a bad time if the dungeon is under severe flooding.
  • Camp – when you’re resting and having that quiet moment. Inspired by darkest dungeon and final fantasy crystal chronicles, players can receive letters from npcs of players, maintain items, use abilities, and hopefully have some good role play time that’s more personal and less tense. The region panel give you words to describe the camp, weather to worry about, and resources players might gather.
  • Domain – the white whale of role playing rules for me. Cities! Armies! Mines and lumber yards and natural disasters! How do you add this without damaging the “main” game? I don’t like any rule set I’ve found in its own but I know I’ll be stealing for a lot of other resources, like the Birthright setting. Here I have 6 abstract scores to measure a regions strengths as well the most direct connections to neighboring regions.

    Domain play will abstract regions into 6 broad values (just like players) and these will grow or shrink depending on what happens in the game. Hexes will feature specific buildings or features, so players can build mines or magic towers or whatever crazy stuff they want to develop, and that will raise or change the 6 values. Currently those values are combat strength, food, economy, lumber, minerals, and magic essence.
  • Watch – the overland travel stage that takes 4 hours a turn. Navigate, spot dangers, gather food. The region panel has a lot to use for this phase of play, from weather to encounters to a word cloud to help describe events. While you can use these things for other phases, they are made for the watch phase.
  • Downtime – players will be able to spend downtime on training, charities, carousing, and more. Downtime is rewarded as a currency to spend for each session they attend so that way I don’t have to manage player’s checking in m, and they can save it if they don’t have anything they want to do where they’re at right now. Downtime is more of a hex level phase since a hex might provide special training or access to tools.

Breath Weapon of the Wild

If it’s not already obvious, I want crafting to be a component of the game. I constantly have players want to make stuff and most of the rules are meh at best. Further, this is a wilderness campaign and players will need to make their own way, literally, at first.

Crafting has resources and outcomes, avoid a huge list of possible items in favor of effects. Gathered during the watch and explore stages, crafted during camp or downtime stages. I think I might steal the relatively simple Breath of the Wild cooking system as a base.

I’m not sure how I want to handle what can be gathered or crafted yet since I hate skill checks and refuse to include them. Maybe a tier of knowledge system, where players reach a new tier by training?

Published by IDDM1DM

Dungeon Master, Educator, father.

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