Kenoma Update 12
I’ve taken a little time off to work on another project, though this isn’t impacting Kenoma heavily because I’m hitting my limit as far as productive writing on a single project goes.
However, because of Sunday it’s been a slow day today and yesterday was okay but not exceptional, so progress isn’t great.
I did finish a run-through of the Kenoma Quickstart adventure for playtesting purposes and have a few minor changes to make. I probably won’t re-release it until v1, but there are tweaks to the sample adventure that make it objectively better as designed, and I might add a couple small sections to give more of a social character spotlight.
Glassmakers’ Fall is a tie-in to the serial novel I started last year and didn’t get around to finishing, but which I hope to revive in 2022.
It’s set in a fantasy zombie apocalypse in a sort of fantasy desert landscape (modeled on ancient Mesopotamia, but very loosely).
Glassmakers’ Fall is a narrative game with strong mechanical underpinnings. It uses a d12-based system: most of the time you roll 2d12. If you have an Aspect (e.g. professional background), you roll an additional die (3d12). If you have suffered Setbacks (e.g. injury, ill omen) you roll one fewer die for each Setback. The goal is to get at least one success, which means rolling beneath the sum of your character’s Attribute and a Domain of expertise value.
It’s fast and rules-lite at the same time, blending several different systems’ best ideas without really slowing down.
The full game works out to about 5500 words, and it’s edited, the cover is illustrated, and all I need to do is slap that final PDF together and maybe make a character record sheet (or index card, as the case may be).
A good chunk of that length consists of additional rules for more complicated play, such as character advancement, a crunchier failure mechanic, and a more mechanically involved system for measuring devotion to the gods and using divine magic.
I’m proud of it for what it is.
One thing I’m particularly fond of in it is its Crisis mechanic. There’s a quasi-health system in Setbacks, which is to say that as you accrue Setbacks your chance of winding up dead increases, and getting bitten by the infected is a quick route to easy death.
However, the Crisis is a special sort of test where the character’s life is on the line. Once they fail a normal test, they get a second chance with a new Setback applied (if they still have enough dice to roll).
Then they die if they fail.
It’s brutal and quick, which fits the apocalyptic vibe, but also really elegant as a solution to a somewhat messy problem. There’s also a divine intervention mechanic which lets a character save-or-die once when they enter a Crisis by appealing to the gods.
We’ll see if anyone comments on the game. I think it’s interesting because the mechanics actually tie in one-to-one with how the novel plays out, which could be a place for further thought.
Do they match because I have the same ideas of how to structure narratives, meaning that I’ve subconsciously brought them into alignment, or is it just a consequence of these storytelling tropes in apocalyptic fiction overlapping so that there’s no discernable difference between a storytelling device in practice and a story written by an author?
Tweaks to Kenoma’s Mechanics
I’ve rewritten the Margin system to involve dropping the 1s place. I can use this for Acquisition Tests, since that adds a roll’s modifier to the result, without needing to split hairs about “well, you take the tens and hundreds place.”
I’m considering making this how all Compound Tests work, or otherwise adding a special Test type for it. These would just be called Additive Tests or something like that, and they could be an alternative Opposed Test solution as well.
I also pulled the trigger on the Magdump feature, which is a fancy attack for ranged weapons that lets them consume three times the ammunition and use up the user’s Miscellaneous Action to gain a +15 to hit (decent) and +2 to damage (huge).
The problem with this, of course, is that a character who does this routinely will be feeding all their Acquisition into ammunition, and even then they may not be able to keep their guns running.
One thing I’m considering is adding a rule that a character can spend 2 Flame to reroll a test. Right now I have the option to spend 1 Flame to add a +5, even after rolling, but that’s been pretty weak. I might increase that to +10. If I did this, then the Contamm ability could be reworded to reflect the refund they get for these rerolls.
This would be a balance tweak that would require a few different things, but I feel like it would make the game feel a lot fairer for players.
Tweaks to Kenoma’s Quickstart Adventure
I’d designed the adventure around the three pillars, one of which was intrigue, but that didn’t really reflect in the game mechanics or character spotlights.
Another change is a general reduction in difficulty in some tests, since the starting character level is low and they tend toward unfulfilling outcomes if you just dump people to a fail-state. None of these block progress as written, but they are all fairly mediocre.
If you want to avoid spoilers, stop reading now!
One minor tweak is to give Victor, one of the sample characters, Tantalite renown (I believe he had Heresiarch renown, but I’d have to double-check this), which will give him more options in the third act of the adventure.
I’m also planning on adding some stuff to the transit scenes, making a small conflict with some non-Coalition contamms that requires clever words, violence, or patience from the players. Since the worst case scenario to come from this is that the player characters would need to travel on foot, it can even show off how miserable travel outside the rails is.
Another thing I will probably do is add some more hinting about the FOB’s NPCs. It’s possible to ignore all of them except 0198. One solution to this might be to have the corpsman be working on an injured soldier when the PCs arrive, which can tie back to the combat scene in Stage 1.