The Folly of Man
“What a sad creature such as man, being reduced to less a state as a lamb. Is such a thing as a man that quarrels with their own, as the farmer’s blade falls upon their necks, that they would rather behave even less than an animal meant for slaughter?” – Rickard Tulk, Downfall Philosopher and wanted agitator
“In the years proceeding the paradigm revolution that changed the world, monsters began sacking cities and towns across Arcadia. In the chaos, Arcadians revolted, contributing to the turmoil. If The Great Downfall were to truly lead to both human and azani extinction alike, the fate of this world will be sealed by ourselves, as the monsters devour what remains. As the continent began to die, myst had blossomed wildly out of the decay. As far back as anyone can remember, myst was a small source of power for those who understood it.”
“Now, mystics across the world are becoming dangerously powerful, overwhelmingly so, as they revived within themselves the incredible power they once had during ancient times… according to legend.”
“The most devastating and foul behavior of all came from the state. Instead of banning together against a common foe, every nation from every region across Arcadia, from the Dancing Isles of Kusang to the Sickle Tundra of Davlo, declared war on its “enemies”. In what the tyrants must have seen as the ultimate opportunity to defeat “the ones responsible for this”, warfare between nations, both civil and foreign, heightened to the greatest extents in recorded history. Propaganda spread like wildfire. If prophetic fanaticism wasn’t enough of an explanation as to why The Great Downfall had begun and “devil’s” appeared to claim the world, nations abused people begging for an answer. Able to rally the scared citizens, the state was able to harness the anger of nearly everyone else who was not already convinced otherwise, as to whom was responsible as the bringer of the end times.”
“That’s when we left it all behind.”
Deathroll takes place in the continent of Arcadia, set in a time when new technology and innovation began to spread the globe. Beset by an unforeseen and mysterious new terror, monstrous beasts of unknown origin crept up from behind an unsuspecting civilization and destroyed the newly arising renaissance in one fail swoop. The collapse sparked a global fire of strife and conflict. The citizens of Arcadia betrayed one another in a mass panic to protect themselves. Those who did not seek immediate protection from an established institution found themselves on the fringes of this, perhaps final, downward spiral. These outcasts, known as Survivors, are unshackled by responsibility, free from society, but lost. They lived without assistance, without protection, but they were free.
Deathroll is a TableTop RPG that not only offers a compelling, complex world to discover, but a unique competitive RPG experience within it.
The world of Arcadia is a nightmare for the unfortunate folks who live there. This sense of dread and struggle carries over throughout Deathroll’s design. Something as necessary as creating a character will be tough. The Survivor you play as may be killed even before the first adventure is started.
As the Game Master, your ability to write adventures will be tested. Since Deathroll is competitive, the GM will try their best to kill the player’s Survivor characters in order to defeat them. As a result, the GM will not be able to simply throw the most difficult encounters possible at the players that they can imagine. Instead, they will have to craft an adventure around a process similar to Character Creation, known as Adventure Creation. Although GMs may add all sorts of different dangerous aspects of RPGs to an adventure, things like traps and monsters for example, the degree of their usefulness will come from a GMs clever use of them. With limited resources, a GM must treat the threats they can use with care. Any opportunity a GM misses to try and kill a Survivor get’s the players that much closer to defeating the GM themselves.
How Does a Competitive RPG Even Work?
This is probably the first question you’re asking yourself after hearing about this game. From a design standpoint, this concept of a competitive role-playing game seems to be “missing the point” of what makes table-top RPGs so great. I understand your concerns. A few core concepts have been established that can be explored to help explain the game (and this competitive concept) further.
Essentially, the competitive aspect of Deathroll comes from the degree of difficulty all the players, including the Game Master, must overcome in order to achieve a positive narrative outcome for themselves. That’s where the rolling comes in. Every roll in the game is done so between a player and the GM. Whomever rolls more “successes” than the opposing player (either the GM or the Survivor player) allows them to drive the narrative in the direction they wish and/or is most favorable for what they want to accomplish in the game world. No action that has significant impact on the story being told goes unanswered. No player “rolls against the system” in Deathroll. Players roll against each other.
An unfair GM could simply say during any given RPG, “while walking down the road an enormous dragon appears… good luck.” In Deathroll, this is possible, but only because the GM “earned” the right to do so.
Game Masters, although still powerful enough to take on 2-5 other players by themselves, cannot add whatever they would like, whenever they want, to their adventures. Even with this stipulation, GMs still have the age-old ability to skin specific monsters, traps, hazards, NPCs, etc. to their liking. It is through the process of Adventure Creation however that regulates the different dangerous qualities of these aspects, including the level of difficulty they present to players. Whether or not a GM is able to present the most challenging adventure the players have ever faced will be reliant on how well they did during Character Creation. You heard that correctly, the GM creates a single character to represent themselves in-game. Something called an Archvillain.
Based on how well developed the Archvillain is after Character Creation, the GM will have access to even more options and increased dangers to employ. It is the ultimate goal for the Survivor players to foil this Archvillain’s Grand Scheme (a devious plot behind every adventure) and vanquish the Archvillain. For killing the Archvillain is the same as killing a Survivor character, that is, the players will then have defeated their opposition; the GM.
Just as the GM will needs to manage their resources to ensure victory over the player’s Survivors, the Survivor players will also have to manage their characters, who may not have turned out exactly as they had hoped. Although players do have options to choose from when creating their Survivors initially, there is a large portion of Character Creation that is uncertain and could result in the character’s death. Conversely, you may actually want to kill your Survivor character if you fail to make them worthy adventurers. During this time your character may receive Quirks (things like a Missing Limb or an Addiction) that would make playing this character more difficult. Although a player has the option to try and kill off their character during this time, in hopes of making a better character, more often than not, the player will eventually end up with a character that will challenge their ability to survive; ramping up the difficulty of the game before the first adventure even starts.
As clunky as some of the player created characters might turn out, the GM will also struggle to make use of, often times, similarly shoddy creations.
What’s the reward from success then?
The world of Deathroll is meant to always be impacted by the events set forth in all adventures as apart of an established reward system. Based on the stakes of: individual adventures, character lives, and the Band of Player Characters as a whole, the state of major regions of the game world can be altered drastically and permanently .
If players are able to win the majority of the adventures, they can ensure that the outcome of their actions alter Deathroll’s universe and their characters to satisfy their personal goals they had while playing. The PCs may have been fighting to “unite the planet under one cause”, eliminating the fear of hostile governments from future adventures (or at least until the GM wins and redacts the adjustment). Conversely, maybe the GM defeated the PCs, foiling their plans. As a result, perhaps the GM determined that Myst (or magic) was sapped from the world, preventing its use in future adventures until this outcome can be undone.
A competitive RPG relies on the player’s involvement with the world in which they are playing. This requires me, the designer and writer, to develop a unique universe with as much attention to detail as the mechanics. So do not fear. The storytelling elements you may have been afraid of being dismissed will be well-integrated into the core gameplay.