What is Deathroll?

The Folly of Man

“What a sad creature such as man, being reduced to nothing more than a lamb. Is such a thing as a man that quarrels with their own, as the farmer’s blade falls upon their necks, would rather behave even less than an animal meant for slaughter?” – Rickard Tulk, Downfall Philosopher and wanted agitator

 “In the years of the paradigm revolution that nearly changed the world, monsters began sacking cities and towns across Arcadia.  In the chaos of the end, 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. That was then.”

“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.”

“Among everything, 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 states, 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, the state abused people begging for an answer.  Able to rally the scared citizens, governments across Arcadia were 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 on the continent of Arcadia, set in a time when new technology and innovation began to spread across 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 combining several at a time. 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 by means of foiling a concept known as the Grand Scheme.

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 these concerns.

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 their characters that represent them in the game. 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 story 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 their enemy, the GM.

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. That’s correct, 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 the GM devices and executes through the use of the Archvillain). Killing the Archvillain however, is the same as killing a Survivor character. That is, the players will then have defeated their opposition, the GM. This will end Adventures on the spot.

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 during the process. Conversely, you may actually want to kill your Survivor character if you fail to make them worthy adventurers, starting Character Creation over again with a “fresh body”.

What’s the Outcome of a Competitive Experience?

Adding constraints to something as freeing and open-ended as a tabletop RPG allows for the creation of goals that are both significant narratively, but also objectives that drive the player toward something very tangible, defeating the GM. By playing a tabletop RPG such as Deathroll  competitively, you will first find yourself playing a RPG where the stakes are much higher. When you can “lose” the game, decisions begin to become more meaningful. With every encounter, there is an understanding that the GM is not just trying to entertain, but to truly challenge you as a player.

GMs will be able to provide an experience unlike any other.

Everything becomes a potential threat with the GM’s winning condition of killing off your character looming over deciding possible approaches to a problem. Playing Deathroll  is not just an exploration of a setting, but an exploration of how you can tell “your story”. Your story is the one in which the Archvillain is defeated, where the Grand Scheme is foiled, and where your GM fails to defeat you.

Or perhaps not.

I have personally found one to many times that if you are playing a RPG, one where you know the GM will eventually let you and your character achieve a positive narrative outcome, that the experience is never as meaningful as I would have liked.

With the threat of “a bad ending” is not just possible, but likely, every decision becomes critical. That is my desire when you play Deathroll, for things to really matter. I hope that as you play the game yourself, you will find this to be true too.