WitchHammer Design Notes

Obviously, the next step in my nerd-volution is to make my own RPG. I had meant to put this off until finishing a few other projects, but I could not resist starting at least the first part of it. The working title for the RPG is WitchHammer, and it is meant to be an episodic, fantasy-RPG about hunting down a monster-of-the-week and then facing the monster in tactical, deadly, crunchy, and quick combat. The primary impetus for WitchHammer was to fix the flaws in D&D4E that our group ran into, namely:

  1. It takes too much time for the GM to come up with adventures.
  2. The combat takes too long to resolve. This problem gets worse with larger groups, as the combat-time increases proportionally to the number of players.
  3. The combat is too safe. Players simply aren't threatened by anything less than a major (and hours long) combat.
  4. The system is designed/balanced to require several fights (each fight hours long) in order to exhaust player resources before the players can truly be in danger. This exacerbates the problem with combat taking too long, and it also means adventures need to be designed to require 4-5 fights, or else the combat balance/player resources will be off. Additionally, it makes it difficult for a new player to join the campaign for a game or two, or for an regular player to miss a game or two, since that would again throw the combat balance/player resources off.

To fix the above problems, I'm making the following changes:

  1. To speed up adventure creation, programmatically generate a monster of the week, as well as an adventure/mystery about a location that is plagued by the monster.
  2. To speed up combat, borrow mechanics from board games to let the players take simultaneous turns.
  3. To make combat more threatening, rework the Hit Point based combat system so that players can be in danger without first whittling down a giant pool of HP. Also, this helps me resolve my decades long annoyance with the idea of "HP as pints of blood."
  4. Drop the idea of "multiple-combats-in-a-story-arc-played-out-over-several-game-sessions" that D&D4E has. Instead, have episodic adventures with 1-2 combats, where each combat is potentially deadly. This means you can handle an entire story in a single game session. It is also makes it easier to introduce a new player to the game, or just bring a new/guest player in for a game or two. And it makes it less disruptive for a regular player to miss a game or two.

As a bonus, I am also trying something experimental with this game that is not a response to D&D4E. Which is to have the idea of player-knowledge being a strong component of game success, in that the players will start with a "Monster Manual" containing sketches of the different monsters-of-the-week. The sketch would include the monster's powers, weakness, and signs. That way the players are not going into the situation blind, and the adventure becomes less "find out about this completely unknown monster" and more "narrow down what we are facing and then meet it with the appropriate counters". So, the episodic adventures would be less X-Files and more House. As mentioned above, the combat should be threatening, so going into combat unprepared and against an unknown monster should be a potentially fatal experience. However, going into combat with the proper equipment and a decent plan should tilt the combat in the player's favor, and make the combat winnable unless they just have disasterous luck. The "Monster Manual" would be broken into parts, with each player responsible for knowing one part of it. The idea with this is to make it so that all the player's have something to think about, and it is not just one smarty-pants dominating the conversation. Like House. I may or may not keep this idea of player skill depending on play testing. I think it might be interesting, since personally I've always enjoyed thumbing through game-books nearly as much as actually playing, and this would give people an excuse and a pay-off for doing that. And as a nerd I do definitely like the idea of knowledge translating to skill/power, rather than skill/power just coming from dice rolls.