Cephalofair Designer Diary Issue 3: Gloomhaven RPG

January 02, 2024

Cephalofair Designer Diary Issue 3:  Gloomhaven RPG

Happy New Year Mercenaries!

It’s time to set aside the past year and look forward to the future. I know that for me, setting aside 2023 is going to be pretty easy. A lot happened over the course of the year, and not all of it was great, but some of it was stellar. But 2024 is looking to be so amazing, I can’t wait for it to be here. I know I promised to talk this month about Attributes and checks, and I’m definitely going to do that. First, I’m going to spend a short paragraph to wrap up 2023 in style.

I joined the Cephalofair team in September, and in that time I’ve gotten a crash course in the already in progress design for the Gloomhaven RPG, playtested the RPG several times with several different people, had a chance to run a session of it at PAX Unplugged, and gotten all our setting authors lined up and writing the setting. The past three months have been super busy, but it’s going to pay off in the new year, when I can start sharing excerpts from the game.

But, now on to Attributes! Last month I previewed the current Attributes (note, we may add one more in the future, but if we do, I’ll explain a bit about why at the time). For a refresher, they are: Athletics, Finesse, Focus, Influence, and Knowledge.

Athletics is for feats of physical might or stamina. 

Finesse is for feats of physical dexterity, grace, and hand-eye coordination.

Focus is for concentration and attention.

Influence is for dealing with other people, such as persuading or intimidating them.

Knowledge is for memorization, recall, and logical deduction.

Whenever you attempt to take an action that has an interesting fail state (such as: jumping over a large crevice could result in damage if you fail, or remembering the right pass-phrase could get you attacked if you fail) you make an Attribute check against a difficulty. That difficulty is often set by the GM, but could range from 3 at easy to 12 or even higher at very difficult. If two people are acting against one another, such as when someone is trying to intimidate someone else, they both make a check and the highest result wins.

Your Attributes have ratings on your character sheet and at creation they can range from 0 to 3. The modifier deck has Attribute check numbers on them that range from 1 to 6. You’ll notice that 3+6 isn’t enough to hit that highest difficulty of 12+. So how do you do that?

There’s a couple of ways. The first is that your friends can assist you with any check you might take. To do that, they flip over a Background card and say how they use their character’s background in this situation to help. All Backgrounds have some utility in a variety of situations, and they state how much bonus they add to a check. Multiple friends can assist you, which can give you a lot of bonuses towards a check. The second way is that you can have advantage and disadvantage on checks depending on the situation, or if an ability grants it. The last way is that the x2 modifier card is an automatic success, no matter what the difficulty is.

Okay, so say you draw a +6 card on a +3 Attribute and your friends gave you a +5 bonus and now suddenly you have a 14 result. Say that was on a difficulty 7 action. Holy crap, that’s double what you needed. Does all that extra result go to waste? No! We have levels of success, from a critical failure (you pulled that null card everyone despises) to a critical success (woo-hoo x2). For everything in between, failure and success, we have some varying levels of success. Failure doesn’t always mean you just didn’t get what you wanted. Sometimes it means you did the thing, but had to suffer some kind of consequence for doing it. Often this translates into discarding a Stamina Card, but it could sometimes come with a Condition, damage, or gaining disadvantage on your next action. Success isn’t always just success either. If you succeed far better than expected, your GM will give you a better result. This could be purely narrative, such as more information or a deeper emotional connection, or it could be a positive Condition, infusing an Element, or some other small mechanical benefit. Of course, a critical success gives you the best result, maybe giving you a Bless, Advantage on your next action, a Condition, or some other big benefit.

To finish up, I’ll leave you with some example actions and their difficulties.

  • Climb a stone wall: DN 5
  • Jump across a deep chasm: DN 7
  • Dodge a collapsing ceiling: DN 9
  • Pick a mundane lock: DN 5
  • Disable a complex mechanical device: DN 9
  • Perform first aid: DN 5
  • Notice a hidden loose floorboard in an inn: DN 9
  • Barter with a Shopkeeper: DN 5
  • Convince an enemy to become your ally: DN 9
  • Recognize someone in disguise: DN 7
  • Decrypt the magical runes sealing in an ancient evil: DN 9

I hope everyone is as excited to see what we have in store for 2024 as I am!


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