CEPHALOFAIR DESIGNER DIARY ISSUE 6: GLOOMHAVEN RPG

April 02, 2024

CEPHALOFAIR DESIGNER DIARY ISSUE 6: GLOOMHAVEN RPG

Greetings Mercenaries!

I have such updates to share with you. Last month we shared a design diary from the illustrious Nikki Valens, who gave some insight into their design process for Buttons and Bugs. I hope all of you who have it appreciate how difficult it is to miniaturize Gloomhaven, both in rules and in size.

But this month, we’re back to talking about the Gloomhaven RPG. A lot has happened since I last shared an update, so I’ll try to cover it all as well as share some design insights. I shared that I had first drafts in my hands in January, and over February and March, I looked them over and gave comments back to authors, who made edits and returned them. The setting material is probably at about 80% done at this point. Not because it isn’t all written, but because now I have to go through it all, put it into the correct chapter formats, and massage passages to all look like one cohesive whole. This is a part of the process that takes time, but is the make or break of a great game. I could hire all the best, most skilled authors in the world who could turn in shining prose and perfect sections, but without a development pass to make their individual parts feel like a cohesive whole, the game would fall short of good.

I had the privilege of going to the Cephalofair design retreat (Gloomcabin, if you will) in March. The point of this retreat is to put a finishing polish on the current Cephalofair WIPs, and the RPG got the spot of honor this year. I was blown away by the creative energy at the retreat, and the number of Gloomhaven scholars in the room was a little intimidating. Nevertheless, as we poked at it, we came to some solid conclusions on where we want the RPG to go, what experience we want players to have, and how to definitively make it stand on its own, separate but equal to the board game. These conclusions led to late nights in what we dubbed “the lab” as a small group of designers took class and ancestry cards and rewrote, tweaked, and overhauled them.

If you just had a visceral reaction to the words “rewrote” and “overhauled”, never fear. The way you play the game didn’t actually change all that much. We just realized that the choices people were making didn’t feel as meaningful or as tactical as they do in the board game, and everyone really appreciates that experience. So we came up with a way for the RPG to not just mirror the board game’s class cards, but to iterate on them in a way that makes sense for an RPG without losing the elements we love. The biggest change here is that in an RPG, narrative supersedes minutia. What I mean by that is we want people telling compelling stories about their mercenaries fighting enemies, not just taking a turn doing the most tactically advantageous action. We want people to envision the cool fiery blast their spellweaver just lobbed at a skeleton, and how that means now both the skeleton, and the floor around it are covered in flames. It’s all there, but we wanted to ensure that the mechanics weren’t just supporting important decision points, but also creating a narrative around those decision points that is exciting and makes you feel like you’re living in the world of Gloomhaven.

Gloomcabin 2024

What does this mean for the process? Well, we spent some long evenings chatting about how to condense 30 cards into 18. Which is actually easier than it sounds, because we absolutely did it for all the classes that folks were playing that weekend in a single evening so that we could playtest the updates. The system is the same “pick a top and bottom action, go on your initiative, do all the things” but the choices are now a little different and narrower, and have a narrative to them that they’ve never had before. The book’s development is still moving at a good pace. I have already updated the rules chapter to reflect our changes, and we’re working on updating all the class and ancestry cards. The setting material is in good shape, and in the next month it should all come together and make its way to editing.

 

While this does push my original projected publish date back, it only does so by a couple of months. We’re still on track to get files finished before the end of the year. I have no control over how long printing and shipping takes, but if I were the wishing type, I would wish for a Christmas miracle.

 

I know this month’s diary is more of “how the sausage is made” and less of the “what the sausage tastes like”, but I personally feel like this is an important part of the design process that few people talk about. I’ve been making games for enough time now to know that literally no book goes from first to final unchanged every step of the way. I’ve had to rewrite entire chapters at the approval stage, rework swaths of text at the layout phase, and even once had to beg a printer to wait a day or two for me to resend a print file with an important paragraph added. That might sound messy and scary, and sometimes it is, but most of the time it’s just business as usual.

 

And that’s all I have for you this month. Until next time!

 



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