MCDM RPG Monster Design

· Caio Lente · #podcast  #mcdm  #ttrpg 

This episode was originally published on YouTube and Spotify. For links and references, please see those platforms as this page only contains the transcript.

Intro

Hello everyone and welcome to the sixth episode of The Dice Society podcast!

In case you’re joining me for the first time, my name is Caio and I’m the author of thedicesociety.com. This is a show about the upcoming MCDM RPG, where I talk about its development, my playtest experience, and, once the time is right, first- and third-party content being made for the finished game.

In today’s episode, we’ve got some exciting news items! The dev team is complete, the Power Roll is locked in, we learned a bit more about two new ancestries, and we got a sneak peak into Inciting Incidents. I’ll go over all of those and a bunch more in the News segment of the podcast.

As for our main topics, first I’ll talk quite a bit about monster design, which is proving to be a hard nut to crack for the devs. And then you’ll all get a nice playtest report that Donald Schepis shared on the Discord which I bet you’ll enjoy.

As usual, however, everything we’re going to talk about is subject to and probably will change, so don’t get your hopes up if you really like any of the stuff I describe here. Cool? Cool. Let’s draw steel and get started.

News

This time we’ve got a bunch of little news items to go through, so instead of my regular… Unstructured rambling, you get a nice numbered list so you can keep track of everything.

  1. In the last episode, I talked about the prototypes for the Shadow, the Fury, the Elementalist, the Conduit, and the Tactician. Now we know what other classes will be playtested for the core rules: Talent, Troubadour, Null, and Censor. If you really want to make a parallel to D&D 5th Edition, this means we’ll get analogs for Rogues, Barbarians, Wizards, Clerics, Fighters, Mystics (which is a psionic class that appeared in Unearthed Arcana), Bards, Monks, and Paladins.

  2. d10s! Last episode I mentioned that the 2d10 Power Roll was official, but now it’s official official. According to James, due to the manufacturing of the Ajax Edition, the 2d10 Power Roll is now seemingly final! Maybe there’s more tweaking to do, but it looks like they are pretty confident in this design and I’d go as far as to say that it’s now unlikely that they will change it too much.

  3. The dev team had previously mentioned that they wanted the BackerKit backers to get a playtest packet around July, at the same time as the second Patreon playtest packet. Now it seems like the Patreon packet might come before the BackerKit packet, which likely won’t make its July goal. This delay is due to the time they are devoting to monster design, something I’ll talk about later in this very episode.

  4. The dev team is now complete with four people! Joining Matt, James, and Djordi (the previous newest hire) is Willy Abeel, a game designer which you might know from such places as Arcadia and the Matt Colville YouTube channel. Let’s hope we get to meet him in the next Patreon Q&A so I can bring you more news about what he’s been up to inside MCDM.

  5. Matt showed off a couple of ancestries that they are prototyping: the Time Raiders and the Hakaan. The former are space pirates with four arms and eyes made of shimmering stone; nothing much, just the dopest thing ever! You can find them in Flee, Mortals!, by the way, in case you want to know what they look like. The latter is a half-giant ancestry that can see the time of their deaths; I take it back, this is the dopest thing ever! Unfortunately, I don’t think there is any public art of them, so we’ll have to wait to know what they look like.

  6. They are currently testing class-related Inciting Incidents and they even gave us some examples of what this might look look like in the May Q&A. One for Conduits is getting captured by cultists and being saved by a member of your faith midway through an unholy ritual; now you’re partially incorporeal and can move through walls, but you’re also vulnerable to corruption damage. They all come with benefits and drawbacks like this, which is pretty freaking cool if you ask me.

  7. We got a Patreon post about the VTT! Eventually I plan on making a whole episode talking about the VTT (dubbed The Codex), but for the moment I’ll just list some of the features they plan on implementing: tactical battle maps, character management, encounter building, document sharing, map creation, a full marketplace, and Lua-based modding to boot. These guys are not messing around. The VTT will likely be distributed as a cross-platform app on Steam, so everybody can get it as easily as possible.

  8. Now a lightning round to finish off: movement may become its own thing separate from Maneuvers, Caster Kits will get more evocative names, the Gen Con adventure they will be running will likely take place during the fall of Blackbottom as seen in the Chain of Acheron, Wealth is currently tied to character level but Titles can increase it, and, lastly, the team seems to be aiming for subclasses to give about half of your character’s class features.

And that’s it for the news. Please let me know if you like this format, or if you’d rather get less news items with more in-depth explanations. Now let’s move on to what we currently know about monsters. Let’s go!

Monsters

So, let’s talk a little bit about monsters. According to James, until relatively recently the dev team assumed that they could convert the monster design from Flee, Mortals!, their fifth edition monster book, into the new RPG. Since Flee, Mortals! was such a huge hit, this was a very reasonable assumption to make and the public would likely love it.

But this is a different game and the devs realized that it needs its own theory of monster design. They tried a lot of stuff over the last few weeks and, at least from the outside, it proved a tough nut to crack.

Now, mind you, they still want to have the stuff that made Flee, Mortals! cool: monsters that are fun to run, that challenge the players, and that help the DM feel like a tactical genius. But in the MCDM RPG there is no to-hit roll, the Director chooses when monsters go on initiative, and so on. So there’s got to be some new tech in order for monsters to work just the way they want to.

Their first attempt is what the designers called atomized monsters. These were super simple enemies that basically did only one thing, which meant the Director could activate a specific monsters exactly when they needed to do what that monster was good at. As added bonuses, you could fit tons of those in the monster book and organizing them into encounter sheets was trivial.

However, there’s a problem: atomized monsters are hard to run tactically if you are not already a tactical genius. In this framework, prepping encounters is harder, figuring out synergies is harder, and choosing what monster to active is harder. Atomized monsters was not the solution they were looking for.

Next, they tried phases. This meant bundling monsters into groups: artillery, control, melee, and support. Then, the Director activates these in order. Simple! For example, the first time the Director gets a turn, they activate their artillery creatures; on their second turn, they activate their control creatures; and so on, and so forth.

This also didn’t work as expected and you can probably see why. This felt a bit stifling the Director, which is arguably worse than requiring a lot of thinking. So it was back to the drawing board.

To be fair, the way I’m telling this story makes it seem like they were going back to square one on every single iteration of the design. There was good design that they kept from one iteration to the next, I’m just glossing over some of the details so you’re not stuck here listening to my voice for the next few days.

Anyway, what’s the state of monster design right now? According to James’ post on Patreon, they are testing what they’re internally calling: Squinions. Yeah, Squinions. Squad + Minions. Shut up, it makes sense! Let me explain…

Minions now share a pool of Stamina. The example James gives are Zombie Minions, which have 5 Stamina each. If you bundle 5 of those into a squad, they have collectively 25 points of Stamina. Say a hero deals 10 damage to any Minion of the squad or the squad gets hit by an area of effect that deals 10 damage; two Minions will die, not only one. You can describe how your sword cleaves two adjacent zombies, how your beam of magic causes the ground to shake and a rock to fall on a faraway zombie’s head, standard heroic stuff, you know what I mean. The important part is that every extra multiple of 5 damage kills another zombie.

These Squinions, just like regular Minions from Flee, Mortals!, allow characters to be heroic, killing hordes of monsters in a single combat. Djordi even proposed the existence of different kinds of Minions, such as artillery Minions, brute Minions, and so on. It’s still a tactical game, after all.

The big twist with Squinions, however, is that each squad can have a captain! This is a stronger and more complex non-minion creature which can grant their squad special abilities. Plus, they work by themselves so you don’t necessary need them to chaperone a bunch Minions into the combat.

If I understood everything correctly, this framework is a nice balance between Flee, Mortals! and atomized monsters. You have complex creatures that can work as captains, but also simpler ones in the Minion category. You have to choose who goes when, but this is alleviated by the fact that you choose a whole squad instead of a single creature. You can have heroes fight hordes of little creatures, or one or two stronger enemies.

The one thing Squinions don’t solve is battles loosing momentum from the Director side as time goes on. This issue has been thoroughly solved for players with Heroic Resources; unlike d20 fantasy, where characters spend their resources as the battle rages on, in the MCDM RPG, heroes accumulate more Heroic Resources which allow them to do more dope stuff, not less.

The design team doesn’t like the fact that Directors were not getting cooler options by the end of combat like the rest of the players, so they are now prototyping Villain Power (A.K.A. VP), a Director resource that fuels special abilities, terrain features, and other events for the heroes to deal with. James talked about their first draft of how the Director accumulates VP, but apparently this was already scrapped, so we’ll have to wait and see.

And that’s it! Simple, right? You have Minions, captains, squads, Villain Power to track… That doesn’t sound simple at all, actually. And the dev team knows. Matt has said on a Twitch stream “our game is more complicated than d20 fantasy”.

Right know, they believe that building and running encounters will be a little more complicated that in D&D. Their counterargument is that d20 combat is only simple because there’s not a lot of structure; the DM can’t choose when monsters go, they have very little tactical choice, creatures have boring statblocks… Do you see my point?

The current thinking is that there will be a little bit of a learning curve for Directors who aren’t used to tactical combat, but, once they get over this hump, fights will be much more interesting to run than in D&D. The million dollar question now is: what is the right amount of cognitive load to ask the Director to bear? There is not a clear answer to this yet, so it remains to be seen how many people will be willing to engage with this more complex system. Or, in simpler terms, will the MCDM RPG be the game for you?

If you’re unsure, keep listening. On the other side of the break, I have a playtest report that just might make you want to engage with their more tactical system.

Schepis’ playtest

Before I end this episode, let me relay to you a recent playtest report from a member of the MCDM Discord called Donald Schepis. He shared his experience testing with Pesto’s group on July 1st and, man, this is so cool.

Since I haven’t been able to make any playtests, reading these reports is what has made me the most excited for what’s to come. He even played a College of the Harlequin Mask Shadow, my most anticipated subclass of the whole game right now! If you like this kind of stuff, I highly recommend joining the Discord.

Anyway, enough chit-chat. I’ve slightly edited his messages so that it works better in audio, but otherwise I’m simply reading you his text; the credit is all his. Let’s go:

“A goblin tribe raided a village and captured a hostage. They converted the tavern into a stronghold to fend off any rescue teams. We’re the rescue team. We’re outside the tavern. As a College of Harlequins Shadow, I peek through the window and let the goblins know, I’m On Your Side!. I weave an illusion and transform into a perfect copy of one of the goblin bodyguards. We’ll call him Gerald. Luckily, their defenses betray them. They can only see parts of my ‘goblin’ form as I lead the ‘prisoners’ to the front door. The goblins are dumbfounded by my striking resemblance to Gerald, but they’re yet to catch wise.

Still, they’re on alert. A few toughs flank the doors, and a dozen minions jump up on the bar, ready for a fight. The door opens, and we see the hostage in the claws of the tribe’s leader. We win initiative. The Conduit drops his false bonds and smites a mother trucker. He warns the goblins to flee lest they suffer the same. Hesitation is Weakness, so I jump the initiative, scream, ‘I’ve been tricked!’, and scuttle away to hide behind the leader. And more importantly, right behind the hostage.

Little did we know, the archers of this tribe are crack sharpshooters. They replace a bucket of blood in the Conduit’s body with wood and steel. Good thing I’m safe on the winning side! Except Gerald can see through the illusion. He slaps the archer beside him, points her at his twin, and orders her to fire. She hesitates. If that arrow hits me, the jig is up. The illusion will drop, and I’ll be in the middle of a green, 4-foot-tall death scrum. But if the Harlequins’ Shadows are good at anything, they’re good at Misdirection.

The archer blinks, and now I wear the face of her leader. And her leader wears my face. Which is currently Gerald’s face. She follows orders, shoots Gerald, and blinks again. The arrow is stuck in her chieftain’s leg! I continue to cower behind the tied-up human. Then, the Stormwight Fury enters. He leaps, transforms into a wolf mid-air, slams down on the chieftain, and tears him apart.

Then, a bunch of combat happens. We come back to the archer’s turn in round 2. The first archer fires. The Orc Elementalist drops below 0. But Orcs are Relentless. He hurls lightning for his opportunity attack and slays a goblin! When that happens, he can spend a recovery and crawls back into positive stamina. Then, it happens again. And then again. On the third blast of lightning, he rolls a critical! But, he only injured the goblin and remains dying. Job done, the Elementalist converts his free action (from the crit) into a maneuver and heads into the backroom (and out of line of sight) for some well-deserved rest.

On my turn, I cut the hostage free. When my dagger touches the rope, the illusion falls. I’m exposed! ‘Thank Ajax!’ the hostage exclaims. Yikes. A problem for another time. I slap him, yell, ‘Flee!’, and cloak myself in his visage. Now, the goblins only have a 50/50 chance to shoot the hostage! Which is extra good as a horde of reinforcements descend on the tavern. The rest of the party whoops some ass before we flee out the back window.

I didn’t attack a single creature. And it was awesome.”

Come on! If you’re not excited for this game, I doubt you even have a heart! It might be too tactical for some, the cognitive load seems to be the higher side for the Director, but man, you gotta give it a shot. In this host’s humble opinion, d20 fantasy can’t hold a candle to this kind of combat, sorry!

In any case, thank you very much for the playtest report, Donald Schepis. I’ll be patiently waiting for the next one!

Outro

And that’s it for today, folks. I hope you guys enjoyed the episode and the topics I chose this time.

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See you all next time… Thank you very much and goodbye!