Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Story Realms Weekly Update: Q&A with David Dostaler

by Angie

This week were answering some questions about Story Realms design and development from David Dostaler, designer of the free downloadable Challenger RPG. David had some great questions about our system, mechanics, development, and playtesting so we thought it would be fun to answer them here and share with our readers too. If you have any questions for us, feel free to send them in!!

  1. Who's your publisher and how do they operate? Do you have a certain amount of copies planned for print. Marketing strategies? Retail outlets?
We have a really great group of talented individuals working on developing and producing Story Realms. Our game studio, Escapade Games, has teamed up with Game Salute and we will be working together to make sure the game reaches its full potential. We’ll be running a Springboard-Approved Kickstarter campaign later this summer to raise funds for the first print run and gauge interest in the game, and our success at that will have a large impact on the initial printing. Game Salute has a lot of experience and expertise in organizing, managing, promoting, and marketing game projects as well as warehousing, fulfillment, customer service, and retail distribution, so we trust them to figure all of that stuff out while we focus on final design, development and playtesting of the game. With this arrangement, we all get to focus on what we do best and provide the best quality, value, and fun game for the customer!

Teamwork is an equation for success!!

  1. Story Realms feels to me like a game that's more story orientated than 'crunch and number' orientated. As a very 'open' system (I presume) how do you plan to handle playtesting? If the game is primarily story based, do you want to get feedback on how the game mechanics effect story? or would you rather still have feedback on 'crunchy' elements of the game? Perhaps both?
As we worked on developing Story Realms one of our biggest considerations was building mechanics that facilitated good storytelling. Our thought was always that if we did our job right, the game would feel very open and story driven, while having a solid mechanical foundation that keeps the game moving along and provides dramatic tension and memorable heroic moments. A good story has highs and lows, accomplishments and setbacks, and revolves around the interaction between the characters and the setting. Story Realms is definitely not a “crunch and number” oriented system, but there are concrete mechanics that enable fun roleplaying adventures.  Our goal is for the mechanics to fade to the background as the story unfolds and to provide a simple organic system that is easy to learn while still maintaining interesting emergent gameplay. In Story Realms, you shouldn’t ever have to spend time thinking about HOW to do the action you want, you should be able to think of a great idea or an interesting plan and be able to have a good chance of pulling it off. It’s all about creating a great story and expressing creativity, and our character powers and artifacts are designed to provide fun options, not to limit the types of thing you can do. 

Katie and Sabine dreaming up with a clever plan while playing Story Realms!

 When we move into the beta playtesting phase of the game we absolutely want feedback on both how the game mechanics affect the story, and how well the “crunchy” elements are doing their job of facilitating a fun experience. We also want feedback on the premade adventures we’re including with the game, and especially the toolbox we’re providing for creating and playing your own epic adventure stories.

  1. My instinct was that Story Realms was designed to be played fast and loose (1 hour) and also was geared towards younger aged players (could be wrong, please let me know). If this is the case, what age groups are your primary targets? Will the system be adaptable to be interesting for 'older' players? If the game is targeted at a slightly younger market, do you have a plan to break in against computer and video games and other things that kids are doing nowadays? Will the younger players be able to easily understand the rules interface and get playing right away? (most RPGs have a pretty steep learning curve, but it's worth it).
Story Realms is designed to play in about an hour because that is the amount of time we thought is reasonable for a family to sit down and play a game together. Story Realms is not exactly designed for a younger audience in particular, its designed to be playable and enjoyable by people of all ages.

We created a set of physical components that track and display all of the game state information to make it easier for young players and people unfamiliar with tabletop roleplaying games to be able to jump in and have fun without the need to learn complex rules, remember lots of different interlocking rules, and perform pen and paper bookkeeping tasks. Story Realms character creation consists of a few interesting choices that determine how you want to play the game. Players then have a pre-printed character sheets with cards that represent their choices that slot onto the sheet to display all of the rules needed to start playing. As the game progresses, more elmenets are added in, so the players have a natural learning progression that unfolds during play. The players shouldnt have to read any rules or sit through a long-winded explanation before jumping right into the action. We definitely took our youngest players into consideration heavily as we developed the different elements of the game, but we also took into consideration older children, non-gamers, and gamers as we fleshed out our mechanics and our world.

Julian running a game of Story Realms with a wide range of players

  At this point, our youngest playtester was a non-reading 5 year old kindergardener, and our oldest playtester was an 80 year old grandmother playing with her adult grandkids and a great-grandchild! We've played the game with a non-gaming mom and two 6 year old girls, a group of 30-something "gamer" guys, and many other ranges and group configurations. What we've found across the board is that there is something for everyone to enjoy in this system and in our world. It's simple enough for anyone to jump right in and play, but there's enough detail and richness to the world to surprise and delight even veteran roleplayers. Story Realms offers a memoerable and reasonbly short epic experience that people enjoy playing together, and i think the game isn't looking to compete with video games or other activities, just to slot in as a fun way to experience a unique story together with friends or family.
  1. Assuming that Story Realms de-emphasizes the rules side of things to focus on the story (I'm doing a lot of assuming here) do you have a plan to handle the 'power gamers?'. In most groups I've had the pleasure to game with there's always at least one guy who just wants to number crunch and kill stuff (Yes, it's annoying, but they tend to crop up).
 Due to the way character creation, advancement, and challenges are handled in Story Realms, I don’t really think there’s a lot of opportunity for “power gamers” interested in min-maxing  mechanics to get the number crunching fix or find unbalanced combinations of powers. More specifically, the rules provide a structure for heroic adventure without a lot of opportunity to “break” the game. This game rewards creativity and problem solving in unique and memorable ways. At the heart our system is very simple, and many different effects can have the same mechanical result. We’ve abstracted a lot of the complicated elements of traditional pen and paper roleplaying games into a very streamlined and efficient system in which successful actions by the players usually results in one of four things; it reveals new information, moves a progress marker on a track towards the current goal, avoids negative effects, or reduces the threat level of an encounter. 

Story Realms is really about the experience of playing a fun adventure

However, that doesn't mean that there is nothing for a "power gamer" to enjoy in Story Realms. As characters progress they will acquire more powers and artifacts that they can equip at any one time, so the players will have a chance to play around with different combinations of abilities that best suits their preferred play style and try out new options each game. Additionally, our system provides visible trackers of the heroes progress, and there are a lot of ways that character powers can directly interact with these elements. Gamers that enjoy the crunchy mechanics of a game will have all the information available to them to make strategic decisions and manipulate these elements in tactical ways, but the system is integrated enough into the narrative that players that don't want to worry about that don't have to. I think one of the biggest strengths of our game is that you really don't HAVE to spend time thinking about optimal plays. Many power gamers really just want their characters to be effective and have a cool set of abilities that feel special and interesting. We designed our character roles so that each character option provides a completely different way to interact with game elements and components, and every character has a chance to do epic and heroic tasks in a flavorful and fun way without jumping through complex hoops while making a character.

  1. Do you have a plan for the 'core mechanic?' or perhaps no core mechanic at all? (pure story). If you 'do' have a plan for some kind of mechanic to resolve actions, what form would that take 'roughly'?
Story Realms has a very important core mechanic that helps create interesting tension and move the game forward. All the actions a player can take are quantified into 6 simple skills: Move, Might, Magic, Think, Talk, or Explore. A player can do whatever action they can think of, and then makes a skill check using the most relevant skill. The player rolls a number of dice equal to their rating in that skill, and rolling at least one hit (50-50 chance per die) equals success. We build upon this mechanic throughout the game by including some checks in which the number of hits you get matters. We made the likelihood of success high, because we want the heroes to be able to accomplish their plans, but misses come up often enough to make for good tension. Success on a skill roll means that something positive will happen for the players. For example, in a combat action challenge hits rolled on the dice cause the Threat Meter to move down which affects the way the creatures in the challenge act and determines the final outcome of the battle. 

Simple overview of the Story Realms core system

We don't track specific things like individual monster hit points, and the Storyteller doesn't roll any dice. Instead we created a fluid system where the players can do anything they can imagine and we provide a clear way for the rules to handle clever ideas and reward creativity.
 In order to keep skills reasonable throughout the game, we decided that they don’t advance. So if you start with a 2 Move check, you’ll always have a 2 Move check. However, certain other factors can influence that. Having the right tool for a job (like perhaps a walking stick while climbing a steep slope) will give you +1 die to the check. Additionally, at the beginning of the game each player selects a unique talent which describes how they want to interact with the other players and the world. The talent choices are Curious, Helpful, Protective, Wild, Flashy, and Tricky. Whenever a player describes an action in a way that exemplifies their talent, they get to roll their unique talent die in addition to the regular skill roll. This die has 2 regular hit faces, and 2 additional hit faces that grant the player a “boost”. Boosts can be spent to add hits to successful rolls or to activate unique class powers. 

The player talent and skills system works together to reward players for playing out the character choices they made, and is very intuitive and simple to play. Each talent has specific types of actions mapped to it to provide a framework for when players can add their talent die, but it’s ultimately up to the Storyteller and the players to come up with fun uses for the talent die. 

Sabine and Katie selecting their unique talents during character creation
With each system we wanted to provide a simple core mechanic with very clear applications, and still allow creative interpretations and judgment calls for what is best for the story. We don’t want the Storyteller to have to be an expert game master to be able to run a fun game of Story Realms, so we made sure that the rules provide clear direction on how player actions resolve while providing enough flexibility to tell whatever kinds of stories you can imagine.

  1. What's really cool about Story Realms that's never been done before. I.e. what's the 'brilliant' idea that got you started?
I think we’re really breaking a lot of new ground with Story Realms, but we’re also building on a lot of past successes. This is a big question, and could really be a post in itself. As a matter of fact, its been something we've been talking about a lot in recent updates. A couple weeks ago we discussed how we came up with the idea for the game, and we’ll be expanding on a lot of the mechanical and flavor aspects of the game in upcoming posts. 

One thing I'm really proud of is that we were able to slim down and simplify traditional roleplaying game elements to their core to make a game that encourages creativity instead of limiting it. We had a specific experience in mind that guided our design and development of the game, and that is to feel like you've participated in a heroic fantasy adventure and have a memorable story to tell after about an hour of gameplay. In order to accomplish this goal we've looked at and talked about all sorts of options, and selected the ideas that reinforced the essential experience we wanted to create. We pulled inspiration from various sources, including board games, roleplaying games, and video games to create beautiful and functional components that provide a tangible physical interface and facilitate great story-based experiences. The game components serve to convey information to the players in a concrete and visual way while serving as useful tools for the Storyteller so they can focus on the exciting parts of weaving an exciting story. 

Family fun playing Story Realms!!
Well thanks for hanging in there throughout this lengthy post, and thanks to David for all the great questions! Let us know if there's anything else you'd like to know about Story Realms. We've got plans to show a lot more detail about our mechanics, our world, and the rules for Story realms. Additionally, if you're going out to any of the big conventions this summer (starting with Origins this month!!!), be sure to stop by Game Salute's Tabletop Arcade and give the Story Realms demo a try. We'd love to hear what you think of it!!


  1. Looks like a great idea. Going back to kids using imagination and creativity again. Good job.

  2. I am looking forward to this game! We already play Challenger as a family, as well as Rpg Kids (downloaded through DriveThruRPG). My kids love gaming and we are always up for trying out something new.

  3. This looks awesome. Thanks so much for all the great info, Angie. Can't wait to get a hold of the game and test it out!

    As for extra questions (only if you want): 1. So the game functions on a dice pool mechanic? interesting. 2. It sounds like there's no character advancement? That's very cool. In the earliest versions of Challenger there were no levels, but my first playtesters quickly made me put the 'levels' concept back into the game. Oh well. Hope it works well for you.

    Dice pools are good, but it's a real challenge to work them properly. I've seen problems in them in a few games, but if you've coordinated it properly it won't be such a big issue. I'd probably have to see the game itself in action before being any more specific than that. The good thing is you don't have to worry about the limited 'range' of single dice.

    To Aadel Bussinger: I'm honored you play Challenger! There is no higher praise for an author and game designer. I'm currently rewriting the book so if you have any ideas for improvement (or cool stuff you'd like to see added) don't hesitate to let me know! (challenger_rpg@hotmail.com). I'm a pretty open kind of guy and I always read everything everyone sends me.

    Anyways, just throwing that out there. I'm currently writing like a maniac (which is why I haven't been on twitter/facebook/and e-mails much.

    Thanks again Angie and everyone who posted comments. Looks great!

    All the Best,


  4. Hi David,

    I'll take a stab at answering your follow up questions. I'm not sure what you mean by dice pool, but basically each character has a number next to each skill and that shows how many dice they roll. So if my Lightbringer wants to make a Might check I'd look and see that I have a 3 Might, and would roll 3 dice. Having the right tool for the job (in this case a sword!) would add an extra die, for 4 total. I'd roll the 4 dice and count up the number of hits rolled. If it's an action challenge and I'm attacking a foe, those hits would move down the threat tracker, so if I rolled 2 hits it would move the threat tracker down by 2 spaces.

    Each character has their strengths and weaknesses, and the skills don't change as the character advance. However that doesn't mean there is NO advancement in the game!!! In every adventure players will acquire new unique artifacts or special thematic powers tied to the challenges they faced, and at the beginning of each session the players get to choose which artifacts and powers they have "equipped" for that play session. At the beginning players will only have their innate power, boost power, and a single artifact, but after several adventures they may have 3 or 4 artifacts and special powers to choose from, and can equip 2 of each at one time. This means players will build up a selection of abilities and effects throughout their adventures and become more powerful with a variety of options. The skills don't change, but the ways in which the players can interact with the challenges and the types of effects they can accomplish will change all the time. Although there aren't "levels" in the traditional sense, players definitely do advance and grow throughout play and what we've seen so far is that players really enjoy the new options because they are unique and interesting, and tied to specific story experiences. An example is during one of the early adventures the players do a great service to the Queen of the Fairies and are rewarded with a Fairy Orb, which allows each player to choose from two unique fairy based powers tailored to their class or talent. A Helpful Lightbringer would get to choose from a Helpful Fairy power or a Lightbringer Fairy power, and can equip and use that power during later adventures. Players gain a whole selection of additional powers and artifacts based upon the stories they play through.

    Does that answer your questions?

  5. Yes. Thanks so much!

    Question 1.

    It seems like, yes, Story Realms functions on a Dice Pool system. The definition of a dice pool system is one where you roll multiple dice and achieve 'successes' by rolling certain numbers/whichever on the dice in the 'pool'. They call it a pool because you add a certain number of dice to the 'pool' of dice. Hence, Dice Pool. So yeah, basically I just wanted to know if the game officially functioned on a dice pool system because they operate differently than other kinds of game systems (with weaknesses and strengths all their own). Good stuff!

    Question 2.

    Yay Advancement! So there is advancement in the game in the form of gaining sweet artifacts and new powers. This will increase the versatility of the party and is just cool. Good stuff. I'm assuming that artifacts/new powers are on par with those already granted through initial skills? It sounds like they just broaden the 'scope' of the characters and give them sweet stuff to do like magic items in earlier editions of D&D. That sounds like a lot of fun.

    In Summary

    Yes, answered all my questions! I'll check out the rules and get back to you directly when I've finished reading them a few times (and maybe trying them in action with my personally created mass board game accessory collection [yeah, I'm crazy]).

    Thanks Angie!

    All the Best,