Over this week I have shared a few ‘in progress’ images of Forbidden Hero.
You can see that it has changed a bit since you saw the cover on about Wednesday.
One of the interesting challenges with this book was that this is the second Zero Engine solo book I have created.
I did not want to just make a fantasy style Mutant Year Zero. Reading the rules it became immediately obvious that this was a very different game. There were elements that carried forward. The Zero Engine shows up the skills, character creation and even the hex crawling, but the fantasy genre was stronger than the underlying dice mechanics. This does not feel like Zero Engine, it feels like Forbidden Lands. And that is a good thing.
These rules are the first outing of my Drama Dice mechanic.
Drama Dice take the place of the Progress Clocks, which I discovered in Blades in the Dark. The basic idea is the same but rather than filling in segments in a circle, you advance a die one face at a time. You can go up or down depending on your idea of the event. I think that is a glass half full or half empty question for the individual player. I use both. If a villain is escaping then I tend to count down until they have made their getaway, if I am trying to sneak around then the evidence of my break in mounts up.
With each failed test, or ‘wrong decision’ you advance the die, when the die is showing its final face the event is triggered.
So in context, if I were sneaking around a castle, each failed Stealth test would advance the die, if I forced a lock, something that could be noticed and reported, I would advance the die, if I knocked out a guard and stashed the body I would advance the die. Even if the guard is not going to raise the alarm, their simple absence could be a cause of note. How do we know that he doesn’t hang out in the kitchens every night to meet one of the scullery maids?
The advantage of the drama die over a progress clock is that you can more easily reverse them. If you could cause a distraction that draws attention away from where you are sneaking around, or you retrace your steps and make good on any signs of your break in, you can reverse the face on a die by one face.
Another plus, in my opinion, is that they are much more visual and prominent. There is a real die, sat on your desk. I sit mine on a post-it note which tells me what it is logging. They barely take a moment to set up, but seeing them there does add to the tension of a dramatic scene.
If you move away from solo play, these drama dice can add tension to a group of players. If they can see that they are one slip away from triggering the alarms, sinking the ship or whatever. It gives them more agency over their fate.
OK, I admit it, I am not a fan of hex crawling. I had to do it for Forbidden Lands and this time I used the map. While I was exploring the Zone in MYZ I just use the oracle to narratively decide if there was interesting stuff going on, and if so what was it.
This time I used the map, and I made the skill tests. I thought that the random encounters were going to be lethal but in seven out of eight random encounters I made Scout tests for the encounter and they simply did not discover me. Without that mechanic sleeping unguarded would be incredibly dangerous!
At the moment I would have said that there are two systems vying for the position of my favourite fantasy system. One is Dungeon World and the other is now Forbidden Lands.