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Exterreri Design Notes: Testing Your Resolve

The Spires of Azarkarnul

This year promises to be an interesting one – especially now that we are entering our third lockdown! Development of an RPG system to power games set in the Wraxian Isles is well underway and goes by the codename Frostbite for now. Currently, the focus is on the three core mechanics that I feel make the system unique. The first of these, and the one that I’ll be sharing today, is called Resolve. I wanted a mechanic to represent the fact that the player characters are not superheroes. They aren’t going to greet every new monster with indifference, and they’ll need to carefully plan their excursions into the dangerous territory that exists beyond the curtain of eternal winter. The closest analogue that I can think of would be something like the morale systems that are commonplace in games like Warhammer. Players begin a game of Frostbite with 100 points of Resolve – representing the fact that they are highly motivated and ignorant of the dangers that await them. Any lost points of resolve are restored when the players rest in a safe location.

Monsters in the Frostbite system are separated into two categories – mundane and otherworldly. Encountering monsters that fall into the latter category for the first time will require players to test their resolve by rolling a die specified in the monster’s bestiary entry. The result is then subtracted from their current resolve score. If a PC’s resolve score ever reaches 0, they quit adventuring for good – usually fleeing towards the nearest fortified settlement to spend the remainder of their days in a more relaxed profession!

For those unwilling or unable to return to civilisation, there are ways to slow the loss of Resolve in the field. Ice-root tea will replenish d10 points of resolve and can be brewed over a simple campfire. Drinking too much of this mind-numbing concoction is not advised, however, as it can permanently lower a PC’s intellect bonus by stripping away their memories! The fortification spell, available to PCs who have dabbled in the arcane arts, is another option that halves the result of a Resolve test. Just don’t stand too close to the party’s would-be mage when they attempt to cast it!

My hope is that the design of this system will impress a sense of urgency upon PCs of any level. Even the most well-armed and wealthiest party of adventurers will experience a constant drain of resolve when they venture beyond the veil. Wandering aimlessly without a destination in mind is a sure-fire way to risk the loss of a party member. It also makes encountering a new type of monster a more involved experience. The GM can describe how nasty the thing looks, smells and sounds but requiring players to part with valuable resolve points should help to hammer home that they should be concerned. The Resolve system also offers another way to express the veterancy of a PC. Rather than comparing waxing lyrical about experience levels, they can instead share stories of the terrible things that they have encountered in their travels – like any good character in a horror story!

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