The first test
With the basics of the combat system for Killing Monsters worked out, it was time to come up with some initial content and get some dice out onto the table. I first needed a few basic cards to take things out for a spin. In tribute to the original Dungeons & Dragons, I chose the Fighting Man for my first class.
Before I could work up his stat block, I needed to know what was going in it. I knew a few things for certain already: attack dice, defense dice, dice count, and six special abilities were things I already knew. One detail I hadn't quite worked out was translating damage into death. Monsters were easy: do X damage to defeat the monster. For players, I wanted something a bit more sophisticated. After all, the player's dice pool was going to represent their health, but having each point of damage translate into a die lost was going to result in either an absolute ton of dice or very low damage numbers for monsters. The solution seemed relatively obvious, to have each die in the dice pool represent a certain amount of damage. That would give another point of differentiation between characters, and would allow me to have very tough characters and wimpy characters. I decided to call that stat body.
With that sorted, I was ready to stat out my Fighting Man. I gave him some basic dice abilities representing parrying, blocking, strong and weak attacks, and disarming - basically everything you'd expect for your average man-at-arms. The skill set I threw together was a dual-wielding skill set, and I made a very simple treasure table. I cooked up a set of five monsters to fight, for levels one through five (Goblin, Lowland Yeti, Ogre, Giant, and Titan), and off into the dungeon I went.
I had no illusions that the test would go well. I had eight stats for the character, along with 18 special abilities. I also had four stats for each monster along with specials for each monster. That meant over fifty different pieces of data for a single, fixed dungeon delve. I was expecting a disaster, honestly. What I quckly discovered is that while 3 attack dice might mechanically work, it was really boring. Most of my swings were ineffectual, and I didn't have an easy way to increase it. My treasure table was focused on one-shot items, and the larger monsters were just too large.
There were many conclusions from that first, aborted test. First, and most importantly, the player had to be given more dice to manipulate, which was a fun part of the game. Second, the treasure table needed to include some items which gave constant bonuses, not just one-shot items. That would give you a sense of improvement even within a dungeon, not just between dungeons (where I planned to implement an experience system eventually). The third takeaway was that the character was too bland. Finally, the monsters were far too large.
Essentially, everything was messed up. That's OK! That meant I got to change everything, which is fun. The good news is that the problems with the game were details, not core. There are a ton of details that are going to go into this game, but the basic mechanic of pattern matching with dice along with the contextual placement of dice was going to work fine.
One of the most useful things to come out of this was yet another reminder of the power of the illusion of progress. The first test didn't allow me to progress my character. Even though it would be mechanically possible to have the monsters become only very gradually better and have the character remain mostly fixed, that was going to be a bad play experience. It wouldn't match the expectations of the player coming in, and it would give too much of a static feel to the game experience. By evolving the character, even slowly, it would present the player with a different sort of experience as the game moves on. That illusion of progress is powerful and important in generating interest in the arc of many games, and was clearly going to play an important part of this one.
Next time, the second test.