One of my favorite things to do with D&D is shoehorn video game mechanics into it. When I heard I was going to get to run the game at PAX East this year my first thought was that I had to do something Battle Royale related. Generally when I run these sorts of games I build lots of elaborate props and I actually had a few ideas about how I could do this using poster board and pre-cut circles of green cellophane. I assembled a little team of people here at PA to help me plan and test the game including Mike Buland, Elyssa Grant, Dabe Alan and Kiko Villasenor but as soon as we started talking, this whole thing got way cooler than cardboard and cellophane.
Mike Buland our Technomancer assured me he could build something that would mimic all the functionality of a Battle Royale game and that I could use as a DM tool to run the game. I painted a map of the island and passed it off to to Buland who went to work on the program while Dabe built the fire effect that would close in on the map. I had no idea what to expect but even in my wildest dreams I could not have imagined how awesome it would turn out. I'll let Mike tell you about the project in his own words:
Hi, I'm Mike Buland, the Technomancer at Penny Arcade. I got involved in this project when Dabe wanted to talk to me about the wall display that would show up as a background on stage. At that point I believe the plan was to potentially create a video so that it would be animated, but the idea of making it more dynamic so that it could reflect the game and not be a set of rails the game had to follow came up.
I thought that it would be a fun and fairly quick project. I was mostly right. Developing an application that only has to work once and under very specific circumstances is quite a departure from what I usually do, but we had an amazing team to inform development. Mike had a very clear vision for how he wanted the game to work, Elyssa understood the requirements from a stage production point of view as well as presentation, and in the end Dabe worked with me to take the program from looking like something that a low-level systems developer made (me) and making it look like a real game.
We had about two weeks, maybe a little more from when I got involved until I had to say goodbye to everyone leaving for PAX East. Sending them off carrying a laptop that we managed to test a couple of times, and would hopefully work live on stage.
It was an amazing experience, and a load of fun. If you want to know more about the software and even get a peek into how the code came together, I did a stream that you may be interested in:
Watch Code: Behind the scenes of AI: Battle Royale from PennyArcade on www.twitch.tv
While Mike was working on the tech, I was trying to figure out how the game would actually work. My first big question was whether the big circle would constrict in real time, or some other turned based way. At first I was concerned that having a timer ticking down would hurt the game but eventually I decided that the pressure from that clock is an important part of the Battle Royale game mode. Next I went to work on the cards.
I decided that as the party moved around they would draw cards that represented loot. Originally I had one massive deck that included gear as well as random encounters. After the first test of the game with my crew Kiko made some great points and I ended up splitting the deck in two. Here are the rules I came up with for the map and the decks:
Whenever the players move into a new square they must draw a card from the EVENT DECK and manage its consequences.
Players may choose to explore a square they are currently on. Anyone who wants to can make a perception check to explore. On a roll of 1-12 Draw top card from the EXPLORATION DECK. 13-20 Look at top 2 cards of exploration deck, you may keep one. Place other on bottom of deck.
Players may choose to trade cards in a square they are currently on. After trading items they must draw one card from the event deck before moving or exploring again.
I decided to keep the event cards simple by putting all the rules for them on my notes. So the party drew a card that said "Blessing of Unicorns" and then I let them know what they needed to do to resolve that particular event. Here are all my rules for this deck:
red cards will stop the party
RAZORVINE AC 11 HP 25 DC 10 Dexterity Check 5(1d10)dmg
CRAZY LONE RANDO AC 12 HP 20 choose a Random Weapon and drop this card after encounter
LINGERING FOG THAT HAS ASSUMED A HUMANOID FORM AC 11 HP 15
yellow cards will slow the party down
UNFLINCHING EYE OF URSOG DC 10 Stealth Check 10(2d10) dmg
BLESSING OF UNICORNS DC 10 Animal Handling Check 10(2d10)dmg
CLOUD OF POISON DC 10 Constitution Check 10 (2d10)dmg
DESECRATED GROUND DC 10 Religion Check 10 (2d10)dmg
HIDDEN PIT DC 10 Perception Check 10(2d10)dmg
QUICKSAND DC 10 Strength Check 10(2d10)dmg
COLLAPSING RUINS DC 10 Dexterity Check 10(2d10)dmg
WILD ARROWS DC 10 Dexterity Check 10(2d10)dmg
green cards will be free movement
OPEN FIELD Free pass
ABANDONED CAMPSITE Draw 2 Cards from the Exploration Deck
GLOWING OBELISK All restore 2 durability to one weapon
TREASURE CHEST ENCASED IN CRYSTAL AC 10 HP 25
I decided to take some of the better weapon cards and place them in envelopes. These would be my treasure chests and I placed those in the named locations on the map. I built a series of simple puzzles that could be solved relativity quickly with the understanding that the party would be in a hurry. I also made a bunch of extra "treasure chests" and let the party buy these with real cash at the table. I wasn't sure anyone would actually take me up on it but I made twenty five bucks!
I also filled the Exploration deck with random bits of garbage. I figured these would be a good way to make exploring more exciting (am I gonna get a cool weapon or a handful of teeth?) but they also worked as awesome role playing prompts at the table. Viari crafted bits of garbage to make his own armor and Strix made her own trash clothes. Regardless of how well I prepared, no plan survives contact with the enemy and I knew I'd have to make a lot of stuff up at the table. You can watch the entire game right here and see just what it looked like when it all hit the stage.
I've talked with folks here and it looks like we'll be able to release all the files for the game including Mike's awesome program. There's a few things that need to be fixed up so that you can use all this stuff in your own game. We'll get that taken care of and I'll post a download link for you all as soon as I can.
Thanks to my players at the table, my crew here in the office and everyone who watched. That was the most fun I've ever had running a game of D&D.