Friday, July 15, 2016

Five or So Questions with David Schirduan

Hi all! I have an interview today with David Schirduan about his games Mythic Mortals and Maroon Corps! He had some cool stuff to say about his projects, so check it out!

Tell me about your project. What excites you about it?

I've got two big projects right now, one is just wrapping up, and the other is just beginning.

Mythic Mortals was my first "real" project. Kickstarted last year, I just released the third expansion, which finishes off the content promised in the Kickstarter. In Mythic Mortals, you play as yourself suddenly granted incredible powers. The game uses cards and dice to provide quick, action-packed fights. I designed Mythic Mortals from the ground up to be perfect for one-shots and pick-up games. The thing that excites me most is how easily new players jump into the game. I play almost exclusively with new players, and Mythic Mortals was a unique opportunity to tailor a game specifically for those people.
  • Playing as yourself in your hometown makes it easy to jump into a game.
  • Combat is easy to understand, and easy to engage with.
  • The card mechanics FEEL good. They are very tactile and approachable, so much so that playing online is difficult, and required a bunch of special roll20 guides and assets.
I'm excited to see more games explore the design space for one-shots and introductory gaming.

As for my other project, Maroon Corps began as a sci-fi themed dungeon crawler; my attempt to understand the OSR movement (which is still mystifying to me). Over time it morphed into a board/card game, and then back into an rpg. Maroon Corps replaced skill rolls and resolution mechanics with a resource management, push-your-luck system. Dice are used to track resources, and are rarely rolled at all. There is some randomness, but most of the fun comes from exploration of "What's in the next room?" rather than "Can I avoid the trap?". Major inspirations are Into the Odd, One Deck Dungeon, and Paranoia.

Maroon Corps is exciting because it's my first major dive into dungeon crawlers. I love reading through old modules, looking up maps, and thinking about interesting traps or puzzles. It's something I haven't done before. The mechanics themselves play more like a board game than a traditional role-playing game. I'm excited to explore how to blend the two, keeping the best from both mediums:
  • Preserve the straightforward rules and engaging mechanics of board games
  • While still allowing for story-telling and GM-centered world flexibility. 

With Mythic Mortals, you created the game to make it easier to accommodate new players and have short sessions. What did you consider with the design to ensure these things worked?

There are a few things about Mythic Mortals that make it easier for new players:

Simple Rules, Complex Classes. The core rules of Mythic Mortals are boringly simple, and can be explained in about 2 minutes. The complexity and the fun comes from the classes. Player's only need to know about their own 16 abilities, only 4 of which are active at any given time. They don't need to know about any other rules, or any of the enemy rules. As it turns out, it takes most players about an hour to figure out and grow comfortable with their class, and another hour or two to master their class completely. This is the sweet spot, and by the end of a session, players have fully explored and enjoyed their class.

  • No Advancement Requirements. Everything is available from the start, albeit with a little luck required. I always hated starting a new game and seeing a really cool level 20 ability that I know I'll never get to use. Instead, Mythic Mortals uses shifting abilities/weapons/bonuses to provide variety, rather than locking content behind leveling walls.
  • Familiar Setting/Tone. Playing as yourself defending your hometown from monsters makes it very easy to jump into a game. Players can fight at their favorite restaurant, or school. The GM doesn't need to explain the epic backstory behind this brand new town; everyone already knows the location and the culture.
  • Tactile and Tactical. The cards and the dice are fun to use, and feel really good to manipulate. No pencils or complex math needed! Some players are intimidated by character sheets full of numbers and text boxes, but everyone is familiar with cards and dice. It looks more like a board game, and feels like a card game.
  • Combat is easy and fun. I don't know about you, but in my first few role-playing games, I clung to combat like a drowned rat. Role-playing, funny accents, dramatic dialogue, or clever planning were alien to me at first. But combat had very clear rules and created constraints for me to work around. "How do you kill it" is easier to engage with than, "What do you say to the king?". Combat is a great place for new players to engage with the game.
  • Simple to GM. The GM doesn't have a lot of work to do; enemies are simple, and plots are even simpler. The game includes a handful of adventures, and making your own scenarios is extremely simple. This means Mythic Mortals can be run off the cuff by a GM who just finished the core book.
Mythic Mortals is the kind of game I wanted to play when I started exploring rpgs. It won't replace huge, multi-session games like DnD, Burning Wheel, or Numenera; but you'll never find a better game for new players or one-shots.

Since sometimes dungeon crawls can get repetitive, how do you keep people engaged when playing Maroon Corps?
Oohh, great question! Many dungeon crawls live and die based on the quality of the dungeon, rather than the game. Some old-school dungeon modules are played again and again, while others are purposefully forgotten and ignored; even though the both are the same game! Maroon Corps uses a few tricks to get around this problem:
  • Death is Celebrated. A lot of Dungeon Crawlers try to create a tense, dangerous atmosphere where only clever planning and luck will save you. By contrast, Maroon Corps creates a funhouse of sawblades, spiky monsters, and dump traps. Players have 5 backup clones to replace their character when they die. Not only does this minimize death as punishment, but we encourage it by using Lockers.
  • Lockers. When a new clone is revived, they are randomly assigned a locker filled with goodies. Each locker could contain special weapons, one-use items, or strange little oddities. Whenever a trooper dies, it's like opening a present on Christmas morning. This also means that dungeons don't need to contain much loot, since most characters will get several lockers worth of goodies.
  • Quirks. A recent addition to the rules, new clones are also assigned a random Quirk which will change how they play the game. Some quirks are mechanical, some are more role-playing focused, but they are all funny and absurd., some are harmful, but most of them are weird or absurd. My favorite quirk so far is: "Clumsy - You cannot use your hands to manipulate your dice. No one may help you." 
  • Maroon Corps is fast. The mechanics are stripped down and streamlined to provide an almost board-game like experience. Players can move through rooms very quickly, stopping where they want, and speeding through the things that don't interest them. Players are never bogged down by checking or traps at each room, or slowly touching everything with a 10-ft pole.
Maroon corps provides danger and death, like all good dungeon crawls. But Death is an exciting event, rather than something to be dreaded and avoided.

Mythic Mortals has some interesting card mechanics. Can you talk about how they work and why you put them in place?
I've always been a "Mechanics First" kind of designer. Mythic Mortals start out as a small project with one goal: design a role-playing game where your cards are your stats. My original game had about 8 different card slot players needed to fill. With a setup like that, players don't make decisions; they just keep drawing and placing cards, keeping the best ones, and getting rid of the worst. It wasn't until I came up with the idea of cards constantly shifting that the game really came together.

I think this is the primary appeal of Mythic Mortals. Every few turns, players get to completely re-build their characters, allowing them to adapt to new situations. It also means that every few turns players get to try out new powers, weapons, or character flaws. Each card presents a tough decision.

Every card has two components: the value, and the suit. Higher values are ALWAYS better, so those cards should be placed with care. There are 4 slots:
  • Mythos: Roll under this slot to use your special abilities.
  • Accuracy: Roll under this slot to use your weapon.
  • Defense: Roll under this slot to dodge attacks.
  • Damage: This is how much damage your attacks deal.
So if you're surrounded by enemies, and waiting for backup, put your highest card in Defense. On the other hand, if the boss is almost dead, and you need to finish it off, put your highest card in Damage. However, you must also take into account, the Suit of the card. Each Slot has 4 options that can be enabled by the suit of the card in that slot. For example:

You draw a 10 of Hearts, and a 3 of Spades. Normally, you would put the 10 in the slot, simple as that. But the weapon unlocked with Hearts is not very helpful to you right now. The spades weapon, however, is VERY useful. Which one should you put in that slot? It is choices like these that keep Mythic Mortals interesting, forcing you to make tough decisions every few turns.

Could you talk about how you track resources with dice in Maroon Corps?

In Maroon Corps you have two main resources: Suit Charges and Blaster Charges. The Blaster charges are tracked with a 6-sided die showing the current charges. The Suit charges are tracked with a 10-sided die. As you use charges and gain charges, you rotate the die to show the current charges. The core of the game is focused around managing and spending your charges wisely. A few examples:
  • In combat, you can fire your Blaster at an enemy. It deals damage equal to its current charges, and then loses one charge. For example: Your blaster has 4 charges. You fire, dealing 4 damage. Your blaster now has 3 charges.
  • When you take damage, your suit charges are reduced, one for one. For example: You have 5 suit charges. You take 3 damage. You have 2 suit charges remaining. You can also spend suit charges to overcome obstacles: open doors, translate information, detect lifeforms, etc. 
  • When either your suit or your blaster charges get low, you can try charging up. I won't go into the full rules, but the higher your blaster charges, the more dangerous it is to try and re-charge your suit. Not only does this mean you can accidentally die while trying to charge up, but it also encourages you to shoot as many things as possible.
One of the core themes of the game is that the dice are rarely, if ever, rolled. There is still a little bit of luck and randomness, but the emphasis is on resource management rather than random die rolls. Any tension comes from the mystery of "what's in the next room" rather than, "Can I roll above a 7?" Players almost never feel cheated by the dice in Maroon Corps.

When can we expect to see more on Maroon Corps?

I have no idea. After running the Kickstarter, I've become all too wary of how much pressure sits on a game with an announcement date :) So for now, Maroon Corps is in a casual beta. If anyone wants to peek at the rules, just shoot me an email. I'd be glad to hear some feedback and get some playtesting in.

Thanks so much to David for the interview! I'm looking forward to seeing more about Maroon Corps and I hope everyone enjoys checking out Mythic Mortals!

This post was supported by the community on