Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Sunfall Cycle Playtesting Rules: Character Creation, "Dark Souls," The Clock

Now that we've had two episodes of The Sunfall Cycle, it's time to look at some smaller rules.

Let's take a look at this part of the dungeon:

Character Creation Rules

  • Allowed books are: Player’s Handbook, Xanathar’s Guide, Dungeon Master’s Guide
    • I've allowed these books specifically mostly because they're the books I own!  Also, I personally am not a huge fan of monstrous PCs, because I like my monsters to be truly monstrous.  If players can be Goblins just as easily as Human, then all of a sudden, slaying a dungeon full of Goblins becomes an exercise in grotesquery.  But if Goblins are the fantasy equivalent of the xenomorph... let's just say that, colonialist underpinnings of D&D aside, that's a world structure I'm more comfortable playing in.
  • Stats: standard array, point buy, or rolled
    • Geoff (Armaros) decided to roll his stats; he rolled a wider spread, with some obvious peaks and valleys.  His original roll was even worse, so I let him reroll two new results, and then trade out one of his low rolls for one of the new results.  Ultimately, I think he's got a pretty balanced set of stats!  (18, 15, 13, 9, 7, 11)
  • No feats, no multiclassing- working together and playing clever is the key to success in the dungeon!
    • A certain structure of D&D since 3rd Edition has valued powergaming and optimized builds.  I want this game to be about learning how to play D&D better as a team, rather than learning how to take the proper character options to powergame your own individual character.  For that reason, there's no feats or multiclassing in The Sunfall Cycle.  I'm hoping this not only pushes more group cooperation, but also pushes my players to rely more on cleverness than on taking strong feats.

Dark Souls Rules

  • Entering the dungeon from the Gardens of the Moon, taking a long rest at a Sunfire Brazier, or a party wipe all cause combat encounters to respawn.  Certain modifications to the dungeon are unchanged by this; opened doors, secret passages, ladders, elevators, or other shortcuts- once activated- remain available even after these events.
    • Certain enemies in the dungeon have been "shadowburned"- burned skin, black pools of shadow for eyes.  For whatever reason, when time is reset, these foul creatures return.  Though no one knows what foul energies control the life force of these creatures- they're certainly not undead- perhaps answers lie deeper within the palace complex itself...
    • 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons asserts that a single "adventuring day" can contain as many as 6-8 encounters; a number I've never seen reached in my four years of playing.  The Sunfall Cycle emulates Soulsborne rules in order to encourage players to push themselves further; players low on spells and hit points, knowing their progress through the dungeon will be reset, might choose to press on and fight with ingenuity rather than saying "let's camp for the night."
    • In the style of Dark Souls, unlocking a powerful shortcut can be almost as rewarding as locating the next Sunfire Brazier.
  • You may only take a long rest at a Sunfire Brazier.  This takes no time; simply touching the warmth of the Sunfire Brazier is sufficient to restore yourselves.
    • But triggering this ritual also resets time, and returns all shadowburned creatures to their single-minded existence... 
  • You may take a short rest anywhere; a short rest costs 10 minutes.
    • The lengths of light and rests have been adjusted to correspond to a clock- detailed below- with 10 segments, where each segment is 10 minutes long.  This allows for clear and concise time keeping, as well as putting a pressure on players to achieve goals within a comprehensible time frame.  The pressure of the clock motivates players to efficiency!
  • If any characters die in combat, a survivor can revive all fallen players with 10 minutes of medical attention.
    • This one action revives all fallen players, restoring them to 1hp.
      • If these characters want to take a short rest to recover from their plight... that's another 10 minutes off the clock!  Losing a character in a fight isn't the end, but definitely throws a wrench in the party's plans.
    • Characters revived in this way take 1 level of Exhaustion.
      • Characters who die are not removed from play, but there IS a long-term penalty to the group's total efficiency if characters die in combat!  Exhaustion slows down the affected character, reducing their contributions.  Death isn't the end, but it's still something to be avoided.
  • A single Long Rest removes all levels of Exhaustion, and all spent Hit Dice.
    • Given that a long rest no longer takes any time, but is more like a magical ritual, there's no benefit to having Exhaustion removed 1 step at a time, or to returning half of the PCs' hit dice.  Taking a long rest is intended to be the "okay you all start fresh, but so does the dungeon"- let's skip over everything else and get right back into it.
  • If the party wipes, you all awaken in the Gardens of the Moon, fully restored.
    • I think we'll find out a little more about what's happening here... in time....

The Clock

Due to strange forces and arcane magics unseen, the dungeon is slowly collapsing in time- when the dungeon finally collapses, you respawn at your last Sunfire Brazier, and the clock is refilled.

  • Every time you enter the dungeon, you have 10 segments on the clock before the dungeon collapses.
    • Each Segment is 10 minutes long!
      • This gives the dungeon a clear structure; there are 10 "major events" that can happen before everything resets.  Every time something big happens, I can just check off one segment from the clock.
  • The following actions tick down 1 segment off the clock:
    • Fighting a fight.  Between the combat itself and catching your breath after, a fight advances the clock.
    • Taking a short rest.  You must dedicate your collective efforts to recovery during this period.
    • Common skill-based actions that invoke a risk of discovery or failure: Picking a lock, Disarming a trap, Hacking down a door, Climbing a challenging ascent, etc.
    • Any improvised action that would take a decent chunk of time and effort- for example, carrying a crate of heavy stone statue pieces from a few rooms away and down a narrow flight of spiral stairs.
    • Having an extended conversation with an NPC, when the GM deems it appropriate.  Talking amongst yourselves will never advance the clock.
      • These events ticking down segments of the clock makes time tracking easier, and also imposes clear penalties for the classic "I try bashing down the door AGAIN, until I succeed!"  Every failure is a strike against the clock.
      • The pressure of the clock encourages players to work together, to be clever, to focus on their objectives for this foray into the dungeon, and rewards lucky skill check rolls while imposing a reasonable consequence for failed skill checks- something that traditionally doesn't exist in Dungeons & Dragons.
      • Having a clock with 10 segments of 10 minutes each also asks for a reevaluation of the duration of light sources;
        • Candles burn for 30 minutes and then are gone.
        • Torches have a 10 minute "use interval"- the first is free, test at the end of the second to see if you're "low", once you're low you're out.  Torches last at least 30 minutes, but on average, 50-60.  You'll probably need two to light your full delve.
        • Lamps have a 20 minute "use interval"- lamps last at least 60 minutes, but on average 100-120; so you're likely to get through a full delve with a single flask of oil.

That's it?

Yep!  That's it.  What are your thoughts?  Questions?  Comments?  Concerns?  Fire away in the comments section below!


  1. I love the "daily respawn" a la Dark Souls, and you're right, I have NEVER seen a 6-8 encounter Adventuring Day in 5E - will this finally be the game/system to do it?
    I hope so!

  2. Any particular reason for the 10 segments each being 10 minutes long? Other than 10-minute turns being the old school standard, of course. The full cycle being 100-minute intervals rather than a round 1 or 2 hours seems... curious. Intriguing, even!

    1. Yeah, the "10 minutes" bit harkens back to the old school standard, and also seems like the shortest I could compress a "short rest" to being, while being reasonable!

      The reason there's 10 of them is it's a concrete, graspable number that players can wrap their heads around; and, assuming 6-8 encounters with some short rests in there... I can imagine players achieving all of that within the 10 segment clock, if they're skilled :)

      So it's small enough while allowing for enough play to happen!

  3. The use interval for provisions is slightly confusing. Is there a DC for testing them? How do they last at least x amount of minutes?

    1. Ah yeah, all of that is covered in the previous blog post about Encumbrance and Equipment :)

      Basically: Your first "use interval" is free; at the END of your second use interval, test 1d6 to see if you're low (on a 1 or 2); if you're low, you have one use interval left.

      So for a torch, on a 10 minute interval, your first 10 minutes are free; at the end of the second 10 minutes (20 mins total), test to see if you're low; if you ARE low, you have 10 minutes left; for a minimum of 30 minutes of light.

    2. Oh, I’m sorry. I had no idea there was a previous post. I’ll go look for it.

      Thank you for this reply!

    3. I seem to have trouble finding it, but I’m going into work now... If you could be so kind as to link it, I would be grateful. If not, I’ll continue my search in the afternoon. (:

      Love your work, Steven! Keep up the good work. It’s incredible.


  4. Very cool Steven. Do you treat short-rests as essentially being "safe"? Randomly roaming encounters aren't a thing in Dark Souls at least, though there are patrols with set patterns. Seems like a random encounter interrupting a short rest would be pretty devastating.

    I suppose similarly, is there an incentive to keep a light source up during a short rest?

  5. I like alot of this, and plan of houseruling much of it into the games I run. I find Geoff's view's that he had terrible stats laughable as his stats are actually really good. A 18 and a 15, are actually really good, if he put the 7 in int and the 9 in cha, thats actually a really good fighter build.

    I especially like changing the short rest to 10 minutes, I feel that fixes a slight balance issue that fighters and warlocks have, the druids dont really need the bump it gives them per se, but it doesn't really hurt either. I would say however that to fully balance it out I'd recommend that you allow that wizards can use arcane recovery more than once. Perhaps based on their spell casting modifier to avoid abuse.

    What I will disagree with is your stance on feats and multiclassing.
    In my experience these dont allow players to depend on each other less, rather the opposite, they drive specialization. For example a fighter with sentinel is going to be all about holding the line and protecting the apart by restricting movement. Meanwhile a warlock sorcerer mix is the definition of a one trick pony (although it is a very good trick).

    I feel that by limiting your players options you are no encouraging teamwork any more than any other mechanism.

    That said it being your game I cant fault you for removing aspects that you dont like. That is part of the world building. However I believe your reasoning runs counter to my experience behind the screen.

    That said I find these house rules interesting and look forward to seeing how they play out.

    1. Maybe I'm bringing in too much of my anti-3.5e bias! I tend to find that feats and multiclassing are ways for an individual player to break the power curve, and become very strong as an individual- and I've found that to be true in 5e as well! I don't think that's the only way they can be used, but a certain type of player definitely pushes them in that direction.

      But that's just my preference! I think you should run your game the way you like, for sure :D

    2. I know what you mean about the power scale in 3.5e, I hand a fighter in 3.5e with 18/00 str and 18 con (natural rolled no less) who could kill just about anything on his own. I feel with 5e there is less of that. As a GM I find it easier to manage that. However as you say experiences and preferences will differ.

  6. Stephen, You are by far my favorite DM on the web. Super inspiring. I've loved everything you've run and even that you have played in on the web. My favorite campaign has been the West Marches. I think that best matched you with players that soaked in your world or that you eventually turned to the dark side (thinking of Ms. Gurt). The setting I would have loved to play in the most personally is Nimmorgeist. Just awesomely immersive descriptions. I thought I would absolutely eat this show up (Sunfall Cit). I still watch faithfully each week, but something just isn't clicking with me. I love the cast, I love the dark mysterious world. After contemplating it, I think with the Dark Souls mechanics I just don't feel the high stakes I have felt in your other games. With the respawning mechanic, I don't have the heightened sense of excitement and possible finality with characters I've grown to love. Maybe it will grow on me, but so far it is not drawing me in the same way that a West Marches or even some of your Dungeon World plays do. Not trying to be mean, honestly a huge fan of everything you do, just on your scale of constant excellence, this isn't the highest point for me. Please take this as constructive criticism or brush it off as a bad opinion. Everything else I love, equip mechanics, mysteries, enemies, flavor. Just the respawn thing is taking some of the fun out of it for me. Thanks for all you do sir.

    1. That's because the stakes in a usual D&D game are "Will they die, and thus, the game end?"

      The stakes in this game aren't "will they die"- the stakes are "how will they succeed?"

      I'm sorry it's not singing for you the way it is for me! But for me, this means I can throw much stronger, stranger challenges at my players without worrying that a hard thing might end the game! Instead, they'll hit it, die, and then say "Huh. Okay. How are we going to do this?"

    2. True enough. I do look forward to seeing if they will do more "old school" RP problem solving (which seems to always come to surface in your worlds) to overcome the challenges. I look forward to seeing the world unfold, and most importantly I hope this can keep going for a long time to come. Stories of the Weird was such a delicious but far too brief treat. Maybe it isn't death perhaps, but some of the emotional highs and struggles like the leprosy incident, the brother in a bag, trying to deal with the loss of a loved party girl character, or the intensity of the library heist from WM seem less of a possibility here because of re-spawn. Again, I'm going to keep watching as I am no way saying this is even in the stratosphere of bad. Everything here is a step above anything else on the web imo. Execution as a referee and creator is top notch as always. As time goes on perhaps the challenge of being in this Cube (movie)/Groundhog Day hell and finding a way through will supersede my fandom of the chance of characters making bad choices and having to deal with and overcome substantial loss. And knowing you, there's some dastardly fun possibilities without death that you have brewing anyway. I'm along for the ride man, and I'm happy to see you continue to experiment with TTRPG design.

    3. and apologies for the ph. I have a co-worker that spells with ph and muscle memory from emails and messages sent over the past decade force my fingers sometimes.

    4. Yeah! And I'm hoping to bring out some of those emotional highs as well, but it's definitely a super different beast from the usual methods I have available to me for doing that! I haven't solved that problem yet, so I'm still thinking about it. Glad you're enjoying the rest of it though! Thanks for sticking with it!