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hamsjams

A potential variant and some house rules

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EDIT: I reworded some things to hopefully help with clarity. Also brought some suggestions from replies into the original post. Really reading through the many previous variant threads on bgg led me to realize that some individual ideas in here have also been proposed by other people in various ways. Added links to those.

I temporarily stopped working on the Narrative Campaign idea in preparation for what Wave 2 might bring but that is now a year away apparently. I'll probably start doing more to that soon. In the meantime I find myself in a position that I'm sure everyone on this site is familiar with: I have plenty of time to obsess over this game but not enough time to actually play it. So I've come up with a variant and have some possible house rules. They're not tested but I thought the forums might be interested in the ideas at least. I do quite like how the standard rules play, but they aren't perfect and are so ripe for tinkering.
 

Fire Fades Variant


The board game thematically contextualizes sparks as the bonfire itself going out. But it's always seemed to me that what they actually represent mechanically would be the will of a player to continue playing the video game. They were introduced as a definitive fail state, otherwise you could just play forever like the video games. But the video games actually do have this same definitive fail state and it has been encountered by many players. People get frustrated, lost, intimidated, and hopeless and just stop trying to progress. Dark Souls 1 even kind of gives the feeling that this exact real-world event is equivalent to in-game hollowing. 

I wanted to try to double down on this idea with the board game. This variant may also decrease the frequency of lengthy discussion over items, force players to carry more souls more often, and make setting out from the Bonfire feels as dangerous as it was in Dark Souls 1. No clue as to its effect on difficulty or length. It should work just fine with the Narrative Campaign idea, too.


Sparks are the physical manifestation of your party’s will to live. Suffering death, being forced to retreat to the bonfire, and the inability to make progress will contribute to their feeling of hopelessness and consume sparks. Making progress and overcoming unforgiving odds will embolden them to continue forth into the unknown and grant them sparks. If the number of sparks reaches zero, your party can no longer rest there. If your characters die when there are no sparks left then they go hollow and wander away into the wilderness. Game over. Players start the game with the usual number of sparks, plus 2. 

Players must Rest at the Bonfire to refresh their tokens or do anything that would require spending souls. This consumes a spark and respawns all encounters, like usual. Players may access the inventory and upgrade items as usual, but they are not moved to the Bonfire Tile to do so.

Each player may draw one card from the treasure deck the first time they win each encounter. These items are found on enemy corpses and scattered in the environment.

If the shortcut is unlocked, players may use that to rest at the bonfire without consuming a spark, even and especially if there are no sparks left.

If players defeat an encounter that previously killed them they regain one spark. Even if the encounter killed them multiple times they still only receive one spark. This does not apply to bosses as defeating bosses resets the spark count as usual. Defeating a boss still allows players to Rest at the Bonfire without a consuming a spark.

The Shortcut: After laying out all the face-down encounter cards, observe the highest encounter level. Out of all encounters of this level choose the ones that are adjacent to an encounter of a lower level. Out of these encounters, choose the one that is closest to the boss. This tile is the shortcut tile.

When players win the encounter on this tile they may rest at the bonfire without consuming a spark. Further, if this encounter has been won once then players may instantly go there when leaving the Bonfire Tile, as if the tile was adjacent. Players enter the tile from any door that they may have used normally and always use that door to enter the tile from the Bonfire Tile. If players win the encounter on this tile and choose to start another encounter instead of Resting at the Bonfire then players will be able to Rest at the Bonfire without consuming a spark whenever they win an encounter on a tile that connects to the Bonfire Tile.

Going back to the bonfire without a short cut and knowing you'll have to re-fight through a gauntlet saps your character's will to continue. Dying repeatedly obviously does. Setting out from the bonfire is dangerous because you don't know if you'll be able to get back. If you die, get lost, or can only progress so far then your exploration and effort can start to feel worthless. You'll be unable to spend your souls and become more and more tense the longer that goes and the chance of losing them all increases. 

Finding a shortcut and knowing you never have to re-fight certain enemies unless you want to makes you feel satisfied at the sense of tangible progress. Defeating a pack of enemies that seemed impossible does the same, especially if it is a boss. I think this is a pretty accurate reflection of a human player's psychology too.


Same idea for the shortcut proposed here:
https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1805307/variant-finding-sho...

Requirement to rest at bonfire to use souls proposed in this large project:
https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1787693/faded-embers-first-...
 


Possible House Rules



Any of these should work with the variant above and the Narrative Campaign idea. I definitely feel like I've seen at least one of these suggested by someone else.

You do not die just because the Endurance Bar is full. If you must add damage to the bar and you don’t have enough room for all the cubes, you die. If you must spend stamina and there is not enough room you cannot complete the action. Only if the bar is completely filled with damage does it immediately kill you. Otherwise the bar can be full so long as incoming damage doesn’t exceed available spaces. (my group does use this one. Fully using your stamina in the video game is often a death sentence but never instant death and the decree of just being unable to use perfectly good bar spaces isn't good enough when some board effects increase the amount of stamina required for basic actions.)

Same idea proposed here:
https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1823021/dark-souls-brief-ad...

Attempting to block takes one stamina, just like attempting to dodge. If this feels too punishing, Blocking automatically decreases incoming damage by one but requires the use of 1 stamina. (The video games do have stamina penalties for blocking. It's what prevents you from blocking forever. I think a lot of people feel blocking is overpowered in the board game so this might mitigate that a tiny bit.)

Only one type of enemy activates per enemy activation. This starts with the highest threat and moves to the next lowest threat with each subsequent enemy activation. If the lowest threat type has activated, the next enemy activation starts the process again with the highest threat type. This should make the game quite easier, so damage no longer automatically heals between encounters. Stamina still does. The only way to heal damage is by consuming the Estus either between encounters or in the midst of one. If this feels too punishing, each estus token may give 2 total uses. Use it once to flip the token face down. Use it again to remove it from your character board. (I feel like I've seen this one before elsewhere, I just can't find it. Hopefully decreases downtime between player activations.)

Each player may draw one card from the treasure deck the first time they win each encounter. These items are found on enemy corpses and scattered in the environment. (This is part of the variant above but can just as easily be its own house rule. I think the mechanic of purchasing treasure with sparks was always supposed to be an abstract representation of how a player kind of stumbles across items in the video game environment. This rule provides a small boost through the treasure deck but not nearly as large a boost as just doubling souls. Kind of an in-between difficulty modifier that can be nicely thematically contextualized as items gained from the encounter and environment itself.

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17 hours ago, hamsjams said:

When players win an encounter for the first time each player may draw one card from the treasure deck.

Does this mean every time players win a new encounter they get to draw cards?

17 hours ago, hamsjams said:

If your characters die when there are no sparks left then they go hollow and wander away into the wilderness

So basically GAME OVER?

17 hours ago, hamsjams said:

Players must Rest at the Bonfire to refresh their tokens or do anything that would require spending souls. This consumes a spark and respawns all encounters, like usual. Players may access the inventory and upgrade items as usual, but they are not moved to the Bonfire Tile to do so

If players die, want to buy equipment or level up, they lose 1 spark? What does this mean to the campaign? In campaign you can buy sparks at the cost of 2 souls per player. This would make things very tedious and even more grindy...

17 hours ago, hamsjams said:

The Shortcut: After laying out all the face-down encounter cards, observe the highest encounter level. Out of all encounters of this level choose the ones that are adjacent to an encounter of a lower level. Out of these encounters, choose the one that is closest to the boss. This tile is the shortcut tile.

When players win the encounter on this tile they may rest at the bonfire without consuming a spark. Further, if this encounter has been won once then players may instantly go there when leaving the Bonfire Tile, as if the tile was adjacent. Players enter the tile from any door that they may have used normally and always use that door to enter the tile from the Bonfire Tile. If players win the encounter on this tile and choose to start another encounter instead of Resting at the Bonfire then players will be able to Rest at the Bonfire without consuming a spark whenever they win an encounter on a tile that connects to the Bonfire Tile.

Not really fond of this one. I understand that this add-on is used to make the trip to the Boss easier. Additionally you get to rest for free. How does this rest work when your on an encounter tile? Do enemies on the same tile come back, once you rest? This free spark rest feels unnecessary and I do believe will make the game a whole lot easier.

17 hours ago, hamsjams said:

Only one type of enemy activates per enemy activation.

This seems like a good idea to reduce player downtime, but again would make the game easier, even if you don't reset health. At the start usually the most dangerous enemies are crossbow hollows with their magic attacks. This would negate that.

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On 11/26/2017 at 7:16 AM, Dizn said:

Does this mean every time players win a new encounter they get to draw cards?

Yes. Maybe more clear to say "Each player may draw one card from the treasure deck the first time they win each encounter."

On 11/26/2017 at 7:16 AM, Dizn said:

So basically GAME OVER?

Some exceptionally hearty souls may be able to make a nice life after fully hollowing out but for players and their characters this does indeed mean game over, as usual.

On 11/26/2017 at 7:16 AM, Dizn said:

If players die, want to buy equipment or level up, they lose 1 spark? What does this mean to the campaign? In campaign you can buy sparks at the cost of 2 souls per player. This would make things very tedious and even more grindy...

Yes you lose a spark unless you make it to the shortcut. I have no experience playing the Campaign Mode so this could very well be the case. Does that work out to Winning one encounter = enough souls for a spark? If so, in this variant 1 encounter would = break even. Lose spark for resting, buy it back. So, you would need two encounter wins for one spark. Lose spark for rest, buy one to break even, buy one to get ahead. You would need to use the shortcut to make two encounter wins = 2 sparks. No loss for rest, enough souls for extra spark, enough souls for extra spark.

In the official rules you could grind the two closest lowest level encounters for 2 sparks. In this variant you would need and desire to fight a higher level encounter to use the shortcut, theoretically increasing the difficulty of the grind, theoretically increasing the chance of failure and game over, thus theoretically increasing player engagement during the grind? You'd be fighting the same number of encounters, but the variant would put you in more danger.

I feel like as long as there's a way to buy "extra lives" there's no real way to stop players from grinding laboriously if they want to. Perhaps the cost of sparks could rise each time they're purchased, eventually pricing you out if you grind too much. It's the same in the video game. There's really nothing stopping you from grinding the tutorial area in perpetuity aside from your own patience. Maybe the campaign game should go full meta: no sparks. If you the player want to try again, do so. If you the player want to quit, then quit. I know this was the original idea and how players might not find that satisfactory for a one-off, but the idea is Dark Souls to its core and the campaign mode seems like a bigger time commitment in the first place. It's asking the player to decide to play upfront. Many other "campaign style" board games seem to have no official fail state. You can retry the scenario as much as you please. Thus, they actually leave the fail state up to the player. I can't think of any total fail state in Mice and Mystics or Heroquest, which I'm more familiar with. Do you know of any? I'd like to see how they handle it for sure.

On 11/26/2017 at 7:16 AM, Dizn said:

Not really fond of this one. I understand that this add-on is used to make the trip to the Boss easier. Additionally you get to rest for free. How does this rest work when your on an encounter tile? Do enemies on the same tile come back, once you rest? This free spark rest feels unnecessary and I do believe will make the game a whole lot easier.

How it works in my head (never guaranteed to reflect reality) is that players would win the encounter on the tile. Take figures back to bonfire tile to rest for free, which does reset the encounter on the tile. If they "warp" right back to the tile, they would fight the encounter again as if they had just fought their way there. I understand this makes you fight the same encounter back-to-back but you were going to have to fight it again anyway. Also, if you just cashed in a whole board's worth of souls to power up it would hopefully be fun to go back to and (probably) crush an encounter that might have been a real pain while you were underpowered. 

This rule isn't just for making boss runs easier. It's also a goal for players to risk their souls for. The first time you're about to tackle the shortcut encounter you don't know if you'll be powerful enough to beat it because it's going to be a higher level. So you can either cash in your souls and powerup at the permanent cost of a spark or you can push your luck. If you win you walk away with more souls, more sparks, and you don't have to fight lower level encounters anymore if you wish not to. If you lose, you're out a spark, possibly souls, and time. I would imagine most players would retreat to the bonfire ( I would) but some players would want to attempt it based on experience, temperament, and treasure deck draws. The ability to get your spark back through revenge is also partially to help stop players from falling too deep in the hole by taking a chance.

It's again to emulate a familiar situation in the video games. I often face the dilemma of carrying a ton of souls but not wanting to back track to the fire. There could be an ambush around the next corner, and one mistake could end everything. At the same time I never quite know when a cleverly designed shortcut or new bonfire is right around the corner, so the thought of temporarily retreating only to lose tangible geographical progress is unappealing. If I push just a little more, I've made definitive physical progress through the journey and don't have to re-fight an area that I barely survived the first time. But pushing a little more could cause me to lose everything anyway. Or it could mean a huge sigh of relief.

Do you think it sounds too easy with the suggested +2 rules, standard spark count, or both? I personally feel that this variant with the standard spark count sounds too punishing. 

On 11/26/2017 at 7:16 AM, Dizn said:

This seems like a good idea to reduce player downtime, but again would make the game easier, even if you don't reset health. At the start usually the most dangerous enemies are crossbow hollows with their magic attacks. This would negate that.

Not quite sure how this is guaranteed to negate them. They can still get shots off, but one player would get to act beforehand. Even if that player can theoretically bumrush them down it still requires stamina, leaves them vulnerable to melee opponents, and has the chance to fail. They would certainly land less overall damage, but even just the loss of automatic healing between encounters should increase total difficulty right? That sounds like a nightmare to me personally. 

My group is also not likely to use this rule, or only use it for curiosity's sake. We don't mind the down time. But if this ruling was tested and appraised to maintain or increase difficulty, generally maintain tactical considerations, AND reduce down time then we'd be all in.

 

Thank you very much for the feedback and interest! Hopefully I figured out how to multiquote this thing correctly :)

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