Design Review: Shifting Tides


Continuing my trend of posting my reviews of in development ttrpgs. You can read it here or on my site, with a few more pictures, either works, does not matter to me. Design Review: Shifting Tides — C22

The Shifting Tides is a game where you play scavengers surviving on a strange, dangerous world. The game is currently in development by Unox Powered Games(@UnoxPoweredGame). The setting captures the weird of Numenera but feels a lot more focused, honing in on an intriguing mix of psionic entities and sentient machines.


This week I did a design review of a fellow RPG designer’s game. I reviewed the game, focusing on how the mechanics delivered on the core experience, and the clarity of many of the rules. I ignored spelling and grammar and knew that there were incomplete sections in terms of character options, items, spells, etcetera. All of my thoughts have already been provided to Unox Powered Games and I just wanted to point out the highlights here and talk about a few things that you might be able to apply when developing your games as well.

In Shifting Tides I looked at the Character creation, Combat, Statuses, Skill Checks, Crafting, progression and psionics sections. This first major comprehension issue arose when I got to the Combat section, because combat was introduced first, I did not know how the dice worked; there was no context for me to understand how to mechanically perform any of the steps described. Furthermore, when I began to read the section, I struggled with the order by which the information was introduced. Yes it makes sense in a way to start by introducing initiative, seeing as that is the first step of any combat, but pay attention to how other books write their rules, they have something before they describe initiative, the summary of what they are going to talk about in the chapter. So what I wanted to focus on here, and what I want you to be able to learn from this, is some important aspects of technical writing that will help with the flow of your document and teaching your player new rules.

Your goal is to make sure the reader understands everything you are writing, and if they do not, you will be teaching them within the next few lines. So when you start a chapter, give an overview of what you will be talking about; think of this like an outline of your major sections in this chapter. You start by being more general, and then go more specific. Using Shifting Tides as an example.

Combat in Shifting Tides is broken into rounds, but before the first round you need to determine the turn order using initiative. During a round each character has 3 Major Actions and 2 Triggered Actions.

So using the example I wrote above, we now know what we need to talk about. We need to introduce rounds, then talk about initiative, then Major actions, and finally Triggered Actions. You now have the 4 major sections of your chapter. Within each section you will apply the same process. if you have something more specific to talk about, you will give an overview of all the pieces and then talk in detail about those sections. For Major Actions for example, we could have Movement, Attacking, Using Items, and Martial Technique. Movement would have a few subsections as well. This should provide a basic overview of how to go about laying out and general flow of your chapters. If you would like to hear me talk in more detail about technical writing, specifically in RPGs, let me know and I can do a more detailed blog post.

Getting back to the review of Shifting Tides. While the technical writing aspect was something I felt I could help with, it is not the major point where I think the designer needs to focus. This is the core experience as explained in the book.

Shifting Tides is a game focused on adventure and exploration of a forgotten and dangerous planet. Set on Galphrea, you are tasked with scavenging the Ancient’s ruins for valuable technology. Traps, dangerous enemies and riches all await you in Shifting Tides.
I feel the sentence above falls a bit flat for what the setting and world offer. The sentence above doesn’t give me indication of the psionic hive creatures you can play, or the nomadic machine tribes. It doesn’t give me indication that the resources are limited and more times that not, scraps are move valuable than credits. So my closing thoughts to the designer are as follows

I think you need to focus more on adding and defining the sections that will deliver on your core experience. Furthermore, you need to better define/convey what that core experience is. You have an interesting world here, and I think you want to continue to embrace the psionics and machine aspects going on. I would even focus your skills to better deliver on those aspects. I got Numernera vibes from the system, but a lot more focused, which is a good thing. I think you can continue to keep that focus and better refine it. Right now it feels like you have a lot of little systems but they all seem like they can all exist in a vacuum. What I think you need to focus on:

  1. Define your core better, work on your “What is Shifting Tides all About” section to strengthen the core experience you plan to deliver.
  2. Define the Renown earning system. Maybe provide examples of ways to earn renown.
    1. The first time you gain 500 credits you get 1 renown, second at 1000 credits
    2. Killing certain monsters harassing a settlement grant renown
    3. Write needs and wants on the character sheets. When one Is completed, cross it off and grant a renown.
    4. Delving into the deeps to scavenge grants a renown.
  3. Once you determine what grants renown, write more about how each of those missions and adventures might run, challenges that might happen on how to resolve them. This should be a chapter that comes before your combat chapter and ties many of your current chapters together, skill checks, crafting, travel, etc.
  4. Re-evaluate skill list to make sure it matches the new systems that tie everything together.
  5. Read other books to see how they word their sections to better work on some of the explanation sections to improve the flow of your mechanical explanations.

Let me know if this helps you lay out your writing. If you like seeing this content, or if you want me to talk about something more. Just a note that this review is 9 months old and Shifting Tides has shifted quite a bit since this review. I'd check with UnoxPoweredGames to see if they are getting close to open playtests.

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