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Game Design Masterclass: Emberwind

Conventions are great places to find gems you might not have seen in the sweeping ocean that is the internet. Emberwind was one of those for me and since picking up a copy a few years ago the line has gradually expanded with another two adventures and a system book. The first thing to grab me about Emberwind was the art, as they don’t stint on that at all. The setting is also great, and I look forward to seeing a setting book from them as I’d love to know more. But as we’re here to look at system, what I want to talk about is its options for solo and ‘out of the box’ play.

emberwind.jpg

The Emberwind adventures are designed to run in one of three ways. The first is as you’d expect, a GM running for a group of players. The second is as a solo game, which also bleeds into the third option, a group running it without a GM or with the GM running it with no prep. It’s this solo/out of the box mode that is very much worth taking a look at. To a certain degree, the solo mode and out of the box mode are both the same. You are either reading and following instructions on your own or reading them out to the group. But there are a few nice rules for making sure the group isn’t just ‘picking a page’ to go to the next level of the adventure. What is nice about this is that not only can you get stuck in pretty quickly, if you are the GM you can enjoy a solo game before running it for the group.

Instead of going for a ‘pick a path’ format, Emberwind adventures are quite linear. But what is important here is not what you choose to do next as much as how each scene goes for the group. So, they might go from scene A to scene B, but if in scene A they didn’t manage to find the magic potion they are going to have a tough time in scene B. All this leads up to the climax which does offer several different options depending on how the group did during the adventure. However, they can often pick from a couple of options towards the end depending on what they fancy doing, so the climax can be more open ended than you expect.

This is supplemented by the ever present ‘campaign clock’, which is a running track of growing points throughout the adventure. Any action the players take will probably add to this point total. But the tricky thing is that the players never know how many points they can safely run the clock up to. Do they do every side quest or stay focused? Do they actually have some time in hand or have they wasted too much of it? Only at the end is the GM asked to check the campaign clock and pick an outcome depending on what level it has got to. Anything might add to the clock, from deciding to do a small side quest, to having an extra meal, to fights taking a long time if enemies are not dispatched quickly.

So the clock is often a deciding factor in the player’s actions. If you search a body or follow another clue it will add to the clock. But doing these things might prove useful later, so which do you do? While the players don’t know how much time they can waste, they do know how many times they have added to it. But it is worth the GM saying at the start that they do have some time in hand so need not rush, just be careful.

What most solo adventures don’t have to cope with is a group of characters. What if everyone isn’t keen on the same outcome or path? The adventure assumes the characters will stay together, which is sensible. But each time they come to a fork in the road they have to vote for which direction to go. The vote decides what the party does as a group. The idea is that the characters have a discussion and decide which way to go together, convincing everyone to at least follow the others. Where you have a tie the GM can cast a deciding vote. But you can also nominate or rotate the role of ‘party leader’ who decides any tie breaks. Taking a while to argue doesn’t’ run up the campaign clock so the vote is a good opportunity for some role-play as well.

Combat is where this idea of ‘play out of the box’ really gets tested. Emberwind offers a full tactical map combat system rather than just offering monster stats and seeing if you can kill them. Each adventure comes with maps and tokens and some of the fights can involve a lot of creatures at the same time. If you have a GM they can play the creatures as they like. But if you are running the game together (either solo or with no GM) the creatures all have different attack patterns they might pick. Each usually has a primary target they will always try to move towards (usually the closest hero). Then you roll randomly for the action they will take, with some actions more likely than others. This means the creatures have quite a lot of manoeuvres and special attacks, and the players using tactics to move effectively and draw their fire can really pay off.

The system of Emberwind in general is very nicely done, with a simple dice roll under a difficulty to perform any action. It does have a nice tweak in that each roll has three potential results. You can hit the target, hit and do damage without their armour applying, or critical and do maximum damage with no armour applying (depending on how well you roll). There is a bit of calculating this so it’s best to have the numbers ready on the sheet. But anyone familiar will rolling a D20 will have seen something similar. The critical options can also apply to skill tests, and grant bonus results.

So, if you have a group where no one wants to GM or you like to play adventures for yourself before running them, you should give Emberwind a look. While the setting, adventure and basic system are all good, these options for solo and GM-less play are very unusual to find, and rarely done so well.
 

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Andrew Peregrine

Andrew Peregrine



Zexsudel

Explorer
I bought Emberwind's first book at Gencon after playing with the creator. I've since bought the Hero Builder. This is a real under appreciated gem of a game. I'm glad to see it getting some bigger notice. We have ran the first book on basic without a DM/GM and it was great. Nobody seemed to get a leg up and since we learned the world as we played there was basically no meta-gaming.
I highly recommend the game.
 

Zehnseiter

Villager
Looks interesting but I have so far not found a buy able PDF. Drivethru only seem to have some DLC but not the main book. :unsure:
While on their homepage you can only buy a physical boo plus PDF combo. That one is right out for me with the current shipping costs.

Do I look wrong at the wrong place for buying a PDF or do they have a strange publishing strategy. Not having PDFs for sale and not being on drivetru is something that WotC can allow themselves because well they publish D&D. FFG could as well with Star Wars. But for smaller publishers without a big money printing license this seems a well questionable strategy.
 


Corone

Adventurer
Looks interesting but I have so far not found a buy able PDF. Drivethru only seem to have some DLC but not the main book. :unsure:
While on their homepage you can only buy a physical boo plus PDF combo. That one is right out for me with the current shipping costs.

Do I look wrong at the wrong place for buying a PDF or do they have a strange publishing strategy. Not having PDFs for sale and not being on drivetru is something that WotC can allow themselves because well they publish D&D. FFG could as well with Star Wars. But for smaller publishers without a big money printing license this seems a well questionable strategy.
They have all the options on their store:

Most books are available as just book, just pdf or book +pdf, you just need to select what looks like different pack shots on the left to get the different options on each product page. (although this doesn't seem to work for everything so their site may not be set right).
They do a bonus pack with the maps, tokens and character sheets for most things, thats what the DLC is, which is a nice idea. No idea why they haven't added the actual books to drivethrurpg though.
 

Zehnseiter

Villager
They have all the options on their store:

Most books are available as just book, just pdf or book +pdf, you just need to select what looks like different pack shots on the left to get the different options on each product page. (although this doesn't seem to work for everything so their site may not be set right).
They do a bonus pack with the maps, tokens and character sheets for most things, thats what the DLC is, which is a nice idea. No idea why they haven't added the actual books to drivethrurpg though.

Ah thank you for the hint. (y)

Now I have found it. Talk about counter-intuitive shop set-up. Especially as the starter pack doesn't have the option to choose as PDF only. And that was the first thing I looked at. You need to go to the single books and change it there. But that small arrow for the drop down menu is very easy to overlook.
 

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