The other night I ran a playtest of my tabletop roleplaying game, Rulers. It was the first time I had played the game in over 2 years.
I’ve been working on it on and off this whole time, but I hadn’t ever written a complete rulebook, or entirely settled on what the rules actually were.
When I heard about Victory Point Café’s Designer Nights, I decided to set myself the challenge of having something ready to playtest by then.
I had created Rulers in my 3rd Year of university to answer a question my friends had: “How would you run a Dungeons & Dragons game where you all played as Kings?”
The resulting creation was a hilarious mess. It was a mash-up of Settlers of Catan and Starcraft, there was no singular rulebook, and Explorers being ridiculously powerful.
That being said, we still had a lot of fun. The civilisations and characters they created were so wonderful in fact, that they have become game lore for the core setting (Cyria, Mordravale and the Shadowfox Trading Company).
However, we had never played Rulers around a table like a classic tabletop roleplaying game. My solution to this was to add Actions Cards. These are a single verb on a card (“Negotiate”, “Draft”, “Offer”, “Hold”) which players can use to define an action their ruler performs on their turn. For instance you could Hold a meeting, Hold a Festival, or Hold a Nobleman for ransom.
My main goal in this playtest was to find out how the cards performed.
I finished up a basic rulebook in time (16/50 pages refined for public viewing), drew a map, bought some wood figurines (they were only a $1 each) and frantically wrote 120 playing cards the night before.
Joined by my girlfriend, her friend, and two random people there, we tried out the Rulers Roleplaying Game for the first time since 2013.
What Did We Learn?
The game kinda sucks.
That is still a valuable lesson though!
Essentially, I discovered that my game is “budding” into two games
There is definitely something in there to work with and the players did have fun. The biggest problem is that while the original concept works, and so did the addition of this card playing element, they really don’t work well together.
On the one hand we have this in-depth, mechanics heavy roleplaying game of trade, resources, world-building and book-keeping. This was in essence, the original Rulers game.
On the other hand, the cards allowed for a very quick-to-pickup roleplaying experience. By limiting players to words on the 6 cards in their hands, to describe what they did each turn, it inspired a lot of creativity. This gave the more inexperienced roleplayers some much needed direction.
It worked just like I had hoped.
The Good News
Both forms of the game show a lot of promise I think.
More importantly though, I’ve accomplished something I set out to achieve and I feel really proud of myself for that.
I’ve been spending a lot of time stressing about trying to give my creations to the world because that was my goal in life.
To see my game there in front of players like that, it seemed so small and simple. Not insurmountable. Not my magnum opus. It was just a little thing that I made. Something I can have fun working on when it suits me. That’s all it was.
So the best of this is I’ve been feeling proud of myself, and I shouldn’t fret so much about making them “successful”, or doing them “justice”.
I just wanted to finish what I started
The Bad News
Oh god there’s still so much to do!
Right now, Rulers is awkward and unmanageable in its current form. It really does feel like two games played at once. So I’ve really got my work cut out to split them up and turn at least one of them into a finished game.
Which sadly means that it will be quite a bit longer before I’m ready to hand them over to you all to play.
So What Does the Future hold for Rulers?
Going forward, I think I’ll mull over what is the “Player Experience” I want to cultivate.
With Rulers: The Card Game I think we have the opportunity to make something quite unique and captivating.
The Action Word Cards were a great way to get people roleplaying, even though it was principally a board game event (in a board game café).
I think I could make that into a streamlined version of my original vision, which would play similarly Werewolf or The Resistance, but would still encourage people to roleplay and it would still have a gamemaster.
Rulers: The Roleplaying Card Game, could be a really great way to ease your friends into roleplaying games, if they have never done it before, and set your players up to expand their adventures.
The Rulers Roleplaying Game: The Fall of Mordravale could be a much more hardcore roleplaying experience done by email.
This is what the original game was like. Each week I’d get an email about what my Players had spent their money on, their orders to their armies, messages to diplomats, spies and so on.
The Best part though was all the “fluff”, all the story telling snippets we’d put in. Like the Cyrian Explorers sent to find Stone to build a Castle, but instead would only ever increasingly valuable resources.
“Forgive us Your Holiness, but we found only Diamonds. We deserve nothing less than 10,000 lashes!”
“Forgive us Your Woship, but we have failed you again, we found only Adamanitum. Let us be expel from the light that is the almighty Cyriss!”
There was also the “In-Turns” of the Shadowfox Trading Company being given the most dangerous jobs. The Ruler of Mordravale being haunted by visions of The Dragon Lich Sidradael, who he initially thought was his own murdered father. Or the Battle of Naam Island, so named so that characters could start having “Naam Flashbacks”.
We had a lot of fun is the point, so let’s keep what was best about the original Rulers.
The biggest improvement might be some kind of mobile app to do all of the maths, and track all of the armies and the buildings.
It could also make the game more accessible and allow you run a text-only game with your friends on the other side of the world, with all the wonderful world-building and character development of tabletop RPGs.
So going forward, I have my work cut out if I want to see this through to the end.
The Card Game version has a lot of promise, and while it’s a “new” game I’d have to build, I’ve got a big foundation of developed ideas to work from. So this might be pretty quick to do.
Finishing a version of Rulers Classic would be a lengthier process. There is also perhaps too much data to track to make a good gaming experience. It was once adequately nicknamed “Excel Wars”.
With my ambitions in esports, game event management and life in general, it may end up taking a back seat for a while. But that’s okay, I made something and experienced with other human beings, and that’s all I ever wanted to do.