Testing Daggerheart

It has taken a while to get this to the table, but I finally tested Daggerheart this week with some of my Star Trek Adventures group. It was also the day after the 1.3 changes were released and I had no time to read them, never mind alter the Quickstart to accommodate them so we ran under the 1.2 release rules – so there might be some changes in the future.

We selected characters from the pre-gens and had the Elven Sorcerer, Giant Guardian and Katari Ranger. This felt like a nice mix. The players warmed immediately to the game with a tour of the character sheet and the mechanics, and the wonderful ‘sidecar’ rules sheet which removed a ton of rules questions throughout the game. If nothing else becomes normalised from Daggerheart, this should be.

The Quickstart sees our heroes deliver a MacGuffin to an NPC in a village and then help them use the item. There’s essentially three acts – the journey (and an ambush), interactions in the village of Hush, and then a gauntlet style defence. 

Rather than give a blow-by-blow, I’ll just bullet point the highs and lows.

  • The Fear/Hope mechanic was grasped very quickly and flowed well. This was especially so when the Help mechanic kicked in and the teamwork began.
  • Skill tests are easy, and obvious to adjudicate.The players were able to use their Experiences (think Backgrounds in 13th Age) easily and it felt very smooth.
  • Combat was equally dynamic and mechanically easy to run. The monster stat blocks are reminiscent of D&D4e and that’s a very good thing.
  • The Action Tracker mechanic was, frankly, great. The players were able to bounce the spotlight around almost cinematically, building support and combos but always in the knowledge that they were one bad roll away from the GM unleashing a massive fight back against them. It might be a mechanic that sees people entering analysis paralysis but remarkably, not this time.
  • The way damage, thresholds, armour, stress and hit points works seems, on the face of it, too complicated. However, in reality it was effortless work and threw up some great moments.It’s a level of maths that most 6 year olds could manage, so I think we’re safe.
  • The various classes had enough flavour to be viable. The Guardian felt strong and tough and brutal in combat. The Ranger was tricksy and natural and archer-y. The Sorcerer was all about big spells and wild stuff. Great.

Was it all good? No.

  • The adventure itself needs a little editing for me. Or I needed to read it better. Probably the second. I had to swiftly deal with the narration (there’s a lot of box text, which isn’t too bad for a quickstart) of horses and a certain sort of cart, and the size of the MacGuffin being different in our heads to the details added later in the text. Could have been up front.
  • If the players don’t roll Fear, it’s sometimes hard for the GM to put their foot down when it is their turn. Sure, you can swap out Action Tokens for Fear, but that limits in other ways. I think this lot were just jammy.

What was the reaction?

The immediate post-game reaction was extremely positive. Everyone enjoyed themselves and felt that they had understood what was going on. The teamwork aspects, narrative control, sense of jeopardy in parts and general atmosphere was lauded. The only real negative was that for gamers of a certain age, the text on the cards was a bit small.

Would I play it again? Absolutely. Will I buy it? Undoubtedly. Would I go knee-deep into a crowdfunder for this game with all its bits? Probably, yes.

That is not the end though. I think something special happened in the second act – the village of Hush. It was a very ‘cosy fantasy’ village and frankly, it’s the first time I have really understood that description. Everyone eased into it, and joined in. It felt magical and different and homely. The players seemed to bond with it instantly. I’m going to write some more about it, but I might just have been converted… More on that, later.

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