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Subject: Highlights from Thornwatch Preview at PAX East rss

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culix _
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The team held a panel at PAX East. The video is available on Twitch (starts around the 3 hour 19 minute mark).

Here are some summary highlights. Many thanks to the team for doing the panel! Can't wait to see more about the new classes.

Woldsen concept art. Copyright Mike Krahulik

Dark of the Woods concept art. Copyright Mike Krahulik


Game is getting "really close to done"
Mentioned that game balance is not ideal with only 2 players. That's one of the things they want to work on.

New Classes

The Dark Courier manipulates ebb - e.g. might deny the Judge ebb when the players roll poorly.

PAX East is the first playtest for these classes. "We think they're definitely cool and almost certainly broken".


The Thornrwatch are summoned ghosts. The Dark of the Woods characters are the *bad* ghosts you might get. They're all cursed in some way. e.g. the Briarlock mechanically does better when their allies get hurt. They're cackling when wounds go out.

All Dark of the Woods classes sew their shield/crest upside down.

Fan question: Are there unwilling Thornwatch?
Answer: It's not clear there are any willing Thornwatch. So yes, there absolutely would be unwilling Thornwatch.

Fan question: How do you go about becoming a thornwatch?
Answer: Jerry and Mike are still working on that. The Thornwatch are essentially icons - someone who fell in battle or did something so amazing that the forest noticed. The forest has "obtained" that person for the purposes of the Thornwatch.

(Editor's note: Mike specifically mentioned he did not want to use the word "captured". Later though he confirms the Thornwatch don't have the choice to refuse being summoned. so who knows)

The Woldsen is what happens when a Thornwatch crest falls and the Eyrewood grows around it, but the forest is tainted by ebb. The result is a writhing mass of thorny vines holding a mask.

Fan question: Do the Thornwatch have memories of things they have encountered previously or in their past lives?
Mike: When you play a Lookout the goal is to discover your future. What do you become? When you play a Thornwatch it's the opposite - you work to discover who you were and what happened to you. The rewards are memories of things that happened to you. The Thornwatch don't arrive with vivid knowledge of what happened before.

Fan question: Are there members of the Thornwatch that came from the other two groups, the Lookouts or the Daughters?
Mike: "We have a character in the Dark of the Wood that is not a Daughter. But if you play her you will understand that she probably was a Daughter at some point."

Fan question: Are the Thornwatch compelled to help when they are summoned?
Mike: Yes. They can't refuse. When they arrive they are there to solve your problem. That doesn't mean they just come at someone's beck and call. It's a blood ritual.

What about a tree that ties the Thornwatch wreath around itself?

Design Process

Mike starts off with many sketches and doodles to figure out what the characters should be. Had to think about how the Dark of the Wood characters would be different. The Woldsen was the catalyst to see how the classes would look visually.

Every time they come back from PAX they've gotten more feedback. Early on there was a lot of feedback on ways the game was broken or needed fixing. Recently they get a lot more feedback about how the game is fun.

Mike thanked everyone that has played the game and provided feedback. "I can't thank you enough for beating the crap out of this game".

Game Vision

"Thornwatch is D&D without the bullshit" A game you can pull down off the shelf and play with your friends. Instead of saying "Let's play Ticket to Ride tonight", you can say "Let's play Thornwatch tonight". They're aiming for a 45 minute play time for each scene.

Fan question: How do you pitch Thornwatch to people that don't know about RPGs?
Team: Just sit them down and play

(editor's note: but that's a great question. what's a good answer?)

Game Mechanics

Fan question: Sometimes in Thornwatch you can have a great combo but there is only one enemy left on the map. It feels like a waste to spend your huge attack when you only need to do one damage. Is that fixable?

Team answer: Every character has a basic attack to help with situations like that. Also the Judge has a mechanic to pay ebb to prevent damage, so you never know for sure how hard you will hit. You have to decide whether to risk it. Lastly Thornwatch is meant to be played with several scenes back to back. If you choose to save your powerful attack (e.g. Sage Fireball) you get to keep it and have it ready immediately when you start the next scene. So you have to weigh the tradeoff of whether to use it.

Fan Question: The Dark of The Woods characters seem more powerful than the regular Thornwatch. How do you balance that?

Team: They've tried to balance it in that the Dark characters are not more powerful overall, but they are more complicated. The main Thornwatch all interact with the game in basically the same way, with their own approach. The Dark characters each have a different part of the game they interact with. They also have a downside because something has happened to them. They're cursed. They have some effect on them that makes it harder or more complicated to play that character.

For example, each time the Dark Courier takes a turn, the Judge gains some ebb. Because now that they've acted there is a little more ebb in the world.

On the Thornwatch having to help once summoned: This was one of the core design principles: it gets you right into the action. They did not want any players questioning whether they should trust a character handing out the quest, etc. When the Thornwatch arrive, you're already committed to go do the quest and get into things. This eliminates the startup step and gets you right into the action.

Player size: The optimal number of players is 4 or 5. In theory Thornwatch works with 1 Judge and 2 players, but it often falls apart. They're still working on it.

Fan Works

Fan question: What are the plans to continue supporting fan created works?
Mike: "Hopefully they'll keep doing that." Mike's loves fan creations and wants to create something that inspire people to be creative. He and Jerry try to make seeds for ideas and give them to other people to see what they do with them. "Hopefully when the game comes out it will be a catalyst for the community".

The team also has some plans they can't announce yet.

The Eyrewood is a place designed for other people's stories. The Eyrewood is like an ocean - it moves.

The team discussed "your neck of the woods" - each gaming group can have their own part of the forest. As they adventure they're building a map of the people and places they encounter.

Currently the team is focusing on delivering the game, but keeping all of this in mind.

Other Great Stuff

Audience question: could you include blank cards to help people customize and make their own stuff?
The team seemed very receptive.

(edit: typos)
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culix _
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Here's another pic I found from PAX East:

You can see a few of the Woldsen abilities:

• Basic Attack - "Tree Trunk: Discard [Brawn] to make a d10-1 d10-1 melee attack"

• Off-turn ability - "Distracting Swipe (once per ally's turn): Discard [Woodwise] after an ally within one space of you rolls attack that deals no damage to allow that ally to change d10-1 of their choice to show any face."

• "Dragging Roots: Activate when an enemy up to 1 space away deals damage to an ally. First: Move that enemy into your space. Then d10-1 d10-1 melee attack"

• "Retaliating Reach: Activate when an enemy up to 1 space away deals damage to an ally. Make d10-1 d10-1 d10-1 d10-1 ranged attack against that enemy."

• "Root In Place: After activating this card, take another action. Status Effect: the enemy cannot make ?? attack against anyone other than you."

Converting zero-damage attacks into 2-damage attacks? Nice!

Kudos to sadieight for the photo!
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