D&D BREAKING– First Look At Dark Souls RPG Mechanics
Vancian magic ‘gone’ but not forgotten in a first look at the 5th Edition changes of the Dark Souls RPG’s mechanics.
You know that scene in every movie where Stacker Pentecost says to Mako Mori:
“Mako, listen, you can finish this. I’ll always be here for you. You can always find me in the Drift.”
If you don’t remember, it’s basically the best part of every movie, including and especially Citizen Kane. Well in a weird, Dan-Carlin-Hardcore-History kind of way, that’s a lot like what’s happening in the Dark Souls RPG mechanics.
Steamforged Games unveiled a first look at the Dark Souls RPG’s mechanics this morning. If you hadn’t heard, there’s a Dark Souls RPG coming this year– soon, even– and it’s running on 5th Edition D&D’s engine. In their cover reveal, Steamforged hinted that they were making changes to the game, complete with a new magic system.
But while the game might have removed “Vancian magic” you can always find it in the Drift. Let’s take a look.
The first big tweak is a new mechanic called Position. The Dark Souls RPG uses position to amalgamate Dark Souls’ health and stamina bars. Let’s take a look:
Position measures your character health, but it’s also a resource you can spend to tweak a dice roll, or to use special abilities gained from your character class or equipment.
Alright, so far this is looking pretty good. Health and Stamina are resources in the Soulsborne series. Even if you’re so good at the game you’re playing on a Guitar Hero controller or DDR pad. You spend your Health and Stamina to dodge or soak attacks from a boss and then die, losing all your souls and about six hours of “progress” because the Taurus Demon got a lucky hit in.
But here, it’s a resource you can spend on your own abilities. Which is a different take than the video game. I don’t know how it’ll feel, but it seems interesting. The designers have said they employed this mechanic because adding stamina to the game “would require an awful lot of bookkeeping for players and Game Masters (GMs) alike.”
But then look at how you determine how much Position you have:
Position goes up gradually, as you increase in level, but it’s always finite, and generated randomly at the start of a battle. Using it allows you to do some pretty amazing stuff — but it also makes you vulnerable. Spending it is a big decision, and mastering its use is extremely difficult.
I’m not sure that adding a randomly generated pool of health that also determines how or if you can use your abilities is the best way to avoid extra bookkeeping. But hey that’s just me.
And you’ll definitely want to keep track of how much Position you have, because when you run out of Position, you’re dead.
The Dark Souls RPG’s Death Mechanics
“There are no death saves in DARK SOULS™: The Roleplaying Game. You hit 0 Position, and you’re dead.
Until you respawn by the bonfire, of course.
You’ll have lost all your collected souls — yep, sorry, levelling up might take a bit longer — and there’s a significant risk you’ll lose part of yourself.”
It wouldn’t be Dark Souls if you didn’t die. Although I guess that depends on what you think of the Dark Souls games as. For some, the whole “Soulsborne” series is about brutal, unforgiving combat that leaves you frustrated. To others, the game is all about the surprisingly rich and deep story you have to dig out from the game.
And some might even say the series is about the inevitability of death and how that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Death can be cruel, it can be kind. But everything fades. And as the Light flickers, the Dark waits to take hold. Unless you escape to a painted world.
Whatever your opinion, the Dark Souls RPG uses its mechanics to replicate the cycle of death, rebirth, and the creeping dread of going hollow. Since, each time you die, you risk parts of yourself being whittled away, turning you into a mindless hollow.
They also have a party wipe mechanic!
And a quick note: if, during a combat, half of your party dies, then the whole party fails. And wakes up, at a bonfire, soulless and needing to start all over again…
I’m actually excited to see what their idea of death and “starting over again” looks like. Will it mean fighting your way through all of the enemies? Will you have to re-generate your Position for every fight? And how will they manage that without falling into a tedious grind? Because I can sit for hours playing the video game–but if I’m playing an RPG with my friends and we can’t get to the second bonfire in Sen’s Fortress, I just don’t know.
But it’s an interesting idea.
That Dark Souls Magic
Let’s talk briefly about magic in Dark Souls. Because Vancian magic is gone:
The Vancian magic system used in 5e is well-known, but it’s definitely not suitable for a DARK SOULS™ game. So that’s gone entirely.
In its place is a flexible new system drawn directly from the video game, to eviscerate your foes and empower your allies!
Here’s the interesting thing. Dark Souls has always been based in Vancian magic. In Dark Souls you had your limited castings, and then eventually they swapped over to FP. But the game even uses the term “memorize spells” which is taken straight out of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth series and D&D.
To me, it’s always seemed like an interpretation of D&D’s magic. So now we get a look at how D&D interprets Dark Soul’s magic:
A magic-user has attunement slots, and each spell takes up a certain number of slots. Spells also have a specific number of casts.
So you still have slots that you use for spells. And each spell has a limited number of times you can cast it. Vancian magic might be gone, in the Dark Souls RPG’s mechanics, but you can always find it in the Drift.
Which brings us back to the question of–how well can 5E pull off Dark Souls? There’s clearly something here. These are just teases of the mechanics, so we don’t see them in action. But there’s something here. If anyone can pull it off, it’s Steamforged Games. But right now, we’re standing in front of the Fog Gate, waiting to see just how tricky this boss is going to be.
What do you think of the new Dark Souls mechanic teases? Can they pull it off? What movie best employed ‘You can always find me in the Drift?’ Let us know in the comments!