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Critical Role maker’s Daggerheart cuts back on stress and fear in latest RPG playtest update

The first prerelease update focuses on “Rulings over Rules”.

Image credit: Darrington Press/Jessica Nguyen

Daggerheart’s playtest period has borne its first harvest in the form of deep, comprehensive updates to the tabletop RPG produced by Critical Role handler, Darrington Press. Only a month after the first public showing, the high fantasy title has made substantial changes to Stress, Fear and its own version of player advantage, among plenty others.

Designed by Spenser Starke, alongside additional work from Rowan Hall, Matthew Mercer, Alex Teplitz and Michael Underwood, Daggerheart has not only been celebrated for travelling outside the house that Dungeons & Dragons built but also criticised for not making it outside the front yard. The truth is a fastly changing thing, as the April 9th Open Beta Playtest update showed - don’t take any bit of design as written in stone.

Apparently, the designers are approaching Daggerheart with a “rulings of rules'' mentality that is now explicitly laid out in the rules and explains how game masters should make narrative rulings - judgement calls that aid the collaborative story - instead of lawyering an explicit reading of the designers’ words. Also of note is an alteration to Daggerheart’s polarising Advantage system, which now gives players an additional Hope die, one of two core dice in Daggerheart’s new engine (the other being a darker coloured Fear die). Instead of a dedicated six-sided die, players now roll two Hope dice and take either the higher or lower option, depending on the situation.

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If this sounds like Dungeons & Dragons 5E’s system, well you’d be sensing a trend. Many of the other changes sand down Daggerheart’s rough edges and leave the whole RPG increasingly shaped like a certain ampersand. One might argue that refinement is the whole point of playtesting, but not if the cost is everything that made it stand out amongst all the other would-be heroic fantasy challengers.

Damage thresholds have been adjusted so that stress, another resource players can spend to modify their dice results and effect - no longer get eaten up by damage that falls below their characters’ Minor threshold (damage falls along Minor, Major and Severe thresholds, a la Savage Worlds). Not only will this smooth out the record-keeping during combat but ostensibly ensure characters can be bonked judiciously without losing access to abilities that cost stress. It’s a reduction to Daggerheart’s combat complexity that will likely frustrate players who wanted more choices that aren't straight maths.

Related to this change, GMs must now choose when prompted to either make a move against the players or take a Fear resource (that can be spent later on narrative complications), effectively “reducing the Fear economy” and streamlining the facilitator’s cognitive load.

You can read all of the playtest updates on Daggerheart’s official website, which includes adjustments to cards, document layout and alterations to characters’ Classes, Ancestry, and Community features.

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