Wrath of the Autarch by Phil Lewis

Wrath of the Autarch by Phil Lewis

Wrath of the Autarch by Phil Lewis

I have been waiting for Phil Lewis’s Wrath of the Autarch since Aidan played at Origins 2013 and I played at Origins 2014. Wrath of the Autarch is a kingdom building role-playing game. Its up on Kickstarter right now…and I’ve backed it.

I wrote up a few questions that I had about Wrath of the Autarch, and Phil was kind enough to answer them. He has also assembled a Boardgamegeek Geeklist of influences that went into Wrath of the Autarch.

What was the driving force for creating Wrath of the Autarch?

I wanted to make a kingdom building game that my busy friends would actually play.

Looking back on the long development process I know you’ve made a lot of changes; What is one thing that you’ve cut or abandoned that you thought was going to be in the “final” version?

That’s a tough question! One of the hardest aspects of design was managing the long term strategic scope. How do all these moving parts: the kingdoms, factions, and regions, bounce off of each other? Early on I was really enamored with this deck building political event system. I really thought that was going to be a cornerstone of the whole thing. But it was just so fiddly, and didn’t ever quite click. Getting rid of it and putting more control in the Autarch player’s hands helped a great deal.

In Wrath of the Autarch’s development, you’ve wrestled with various iterations and refinements of Fate. What have been some of the pain points you’ve unearthed as you developed Wrath of the Autarch’s Fate implementation? And why did you decide to stick with a refinement of Fate?

This is no small topic! There were definitely a few points of tension. But so much cool technology! The biggest points of contention revolve around the creation of aspects, compels, and uncapped stress in the attack action. Note that I’m referring here about Fate Core (although similar issues probably exist in earlier versions).


Creating and compelling aspects in Fate is one of the trickier parts of the system to master. Compels are almost never used enough, even by experienced players. The creation of aspects in Fate Core can be difficult to manage, because there’s this mechanical benefit to making them – so it’s very appealing to players, but there’s also this tacit understanding that pushing that lever too much isn’t fun. That can create tension. Finally, if Create an Advantage is pushed too hard, conflicts and challenges are frequently resolved in one (frequently anti-climactic) action which utilizes tons of free invokes.


There’s also the issue that Wrath of the Autarch has no gamemaster. So what’s a compel in that structure? How is the creation of aspects limited? How can the skirmish mini-game not just be one action that inflicts tremendous stress?


In Wrath of the Autarch, the answer, which is basically fractally [see Fate Fractal] true at every level, is that there’s an action economy that restricts and plays off the resource economy. There are also aspects that exist at a variety of time scales (campaign aspects, mission aspects, and minor advantages). The longer the aspects duration, the more difficult it is to create, and the more screen time it can take.


Compels (well, compel-like things) can be motivated either by the Autarch player or the Stronghold players. For the Stronghold players, they can come into play through complicating relationships with other heroes in the troupe or through complicating aspects. There’s no action limit to using these self-compels – but there is risk. The Autarch player can bring in more complications, but those are restricted during each mission.


Finally, in service to making the mini-games more tactical, the amount of stress that the attack action may inflict is capped by the skill used to attack with. There are of course stunts and such that can tweak that. This tones down on the massive aspect invoke chain which creates anti-climactic conflicts.

Wrath of the Autarch has a very structured procedure of play. What problems are you trying to solve with the structured procedures?

The biggest driver is to promote episodic play. I really liked the idea of playing through a season of time each session. This makes it easier on players who can’t make it one night, because you’re always ending at a good spot. The troupe based play also helps there.


Because there is no gamemaster, the structure of the game propels it along and keeps this pace up. The procedure also promotes cycling between the long term strategic scope and the shorter term season scope.


Furthermore, the action economy drives the time pressure in the game. Will you have time to do what you need to this season? This year? Are you prepared to stop the Autarch?

Could you talk about the mini-games for a bit? The first Fate mini-game I encountered was from VSCA’s Diaspora.

I really enjoy having some diversity when playing games. If every night is a dungeon crawl or every night is a massive pitched battle, it can start getting a little routine. Mini-games are a way to have variety over the campaign. That’s the primary motivator – each mini-game (diplomacy, infiltration, skirmish, warfare) has little tactical elements that you can master and learn to exploit.


And yeah, Diaspora! Diaspora was the game I read that made me start thinking I could do this in Fate. The sheer variety and utility of mini-games was super interesting! Some of the mini-games in Wrath of the Autarch ended up pretty different from those in Diaspora, but they were definitely an inspiration.


Partly, I had to streamline the mini-games in Wrath of the Autarch so they didn’t run over about an hour (because the conflict mini-games are only the last third of a season). I also took some inspiration from some boardgames (the Call of Cthulhu LCG and Reiner Knizia’s Battle Line actually influenced the diplomacy mini-game).

In playing Wrath of the Autarch at Origins 2014, the session had a certain “board game meets RPG” feel to it. What has been your experience introducing Wrath to board gamers who don’t normally play role-playing games?

Yeah, most people say “hey, this is a boardgame-y role-playing game” or “this is a role-playing-y boardgame.” If role-playing-y is a word. It’s probably not a word.


The vast majority of people I have played with have already played role-playing games, though. That’s probably a function of playing it so much at role-playing game conventions. Most of my friends are all primarily into role-playing games.


I have played with a few people at my FLGS that have never played a role-playing game before, and they really liked it! They came from a strategy game background.


I’ve found that players who used to be into Birthright or Ars Magica or who play video games like Civilization, X-COM, and Crusader Kings usually love it. Even people who don’t come from those backgrounds have been pretty receptive to elements of it. It’s not a common experience in tabletop gaming, which is why I set about making it!

For more information checkout:

Circle of Hands Clash System Shout Out

CIrcle of Hands by Ron Edward

CIrcle of Hands by Ron Edward

I finished reading Circle of Hands by Ron Edwards. The combat/clash system is sticking in my brain.

A brief rundown:

  • Everyone states their intentions
  • Line everyone up in order of quickness (faster characters will go first)
  • Anyone can pay (in resolve/might) to jump to the head of the line…at any time
  • Actions are taken…and can pull other characters to the head of the line

It appears to be an engine that leverages chaos, imperfect information, and resource management to move combat from the poor analogue of the battle mat to a procedure for negotiating a charged moment of fiction.

It reminds me of Diaspora‘s space combat system; Diaspora’s space combat system uses a 1-D map to represent spaceship position and a procedure for resolution.

By reducing the number of physical dimensions representing the conflict, a more concise understanding of positioning, tempo, and advantage is exposed.

Circle of Hands does something similar, pushing the 2-D/3-D conflict to 1-D.

Circle of Hands conflict has a visual placeholder for players to reference. It draws attention to the most important aspect of a table-top RPG conflict: temporal positioning. How and when does each player participating in the conflict take their turn.

I suspect that Circle of Hands will solve one of the problems I have with Powered by the Apocalypse games (looking at you Dungeon World): namely when does someone get to do something?

The answer for Dungeon World is when the GM points the camera at a player. For Circle of Hands, the answer is in front of you, and it is your’s to change.

Random Relationship Graph Builder

As I said earlier in my Random Clergy Generator post, I’ve been kicking around a campaign that involves a monastery (or perhaps more appropriately church). Around this time I read an old blog post at Deeper in the Game regarding 3 tiered Conflict Webs.

This go me thinking that I wanted to have the monastery filled with internal conflict at both a petty level as well as the leadership level. I also wanted the monastery to be in the maelstrom of the external world.

This may also be just in time for the rerelease of the Birthright Campaign Setting PDF.

Graph relationship of major players in the kingdom

A Proposed Kingdom Relationship

Relationships Defined

Within a living and breathing campaign world, consider three categories of relationships:

  1. External leadership
  2. Internal leadership
  3. Petty affairs

External Leadership

The inter-relationship between organizations and/or figures of authority that are in regular contact.

Thieves Guild, Bishop, Vizier, King, Earl, Duke

Internal Leadership

The characters of an organizational structure that are part of the leadership.
What are their motivations and relationship with other internal leaders.

Abbot, Prior, Subprior, Cellarer, and Sacrist

Petty Affairs

The characters of an organization that are part of the day to day function.

Butler, Footman, Scullery Maid, Driver, Stableman


Establish the Entity’s Attributes

Each entity has three attributes:

  • Influence – how the entity is perceived/interacts beyond their domain.
  • Sovereignty – the entity’s control over their subjects and domain.
  • Means – resources that can be leveraged to action; wealth, military might, spy network, etc.
Rank Influence Sovereignty Means
-4 Pariah, Outcast Fall is eminent Impoverished, insolvent, mutinous
-3 Shunned Leads in name only Deeply indebted, demoralized
-2 Ridiculed Strongly opposed Shaken, heavily taxed, indebted
-1 Distrustedm Disrespected Meager, Over committed
0 Heard Obeyed Bases are covered but nothing more
1 Trusted Respected Some excess capacity
2 Persuasive Revered Excess capacity and capabilities for securing more
3 Finger in every pot Infallible Owed numerous favors, abundant capabilities
4 “Puppetmaster” “God” Incomprehensible

Establish the Entity’s Relations

For any of the above organizational relationship categories, write each of the named entities in a line. It is the author’s recommendation that you put “obviously related” entities immediately adjacent (i.e. King and Royal Vizier).

For each named entity, roll 4dF and lookup the result:

  • Negative – connect the entity to the next entity in the line
  • Zero – connect the entity to the next entity in the line (as above) but also if an entity further down the list has no connections, connect to that entity.
  • Positive – do all that you would for a zero result and if another entity further down the list has no connections, also connect to that entity.

Each connection represents an established relationship between the two entities.

Optional Relationship: Draw a connection from the last entity on the list and the first entity.

Define the Relationship (Optional)

d8 Vice Virtue
1 Lust Chastity
2 Gluttony Temperance
3 Greed Charity
4 Sloth Diligence
5 Wrath Patience
6 Envy Kindness
7 Pride Humility
8 Roll 2 times Roll 2 times

Each established relationship between a character/organization is defined by one or more vices or virtues. Roll 1d8 and lookup the corresponding Vice/Virtue.
For each line roll 4dF and lookup the result:

  • Negative – the relationship is based on the indicated vice.
  • Zero – the relationship is defined by both the vice and virtue.
  • Positive – the relationship is based on the virtue.

It is up to the Gamemaster to interpret the resulting relationship.


A Spark in Fate Core by Jason Pitre

One of the things that drew me to Fate was Diaspora‘s collaborative world building and character creation. I quickly picked up Dresden Files and Legends of Anglerre to see other takes on this collaborative world creation.

Then today, in the Fate Core Community of Google+Jason Pitre posted a link to his free A Spark in Fate Core (CC BY 3.0). It takes the previous iterations of Fate games, pulls the collaborative process up to the Genre level and then quite simply crushes it!

First, Jason enumerates what makes a good Fate game: Characters are Proactive, Competent, and lead Dramatic Lives. If that sounds like the type of characters you will be creating and playing, then A Spark in Fate Core is definitely for you.

Once he establishes the types of characters he moves on to the steps of collaborative world building.  It is simple straightforward advice with a focus on making sure everyone is on the same page regarding the game they are about to play.

When Creating Your Game

  1. You start by listing your favourite Media.
  2. Explain the Inspirations from your media.
  3. Use those inspirations to Describe the Genre.
  4. Decide how epic or personal in Scale your story will be.
  5. Establish Facts about the Setting.
  6. Create a Title to focus your vision.
  7. Create a list of Sparks (potential Issues) for the setting.
  8. Select the Issues, picking three of them from the list of Sparks.
  9. Create two Faces for each Issue.
  10. Create a Place for each unused Spark.

While the process need not be specific to Fate Core, it does highlight an advantage of Fate; You can rather easily mold the rules to reflect the style of game. The various questions for creating your game will ultimately determine the types of conflicts and the approaches to conflict resolution.

So say thank you to Jason by downloading a copy of A Spark in Fate Core and taking a look at Spark Roleplaying Game; a game about “examining your characters’ motivations, convictions, and perspectives.”

Take on the Lower Depths

A Ment-Jador clutching the skull of a helpless man.

Take on the Lower Depths Cover Page

Today I released another Dungeon World supplement Take on the Lower Depths, written by me and illustrated by Mark Daniels. What follows was a prologue that I pulled out of Take on the Lower Depths. Originally, Take on the Lower Depths was going to be a conversion of Wolfgang Baur’s “Kingdom of Ghouls” – an adventure where the “traditional evil” of the Underdark had found a greater evil. Ultimately, the conversion wasn’t working out for me, so I scuttled the majority of it.

The Prologue that Never Was

In 2008, I learned about Open Game Design during Wolfgang Baur’s “Wrath of the River-King” patronage drive in – This was Kickstarter before there was Kickstarter. I was curious about the model, and I decided to sponsor Wrath of the River King on a lark…I was going through a divorce and decided I might have some additional time on my hands to participate or at least lurk about during the design process.

What I found was an interesting adventure for a new game system (D&D 4E). I also saw an engaged group of gamers, eager and willing to contribute, blurring the lines between consumer and producer, designer and player. And they were still abuzz from Mr. Baur’s recent “Empire of Ghouls” patronage project.

I did some research, and Empire of Ghouls was a re-imagining of Mr. Baur’s Dungeon #70 adventure “Kingdom of Ghouls.” I began digging deeper, and found the adventure intriguing. It was a seed that stuck in my brain.

I was too late to the party to get “Empire of Ghouls” and use it in a 3E game, but I did manage to score a physical copy of Dungeon #70 on the cheap. I quickly read through the adventure, and the scope was impressive. In 29 pages, Mr. Baur had created a mini-campaign – A map with plenty of blanks, action offscreen, dangerous fronts, and grim portents. The simplicity of encounter setup was refreshing and rekindled old memories – especially seeing the then new direction of 2-pages per encounter.

Every so often I would reach for my copy of Dungeon #70, re-read the adventure, and let it roll around in my brain for a bit. With my 2nd Edition books scattered to the wind, I wasn’t ready or eager to convert the adventure to another system – At the time, my personal options for systems were 3E, Burning Wheel, and Diaspora.

As a tangent, I think “Kingdom of Ghouls” in a Diaspora game would be fantastic…there is a terror to having your environmental suit ripped open by a ghoul. And there would be the possibility of breaking out Diaspora’s wargame subsystem. But back to “Kingdom of Ghouls.”

With the development and arrival of Dungeon World, my gaming group and I were like a swarm of ghouls hungry to devour it. The rules had consumed me. The mechanics are simple. The focus is on the narrative. It was a breath of fresh air after choking through constrained 4E adventures that involved gruelingly long combats. And I began kicking around the idea of writing adventures.

My first thought was TSR’s U1 “The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh”, but it turned out that MJ Harnish beat me to it with his “DW-U1 The Haunting of Highcliffe”. I had even begun converting the Moathouse from TSR’s “T1-T4 The Temple of Elemental Evil.” But for some reason this never stuck.

Then I decided perhaps I should turn my attention to something else. And that is when I once again reached to my copy of Dungeon #70 and began in earnest to convert the adventure. And as I was working on it, I realized that I really didn’t like the cloakers as allies for the true ghouls. It felt so very…lame. I needed something else.

I kicked that around for a bit. I returned to plumbing the adventure for monsters that didn’t exist in Dungeon World. And I figured why not make a few more. Inspiration struck – one of the more memorable near TPKs in which I was a player was a 2E game of Bloodstone in which all but two characters (in a party of 7) were slain when they stumbled into a phase spider lair. So I figured why not began writing the blade and skulk spider. Then I stumbled upon the following passage in “Kingdom of Ghouls”:

Since ghouls feast on a bloodless corpse as readily as a blooded one, the vampires have formed an alliance with conquering undead

I wasn’t going to have vampires be the ghöls major allies, as I believe legions of vampires and ghöls would blur the nature of the ravenous ghöls. I decided to replace the cloakers with spiders. Similar types of creatures, but a lot less lame.

I looked to the D&D monster manuals of 1E and 3E as well as Burning Wheel’s “Monster Burner” for inspiration. And then it hit me…why not create an archetypical spider for each of the archetypical D&D classes – Fighter, Thief, Cleric, Wizard. And thus the curate and eldritch spider were born, followed shortly by the reverent spider – its kind of like a Bard.

The result is that now I have plenty of adversaries for more than one front each with enough space for distinct and possibly competing agendas…because lets face it what the hell is the agenda of a society of cloaks? To be dapper? To acquire monocles and top hats?

Diaspora Character Creation – Alexandros Teleman

A few months back, I wrote about joining a new Diaspora campaign as a player. My goal was to make sure we played out a platoon combat. We did play that session, but haven’t since then. Below are my notes for my character.

Diaspora Cluster

Diaspora Cluster

Growing Up
My father, Darius Teleman, is a general in the Andorian Congressional Guard. My mother a Rylon slave. Father insisted on providing the best education. I grew up under the tutelage of numerous brilliant minds, many of whom were captured X scientists. My toys were maps and armor replicas. My childhood friends were war simulations.

Aspects: Father’s involved in everything I do; Cold and calculating

Starting Out
Alexandros graduated from the Congressional Academy with highest honors. He was given command of the Yellow Phoenix Brigade. Navigating the political labyrinth came easily and he quickly rose in ranks assuming control of the Phoenix Platoon.

Aspects: Smooth-talking Politician, Leader of the Phoenix Platoon

Moment of Crisis
The Slag Syndicate provided advanced armor prototypes used by the Phoenix Platoon to quell the Jesper uprising. While mechanically sound, the interfaces were confounding and prone to reboots. During the battle of Jaros, the Phoenix Platoon was routed and Alexandros taken hostage. General Darius Teleman leaned hard on the Slag Syndicate and secretly brokered an arms for hostage exchange.

Aspects: Tortured hostage; Once more into the breach!

Alexandros had heard of Berto, a Rylon slave; Alexandros’ mother had found that he was the vintner for the Whispering Blossoms. His wines were among the most coveted in all the worlds. A plan was hatched, and Alexandros setup an opportunity to claim Berto as his personal vintner. The events went according to plan and Berto was brought to me. The investigation into the events was eventually stonewalled by my father. And Berto now travels with me, fermenting custom spirits for me and my family.

Aspects: Skeletons in the closet; Wine snob

On Your Own
Mother’s Day is coming and I’m looking for something unique for her. A trip to Rylon was in order. Father insisted on traveling to Rylos so that I may checkup on Big Mike. He may be sympathetic to the AFF. I am here incognito, donning one of my alter egos.

Aspects: Lead a double-life; Loyal to my family

Skill Tree:

  • Rank 5: Tactics
  • Rank 4: Agility, Alertness
  • Rank 3: Resolve, Charm, Slug Throwers
  • Ranks 2: Medical, Micro G, EVA, Oratory
  • Rank 1: Intimidation, Stamina, Survival, Bureaucracy, Culture/Tech Jesper


  • Natural Swordsman: Use Agility for Close-Combat
  • Military-grade Alertness
  • Military-grade Slug Throwers

At the Intersection of Work, Play, and Learning

Cluster with Standard Attributes

Cluster with Standard Attributes

For the most part, I keep my professional blogging separate from my hobby blogging.  During the day, I’m a programmer for the University of Notre Dame, and at night a pen, paper, and cardboard gamer.

I consider myself to be a reasonably competent programmer, but recognize continued room for growth.  This manifests in reading and experimenting in code.  Lately, I’ve thought of myself more as a software doctor than a software engineer.  Doctors practice medicine, and I practice programming.

This past month, I picked up Avdi Grimm‘s “Objects on Rails” [Free legal online version] and Uncle Bob Martin‘s “Clean Code“.  I’m interested in exploring better software design, with a focus on code refactoring…I’m the primary maintainer of a 6+ year old Ruby on Rails based CMS (It started somewhere around Rails 1.1.6 for those keeping score).  And sometimes it feels like I’ve donned the Black and patrol the Wall. But I digress.

I decided that I wanted to apply some of these principles to a problem space that I understood…RPGs.  In particular, I wanted to automate the Diaspora Cluster Creation, not because it is convoluted, but because it is very well defined process.  That is to say I already understood the domain.

Cluster with Arbitrary Attributes

Cluster with Arbitrary Attributes

Over the past week, I’ve worked on creating the Diaspora Cluster Creator command-line utility by striving to apply these recommended constraints and methodology.  The tool I’ve created is an over-engineered solution for what amounts to 5 minutes of dice rolling at a table with a group of friends.

This exercise has proven to be ridiculously rewarding.  I was working on a greenfield project and trying to adhere to the teachings of others.  In some cases, I stumbled, creating code that I should’ve known would be a problem; Hint, if the tests are complicated to setup, then there are issues.  But, through refactoring, I was eventually able to clean things up – I’m still not satisfied with the Node class.

While I typically try to work within these constraints, for this project I was trying extra hard to keep them at the front of my considerations: The Law of Demeter, Single Responsibility Principle, Test-Driven Development, Command/Query Separation, general readability, and fast tests (Corey Haines would be proud).

The result has been a code-base that has been very fun to work with, and has been relatively painless to extend.  The Cluster creator can just as easily create Diaspora clusters with attributes different than the assumed Technology, Environment, and Resources.

The command-line solution is not suitable for the general role-playing populous, so I’ll need to take that into consideration.

For those of you interested in installing it yourself, it’s up on Githuband available as a Ruby gem – `gem install diaspora-cluster-creator`.  You can take a look at the Cucumber feature that defines the command-line behavior of the tool (Hint: there are several options).