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The Wizard's Desk

The Wizard's desk is a blog space where our staff and creative leads offer their insight and experience on engaging with DrachenFest US! We're excited to share what we can, so pull up a seat!

A Love Letter to Discovery & Secrets, and the Irony of ‘Progression’

We hear your feedback about wanting more transparency about skills, progression, and the crunchy side of mechanics. We find this absolutely warranted and want to help how and where we can in this dialogue. We also want to explain why we choose to keep some features of the game ‘find out in game’ only, and the opportunity costs associated with each decision.





Part One - Why Discovery is so Important To Us


TL;DR:

  1. We believe discovery in-play is more meaningful than reading about potential experiences before the game.

  2. Most of our content is generated by players, including guild content - and therefore we leave the discovery experience in their hands. We work only to ensure that access is fair and safe.

  3. We value our in-game secrets, and ask you to help keep and cultivate the secret side of DrachenFest.

One of the fundamental principles of DrachenFest is discovery. By this, we’re referencing the Dionysian buffet of roleplay options open to all players. More specifically, by discovery we mean the act of finding out ‘what there is to do’, as a process–it’s a complex yet rewarding undertaking.


Complex, because

  • Discovery is largely driven by player generated narratives,

  • A lot of the stuff to discover is ‘emergent’, ie, based on happenstance and

  • It’s ultimately endless - the options are already so vast, that any one player could theoretically spend their entire time at DrachenFest trying to find out everything, and not have the same experience, or gain the same knowledge, as any other player.

We find discovery through play most rewarding for three reasons:

1) We believe that the act of discovery makes experiences and knowledge more meaningful. Finding even small pieces of information out during the game is prime game content–it’s a story in itself.


For example: Spending an afternoon tracking down rumors, or hearing about shady dealings of certain characters. We believe this to be far more rewarding than, for example, reading a google sheet document with the OOG names, camps, and descriptions of those players. We want players to have ownership of their own discovery experiences, the ‘content’ they generate out of it, and express their creativity when it comes to interpreting (and mis-interpreting) the game world. Whether it’s finding out how progression in a guild works, or what the internal politics of a camp are like, or whether or not it’s a good idea to walk around the battlefield without armed escorts in the early morning hours... We believe that the best experience is learning-by-doing. Nothing in the world can substitute for that roleplay experience. We also truly believe that from year to year, the answers will change (as will the questions) and therefore consciously leave certain aspects of the game up to ‘discovery’. On our ‘back end’, many of these processes are highly coordinated between our ref teams.


Your first DrachenFest is your character's first DrachenFest. You don't need to come in with an understanding of how every part of the world works. Your character may be an expert alchemist or magician where they come from, and those basic understandings and principals should help you learn the rules of this world—but even then, they're still new here. The newcomer's perspective can be a fun way to explore the Dragon World. And anything here can be approached by a newcomer—you don't need any special equipment or background information, you just need to go discover the world through other players.


2) Trusting in the discovery process is trusting in fellow players. The majority of ‘content’ at DrachenFest is player generated. This applies to guild content too! Guild teams are players who work diligently throughout the year with a huge love of a specific roleplay domain related to their guild. To support them is to trust in their content and their roleplay (which judging from last year, was stellar).



This ties into the reasons why we don’t publish, or list explicit skill trees, progression maps, pathways or guild skill ‘how to’s - and have chosen to leave the discovery experience entirely up to the guilds.


First and foremost, the guilds, as in-game concepts, are institutions that live and die by the knowledge they cultivate. Fittingly, this applies both to the game-world ‘knowledge’ the guilds can impart, but also the metagame wealth of roleplaying knowledge in how to engage with their domain of play. Players are core to continued development of the system - and we ensure fairness and fair access.


The players we suspect have the most love and experience with alchemy are the ones fully engaged with alchemy play throughout the year(s). This also means that the players on the forefront of developing new systems of play related to these domains are working within these guilds. Therefore - the way in which each guild uniquely structures access to their skills, politics, or requirements is up to the guilds themselves, and may change from year to year. Obtaining that knowledge is valuable, if one cares to spend their time doing so. On the back end, please rest assured, we review each guild’s internal structures and skills for safety and fairness.


All of these guild narratives and plots, some of which have associated guild skills, are shaped by players. These narratives are not a static conveyor-belt style system, but are malleable to the experiences of each player. This holds especially true through advanced and further year skills.


We value discovery, failure, and the ‘interesting paths’ (ie all the secret unpublished yet discoverable pathways). We know the cost of this secrecy is that players don’t have the comfort of being able to look at all skills and potential domains of play at a glance.


Another way of thinking about this: when you choose to join a group, or take a class, its "vibe"—and your organic perception of it—will inform your decision. But when reading a document online, everything is neutral and objective - you can't make a decision based on factors present in the world, like what characters you want to hang out with, or the teacher you want to study under, or what your camp is deperate for.

3) Secrecy is a glorious and vital part of DrachenFest. From secret plot lines, skills, adventures and even whole experiences (*cough* limbus *cough*) we value discovery because we value secrets. Specifically we defend that secrets, written by players, belong to players–we won’t share or publish them online, or otherwise take away from the experiences they work very hard to deliver. Rest assured that we work very hard on the back-end to keep access to these ‘off the beaten path’ experiences fair and safe.


Please help us cultivate and keep the secret side of DrachenFest!



Quick FAQs:

  • So why can’t you publish a list of all mechanics? Every call you need to know is published in the rulebook!

  • That’s not what I mean, where is the list of every guild skill and how they're performed? Some are secret, some develop over time, some will change in how/what is required to perform as players learn an ‘advanced’ version, and ultimately the roleplay matters most.

  • What if I don’t have all the props to join an advanced class or specific guild skill thing? Every class is reviewed for content and requirements. All props or tools are provided for. You can theoretically become a master alchemist wearing only a jute cloth sack (although it might be a particularly painful and itchy endeavor).

  • I want to know all my options before I decide what to do at DrachenFest. Where can I see what’s available? Talk to players in your camp, talk to guild leaders, talk to refs, talk to other players with similar interests! You could reach out to them to see if they want to share in their experiences before game, but the best thing to do is to ask them at the game itself.

  • If someone uses a 'secret' ability on me, how will I know what to do? They'll tell you! You won't get hit with a verbal call that isn't in the rulebook, like "Create Werewolf", and then be expected to know how to react. The person who used the ability will have some space to explain how it works and answer your questions. For example, if you drink a mysterious potion, a referee might whisper its effects into your ear. And if you're not comfortable roleplaying something, you can opt out.

  • I don't want to miss out on things because I'm searching the bazaar nonstop. FOMO is a fact of the festival - you're always giving up something to do something else. Prioritize what you want to do, commit to it, and don't sweat what you missed. No luck searching? Team up with others. And if you really aren't enjoying the search, hire someone else to do it!


Part 2 On the irony of ‘progression’


This is the open secret: The ‘mechanics’ of guild skills are a hook (in terms of hook, line, and sinker). So what’s the catch? The catch comes in three parts. A) Roleplay B) Actual Learning and C) Arts & Crafts. Say what?


Part 1: Only Roleplay & Effort Counts: Roleplay is the only real currency. It's what you use to make things happen. The time and effort you put into something at the event is what we value most. Combine that with roleplay, and you have all the currency you will ever need to open every door at DrachenFest.


The most powerful people at DrachenFest don't have anything special on their character sheet! Being a master of magic, or an expert thief, or a legendary warrior, actually has little to do with character 'build'. A true master character (or player) has deep experience roleplaying a certain domain or archtype. They can organize, inspire, or mentor others. They recognize and continually develop roleplay concepts related to their domain, creatively involving whole groups of people. When they play, they cultivate shared story. If you make this kind of mastery your goal and personal progression path, these ‘leveling up’ experiences can transcend DrachenFest itself.


Part 2: Guild lessons are actually real lessons in disguise. Guild skill trainings have theoretical and practical portions - many of which have a real life skill as a core feature of their class. This is designed so that

  • When you learn a game skill, you learn something in real life,

  • The ‘fluff’ around learning isn’t actually fluff - but something interesting in of itself.

  • Finally, the lessons are part of a larger narrative - one unique to each guild, and even unique to the relationship a player has with the guild. No two experiences are alike. And no, we won’t spoil them!

So the catch is that we make players learn real life skills, practice the roleplay of a skill, and give them the tools to further develop uses for those skills. All of this is packaged into a neat little guild skill course. So yes, of course it’s a secret, but it’s an open secret that we want players to focus more on the roleplay than think about the game mechanics. We’ve tried to plaster this all over our players guide and rulebook!


Part 3: Sustainability Through Falling in Love With the Content. As a new player, ‘advanced ranks’ of a Guild skill might seem like a powerful incentive. In our decades of experience at DrachenFest Germany, we found that there’s only one truly valuable intrinsic motivation that brings players back to further develop their skills, run courses themselves, and add to the collective knowledge of the guild. And that’s falling in love with the real-life skill content and lore. This stuff is disseminated through guild skill courses, celebrated by the guild through roleplay, and central to the glorious content that is guild play!

So as an example - consider a new larper who is excited about joining a guild, and getting a guild skill on their character sheet in the first year. Maybe they take a class, connect with their classmates, and learn something new about their character. In year two, they might be looking forwards to the classes and roleplay themselves. In the years after that, they’ll focus on making their own props. Eventually you might find them spending their time at DrachenFest arguing about the correct 16th vs 14th century approach to make something, all the while integrating fantasy elements into them and adding to the common wealth of roleplay and lore. Making a quill from scratch—sure, anyone can do that. But do you know what it takes to make one from a phoenix feather?


So, in summary – for us, progression isn’t seeing players advance their character sheets from level 1 to 5 - but ironically, progress away from caring about the level of a skill, fall in love with the roleplay of learning and discovery, even add to the collective knowledge and wealth of the roleplay associated with a guild. Finally, they get super nerdy about these arts and crafts and how these can be translated into great roleplay!


This has been central to our design philosophy in Germany for well over a decade. While the German rulebook is concise and heavy, in truth, the vast majority of players have already transitioned to a ‘What You See Is What You Get’ (WYSIWYG) style of roleplay. They use the rules only as a general guideline and place roleplay on the center stage. (The rules still play a critical part for sieges and contest fairness.)

The same general principles apply to DrachenFest-US and EU. Both games put an emphasis on discovery, cultivating secrets, and progression as a hook to fall in love with roleplay and arts & crafts.


Quick FAQs on Progression:

  • Will there be secret advanced versions of skills, with new, more powerful calls? No. There will not be new verbal calls or effects that are not in the rulebook. Advanced versions of guild skills are usually more like building character-specific ways to engage with the skill, offering more roleplay freedom while keeping it fair and importantly, epic. You will not get hit with a “Super Poison” or “Orb of Maximum Power.” It’s the responsibility of the player using a special skill to make it as clear as possible, through their RP, how others are meant to respond.

  • What if someone tries to do some roleplay effect and I know it’s not in the rulebook? Like we say in the Play Guide, always react! If you feel the person is being a jerk, or the delivery doesn’t match the power level, just move on, or find a ref to clarify. And if you feel overwhelmed or uncomfortable, you can always opt-out.



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I'm assuming the the rule book will be updated with new mechanics as the years progress if players' roleplay creates new things. Like if some archers get together an create a skill tree for archer or a new school of magic is created this year, next year it would be updated in the rule book. I.e. an archer gets one use of multi shot a day, so the call "Multi shot" gets added in the rules since it didn't exist previously. This is just me clarifying the calls we need to understand are in the rules book portion in conjuction with the players create and expanding the world portion.

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This is essentially correct, in the sense that if DF-US makes changes to the existing verbal calls, or adds new ones, they will be added to the published rule book for all to know exactly how to react.


Keep in mind though, new calls will NOT be added mid-event. There was some confusion and miscommunication last year that resulted in verbals being tossed around that were not in the book. This has been amended for 2023 and should be considered the standard going forward.


Some Guild skills are specifically there to enable the use of certain rulebook verbals ("Knockdown," etc). However, Guild skills that aren't public knowledge will never add previously unknown verbals to the game. A Guild skill should…


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Danger_Rave
Danger_Rave
25 abr 2023

So if I'm understanding this right, the official response to player feedback and unrest was to do nothing except double down on reinforcing the existing mentality?



I only started caring about the skills BECAUSE the rules were changed to start measuring them.

Class sizes, class schedules, and player decisions of what to prioritize are already fairly limiting factors. If I miss an opportunity to participate in something because of one of those factors sure I'll be disappointed, but that'll be on me. It's the feeling of missing an opportunity because of the "1 skill per year" limit that has a lot of people up in arms, and that's on you.


As long as that "1 per year" limit is in…


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At its core, the reason that Alchemy does not have a list the way magic does has to do with the way it's used in-game.

The listed magic effects in the rulebook are not there for the caster, they are there for the recipient, so that when they are used on somebody, that player knows how to respond. Because receiving alchemy usually involves voluntary consumption, there is an opportunity for a recipient to learn in play what a healing potion does FROM the alchemist directly. If a potion or compound shares a name with a spell, it does the exact same thing. Potions that may be consumed without a character’s knowledge have their own method of communication, and the recipie…

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Cedwyn
Cedwyn
25 abr 2023

One of my all-time favorite video game experiences was when the indie game Outward released. It was something nobody had heard about, and there was little to no information about them game released before hand. The only way to learn about the game was experiencing the mechanics yourself, or interacting with small communities on discord. This was the only way you could share information or coordinate joining a coop session to progress and trade items. It was absolutely magical the amount of immersion it lead to. At the same time, I am someone who normally reads a games wiki-page inside and out, to thoroughly make sure I am maximizing my time and efforts. Nowadays, the game is fully fleshed out…

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Sooooo in theory, I could make a "Smith's Guild" and create a class on "sharpening blades" adding an extra point of damage or "reinforcing shields" to resist magic? Because I actually have smithing experience/tools and could do this instantly.

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Contestando a

Oof. I was hopeful that the availability of advanced skills to some roles and not others was a gap to be corrected over time and not 'working as intended', especially given the massive versatility of the Spellcaster role and flat power curve of some of the fighter skills. The 'something for everyone, find out and explore' model works best when there's, well, something for everyone to find out and explore. Even if it's up to the players to chart the course from that first harbor. Like you said, big game and a lot to communicate, verify, and get lost in translation, so I'll see how things shake out on gameday (week?).

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Rue Vasselli
Rue Vasselli
25 abr 2023

So how will I know what to prioritize if I do not know what's going on. Or get stuck in the camp.

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This is a great reply, and I'm glad the question was asked in the first place! The player community is a better resource for preparing yourself for your first DrachenFest than anything we could possibly publish.

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