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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!

Breaking the Cycle

aka

Why it’s hard to “cycle” back to the front line

Tl;dr: (1) to limit exhaustion (2) to lift up “support” characters


In many roleplaying games, when your character is injured in combat, some game mechanic lets you get you up and back into the action immediately (often called “cycling”). This assumption can lead to frustration, because recovery at DrachenFest is slow. In this post, we’d like to clear up misconceptions about the spirit of the healing rules, and talk about how we intend recovery to work at DF-US.


When you show up at a battle, you’ve got limited hit points and armor. When they’re gone, you’re usually out of the fight. You might compare our war play to a Tabletop Wargame (like Warhammer, where eliminated pieces are removed from play) more than D&D (where characters can fall and recover quickly). If cycling is a big factor, support characters can enable their soldiers to fight indefinitely. This encourages armies to be cautious, defensive, and slow. Buying time becomes the best strategy, leading to less risk-taking and more glacial stalemate behavior. And longer battles mean more exhaustion.


The time needed for healing makes it unlikely that you’ll have time to recover and then get back into the same battle. And, despite interest in it, we do not intend armor to be repaired on the battlefield. Why is it designed this way?


In short: (a) So that battles don’t drag on until everybody’s too exhausted to fight well, (b) so that taking another character down is meaningful and can’t be cheaply/quickly “undone”, and (c) to give time and space for the roleplay and the characters who enable recovery.


How do battles end?

Your survey feedback from the last few events tells an important story: exhaustion is a big deal. High exhaustion (physical or mental) was correlated with almost every other negative outcome. It is tightly linked to frustration, and, importantly, unsafe fighting.


Cycling drives exhaustion. When cycling is easy and accessible, battles get longer and combatants get pushed harder. They’ll continue until one side is too worn down to continue. And those last beats of the battle probably won’t feel great, exhausted people are more upset. Especially as the game grows, making sure that battles end for reasons other than player exhaustion & collapse will make better play for everybody. 


Making Mundane Healing Important

You can’t just cast Healing Touch on an injured character and restore their HP. At DrachenFest, any time you are wounded, you need a healer to perform First Aid before any other healing will work. We realize this makes healing slow, and often (but not always) prevents you from getting back into the same battle–that’s by design.


In fantasy stories, magic is often a universal problem-solving tool. And magic isn't exactly rare (in 2023, about 40% of players were Spellcasters). We want to be sure non-mages have important problems to solve too. So we’ve made mundane healing techniques generally more effective than magical healing.


First Aid takes at least five minutes. Why so long? We want to make space for what could be an intense roleplay scene. Many people pour great ideas, props, and roleplay into that container, immersing not just the participants but bystanders too. “Mundane” healing props and techniques are super immersive and add a ton to the atmosphere. This validates the consequences of combat (seeing injuries makes combat feel weighty), and it’s an opportunity to have a 1-on-1 RP scene. Yes, other kinds of healing can be atmospheric too! But it’s hard for a 15 second casting time to create as much of a scene as setting a broken bone or stitching up a screaming patient.


What about Armor Repair?

Battlefield armor repair, coupled with battlefield medicine, makes cycling too easy. When compared to battlefield medicine, battlefield armor repair has less historical precedent, and repair roleplay tends to be less involved. On a battlefield, crafters don’t have access to their workshop props, and players don’t like to remove armor in battle. Often, repair gets focused on a single piece of armor which is easy to remove, like a bracer. “Here, fix this! I’ll be back later” Sometimes it looks like 5 minutes of tapping someone’s chest with a hammer. So repair doesn’t usually create the same intense 2-person battlefield roleplaying scene as surgery.


We want to build a bigger space for real life armor & accessory crafting to take place during the festival. We’ve discussed this in the Crafting Update post--at the Crafting Guild, you can earn Guild Trainings which let Crafters advance repair timers while working on their own real crafting projects in the camp workshop. That’s right, the people making actual leather armor or chainmail in your camp workshop can also repair a suit of damaged armor every few minutes.


So armor repair properly lives in the post-battle recovery period. (this is be updated in the rules - repair will need to happen at a camp workshop) You return to camp, take off your armor, and roleplay with your camp crafters. You reenact the moment when that big mace sent you flying like a bowling pin. They give you crap about letting your beautiful armor get damaged. Then they get to work.


We reflect on the battle, the air is filled with the melody of ringing hammers and characters being stitched up by surgeons. Wow, what a fight that must have been!


What if I’m a defender in a siege? Sometimes we have plenty of time to recover.

We don’t want sieges to drag on all day, so physical resources need to be finite. During siege defense, you can receive healing (as long as you stay in the courtyard and remain vulnerable to attackers), but not armor repair. 


Defenders only have access to whatever armor is in-play when the siege begins. Once enemies are at the gates, armor in play can’t be repaired, even if the camp workshop is right next to the courtyard. If you step into the workshop for armor repair, where the tools and sharp props live, you have left the battlefield and have opted out of the remainder of the siege.


Exceptions

Technically, there are a few rare ways to recover quickly mid-battle: there’s a complicated alchemical solution that can restore HP without first aid, but a trained alchemist needs a lot of resources (from trained gardeners) to make a single dose. 


We’d also like to mention that the Surgeon’s Guild offers a skill which allows healing scenes to be paced by roleplay instead of a strict five-minute timer (and heals 1 hp when the First Aid bandage is applied), but the scene should still take about five minutes. Please don't pressure your healer to "speed it up". Just stay in character and roll with the roleplay!


And in longer battles, surgeons may have time to treat a few people--but only a fraction of the army can get back on its feet.


Playing to Lift

Why bother getting healing or armor repair? It's a hassle, why not just spend some time "cooling down" and then go back to play healed and repaired? Nobody would know, right? But our game isn't just about combat fairness, it's about having fun experiences together.


Remember that healers and crafters enjoy performing their role. If you skip healing and armor repair (ie “no-selling” recovery), you’re denying someone their favorite roleplay scene. No-selling recovery is kinda like not taking hits or ignoring a mage’s spell. If you roleplay you desperately need a healer and/or crafter to recover from battle, you've made those characters powerful and important. 


Conclusion

We recognize that it can be frustrating to get taken down early–or at all, for that matter! It feels like the fun is continuing without you. But don’t feel bad - that’s how it goes sometimes, and there will be plenty more battles. Give credit to the person who beat you, and lean into the roleplay of injury and vulnerability. The scene isn’t over, you’re just playing a different part. Now you get to lift up the support characters and make the battle continue feeling real. 


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