Frayed Knights: The Skull of S'makh-Daon Interview

The latest interview with Rampant Games' Jay Barnson comes courtesy of Bits'n'Bytes Gaming, and the main subject is, unsurprisingly, his promising humorous indie dungeon crawler, Frayed Knights: The Skull of S'makh-Daon. Here's him on the drama stars mechanic and manuals:
BnB: Per­haps the most inter­est­ing game mechanic in Frayed Knights is the use of drama stars. From what I under­stand, they add a fun new ele­ment to over­com­ing game chal­lenges and replace the save/reload approach so many of us have come to rely on in PC gam­ing. Could you just give us a quick run down of how drama stars work, and why they are so impor­tant to the game?

JB: For me, a big part of the (feel) of RPGs is the ran­dom­ness and man­ag­ing the risk of fail­ure. A big part of the skill of play­ing these games espe­cially dice & paper is like that Kenny Rogers song, (The Gam­bler:) You gotta know when to hold .m, fold .m, walk away, run. But in CRPGs, the avail­abil­ity of save-and-restore any­where means that play­ers can pretty much force the out­come. I've done it myself, many times, restor­ing my saved game and re-opening a box of ran­dom trea­sure until some­thing good comes out, or restor­ing through dozens of deaths until I man­age to get a lucky blow in on the boss and win the combat.

One way to pre­vent that (save-scumming) approach to play is to limit saves to par­tic­u­lar loca­tions. But I hate that. I don't have time or incli­na­tion to keep re-playing through long sequences to sur­vive to the next save spot espe­cially when con­sole devel­op­ers love to put save spots so far apart that any­body with a job or fam­ily can only play on three-day weekends.

So the (Drama Star) idea allows plain ol' save-scumming just fine, but rewards you if you don't. You get points when dra­matic things hap­pen, or you do some­thing risky (like just open­ing a door, or get­ting into a fight, or talk­ing to an NPC for the first time). Includ­ing bad things, like hav­ing a char­ac­ter get inca­pac­i­tated. These points build up, fill­ing in stars at the top of the screen. When you have stars filled in, you can spend them on spe­cial actions that are kind of like spells, but aren't really char­ac­ter pow­ers they are player pow­ers to alter the game. You can make a char­ac­ter get a huge bonus on their next cou­ple of actions all but auto­matic suc­cess. Or restore fatigue and exhaus­tion. Or even bring back char­ac­ters who have been incapacitated.

The trick is that you lose these points in your saved games. Every time you start a new ses­sion includ­ing reload­ing in mid-game your drama points drop back down to noth­ing. So if you are a chonic save-scummer, you won't be able to play with drama stars very often. But if you aren't, you won't be at a huge dis­ad­van­tage to some­one who does, because you'll have access to abil­i­ties that will help even things out and help you recover from any set­backs you may have encountered.

One excep­tion is quit-and-continue. If you quit the game and then (con­tinue) exactly where you last left off, you get the drama stars back. So folks like me who can only play for fif­teen to twenty min­utes at a time won't lose out too much.


BnB: See­ing as you are such a cham­pion of the clas­sic 90's CRPG, any plans to cre­ate a man­ual or sim­i­lar doc­u­men­ta­tion for Frayed Knights, even in a dig­i­tal for­mat, akin to the kind of loot we'd find in the boxed RPGs of pre­vi­ous times?

JB: Yep, the game is ship­ping with man­ual (PDF) of non-trivial size. I don't think you need it to play the game, and a lot of the mate­r­ial is repeated in in-game help, but it includes a bunch of rules details not explained in the game, and includes a lit­tle bit of addi­tional back­story. There's also a strat­egy guide available.