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.