Root: The Marauder Expansion | Designer Diary 2 - Rats! Let’s Get Rowdy!!!
Back in October or so while I was struggling with Void Lich, Cole proposed to me that we trade projects. I would take a swing at the new Root project, like I had with Underworld, and he would try a new approach for Void Lich. I was a bit surprised as I knew he had come out of Underworld with a few ideas for major factions that he hadn’t had time to explore yet. But, I was happy to take a break from Void Lich and return to Root.
I have been pushing a few maps around on BGG, some of which I have had time to test. I also have been pushing on 2 more insurgent factions, both designed around the idea that they would help moderate point scoring in 5+ player counts. I was interested in the task of adding more factions and seeing where the game could go.
I asked Cole what he wanted for an outline, and he suggested that I focus on designing 2 more martial factions. This would facilitate more 2 player matchups. This was no problem for me. One of my favorite things about our creative team is that we set limitations and design constraints that will stop us from getting overwhelmed with choices. Without those limitations, it’s easy to get trapped trying to design for too broad of an appeal.
I set out immediately to work on two factions: one based on central authority and another based on public works.
The Warlord started with two premises: charisma and command.
My brother works as an editor in television. One thing he has commented on is that no matter the background or the personality, the successful actors and actresses tend to have an amazing amount of charisma. So much so when these folks walk into the room, you can feel their presence. No doubt there is a confirmation bias here, the most charismatic actors become the most successful. It is possible this you can learn to be charismatic, but it is our feeling some people are just born with it.
The implications to me are interesting. If charisma isn’t an earned attribute, something that you have to work to study to learn, society has less influence over who will be charismatic. Society cannot build into learning how to lead people, the values of that society at the same time. Good people can be charismatic, but also some very bad people have been charismatic.
When I was a boy I earnestly studied many world leaders, some of whom clearly had this characteristic. Certainly it wasn’t always a good thing. Massive wars through modern history have created leaders that not only have this massive charm, they are left with the skills to use violence to achieve their goals.
I have pulled at this thread in my thoughts many times throughout the year. Eventually I formed the premise, “The big factions of Root’s Woodland generally follow one of two approaches. On the one hand, they have a broad governing authority (the Marquise, Eyrie) or a completely distributed bottom-up leadership (the Lizards and the WA). What if there is a faction that is completely dependent on a single leader?”
The second premise of this faction follows from the first. Assuming a charismatic figure is a magnet for power, what sorts of command and control issues follow from that style of leadership?
Here I was immediately struck by the blindspots associated with giving a single charismatic leader so much power. At first glance, this seemed like a problem for a game like Root. In Root, the player enjoys an almost perfect amount of knowledge of the table. You always know where every Warrior is. The only real surprises are the Ambushes in the player’s hands, the supporters in the WA’s stack as well as the Corvid’s plots.
This didn’t quite lend itself to representing the command problems I wanted to capture. During history there are many moments met with great triumph and great tragedy when generals had to split their forces and trust their officers to lead a force. The officers had to get the results that were needed without knowing what the rest of the forces were achieving. I cannot perfectly recreate a fog of war in Root, but I could work to hinder a faction acting perfectly.
It also created an interesting thematic challenge. One of the hopes with this faction was that it might let me deal with the brutality of war more directly. I have read a great deal about the American Civil War as well as the 2 World Wars. I get the appeal, it fits into the American narrative that there is honor and heroism to be found in combat, but as I get older, I see the senseless loss of not just life, but loss of quality of life for the survivors. Because charismatic leaders were often associated with a degree of myopia, it might let me find ways of telling those kinds of stories within Root.
Collectively, these thoughts formed into the faction’s second premise: “What if command were centralized on one figure, but you were often forced to divide your limited attention?”
With these two premises in hand I started tackling the problem of designing a faction around it.
I wanted the single figure to be represented on the map. Whereas the Vagabond possibly represents the benevolent (or selfish) use of charisma paired with a heroic level of ability, the warlord would represent giving into selfishness, ruling through strength and fear.
At first I wanted the Warlord to be a pawn that could take some hits. They got to the head of the pack by being good at fighting, that is part of their appeal with their troops. This also gave us an opportunity to have more Pawns in the games. The Warlord would act as the game’s focal point, warriors would gather in their clearing, the fighting would happen around them, players would fear their presence.
Some of this thinking goes back to an old draft of the Vagabond I worked on where the Vagabond had to give up Quests to do other things in the game. One of those was a comical Warlord character that commanded troops as well as the other things the Vagabond could do. He would gain points for maintaining a little tower and he could recruit other (this was before the lizards) player’s warriors to help him fight. He still gained points the other way a Vagabond could gain points.
I started with a set of 3 Warlords personalities. They were a bit like the different Vagabonds. Each had traits and they also had a special power that modified Command in some way. Cole suggested that we even try to include an integration with the existing Vagabond cards (he later admitted that this was a very bad idea and he was happy it died on the cutting room floor). Players would choose one to play. This lasted about 15 minutes and then I decided to make the pawn a special warrior. If you died in battle, you had to pack a new Warlord to replace your Warlord pawn.
The warriors then represented followers lured to the Warlord’s banner by the promise of adventure and plunder.
Initially I really liked this design. The other players knew where you were going to strike and rightfully so. The Warlord’s presence on the table could be felt. The first few times I played the Warlord, I also liked the tense decisions that came up in the mid-game. At some point your power would deliver you into a situation where you had to decide to retreat or risk over extending yourself. By the game’s end you would be falling apart before the other players, desperately trying to find a way to score your last few points.
Itemizing Warlord’s Command
The Warlord’s turn came to me very much from whole cloth. You had to start with recruitment in Birdsong. This gives the other players the chance to shut down your recruitment engine before it fires each turn.
The end of the Warlord’s turn would be drawing cards.
The middle would be three fold. The Warlord would have 3 stats that would govern how many actions they had in each phase.
Prowess - How well the Warlord directs their main force.
Marshal - Gives the Warlord faction’s other warriors a chance to move independent of the Warlord.
Logistics - Allows the Warlord to make move actions, craft, and build things in the rear line.
This general structure seemed to work well, but it was still missing a hook. Over the years, Cole has often said that he feels the items had too little impact on the game. I believe he asked me to work in this space if I could when we were first talking about the project. As I laid out the Warlord’s action structure, I realized this was a perfect place to integrate items into his command structure.
Items would contribute to the three Warlord stats above. Gaining a sack for instance would increase how many Logistics actions the players had.
Gaining Items could be done in one of three ways: crafting them as before, stealing them from other players by destroying their cardboard, and destroying ruin tokens.
If the Warlord was going to interact with Items, I wanted them also able to remove the ruins to get the items inside. The mechanism that I came up with is that the Warlord was able to burn the ruins to the ground.
A couple of years ago I threw out a fan faction on BGG. It was a lone cultist, who instead of having warriors, they instead spread fire through the forest and scored points for destroying the map. This faction itself was based on an early pitch I had for the Lizard Cult where the Cult would over grow clearings and return them to the forest.
I thought it would be neat if the Warlord worked like this. What I designed was that the Warlord could lay down fires that destroyed cardboard on the map. If a fire made it back to the start of the next Warlord turn, the clearing was destroyed and scorch markers would replace the building slots. This was linked to the Warlord’s scoring.
After the Fire destroyed a clearing it would randomly move to an adjacent clearing.
Narratively I figured the guy that is running around burning down the Forest wouldn’t be a popular figure. They only draw one card a turn. Cards help build strongholds which act to centralize recruiting as well as start fires. Also crafting can directly give the Warlord new items. Every card is a precious resource.
Without many cards too, you can expect to attack the Warlord without fear of ambush, particularly in 2 player games when you are out drawing the Warlord.
Here is where the Warlord stands today.
At this point we have a special Warrior - the Warlord, a collection of Warriors, and a fireproof building called Strongholds. The Warlord has a starting Hoard that gives them 1 Logistics and 1 Prowess. They earn more by gaining the items listed on the board in the Hoard section.
The Warlord’s berries clarify their special status. When the Warlord crafts they have to choose to gain the item or score points. This is by design and meant to be an easy decision, but there is still the possibility of using items for an endgame point push.
The final berry provides the rules for the Warlord stealing items. Originally the Warlord had to burn down a building to steal an item. I liked this system, but this made factions with buildings never want to craft items. I am really happy with the development of Raiding and Looting. The Warlord has to choose not to hit their opponent during a battle (but still roll and suffer hits). This leads to 2 interesting situations. If the Warlord approaches a big stack of enemies, they might risk taking a lot of hits to grab a needed item, but more thematically they also could go look for a lone warrior or building to try and grab an item. This feels like a good representation of raiding to me.
During Birdsong each day your Warlord wakes up and chooses a mood. Each mood will alter how the Warlord acts for the rest of the turn. The mood has to change from turn to turn. Each mood is also keyed to an item type. As the Warlord gains those items they can no longer use that mood.
At that point all Fires on the board scorch their current clearing. Scorching destroys all cardboard (including Ruins in the space). This is a great way for the Warlord to score points and harase the board without breaking down large groups of troops.
After that the Warlord gains their recruits for the turn. Each Stronghold (the Warlord’s building) produces a Warrior. In addition if the Warlord is still alive, they gain as many Warriors in their clearing as their Prowess. This recruitment can produce a lot of warriors but being dispersed over the rear line of the map. That can create problems for the Warlord.
Finally if the Warlord died in a previous turn, the Warlord player removes a Warrior and replaces it with the Warlord as a new hopeful rises in the ranks. The new Warlord still uses the mood, but does not recruit.
Heading into daylight then you can take your actions. Logistics lets you move, battle, and build (where you rule at the cost of a card). This is helpful for moving troops around the backline, getting additional troops to the Warlord, or positioning the Warlord. Attacking with logistics can help remove weak positions to restore scoring.
The last half of daylight is the heart of the Warlord’s turn. The Warlord can advance as many times as their Prowess. Each Advance allows the Warlord (and present warriors) to move and attack. Both of these use the word may. This allows the Warlord to project a lot of force across the board, but can leave to overextension. I have seen many times the Warlord make a bold attack, fail, and then fall back to his own line.
After Daylight is Evening. The Warlord creates new fires, scores points for oppression, and then draws a single card. Does the Warlord need more cards? There is a mood for that.
Fire costs a card to start, forcing the Warlord to carefully budget their cards between building, crafting, and starting fires.
I love where this design is at currently. The Warlord like all Root factions is simultaneously wielding a terrific power while being terribly fragile. Your Warlord is a powerhouse, smashing and slashing their way across the board. On the other hand, you cannot stay in complete control of many clearings and your opponents will attack as soon as the Warlord gets too far away.
Over extend and the other factions will respond by destroying your Warlord, move too slowly and you will lose the pace of the game. Everything is the careful dance on the edge of a knife as it should be.
I am very happy with the way things are going. I am excited to bring you all this expansion. The joy from the fans is helping me wake up after what feels like a year trapped in a box. Thank you for reading and I look forward to seeing you all at a convention soon.
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- Patrick Leder
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