Session Report is a monthly series that explores the intersection of narrative and broader themes of game design by focusing on a specific tabletop game each month. This month’s game is:
Everybody Wants to Be the Hero
Everybody wants to be a roleplayer. Or rather: every game wants to be a roleplaying¹ game. Or rather: every game is designed by and marketed to people who would rather be roleplaying.
Except they don’t. Wouldn’t. Nobody really has time for roleplaying anymore. I don’t mean just playing the game, which is time-consuming enough: a full campaign can comprise months of weekly sessions, each one five to six hours long. But more than that, nobody has time for all the other crap that goes into an RPG. Nobody has time to read dozens of setting, class and monster manuals. Nobody has time to build elaborate dungeons or towns populated by fleshed-out NPCs. And nobody wants to GM. And nobody wants to litigate obscure rules that are both simultaneously obnoxiously detailed and hopelessly vague. And isn’t all that number-crunching sort of bullshit? I mean, this is how D&D describes a low-level magic spell:
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 60 feet
Components: V, S, M (a bit of tallow, a pinch of
brimstone, and a dusting of powdered iron)
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 minute
A 5-foot-diameter sphere of fire appears in an
unoccupied space of your choice within range and lasts
for the duration. Any creature that ends its turn within 5
feet of the sphere must make a Dexterity saving throw.
The creature takes 2d6 fire damage on a failed save, or
half as much damage on a successful one.
As a bonus action, you can move the sphere up to 30
feet. When you move the sphere, you can direct it over
barriers up to 5 feet tall and jump it across pits up to
10 feet wide. The sphere ignites flammable objects not
being worn or carried, and it sheds bright light in a
20-foot radius and dim light for an additional 20 feet.
That isn’t magic. That’s accounting.
Roleplaying is a form of nostalgia. I’ve met a lot of people who used to roleplay regularly in high school and college and were forced to stop when people got jobs on different schedules, got married, moved away. When people talk about how great roleplaying is, when they pine for that old magic, they’re really talking about everything else they’ve lost. Everybody wants to go back. It’s not surprising that Stranger Things begins and ends with a D&D session.
Nobody I’ve met likes every part of D&D. The confounding problem, though, is that nobody can quite agree on which parts are bullshit and which parts are great. There are people who actually like all those details like equipment weights and the duration of light sources. Other people will tell you it’s all about the story. There are people who love throwing dice, but there are plenty of diceless systems, which is evidence enough that not every roleplayer favors polyhedral random-number generators.
So when a designer or publisher says, “I’ve taken what you love about RPGs and distilled it into a board or card game,” it could be absolutely anything. Dungeon! from 1975 is perhaps the first such game, and despite coming from D&D publisher Wizards of the Coast, it’s a competitive, storyless affair. Legends of Andor tries to tell a cohesive story but glosses over a lot of the “crunch” associated with RPG gameplay: there are no skill trees, no elements or vulnerabilities, no stats. Pathfinder Adventure Card Game swings back the other way with fistfuls of polyhedral dice, traditional RPG stats like Intelligence and Charisma, and persistent leveling across a 30+ game campaign, but there are so many stats on the cards that there’s no room left for story. 2016’s cult hit Roll Player chooses to simulate only character creation, because apparently there’s an audience for that.
In a post-Gloomhaven world, it’s hard to defend the assertion that Mistfall is the best RPG-in-a-box. But for some people, it will be. When it comes to raw gameplay, there’s no contest: Gloomhaven is more innovative, better balanced, and more rewarding. It also has better writing and nails long-term character development in a coherent campaign lasting scores of hours. But Mistfall is more crunchy: it has damage types, vulnerabilities, and enough raw arithmetic to please any grognard. And it has one thing Gloomhaven lacks: actual roleplaying.
¹A note on spelling: Most dictionaries and autocorrect programs will only accept “role-playing,” and it (along with the hyphenless “role playing”) is the spelling you will most likely find in published writing about RPGs. However, “roleplaying game” and “roleplayer” are favored by both players and rules systems; Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition uses “roleplaying,” as do Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition and Fate Core System. You could make all sorts of arguments about the compound word denoting an action that is both greater than and sideways to the mere playing of a role or playing through role, but at the end of the day, “roleplay” just appears more natural to me, so it stays.
The Essential(?) Features of an RPG
Mistfall is a card-driven, cooperative game–no Gamemaster required–in a fantasy setting for 1-4 heroes. Here’s a list of what it borrows–or doesn’t–from the RPG experience:
- Epic Campaign: Not even close. Each game of Mistfall is a standalone Quest that takes 1-2 hours to complete. The Quests–four from the original game, two from promotional materials, and five from the standalone expansion, Heart of the Mists–do link together to form a narrative, but mechanically, each game is a complete reset as heroes revert to their most basic feats and equipment. The small expansion Valskyrr does add a campaign system, but it’s not really worth bothering with.
- Character Progression: The upside of the more condensed play experience is that character progression is accelerated. This is, to me, the heart of roleplaying, and apparently Błażej Kubacki agrees, because it’s what Mistfall does best. There’s something immensely satisfying about the XP system that’s been part of RPGs since the beginning. Each combat grants “experience points” that accumulate to allow your character to “level up,” increasing in both raw power and specialized skills. You start out fighting giant rats in basements, and by the end of the adventure, you’re slaying kettles of dragons or ancient, immortal runelords. Mistfall‘s approach is a little more streamlined: each killed enemy drops Resolve, which goes into a shared pool. At any time during their turn, a hero can spend Resolve to purchase Advanced Feats from their character-specific deck. Rather than a skill tree or similar tiered approach, all fifteen Advanced Feats are available at any time, although some are more expensive than others, and the purchased cards go directly into hand to be played immediately.
- Exploration: This is what some people love about D&D: crawling through dungeons, disarming traps, finding hidden caches, and being ambushed by kobolds. This is probably the simplest element of RPGs to port to a board game, hence the thriving genre of “dungeon crawlers.” Mistfall isn’t a dungeon crawl, but there is some element of exploration. The whole game is a series of Encounters en route to the Quest-specific Special Encounter. During setup, players lay out a facedown grid of location tiles with a special “Haven” location at the bottom and, usually, the Special Encounter at the top somewhere. Each location has a special ability–the Crystal River allows a bit of healing, Black Coven Hill enhances the damage of sorcerers, and the Shrine of the Forsaken protects undead against undead bane–and a type–Wildlands, Borderlands and Deadlands, respectively–that determines which Encounters and enemy types can be found there. Each time the party travels, they flip over the new location and draw an applicable Encounter. The Encounters introduce their own special rules and further enemy restrictions; one Borderlands encounters may specify that only Brigands are drawn from the red deck, while another specifies Fiend or Tormented enemies. Each Encounter has its own rules for placing Progress to overcome it, but most of them can also be defeated by killing every enemy in play. The intersection of location, Encounter and enemy types creates memorable moments of emergent narrative and satisfying gameplay puzzles to solve.
- Loot: A lot of RPG-in-a-box games have a weird preoccupation with loot–just look at Munchkin, the previously covered Shadows of Malice, or the aforementioned Dungeon! Mistfall has some loot drops, but they aren’t the star of the show. After each successful Encounter, the entire party gets two draws from the Reward deck. In the original game, this Reward Gear isn’t great–it’s all one-use potions and trinkets. Heart of the Mists, however, has some truly worthwhile loot in the form of new permanent equipment. Each hero’s “charter,” a cardboard oblong, has a list of the types of gear that hero can equip, opening up new vistas of character customization. You can add a backup sword to Fengray the Shieldbearer’s starting gear, ensuring he’s never without a weapon to swing, or give Valkea the Myrmidon a set of fast-attacking daggers to synergize with her defense-breaking abilities. If you don’t like the look of the loot before you, you can discard it to gain some Resolve or to purchase one of your hero’s special pieces of epic gear–things like flaming axes, enchanted rings and blessed hammers.
- Number-Crunching: The first RPGs arose from the simulation-rich primordial muck that is wargaming–a world of terrain bonuses and weather tables–so it’s no real surprise that the likes of D&D tend to get a little mathy. Many newer systems have shied away from this glut of modifiers, saving throws and combat tables, but Mistfall takes another approach: it preserves the mathiness while removing the randomness, retaining the satisfying granularity of D&D as a foundation for nuanced decisions rather than odds manipulation (most of D&D is just different interpretations of a 20-sided die). Mistfall‘s playscape is a sea of numbers: attack strength, hit points, physical defense and magical defense on the enemy cards; action range, cost (in an innovative currency called Enemy Focus), and damage values on hero cards; equip limits on gear; and no fewer than three tracks (four in Heart of the Mists) to measure critical sliding-scale values like Time (how quickly the Quest must be completed), Reinforcements (how many new enemies will arrive if the Encounter is not concluded this round), and the aforementioned Enemy Focus (how much of a target each hero has made herself), all of which intersect every which way (increasing Enemy Focus might increase the Reinforcements value, which in turn pushes forward the Time Track; or it might instead enrage an enemy, augmenting that enemy’s attack or defense values). Hero cards in Mistfall do a set amount of damage, but that invariable value can be modulated by, for example, discarding additional cards with a certain keyword, which is often necessary to overcome an enemy’s defense and actually deliver wounds, and since each of those cards is itself printed with a certain action, it’s all a delicious puzzle designed to appeal to the sort of people (me) who think verifying trigonometric identities is a barrel of fun.
- Taxonomy: A highly correlated element of RPG systems is their urge to classify, systematize, schematize. I recently finished some work writing in the universe of the Pathfinder RPG system, which borrows heavily from D&D 3rd edition. One thing that surprised me in my research was the degree to which, in an effort to pad out bestiaries or tie together disparate or overlapping mythologies or just make everything neat and tidy and unlawyerable for players and GMs, Pathfinder (and D&D) has built elaborate hierarchies and affiliations out of split hairs, linguistically speaking. For example, the term “genie” refers to an entire family of outsiders, of which a “djinni” is one subtype. The efreet, another subtype, can mate with mortals and spawn ifrits. At least part of the raison d’être for this rampant compartmentalization is to feed into the number-crunching mentioned above: in D&D and many RPGs, things like attacks don’t just do damage, they do piercing damage or fire damage or psychic damage, to which enemies and heroes might have resistances or vulnerabilities (Pokémon players will know that when an elemental attack targets a creature of the opposing element, “It’s super effective!). Mistfall takes the CCG approach to keywords, meaning that each card is plastered with italicized keywords that mean nothing until another card decides that they do. So an encounter might put only Tormented enemies into play, an enemy might be vulnerable (receiving a direct wound) to Flame attacks, and an attack might allow the player to discard Combat or Arcane cards to boost its damage.
- Rich Lore: If telling stories is the ultimate goal of an RPG, and the stories come from the players at the table (supplemented, to a greater or lesser extent, by the mechanics of the system), the RPG books themselves are more or less redundant. In fact, many RPG systems are mechanically interchangeable, and many players ignore rules they don’t like in any case. One of the most significant tasks of the RPG manual is to establish a setting and generate an idea of the kinds of stories that might play out in that world. Mistfall can’t hope to compete with tomes like the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide, but it does decently well for a card game, with eight pages at the back of the Quest Guide (and six more in Heart of the Mists) detailing the backstory of the world, heroes and villains, right down to the cosmology. We’re told of Dawn, Mother of Day, and Dusk, Nightfather, and how they labored together on the Creation. In mankind, their greatest work, they instilled both light and darkness, the capacity to choose their own path. But Nightfather grew resentful of the love his children showed toward the light and their disdain of shadow, so he crafted a new race that would serve him unquestioningly: the bloodhungry beastmen. But the beastmen, too, disappointed Dusk with their unceasing warfare, so he turned away from them, and uncomprehending of what they had lost, they continued their shamanic rites…until something else answered the call for power. A cold Mist rose, warping and corrupting everything it touched and even animating the fallen in unlife. The Mist slowly spread to cover both the Valskyrr, the frontier of human civilization in the frozen north, and the redsand deserts of Naar, creating tangled paths, tortured abominations, and chaos in its wake. Those heroes brave enough to venture into the Mists to slay its greatest threats–and, one day, discover its secret source–are known as Mistwalkers. They set out from Frostvalley Keep to the north or Hammerhome to the east in the vain hope of one day ending its twisted threat for good. The English translation, unfortunately, leaves something to be desired, but the concepts are rich enough to give shape to your roleplaying.
- Roleplaying: But what, precisely, do I mean when I deploy the verb “roleplaying”? The fuzziness of the term comes, in part, from at least two overlapping definitions of the constituent noun “role.” To some extent, roleplaying is acting, performing, as in Merriam Webster’s primary definition, “a character assigned or assumed,” which I now learn is the original connotation (the term “role” deriving from the “roll” of paper containing an actor’s lines). This meaning is apparently absent in Mistfall, although as we will get to in a moment, appearances can be deceiving. As it is used in game systems, however, “roleplaying” also has something to do with MW’s secondary definition of role, “a function or part performed especially in a particular operation or process.” In D&D, the organizational paradigm is the party, and each player’s contribution is defined as much by their functional role in said party as by their performative role. The party paradigm has given rise to an evocative lexicon of functional roles, including the “tank,” whose job is to attract enemy attention and absorb damage; the “glass cannon,” who deals tremendous damage at range but is “squishy” under direct attack; the “DPS,” whose role is to maximize damage per second (which may be independent of raw damage per attack); and the “healer,” whose function in the group should be obvious. The key feature of these roles is that they are interpersonal, defined not by character class and race but by the group overall dynamic. Dwarves and half-orcs are typically well suited to the role of tank, but they can conceivably fill any role; a paladin can be a tank, a DPS, or a healer as the party demands it. It’s this latter understanding of “roleplaying” that Mistfall performs so well–and in so doing, almost as an afterthought, it gestures toward the former.
The Tragedy of Balance
Mistfall has a balance problem…that is, insofar as a cooperative game–one in which everybody is on the same team–can have a balance problem. In fact, it might be an inherited condition. Questions of class balance have plagued roleplaying games since the beginning. The very asymmetry of class-driven character creation demands it. In traditional board games, player expectations regarding balance are more rigorous because they can afford to be; the roles of Medic and Dispatcher in Pandemic, for example, are differentiated by only one or two special abilities, which makes it easier to ensure that everybody feels equally valuable. But the differences between a Bard and a Barbarian are more than skin deep. When you factor in the customization options that RPGs allow, it’s nearly impossible to make sure both characters perform equally in combat–nor should you try.
I touched on this when writing about Sentinels of the Multiverse–which, like Mistfall, tries to emphasize, not smooth over, player difference. Like Sentinels, each hero in Mistfall comprises a unique deck in addition to one or two always-available special powers. The Advanced Feats (Mistfall‘s equivalent of “leveling up”) are likewise unique. And like Sentinels, there are heroes that are blatantly stronger than others from a pure DPS perspective. And that’s a good thing. That’s how roleplaying happens.
To return to the situation of the bard and the barbarian: barbarians are your classic tank, able to stride into the heart of battle swinging axe and club, fangs and blades glancing off their massive thews. Bards are a support class; not quite healers, their role is to “buff” the party through the power of song, thereby enhancing their allies’ strength, while “debuffing” the opposition. Bards know a bit of swordplay and a bit of sorcery, but they aren’t primarily combat characters; Ziggy Stardust wouldn’t last a minute in a one-on-one fight against Conan. However, bards shine outside of combat. They tend to have high charisma and intelligence, making them particularly suited to resolving situations without bloodshed.
Framed another way, bards are wits, not warriors. Feeling incompetent in battle is not only admissible, it’s desired…from a roleplaying perspective.
Mistfall has no “outside of combat,” but its lack of class balance turns out to be a boon when it comes to putting players in the heroes’ shoes.
Incidentally, Mistfall has both bard and barbarian. Venda the Ravencrag Fury, also known as Venda the Fell Handed, a hero from the original Mistfall, has a number of tank-like qualities. Unlike Fengray the Shieldbearer, whose shield mastery allows him to avoid blows entirely, Venda merely shrugs them off. In Mistfall, damage to heroes is represented by moving cards from your hand, deck or discard to a “burial pile,” while restoration (healing) moves cards from your burial pile to your discard or from your discard to the bottom of your deck. One of Venda’s innate talents, “Ravencrag Resilience,” allows her to recharge cards directly from her burial pile, representing her people’s incredible regenerative capabilities, while several of her basic cards (those marked with the Resilience keyword) count as two cards when buried as a result of damage. She also has a number of cards with the Protection keyword; these Taunts let her draw the attention of enemies from other heroes, allowing them more freedom of movement. But she is also a strong DPSer, with her Crescent of Blood ability allowing her to dispatch several enemies in a single motion with a powerful swing of her two axes.
Playing Aseke the Namekeeper, also known as Aseke of the Dale, is a different experience entirely. This hero from Heart of the Mists exhibits a very bardic aversion to direct combat. Although she wields a short sword, she lacks the damage-maximizing Advanced Feats available to other classes. In fact, Aseke’s damage-boosting feats like Battle Hymns and Inner Strength are unique in that they can affect any hero–herself included, in a pinch. This makes Aseke an exceptional team player; she even has the ability, through her Hymn of Fellowship, to gift her once-per-turn Regular Action to another player. Her other cards focus on providing healing and card draws to the party. But while Aseke struggles to deliver game-ending damage on her own, she isn’t on her own; one of her innate talents allows her to bring two allies, a feature introduced in Heart of the Mists, into battle and use both of their actions every round. This makes Aseke capable even as a solo character, as I demonstrated in a recent playthrough video, but even then, it feels as though she’s “allowing” her allies to do the heavy lifting.
And so it is with the other heroes. Crow the Seeker, Mistfall‘s rogue, seems geared to overcome encounters without combat using innate talents like “Shadowy Ways,” which lets him place Progress on the Encounter if his Enemy Focus is low; and “Ways Around,” which rewards Resolve for enemies that leave play without being killed (e.g. during the “Disperse Enemies” phase of Encounter Aftermath), but he is also an exceptional DPSer when he steps out of the shadows. Elatha the Misthuntress, the subject of the next two sections, is a ranger in the tradition of Lord of the Rings‘ Strider; she can set traps to ambush enemies as they close with her and Mark specific enemies for various effects, but one of her defining features is her four “Slayer” cards, each of which targets a different enemy type and allows her to exploit her extensive Training in enemy lore to deal additional damage to enemies of that type. Because she can only have two “Slayer” cards equipped at a time and she needs to first Mark the enemy for optimal effect, Elatha plays as a more considered, nuanced character–every move is “Weighed and Measured.”
When I first played Mistfall, I was more than a little miffed that the two mage characters–Celenthia the Arcane Mage and Hareag the Frost Mage–felt underpowered. Their magic damage cuts through enemy defense more easily than physical damage, but their attacks are comparatively expensive to play: rather than originating from a weapon card, which can be returned to hand on the next turn, these characters’ spells must typically be played directly from hand, plus an Arcane card discarded as part of the cost, plus additional Arcane cards to increase damage. To compensate, they have “Arcane Inspiration” cards that don’t count against their draw limit, effectively increasing the mages’ hand size, but these same cards have a drawback: they can’t be buried in response to damage. Furthermore, their most powerful abilities require numerous cards to be held back from round to round rather than recirculating through restoration. The end result is that mages are exceptionally squishy and, while they can do incredible damage at the right moment, easily exhausted from routine combat. These shortcomings finally clicked for me when I reread the description of the Arcane Mages of the Loreforge in Mistfall‘s Quest Guide:
“Some even claim that close proximity to the Mists themselves is able to subtly influence some of the magic users, slowly corrupting their minds and turning them into unwitting servants of the power they wish to stand against.” Celenthia’s character bio also describes her as “seemingly more physically brittle than the Valskyrrians.” The description of the Frost Mages of Ravencrag likewise mentions the “sudden corruption and madness” suffered by these shamans without intense training. In other words, wielding magic–which draws partly on the power of the Mists themselves–should feel difficult, a reflection of the study and dedication of the wizards themselves.
One role in Mistfall feels almost brokenly powerful, and this, too, is supported by the lore. I speak of Arani the Dawnbreaker Cleric. A cleric is not a traditionally combat-focused role in RPGs, but Arani is more of a paladin, a holy knight. As a servant of the Dawnmother herself, she has the power to pierce the Mists with divine retribution, bringing the flames of purgation to the abominations it has wrought. Arani also has exceptional healing capabilities, making her virtually untouchable by enemy attacks, and Encounter-progressing options that exceed those of Crow or Elatha. She is particularly deadly against the undead, who tend to have vulnerabilities to the Flame, Divine and Blunt keywords present on most of her attacks. It’s as though she is guided by a divine hand…which she is. I’ve referred to playing Arani as “God Mode,” and this feels wholly appropriate to the roleplaying.
How It Feels to Play Mistfall (Narrative)
As the Misthuntress Elatha hied west with her companion, Aidran, a cleric of Dawn, they encountered a sacrificial mound, evil runes glowing on menhirs among the charred remains of what may once have been a peaceful village. The Borderlands had long descended into lawlessness and chaos, their denizens driven to madness and mutually assured destruction by the corrupting power of the Mists. As if in confirmation of her thoughts, Elatha’s keen eye spotted signs of a nearby patrol of prowling beasts: two crawler worms, a Ravenok hunter, and a fell drake.
It wasn’t long before the keen eyes of the Ravenok spotted them. As the crawler worm approached, it triggered Elatha’s arrow trap. A storm of arrows pierced its thick hide, eliciting a howl of rage from the beast. Not giving it time to recompose itself, Elatha followed up with a quick stab from the short sword she held in her left hand and a precise strike with the other, driving her blade deep into the worm’s flesh. Even as the worm writhed and died, she marked the swooping Ravenok, tracking its movements in her periphery. Remembering her years of experience slaying beasts in the deserts of Naar, she reached into her Quiver to unleash a quickshot at the winged beastman. Her arrow found its mark and the Ravenok plummeted to the earth. The remaining worm, enraged, struck at Elatha, but Aidran intercepted the attack. Disheartened by the encounter, the remaining beasts fled, and Elatha plundered a stinging sword from the still body of the Ravenok.
Moving north, the party stumbled upon an abandoned structure that might have been a watchtower before the fall of the Borderlands. Aidran pointed out the glowing Seal of Dawn that proclaimed this watchtower a safe space, warded from evil. Elatha and her companion enjoyed a moment’s respite. Exiting the watchtower, however, they found themselves in the midst of a battle between the lawless brigands of the Borderlands and the mistcrafted abominations whose body and soul had already been lost. On one side were two witches wielding ice magic, and on the other were two tormented spirits trapped in whirling clouds of red mist. Neither side seemed pleased about the interruption. Aidran swung his blessed mace at the nearest mistcrafted warrior, its holy light dispersing the enemy’s red, swirling form. Elatha hefted her new stinging sword, slicing cleanly through one of the ice witches. Then, drawing her twin short swords, she cut down the other witch, who screamed in rage as she fell. Finally, the Misthuntress drew her bowstring back long and lets an arrow fly into the heart of the weakened redsand mist. Silence descended over the valley.
How It Feels to Play Mistfall (Mechanical)
As I moved north on my way to the final encounter, I uncovered the Serpent Spire, a Wildlands location with the special ability “Venomous Totem: When this Location is the Active Location, if a player Buries any cards as a result of an Enemy attack, that player also places 1 poison condition on their Hero Charter.” The Encounter was Rage of the Wilds, which is a particularly tough one: at the start of each Defense Phase, each player must Enrage one enemy in play, and progress is only made when an Enraged enemy leaves play or is somehow calmed (the Namekeeper has some abilities that do this). The puzzle, then, was how to kill three enemies in a single round before more reinforcements could arrive. The enemies were a Hunter Swooper (a Ravenok enemy that is “In the Sky,” requiring extra range to target), a Desert Lurker (a mistcrafted spider that burrows under the sand, granting it extra attack and defense until it activates), and a Ravenok Archer (another Ravenok with the “Skirmisher” ability, which means it also needs extra range to target unless all enemies in its area are Ranged).
As I usually do when playing Mistfall, I considered my options for a few minutes, running through various scenarios in my head until I settled on a sequence of actions that would result in victory. Then, I acted.
Spending one Resolve, I purchased the Advanced Feat Weighed and Measured, which primarily exists to be discarded for other actions: when you do, you can attach it (as a Mark card) to an enemy and draw a replacement card. I used the bottom Regular Action from Bow of Bane (a range 2 attack that deals three physical damage plus one for every Combat card discarded, up to three) to kill the Hunter Swooper, discarding Weighed and Measured to increase the damage to four and attach the card to the Desert Lurker. Four physical damage, minus the Hunter Swooper’s two defense, dealt two wounds, but the Ranged keyword on the bow also triggered the Hunter Swooper’s vulnerability, dealing an additional wound and killing the enemy. After resolving the action, I had to discard the Bow of Bane from my Hero Area and increase my Enemy Focus by three.
I had already used my Regular Action for the round, but I could still resolve any number of Fast Actions and Reflexes, plus one Ally Action. Next, I swung my Stinging Sword at the Desert Lurker, using its Fast Action to deal one physical damage and discarding Assessment, which is similar to Weighed and Measured, to increase the damage by two and attach Assessment (as a Mark) to the Ravenok Archer. Three physical damage would not overcome the defense of the Desert Lurker, which was currently three thanks to its Under the Sand ability, but I could also discard a token from my Beast Slayer skill (as a Reflex) to deal an additional damage–two, in fact, since the spider had a Mark attached. This delivered two wounds and pushed my Enemy Focus up by six, Enraging the Desert Lurker. This was okay, as long as I could kill the beast before it attacked. After resolving the action, I put my Stinging Sword on top of my deck.
Now that I had two Mark cards attached to enemies, I could use my Exploit Weakness innate talent to place one Progress on the Encounter as a Fast Action. This changed the game a bit: I only needed two Progress to complete the encounter, and if I could kill the Desert Lurker while it was Enraged, that would be enough. I spent two Resolve to learn Two Bladed Strike, which lets me increase damage from Sword attacks (as a Reflex). Then, because Beast Slayer had no more tokens on it, I used the Fast Action from my Quiver card (“move 1 token from this card to any Ranged card in your Hero Area”) to power it back up. This allowed me to swing my Short Sword (one damage) with Two Bladed Strike (plus two) and Beast Slayer (plus two) to kill the enraged spider, putting another progress token out. The Short Sword went to the top of my deck.
The encounter did not end immediately, though, and the Enemy Focus generated by this action forced me to Enrage the Ravenok Archer, making him attack immediately. Not wanting to gain a poison token, I avoided the damage by putting Ranger Cloak on top of my deck (cancel one damage as a Reflex) and playing Nimble Dodge (cancel two damage as a Reflex), but doing so increased my Enemy Focus, forcing me to increase Reinforcements, which pushed up the Time Track, which caused the Ravenok Archer to be Enraged again. This time, I took the damage directly by burying cards, causing me to gain a poison token due to the Serpent Spire’s ability. Realizing that I might as well finish off the Archer and get some Resolve, I equipped another Short Sword from hand and used my Ally Action to have Aidran attack, dealing one wound to the Archer. Purchasing another Weighed and Measured, I swung my Short Sword at the Archer, discarding Weighed and Measured to deal 2 damage. With the Archer’s vulnerability to Bladed attacks, this killed it.