Lore Master's Development Journal Volume 4: Now We're Cooking

by Peter Chiykowski

Read Volume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3

Welcome back to the Lore Master's Development Journal! In the last episode (not counting Eric's Outtakes side quest) I explained how I turned a creature brainstorm into a prototype. More importantly, I also discussed what was still missing in that first set of cards. Today, I'll walk you through some of the steps I took to shape that prototype into something that resembles the finished Lore Master's Deck!

Once I had the first cards in hand, I moved on to a phase of development that I think of as "boiling and reducing," where I iterate on ideas in a cycle. During the boiling phase, I get excited about trying new things, adding new experimental features and cues, and expanding the project (it's a bit like a pot boiling over). During the reducing phase, I take the project off the heat. I look at all the new ideas and start to pare them back, discarding anything that doesn't work.

With Lore Master's Deck, this process started sometime around February 2023. I asked Miroki to take a look at my expansion ideas. I once again went back to old notebooks to round up my notes, and put together a rough concept and a short pitch for a set of 5 expansions that formed a themed collection and might offer some interaction between the cards. There would be a deck for factions, 2 decks for creatures (magical and non-magical), a deck for events/world-breaking, and a deck of prompts for secrets and deep lore embedded in the world. 

 The Lore Master's Collection - back when it was still a set of expansions.


Miroki heard the pitch and provided some very helpful advice, with three big headlines that stood out:

  1. "Keep working at it." She could see there was something here and that I was very excited about it, but that I was still trying to figure out the scope of the project.
  2. "How do we make it feel complete and intentional?" A curated set of expansions is an interesting idea, but it also feels a little bit piecemeal. She wanted to see if we could make it feel more like a complete set.
  3. "How do we make sure it feels different and new from our existing decks?" For this to feel like a next-level innovation on what we've released so far, it needed a new core mechanic to differentiate it.

I took those ideas and kept iterating on them. Over the next few weeks the first proper prototype of Lore Master's Deck began to take shape through a lot of long development days and the breakthroughs that followed: 

Breakthrough #1: I workshopped the deck until I had 7 primary card types + 1 wildcard type. You'll see in some of the pictures that there was no Traits/Modifiers deck yet, but there was a deck of "Values" that could apply to a variety of other card types. Back then, Creatures were called "Species" and Materials were called "Resources."

 An early paper prototype.


Breakthrough #2: I realized that I would have to make the cards double-sided. To have 7-8 main card types, plus dedicated cards to apply secondary cues to each card, the deck would end up with 16 card types and likely need around 600 cards to function well. I thought that would make it prohibitively expensive and complex, and I'm a big believer in a simple user experience. 

A concept sketch for a double-sided card.


Breakthrough #3: I figured out that link cues were what made this deck special. Being able to create diverse lore elements that were visually and conceptually linked to each other as by thread...it felt like magic. The tapestry of a world really comes together.

Thankfully, I wasn't the only one that thought so. During a progress check-in, Miroki confirmed that the links felt unique and different and elevated this deck into very new territory. It became part of the deck's identity and a core value moving forward.

In March, I pushed out 2-3 iterations of paper prototypes until I had something that I thought was really working, and I began building out my spreadsheet of cues.

The original Lore Master's Spreadsheet.


Finally, at the end of March, on a trip to Toronto, I got to give a full in-person demo of the deck to Miroki.

The demo went well, and Miroki's advice led to 2 more breakthroughs.

Breakthrough #4: We realized we needed to simplify either the deck OR its learning curve. It was clear from the first in-person demo that this was our most complex deck. While that complexity is what makes Lore Master's Deck such a powerful and multi-purpose creative tool, we knew we'd need to make it easy for new deck users to learn.

Breakthrough #5: We realized how awesome it would be to add tokens to the deck. We'd been discussing how the lore web we were creating felt like one of those red-string conspiracy/investigation boards. Miroki mentioned how nice it would be to be able to track additional links between non-adjacent cards. Genius! I ran to grab a copy of Settlers of Catan and pulled out the road and city tokens. And like that, we had an early prototype for our link tokens, which we would later unlock as a stretch goal. I even had the presence of mind to get a picture!

A lore web with pilfered parts of Catan.


From here onward, the iterative process got faster and easier and most of the remaining work was to come up with a more appealing design for the cards and write enough material to complete an alpha copy of the deck.

I also busted the deck out for some additional friends, family, and playtesters to see how it clicked for different people and to start refining the rules and the onboarding process. After that, we began laying the groundwork for the BackerKit campaign - and started bringing more people into the development process!

Keep your eyes peeled for our next development journal to find out more, and don't forget to order Lore Master's Deck today

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