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I’m Ajey. He/him pronouns. I’m an electrification researcher by day, and I’m a game designer by night! You can hear me talk about game design with the tag #TabletopChopShop, and I also do reviews of RPG systems under the #AjeyReads tag.

Here you can read my first read of HLDrpg (v4.2) here:

The HYPER LIGHT DRIFTER RPG (@HLDrpg)—Drifter, to you—is a finely-considered adaptation by @andreas_mwg of the pixel-art 2D action-adventure video game of the equivalent name.

Aspects like:

– Core resolution
– Combat
– Health
– The very options available to players

Are designed to replicate that experience of being a doomed adventurer in a ruined-yet-breathtaking world.

The video game is tuned for gameplay speed—act now, or die—and the Drifter RPG emulates that speed by simplifying the core resolution of the game and refining a player’s options to a small set of options that are all useful.

Roll a d20 in one of five Disciplines. If it’s below 9, receive JUDGEMENT (negative outcome).

If it’s above your character’s rating in the Discipline, receive FORTUNE (positive outcome).

Else, receive TEMPERANCE (mixed outcome).

No other dice are used for any other purpose.

Unlike in many combat-centric RPGs, you’re expected to frequently receive the mixed-success Temperance—in fact, even rolling Judgement is a frequent fact of gameplay.

Fortune isn’t the goal. It’s the welcome bonus.

You can burn a limited Energy pool to improve your rolls, but that’s often a mistake.

If you play your tactics right, you can prevail despite poor rolls.

I recommend you save the Energy for smarter options.

Your options in gameplay are greatly streamlined.

When exploring in the overworld, your character HAS Skills, but they’re mostly flavor.

You roll against one of your Disciplines, or you don’t roll at all.

And in combat, your options are effectively restricted to ability cards, much like a PbtA game—some actions are general, some are weapon-specific, some are unique to one of the five classes.

These actions mostly draw from that small pool of Energy and/or from a smaller pool of Dashes.

Doing several actions in a turn—or doing more ambitious actions—costs more Energy.

Like in the video game, positioning and movement are crucial, although position is abstracted to a 3-by-3 grid.

And again like the video game, everyone drops in 3-5 hits.

Including you.

These mechanics facilitate a meditative atmosphere outside of combat, as rolls fade into the bedrock of a collaborative hex-crawl with base-building downtime.

Exploration is a montage of struggle and discovery, despair and beauty.

Then, the mechanics enable a tense speed-chess playstyle in combat—you have maybe five options, with clear trade-offs, and they’re all in front of you.

As are the five different trackers constantly threatening to ruin you in their own grim ways.

There’s more I could talk about:

– How character creation offers alternate visions of the drifter depicted in the video game

– How cooking and tinkering and performing are verbs the game facilitates and expects

– How the Buy Time action in combat builds an ebb and flow into encounters

– How characters are encouraged to build new infrastructure and change their approaches during downtime

– How I wish there was a Retreat or Take Cover action

– How the most interesting piece of the game is an optional ruleset for more complicated combat grid design

But the game isn’t done. It still smells like sawdust and stuck pixels and wet paint and monochrome wireframes.

The adversary list is incomplete. One of the classes is a blank model. The [REDACTED] is due to be rebuilt.

To pass judgement on an unfinished game, an unfinished experience, is unfair—especially for a game that currently asks nothing of the reader save the time to read it.

But even as I duck underneath scaffolding, dodge around missing hitboxes, and climb over copy-editing errors, I see magic in the Hyper Light Drifter RPG.

I see a game written with purpose, designed around a particular archetype in a particular world, distilled to a incredible ludonarrative clarity. And that brings unending joy to me.

Before we close out, I want to shout out @writejessr

! They’re a prolific adventure module writer with work in the BOOK OF SEASONS and UNCAGED collections! She’s also a narrative designer for the MULTIVERSE platform, which is this RAD merging of video game and TTRPG!

And as always, Black lives matter.

Black TRANS lives matter.

Support the abolition of police—anything you can do will suffice <3

And try to get some sleep. We’re in this for the long haul.