In Cauldron of the Gods, each player’s champion has 8 Stamina, meaning that a very solid hit threatens to put down anyone, albeit with a very low probability to do so. This differs from many games, where taking and giving hits is part and parcel of any given turn, and it makes some conservative and fearful players nervous, for there is no perfect security. A second way Cauldron differs from many games, especially arena-centric games, is that the objective is not the wanton and merciless slaughter of your foes. While this does earn a good amount of points, most often the real points come from the mini-game being played.
These seem to conflict, with high effect for something that earns fairly small rewards, but I consider both integral to the game’s design and theme as well as to its value and fun: It’s a different flavor, and its gameplay is unique instead of stale yet these are among the least of the reasons for electing these mechanics! Above all, I wanted this to be a game about actions- decisive, important decisions each turn that cause effects. I wanted the characters’ positions to be the ever-changing landscape upon which players made their choices: Is that player up, or down; At full Stamina, or low; Oh, that player has the Urnof now, how does that change what I want to do? After action, I wanted it to be a game of microscale risks. The game, designed as it was to promote and enable the teaching of grace and sportsmanship, needed to be made of successive goal-oriented risks: Four turns of movement to take the ball to the goal, each one contested by opposition; Plan and guesswork; rapidly-changing circumstance with a clear but harass-able path to the objective. Each small setback or gain is kept tense, especially to the unseasoned, young, or highly-emotional (my targets for the learning), yet each step is individually relatively small in its impact on the game overall- it takes a succession of successes to pull significantly ahead of your opposition.
All of this is fostered by the vulnerability of the Stamina amount- without the pressure of potential disaster, each act feels very flaccid and there was an underappreciation of the entire system. I could have, of course, used larger-denomination dice than six-siders, but that increases the variability to a criminal degree and brings luck into the game in a way I consider sloppy game design. Sometimes less is more, after all. This game, in theory and in practice, merge in the nature of the idea that to get the prize you must put yourself out there, you must accept risk and take it- a very masculine idea, fitting to the Roman theme I use so often in the game. This also is the core idea behind the first of the deities designed for the players, Aelanis, the Hero’s Strength. His whole kit was based around risking yourself in challenges and either flying ever-higher or falling in disgrace- both as stories that fill his eyes as he sings!