Custom Card Game Design

Designing Khemia – the Freesands Rebellion

Work continues on Generals of Dareth, as I endeavor to improve its limited game.  After Generals of Dareth, I’ll be moving on to Battlefields of Dareth, the conclusion of Dareth story (but not the conclusion of the block, as I have a third set, Into Infinity, planned for the block’s conclusion and my last three-set block.  Ambitious, maybe, but as I’ve lined out in previous posts, I like to plan ahead.)

However, Khemia, my first two-set block, is still being worked on as well, and I’d like to focus on some of the exploratory work being done on the set. (I should note, as with most everything I post, nothing is final – the focus here is on broad themes and feel, to be refined and developed later)

A long time ago, on a plane far, far away…

Khemia is being built around an Ancient Egyptian Mythology theme.  Much like Innistrad and Theros, design of the set is being influenced by pop culture tropes rather than any attempt at a realistic depiction.  As such, the set will have pretty much what you’d expect – mummies, scarabs, ancient gods and goddesses, etc.  However, woven throughout these themes is a deeper story.

Prior to the Planar Mending, five ancient planeswalkers traveled to the plane of Khemia and set themselves up as gods.  Each of these planeswalkers chose a champion, one who embodied their ideals, and these champions were the first Pharaohs.  As time has passed, the ancestors of these original Pharaohs have continue to rule Khemia, but have turned their backs on the ‘gods’ who put them there.  Those they favor, prosper.  Those they disdain are forced into a dismal life of servitude.

Though not all the Pharaohs are cruel, the Freesands Rebellion makes no distinction.  Raelia, daughter of the Pharaoh Khura, founded the rebellion after growing sickened by the atrocities and injustices she witnessed from her father.  With the help of the nomadic clans of Khemia, the rebellion has now truly started to take hold, and the plane of Khemia is quickly plunging into war.

A New Hope

A classic tribe from the history of MtG, Rebels will be featured prominently in Khemia, albeit with some new twists.  Mechanically, the conflict of Pharaohs versus Rebels will be play out as Converted Mana Cost 5 or more (Pharaohs) versus base power 2 or less (Rebels).

One of the things I want to hit early on is the ‘Rebel’ mechanic.  Although not all rebels feature the mechanic, rebel cards are best known for being able to pay a colorless activation cost to tutor up and put onto the battlefield a rebel card with a converted mana cost greater than theirs by one.  This is not a mechanic I want to revisit in this set, for a few reasons, but I do want to riff on the mechanic, which leads me to cards like Freesands Deathsword.  This card, and others like it, will present a condition that, when met, allows you to tutor up a rebel card with converted mana cost greater than theirs, by one.  However, instead of putting the card into play, it’s put into the hand.

Not all creatures with base power 2 or less will be Rebels.  The Pharaohs need creatures they can drop earlier in the game, and the worship mechanic (which is meant to play well with the Pharaohs) only works on smaller creatures.  This is emblematic of the Rebels struggle – though they fight for all of Khemia’s lower class, not all those they fight for support them, and some even blindly worship the Pharaohs in hope of being granted their favor.  Raelia however, being the founder of the Rebellion, is able to recruit even the worshippers of the Pharaohs to her cause.

The Empire Strikes Back

The rebels may be formidable, but the Pharaohs are worshipped as the chosen of the gods.  They command legions of soldiers they view as disposable, and many possess magic that guarantees that not even death can stop them.

There are those of the lower class in Khemia who serve the Pharaohs, in the hopes of finding a place of favor.  Mechanically, these are repsented in creatures who have abilities that care if you have a creature with converted mana cost 5 or more on the battlefield.  Though some of these cards will be strictly for limited play, there may be some tuned well enough for constructed.  I imagine the black Pharaoh will experiment with sacrificing some of its own worshippers for gain.

And then, there are the Pharaohs themselves.  Imbued with ancient Khemian magic that allows them to transcend death, they are formidable beings in their own right.  The rebellion has a difficult task ahead of it if it plans on succeeding in toppling them.

Return of the Jedi

…I’m sorry.  I just had to go with the Star Wars references.  Because, you know, reasons.

Anyway, the wild call in the Freesands Rebellion is the ‘gods’ themselves.  Their true identity as planeswalkers unknown to the majority of Khemians, these beings are still called upon by many on both sides of the conflict.  Some of the rebels believe the gods can be convinced to come down and smite the Pharaohs, who have turned their back on the gods.  Others among the rebels see the gods as simply another example of oppressive authority.

Worship is a mechanic that works well with the Pharaohs, but is meant to symbolic of the third side to the conflict, the planeswalker/gods of Khemia.  Worship is the first mechanic developed for the set and has, by far, been through the most changes.  It’s a very wordy mechanic, and as such is difficult to justify on commons, and is difficult to find much design space with as the rest of your text box aftr reminder text is very limited.  Still, I’m very happy with how it’s turned out so far and am looking forward to see how it plays.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading, and I’m sorry again for the goofy Star Wars reference.

…Actually, you know what, I’m not sorry.  🙂


4 responses to “Designing Khemia – the Freesands Rebellion

  1. antaresmtg January 29, 2015 at 7:47 pm

    Very nice so far. Are you interested in my Esparand art folder? It has lots of desert-y and egyptean themed artwork. I could share it over Dropbox.

    My biggest critique would be the Worship mechanic. It references three different kinds of counters and will lead to confusing board states when a worship creature worships another. I’m thinking, wouldn’t my Melody mechanic be a good starting point for Worship, taking into account the flavor you want to represent with the mechanic?

    Another advise: Don’t overdo it with your themes. Is it really important that Amunehm only pings creatures with base power 2 or less? The bigger creatures wouldn’t die anyway. I would have problems remembering what each of your double-sided cards do on each side, because there is so much going on.

    • adventmtg January 29, 2015 at 9:05 pm

      Yeah these are pretty imperfect – worship will definitely need to change to be NWO compliant, and Amunehn, at the moment, is a little too powerful for how I’d want him to end up.

      I’ll look at melody, that may be a great starting point actually. Also yeah your Esparand art folder would be great, thanks!

      As an aside, we need to do some cockatrice testing sometime soon 🙂

  2. turn2emrakul February 1, 2015 at 1:30 pm

    You talk about tropes, like what Innistrad did, but are there enough tropes for a full block in an Egyptian setting? It’s a cool idea, and I like the cards, I just think you’ll need to play up your rebels vs. pharoahs theme and focus less on tropes by the time its all said and done.

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