2: design the game mechanics based on that analysis part 1
Let’s revisit the takeaways of the source analysis: sneaky trumps combat, educated trumps sneaky; social status and connections are important. Traits are inherited and may be dormant till needed. Small unit fights are to capture (even if for eating later) rather than to the death and only happen when the sides aren’t sure who will win at first glance. Finally the Hobbit is a children’s book so I’d like it to be a game system that’s easy for kids.
That being said I’m using a lightly modified d6 engine. For those not familiar with the d6 system it’s the engine for most of West End Games’ catalogue and best known for the Star Wars system. The engine was originally developed for the Ghostbusters license by Sandy Peterson, Lynn Willis and Greg Stafford (which is a hell of design team). Baseline mechanic is that there are a small number of Traits rated in d6, each Trait has a Talent and any complex actions require rolling the relevant Trait, +1d6 if a Talent fits. The dice are summed to see if they hit the GM determined difficulty, which is between 5 and 30. It’s clean, easy to use and forces kids to work on their basic addition skills. Plus we know from experience with Star Wars that it works well for a non-granular adventure system…as long as one can resist the urge to add more complexity for the sake of complexity.
With the rough engine out of the way we can work on the parts specific to this game world. That means rules for Knowledge, Sneaking, Fighting, Other Physical Actions and Social Combat. I find that character creation is a good place to start after defining the rough engine. Let’s set up one Trait per each of the important areas, and add one more for Senses since the book does keep talking about Bilbo’s senses in relation to the Dwarves. My starting point is
Athletics: what shape is the character in, how fast can she run, how much can she lift and so on?
Burglary: how well does the character sneak, filch things and otherwise be sneaky?
Education: how much has the character studied, what does she know of the world and its people?
Lineage: what is the character’s heritage and how can she draw on that when talking to others?
Perception: how keen are the character’s senses, and how much does she trust them?
Warcraft: how well does the character fight, with any weapons?
Archetypes are something that Star Wars used and it’s a big help in setting the campaign tone. Players are picking from a list of pre-approved character types so there’s no chance of someone building a character that just does not fit the setting. Plus it saves time in character creation. The Archetypes are pretty nailed down (defining 12 of the character’s 15 Trait dice) but customizable by the player adding one trait die, selecting two inheritances and four of the six talents. That’s not a lot but it should be enough for what I’m looking for in this game – something with quick character generation, easily understood by kids and ‘lets get started in the first session’ sort of play.
Talents are player defined, though the Archetypes have two defined two just to guide the players to what fits the world when defining their own. The advantage to player defined talents is I don’t need an exhaustive skill list and player defined lets them flag things they want to see touched on in later sessions.
Inheritances are something that I’m adding to the system for this game: they’re the catch all place for putting extra talents or abilities that don’t fit into the Traits, either because they’re free standing and diceless, because they’re the PC’s race or because they’re specific thins you can’t even try unless you have the Inheritance. I figure I’ll develop maybe a dozen of these things for the players to select from, which has the advantage of mixing up the Archetypes a little bit so I don’t have to make too many.
While I’ll go into this more later, let’s take a look at what I think Thorin would look like as a PC (things in parenthesis are me discussing the game mechanics.)
Thorin, son of Thoror, King Under the Mountain
Archetype: Lost Heir
Athletics: 2d +1d [Dwarf] = 3d (Endurance)
Burglary: 1d (Scouting)
Education: 2d ([Dwarf Lore], Kindgom of Erebor)
Lineage: 3d (Prince of Eebor)
Perception: 1d+1d [player’s choice] = 2d ([Cavesight], Detect Ambush)
Warcraft: 3d (Armored Combat, Fighting Retreat)
* Dwarf: Athletics +1, Dwarf Lore (Education Talent), Cavesight (Perception Talent), Armored Combat (Warcraft Talent). The character is a member of that hearty race with their greater strength and endurance and reliable ability to navigate caves and mines with minimal light. Dwarf lore is the ability to craft objects metal or stone and imbue them with magical ability, but can also be applied to any common stone or metalwork (such as mining or construction). Dwarves are trained from childhood in fighting while wearing mail and therefore accrue only the advantages and none of the penalties when they do so – a dwarf in armor is a threat to avoid.
* Company: 6-12 Followers give +2d when able to act in concert, or remove penalties when able to act in parallel. The character has a company of followers who assist him in his endeavors. These might be kinfolk, mercenares or a guild of thieves (or, if the character also has the distaff inheritence, a coven of witches) , but as NPCs they don’t roll for themselves, instead adding dice to your pool when they can work in concert with you or remove penalties when you’re trying to do multiple things at once and you can get them to act as your surrogates.
That looks clean to me: We end up with a fairly good warrior (who does really well in the last big battle scene) who is about to tough out quite a bit, knows the history of his people and the caverns of his mountain home by heart and who is able to project an air of leadership (with an handy ability to talk to the ravens of his homeland) and has a company of followers to assist him in his quest. Plus it should be easy for younger players to understand. That means it’s time to work out the specifics of the other mechanics.
First off, let’s make this a player-dice system where the GM sets difficulties but doesn’t roll so everything stands or falls with the players dice rolls. This gives the GM more control over the scenario since difficulties can be set very high or very low to drive direction of action.
Second off, here’s a simple rule: if it’s permanently on your character sheet it adds dice, if not it adjusts target numbers. (Note: Adjusting target numbers is more potent, rolling dice is more fun). This should serve to limit the number of dice being thrown. To that end I’ll also state that any dice over 5 are shifted to a -5 on target numbers, so heroes who can stack a high Trait with a Talent and a corresponding Inheritance and maybe a Named Item can perform some really impressive feats.
Third off, in many cases the issue can be handled as a simple contest, where the player makes a single roll against the target number to see if they succeed or fail. For contests against actual opponents we have extended contests which have the target number get higher or lower based on who’s won the last exchange, with victory coming when the target number becomes 0 and defeat when it goes over 35.
Finally, let’s set the degrees of success as every 5 points above or below the target. If you’re fighting a Cave Troll and roll an 18 you fail, but not terribly badly. If you roll an 8 you failed by more than 10 and that means a much bigger failure. Here’s a quick chart
Succeed by 15+: completely and totally succeed in goals; any extended conflict is over however the player wants to end it.
Succeed by 10+: totally succeed in goals; in an extended conflict the target number drops by 10. If this drops the target number below 1, the extended conflict is over however the player wants to end it.
Succeed by 5+: Succeed in goals; in an extended conflict the target number drops by 5. If this drops the target number below 1, the extended conflict is over however the player wants to end it.
Succeed: Marginal success in goals; in an extended conflict the target number drops by 5 _for the next exchange only_ as you have a momentary advantage. If the target number goes below 1, the extended conflict is over however the GM wants to end it in the PCs favor.
Fail: this is a marginal failure. In an extended conflict the target number goes up by 5 _for the next exchange only_ as you have a momentary disadvantage. If the target number above 30, the extended conflict is over however the player wants to end it in the GM’s favor.
Fail by 5+: fail in goals; in an extended conflict the target number goes up by 5. If the target number goes above 30 the extended conflict is over however the GM wants to end it.
Fail by 10+: totally fail in goals; in an extended conflict the target number goes up by 10. If the target number goes above 30 the extended conflict is over however the GM wants to end it.
Fail by 15+: completely and totally fail in goals; any extended conflict is over however the GM wants to end it.
Accepting Complications: you can add 5 points to your die roll if you accept a long term complication of +5 target number on all rolls for this Trait until you and the GM agree that the complication has been resolved. This might be taking a major wound, having your only weapon shatter, publically blaming an ally in a social conflict or other similar things based on the circumstances.
Why do this? If you’re in a circumstance where the your action difficulty is 10 accepting a complication lets your marginal success end an extended conflict immediately, albeit on terms favorable to the GM – you win, but make things more difficult for yourself. The same is true if you just rolled a 10+ success – a 15+ success ends any extended conflict, so taking the complication lets you bring things to an immediate, dramatic conclusion on a single good die roll. If your difficulty is up to 30 and you manage to fail by 10-14 points, accepting the complication lets you dictate the terms of the defeat. That can be a big advantage.
I think this works. It’s quick for a single contest, fluid for a longer one where the target number can fluctuate during the course of the contest, means we don’t have to track hit points or even wounds if the player doesn’t want to deal with them. I have two concerns – that close fights might drag on forever or that the penalty from an initial exchange might be overwhelming. Of course, since I want uneven fights to be over quick that might not be much of an issue.