Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Distant Inheritance 14

14: Quick Note on actual play

Today’s blog post is going to be shorter than normal just because for blog navigation purposes I don’t want to make the same mistake for February that I made in January and place the first post on the last day of the previous month. Hence a little more Hobbit ramblings.

At this point I have run one session of the game which involved character creation and the first ‘session’ – A Long Planned Party – which went very well as first sessions go. Character creation was smooth enough, people grasped the mechanics and the encounters all went about as I expected if not better.

As I commented earlier my play group is two adult gamer parents and three kids aged 8 to 13. One of the parents noted that 8 was the age when he first started playing with his cousins and just basically rolled what dice he was told to and only grasped the edges of what was going on. By 10 he was starting to understand the rules and concepts but he doesn’t really remember anything campaigns he was in before he turned 12. As such we have the whole ‘young gamer’ spectrum on display here. It’s interesting to watch.

For the younger players it’s good that I was modeling a known property as being able to give specific examples from the books/movies helped concretize what their characters could do. Dylan at age 8 really needed those explanations. Nick at age 13 could have things explained in game mechanics. Logan at 10 hovered somewhere in between. This is something to remember in the future since at least one more of the campaigns this year will be for this group of players.

One interesting moment in play was when Logan (age 10) asked why his dad ended up being the guy in charge telling them what to do. Jay (said dad) had to explain that the quest to recover the lost swords was _always_ going to be the plot and that this wasn’t like a video game where they could run around and do whatever they wanted. I wonder how much of this is generational (pre video game vs. post video game) and how much of it is age related with the older players gravitating to narrative.

I’m interested in people’s thoughts but I lean to the latter. I remember when I was first playing as a child there was a nice feeling of no restrictions in the game, where I could go anywhere and try anything and often did. I had tempered this by high school for the (to me) greater joys of narrative once I had been exposed to older players (who also had a theater background), but I do remember it.

I also think this is why the dungeon or even megadungeon environment is so important for groups made up of all young players. That environment is inherently restricting – the GM has already set the objective of “explore and loot this subterranean environment” but can leave all of the strategy and tactics up to the players. Depending on the game system this might mean doing so with a tightly confined set of character concepts or a wide open one but the GM is ceding a lot of control. I expect that sense of high high and minimal consequences is something that younger players would find attractive. (As well as older players. I’m not making this observation as any sort of slight to people who still like their high flexibility megadungeons, it’s just not the direction I or my group went as we aged.)

In any event this tells me that I might want to shorten what I had planned for the next campaign for this group, which I had intended to be 8 months of LSH style supers adventures, and include a low narrative megadungeon environment. That would give me an excuse to tear A/O D&D down to its guts and rebuild it to my preferences, which is always a fun way to spend a rainy afternoon.

As to the play itself a few things happened in harmony with the written adventure and some things I had to add on the fly based on character flagging. Since Kris had taken the Third Eye template that meant I needed to add a ghostly figure in the burned out inn. The whole place had a spooky vibe anyway so I might as well make it a legitimately spooky vibe. The ghost directed her PC to some hidden papers that were a narrative of the innkeeper’s concerns about Zegor the Canny acting in the area, and how knowing of this at all put his life at risk. The PCs were going to learn about Zegor next session so this decision just accelerated things and let Kris have a neat character moment.

When it came to the encounter with the Nokken I was lucky in two ways:

First, the high Education Wizard with Water Lore PC was the one who had left to go secure firewood with a couple company members and wasn’t there for the original encounter. I couldn’t have asked for that to go better as the Wizard got to not disrupt the scene and sound smart when he came back.

Second, the two prince PCs (the two adult players) had taken Horse related specialties, making the prospect of a really cool horse very tempting. Both also acted in character, disregarding their own knowledge of Scandinavian and Celtic myth to avoid the fact that this was a really bad idea. With the princes captured most of their company dove in to rescue them and got captured. This left the other non-adult players having to figure out what to do, which was what I had really wanted from the scene.

To top it off I then got to have one of the company squires try to usurp control as the people who were left on land were the crazy wizard, the hobbit contractor and the… girl. When Nick’s female PC started issuing orders he contradicted her. Nick tried a Lineage roll to overcome that, got nowhere and then just whacked the squire in the face with the half of her battleaxe (for the +2d surprise bonus) and kept issuing commands while said squire was dazed in the dirt. Everyone was very happy with the moment.

OK, starting next month, Heroes of the United Worlds!

Monday, January 28, 2013

A Distant Inheritance 13

And his rounds out the adventure. a short recap post on Wednesday

13: Session 7 – Against the Giants

Friday, January 25, 2013

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Distant Inheritance 11

11: Session 5 – In the Giant’s Shadow

Things are moving along for our heroes - this session parallels the wood elf sequence from the source material, but without all the 'solo hero' stuff....

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Distant Inheritance 10

10: Session 4 – The Tomb of Tarmalania

And now for the next session of my slantwise Hobbit, taking out heroes metaphorically from Beorn's hall through the Mirkwood spiders

Players are, as always, asked to read no further. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

A Distant Inheritance 9

9: Session 3 – Streams in the Woods 

Again, these are real adventures for a real playgroup so I'm asking that they keep their eyeballs off until after we play them.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Distant Inheritance 8

For the rest of the month I'm in adventure design mode, so I expect the players to stay on their best behavior and not read below the fold. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Distant Inheritance 7

7: Session 1 – A Long Planned Party

As discussed earlier the session pattern that best captures in the Hobbit (and what we’ll be using this campaign) is Exposition / Travel / Encounter / Escape. I'm also going to start putting the adventures behind the fold - while the players played this one I expect them to be on good behavior and not read the rest of this month. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Distant Inheritance Characters

I ran the first session of a Distant Inheritance today (and since we play monthly, the only one that will correspond with this month’s write ups) and thought I would share how the character creation went.

It went well. The player group was one 30 year grognard (Jason), one 20 year veteran (Kris), a private with 2 years under his belt (Nick) and a pair of raw recruits (Logan and Dylan, ages 10 and 8). As usual, the most experienced players drew character creation out, strategizing on plot and mechanics elements while the younger players grabbed what they wanted.

I started with a quick description of each of the Archetypes then asked people which ones they wanted. Dylan really wanted the Hedge Wizard (because it had the word Wizard in the title) and Logan glommed onto the Expert Treasure Hunter. Nick quickly requested the Wiry Woodsman. Kris stalwartly rejected her nature for several minutes before she gave in and selected the Bookish Noble – after consultation with Jason to make sure we had at least one fighter type. Jason went with the Lost Heir as the most evident ‘plot hook’ character, though he and Kris did think that her Bookish Noble could have done the job if it came to that.

Then I ran through the Inheritances. Both young boys were clear on which Tolkien archetype they wanted: Dylan claimed one of the Elf options (I had 4 Elf and 4 Dwarf inheritances on the table in case they wanted a predominantly elf or dwarf party), then Third Eye when I listed it, and then dropped Third Eye for Wizardry. The kid wanted to be an elf wizard by golly, and nothing was going to stand in his way. After a lot of hemming and hawing we worked out his Talents that he is actual able to change into a giant eagle (without burning any of his Wizardry uses) through his magic and has a lot of birdlike qualities even when an elf.

Logan, by contrast wanted to be a Hobbit Thief, claiming Light Fingers inheritance along with the Hobbit one. Both are clearly highly optimized with 5d and lots of Talents in their key Traits.

Nick also pursued an optimization route by claiming the Hunter inheritance (only to see a lot of overlap with the Woodsman, which we had to work around by altering some Talents to prevent duplicates). He then took Company, which he traded in for Distaff – Nick’s at that lovely age where the joy of mechanics kicked in and he realized that the +2d bonus for surprising people with his competence as a woman was just as good as the bonus for having 12 people help him out but also less cumbersome for a sneaky woods type. That made the decision easy.

Kris and Jay went back and forth, trying to see if both of them could get the Noble Knight inheritance since they were kinfolk princes, but she took Great Family. She then claimed the Third Eye inheritance that Dylan had abandoned, wanting some supernatural oomph on her bookishness.

Jay claimed Noble Knight and then took the abandoned Company inheritance since everyone agreed that having an extra 6-12 men along could be useful and certainly fit the idiom. The system showed its versatility because his PC hits all the same notes as Thorin but he’s clearly in a different tune – with a strong need to maintain the appearance of royalty even with no kingdom he is both a connoisseur of food and wine and an expert with horses.

In any event, the PCs
Edgir Edrimson, Lost Heir of Tarmalania
Athletics 2d (Horse Racing)
Burglary 1d (Scouting)
Education 2d (Homeland Knowledge)
Lineage 4d (Prince of Tarmalania, Command)
Perception 2d (Spot Ambush, Connoisseur)
Warcraft 3d (Armored Combat, Mounted Combat)
Inheritances: Noble Knight, Company (2 squires, 1 sergeant, 4 soldiers, 1 quartermaster, 1 scout and 1 cook)

Rolf Edrimson, Scholarly Son of Tarmalania
Athletics 1d (Endurance, Dodge)
Burglary 1d (Slip Away)
Education 4d (Family History, See Enchantment, Identify Object)
Lineage 4d (Courage, Speak with Spirits, Diplomacy)
Perception 3d (Intuition, Sight)
Warcraft 2d (Mounted Combat)
Inheritances: Great Family, Third Eye

Ellena Ergrimsdotter
Athletics 3d (Survival, Acrobatic Movement)
Burglary 3d (Escape)
Education 1d (Nature Medicines [adapted from Education-based survival])
Lineage 1d (her family line are all Hard to Kill)
Perception 3d (Tracking, Trapping)
Warcraft 3d (Archery, Heavy Weapons [her father’s battle axe])
Inheritances: Distaff, Hunter

Fredegar Coopersmith
Athletics: 1d (Climb, Run Like Heck)
Burglary 5d (Small Stature, Pick Pocket, Lockpicking)
Education 2d (Map Reading)
Lineage 2d (His family has always been immune to poisons)
Perception 4d (Size Up Mark, Keen Ears, Hears Lies For What They Are)
Warcraft 1d (Thrown Weapons)
Inheritances: Hobbit, Light Fingers

Merogas the Eagle
Athletics 3d (Weightless Stride, Eagle’s Shape)
Burglary 2d (Roost [can perch anywhere staying out of sight])
Education 5d (Elf Lore, Fire Lore, Water Lore, Animal Lore)
Lineage 1d (Language of Birds)
Perception 1d (Flat Earth, Eagle Eye for Weakness)
Warcaft 2d (Grow Talons)
Inheritances: Elf, Wizardry

That’s a group that claimed both Sneaky archetypes and two of the three Educated ones, leaving one lone Warrior (who didn’t even max out his Warcraft, preferring a balanced approach). The only thing that makes them look like a group of warrior-adventurers is the, well, 10 other guys with swords riding horses.

No one took the Hidden Depths archetype but I think I can work in the Bildungsroman aspect through the two princely brothers becoming more like each other (and therefore both fully rounded individuals), and with Ellena’s fight for acceptance as an equal. As it stands the rest of the group believes that she is along because she is a) the prince’s distant cousin and b) is the daughter of the man whose actions set 20 years earlier gave the princes the clues they need to achieve their destiny and c) she might be a half-decent archer. Even Edgir thinks she carries the battle axe solely out of filial devotion and not because she can actually use it. Her path, more than any other, will mirror Bilbo’s, but we shall see how it plays.

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Distant Inheritance 6

6: Archetypes

Two weeks in and we’re finishing up character creation with the actual archetypes. As you’ll recall these are the method by which we set the majority of the PC’s traits and a couple of their talents. My objective in setting these up was to capture the feel of the setting. To that end I have ten archetypes with five of them bring warrior types, three of them being educated (if not specifically wizards) and two of them having high burglary traits. I also have three with Lineage 3 and three with Lineage 1 to spread out the types of characters. I did have a High Lineage/High Burglary archetype (the rakish courtier) but abandoned it when my wife pointed out that no one in the source material fit that description.

Once again, to make a complete character the player picks an Archetype, adds a die to one of that Archetype’s Traits, selects two Inheritances (which may add more Trait dice and Talents) and select four player-defined Talents for the Traits that didn’t have Talents set by the Archetype. That’s an awful lot of capitalized terms in that there sentence, but hopefully it’s clear enough.

Lost Heir: the PC is the heir to a kingdom that has been lost due to violent attack or is being overseen by others until he reclaims the thrown.
Athletics 2d
Burglary 3d
Education 2d [Homeland Knowledge]
Lineage 3d [Prince of X]
Perception 1d
Warcraft 3d

Doughty Freelance: The PC comes from good stock but isn’t due to inherit much of anything and therefore serves as a warrior for some noble or a sword for causes that have the right funds or morals. He is strong, tough, durable and skilled with fighting.
Athletics 3d [Lift]
Burglary 2d
Education 1d
Lineage 2d
Perception 1d [smell a bad deal]
Warcraft 3d

Yeoman Fighter: you’re a man of no rank or consequence save that you have hefted a spear or bow in the army or in the defense of your kinfolk in the wild lands…and unlike many proved to be good at it. Your keen senses and combat training make toy a force to be reckoned.
Athletics 2d
Burglary 2d [Avoid being a target]
Education 1d
Lineage 1d [Courage]
Perception 3d
Warcraft 3d

Striving Noble: You’re of noble blood, to be sure, but you don’t always feel it in your heart and therefore have to try extra hard to with your limbs and your blades to prove yourself worthy of the family name – and in so doing fail to reach the ideal you have set yourself.
Athletics 3d
Burglary 1d
Education 2d [Family History]
Lineage 2d [Rally to Cause]
Perception 1d
Warcraft 3d

Younger Prince: A younger member of a powerful noble family you’re well trained in warfare and diplomacy and can act as an envoy of your family’s interests – or draw on your family’s aid in your own causes.
Athletics 2d
Burglary 1d [get close to the conversation]
Education 1d [Languages]
Lineage 3s
Perception 2d
Warcraft 3d

“Expert Treasure Hunter”: You’re someone who’s skilled at getting into places where people store valuable things and exiting with those things in hand. There are plenty of people or monsters who have things they neither need nor deserve. You resolve that.
Athletics 1d [Climb]
Burglary 3d
Education 2d
Lineage 2d
Perception 3d
Warcraft 1d [Get away]

Wiry Woodsman: You’re a rawhide tough woodsman of no particular rank or status but a useful blend of physical ability and subtle grace. As such you can be an enormous asset to any organization that wins your loyalty to its cause.
Athletics 3d
Burglary 3d
Education 1d [survival]
Lineage 1d
Perception 2d [Tracking]
Warcraft 2d

Bookish Noble: While your compatriots have mastered the arts of the bow and blade you have studied the histories of people, the secrets of governance and the ancient runes (while not completely neglecting your horsemanship). This makes you a dangerous man indeed.
Athletics 1d
Burglary 1d
Education 3d
Lineage 3d
Perception 2d [Intutiton]
Warcraft 2d [Mounted combat]

Hermetic Sage: While considered a wise counsel when you do speak you spend much of your life traveling and studying, learning secret lore and uncovering subtle threats.
Athletics 2d
Burglary 1d [Enter unseen]
Education 3d [Pathfinding]
Lineage 2d
Perception 3d
Warcraft 1d

Hedge Wizard: Unable to adopt the trappings of the nobility, or perhaps unwilling to subject others to the dangers of your work, you study the secrets of the world in a natural setting and with nature’s tenacity.
Athletics 3d
Burglary 2d
Education 3d
Lineage 1d [Language of X]
Perception 1d
Warcraft 2d [Grow natural weapons]

There. That’s The archetypes for the players to choose from. We’ll get into the actual plot next post

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Distant Inheritance 5

5: Inheritances

Below is a list of 18 inheritances that the players can select for their PCs. Remember that each archetype comes with one of the inheritances pre-selected, but the other is for player specification. For 12 of these inheritances the inheritance gives a 1d increase to one trait and three additional Talents (above and beyond the one per Trait that the player selects).

* 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.

* Hobbit: Burglar +1, Keen Ears (Perception Talent), Thrown Objects (Warcraft Talent), Small Stature (Burglary Talent). The character is a member of that diminutive but clever race with their peerless sense of hearing and inherent advantages at moving unseen and unheard – if a Hobbit is in circumstances where they can leverage their small stature they are all but undetectable. While Hobbits aren’t a warlike race their culture prizes games of accuracy and as such Hobbits can usually land a thrown object exactly where they want it to go. Many Hobbits bosses a core of strength that makes them resistant to mental control or enchantment, but if you want this take it as your Lineage talent.

* Elf: Education +1, Flat Earth (Perception Talent), Weightless Stride (Athletics Talent), Elf Lore (Education Talent). The character is a member of that unearthly race and as such isn’t existing completely on the same reality as the other sentient races: they do not perceive the curvature of the Earth and as such have astounding long distance vision and their bodies can be near weightless if they choose, offering a variety of advantages.  Elf lore is the ability to divine or prophesize in song (where the singer doesn’t know what will come out of their own mouth!), to call upon nature spirits and to enchant well-made objects (which they will sometimes procure from the Dwarves)

* Heroic Stature: Athletics +1, Lifting (Athletics Talent), Heavy Weapons (Warcraft Talent), Courage (Lineage Talent). The character is larger than normal for their race, with the increased strength of limb and heart that comes with that. This also includes the ability to wield heavy weapons such as battle axes and two-handed swords with speed and surety that makes their weight entirely advantageous.

* Light-Fingers: Burglar +1, Pickpocket (Burglar talent), Size Up Mark (Perception Talent), Run Like Heck (Athletics Talent). The character is a skilled thief with the ability to flitch things from people’s pockets, tell who the best candidates are for a theft or a con (and who to avoid) and how to escape if everything goes wrong.

* Well Read: Education +1, Governance (Lineage Talent), Runes (Education Talent), Intuition (Perception Talent). The character has read a lot of books, scrolls, treatises and histories and has developed an extensive knowledge of arcane languages, how to govern people and how to tell when someone’s claims don’t match with reality.

* Noble Knight: Lineage +1, Command (Lineage Talent), Spot Ambush (Perception Talent) Mounted Combat (Warcraft Talent). The character hails from the chivalric tradition with experience on the field of battle, with the skill to fight from horseback without penalties, the ability to see where pockets of danger lurk and, most critically, the ability to convince people to follow them into battle.

* Great Family: Lineage +1, Courage (Lineage Talent), Family History (Education Talent), Endurance (Athletics Talent). The character comes from a well-respected bloodline and from that has inherited a stout heart in both literal and metaphoric senses. He is also well versed in the family history – where they have lived, what they have owned, who they’re related to – and can call upon that in various ways.

* "Third Eyed": Perception +1, Sight (Perception Talent), See Enchantment (Education Talent), Speak to Spirits (Lineage Talent). The character has a rare sort of supernatural sight, letting them perceive not just the real world but also the spirit world. His eyes are exceptionally keen, and can also spot both enchantments and spirits – more impressively, he can communicate with those spirits, either staving off their attack or begging their aid.

* Hunter: Perception +1, Tracking (Perception Talent), Survival (Athletics Talent), Archery (Warcraft Talent). The character is someone who is skilled at surviving in the wild, especially with tracking and bringing down game.

* Mountaineer: Warcraft +1, Axe and Hammer (Warcaft Talent), Climbing (Athletics Talent) Mountain Lore (Education Talent). The character is someone who is at home in the wild mountains, knowing their trails, traps and secrets, being able to reach the heighest peaks and having mastered the mountaineers art of wielding an axe and hammer simultaneously without penalty, making them fierce in combat. 

* Spear Veteran: Warcraft +1, Spear and Shield (Warcraft Talent), Weather Sense (Perception Talent), Sprint (Athletics Talent). The character served as a footman in any of the innumerable skirmishes or storied battles of the plains and dales, and as such has the ability to travel on foot quickly (to charge, claim ground or flee the field) and wield a shield and spear simultaneously, giving them both protection and reach enough to face even mounted or gigantic foes. They also have years of practice (and perhaps some aching limbs) that will let them know when they’re about to get rained on.

* Company: X, 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.

* Hidden Depth: X, You have one Trait and 3 Talents you can pick in play as needed; they are set once chosen. The character has never been tested by life and therefore has traits and talents of which he has no conception. Mechanically speaking this means that the player can add one die to any one Trait and pick three talents over the course of play, letting their character learn quickly in the field.

* Wizardry: X, You can pick 2 Lores from the following list as Education Talents – Fire Lore (including pyrotechnics), Air Lore (including ventriloquisms), Water-Lore, Weather-Lore, Prophecy, and perhaps other appropriate player-defined lores. The character is a wizard with the ability to work magic into the world. The Wizard is limited to six effects total over the course of the game, so this is very much a resource management inheritance – if you use all six in the first two sessions it’s no good for you at the end of play.

* Distaff: X, gains +2d whenever she can surprise someone with her erudition, puissance or athleticism. Why yes, this is hideously sexist, but it’s a world in which women adventurers are rarer than hobbits, dwarves or elves.  Any woman with the courage and hard won training to compete amongst men will have the ability to dominate first exchanges when their opponent underestimates them. Expect that Distaff PCs will suffer from expected social hindrances.

* Rapport: X,+1d on any tests regarding a certain type of animal, and has one of them as a pet/mount. The character has a an exceptional mount or animal companion which travels with them, and gives them +1 die on any tests in which the companion could be an asset. The character also gains a +1 die on any roll dealing with other members of their companion’s species.

* Sailor: X, +1d on any test on a ship or regarding ships and has access to a vessel. You’re a sailor, well versed in lake, river or sea faring and gain a +1 die bonus on any actions done on board or relevant to ships or navigation. The character also either owns a ship with a very small crew that keeps it safe when he’s not there or has so many favors or such an extensive reputation that he can hitch a ride for himself and his companions across any body of water (save the trip to the lands of the west).

If the player has a really good idea a new one can be added (I think I likely need about 6 more to really flesh things out, but this is what I have) These are designed to give you a feel for the setting. You’ll notice that being a woman is just as ‘special’ as being an elf – this is not a very gender-egalitarian world. I have at least one on here that is not Middle-Earth-y (Sailor – there is next to no sailing in the series, and most of that is to leave the setting).  

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Distant Inheritance 4

4: More Examples, Traits and Talents

Much of the last post was an extended example of a big mass combat, which I realized is odd since the game will likely only have one of those at the very end. So how about some smaller examples?

Bilbo (Burglary 4d) tries to sneak up on a trio of trolls at night. Sneaking up on someone in moderate darkness is TN 5. There are three trolls, so the difficulty goes up by 5 to 10. Bilbo rolls a 16 and easily sneaks up on the Trolls.

In an effort to prove himself to the Dwarves he tries to pick one of the troll’s pockets. The GM rules that since he’s already close to them and he’s focusing on just one troll the difficulty modifier for having three opponents goes away, but trying to sneak real close to someone is another +5 difficulty, so it stays at 10. Bilbo’s player is comfortable with this and rolls. The dice come out 11, which _should_ be a success, but the troll had secret magic in his pouch that let it talk, so the TN was actually 15 due to the +5 from a magical artifact. The pouch sounds an alarm and Bilbo is spotted.

Bilbo tries to escape from the trolls, but having been spotted it’s his Atheltics or Warcraft to dodge them. Neither of them are very good (2d), and the trolls have a combat TN of 10 normally, 15 for there being three of them. Bilbo rolls a 4 and is snatched and popped in a sack.

Thorin, wondering what is taking their burglar so long, sends his company to search a couple at a time. This is an error since the company’s team bonus can’t logically apply to sneaking (having more people trying to sneak doesn’t really help sneak…) and all of them are snatched and popped in sacks until Thorin has to go himself. Since the company members are all NPCs the GM can just do this – note: do not send an NPC to do a PC’s job!

Thorin’s made of sterner stuff than his men and knows something is up. The perception check to avoid an ambush would normally be a 10, but the GM rules that advance warning from the company’s capture drops it to a 5, and Thorin easily sees the attack coming. He rolls a 14 with his warcraft, letting him win the first exchange. He leaps clear of the troll’s attack, snatches a brand from the fire and whacks the troll in the face with it, giving him a temporary advantage.

If it were a one on one fight Thorin would be in pretty good shape here – his difficulty for the next round would be a 5, so he can probably capitalize on the temporary advantage – but the other two trolls enter the fight and the difficulty goes up by 5. Thorin rolls a 9 and things go south rapidly. At the start of the next round and Thorin has lost the temporary advantage and gained a temporary disadvantage. Thorin’s difficulty goes to a 10 base +5 for 3 foes, +5 for the temporary advantage = 20. He just can’t win this round, and a roll 8 means he fails by 12. Thorin’s player sees the writing on the wall and accepts being popped in a sack, knowing Gandalf is still free.

Make sense?

Back to Traits and Talents, I need to further define the Traits, give some sample talents and set the “what is a Target Number 5” models

Athletics: what shape is the character in, how long can she run, how much can she lift and so on? The obvious talents are
* Climb: TN 5 is a 150 degree incline with handholds
* Run:  a combination of speed and duration. TN 5 is running a mile (so a marathon is TN 20)
* Sprint: running for speed, failure means you move at the base of 3 MPH. TN 5 is 9 MPH, TN 10 is 27 MPH (nothing past that – no running at 81 MPH!). Each roll past the first is +5 difficulty and rolls are set at GM discretion.
* Lift: 50 lbs is TN 5. Distributing it evenly across your body gives -5 TN, and if that’s a TN 0 no need to roll. Each roll past the first is +5 difficulty and rolls are set at GM discretion.
* Endurance: Endurance in terms of long distance travel has a lot to do with the Hobbit. Going one week of travel with limited rations is TN 5 (which means six months hard travel with limited rations is TN 20)

Burglary: how well does the character sneak, filch things and otherwise be sneaky?
* NOT Sneaking: This is the 90% for the Trait, and therefore isn’t acceptable as a talent. Sneaking around or in the general proximity of someone with some cover/shadow is TN5 Increases for brightness, suspicion by the target or the target having shaper than human senses.
* Slip Away: the ability to leave a scene without being noticed – from social crowd scenes to the chaotic moments at the start of an ambush. TN is 5 for a social setting of 9 or more people, increases with fewer people, non-social, guards who are ready for your tricks. Decreases with more people, poor light/cover.
* Escape: slip bonds, wriggle out of grips and fit through small spaces. TN is 5 for tied ropes. Increases
* Pickpocketing: this actually covers anything where you’re being sneaky _right next to someone_ from picking their pocket to slipping sleeping draught into their drink to backstabbing (if that is successful you can use your burglary instead of warcraft for one attack, but it’s very gauche). TN is 5 for something that isn’t dangerous or obtrusive (filching something light that is sticking out of their pocket), with increases for damage to target, target suspicion, intrusiveness (i.e. fully inside pocket) etc.
* Lockpicking: TN 5 for a very simple loop lock, increase for lock complexity till you end up with 30 for dwarvish or elvish magical calendar based locks.

Education: how much has the character studied, what does she know of the world and its people?
* Pathfinding: this is general knowledge of the safest/best paths to take and how to get there. TN is 5 for settled areas, up to 25 for navigating from a random spot out of the goblin caves back door.
* History: TN is 5 for important if minor events of the last decade. Increases for how long ago it was (30, 90 or 270 years…), obscurity (or fame) and location.
* Runes: This is the ability to read and decipher written language. Reading the common tongue is TN 5, increases for complexity, age of the document and if the language is magical.
* Locational Lore: You can pick a particular place and know a lot about its paths, history, runes, etc. The Talent works on anything to do with that place but offers no advantage elsewhere.
* Lore: This only comes from an inheritance, and is the general use of magic. The specifics of each Lore are detailed in the inheritance.

Lineage: what is the character’s heritage and how can she draw on that when talking to others?
* Language: speaking the common tongue is no issue, but speaking other races languages is TN 5 to TN 15 depending on how hard it is (add +5 if it is an animal race like birds or wolves). You can eliminate the need for a roll if you take that language as a specific talent. Gandalf has a Languages talent and can speak many languages; Bard has ‘Birds’ and can therefore talk to birds with no roll).
* Command: This lets you lead people into, and hopefully out of danger. TN 5 is leading forces naturally aligned with you into mild danger. Increases for greater threat and more dissension in the ranks.
* Courage: this lets you resist fear. TN 5 for mild sources of fright, increases for size of the threat (major threat is +5, catastrophic is +10) and magical nature of the threat (so Smaug is TN 20)
* Govern: the ability to debate, to bring people around to your point of view, to synthesize the needs of the group and weigh it against your resources. TN 5 for getting up to 30 people normally aligned with you to agree your plan to deal with common issues(and for your plan to be a good one!) Increases for more people, more complications and more division.
* Bloodline: you might be descended from an exceptional family (though not necessarily royalty) and can call on that for Lineage rolls three times per session. The best example of this is Bilbo’s Tookish nature making him more ready and able to adventure.

Perception:  how keen are the character’s senses, and how much does she trust them?
* Sense: pick a particular sense, and uses of that sense are at a bonus. The TN of any sense check is going to be GM determined based on relative difficulty.
* Cavesight: dwarves, for example, are really skilled with all awareness in caves – they can work from echoes, see with minimal light, taste what the wind is telling them –and so gain a bonus to all Perception rolls when in caves. This is an example of a good racial sense.
* Intuition: This is your general ability to sense danger or when people are lying to you.
* Tracking: your skill at following people in the wild. TN 5 is tracking 1 horse and rider over soft wet ground within a day. Increase the TN for dryer conditions, harder ground, and being a man rather than a horse, time since passage and trying to avoid detection. Decrease the TN with increases in people.

Warcraft: how well does the character fight, with any weapons? Pretty much all of these have TNs based on the combat ability of the opponents.
* Archery:  TN is also based on distance, with 10 yards or less as no modifier.
* Armored combat: this has been discussed above.
* Mounted combat: as with armored combat, unless you have this talent being on a horse hinders you as much as it helps you.
* Heavy weapons: again, these things (halberds, two handed swords, huge axes) are as much hindrance as help unless you have this talent and add another die
* Two weapon pairings: You can take a specific pairing of weapons/tools (axe and hammer, spear and shield) knowing that you’ll need both of those on hand and both hands free to get the extra die. Note that this world doesn’t have light weapon fencing (so no epee and dagger) just as a matter of style
* NOT ‘swordplay’: you can’t take ‘basic melee’ or ‘sword play’ to get an extra die, since those sorts of things are what the Trait is used for 90% of the time; getting an extra die for that is just cheap.

This should give you a better idea of the types of Talents, but this is by no means an exhaustive list – in fact we’re going to see a lot of ‘new’ specific talents tied up in the Inheritances next post, such as magic –  but those are talents you can only use if you have the Inheritance to keep them from being cheapened by over-use.

Again, another important point is that Talents are flags for the GM. If you pick a Talent for your character you’re asking the GM to introduce at least one instance in the campaign (if not more) that the talent will be useful and provide a good spotlight moment for your PC. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Distant Inheritance 3

3: design the game mechanics part 2 Target Numbers

Having designed the dice and success mechanics, the next obstacle is setting the target numbers. If the GM wants to stress a Trait where the character is poor then a target number should be 5. Otherwise target numbers should be 10 or 15, with a rare one at 20 to 25. Remember that in an extended conflict those numbers could go up quickly.

If the characters have either time to prepare or to take an extended time on something they reduce the difficulty by 5. If they’re surprised or rushed increase it by 5.

If the characters don’t have the proper tools (for a fight this is a basic weapon and possibly a shield) the difficulty increases by 5. If they have magical tools the difficulty is reduced by 5. (Heavy Armor isn’t better than light armor, or no armor and a shield  – unless the character has the Talent of Armored Combat the armor hinders as much as it helps and matters only for description of the action results. If they _do_ have that Talent they add the usual 1d6 for the advantages of the Armor.)

Generally tripling the variable element adds 5 to the difficulty. Fighting 1 person is base, 3 is +5 difficulty, 9 is +10 difficulty, 27 is +15 difficulty. Going one week on seriously reduced rations is base, 3 weeks is +5, 9 weeks is +10, and going more than half a year with minimal food and water is +15. Etc.

A quick bit of math to show average rolls (and one each die doesn’t translate to a success level, which is why modifying target numbers is more potent).
1d = 3.5 (33% chance of a 5+)
2d = 7 (83% chance of a 5, 17% chance of a 10%)
3d = 10.5 (96% chance of a 5, 60% chance of a 10, 14% chance of a 15)
4d = 14 (99% chance of a 5, 83% chance of a 10, 45% chance of a 15, 12% chance of a 20)
5d = 17.5 (11% chance of a 5, 92% chance of a 10, 70% chance of a 15, 36% chance of a 20, 12% chance of a 25, 1% chance of a 30

That’s a good benchmark for you to chew on when setting target numbers:  the key takeaway is that a 3d6 is ‘Professional’ – it will hit an ‘easy 5’ 96% of the time and a ‘challenging 10’ 60% of the time – and 5d6 is ‘Heroic’ – it will always hit an ‘easy 5’, hit a ‘challenging 10’ 92% of the time.

Once you have 3d6 in a Trait (or a Trait + Talent) you are assumed to have a high degree of ‘Kirkliness’, or the ability to gauge the odds of what you’re trying to do before you do it. The GM will provide you with the difficulty number and even the % chance of you scoring a marginal success. This lets you know when to hold them, when to fold them, when to walk away, when to run and when to cook darn fine chicken. Again, most monsters and creatures will keep the PCs alive after defeat, if only to argue about how to cook them.

Let’s do an extended example with Thorin.
An unarmed Thorin meets up with a Goblin warrior (difficulty number 5). The difficulty number goes up to 10 because Thorin doesn’t have the right tools. That’s Thorin’s 3d6 Warcraft vs. a target of 10, and Thorin has a 60% chance of winning the first exchange. This might actually turn into a fight, since the Goblin may think it has the upper hand, but it is more likely to fall back or run away.
An armed Thorin meets with a Goblin Warrior. Now it’s his 3d6 Warcraft against a target number of 5. This isn’t a fight – the Goblin flees rather than engage an armed dwarf warrior.
An armed Thorin meets with 3 Goblin warriors. Now it’s Thorin’s 3d6 Warcraft against a target number of 10. Again, this might turn into a fight because they might think they have the upper hand, but more likely it’s a stand-off.
An armed Thorin meets with 9 Goblin warriors. Since the adversaries have tripled twice they are now difficulty 15. Thorin has a 15% chance to win the first exchange, and now he’s the one better served by fleeing or surrendering since the Goblins clearly have the upper hand.
An armed Thorin wearing heavy armor meets with 9 Goblin warriors. His talent for Armored Combat increases his Warcraft roll to 4d6, and he now has a 45 % chance to win the first exchange. Again, this might turn into a fight since the Goblins have a little bit of an edge, but Thorin still has good odds.
An armed Thorin wearing heavy armor and carrying Orcrist meets with 9 Goblin warriors. He’s still at the 4d6 Warcraft with his Talent, and carrying a magical tool means the difficulty drops by 5, back down to 10. The Goblins will not engage unless forced, since Thorin has an 83% chance of winning the first exchange.
Thorin, in heavy armor with Orcrist, meets with 27 Goblin warriors. The further tripling of the adversaries has returned the odds to what they were before the magic sword entered the picture, and now we’re at a point where the Goblins might attack, feeling that 27 to 1 odds are in their favor.
Thorin, in heavy armor with Orcrist, meets with 81 Goblin warriors. That’s another tripling of the adversaries and even with Orcrist the difficulty is now 20, so Thorin has only a 12% chance of winning the first exchange. He might be better off fleeing or surrendering.
Thorin, in heavy armor with Orcirst – and backed by his company – meet with 81 Goblin warriors. The Company Inheritance gives Thorin a 2d6 bonus to his action, pushing his warcraft to 6d6. Since 5d6 is the maximum roll the remaining d6 is turned into another 5 point reduction in the difficulty. Breaking this out we now have 5d6 Warcraft against a difficulty of (5 = 1 goblin, 10 = 3 Goblins, 15= 9 Goblins, 20 = 27 Goblins, 25 = 81 Goblins, -5 for Orcist = 20, -5 for the die past 5d6 =) 15. A properly prepared and magically armed Thorin and company have a 70% chance to win the first exchange with a group of 81 Goblins, and it’s highly likely the mass of Goblins will not dare to attack the 13 doughty dwarf warriors.
In fact, if faced with such an assembly it would take 243 or more Goblin warriors to feel confident enough to engage – and that additional 5 points of difficulty reduces Thorin and Company’s chance to win the first exchange to 36%. This only makes sense – at that point it’s close to 20 to 1 odds against the dwarves, which is an awful lot.

But let’s say that Thorin is backed in a corner, and Thorin’s player rolls well – a 22. That a marginal success, and it means that the difficulty drops by 5 for the next exchange. Narratively we can say that Thorin and company engage in a surprise charge, scattering the Goblins, and claim the high ground. The Goblin’s didn’t lose anyone, but it will take a minute for them to get their full forces ready to attack again. That explains why only one third of the goblins attack in the next exchange (explaining the 5 point difficulty drop).
Now Thorin only needs to roll a 15 or better, and he scores a 24. That’s a success of +9 – not quite good enough for a +10 success level but it does make that 5 point difficulty reduction last longer than one round. So the goblins charge but Thorin and Company hold their position, batting aside Goblins with crossbow, axe, hammer and enchanted blade.
In the third exchange the difficulty is again 15, but Thorin rolls a 12. That’s a marginal failure, so the Goblins are able to consolidate their position and launch a real attack. Thorin’s difficulty is back up to 20 for next round only.
The fourth exchange has Thorin roll a 20 exactly, for a marginal success – despite still being deeply outnumbered Thorin and Company continue to hold, battered and bloody but unbowed in the face of the Goblin army, and the Goblins are starting to get demoralized, with two thirds of their number now dead of fleeing.
…And now the tide turns in their favor. At the start of the fifth exchange the Goblin’s lose their one exchange difficulty bonus, so the difficulty drops to 15. Then Thorin adds his one exchange difficulty reduction from the fourth exchange and the difficulty is further reduced to a 10.
In the sixth exchange Thorin rolls a 16, for a +5 victory, again reducing the long term target number to 10. The mass of Goblin troops is in disarray, with only 9 of them still in any position to fight. This conflict is pretty well over, and the mass of goblins flees rather than continue it. It’s likely one third of the goblin force is actually dead from this battle, but it would be unseemly to count the bodies. Regardless of how many are still alive it is a heroic 20 to 1 victory for Thorin and Company, and done without meaningful losses. The example also shows how important that first exchange is in setting the fight’s trajectory. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A Distant Inheritance 2

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.