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Topics - Kristian

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The Art of the Game Master / Roll dice or say "yes"
« on: November 28, 2008, 09:49:55 AM »
There's a piece of text from the rules of the game Dogs in the Vineyard (a really good game, by the way) which is also quoted in the rules book of Burning Wheel. I'd be interested in hearing what you guys think about this. It goes like this:

Quote from: D. Vincent Baker
Every moment of play, roll dice or say "yes."

If nothing is at stake, say "yes" [to the players' request], whatever they're doing. Just go along with them. If they ask for information, give it to them. If they have their characters go somewhere, they're there. If they want it, it's theirs.

Sooner or later - sooner, because [your game's] pregnant with crisis - they'll have their characters do something that someone else won't like. Bang! Something's at stake. Start the conflict and roll the dice.

Roll dice or say "yes."

This is a very hard rule to play by if you're used to traditional, DnD-style gaming. Or at least it has been for me and my group. The principle isn't hard to grasp. But when you use this concept for the first time it makes a radical change in your play style. The (by now) classic example is the locked door:

The characters come to a locked door. They have to get it open to continue, so the thief starts picking the lock. Normally, most GMs (including myself) would go: "Roll a lockpicking check. The difficulty is X" or whatever. The thief rolls and either he gets it or he doesn't. If he gets it, cool, the group continues down the hallway on the other side. If he doesn't, fuck, they're going to have to try and bash it in or find another way.

Here's the thing, though: Everyone at the table wants the characters to get the door open. Having them find another way is just a waste of time. So why are we rolling dice? Years ago, I might have just fudged that roll or told them they'd gotten it open even though the thief didn't roll high enough. Today, that seems kind of silly, but it wasn't until I read that little snippet of advice that I realized there was another way of doing it.

Using the "roll dice or say yes" approach to the same situation, you can either go "Right, don't roll. You unlock it" or you can go "Okay, here's how it is: The difficulty is X. If you succeed, the door opens. If you fail, the door still opens, but you set off an alarm further down the hallway. You'll be through the door, but you'll have a serious fight on your hands."

I realize this isn't the best example, but I think it works. I don't use this method all the time, but in key moments this is great for building up tension. The main thing, for me, is getting rid of all the meaningless rolls that fly across the table during a gaming session. A character is out gathering information about the orc king they're going to visit tomorrow, and fails his check. So he's spent a whole day doing nothing, and wasted game time. What if, instead of "Either you learn something or you don't" it's "You learn soething, but if you roll poorly, the orc king gets word that you've been asking about him." Suddenly the player has to decide whther it's worth it or not.

This goes double for a game like Burning Wheel where rolling skill checks is how you increase your scores, so in that game, every roll has to count.

I'm not saying, always give the players what they're asking for and just stick a hazard on it. And a lot of the time I still use the traditional method. "Oh, you wanna haggle? Roll your bargain skill vs. his willpower. If you fail you don't get it half price." Coming up with the right stakes for "roll dice or say yes" on the fly isn't always easy either. But when you do, it makes for some really exciting moments.

General Discussion and Questions / Fauna Questions
« on: January 28, 2006, 01:01:15 PM »
I'm currently working on drawing the forest fauna, and I've done the Arachnicon. But the arachtopus is giving me some problems. I can't figure out if this creature is walking around on the tips of its tentacles ("like a drunk spider") or if it's more like an octopus lying flat on the ground, dragging itself along. Also, does it have eyes?

Dave, what's your vision of this creature? What about the rest of you? Has anyone used this creature in-play before? What did it look like to you?

Gaming Tales / Player Deaths
« on: September 08, 2005, 02:23:13 AM »
I'm sometimes critized a bit by some of the players in our group that I don't kill them enough... This might seem a bit odd, but it's propably true. I don't like it when a player character dies. It slows down the story, there's usually some bad roleplaying involved when the player's new character wants to join the group ("You look trustworthy, won't you join us?"), and it just annoys me. But if it never happens the players don't feel like they're ever really in danger, and I think this is what the complaint is really about. Still, I do kill them sometimes. Not unfairly or anything, just in the normal GM ways you know.

But this is a story of players killing themselves.

We were in the middle of a long campaign, and half of the group was attending an important gathering in a huge city on top of the Nexus Mountain. The other half of the group were camping at the foot of the mountain waiting for the others to come down. While at the gathering the players suddenly get a message from the camp through their magic necklaces. They were being attacked (at this time the players camping were absent for various reasons for a couple of sessions) so the group hurried down the mountain only to find the camp empty. Long story short, they followed the trail to an old underground prison, and found out that their friends had been captured by a group  of strange creatures they had had trouble with before. So they enter the prison. They were only two people. They fight through some guards and try to find the cells. As they descend into the prison more and more powerful guards come at them, and in the end they were fighting some pretty hefty stuff. They realize they are in a bit over their heads and start to retreat. Before they're even half-way back they've run out of healing (this is two warriors) and they are still losing hit points fast. Then the tide turns and they somehow manage to keep the monsters at bay so they can escape. But then one player goes: "Quick! Heal me with the wand."

The wand was a magic item they had found earlier in a temple. It was a small staff that was activated when you hit someone with it. There was a 50% chance that it would heal you, a 48% chance that it would hurt you, a 1% chance that it would resurrect a corpse (if you hit a corpse with it) and a 1% chance that it would blow your body to smithereens, really tiny pieces, beyond any hope of ever being resurrected. When the group first found the wand and had it identified they started, to my horror, to play around with it and hit each other with it. I let them make the rolls. After it had come a bit close a few times they pretty much forgot about it and stashed it in a backpack...

...until he mentioned it again. They were safe. They were close to the exit, with healing potions waiting for them outside. The other character pulls out the wand and whacks the other guy with it. Of course he rolls 100 and blows his group member to smithereens, filling the guy's armour with bloody pulp.

Later he managed to get the others out and back to safety on the mountain, but he had to break the bad news to them and tell one of them that his litlle brother was dead.

Role Playing Discussion / Skills and some other stuff
« on: September 01, 2005, 02:35:38 AM »
This is going to be a bit long, but I'll try to be as brief as I can:

I'm creating a new set of rpg rules based on TSR's (or WoC's) out of print sci-fi game Alternity. This system will be primarily fantasy oriented as that's my favourite setting by far. When we were playing Alternity (which is a skill-based rpg) I was always a bit bothered by all the skills that are in the system but never gets used. It's always a fine line when designing skills which to put in and which to let out. And also how broad should you make them?

Alternity has a system of Broad Skills and Specialty Skills. Each stat (Strength, Intelligence etc.) has a number og Broad Skills (like, say, Athletics under Strength) and each Broad Skill has a number of specialty skills (like Jumping, Throwing and so on, under Athletics). When you buy a broad skill you're allowed to buy ranks in its specialty skills. The higher your stat the higher your starting value in those skills.

Alternity gives you ranks benefits, which are expanded abilities in a certain skill when you reach a certain rank. But it doesn't do it with all skills and there is a great difference in the number of benefits per skill.

So: When recreating it, I've gone over all skills and changed, broadened or specialised them so they fit our group's gaming style better. As I wrote I was a bit bothered by the fact that Aternity has a lot of skills that are never used and some that are either too broad or too specialised. I have now given each skill four benefits: A starting benefit which you get at around rank 2-4, an Expert benefit which you get around rank 6, a Master Benefit which you get around rank 9 or 10 and a Godly benefit which you obtain at about rank 15. It takes forever to reach rank fifteen.

Also, I have created a maneuver system on top of the normal combat system. In this sytem everything you can do in a fight is a maneuver. Maneuvers have set penalties and bonuses and so on. This has made it a lot easier for me to design and decide what you can and can't do in a combat round. To make the skills even more exciting and usable I created maneuvers based on almost all skills in the game, and not just the combat skills. You can feint, bluff, intimidate and distract your opponent in a lot of different ways now. And you can inspire and help out your allies, making fearsome battle cries, taunting their opponents and so on. I had a lot of inspiration from The Riddle of Steel and Mike Mearls' The Book of Iron Might and Iron Heroes.

Here's an example of a Stat, its Broad Skills and their Specialty skills (the numbers are skill points costs):


•   Armour Operation    7
   o    Heavy              4
   o    Light/Medium        3
   o    Shield               3
•   Athletics *      4
   o    Brawl               3
   o    Climb                2
   o    Jump               1
   o    Sprint                1
   o    Throw              3
•   Mêlée Weapons       6
   o    Blades                3
   o    Mass Weapons        3
   o    Polearms      3

Here's an example of a rank benefit (Hearing, rank 8 ):

Expert Listener
At rank 8 you have become an expert at interpreting what you hear. From the sound a person makes when walking around or moving in any way, you can determine almost exactly what kind of equipment he is carrying, what he is wearing, how tall he is, if he is strong etc. You have to be relatively close to make a check. On the other side of a door, or around a corner is fine.

Here are a few examples of some maneuvers based on non-combat skills:

Hear Your Enemies [Free, Prep, 1]
Effect: You rely on your hearing to judge what people out of your field of vision are doing. As a free maneuver you may roll a check before your first attack each round. If you succeed the penalty for fighting several opponents is reduced by 1 if you got an Ordinary or Good success, and by 2 if your check was Amazing. If you critically fail your penalty is increased by 2. This counts for the rest of this round.
Skill: Awareness – Hearing
Mod.: +2
Preqs.: Rank 5

Distraction [Att, Man]
Effect: You do your best to distract your opponent, making him look away or think there’s someone behind him. On your next action against him or his next action against you (whichever comes first) there’s a modifier of 2 in your favour.
Skill: Interaction – any, Deception - Bluff
Mod.: +1, resisted by WILL
Preqs.: Rank 2

Note that in Alternity + is bad for you and - is good. You have to get low rolls.

What do you think about these ideas (if you understood any of the above :D )? I have no problem with the story part of our campaigns, that's always fine, but I'd like to spruce up the action a little bit, and get people away from making the same characters over and over. I think this could help. I realize there are a lot of opinions on this subject. Some people want as many skills as possible, others want none at all, while some want a mix. In the rpg Unknown Armies, players make up their own skills when creating characters. What are your thoughts on skills and how they should be implemented, and what they should influence?

General Discussion and Questions / Thallasians
« on: August 31, 2005, 03:52:59 AM »
Okay, I have two questions about the Thallasians.

First, how sofisticated is the Bio-Luminescence language of the nobles? Can they be assumed to be able to communicate with a complexity close to human languages?

Secondly: Say a ship is attacked by a group of Thallasians who try to sink it in some way. Aboard the ship is a mage who uses a heat spell to make the water boil and kills all the Thallasian. Do they turn red? I realize this won't turn up often, but do Thallasians turn red when you boil them?

EDIT: typos

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