Sunday, July 27, 2014

More Uses for an Icon Roll? Maybe . . .

The thoughts continue to flow regarding when and how to use Icon relationship rolls . . .

Character Death

When the character would normally die, roll the Icon relationship die.  If a 5 or a 6 comes up, the Icon's agents, or those working against an Icon, have been keeping an eye on the PC and want to make sure that they don't pass on just yet.

On a 5, an agent of the Icon  (or their enemies) arrives and saves the PC, but the magic used also compels them to perform a quest to complete the spell.  Failing to do so causes the PC to meet their final demise, but usually the PC will have enough time to finish what they are currently doing before performing this quest.

On a 6, an agent of the Icon  (or their enemies) arrives and saves the PC based on a previous deed they have performed.  The PC should come up with what that deed was, which is usually something that happened "off screen," between adventures that the party has been on.

While the PC has been saved, this doesn't quite count as being raised from the dead.  The ally shows up at the last possible second to save them without resorting to magic that raises the dead.

Total Party Kills

Everyone in the party drops.  Clearly, they are all about to shuffle off the mortal coil and join the Adventuring Party Invisible.  But wait . . . maybe they don't.

Roll an Icon relationship roll for each PC.  On a 5 or a 6 for any PC in the party, there is no TPK.

If there are any 5s on the Icon Relationship rolls:  come up with a really nasty campaign setback, much as you would if the party had retreated from a fight, but make it much more important to the overall direction of the campaign.  For example, if you would have normally had the dragon destroy the nearby town, instead, the dragon appears to be an agent of the Three, and there may be a civil war in the Dragon Empire if the PCs don't defuse the situation.

The PCs will all be saved by agents of whatever Icons may have been indicated on the relationship dice, with any PCs that didn't roll a 5 or a 6 being able to describe what agents rescued them, if more than one Icon was indicated.

If only 6s come up, then there was no major campaign setback  (in the example above, perhaps the agents of the Icon managed to kill the dragon to save the PCs).

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

More Thoughts on Icon Rolls in 13th Age

Inspiration struck me, but then I realized this blog post was about 13th Age, and Inspiration is a 5th Edition rule, so I ignored my inspiration and started writing about 13th Age.


More thoughts on how and when to use Icon relationship rolls in a 13th Age game.

At the Beginning of the Campaign or Story Arc

At the beginning of a campaign or a major new story arc, characters could make Icon rolls to see if they have recently been doing the work of one of the Icons  (or if they have been working against one of the Icons, for that matter).  On a 5 or 6, the character has just returned from a mission of this nature.

On a 5, the character gives up one of their recoveries until they can take an extended rest, as the mission was particularly strenuous and the character has had little time to rest.

When the character rolls a 5 or 6, their Icon  (or an opponent of the Icon) has given the gift of a magic item to the character in exchange for their service.  If the GM feels this is too generous, or has already used this as a means of introducing a permanent magic item, you can always shift the reward to something like a rune.

Each player that rolls a 5 or 6 should tell the group what kind of mission they were on and why it was important, as well as how it either helped or hindered the Icon with which they have the relationship.  A character with a conflicted relationship should explain why the Icon isn't totally negatively disposed towards them, if they acted against them, or why the Icon is still cautious about the PC, if they aided the Icon.

When the PCs Save Someone That They Don't Have to Save

Any time the PCs go out of their way to save characters that they have no other interest in saving, roll an Icon relationship roll.  On a 5 or 6, the character has saved someone important to the Icon (or their enemies) that is now in the PCs debt.

The character is now a contact that will answer questions in their area of expertise without any check or payment required.  The player should note the name of the contact and where they live, and if the PC makes the trek to visit that contact, they will answer questions as best they can.

On a 6, the character not only is willing to be a contact for the PC that saved them, but they have somethingof immediate use to the PCs that they are willing to part with  (consumable magic item, mounts, a secret passage out of town, etc.).

When the PCs attempt to Retreat from an Encounter

When the PCs decide to retreat from an encounter, have all of them roll an Icon relationship roll.  If the any of the players end up with a 5 or a 6, the "cavalry" from the Icon's forces (or their enemy's forces) arrive and helps the PCs fight free of the bad guys.

On a 5, this is an arduous, hard fought retreat, and the PCs should narrate how they managed to get away.  They must spend either a Daily or Recharge power that they can't use until they get an extended rest, spend at recovery, lose a single use item, or lose a number of hit points equal to what they might normally receive from a recovery.

On a 6, the retreat is well covered, and the PCs get away without any harm or expenditure of power or health.  In either case, the party will not suffer a campaign setback if they received a backup from their allies.

When the PCs are Investigating or Researching Information

When the PCs are researching a vital bit of information, or are investigating a circumstance, roll an Icon relationship check before they begin their research or investigation.  On a 5 or 6 the Icon or their proxies have decided to make the answer obvious to the PCs.

On a 5, the PCs run into an agent of the Icon, or if the Icon is feeling especially generous, a magical sending reaches them.  The PCs will receive the location of where they might find the answer to their questions, whether it might be an ancient stone wall with the answer inscribed, an oracle, or something else that will distribute information to the PCs, but the trip should not be without some form of peril, even though the information is revealed without any difficulty once the PCs reach the proper site for the answer.

On a 6, the agent of the Icon will directly hand the answer to the PC without any further check.

Monday, July 21, 2014

How Do You Know When the Party Is Over? When The TIE Bombers Show Up.

The second session of our Age of Rebellion campaign revolved around the Rebel agents actually making contact with the Yevetha insurgents and starting to coordinate with them.  We also needed to introduce a new character to the team.

Because we were doing a lot of roleplaying, and because we were essentially setting up something that was going to be a least a little bit of a foregone conclusion, I designed most of the encounters to use one roll combat resolution so that we could get to exactly what the players were doing to convince the Yevetha to join their cause.  The other reason for this non-standard set up was that I was quickly cutting back and forth between the PCs at the party headquarters and the PCs in the desert, and the one roll resolution checks made it easier to slip back and forth between groups so nobody was out of the story for too long.

Our Mon Cal tactician wasn't able to join in the first session, so he arrived and met the party's droid  (with a holographic sheath making it appear to be the Corellian's sister) and the Gran, who was knocked out by our medic sniper last session.

A mysterious Yevetha outcast showed up to speak to the Gran and the Mon Cal to tell them not to free the Sly One, and that their friends would need them, and she sent them in the direction of the insurgent headquarters in the desert.

In the meantime, the party out in the desert got lost looking for the headquarters and wandered into an ambush, which they put down pretty definitely  (and with lethal force, which the Yevetha actually respected more than if they had taken prisoners).

Long story short, both groups ended up at the insurgent headquarters, with some of the PCs captured and being forced to fight for their lives in a Yevetha area against more outcasts, whose lives were worth nothing to the Yevetha who were not outcasts.  The rest of the PCs crept into hideout, and the Duro mechanic kept the repulsor truck running even as she was scavenging parts from the Yevetha equipment.

There was a gladitorial fight, and blustering, and shooting, and the Yevetha leader was ready to give the group the tests he expected them to pass if he were to join them, and brought out a plate of blood worms for the whole group to share as they began to seal their alliance.  And then Doc, the sniper-medic, decided to test the mysterious spice he had stolen from the smuggler's ship the previous session.

Doc had never identified what the spice was.  I knew it was Glitteryl, which is a hybrid spice that more or less erases someone's personality.  So the rest of the Yevetha accused Doc of witchcraft, and things suddenly got bad, making it a very good thing that the Duro was waiting for the party with the truck running.

Doc decided to try and hold off the Yevetha to allow the rest of the party to escape.  After some protest, the rest of the team retreated, and Doc charged further into the caves to keep the Yevetha busy.  Then things got even more complicated.

A Sentinel class shuttle full of Imperial troops was heading to the caves, escorted by a TIE Bomber.  The Chiss slicer tried to make sure that the TIE Bomber didn't give chase on the repulsor truck, but his check made the bomber circle around and attack the caves before the troops could sweep the caves.  Apparently the Force was with Doc, because I rolled the lowest possible crit when the bombers hit the cavern complex.

Unfortunately, the rest of the team ended up getting detained when they returned to Hariz Spaceport, and they were going to be interrogated.  They came up with a story about Yevetha insurgents accosting them within the city walls, something that hadn't happened in months.

While the PCs were in the detention center getting their stories straight, their Hapani smuggler contact that flew them into Hariz Spaceport happened to have business at the Imperial garrison that day, and he offered to pull a few strings to get the party free, in exchange for helping him with a few business matters in the future.

Thus the party managed to pick up Obligation just like an Edge of the Empire group would have. I felt it was appropriate, and it got them out of any more uncomfortable questions from the Imperials.  After seeing the previous insurgent cell vaporized by proton bombs, Kimari, the Mon Cal tactician, is convinced the answer is to build an insurgency from the Yevetha outcasts instead.

Of course the rest of the party has no idea what the fate of Doc is at this point.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

5th Edition Just Happened!

This morning/afternoon I ran a 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons game for some friends online.  I wanted to try out the system as well as hang out with a friend I don't get to game with at the moment face to face.  Here are some observations about the game, based on me just running the one time and only reading through everything pretty much one time.  That's all important because I'm sure there are things I'm still missing and will be missing until I trip over how to actually do what I've been doing.

The Adventure

I ran Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle because I wanted to have the chance to actually run a longer, connected game if it came to that.  Given that it takes me forever to actually get people on track with the "real" adventure, since I like my side quests and roleplaying, this will probably never happen, but hey, I can dream.

The adventure (actually four linked adventures) looks fun, but not spectacular.  I threw in my own introductory information to hint at some later plot elements and set up why and how the party started working together, so most of my observations won't have a whole lot to do with the adventure proper, other than where the adventure took place, encounter charts, etc.

Trust Your Instincts

The adventure has you break up exploration into "exploration rounds," which means that you make all of the checks for finding things, wandering monsters, etc. at that interval.  In this instance, the "exploration rounds" were broken up into hours, since the PCs were searching for something fairly close to Daggerford.

After getting lost looking for the item they were hired to find, they encountered wolves.  This is where I learned that I should probably just look at things and use my old school instincts instead of trusting an encounter budget.

This article spells out how an encounter budget should work in 5th edition.  In WOTC's defense, they mention this is tentative, and that going with your gut is always a good thing.  Long story short, I aimed for a "challenging" encounter, and the article says to be careful using creatures whose Challenge Rating is higher than the party level.

Wolves are lower than the party level.  Before anybody old school points out that you should just throw the pack out there and let the bodies fall where they may, wolves are an odd encounter.  They are based on a real world thing, and people have varying ideas about how easily a party of four armed adventurers should be able to take on a pack of wolves.   I'll buy that 1st level PCs should know to run from giants or dragons, regardless of edition, but wolves . . . eh . . . that's trickier.

Wolves get advantage when attacking someone that an ally is also attacking.  If that ally is also a wolf, that wolf also gets advantage.  So that means if your wolves start to double up on adventurers, both of the wolves on that adventurer are much more likely to hit.  It looks very scary after a few rolls.

That said, my failure with the first random encounter taught me a few things.

1.  Look at the monster and really think about what will likely happen in a fight before trusting an encounter budget.  I should have noticed that the wolves were pretty vicious, but when rolling on the chart, I only noticed their Challenge Rating.

2.  I can definitely see how this bounded accuracy thing is going to work.  Wolves may be a little easier to hit as characters get higher level, but it doesn't seem like you are going to run into that situation that happened to me often in 3rd/3.5 with monsters that are only a few CR lower than the party never having a realistic chance to do any damage to the party.

That said, bounded accuracy also seems to indicate that maybe pushing 1st level characters into challenging encounters may be less advisable than it may have been previously.  Overall, I like it, and I'm interested to see how monsters like these work at higher levels, when they shouldn't be as outmoded as they would have been in other recent editions.

Death Saves

Yes, many of these were rolled.  I have read some concern over death saves still being in the game, because the PC making the roll isn't really doing anything exciting and it as a drag in 4th edition.  From what I saw today, I don't think it will be nearly as much of a drag in 5th edition, because so long as you aren't playing on a grid and micro-analyzing every 5 feet of movement, turns were going by pretty quickly.  But again, this was a 1st level party.

Plus it was kind of fun watching the dwarf suddenly pop back up, ready to go, when his player rolled a 20.

Decisions, decisions

While it was true in 4th edition as well as 13th Age, I've only played in those games, not run them, and I think its interesting allowing players the choice to kill or not to kill a defeated opponent.  It's a relatively little thing, but it can turn what would be routine combat into a chance for the character to discuss what's going on in their head, and by extension, to roleplay their character a bit more.

Inspirational play

In concept, I really liked the idea of Inspiration, but at the very beginning of the adventure, when things were going the much more old school route of "failed rolls lead to random encounters which lead to death," I was afraid that all of that neat background information wouldn't come into play.

Thankfully, once the PCs got to some more "story based" encounters, it was a lot easier to figure out situations where they had been directly acting on their backgrounds, and thus, where I should be awarding Inspiration.

Eventually we had dropped to two out of four players due to technical issues and other obligations, but the two remaining players both earned Inspiration based on their actions matching where their interests would lie. I was pretty happy with it overall, but If I run for a bigger group, I think I want to have a chart that clearly lays out all of the players background headers so I can keep them in mind and not forget a chance to properly reward them.

Advantages and Disadvantages

This is a fun mechanic.  Maybe I'll get bored with it, but it was a lot more fun to assign and to use than a simple bonus to a check.  There were a few times where I'm not sure I did exactly what the rules called for in a given situation, but it was so easy to resolve it with assigning advantage or disadvantage, I'm not sure I'm all that worried about it.

In a nutshell

I was afraid that the technical issues and the miscalculation with the wolves would put a damper on the session, but for those that managed to stay in the game for the long haul, the adventure seemed to be fun, and ran more smoothly the longer went on.  I'm interested enough to run the game again, and I'm hoping that we can resolve any technical issues, and that I can trust my judgement and pay a bit more attention to what monsters can actually do, the next time around.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

D&D Nostalgia Time: The First (Real) Adventure

The first time I ever encountered Dungeons and Dragons was when my sister received a copy of the magenta Basic set for her birthday.  It was the "in thing" at the time, and kind of edgy, so my mother decided to pick it up for her.  Both of my sisters were fantasy fans, one leaning towards the Chronicles of Narnia, while the other leaned towards the Lord of the Rings.

Despite this love of fantasy, my dear sister never really mustered the desire to learn the game.  I saw that boxed set.  It kind of called to me.  I was younger than my sisters, and I hadn't read any fantasy classics yet, but my mother used to read Arthurian stories to me at bed time, and I had even started to sneak in an issue of the Marvel Conan comic from time to time during grocery store trips.

I wanted to see what was in the box.  

Rules!  Multiple books!  Strange pictures of swords, and armored folk, and monsters!  This must be mine, the young me thought.  My sister hadn't touched the box set for about six months.  To the best of my knowledge she had never even touched the dice.  And those dice were so cool!  They had more than six sides.  

My first foray into DMing was a chaotic mess.  Okay, my second foray was a chaotic mess as well, but it was much more intentional.  My first foray was just to have my friend make up a character while I threw monsters at him from the monsters section.  I thought hit dice were interchangeable with hit points.  I had no idea what I was doing.  We both had a feeling that we were a little lost.

Another friend from school had a brother that ran a regular AD&D game, and we asked if we could sit in.  I was so wrong, but this whole roleplaying thing was so much better than I thought it was.  While everyone seemed to have a good time, and there was definitely a story going on, I have to admit my friend's brother was a bit of a tyrant at being a DM, but that seemed to be the fashion at the time, and, I am almost ashamed to admit, that might have been incentive for me to actually run the game rather than play.  But I knew I wanted to be a benevolent dictator.

Regardless, the concept made a lot more sense to me after sitting in on that session.  It still took months before I actually got the chance to run a real adventure, with a story and everything.  Three of my friends made up characters, and I made up a story.  I also snagged the newest version of the Expert Set, and boy did that give me ideas.

My friends brought Razzlestar the Elf, Hoyle the Magic User, and Rekkin the Dwarf to the table.  I brought a story of a ship lost at sea, crashing on a deserted island.  The group ran into wild animals and zombies, and eventually found out that the storm that caused the ships to crash on the rocks surrounding the island was caused by a vampire, who lured ships to their doom so that he could feed.

Yes, I threw a vampire at 1st level characters.  Remember--tyrant.  Besides, it was an epic tale, who cares if it was a balanced encounter?

Also, why the vampire was trying to kill his food with wolves, rats, and zombies, I hadn't quite worked out.  The vampire himself had all sorts of "story" powers based on my knowledge of comic book vampires.  He could control weather and animate the corpses of those he didn't bring back as vampire spawn.  But I was proud of myself for actually coming up with a story, a reason for all of this to happen.

Thankfully for the PCs, I hadn't quite picked up on what energy drain did.  The PCs all attacked and did nothing to harm the vampire.  The vampire tossed them around.  They attacked again, and couldn't do anything to the vampire.  So they ran.

I had no idea how they were suppose to win.  I just came up with the problem.  The PCs were suppose to supply the solution.  Thankfully, they did, so that my first turn as Grand High Tyrant Dungeon Master didn't end in a TPK.

My friends decided that if they couldn't harm the vampire with their weapons, then they should use the only weapon they had left.  They had to stall off the vampire long enough for the sun to come up.  After fighting wolves and zombies, and spending two rounds doing absolutely nothing to harm the vampire, the players decided to try and stay "just enough" ahead of the vampire to get him to forget about what time it was.

I was sold.  It was so in tune with how vampire hunters took out the master vampire in so many movies that I had seen, I decided this was indeed the correct solution to the problem.  I made the PCs explain to me how they were trying to trick the vampire and how they attempting to keep just a little ahead of the vampire.  After making them explain how they were baiting the vampire, I made them go through one more round of combat with the vampire, and at the end of the round, the sun came up, and the vampire was no more.


One of the things I learned from the ramp up to this session was that I just wasn't geared towards running adventure modules.  This slowly changed, but at this point in time, I just couldn't wrap my head around what I was suppose to do with the Keep on the Borderlands or the Isle of Dread.

But this session was enough to hook me on running roleplaying games from that point on.