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.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Leveraging Your Relationships: Active Icon Relationship Rolls in 13th Age

It seems as if one of the most brilliant and also stupefying mechanics in 13th Age seems to be the relationship roll.  The mechanic is a great way to tie your character to the larger figures in the campaign setting, and its a great tool to remind you to inject some random improvisational elements to a game session, but it can be daunting.

Might it not be possible for a PC to actually leverage their relationship with one of the Icons?  Maybe proactively use the relationship dice in their favor, or at least attempt to do so?  I'm going to posit here a couple a ways to proactively utilize the relationship dice in a session.  I also suggest a few ground rules when it comes to proactive relation ship rolls.

  • Each type of proactive relationship roll can only be used one in a game session, and only if the GM agrees that it makes sense to use in a given situation.
  • Before making the roll, if a proactive relationship roll is attempted, the player must chose what Icon Relationship will be used, if the PC has more than one Icon Relationship.  
  • You don't need to invoke the same Icon for both proactive relationship rolls if you do use both forms in one game session, but once you attempt one type of proactive Icon Relationship roll, you cannot attempt the same proactive roll with a different Icon.

Name Dropping

Whenever a character would make a social skill check of some sort, whether attempting to persuade a guard to let you pass or intimidate bandits to avoid a fight, you can invoke the name of your patron and discuss why you are important to that Icon, their organization, or their plans.

If you fail a your social skill check, you may immediately attempt a Name Dropping to recover from that failure, but if you fail both the social skill check and the Name Dropping check, consequences could be very dire.

A positive successful Name Dropping check for a positive Icon relationship is going to directly connect you to the Icon or their important agents, and why you are important or valuable to that Icon.  A positive successful Name Dropping check for a negative Icon relationship will convince your target audience that you have been a significant thorn in the side of your Icon or their organization, and that if you can challenge that Icon, you must be a force to be respected.  Characters that have a conflicted relationship may chose to decide if they are attaching themselves to their Icon or distancing themselves from the Icon.

Rolling a 5 on the Icon relationship roll does all that a 6 does, but with the added setback of an agent of the Icon being aware that someone is invoking the Icon's name in the general location of the PC that has made the check.

Securing Aid

Whenever you are in a location where your Icon would have a least a few agents that are active, you can attempt to Secure Aid from your Icon.  The GM will determine what form the aid takes, but it should be in line with what the characters actually need.  For example, a badly wounded character, aid is most likely going to come in the form of healing.  If characters are having a difficult time finding a lost ruin, aid may come in the form of a guide or a map.

Failing a Securing Aid check means that the character simply cannot find an agent of the Icon to whom they have a relationship.  Rolling a 5 on the relationship check will bring the PC to an agent that can help them, but that agent will immediately expect to be able to call on the PCs for a mission to directly benefit  (or hinder) the Icon.  Rolling a 6 on the relationship check indicates that the PC is well regarded enough that the agent is willing to extend aid to the PC without immediately expecting a favor in return.

A successful Securing Aid check on the dice with a positive Icon relationship means that the PC has found an agent of their Icon that is well disposed towards them.  A successful Securing Aid check on the dice with a negative Icon relationship means that the PC has actually found agents that actively work against the Icon and the Icon's goals.  If a character has a conflicted relationship, it is up to the player to decide if they are seeking an agent of their Icon or an agent working against their Icon.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Time to Improvise a Blog Post

I just finished reading my electronic copy of Unframed:  The Art of Improvisation for Game Masters.  This is by the fine folks at Engine Publishing, and I look forward to every product they put out after seeing the quality of the previous offerings from the company.  This one is a bit different, but not in quality.

As it says on the cover, this is a book on the topic of GMs pulling elements of the game out of their nether regions.  There are a lot of different authors, and each essay is a different voice, and a different take on the topic of improvisation in a roleplaying game.

The first two books that Engine Publishing put out were toolkits for plots or NPCs respectively.  The next two books were on the topic of organization and management of game sessions and campaigns.  To me, all of those topics were immediately interesting.  I like to be organized and prepared and to have tools to draw from when I paint myself into a corner.  But sometimes you can't "unpaint" yourself with pre-planning.  You have to handle changes and curve balls when they happen to keep everything moving.

I'd also like to point out that a lot of games now are also building in at least some level of improvisation.  GM Intrusions in Numenera, threats, advantages, despairs, and triumphs in Fantasy Flight's Star Wars games, and the Icon relationship rolls in 13the Age are all examples of "built in" improvisation.

So one could almost say in the current RPG climate, improvisation is the "in thing."

Unframed is a fun read, and it's well written.  I will admit that initially I wasn't sure I was going to enjoy it or get as much out of it as some of Engine Publishing's other offerings, in part because some essays are more radical in their advocacy of improvisation across the board than other essays.

There are lots of essays on improvisation that come at the topic from various angles.  Some approach the topic from the angle that you might want to try to improv your game from start to finish.  Some articles are predicated on radically changing the way you prepare and run your games.  Others are less drastic, and are about having tools in your kit for when your players go off the beaten path in a more standard game, and the importance of having quality improvisational content to spring on your players.

I have a hard time letting go of a least the semblance of narrative control.  The articles on full improvisation were a bit less immediately useful to me than the articles on incorporating improvisation into a more traditional game, but even the more ambitious articles are entertaining and might spark the urge to try an unscripted session or two to try out the techniques detailed in them.

As an aside, I'll say that I imagine GMs that are much more improvisational probably would feel the same way about Never Unprepared or possibly even Odyssey as I felt about this book, i.e. that the books are well written and fun to read, but large portions may not be useful right off the bat.

There are lots of great essays in the book.  I enjoyed reading every one.  But if you are a GM that doesn't like to cede control of the overall plot, or if you like being really prepared, you will find useful, entertaining information, but not as much as you will if you are willing to throw caution to the wind and embrace a new paradigm to your gaming.  Overall, still worth your time to pick up and read, at least from my point of view.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Thoughts on the Ninth World--What Do I Know About Numenera?

I picked up the Numenera bundle from the Bundle of Holding.  I had been interested in looking at the setting before, but never really wanted to spend the cash on it, since that's a lot of cash on a whim.  The bundle pricing eliminated that concern, so I was happy to get the chance to dive in.

Because it was an overall positive experience, I think I'll throw out the negatives first.

Doing it Wrong

Its not a deal breaker, but there are several places where the Numenera book makes sure to hammer you over the head with the idea that this isn't like other RPGs you have ever played, because it's suppose to be about exploring and finding out new things.  That's cool.  I think an RPG should let you know what kind of tone they are shooting for.  It just felt like the core book spends too much time reiterating this point and casting itself in contrast to other RPGs.

I wouldn't even have included this except that other parts of the rules go out of the way to say, "make this your own."  While the tone of the setting should be finding new, weird stuff, some groups might do this by climbing mountains and tromping through the snow and facing danger that way, and other groups are going to dive straight through the mutant animals and left over killer robots.  Some explorers fight monsters, some plan out their adventures by diving into ancient knowledge and getting all of the answers up front, and some swim and trek, and climb mountains, and some do a little of all of that.

Just in brief, lots of the book leans towards the latter, but whenever the former disclaimer comes up, it just feels a bit like saying, "hey, wait, this campaign may be feeling a bit too much like some other RPG, stop it!"

Fictional Accounts

The fiction in the book is meant to give you a feel for the setting, but the super short stories seem to be very invested in the "its about exploration and new things!" paradigm, so, at least for me, the fiction was really dry and boring.  It felt a lot like it all boiled down to, "hey, there are weird and wondrous things in this world, and some are dangerous, and you don't recognize this world even though its Earth, and this guy knows things, and stops the danger, and isn't the world alien and strange and wondrous," and in the end, I don't know that it did much to make me feel like I "got" the setting, which seemed to be the point of including the fiction.

Everything is a Mystery, Except all of the Stuff that Isn't

Obviously you want to have some concrete facts upon which to hang the tropes of the setting that you hope to establish.  I fully expected to have a few regions detailed, some recurring themes, a few organizations, some relatively benign and some malevolent, and an overall map with some geography that makes you go, "wow, I wonder what is up with that."

Also, I'll disclaim myself right here and now, and say that I love settings like Middle-Earth, the Forgotten Realms, and the Star Wars Galaxy, where there is a ton of stuff going on and lots of little fiddly details.  So what I'm about to say may sound strange coming from me.  That disclaimer in place . . . for what the game seems to want to do, all of the setting detail seems to work counter to that goal.

I'm not going to be one of those people that says "if you have too much detail, there is no room to adventure."  I've heard that about Star Wars and the Forgotten Realms, and I vehemently disagree with those assertions.  I think a lot of time it boils down to a matter of scope.  Yes, if you are trying to kill Palpatine in Star Wars or destroy Szass Tam in the Realms, you might run into some of the big name NPCs.  But if you aren't doing something on that scale, there are tons of empty places on the maps.  These settings are much larger than people realize, and a look at map scale alone should illustrate that.

But I do think that you model the behavior you want to promote in the game by what you chose to focus on and the examples you give.  The rest of the rules are about exploration, the unknown, mysteries, and even coming up with random elements on the fly, but there are a few "zoomed in" areas of the setting that get a whole lot of details.  While these seem to be potential starting areas for adventurers, I'm not really sure if we need this level of detail, and it makes if feel like hyper detail is the goal for where the adventurers currently are, but the rest of the rules seem to lean heavily towards areas having tendencies and themes rather than solid facts.

Given that the rules, mechanics, GMing advice, and creatures don't seem to take up as much space as setting detail, it just feels a bit unbalanced to me, as the setting detail goes on and on and on, and that seems to work a bit against the "get out there and find weird mysterious stuff" tone of the rest of the book.

So just to clarify, I'm not saying no setting should ever have lots of detail.  I'm saying this setting may have been better served with less detail, especially in the core book, as an initial introduction.  It feels like setting detail more on the level of 13th Age's Dragon Empire might have been in order.

Gorgeous Presentation

I love how these products look.  Not only are they pretty, but the visuals support a world that is made up of a patchwork of millions of years of advanced things that don't quite work they way they used to work. Things are a little familiar, but still a little strange, and costumes and equipment looks like it kind of matches, but might have been scavenged from multiple sources.  It all visually comes together well.

Division of Labor

I really, really like that there is a Player's Guide that is available separate from the full rules.  If, as a GM, I want to run this setting, and I'm trying to talk players into playing this game with me, I feel a lot less guilty about asking them to buy the Player's Guide, which is much more affordable, than convincing them to pick up the full, huge core rulebook.

I'll go one step further and say I really wish more companies had this kind of division between just what the players need and what the guy running the campaign in the full core rules will need.  I know D&D has always had the Player's Handbook versus DMG and Monster Manual division, but a lot of modern RPGs have moved to the all in one approach.  Additionally, the way the player rules work in Numenara, its not quite the huge chunk of the rules that spells, feats, and equipment are in D&D style games.

The Rules of the Game

I really like how this game resolves, well, everything.  I like the idea that you are just rolling a d20 most of the time, unmodified, because your character's abilities modify the difficulty, not the dice roll.  I like the simplified movement rules  (which are similar to what you see in Fantasy Flight's Star Wars games or 13th Age).  Powers and abilities are easily summarized.  Monsters and NPCs have incredibly simple expressions to represent them when needed.  Its just meaty enough that there is something to work with but simple enough that you can keep most of it in your head without flipping pages too much.

If you are a GM that likes to roll dice, well, you may not like Numenera.  Everything is player facing.  The GM presents the situation, and the PCs resolve everything against the difficulty of what the GM has laid out.  If the PCs attack a creature, they resolve against it's level in difficulty.  If it attacks them, they resolve their defense against its difficulty.

GM intrusions aren't so much a new concept, but how to use them and the fact that the GM using them gets you XP is a new thing, and its part of what I mentioned about encouraging improvisation.  If the PCs roll a 1, its not so much a fumble as something complicated happened.  If the GM wants to have something complicated happen out of the blue, he can give you XP to have it happen.  Its not entirely unlike Fate points and how they are awarded in Fate Core, but it's inhabits its own unique space as well.

You might get stuff that functions kind of like magic items, but the various items may have some random, not particularly useful function, only function once, or have a specific game effect which isn't what the device was originally created to do.  This all combines to reinforce that this is a weird far future post apocalyptic setting where you can't count on knowing too much that is "true" without really digging for the information.

You combine three different descriptive aspects of a sentence to figure out what the mechanical aspects of your character are, but if that's not enough variety for you, there are "visitants" in the setting as well, which are alien species that happen to have been living on Earth for a while as well, and also have no clue about the past or how to get home.

If you really want to succeed at doing something, you can exhaust one of your "wound tracks" to do so, making you more likely to drop, since you are essentially borrowing from your own "hit points," but in a nice spin that I particularly like, you can also spend some of your vitality from one of those tracks to attempt to make another check if you fail at a skill.  Its such a nifty idea, I may appropriate it for my Age of Rebellion game, letting the players burn strain to retry something instead of just saying "sorry, you failed the check, no rerolls for you."

I don't know if it's innovative, or just a really nice collection of ideas that have been around forever and joined together, polished, and buffed to a shiny precision, but I'm pretty happy with how they look.  I will say that, since I'm all about saying that you shouldn't pan a game before your play it, I don't know if these rules work as well in the wild as they look like they should.

Where is it on "the List?"

I've always got a list of games I want to run, and run again, going on in my head.  I'm not sure where I would rank Numenera, but it does indeed have a spot on the list now, if only to see if it works the way it looks like it works.  Overall, I'm not sorry at all about the purchase, even with the elements that detracted from my enjoyment of the game that I ran through at the beginning of the post.

The N'zoth Insurgency Begins!

Apologies up front--if you are one of the 2.7 people that regularly awaits updates on the blog, I'm a bit behind.  I'll try to rectify that, but for now, just pretend that there is some kind of temporal anomaly that has occurred which makes my blog end up running behind yet removes all blame from me.  Thanks!

I've taken the reigns of the Age of Rebellion game, and with the changing of the guard, I wanted to try out an idea I had.  I wanted everyone to keep the same characters they had, if they wished to do so, but I was going to shift the focus of what the Rebel operatives were doing.

N'zoth is the planet where the Yevetha hail from.  You might remember the planet and the species from the Black Fleet Crisis trilogy from the EU . . . er . . . Legends series of books, or from them getting wiped out by the Vong later on.  Essentially, the Yevetha are enslaved by the Empire and forced to build ships for the Black Sword Command branch of the Imperial Navy at the super secret Black 15 Shipyards, and sometime after the Battle of Endor, the Yevetha threw the Empire out and took over the shipyards, and eventually they decided to take on the New Republic with their ships that they built at the shipyards that they took from the Imperials.

I felt a very compelling urge to take this storyline and inject a Rebel cell into N'zoth, with the objective of helping the Yevetha overthrow the Imperials a few years early, to see how that would change how the events of the Black Fleet Crisis would play out.  We all know the Imperials are bad guys, but what about xenophobic, brutal allies?  How to the PCs deal with allies that might kill them, and probably hold to some pretty scary traditions?

I also wanted the team to hit the ground running.  Or at least to hit space running.  Or flying really fast.  You know what I mean.  The team was already coming out of hyperspace near an asteroid field, with orders to follow a debris field to one of N'zoth's moons to meet with a Rebel operative that would be coordinating things from the least developed of the planet's moons.

I will freely admit that I probably made the check to fly in through the asteroid field into the debris field a little hard.  I ruled that the ship was moving pretty fast coming out of hyperspace, so the check was established by the lower of the ship's speed and size, upgraded by the other, and complicated by three setback dice to represent the tightly packed nature of the debris field.  For those not familiar with the system, really tough check.

Currently on the team we have a Duro mechanic that is good at flying, but doesn't want to be known as a pilot.  We also have a Corellian whose motivation is glory and whose duty is Space Superiority.  The Duro has a bit of a chip on her shoulder over Duro being reorganized under the Corellian sector.  So there is some tension there.  The Corellian didn't ask for any help on his piloting check, and hilarity ensued.  Two Despair showed up on those dice.  The Lambda Class shuttle slammed into one asteroid, then another, and lost their shields.

Thankfully the Chiss slicer noticed the TIE-drones that were positioned in the debris field, and figured out that there was a relay station that they could jam to keep the drones from reporting their arrival in the system.  The team actually made pretty quick work of the three TIEs, and the relay station was jammed so badly that it would take days for it to notice the TIE-drones were gone.

The team found their Rebel contact, Agent Taproot, a Neti, who happens to be allergic to humans.  The Duro took this minor trait and told the Gran in the party that the Neti was reacting to spores given off by the Corellian.  This gets worse later.  Watch for it.  Agent Taproot gives the team their false identities, and the location of their cover business, and then sends them to meet a smuggler that was going to ferry them to the planet.

The smuggler turned out to be a Hapani captain, who had long flowing blond hair and an open chested shirt.  The Duro pointed out to the Gran that the pretty boy pilots were spreading because of the spores, and the Gran, confused over human reproduction, was afraid that the Corellian population was going to get out of control.  Thus the Gran decided that he may need to neuter the Corellian to keep his spore producing glands from overpopulating the region.

The team landed on N'zoth, visited their business, met with local Imperial representatives and corporate types, and bought a cheap speeder truck for transportation.  Their cover business is a processing center for sending paperwork off for all of the contractors working on N'zoth.  The Chiss slicer managed to do a week's worth of paperwork in a few hours, but failed with a Triumph.  Thus the paperwork looks in order and nobody is going to notice that it all got filed to the wrong place for about a week.

The team also received a PROXY style droid equipped with encryption devices and long term communication gear, as well as holoprojectors that allowed it to look like anyone.  The team renamed the droid, then decided to make it look like the Corellian's sister, scanning the Holonet for images of her.  At this point, the player of the Corellian managed to get a surprise attack from backstory he never created.  Not only did we find out he had a sister, but he had a sister that graduated with honors from the Corellian Military Academy and is working as a Merchant Fleet ship captain with honors and her own bloodstripe, and that he may have actually been trying to outdo his sister when he set out to seek glory on his own.

The group was ready to head out into the desert to look for insurgents to ally themselves with, under the cover of nightfall.  Before they left, however, the Gran decided to neuter the Corellian before any more spores could be produced by his spore producing glands.  This resulted in some dice rolling and a Despair showing up.  The Gran failed to castrate the Corellian, and a patrol of Stormtroopers heard the ruckus in the garage, and investigated.

The Stormtroopers were ready to round up everyone and start investigating what was going on, but the human medic/sniper decided to act quickly, shot the Gran with his stun rifle and knocked him out, and apologized to the Stormtroopers.  The Stormtroopers set up an appointment for aggression testing for a week from today to make sure all of the aliens were safe to be working around Imperial citizens.

The Gran was sitting at home with the droid watching him.  The rest of the team piled into the speeder truck and set out for the desert.  They failed to find the hideout from the coordinates they had, and the crew was attacked by a pack of Siringana predators.  As it was getting late in the night, we resolved this with a one roll resolution check, and the team survived the encounter with only a few bumps and bruises, despite the Siringana Alpha damaging the truck.

All in all, a pretty great opening session for the campaign relaunch.