Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Quick Hits--Obligation, Duty, and Morality for Episodic Games

I really think that Obligation, Duty, and Morality are great mechanics of the Fantasy Flight Star Wars RPGs.  I think each one is very well suited to reinforcing they style of game that the subsystem is designed to underscore.  That said, I have seen a few people discuss how to deal with these mechanics in games where characters might drift in and out of a campaign, or where the overall campaign might be more episodic rather than serial.

I would hate to cut the flavor from the game by getting rid of these mechanics, so I thought of something that could be utilized to keep them relevant to the game in a more episodic manner.

If the adventure starts "fresh," not as a continuation of a previous adventure, roll to see if anyone's Obligation, Duty, or Morality would trigger.  If so, then utilized a modified version of the One-Check Combat Resolution roll on page 323 of Edge of the Empire.

Quick Episodic Obligation, Duty, and Morality Checks

  • Determine what exactly happens, based on what actually triggers.  For example, a character with a bounty on his head might run into a bounty hunter, a character with space superiority as their area of interest in the Rebellion may be on a fighter mission, and a character whose Mercy/Apathy triggers might need to decide whether or not to help someone being harassed by Imperials.
  • Lean towards making the scene action oriented.  Since the game is episodic, you need to be able to resolve this quickly, and injury is often a good "side effect" for failure.
  • Action doesn't mean combat.  A thief might steal a cargo skiff and fly like crazy through a canyon to get back to his ship, which could still lead to injury and is action oriented, without being a fight.
  • Shoot for at least a Hard check, and ask the player how they want to resolve the situation and what skill they wish to use to resolve the situation.  
  • Failure in action oriented scenes can cause wounds, strain, or even criticals  (if you chose to upgrade the check).  In addition, a character that fails an Obligation related check might gain 5 Obligation  (or reduce their total by 5 if successful), a character that fails a Duty check fails to get any Duty, and if they succeed, they gain 5 Duty, and a character that fails a Morality related skill check gains a point of Conflict.

The scene framed happens a day or two before the adventure starts, if it make sense.  Any wounds or crits the character picked up carries over.  Essentially the character has an in media res scene that takes place before the actual adventure that only features them, which resolves quickly and carries over a bit into the main adventure.

Individual Tracking

If you are running a campaign where it's going to be fairly likely that people wander in or out of the campaign, you may not want to assess the usual advantage for Duty characters adding their totals together, but keep their Duty totals separate.  As far as Obligation goes, assemble the Obligation chart per session, adding in the people that use that mechanic.  Morality is already a personally tracked item.

What Do I Know About the Force and Destiny Campaign?

So, what's going on in the Force and Destiny game?

I'm going to level with you.  Things move pretty fast in the Force and Destiny game.  We're on the run a lot.  We debate a lot.  So I may miss some things here or there.

To recap where we are at currently:

  • Both Twi'leks and the Gand are paragons of the Light Side.
  • The Mirialan, Chiss, and my Ithorian are not  (stay tuned).
  • We know our human Jedi was murdered, but not by whom.
  • We headed to Dantooine to look for some artifacts, because it seemed safer than Yavin 4.
  • I'm still hearing the voice of a Jedi Master from a holocron that I found.
  • Nobody else hears that Jedi Master.
  • We have another holocron that he recorded earlier in his career.
Upon finding some ruins on Dantooine, we head to where a lost temple should be.  I managed to navigate the party through all of the old Jedi portions of the temple, as I "remember" what it looks like.

The party is a bit concerned about my connection to the mysterious Jedi Master near my head, off to the side.  I pointed out that it is possible that I am just similarly attuned to the gatekeeper of the holocron, which lets me "hear" the gatekeeper even when it's not activated.

That's a thing, right?

We find a workshop deep in the temple complex.  Our Chiss shadow wants to build a new lightsaber for herself, and she starts making plans.  We also manage to find a package, and within the package is a demonic looking mask that appears to amplify fear when utilized by the wearer. I am definitely against using it, but Ritati thinks it might be useful "under the right circumstances."

I am certain Ritati would never make a lightsaber that looks like that.

Further into the temple complex, we find some big doors that the holocron that talks to everybody says haven't been opened by the Jedi, and this section of the temple pre-dates the Jedi portion of the temple by many thousands of years.

Our Gand mystic gets into an argument with the gatekeeper that he can hear  (getting into an argument with the one he can't hear would be a cause for concern).  Things happened.  Hogan, my Ithorian, may have made a comment in front of the Rakata holographic representative that we were Force sensitives, which may have made all of the Rakata equipment kind of hungry for a snack.

We argued about going into the Rakata ruins.  Our cam droid got blown up by Rakata droids.  Eventually we decided it was our responsibility to make sure the Rakata ruins weren't a danger to the farmers on Dantooine now that they were opened.

The ruins were filled with droids, which we managed to convince not to kill or each our Force sensitivity, and weird creatures kept in cages.  As we ventured further into the ruins, we found a volcanic cavern which was inhabited by a four armed mutant Rancor of some kind.

At this point, in hindsight, mistakes may have been made.

  • Ritati put on the demon mask
  • A bit taken in by his fear, Hogan used his powers to harm the Rancor
Simpler times for Hogan.  Before the scary four armed mutant Rancor.

The Gand mystic managed to influence the mutant four armed rancor away.  All the tension drained out of the room.  Sort of.  Except that Hogan had fallen to the Dark Side, fairly certain that he should be causing fear in his enemies if he wanted to keep himself and his allies safe, and Ritati, who is unable to remove the mask, totally understands where Hogan is coming from.

Tune in next session as we topple the Emperor!  Okay, it may take more than one session.

What Do I Know About the Iron Kingdoms Campaign?

If you read this blog  (and I know there might actually be one or two that do . . . I think), then you may have noticed the death of my dearly beloved Rhulic merchant, accountant, trader, bounty hunter, and mercenary, Jurg Cragscale.  By a ghost.  In the basement of our new headquarters.

So far the team has yet to replace the company treasurer.  Admiral Doctor Sir Titimus, our Gobber, is a little too eager to take the position, so the rest of the team has been resistant to his offers.

By decree of the Stonegrinder Irregular's captain, the party decided to rest a bit and hire a few more hands before exploring the ruins more fully, and potentially clearing them out.  This led to hiring our Trollkin, who actively hates Khadorans, and who has no language in common with anyone.

He arrived on the barge, not able to actually talk to the captain, and began eating food.  Our support Gobbers could speak with him, but that made translations a bit shaky.

While the Trollkin was "introducing" himself to our captain, Dahlia and Titimus found my new character, the dashing, handsome, and somewhat on the run Khadoran mercenary Alexi, and his traveling companion, the alchemist and somewhat thief-like Anastasia.  We were eating in a fine establishment in Five Fingers, living off the allowance that Alexi's mother sends him.

Thankfully, Alexi and the Trollkin share a language in common.  Alexi, he is not so good with nuance, so he has not fully picked up on the fact that the Trollkin hates him with a burning passion.  Alexi is a bit thick witted, but ever so charming, so I'm sure eventually he'll make the Trollkin forget the slaughter of his people.  That stuff never lasts.

At any rate, new people hired, bad translations made, the Stonegrinder Irregulars set off to explore their own basement again.

Going further than we did last time, where the heart and soul of the team, dear departed Jurg died, we discovered a room with a pit and spikes.  Alexi's exuberant spirit infected the whole team, and rather than looking for mechanisms that might trigger a pit trap or the floor to drop out, we threw some boards over the pit and walked across.

Still exuberant, we found a wall that we brute force levered up off the ground, and despite signs that other similar contraptions had broken nearby, we shoved some debris under the door after we levered the door up off the ground and went still further into the Basement of Ancient Dooms.

Titimus and Dahlia were watching behind us while the rest of us bravely and valiantly explored a hallway full of doors.  And by bravely and valiantly, I mean that most of the time the Trollkin and Alexi would walk up to the door, wait for anyone else to tell them not to do so, and proceed to break the door down, either with an axe or a blasting pike.

Ghosts showed up and moved the makeshift bridge we made.  We decisively stayed in the tomb as this happened, as if to show the ghosts we weren't afraid to join them.  Their counterpoint to this particular non-maneuver maneuver was to knock the supports holding the door that we leveled up off the ground out of the way, trapping us further into the tomb.  Well played ghosts . . . I don't know how we could have seen that gambit coming  (at least, Alexi wouldn't have).

After breaking down several doors, including a door that probably led to a stash of evil Orgoth artifacts  (which none of us could identify), which cannot now be closed, we continued our tactic of opening every door in the dungeon so as to allow for maximum possibilities for exploration.  Or something.  Alexi is pretty sure that the point of the exercise is to free everything, find a defensible position with a bottleneck, and fight the entire dungeon at one time, with himself and the Trollkin as the battlements for the rest of the party to shoot around.  It's not like that wasn't how he was used in the Khador military.

The group ended up with most of the doors behind us broken open, sealed in this part of the tomb, in a room filled with fear gas.  We have these ghosts right where we want them!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Random Encounters, One Roll Resolution, and D&D 5E

One of the things that I have really loved about Fantasy Flight's Edge of the Empire game is that there is an optional rule for one roll resolutions of combats.  Essentially, you determine that a fight happened, but it's not one of the main plot threads you want to follow up on, but you want it to have consequences.  You set a difficulty, you have you players roll an appropriate skill check for what they did during that combat, and they either get banged up a bit  (and have some wounds they need to deal with, even if they aren't in danger of being defeated), or they pick up a clue or minor trinket from the encounter if they roll really well.

It only just recently occurred to me that you could use this same system for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition, regarding random encounters and exploration turns.

One of the good things retained from 4th Edition was the chart on page 121 of the Dungeon Master's Guide.  Essentially it gives a range of DCs, attack bonuses, and damage ranges based on level for hazards, usually traps.

This same range could easily be used in a similar vein to the one roll resolution checks in Fantasy Flight's Edge of the Empire, and be used in whatever exploration turns you wish to use for your characters.

What Happens Between Here and There?

Okay, I'll admit, I'm going to borrow a bit from a third game here, using some ideas from Dungeon World.

Keep in mind, the following terms are relative.  You can determine the actual amount of time as is needed in your campaign, but the "column" used is the important part for mechanics.

Let's say your adventurers are going straight from a big city to a dungeon far away, no stops in between.  You determine that "months" is a really long time in this case.

You would then use the "Deadly" columns for difficulty and damage for any encounter that might cause your PCs injury.

If the majority of the trip takes place in the favored terrain of a party ranger, drop the difficulty down one column.  So in the above example, from "Deadly" to "Dangerous."  If the trip is already at "Setback" level, then all checks are advantage regardless of other circumstances.

Quartermaster--One PC will act as quartermaster, and make a straight intelligence save versus the appropriate DC.  If the check is successful, all of the supplies are kept in good order and everybody is fully healthy and ready to deal with the rigors of the road.  If the check is failed, supplies ran short, and everybody has a level of fatigue.

If PCs have some magic that lets them store food, a means of creating food and water every day, or twice as many provisions as the trip will require, don't worry about this step.

Hunting and Foraging--If the PCs decide to forgo actually buying provisions, one PC  (who cannot be the same PC performing another function on this list), can hunt and forage for food, making a Survival check against the appropriate DC.  If the PCs decide to supplement by bringing at least half the of provisions they need, this check is made with advantage.

If this option is taken, and failed, instead of gaining one level of fatigue, the party members gain two levels of fatigue from their lack of proper provisions.

Guide--The PCs can either have a party member make a Knowledge (Nature) check or a Survival check to guide them from their home base to their destination.  If they have a detailed, accurate map, give them advantage on this roll.

Failure on this check means one of two things.  The path didn't go well.  The PCs either got lost, or they wandered into some natural phenomenon that was especially dangerous.

If the PCs opt to be lost, they gain a level of fatigue, and then make another check.  The total time traveled  (assuming the DM is keeping track for campaign purposes) increases by 50% by each failed check.  If the next check is failed, the PCs have the same decision to make  (dangerous natural terrain or being lost).

Each additional check is made with advantage.  Eventually the PCs will start to see the same landmarks and know what to avoid and where they have been before.

Scout--The scout is checking for tracks and signs of travelers, animals, and potentially hostile creatures in the area.  The scout is making either a perception or a survival check to notice ambushes, lairs, and the like.

If this roll fails, there will be a dangerous encounter that could potentially damage the party.

Dangerous Natural Terrain

The PCs come across a cliff face that they didn't realize was there and some of them might fall.  A forest fire causes them to get singed and breathe in smoke.  A flash flood might buffet them against rocks and trees.  An avalanche might buffet them with rocks.

Look at the terrain, and determine the hazard.  Explain what is going on, and that it is going to do damage.  The DC to avoid the damage is going to be the same one way or the other.  But once you describe the hazard, let the PCs explain what skills, abilities, or class features they will use to avoid the hazard.

There must be a check involved.  A wizard that wants to avoid falling down a cliff by casting fly might still have to make a perception check to notice the hazard in time to cast, for example.  However, if that same wizard wants to say that he blasts the rocks of an avalanche to keep himself safe, let him make an attack roll with his usual spellcasting bonus.

A character may chose to make their check at disadvantage to grant an ally advantage, so long as they can explain how they are aiding their friend.

  • Each time the PCs take damage, they may be healed by spells or use hit dice as normal.

Dangerous Monstrous Encounter

The party runs into someone or something that wants to do them harm.  The DM can still roll on encounter charts if he wants to have an idea of what the encounter is, or he may just know what tends to harrow travelers in the region.  Since these encounters have consequences across the whole trip, there may not be one single encounter, but a running fight with a band of bandits or a tribe of orcs.

Describe what the PCs are facing, in general terms.  Bandits, orcs, dragons swooping out of the sky.  Then allow them to describe how they are attempting to avoid harm.  The DC will be the same  (although there is potentially a second part to this encounter resolution), but there must be a test involved.

For example, a rogue may very well decide to hide from danger whenever it comes about.  In that case, they are making a stealth check to avoid damage.  As above, a character might roll at a disadvantage to grant an ally advantage.  For example, the stealthy rogue might be slitting throats from behind to help his allies, but not directly confronting anyone.

If a PC fails their check against the monstrous encounter, use the attack bonus given under the appropriate column.  If it hits, the PCs take damage from the encounter.  If it misses, they still managed to get out without a scratch.

  • After the PCs take damage, they may be healed by spells or use hit dice as normal.

Upon Arrival

Every spell, hit dice, or resource used, as well as every level of fatigue, is present when the PCs arrive at their destination.  All of the above is to model the aggregate effects of the trip.  So if the PCs traveled for months to reach the Temple of Ultimate Doom and Treasure Storing, as soon as they arrive at the doorstep of the dungeon, they have all of the wounds and fatigue they accrued, as well as lacking all of the spells they used on the way here.  If they want to take rests to recover anything at this point, it will be right here, at adventure central, with whatever consequences that might bring.


As often is the case when I think of something and try to capture it here, there are rules interactions I may not have thought about, and I have not had a chance to try these out in a game myself.  If you see a potential problem, I'd love to discuss it.  If you use this system, I'd also love to hear about it.

In case it isn't clear or I missed a reference here or there, the following games influenced this post:

  • Star Wars--Edge of the Empire  (one roll combat resolution)
  • 13th Age  (narrative based travel)
  • Dungeon World  (party roles for exploration)
  • The One Ring  (for making travel and hazards a really important part of the adventure)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

What's My Motivation?

Something that strikes me about comments I've heard from time to time about DMs/GMs in class and level based kitching sink fantasy roleplaying games.

While nobody wants to feel like they are being railroaded into doing a specific thing, I've seen people take this to the extreme of having characters not want to take on jobs or adventures to present themselves because they don't know why their character would take that job.

Now, this makes sense in some cases.  If the job in question is some kind of heist, it may be hard to figure out why the paladin or the cleric of the god of law and order will take the job.

But when you get a treasure map to the Dungeon of Vast Mysterious Lost Things, or you have a patron that wants you to investigate a mysterious forest, and you turn down the adventure because you want to know exactly how dangerous it will be and exactly how much reward will be involved, it makes me wonder something.

In Shadowrun, the assumption is that you are playing runners, people looking to make money and take on jobs.  In Call of Cthulhu, you are playing Investigators, people that will run into weird stuff and look into it instead of ignoring it and going home and sleeping with the lights on for the rest of your life.  In Deathwatch you play Space Marines tasked with killing xenos, etc.

In D&D/Pathfinder/d20 whatever you aren't playing average everyday folk who just happen to have a level of fighter or wizard.  You are playing adventurers.  If you don't like the adventures presented to you by the GM, then tell him what kind of trouble you are getting into on your own, or what kind of job you are looking for.

If your adventurer is starting to strike you as someone that might rather settle down and retire unless their patron can assure them that they will be taking two score hirelings to burn down the tents of a goblin warband that they outnumber two to one, and then only take the job if it involves four digit figures of gold pieces . . . think about retiring that character in favor of someone more inclined to wrestle an owlbear for 10 silver pieces on a dare.

The assumption is that you want to be a hero, rich, famous, or powerful, and you are willing to risk your life to do one or more of the above.  Sure, the GM should try to tailor some of the campaign to your character, but you shouldn't make the GM jump through hoops and resort to Plan E just to get you to leave the Inn either.