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Author Topic: [There and Back Again] Tolkien Style Roleplay (Take 2)  (Read 2412 times)
Evan Anhorn
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Posts: 59


« on: August 16, 2009, 07:29:33 AM »

Ok, I've taken a lot of the easy-to-implement suggestions from the previous thread, cleaned up the game a lot and boiled it down to the essentials.  Where should I go from here?

Major changes from last time:
Combat has been made more simple (and there are now two options, please let me know which sounds better).
Extra successes allow the player to narrate extra conditions of success (thanks, Noclue).
Racial differences are now worked into thresholds, whenever appropriate.
Companionship rules added to prevent the stale "keep no dice" failure.
Players and referee can agree when a roleplay encounter should count as an obstacle against the setting (thanks, jerry).
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Evan Anhorn
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Posts: 59


« Reply #1 on: August 16, 2009, 07:30:26 AM »

Purpose
A band of heroes forms up for a great mission to a far off place. Each step in the journey is called a "setting", and entails (any number of) different obstacles the fellowship must overcome to continue to the next step. Failure to beat a setting (by running out of resources, or failing too many obstacles) means the party is turned back, must find a new way, or suffers some other major setback or loss.

Mechanics
All dice rolls use 8-sided dice, which are drawn from dice pools for each attribute a hero has (Courage, Wisdom, Fellowship, Agility, Might). To resolve an action against an obstacle, the referee narrates the difficulty (a value between 2 and Cool as clearly as he can without giving an actual number, and the player spends however many dice he wants and rolls them. The player may then decide to keep any dice he thinks are likely successes, after which the referee informs him of the actual difficulty number. If the player kept any unsuccessful dice, the hero fumbles the attempt and the referee may narrate an extra condition of failure. If the hero keeps only successful dice, then the action succeeds and the player may narrate an extra condition of success for every successful kept die after the first.

Example: On the last leg of an epic journey, the heroine Branwyn is scaling the Grey Mountains (as part of the third obstacle for the setting "Grey Mountains") with her Hobbit companions. The referee narrates how the cliff face is slick and cold with dew from the low hanging clouds that envelop the range, although roots grow here and there which may aid the heroes in the ascent. Branwyn announces that, in order to defeat this obstacle, she will climb up, and that extra successes will be used to help up her companions (so they don't have to roll for themselves). She picks 4 of her 7 remaining Might dice and rolls them, getting 8, 6, 5 and 4. Branwyn thinks carefully and keeps the 8 and the 6 - she's gambling that the difficulty threshold the referee described is probably 6+. If she's right, she will hoist herself and one Hobbit up the cliff, but if she's wrong, the attempt fumbles and Branwyn will fall and her bow will clatter away, down the mountain.

Heroes
Each hero generates their initial attributes (Courage, Wisdom, Fellowship, Agility, Might) by rolling 1d8+6 and chooses a race (Dwarf, Hobbit, Elf or Man). The final attribute represents a separate pool of dice that the hero can use to tackle each setting (Agility 9 means you have 9 Agility dice). Dwarves are mighty but not very agile, Hobbits are courageous but not very mighty, Elves are wise but too alien to offer good fellowship (these considerations should be taken into account when the referee decided on difficulty thresholds).

Settings
Settings consist of local areas (perhaps as small as the House of Elrond, perhaps as large as the mines of Moria) with one or more obstacles to defeat (depending on how powerful the heroes are and other plot concerns). The referee may indicate how difficult a setting is with a general range of obstacles when the heroes arrive at the setting, and players and referee alike are free to determine when a roleplay event should turn into an obstacle for the heroes to face. Obstacles usually require only one success to overcome, but they often need one success from more than one hero (for instance, when climbing a mountain, each hero would likely need to roll).  Fumbles indicate setbacks and not keeping any dice in a roll indicates that the way forward is simply impossible for the hero.  After a setting is passed (successfully or not), all dice pools are refreshed completely (unless the referee says otherwise) and each hero permanently increases one attribute of their choice by 1 point, describing what they learned and how they grew from the experience.

Companionship
If a hero doesn't keep any dice from a roll, the other companions may encourage the hero by rolling dice from their Fellowship pool (against a difficulty determined from the player's roleplaying or from how much the heroes trust each other).  Any successes count as kept successes for the hero's roll.  Fumbles generally indicate the hero becomes defensive, falls into despair or suffers some other mood swing.

Option A: Combat
An obstacle that involves combat is resolved differently than normal obstacles. The referee gives each group of foes a secret dice pool (perhaps around 20 dice against new heroes), from which they may act against the heroes. Attacks are taken first in order of weapon reach (bows, then spears, then hand weapons) for the first round, and thereafter the heroes go first and the foes second. Agility dice are used to hit foes (against a narrated difficulty of how proficient the enemy is) and Might dice are used to wound hit foes (against a narrated difficulty of how well armoured the enemy is). For each kept die in a successful Might roll (no more than successful kept Agility dice in the hit roll), roll 1d8 and remove that many dice from the foes pool (enemy casualties are simply narrated).

The foe draws dice from its own pool to attack (a swarm of Moria goblins might make two or three attacks each round, while a single Cave troll would make only one). The referee spends and rolls dice against a referee-determined difficulty (because of this, foes cannot fumble). Successful attacks by the foe then draw more dice to roll to wound. For each successful wound die (no more than successful hit dice), the referee rolls 1d8 and reduces each of the hero's attribute pools by the sum total. Once the foe runs out of dice (from taking wounds or spending them), the enemy is slain, flees in dismay or is otherwise defeated.

Option B: Rules-Light Combat
Alternately, combat can be quickly resolved as a normal obstacle with a required number of successes.  Each hero may choose to roll dice from a pool appropriate to their intended action, with each kept die in a successful roll counting against the obstacle.  Each fumble indicates a setback, such as a hero taking a wound (which may adjust later thresholds, may prohibit the hero from refreshing every pool completely at the next setting or provide some other hindrance until it is remedied).

Magic
The use of magic is incredibly rare, and limited to very powerful individuals. In general, magic is treated as an additional attribute pool that can be used each setting to defeat obstacles. Magic in Middle-earth can only be used to naturally alter real, existing things (it cannot be used to conjure or create something from nothing). Magic items are rare and powerful, and each has their own individual dice pool that can be used each setting according to the function and properties of the magic item.
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Evan Anhorn
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Posts: 59


« Reply #2 on: August 16, 2009, 07:41:58 AM »

Ah, and I forgot to mention that every time a hero spends dice from an attribute pool, the pool refreshes a single die (so that the player never really spends a pool down to zero dice).  Also, taking wounds that reduce a hero's attributes to zero does NOT indicate the hero dies, just that he is incapacitated.  The death of an hero can now only come about, perhaps, as one type of setback the fellowship suffers for failing a setting.
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Evan Anhorn
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Posts: 59


« Reply #3 on: August 16, 2009, 10:37:59 AM »

Here's a more complex example of play, covering settings, obstacles, player narration, fumbles and companionship:

Having been turned back from Minas Morgul (a failed setting), the heroes are travelling through Ithilien towards Gondor to seek the aid of the Steward there.  The first obstacle for Ithilien (navigate through the overgrown heath) was easily succeeded with multiple successful dice by the parties pathfinder, Legolas the elf, so the referee narrates that not only does the party find the river Morgulduin (which they can follow into Gondor) and cover their tracks as to not be followed (two successes as Legolas' player narrated), but the elf is able to spot a band of hooded men ahead before the party is discovered.

Boromir nominates to go ahead and negotiate with them (as an obstacle towards beating Ithilien), since these are likely Gondor-men and he is the son of the Steward.  Everyone seems to like the idea, so the referee abandons his idea (that they were merely bandits) and runs with it.  The referee describes the hooded men, and tells Boromir that, whether friend or foe, these locals have likely heard of Boromir, Steward-prince of Gondor.  Boromir picks up four dice from his Fellowship pool and declares that one extra success (beyond the first) will mean they are men sent by his father to help him and two extra successes will mean his brother, Faramir (a potentially useful ally), will be amongst them.  He rolls the dice, but only comes up with 5, 4, 2 and 2.  If Boromir just keeps the 5, he might get one success (meaning the Gondor-men are friendly but not particularly helpful).  If the threshold was higher, then he would fumble instead (allowing the referee to narrate a potentially disastrous revelation; perhaps that the Steward of Gondor has been overthrown by a new puppet-ruler, and these men want the bounty on Boromir's head).

After being turned back from Minas Morgul, the fellowship can ill-afford more problems, so Boromir decides not to keep any dice.  The player narrates that Boromir is suddenly reluctant to confront the men, and confides in his companions that he has been away from Gondor for a very long time, and worries that his people see him as a coward for not standing with Gondor against the growing forces of darkness in the east.  Frodo knows that the party must not fail this setting, and decides to encourage Boromir with a Companionship role.  Frodo roleplays his encouraging words (arguing to Boromir that he is the eldest son of the Steward, and beloved in his land for being a great hero - his return will only bring Gondor joy) and rolls a handful of Fellowship dice.  If the roll succeeds, each kept die counts as a successful die towards Boromir's parlay with the Gondor-men.  If the roll fumbles, perhaps the referee will suggest that Boromir's mood swings ("My people will welcome me again... if I return with the One Ring to dominate our enemies!").  If that happens, the referee now has fuel for later obstacles in any setting - when Boromir snaps and tries to take the Ring from Frodo (an obstacle that Frodo rolls against).
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Callan S.
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« Reply #4 on: August 16, 2009, 04:43:58 PM »

Hi Evan,

I don't know - it seems to miss the strong starting premise that basically Bilbo and Frodo didn't want to go, it was essentially against their nature, but something even bigger placed a greater pressure on their nature that started them off. Essentially two warring passions in the one character. Their journeys are a record of that internal war.

I dunno - this seems almost like the sim version - act out the events, but it's not primarily about that internal conflict but rather a reinactment of a detailed and lucious world?
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Mike Sugarbaker
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« Reply #5 on: August 17, 2009, 10:06:45 AM »

Quote
To resolve an action against an obstacle, the referee narrates the difficulty (a value between 2 and Cool as clearly as he can without giving an actual number, and the player spends however many dice he wants and rolls them. The player may then decide to keep any dice he thinks are likely successes, after which the referee informs him of the actual difficulty number.

I recommend strongly that you at least require the GM to write the difficulty number down before describing the difficulty, then reveal the written number. This will ameliorate player suspicions that the GM is moving the goalposts after seeing the die results in order to control outcomes.

You're still gonna have a lot of arguments over whether the number was communicated clearly enough, though. Could you still get the secondary dice-roll results you want if you let the player know what the difficulty number was, and then had her simply bet against herself, choosing a number of dice to roll and then guessing how many successes there will be out of that roll?
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tombowings
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« Reply #6 on: August 17, 2009, 10:09:20 AM »

To my understanding, fellowship acts as a check and balance; giving a player another chance of success.
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dindenver
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« Reply #7 on: August 17, 2009, 10:22:42 AM »

Evan,
  Two thoughts come to mind:
1) I will echo Mike's concerns. I think that there is a lot of room for error in describing difficulties without numbers. I do not think it is a bad idea. But I think that you should also include a lot of GM tips on how to avoid this feature of the game becoming a sticking point (e.g., don't play adversarial, don't use the same words for the same difficulty numbers every time, etc.).
2) A bigger concern to me is that the number of successes don't seem to matter with the failure mechanic you have in mind. In other words, if I roll 6 dice and get 8, 8, 8, 8, 8 and 7. And I bet that 7 and higher is a success. I lose a phenomenal roll if it is in fact 8. Maybe have misses cancel two successes or something?

  Other than that, I think the spirit and nature of the mechanics make a great story telling engine.
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Evan Anhorn
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Posts: 59


« Reply #8 on: August 18, 2009, 08:09:11 AM »

I don't know - it seems to miss the strong starting premise that basically Bilbo and Frodo didn't want to go, it was essentially against their nature, but something even bigger placed a greater pressure on their nature that started them off. Essentially two warring passions in the one character. Their journeys are a record of that internal war.

I dunno - this seems almost like the sim version - act out the events, but it's not primarily about that internal conflict but rather a reinactment of a detailed and lucious world?The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, he does a quick & dirty tour of a fantasy world, quickly establishing a new feature (Beorn, the Trolls, Wights, Elrond's house, Moria) that you never really see again once past it.  His point is to whip up a detailed setting that "feels big" as quick as possible.

None of the characters, save Frodo (in LOTR) and Bilbo (in The Hobbit) have much of any motivation or drive to speak of.  Of the four Hobbits, only Frodo often talks about how he wishes he were in the Shire.  Sam's main character trait is not an internal war, but that he wants to help out Mr. Frodo.  Pippin and Merry are just bland, cookie-cutter characters.  It's not even clear to us if Gimli has a home, he talks about it so rarely.

I could introduce a mechanic that effectively covers to the character's "drive" to face the adversity, but it would be open to every player at the table.  The truth is, in my mind, that this would not be very Tolkien-esque at all.  Tolkien is more about a "luscious world" than anything else, and what I'm hoping to emulate is his focus on setting and travel saga.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #9 on: August 18, 2009, 02:38:06 PM »

I disagree. There's a bit in the hobbit where Bilbo is stuck in a tunnel with a dragon at the end - Tolkien specifically referes to Bilbo wrestling with whether to hide there until he dies, or face the dragon, as the real battle happening in the dark of that tunnel and NOT when he actually came out and word dueled with the dragon. It couldn't get much more explicit. I'd go on, but I'd be going on.

I think the books were as much about character as the ground underneath your feet is spinning at 1038 miles per hour. Ie, it may not appear so, but that's because character drives were so huge yet neatly woven in it didn't show up explicitly just like our earths rotation is SO huge it isn't noticable to us. Sometimes we can't see things because they are so big.

I dread to say this, but I think you'd atleast need some character drive element as a second priority atleast (even though that doesn't do it justice), just behind sim having the first priority. Otherwise your world wont turn. It'll just be "Oh, three stoned trolls" and there wont be that element that's quintisential to the books, where it's not three stoned trolls, it's described from a certain characters perspective on the world. That's what makes all the stuff compelling - that a character found it compelling and you saw the world through eyes that found it compelling. It wasn't that it was just compelling in itself.
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Teataine
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« Reply #10 on: August 19, 2009, 04:22:29 AM »

I dunno, from how I read Tolkien (the way I read it way back in my formative years) and from how other people read him (that I've talked to about it) the primary element always seems the discovery of a world that feels big and full of detail and wonders, the journey (a safari if you will) of places and things.

His characters are hard to pin down.
We never learn much about Gandalf's thoughts, Aragorn is someone whose symbolic role is bigger than the character, he seems to have no drive of his own, only duty to his destiny, of Legolas and Gimli we know next to nothing, their drive seems a friendly competition between themselves and an inherent "goodness" that leads them to help save the world. As for the Hobbits, it's never really clear why they keep going, except Frodo and Sam (and Sam's devotion makes him sort of two-dimensional to me). Boromir is a good example however, he's the most "human" character, with his feelings towards his father, his homeland, his fears, his desire for the ring and so on. [if I'm in the wrong about any of the above, forgive me, it has been probably 8+ years since I've read the books]

I can think of ways to make this work for a game, but it doesn't feel right to me at all. Not elegant. I'd love to hear suggestions however.

Back to Evan's original post, I think it's a nice cleanup of what you had before and I still like most of it. I, too, am worried that the concealed difficulty might cause trouble however. I can easily imagine something like this.
GM describes situation.
Player rolls 2, 5, 7. Keeps 5 and 7.
GM: "Nope, sorry, you fail."
Player: "NO WAY! You didn't say like it was harder than five, from your description I thought it was a four!"
So, either include lots of advice on how to handle stuff like this, or something else. I think the "write number down, reveal after roll" helps a lot, but not completely. Other than that I think it's good.

Oh, one last thing, I didn't check the probabilities, but the depleeting of pools in combat could probably set off a death spiral situation. Since you don't roll for defense you're probably safe from that but it's something to watch out for when you move to playtesting. Good luck!

Gregor
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tombowings
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« Reply #11 on: August 23, 2009, 09:50:43 AM »

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Evan Anhorn
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Posts: 59


« Reply #12 on: August 23, 2009, 11:30:26 AM »

I was thinking of something similar to that today.  Basically, there are "open" and "closed" rolls.  With closed rolls, a fumble means the referee narrates some disaster AND your roll fails.  With open rolls, a fumbles indicate some bad side effect, but do not preclude a success on the roll.

For example, Frodo putting on the Ring to escape Boromir was a fumbled open roll: the roll succeeded (he became invisible to Boromir), but the Eye saw him from Mordor (the disaster from the fumble).  Frodo putting on the Ring to escape the Ringwraiths on Weathertop could have been a fumbled open roll with no successes (not only did he remained visible to the Ringwraiths, he became of special interest to them) or it could have been a closed roll that fumbled.

I like the idea of using mostly open rolls for magic items and usually closed rolls for everything else.  In any case, it would be made perfectly clear to the player before the dice were thrown which type the roll was (open or closed).
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Ken
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« Reply #13 on: August 24, 2009, 01:58:54 AM »

For example, Frodo putting on the Ring to escape Boromir was a fumbled open roll: the roll succeeded (he became invisible to Boromir), but the Eye saw him from Mordor (the disaster from the fumble).  Frodo putting on the Ring to escape the Ringwraiths on Weathertop could have been a fumbled open roll with no successes (not only did he remained visible to the Ringwraiths, he became of special interest to them) or it could have been a closed roll that fumbled.

OK, I haven't read Tolkien; I've seen the movies and felt the influence from his books just by traveling in fantasy game circles as a kid, so I can't comment on details from the book, but have some questions from a designer standpoint.

Are the events you mention above really fumbles or just elements of the plot. When the ring is used, the eye can sense it; when someone is invisible, it doesn't affect the Ringwraiths. Would these events have been avoided by a better die result? Did they only happen because someone screwed up? Or, did they happen because this is the immutable nature of magic, the ring, and the Ringwraiths, and nobody realized it yet?

I may be missing a point here; hope I'm not.

Also, the fumbling rules seem harsh. The chance that one die could offset any number of successful dice doesn't seem fair. Fumbling seems like a very strong term; not only do you not succeed, but something really bad happens. This is dramatic, but too much negative drama can break player morale. Sometimes, failing should be enough, and fumbles should be more rare.

Maybe an unsuccessful die cancels out successes. Another possibility may be that unsuccessful dice kept from a roll don't replenish and the others do. I don't know what effect this has on your system, its just an idea.

Keep it up, and good luck.
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Ken

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jerry
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« Reply #14 on: August 24, 2009, 05:43:44 AM »

OK, I haven't read Tolkien; I've seen the movies and felt the influence from his books just by traveling in fantasy game circles as a kid, so I can't comment on details from the book, but have some questions from a designer standpoint.

Are the events you mention above really fumbles or just elements of the plot. When the ring is used, the eye can sense it; when someone is invisible, it doesn't affect the Ringwraiths. Would these events have been avoided by a better die result? Did they only happen because someone screwed up? Or, did they happen because this is the immutable nature of magic, the ring, and the Ringwraiths, and nobody realized it yet?

One way to look at it might be that if you're carrying the ring, a fumble means you put it on. So Frodo wasn't trying to be invisible to Boromir; he was trying to escape Boromir. The fumble meant he escaped by using the ring. "In the book", obviously everything is because of the plot; but they rarely used the ring but it was always trying to be used. Both on weathertop and at the chair, Frodo put on the ring because someone screwed up. The times he didn't put on the ring, he didn't screw up. He knew very early that using the ring brought the attention of the eye and of the wraiths, so this could be a reasonable game element. If this is the case, though, fumbles would have to not happen very often.
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Jerry
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