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Author Topic: [TSOY] The Long Bridge  (Read 18188 times)
Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #15 on: May 19, 2006, 07:58:51 AM »

Whoa -- I just found this thread, having gone on a trip the day after the game. (Packing until 130 am... feh).

From the GM's perspective -- having not GM'd a game in, I kid you not, ten frickin' years*:

I love the way this game lets you change your character on the fly, in response to the push-and-pull (no, do not try to define these terms) among the people around the table, e.g.:

1) Jenn's Khaidu: She talks about how "he's not chosen a side, yet," but how he's protecting this ragtag band of refugees; we all toss details about his tribe was given a "join us or die" by the Horde, and he left; and then, on the spot, I make the Horde scouts chasing him part of his old tribe, with given names and bitter memories and all, and Jenn buys "Key of the Outcast" on the spot.

2) Eric's Brother Vedis (not Videl, I think): Eric comes to the session with a two-page typed-up history of his character and the religious order he belongs to, all centered on this holy Chalice; he defies a powerful NPC (the Baron) to keep custody of the chalice; in the big fight before the Long Bridge, he rolls massive bonus dice from his Prayer skill into his totally unskilled horse-riding and charges unharmed through the clashing cavalry and running refugees, gets across the Bridge before anyone else, and is at the broken gates of the old capital.... and then Eric (well trained by Capes in the art of "I wanna get me some of that action!") looks at Jenn and Tony, who've been farming XP merrily off each other and are in the thick of the action, looks at all the Keys encouraging him to ride his guy through the gate and out of the scene, and says, in essence, "That's not fun! I'm changing my character!" and buys Key of Conscience as he turns around and rides back -- which is a beautiful bit of drama totally incentivized by the mechanics.

Note that Eric wasn't tied into the other player characters at all to start -- though he did tie himself strongly to the setting and situation -- and the "I wrote up two pages of character background before play started!" thing is often a recipe for Big Time Blah. But the system made his character's relative isolation in the story (and from the XP mill) so clear, and the way out so obviously appealing, that Eric could turn the character on a dime. (As I say, Capes was great training for this, too).

I've always been a "build the world, turn the players loose, let 'em make trouble for themselves and each other" kind of GM. (I've not outlined a plot since the first one-shot I ever ran in freshman year of college; that last game I GM'd, ten years ago, was a homebrew Stat + Specialization + 1d6 system in a one-shot called Cyperpunk Highschool where the players gleefully wiped each other out over the course of a few hours and I hardly had to run a single NPC). This system certainly facilitates that.

I had two "uh oh" moments when I worried I might have slammed the GM-force button: Once when Eric's Brother Vedis immediately got into a social conflict (bringing down the pain) with the Baron over whether Vedis would show him the artifact he was carrying or not, and another time when, after Jenn's Khaidu defied his former tribesman, I impulsively set the stakes as "Okay, they're trying to gut you now." In both cases I was seriously afraid I'd deprotagonize the players -- but in fact this system makes it damn hard to beat down a PC over something they care about. Vedis's blaze of faith carried the day with the Baron ("Sir, we have no time... This [indicating the artifact] is important -- I am not -- kill me if you must and take it with you to a place of safety.") Khaidu, even badly battered from successive social conflicts with Tony's Yoshi, still beat down the tribesmen over an extended Bring Down the Pain: It cost Jenn's character, but I realized that I was never as close to a dead PC as I'd feared.

Which brings me to a question for any experienced TSOY'ers out there: How do you calibrate the power of NPCs? The warning in the rules that having any dice in Pools makes an NPC very dangerous really proved out for me, as I'd assigned all of my NPC pool dice (I created them using the regular PC generation process, then halved the Pool size as per the advice in the rules) and then found myself holding back from actually rolling any of those pool dice, which is the one time I felt like I was doing the old GM-fudge dance... but then I'd been warned not to give the NPCs pool dice in the first place.

As we go into next week's session, I'm looking in particular for guidance on building:
1) low-level but not trivial "interesting obstacle" NPCs
2) PC-equivalent "potential longterm rival" NPCs
3) highly powerful but not overwhelming "boss" NPCs.


Suggestions?
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John Harper
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« Reply #16 on: May 19, 2006, 11:25:26 AM »

Hey Sydney,

I'll address your NPC-power questions, but first:
Quote
It cost Jenn's character, but I realized that I was never as close to a dead PC as I'd feared.

I don't think you really need to worry about this in TSOY. Just play your NPCs, and play them hard. If they want to kill a PC, go for it with gusto. The game will be better for it. The trick is getting out of the old "move from one deadly encounter to the next" mindset, which you are already far from. Give your NPCs goals and play them with passion and conviction -- then let the dice fall. You never need to do the GM dance where you tiptoe around and try not to squash the PCs with your "awesome power."

Now, about making NPCs.

Interesting obstacle NPCs
I assume you mean no-name goons and such. That's the only kind of "obstacle" NPC that TSOY should have, IMO. Everyone else should have goals and some means to go after them. For goons, though, I just assign reasonable abilities and levels (Competent is usually about right for standard henchmen and stuff). If there's a lot of them, I roll them into one character, and give pool points for the extra guys. So, a "character" representing a squad of goons might have a Vigor pool of 3 or so.

The cool thing about the way bonus dice work in TSOY is that you can give pool points to goons like this, but it doesn't really make them more powerful, just more reliable. They'll still be capped at Competent (2) + roll (3) = 5, so an Adept or Master PC can still beat them if they care enough.

If the goons are elite or specially trained (a unit of special forces soldiers, maybe) then I would also give the group-character some secrets to make them nasty (like Synergy, Specialization, or Enchancement). Throw in an ability like Battle so they can link rolls for bonus dice and you have a pretty darn wicked gang of badness.

Rivals and "Bosses"
I'm putting these together because for TSOY, they're really the same thing: named NPCs with goals and interests of their own. Their specific "power level" is important, but of equal or greater importance are their goals and the things they are willing to do to achieve them.

That said, here's my current way of generating tough NPC opponents:

Just eyeball their abilities.  Just like the book suggests. Are they a Master duelist? Adept at deceit? There ya go. Remember that NPCs don't transcend, so you can totally get away with a Grandmaster ability if the NPC warrants it. (I have an NPC in my TSOY game now that was introduced by a PC and described as "the scariest [bounty hunter] ever." So, bam -- Grandmaster hunter.)

Assign pool points and Secrets. My players keep track of how many advances they have spent on their characters since play began, so this part is easy for me. For a really, really nasty NPC, spend roughly the same number of advances as your most-advanced PC on Secrets and pool points for your NPC. Generally keep NPC pools between 3-6, unless they are supposed to be some awful legendary godling or something.

So, my most-advanced PC has spent 23 advances on his character so far (including the 6 at character creation). So I spent 24 advances on my really nasty bounty hunter. 15 on pool points (6 Vigor, 5 Instinct, 4 Reason). 8 on Secrets. Yes, 8 Secrets. Stuff like Synergy, Enhancement, Specialty, Mighty Blow, Imbue, etc. She is sooooo badass. In play, she is more than a handful for the most powerful PC, and the group really has to work together to oppose her (which they haven't managed to do yet, since she's built for stealthy hit-and-run tactics, heh).

The awesomness of the badass NPC in TSOY is that I can't just hose a PC at my whim. The system won't let me. No initiating BDTP for me, and without BDTP, I can't "take out" a PC. I can harass and hurt the PCs with her, though -- tempting them into BDTP. And her awesomeness drives everyone to hit their Keys even harder, to collect the advances they need to stand up to her.

For NPCs that aren't meant to fight all the PCs at once, you should spend roughly half the number of your best PC's advances on pool points and Secrets, maybe a little less. So, a significant rival NPC in my game might have around 10 advances in pools and secrets, and possibly an ability or two at Master.

NPC Keys
Finally, here's a fun thing that I'm adopting for my game. The book doesn't mention it, but I'm giving my NPCs Keys of their own once they are introduced in play. This lets them earn XP and advance, too. They get far fewer opportunities to hit Keys, though, so the PCs will still advance more quickly -- as it should be. This technique of introducing an NPC (as built by rough eyeballing) and then advancing them using the standard PC advancement system is something that I've been doing in my Nine Worlds game (based on Matt's excellent advice) and it's really working well.

Also, it's very cool to say "This NPC is totally taking the Key of Love for you right now."

Hope that helps.
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Agon: An ancient Greek RPG. Prove the glory of your name!
Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #17 on: May 19, 2006, 11:32:25 AM »

John, you're my man. Thanks!

I'd been tempted by letting NPCs hit Keys and advance, and I even found myself talking as if they were in that first session -- when Khaidu was being berated by a (former) fellow-tribesman, with both of them having the "Key of the First Wolf" cultural trait that gives you 1XP for "failing to conceal your contempt for civilized ways," I actually broke off in the middle of my in-character diatribe to say, "He's totally gettin' his Key on." But, actually doing the mechanics was something I'd backed off from. Now I'll charge right in.
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Storn
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« Reply #18 on: May 19, 2006, 01:24:14 PM »

Gods of Games!  Dieties of Dice! 

I HAVE to GET this game!!!

This sounds awesome!  Great thread, folks!
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #19 on: May 19, 2006, 02:11:53 PM »

Speaking of deities, the full list of deities for this campaign and their attendant Keys & Secrets is in this thread.

The specific Keys & Secrets taken by PCs were:


[Tony's character Yoshi has...]

Key of the Wounded Moon
"My life is not my own."
   All people know the tragic story of Kthonné, the moon, favorite daughter of Asorion and Svulkë, she who was seduced and violated by the First Wolf, gave birth to the Stag King of the fay, and went mad, hiding her bright face in shame and sorrow. But you were dedicated to her service by your father: perhaps because he was too poor to feed you as a girl; perhaps because he had no dowry to marry you as a maiden; perhaps because you, like the moon, were raped, and your father could not bring himself to cleanse his honor with your blood in the ancient manner. ("Raped" in this culture means sex without your father's consent; yours is legally immaterial). Now you stand apart from men and women both, empowered to heal the righteous and slay the wicked, yet never truly free.
   Typical backgrounds include Sword Virgin (woman warrior-healer) or Dagger Bride (spy and traitor-hunter; always a raped woman with no honor left to lose).
   Gain 1 XP every time you deny yourself something in deference to a male authority figure, such as a Magus, nobleman, or other devotee of Asorion.
   Gain 2 XP every time you endure danger or suffering on behalf of another, with no benefit to yourself.
   Gain 5 XP every time you do something to benefit others that would horrify them if they knew.
   You may buy off this Key if you do something you really want to do, just for yourself.

[Eric's character Brother Vedis has...]

Key of the Ancestors
"Guide your unworthy offspring in your path."
   Everyone respects the spirits of their ancestors and knows their family legends, but you have devoted yourself entirely to your forefather's path. You can recite your ancestors' names, deeds, and sayings -- and you do so at every occasion to dispel your own doubts and rally or bully your community. You may be rich or poor, but your family is ancient, deeply rooted, and respectable. You are equally likely to be male or female.
   Typical backgrounds include noble, guild member (in which case you may have been adopted into your lineage as an apprentice), or farmer.
   Gain 1 XP every time you inconvenience yourself or others by rigidly following some ancestral custom or taboo (which, as a player, you are free to invent on the spot).
   Gain 2 XP every time you convince others to try something new because it is actually a return to the true ways of the ancestors, really it is.
   Gain 5 XP every time you cling to old ways at the peril of your life or another's.
   You may buy off this Key by openly rejecting the ancestral ways.

[Jenn's character Khaidu has...]

Key of the First Wolf
"[howling]"
   Everyone knows the First Wolf raped the Moon and sired the Stag King of the Fay. No one worships his totem except the outland barbarians and inbred hillfolk -- and you. You know the truth: that all kingdoms fall, all knowledge fades, and even gods come and go, but the ancient powers endure. If other people knew what you worshipped, they would probably kill you for being a werewolf and a traitor: Are you?
   Typical backgrounds include backwoods primitive, bandit, deserter from the army, and secret agent for the Horde.
   Gain 1 XP every time you fail to conceal your contempt for "civilized" folk.
   Gain 2 XP every time you prevail when civilized folk cannot because of your strength, savagery, or cunning.
   Gain 5 XP every time you lead others to reject civilized values and embrace the way of the Wolf.
   You may buy off this Key by saving someone from the consequences of their own weakness.

[... and Yoshi and Khaidu both have both of the following:]
Secret of the Full Moon
   You are blessed by the bright Moon, whose light reveals to you the plotting of your enemies. Whenever you are rolling in a Conflict against someone who is trying to hide anything from you -- themselves, another person, an object, a secret -- you may spend any number of points from your Instinct pool and receive that number of bonus dice.
   The character does not have to know or even suspect something is being hidden to use this Secret. The player and the GM should collaborate to allow its use whenever the character is walking into an ambush or talking to someone who seems totally innocent: It is a kind of divine sixth sense, not conscious magic. If the player tries to use this Secret when no one has anything to hide, she gets her Instinct points back.
   Cost: 1 Instinct per bonus die.
   Requires Key of the Wounded Moon (you are a Sword Virgin or Dagger Bride) or Key of the First Wolf (you are probably a Horde scout or spy).

Secret of the New Moon
   You carry the curse of the lunatic Moon, whose darkness shrouds you from your enemies. When you are hiding anything from anyone -- yourself, another person, an object, a secret -- you may spend any number of points from your Instinct pool to give whoever is trying to find out your secret that number of penalty dice.
   As with the Key of the Full Moon, the character does not have to know someone is looking for her or trying to uncover her secret for the player to use this Secret.
   Cost: 1 Instinct per penalty die.
   Requires Key of the Wounded Moon (you are probably a Dagger Bride, although some Sword Virgins have this Secret as well) or Key of the First Wolf (you are probably a Horde scout or spy).

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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #20 on: May 19, 2006, 05:47:03 PM »

Afterthought:

For goons, though, I just assign reasonable abilities and levels (Competent is usually about right for standard henchmen and stuff). If there's a lot of them, I roll them into one character, and give pool points for the extra guys. So, a "character" representing a squad of goons might have a Vigor pool of 3 or so. The cool thing about the way bonus dice work in TSOY is that you can give pool points to goons like this, but it doesn't really make them more powerful, just more reliable. They'll still be capped at Competent (2) + roll (3) = 5, so an Adept or Master PC can still beat them if they care enough.

Ah. I was actually doing "group of mooks = one character" -- having played so much Capes, it's so automatic I didn't even remember to mention it -- but I was using the "standard Abilities, standard Pools divided by two" guideline implicit in the rulebook for major NPCs, so they were consistently coming after the PCs with their one Adept level ability. That plus more than the occasional bonus dice from their Pools was pretty tough.

The point about Pool dice being something that improves your "reliability" but leaves you capped at Ability + 3 is a good nuance to remember, though.
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Clay
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« Reply #21 on: May 20, 2006, 01:08:21 AM »

I HAVE to GET this game!!!

I assure you it is.  I've used it even with some of my friends who have a lot of trouble getting into their characters and making proactive decisions.  They take to it like ducks to water, and when they see an opportunity to hit a key they jump on it.  It tends to draw very excellent play out of your players.
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Clay Dowling
RPG-Campaign.com - Online Campaign Planning and Management
Clay
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« Reply #22 on: May 20, 2006, 01:10:15 AM »

I assure you it is.

tack the word "excellent" on to that sentence and it makes a lot more sense.
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Clay Dowling
RPG-Campaign.com - Online Campaign Planning and Management
Doyce
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« Reply #23 on: June 25, 2006, 08:01:36 AM »

(My PC has Key of Clan, Key of Commander, and Key of the Cripple, all of which ...

Key of the Cripple? Key of the New Moon?

*coff* http://random.average-bear.com/TSOY/Keys *coff*
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Doyce Testerman ~ http://random.average-bear.com
Someone gets into trouble, then get get out of it again; people love that story -- they never get tired of it.
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