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Author Topic: Tolkien-esque Storytelling RPG  (Read 13563 times)
Evan Anhorn
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Posts: 59


« on: August 04, 2009, 08:45:52 PM »

After taking a BIG break from my hobbies (board games, pen & paper games, wargames etc), my interest in game design seeped back into my life rather naturally.  I was looking at the terrific artwork in my monochrome B1 In Search of the Unknown (Carr, 1979), but felt disappointed that playing D&D doesn't actually feel anything like the storytelling the art portrays.  Later, I was reflecting on the peculiarities of a Tolkien adventure narrative (specifically, in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit) vs the gameplay of a D&D (1974) adventure.

So I casually set about creating the infrastructure of a good, flexible, storyteller game that is a good fit for Middle-Earth (the setting of the aforementioned Tolkien stories).  My design goals are flexible, light gameplay that encourages the particularities of Tolkien's conception of adventure while remaining easy for the referee to control and direct.  What do you think?  Feel free to add ideas for game mechanics.

Experience<Heroes
Rather than providing different game mechanics to help the party succeed, each hero will work similarly and it will be the fellowship and support their clever players' can offer that will make each character unique.  Each hero has five simple attributes (courage, wisdom, fellowship, agility and might) that are determined by rolling 1d8+6 for each in turn (resulting in scores 7-14).  Any hero can be a human (who gain +1 to their greatest attribute), but you must "roll into" other races by having appropriate above average and below average attributes: Dwarves (Might 11+, Agility 10-), Hobbits (Courage 11+, Might 10-) and Elves (Wisdom 11+, Fellowship 10-).

Core Mechanic<Combat
Combat uses simple tests.  Actions are declared, movement and maneuvers are imagined and attacks are made in order of weapon length (initially) and speed (in subsequent rounds).  One successful Agility die will inflict a hit on an enemy (against a difficulty relevant your opponents skill and battlefield conditions, whatever the referee dreams up).  Successful Might dice (against a difficulty relevant to the opponents armour) indicates the degree of damage inflicted (daggers can only test 1 Might die here, while bows and spears can test 2, longswords 3, axes 4 and great weapons 5).  It's important to note that the referee can make up difficulties as he sees fit, and these can (and should) change from round to round (bodies are always in motion and situations are constantly changing, there is no reason to have a fixed defense number for orcs or dragons) - although communicating the narrative to the players is critical to give them a chance to interpret which dice might fail or succeed.

Each degree of wound causes the defender to lose 1d8 from all attribute pools simultaneously (to a minimum of 1).  Being reduced to 1 in every pool results in an incapacitated hero.  Three wounds and a hero perishes.  Wounds should have their location described and noted, as the referee may want to consider this in later difficulty thresholds, or whether a character with unhealed wounds should refresh his attribute pools entirely in the next setting.  Foes fight either as groups (like a mob of goblins) or large, single monsters (like a dragon, troll or giant spider) - either way they have a single pool (maybe 20, 30 or 40 dice) which they can draw from to act.  Groups should lose members to wounds whenever the referee sees fit (a wound that causes only a few dice to drop is better described as a group member being wounded).  As they use up their dice to act (and lose them from wounds), the groups morale fades until wounds drop them below 1 die and the last member(s) fall or flee.

Different maneuvers can always be attempted using different rolls (as the referee sees fit).  Perhaps you can assault an enemy (each successful hit allows you to make a subsequent attack, unless the opponent chooses to give ground) or lock blades and push him back (opposed might roll, with fumble indicated someone falling).  Maybe you can parry instead of attack, adding each successful agility die to the number of successes the enemy needs to hit you (which by default is only 1).  Perhaps a monster induces fear (the Balrog might cause fear 5), which drains every attribute pool a set number (minus every successful courage die).  Obviously, there is a lot of flexibility.

Magic
To fit Middle-Earth, magic should be very rare.  Magic items, or skill in sorcery, use the same mechanic - a separate pool of dice that refresh every setting, which can be either added to attribute rolls (if the spell is appropriately described) or rolled as an attribute in its own right to accomplish some action.  As noted in this article, Middle-Earth magic tends to enhance and work on already existent things, rather than conjure unnatural effects.  Again, each successful die indicates how far along the spell got.

So anyway, that's most of what I came up with so far.  Is this a workable basis for a game?
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jerry
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« Reply #1 on: August 04, 2009, 09:46:45 PM »

1. Certainly it sounds like workable start to a fun game. I'm especially intrigued by the idea that experience comes solely from seeing new places.

2. I notice that all of your examples invoke Middle Earth or Tolkienesque except combat. Can you describe potential Tolkienesque combat using your ideas?

Jerry
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Jerry
Gods & Monsters
http://www.godsmonsters.com/
Noclue
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Posts: 304


« Reply #2 on: August 04, 2009, 10:59:21 PM »

Some questions:

If humans get +1 to a stat,  what is the advantage of "rolling into" a different race?

The conflict resolution mechanic is interesting. However, who determines how many success dice are needed to fully succeed at a task? Is it completely up to the GM, so that they can always make it take one more success dice to achieve my goal than I roll?
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James R.
chance.thirteen
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Posts: 210


« Reply #3 on: August 04, 2009, 11:25:59 PM »

The guessing what the target number is interesting to me, but sounds built to halt the players in their tracks too easily. Not sure if there couldn't be a narrowing of the range, eg high or low difficulty indicating 5+ or 4-, or a set range of 2 or 3 difficulties max. Or perhaps a mechanism to reduce failed dice from fumbles to just negative successes.
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Anders Larsen
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Posts: 270


« Reply #4 on: August 05, 2009, 12:58:44 AM »

I have a weak spot exploration game, but unfortunately these types of games can be very hard to poll off.

I think that you make the common mistake of not having a clear idea of what kind of stories you want to be toled in this game. Or if you have a clear idea, it does not really show in the system you present.

Quote
In these stories, fights are to be avoided, and the point of the quest is not to get rich (even in The Hobbit)

The problem with games where the characters constantly traveling from place to place, is that it is very hard for the GM to build a proper story, and because of that, a GM will easily fall into the habit of just making a string of monster encounters. And since the only activity in your game that have a special treatment is combat (and maybe magic), this will then be the tool the players normally will use to solve most of the problem they faces. So games like this will easily just be one fight after the other.

Here are some questions I think you need to consider:

* What are the different kind of challenges the characters are going to face on their journey?
* In what ways should the character be able to overcome these challenges?
* Why are the character, on a personal level, interested in going on this journey (may not be relevant for your game)?

But apart from this, there are many things I like with the system. It is interesting idea to tie the reward to how far you have come on your journey. I also think that your core mechanic have some interesting ideas. The only problem is that if the GM first give the target number after the player have rolled his dice, the GM can on the fly change the target number so he can decide if the character succeed or not.

 - Anders
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Luke
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« Reply #5 on: August 05, 2009, 06:00:11 AM »

Why not have each setting consist of 1 to 8 obstacles?
When the players reach a setting, the GM can inform them, "There are three obstacles to overcome to get through Mirkwood."

If the players succeed at a test, then they move forward. If they fail, then an additional obstacle can be added to the setting or the GM can choose to let the group overcome the obstacle but the character is "damaged" -- reduce a pool in the NEXT setting.

With some guidelines like these, the players will have a better idea how to manage their resources.

Also, it doesn't seem like you need a separate combat system. If you really want a simple, fluid system, just use your basic resolution mechanic for combat. Perhaps offer one tweak: rather than setting an arbitrary difficulty, the GM rolls for your opponents (maybe even in the open).

-L
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Evan Anhorn
Member

Posts: 59


« Reply #6 on: August 05, 2009, 06:51:24 AM »

Good comments.  I do give a lot of control to the referee ("GM"), mostly so he can control pacing and excitement.  Back when I used to run D&D, a player would declare some action and I'd usually either 1) let them do it automatically or 2) ask them to roll any shaped die they wanted.  Only after seeing the die result (higher is better), I'd decide if they make it.  I think I'm taking some notes from how I ran D&D for this game as well.

Certainly the referee may make up the difficulty threshold after he sees the dice rolled (although this should not be obvious to the players, who might feel it unfair).  3's are a good target number for easy tests (that the referee wants to describe in many stages, like scouting the orc encampment above).  7's are a good target number for hard tests (and for tests that the referee wants to either pass or fail without degrees of success, like picking a lock).  The referee, of course, is not for or against the heroes, and should be open to how they want to defeat a setting (even though there was no epic battle with the Balrog, the "cheap" way the Fellowship avoided him made for great storytelling).  Usually an action will only require 1 success - the referee should make it fairly obvious when more are required (and he should set the difficulty much lower to allow for it), saying something like "well to find a weakness in the orc picket line, you will have to first enter their territory, then evade the patrols, and then sneak undetected onto the hill top".  Partial success is always success (he won't ever get the fumble result, getting caught, unless he fumbles), so that two successes will give the hero some information he can work with, if not the complete story.

To best capture a Tolkien-style adventure narrative, the final destination and mission will be clear to the heroes from day one.  This is always very far away, however, and getting their is the adventure.  In The Hobbit, the episodes the characters face in their pilgrimage are largely unrelated to the ultimate mission.  In The Lord of the Rings, each new setting brings more and more foreshadowing of the ultimate mission.  I think both of these styles would work fine in this game, and which is best for you depends on the game style your players enjoy.  Here's a sample adventure path:

The party forms in one of the last surviving settlements of refugees in Arthedain, down on the coast of Harlindon (see map).  Arthedain and the neighboring kingdoms have become lawless and empty regions, where the last, wandering minions of the Witch-king of Angmar are fought not by armies, but by remnant adventurers.  They are given a task by a Gandalf-like figure (perhaps Gandalf himself, perhaps one of the unnamed Istari), to reclaim the ancient home of the Elf lords in the Grey Mountains (if there are several elves in the party, for instance) and drive out the vile denizens led by the lieutenant (aka the Witch-king) of (dormant) Sauron.  By doing this, the men of Arthedain will once more be able to build a safe kingdom for themselves, and the recent Hobbit migrants will be able to settle their new Shire in peace (some hooks for other players).

Setting out, the party will have to cross the Blue Mountains (perhaps a goblin warren introduces problems), deal with the elves at Tower Hills (or Grey Havens, whichever they think will be more hospitable).  From here, the party has a choice - traverse the Shire (a place currently scoured and terrorised by the agents of the Ringwraiths since Arnor's fall), or sneak through Annuminas (an ancient city, long since abandoned to ruin, and rumoured to be haunted by ghosts).  Then it is onward to Fornost
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Luke
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« Reply #7 on: August 05, 2009, 07:42:29 AM »

 In The Hobbit, the episodes the characters face in their pilgrimage are largely unrelated to the ultimate mission.  

This is not true at all. Each episode in The Hobbit present a challenge through which the character demonstrates his worthiness for the greater task at hand or by which we come to learn something about the character or in which the character gains a piece of lore that will be needed further down the line in the story.

Consider this when you're making your game.

-L
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Evan Anhorn
Member

Posts: 59


« Reply #8 on: August 05, 2009, 09:03:10 AM »

Experience
Gained only for travelling to new areas (there and back again for the best reward)
Rewarded upon arriving at a destination (a chance to relax)
Every advance you gain a single point to any attribute

Combat
Push the enemy back (causing them to fall)
Assault (if attack hits, you can make a subsequent attack etc, fallback interrupts)
Morale (flee or stand and drool, test when stamina lost, casualties taken etc)
Stamina (ability to keep in the fight)
Ward (your hits don't do damage, but force enemy back from push or assault)
No hit points (a good damage role indicates a heavily damaged leg etc)
Three bad wounds and you are dead
Initiative of strikes is determined by length (initially) and speed (thereafter)
Fear, unless overcome by a courage roll, reduces all pools by a given number

Attributes
Each attribute (courage, wisdom, fellowship, agility, might) is 1d8+6
Dwarf (Might 11+, Agility 10-), Hobbit (Courage 11+, Might 10-), Elf (Wisdom 11+, Fellowship 10-), Human (raise best attribute by 1).  If a player wants to play a demi-human, she may set any offending scores to the requirement (no greater) and play that race.

Core Mechanic (Maybe)
Each hero has a pool of dice for each attribute equal to that attribute.  This pool can be used each setting to accomplish different things, and each use refreshes a single point (no matter how many were spent).  Players select which dice to keep and then the referee indicates the threshold.  If the player selected dice under the threshold, the attempt fumbles, otherwise the number of dice kept indicates the degree of success (how far the hero got).  Any natural 8 allows another die to be added to the roll.  Magic works similarly - the magician describes the spell and the dice indicate how far along it got (and perhaps if it even succeeded beyond its intention).  Wounds may indicate that you do not get your entire pool refreshed when you enter a new setting.  How long wounds take to heal (and what it takes) is entirely up to the referee.

The referee doesn't (normally) fumble, but his dice also do not (normally) explode (also, his thresholds should generally be a point or two tougher).

Agility tests to hit someone (normally need 1 success, unless they parry with an agility test).  Might tests to hurt someone (daggers are max 1 die from pool, bows and spears 2, longswords 3 and axes 4).  Armour (descriptive, not from a list) provides referee with ideas for threshold (apply weapon vs. armour if you like).  It's important to note that thresholds never stay the same from one strike to the next - the situation is always in motion and the referee is free to decide new thresholds whenever a roll is made.

A light wound kills minor foes and causes heroes to lose 1d8 dice from all attribute pools (down to 1).  Midi and more severe wounds cause the hero to lose 2d8 (or more) dice from all pools.  If the hero is down to 1 in every pool by a wound, she is incapacitated (perhaps she can crawl and speak, but not fight).  Three wounds (or being brought to 1 in every pool) will kill you, whichever happens second.  Wounds can also increase thresholds, as the referee sees fit.

Some questions:

If humans get +1 to a stat,  what is the advantage of "rolling into" a different race?

The conflict resolution mechanic is interesting. However, who determines how many success dice are needed to fully succeed at a task? Is it completely up to the GM, so that they can always make it take one more success dice to achieve my goal than I roll?

I don't want there to be any particular advantage of rolling into a specific race (other than background related issues, like Rohan-men might be advantaged when fighting from the saddle, and dwarves will know their ancient lore and language).  But you bring up a good point - I wanted to give humans a small bonus to encourage that race, but the majority of heroes in Tolkien's books are not humans (none of the party in The Hobbit, and only 2 of the 8 are men in The Lord of the Rings).  I think I'll remove that advantage, and perhaps encourage players to pick a race that is already common to the party (so you get 12 dwarves of 13, or 4 hobbits of 8 party members).

To the second question, the referee should indicate how many successes will get the hero how far.  Failing to get that many successes results in a partial success (not a failure).  Getting no successes simply means you earned nothing for your effort, and fumbling means you got in trouble.

The guessing what the target number is interesting to me, but sounds built to halt the players in their tracks too easily. Not sure if there couldn't be a narrowing of the range, eg high or low difficulty indicating 5+ or 4-, or a set range of 2 or 3 difficulties max. Or perhaps a mechanism to reduce failed dice from fumbles to just negative successes.

That would certainly be a good option.  Since the referee creates the thresholds, he must fairly describe the situation to give the players an idea of what they may need.  He can also use this to "fudge" die rolls, accepting rolls that didn't meet his secret threshold.  The idea is to control pace and keep everything exciting and tense.

Why not have each setting consist of 1 to 8 obstacles?
When the players reach a setting, the GM can inform them, "There are three obstacles to overcome to get through Mirkwood."

If the players succeed at a test, then they move forward. If they fail, then an additional obstacle can be added to the setting or the GM can choose to let the group overcome the obstacle but the character is "damaged" -- reduce a pool in the NEXT setting.

With some guidelines like these, the players will have a better idea how to manage their resources.

Also, it doesn't seem like you need a separate combat system. If you really want a simple, fluid system, just use your basic resolution mechanic for combat. Perhaps offer one tweak: rather than setting an arbitrary difficulty, the GM rolls for your opponents (maybe even in the open).

These are all great additions.  I like the idea that one stage in the adventure can set the party back for later stages (like when the party lost Gandalf).  It also makes sense to indicate how many obstacles the party can expect to face in a new setting (although I'd give them a range, like 3-5 obstacles, rather than a set number, in order to avoid gamist reductionism).  I also tend to want to do away with a separate combat system, but my players tend to love combat (not really the indie-rpg crowd).  Maybe the combat rules would be an optional way of handling combat?

I'm not sure what you mean by rolling for the opponents, though.  Foes already roll attacks (using their pool), with descriptive thresholds representing passive defense (and active defense handled, perhaps, by agility rolls, although there is not much mechanical reason for foes to fight defensively, given how they take wounds differs from how heroes take wounds).  I don't want difficulties to be arbitrary, but narrative - fitting first and foremost the descriptive elements of the scene and, whenever possible, the needs of the story pacing and excitement.

This is not true at all. Each episode in The Hobbit present a challenge through which the character demonstrates his worthiness for the greater task at hand or by which we come to learn something about the character or in which the character gains a piece of lore that will be needed further down the line in the story.

Oh I agree, and this is a very good point and helpful for focusing this game.  I merely meant there was no direct plot connection between the three trolls and Smaug.  It's a good point though, and I think you nailed what I subconsciously wanted to do with the obstacles each setting puts forward (and the advancement heroes get after a setting).

I'm just throwing another map here that I might use later:
http://www.bjornetjenesten.dk/teksterdk/Tolkien/middle-earth-film.jpg
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Evan Anhorn
Member

Posts: 59


« Reply #9 on: August 05, 2009, 09:09:25 AM »

Whoops, ignore the above post, I copied my original notes instead of half the stuff I wanted to post.  Also, I'm not allowed to report my own posts, so I can't get it deleted.  Can someone else report it?  Thanks.  Here is my original post:

2. I notice that all of your examples invoke Middle Earth or Tolkienesque except combat. Can you describe potential Tolkienesque combat using your ideas?Quote from: Noclue on August 04, 2009, 10:59:21 PM
Some questions:

If humans get +1 to a stat,  what is the advantage of "rolling into" a different race?

The conflict resolution mechanic is interesting. However, who determines how many success dice are needed to fully succeed at a task? Is it completely up to the GM, so that they can always make it take one more success dice to achieve my goal than I roll?

I don't want there to be any particular advantage of rolling into a specific race (other than background related issues, like Rohan-men might be advantaged when fighting from the saddle, and dwarves will know their ancient lore and language).  But you bring up a good point - I wanted to give humans a small bonus to encourage that race, but the majority of heroes in Tolkien's books are not humans (none of the party in The Hobbit, and only 2 of the 8 are men in The Lord of the Rings).  I think I'll remove that advantage, and perhaps encourage players to pick a race that is already common to the party (so you get 12 dwarves of 13, or 4 hobbits of 8 party members).

To the second question, the referee should indicate how many successes will get the hero how far.  Failing to get that many successes results in a partial success (not a failure).  Getting no successes simply means you earned nothing for your effort, and fumbling means you got in trouble.

The guessing what the target number is interesting to me, but sounds built to halt the players in their tracks too easily. Not sure if there couldn't be a narrowing of the range, eg high or low difficulty indicating 5+ or 4-, or a set range of 2 or 3 difficulties max. Or perhaps a mechanism to reduce failed dice from fumbles to just negative successes.

That would certainly be a good option.  Since the referee creates the thresholds, he must fairly describe the situation to give the players an idea of what they may need.  He can also use this to "fudge" die rolls, accepting rolls that didn't meet his secret threshold.  The idea is to control pace and keep everything exciting and tense.

Why not have each setting consist of 1 to 8 obstacles?
When the players reach a setting, the GM can inform them, "There are three obstacles to overcome to get through Mirkwood."

If the players succeed at a test, then they move forward. If they fail, then an additional obstacle can be added to the setting or the GM can choose to let the group overcome the obstacle but the character is "damaged" -- reduce a pool in the NEXT setting.

With some guidelines like these, the players will have a better idea how to manage their resources.

Also, it doesn't seem like you need a separate combat system. If you really want a simple, fluid system, just use your basic resolution mechanic for combat. Perhaps offer one tweak: rather than setting an arbitrary difficulty, the GM rolls for your opponents (maybe even in the open).

These are all great additions.  I like the idea that one stage in the adventure can set the party back for later stages (like when the party lost Gandalf).  It also makes sense to indicate how many obstacles the party can expect to face in a new setting (although I'd give them a range, like 3-5 obstacles, rather than a set number, in order to avoid gamist reductionism).  I also tend to want to do away with a separate combat system, but my players tend to love combat (not really the indie-rpg crowd).  Maybe the combat rules would be an optional way of handling combat?

I'm not sure what you mean by rolling for the opponents, though.  Foes already roll attacks (using their pool), with descriptive thresholds representing passive defense (and active defense handled, perhaps, by agility rolls, although there is not much mechanical reason for foes to fight defensively, given how they take wounds differs from how heroes take wounds).  I don't want difficulties to be arbitrary, but narrative - fitting first and foremost the descriptive elements of the scene and, whenever possible, the needs of the story pacing and excitement.

This is not true at all. Each episode in The Hobbit present a challenge through which the character demonstrates his worthiness for the greater task at hand or by which we come to learn something about the character or in which the character gains a piece of lore that will be needed further down the line in the story.

Oh I agree, and this is a very good point and helpful for focusing this game.  I merely meant there was no direct plot connection between the three trolls and Smaug.  It's a good point though, and I think you nailed what I subconsciously wanted to do with the obstacles each setting puts forward (and the advancement heroes get after a setting).

And, another map.
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Luke
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« Reply #10 on: August 05, 2009, 09:56:40 AM »

You combat system is broken and has nothing to do with your premise of exploration or simulation of Tolkien's work. You're already getting bogged down in making an esoteric system balanced and interesting. It doesn't serve the design. Drop it.

-L
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Guy Srinivasan
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« Reply #11 on: August 05, 2009, 10:22:30 AM »

I absolutely love the potential in the "push as hard as you like, but if you try to push too hard too fast, you will fail" resolution mechanic. That said, I sense some difficulties. Smiley

Quote
7's are a good target number for hard tests (and for tests that the referee wants to either pass or fail without degrees of success, like picking a lock).
One of the two things the players have to intuit, the target number, is correlated not just with difficulty of the objective but also with the other thing they have to intuit, degree of success. If the ref thinks finding a weak spot just takes one success, and you think it'll take 2-4, then the ref might assign a TN 1-2 higher than you're expecting, and suddenly you're virtually guaranteed to fail - because your resources have an opportunity cost, it is in your best interest as a player to not squander them, which you do by keeping more dice. When the GM and players' expectations are out of line in this way, the players will spend extra dice and lose them and fail. Reversed, if the player thinks it will take only 1 success and the GM wants a complication, then the player will spend a couple of dice and pick the highest rolled, expecting the TN to be high due to the low number of successes needed.

Maybe there's a good reason to have that, but I doubt it. It adds a layer of metagaming on top of the system that feels weird to me. Instead of just thinking "how hard would this be in the fiction?" the players have to think "How much skill would this take in the fiction? Raise the estimated TN as skill required increases. How many obstacles might there be? Lower the estimated TN as obstacles increase."

On the subject of combat, I agree completely with Luke. Maybe you'll find out you need it, but from what you've written so far I don't see any reason it should be different than the rest of resolution apart from "oh but combat always needs special rules". And Frodo's blade won't drink deeply of the black troll's blood, because when Boromir's blade bounces off, Frodo's player will take note and only keep the 7-8s, and there won't be many. Frodo's blade could have, maybe, but who cares? Only the GM unless there's a way to bring it into the fiction.

In general it feels to me like you're approaching design from the standpoint of a GM telling a story, and not quite taking into account the fact that the players will make decisions based on the rules.
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Evan Anhorn
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Posts: 59


« Reply #12 on: August 05, 2009, 10:37:07 AM »

Ah interesting.  I do get the gist of reply #10, but the word "broken" seems to stick out in my mind (as it could mean a lot of things, and I'm not sure which meaning is intended).  My design goal and premise is to come up with something that works like stories do - outcome based, yet descriptive (whether in exploration, battle, social encounters etc).  There are no doubt many different approaches to this that would work excellently; I do suspect mine may be one way.

I personally completely eschew game balance (in favour of raw referee control, indeed "game balance" is a dirty word to me), and am not sure how my system would be seen as particularly balanced.  Certainly the referee is not bound to any rule in the game, and the different pools are just a tool to control pace and spotlight.

I do think a system should be interesting, however, and suggest a certain framework to play (a mantra in indie RPG's, I believe).  Groups of foes operating with a pool of dice seems interesting to me.  Heroes taking wounds that reduce their ability to manage later obstacles is interesting, to me.  A difference between "to hit" and "to damage" is interesting to me (imagine fighting Shelob - the boney limbs are easier to hit but harder to wound, the eyes are harder to hit but easier to wound).  Descriptive and narrative difficulty thresholds are interesting to me, and "overreaching" into a fumble is interesting to me.  All of these things seem to encourage the implied friction ("physics"?) in the novels decently (not great, but pretty workable).

However; the idea of weapon length, speed and damage is admittedly a throwback to AD&D, and I agree the game could do without those.  I never played AD&D much, but it's always intrigued me.

So, with the basic ideas of the system we talked about, how would you represent the fight at Balin's tomb?

I appreciate all the input a great deal!
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Evan Anhorn
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Posts: 59


« Reply #13 on: August 05, 2009, 11:02:18 AM »

@Guy:

Excellent stuff.  I think, Guy, you are coming up with the same problem Noclue had in Reply #2.  I intended from the start that the referee must spell out what 1 success would mean, what 2 would mean etc.  The threshold (the target number for each die) is the only thing that the referee and the situation merely imply.  So to "scout out the orc encampment", the referee would say "two or three successes would be needed to get the most information" or that "one success will infiltrate you into their territory, two will get you past the patrols, three will get you to the vantage point you want".

The difficulty threshold shouldn't be artificially lower for actions that imply degrees of success.  The hero scouting the camp happens to be an elf or a ranger, who does this stuff naturally, and all he really does is move undetected when the orcs aren't particularly looking for him.  That is why the threshold is low.  If the hero declares he wants to dress up like an orc to infiltrate their camp, convince their captain that he is actually the king of the orcs, and then demand they give him and his hobbit friends safe passage, the threshold would NOT be low at all, and multiple successes would be near impossible (and rightly so).

All I meant by suggesting a "degree of success" type action is that you don't need to make 100 different rolls to accomplish what is essentially one extended task.  Roll the dice once and let 'em ride.  Burning Wheel has a similar rule, I believe.

I think it's a fair assessment that I'm still figuring out how players will see these rules from their side.  With Frodo's situation (that the player wouldn't assume his blade could keep better dice than Boromir's), I think we're forgetting that the referee almost always must communicate the changing situation to the players (unless it is something that simply happens TO the heroes, like Frodo's chain shirt).  Thus, on Frodo's turn (after Boromir's blade clattered to the ground), the referee must say something like "Sting flashes violently for a moment, and hums in your hand as it points towards the big, ugly troll!".  The excitement is then when the player picks up on this - should he trust the referee?  Go for it!  The referee has indicated you have a once in a lifetime chance!
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Luke
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« Reply #14 on: August 05, 2009, 11:57:40 AM »

I personally completely eschew game balance (in favour of raw referee control, indeed "game balance" is a dirty word to me), and am not sure how my system would be seen as particularly balanced.  Certainly the referee is not bound to any rule in the game, and the different pools are just a tool to control pace and spotlight.

Stop, you're hurting my brain. If the referee is not bound to any rules in the game, why do we have a game text? Why don't we just have a referee whom we all plead to, intimidate, wheedle and perform for? DO NOT ANSWER THIS. THINK ABOUT IT.

Quote
I do think a system should be interesting, however, and suggest a certain framework to play (a mantra in indie RPG's, I believe).  Groups of foes operating with a pool of dice seems interesting to me.  Heroes taking wounds that reduce their ability to manage later obstacles is interesting, to me.  A difference between "to hit" and "to damage" is interesting to me (imagine fighting Shelob - the boney limbs are easier to hit but harder to wound, the eyes are harder to hit but easier to wound).  Descriptive and narrative difficulty thresholds are interesting to me, and "overreaching" into a fumble is interesting to me.  All of these things seem to encourage the implied friction ("physics"?) in the novels decently (not great, but pretty workable).

I agree.  Game's mechanics should be interesting. They should delineate a framework of play. Much of what you say in this quote is interesting to me, too.

But a dedicated combat system is counter to the goals you set out in your original post:

"My design goals are flexible, light gameplay that encourages the particularities of Tolkien's conception of adventure while remaining easy for the referee to control and direct."

Battles in Tolkien's work are exciting, but they serve only as obstacles against which the characters can prove themselves. Individual scratches aren't important. Does Frodo's wound hinder his ability to overcome the next obstacle? No. In fact, it presents him with a new and better set of options at the Council of Elrond. Does Boromir lose all his hit points and die unexpectedly? No, he sacrifices himself in order to prevent himself from being overcome by even greater evil. Does Theoden miss an armor save and go down like a punk? NO! He wins the greatest battle of the age, even though he spends his life in service of that victory. Truly awesome stuff. Nothing to do with Wounds, Assaults, Pushes, etc. There's something else at play here. What do you think that is?

You tell me how you would make Ballin's Tomb work -- just use your basic game mechanics, sans combat.

-Luke
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