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Author Topic: Tolkien-esque Storytelling RPG  (Read 13559 times)
Evan Anhorn
Member

Posts: 59


« Reply #15 on: August 05, 2009, 01:07:07 PM »

Hehe, ok I'm going to think on your stuff and not answer it right away.  I will describe the battle in Chapter 5 (at Balin's tomb) though, as food for thought:

After reflecting on the last words of the doomed dwarven expedition, drumbeats are heard from the depth.  Either the players decide to make a stand here to delay the enemy (and count as an obstacle towards beating the "Moria" setting), or the referee suggests it and the players agree it would be fun.  Before the enemy arrives, the party bars the door against the enemy (generally preparing adequate defenses might require a Wisdom roll, or the referee might simply give it to the players for free if they are clever and descriptive - it depends on your group's style).

A strange, massive, scaly creature appears behind the door and bashes at it, poking his limbs through.  Boromir wants to make a might roll to scare the thing off; the referee says it may take a couple successes to make the troll disappear for the battle.  One success means the creature is warded for now, but will come back later in the battle.  Two successes and it will only come back after the battle.  Three successes and they won't have to deal with it again.  The referee describes it's thick scales again, and answers a question or two Boromir had, and he picks up 4 or 5 Might dice and rolls, describing how he swings to cleave a limb from the beast.  He reaches a bit too far and keeps some bad dice, resulting in the troll getting angry and Boromir dropping his notched sword.

The referee feels it would have been pretty cool to scare off the troll, and the players seem a little disappointed, so he throws them a bone, indicated to Frodo that Sting seems to want this creature's blood.  One last chance, the courageous hobbit flings himself at the monster for the same action, keeping two successful dice (I would have even let him roll Courage instead of Might to accomplish this action).  With a cheer, the troll limps off for the remainder of the battle.  But didn't the referee say he might be back afterwards...?

The party's defensive preparations worked - it repelled the troll, their foes best asset.  Now the doors fly open and combat begins.  The referee describes countless orcs on the other side of the door, and jots down "30 dice remaining" in his notes.  The referee clearly describes the orcs armour and various weaponry to the players, by quantity AND quality.  The order of combat begins initially with the best reach.  Some of the orcs have bows (100 foot reach), so he rolls a couple 2-dice missile attacks (with high thresholds for not having proper time to sight their targets) which clatter against the back of the room (no successes).  A couple orcs also have spears (6 foot reach), so together they make one 3-dice attack against Gimli (who wanted to be in the front), which hits.  Spears have a damage of 2, which means generally only two dice can be put into the Might test to injure Gimli.  The dice come up too low (remember, foes have slightly higher thresholds, since they cannot fumble) to pierce the dwarf's armour.  The referee notes that he used 9 dice, and the orc swarm has 21 remaining.

As the remaining orcs have scimitars (basically, short swords), the party goes next before the orcs can attack again (ties in reach or speed go to the heroes).  They hack and slay, dropping 13 dice off the orc swarm, reducing them to 8.  The referee narrates that 13 orcs have fallen to the combined attacks of the fellowship, but countless remain.  Finally, the orcs with scimitars get their turn.  Attacks are made on Strider, Boromir and Sam totalling 6 dice, but only Sam is hit.  The referee puts his last two dice into a roll to wound Sam, and comes up with one success, dropping him 2 (from a 1d8) dice from every attribute pool simultaneously.  With a scrape on his head, Sam will live, but now the orcs are out of dice, and they flee in dismay.

The referee didn't see this battle being over in one turn.  He wants this battle to be memorable and hard fought, and wants to reveal something interesting about Frodo's chain shirt as well.  He announces that a fierce orc chieftain arrives to rally the orcs, and describes as he dodges by Strider and Boromir to stab Frodo with a spear.  Stepping out of the normal combat mechanics, he simply rolls an impressive handful of dice to wound Frodo.  He rolls well, but nothing better than a 7, and declares Frodo miraculously unharmed after Strider cleaves the chieftain's head and the remaining foes again flee in dismay.  The players wonder at why Frodo's threshold was so high, and Gandalf is quoted as exclaiming that there must be "more to the hobbit than meets the eye".

Battle is over, Boromir opts to try to force the door closed behind and they flee to the next obstacle, while Gandalf opts to deal with the troll everyone had conveniently forgotten...

Alternatively, if the referee considers the mithril shirt a magic item, he could have given Frodo a small dice pool for the magic item to resist the spear point.  The threshold would be pretty low (the orc chieftain was strong, but his weapon wasn't magical or particularly well made), and each success reduces a degree from the wound.
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Evan Anhorn
Member

Posts: 59


« Reply #16 on: August 05, 2009, 01:13:02 PM »

To resolve the battle WITHOUT using any rules specific to combat, I suppose I'd tell the players that they would each have to roll attributes appropriate to the tactic they employ, and that we'd total all their successes to see if the foe was surmounted.  Legolas might use his archery (rolling some Agility dice), the hobbits might attempt various daring (if brash) attacks (rolling Courage), Strider may sing songs to encourage everyone (rolling Fellowship) and Boromir and Gimli might use their Might to fight.  Any fumbles would indicate a hero getting wounded (not necessarily the hero who fumbled), or something else bad happening.  The degree that they succeed would indicate how much more resistance they could expect from the Moria setting before advancing beyond it.

To me, this certainly works fine, but lacks some of the flavour I guess?  Combat in these books is actually kind of gruesome, not overly abstract (more gruesome than the recent Peter Jackson films, certainly!).
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Luke
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« Reply #17 on: August 05, 2009, 01:41:12 PM »

I can play that combat as you described in detail in just about any traditional RPG system. Why? Because the results don't actually result from use of the system. The results, as you describe them, are born from arbitrary decisions as made by the GM.

-L
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Evan Anhorn
Member

Posts: 59


« Reply #18 on: August 05, 2009, 02:10:11 PM »

To be fair, I love arbitrary decisions made by the "GM" Cheesy

The second to last campaign I ran was Star Wars "Saga Edition" (a d20 game that resembled Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition).  That game heavily implied that the "GM" must play by the rules and indeed all the players knew all the rules.  When I tried to break a rule, I was called out on it by the players.  When I ran an adventure, several of the players made it obvious to me that they had read the adventure beforehand, and didn't care that they were being entirely obvious about it.  To put it bluntly, I'd rather slam my dick in a door than play that campaign again.

The last campaign I ran was Basic D&D using Castle Zagyg as a setting.  Everytime we sat down at the table, the players all knew I could drop a ball of lightning down on them and kill their characters for no reason.  They knew that there were no rules for diseases, but I could roll a bunch of arbitrary dice and give their characters the clap.  The players only knew about a quarter of the game's rules (even though I bought each of them their own book).  They fucking loved it Cheesy

They trusted me to make the story interesting, to be entirely fair yet challenge them, and to secretly root for their success.  They trusted me to surprise them and captivate them.  They trusted me to bounce off their ideas and let them take the story where they wanted to take it.

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.

Ok, I've given this some thought, as I said I would.  I believe you're talking about a referee that thinks he's God and jerks everyone around instead of trying to entertain them.  I think you have a means, but I don't see the motive Grin

"D&D was meant to be a free-wheeling game, only loosely bound by the parameters of the rules." Tim Kask, Eldritch Wizardry, 1976

"If you're comfortable using every last rule we give you (and making up a few home-brewed rules yourself), go ahead and do so.  If you feel like throwing all the rules out the window, that's fine too." John Wick, Legend of the Five Rings: Roleplaying in the Emerald Empire (1st Edition), 1997

I can play that combat as you described in detail in just about any traditional RPG system. Why? Because the results don't actually result from use of the system. The results, as you describe them, are born from arbitrary decisions as made by the GM.

Cool!  I'm a big fan of RPG's of all sorts, traditional included.  I'd love to see the fight at Balin's tomb fought out in a number of different games.  I bet some would even be a lot more fun than mine!  My idea for combat rules doesn't bust down doors and break conventions, but it does fit nicely with the general dicing mechanics of the game at large and it makes for interesting decisions.  That's all RPG's should be.  Most indie-RPG's are not games about stories, but games about their own mechanics (much like D&D 4th Edition).  That's totally cool, very Euro-Game, but it does NOT have to be an essential quality of all indie-RPG's.
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brianbloodaxe
Member

Posts: 34


« Reply #19 on: August 05, 2009, 02:27:14 PM »

What I am trying to figure out here is, why bother? You have spend weeks working out the best set of rules you can dream up but if the last stage in the process is, "The GM then decides what happens" then all of your clever mechanics are irrelevant. Your players might as well ask you to interpret their success from some pig knuckles thrown in a bowl or the sound they make when they crunch some Doritos.

I like some of your ideas and you clearly have a good grasp on the source material but you are undermining it all with GM fiat.
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Evan Anhorn
Member

Posts: 59


« Reply #20 on: August 05, 2009, 03:10:02 PM »

Hi brian, I got your exact sentiment in a PM from someone else just now!  I think I've badly misrepresented myself, perhaps.

On an inconsequential note, I actually came up with this game in about 45 minutes.  It just happened about a week ago.  I haven't developed this idea at all, except for the conversations in this thread, and I certainly haven't playtested it!  I'm just fooling around with a quick and silly idea for a game.

Here is the response I gave in that PM, which may help me be more clear (or may engender a conversation that clarifies to me where I have become confused).

Quote
How each game approaches roleplaying is unique and different, but the suggestion is a gaming philosophy, not a strict modus operandi.  I think it's useful to shed the "unhelpful associations" that roleplaying has accrued from its original, core meaning.  The definition of the word roleplaying does not entail a pendantic texbook-style procedure.  At the core of the word "roleplaying" is a "play philosophy" that sends you in a new direction and opens your mind to a new method, while you adopt and personalize the new territory.

No one is arguing that game text doesn't contribute anything if the referee is allowed to do what he wants to personalise the play.  Take it to the extreme, would anyone argue that game text adds everything, and players and referee add very little?

That last bit, of course, is not a serious question.  I think people are too worried about the "GM fiat".  In play, it's not such a dirty word as it is in theorising and forum discussions.  Good game design sends you off in a new and undreamed of direction, but doesn't rule out the human factor.
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Noclue
Member

Posts: 304


« Reply #21 on: August 05, 2009, 03:41:44 PM »

Evan, the problem with GM Fiat is not that the GM is necessarily a tyrant, it is that it makes player choices meaningless and rolling dice merely suggestions to the GM. Please, please, please lose any notions of "fudging" dice to keep the story interesting or just allowing the GM to handwave based on his/her arbitrary reading of tea leaves. It does not make the narrative exciting and tense, it just makes the narrative annoying and a total waste of my time as a player. The GM might as well just tell me a story.

If you want to have the game focussed more on narrative input and less on tactical dice mechanics, that's cool. Allow the players in on all this narrating. Let them make meaningful choices and add meaningfully to the shared fiction.
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James R.
Evan Anhorn
Member

Posts: 59


« Reply #22 on: August 05, 2009, 03:56:16 PM »

The amount of GM fiat I'd allow is the degree of GM fiat I described in the above example of the fight for Balin's tomb.  IE the referee would pick 30 dice worth of orcs, set difficulty thresholds, occasionally decide to give the players a second chance (at scaring the troll) if it meant giving other characters some spotlight time, and sporadically throwing a new problem in their way (the sudden appearance of the orc chieftain).  How do these things make player decisions meaningless?

The game is a product of referee input, player input and dice.  No game is different.  And dice are just as arbitrary as referees or tea leaves can ever be.
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Evan Anhorn
Member

Posts: 59


« Reply #23 on: August 05, 2009, 06:27:59 PM »

Ok, I think I get it, and I may have been misunderstood.

Luke said my game was broken (which to me means one PC is more powerful than the other).  If a game is not broken, I understand it to have "game balance".  Luke also said I was trying to establish game balance (yet this is a narrativist game, by Ron Edwards' definition, and accordingly I don't give a crap about game balance).

I overreacted, and said something I probably shouldn't have said on these forums: the referee is not bound by any rules in the game.

Over on Dragonsfoot, this would be a perfectly acceptable sentence, because all it implies over there is that, on rare occasion, if the game mechanics do not permit the story to go in a way everyone at the table wants it to go, the GM is allowed to bend the rules.  99.9% of the time, GM fiat meets (and is thus tempered by) random chance, aka dice.

Luke has indicated that a true indie-RPG funnels narration through the mechanics.  If I intended GM fiat to play a huge role in the game, then it is true; the system for resolving narration mechanically in the game would be meaningless.  What I actually intend for this game is for drama (Ron Edwards' term for unregulated narration) to meet fortune (his term for dice and chance) squarely, and for these things to temper each other.  So YES, the orc happens to be clad in black mail from head to foot (and this fact is entirely GM fiat), but this has definite connection to in-game numbers.  The GM clearly communicates these values (without explicitly stating them) to allow the player both access to controlling the game mechanics (in which dice he knows he should keep) while remaining an obscuring veil that doesn't reduce the battle into a numbers game (well I know I have a 2 in 8 chance to hit, so I should use no more or fewer than 4 dice to hit).  If the GM wants to encourage a climactic ending to a long campaign by secretly lowering the (somewhat arbitrary) difficulty he had previously envisioned, in order to allow the hero to chop the ring finger from Sauron, then he could do that (even if the rules don't allow it).  Again, this should happen less than 1% of the time, and shouldn't be obvious.

After all, that's sort of what GM's do.  GM's want to participate too, and they want to make the game awesome for everyone.  They set up the basic framework of the plot, and if they bend the rules on rare occasion to give the players more decisions, they shouldn't be detested and spat upon.
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noahtrammell
Member

Posts: 56


« Reply #24 on: August 05, 2009, 06:59:48 PM »

  I am with you on the whole GM thing.  As a GM, I know there is that one time when the dice just don't create a good story.  And seriously, in a rules-heavy game like D&D, no one sticks to EVERY rule.  With each group there is a little bit of fudging.  I do agree though that with a more rules-lite game this becomes less of an issue as there becomes less need to fudge.
 
  However, I'm not posting to discuss this issue.  I'd just like to say your game looks really cool.  To fire your imagination as you fired mine, let me share a random cool idea that popped into my head while reading, take it or leave it.  In Tolkien, but LOTR especially, there are some 'dice pools' that can't be refreshed by just any place.  Frodo's wound from the Ringwraiths couldn't have been healed in Hobbiton.  Perhaps Boromir's inevitable betrayal was put off for a little while by the contemplation of a view with a glorious sunset. 
  Pools that 'carry over' despite going to new areas could make an interesting twist in storytelling, whether it's a deadly wound or the timer to an emotional bomb (in LOTR, Boromir's obsession with saving Gondor) that's about to go off.
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Evan Anhorn
Member

Posts: 59


« Reply #25 on: August 05, 2009, 07:33:39 PM »

Great stuff, Noah.  I think your idea mixes perfectly with Luke's idea of "some damage continuing to the next setting".  The Boromir thing definitely enhances this concept, so thanks!  I had been thinking of a way to encourage dissention, greed and cowardice at critical moments, but you've come to the same idea from a different angle.

I was actually about to post that my previous post was a cop out and a bunch of bullshit.  I use GM fiat all the time.  It depends entirely on your group whether this is acceptable form of narration (and making a game that fits your specific group's taste is the entire ethos of indie-RPG's).  I realised though that I very rarely use GM fiat to overrule the dice, and mostly use it to resolve an encounter WITHOUT dice.  In my Castle Zagyg game, the party came across three boggibears dragging a large, bloody sack through the woods.  The boggibears fixed them with blank stares as the freaked out PC's gave circled around them to continue on their way.  Once out of sight, the PC's heard arguing in a horrible language, then heavy feet beating towards their location.  The PC ran screaming out of the woods.  Everyone present told me it was one of the best encounters they had ever had in a game.  Did I use game mechanics to narrate whether the PC's beat the boogeymen in a speed test?  No, I just let them get away, and they remembered that encounter that much more sweetly.

Noclue, what you said about letting the players in on all this narrating has been stuck in my mind.  I'd love to hear how you might do it, since group narration is one of my favourite things.  If it didn't clash with the previously discussed mechanics, and fit a fantasy literature feel, I'd definitely ratify it.
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Noclue
Member

Posts: 304


« Reply #26 on: August 05, 2009, 08:38:26 PM »

The amount of GM fiat I'd allow is the degree of GM fiat I described in the above example of the fight for Balin's tomb.  IE the referee would pick 30 dice worth of orcs, set difficulty thresholds, occasionally decide to give the players a second chance (at scaring the troll) if it meant giving other characters some spotlight time, and sporadically throwing a new problem in their way (the sudden appearance of the orc chieftain).  How do these things make player decisions meaningless?

The game is a product of referee input, player input and dice.  No game is different.  And dice are just as arbitrary as referees or tea leaves can ever be.

I wasn't thinking of the Balin example when I responded. I was thinking about these selected quotes:

Quote
The last campaign I ran was Basic D&D using Castle Zagyg as a setting.  Everytime we sat down at the table, the players all knew I could drop a ball of lightning down on them and kill their characters for no reason.  They knew that there were no rules for diseases, but I could roll a bunch of arbitrary dice and give their characters the clap.  The players only knew about a quarter of the game's rules (even though I bought each of them their own book).  They fucking loved it Cheesy

They trusted me to make the story interesting, to be entirely fair yet challenge them, and to secretly root for their success.  They trusted me to surprise them and captivate them.  They trusted me to bounce off their ideas and let them take the story where they wanted to take it.

Could you really? I know the rules said you could do all those things. But, do you really think that the players would have "fucking loved it" if you had killed all their characters with a lightning bolt for no reason? They trusted you and you kept their trust. That's why they loved it. The GM was limited by the system, in the form of unwritten rules in a social contract between you and the players.

Can a game be fun based on these unwritten assumptions between GM and players? Sure. It's play style called "participationism." There's an illusion of player choice and everyone knows that it is just an illusion. But, if you're designing a game for other people based on the unwritten rules between you and your players, I think you should write them down in the game text.

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James R.
Evan Anhorn
Member

Posts: 59


« Reply #27 on: August 05, 2009, 08:57:05 PM »

Well GM fiat isn't really inherit in the game mechanics I was describing, it is just how I tend to run games.  If the GM hasn't made up his mind yet when the player rolls the dice, it's OK if he makes a final decision on the difficulty threshold after seeing the dice.  That's way more "well, that seems like it should make it" or "wow, no, not even close!" than GM fiat.

GM fiat is taking narration and resolution away from the game mechanics and into his hands.  There's no ulterior motive to seeing dice and interpreting them.

You're absolutely right that I'd never just kill characters off for no reason (and expect the players to like it).  I just wanted to illustrate that the players KNEW GM fiat happened on occasion and they still ate the game up (I just IM'd a couple of them and they said GM fiat made the game better).  That's actually why I remembered the boggibears reference above.

And there's totally player choice, because I allow player fiat as often as I allow GM fiat.  It's basically called "resolving stuff without crunchy game mechanics" and it works well.
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Noclue
Member

Posts: 304


« Reply #28 on: August 05, 2009, 09:03:46 PM »

Noclue, what you said about letting the players in on all this narrating has been stuck in my mind.  I'd love to hear how you might do it, since group narration is one of my favourite things.  If it didn't clash with the previously discussed mechanics, and fit a fantasy literature feel, I'd definitely ratify it.

Sorry, I cross-posted with you. By the way, the Boggibear encounter is fantastic and I would have absolutely no problem with how that went down. As GM you can definitely decide if there is, or is not, going to be an interesting conflict that needs resolved mechanically. Saying yes to the players and moving on with the story is perfectly fine IMHO.

As for the group narration question, let me take a stab at it here:

To resolve the battle WITHOUT using any rules specific to combat, I suppose I'd tell the players that they would each have to roll attributes appropriate to the tactic they employ, and that we'd total all their successes to see if the foe was surmounted.  Legolas might use his archery (rolling some Agility dice), the hobbits might attempt various daring (if brash) attacks (rolling Courage), Strider may sing songs to encourage everyone (rolling Fellowship) and Boromir and Gimli might use their Might to fight.  Any fumbles would indicate a hero getting wounded (not necessarily the hero who fumbled), or something else bad happening.  The degree that they succeed would indicate how much more resistance they could expect from the Moria setting before advancing beyond it.
I'm thinking each success dice could allow the character to add a fact into the conflict. So, if I got three successes, I could narrate three moves or techniques during the combat. Each fumble would allow the GM to narrate something going wrong. If the halfling was fighting an orc and got a fumble, then that would lead to a narration by the GM and a roll to see if there was damage. Not fully thought out yet, but I think there's something there.
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James R.
Noclue
Member

Posts: 304


« Reply #29 on: August 05, 2009, 09:21:07 PM »

To clarify my view on GM fiat. I have no problem with GM fiat that does not render player choices as irrelevant. No game is going to be completely devoid of fiat, nor do I think that is a worthy goal. Empowering players to contribute meaningfully in a collaborative activity does seem to be a worthy goal.
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James R.
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