Have Fun Storming the Castle

Tell me if this scenario sounds familiar:

The party knows they want to get into the keep. They see guards. There are fortifications. They’ve done some reconnaissance. And now they plan and argue over their approach. And you as the GM either sit back and listen. Or, with little warning, you send guards out to capture the party.

Inspired by Dungeon World moves, I made a “move” for players to use for Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. It’s intention is to throw your characters into action. Listen as they plot and scheme, asking questions. As they begin to turn towards each other and argue, shift to the following:

I Love it When a Plan Comes Together

When you spend some time observing a guarded and fortified area and you articulate a plan based on observation and intuition and set the plan in motion, choose someone on the party to make a Luck roll.

  • On a success, the party gets a common Luck pool to use on your assault. There are a number of Luck points in the pool as the result of the die. Anyone that took part in the planning may spend these Luck points; They are only good for the next 5 minutes of real time (Referee…start the clock).
  • On a failure, go through with your plan, but the Judge will surely throw a complication your way.

Skeleton of Referee Section for Basic Fantasy RPG

Building on the previous post regarding skeleton rules for RPG, here is additional details.

BEGIN OPEN GAME CONTENT

Additional Equipment

Armor

Armor City Rural Base AC
Leather, Armor 25 sp 50 sp 12
Chain, Armor 100 sp 14
Plate, Armror 1000 sp 16
Helmet 25 sp 50 sp special
Shield 10 sp 25 sp +1

Weapons

Melee Weapons City Rural Notes
Light 10 sp 10 sp
Improvised -1 damage
Medium 20 sp 50 sp
Two-Handed 50 sp
Missile Weapons City Rural Range Notes
Bow 25 sp 25 sp 50/300/450
Crossbow 30 sp 50/200/600
Improvised 10/20/30 -1 damage
Ammunition (20) 5 sp 5 sp

Note: Medium Range -2 to hit; Long Range -4 to hit

Encounters

  1. Establish Encounter Distance (2d6x10 ft) (if applicable)
  2. Check Surprise (2 in 6) (if applicable)
  3. Check Reaction (2d6)
  4. Check for Random Encounter (1 in 6, appears in 1d6 rounds)
  5. Check Morale (2d6)
  6. Declare Intent
    1. Players may declare (+1 to initiative)
    2. Referee declares
    3. Remaining players declare (-1 to initiative)
  7. Roll Initiative (1d6 for each side in the conflict)
  8. Resolve Actions
    1. Magic
    2. Missile
    3. Move
    4. Melee
  9. If a pending random encounter arrives, go to step 4. Otherwise, go to step 5.

Check Reaction

2d6 The encountered creatures are…
2 Hostile
3-5 Unfavorable
6-8 Indifferent
9-11 Favorable / Talkative
12 Helpful

If you have a chance to parlay, you may add your Charisma modifier.

Check Morale

Player characters need never make morale checks. For all other intelligent creatures (including retainers and hirelings), morale checks are made if any of the following occurred in the round:

  • Opposition is first encountered
  • Half of the allies are incapacitated
  • Leader is incapacitated
  • Exposed to powerful fear affects (e.g. dragon fear)

Hirelings

Offering

Add your Charisma modifier to the roll.

3d6 Result
3-4 Refuse with Malice
5-8 Refuse
9-12 Uncertain
13-16 Accepts offer
17-18 Enthusiastic (loyalty roll +3)

Initial Loyalty

Add your Charisma modifier to the roll

3d6 Morale Modifier
3 2
4 3
5 4
6 5
7-8 6
9-12 7
13-14 8
15 9
16 10
17 11
18 12

Over the course of play, a retainers morale score may increase or decrease based on treatment.

Checking Morale

Roll 2d6 and compare to loyalty of the retainer; If it is higher, then the retainer leaves.

When to roll:

  • Returning from perilous environs to relative safety of civilization
  • Exposure to a perilous situation
  • When the hiring character is incapacitated
  • When orders are given from the non-hiring character
END OPEN GAME CONTENT

Dungeon Crawl Classic: Portal Under the Stars

In which one is nearly saved by a pound of clay…

Umm you may want to consider your tactics.

Umm you may want to consider your tactics. (From DCC 3rd printing page

I ran a one-shot Dungeon Crawl Classic zero-level adventure for four intrepid players at Better World Books in Goshen. I chose “The Portal Under the Stars” from the 3rd printing of DCC.

This was my first time running DCC. It was also the first time playing DCC for each of the players.

The adventure ended in a TPK (20 characters). But not before executing an outrageous plan.

Here are some of the action highlights of this under-equipped hodgepodge of humanity:

  • Action: Attempting to force open a trapped door by hammering a 10′ pole with a mallet.
    • Result: Flame weakened 2 foot pole.
  • Action: Using a fallen armored companion as a heat shield from gouts of flame.
    • Result: Success…though the armor became melted slag.
  • Action: Gathering kneecaps as sling ammunition.
    • Result: Gruesome butchery but 4 sling bullets.
  • Action: Using a shovel handle to pick up and fling a flaming lantern at the terra-cotta warriors in hopes of drawing the crystal creatures towards the heat.
    • Result: Missing the warriors and shattering the lamp on the wall.

And the most absurd plan:

Fashioning a pound of wet clay (Yay for random equipment items!) into the helmet shape of one of the many terra-cotta warriors that were advancing. Then pulling a Scoobie Doo as he walks through the ranks towards the general and warlord in hopes of getting to the glowing crystal orb. This was too cool, so I didn’t require the character to even roll to fool the warriors nor generals. The warlord would be a different matter.

During this time the other characters are slaughtered by the terra-cotta warriors (I chose to hand-wave this as it was 50 to 7 and time was running out).

After exchanging a few grunts and mumbles, the warriors and generals let the character pass. Making his way to the generals room. As he walks past the warlord, the warlord takes note. The character turns, runs to the crystal, grabs it and smashes it on the ground; Shattering the only light source. I narrate a “Quick fade to black followed by a lone scream cut short”.

Observation

This was my first time running DCC. I kept things fast and loose. It was a bit confusing for players to have 4 characters. Many of them took actions together. In DCC, this is a bad idea. As a player, consider each character as its own resource; Only risk one at a time.

There was some impatience and brazen actions. Little in the way of listening at the door. Cracking the door for a peak. Caution is a mandatory mode of operation.

Within the read aloud text there is helpful information for players to leverage. Unless the situation is immediately in motion, dig into that read aloud text. Pay attention.

World of Steve – Session 2

This is a post that I dug up from the drafts. Its incomplete, but has a bit of value.

In September of 2013, I ran a Dungeon World session and today we picked up from that session – its not often that you run a singular session then 6 months later run the follow-up. Tragically, I forgot that I had written up elaborate notes for that session, so there was a bit of discontinuity.

Starting from Memory or What Was Different

Cyne was able to track the shape changer. Though this turned out to be false.

Collectively, we had forgotten the contact, so we renamed to Black Jack.

Diving Right In

Confrontation in the Courtyard

Kind Steve was captured and his player, Jaron, quickly created Mutton Steve, a barbarian priest of the church of Steve.

Using the secret passageway into the garage, they found a warehouse room with several hundred crates. They were marked with a sigil that Skinny Jake remembered seeing 6 months ago on a ship back in Bluefall. Inside each of the open 10 or so opened crates was a single large obsidian shape, each different and perhaps part of a large puzzle.

In the quartermaster’s office, a high stakes skirmish erupted as Skinny Jake, Cyne, Mutton Steve, and Jasper attempted to secure the room from 4 littlings without alerting the hoard of littlings outside the door.

A particularly tense moment was when Cyne over extended his attack, and two littlings rushed up his spear. One dove for the door knob while the other jumped in Cyne’s pack. With the help of the table, Cyne needed to defy danger to both stop a littling from opening the door while  also stopping a littling that jumped in his pack from chewing off his ear. He succeeded keeping his ear and the door from opening.

What We Learned

Clergy of the Church of Steve can change their name, under two circumstances: promotion or atonement. The name change is performed by four other priests.

The horned faced creature in Kind Steve’s fevered dreams is named Ixit.

Hirelings and Help

  • Mutton Steve – A barbarian priest of Steve, adorned in ram skins and a horned helmet, wielding a ferocious two-handed sword. Cost: Debauchery;Skills: Priest 1, Protector 1, Warrior 3, Loyalty 0.
  • Veldrin – An elf ranger, and travelling companion of the heroes (former PC). Cost: Uncovered Knowledge; Skills: Tracker 2, Warrior 1, Loyalty 2.
  • Lem – A tower guard for Ramsford. He’s the one that knew about the secret passage into Ramsford. Cost: Money; Skills: Warrior 2, Loyalty 1.
  • Jasper – A tower guard for Ramsford. He’s the one that Skinny Jake first woke up. Cost: Good Accomplished; Skills: Warrior 2, Loyalty 2.

Out of the Abyss – Session #1

I was hesitant to run Out of the Abyss. Chapter 1 is a complicated hot mess to run. I didn’t know if I could use what was given to establish a reasonable enough beginning to the campaign.

There is an urgency about escaping at odds with exposition of the supporting cast. Do you spend a little or a lot of time establishing the various of relationships between the NPCs?

There are 10 captive NPCs and 4 NPC captors (and their support staff). That’s a lot of characters to both establish and juggle. All of this while the players are plotting and attempting to execute an escape. I also don’t believe people want to spend more than a few hours building up to the prison break.

By the end of the session two NPCs were dead, with a total of 15 characters escaping with one or two supplies each. They have several shields, chain shirts, leather armor, and lengths of rope. That’s it. No holy symbols nor spell books.

So I’m envisioning a few sessions of brutality on the horizon as exhaustion and resource management grind at them.

What worked?

Prodding the characters along. Making sure to push towards “What’s the plan? Are you doing it now?”

Showing that the drow are petty and cruel. There was an internal conflict through playing up the NPCs. Then having a fight between prisoners (PC and NPC) which devolved into breaking the spellcaster’s hands and executing the elf prince.

The player characters fleeing with the most modest of equipment. I’m excited to see how the characters are going to dig deep to escape from their pursuit.

Having now run several timed convention games, I believe I’m more attentive to table and time management.

Where did I get stuck?

The awkward transition moment from “you are helpless captives” to “lets plan all the details”. As many may know, a session that involves lots of planning and deliberation gets rather crazy.

Juggling time between different groups; Some were left in the cages to rest while others performed labor. This meant the spotlight was shifting back and forth.

The layout of the camp makes it very hard for the characters to get their equipment and escape.

What might I do differently?

I would’ve prepared even more. The content in the book is hard to scan. So I will read through the next section with a highlighter and markers.

I would not have introduced two additional NPCs into the equation. There is already a large cast of characters. The ones I introduced tied back to the previous sessions that I ran.

A jail break with 18 prisoners was insane. Too many moving parts. And there were no NPC statistics for the friendly NPCs.

There was a pinch point that I should’ve cleared out as part of the distraction. By not clearing out that pinch point, it made it seemingly impossible for the party to retrieve their equipment. They self-assessed and opted to cut their loses.

Wrath of the Autarch by Phil Lewis

Wrath of the Autarch by Phil Lewis

Wrath of the Autarch by Phil Lewis

I have been waiting for Phil Lewis’s Wrath of the Autarch since Aidan played at Origins 2013 and I played at Origins 2014. Wrath of the Autarch is a kingdom building role-playing game. Its up on Kickstarter right now…and I’ve backed it.

I wrote up a few questions that I had about Wrath of the Autarch, and Phil was kind enough to answer them. He has also assembled a Boardgamegeek Geeklist of influences that went into Wrath of the Autarch.

What was the driving force for creating Wrath of the Autarch?

I wanted to make a kingdom building game that my busy friends would actually play.

Looking back on the long development process I know you’ve made a lot of changes; What is one thing that you’ve cut or abandoned that you thought was going to be in the “final” version?

That’s a tough question! One of the hardest aspects of design was managing the long term strategic scope. How do all these moving parts: the kingdoms, factions, and regions, bounce off of each other? Early on I was really enamored with this deck building political event system. I really thought that was going to be a cornerstone of the whole thing. But it was just so fiddly, and didn’t ever quite click. Getting rid of it and putting more control in the Autarch player’s hands helped a great deal.

In Wrath of the Autarch’s development, you’ve wrestled with various iterations and refinements of Fate. What have been some of the pain points you’ve unearthed as you developed Wrath of the Autarch’s Fate implementation? And why did you decide to stick with a refinement of Fate?

This is no small topic! There were definitely a few points of tension. But so much cool technology! The biggest points of contention revolve around the creation of aspects, compels, and uncapped stress in the attack action. Note that I’m referring here about Fate Core (although similar issues probably exist in earlier versions).

 

Creating and compelling aspects in Fate is one of the trickier parts of the system to master. Compels are almost never used enough, even by experienced players. The creation of aspects in Fate Core can be difficult to manage, because there’s this mechanical benefit to making them – so it’s very appealing to players, but there’s also this tacit understanding that pushing that lever too much isn’t fun. That can create tension. Finally, if Create an Advantage is pushed too hard, conflicts and challenges are frequently resolved in one (frequently anti-climactic) action which utilizes tons of free invokes.

 

There’s also the issue that Wrath of the Autarch has no gamemaster. So what’s a compel in that structure? How is the creation of aspects limited? How can the skirmish mini-game not just be one action that inflicts tremendous stress?

 

In Wrath of the Autarch, the answer, which is basically fractally [see Fate Fractal] true at every level, is that there’s an action economy that restricts and plays off the resource economy. There are also aspects that exist at a variety of time scales (campaign aspects, mission aspects, and minor advantages). The longer the aspects duration, the more difficult it is to create, and the more screen time it can take.

 

Compels (well, compel-like things) can be motivated either by the Autarch player or the Stronghold players. For the Stronghold players, they can come into play through complicating relationships with other heroes in the troupe or through complicating aspects. There’s no action limit to using these self-compels – but there is risk. The Autarch player can bring in more complications, but those are restricted during each mission.

 

Finally, in service to making the mini-games more tactical, the amount of stress that the attack action may inflict is capped by the skill used to attack with. There are of course stunts and such that can tweak that. This tones down on the massive aspect invoke chain which creates anti-climactic conflicts.

Wrath of the Autarch has a very structured procedure of play. What problems are you trying to solve with the structured procedures?

The biggest driver is to promote episodic play. I really liked the idea of playing through a season of time each session. This makes it easier on players who can’t make it one night, because you’re always ending at a good spot. The troupe based play also helps there.

 

Because there is no gamemaster, the structure of the game propels it along and keeps this pace up. The procedure also promotes cycling between the long term strategic scope and the shorter term season scope.

 

Furthermore, the action economy drives the time pressure in the game. Will you have time to do what you need to this season? This year? Are you prepared to stop the Autarch?

Could you talk about the mini-games for a bit? The first Fate mini-game I encountered was from VSCA’s Diaspora.

I really enjoy having some diversity when playing games. If every night is a dungeon crawl or every night is a massive pitched battle, it can start getting a little routine. Mini-games are a way to have variety over the campaign. That’s the primary motivator – each mini-game (diplomacy, infiltration, skirmish, warfare) has little tactical elements that you can master and learn to exploit.

 

And yeah, Diaspora! Diaspora was the game I read that made me start thinking I could do this in Fate. The sheer variety and utility of mini-games was super interesting! Some of the mini-games in Wrath of the Autarch ended up pretty different from those in Diaspora, but they were definitely an inspiration.

 

Partly, I had to streamline the mini-games in Wrath of the Autarch so they didn’t run over about an hour (because the conflict mini-games are only the last third of a season). I also took some inspiration from some boardgames (the Call of Cthulhu LCG and Reiner Knizia’s Battle Line actually influenced the diplomacy mini-game).

In playing Wrath of the Autarch at Origins 2014, the session had a certain “board game meets RPG” feel to it. What has been your experience introducing Wrath to board gamers who don’t normally play role-playing games?

Yeah, most people say “hey, this is a boardgame-y role-playing game” or “this is a role-playing-y boardgame.” If role-playing-y is a word. It’s probably not a word.

 

The vast majority of people I have played with have already played role-playing games, though. That’s probably a function of playing it so much at role-playing game conventions. Most of my friends are all primarily into role-playing games.

 

I have played with a few people at my FLGS that have never played a role-playing game before, and they really liked it! They came from a strategy game background.

 

I’ve found that players who used to be into Birthright or Ars Magica or who play video games like Civilization, X-COM, and Crusader Kings usually love it. Even people who don’t come from those backgrounds have been pretty receptive to elements of it. It’s not a common experience in tabletop gaming, which is why I set about making it!

For more information checkout:

Fate Point Economy: All the Glories of Accounting and Fiduciary Obligations

It is no secret, I dislike Fate. In the hands of an awesome GM, it is a great game. But that is true for any game. However Fate has always come off as a system that assures a particular outcome; Narrative consensus.

In the Fate games that I’ve played there comes a point when someone invokes the meta-aspect “I’m going to MATH this!” and proceeds to burn through many free invokes and a few fate points. And they “win” the conflict.

The narrative beats may feel like the “good guys” are on the ropes, but the underlying mechanical economy appears to insure, through actuarially asserted models, that success will happen.

One of the consequences of invoking the meta-aspect “I’m going to MATH this!” is the extended moment of aspect scrounging. It always reminds me of the old Wheel of Fortune segment in which the winner for the round would buy stuff from a show room; “I’ll take the porcelain dalmatian for $400 and the crystal ash tray for $200 and…”

And while there is a concerted table effort to scrounge up all related aspects related to the meta-aspect “I’m going to MATH this!”, this process invariably feels like the table is awarding participation ribbons for attending a graduation ceremony for 2nd grade.

So how would I solve this?

Invocation of Aspects give Advantage or Disadvantage (as per D&D 5E). And Advantage or Disadvantage does not stack. In other words, you get one invocation in your favor.

Does this break Fate? Perhaps. But unless you are a vetted Fate GM (and you know who you are) I won’t be playing Fate‡.

‡ – Unless it is the Diaspora mini-game for Spaceship conflict. That mini-game is fantastic. Or Wrath of the Autarch, which on my last playing had mini-games and inherent time constraints, thus removing the ubiquitous “I’m going to MATH this!” moments.