Saturday, June 16, 2012

A ring by any other name...

Good morning all! I recently saw the movie Prometheus, and was rather impressed by it all. The 'old man' makeup on Mr. Weyland (and rough attempts at something called 'acting' from the leading lady's boyfriend) could have been better, but overall it was a good movie. An interesting plot element in the movie (mini-spoiler alert here) was the reasoning behind the 'Engineers' changing their minds about humanity, although I wonder whether a sequel is really necessary to resolve the question.This brings me to a point I'd like to make about how plots are woven in good RPGs. Ideally, a great campaign would have a definable beginning, middle, climax and ending, all woven around a major premise and its interwoven plot lines. In practice, most campaigns have sequels. The party slays the evil villain, defeats his army, and frees the kingdom. They go home heroes, some continuing to serve their liege, some returning to their homes, and others taking darker paths. Then, something brings them back together.

Our favorite characters have a way of making us want to reopen the book of their lives, and that applies to both the player and the Storyteller. So you jump back in with those wonderful heroes, bringing them all back together for one more grand quest to save the kingdom. The result?

Jaws: The Revenge.

To be fair, there are notable exceptions, but this happens so often as to almost be the rule. Maybe its because we try too hard to recapture the magic of something great. Sometimes we love the nostalgia so much, we hope it can carry us through a new campaign. Nostalgia is great, but it is rarely enough for more than a few sessions. Greatness is in the story, and how it connects, challenges, and defines the characters. Greatness is in feeling as if the current story holds enough mystery, freshness, and excitement to stand on its own, regardless of what came before it. A lot of Storytellers forget this part, and try to hang on the coat-tails of success or nostalgia.

Capture, don't recapture.

When you craft a story, ensure that it stands on its own merits; this applies regardless of whether its the first campaign for your heroes or the tenth. Pay homage to nostalgia, but don't try too hard to recapture a particular feel, or emotion. Let the story develop its own feel, its own wonder. Tie-in elements are wonderful tools because they allow us to lay the groundwork for new stories, but we mustn't rely on them exclusively. Recycling an old villain is just fine if it is feasible, but don't resurrect (literally or figuratively) a defeated foe just because he or she was a great one. Resurrect him or her because it is integral to your new, standalone story.

A ring by any other name...

Finally, when you are running a campaign, give yourself the room and creative freedom that comes from leaving certain plot lines unresolved. Even seemingly trivial or insignificant plot devices that are left dangling can provide wholesome fodder for new adventures. Bilbo's Ring of Invisibility was a significant plot device in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, but you were never really told much about its past, its creator or its dangers. Its origins were a mystery that did not factor in to the conflict presented in that book. Many years later, Bilbo's favorite nephew Frodo learned the hard way that the One Ring indeed possessed quite a dark history, and the Lord of The Rings trilogy was born. The ring began as a tool that enabled Bilbo's bildungsroman - the ring's abilities put him on par with the dwarves, and allowed him to grow and mature from a sense of accomplishment and newly-found strength. Much later, the ring becomes a major plot device for Frodo, and over the course of three books Frodo's struggle against it decides the fate of all Middle Earth.

The long road...

Due to feedback from some of my playtesters, I am tweaking how missile combat works in the game. Originally, before I switched to a dual-roll system (Offensive and Defensive), missile combat was no different than melee combat. When the system rules were updated in the last edition, I tacked missile combat right along with everything else, under the assumption that it would simplify things (I really didn't want two different-feeling combat systems in play).

After much input from the grumpy masses, I am reverting the missile combat rules to their pre-dual roll state; but with one important tweak: Combat Maneuvers for missile weapons will now be wholly separate from melee weapons/unarmed combat. This is closer in theme to an earlier edition of my rules set where Combat Maneuvers used with missile weapons had different names than their melee-only counterparts (Precision Strike was Precision Shot when used with a bow, for instance).

As we move forward, there will doubtless be many more tweaks and adjustments. Thank you for your bnear-infinite patience as we chart our way towards open beta.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Skills and levels of competency...

  I’ve been asked to clarify levels of proficiency in FORGED, and to compare them to various qualities of skill. The basic question is:

What can a Mortal Hero can do with X amount of skill vs. Y amount?

The answer is not a simple one, but I can give some qualitative examples to help you to understand better the various levels of skill and Mastery. To start with, any skill of 15 or higher can be mastered, so we use 15 as the delineator between intermediate and advanced skill. This represents a craftsman or warrior with a level of recognized proficiency, capable of performing all of the basic tasks of a specific skill efficiently and routinely. The below table provides some more examples of competency:

Die Rolls and Success...

I hope everyone had a great weekend! We are going to start things out this week by talking a little about die rolls, success, failure, and criticals.

In FORGED, die rolls are used to determine everything from whether your Mortal Hero strikes a foe in combat to whether he or she can make a horseshoe or see a distant wisp of dust on the horizon. Random rolls play a big part in your Mortal Hero’s survival and infamy, so the various types of successful and failed rolls bears some discussion.

First off, let’s talk about Opposed and Unopposed Rolls.

Opposed die rolls work along very simple lines: the highest roll without going over wins. Opposed die rolls are called for whenever a character wishes to use a stat, sense, or skill in opposition to another character, creature or object that stands in the way of his goal. For instance, determining who wins a shoving match between two characters could come down to who rolls the highest Strength check without going over. The winner of this opposed roll would push the other character back.

Unopposed die rolls are simple determinations of ability or skill, and do not involve any person, force or object opposing the action. An example of this would be a simple Sight check (with or without penalty) to determine whether a character is able to see something or not. This roll would only be considered opposed if she were trying to see someone who was using their Sneak stat in an effort to not be seen.

So you are called upon to make an opposed roll. How do you know what your Mortal Hero managed to accomplish with that roll? You need a way to measure his or her success or failure in a quantifiable way. There are four outcomes to any die roll, along with a subset of success; Success (Partial or full), Failure, Critical Success, and Critical Failure.

Success occurs whenever you have rolled anything below your actual skill or stat number required by the task. For instance, your Storyteller may call upon you to roll against your Strength score to determine if you can quickly lift a table. The table is not so large that you cannot pick it up at all, but large enough to require some effort to do so in a single combat round. Your Mortal Hero possesses a Strength of 14. Any number from 1 to 13 would be considered a success.

Partial Success occurs when you have succeeded in an opposed stat or skill check, but were defeated by a higher roll from someone or something else. For example, Mort is fighting a Gorrhym, and has a 15 Offensive Skill in his Sword. The Gorrhym likewise has a 15 Defensive Skill. Mort rolls an 8, which is considered a Success; however the Gorrhym rolls an 11, which is a better roll. Mort only scores a partial success, while the Gorrhym has a full Success.

A Failure occurs when you roll a higher number than you possess in the relevant skill or stat, without rolling a natural 20. If Mort from the example above had rolled a 16-19 on his Offensive Skill, he would have scored a Failure. If both parties roll a Failure in an Opposed situation, both of them fail just as badly; except for Critical Failures there is no difference between one Failure and another.

A Critical Success occurs in two ways. First, it occurs whenever you roll the exact number required by your stat or sense for the task at hand. In this instance, had Mort rolled a 15 for his Offensive Skill check, he would have Critically Succeeded in his strike. Second, it occurs in combat whenever the number rolled is 20 points or more higher than your opponent’s roll. This can only occur when your opponent’s Offensive or Defensive Skill is at 0 or lower (in the negatives). If Mort’s own Defensive Skill roll was a -9 (due to Offensive Combat maneuvers and choice of weapons) and the Gorrhym had rolled a 14 Success (23 points higher than Mort’s Defense), then the Gorrhym would have Critically Succeeded against him. A Critical Success means that not only has your Mortal Hero managed to accomplish his task, he or she has done so perfectly and with great skill. A Critical Success in melee combat grants a bonus to damage, while a Critical Success in a skill or stat check indicates an impressive feat, capable of accomplishing the task far more effectively than was hoped for. Critical Successes are marked on the Character Sheet*, and during Advancement Phase they are tallied; more on this later.

A Critical Failure occurs on any roll of 20. Critical Failures botch the attempted task spectacularly, and often cause direct or indirect harm in the attempt. A Critical Failure of a Dexterity roll to see if one can leap a chasm in a single bound would result in the Mortal Hero falling into the chasm, rather than simply failing to land safely.

*It should be noted that only those Critical Successes which carry some sort of risk are marked on the Character Sheet. If a Storyteller calls for a roll against something for practice or fun, it should not be tallied. Additionally, Crits should only be tallied once for situations where multiple rolls are given for a single task (“I need each of you to give me three Strength rolls to climb the entire length of the rope.”)

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Defenses and Armor Rating...

          Today’s post will be a brief one, as some of what is stated below was covered in the combat examples previously posted. In this post we are going to talk a little about AR (Armor Rating), and how armor, Heroic Attributes, Dexterity and shields interact with one another to protect a Mortal Hero.

FORGED has a combat system that works on the principle of opposition; i.e. that every randomized outcome that occurs in the game can be opposed in one way or another. Just as Offensive Skill rolls are opposed by Defensive Skill rolls, all forms of combat damage are opposed, or reduced by AR. AR can come from a variety of sources: physical armor worn by the character, Combat Maneuvers that deflect or parry an incoming blow away, and high Dexterity scores and Heroic Attributes that that help the character to dodge and lessen the impact of weapons. Shields improve a character’s Defensive Skill rolls, and against missiles provide the advantage of Cover. Fighting Styles can augment one’s Defensive Skill rolls as well.

Let’s say your Mortal Hero is attacked by a swordsman of comparable skill. The two combatants pit their Offensive and Defensive Skill rolls with their melee weapons against one another in a contest to see who comes out on top. Through the use of Combat Maneuvers, your opponent is always seeking to defeat your Defensive Skill, while ideally maintaining enough of his own for comfort. Your Mortal Hero’s shield, instead of providing physical armor, is literally an instrument of defense in that its primary purpose is to keep a foe’s weapon away from the body. Your Mortal Hero’s shield adds to his Defensive Skill roll, and its benefits are increased by his Sword and Board Fighting Style. Generally, a balanced combination of Combat Maneuvers will be enough to protect yourself from an equal or lesser foe.

Sometimes, though, there is no accounting for a lucky or unlucky roll, and your foe’s Offensive Skill roll manages to get through your defenses. When this happens, your AR is all that stands between you and a nasty wound. The first thing to be calculated here is the AR you receive from Dexterity and your Heroic Attributes. This is removed from the incoming damage first because of the nature of these AR bonuses; they are literally a first-line defense against injury. Once these points are removed from the damage total, the remainder of the damage is what actually strikes your Mortal Hero’s body. Here, a Knockdown check against your Dexterity is rolled if the damage is equal to or greater than your character’s Size, with penalties for damage that exceeds Size. Heavier armor helps mitigate Knockdown a bit, and we’ll see more on this subject later.

Once the Knockdown check has been determined, you remove the AR you receive for physical armor from the damage total. Whatever portion of damage remains is what is actually taken by your Mortal Hero.

So there you have it; your protection against physical damage in FORGED is determined by:

1) your Combat Maneuvers that increase Defense, followed by

2) your Dexterity and Heroic Attributes, and finally by

3) your physical armor.

More to come on combat scenarios and how to maximize your Offensive and Defensive skill rolls.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The story...

In response to a question I received about yesterday’s post, I thought I’d talk a little about Adventure Companions, Story Arcs, and Campaign Lines, and how they fit in FORGED.

This game is based on something we like to call the Legend Cycle, which is visually represented on the Lore page above. The Legend Cycle is basically a continuing feedback loop, wherein the game’s Lore drives the Characters (in this case, the Mortal Heroes), the Characters drive the Story, and the Story drives the Adventure. Finally, the Adventure and its outcomes alter the game world, which feeds right back into the Lore of Kelubaar, and so on. This is how any good story or RPG works, but in FORGED the Cycle is tied directly to the campaign mechanics.

Let’s look at how any good fantasy story works: In the beginning of every tale you have a premise. That premise is the world itself, and the environment (physical, ethical, political) in which our heroes find themselves. Then, you have the protagonist, who is generally not that much of a hero in the first chapters, though he or she is often well on their way to becoming one. Next, you have the all-important conflict. It is at this point that the story really begins; the premise and the protagonist are not much more than background to the conflict. The conflict is something that the protagonist has to find some way to overcome (again, physically, ethically, or politically) in order to effect a resolution. That resolution could be the defeat of an enemy, overcoming some adversity, or simply enduring and becoming stronger – in a word, change. Ideally, the premise, protagonist, conflict, and resolution should occur more than once in any great story; each cycle being a milestone of sorts for the hero on his or her way to resolving the primary conflict of the story.

It’s easy to understand how there can be multiple occurrences of premise > conflict > resolution in a story. But how do you have multiple occurrences or iterations of a protagonist? This is where the growth of said protagonist lies. The young man or woman from the first chapter is rarely the same as the battle-tested veteran that takes on the all-powerful enemy in the final chapter. The protagonist changes, evolves and improves with each cycle of the story. Every new premise, conflict and resolution builds the protagonist up, little by little, until they bear little resemblance to the plucky but inexperienced youth that they once were.

How does this all work with the Legend Cycle? Let’s take a look at an Adventure Companion in FORGED . An Adventure Companion consists of a short (1 – 3 session) story that challenges the hero(es) to complete some quest.

The town blacksmith’s two children have disappeared while playing in the hills above town (premise). The hero(es) are tasked with finding them (conflict), a task made difficult by incessant rains, rugged hill-country, and the interference of the hill-folk who don’t like trespassers (also a conflict).

During the course of this Adventure Companion, the heroes are forced to find some way to complete their mission in a certain timeframe, while the environment and the hill-folk try to thwart them. The hill-folk could be negotiated with, tricked, bypassed or fought – any success here will resolve the secondary conflict; i.e. the hill-folks’ interference with the heroes’ primary goal. Each method of dealing with the hill-folk carries its own benefits and consequences, although every form of resolution should ideally aid the heroes in their main goals.

The heroes learn that the children were seen at an abandoned mill on the day of their disappearance (premise). Setting out with new urgency, they come upon the ruins just before dark-fall, and decide to wait until daylight to head within. During the night, they are attacked by a pack of hounds emerging from the ruins (conflict and resolution). In the morning, they discover brands on the slain dogs’ hides, marks whose origins were known to but one among the heroes.

Now, the heroes are presented with new information by one of their own number. This knowledge came from that Mortal Hero’s Story Arc – his own background tale and one with implications for both past and present. Story Arcs are persistent, ongoing tales unique to each Mortal Hero, that ties them to the world and to the adventure. Story Arcs require a great deal of attention on the part of the Storyteller, and must be woven – sparsely or liberally as befitting the tale – into the various Adventure Companions that occur in the Campaign Line. The brands on the hounds were clues to the identity of their master, whose involvement with the missing children is now known to the heroes.

Malgorn was a man of hill-folk heritage who had lived in the hills above town fifteen years ago, trading with the villagers and eking out a simple life in the rugged country. Then one day, he killed a man, and disappeared into the wild, never to be seen again. Twenty townsmen led by the local Reeve spent months hunting for Malgorn, but could never find him. Two locals were killed in the hunt; one from an accidental fall and another from an arrow. The man’s young son carried that arrow with him every day of his life; an arrow that bore the mark of Malgorn. Nocking the old, black arrow on his bow-string, the Mortal Hero swears an oath of vengeance, and leads the party into the ruins (new motivation for a protagonist).

The quest is now a personal one, and they rush within, cornering Malgorn and the two missing children on an unsteady staircase at the edge of a thirty-foot cliff. They are dirty and disheveled, and obviously terrified, but still alive. Malgorn demands the children as recompense for his family, slain by the town blacksmith fifteen years ago (premise). He swears an oath that if they rush him, he’ll jump, taking the children with him over the cliff (dual conflict of vengeance and wanting to save the children).

Now the party has a dilemma; two conflicts are in opposition to one another. One among their number wants the man dead, but at what cost? Is that character’s vengeance stronger than his desire to save the children? This is a choice for the player to make, and the outcome and consequences of this choice will echo in his Story Arc forever. A good Storyteller pits conflicting goals against one another as often as possible, in order to create a more meaningful conflict. Can the heroes find a way to save the children? Will Malgorn leap to his death, taking the blacksmith’s children with him? Will they learn why the blacksmith killed Malgorn’s family? Some, or perhaps all of these questions will be answered in the final resolution of this Adventure Companion. In the end they could return victorious, or having failed in their endeavor to save the children, set the stage for the story ahead. FORGED takes a very neutral definition of resolution; in this case, any of the above outcomes would count as a resolution, regardless of how much or little innocent blood was spilled.

This Adventure Companion is but one among 5-8 Adventure Companions in a single Campaign Line. They are designed to be usable as both standalones and plot elements within the larger campaign. The hooks, locations, villains and resolutions can be altered to suit the Campaign Line, as well as to build upon each Mortal Hero’s own Story Arc. Adventure Companions can even be switched in and out of Campaign Lines, although this will take a little work from the Storyteller, as Adventure Companions within a single Campaign Line are designed to share certain common themes, NPCs and plots.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Experience and Advancement...

I hope that everyone had a great long weekend, and in honor of the shortened work-week ahead, today’s post will cover a Mortal Hero’s advancement. Advancement is simple in this game: experience your Mortal Hero gains over the course of the campaign is turned in during your Advancement Phase for Hero Points, which can be used to buy skills, raise stats, purchase Heroic Attributes or Fighting Styles, etc.

FORGED  has a very fluid character advancement system that can be tailored to your campaign style. There are two primary systems: yearly and block. Let’s take a look at both.

Yearly advancement occurs, well… yearly. This is the preferred system, and the one that I have used most often in my own games. It is simple, efficient for use in a campaign with multiple players, and allows for an ample pool of Hero Points. In this system, all of the Experience gained over the campaign year is tallied together, and divided by 1,000. Every 1,000 XP translates into a gain of 1d6 Hero Points. Those Hero Points may be used immediately, or saved for some time in the future*. Any experience points left over the nearest thousand mark are held over for the next year. For example, if a Mortal Hero earned 4,500 XP, he would ‘turn in’ 4,000 XP (thus gaining 4d6 Hero Points), and start the new year with 500 XP towards his next Advancement Phase.

Block advancement is a little more straight forward; 1d6 Hero Points are earned as soon as a character earns 1,000 XP. These Hero Points may also be used immediately, or saved for some time in the future*. This allows for a more immediate advancement throughout the campaign year, but will require the Storyteller to take time out of the session to deal with different characters all advancing at different times. Perhaps your players prefer somewhat speedier rewards for their many toils and travails; if they do, then this system is for them.

*A note on held-over Hero Points. In order to maintain a more realistic rate of skill gain, no more than 1 held-over Hero Point may be applied to any one Skill, Stat, Sense, Fighting Style or Heroic Attribute during the campaign. So while a Mortal Hero with 9 held-over Hero Points could spend 3 on his Sword skill, 3 on his Riding Skill and 3 towards purchasing his Fighting Style over a three-month period, he could not spend 5 all at once for his Fighting Style or more than 1 per month on his Sword. During the actual Advancement Phase, however, Hero Points may be spent as the player wishes, although no more than 1 bubble of any single Mastery, Heroic Attribute or Fighting Style can be purchased in a single year.

Which system you use is entirely up to you and your group, but it is advised that you pick one system for your game and stick to it. In most lands of Khaelavar, winter is a very harsh time, and travel in any land north of the Argonnean City-States is difficult at best, and oftentimes entirely impossible. Because of this, I choose to perform my yearly Advancement Phase during the cold winter months, when most characters are holed up somewhere, preferably in front of a hearth with a hot cup of tea.

Experience Gain: How quickly do you want your players to advance?

Finding a workable rate of advancement can be challenging, especially in an unfamiliar game system. In FORGED, advancement can be rapid, slow, or anywhere in between. It is entirely up to the Storyteller; fast-paced campaigns with epic struggles, little or no downtime for the heroes, or those campaigns where everything is measured on a legendary scale might grant upwards of 10,000 XP per year. Simpler campaigns, or those just starting out, or games where a lot of the downtime is dilated (“After resting in town for a month, you set out once more into the…”) might grant as little as 1-2,000 XP in a whole year.

Remember that Experience is only gained for deeds comparable with the skills and capabilities of the Mortal Heroes themselves. After all, if you didn’t risk or learn anything new from accomplishing a deed, you really can’t grow from the experience. This is why there is no table listing the XP totals gained for fighting monsters or villains. While Bungo the Completely Ordinary might earn a great deal of XP for defeating a common bandit single-handedly, Thulgar the Mighty, Slayer of the Frost Wyvern of Mt. Kharn is unlikely to have learned much from the same fight. A street-wise veteran thief from the mean streets of Raven’s Harbour is unlikely to gain new insights into his subtle trade from stealing Old Madame Rusk’s apple pie recipe. The same thief would earn XP if Old Madame Rusk was an illusionist from Khare, and ‘apple pie’ was street-cant for a rare and deadly poison.

The following table lists some general guidelines for rewarding XP during a campaign.

-Character survives a risky* encounter with a foe of comparable threat: 25-50 XP

-Character survives a risky encounter with a foe of surpassing threat: 75-100XP

-Character successfully overcomes a deadly encounter with a foe of comparable threat: 100XP

-Character successfully overcomes a deadly encounter with a foe of surpassing threat: 250 XP

-Any of the above, with style, cunning, or admirable skill: x2 total XP

-Character critically succeeds a significant roll: 50 XP

-Character earns notoriety/fame for a deed: x2 total XP

-Character plays a key leadership role in any of the above: +50-100 XP

-Character successfully affirms a personal trait to his/her own disadvantage: 100-250 XP

-Character acts fully within scope**, and against advantageous knowledge held by the player: 250+ XP

-Character completes an Adventure Companion***: 500+ XP

-Character completes a personal Story Arc***: 1000+ XP

-Character completes a Campaign Line***: 2000+ XP

-Character survives his/her first Critical Wound: 100 XP

-Character survives his/her first Mortal Wound: 250 XP

-Character achieves 3 bubbles in his/her first skill/Heroic Attribute: 250 XP

-Character achieves 5 bubbles in his/her first skill/Heroic Attribute: 500 XP

*Risk assumes the danger of injury, damage, moral compromise or loss will occur as a result of failure, whether stemming from a fight, a plot, or a role-played encounter.

**Scope assumes the knowledge possessed by the Mortal Hero, limited and distinct from that known to his or her player (in other words, upholding the distinction of Player/Character knowledge).

***Adventure Companions, Story Arcs, and Campaign Lines are the different levels of gameplay in FORGED. Adventure Companions (AC) consist of single adventures, which may be standalones or part of a larger story. Campaign Lines generally consist of 5-8 ACs. Story Arcs (SA) are tailored to individual Mortal Heroes by the Storytellers, and are integral parts of the game. SAs are woven into Campaign Lines, starting as hooks to bring specific Mortal Heroes into the game and ending with some sort of significant resolution before, during, or after the completion of the Campaign Line. Campaign Lines (CA) are complete tales, from humble beginnings to climactic final battles, and they drive every part of the game.