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.”)