Sunday, August 30, 2015

About the Advantage Die

I had the chance to review some comments about the Advantage Die used in and I wanted to share some thoughts about this specific mechanic. Somehow, this is also connected with the Spirit counter mechanics.
In a few words: the Advantage Die is incremented during the game by some successful moves (usually on a 10+, sometimes on a 7-9), and the same happens to Spirit (increased by certain moves on 10+ or 7-9). Both are “good” for the characters when they have high values: the Advantage Die can be used to replace any die that rolled low, and Spirit can become problematic especially if getting to a negative score.
Both of them are somehow a measure of how well things are going for the given character.

Now, in terms of design, an epic RPG telling the story of a group of heroes, would reverse this mechanic.
If we’re aiming for powerful characters — with solid chances of defeating any type of opponent and with some sort of “balancing” power against unfavorable twists in the story — then I’d say give +1 to the Advantage Die on a 6-, and give +1 to Spirit when the character suffers some setback (bad outcomes) in certain moves.
This would basically create a mechanical counterbalance for failure.
The reward for success (let’s say 10+) would be the fictional result of the success itself, while the consolation prize for a 6- would be a +1 to the Advantage Die - that would allow the player perhaps later on to break out from a series of bad rolls by using indeed a high Advantage Die.
This is all nice and cool.
Actually, if anyone wants to give it a try, please do! and let us know how it went.

But City of Judas is something different. It aims to create a different fiction.
It gives certain rewards (i.e. the +1 to the Advantage Die or to Spirit) as additional prize for certain successes, inline with the spirit of each playbook. It does so to make certain actions, certain successes, to bear even more weight in fiction — so that we see the ripple-effect of these positive consequences even later on.
When players roll a 6-, on the other hand, City of Judas can be quite harsh. In combat, and in general when it comes to harm, City of Judas can be deadly. Should be deadly.
A single 6- won’t kill a character, but a few of them, against a powerful opponent, would do it. This is by design.

I think you can see now why — since I wanted to depict a harsh and dark-fantasy world — there is no “consolation prize” for failure. The prize of failure has to paid by the character, and the rules offer no compensation for it.

You can go ahead and comment on the original G+ post here.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Some questions about the combat system

Gregory had some interesting questions about the combat system and how to deal with danger. You can see the original G+ post here.

How do you deal with damage regarding to the fiction?
For example, in one of my previous adventure (the second session actually), my characters were facing a huge Roc bird. So during one of the assaults, one of them ended up being pounded to the ground by the monster beating up his shield. In terms of pure mechanical damage, I think he got only like 1 health point less (so he was still in positive at the time), so hence my question : do you think that in this case particularly, we can assume that even if the damages weren’t enough he could receive the Unstable condition nonetheless to respect the fiction? The Roc was really massive and I described how he could rip apart sheeps and cows like butter so hitting very hard somebody even with a shield at his arm would be enough to save his life for sure but maybe not enough to let him get away with just a fleshwound? I was thinking of giving him the condition but only temporarily as his arm will get numb for having blocked such powerful blows, meaning it will be gone either after the fight or as soon as natural healing will begin.
I ask this because quite recently I came across an article for DW entitled injuries are not just hit points gone (or something like that) describing the kind of situation as above. So I know COJ is not DW but was wondering if any of you had to deal with the same kind of situation??

You can see the full discussion on the original thread; but here is the core of my answer. First of all, an explanation about why sometimes a little bit of numbers is useful at better understanding each other. Yes, we’re telling a story and descriptions are important, but then we need a score or something to make sure we’re on the same page:

While I am not a big fan of hit points myself (and you can see it in the game - there is damage and armor, but hit points are actually modifiers for moves, thus a different outcome can be expected from the same numbers), I do believe that there must be a numerical representation that tells you and the player how bad is this thing that just happened.
Role playing is a conversation: there’s space for disagreement, confusion, misunderstanding.
As a GM, I can tell you you’re down while the Roc pounds your shield. In your mental space, you’re some fu***ng bastard who will just cut the neck of the bird with a single swing of the sword. In my mental image, as GM, you’re in awful situation.
My description can take it only so far; yes, after a while we might attune and get on the same level. This is why numbers help (don’t solve, but help). At least, in my opinion.

And then getting a bit into details about which moves to use in combat – and specifically, not just Engage in Battle, but also Face Danger and Face Death:

Now, there is a lot to say about harm (consider also this - maybe we can discuss it in another post: when you suffer harm, you roll + Health; when you start getting 7-9s and especially 6- things get messy… here is where I hit “hard” as the GM with the fiction)…
But let’s try to keep it short and open to a discussion:
- I personally would not inflict Unstable until the player gets to Health -1, but…
- the Roc sounds scary; did they roll some Face Danger?
- the Roc sounds like a huge monster? did they roll Face Death instead of Face Danger?
- what was (if you recall) the result of the Suffer Harm move for the character?
Situations like “scary descriptions meet 1 single (lame) damage point” are very rare when other moves get involved and not just Engage in Battle.

You will notice that you should get plenty of material for your harm/fight staging and descriptions from moves like Face Danger/Death, Inflict/Suffer harm…
Face Death is a great tool, as GM, when you describe a situation which is extremely dangerous and where it looks to you like it’s very, very unlikely that someone would walk away unharmed. In mechanical terms, Face Death is a bitch of a move - there is no easy way out, it’s not like Face Danger.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

About putting characters at disadvantage

The two characters are trying to escape from a Roc and both are riding on the same horse:

But now they weren’t out of harm’s way yet, they had to outrun the Roc and another time the battle brothers saved themselves thanks of the horsemanship of the veteran (who got another 10+ on his Face Danger+edge test).
NOTA : I’ve got a question here : I think I should have given him maybe a -1 to Azim face danger test as they were riding double. How do you deal with this kind of drawback in general? I believe that in DW you could do that but I’m not entirely sure.

I wouldn’t give a penalty for riding in two by default: the fact that both were in danger is enough.
If you think they’re at disadvantage, give a -1 to their Advantage Die.

The above is what I wrote on the G+ comment, but I think I can add something more: you don’t give -1 or -2 to the rolls for difficult actions. What you do, is to give maybe a -1 to the Advantage Die if the characters are somehow at disadvantage, and you make GM moves.
A move is not “take -1 to riding both of you on the horse”.
A move is instead for example to announce some peril: the Roc attacks the two of them and they need to Face Danger to hold steady on the horse and get away.

Do you see the potential for something very interesting if they get separated?
In case of a failure in the roll, have one of them fall from the horse.

You see no interesting potential in the story for giving them troubles while they ride together?
Let them go, don’t ask for the roll.

Also, remember that you have the Face Death move (but I will discuss that in a separate post).

Questions about Equipment and about poison

Some questions and answers with Gregory, from his last adventure with City of Judas.

The first question was about equipment, with characters looking for a map and for gifts to present to the elders of the village they were traveling to…
Gregory added a nice touch by asking that the gift roll would be made at the end, when actually showing up at the presence of the elders.

NOTA : I, at first, thought they should have gotten a map but then thought that those items were rare and mostly very expensive at the time so I decided that, as rookies still, the IF wouldn’t invest so much in them…for now at least.
I called for a Equipment move and Azim scored a 7-9, so he could find a map but had to pay some extra gold for it (-1 equipment).

As for Grégoire, he had the very good idea to buy some presents for the Bersaba’s authorities, so both of them spend the rest of the first day around the numerous bazaars and souks of Jerusalem. They even witnessed to a christian flagellant procession towards the Mount of Olives.
NOTA : concerning the Grégoire’s request, I didn’t want to have him check his equipment move now as I thought it would be more funny/interesting to have it roll when he’ll give it to the village’s elder. I thought that maybe he could have choosen poorly the gift and maybe anger the Elder if he rolled 6- for example.

I think the call to roll Equipment at the end of the trip might be interesting, but you need to remember that the score might change.
Now, if you roll it from the start, the player knows if they have enough (i.e. spending two holds for a significant purchase), if the present is nothing special (on a 7-9) or perhaps just totally wrong on a 6-… so the player knows, the character doesn’t, so they’ll present their gifts also on a 6-.

If you and the players would like to roll only at the end of the mission, write down the score of Equipment, reduce it of 1 (for the usage), then roll at the end - or even write a little custom move for it!

Then there was a question about poison:

So…the map was really usefull to them as Azim’s player described how it’s got many places indicated to rest during the hottest part of the day and to find good shelter for the more than chilly nights (probably a map maide by an old pilgrim) but one day as Azim was looking at it at mid-day, he didn’t notice the scorpion crawling under the map and before he realized it stung him.
NOTA : the scorpion was the consequence of his 7-9 face danger test, it was a soft move at first as Azim spotted the crawly but failed at another Face Danger+Edge check. So I turned it into a hard move and had him loose 2 or 3 health (I don’t really remember how much it was).
BTW, how do you guyz rule the effects of poison? Do you give it a straight number of damage like I did? I thought that maybe one could give as well the Unstable condition even if Health is superior to 0? What do you think?

When I got to the scorpion under the map I was like WTF! but I think the scene of the characters having to stop for Azim to recover was very good, so that was a great call.

For poison you can use the move from the reptiles on page 129: 1 harm ap and marking Unstable, indeed.
But that’s not written in stone: it’s just a handy tool. The option of inflicting a bit more harm, forcing a day of rest, instead of Unstable is totally fine.

The questions above emerged while Gregory was playing this adventure of COJ (you can read the actual play here on the blog)

Another adventure by Gregory - part three (and final)

See part two here

You can also comment about the adventure on G+

Last episode of City of Judas: the good, the bad and the Roc Bird.

As Azim and Grégoire were closing the gigantic bird of prey, they spotted the band of warriors led by Abdul al Kerim hidden behind rocks.

Without any hesitation, Azim charged the Roc bird straight on with nothing more than his determination and of course his heavy mace in his hand. As it happened, arrows flew into the sky hitting the beast as Al Kerim with three of his men went to engage Azim in battle. But they didn’t take the courage of Grégoire into consideration who rushed them brandishing his family banner and shouting Frankish war cries as he rose his winged mace (the mace seems to be the weapon of choice among this group apparently).

Two fronts then took place : Azim versus the monster and Grégoire against Al Kerim and his bodyguards.

The veteran took advantage of the fact that the Roc bird was turning its attention towards the archers at the rear, to strike him with a very heavy blow.
NOTA : Azim’s player got a 10+ on his Last Stand move and therefore could fight the monster as an equal, well so to speak. As the beast wasn’t paying attention at him I didn’t ask him to roll a Face Danger move+edge for this reckless action. He got as well a 10+ to his Engage in Battle move and did a lot of damage to the monster but not yet enough to strike it down.

As Azim got the full attention of the beast now, the fight turned dirty for him : he had do duck, dodge and resist to the tremedous strength of its monstrous adversary AND the powerful wind its colossal wings hurled at him.
NOTA : as i just said earlier, I asked Azim to roll some Face Danger moves, be it +steel when he did something tough of athletics, +edge when his reflexes were put to the test and even +shadow when he told me he tried to hide between the numerous rocks and boulders all around.

Grégoire got the upper hand at first against Al Kerim and struck him hard with two consecutive blows, litteraly hammering Kerim’s chestplate. But he took as well his fair share of retaliations when the bodyguards went for him with their scimitars and spears. Grégoire realized that he couldn’t take down their leader by himself, at least with his warriors flanking him
NOTA : Grégoire got several 10+ in his Engage in Batlle move and I decided to make a hard move against him (damage dealing) as he was fighting numerous opponents but not numerous enough to be considered as a gang.

So Grégoire grabbed Abdul Al Kerim and the two of them wrestled as they were rolling on the ground until they fell on a ledge further down. Now it was a duel. The two opponents locked on their gaze to one another for a while, trying both to catching their breath.
NOTA : as a result of a 10+ to his last Engage in Battle test, Grégoire chose to outmaneuver his opponents to manage to reduce their numbers against him. Hence the duel.

Above, Azim managed to climb on the Roc’s back, grabbing his large feathers with one hand and smashing the beast’ skull with another. Some arrows hit him as well as the beast but he stood strong and kept his mace firmly in his hand. Then, in a terrifying shriek, the monster took off, shaking its head to finally throw the hardy veteran off its back! Azim fell hard over the rocky floor.
NOTA : Azim’s player chose the also the outmaneuver tactic to “climb” on the Roc. This was a good strategy as the monster couldn’t really attack him and all it could do was to try to get rid of him. So I asked couple Face Danger +edge to keep his balance and he missed the last one. The fall dealt +2ap to him if i remember correctly but nonetheless enough to have his health drop below 0. He’s gotten the Unstable condition as several ribs and vertebraes were in bad shape.

Grégoire resumed his fight with Al Kerim and after a couple bloody exchange of blows, he tricked the war chief moving just out of his way when he charged the Frank head on. Abdul Al Kerim fell off the ledge and disappeared from Grégoire’sight in a cloud of dust as he saw him roll down the very steep slope.
NOTA : another consequence of the Face Danger move in favor of the fiction : I described the situation to Grégoire’s player like Al Kerim was charging straight at him, bull style, what do you do? Then he did the above and I decided it was enough to take Al Kerim out of the picture even if he still could have fought a while more.

The Frankish leader didn’t have time to catch his breath as he saw the Roc bird taking off and the body of his comrade falling straight to the ground! He tried to climb up the slope to help Azim but his armor impeded him unfortunately and he was then delayed. In the meantime the three bodyguards saw their master falling into oblivion and the beast about to strike from above. Better fight another day and avenge the death of their chief and they ran away.
The two archers who struck the monster (and Azim!) several times during the fight were now about to pay the appropriate consequences of their actions. The Roc bird swooped down on one of them and cleaved him into the ground while the other ran away as if the devil was on his tail!

This gave Azim enough time to get on his feet and Grégoire arrived just in time to defend his battle brother from the wrath of the beast which hadn’t forgotten about this puny nuisance. The Roc bird nearly smashed Grégoire’ shield in one blow of his talons as big as blades but he brave and tough Leader stood his ground, allowing his compagnion to break one of its leg! The beast fell on its side due to the tremendous force of the blow long enough to give Azim the opportunity to deal a last and fatal blow, splitting the Roc’ skull open!
NOTA : here we had a Defend & Hold move and Grégoire got a 7-9 so chose the Hold Position option and I think I should have have the Roc smash his shield as my move (instead I said nearly smashed, like couple more blow and it’s gone). But here i did a mistake and didn’t make a hard move on Azim as he was dealing the final blow to the monster. I forgot that he was Unstable…Well good for him!

One day later, the look-out at Bersaba’s watch-tower spotten two bruised figures limping about and dragging what appeared soon to be an enormous bird’s head…