Forum changes: Editing of posts has been turned off until further notice.

Main Menu

[Lendrhald] Rat Island - player priorities

Started by David Berg, November 27, 2007, 03:27:45 PM

Previous topic - Next topic

David Berg

The attempt to spawn a series of threads that will add up to something useful for my game design continues!  The first two threads wandered a lot: 

[Lendrhald] helping GMs create Challenges
Started as helping the GM of my game make challenges.  Morphed into helping make sure that the challenges I'm making actually are played as Challenges  (in the Gamist sense) and not just 'something to do while immersed'.  Some good points were made about how my approaches thus far might not be the best ways to facilitate a Gamist CA.

[ED&D] CA transience?
This included:

  • long-ago game with possible GNS issues
  • my attempt to decide What Gets Played
  • creating a database/record of the world
  • whether an opportunity for Gamist play was embraced or not
  • why it's important that some version of losing (though maybe not Gamist losing) is an option
  • exploration in Gamism
  • problem of isolation of dungeon-crawls
  • hopes for player interface with Setting

On this last point, I said:

QuoteI don't care if the players spend game-time exploring the gameworld for its own sake.  I don't care if they pursue interests in the world outside of their characters' experiences within it.  If they don't care about my neato backstory for how the Orcs were formed, or what the name of the faraway Eastern Emperor is, or why the southern end of the continent is melting/burning, then that's just fine.

I am now pondering whether this is really on-point.  Perhaps it isn't important that the players latch onto any given cool bit, but it might be important that they latch onto some cool bit.  Or not.

This thread is intended to provide some fodder for discussion of what is really important to players in the style of play Al and I are aiming for.

I should note that we have never 100% achieved what we are aiming for (at least not in a reliably reproducible fashion); thus, our understanding of exactly what we want is still evolving.
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development

David Berg

Once again, I am forced to use a game that I don't remember in enough detail to answer some crucial questions.  But here goes:

Timing: two sessions, all day Saturday and all day Sunday (August 2005)

Players (all age 27):

Al: game co-designer, GM

Marc: our high-school buddy, playing Tom of Thulford, a young man with some sword skill

Jeff: Marc's roommate, playing Ed of Thulford, a young man with some sword skill

Joel: buddy from previous game (ED&D), playing Walter of Laster, a wannabe smooth-talker and thief

Me: first time playing Lendrhald under Al, unlike the others, who'd played a couple of multi-session adventures with these same characters.  I had no knowledge of any of Al's prep -- despite being co-designer, for this game I was just another player.  My character was Erasmus of Hereford, the only name I actually remember ("Ed", "Tom", and "Walter" I just made up now to reflect the basic naming convention).

Short Game Summary:

The PCs all boarded a ship traveling from Narse to Freeport.  On our third day at sea, the ship was attacked by Sea Devils.  They damaged the boat and killed everyone in their path, but seemed primarily focused on doing something in the cargo hold.  The PCs grabbed the one remaining rowboat and abandoned the sinking ship.  We set off on a course perpendicular to the main ship's course, hoping that meant East and land.

We landed on what was either an island or some jutting piece of the mainland.  Initial exploration showed no signs of Orcs (whew!) and a few paths that indicated Men lived or had lived nearby.  Further exploration revealed that we were on a small island, which included:

  • a hill on the west side
  • a valley on the east side
  • a small leper colony atop the hill
  • a 3-story tower near the eastern coast
  • one major path around most of the island

We explored the tower.  The bottom level was blocked up by some unfathomable expanse of metal.  We climbed it and found the second and third levels included desks, chairs, and a chimney.  The door leading from floor 3 down to floor 2 would burst into flame when opened.  On the roof was a weird metal contraption whose shape suggested it was missing a piece.

Night fell and the eastern part of the island swarmed with giant rats.  We hid in the tower.  They climbed up it and attacked.  We had a fight in the third floor as the rats swarmed through the roof trap door and chimney.  We eventually managed to stuff the chimney full of furniture and incinerate a few rats with the flaming door before jumping out the 2nd floor window and running for the sea.  We got back into our rowboat and rowed away, seeing some hooded figure commanding the rats on the shore.

The next day, after spending the night in our boat, we went to talk to the leper leader and he told us to not mess with the rats.  We found him creepy.

A large ship arrived on the western shor eof the island.  We hid and kept tabs on the crew who arrived on the mainland, hoping for some sign that these were people who would take us off the island.  The crew had some interactions with the lepers and returned to their boat without raising anchor.

We went to the leper leader again to ask who the visitors were.  He said the ship was a pirate ship and probably wouldn't be friendly.

We decided to talk to the pirates anyway, sending one guy so as to seem both unthreatening and undemanding.  My character went.

The pirates brought me onboard and said they'd execute me to keep their island port secret unless I gave them a reason not to.  I tried to be friendly and draw some sympathy as a marooned fellow seaman, and asked if there was any way I could earn passage.  The captain told me that they'd buried treasure in a cave on the eastern face of the hill, but when they came to recover it, the cave was gone.  If I could recover their treasure, they'd take the PCs off the island and to Freeport.

After much discussion, the players decided that we'd rather risk pirates than head out to sea in our rowboat or try to survive nightly rat attacks until the next leper ship arrived in a month.  We remarked that the contraption on the tower roof was "aimed" at the spot where the pirate cave had vanished.  With the contraption's markings indicating phases of the moon, and the next full moon two nights away, we set ourselves the task of finding the missing part of the contraption in two nights.  (There were vehement votes for other plans; I think majority ruled on this.)

We went to the leper colony for the two purposes of asking questions and of sneaking around to unearth secrets.  Finding the leader not in his tent, we explored it, and found an opening to a network of tunnels.  We navigated (and mapped) a lot of tunnels and rooms before we came to a room with the missing piece of the contraption.  We grabbed it and continued through the tunnels until one led out on the eastern part of the island, not far from the tower.

We spent the night hiding (in the boat, I think), and once the rats had left at dawn, we went back to the tower, retrieved an object we'd previously found in the 2nd floor, and completed assembly of the contraption.  With a giant lens now pointing toward the vanished pirate cave, we just had to wait for the moonlight to shine through it.

I can't remembe how we protected the contraption while also entering the cave -- the rats would have threatened both areas.  Maybe the moon just rose before dark?  In any case, the moonlight caused the cave to appear, we hauled a treasure chest out of the cave and brought it to the pirate ship, they honored the agreement, The End.

Stongest Impressions:

I remember lots of engagement and fun, with very little unenthused muddling through (though I think there ).

Favorite recollection #1: the fight against the rats -- the tower seemed like a death trap, wherein the continuous swarm would inevitably wear us down.  The highlight was when we maneuvered/killed the rats so that there was a temporary opening in the chimney.  Jeff's character made a few rolls to hoist a huge chair (success), drive it into the fireplace accurately (success) and quickly (success) without hurting himself (failure).  The other highlight was when the rats stopped swimming after our boat and we realized we'd all survived.

Favorite recollection #2: convincing the pirate captain not to kill me and to help the party (the odds were in my favor, but it still would have been rather easy to screw up).

Favorite recollection #3: various inquires about the contraption and guesses as to how it worked.

Favorite recollection #4: thinking the tunnels were a useless discovery and then suddenly finding the contraption piece and being glad we'd gone poking around the leper leader's tent (when we easily might not have).

GM Prep Notes:

Al made all decisions before play started; he didn't invent anything based on PC actions, save the responses of the people we interacted with.

He had thought of other ways for us to escape the island besides the one we chose.
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development

David Berg

So, here's the question the Al and I are currently trying to answer via e-mail:

What types of decisions are most meaningful to players in this kind of game?

Any questions you can ask (or suggestions you can make) that would help me get to the heart of this would be much appreciated.

Here's what Al and I have discussed so far as potential answers to the question:

  • decisions about what gets played -- coming up with goals for the PC party
  • long-range strategic decisions -- coming up with strategies to achieve PC party goals
  • short-range strategic decisions -- e.g. reacting in combat
  • decisions that determine success / failure of PC missions
  • decisions that determine success / failure of PC encounters (e.g. fights)
  • decisions that demonstrate tactical genius regardless of necessity
  • decisions that get you rewards (loot, points) unrelated to specific goals
  • decisions that create changes in the Setting
  • decisions that create Exploration of their own Character's Effectiveness
  • decisions that create Exploration of their own Character's aesthetic
  • decisions that create Exploration of whatever they find most cool in the Setting / Situation
  • decisions that create Exploration of Color appropriate to the game's aesthetic

The points about goals assume that these are genuine player goals as well as being PC party goals.  If the two do not match, I would think that stuff about PC goals is off the list of contenders for "meaningful".
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development

David Berg

Okay, those first three posts were the Orientation Day Lecture.  Pillows probably should have been provided along with it.

Now (hopefully), something of more awesomeness:

Rats in the tower

After using up a fair amount of time (in the game and in reality) dicking around in the tower, Al told us we heard scraping sounds along the wall.

We all looked at each other.  We weren't expecting that.  "Uh oh..."

The PCs climbed up to the roof.  It was dark.  The moon hadn't risen yet, and we hadn't made any torches.  We couldn't see anything.  The noises were louder, clearly from numerous sources, coming up the tower.

"Fuck...  Let's get inside and bar the trap door to the roof."

Done.  Skittering sounds continue, things move about on the roof.  We have our weapons out.  Marc is messing with the booby-trapped door, trying to see if we can get out without incinerating ourselves.  We all know the menace on the roof isn't simply going to vanish, but maybe we can just barricade ourselves in until-

With a shriek, a rat the size of a Saint Bernard rockets out of the chimney.

"Gah!  Kill it!"  But the big realization is, "Oh god, how many of them are there?!"

And indeed, after one swing at the first rat, there's another.  Al informs us that the skittering and shrieking is quite loud, answering our question:

"Too many."

See, from the first exchange, we can see that we outclass the rats individually.  Our swords and armor deal and prevent more damage than rat teeth and hides.  But no Lendrhald player character can survive more than a couple direct hits.  So with 4 PCs and a SWARM of rats, it's just a matter of time.

We all know this quite well as we yell to each other:

"Marc, keep at the door!"
"Joel, help Dave flank the chimney so they don't surround us!"
"Jeff, look for a way to plug that damn chimney!"

At this point, Al mentions that there are loud scraping and chipping sounds at the roof trap door.

Now I'm thinking, "Fuck, we wound up in the wrong place at the wrong time, we're dead.  Al designed this tower with one exit, designed the island so that rats overrun this part of it at night, and we didn't get out in time."  But at the same time, I'm going, "C'mon, c'mon, c'mon, think of something!"

It's a rush, man.

Joel and I take some minor wounds while Jeff is grilling Al on the contents of the room and whether the desk and chair look like they could fit in the chimney.  He pushes a desk into the fireplace, but there's still enough room for the rats to come through.

Some rats get past Joel and me, and they head for Marc, who has made no progress in moving through the flaming doorway.  Marc winds up with a 2 on 1, with no way for the other PCs to help him.

We all look at Marc and grimace with that, "Hope you didn't like your character too much," look.

Next combat round, Joel takes a bad hit -- one more will probably kill him.

Marc grills Al on the exact shape of the corner the door is in, rolls successfully to maneuver himself to the right spot with being rat-impeded -- and opens the door.  Boom.  Rat flambe.

"Hot shit!"

Jeff's got a chair hoisted and announces his intention: "I'm going to charge across the room with the chair bottom braced against my torso, atop my forearms, and ram the chair's back into the fireplace, just under the opening, atop the desk."

Joel and I just need to kill one rat to create an opening.

"Joel, you get hit you're toast, let me fight it."
"I think we're all toast if we miss this chance to plug the chimney.  I'm attacking."

We kill the rat.  Joel doesn't get hit.

"Whew!"  Eyes WIDE.

"Okay," says Jeff, "Here goes!"

Al nods.  "You hear the next rat sliding down, but it hasn't popped out yet.  You need to make a Strength roll to maintain your grip as you charge; then an Agility roll to jam the chair into the right spot, quickly.  Hmm, and it's not gonna be pretty when you slam yourself into the chair as your momentum's stopped.  I guess another Agility roll to see if you nut yourself."

We all chuckle at that visual, but it's short-lived, as Jeff picks up the dice.

As he shakes them, we're looking on in a state of semi-panic.  The rules only allow so much communication per combat round, so we've had to come up with this plan pretty quickly -- we certainly haven't been given time to assess whether it's really the best option, or what the hell to do if it fails.

First roll -- success!
"You charge across the room and drive the chair into the fireplace!"
Clenched jaws, squinted eyes, and raised fists all around.

Second roll -- success!
"Yes!"  First from Jeff, then from the rest of us.
Al says, "You get the chair back right in there!"
Jeff high-fives Marc.

"Okay, last roll... and, I nut myself."
Everyone cracks up. 

The laughter is followed by a din of:
"Good call with the furniture!"
"Thank god you killed that last rat!"
"Thank god it missed you!"
"Our positioning worked!"

So what now?

Marc looks at Al and says, "Okay, this time I'll try tapping the third step with my stick."

Al shakes his head.  "Flames again."  Pause.  "Splinters are falling from the trap door as the scratching continues."

Panic mode returns, with everyone yelling suggestions to Marc.  Will our epic victory over the chimney can't buy us time to escape, or was it just an awesome moment that delayed the inevitable?

"Try ripping the door off its hinges!"
"You're not strong enough.  A chunk of the trap door falls from the ceiling."
"Try ripping it off with a rope!"
"Okay, we tie a rope like nyah, get our two strongest guys nyah and nyah, and 1-2-3-pull!"
"Sounds good!"
"Okay, you get the rope wrapped.  You can see snouts and teeth poking through the hole sin the ceiling.  Dave's here and Jeff's here?  Okay roll Strength checks.  Chunks of the trap door are raining down now."

"Success!  So what happens?!"
Never having encountered magical doors in Lendrhald, we don't know if we're about to fry ourselves, or if the door can't be removed, or what.

"The door comes flying off.  The flame goes off.  It burns briefly, then stops."

"I poke my stick through the doorway."


We all look at each other.

"I'm the least hurt," I volunteer, "and have a high Toughness."
Everyone nods.

I give that, "Make a new character?" look to Al, and say, "I step through, onto the first step."

Everyone looks at Al.  Are we truly in a death trap?  Is it burn or be gnawed?  Or did we buy enough time to actually find a way out?

"You step through.  Nothing happens."

We all look at each other.
"We fucking run the hell out of there!"

Upon finally making it to safety, we all slump back in our chairs and exhale loudly.
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development

Ron Edwards

So Dave - using your best judgment, your best critique, and putting aside all romance and emotion ...

Was that a managed experience? Did Al pick and choose exactly what to inflict upon a given character at a given moment, for maximum effect? Did he choose  "nut yourself" over something more lethal at the most opportune moment, or to say it better, upon realizing that you guys were right at the crux of "lethal but we have a chance?"

Because I did that, as GM, for many years. It's a bit like conducting an orchestra, I suppose, or perhaps like managing an emotional crowd who've gathered for a given purpose but are not quite ready for it. You say A, they respond with a given degree of unity, a given degree of direction, and a given degree of energy. Which is weakest? Put pressure on it, so it heightens. Then put pressure on another of the three, and keep shifting as you go. To the people in the crowd, it feels extremely natural, as if unity, direction, and energy are all swelling at once.

Let's say Al did not do that, though. Let's say he improvised rat action and fire action (fire acted as a character in that scene) but did not adjust content or the rate of the content's pressure on you. I know that's possible too, because it's core to my Narrativist GMing. I also experimented with it in a Gamist context with Tunnels & Trolls, and it was a blast. That was some pretty hard-core, relatively low-Exploration Gamist play, though - or rather, the Exploration was of a humorous, highly local sort that would not have pleased many role-players one bit (for instance, Setting was 99% pitched out).

I'm not sure you'll be able to answer that question here in this forum, and bluntly, I would prefer that you not get distracted by speculation. It's up to Al to confront it. Based only on my own experience, with no judgment or knowledge of Al, I know that I tried to design games for ten or fifteen years, and every unsuccessful attempt was the result of my designing an arena for play (setting, character creation, resolution) which did not provide anything for what I actually did, as player or GM, that made play successful. The projects became exercises in Color - all very fun to be sure, with plenty of maps and plenty of cultural notes and stuff, but it wasn't game design.

So that's a key question, I think. Here's another.

Were the two rat encounters like two peaks in a plain, or were they reinforcing what was already one big peak (i.e. the whole island)? H'mmm, I'm not sure if that is a good way to ask. Just in case, I'll re-state: Did you enjoy the island scenario because the two rat encounters were so viscerally fun, or did you enjoy the rat encounters because they were embedded in an engaging scenario?

Neither is a bad answer. I am thinking of our Hero Wars game, in which the power and urgency of the scenario made smaller crises within it very, very poignant and/or exciting. Looking back on it, playing out any of the fights in isolation would have been boring. It was an enlightening reversal from my older attempts at RuneQuest, in which the excitement of the fights was supposed to be the engine that made everything else worthwhile. Whereas the T&T experience was quite the opposite. Not that the fights were totally isolated; there existed a higher level of strategy too, but the fights were the core.

In discussing this game design with you, I often find that the most energy seems to be spent on "the world," but the most fun and excitement seems to be based on much more local, much more moment-to-moment stress (the good kind) based on harm to the characters. As a result, when hypothetically contemplating what I'd bring to the table if I played with you guys, I have zero interest in "Lendrhald," the place - I'm just interested in a good hot fight.

Best, Ron

David Berg


I'm mulling over your questions.  Re: this question:

Quote from: Ron Edwards on December 06, 2007, 07:40:13 AM
Did you enjoy the island scenario because the two rat encounters were so viscerally fun, or did you enjoy the rat encounters because they were embedded in an engaging scenario?

My initial response is, "I really don't know."  I have pondered similar questions regarding the Rat Isalnd game before, and I will definitely continue pondering this one until I've gotten as far as I'm going to get.  In the meantime, if you have any suggestions of the "think about this, focus on that, ignore this other" variety, they would be most appreciated.

here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development

David Berg

I asked Al about the orchestration/not issue, and here is what he said:

QuoteI try to keep the 'management' to a minimum, but I do inevitably manage somewhat.  Before play started, I knew that the rats would swarm the beach and the tower at night, and that the fire trap existed and roughly how it worked.  I had a notion that there would probably be some kind of good stressful encounter involving the rats showing up while the PCs were exploring the tower, but wasn't sure what form that would take.

When y'all chose to barricade yourselves in the tower, that gave the encounter its shape.  That the rats should try to get in was just a logical outcome; so were the ways in which they could try to enter (my map had things like the chimney on it already).  I guesstimated how long it would take them to get in through the chimney, and how long it would take them to chew through the trap door.  I knew the figure controlling them would cause them to keep coming unless something specific was done to stop them, and that roughly one per round could fit through the chimney.  At a finer scale than that, I fell back on orchestration - that there should be 2 rats arriving on this round, and then 3 more two rounds later, and that it should take 7 rounds instead of 5 or 9 for the rats to chew through the trap door, were driven primarily by keeping things at the edge of manageable for the PCs.

The nut-shot thing was just "what would happen", born of me visualizing what was going on, and completely independent of attempts to manage the stress of the situation in general.  I hadn't thought through all of what would happen if you tried to dismantle the fire trap door, so I had to make something up on the spot for that.  That decision was based on "how should fire trap doors in general work, for consistency and world-makes-sense-ness?", and not on the PCs' current situation.

I don't have anything helpful to add to that.

Quote from: Ron Edwards on December 06, 2007, 07:40:13 AM
I know that I tried to design games for ten or fifteen years, and every unsuccessful attempt was the result of my designing an arena for play (setting, character creation, resolution) which did not provide anything for what I actually did, as player or GM, that made play successful. The projects became exercises in Color - all very fun to be sure, with plenty of maps and plenty of cultural notes and stuff, but it wasn't game design.

Al and I are doing our best to look back over play and identify which player and GM actions have made play successful, but I think we have an easier time remembering particular moments of color than the processes which made play as a whole rewarding.  If you could provide an example of an instance when you said, "Ah!  This makes my play successful, I'm gonna think about this in designing!" that would be awesome.

Quote from: Ron Edwards on December 06, 2007, 07:40:13 AMDid you enjoy the island scenario because the two rat encounters were so viscerally fun,

Partly, yes.  But that's definitely not the whole reason I enjoyed it.  I found the process of surveying the island, turning each corner and finding out what lay beyond, quite enjoyable too.

Quote from: Ron Edwards on December 06, 2007, 07:40:13 AMor did you enjoy the rat encounters because they were embedded in an engaging scenario?

The context of "we are stuck somewhere and must find a way to escape" was always important for me; for whatever reason, I did find that (+ the specifics and color) to be an engaging scenario.  However, that engagement was not the only reason I found the rat encounters fun.  The whole visceral element really made the fight experience what it was.

The whole island was one big peak... and the rat encounters (and the pirate negotiation, and succeeding at the end) were, um, the uppermost heights of the peak?


I would have enjoyed the island scenario without those 2 fights (although maybe not without the existence of a threat).  Absent the biggest adrenaline rushes, eventual lethargy might have been more likely, but definitely not guaranteed.

I would have enjoyed the rat encounters without the island scenario if Al had said, "Okay, you're adventurers who've found gold in a tower, all you need to do is leave the tower and everything is awesome.  The room you're in is (description).  You hear a strange sound from one of the walls.  Go!"

So, um, that's my best current answer to your question.  I really would have preferred to just pick one of the two options you put forth and say simply, "Yes. That one," but honest examination didn't lead me there.

Quote from: Ron Edwards on December 06, 2007, 07:40:13 AMIn discussing this game design with you, I often find that the most energy seems to be spent on "the world,"

A ton of energy is spent on facilitating immersion, and a large part of that energy is spent on making the setting conducive to immersion.

As for work on the world beyond that, I just friggin' love making up worlds.  As for players actually playing through my favorite bits: I might want them to, or I might not care, depending on other design decisions.

Quote from: Ron Edwards on December 06, 2007, 07:40:13 AMbut the most fun and excitement seems to be based on much more local, much more moment-to-moment stress (the good kind) based on harm to the characters.

Regarding Rat Island, I agree 100% with this impression.  Other Lendrhald adventures it's been less obvious.

Quote from: Ron Edwards on December 06, 2007, 07:40:13 AMAs a result, when hypothetically contemplating what I'd bring to the table if I played with you guys, I have zero interest in "Lendrhald," the place - I'm just interested in a good hot fight.

Yup.  My last several months of work on the rules text has been done under this assumption.

However, Al and I are also considering the possibility that we've latched onto some bucket seats (fights-and-danger-based Techniques) after never quite finding a Setting-Situations combo to our liking, and that maybe what we really want to do is create our dream Setting-Situations combo and Explore it.

I hope I haven't derailed this thread by reading into some of your questions; feel free to brush any chunks of this post aside that you feel are out-of-place here.
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development


Hi David, I was wondering what came of your challenge creation rules and if they were used at all by Al for this game. Also, do you have anything to say about how the game's system fed into how the situations played out. For instance, you talk about a series of die rolls deciding the outcome of one event... how did that influence the level of tension/the sense of immediacy.

I'm very interested in Lendrhald as a setting and as a game system, and though I think I have a good idea of what it would be like sitting at the table with you and your friends I can't really imagine what I would do if I was presented with the same rules/setting info you guys are working with.

Is there more info somewhere that I'm missing. I read both of your last posts and didn't catch a lot about what the rules/setting was. The mention of Freeport makes me think that you might be using the setting from the modules of the same name, or including elements of them in your own world, but... that might be connecting too many dots.

Nolan Callender

David Berg


Sadly, 0% of the processes used by Al to run the Rat Island game were formalized at the time.  Well, actually, the combat mechanics were, and they haven't changed much.  They are:
atacker rolls 2d6 to hit; margin of success determines damage
attacker (if hitting) rolls hit location (head/body/4 limbs)
defender rolls armor soak; physical damage taken is now determined
defender (if taking physical damage) rolls toughness soak; Shock taken is now determined

It's a mixed bag; the fact that the outcomes make sense and factor in everything of real-world relevance* is vital, but the handling time and multiple points of contact risk interfering with the flow of immersion.

As for the sequence of rolls in Jeff slamming in the chair, that process isn't built into the system anywhere, it's just an occasional result of the GM going, "What does the PC need to do to pull this off?"  I personally am a fan of multiple rolls on one high-impact action, to heighten the suspense and drama.  It conveys that what's beeing done is difficult, and makes everyone wait an extra beat to know the outcome.

As for building the challenge, Al basically drew maps and thought up gizmos and planned events etc. for about two-and-a-half months.  (Thus my desire to streamline and assist prep with my design.)

I seem to recall Al liking some Warhammer modules called Bluffside and Freeport that have heavily influenced two of our major cities.  He's a big WFRP (and GW in general) fan.

*+ Shock, an invention so there is less character death on bad luck combat rolls
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development


Nolan Callender

David Berg

Quote from: masqueradeball on December 10, 2007, 01:00:56 PMHow are you guys generating characters?

Point-buy.  For Rat Island, Al handed me a pre-made 104-pt character with 15 points spent on skills related to my background as a fisherman.  Most of the other points went into Agility and Sword Skill, to put me on a similar combat level with the other PCs.  I  think he also dumped a lot of points into some undefined "sense weirdness" ability, where sometimes my character's attention would be caught by an object for no good reason.  That was his excuse to get me on the boat in the first place: I followed a "weird" object that wound up in the cargo hold.  (Note: that's about as badass as "superhuman powers" get in Lendrhald characters.)
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development


Is there a predefined structure for how these points are spent and how they feed back into the system, or do people just make up skills, abilities, etc... and assign them a point cost on a purely subjective basis?
Nolan Callender

David Berg


The skills are predefined (though intended to cover everything you might want to do), and costs are set largely based on adventuring utility, with "more useful" equaling "more expensive". 

You get more points by showing up and playing, and you spend those points however you want.  I'm pondering bonus points for succeeding at something really hard and/or facilitating others' immersion (as voted upon by them).
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development

David Berg

I've reflected further on Al's response that there was some orchestration involved... and it seems quite possible that such orchestration added a lot to the experience.  So I think it would behoove me to understand how to do that well (when I've GMed and tried winging it, without much functional understanding, some times have worked better than others).

Quote from: Ron Edwards on December 06, 2007, 07:40:13 AM
Because I did that, as GM . . . You say A, they respond with a given degree of unity, a given degree of direction, and a given degree of energy. Which is weakest? Put pressure on it, so it heightens.

I'm not clear on what is meant by these 3 categories, or on how to heighten one by "putting pressure on it".
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development

Ron Edwards

Hi Dave,

Finally, I'm getting around to this. One minor factor in the delay is my surprise. Maybe it was just my phrasing that didn't work for you. That would be easy to understand; I'm having a hard time fathoming that you aren't familiar with the actual techniques.

OK, let's say I'm the GM for a game of ... ohh, let's pick any strong 1980s game which includes a commitment to spatial relations among characters, distance modifiers, and other wargame-y features, as well as a commitment to some kind of saga or emulating a genre known for the power of its stories. Rolemaster is a pretty good example; Champions is an excellent example. I played a hell of a lot of both. Let's say there are five other people playing, with pretty well-developed characters, and that the pack of us are good at entering into conflicts and developing conflicts' outcomes into the next session's prep, without confusion.

So here we are in a fight. The players have sheets absolutely packed with tiny scribbles, so they have lots of formal options, and there's our battle-map, so everyone knows what's happening in terms of movement options and the constraints they pose on attack and defense.

Now, the players are usually thinking in terms of individual actions, either singly or in terms of setting up a group-facilitated optimized attack by one or two characters. I, as GM, am thinking more in terms of whole "sets" of events - one such set is the fight up until the point someone is taken out in some way; another such set is whether the fight stays all in one spot or breaks up into sub-fights in different places. There are lots of these, conceptually; one favorite for superheroes play is whether and when the rogue-psycho hero balks at the orders or leadership of the good-guy straight-arrow hero.

With such a scale of "sets" in mind, I launch into the first part of combat with a frontal attack by relatively uninteresting minion types led by one of the bad guys who can fly, and maneuver my other power-hitters into different positions, using subtler abilities. (This is "A" in my post above, or the first one, anyway.)

What do the players do? Unlike them, I am not thinking in terms of this particular energy-blast or spell, or that particular weapon-maneuver or degree of success on the roll. That stuff is pretty much automatic for me as GM, by this point. No, I'm thinking of these three things:

1. How coordinated are the players' characters' responses to this immediate situation? Do they communicate with one another? Do they organize themselves spatially in a team-like way? (consider the possible negative answer: a spray of dis-united individual character actions, regardless of how effective they are)

2. What are they trying to do? Merely survive the fight? Get to a particular item and blow it up? Take out a key NPC among the foes? Escape? (consider the possible negative answer: no particular direction at all, or a variety of conflicting goals, or constantly shifting goals)

3. How "into it" are the characters, as a function of how "into it" the players are? This is easy to assess, based on both the imagined situation of the heroes hurling themselves into action, and the obvious and present observation of the real people playing. Is this exciting? Is someone on tenterhooks about the outcome of a given punch or a given spell? When the much-loved/hated foe NPC who'd been hiding reveals himself, is there a collective gasp? When the wall collapses or when the death-bot sprays the room with plasma bolts, do players seize their dice for their dodge rolls with great enthusiasm? Are people delivering lines for their characters with no prompting? Are people chattering constructively as one player prepares an action, or, conversely, going attentively silent as another player prepares his? (consider the possible negative answer: when everyone just keeps looking to the game master and makes the roll he requests, and sort of just moves the characters around in a desultory fashion, without imaginative commitment or enthusiasm)

The fight isn't going to be about who survives; player-characters rarely die and usually come back in this kind of game. Nor is the fight going to make or break the scenario as a whole; even if they lose, that just sets a different starting point for the next scene (e.g. the prison cells), and that's just another road to Rome; the overall point of the scenario at the highest level is not going to be put at risk by any outcomes of any fights prior to the climax. The GM's goal, in this type of fight for this type of game, is to facilitate the highest possible "scores" on #1-3 as possible. This is the essence of being a "good GM" in the rules-heavy 1980s sense, the kind who runs romping fun fight scenes with intensely complex and wargame-y rules, in the context of a genre-colorful scenario whose ebbs and flows and eventual climax are never at risk. (Exalted players, take note - that game is the product of designers who honed these skills to the max using the games I'm talking about, as well as a handful of others.)

So! How do I do it? I look at #1-3 and see which has the most negative answer at the moment.

If #1 is weakest, then I maximize a common threat: some aspect of the environment changes, which they all have to cope with; or the damage-potential of the incoming attacks increases; or I tap into a given NPC's major attack in order to lay the smackdown on a player-character. I will really focus on rules-use, especially optimizing some specific action, in order to show the players that the book (and the attendant possibility of all its vicious outcomes) is arrayed against them. Often, this tactic involves in-game time, as crudely as "you have three rounds before it blows!" or more covertly perhaps in other ways. A subtler version of this tactic is to increase the weirdness factor, based on the NPCs saying or knowing unexpected things, or going so far as to shift the venue of the fight someplace surreal (like the inside of an NPC's mind, et cetera). All or any of this creates sort of a "wake up and pay attention, this is dangerous" moment.

If #2 is weakest, then I make it clearer what the scenario-based consequences of losing this fight are, and in fact modify them to be higher right then and there, if necessary. This is when the wall rolls back to reveal their NPC friend held in mystic or high-tech bonds, obviously in agony. Or when the train-car, suspended over the city and full of citizens, lurches alarmingly. Or when the priest character's patron god appears for a second and shrieks in desperation. Or have the big villain simply turn his back to exit the fight, saying "I have plans elsewhere," or something like that. Or, most important, suddenly provide the revelation that I was planning for next session right here in this fight. All or any of this is saying, "This fight matters, and I'll do something really fucking bad (i.e. your heroes will fail as heroes) if you don't give it all you've got."

If #3 is weakest, then the solutions are much subtler. One of the most aikido-like solutions is to call for a break. Another is to do one of the above two, to a lesser extent, but with maximum emphasis on description and Color. Yet another is to role-play a player-character to some extent, perhaps describing his or her feelings, or perhaps using features of the sheet ("previous occupation: ranger," or "psychological disadvantage: paranoid"). The best way to do this latter is to imitate the player's past enthusiastic depiction of that character, and also to focus on sensations that roll over or hit the character, rather than the character's actual resopnses. Vast dangers exist in this! But a subtle touch with one's friends, and above all, backing off if necessary, can be highly effective. All or any of this is basically modeling to the players how they should be acting and committing to the game, by showing your commitment to it, as well as seeding them a little bit, leading by the nose as it were.

You probably notice that most of the tactics can be easily applied during players' actions as well as my NPCs' actions. You also probably notice that I can introduce sub-sets of actions' consequences (upon felling a minion, "his ray-gun drops from his hand at your feet!") pretty much at will, for anyone's actions, and it will look as if I'm not doing it.

Again, the scale of when I assess #1-3 and address myself to one of the tactics is not dictated by "my turn" during the iniative-based steps of the fight, and it's not dictated by anything like rounds or whatever. It's dictated by those "sets" I was talking about, which come in many forms and are highly tuned to the particular genre, the particular characters involved, the position of this particular fight in this scenario, and these players as people.

Does that help? A lot of Forge talk and design is based on already-existing expertise with these games and these techniques, as well as a desire to move beyond them some fashion.  I'm pretty sure I'm telling you stuff that you already know and practice. Um ... right?

Best, Ron