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Author Topic: [Tunnels & Trolls] Colonizing goblin lands  (Read 16125 times)
Eero Tuovinen
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« on: March 30, 2009, 12:14:16 PM »

Man, all of my best gaming seems to happen in Oulu. I live something like 300 kilometers from the city, but I visit a couple of times per year for conventions and such. They have excellent players and atmosphere there, seems that you can't go wrong. Can't know what you're going to play, either - I was going to playtest my new TSoY material, but instead I ended up playing mostly Tunnels & Trolls. For some reason the guys in Oulu haven't even seen the game before, so it was all new to them. The reception was very excited and the comparisons to red box D&D favorable; my local friend Olli ordered the game for himself in the middle of the convention on the strengths of its performance. It was somewhat embarrassing how the folks seemed to agree that this is a much cooler game than my own, on-going D&D hack.

I'd packed T&T with me as a fallback plan sort of thing, so I didn't actually have anything prepared for it. My relationship with T&T is in something of a flux as I create houserules and try to tame the game to a place where I'd be happy with it myself. This time the guys wanted to play very much by the book, which I accepted on the premise that I'd mix my favourite rules from the 5th and 7th edition and keep good hold of my authority as the setting manager regardless of the Trollworld setting in the book - I don't like the setting much, not colored to my taste.

Although the play itself was mostly improvised, I was very pleased with the quality of the fictional world that I spun in the dance with the players. The default Tunnels & Trolls style is pretty jokey and "dungeon fantasy" in flavour, while these sessions took a strong turn towards homely fairy tale sort of stuff: the monsters were goblins, wolves and brackish, the challenges a sort of tribal war in the wilderness with a 7 Samurai finale. I lifted the whole setting out of the early history of Savonia, with goblins in the place Karelians. It was great fun to describe the wildernesses of my hearthland to the Ostrobothnians (another Finnish tribe) I played with, and the colonization of Savonia provided an excellent background for the tribal skirmishes between the Tavastian colonists and the goblins. All in all the fantasy layer on top of the historical scenario was just deliciously thin and fun.

The player stock cycled through the weekend, but I had 3-5 players at the table for the sessions, and there was enough overlap to preserve continuity. On Sunday T&T had to clash most powerfully with In a Wicked Age, but the latter proved a timorous loser for players who were hooked to trying to reach level 3.

Rules

Many parts of Tunnels & Trolls fictional style are pretty contrary with my own likings in fantasy fiction, so I used my powers to the utmost: I didn't have time to work out many details, and the players wanted to play without major houserules, so my rules toolbox wasn't quite completely honed. Still, I like the dynamics I managed to establish. For instance, I allowed the players to choose the race of their character from three options:
  • Humans: The default sort of people, liked well enough by their kin. Humans get the "tripples roll over" rule in character generation.
  • Overmen: Or "Numenorians", as I called them simply. They get even more explosive dice in chargen: if they roll a double in stat generation, they get to roll those two dice again. The overmen are a superior breed of people who often worry about blood purity, being a minority among other people. They are no longer rulers, having been ousted and forced to live a life of adventure, banditry and drifting beggary. Consequently they only get minimal gold to begin with, just enough for their basic needs.
  • Goblins: Civilized goblins can gain human rights by getting a tattooed mark of the king. Goblins get 1.5 multipliers in strength and constitution, but suffer a .66 multiplier in the mental abilities. They also get the extra talent "Goblin", useful for seeing in the dark, eating human flesh (an issue for survival in the wilderness) and especially knowing about the ways of their monster kin.
The players chose to play the different races pretty equally, so obviously I was quite successful in offering good deals. I especially liked the fact that I myself didn't get the fantasy race dissociation syndrome I tend to suffer from when a full-blown D&D game gets underway and I try to imagine the fictional world with all those weird inhuman critters living side by side. The goblins here provided just the right touch of alieness, while also being thinly disguised foreigners whose inhumanity I could ignore at will; the folklore connection helped as well, Finnish forest otherworlds obviously have lots of goblins.

Ruleswise I played it pretty close to the book, especially as that was what the players wanted. I saved myself from the agony that are the 7.5 talents, though - instead of giving a couple of bonus points on talent checks I allowed the players to reroll their saving rolls when the talent applied. Prettier system aesthetics for me in that. Another bigger thing I did was that I dropped the Speed attribute as superfluous. Other than talents and Speed... I think those are pretty much the only major rules I finangled. I allowed wizards to use "soul sight" to evaluate Wiz strengths of other characters, allowed rogues to start with two talents and that sort of thing, but those are all par for the course in T&T GMing.

Dungeons and monsters

As this was an improvised setting and adventure, I was pretty minimalistic in what I did. This works very well in Tunnels & Trolls, and I'm quite happy with the stuff I created. I could well imagine using this material again at some point.

Wilderness was my basic dungeon level 1. The colony town of Borlog (a thin fantasy name, no Finnish significance) was situated in the middle of the woods, which teemed with goblins. The crown had encouraged the colonization efforts with free land grants and promises of 10 gold piece fees for goblin ears (left ones, which obviously had to be specified for the intrepid adventurers). Borlog was a choice destination among the frontier settlements due to the critical situation: the local farmers had increased the crown's bounty by half again in the hopes of attracting adventurers to take care of the goblin problem.

The major challenge in first level proved to be in charting the wilderness, learning to plan supplies for extended wilderness treks and finding the goblins in the woods. The first fatality came about when a player character opted to take on a bunch of goblins alone instead of organizing the party for the fight; the players learned pretty quickly in practice what they hadn't listened to when I told it to them in words: this is not a narrativistic drama game, nobody's going to congratulate you for getting your character and the party killed. It took the players a bunch of encounters to learn how to take out the goblins by preparing the battleground, focusing their forces and in general playing ruthlessly. It was obviously rather rewarding when they finally managed to wipe out a goblin scouting party after getting three characters killed and others humiliated several times.

Goblins were my simple stock monster, the same guys that were also available as player characters. Monster Rating 20 made them horrifying opponents for players used to the easy "20% of your resources" encounters in modern D&D. The goblins in the wilderness were all part of roving raiding parties that moved in groups of roughly 3+d6 members; the number of players in the game fluctuated through the weekend, but most of the time the goblin parties provided a good challenge that required concerted effort, preplanning and knowing when to let a catch go. Lootwise the goblins had spears, clubs, leather armor, that sort of stuff - nothing major, except when they were coming back from their raiding, at which point they had human stuff as loot starting with cows and copper pots.

Wolves were something I brought in after the players finally managed to overcome some goblins and gained confidence. They were just Monster Rating 5, but it was quite gratifying how careful the players were with the new and unknown adversary. They were especially freaked when they noticed that one of the wolves was a larger variety the party goblin recognized as a "goblin hound", a cunning dire wolf worth at least three normal ones. They didn't close in to melee with the wolves, but the hound would have been worth MR 20 like the goblins.

Goblin cave was a 2nd level dungeon the players found by interrogation and tracking. It was abandoned when they got there, but a further tunnel brought them to the brackish encounter I wrote at Story Games a while back. I love those critters! The players were thoroughly creaped out by the brackish and the whole situation with the collapsed bridge, so much so that they ultimately didn't dare to engage the brackish or try to cross the river to delve deeper into the cave. The brackish would have been MR 10 a pop, but they also had a Slough worth MR 25 - and there were something like 8 normal brackish, so perhaps the beginner adventurers were smart to pass on this one.

The characters got some real loot out of the goblin cave, though. The amber necklaces they found would have helped them negotiate with the brackish, but they didn't make the connection and instead sold the jevelry in town.

Goblin land is a very bad translation for another 2nd level dungeon I had... the Finnish term is "Hiitola", it's a forest otherworld deep in the in-land wilderness, ruled by the goblins. "Goblinia" would be sort of an exact translation, at least if it were an Eastern European country. Anyway, it seemed like the players were sort of freaked out when they got lost in the wilderness and stumbled into Goblinia - all the more so when I told them that finding your way out of Goblinia and into the human lands is a 3rd level SR, except if you're a goblin, for which it is just 1st level. I just adored how the characters managed to soon after encounter a group of goblins that killed their only goblin, leaving the rest of the party stranded in the strange wilderness. Luckily the only survivor had enough of a presence of mind to shadow the party of goblin raiders as they left for human lands.

Commentary

Some notes on Tunnels and Trolls as a game system:

The 7th edition of the rules has removed the connection between experience levels and experience points, which is actually a very good move for the game. What this means is that there is now no structural benefit to having super-high initial ability scores, which again means that the non-human races are finally balanced! Earlier I was pretty annoyed by the permanent advantage a high roll or a good race would give a character, but in the 7th edition rules a Strength score of 25 literally just means that your character starts at 2nd level instead of 1st. This is quite acceptable to me, as opposed to having some characters be qualitatively better than others with no mechanical recourse.

I personally am not very concordant with the ability matrix and the SR gauging in the game. I can hack it, but to make myself really comfortable, I'd need to switch the abilities into something less abstract and more rooted in the fiction. For example, I changed the attribute "Wizardry" (a great addition to the game, by the by) into "Soul" to give it a bit more generic usability in the various SR situations that crop up. I imagine that if I spent time thinking about it, I'd probably change the abilities quite a bit.

The combat system of the game is a marvel: a very early rpg rules set that is still fresh and relevant, extremely realistic and flexible... I fell in love with it all over again now that we played T&T for the first time in ages. It's amazing what you can do with the MR system, which we used to shape the farmers in town into a credible defending militia against the goblins in the adventure finale. I'm also very happy with the 7th edition expanded spite damage conception - spite damage dice are sort of special ability activators that can be expended to cause a point of directed, armor-ignoring damage to an opponent, but may also be used to activate magic items, special attacks and whatnot. I know already that the next time we're playing I'll give fighters the ability to learn special moves that get triggered with spite dice, as a sort of counterpart to the spells wizards get. I don't like how much more crunch wizards get as compared to fighters, so this is a very clean method for leveling the field in that regard.

(Counting dice results is a pain in the ass, though. A dice roller program would be a necessity for high-level play with its hundreds of d6.)

Speaking of wizards, I didn't like the rules-mandated thing where wizards get all the first-level spells in the book. It took the longest time to write down all those spell names, and the wizard player had to spend all available downtime familiarizing himself with what he could do. Things were not helped by the 7.5 edition box and the additional spell book it contains; even more 1st level spells for the player to riffle through. This is definitely a spot where it would be appropriate to give the wizard one first level spell plus one per a point of Intelligence over 12 - chosen by the GM, too, to make it quicker. Look to D&D for fixes, in other words.

The wizard thing was not my numero uno hateful thing in the game, though; that honor is reserved for the awful equipment lists. I f***ing hate buying non-mechanical equipment and calculating weights, that much is given - didn't do that, only had the players buy their weapons and armor. But even then T&T geek autism got to us with the 200 different weapons with weird names. Despite my efforts to get the players to just buy some stupid sword, they insisted on optimizing their weapon choices carefully (smart, as you need it in this game; but lord it was dull), which meant wasting something like five times as much time in this than the other parts of the character generation combined. A classic example of why not to use point-buy systems in character generation; the amount of options overwhelms the player and grinds play to halt. Afterwards the players agreed with me that I should have been allowed to try out my simplified, less pain-in-the-ass alternative system wherein fighters upgrade their fighting dice by learning martial styles instead of buying sticks with embedded shark teeth.

A final thought is that if I were going to run a full campaign of this, I'd have to think very carefully about setting SR difficulties and the experience rewards related to them. It's sort of screwy that you can get more experience points from more difficult SRs even when the risks are not commensurate. (I'm discussing the 7.5 xp rule here; I seem to remember that the 5th edition had a separate formula for failed SRs, which helped with this.) I guess it's my job as the GM to screw over the player who fails his SR, but sometimes that is relatively difficult even with modern conflict resolution technique. The natural response to this is to not allow SRs when there is no risk present, which sort of makes sense (it's a saving roll, after all, not a skill check), but requires training a new thought pattern: all tasks in the game succeed automatically, unless they involve some sort of risk. This means that a character shooting a wolf, say, will actually automatically hit and do damage if there is no personal risk involved.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #1 on: March 31, 2009, 07:09:52 PM »

Hi Euro,

Bravo on the kill! I don't mean for making it, but just for following whatever procedure involved and an actual death occuring. I guess it doesn't need a bravo, but it's nice to see some actual meat on the table. Evidence that death can somehow happen in a roleplay game sessions happening out there in the world, every now and then.

Perhaps it's my own drift, but why did the player write out all the spells anyway? Why not just write a few and hell, if he dies because of it, okay, he needed to put more effort in? Why the attempt to get it all under his belt the first time? Or is it the same reason as the whole weapons catalog pouring over? I have to say, to me that's the gamist equivalent of story before. Solving everything (or alot of things) in advance of play, during character creation.

And what do you mean by...
Quote
Luckily the only survivor had enough of a presence of mind to shadow the party of goblin raiders as they left for human lands.
Were there more deaths?

Or am I looking over eager! >:)
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #2 on: March 31, 2009, 07:53:43 PM »

Sure, we had several deaths - three at least. Basically the players had to go into several abortive encounters with the goblins before they learned that escaping might be a survival strategy for the individual, but those who fail their SRs to escape are then left worse off, and nobody actually gains anything by going into those fights half-prepared and then escaping immediately. The players only started getting results when they rigged the field, attacked from surprise, used spells and actually combined their combat strengths for the combat rounds instead of, say, spending the round escaping. It was pretty amusing how the players complained about the goblin encounters being overwhelmingly powerful before they got the hang of it, and how much more confident they were about encountering the small goblin army later after they'd tasted the sweet victory.

I didn't have any problem killing off player characters myself, I've done enough of this sort of thing - and I'm naturally adept at following procedure, so if the game is about killing of PCs, then that's what I do. The people I played with in Oulu were very highly skilled as well (the city has a very high quality of roleplayer in general), so they got the hang of it quickly. It was pretty fun how the first character got killed in the first fight, after which I told the player to reroll the stats and reuse the rest of the character sheet if he was happy with the concept and didn't want to change it.

As for spells, the player playing a wizard wanted to list them to get a handle on what the wizard could do. Understandable, certainly. A spell he doesn't know about is a spell that is effectively not in the game, after all. I imagine that if I were playing the game routinely I'd definitely figure out some practical compromises for these game-slowing chargen steps. The equipment lists would probably fly out, and the wizards would get just a couple of spells instead of the huge bunch. Or if the huge bunch is necessary (it is sort of fun that the wizard can do a lot of things), then abstract them away and just have the player pay magic points to improvise 1st level magical effects; if the wizard is going to have all those spells anyway, then detailing them just gets in the way.
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Christoph Boeckle
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« Reply #3 on: April 01, 2009, 12:47:28 PM »

Hi Eero

This might be somewhat off as a question, but I have done very little dungeoneering in the last past years. The little I did was quite abrupt gamist, and the players would concentrate on the combat and optimization. Hardly any descriptions of character and even less inter-character discussions, except when the paladin did his "oh, I can't do that: I'm good" trick, which nearly killed the session.
My question to you is, what did a typical fight scene have? Just tactical descriptions, tactical descriptions with colour, some gratuitous character portrayal to increase character credibility? What about between fights? Did the players brag to each other about their character's merits? What about the characters themselves?


Hey Callan, listen to the intro of this interview with Eero. I'm sure you'll find the pronunciation of his name interesting.
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #4 on: April 01, 2009, 01:41:27 PM »

To tell the truth, I've pretty much lost any hope of getting rid of "Euro". And don't listen to that podcast, I sound just awful in it.

You should know, Christoph, that Tunnels & Trolls enforces the fiction very strongly. It's nearly impossible to run a satisfactory combat encounter without having the fiction play a major role. The players will often be in trouble tactically if they don't leverage the fiction in inventive ways. For instance, the first time the players in our game actually managed to win a combat against a goblin party was when they chose the terrain for themselves and used it to their advantage, plunging something like half of the goblins into a gorge at the beginning of the fight. In general, the effective way of playing the game is to always be on the lookout for ways to do things that make sense in the fiction.

Gratuitous character portrayal was always pretty common, which is mostly because of the flow experience: everybody was enjoying play and liked the setting, so we added to the fiction in different ways. Most of the time in between challenge situations (fights included) was spent in a mix of abstract planning and snippets of fiction used to negotiate and pace the game forward. So the players would make a plan about doing something, I'd call for a Saving Roll, I'd describe the result, the players would go back to planning, we'd perhaps jump back to the day before to find out what happened to something we needed in the current plan, then again some planning, some rolls, and so on, until we'd navigated play into the next challenge situation on terms acceptable to both the GM and the party.

The interaction between characters tends to be relatively low-key in this sort of game most of the time, simply because a party adventure game like this has a lot of interaction between the players already and thus allows the players and characters to interact simultaneously, so to speak. This is not to say that the characters didn't interact independent of player interaction at times. For instance, the wizard player noticed that he had a spell for removing body hair (T&T has some pretty weird spells), which he then used at an appropriate moment as a physical gag on another character. For the most part complex backstory and radically forced character nature are non-existent in this sort of game, though.
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Christoph Boeckle
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« Reply #5 on: April 01, 2009, 02:22:51 PM »

Hmm, this sounds very interesting. I had missed some of those points in our hardcore D&D 3 gaming, where I was really trying hard to present interesting situations (as the GM) and not let combat be played by the sole use of the rules. It looks like T&T somehow makes it evident. I wonder if it's just me being too easy on the player characters or if there are some design considerations that help in T&T.

So, how do you decide if there is a gorge that the players can exploit? Is this done via a roll or just GM fiat?
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Callan S.
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« Reply #6 on: April 01, 2009, 02:45:20 PM »

Damn, sorry, Eero! If it's any consolation, Callum and Calvin (and once...David?) tend to be used over and over in RL for me.

Quote
A spell he doesn't know about is a spell that is effectively not in the game, after all.
Is there a problem with that? I'm guessing the incongruence is important somehow, but I don't know how.

Quote
I imagine that if I were playing the game routinely I'd definitely figure out some practical compromises for these game-slowing chargen steps. The equipment lists would probably fly out, and the wizards would get just a couple of spells instead of the huge bunch. Or if the huge bunch is necessary (it is sort of fun that the wizard can do a lot of things), then abstract them away and just have the player pay magic points to improvise 1st level magical effects; if the wizard is going to have all those spells anyway, then detailing them just gets in the way.
Isn't this rather dramatic? Removing it entirely and replaced with a whole new home invented mechanic? Particularly the paradigm of improvising magic, rather than working from set spells and improvising them to fit the situation?

I've considered the weapon list before and thought of simply offering a list of five items or so, then offering more items latter during play, until all weapons are available. Same could go for spells - player writes down a couple the GM gives him, and as monsters are slayed he gets 'inspirations' and he gets another spell selected by the GM, until he has the full set he was supposed to have at creation. Both don't change the game in huge ways - everyone gets the same access, it just takes longer.

If it slowed down play, isn't it overkill to remove and replace the rules? Are you still aiming to get at what the designers were going for, with your change? Or if you have to take the role of designer do you go the whole hog and do exactly what you want in terms of design, without compromise to a designer who isn't there to help anyway? I hope the questions don't sound daft, I think our mutual approaches are worth a look at. I'm not quite sure why, but I think so, anyway.

Quote
It was pretty fun how the first character got killed in the first fight, after which I told the player to reroll the stats and reuse the rest of the character sheet if he was happy with the concept and didn't want to change it.
The only other part of a character I can think of is gear and character itself. Given that gear use hinges on stats, I'm thinking you mean they can keep the character but reroll the stats. Which means death == change, rather than a completely dead character. Or maybe you didn't mean that, but I thought that and it seemed nifty.
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #7 on: April 01, 2009, 03:00:24 PM »

Christoph: Yeah, the rules are a major part of it. The direction D&D has taken in the 3rd edition is a major obstacle for flexible, fiction-based combat encounters simply because there are no rules in the game for flexible case-by-case adjudication. In modern D&D you literally shouldn't listen to the GM's descriptions of the fictional situation and try to think of what you'd do if you were the hero; that sort of thinking will lead you to play in suboptimal ways for the most part, and it's considerably better to learn the rules paradigm of the game to heart and optimize towards that, whether it be by spamming opportunity attacks, with reach weapons or whatever else. T&T, which leaves the GM a very clear role in interpreting the fiction and creating rulings, places the fiction first: if the GM said something and you reacted to it with something that "should" work, then by rights it will in this sort of game. In modern D&D, by comparison, the game designer has determined that objective rules are more important than making sense in the fiction. Players won't try rare or inventive strategies, as this mostly means that the game grinds to a halt while the rules are looked up and the tactic will fail anyway if the character doesn't have the right complement of feats to empower said tactics. Consider things like disarming, feinting, tripping an opponent, sundering weapons, grappling... they all have subsystems in 3rd edition D&D, subsystems that tend to marginalize these descriptive and fun tactics, making them something that only get spammed by characters who buy the necessary feats to do them. In T&T these same tactics are available to all characters, and their ease and usefulness depends solely on realism in the fictional situation as adjudicated by the GM.

As for choosing the battleground, that's pretty simple: why is party A going into the battle? Why is party B going into it? Which one of them has the initiative in choosing the time and the place? In the case of the large boulder and the gorge the party had located the main path used by the goblins in their travels between the human kingdom and Goblinia, which meant that they could choose their battleground pretty easily as long as it was along the trait. As the characters didn't care which goblins they'd encounter (they were just trawling for goblin ears), it was just a matter of choosing a suitable ambush spot and waiting patiently for the goblins to appear. In practice I had the party tactician roll a SR to see if his character'd recognize a good ambush spot when he saw it, but in principle the players could just describe what sort of terrain they wanted, and if there were such available, they'd get it. So that's how we ended up with the large boulder (cover) and the gorge (a place to drop goblins in), both relatively common things in Savonia.

Callan: your approach seems perfectly appropriate to me, something like that could probably work well. When it comes to weapons, though, I have a pretty intense dislike for the whole fantasy game paradigm - I'm apparently a stickler for realism or something, but it just annoys me that you deal more damage in combat the larger your weapon is. It makes even less sense in T&T, in which fighting points are very clearly not simply damage. I'm not getting any sort of excitement personally from the idea that the weapons characters use have some sort of qualitative difference for their efficiency. Not getting an erection at the thought that my character is dual-wielding sabers, as it were. If different weapons need to affect something, I'd rather see it being some sort of "right tool for the right job" thing as it is in reality. So I could certainly keep the equipment lists and just give the characters some GM-determined stuff to begin with (suggested in the 7.5 rules, by the way), but that's still not ideal for my own purposes as long as the system insists on making the weapon choice a major determinant in combat effectiveness.

As to the purpose of house rules, I've been wondering about that myself. Give me a Forge game, and I'll probably play it quite a while before starting to houserule. But give me a traditional fantasy game like D&D, T&T or Runeslayers, say, and I'll be at it like a busy bee immediately. No idea why this is, except that maybe I just don't like dungeoneering fantasy and want to strip the genre out of any fantasy adventure rules I use. These equipment rules in T&T, for instance, are not a problem in any way mechanically, except for the slow character creation when first-timers try to learn the list; even then I'm hot to trod with some rules to replace the stupid axe vs. sword comparisons. If I never have to explain to anybody again what a bec de corbin is, I'll die a happy man.
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newsalor
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« Reply #8 on: April 02, 2009, 05:32:50 AM »

Hullo,

I was the wizard player in our game in Oulu. I wrote down all the spells, because it was made clear that if we didn't have it on our character sheet, we didn't have it. I wanted those spells, because a major thrill of playing a wizard for me was studying those spells and trying to think up ways to use them. Most of the spells are quite useless or useful only if you are really imaginative so if I would have had to pick a few, I'd rather not play wizard at all. If you are going to be spamming sword attack only, why be a wizard?

The weapons lists sure are oldskool and are perhaps a part of the oldskool charm of the game. They did slow down the game in character creation, but a warriors most distinctive traits are his choice of weapons and armor. Also, buing new and better weapons & armor were a major part of "savoring the kill" after actually winning something. This is understandable, because by my recogning we won one encounter in the 5-6 hours of game play.

This brings me to a percieved problem in the play. Of the 5 or so encounters I was involved, 3 were unwinnable, we won one and one we could have won, if we had not been so neurotic in trying to gouge the strenght of our adversary. We had 3-4 mostly first level characters (my wizard was 2nd level, because I had charisma 25, but all the spellcasting attributes were first level stuff), our combat totals were smaller than normal, because we didn't have speed attributes and a typical encounter was something like 8-20 MR20 goblins + maybe a leader of MR30-40?

In the first encounter we tried to search for goblins in the woods. I succeeded in my saving roll, so we found them when we were asleep! The 8 goblins (MR160) we found would have kicked our asses even if we had been awake. Should I have specified that I tried to find them while awake or would the right answer have been to specify a long list of standard party protocols of how we travel, sleep etc. before leaving town?

In the third encounter I succeeded in a hard roll to find a favorable battleground for us and described a path surrounded by really thick woods so that we could limit the amount of adversaries we had to fight at once. Enter 20+ strong goblin posse with MR30+ leaders. I proceeded to gauge the real strenght of the adversary by asking a series of questions and working my calculator to find out the odds. At first the encounter clearly seemed unwinnable and after some calculation it was clear that we had no chance. There was no challenge!

As the game was coming to a close, we had to quit, because I had enrolled in another game, but to tell you the truth, I wasn't really that interrested in defending the town. I knew already that we would lose anyway, because I felt that even if I succeed in training a kickass militia etc., the successes would not matter.

I did appreciate the challenge, but I would have liked a fair challenge more.

That said, I do have to say that Tunnels & Trolls style gamism beats D&D anyday. I really liked the fact that using your imagination was rewarded and actively encouraged. I also loved the retro aspects of the game and the Savonia color was cool.

My proudest moments in the game were:

  • Adjusting my arguments just right in a reasonable/silly -scale in a key social challenge to get the difficulty high enough to gain a lot of experience, but still win.
  • Winning an encounter against the goblins.
  • Finding a use for the "That's a Close Shave" -spell. ;)
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Olli Kantola
Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #9 on: April 02, 2009, 06:11:05 AM »

Ah, perhaps I'll need to explain some GM calls here:

The first encounter with the goblins was mandated by a Luck SR, which basically meant that your characters were "lucky" enough to stumble on some; there was no planning in the encounter on either side. It just happened to be during the night on a whim, as goblins are nocturnal. I didn't particularly intend for the nighttime encounter to be a major difficulty that'd lead to a surprise attack - it mainly became such because the one player whose character succeeded in his SR chose to hide under his blankets and play ninja instead of declaring that he was standing guard and would rouse the others at a sign of trouble; you'll remember that I asked him to pick for himself whether his success meant that he woke up or that he had, in fact, been on guard. I have no idea what Sipi was thinking, he essentially decided that you didn't have guards in place.

As for the difficulty of the encounters, most of those goblin encounters were with 4-6 goblins, MR 20 apiece. That's not excessive in my mind for a group of 3-5 adventurers to face, and I think you adapted to it just fine with time. I'm sure different GMs play differently, but I don't see any particular value in just creating encounters that are intended to be won handily. More interesting to throw some shit together based on the setting and then let actual play prove which encounters are easy and which are hard.

Your choice with the unwinnable encounter was the right one, by the by - I hadn't intended for the encounter to be winnable on those terms, just wanted to see if you'd try anyway. That was the challenge there. The point of the encounter was mostly to introduce the idea that the goblins were moving larger groups with warlords into the area - also, you might have been able to follow them discreetly to strike at a smaller group if they split up (as they did when they got to the human lands), or to find out where they set up their HQ. The choice of hurrying to town to rouse the farmers into defense wasn't a bad one, either.

For the town, I don't know where you got the idea that you couldn't win the fight for it. The defense plan wasn't bad to my mind. The goblins also have their own problems and priorities, they weren't going to march straight in and risk a face-on encounter with the royal cavalry in the area. I didn't get the chance to work out the exact numbers, but I do know that you'd have been surprised when the goblin attack actually didn't come even nearly at the time you expected, only to come a week later - at which point your militia might have already scattered and the king's cavalry potentially come and gone. There might have been some early skirmish with some wolfriding goblins before then, too, to provoke you into taking the initiative in bleeding the goblins before the big fight.

Anyway, that's details. The more important thing is that you clearly didn't think that I was being impartial in my GMing. How come? You also played pretty nice at the time, I had no clue you were dissatisfied with my calls. Do speak up more, feedback is the only way for anybody to improve their GMing.
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« Reply #10 on: April 02, 2009, 08:15:32 AM »

Anyway, that's details. The more important thing is that you clearly didn't think that I was being impartial in my GMing. How come? You also played pretty nice at the time, I had no clue you were dissatisfied with my calls. Do speak up more, feedback is the only way for anybody to improve their GMing.

Perhaps I came of sounding too harsh. My apologies. I don't think that you were impartial.

Your calls in the table were fair in the sense that they made sense. If there was one thing that you weren't fair with, then it was not telling us that a successful luck save and a dexterity save at the same level weren't equal. I would not have made a luck save of it, if I knew it could get us ambushed.

You stated that your goal was to kill PCs. I seem to remember that you said that the game was supposed to be hard in the table. Now I'm no crybaby, so in that enviroment, I did my best. A big part of the fun was that it was oldskool and hardcore, but I would not want to play in a campaign where you are set up to fail most of the time.
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Olli Kantola
Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #11 on: April 02, 2009, 09:10:25 AM »

No problem, it's interesting to hear how others view sessions. For instance, I don't remember coming out and saying that I'm trying to kill the PCs - I might have said that, but that certainly wasn't a goal for me. Interesting challenges might lead to fatalities for characters, but that's life in T&T. Usually I express this more along the lines that there is no plot protection for PCs, but I guess I might confuse things by saying that I'm "trying to kill PCs".

Luck was the only way to find the goblins in the scenario before the group scouted Goblinia and met the old fisherman, thus learning more about the routes the goblins used, but that first ambush wasn't exactly due to luck. I was thinking more along the lines of your nightguard alerting everybody and then seguing into a nice little skirmish in the light of a campfire or some such. Doesn't go that way always, but that's freedom in roleplaying for you. I did lightly upbraid Sipi for endangering the party with useless grandstanding, if you'll remember - he should know better, having played several sessions with me during this winter's old school binge.

Anyway, that's nitpicking. A longer campaign would no doubt be different, not the least because everybody would have an opportunity to calibrate their gaming better - more entertaining challenges, more appropriate contingency procedures and so on and so forth. Tunnels & Trolls has no rules for balancing encounters like D&D does, so the game is very much dependent on all players calibrating their play to reach an equilibrium in what the players expect and what the GM throws at them.
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« Reply #12 on: April 02, 2009, 09:51:48 AM »

I meant that you stated above, that you meant to kill PCs. During the session, youjust said it would be hard.
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Olli Kantola
Callan S.
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« Reply #13 on: April 02, 2009, 05:32:48 PM »

I think Eero said he was going to follow procedure, and if procedure wants a character dead, he's happy to continue following procedure. Though I'll grant that alot of the time in most RPG's, what someone thinks is the procedure is often self invented (oh, I've been there a few times...that I know of. Dread to think of how many times I didn't know I was doing it). So if it was self invented, isn't that the direct intention to kill a PC? That's an odd place and I'd say no, even if it were self invented I'd say Eero was, in good will, following procedure as he saw it (hope you don't mind me saying so, Eero). But at the same time, that's why I focus alot on getting procedure ever so clear cut (as clear cut as a maths equation) and without ambiguity (if anyones interested in what's been called my investigation into rules and fun). Good will is nice and means things are good overall. But it is not enough, IMO. Umm, so yeah, it's worth considering when looking at who intended what.

Eero,
Quote
Your choice with the unwinnable encounter was the right one, by the by - I hadn't intended for the encounter to be winnable on those terms, just wanted to see if you'd try anyway. That was the challenge there. The point of the encounter was mostly to introduce the idea that the goblins were moving larger groups with warlords into the area
Do you think this is perhaps a mistake, given the sort of repeating pattern of gamist behaviour in people (by which I mean, it's probably a mistake to make peoples gamist behaviour bend to the games design rather than bend the game to peoples typical pattern of gamist behaviour). As I understand it, entering these unwinnable battles is losing, while staying out of them is winning, or as close to winning them as you can get. And that's cool.

But the thing is, when they lose, play doesn't stop or reset or anything. It was sort of dragging out the event of losing, to play out entering these battles which were unwinnable. Especially given these things were actually there to illustrate events (in this thread we talk about how a start up sequence just doesn't work as play, it only really works as a quick monolog to set up the actual challenge).

What's your perspective? And how would one handle the revelation that even entering into battle was losing the battle, and wrap it up quickly?
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #14 on: April 02, 2009, 07:43:22 PM »

I'm with you on procedures, Callan. And they're often self-implemented and self-regimented, I know exactly what you mean - these games simply don't have the huge amount of rules procedures that you'd need if you wanted to be able to point at them from a book. So instead the GM constantly regulates himself with these small subgames. An example from the convention was the way I decided to deal with the "wilderness" as three concentric zones centered on the town the PCs used as their HQ - I then used this zone structure to regulate strategic-level travel movement of characters and monsters, as well as setting difficulties for various checks. Much of this sort of procedural systematization is invisible to players even when I do a lot to make my rules procedures obvious, so it might seem that I'm just lifting stuff out of thin air. What makes it more complicated is that sometimes we are lifting the stuff out of the air, specifically when new scenario elements are introduced.

As for the unwinnable combat, there was just one of those situations in the game. It was rather obviously different from the other goblin encounters: while the normal encounters had been 4-6 goblins, this one had something like 30 goblins and 10 dire wolves, and some of those goblins were obviously some sort of chiefs based on their armaments. So it wasn't difficult by any means to make the call to not attack them, although I liked the math the players did to figure out their chances. Had they attacked, the T&T rules system would have made the battle relatively short, so that wasn't a problem. There's also the fact that while I characterize this encounter as "unwinnable", that doesn't mean anything in mechanical or procedural terms, it's just my own judgment - had the players decided to attack (surprise, terran advantages) and then proceeded to win, then obviously it wasn't as unwinnable as I thought. I'd definitely play the combat procedure out in full to find out what happens in such a combat, however desperate; I'd especially do this in T&T, which is very friendly to alternate goals, scaling back your objectives and other such wrinkles. Without playing through the combat we don't find out which characters escape, which surrender and so on.
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