Sunday, 21 June 2015

My Reaction to Petty Gods

I rolled a 6 and a... 5. A overwhelmingly positive reaction. Depending on whether you are playing Basic D&D or Labyrinth Lord, which inverts the table.

+2 to Reaction Rolls based on the pretty sweet 'AD&D' cover...

I liked the 'original' release of Petty Gods that Greg Gorgonmilk put together. And the new one, which is Revised and Expanded (given the extra input of Richard LeBlanc of New Big Dragon Games) is simply fantastic. But my favourite part of the book - the bit that makes it immediately and inspiringly gameable - is the use of and commentary on the use of Reaction Tables. The Reaction Roll (and its 2d6 cousin, the Morale Roll) is an underused mechanic in D&D - most RPGs either take it further (too far?) and comprehensively mechanise social interactions, or leave everything to the GM. Since returning to old school D&D gaming I have used Reaction Rolls in order to generate NPC attitudes in a variety of situations, with the range not - as per the book - from 'Immediately Friendly' to 'Immediately Attack' but from 'As Hostile as Possible (Given the Circumstances)' to 'As Positive as Possible (Given the Circumstances)'. So, is that trader going to try to cheat the PCs, or will he be impressed by their bearing and be especially helpful? Roll 2d6 (apply modifiers) and consult the bones, just as you would when the party bumble into a raiding party of Goblins. The dice roll is the same, it is the interpretation of the results that is different.

As you might remember, I tried to incorporate the Reaction Roll mechanics into my Goblin Encounters, as one of my bugbears with early D&D (and later D&D, of course) is the fact that adventure writers seemingly ignored the existence of the Reaction Roll and scripted monster and NPC reactions.

If only early D&D products had incorporated advice to the (novice?) DM on using the Reaction Roll, rather than scripting encounter reactions. If this had been the case I think that the idea that D&D was only a crude a 'kick in the door and kill everything' game would have been dispelled. As would avoiding pre-scripting the in-combat behaviour of opponents (or leaving it to the DM, who would often have monsters fight to the death, unless it serves the 'story' - or helps avoids a looming TPK - to have them flee) and allowing the Morale Roll to do its job (and more). The subtlety of D&D's simple mechanics would have been more widely seen. But that's another story.

Petty Gods: Revised and Expanded not only has Reaction Roll tables for each God[ling], whic transforms a stat block into an encounter, but also includes an article on different kinds of Reaction Roll tables - one each for Melancholic, Choleric, Sanguine, and Phlegmatic. The Hippocratic Humours are as good a system as any of producing differentiated Reaction Roll tables - for one they could easily fit on a GM screen (or reference sheet, if you don't like erecting barriers). Reading this impresses in your imagination the way that D&D's simple mechanics can produce a dynamic game experience for both the players, and, importantly, the DM.

Plus, you have to love Courtney Campbell's Petty God, the Quantum Ogre. (Note: Campbell's take on the use of Reaction Rolls has been influential on the way I've used the mechanic in games. His On the Non-Player Character really got me thinking about the way that D&D-ist games can do what games with more 'modern' takes on social interactions purport to do, and to arguably do it better. Simpler, for certain, which is a major virtue in an RPG.)

Extra: Talysman has been writing about using the Reaction Roll in a variety of circumstances, for example to to allow unclassed NPCs to call on divine intervention.

Petty Gods: Revised and Expanded is also available in print at Lulu.

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