Friday 26 June 2015

AFF2e: The Virtues of Asymmetry

I haven't written about Advanced Fighting Fantasy, or even the world of Titan, for quite some time.

A long time ago I had planned to write a post about embracing the 'asymmetry' of Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2e. About when I was writing posts rationalising the meaning of SKILL in AFF, I spotted that Jonathan Becker (JB of B/X Blackrazor) has written this:

"a monster's profile is just plain different from a player characters (this is not the case with 3E/Pathfinder where monsters have ability scores, feats, skills,etc.). If monsters exist as challenges to be overcome (however one chooses todo that) then why the hell do they need to be all statted up? A ridiculous excess, in my opinion."

And then I did nothing with it. But it gets to the workable, easy solution to the seeming problem that in AFF2e SKILL is inextricably linked with combat, but for PCs non-combat tasks are resolved by a system involving SKILL and Special Skill ratings. This gets people trapped in the question of how they should represent NPCs with significant non-combat expertise. And the answer: remember, these are not PCs, and do not need a PC stat line.

For a PC, SKILL is something best conceptualized as equivalent to Level, with 7-8 being Adventurer, 9-10 being Hero, 11-12 being Legend, or something along those lines. So as PCs increase in SKILL, they increase in everything in which they are 'skilled'. For an NPC, however, SKILL is just a measure of that NPC's combat challenge. They do not have 'Special Skills' - NPCs simply do not need to exist in that level of granularity. 

How do you 'build' the NPC master merchant who couldn't fight his way out of a wet paper bag? Do you give him SKILL 4 and Bargain 6? That still 'only' gives him an effective SKILL of 10, hardly enough to be the best negotiator in Allansia. Give him SKILL 6 and Bargain 6 and introduce special modifiers to represent his lack of combat ability? Why the complication? What would SKILL mean then anyway? 

AFF is the inheritor of this little gem, not GURPS after all!

No, AFF is meant to be a simple game. The master merchant should have SKILL 4 STAMINA 5, which adequately represents him as a combatant, and on the same index card you scrawl 'PCs attempting to bargain with Marco Columbo suffer a -4 penalty to their effective SKILL'. Instead of opposed tests - which require NPCs to be statted out as if they were PCs - non-combat 'contests' are then conducted as unopposed tests based only on the PC's SKILL and Special Skills, plus or minus modifiers, with the capability of the NPC to frustrate the aims of the PC being expressed as a simple modifier. The NPCs are treated just like any other feature of the world of Titan that might affect the PC's chances of achieving their goals. 

Wednesday 24 June 2015

More on the Reaction Roll

I've been clear that the Reaction Roll is one of most valuable bits of Classic D&D. I'm not that fussed about how you resolve combat, tasks, character advancement etc., but I do think that having a simple means of freeing the DM from determining NPC reactions is something that every game could benefit from.

While browsing the other day I found this post, from late last year, by Alex Chalk of To Distant Lands, in which he breaks down the procedure for determining reactions into the Reaction Roll, a consideration of Interests, and modifiers for Disposition.

I need to get myself my own header. Well, in fact, my blogs need a total design overhaul.

Rather than repeat his work, you should check it out HERE. It is very likely to make it onto my GM summary sheets.

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.

Thursday 18 June 2015

Freedom in an Owned World

For some unknown reason I decided to start a new blog - Freedom in an Owned World. This new blog will focus on Warhammer gaming, primarily WFRP1e/2e, but also, perhaps, the W40K RPGs, hopefully some Oldhammering too. There might be some Blood Bowl, and almost certainly some Warhammer boardgames.

This blog will continue, mind... just as intermittently as before.

Monday 1 June 2015

More Slaves (Awkward Treasure #4, part two)

Or not strictly slaves, but captives. If there is one thing that RuneQuest taught us (and it taught us lots of things) it is that an enemy defeated and held for ransom is worth more than a dead one. And having someone willing to stand for you PC's ransom might just well save their lives.

Obviously, the PCs might seize a ransom-able captive in the course of their usual adventuring. Indeed, if your PCs are of the murder-hobo variety they may make a healthy business out of kidnapping. Such is mundane human traffic, which warrants little more discussion, for now, than to simply say, 'give your players a choice'. Choices are the material of the roleplaying game, and presenting the players with an opportunity to spare an enemy's life in exchange for GP, or ending their enmity once and for all (Raise Dead notwithstanding) is an interesting in game choice. 

No, here we are talking being given the opportunity for the PCs to seize a high ransom individual who is *already* a captive. In a world in which people of status are ransomed on a regular basis, it would surely not be that unusual a circumstance for the PCs to raid a stronghold, fort, or lair and find that valuable prisoners make up part of their enemies wealth. What would a band of PC knights do, for instance, if they stormed Durnstein Castle and ended up with Richard the Lionheart in their hands? Sure, they could win his favour by releasing him, but they could also raise 80,000 marks of silver if they were of a mind to hold him prisoner. But would they offend the Pope, holding such a noble Crusader? What would happen when they next encountered English knights in the Holy Land? &c.

King Richard held captive

So, Awkward Treasure #4.3 is Noble Captive.

The PCs complete clearing out the [adventure site]. As the last of their enemies gurgles bloodily on the floor, the PCs find a trapdoor that opens into a oubliette. Inside is the bedraggled, but recognizable [opposing noble/potentate/bishop/whathaveyou]. He is not the PCs outright enemy, but has frustrated their plans in the past/supported their rivals/is the agent of a polity currently in a tense state of peace with that the PCs represent. What to do? The captive is effusive in his thanks - he believes he has been rescued. But any PC with a passing knowledge of local culture will know that the captive carries a ransom of 20,000GP*[1], if only it can be realised. But to demand such a ransom will come with unknown political (and personal) consequences. How will the PCs own people react to such a hostile act? What will their status in the captives territory be? What will they do with all that money - if the players are canny, this could be a way to feed an excitingly destabalising amount of wealth into a low level campaign, which will turn into a cross between A Simple Plan, Raising Arizona, and Brewsters' Millions if I know D&D players. But simply freeing the captive has consequences too.

And at least one player will, more than likely, want to simply kill the bastard and throw the whole place into turmoil.

[1] 20,000GP will buy you a fair sized sea-going ship in most OSR D&D-alikes.