Sunday, April 12, 2015

Signs of Life (um ... Progression Report, of sorts)

It's been two long weeks already. Strange how fast those things can happen. Some of it had been true holidays ("true" as in I had decided to give the keyboard a few days of rest, too, instead of writing every free minute) and the rest had been some unfortunate family business that kept me busy and occupied. But no rest for the wicked, and all that, so I thought I'd at least give an update or two about Lost Songs of the Nibelungs and the mini dice-games series.

Lost Songs of the Nibelungs (updates)

As some of you might recall, I had to promise my players a first beta-testing of Lost Songs around Easter. Since I had some ideas how I wanted combat to play out (and knew that it could work) I decided that it was time to throw together what I already have, improvise the rest with the D&D Rules Cyclopedia at hand and give this baby a "pre-beta" spin. I delivered two days ago with four players at the table. It went ... ah, let me tell you how it went.


Well, the game isn't developed far enough (yet) to use it in the mythological Germanic 550 AC setting it is written for, so I had to improvise. Since I had some vague ideas about almost everything (magic being the vaguest, but more on that later), I decided a Robinson Crusoe approach would be best to make this work for two or three sessions: the characters got lost at sea during a storm and got stranded at the shore of a strange tropical island. harsh conditions to put some pressure to the abilities, no armor and weapons to begin with and only rumors of magic.

Frame from the film Robinson Crusoe (1902) by Georges Méliès [source]

Basic Character Creation

This I got almost down and the players knew that this was testing some ideas and adding new ones on the fly if needed. We started with rolling for qualities. 3d6 per quality, written down as sum of 3d6 for the quality itself and separating lowest die/sum of two highest dice for several purposes (some of it will sound familiar, since it's already part of the Bare-Knuckle Fighter/Pub Brawl Mini-Games):

  • MUSCLE (buffer-pool for Endurance) - highest two dice results as Base Attack
  • FINESSE (buffer-pool for Coordination) - highest two dice results as Base Defense
  • GRIT (buffer-pool for Health) - highest two dice results as Stomach
  • WITS (buffer-pool for Sanity) - highest two dice results as Resistance to Magic
  • NERVE (buffer-pool for Serenity) - highest two dice results as Base Calmness
  • WYRD (buffer pool for Fate) - highest two dice results as Base Reputation

So with some rolls of 3d6's we established qualities and what I'll call "saves" for now (base attack/defense, stomach, et cetera). For this session I let them roll 1d6 Health and 1d6 Endurance, too, but that will change to rolling 2d6 per level, take highest for Health, lowest for Endurance (the reasoning behind this might be subject to another post ...).

I'm quite happy with this so far and believe it covers every eventuality a DM might to throw at the characters in a game:

Endurance, Health and Sanity explain themselves; Coordination concerns everything from footing in a fight to moving under extreme weather conditions and so on; Serenity is about how calm a character is and if he gets provoked into loosing some initiative dice and so on; Fate is about how the world treads a character.

Base Attack/Defense and Resistance to Magic explain themselves; Stomach is a save against anything from poison to pain; Base Calmness is a save versus provocation and Base Reputation is a save versus ill deeds (if a player is able to pull it of without consequences or not ...), bad rumors, intrigues and so on.

Those are the parameters, if you will, with which the characters interact with their surroundings and vice versa. I allowed one re-roll of 3d6. The only thing missing at this stage is specialization (skills, abilities, equipment). So off we go to the bloodlines.

Lineage, skills and Equipment

Some of you might remember this from that post I wrote earlier this year about using 3d6 to create a characters lineage and status in society. Never got to the point where I actually wrote down the possible skills, items and advantages, but I wanted to test-drive the system for the things it already did and had to improvise the rest.

Here is a short summary of the system (from that post):

"Every player rolls 3d6. The sum is a characters status in the group, with the lowest result being the highest in standing. Each rolled number represents now a facet of the society the character was born in (1 = royal bloodline; 2 = artisan bloodline; 3 = mercantile bloodline; 4 = artistic bloodline; 5 = foreign bloodline; 6 = magical/fairy bloodline)."
"To see now how the characters are related, the players just need to compare their numbers. If they rolled the same numbers and built pairs, triples or quadruples, they could be somehow related (with pairs being distant cousins, triples being cousins and quadruples being siblings). Each player has to decide the most important relation to another player. As soon as the players have sorted this out, they have to sort out how they relate to the rest (basically answering questions like "If he's my cousin and you are my sister, he must be your cousin too, right?" and stuff like that."

"There are always synergy-effects trickling down, so the family of the one with the higher status will provide some additional skill/advantages/items for those of a lower status but related."
"1 die in a bloodline means 2 points to buy skills/advantages/items, two dice in a bloodline mean 5 points to buy stuff (one of them related to the dominant bloodline, so it would be an item with a trade related bloodline, etc.), three dice means 9 points (with three to be distributed among skills/items/advantages associated with the true bloodline). Status might give a player additional points (so even if a player doesn't come up with doubles or triplets, he might still have some additional points for high status ...) and lineage might produce additional points."
This worked really well. It didn't take long for the players to figure out how they were connected. The one case where a player couldn't muster any relations, status managed to give the character a position in the group (actually for being nobility, which worked nice).

Skills, advantages and items had to be improvised, so I offered that the players could make suggestions and I'd make a guess about the points it would cost. This had some rather nice side effects (although I need some lists for the game, of course). The number of available points where as suggested above, with a +1 for every double that connected them with another player.

Items were the easiest, since the "stranded on a foreign shore"-scenario allowed me to say they had none at the beginning (Ha!).

But skills weren't that hard either. I told them that they needed to make it work with their family background and they got + 1 for every point they spend on that skill (so a + 3 Acrobatics, for instance, would allow a situation-based bonus to the quality used and cost 3 points).

Advantages were a bit more difficult, but also the most interesting. We had two characters with a strong fairy connection (double 6 each), so they went for some magical advantages.

One chose to see in darkness and that the character only needs half the nutrition a normal human might need. I decided it would cost three points each and he had to choose how normal humans could get a hint of his abilities by looking at him. I suggested that his eyes worked like those of night-active animals, so they reflect light in the dark for his night-vision and that the character was unnatural thin (which would get obvious by closer examination). He took both.

The other chose a magical awareness of the past of places he visits (he needs to ask for it) and a magically advanced awareness (more like a gut feeling). The unnatural signs on his body were slightly pointed ears and that the color of his eyes change every time he blinks.

Other advantages had been weapons and armor. Bloodlines helped for that like classes did for D&D as far as availability and costs were concerned. But instead of choosing weapons, they chose aspects of what those weapons could do. Those aspects are hacking, piercing, size, defense, two-handed and range, they cost 1 point each. We didn't get an opportunity to test armed combat, so this is still somewhat theoretical, but it wasn't hard to figure out the costs for the weapons the wanted to use.

One player with a strong artistic background (triple four), for instance, chose to use daggers (piercing, but small size), two- handed (with an option for defense) and the ability to throw them (range) and ended up paying 3 points for that (reducing the size reduced the cost by 1 point).

Another player with a royal background chose the sword and I decided that (1) it was the king's standard among melee weapons (with all advantages but range and size) and that (2) it would cost 3 points for the character being royal (so it is a bit cheaper).

All characters are able to fight unarmed and with blunt weapons. Number of attacks per round is the number of weapons used, number of defenses is two (might be three, if defensive weapon is deployed and yes, this means a shield is handled as a weapon this way). 

Armor is (like in D&D) divided in three categories: light, medium and heavy. For those with a royal bloodline each category costs 1 point, but if a character knows to use heavy armor, he has to pay for the others, too (so he'd have to spend 3 points). All other bloodlines have easy access to light armor, but heavier armor use would result in higher costs ...

In theory combat will work like shown in the Bare-knuckle fighter and the Pub Brawl (here is a post explaining the rules in detail), but with several new options for delay and modes of attack. As mentioned above, it didn't come to a fight, so this, too, will be subject of another, more detailed post.

Running the Game

I used the reference sheet as a, well, reference and intended to bridge everything else with the D&D Rules Cyclopedia (but never needed to). It worked, if I may say so, very well. Using the abilities as pools worked great. The players could, for instance, use Endurance to succeed in a task they didn't manage to with their roll for it (the idea here is to use a number of endurance as a bonus to meet the difficulty of said task) and if they used more Endurance as the had, Muscle would be depleted which would result in exhaustion. How fast this exhaustion would regenerate and if it leaves any permanent damage would depend on how much Muscle was depleted.

An example (the reference sheet linked above may illustrate): A player rolled 2, 4 and 5 for Muscle, so the pool value of the quality would be 11, divided into 2/9. As long as the pool value is drained for 9 points, a character could simply sleep it of, regenerating it over night. Two points more would reduce the pool to zero and to regenerate those two points would need two complete days of rest to regenerate (i day per point). Going below zero would result in permanent damage, of sorts, only regenerated as explained here. Relevant quote:
"Now I'm thinking it would be neat to give characters the time to regenerate some of those lost points by taking some downtime between quests. Winter would be the perfect time for this as it is a natural break and goes along well with how it actually was."
All pools work like this and I had a chance to test this with Grit when they ate some foreign fruits and two characters couldn't stomach them. Both didn't make their save and got the shits, but one just needed to sleep it off, while the other will need a whole day and one night to get over it.

Didn't have the opportunity to drain them for Sanity, Coordination, Serenity or Fate as of yet. But it will happen soon :)

Other than that the system managed to do what it intended to do. One player, for instance, managed to roll a 20 for a Wyrd-check, resulting in a lucky string of events that helped the whole group in the long run (they found some carpets and a machete). Seeing their pools drained made the players more careful about their actions, which always translated to how those pools got drained ("Well, my character is quite exhausted right now, so I'll skip doing xy ..." and so on). I'm very happy with it right now!

So what needs to be done right now?

So this pre-beta testing should produce a playable beta version of Lost Songs of the Nibelungs in the near future. As soon as I'm there, it will be released into the wild for those of you who want to give this a spin. There are several things that need to happen before this is possible:
  1. I need a character sheet, so this is high priority on my to-do list right now.
  2. Combat needs testing, so there will be some mini dice-games like the Bare-Knuckle Fighter and the Pub Brawl for dueling and skirmishes.
  3. While I'm at it, I need to update the already existing mini games, make pdfs, give all of them a home online and all that. It will take time.
  4. Magic will be the next big thing and a post about it will happen (I'd say) next weekend. Maybe I'll manage to make a mini dice-game about it, too (I have some vague ideas how that could be done).
  5. Lists, so many lists. Especially for skills, advantages and items. It will take time, I suppose, but we'll play again in two weeks and I need to have some results by then (same goes for the character sheet, actually)
  6. Advancement and all the options characters will have with leveling up. 4 weeks from now, the latest.

This is a lot of stuff to do and still not all of the things I need to get done for the finished game. But this ain't a race against time and it will be done when it's done. All I can say right now is, that it's going to happen some time this year.

I hope this helped illustrating where Lost Songs of the Nibelungs is headed at. More as soon as I got the time.

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