Monday, January 07, 2013
Dangerous Games for Boys
The other night, I had a great time playing a home-brewed pick-up Role-Playing Game with my good friends' two boyfull boys who have just started school who are full of energy, imagination, and derring-do. We actually started this game awhile ago and they had been aching to continue it.
The "game" is not in itself "complete" or well-defined and I have mostly been relying on my experience with such games to make snap situational judgments about how to conduct things. For those who don't know in a role-playing game, players take the role of characters in a fictional setting and determine the actions of the characters as the fiction proceeds, deciding for them what their aims in the fictional world are. The world fiction is conducted by a referee, called the Game Master or GM. The GM provides the world setting, reports the results of the players' characters actions in their environment, and sees to it that such interactions are fairly determined according to a set of rules agreed to by both players and GM. You might say the GM is the author of everything except the players characters. In this case, I am the GM and there was no mastered rule set. The kids are trusting me and I am winging it. But the most important responsibility of a GM is to see to it that his customers have a worthy time.
This game was built around my iPod, using the "Pocket Oracle" app. This app is like a "Magic 8 Ball" that you design yourself. The "ball in the Ball" is actually a dodecahedron - a twenty sided die. I designed the die using an imperfect FUDGE ladder, named from a famous open sourced RPG system. It looked like this.
2. Very Great!
4. Very Good
5. Very Good
8. Very Fair
9. Very Fair
12. Barely Fair
13. Barely Fair
16. Barely Mediocre
17. Barely Mediocre
19. Barely Poor!
Whenever a charter attempts to do something that is important and risky, the player (or GM if the character is not controlled by a player) "rolls" (shakes the iPod in this case) and the resulting word tells how the Player's character did. The GM then adds detail to this result to apply it to the specific situation the character was in. So if a character is disarming a trap and rolls "Terrible" not only dies he fail to disarm it but he sets it and all the nearby traps off. This roll can be modified if the GM or player thinks they face an unusual challenge or difficulty. If there is, the GM adds or subtracts a "level" to the roll result. When adding or subtracting levels, jeep the modifier (very, barely, or none) and change the value to next one up or down. So to level up very fair you get very good. To level down very fair you still get very mediocre even though that's not on the die.
The modifiers really come into play in contests. If two people are arm wrestling for example, both roll and the highest roll wins. If one rolls "good" and the other rolls "very good" the second player wins. Contests may involve different types of actions. If one character is trying to sneak around a guard, he must pit his sneak attempt roll against the guard's alertness roll. If it's greater then the sneak attempt is successful. In contests, the description of results is determined not by the winning roll but by the degree of difference. "Fair" is the base from which you calculate and keep the modifier. So if the winner rolls "very good" and the loser rolls "good" the winner's result is "very fair". If the winner rolls "good" and the loser's roll is "barely mediocre" the winner's result is "great". If the winner rolls "barely mediocre" and the loser rolls "terrible", the winner's result is "barely great".
Combat is a special case of a contest roll. Before combat can begin it must be determined if one character surprises another. This is a contest like the sneak-guard case above. If a player fails an alertness contest, his character is surprised and cannot attack or defend in the first round. His opponent gets a free uncontested hit role which may be modified by the circumstances (magical weapons or dwarven craft armor, etc.).
After surprises are resolved all characters are aware of the combat. Each contestant rolls once and combat turns are determined from highest to lowest. This is the initiative contest and us based on the characters natural agility, training, and encumbrance. Significant factors here can modify the roll.
Once combat turns are assigned, on each Player's turn, he can have his character move (change his location, ready a weapon, load a weapon, change his position, ready a spell, etc) or attack one opponent with one weapon if the opponent is in range of the weapon. In face to face melees the character must be next to his opponent.
If the character the character attacks with a melee weapon (sword, hammer, mace, roundhouse kick) the opponent may if he us able defend from the blow (parry with his own weapon, block with his shield, or dodge out of the way) if he can. If be can't, then the attack is an uncontested modifiable roll. If he can, it's a contested roll. If the attacker is successful use the quality of results to determine damage. If not, nothing happens. If the attacker does really badly (poor or terrible) he could lose or break his weapon or hurt himself.
If the attacker hits, he does damage according to the level of success.
Fair - Fatigue damage
Good - Equipment or stunning damage
Great - Stunning or wounding damage
Excellent -wounding or fatal damage
Fatigue damage simply means you are getting tired. All damage does fatiguing damage but fair damage only fatigues. If you sustain enough fatigue you will not be able to stand up. You may want to retreat before then. Equipment damage means that the defender's equipment was able to absorb much of the blow depending on the defense used (weapon in parrying, shield in blocking, armor in dodging). This cannot last though. Equipment becomes weaker sustaining blows and eventually either breaks or fails to protect the defender. When equipment fails the results shift up fir each level as the table shows. Stunning damage dazed the opponent off his balance. Enough will knock him unconscious. Wounding damage draws blood and could lead to the loss of a limb. Final lethal blows effect vital areas of the body and could be fatal. Damage is described and recorded on the player's Character notes. Damage nay be healed through rest, equipment repair, first aid, and magical healing.
A long range weapon such as a crossbow, throwing axe, or flintlock is an uncontested roll (unless the target is aware of the shootist) open to modification based on skill, range, coverage of the target, and the target's armor.
I won't say much about magic except that spells have to be ready before combat only by wizards or others with the constitution, training and immediate required components for the spell. In combat, a wizard must take several rounds to get ready to cast a spell. When he does, the roll is a contested roll against his opponent's natural magic resistance. If the roll is successful, the wizard makes a distinct roll for the effect of the magic. If the wizard makes a poor or terrible result, the wizard makes an effect roll and applies it to himself or his party.
In all of this, the results are determined "according to the draw of the narrative". There are no real numerical calculations and some times dice results are massaged a bit fir the sake of plausibility and fun. It's all at the GMs discretion but the players will be the final judge with their feet.
For this adventure, I had the boys tap into their picture of fantasy helped along by seeing TLOTR movies. I asked then to pick a race (dwarf, human, elf) and a medieval fantasy class (knight, wizard, thief) and tell a story about how someone of their race came to be in their class. I have found that if a person can come up with plausible answers to biographical puzzles then they have a clearer grasp of their character concept to predict what their character will do in novel situations. I had them write their stories down on sheets and keep them to update as the story progressed. That, plus the descriptive aspect of the die used, made it natural for them to imagine how things went.
That night, the boy's dwarven knights had discovered an old abandoned castle (it mysteriously and gradually appeared as the sun set on a cliff by the seashore) and had discovered the remains of an open air market inside it's outer Bailey. Searching, the found a map to the layout of the castle and discovered a secret passage to the interior.
Their first encounter in this passage was with a the ghost of of the former Prince of the castle, whom they defeated and dissipated in a battle but not before they hot some useful information from him. It turns out that his loss of the prince's father and the condition of the castle was the work of an evil wizard.
They then discovered a well stocked armory and replaced their worn equipment. Then one discovered a specially crafted dwarven war-hammer (roll twice and take best roll when attacking). The other didn't find anything at first but (after pleading with "uncle GM" with sincere outcries), he eventually found a cool matched set of throwing daggers.
They eventually found another stretch of secret passage that went up several stairs. After a good trap detect roll, they noticed that there were holes in the wall on each side of the stairs. But these holes were at the level of the head of a normal human, not a dwarf. One decided to brave a few of the stairs to see how the traps worked. Getting an excellent result, he climbed the entire flight of stars and set off the spear traps. At each set of holes, a spear automatically thrust out of one hole and into the opposite hole but too high to harm the keen dwarf.
His partner was not quite so fortunate. At one point, a spear thrust out of a hole in one if the stairs (not noticed by check for traps attempt). He dodged the spear but it caught the inside of his new shield from the armory and pinned it to the ceiling. disappointed, he retained his old wood shield to replace it.
The door at the top of the stairs turned out to be a secret passage into the main throne room. They had been warned by the ghost that the throne had been cursed but did not know how. It turned out there were four thrones at the other end of the great room from the main entrance doors.
They decided to inspect the main entrance for jewels or other things. But this put them in a position to see that they were not alone in the throne room. Hidden from their earlier vantage point, up amid the tops if the columns, was the castle guardian, a giant crawfish (or a really, really, really large lobster - we had crawfish for dinner, which the boys were both disgusted and fascinated by). The crawfish had noticed them before they saw him and was on the way down to the floor to engage them. (So no surprise.)
Each knight engaged one of the claws (each treated as an individual fighter) and won their initiative. One managed to get in some stunning damage (no real distinction to be made between equipment and bodily damage - a crawfish's armor is its body). The other missed and both were bracing for the monster's attack when the dad cane in and announced bed time.
The boys ran all around and went to bed with visions and tactics for defeating a giant crawfish. "It's like Lord of the Rings!" (with crawfish). Wait until they discover it's breath weapon!
The great thing about GMing with kids is that you don't need to worry about being short of ideas. Their excitement and imagination produces a virtual fountain of ideas. I just had to listen to the boys to pick out my adventure. It made for a great pick-up experience.