Saturday, October 29, 2011


Game Premise

Which side will you take?

It is the 22nd century and humanity's reach has expanded to the stars. Though still divided into a series of autonomous nations, collectives and trade unions, all fall under the governorship of the Hegemony, an authority set up after the invention of the Weave. This network makes use of quantum technology to 'download' objects out of nothing. When first introduced it had two humanity-changing and catastrophic events. First, overuse saw economies and in some cases the very fabric of space collapse, causing the creation of the Hegemony to ensure its use was regulated through a capitalistic system. Secondly, it opened out worlds to Heaven and Hell.

Well, sort of. It opened up two dimensions with inhabitants that claim to be representatives of heaven and hell. On the one side were the feathered angels who cherished the group and condemned the individual as immoral. On the other were demons who abhorred group-think and exalted the individual above all else. With their entry into our Universe, humans with true faith in heavenly or hellish powers and even the arms of the Hegemony, soon found their prayers could reshape reality in small but powerful ways. Both sides tried to coerce humanity into joining them before waging war in our universe. Alarmed, the armies of the Hegemony struck back, eventually becoming the victors of the three-way war. They drafted the Treaty of Pavonis Station, which restricted the entry of inhabitants of Heaven and Hell in our universe. It also made religion illegal, seen as an act of aiding and abetting the enemy.

You are an Enforcer, working to ensure compliance of the Anti-Church Act and bringing violators of the Treaty to Justice. But you have a secret. Some part of you owes allegiance to the very powers you oppose. Will you try to use your powers in secret for the good of the Hegemony? Will you subtly work to aid or undermine the many secret faith-based societies?

Game Overview

I feel betrayed by Triune. I saw an ad that told me I could have levels in 'Buddhist' and expected a hilarious Paranoia-esque game with less self-awaerness and commie-mutant-traitors. Instead, I got a deep setting, a simple yet intriguing core mechanic and a massive amount of thought-provoking high-concept ideas. Dammit WJ McGuffin, how could you make a game I can accurately describe as 'faith cops in space' that I can actually take seriously? Not only is that central concept handled with a great amount of skill, there are a whole bunch of other incredibly engaging parts of the setting that turn this from what I expected to be a joke into a well-rounded, eminently playable game.

Apart from the whole 'faith cops in space', what really stands out in this game is the Weave. Not only has the author tackled the many ramifications of a network that basically means you can just make anything from nothing in ways that hold up to basic scrutiny, he's also made it a big part in upending traditional aspects of RPGs. Character death is not a big deal in this system, largely because of the Weave. This is because one of its features is the ability to store backup copies of yourself which can be uploaded if your body is destroyed. Philosophers could probably spend endless hours arguing about whether that new body is actually you, of course. There's also the fact that instead of equipment, you just have a system of credits which allow you to invest in items that you just download then and there. It's all the joys of internet shopping without the wait, not to mention the ability to get your money back once you're bored of your purchase.

The Effort System is pretty simple, yet solid. At its heart it's just a roll-under d10 mechanic. Have a Body Score of 5? Roll under 5 on a 10-sided die and you succeed. But then there's on little extra bit where the 'effort' part of the effort system comes in. Before rolling you declare whether you wish to roll one, two or three six sided dice. Every die that comes up 1-3 is a success and every one that comes up 4-6 is a failure. If you made the initial roll, count up your successes and if you didn't count up the failures. The more of each you had, the greater you succeeded or failed. So there's a bit of a gambit going on where you can take a greater risk for the potential for greater rewards.

There's a whole bunch of things in here, particularly ideas about technology, that would make for some great discussions regarding philosophical ramifications, the Weave in particular. But even apart from that there's things like sentient AI being downloaded into human bodies and having children, the blurred lines created by living technology or 3Tech (a mix of nanotech and biotech). Add this to the setting consisting of a plethora of new colonies, from a divided Mars in the midst of its own Cold War to an Earth split up into competing Trade Unions to a new Khanate set up by a wealthy Indian guy with a tenuous grasp on history and you could forget about the main premise of the game. When you remember that you can basically be in a situation in this game where you're pointing your stun baton at an angel and going “Freeze scum bag, you're under arrest for Trespassing” it's like unwrapping your presents all over again.

The Character

Step 1) Name, Age and Home Authority

Since the intent of this step is to get you to think about your character's personality, I'm going to actually plot that part out first even though it's not explicitly listed. I'm also basing this character (very loosely, mind) on a friend of mine. So, this guy was from a young age part of a Christian underground that practised their faith in secret. Percy Wyndham-Price was a strong supporter of the forces of Heaven. He even found that his faith had been rewarded by the powers that be, bestowing him with the power to transmute liquid. However, as he was approaching the end of his teens, he received transmissions via the Internet (surprisingly, mankind still uses the Internet, or at least some form of it, in the 22nd century) that revealed some ugly truths about angels, included atrocities inflicted on innocent humans during the war. At first confused, then angry, Percy left the cult he had been raised in. After spending a long period soul-searching and doing extensive research he came to a conclusion. While slavish devotion to the ideologies of Heaven or Hell was not ideal, there was obvious evidence that allegiance to them in some way had quite tangible benefits which humanity could take advantage of. The Hegemony's banning of prayer-based power was throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Percy joined the Office of Treaty Enforcement, where he works both to limit the influence of angels, demons and religion on humanity while at the same time seeking some alternate way of promoting the powers of faith.

I think Percy should be somewhere around his mid-twenties, so I'm going to go with 26. The book notes that thanks to the Weave people don't have to look like their chronological age (biological age is a bit of a meaningless term now), but I think the he's still quite happy with how he looks.

Home Authority is the part of the Hegemony your character originates from, whether it is Earth, the Sol System or one of the many outer territories. I'm going to pick the Alpha Centauri Collective, a direct democracy based on the planet Alpha Centauri 2. It's got a solid religious and particularly Christian underground, so I think it's ideal.

Step 2) Attributes and Domains

Every character in Triune has three broad stats called Attributes, which are Body, (general physical capabilities), Mind (general mental capabilities) and Spirit (general interpersonal capabilities). I have 15 points to spend in each, with 1 being human minimum, 9 maximum and 4 average. I'm going to give Percy a 6 in Mind, because his is a crusade of ideas. I'm then going to put 5 in Soul and 4 in Body.

Now, each Attribute has three sub-stats called Domains. These are more focused areas of each skill. Depending on your rating in the skill, a certain number of these Domains will be Strengths or Weaknesses, with the higher ratings giving you more of the former and the lower ratings giving you more of the latter. A Strength gives you one success before you even roll when using the domain, meaning your victories will be generally better, while a weakness gives you one failure, deepening your losses. Because Percy's Attributes fall within the 4-6 range, he gets one domain that's a strength, one that's a weakness and one that's simply average for each.

We'll start with Body. I'm going to put the strength in Speed, in this case meaning that he's generally quite twitchy and is good at reacting to things. The weakness will go into Fitness, originating from a, shall we say 'experimental' binge when learning about the benefits of the Hellish path that didn't do his body any favours. That leaves Muscle as the average domain.

For Mind, I'm putting the strength in Creativity, which comes from a willingness to learn and experiment in all kinds of ways that sometimes produce fabulous results and interesting ideas. The weakness is going into Awareness, mainly because he can get incredibly focused on something when he's interested in it. Finally, the average goes into Intelligence.

Last up is Soul. The strength for this one will be Will, reflecting a drive to succeed despite having a fairly lonely viewpoint. The weakness will be Charisma, which is not so much due to not being personable but rather a willingness to offend or upset in the pursuit of the right course of action. That leaves the average in Empathy.

Step 3) Resources

Resources are stats tied to your attributes, Health, Resolve and Spirit. The former two reflect your physical and mental well-being. If they get reduced to 0, you die or go insane. With the Weave, however, you can just re-download your body sans horrific injuries or mental instability, making death and insanity mere inconveniences. The latter is important because it's the fuel for prayers. You roll against your Spirit score every time you want to use a prayer. If you succeed, the prayer works and your spirit is lowered by 1 point. Fail, and the prayer doesn't work but your spirit goes up by 2 points. Quick sidenote, your spirit refreshes when you are uploaded from the Weave, so you come back from the dead with your full arsenal of heavenly (or hellish, or hegemonic) mojo.

With a 4 in Body and a 6 in Mind, Percy's Health and Resolve are both 12. All characters start off with a Spirit of 12, Percy included.

Step 4) Faith and Prayers

Much like Troubleshooters in Paranoia, Enforcers in Triune are all secretly involved with the very things they are tracking down. Each character has three different faith Paths, a Heavenly Path (Christinaity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and a melting pot of Chinese and Japanese religious tradition known as Shenism), a Hellish Path (One of the Seven Deadly Sins) and finally a Hegemonic Path (military, politics, bureaucracy, media, the service industry and nobility). Yes that's right, you can have faith in branches of the Hegemony, which is still illegal. In fact, the guy who was first convicted for worshipping the Hegemony is on the most wanted list. Every character starts off with 1 level in each of their three paths and possesses a corresponding prayer. Throughout play, character can gain Faith Points, and gaining three of them allows you to increase levels in your path, giving you access to more powerful prayers.

It is also possible, however, to lose faith points and losing three will force you to go down a level in one of your paths. This can result in negative path levels, with corresponding failures as you find that path controlling you instead of vice versa. A Jew finds themselves unable to concentrate on the words of others over the voices of the dead, an enforcer who exults in anger finds themselves giving into their rage and a follower of the power of politics finds themselves unable to make decisions for fear of upsetting the status quo.

For Percy's Heavenly Path I'm going to obviously pick Christianity and the prayer I mentioned in his backstory, Transubstantiation. This allows him to transmute one litre of liquid he's touching per faith level (so, 1) into any other liquid he chooses, which seems potentially powerful. It's also a fantastic example of one of this system's drawbacks, the unbalanced nature of these prayers. Christians get this, while the first level Muslim prayer Ghowas' Lesson causes an opponent to drop whatever weapon they're holding, without damaging said weapon. So, alchemy versus temporary inconvenience. Not exactly a hard choice.

For his Hellish Path, I'm going to go with Pride. Of all the personal attributes that Percy had been taught were sins, he found this one the most problematic. After all, how can one do anything without confidence in one's own abilities? I'm going to pick the prayer Intimidate, which is actually a Hellish prayer open to all Hell paths rather than specifically pride. This allows him to reduce an opponent's Tell Die Number (the number you need to roll under to succeed) by 1 point. He can do this even after they've rolled, turning a success into a failure.

Finally, the Hegemony Path. I'm going to give him Media, because Percy was not only given his original epiphany through its power, but he also sees it as the centre of ideas and how they are spread. If he's going to find a way to get people to accept his radical ideas on faith, it will be through the internet. The prayer I'm selecting is Demos, which allows Percy to discover the actual age, biological sex and birth authority of his target, which is useful for sniffing out infiltrators.

Step 5) Budget and Gear

With the Weave, actually sitting down and purchasing items is a bit of a waste. The book recommends giving each Enforcer 5 Credits with which they can purchase things as needed. However, each character also gets one item that is Off-Weave. Manufacturing from non-weave materials is illegal because it can't be tracked by the Hegemony (they have a system for tracking everything that gets uploaded), but if they're going to betray their basic duty, then why not have an illegal item? I'm going to give Percy a Salamandy, a nifty piece of 3Tech which is kind of like a cross between a salamander and a USB. It can slither into computer and hack them allowing the user full access to files.

The Finished Product

Captain Percy Wyndham-Price

(Christian 1, Pride 1, Media 1)

Body: 4 (Muscle 0, Speed +1S, Fitness +1F)

Mind: 6 (Intelligence 0, Creativity +1S, Awareness +1F)

Soul: 5 (Charisma +1F, Willpower +1S, Empathy 0)

Health 12, Resolve 12, Spirit 12

Prayers: Transubstantiation, Intimidate, Demos

Gear: Salamandy, 5 credits

How I'd Run It

The book offers a number of different ways to run Triune, with the Traditional Method supposedly being the default way of earnestly supporting the Hegemony's aims in upholding the Treaty. However, the only way I could see myself running this is with the Competitive Method, each character secretly working towards their own agenda with no small amount of backstabbing and skulduggery. You'd need the right group of players of course. The game would also heavily involve the Khanate of Olympus Mons simply because the idea of a modern autocratic government founded by a rich solipsist that also happens to be sort of the Casablanca of the conflict between the communist Free Martian Republic and the anarcho-capitalist Martian Corporate State (White Mars) only has the potential for awesome.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Feng Shui

Game Premise

Lock and load, secret warrior. Your destiny awaits on the field of battle.

There is a secret history to our world that changes like the breeze without you ever knowing. Scattered throughout the world are sites where chi, the mystic power the controls destiny, flows strong. Control one of these sites and you will find the winds of fortune blowing your way. Control enough and you can shape the very course of history. In fact, if you know the secret of the Netherworld, a mysterious other realm that connects to other points in time, you could perhaps one day control all of history.

Unfortunately, several organisations of malevolent intent plan to do just that. In 89AD, a society of sorcerous eunuchs, the power behind the throne of Imperial China, uses ensorcelled monsters to extort the populace. In 1850 and 1996 a shadowy conspiracy controls the world from behind the scenes, their claws in everything from police to politicians to media to criminal syndicates. In 2056, a group of unethical scientists are the driving force behind a totalitarian one-world government, enforced by horrific abominations, stolen from the past and augmented with impossible tech. Let's not forget the group of xenophobic Chinese traditionalists, the four immortal siblings who once ruled the entire world and the rebel faction of cyborg monkeys with a penchant for explosives.

The only thing standing in between these forces and the destiny of humanity is your rag-tag team of kung-fu badasses. You're the secret warriors and it's your job to save the entire world, armed with only your kung-fu, spells, wits, tech and whatever other weapons you can use to kick as much ass as possible. Good luck.

Game Overview

Feng Shui is something of a solid b-lister in the RPG world. Known for its relatively fast and loose system and unique setting, its a game based on Hong Kong action films. Feng Shui was originally published by Daedalus Games in 1996, and then updated in 1999 by Atlas Games, the only real difference between the two being some new art and the inclusion of previously supplementary material. The one I'm using is the Atlas version.

The system is designed to both be quick and allow for wild heroics, and the core mechanic reflects this. Take two six sided dice, making sure they're distinctive and nominate one as positive, the other negative. Roll and subtract the negative die from the positive die. Add relevant modifiers and hope you beat the target number. You also get to reroll sixes and add the second number rolled, which can lead to some surprising variation in results. Target numbers will generally range from 3 for simple tasks all the way to 25 for impossible craziness like running along a trail of bullets to get at your enemy. Considering the modifiers characters get, rolling a 25 isn't entirely out of the realm of possibility.

More than anything, I love the setting. It's got everything, including kung-fu action, cybernetic monkeys, evil scientists, kung-fu popes (no, really, he's one of those immortal siblings I told you about) cybernetic monkeys, illuminati-esque conspiracies, cybernetic monkeys, crazy sorcery, cybernetic monkeys, time travel and did I perhaps mention the Jammers, or the organisation of cybernetic monkeys? The stuff about time travel and critical shifts (what happens when a person gains control of enough chi sites to change history on a massive scale) is also well-explained and for someone like me, who wrote their thesis on alternate histories, really thought provoking.

Feng Shui is considered by some to be a little bit dated these days. The character archetypes are wildly imbalanced (I pity the person who wants to play the Karate Cop) and the secondary stats seem a little bit unnecessary. Nevertheless, Feng Shui is still quite serviceable and remains a fantastic game of zany, fast, kung-fu heroics.

Fun fact! I knew about Feng Shui before I was into RPGs. I used to collect a British Card gaming magazine known as Deckmaster, which did an article on a game based off the RPG, Shadowfist. I actually had similar experiences with discovering Vampire through its article of Vampire: The Eternal Struggle and Rifts through the Rifts card game Interestingly, Shadowfist is still fairly popular, with new sets still being released and has even advanced the metaplot.

The Character

Step 1) Pick a Type

Feng Shui has every character based on a series of strong archetypes gaining control of a few bits and pieces, but most things pre-defined. People who are into free-form character creation aren't going to be too happy about this. However, there is a fairly large selection of these Types (21 in the core book) and they cover a fairly good range of standard action movie standbys (maverick cop, ex-special forces, ninja) and several things unique to the setting (abomination, transformed animal).

The game recommends the GM start off in the Contemporary Juncture (1996) set in Hong Kong, with characters unaware of the Shadow War, so I'm going to abide by that. That unfortunately means no cyborg demons or sorcerors for me. Instead, I'm picking the Masked Avenger type, mainly because I absolutely adore the description ('okay, so maybe you're a little crazy') and because let's face it, playing kung-fu Batman (well, more kung-fu Batman) is cool.

Step 2) Personalise Your Character

Just because two characters are Old Masters or sorcerors, doesn't mean they have to be the same. Obviously, apart from the mechanical changes, personality is what differentiates your character from everyone else.

I'm going to need two Names for my guy here, one actual name and his vigilante name. I want my guy to be native to Hong Kong, so searching for a good Chinese name I'm picking Tseng Jiang-Shing (his first name translates into 'strong victory', or so the internet informs me). For his vigilante name, I'm picking The Koan.

Now for a background. Tseng was once a leading criminologist who came up with a theory, based on a pattern of activities, that all the major crime syndicates in Hong Kong answered to a single authority. At first he was merely laughed off by his peers, but when he chose to delve deeper, he found his career under attack and a series of misfortunes befalling his friends. Convinced that the conspiracy he had unearthed went deeper, he trained his body in the art of combat, created a series of safehouses and adopted a costumed persona with which to tackle this vast underworld. A fan of both golden-age comic heroes and something of a Zen Buddhist, he picked the guise of Infinite Koan of the Restless Mind or simply The Koan and took the fight to the criminals. The more he battles, the more he comes to peel away layers of the conspiracy. While he's only found inklings of evidence, he's come to the conclusion that there is something of a one-underworld authority that has its hand in every world government.

Lookswise, out of costume Tseng is a dishevelled Chinese man approaching middle age, wearing baggy clothes, crooked glasses and generally without shoes. In his Koan persona, he wears what looks to be the outfit of a hardboiled detective, long coat, gloves, fedora and all, only a silky, dark blue. He also wears a facemask and tinted goggles.

Finally, the Melodramatic Hook. According to Feng Shui, each character must possess some kind of fact that the GM can use to create plotlines. For The Koan, I'm going to pick Take Down the World Criminal Conspiracy at All Costs. While he doesn't know the true nature of the secret war, he has caught a glimpse of it and is determined to prove his theory right.

Step 3) Check Out the Numbers

This is the bit where I work out my character's Attributes and Skill, which are somewhat pre-determined by my archetype, but which I get to modify in small ways.

Each character has four Primary Attributes, each of which is broken down into a few Secondary Attributes. Body is a measure of your physical strength of fitness and has the secondary attributes of Move (which determines how fast you can run), Strength (how much you can lift and carry), Constitution (How well you can resist disease and poison) and Toughness (which is subtracted from damage). Chi is your general level of attunement to the mystic forces around you, meaning most people have a score of 0 and its secondary attributes tend to be fuel for mystic powers. Fortune gives you a number of Fortune Dice to roll each session which can influence a roll, while Kung-Fu and Magic are the fuel you need to power Kung Fu and Magic abilities respectively. Mind is a measure of your general mental capabilities and has the secondary attributes of Charisma (ability to influence others), Intelligence (logic and thinking clearly), Perception (noticing stuff) and Will (resisting attempts to influence you. Finally, there is Reflexes which determines your co-ordination and dexterity and has the second attributes of Agility (general motor skills), Manual Dexterity (hand-eye co-ordination and fine motor control) and Speed (reaction time).

The Masked Avenger starts off with a Body, Mind and Reflexes of 5 and a Chi of 0. Unless noted otherwise (and in this case, it isn't) each secondary attribute is equal to the primary attribute. I have 6 points to spend on primary attributes, 2 point to spend on a single secondary attribute and 1 point to spend on another secondary attribute. I'm going to divide the 6 points among Body, Mind and Reflexes, increasing each to 7. I'm going to put the 2 points in Perception and the 1 point in Intelligence.

Next up, we have Skills, which are pretty much your standard learned capabilities and in this game are quite broad (so for example, guns applies to pretty much any firearm). Each skill is tied to a secondary attribute, which adds to all rolls using that skill, for a total Action Value. Skills also generally have two primary uses, a Practical Use, for example using the detective skill to find clues, and Contacts, which is using the skill to have associates or contacts (who may not be friendly) in the relevant field. As a masked avenger, I get eight points to add to skills. However, some skills, in this case Detective+10, Guns +8 and Martial Arts at +7 can't be increased further at character creation, even by increasing the relevant attribute. This is generally the case for those skills the type is already quite good at so the player doesn't hyperspecialise. I do have the choice to swap the bonuses for guns and martial arts, but I'm not going to. I also have two undefined Info (areas of knowledge) skills in addition to my +2 in Info/Science. I'm going to assign those as Info/Riddles (the guy names himself after a form of them after all and Info/Gangland Politics (he needs to know what's going on in the criminal underworld). Now to actually get to those eight points. I'm going to put +3 in Deceit, since maintaining a good disguise is important, another +2 in Info/Riddles, because that's his deal and finally the remaining +3 in Driving, because every good Hong Kong action movie has driving and I've been in multiple campaigns where nobody has had the damn skill when we needed it.

Step 4) Pick Your Shticks

Most characters, apart from attributes and skills, have some sort of special ability that sets them apart, whether this is trick shots, fancy karate gimmicks, magic spells, monster powers, creepy future tech or even abilities gained from being a transformed animal in human form. These are Shticks.

The masked avenger gets two gun shticks, as well as a unique shtick in the form of a +5 to intimidate attempts against unarmed criminals, that superstitious, cowardly lot. Looking at the list of gun shticks, I'm going to start with Signature Weapon, a unique weapon The Koan possesses that is almost impossible to lose and gives me a +3 to damage rolls. In this case, my signature weapon will be a heavily modified AMT Automag IV(basically a massive pistol) with the words 'One Hand Clapping' written on the side in Mandarin. This is entirely so The Koan can have a catchphrase consisting of “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” followed by a loud gunshot. The second shtick I'm going to pick is one rank in Hair-Trigger Neck Hairs , which gives me two benefits. Firstly, I get a +2 to all Perception Checks. Secondly, if I succeed in that perception check and can respond usefully by dodging or firing my gun, I get to add the Outcome of the check (difference between the target number and what I rolled) to my dodge or shooting attempt.

Step 5) Possessions

Feng Shui cares not for big laundry lists of possessions. I can declare I have pretty much any possessions, within reason, during the course of play. However, I do have to pick a number of Weapons as determined by my type, in this case two weapons of the appropriate juncture (1996). I've already determined I possess an AMT Automag IV pistol, and I think I'm also going to grab an old MP40, a vintage submachine gun which I think suits a character with a flair for the dramatic.

Step 6) Wealth Level

Much like possessions, the game doesn't really care for the bean counting aspect of wealth and thus breaks it down into four categories, Poor, Working Stiff, Well-off and Rich. Masked Avengers are apparently Rich and in Tseng's case I think it will be invested in possessions he's stolen from the gangs he's taken on and things he has pilfered rather than earned monetary wealth.

The Finished Product

Tseng Jiang-Shing aka The Koan

What is the sound of one hand clapping? *BANG*

Abilties: Body 7, Chi 0, Mind 7 (Perception 9, Intelligence 8), Reflexes 7

Skills: Deceit +3 (10), Detective +10 (15), Driving +3 (10), Guns +8 (13), Fix-It +2 (11), Info/Gangland Politics +2 (10), Info/Riddles +4 (12), Info/Science +2 (10), Intimidation +3 (10), Martial Arts +7 (12)

Shticks: Hair-Trigger Neck Hairs, Signature Weapon, +5 to intimidate attempts against unarmed mooks.

Weapons: One Hand Clapping (signature AMT Automag IV), MP40.

Wealth Level: Rich

How I'd Run It

Quite frankly I love Feng Shui's setting so much, I'd run it straight, although it would definitely heavily feature the Jammers (cybernetic monkey anarchists in case you don't remember), because everyone wants to fight a dude called Che Gorilla at some point and also have at least a guest appearance by Huan Ken, King of the Thunder Pagoda and the aforementioned Kung-Fu Pope, because Kung-Fu Pope. One model I've seen that I would love to try out someday, is to run it as a series of films, with each plot arch comprising said film. It would probably limit the full craziness you could pack in to the campaign, but surely I could have some spinoffs like Feng Shui: Banana Republic where everything is all Jammers all the time.

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Song of Ice and Fire RPG: Part 2

Game Premise

Adventure, War and Intrigue in George R.R. Martin's World of Westeros.

You are allied with one of the many noble houses of the Seven Kingdoms, drawn in by choice or against your will into the political intrigues and eventually, outright conflicts that will shape the world. There may be a tentative peace after the overthrowing of the incestuous Targaryens and the swearing of fealty to Robert Baratheon, but there are already murmurings of new conflicts taking shape. Remember, it doesn't matter whether your weapons are sword, coin, magic or word, when you play the game of thrones, either you win or you die.

Game Overview

So, last time we created an entire new House using the rules presented in Green Ronin's Song of Ice and Fire RPG: House Strongtooth, based in the Riverlands and the product of many years of leadership struggle and internal strife. Lord Holgar Strongtooth seeks specialists from far and wide to help increase his House's standing, with the help of his not inconsiderable personal fortune.

Now that we actually have Step 1 of character creation out of the way, let's get on with creating the actual character!

The Character

Step 1) House & Lands

Already done! House Strongtooth of Murthorpe, situated in the Riverlands. House words: To the Bitter End

Step 2) Character Concept

Now to determine who I am going to play. You're generally supposed to play either a member of the household or someone associated with them. I've outline a few possibilities in my last post, but I am going to settle of Brigardi Alesso, the half-Braavosi Steward, hired for his skill with managing the affairs of a noble household. He's the bastard son of one of the famed Iron Bankers and appears to have inherited his father's head for sums. He came to Westeros after the Baratheon uprising to seek his fortune, assuming that the new peace would leave many lords wanting to get their financial affairs in order, and was quickly snapped up by the ambitious Lord Strongtooth.

I have to pick my Age. Age is actually quite a significant stat, because it determines a whole bunch of other stats down the road, like how much XP you have to spend on abilities, how many flaws you have, how many fortune points and so on. Generally, the older you are the more abilities you have, but also more flaws. I think that Brigardi should be an Adult, but getting on towards Middle Aged. (which starts at 30 in the game). So I'm going to set his age at 27.

Next up is Starting Status. Status in this game is an ability that reflects your social standing among the nobility of Westeros and is used primarily in social conflicts. Like all abilities, it begins at a default of 2. I'm going to raise it to 3, which is the maximum status anyone of House Strongtooth can have as defined by it's Influence Resource. This is a bit annoying, because there's a table in this section that contradicts the maximum status section in the House Creation Guidelines. I'm going to stick with the guidelines here.

Next up is my Role. Roles don't really serve any purpose other than being a broad classification of your character's archetype and a way of ensuring there's a good spread of abilities among the party. I think Brigardi fits the Expert role quite nicely, specifically that of stewardship.

The final part of this step is Background, where you figure out your character's motivations, goals and defining traits. For Events, I'm going to pick the obvious, 'traveled across the narrow sea for a time'. Brigardi is a foreigner after all and has visited several of the islands. For Motivation, I'm going to pick Excellence. He takes a lot of pride in his work and wants the House to prosper, not out of any real loyalty but as a reflection of his skill. Finally, I'll define his Virtue as Wise (he's like Syrio Florel with less swords and more pocketbooks) and his Vice as Arrogant (He's the best there is at what he does and what he does is money). None of these have any mechanical effect, but they're good when thinking about how the character might act.

Step 3) Assign Abilities

In SoIaF RPG, skills and stats are kind of rolled into one thing called Abilities. Characters start with a 2 in all of them by default, meaning they roll 2 dice for everything (unless they have a flaw that reduces it to 1).

As an adult, I have 210 points to spend on abilities, with a maximum of 7 in any ability (only adults can reach that level, otherwise you're too inexperienced or too over the hill to be that good).

I have to start out by buying the Status I set for myself in step 2, which means I've already spent 10 of my points, 200 left. I want to have an awesome Cunning score, and later you'll see why. I'm going to sink 70 points into it, giving me a Cunning of 5, meaning Brigardi is in fact one of the most cunning folks in the world. My character should probably be able to speak the Common Tongue as well as Braavosi, so I'm going to spend 40 points so that he has Language (Common Tongue) 2 (experience costs for languages work a bit differently for normal skills). With my remaining 90 points, I'm going to spend 40 to give me a Knowledge 4 and 10 points each in Awareness, Deception, Persuasion, Will and Warfare, raising them all to 3 and making him generally shrewd, persuasive and knowledgeable in a number of areas, which any good steward should be.

Step 4) Assign Specialties

As I said in the last post, Bonus Dice allow you to roll extra dice, which aren't kept but give you a chance at a higher total. You get these primarily through your Specialties, areas of your abilities that you character is really good at. As an Adult, I have 80 points to spend in specialties, each 10 points giving you a bonus die. I'm going to start with spending 20 points in the Status specialty Stewardship, which seems pretty handy considering I'm a steward. I'm going to spend another 30 points in the Cunning specialty Memory. Brigardi is really good at recalling obscure facts and knowing obscure people, something his Lord has delighted in. What he can't recall from memory, he can use his 2 dice in the Knowledge specialty Research to figure out. Those final 10 points will go in the Deception specialty Bluff, because every steward needs to stall for their lord sometimes.

Step 5) Destiny Points and Drawbacks

In the SoIaF RPG, every character has Destiny Points. These serve two purposes. Firstly, in the game you may spend a point to get a minor bonus to rolls or alter the narrative of the story, or you may burn them, getting rid of them permanently for greater effect. The second use is to invest them in Benefits, which reflect special merits your character has or skills they posses, such as special maneuvers with an axe, a knighthood or even the powers of a Greenseer. As an adult, I start with 4 destiny points and may invest up to 4 in benefits.

I'm going to start by snatching up Head for Numbers. This benefit, with a prerequisite of a Status of 3 and at least 1 bonus die in stewardship, allows me to add my cunning rank to house fortune rolls and also re-roll a number of 1s equal to my bonus dice in stewardship when attempting to generate coin for the House.

The second one I pick will be Courteous, with a prerequisite of Persuasion 3. I get to add half my persuasion rank to deception tests (so, +1), and my full cunning to my passive deception whenever a target performs the Read Target maneuver during an intrigue, which would be them attempting to get a bonus against me by sussing out my motives.

I'm going to leave it there for now. Having a reserve of 2 Destiny Points seems handy.

Step 6) Flaws & Drawbacks

Every character of adult age or higher has at least one Drawback, some kind of mechanical penalty. In my case, I only have one, being an adult. I'm going to pick Flaw (Agility) , which gives me a -1 die penalty to agility tests. Brigardi may be smart, but he's certainly no Water Dancer.

Step 7) Starting Possessions

Firstly all characters get a set of clothes appropriate to their gender, some boots and a dagger. This next bit is actually pretty interesting, because I get to showcase the system to you. I roll a Status test, which determines the number of gold dragons my character has to buy equipment with, half of which I have to spend. Rolling my three in status, I get an 11.

Unfortunately there's not much to spend on in the book if you're not a warrior in need of some good armour and weapons. I'm going to start with a good Courtier's outfit, setting me back 100 Silver Stags (almost half a dragon).I'm going to grab a Myrish lens ( a piece of glass you can use to magnify writing, start fires and stuff) for another 20 stags, a far-eye (spyglass), that was a gift from his father for 300 stags. I still have some 4 dragons to spend, so I think I'll go with 'a whole lot of ink and parchment' to make the difference.

Step 8) Derived Statistics

Finally, we determine Brigardi's derived stats, similar to how it works in WoD.

First, there are his Intrigue Stats, the primary stats he will use in social interactions. His Intrigue Defense, the target number opponents need to beat if they want to persuade, intimidate or seduce him, is equal to the sum of his awareness, cunning and status, for a total of 11 (he gets a bonus to this when someone attempts the Read Target maneuver, remember). His Composure, which opponents wants to reduce to zero to achieve their goal of influencing him, is equal to his willx3, for a total of 9.

Now we have his Combat Stats which he will use in combat, an arena he is far less skilled at. His Combat Defense is equal to the sum of his agility, athletics and awareness, minus any armour penalties he may have (he has none), for a total of 7 (note, his flaw doesn't apply here, that only applies to tests when he is rolling agility). His Health (f this gets to zero, you are defeated) is equal to endurancex3, for a total of 6. Brigardi doesn't have an Armour Rating(which would reduce damage inflicted on him), because he only wears ordinary clothing and his Damage Rating for his dagger is equal to his agility-2 for a total of 1. He had best hope he not get in many fights.

The Finished Product

Brigardi Alesso

Adult Expert


Agility 1

Awareness 3

Cunning 5; Memory 3B

Deception 3 (+1 for bluff); Bluff 1B

Knowledge 4; Research 2B

Language (Common Tongue) 2

Status 3 (+5 for house fortune); Stewardship 2B

Persuasion 3

Warfare 3

Will 3


Destiny Points 2

Courteous, Head For Numbers


Intrigue Defense 11; Composure 12

Combat Defense 7; Armour rating 0

Health 6

Attack: Dagger; 2; 1 damage, defensive +1, offhand

How I'd Run It

This game I'd run pretty much straight. Have my group make a house, get them right bang in the middle of the War of Five Kings (although probably involved in some background action, or stuff could get weird), and hopefully rack up a body count to make George RR Martin proud. This is one game where you might get ahead for a bit, but no happy ending is guaranteed.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Song of Ice and Fire RPG: Part 1

Game Premise
Adventure, War and Intrigue in George R.R. Martin's World of Westeros

You are allied with one of the many noble houses of the Seven Kingdoms, drawn in by choice or against your will into the political intrigues and eventually outright conflicts that will shape the world. There may be a tentative peace after the overthrowing of the incestuous Targaryens and the swearing of fealty to Robert Baratheon, but there are already murmurings of new conflicts taking shape. Remember, it doesn't matter whether your weapons are sword, coin, magic or word, when you play the game of thrones, either you win or you die.

Game Overview
You are probably at least aware of George R.R.Martin's epic fantasy series Song of Ice and Fire, even if you haven't read it or watched the award-winning HBO series. Considering its popularity there is no surprise that there's a RPG for it - in fact there are two. The one I'm covering today is published by Green Ronin and uses its own system as opposed to the D20 variant produced by Guardians of Order (I don't have this one, nor do I feel the need for two SoIaF games, so you probably won't see me covering that one any time soon).

The SoIaF RPG uses a six-sided dice pool system, but instead of counting successes, it's about adding up the numbers. If I have 4 in athletics, for example, I roll 4d6, add up the total and there is my result. Degrees of success are also important. You get an extra degree of success for every 5 points by which you beat the total you're aiming for. This generally means you've achieved a greater success, done more damage, more persuasively convinced an opponent in your point of view, etc. The other major feature of this system is bonus dice. You roll bonus dice as part of your standard dice pool, but you don't get to keep them, instead keeping the best. So if I have 4 in athletics and 2 bonus dice in climbing, when I climb I would roll 6d6 and then keep the 4 highest dice.

As well as having a generally decent combat system, the SoIaF RPG has a fairly nifty social combat system and a mass combat system, both vital features for running a game of large scale diplomacy, intrigue and warfare between noble houses. But what I really love about this game is the House creation system itself, which allows you to build your own noble house randomly from scratch. It is this subsystem which I will be covering first, instead of the character creation system, for two reasons. Firstly, it is specified as the first step of character creation. Secondly, it is a delightful excuse to showcase this subsystem, one of my favourite in any roleplaying game. It's also almost completely random, which I'm quite excited about.

The Character
Step 1: The Realm
In this step, I determine which area of the Seven Kingdoms my House is located and by extension, which of the Lords my house owes fealty to. I roll 3d6 to determine this. Rolling an 8 means my House is located in the Riverlands, a fertile realm which unsurprisingly has a lot of rivers and streams. My House owes fealty to the Tullys.

Step 2: Starting Resources
Like a character, Houses have stats, which are known as resources. These represent how much the house can marshall in various areas and include Defense (defensive fortifications), Influence (Political influence), Lands (geographical size of holdings), Law (Stability and control of holdings), Population (how many people live in the holding), Power (military might) and Wealth (financial assets). To determine what these start as (as you soon see, these get modified out the wazoo), I roll 7d6 for each of them. I then apply my House Modifiers, so for example a House in the Vale gets a bonus to defense due to the terrain, but a penalty to law due to the bloodthirsty mountain clans. For my initial rolls, I get Defense 18, Influence 24, Lands 17, Law 20, Population 22, Power 23 and Wealth 32. After mods, that comes to Defense 13, Influence 19, Lands 23, Law 20, Population 32, Power 23 and Wealth 37. This isn't a bad start at all. Don't worry, I'll give some context for these numbers after the next step.

Step 3: House History
Now that I've determined the basic stats of my House, I have to determine how old my House is and what significant events happened between then and now (the War of the Five Kings). Each event modifies the stats, so they'll look quite different by the time we're done.

Rolling on the First Founding Table, I get a 3 meaning my House was founded roughly about the time of the Rhoynar invasion. Rolling on the same table, have determined that 6 significant events have happened to the House between then and now.

The first event I roll is Victory. I'm going to say that in ages past a mercenary captain lead a successful coup against his employer, founding the House Redmantle. This event gives me +5 to my defense, +1 to my influence and +3 to my power.

Event 2 is Doom. Balls. This one gives me -2d6 to all my resources. I decide that after a fairly long and happy life, the leader of the mercenaries passes away and a brutal leadership struggle ensues, right in the midst of a widespread crop blight on the cusp of winter. I get -5 to defense, -5 to influence, -1 to lands, -5 law, -3 population, -1 power and -4 to wealth. Lets hope things start to look up.

Next up we have Treachery. The ensuing struggle for succession lasts all throughout winter. Once a humble sergeant, Lord Waylor Strongtooth and his successors never quite manage to shirk the house's reputation for backstabbing. The event gives us -4 to influence and a -6 to law, but a +3 to power.

Following that is Decline, more bad news. Despite his best efforts, Lord Strongtooth can't do much as the house suffers from the long-term consequences of the run of bad luck the House endured. It doesn't get better for some time This event gives me a -3 to influence, a -5 to lands, -3 to power and -6 to wealth.

Next I get Glory. Finally, good news. Fast forward to Aegeon's conquest! Lord Wyven the Shrewd, sensing there's no point in opposing the invading Targaryen forces, signs up and opportunistically attacks several minor river lords. Not only do his forces achieve many great successes, he's rewarded once the River Lords swear fealty. This event gives me +5 to power, +5 to influence, +4 to law and +5 to power.

On my last roll I get another Glory! This time we'll have it happen during the Blackfyre rebellion, with House Strongtooth winning several important victories. This gives me +4 to power, +4 to influence, +6 to law and +2 to power.

Time to add all that up! As it stands, the Resources of House Strongtooth stand at Defense 13, Influence 17, Lands 17, Law 17, Population 28, Power 32 and Wealth 27. Like I said, they've fluctuated quite a bit. I've found in my experience you end up with lower scores than you began with, as there are some really terrible events situated at the centre of the bell curve. Unfortunately, there's nothing particularly extraordinary in terms of resources. In terms of notability I'm somewhere around the Glovers or Cleganes, but only when it comes to money and might. In terms of size, I'm more comparable to the Liddles.

Step 4) Holdings
Those resources aren't just abstract numbers. I actually get to spend them on stuff.
First, Defense Holdings. I only have a 13 defense, which is enough to get me a single Tower. This simple stone structure will be placed atop one of the hills in the region, overlooking the town I will (later) control

Influence Holdings has two uses. Firstly, you can spend it to give a bonus to your House Fortune roll, a roll you make every month which alters your resources based on the whims of good or bad fortune. It is also invested in your Heirs. At first I thought this meant the Lord could only have a number of kids limited by their influence scores, which is confusing because by that metric Lord Frey would be the most influential man in the Seven Kingdoms. Except it turned out what it meant is that you could only have a certain number of kids with a Status score of 3 or more (Status is one of your stats, which I'll cover in part 2). So basically, you can only have a certain number of important kids. Wit an Influence of 17, I can't afford a first-born son of any note, only a first born daughter (note, first born daughters cost the same as a first born son in Dorne, a little detail I like). As a side-note, my Influence score means all members of my House are limited to a Status score of 3 or less.

Land Holdings are the actual pieces of land my house controls. I really don't have much points here, and I'm going to go ahead and spend 10 on the biggest community I can afford, a hamlet, because otherwise I just have a poxy little tower and what good is that, amirite? Each holding also has to pick a basic Terrain Type, which in my case will be hills (Terrain types mostly affect travel time and mass combat). So, the hamlet of Murthorpe will be situated on some hills, which essentially take up all my points.

Law and Population don't really have any holdings, but they do both modify my Fortune rolls. A Law of 17 gives me -5 to my fortune rolls, while a Population of 28 gives me a +1, for a total of -4. Stupid heavily weighted Law score.

Now I get to pick my armed forces, who are my Power Holdings. The cost of a unit of soldiers is determined by their Unit Type and also their Training Level. Green troops are cheaper but more prone to fleeing in battle, while veteran troops are expensive but stand their ground. I'm going to start with two units of Veteran Cavalry for 20 points, descendants of the original forces way back from the coup that established the House. I'm then going to spend the remaining 12 points on Trained Raiders, light attack troops who sweep ahead of the cavalry, scout out enemy movements and draw back if met with stiff resistance.

Finally, I have 27 on Wealth Holdings. I don't want to spend all of this, because I want to keep some free during play to spend on things like gifts or tournaments. Sadly, my small holdings and poor Influence means the only thing I can purchase are Mines, which give my House a +5 on fortune rolls. I'm going to decide, just for the hell of it, that these are tin mines, because I can. Bitches love tin. I also have 17 free wealth, which could come in handy.

Step 5) Motto and Arms
Mechanics are done, now it's time to figure out the two things most folks in Westeros (or at least those educated in lordly matters) would know best about House Strongtooth, their motto and coat of arms.

The former should be something that reflects the House's history. I think I'll go with To the Bitter End, representing the history of hardship, determination and grim fortitude of House Strongtooth and its descendants.

The Coat of Arms is pretty awesome, because it's randomly generated! Sadly, I can't really show it here, but I'll do my best to describe it and if you approach me in person I'll do my best to draw it, promise. This post is long enough already, so I'm going to skip ahead to the finished arms. The Arms of House Strongtooth is a Silver tooth against five red chevrons pointed upwards on a black sable background. Each of the chevrons represents a Lord who died in the struggle that lead to the Strongtooth's assuming power, while the black is a symbol of the grim times the House endured.

Step 6) The Household
The final step is to outline the members of the household itself. Lord Holgar Strongtooth is an ambitious, cunning sort like his forebears. In an effort to boost the reputation and standing of the House, he has sent retainers far and wide to obtain individuals of great skill and value from all over Westeros. This includes their Steward, Brigardi Alesso, the bastard son of a Bravosi banker and Rogjar the Wide, a towering Northerner from the Neck who serves as the Castellan.

Tari Strongtooth is the already mentioned first daughter. Her father is hoping to wed her off the a nobleman of high standing, but she secretly has dreams of running away and visiting far-off lands, ironically being helped along by the foreign experts that her father brings to court. There are three more Strongheart children, his sons Gawyn and Alder and his other daughter Yiche. Their mother, Jessandra died giving birth to the latter child. I'm sorry about my lack of skill in regards to names.

The Finished Product

House Strongtooth of Murthorpe
Liege Lord: Hoster Tully of Riverrun

Defense 13: Duskwatch Tower (Tower 10)
Influence 17: Daughter (10), 3 expendable
Lands 17: Hamlet (Murthorpe)
Law 17: House Fortunes -5
Population 28: House Fortunes +1
Power 32: The Red and Black Outriders (2x Veteran Cavalry; 20 power; Automatic Disciple (0),), The Landsalt Brigades (2x Trained Raiders, 12 power; Challenging Discipline (9))
Wealth 27: Mine (10, +5 House Fortunes)

Total House Fortune Modifier: +1

The 'expendable' bit is how it's written in the book, I swear. Also, it's totally in character for the source material.

How I'd Run It
Since this is the first of a two part post, this won't be the actual 'how I'd run it' section, but rather how someone could use this house in a game. You're generally supposed to be members of the same Household or associated with each other in some way. I wanted to give players the chance to play any kind of character they imagined, thus Lord Holgar's outsourcing of talent to feed his ambitions. Characters could be Stalwart Northmen, Maesters of the Citadel, wily Dornish poisoners, barbaric Dothraki screamers or mysterious folk from the lands beyond Asshai.

Coming soon, part 2 of my special Song of Ice and fire RPG edition of Never See the Light of Play. We're going to use this house to create a character to enter the web of myriad schemes and see if he prospers or perhaps just becomes another casualty of the game of thrones.