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.


  1. This seems a really amazing subsystem, I'd be interested to see how much of this is generated from the system itself and how much is detailed by your investment in the creation process. Reminds me a lot of the enormously fun Reign character creation system. It seems a really amazing, fun, and balanced world creation system, I'm really enthused about the game and haven't even read/seen Game of Thrones yet. Damn you Finn for making me want to play something I can't afford to get *shakes fist*


  2. Pretty much all of this is system generated with the exception of event specifics (so, Decline was generated by the system, what it meant I made up) and the names of everything.