The Wall: Rules Next Evolution

This post is one of a series describing the design of a prospective RPG called the Wall. You can find more posts here.

In the last Scene, the PCs were very restricted in what they could do because Harmony was at 0 and so they could not spend Sympathy. Given that the outcome of the Episode is a movement in Order, impacts like this seem out of place. By the same token, changes to these stats only once per Episode make sense for a long campaign, but not if you are only playing through two or three Episodes in total.

So the loss of Harmony is fine, but there also needs to be a way to improve it.

There also needs to be terms for these city stats. How about Threats for Distance, Disdain, and Discord and Conditions for Peace, Order, and Harmony. It’ll do for now.

“Medeival Town” by Antonio Ciero Reina

So, Conditions: what if, like Relationships, these could be wagered? What if they were a required wager to act? So, when the PCs interact with the Dispossessed, they are wagering Harmony. This could work. I think a range of 0-10 would be good, with a starting point of 5. Under 3 and the costs for using Relationship are doubled. Above 8 and Relationship wagered is paid back double (if one wagers 1 Sympathy and Prevails without Negotiation, it would pay off 2). At 0, one can’t wager Relationship. At 10, one does not need to pay Relationship to use Concept to shift a die.

The range allows for some play – as in a single failure, or ever a succession of failures, do not limit options.

I like this. So how would this have impacted the game so far?

In the first scenario, Beatris was dealing with the Dispossessed so the Condition effected would have been Harmony. In the example, it was dealing with Order because the Episode dealt with Order. Old rules. Now, it would be Harmony, meaning that the city’s Harmony would be 4. Further, it was a Negotiation. With a Prevail, the Condition increases by 1. With a Failure, the Condition decreases by 1. With a Negotiation, status quo, so that would not have effected Harmony.

In the second scenario, Adriss was dealing with the Elites, so this would have been Order. Adriss succeeded there, so Order would now be 6.

In the third scenario, Aelfgifu wanted to try to work through the Dispossessed, but the Condition would not allow it. Now it allows it.

What if Aelfgifu had worked through the Dispossessed. Could she have lowered Distance?

We’ll look at that next time.

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The Wall: Test Run Three

This post is one of a series describing the design of a prospective RPG called the Wall. You can find more posts here.

Okay, time for test number three. We didn’t actually provide an outcome for Test II. Let’s say that the rumours of Elite food hording has proved false, so the PCs decide it’s time to track down the Preacher who spouted these lies. Aelfgifu, the PC spy within the Occupiers, is eminently suited to that.

Our breakdown again is:
Episode: Food riots have begun in the Fifth Quarter, one of the middle class sections near the river. Order is threatened and the Company’s influence among the Elites is at stake.

Scene Goal: Find the Preacher

“Blonde Sword Outlaw” by katalinks

The players decide that Aelfgifu is going to use her contacts among the Dispossessed’s underworld to get information on this Preacher. This is a difficult way to go around it, but success will help to lower the Distance and make further interaction with the Dispossessed easier. Unfortunately, that means it needs to be at least Subtle if not Open, which does not play to Aelfgifu’s strengths. A success with Hidden would not shift the Distance, as no one would know that the Occupiers were involved.

Further, because Harmony is at 0, Aelgifu can’t wager Sympathy. There’s almost no way she can succeed without shifting a die. The players decide they will need another plan. Aelgifu has best relations with the Occupiers, so it’s time to see if any of her comrades at arms knows anything of this Preacher.

Aelfgifu is using Eyes, because this is going to involve careful planning and consideration. It’s going to be Subtle – Open is kind of the antithesis of spying and Hidden wouldn’t effect Discord should the PCs succeed. She is going to do this in uniform to get the die for Authority. Unseen really doesn’t work for this, so how about Careful? The PCs don’t want any warning to reach whomever is involved in this, so Aelgifu is going to be very careful with how she fashions her questions and inquiries. There’s no need to wager Respect, given that she only needs 1 Success to Prevail.

With her Eyes d4, Aelfgifu rolls a 2. That’s not a good start. Her Subtle d6 rolls a 4. That’s a Success. Her Authority d8 gets a 3, which doesn’t help, and her Careful d6 gets a 2. Only 1 Success. That’s all they need. Discord can’t drop any further. The Scene is a success, but there’s no mechanical changes.

The mechanics are working, but there’s something that’s got me thinking. We can talk about that next.

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The Wall: Rules Evolution

This post is one of a series describing the design of a prospective RPG called the Wall. You can find more posts here.

Sometimes, changes to rules occur not during their use, but in the contemplation that comes after. This time, I was thinking about the use of Fist and the effect it and the other two Tools have on the city.

As per the last set of rules, when a PC succeeds, the Difficulty resolved against (Distance, Disdain, or Discord) lowers by one. If the PC uses Fist, it increases by one.

“Captain Conversation” by Kostic Dusan

In the last example, Fist was used and because the PC Prevailed, there was no movement in Disdain – it increased by one because Fist was used but decreased by one because the PC Prevailed. But that is unsatisfying to me.

Fist is supposed to be the easiest way to get things done. Force, when you are an occupying military, is an easy option that works to solve problems, but only in the short term. It deals in symptoms, not core issues. Force should never alleviate the difficulty of working with a group.

But what about fear? Shouldn’t fear of what the Occupiers could do make the locals more compliant? This is true. Fear and brutality have been used to maintain order for extended periods of time.

So, how about this. When one succeeds in a resolution, the Difficulty of the faction one is resolving against lowers by 1 – so if one succeeds against the Elite, Disdain drops by 1.
However, none of this is true if one is using Hidden. If one succeeds in using Hidden, no one knows it was the PC or even the Occupiers who did it, so no benefit is accrued.

If one fails when using Eyes or Heart, Difficulty does not shift.

If one fails when using Fist, the Difficulty increases by 1. Further, if one was using Open, Peace decreases by 1 while if one was using Subtle, Harmony decreases by 1.

If one is using Fist, whether the PC fails or Prevails, the Relationship with the faction drops by one, so if the resolution is with the Elite, Influence would drop by 1, even when the PC Prevails. This is in addition to any Relationship the player wagers.

Fist has the greatest chance of success but also carries the greatest risk.

I like this . . . for now. Let’s see what happens with the next test.

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The Wall: Test Run Two

This post is one of a series describing the design of a prospective RPG called the Wall. You can find more posts here.

Here we are with the second test scenario. This example is useful as you can see how the rules evolve as roadblocks are hit or outcomes don’t make sense. There are character sheets at the end of this that are built using the new rules.

“CrouchingWarrior” by Volodymyr Khodaryev

As mentioned last time, an Episode is basically a single adventure, set to be run in one or two sessions. It can be part of a larger campaign, but should have a beginning and an end.

Episode: Food riots have begun in the Fifth Quarter, one of the middle class sections near the river. Order is threatened and the Company’s influence among the Elites is at stake.

Each Scene within an Episode has a goal. The first Scene sets the stage and puts things in motion. The GM might have other Scenes prepared, but these will also grow organically through PC actions. This Scene is one that is directed by the PCs. After learning in the last scene that the latest riot was started by a preacher saying the Elites are hording food, the PCs have a discussion and decide that they want to find out if this is true. Since Adriss (PC2) was the main proponent, he’s the one that is leading this scene.

Scene Goal: Find out if the Elites really are hording food

Adriss is going to speak to the Master of the Docks, the head bureaucrat responsible for the city’s emergency food stores. He has 2 in Sympathy, so that is going to be the “difficulty” (Sympathy is the difficulty because the Elite do not respect an Occupier who has sympathy for the Dispossessed) – he’ll need 2 Successes to Prevail. Adriss isn’t going to mess around – he’s basically going in with accusations. That’s the Fist and Open. He’s in uniform, so since he’s doing this Open, he’ll get his Authority die as well. His Elements include “1000 Mile Stare,” which tends to freak people out, so he’ll get the d6 for that. He’s using his Bitter Veteran Concept to intimidate the Master of the Docks, and so he can wager 1 Influence (he’s dealing with the Elite) to shift his Element d6 to a d8.

He rolls a 5 on his Fist d8, a 2 on his Open d4, an 8 on his Authority d8, and a 3 on his Element d8. He gets another d8 because his Authority d8 rolled a maximum (rolling the max on a die provides another die of the same kind), and with that d8 he rolls a 5.

Adriss got three Successes, more than he needed to Prevail, but not enough for any kind of bonus. Since he Prevailed, the 1 Influence he wagered remains with Influence. However, he used Fist, so Distance is increased.

How does this work? He was dealing with Elites, so why does Distance increase? It is an abstract of the cultural distance from and fear of the locals for the Occupiers. But then shouldn’t the score that provides the relationship with the Elites also suffer? It seems counterintuitive that the use of force – physical or interpersonal – would increase an Occupier’s sympathy for the Dispossessed.

This is a problem with the use of these relationship mechanics. The abstract is that Fist is the easiest way to succeed but that it always carries a cost. It makes sense that the cost would be a further gulf between the Occupiers and the occupied, but there’s no single stat for that. Maybe there should be.

Right now, the city has three of its own stats: Peace, Order, and Harmony. Let’s try making the difficulty ratings part of the city’s stats. Let’s call these Distance, Disdain, and Discord. These will measure the difficulty of gaining the cooperation of the Dispossessed, the Elite, and the Occupiers. PCs will have Sympathy, Influence, and Respect, which will help in dealing with the Dispossessed, Elite, and Occupiers.

At the beginning of the game, Distance is 5, Disdain is 3, and Discord is 1. When one uses Fist, the difficulty for the group interacted with increases by 1, so in this example, Disdain would have increased by 1. When Fist is used Open, the Peace or Harmony (whichever is higher) is lowered by 1 as well.

Let’s take these new rules and try them out with Beatris’ previous scene. In that case – assuming it was the first Episode and Scene, so these were new characters – the difficulty would have been 5. She got 2 Successes, which was still within 1/3 of the difficulty, so it would still have been a Negotiation. Negotiation would not allow the PCs to lower the city’s Distance, so it would still be at 5.

Adriss’ scene, on the other hand, would now have a difficulty of 3. He would still Prevail. While Disdain should lower by 1 because of the PC Prevailed in the scene, he also used Fist, which increases it by 1, so Disdain remains at 3.

That seems to work. We’ll move forward with these. For these new stats – Sympathy, Influence, and Respect – at character creation, the player will have a score of 3, 2, and 1 to assign to these. Beatris’ scene probably would have been a failure as she would likely not have been willing to lose 2 out of her 3 Sympathy. Unless there was a way these could be gained? Or could they recycle at the end of an episode? That might be the best. It’s simple and we can look at changing that later if the rest of the mechanics prove sound.

Okay, so let’s say the city’s Peace, Order, and Harmony are all 1 at introduction. The use of Fist and Open disturbs either the Peace or the Harmony. Let’s go with Harmony, since Adris didn’t actually physically do anything. That means Harmony is now at 0 and until it is increased, the PCs can’t wager Sympathy, meaning that interactions with the Dispossessed are going to prove difficult.

 

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The Wall: Test Run Number One

This post is one of a series describing the design of a prospective RPG called the Wall. You can find more posts here.

This records my first test run with the Wall rules. This is basically a thought experiment, running through the rules to see if they work in a basic sense. I do this as an example of play, which helps me get a grip on how the rules interact before I actually bring it to a table.

As mentioned in the rules rundown, an Episode is basically a single adventure, set to be run in one or two sessions. It can be part of a larger campaign, but should have a beginning and an end. Each Episode indicates what is at stake, and while this is provided narratively, it has mechanical repercussions.

“Golden Merc” by igorigorevich

For the test sessions, we’re going with:
Food riots have begun in the Fifth Quarter, one of the middle class sections near the river. Order is threatened and the Company’s influence among the Elites is at stake.

So, at the end of this Episode, the PCs will either have improved or degraded the city’s Order and their Influence with the Elite.

Each Episode is broken into Scenes. For the first test, that Scene’s goal will be: Gain a basic knowledge of how the riot started.

The decision is to canvas the area in uniform and try to get answers. Here is the character sheet for PC1. We’re going to call her Beatris.

Beatris is leading this as she has the least Distance and the highest Sympathy. Her Distance is 3, meaning she needs three successes to prevail. This is Heart which is a d6 and Open, which for Beatris is d6. The player decides that Beatris is going to be Subtle about this, so that’s a d4. Authority provides a d8 as a free die when wearing ones uniform, but that also requires one to be acting Open or Subtle – Hidden is actually trying to avoid anyone knowing the Occupiers are involved so Authority doesn’t work with that. The player wants that free d8, so the PCs are acting in uniform.

Beatris has the Element of Persuasion so that gives her another d6. Since she can apply her Concept of Good Cop, she can wager Sympathy (dealing with Dispossessed) to shift one die up or down. She shifts her Heart d6 to a d4, wagering 1 Sympathy. That Sympathy is lost if she fails but she retains it if she Prevails.

Any 4 or above is a Success, so with higher dice, it’s easier to get a Success. However, rolling the max on a die (4 on a d4, 8 on a d8) allows another die of the same kind, which means if you are trying to hit a large number of Successes, it’s sometimes better to have a d4. Also, rolling a 1 with a die shifted by the use of Concept (as below) is a failure but allows another die of the same type, meaning that d4s can be really useful, especially when shifting dice.

She rolls a 2 on her Heart d4, a 1 on her Subtle d4 (not the one shifted by Concept, so not a re-roll), a 5 on her Element d6, and a 5 on her Authority d8. That is a failure, but it is a negotiable failure. When the PC attains at least 1/3 of the necessary Successes (rounded down) needed to Prevail, it’s a “Negotiation.” If Beatris both pays another Sympathy and adds some kind of narrative problem for her character, she can Prevail.

What happens to the Sympathy? She is dealing with the Dispossessed, so it goes to Distance. She had wagered one and then paid one, so her Sympathy drops 2 and her Distance increases to 5. This is dealing with Order, so she can drop Order by 1 and her Distance will only increase by 1.

What does it matter that Order drops? If Order drops to 0, PCs cannot wager Influence. If Harmony drops to 0, they cannot wager Sympathy, and if Peace drops to 0, they cannot wager Distance. If these are 4 or above, they provide a bonus d6 and if they are above 7, they provide a bonus d8 when dealing with a specific Faction: Order for the Elites, Harmony for the Dispossessed, and Peace for the Occupiers.

Beatris’ player says that now she owes an NPC a favour. Estarda who owns a coffee house, was the one who gave her the information. Estarda said that the riot started after a Preacher delivered a pretty extreme sermon about the evils of the Elites and claimed they were hording food.

This whole process takes place before the scene, and then the GM and players narrate the scene, adding details.

So far, so good. The rules seem to be okay. Next time, we’ll try another.

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The Wall: First Set Basic Rules

This post is one of a series describing the design of a prospective RPG called the Wall. You can find more posts here.

Let’s start with the characters. Here’s PC1:

For resolution, dice are provide from Tools and Approaches. Only one Tool and one Approach can be used. A character always uses a Tool and an Approach. The character cannot avoid these – they are necessary mechanical explanations of how the character is addressing resolution.

(I’m not saying conflict resolution because it’s not necessarily conflict. It’s situational. Each scene has a single resolution, so I’m seeking a better term. For now, I’m just calling it resolution)

“FemaleWarrior” by zoomteam

Concept is a general description of the character’s role in the story. If the character’s conflict applies, the player can shift one die being used in resolution either down or up (so a d6 can become a d4 or a d8)

Tools: This relates to the character is addressing the problem. What format is the character using? Fist relates to using force, either physical, political, or interpersonal. It’s basically compelling someone to do something. Eyes relates to planning and manipulation of outside forces (though not manipulation of the party involved in the resolution). Heart uses charm and persuasion (this would be manipulating a party involved in the resolution)

Approaches: This relates to how the character is applying the Tool. Open is overt, in the open. Those parties not involved in the resolution will know this is happening. Subtle isn’t in the open, but it’s also not trying to hide that this is being done. If someone is not watching carefully or is not part of the resolution, they might not know this is happening. Hidden means that the character is trying to covertly effect the situation. If successful, not even other parties in the resolution will know the characters is involved.

Additions aren’t always used in resolution. If the characters are wearing their uniforms, they gain the Authority die for free. One Element can be used in resolution if the player can explain how it applies.

Relationships score the character’s relationship with the locals and provide difficulty ratings for resolution. Distance is the general cultural distance between the Occupiers (the PCs, who are part of an occupying force), Sympathy is the relationship the PC has with the Dispossessed – the have-nots in the setting, and Influence is the relationship with the Elite – those locals who rule the city for the Occupiers’ master.

The city also has a character sheet of sorts. The city has scores for Peace, Order, and Harmony, and these can affect how the PCs can resolve situations.

How all these are used and interact will be illustrated in the first test scenario, which I’ll post next.

Each session (or perhaps couple of sessions) is an Episode. Think of this kind of like a “module” or “adventure.” It’s a self-encapsulated story that can be part of a wider campaign but has a beginning and an end. Each Episode indicates what is at stake, and while this is provided narratively, it has mechanical repercussions.

For the test sessions, we’re going with:
Food riots have begun in the Fifth Quarter, one of the middle class sections near the river. Order is threatened and the Company’s influence among the Elites is at stake.

So, at the end of this Episode, the PCs will either have improved or degraded the city’s Order and their Influence with the Elite.

Each Episode is broken into Scenes. For the first test, that Scene’s goal will be: Gain a basic knowledge of how the riot started.

Using that goal, the players will give specifics to the Scene, then complete resolution, and knowing the result, will provide the narrative for how the Scene unfolds.

Those are the basic rules right now. These will evolve and change as the examples of play outline strengths, weaknesses, and limitations.

Next, let’s see how these rules might work in an example of play.

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The Wall: In the Beginning

“Knight looking at dead assassin” by Vladimirs Poplavskis

I made a post on G+ last week about a new idea for a game. Then it was called the Bridge, and that was based on what I thought would be the setting. In the entire day since that post, I have removed it from its setting – which was not actually important to the concept – and now I’m calling it the Wall. Why? In the game, the PCs are Occupiers – they are foreign troops garrisoning a city on behalf of a distant monarch. They are the wall protecting the city and the wall separating the Dispossessed in the city from the Elite. The monarch needs the cooperation of the Elite to run the city and the Dispossessed to work in the city. There’s also internal conflicts within the Occupiers, given that they are not a heterogeneous group.

The city might be part of a collection of territories or it might be the only city held by the foreign monarch – it might be the Spanish Netherlands or it might be Calais in 1557 – but that is something each group will decide for itself.

Here’s what I wrote in my G+ post:

You are foreign mercenaries stationed in a fortress that spans a river separating the homes of the elite and the places of governance from the poor and dispossessed. You are charged with keeping order and protecting the city.

Each session is an episode and the problem needs to be solved within the timeframe of that episode. You can use the Fist, the Heart, or the Brain. There is Distance (the cultural distance between you and the locals), Sympathy (the amount of sympathy you have for the Dispossessed) and Influence (your influence with the Elite).

Using the Fist creates Distance and burns Sympathy and Influence and makes it that much harder to succeed next time, but while using the Heart or the Brain might increase your Sympathy or Influence, that is going to make getting cooperation out of your fellow mercenaries that much harder. You might find yourself separated from all three.

Needs a lot more work, but so far the idea intrigues me. Inspiration: Spanish occupation of the Netherlands in the 17th century.

Some of that remains, its core, but some of it has changed. I’ve started doing scenarios which I’ll share here as the game evolves. They are like examples of play, but starting out very abstract (kind of ignoring the narrative to focus on the mechanical) and moving into more fleshed out as the system coalesces.

So, expect to see more as inspiration hits, but I don’t think I’ll have much time to work on this, with the Sword’s Edge RPG still evolving, Lawless Heaven and the Nor’Westers being written, and a super-secret project about which I cannot yet speak.

And I’m continuing my Master’s program.

Oh, and I have a family and a house.

Did I mention I have a day job?

Yes, it is cray-cray.

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