This post is one of a series describing the design of a prospective RPG called the Wall. You can find more posts here.
This is a return to test number three. The rumours of Elite food hording has proved false, so the PCs decided it was 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
In test number three, the players decided that Aelfgifu was going to use her contacts among the Dispossessed’s underworld to get information on this Preacher, but then because there was no way to wager Sympathy, realized it was pretty much impossible.
The change to the rules governing Conditions makes it possible for the PCs to spend Sympathy to affect the outcome. The will be 5, but let’s see how this scenario plays out. Part of the plan is to Prevail and thereby lower the Distance, making further interactions 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.
So, Aelfgifu is using Eyes, because this is going to involve careful planning and consideration. It’s going to be Subtle – Openly is kind of the antithesis of spying and Hidden wouldn’t help to lower the Distance. She is going to do this in uniform to get the die for Authority, and because she knows how fraught relations with the Dispossessed are, she’s going to be Careful. Finally, she’s wagering Sympathy because she really needs the successes. She wagers 2 Sympathy, 1 to use Spy to shift the Subtle die to d8 (d4 would allow more re-rolls, but d8 has a greater chance of Success), and the other to shift her Elements die also to d8. That leaves her with a d4 and three d8. Her only chance of success is hitting maximum number and getting re-rolls.
Maybe Relationships can also be used for free re-rolls? I think that makes sense. Wagering 2 still leaves Aelfgifu with a Sympathy she can use to get a free re-roll. I don’t think the amount of Relationships are high enough to unbalance resolution, but let’s see.
With her d4, Aelfgifu rolls a 2. This is not looking good. For her shifted Approach d8 she gets a 2. Oh no. For her two other d8s, she gets a 7 and an 8. That allows one more d8, which is a 5. That’s three successes. This would allow a Negotiation. She only has 1 Sympathy held back, so that’s not enough re-rolls to get the job done.
I’ve run this scenario ten times without success. Hitting five Successes when outside one’s niche is going to be very, very rare. What if she were using Hidden? It wouldn’t help in the future, but out of interest I tried it. It’s 2d4 and 2d8, which honestly doesn’t look as good as 1d4 and 3d8. And my hunch was correct, because it didn’t work out.
What about sharing Relationship to allow for more re-rolls and shifts? There’s really no other method of “helping” or “aiding” another PC. The system is really designed for that. Since this is a group, sharing Relationship might be possible. Maybe at a cost of 2 to 1? This might seem like I am trying really hard to make this particular scene work, but it is more a consideration of the 5 Difficulty. It should be possible to Prevail against 5 – since that is what Distance is initially set at – but not easily. Aelfgifu actually did really well with her rolls, so there should be a resource-based method for helping out. Sharing Relationship seems like a good way for that.
The sharing will need to be logically explained – how the character is helping – and that needs to be part of the narrative for the scene.
Unfortunately, nobody has 2 Relationship. Combining everyone’s seems a bridge too far to me – why not just have group Relationships if that is the case? And the point of it is that players can decide how their character approaches the factions – where do they make contacts and connections? So I’m not going to have combined Relationship. Since no one has 2 Sympathy to share, this is left at a Negotiation.
We know there is a way Aelfgifu’s player can make this work, just not with the Dispossessed. So what about Beatris? She was left with only 1 Sympathy after the first Scene, but let’s say she’s coming at this fresh. She had 3 Sympathy, could she pull it off?
Beatris would have the advantage of being able to go Open for the d6 which she could then use her Good Cop Concept to shift to a d8. She’s going to use Heart as well, which fits her character, and shift it to a d8 with another Sympathy. She’s going in uniform for Authority and finally she is using her Persuasion for another d6, which she will use her last Sympathy to shift to a d8. She is now looking at 4d8 and with Aelfgifu’s 2 Sympathy, there’s a re-roll if necessary.
Out of ten attempts, none succeeded. That’s important. That tells me that a Difficulty of 5 is too high. It tells me that even 4 is pretty hard (three times out of ten), but 3 is attainable. Aelfgifu could have Prevailed with three, and Beatris could totally have done so without burning all her resources.
This test taught me that the mechanics work pretty well, that there needs to be a way to assist, that I am comfortable with sharing Relationships as the method this happens, and that Threat should begin no higher than 3.
So at the introduction of a campaign, the Threats need to be set at 3 Distance, 2 Disdain, and 1 Discord. That makes sense to me.
With this, Aelfgifu’s attempt would have succeeded, and the Distance would have lowered to 2 while Harmony would have increased to 6. It cost her, but she succeeded while playing only slightly outside of her niche.
Things are cooking now.