The Incredible Sound of Hulk Music

I’m introducing some co-workers to the joys of role-playing. They have never played an RPG before, but have heard of D&D. At our Christmas Party, my hobby was brought up and when I explained it, there was sincere interest, so I offered to run a game at lunch in the New Year. I’m going to use my updated Sword’s Edge RPG even more streamlined than usual (I’m removing Background as an Aspect, which means there will just be fewer things for them to think about when acting).

I asked about their favourite movies, and then corrected myself and asked in which intellectual they would most like to be a hero. I got the Sound of Music and the Incredible Hulk.

Maybe a little prettier than Aaron Eckhart in I. Frankenstein.

My plan is to set it the game in 1938 Austria, as in the movie, but this is not exactly our world. There is super-science in this one. And the family are the ancestors of Victor Frankenstein’s mentor at the University of Ingolstadt. The colleague who wanted to be the Hulk is going to the eldest son in the family who was very sickly and might have died as a child, but his mother uncovered her ancestor’s research and science to save him. Now when he rages, he becomes more powerful, but loses most of his faculties.

My other colleague was thinking of playing a nun, but perhaps one who has spiritual powers and is able to communicate if not control the son when he is in his monstrous form. The Nazis are still seeking the father, or maybe the son, but now there is also the suspicion that the family is hiding secrets – which it absolutely is. The connection to Frankenstein’s mentor might be revealed as the Nazis seek weapons to use in the expected coming war.

We’ll see how this all plays out, but I’m excited both to explore this story and introduce new people to RPGs.

The Wall: Rules Developing

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

In writing the text for the actual game, I came across a further problem with the rules as they existed. There is a carrot and a stick in regards to Fist: it is the easiest to succeed with, but failure has heavier penalties than the other Tools. Also, while d4 is more likely than the other dice to provide a re-roll, the likelihood of success is so much lower that this is not an advantage, so presently Eyes is the most difficult Tool to use. That should be Heart – as careful planning may not work as well as force, but it is generally a better approach than just persuasion.

“MedievalStreet” by Nickolay Khoroshkov

So, the dice for each need to be changed (the easiest change) and each should have an advantage and/or a disadvantage commiserate to the ease of use.

In the first place, Fist will remain d8, but Eyes will be d6, and Heart will be d4.

Fist already has an advantage (likelihood of success) along with a disadvantage (both an increase to the Threat and the degradation of a Condition on failure).

So, right now, Eyes isn’t as useful as Fist, but is certainly more useful than Heart and it doesn’t carry a disadvantage. I think that works. That balances it.

In order for Heart to be attractive – being the most difficult to gain a Success – it needs an advantage. Let’s have Heart provide a free Sympathy to spend (which is useful only with the Dispossessed) and when a PC Prevails (even with a Negotiation), Distance decreases by 1. This makes Heart extremely useful when interacting with the Dispossessed, and even provides a bonus when used with other Factions, given the impact on Threats.

It think that works. I like that Heart now becomes the best Tool to use with the Dispossessed but is not particularly useful with the Elite or the Occupiers, which to me is pretty much correct.

The Wall: Test Run Four

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

“Duellist” by Arkadiy Pavlov

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.

Character and City Stats
Character and City Stats

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.

“Warrior” by Evgeniya Litovchenko

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?

Character Stats
Character Stats

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.

This is how it ends up
This is how it ends up