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Quest against the Darkmaster (PbP)

"Pray do not render the treasured skills of dwarfkind to any who you cannot trust to make wise and good use of them.  If there are such in the town now, we should go forth and question them - are there any in this room now!"

as Leofred makes his declaration Gyantwaka will be scanning the crowd - particularly any non-dwarfs - for suspicious behaviour and moving his left hand towards where his bow leans

Gyantwaka make a Challenging (-10) Perception roll.

Ultan will similarly make sure his left hand is upon his staff (casting bonus, he would have to starting chanting as part of preparing a spell which would be obvious - as long as that is so in this setting he won't).

I think this works in the setting. All good. I'm still of the persuasion that magic in baseline VsD is pervasive enough that people know of it, they might not like it, they might mistrust users of it, but alternatively they quite often simply are awed by it.

About Orcs

Specifics concerning the origin of the Orcs, as with all the Kins, is lost to antiquity. Most likely, they are just one more branch of the shared ancestral people whence all the Kins originate. Yet there are tales of Elves being captured by the first Darkmaster of the Land and "bent" and twisted into Orcs, in this way "made for evil."

If the Orcs have an evil origin, i.e., if their souls were "bent" to evil just as their bodies were twisted from their original lines, then it would seem that, with time, the Orcs have "untwisted that knot" so that they don't seem to have any more of a propensity for evil than any other Kin.

If this is the case, then this may explain the rumors of the current Black Smith of Hell capturing Elves and forging them again into Orcs. Perhaps the conditioning holds tightest after whatever outrages the Black Smith commits on that Elven flesh, and he is making fully evil Orcs anew.

Half-orcs originate, as Half-elves, through the commingling of Orcs with other Kins. [I have to notice that VsD doesn't have Half-trolls or Half-dwarves (the Umli) of MERP. Too much, do you think?]

Gyantwaka scans the crowd and scents for un-dwarflike aromas (scent being part of his kin's abilities), successfully spotting if anything awry.

  • d100 = 90 + Skill 80 - 10 Challenging = Result 160, success.

[Re VsD, well they are coming out with a bestiary we'll see what they include.  Though I'm not sure about "half-everythings" myself.  Half-orcs make sense if orcs are transformed elves since you can have half-elves. And yes a reason for a 'fresh batch' makes sense, loyalists/suicidal loyalists.  I'm also fine with spell casting being noticeable and at best trying it without some constituents elements making it obvious requiring an Arcana roll to avoid a penalty on the spell casting, the more elements subtracted more challenging the Arcana roll.]

[The Arcana roll idea coming from two places.  One is in discord where Max has indicated minor alterations to spells done using Arcana checks, the other is from games I have run where spellcasting required bold gestures, strong voice etc. and each element missing made it harder - and more likely to go awry - to the point a gagged and bound spellcaster could in theory cast a spell but it was probably more dangerous to them than whatever a captor had planned.  This stemmed from underlying nature of magic as an act of will and everything else was really a psychosomatic prop]

Gyantwaka catches a non-dwarf scent lingering somewhere on the patio, under the open stars. He catches it on a breath of wind from one of the shadowy corners. He sees, seated at a table with a single, shaded lantern, many tall, lithe forms who are draped in well-woven travel cloaks. Drinks and receptacles of food are on the table before them. Every figure has a hood pulled up over his or her head and features.

At the exact same time that Gyantwaka narrows his gaze on these people, another errant breath of wind swirls down from the sky. It is a foul smell, the smell of danger!

His keen ears detect the sudden piercing of the air; a dart flies out of the starry sky right for Leofred!

Attack roll against Leofred before Leofred's DEF is 174.

[Regarding spell casting, ah, I see what you're after now. VsD seems to confirm the way I always played MERP (which, to my knowledge, did not have the three spell components of D&D): "The caster must also be able to see their target and clearly pronounce the magic words of the Spell ... " p. 129. So... I would agree with you; I expect an Arcana roll would be required to successfully cast a spell without "clearly pronouncing the words," e.g., muttered quietly under one's breath or something.]

As DEF is not a roll, alas Leofred's bonus from superior success is not here.  He is not using his shield and has no Swi bonus, though he is in his breastplate.

  • So unless he is not surprised and can duck using the table as cover for a penalty and or snatch up his shield beside him, the result is a Lethal 30 hp damage (with +50 on critical table) missile strike against Medium Armour.
  • If he was not surprised movement precedes ranged attacks and he would have ducked under table for substantial cover bonus (full cover from overhead for +50 to Def).

Does Gyantwaka's check allow, or can Leofred himself make a Perception check to not be "surprised/ambushed"?  Similarly Ultan with respect to the spell he "had in mind" though not prepared.  Both were of a mind something might happen.  In short who all can declare actions in this round?

Distance to the table of 'danger source' and given his superior vision in low light, does Gyantwaka see source/distance to source of the attack (presumably this is within no penalty range of whatever missile weapon was used)?  Ultan (for that matter all the dwarfs) also has superior night vision etc.

[At the very least the proof of his words is now offered]

Hmm. Time for my RPG Philosophy!

I actually didn't take the +20 bonus for Leofred being surprised. BUT I did accumulate a +40 bonus for Aiming a good long time during that speech (and I gave another little bonus that I might disclose should we talk about this again later).

As far as I can tell, VsD doesn't detail any hard "ambush" rules. Instead it seems that Surprise results from a GM ruling.

But how does a PC avoid Surprise? With a Perception roll, of course!

"So I make a Perception roll," says a player.

Which leads us to game practice. Personally, I despise the ol' "give me a Perception roll" every, single, time that something is about to/"might" happen. So I try to run my games with an assumption that Perception rolls are decided and directed activities by the PCs triggered by an announcement.

So how do we account for the kind of character that is just kind of always aware, has a kind of sixth sense, has an uncanny connection to his/her surroundings, like Gyantwaka, perhaps? Is there a Background Option for this sort of thing? If not, perhaps I should write one.

Otherwise, we figure out something that is like Passive Perception in 5e, leave it like I have done here with Perception being a directed activity only, or give in to the metagame and, just before an ambush, make opposed rolls, NPC Stealth vs. PC Perception.

What are your RPG Philosophy thoughts on this topic?

In short who all can declare actions in this round?

If we leave it as narrated (and to be clear, I'm guessing that neither of us have any real stake in the outcome here; but we are exploring this game mechanically and philosophically), then no one has an action this round except for the unknown firer of the weapon. Immediately after that single attack is resolved, it will be a new round, an official "first round" following the surprise round (again, for which I have not taken a +20, but I'm just one point away from a max roll anyway <smile>).

Well let's see, first as long as it works this way when Gyantwaka (who is basically a Stealth/Perception/Ranged shot guy with a few things on the side) creeps up to edge of assembly of orcs and takes his +40 shot at the leader making his grand speech and likewise Ultran releases his most potent magic same way (having cast Invisibility), them having time it, and then '1st round happens', I'm somewhat fussed but not catastrophically so, though I don't think we're really playing VsD at that point.

  • Overall I would have preferred something in the rules which could have included surprised or rear bonus etc., but obtained in accordance with rules which yes involve Perception checks though these are 'individual' so Leofred more likely flat-footed than Gyantwaka.  The straight rules give enough chances of death and maiming without fiddling them (the "rabbit rolled 100 on the critical table").
  • I don't think the rules give a "free round attack" in surprise unless the other side all fail their Assessment rolls - which is important as games with "surprise rounds" can give a lucky surpriser two attacks before other side (surprise and regular attack if first) whereas VsD says that that's only going to happen if the target side is slow to react etc. (poor Assessments). E.G., if they make Assessment rolls Gyantwaka gets a Ranged B shot and possibly Ultan gets a Spell Phase B, etc., and in any event at least G. who makes his roll gets to make free talk declarations.
  • VsD rules say there is no "automatic ambush" just perhaps "good odds of one", what the Perception check in Assessment phase is for (+0 Difficulty is standard for detecting an ambush though yes, as you suggest, one could go with Conflicting action of Stealth vs Perception which I think is appropriate otherwise some characters never get surprised without a 01-05 roll, even by someone super stealthy). The closest you get is if someone has the Invisibility spell cast on them (which Ultan will get if he survives long enough, though even that should not proof against scent or an "Insane" Perception check result for example).  Part of Gyantwaka's "thing" with his high Perception is "he's not likely to be surprised" and he helps his group avoid ambushes etc (part of what he 'brings to the table', so fiat ambushes undermine his value), except perhaps by something/one very stealthy. I don't think a "GM fiat surprise" is really appropriate in any system though "Stealth with bonus for xxx  vs your Perception with penalty of xxx" is fine - I think VsD rules decided not to get complicated with all those potential modifiers (Ultan and Gyantwaka bonus for looking around, Leofred bonus vs something in crowd he is focusing on, penalty otherwise, Gwenhild penalty for being absorbed in Leofred's speech etc.).
  • Just on "conflicting actions", I would see the 'Standard 0 difficulty" check is surprise by "the bandits hidden in woods" (where we're not going to make stealth rolls for each of 8 common bandits) whereas conflicting actions would be surprise by the solitary lurking creature (if it's a group the least stealthy in group represents its chance).
  • In this case it also means not being spotted by any of the dwarfs present happening to look up etc. unless they are 'furniture' as really that means, a dwarf - like Gyantwaka and Ultran can see 30 m in dim light and that is the base range or more of all missile weapons but long bows (assuming the ranged attack didn't suffer a penalty for being from beyond base range). Depending on night and weather it's not really 'darkness' "up wherever the attacker is", though of course they could have invisibility or something helping them - if there's natural moonlight or starlight Ultran sees as if it was day and someone hovering 4 rounds to aim etc. would have to have been able to do that 'in daylight'.
  • A room full of dwarves can be declared 'talking furniture' and not make such checks if desired, though I admit I've never liked treating NPCs as furniture (everyone is the hero of their own story).
  • Aiming bonus is fine, though the issue is "not being spotted for all that time", whether that is one Perception check to spot or one each round a GM call where either fine as long as its consistent.  Again, presumably Gyantwaka made his check as his outcome was a success up to Heroic Difficulty, which presumably denies an aiming bonus as none of fellowship is standing still for long after that.  If a character can be looking around for trouble and make a successful roll and still be surprised, well....

By comparison, the game I have been playing/running "Fate Accelerated" also has no surprise round, quoting,

Surprising someone means taking unexpected action, such as striking from concealment. There is no ‘surprised aspect’ on an NPC or PC who is targeted by such action, rather the acting party tries to take advantage of a ‘concealed’, ‘hidden’, ‘trusted’ or similar aspect that they enjoy.
Such an aspect usually results from a create an advantage action defended by the target’s relevant perception (are they Clever or Careful enough to spot your action/deception or Sneaky enough to anticipate it). If successful, this gives the acting party one or more free invokes of the aspect on an action, as well as Fate point invocation if desired, which they may resolve first (meaning a benefit from +2 to +6).
The relevant aspect usually vanishes once invoked.
If invoked in an attack, this is a conflict scene in which the party striking from concealment acts first. There is no “surprise round” in which defenders do not act.

That's what I figured. I think it's really hard for me to GM VsD. I wonder what will happen when I get back into the GM seat for my group's "live game."

Let's put all the cards out:

There is a cloud, a floating armament surrounded by mist, that has been searching for the PCs in this general area ever since it intercepted a message by bird meant for Elvendale (the structure had floated north to Elvendale after so much inactivity around Southwatch and after news finally got to certain people that Ambrosius and Olwen were gone from Andorast). The cloud located the PCs shortly after the fellowship left the marge of the Western Wood (a roll of under 20 -- I keep rolling under 20! so you may be correct about the high frequency of encounters that may result from that method of rolling every in-game day -- but I actually rolled it for a few days ago; then, when I had decided what it was, just kept it in the pocket till now).

If I understand the use of Perception, then, it should be rolled any time there is something "to be found" (again, not my preferred way, because it restricts the power of story making -- competent heroes are going to be aware of everything, all the time; at the very least, a call for a Perception Roll is always going to be a metagame clue). So, in fairness, everyone should have had a Perception roll to discover the cloud as soon as everyone left the forest...

But we're here now, so, in the night, everyone on the patio should have an opportunity to notice a cloud among the other clouds against the starlight. This one would be noticeable because it is stationary, isn't moving with the wind currents like the other clouds, and is getting low, preparing its shot for Leofred who is standing and giving a very wide target of an address to those gathered. I actually think the Difficulty of noticing this cloud should be Very Hard (-30), because 1. It is night, 2. No one, presumably, is looking at that part of the sky, 3. Leofred is attracting everyone's attention with his address (though, with fairness, he wasn't doing this the entire time, and certainly many people on the patio are looking up to enjoy the stars). If anyone were to state that they were looking into the sky for any reason, the Perception roll, of course, would then be Hard (-20).

And I'll say this: on that floating structure is a Dark Orck Chieftain whom I rolled as an "Ambusher: This Chieftain is known for its sneakiness; it gains a +20 bonus to its Stealth Rolls and can add its level to the first Critical Strike it deals to a Surprised foe." [Again, I never determined that Leofred was Surprised, just wasn't aware of an attack on him -- admittedly the distinction not only is semantic but mechanical: I didn't add +20 to the attack roll for Surprise.]

To address the idea of every NPC as an agent, no, I don't want to roll for everyone. In this case I guess they are "talking furniture." And I kind of feel like VsD, as written, is sympathetic to the GM handwaving and abstracting the background, the scenery, the NPCs in the interest of making an exciting story. I know that rpgs started as an extension of wargaming, but I don't think I want to play a game where every probability for every possible actor is taken into consideration. For me it's story, then rules.

Thanks for drawing my attention to the Assessment Phase of Combat: "This Roll is only made when a specific effect (like the result of a Fumble) demands it, or if the GM deems it appropriate. Examples of situations that could require the Assessment Roll are: * Being ambushed ... If the Perception Roll fails, the character cannot declare new actions in the following Action Declaration Phase for that Round. They can still defend themselves by Parrying with half their maximum available Combat Bonus or keep doing what they were doing in the previous Round."

I still find a fair amount of ambiguity here in relation to the present situation, but I'm happy to accept it as a rule. Leofred is entitled to a Perception Roll. However, I think that it still should be made at Very Hard (-30), and it is Opposed by my Dark Orck Chieftain's Stealth roll of +60 (+20 to his Roguery of +40).

So what do you think?

Edit: Or maybe the Perception Roll should be either/or? Either Very Hard (-30) or Opposed by my Dark Orck Chieftain Stealth Roll of +60.

So let's say it's a Conflicting Action where the Orc rolls d100 +60, oh and though the cloud is above etc. all the fellowship are at this point well-briefed on "odd clouds being the source of missile attacks" so this is not quite noticing "the twitchy guy at edge of field of vision" but rather "the guy with an uzi at edge of field of vision".

I think Perception requiring statements of where one is looking again undercuts the skill etc. and the designer's intent to avoid micro-gaming (wherein every player always is saying "I look down, up to the right, listen for odd sounds, sniff air for odd scents" and does that every time a new scene entered because the system is telling them to do that by punishing them/rewarding them for doing so/not doing so) - do you not roll to see the bandits unless you say you are looking at the forest on the left, in the branches (as that's where they are this time) etc.?  The character trying to get surprise needs to meet condition such as 'using the darkness, fog, bushes, being in branches of trees etc', so adding a penalty making it harder to perceive because of the reason surprise was even possible seems a bit off.

  • To relate to the Fate game, you can spend time creating/choosing a good ambush spot (if you have the narrative advantage of time to prepare and knowing place) to give you an advantage to use when you make the roll opposed by someone's relevant ability to get advantage of having the drop on them, but even then it's still rolling and it can go badly (as in botch your effort to create surprise and the foe gets an advantage, in this case 'botch using your cloud' and it means 'everyone spots the cloud and gets a bonus shooting at it').  Fate is essentially designed to force/reward players narrating cool stuff which is nice but also its weakness as some players are more "ride along" types for whom the game doesn't work so well.

Gyantwaka's roll was already 170 before any penalties.

Ultan's roll is d100 = 82 + Skill 30 = 112 before any penalties.

Leofred is d100 + Skill 20 (he is not wearing his helmet at the moment which he may regret) -30 (very hard modifier)  = 40, however with Drive 5 and a roll of 50 under that, math says reroll for Drive point, roll of 38, brings *sigh", 2nd drive point roll of 66 +20 Drive +20 skill -30  = 76 assuming -30 penalty

Gwenhild's is d100 + Skill 20 (ditto re helmet) = 113 before any penalties.

[PS the cloud did a good job then following fellowship despite tree-cover, cf the hawks' issues when that came up in the woods, and spotting one bird as important and then still catching up and finding fellowship again etc.]

[Lastly but really firstly - a Dark Orc Chieftain is a level 7 elite, in this case with a nifty flying concealed platform to boot, now this is where it goes off the rails I think in terms of encounter design and a player spending time creating/investing in a PC.  Again, the system already has the odd extreme outcome built into it to be accepted and eventually expected, I think but I wonder what the discord channel would say about this.  To quote Max, "Common foes are generally weaker than your standard PC of the same level, meaning heroes can tackle Common monsters a few levels beyond theirs. Elites are bit stronger, almost on par with heroes of the same level, so normally you'll want to be more careful with those." .. the advice is also for levels 1-3 to use foes mostly in no or light armour (as opposed to the DOC's medium)..  So an Elite opponent 5 levels beyond the highest level PC's?  Without the PC's having ignored red flags and 'chosen' this' as in "choosing to march into the woods of the Orc Chieftain"?  As an eventual foe to take on to deal with fine, as the Nazgul you must avoid  more as a phenomenon than a creature okay, but as what comes at you at level 2, rather than a lackey it sends...]

I admire your creativity, writing, and passion. But I have to go on hiatus. I need to rest my imagination.

This is a great world. You are the best PbP gamer with whom I ever have engaged. Thank you!

Okay, well you are an excellent GM in imagination and creativity as well.  We may have different table-top philosophies and that happens.

May your imagination find peaceful playgrounds to rest in.

Rob

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