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The Fellowship of Five (A Playtest)

Got my tabletop game going last Monday. Four players.

K’tar, Fey Dusk Elf Wizard: Seeking his mentor “Strongbow” who vanished in opposition to the Darkmaster

Elham, Desert Man Rogue: Seeking his abducted sister Mutabara.

Khanji, City Man Animist: Hoping to “return sentience” to all stone, or at least make a golem.

Norwin, Deep Dwarf Warrior: Seeking to reclaim his ancestral mountain home from Minions of the Darkmaster, beneath which is a mythical metal Angril (iron radiance).

I built a custom Spell Lore for my weird Animist. Perhaps you folks have something already like it?

The Wizard slew a Level 5 NPC Rogue with one arrow shot. Strike through brain. Dead. Yay for PCs!

The Wizard’s player said, “It can be any one of us.”

It has me thinking of maybe 5 “Doom” points, character shields. Avoid a death, scratch off one until they’re gone. When all gone, it’s time to die epically as I suggest in the RM blog. I’m thinking there should be a way to get points back, but not sure how to keep this differentiated from the Drive mechanic. Maybe something will come during play this year.

Wizard's player is wise!

Remember that Drive can be spent to reroll a suffered Critical, lowering the gravity by one level for each Drive spent. In our experience that's usually enough to avoid death, unless a player is really careless. Even spending just one point significantly lowers the chances of death (or, at least, turns an instant death into a Dying in x rounds condition, which is usually dealable with), but I've seen players spending another point after the first to lower the Crit again in desperate situations.

Master of Stone is cool, similar to Earth Mould, which is gonna be in the Full Rules, but different enough to be its own thing. The golem at the end is a very nice touch! Here's Earth Mould as a comparison: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1YOQNEVtzN9TPH4QKV3rQwqDxDAneymME

Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.

It’s been awhile. I’ve run six sessions now of a campaign I’m calling Sands of Shadow (it’s set in southern Third Age Middle-earth). Three reports:

I expect we’re continuing to use your Wealth system outside of your design considerations. Due to a freak of my GMing, two of four characters have a WL of 4. I understand that shopping is supposed to be roleplayed, but I’ve waved this away for mundane supplies and allow the players to shop off the equipment lists. What’s to stop any wealthy character from getting for a less wealthy character whatever is wanted? This raises the consideration of establishing a single WL score for the party rather than the individual. I also might be GMing outside of design considerations because I started the campaign in a fairly active and populous coastal town, so many items are available.

I’d appreciate a blog post illustrating your intentions with Wealth.

I think costs of Armours aren’t listed in the tables.

Hazards. I’ve used the tables a few times now and haven’t found significant variation in what I generate for Civilized, Wild or Waste. Perhaps there’s little reason to not use a single Hazards Table, therefore? Also, a little more detail for the GM might help. My imagination is getting taxed on making Weather interesting. (I randomly generate a word out of a dictionary for inspiration, but I think more differentiated results would be helpful.) Examples for Weather: Strong Winds, High Heat, Cold Snap, Rain, Hail—this sort of thing, as a suggestion to the GM to use or modify. Minions similarly could be keyed to a random beastie table, to use or modify.

Some descriptions and examples of Ancient World Perils would be especially useful, though I believe I’ve come up with some good ones of my own.

Good game so far. One of my players is wondering if he likes MERP or VsD better. Personally, I appreciate that my NPCs don’t get Stun-locked.

Hi Gabe, good questions, as always.

Wealth: it's perfectly ok to handwave most of the small stuff. I mean, we've gone with an abstract wealth system exactly because we didn't want to deal with these sort of "accounting" details. After the adventure has started, when there's some kind of "downtime" characters should be able to buy common pieces of equipment without worrying too much about it.
What stops a WL character from buying things for all his friends? Nothing! Basically this would make the other characters his/her retinue. After all, a WL 4 character has a wealth comparable to that of the lesser nobility, so there's nothing strange with him/her having a number of followers (and, depending on the situation, people could even expect that). Things here can still get interesting in a number of way, particularly if the wealthiest character decides to remind the others who's paying for their stuff.

Anyway, things like pooling the group wealth/resources to purchase expensive items (and no, 2 WL 4 characters aren't even close to being equal to a single WL5 character) are detailed in the Full Rules, together with impoverishment, getting a job and other variations on the subject.

Armours: we've fixed that in the new QS.

Hazards: you'll be happy to know that the Full Rules will have both extensive hazards examples and various tables to help the poor GM creating them on the fly. Including weather and ancient perils!

Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.

Hi Gabe, nice to read from you again!
Sands of Shadow? This seems like a game I'd totally play into! In fact our last IRL game of Darkmaster was set in southern Middle Earth in early 4th age!

As for Wealth: what Max said. The main focus of the game is not piling on riches or going through interminable lists of mundane equipment, but rather going for high adventure and epic quests! Wealth is meant to be a commodity - however we wanted to give players a quick system to account it and make it count when needed. You may have noticed Wealth is not simply "how rich you are" but it is also closely associated to the character's social standing - this is made on purpose. A WL4 character is not just "rich": is a member of the landed nobility! This wealth power comes along with responsibilities, expectations, and a lot of other implications you're encouraged to bring into play if you like. Of course, even the wealthiest character has little or no edge when he's lost in the wilds, or when facing a raging Shadowflame Demon! In those situations, it's not how much you can afford, but how much guts you have!

Still, as Max said, nothing stops a wealthier character to provide with mundane items for his companions. This comes not without risk however: in the full rules we will put rules for impoverishment and even the wealthiest character can go broke if he squanders all his riches without judgement. This is particularly true when you begin buying back-to-back gear and goods of a Fare your WL or 1 point lower.
This is basically the same as having a "party" Wealth Level. The party WL actually aligns with the WL of the wealthiest character - providing he's willing to spend his hard earned riches to buy things for his companions!

As for Armors: thank you for pointing this bug out! We must have overlooked this. We will fix this in the Quickstart Deluxe edition!
As a quick rule of the thumb, you may want to consider the following:

  • Peasant Armor (furs, padding) > Fare 0
  • Light Armor (Leathers) > Fare 1
  • Medium Armor (Chain, Breastplate) > Fare 2
  • Heavy Armor (Plate) > Fare 3
  • Add 1 for superior quality/masterwork Armor.

You may notice that even a minor noble (WL4) may not be able to lightheartedly afford a Superior Quality Plate Armor, which will be Fare 4 and will tax his WL to 3!

For no one in this world you can trust, my son. Not man, not woman, not beast. But STEEL... this, you can trust!

Thanks, both!

SOLIDTom, your description of WL as also Class or Status seems to create another intuitive problem: by these reading a character—more likely a character party—can loot or slay their way into the nobility. In truth, I had overlooked (if it was explicit or implied in the QS) the relationship between WL and Status, and now I’m considering employing a narrative solution in my game to reduce the WL scores of my PCs. I’ve said that their WL grew through a “freak” of GMing. Two PCs sold a “unicorn” horn to an apothecary. I chose to roll to see what they got for it (WL 4). This necessitated a narrative for why they got so much; I decided that it’s used in fertility potions and a local lord is willing to give a kingdom if his wife might bear a child. But now I don’t believe that it’s possible for that apothecary even to have all that WL.

Another playtest report: I’ve started being generous with Drive Points. I think PCs should automatically get one at the end of every session, and if a Drive Point is used in pursuit of a Passion, the Drive Point should multiply (1 for 2). Otherwise the moment has been pretty underwhelming.

Quote from Gabe Dybing on April 4, 2019, 4:47 pm

Thanks, both!

SOLIDTom, your description of WL as also Class or Status seems to create another intuitive problem: by these reading a character—more likely a character party—can loot or slay their way into the nobility.

Well actually, this is is not something you can rule off, but more a question of common sense.
You can certainly pillage your way to richness, and from there pretend to be a ruler or noble... Many examples we have of low borns became kings, both in hystory and fiction. You can also simply slay a King and put yourself upon the throne (think of King Conan) so this is a false problem in my opinion. You can make the most resilient system but you can't prevent an exploiter to hack through it.
This said, you may consider that the connection between WL and social status is only estabilished by the starting WL - not the wealth you amass by adventuring off.

In truth, I had overlooked (if it was explicit or implied in the QS) the relationship between WL and Status, and now I’m considering employing a narrative solution in my game to reduce the WL scores of my PCs. I’ve said that their WL grew through a “freak” of GMing. Two PCs sold a “unicorn” horn to an apothecary. I chose to roll to see what they got for it (WL 4). This necessitated a narrative for why they got so much; I decided that it’s used in fertility potions and a local lord is willing to give a kingdom if his wife might bear a child. But now I don’t believe that it’s possible for that apothecary even to have all that WL.

This seems perfectly acceptable and also is exactly how the Wealth system is supposed to work!
WL is not just a number - it is meant to be fictionally played off. Think for example the simplest thing: how much coins and gems and artifacts must a Treasure L4 be? I mean: lots. Even if you find the dragon's hoard, you're not automatically supposed to be able to transport it, or even simply be able to spend it. How much is the Arkenstone worth? Probably it is a TL5 by itself alone, but can it be sold? If a great treasure is made of rare and unique objects, are the characters supposed to sell them all easily? Or might someone recognize the items and reclaim their property? Does exist at all someone capable of paying the characters a WL4 for acquiring something?
In your example, the Fare 4 for selling a thing - I mean, anything - seems extremely high. How much Wealth does have the apothecary that wants to acquire the horn to be able to pay that amount? It should be at least WL4 himself (really high for an apothecary! but not unheard of) - but then, paying a Fare 4 will immediately impoverish him to WL3!

Plus, another thing that may help you with your problem with higher wealth levels.
In the full rules there will be a paragraph about being "Far From Home". A character's WL is actually at the fullest only when he's in his homeland, with all his possessions, estates, social rank, circles and incomes. Wealth is not your "cash on hand": how much you travel with, what you can spend without regret.
When you are far from your sorces of income, and you need to figure out how much cash at hand you have, you may want to divide you total WL by two, rounding down. So a WL4 character, while traveling far from home, actually has "only" a WL2 to spend for buying goods on the go.

Another playtest report: I’ve started being generous with Drive Points. I think PCs should automatically get one at the end of every session, and if a Drive Point is used in pursuit of a Passion, the Drive Point should multiply (1 for 2). Otherwise the moment has been pretty underwhelming.

In the full rules we will have expanded rules for assigning experience points and one of the whys you get one is simply for being there each session. Drive points may or may not work the same. Honestly, right now I can't see why a player should get one Drive if he does not act out of his Passions during his sessions, pushing the game forward, but I may be missing the point.

In VsD we have two "game currencies": XPs and Drive. The first is meant to be hoarded and will represent the character's growing expertise and personal power. The other should be a high rotating pool: Drive points are meant to be spent at the moment, not hoarded off. You got them for playing out difficult decisions and being awesome! Not for farming your way through game sessions! OTOH, XPs can be earned on a regular basis by simply being an Average Joe doing his part without shining the brightest light of the show.
Think of Burning Wheel or Fate Core: both systems manage advancement and "drive" with different mechanics. Your character should grow in power and evolve by simply "doing things", but it is "doing awesome things" that the character truly shines!

For no one in this world you can trust, my son. Not man, not woman, not beast. But STEEL... this, you can trust!

Some more...

I’m a big fan of Fourth Age M-e (my previous MERP campaign was set in that Age), but, to adhere to my own sense of canon, I wanted to set my playtest in the Third Age. My Fourth Age is very human-centric: the Dwarves have sealed their doors of stone and retreated to the depths; the Elves have faded, gone feral, or forever forsaken the Western shores; the Hobbits have become diminutive and reclusive (as suggested in The Hobbit) or grown to such stature as to be indistinguishable from Men.

Thinking about Drive more, I might be awarding points more often if my game’s Passions, per the design, were more than Motivation. But I find the PCs building Natures and Allegiances during play—and I’m awarding for these—so perhaps we’re finding our way.

As you might remember from my read through on the Rolemaster Blog, I’ve been trying to mold/structure the campaign to emulate derivative, Tolkienian fantasy. The campaign began with what could have been any starting situation. Then, as I watched the players interact with it, I used a few sessions to make the emerging plot relevant to every one of their four character Passions. They’re at Levels 2 and 3 now and have embarked on a long, overland quest for one dangerous location, in the tradition of The Hobbit and LotR.

I’m curious what your own design intentions are. You don’t say much in the QS about using Passions to impel the overall campaign, and, in fact, the narrative rules might be adhered to by some GMs by trying to get players to take turns in pursuing their characters’ individual Passions. It seems to me that this latter approach could be rife with missteps and false starts.

If I had refreshed my page, I would have seen your input to my previous post.

You definitely have put the WL mechanic in better understanding for me! Now I’m wondering if, after all this consideration, I might simply prefer a more literal and granular old school approach. In other words, instead of broadly imagining what WL 4 might be, it might be so much more comprehensible for me just to give an actual value to it. E.g., “You have 10,000 gold pieces? You’re bringing all that to the Lonely Mountain?”

These considerations suggest to me that an abstract mechanic can be further abstracted. “Sure, I’m bringing it!” (says theoretical player) “I just get a horse and carriage and a steel strongbox and six men-at-arms to guard it.”

This isn’t a criticism of the mechanic. I love its elegance. I’m just saying that it hasn’t made anything easier for us at the game table (so far). Rather, it’s been the object of much confusion and discussion. Every game table will play any way they please, of course. It’ll be interesting to see how my group ultimately comprehends the WL system.

About Drive: be liberal with it, particuarly at the beginning of the campaign. Don't wait for grandiose, heroic actions to award it. Give it as soon as the characters do something interesting because of their Passions (get in a fight, take a risk, get wounded, make a decision you didn't expect,...).
Drive begets Drive: the more the characters have, the more they'll tend to take risks, thus getting more Drive points.

As for Passions, remember that they aren't permanent. We'll go more into detail on this in the Full Rules, but Passions (particularly Motivation and Allegiance, Nature is more "static") are meant to change relatively often during the game. As a rule of the thumb, if a Passion hasn't earned you a Drive point in the last 3 sessions, it's probably time to review it.
Also, keep them focused on what's happening right now. Have the players write an Allegiance (we're considering changing the name of this, since it seems to be confusing) to one or more of the others PCs. Keep their Motivations linked to their quest somehow. Use Nature to give them some quirk that can always be used to get them into trouble (like, they're naive, or always want to have the last word, or cannot keep their hands to themselves,...).
Don't worry if they're not great or if they seem too cliché, cliché is good!

More will be said about Drive and Passions, but I think it's important to keep in mind they're part of a collaborative process, and should be discussed and chosen together.
The GM shouldn't try to get the players follow their characters' Passions. On the contrary, GM and players should work together to adapt Passions to the campaign and viceversa.
Passions are like "flags" the players can use to say "this is what I'd like to see in this game". The GM should keep that in mind and include those elements in the campaign but, at the same time, the players should think about the situation at hand and the scope of the campaign when they're writing their Passions. Don't be afraid to shoot down Passions that have no place in the game you want to run, just explain the player why they wouldn't work.

Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.