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The Fellowship of Five (A Playtest)

Quote from Gabe Dybing on April 5, 2019, 1:33 am

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.

Hi Gabe.

We deliberately avoided to precisely quantify the "amount of money" each WL represents, preferring to go instead for a generic description.
This avoids first and foremost a problem. If we associate a value to the WL, we open up the way for speculations like: "if a WL3 equal 10,000 gold coins, and WL4 equals 100,000, then what WL will 37,567.47 gold pieces be? Maybe WL 3.213?"
That way, an abstract system would not be abstract anymore - if you keep comparing it on a scale!

Second: the WL system is meant to be adapted to your game, not the other. Wealth Levels can mean different things in different game settings.
Taking your example, think of Middle Earth in different Ages.
WL4 could mean a completely different thing from 1st age to 4th.

  • In 1st age WL4 could mean the riches and estates of an elven lord of Gondolin.
  • In 2nd age WL4 would have been a Numenorean Lord.
  • In 3rd age WL4 is someone from the landed nobility of Arnor or Rohan.
  • In 4th age WL4 might be a Dwarven Lord, or a very rich patrician from Gondor.

If you bring this same concept to different settings, the shift may be even greater.
This means you should think ahead of what each WL will mean in your game before starting the game. You might want to set down some soft rules about it. You may decide no playing character could possibly reach WL5, for example, because this could potentially break your game.
Finally, WLs are meant to be exponential, not proportional. A 5 is not 1 more than a 4, but probably tens or hundreds times more!

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

K’Tar is fallen! May we sing him in our halls forever!

We’ve had some upsets in our campaign. A player (Norwin) had to leave us. Instead of simply “letting him go,” the remaining PCs followed the Dwarf tracks to where he had just been abducted by Corsairs. The PCs made some tactical errors in the commencement of the fight, and, when it all was over, the animist almost had bled to death and the Elf was slain.

Report from the GM

The designers already know that I, the GM, since the beginning have been ambivalent toward and critical of the VsD combat system. I am recognizing that this is entirely preferential, but the experience that I want to have (and I believe it is one that the VsD ethos forecasts) is The Fellowship of the Ring. I want my PCs (at least most of them) to survive to the culmination of the quest/campaign or, if they die on the way, to expire epically.

The combat system as it is now is way too time consuming and swingy for my preferred gameplay. Using VsD RAW, our last two 3-hour game sessions have consisted almost entirely of two single combats. I know I can emphasize, instead of this, different aspects of gameplay, but I’m guessing most of us can agree (not least because of all the loving detail VsD gives to violence) that an ideal session should contain at least one interesting combat. But when one takes up three hours...

I have been told that Drive Points are the solution to swingy combat, but they seem like an imperfect contrivance to a systemic problem. As a GM, I don’t want to be reminding myself to hand out Drive Points every single time a PC does something. And from a player perspective, the first thing I want to think when combat ensues is “I draw my sword” not “I spend a Drive Point.” Drive Points seem like one more thing to track for no other reason than, if we don’t, the system might kill our PCs. So I’m changing the system.

Report from the Players 

They love the Magic System. They’re not so sure about the Drive Points (I think this is because of the anxiety that always results from metacurrency: “Should I spend it or hoard it?”). They’re likewise ambivalent about the Skills. Most characters use maybe three of them, and the role playing sometimes, despite our best efforts, devolves to dice rolling. So we’re probably going ahead with every character possessing one specialty. The rest shall be common sense, e.g. the Elf heard the sounds in the woods/no need to roll.

Otherwise, the campaign and the play test carry forward.

Oh. I should reiterate that my difficulties with the combat system are entirely preferential. The new combat tables and reduction of ATs to 4 are an immense improvement (as is the new Spellcasting table). The players just can’t be convinced to reserve some OB for parrying, and last encounter they learned how formidable shields can be in the hands of their enemies (and therefore they should use them, too). The tactical combat can be fun and interesting, but, for our experience, it’s getting too much emphasis.

Great report, as always, Gabe!

Also, no problems with changing the system to adapt it to your preferences. We know that GMs everywhere always tweak and tinker with game rules, and we'd actually like to encourage that. That's why we're thinking of releasing the core rules as an open license, so that if you have a cool idea for an adventure, a rule or a variation on the game, you'll all be able to put the thing on your blog, publish it on DrivethruRPG, or even create you own game from that!

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

Hi Gabe, thank you for you precious playtest report!
As the main author of the Combat chapter, I feel called in question here 🙂

I'm pretty curious about why your combat takes so much time to develop. Could it be you and your players are still getting used to the rules? Or are you running combats under some particular circumstances that you may want to share? Generally speaking, a combat between a party of 4 PCs and as much opposition shouldn't last longer than a few rounds at low to mid levels (say 1st to 5th). Could you maybe post a breakdown of the combat?

Also: have you tried to use some play aids while running combat?
I think that having each player have at hand a copy of their character's weapons attack tables printed, and a copy of the critical strikes table(s) too could help a lot, letting the players do the lookup on the tables instead of the GM, avoiding a lot of page flipping. Plus, you may want to use some glass beads or other chip to take note of conditions like Bleed and Stun. We use a white chip for Stun (if you have it - you're stunned, if you don't, you're not) and red beads for Bleed, one for each Hit/round.

I can see your point on the Passions and Drive which still seem a bit too "unrelated" to the rest of the rules of the game; we're still working to wire them much in the Full Rules - you'll see.
However, I have the feeling you guys might be missing something of the combat system, since in our (and other people's) playtest it generally ran quick and smooth...

But in the end YES, combat is quite a serious matter in Against the Darkmaster and players and GM should begin thinking to avoid unnecessary combat.
For example, in our last session, the PCs were confronted by some giant crabs. Had it been a D&D game, probably they should have fought the creatures to death (and in 5e then yes, probably the fight would have lasted AGES!); being however they had room and occasion to avoid the fight, they opened their way for a flight and escaped, sparing precious resources, avoiding an unnecessary risk and framing a good action scene!
The same is generally true for NPCs and creatures: they will avoid confrontation and fight to death whenever possible. A group of human(oid) opponents will probably never fight to death if the PCs let them escape or offer to spare them. A bleeding and penalised NPC will probably beg for mercy and surrender to avoid being slain.

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

Hi, Tom. I’m happy to give more detail!

I'm pretty curious about why your combat takes so much time to develop. Could it be you and your players are still getting used to the rules? Or are you running combats under some particular circumstances that you may want to share?

We’re certainly getting used to the rules. This last was our eighth session now, and I think the players still are attempting to grok all the moving parts. As I said, they never parry (because they’re trying to land that critical and resolve the combat), and they have difficulty gauging (even after the first few rounds of combat) how formidable an adversary might prove to be.

Also: have you tried to use some play aids while running combat?
I think that having each player have at hand a copy of their character's weapons attack tables printed, and a copy of the critical strikes table(s) too could help a lot, letting the players do the lookup on the tables instead of the GM, avoiding a lot of page flipping. Plus, you may want to use some glass beads or other chip to take note of conditions like Bleed and Stun. We use a white chip for Stun (if you have it - you're stunned, if you don't, you're not) and red beads for Bleed, one for each Hit/round.

My players don’t have their own tables, and it is true that this puts a lot of pressure on me, the GM, who is simultaneously trying to narrate the story. My players might be open to tracking their own attacks, maybe not. We do use counters for conditions.

What frustrates me is all the calculations. Roll + Skill + modifiers (which can change round by round) + Def. From the table, track hp. Roll Critical (if one is reached) and track more. The GM, even if he gives the players attack tables, still must referee the overall situation and keep track of NPC conditions behind the screen. Another player and I are often on our calculators — it’s difficult to glance at a roll and determine a resolution. And then there are weapon stats to consider and max resolution...

Recognizing that my difficulties here are entirely preferential, thinking about this also has resulted in quite a bit of design philosophy. I think criticals should be noteworthy and uncommon, whereas in these systems they are routine. I find myself, while reading the critical, pulling out all the relevant numerical information and ignoring the description. I guess I’m saying that, instead of being a descriptive and simulationist game, VsD defaults to a d20 perspective for me. If I’m going to be tracking hp, I’d rather just do that, reserving those exceptional situations for a supremely gory examination. And then those other conditions that need to be tracked would occur less often, thereby lightening the referee’s load.

What I would like is a single table with minimal modifiers. Peter R over on the Rolemaster Blog claims that Def in d20 games is treated as a “mistake” by simply making it part of the AC calculation. I’m not convinced, and it’s obviously one more calculation that can be predetermined for my d100 game. Maybe Def can be simplified into three or four simple bands that allow the GM to simply scale down a row or more on the tables. Maybe even some indication of weapon stats and max resolutions can appear on the table. And it would be nice if the more mundane critical conditions could be on that same table, as well, reserving only the most spectacular results for the full critical tables.

And as far as Skills in general go, (I know that the VsD Skill system is quite “lighter” than many of its siblings) my players recommended using the broad “categories” as the skills—Combat, Adventuring, Roguery and Lore.

 

Quote from Gabe Dybing on May 1, 2019, 2:55 pm

Hi, Tom. I’m happy to give more detail!

I'm pretty curious about why your combat takes so much time to develop. Could it be you and your players are still getting used to the rules? Or are you running combats under some particular circumstances that you may want to share?

We’re certainly getting used to the rules. This last was our eighth session now, and I think the players still are attempting to grok all the moving parts. As I said, they never parry (because they’re trying to land that critical and resolve the combat), and they have difficulty gauging (even after the first few rounds of combat) how formidable an adversary might prove to be.

This is totally understandable.
With all the work we've made to streamline VsD and making it a simpler game, there are still some crunchy parts in it and it requires some degree of system mastery to be sped up, thus enjoying the full experience.
Take into account many of our internal playtests were made with players with 20+ years of gaming and particularly playing d100 games on their back. This means they already know some old tricks and are quicker to do the calculations.

Also: have you tried to use some play aids while running combat?
I think that having each player have at hand a copy of their character's weapons attack tables printed, and a copy of the critical strikes table(s) too could help a lot, letting the players do the lookup on the tables instead of the GM, avoiding a lot of page flipping. Plus, you may want to use some glass beads or other chip to take note of conditions like Bleed and Stun. We use a white chip for Stun (if you have it - you're stunned, if you don't, you're not) and red beads for Bleed, one for each Hit/round.

My players don’t have their own tables, and it is true that this puts a lot of pressure on me, the GM, who is simultaneously trying to narrate the story. My players might be open to tracking their own attacks, maybe not. We do use counters for conditions.

Counters, and condition cards. We are thinking of including them in the Full Rules as printable goodies.
And a cheat sheet! This will surely help.

What frustrates me is all the calculations. Roll + Skill + modifiers (which can change round by round) + Def. From the table, track hp. Roll Critical (if one is reached) and track more. The GM, even if he gives the players attack tables, still must referee the overall situation and keep track of NPC conditions behind the screen. Another player and I are often on our calculators — it’s difficult to glance at a roll and determine a resolution. And then there are weapon stats to consider and max resolution...

This too, will come easier with a little of expertise.
Many times there's even no need to make calculations because experienced players will instantly know if they scored the maximum results, ore on the other hand have missed. Another trick that may come handy is making all the possible calculations beforehand. For example, once you know how much is the Character vs Foe CMB and DEF, try directly subtracting the DEF of each to each other's CMB. The same you can do for weapon modifiers vs armors - take them always into account after knowing the Armor Types of each combatant.
Situational modifiers are a different thing but in the end they're not much more than in D&D 3.x - quite the contrary actually.
Even if they stack, the most common of them are more or less always -20 or +20. Once you get accustomed to them it will be easier to add or subtract them.
Furthermore, you can disregard some or all the modifiers at all and the game will not break apart. Or, you can still adjudicate modifiers on the fly (like the Advantage/Disadvantage rules in D&D 5e) to make things easier.

Recognizing that my difficulties here are entirely preferential, thinking about this also has resulted in quite a bit of design philosophy. I think criticals should be noteworthy and uncommon, whereas in these systems they are routine. I find myself, while reading the critical, pulling out all the relevant numerical information and ignoring the description. I guess I’m saying that, instead of being a descriptive and simulationist game, VsD defaults to a d20 perspective for me. If I’m going to be tracking hp, I’d rather just do that, reserving those exceptional situations for a supremely gory examination. And then those other conditions that need to be tracked would occur less often, thereby lightening the referee’s load.

What I would like is a single table with minimal modifiers. Peter R over on the Rolemaster Blog claims that Def in d20 games is treated as a “mistake” by simply making it part of the AC calculation. I’m not convinced, and it’s obviously one more calculation that can be predetermined for my d100 game. Maybe Def can be simplified into three or four simple bands that allow the GM to simply scale down a row or more on the tables. Maybe even some indication of weapon stats and max resolutions can appear on the table. And it would be nice if the more mundane critical conditions could be on that same table, as well, reserving only the most spectacular results for the full critical tables.

And as far as Skills in general go, (I know that the VsD Skill system is quite “lighter” than many of its siblings) my players recommended using the broad “categories” as the skills—Combat, Adventuring, Roguery and Lore.

I suppose you can try at all of the above, and come up with something decent or event excellent!
However, I fear it will not be Against the Darkmaster anymore, but a different game. Like if you strip all the Feats and options from the D20 SRD, you will come up with a barebone system which would be very similar to B/X D&D. A different game, surely an interesting one, not for everyone's tastes.
But you're more than encouraged to tinker with the rules and post the results of you efforts here! And you may remember we're thinking of releasing the Open00 under a OSL license, so who knows you may at some point end up publishing your own hack of Open00!

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

We had another session last night. I had only two players, so I could do little more than roll out our VsD Hack. We ran through the most important aspect—Combat—in a low stakes dream sequence, then played a bit in the actual campaign.

I want to remind the designers that my intentions with this hack is to pare down to what seems essential for game play (Skills) and to make the Combat simulationism more expeditious at the table. The designers had some good suggestions, but (for my table) the best suggestion from the designers was flat out rejected: one of my gamers said there was no way I was going to get him to use his own tables. In fact, I’m “lucky that he rolls his own dice!” 😁

I’m also pleased to see the incoming reports of how well people seem to be enjoying VsD rules as written. I believe that if I had gamers who were interested and invested in all the fiddly bits, I wouldn’t be thinking about this stuff at all!

The Hack

Stats are the same, except I’ve implemented a weapon damage system, and certain stats can increase that damage on the same principle of how additional MPs are awarded. (See the Hack.)

No Cultural Skill Ranks. Instead the Vocation Ranks are assigned twice at Level 1. The character sheet might be misleading. Two Ranks in Combat, for example, award +10 to Melee AND Ranged (it’s the stats that are assigned differently to these two combat modes). This principle holds true for each of the skills, many of which are divided into two separate “applications” modified by different stats. (See the Character Sheet in the Hack.)

Combat relies on one table much like the Skills table.

Combat

0-10 possible fumble
11-75 fail
76-100 weapon damage*

101-115 superficial
116-130 light
131-145 mod
146-160 grievous
161-175 lethal
176+ instant death
*weapon damage is given with every success; the GM may increase it (e.g. +1 hp per critical grade)

Weapons are assigned damage dice ranging from a base of 1d10 (1H) to 2d10 (2H).

 

Two-weapon Fighting. +25 OB, +2 damage.


Armors reduce crits by -10LA, -20MA, -30HA


Armor movement and casting mod -10s, -10LA, -30MA, -50HA

Max Swi to Def +20LA, +10MA, +0HA

Finally, my NPCs are highly abstracted.

NPCs

No Def except for Shield. HP = Lvl x 10 (+30 for heroic humanoids, x1.5-x2 for monsters). Attack bonus based on Level (x10 or x5). Damage typically ranges from 1d10-3d10 (Large creatures). Saves bonuses likewise based on Level alone. All other abilities and possible multiple attacks at the whim of the GM.

I found surprisingly useful applications for Lvl x 10. One of the PCs found himself surrounded by a Water Elemental, and the PC wanted to “swim out.” I had him make an Adventuring roll (Athletics) with -50 because I decided the Water Elemental was Level 5.

The two players I had aren’t yet sure, exactly, if my hack is appreciably different from VsD. They say it very much still feels like VsD. But, as a Referee, I felt like I was able to resolve situations with greater alacrity. I can’t wait to discover the major flaws that must be there.

If this someday becomes something under your Open100 license, maybe I should call it Master of the Dark, or After the Umbral Lord—a lighter d100 system for fantasy RPGs.

As I reflect on what these changes actually do in terms of gameplay, I recognize that they make the tables more memorizable. The elegance of the Skills resolution table is transferred, in some measure, to this universal combat table. Weapons still remain sort of distinctive (a Dagger is 1d10-2, for example, and a long sword might be 1d10–I don’t remember outright). For NPCs, a GM need only know the Level. From here all modifiers and alterations are easily customized to the table.

That's cool! Maybe a little too rules-light for my tastes, but I can see the appeal and would love to see it as an open content in the future!

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