Session report: The Fallen Mountains #1

As I’ve alluded to in a couple of posts I’ve taken up the GMing reigns once again for a short Legend of the Five Rings campaign set in The Fallen Mountains. We’ve now completed character gen and session one, the log of which can be found at: http://l5rfallenmountains.obsidianportal.com/adventure-log/session-one-sedition-revealed

Overall I’m a little disappointed with myself for how the session played out. I’d set it up with the expectation that the PCs would go straight into combat to provide a chance to learn the system. They instead chose to try and negotiable with their opponents to avoid bloodshed. I’ve no issue with this but felt a little pinned down with how to respond as I didn’t want to then turn around and force them into combat by having the NPCs just attack them / be dishonourable.

We ended up having an interesting exchange between party and enemies and in the process an NPC ronin developed nicely from a combat stat block to an actual character that could have a recurring role. Overall though I feel like I failed to portray the situation well or the fact they’d just walked into what was essentially an enemy camp. The biggest challenge was the flow, we kept having to pause to clarify the expectations of the setting while also dropping a lot of plot details / hooks. I had sort of expected this but in retrospect I should have kept things simpler and waited a session before introducing more hooks. The party now find themselves with a variety of options, which was my aim but it felt too much too soon. They have the target of their mission probably heading one direction, a fire to investigate in the other and the mystery of a dead body with ties to two of the PCs. All in all a lot to take in for the first session.

One thing that did come up which I hadn’t expected was duels – we had one but I’m now wondering whether the situation was one where dueling was an appropriate way to resolve the issue. Under what circumstances should a samurai issue a challenge? In the rules it mostly focuses on slights and insults but also indicates they can be used for resolving other issues. If that’s the case what’s to stop somebody just constantly demanding duels and when is it appropriate to decline a duel that isn’t about personal honour. It’s something i need to think about and convey to the players in case they try to resolve everything in that way.

The final thing that clearly needs work are the NPCs. I need to ensure I have a list of appropriate names and a clearer idea of stats they are likely to possess. With a few exceptions I’m not too concerned by school techniques but the characters themselves need fleshing out so they don’t come across as either generic or made up on the fly. This will be especially important once the PCs head to the main city where they’re going to be encountering individuals from a range of clans who each need to have their own motivations and focus.

Soshi Mirai, Scorpion disappointment

The Scorpion Clan is renowned amongst the Emerald Empire for not only lacking in honour but for the level of incompetency tolerated amongst their samurai. To their rivals this merely demonstrates the failings of the Scorpion Clan, few appreciate the extent to which the Scorpion have deliberately cultivated this image. A Clan perceived as weak is overlooked and underestimated. The promotion of Soshi Mirai to a courtly position embodies this philosophy for she brings nothing but disgrace. Disgrace for her Clan, her family and school. The daughter of a respected Scorpion courtier she has failed to achieve anything of significance and continually humiliates those around her. In failing she serves her Clan with distinction even if this will never be acknowledged.

Compared to many samurai Mirai is a jovial and open individual with a tendency to speak her mind more often than she should. Beneath this mask she is deeply unsatisfied with life, all too aware of her failure to live up to expectations. Mirai is tasked with overseeing liquor distribution within Shirayama Toshi, overseeing the taverns and breweries which fall under Scorpion control. It ensures she is regularly present in court and that she comes into frequent contact with samurai of the other Great Clans. Ever seeking the approval of her lord (a distant uncle) and peers she persists in attempting to gain leverage over her clientele. While the results rarely bear fruit it has ensured that Mirai is well known by the samurai of the city, with the majority rightly regarding her as essentially harmless. If only they paid more attention to those who serve them in the taverns she oversees…

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‘Blade’ Terrel, fanatical monk

When the samurai Toritaka Nobu took his leave of the Crab Clan to join an esoteric order within the Brotherhood of Shinsei most assumed that would be the last they heard of the stalwart warrior who had faced the evil of the Shadowlands his whole life. He had never once ventured beyond the holdings of his Clan.

Taking the unusual name of Terrell he disappeared from records for close to a decade before resurfacing during a peasant rebellion in the shadow of the Fallen Mountains. Guided by an oath to maintain the Celestial Order he gathered a small force of ronin to smash the rebellion and personally executed it’s leaders.

His reputation was earned not for this action but while meeting with the samurai in charge of the village from which the rebellion had spread. Declaring she had failed in her duty as much as the peasants Terrell offered her the chance to commit seppuku. After she declined he slit her throat during the dinner which had been organised in his honour. Three more members of her house fell to his great blade during his escape into the wilderness. In the time since Terrell has stalked the Fallen Mountains, enforcing an extreme view of the Celestial Order with blood and steel.

Plot hooks
General: The Governor, growing tired of Terrell’s lone crusade, dispatches a party to apprehend and return him to the city for justice. They find him deep within the mountains, at a village long wiped from the maps. With him are a sizeable group of monks who seek to learn of his radical philosophy so that they might spread it throughout the Empire.

Order & Chaos: A warband, let by Terrell, overruns the Temple Shrine of the Lost and takes hostages. The monk releases a proclamation that those who maintain the temple have forsaken their duties by concealing a violation of the Celestial Order and that he aims to restore balance, even though doing so will unleash a great evil.

First Thoughts: Torg Eternity Preview 1

Torggame-logo

Torg holds a special place in my heart, it was the first proper tabletop game I ever played and also the first system I even ran a campaign in. As much as I love the game the system underlying it has a tendency to get under my skin, especially the use of multiple sub-systems which were intended to give each Cosm a unique feel. The game is a product of it’s time (which was the early 90’s) so it’s with interest that I’ve been keeping track of any attempt to update and re-release it.

Torg Eternity is the long awaited new edition of the game and Ulisses Spiele who currently own the licence have recently put out the first preview for the new game. At the moment the details are limited, mostly focused on what the principles for design and what core elements they are maintaining. The design principles are:

  1. The rules must be easily identifiable as being Torg
  2. The resolution of actions must be fast and easy
  3. Reduce the number of sub-systems while keeping the Torg flavor.
  4. Changes must provide benefits. No changes for the sake of change.

All in all the preview is a solid start and it looks like a lot of the bits I really like about the system are staying put. Central to those are the core roll mechanic, the drama deck and possibilities, without which the game just wouldn’t be Torg.

The reduction in sub-systems is something that the game definitely needs. There were just far too many in the old game, especially given each of the many Cosms had it’s own unique aspects. Magic in particular was overwhelmed with systems, there were in the end close to 7-8 distinct magic systems each with it’s own quirks so anything that reduces the constant need to look up rules is a massive bonus as far as I’m concerned.

The other big change in this first preview is the removal of separate action and effect totals, which tended to complicate matters. The new system replaces this with a bonus die system – beat the target by 5 and you get +d6 to your result (such as to damage), beat it by 10 and get +2d6. Simple, quick and hopefully effective.

That’s all from this preview, it looks like the Kickstarter for the game will be sometime early next year so plenty of time for more updates.

Future Projects

With Project Cassandra edging ever closer to completion I’ve been given some thoughts as to what I want to work on. The length of the list was rather surprising, I didn’t realise I had accumulated notes for so many ideas already.

Niska’s Race – A Firefly Adventure. Having run this at multiple conventions it’s about time that I wrote this up and put it online for others. I’ve got a partial draft of the adventure, what it really needs is some focus on the structuring and what information needs to be presented for others to run it.

Demon Hunters Adventures – Again adventures I’ve run in the past that I’d like to get out for others and again I’ve already got a partial draft to work from. For these I’d love to be able to get them released on drivethruRPG as some sort of semi-official / recognised adventure for the system. First step though is writing then I can worry about layout / publishing.

Neon Blades, cyberpunk reality TV – Aim is a lightweight system with a focus on the idea of looking good over all else, hence the idea of some sort of reality TV show focused on a team of operatives. I’ve got the initial outlines of a system but it’s lacking any details, so in keeping with the theme of style over substance for now.

The Fallen Mountains –  I’d still like to flesh out my Legend of the Five Rings setting  to the point of it being a resource for a future game. Likely to be a slow ongoing process as I detail characters, events and locations.

The Delve, Leverage / Cortex+ hack – The idea for this actually came from a series of images I got through JEShields stock art patreon. The idea is of a group of fantasy dwarves trying to break into a wizards vault. Thinking more along the lines of D&D style fantasy than Tolkien with magic being relatively common. At the moment just an idea, first step will be to go over the original game again and see how much can just be used as is.

Cortex+ hack based around the adventures of soft toys –  Another vague idea for the moment, could probably be achieved with just some custom distinctions  and renaming of a few elements. Originally inspired by a DoubleClicks song called Lullaby for Mr Bear.

Powers, PbtA followup to Project Cassandra. Again a vague idea for a thematic follow-up to Project Cassandra using a hack of the Apocalypse system  dealing more with the consequences of gaining powers in a world dominated by global conspiracies. Will hopefully incorporate some ideas from an old Cortex game  where powers regularly went out of control  with devastating and tragic consequences.

State of the Conspiracy: Major Feedback from Dragonmeet

I posted a quick collection of thoughts regarding Dragomeet 2016 over on my G+ page but I wanted to give the Project Cassandra feedback a post to itself.

What happened

The setup for the game was the same basic questions that I used during the Stratigicon playtest, that Apollo 11 had discovered something and President Nixon was due to be assasinated prior to announcing the discovery. The discovery this time, shapeshifting aliens on the moon who had already infiltrated the USSR and were now trying to take over the US government. The assasin was non other than the vice President who had already been replaced. Thrown into the mix was a Soviet Null, immune to the powers of the party (but not, as it would turn out, regular bullets).

The adventure went by fast. Too fast, as the players blew through every challenge with ease thanks to a combination of difficulties that were too low, great teamwork and some amazingly inventive use of Powers.

Feedback

The primary feedback was pretty unambiguous, actions weren’t challenging enough, which resulted in the group not failing for the first two thirds of the game. This had a knock on effect in that it prevented other mechanics from coming into play, namely conditions and spending premonitions on re-rolls. It was only towards the end of the game that I started raising the difficulty that we started using all of the mechanics but by then it was too late to have a major impact.

The second negative was with the skills themselves and compounded my GM error with the difficulties. Essentially the players found that they either had too high a skill level for a given task or were lacking the skills entirely (and therefore didn’t attempt actions). This is something that has come up in playtests before and I had hoped that the current skill list addressed it. Unfortunately this does not appear to be the case.

It’s a blow to get this close to having the game finished before running into a major issue but on the other hand I’m glad it went badly. It’s the first major catastrophe I’ve had but it also feels like it is workable rather than an impassable issue.
Beyond this the feedback was quite positive. The players enjoyed the scenario and being able to influence it through the questions plus liked the fact that the powers weren’t mechanically constrained to prevent them being overpowered. As these are all aspects I’d put thought into I’m glad that the players picked up on my design aims. Following the game I’m also convinced that the single scenario design (of saving the President) was the right approach. Once the game is finished I may add a bonus sheet on running additional highly defined bonus scenarios (I already have ideas for one based around the Berlin Airlift).

Going forward

I’ve been pondering how to change the skills since Dragonmeet but before I dive too deeply into it I thought it important to look again at the probability tables, the results of which are plotted below. The x-axis plots the number of successes and the y-axis the percentage chance of rolling at least that many successes for a given skill level.

2016-12-06

Looking at those numbers it’s clear how off my perception of the difficulties was. With a skill level of 3, which the players were regularly achieving, there is still a 66% chance of rolling 3 or more successes. In my head 3 successes should have been difficult and definitely not in their favour so often. Those odds rises to a staggering 90% at a skill level of 4 and drops to 32% for a character with a moderate skill level of 2.

It’s clear therefore that the first thing I need to do is adjust my idea of difficulty levels and then add explicit descriptions to the game. My current working template is:

1 – Trivial – Only worth rolling if the individual is unskilled
2 – Normal
3 – Challenging (with intention of this being a typical roll for the game)
4 – Hard
5 – Heroic
6 – Impossible

The second approach is a limit on the maximum skill level of a character. The players at Dragonmeet suggested setting it at 3, which I’m thinking of implementing. At this level a skilled individual will pass a Challenging roll most of the time but still fail at a noticeable rate.

The biggest change, which I’m still working on, are the skills themselves. Under the current design players add up related specialities to get their skill level and tend to either end up with a high level or none at all. If I keep the current system the specialities need completely rewritten to provide a wider breadth skills with only a small number that overlap enough to give a high skill level.

The alternative is simply list a set it skills with a rank by each of them. That has the advantage of simplicity and also makes it easier to deal with edge cases as I can give each skill group a rank for when no specialities apply. For example using brute strength might just fall under the general umbrella of the Physical skill set at rank of 2 for the strongest and 0 for the weakest. The downsides of this approach are flavour and rigidity so more thought will have to go into it before I settle on one over the other. I may also split the skill groups further by adding Social to the existing mix of Mental, Physical and Specialist.

All in all I’ve got a lot to think about and a valuable learning experience for future projects.

State of the Conspiracy: Dragonmeet

Just a quick update to share the above, a near final version of the game ready for Dragonmeet tomorrow. It still needs a final round of proofing but otherwise it’s done. Finished. Next up: Getting the file ready for submission to DrivethruRPG and a bit of promotion.