Friday, 10 May 2019

Building a noble house for the Game of Thrones RPG

One of the areas of tabletop roleplaying which I'm interested in exploring at the gaming table is the political intrigue game. I never really got to properly realise the potential of the Vampire RPG line for this kind of game and the only Vampire campaign I played in did not really pay as much attention to this as might have been possible.

Vampire seems to have been THE system for high political drama and intrigue. At some point I'd still like to see if it is possible to run a Dark Ages Vampire chronicle. Who knows? I've also been looking at Iron Empires which is an impressively political science fiction setting. You can see some of my earlier work on that here.

In the meantime we have A Song Of Ice And Fire from Green Ronin, which looks to me as if it could fit the bill. This uses Green Ronin's Chronicle System, which to my knowledge has really only been used to power Game of Thrones roleplaying to date. I'm wondering whether it might be adapted for a samurai political drama, say during the decline of the Ashikaga shogunate in the 1400s?

I like the way players can work together to build a house, a noble clan that can participate in the power politics of Westeros. While you could just as easily use the core rules to run a game of conventional adventurers, the default campaign has characters as members of the same noble house, or their retainers. In some ways it reminds me of the chantry construction process in Ars Magica.

Creating House Karstark

Picking up my trusty dice, I began rolling. Firstly, I had to determine the location of the fiefdom, as that affects its other attributes. Westeros, after all, has quite diverse geographical regions. The dice came down for the North, so I was looking at Stark bannermen here.

Each fief has a number of core attributes,which you also roll for and then apply regional modifiers. For example, fiefs in the North are better defended by default, include more land, but tend to be poorer overall. I've included my initial rolls with regional modifiers already applied:

  • DEFENCE (33) - quality of the fief's overall defences / strongholds, including natural obstacles that might obstruct an invasion;
  • INFLUENCE (41) - determines the Lord's maximum status, which at this stage is 5;
  • LANDS (55) - how much land the house controls, in this case quite a lot;
  • LAW (21) - overall standard of law and order in the fief;
  • POWER (21) - military muscle, in this case a modest force but we may change this;
  • POPULATION (30) - measures the number of people living in the fief and number of larger settlements;
  • WEALTH (21) - "enough to get by" according to the rules.
Looking through my Game of Thrones campaign guide, also from Green Ronin, I wanted to see if I could match this house to one of those listed. I quite like the look of House Karstark, so decided to go with them. 

Each player now gets to spend 1d6 to boost the above attributes. I decided there are four hypothetical players in my campaign, so have 4d6 to play with. I feel the Karstarks are still lacking in military heft so 2d6 goes to that. I roll a total of 6, which takes it to 27 points. The other 2d6 goes to Wealth - I don't want the Karstarks just "getting by", even in the North. I roll 7 in total, which boosts their Wealth to 28.

History of the Karstarks: power won through treachery?

Rickard Karstark
Now we get on to the history of the Karstarks. I roll to see how long they have been established for. As the rules explain, "Each house has a history, a chronicle of deeds and crimes that shape its identity. Great deeds might elevate a house to greater heights, while scandal and tragedy can shatter a house's foundations, forcing it to fall into obscurity."

We roll to find that the Karstarks have been around since the time of the Andal invasions, so they qualify as Very Old as a family. The campaign book has them as a factor in the North over 1000 years ago, that they are descended from the First Men, and that they became lords as a reward for helping Karlen Stark put down a rebel lord.

As a Very Old family I roll to find out how many significant events they have in their history. Treachery comes up first, so must be how they actually won their fiefdom. I decide they were likely part of the rebellion against the Starks but betrayed the prime movers in the insurrection at a critical stage, and were rewarded for their treachery. Nice. This was a long time ago, obviously, but memories are long in the North too.

Since then they have been favoured by the Starks and the Kingdom of the North, as I roll Favour twice, followed by a Windfall. I suspect one of those Favours might have been a marriage with the Starks at some point in the distant past. The Windfall might have come as a consequence of the Karstarks' support of their Stark cousins during the War of the Usurper.

This history means the family is net +1d6 Defence, +3d6 Influence, +3d6 Lands, +2d6 Law, +1d6 Population, +5d6 Power, +2d6 Wealth. Truly, the Karstarks have done well.

Their scores now stand at Def 38, Inf 52, Land 69, Law 29, Pop 36, Pow 46, Wealth 39. This is beginning to look like more of a contender for some serious power.

The Sun of Winter!

I now have to spend my points to build the Karstarks' realm. First, for Defence, they have a castle at Karhold. It is a small castle (30pts) with a single small keep and a couple of towers. Nothing fancy. They have some points left over (8) for further construction in the future, but can't afford anything more right now.

The family has tons of influence, so we spend 20 for a first born son and another 10 for a first born daughter. It is tempting to go for a second son with 10 more, so I do it, leaving 12 points in reserve. Three of my player characters will be of the blood. Awesome. Looking at the entry in the campaign guide, it looks like Eddard Karstark, his brother Torrhen and his sister Alys will all be PCs. The head of the house, Rickard, will be an NPC. Rickard's maximum status is 6.

Now it is time to allocate my Lands points into actual domains. Karhold is out in the north-east of the Northlands, on the Bay of Seals. It looks mainly forest, with some coast and a river valley. I decide to break the domains down as follows:

  • Karhold - plains (5) - dense forest (5) - small town (20) - pond (5)  = 35pts
  • The Valley - plains (5) - river (3) - road (5) = 13pts
  • Seal Coast - plains (5)  - coast (3) - road (5) = 13pts
  • Eastern Woods - plains (5) - light woods (3) = 8pts
I know these are not imaginative names. I like Karhold and the Seal Coast. I see another domain south of Karhold along the river and then a final domain to the east of Karhold between the castle and the sea. These are actually quite small holdings, even though the family has a relatively high land score. The rest will be under their vassals. This just amounts to land directly under their control, which is less than 40 square miles of territory. The estates may not even be contiguous. 

I think Karhold and the Valley and Eastern Woods are likely all easily reachable, but the family has another manor out on the coast which is further away, although still directly owned.

Law and Population actually contribute to House Fortunes. More on this later, but for the time being, the Karstarks have a -2 from their Law of 29, and a +3 from their Population, so looks like a net +1 at the moment.

Next time: we look at the Karstarks' army and their banner houses.

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Making Branna the Fat for d20 Glorantha

Branna the Fat
Further to my earlier ruminations on the topic of running d20 games in Glorantha, I’m working on a party of pregenerated characters as a way to explore some of the ideas I had there. First on the list is Branna the Fat, who is going to serve as an illustration of some of the collated ideas for Gloranthan characters.

If this system goes anywhere, it is going to be a gradual, organic generation of ideas and rules rather than something that is going to erupt, ready made from the creator’s mind.

The first step, as with Dungeons & Dragons, is to roll Branna’s attributes, using 4d6 and dropping the lowest. This provides him with:

STR 14, INT 7, WIS 12. DEX 6, CON 11, CHA 8

Branna is a fairly obese and unpleasant individual by the looks of things, but beneath the rolls of fat lies some muscle. I let the dice roll where they may as I love old school random character generation systems.

As the adventure is going to be in Sartar I decide to make him an Orlanthi. Right now this has not a great deal of bearing on the game stats, other than his initial proficiencies: light armour, shields and simple weapons. This would be basic for all Orlanthi, reflecting the minimum weapons training they receive up to adulthood.

Being of human stock Branna's basic hit die is d8.

We now come onto Branna’s Rune affiliations. Players would generally roll for these. I have not worked out the full range of Glorantan runes in D&D terms, but here are some starters for Branna:

  • AIR rune for being an Orlanthi: +1 DEX; Base walking speed increases to 35 feet; unpredictable (this latter is a personality trait that comes with the Air rune).
  • STASIS rune (random Power rune); +1 STR; advantage on saving throws vs poison; stubborn.
  • DARKNESS rune; +1 WIS; darkvision 60’; secretive.

Thus you can see how the runes impact characters, their attributes, behavior and abilities. I’ve not linked Saving Throws to Runes yet, at the moment I’m inclined to allow this to be player choice, but it may be I shift these into the Runes too.

I decide to choose a tribe for Branna – but again this could be generated if you were putting together a multi-tribe group of warriors – and make him a member of the Torkani tribe. The tribe brings some additional abilities, in this case: proficiency in Deception and Survival, and the ability to speak Uz (troll). He also gets two Circles dice, Torkani 1 and Uz 1 representing his familiarity with these societies. More on Circles later.

NB: in Sartar the Torkani are a tribe that has been driven off their lands several times, have feuded with the Telmori werewolves and who are thought to be associated with the trolls.

Next we come to Branna’s profession. Again this could be rolled for. I go with Farmer. This brings him Wealth 2 (status of a Carl), proficiency in medium armour, Animal Handling and Nature, and some equipment. A farmer’s starting equipment includes a spear, shield, a sword and a chain shirt.

Note – your Wealth score equates to roughly 20 cattle or livestock equivalent (I’m thinking three sheep to the cow here). So Branna could own 10 cows and 30 sheep for example. He’s relatively well off.

Next we come to magic and religion. Branna gets two cantrips. I’m thinking of linking cantrips to profession for the time being, and as a farmer this makes the most sense. I give him Guidance and Resistance.

Branna is an initiate of Argan Argar, which is the main cult within the Torkani tribe. There is the option for him to join the Deloradella cult later on or stick to Argan Argar. Characters don’t have to be a cult member when they begin and don’t have to join their tribal cult. But they do get a free advance in the cult right away and there is no way to access divine magic any other way other than maybe via a heroquest.

Branna gets Bane as his first spell from the cult (with d20 as his exhaustion die if cast at 1st level). He also gets Argan Argar 1 to add to his Circles. This allows him to access the resources of the cult whenever he is close to a centre of worship.

Finally, Branna gets to add his own clan to his circles. In Glorantha, the clan is a sub-group within a tribal coalition. Branna is a member of the Gahagar clan, so gains Clan 1 (Gahagar). I'm thinking his status as a Carl might raise that to Clan 2.

That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. I’m still working on the ideas underpinning Circles and Wealth/Resources. Those may be appear in another post if I decide to take this exercise any further!

Useful reading:

  • D&D Player's Handbook , Mearls / Crawford, 2014
  • Sartar - Kingdom of Heroes, Stafford / Richard, 2012
  • Burning Wheel, Luke Crane, 2002
  • Talislanta - the Savage Land, Sechi, Williams, Bamford, Conrad et al, 2018
  • 13th Age, Heinsoo / Tweet, 2013

Friday, 3 May 2019

Star Trek Adventures: a first foray into the new Modiphius RPG

I’ve been playing some Star Trek Adventures recently. Star Trek has never really been my thing, but I’ve been strong armed into playing in the starter adventure for the new RPG from Modiphius. I’m also curious to try out their 2d20 system as this is something they seem to be using as the mechanics for many of their other RPGs, including Achtung Cthulhu.

I am surrounded by Star Trek fans with an encyclopaedic knowledge of what is a vast and rich universe going back to the 1960s. I think to GM this setting you really need to know your Star Trek, but luckily we have a GM who is a mine of information.

I’m still feeling my way with this universe, about which I know very little of the technical detail, and have started watching The Next Generation as part of my home work on Netflix. That’s when I’m not catching up on my Game of Thrones.

We are playing the starter adventure which Modiphius has put out for the game, which seems to come with some very nice floor plans and some pre-gen characters. I think it seems to scratch the itch for my fellow players, although there are a number of other science fiction settings I’d prefer to game in, including JudgeDredd and Warhammer 40,000, but that’s just me.

In Star Trek you are very much playing to character as the crew of a starship. In this case we are crewing the USS Armstrong in its efforts to work out what has happened to a missing research ship. I’m playing the conn – responsible for piloting ships and shuttles, tinkering with computer systems, jury rigging recalcitrant technology, and getting shot at regularly.

There is an entire sub game here around ship to ship combat which we have not explored, although we are on the trail of a rogue Romulan cruiser which I expect we are going to stumble on at some point. For ship operations you do get to draw on the rest of the crew and your vessel which acts almost like a separate character with its own stats.

The game abstracts much of the rest of the crew, as the focus is very much on the senior officers – i.e. the players – and not the grunts. Rather than provide actual NPCs like in Savage Worlds who function as mooks, crew are there to assist with critical rolls when required. The game tries not to get bogged down in the minutiae of the rest of the crew - the player characters are the heroes here.

The captain is interestingly an NPC in this campaign. He seems to be a conduit for the GM to feed instructions to the players and occasionally stop things from getting out of hand – e.g. a proposal to set phasers to kill during a recent encounter with Romulans in the Neutral Zone.

The 2d20 System

The 2d20 system is an intriguing one. The base check uses 2d20 while characters can assist others by rolling an additional 1d20 if they are not directly involved in an action. Additional dice can be added through various abilities, as can re-rolls. The players add an attribute with a skill to produce a target number they must roll under on each d20. The difficulty level is actually based on the number of successes you need. If you need three or four successes, you need to be finding ways to add more dice to the basic roll.

Further granularity comes from specific character abilities, core values and interest areas. There is no lengthy skill list and equipment is issued as and when required in Star Trek. Most crew have their basic tricorder and phaser.

The game also uses a couple of pools of counters. Momentum points seem to be a way for characters to buy extra actions and re-rolls to push the action in their favour or along routes they want to go. There are also some kind of challenge points which are used by the GM to create difficulties for the characters. There is something of the Savage Worlds bennie system in here. I don’t think we have fully got to grips with this yet.

That’s pretty much 2d20 in a nutshell. It does not seem to be a difficult game and is not very granular. Bear in mind we are only about four sessions into this with a GM who is still learning the ropes, but it seems to be going well. Overall there are other systems I prefer – e.g. the aforesaid Savage Worlds – and I’m writing my Achtung Cthulhu adventures using Call of Cthulhu at the moment. But never say never.