Writing up Eero's Primordial D&D

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  • Oh, now you have to run a second session, considering how Sam enjoyed it - can't let a good man down! The nature of the game is such that it only improves for the first dozen sessions (around which time it plateaus at a level of consistent satisfaction dotted with peaks of excellence, at least for me), so you should see about giving Sam a taste of how the mid-term arcs of the game work.

    Regarding a second session, I'd love to play (if only to see how Mike's GMing and the group's adeptness at making D&D procedures work in chat develops), but I'll very likely be out the entire day on Sunday, playing another game. Next week I'll be available on Tuesday and from Thursday onwards, especially if we can get the date a couple days in advance so I don't book anything.

    Either way, feel free to use the chat room; that's what it is there for, and the natives don't exactly bite. I recommend that if you don't like going to visit the bishop for some strategic wrangling (that was my idea, I think - sounds like my thinking), just get back to that dungeon and see if you can drag out some treasure from there. Or wile wizard-cultists of arcane perdition, at least.

    Regarding how to set up that reverse-party game, I'm thinking along similar lines regarding one-roll adventure resolution. There are boardgames plenty that do this sort of thing, first one probably having been Talisman.
  • Tuesday could work for me, as well, depending on the exact time!

  • Regarding how to set up that reverse-party game, I'm thinking along similar lines regarding one-roll adventure resolution. There are boardgames plenty that do this sort of thing, first one probably having been Talisman.
    I like some of the play you get in Talisman and applaud it for being generally well paced - starting out fairly relaxed and exploratory (at least the first few times you pay it) before building to death-grapples on the top of Mt. Doom with other PCs. Shove in a hex map, the power to spend money on services and a more robust character generation and you pretty much have what I'm looking at here.

    There's another option here: dropping the early-game and starting the players off in the "realm-management" level of play. So, the players are lesser nobles charged with settling the wilderness - they each get a keep spaced out on two sides of a hexmap and have to hire parties to explore, build out-posts and pay taxes, as well as managing a band of powerful "PC" retainers. I'd like to say this is the bit where it gets all Game of Thrones/RTS, but my suspicion is that this phase of D&D must be carefully controlled or else it'll loose all cohesion.


    The Wizard's Fort ain't going anywhere yet, Eero and Paul. I'm sure a little poke around tomorrow won't expose too many of its secrets.
  • Afternoon all - anyone interested in playing today should assemble here between 2-3 (GMT), all welcome.
  • Session again today, at 10 PM GMT, same place as always. As always, everyone is welcome.

    We're doing a bit of buffet style gaming right now, where we pick between different styles or engagements (or even DMs) between sessions. We had ourselves some regular dungeon-delving, a long-term "doing stuff in the village" project that was aimed to deal with a specific type of threat in the dungeon, and the latest session was a hexcrawl. We'll probably continue the hexcrawl this session, though that depends.

    Fictionally, we're now at the place where NPCs start to recur and the world begins to grow. A lot of it is couched in an ongoing conversation about the game, where statements about the greater world are first introduced as guesses, speculations or jokes ("Wouldn't it be interesting if..." "I wonder whether..." "Ha, that's strange! It must be because of..."), but then become 'facts' after someone picks one of them back up and runs with them.

    Also, a lot of the theory-speak that kicked this thread off continues in the form of inter- or post-game analysis or commentary (as we've all got some interest in game design, we will take breaks to make clear not just how a given procedure functions at a specific moment, but also why and how it does in general, and what alternatives could look like). If you have no interest in playing, but would like to take a look at the game as it unfolds and then participate in the post-game discussion, feel free.
  • I wanted to say thank you for letting me try this out yesterday! I checked in three hours early, and we ended up starting early just me, Daumantas (Bodigon) and referEero. We started on a sidequest and Lark the Elf got some solid pathfinding stuff in before almost losing his sister to a hellhound.

    However, I checked the character sheets this morning and found Agador, Zizek and Bodigon dead or MIA! What happened, and where was Lark? (If this is the wrong thread for it, just say so)


    As for the game, it was about what I expected, including at least as fun as I was hoping! I've never played anything OSR before. I started thinking about it after what ended up being my favourite session of that AW game. It had my gunlugger breaking into a guarded outpost to kill the leader and leave without a trace. I ended up not rolling for almost anything but the initial read a sitch, because I managed to solve the problem of navigating the fiction. It sounds simple, but after years of roleplaying I think that was the first extended conflict which felt like it was solved entirely by doing that. And it was great! The contract of "finding and meeting tactical challenges in a well-defined fictional world", or however you put it in this thread before, was in place for that scene.

    And this meeting was like, only that! I've been looking forward to actually play something like this for a long time now, to see if it actually holds what promises I've built up in my head. Turns out it can! Both the hex-crawling and the combat (which in many respect was very much like stuff I've been thinking indie has "solved") was a blast.
  • edited March 2014
    I'm pleased you had fun! Once again I'd like to express my gratitude to Eero for being willing to GM at a moment's notice (my sunday evening was taken up ferrying a grandmother about and I could only join later as the player of Zizek).

    I'm certain Eero would chide me for revealing what happened to our characters (the party being split at the time) but suffice it to say there may have been several tactical errors on my behalf that lead to the death of Brother Zizek, chief amongst them was failing as a player over IRC to read that Bodigon had fallen in combat and Zizek faced the PC-killers on his own. That being said, it was a good death (a 1 HP Level 1 Cleric killed one assailant before falling, always a plus).

    I'm keen to renew my position as nominal GM. Who'd be interested in tackling the Seafort once again during an evening this week?
  • I don't mind not knowing what happened in detail, but if someone would fill me in on what Lark did for the rest of the session (or where he was left to do nothing, if that's it), that'd be swell.
  • I don't think that there is such a thing as a code of omerta that would prevent people from bragging about what happens in the game :D The only issue is that getting OOC tactical knowledge might undermine the challenge of some scenario you are about to engage yourself, but that's pretty much on the head of the listener - if you know that you're going to be playing that same scenario yourself not to soon, then perhaps you don't want to listen to minute analysis of what went right and what went wrong when somebody else tackled it. Certainly nothing that happened in this session is anything I'd consider top secret, perhaps excepting the fate of poor Agador.

    The normal process for handling PCs whose players aren't present is to pretty much ignore their presence as a logistical, strategic and tactical factor - they are assumed to technically speaking be present in the fiction (they're not, despite how players like to joke, trapped in pokeballs for the duration), but they take care of themselves, take no initiative, are in no danger, tend to drift further away from danger, and do not affect the fate of other characters. For instance, in this case the elven contingent of the party as a whole rallied to defend and recuperate; they found an elfhome (a safe wilderness location with much reduced random encounter rates) and are staying there until everybody is again healthy and hale - probably about a week before they feel well enough to travel, what with that throat injury.

    (Such "deprotagonizing" fictional positioning as having your character sidelined for a week because he's taking care of his injured sister are a richness for a sandbox for several reasons, not a weakness: the player might be under pressure to run a second character while their main man recuperates, or the event might turn into general downtime. In any case such "holes in the calendar" become important fictional cornerstones upon which other interesting developments may hinge. For example, now it is the case that the elves are the only party with first-hand knowledge of the fate of poor Bodigon, and of the ominous Tower of Love; this fictional positioning might or might not have significance in the future.)

    That was indeed mightily amusing when two 0th level dishonest retainers overcame Zizek, Bodigon and the lone honest retainer. Zizek proved himself fundamentally unsuited to the dangerous rigours of the adventurer's life when he failed to take sides in the impromptu knife-fight, directly contributing to the death of Bodigon. The entire event was a fine reminder of the dangers of taking retainers for granted :D
  • Gah, and we the elves made such a point of being on our guard for them as well! Of course they would strike when our backs were turned.

    The part about what happens to absent characters is definitely an interesting read!
  • I don't think that there is such a thing as a code of omerta that would prevent people from bragging about what happens in the game :D
    omertà
    /ˌəʊmɛːˈtɑː,Italian omerˈta/
    noun: omertà
    1. (among the Mafia) a code of silence about criminal activity and a refusal to give evidence to the police.
    "loyal to the oath of omertà"

    New word for the week. :) Great title for some kind of Mafia game.

    In defence of Zizek's actions (read:my actions), Eero had been keeping up a tight scene-separation via IRC's private chat windows so I had only the faintest inkling of the nature of the dispute between Bodigon and the Henchmen (who, despite being Lv. 0 had blades and high HP!) and honestly could only have chosen to join the fray on the side of Bodigon with the OOC knowledge that he was a fellow PC and not another desperate mule-thief. Bodigon made no attempt to elicit Zizek's help and with everyone distracted in combat I felt it was wise to wait until the deed was done and then attempt to bring the victor to justice for the ungodly murder of their comrades (sling-clerics don't enter melee willingly). Zizek so far had been a beast with his ranged attacks and I'd been hoping to take out both murderers before they closed the distance but, alas, I got charged despite winning surprise. This, combined with various little procedural oversights on my part as a player, meant leading Zizek to his untimely death. This is what you get for playing moral but hesitant holy men.

    That being said, I have no idea how this fight got started. Were the disruptive henchmen only there because Bodigon decided to hang out with them and eat his lunch rather than join the others toward the tower of love, or were they always destined to rob the party's supplies and kill anyone in their way once we got out of town? Either way is fine, after all exciting things need to happen to the player characters, but I'd be interested to look into the procedure at work here. This kind of event makes me UTTERY PARANOID about hiring henchmen (without at least knowing their true disposition towards the PCs) despite how essential they are to low-level play. Is this the difference between a henchman and a retainer?

  • Regarding initiative rules (I know, this thread is a hodge-podge of random topics), I was pretty happy with my innovations yesterday. As you probably noticed, I sort of clicked with the Moldway initiative system yesterday and rapidly developed it into something more meaningful during play itself. This was a good example of what I mean by organic mechanical innovation through rulings in play, as it arose from my personal relationship to the way the Moldway rules work.

    For background context: I like group initiative, but detest the round-by-round initiative rolls used by so many Basic D&D iterations. It's just not a worthwhile way to spend your time to have an extra roll at the start of each and every round merely to find out who acts first that round. This issue of action order doesn't simply matter enough for the amount of bother it causes, by itself.

    I also, however, like to innovate regarding what initiative means: I find the traditional sense of "who acts first" to be devoid of realism and excitement. In a split-second combat situation initiative can be so much more, as quick decision-making and situation awareness allows you to make better choices and plainly get inside the enemy OODA loop to disrupt their actions and ideally overrun their ability to react to your action.

    My recent home rules have generally used a 3rd edition derived complex individual initiative system that is relatively heavy-weight (we spend about as much time and attention with initiative as with attack rolls), but enables stuff like extra actions per round, exact quantification of how various actions start and stop and get interrupted, paying with initiative score for situation awareness, and stuff like that. Not really something I would even consider porting to an IRC game with a new crew while using the Moldway rules as a base - much too heavy, much too different from how the rest of Moldway operates. Besides, I don't think I have a letters patent from the group to just put fire on the entire Moldway mechanical base and substitute it with my own :D

    Now that I've been living here in Helsinki and been a player, the campaign has been using the LotFP rules as its base, which means return to the Basic initiative system, essentially the same as Moldway. You might imagine that I've thus had my fill of the vapid initiative rolls: nothing exciting ever happens, that initiative roll just shuffles the actions so that sometimes instead of ABAB the actions occur in ABBA or BAAB order.

    Anyway, in last night's session I had a vision of how this concept of lightweight d6 initiative should be utilized: you roll the initiatives, and then the difference between the rolls indicates a "series" of combat rounds during which one side or the other holds the initiative without further rolls. So rolls of 2 vs 5 indicate that the latter party holds initiative for three rounds, for example. Such a "series" can be broken by any extraordinary interference in the flow of battle (successful disengagement, one side's leader biting it, etc.), in which case there are simply new initiatives rolled. Each "series" represents an unbroken melee combat at utmost levels of effort, perhaps ½-1 minutes or so in length. (So instead of each round being strictly 10 seconds, we assume that each series is a minute long - or perhaps we assume both of these at once.)

    So far so good, but the real point comes in considering what it means for a party to hold the initiative during a single series, and what it means for a "series" to end, in fictional terms. For the first point I basically started piling on any advantages that came up for the side with initiative: both sides of the combat dynamic still get their goes, one per round, it's just that the initiative side tends to get better intel and opportunity to act. For examples, the init side gets to choose action last and execute first, the init side may choose to attack or defend (in footwork terms - whether you're giving ground or taking it), the init side may switch weapons at the start of the series without penalty (using that couple of seconds that they stole for it), and so on. Basically, with the initiative you're just treated a bit better in the action negotiations.

    As for that second question, I promptly stole the notion of "reorientation action" from my home game - in that system with its minute-long combat rounds each round has a "between bouts" phase in between combat rounds, during which things PCs can do things that are untenable in actual melee; retreat, drinking potions, talking with the enemy or allies, committing to spells for the next round are things that are done at this juncture, the round itself being much too quick and hazardous action for such things.

    Applying this concept to Mentzer, I found myself pushing these off-melee tactical actions to the end of individual "series" of rounds, according to the concept as I explain it above. So instead of letting the players deliberate e.g. retreat or reshuffling of melee every round, I delayed that until each individual series finished due to either disruption (somebody did something to disengage the melee) or the series running to its natural end. (Each series with these d6 initiative rolls are 1-5 rounds long, depending on the rolls).

    The most dramatic use of these new concepts was in that fight between the General and poor Mithryn: Mithryn was entirely outforced by the 10 HD General, despite its modest unarmed stature, and the situation was only made worse by the General's utter domination in terms of initiative - it's not a fast creature, but even a heavy and slow one can get the jump on you if you stumble, leaving you to scramble for defense while it rains heavy blows on you. This was what happened to Mithryn, who in fact attempted a disengagement action to get out of the lethal series of action rounds before he'd be taken down by the monster. I was pleased with this fight, as I was with the elves vs. the hellhound fight earlier, as they showed concretely how I could make the initiative matter more: the elves had a major advantage in being able to predict who the hellhound was going to jump for each round (thanks to getting to hear its action before taking their own), and the General had an advantage in being able to prevent Mithryn from disengaging from a fight that had turned ill for him.

    So that's an interesting thing from the session, at least for me - I can totally understand if the above seems like hot air and GM arbitrariness to other people, but from my viewpoint I was developing new tenets for a slightly different twist on the D&D combat procedure. Making it my own once again, in a sense :D If this sea-change is allowed to flower, I imagine that my next step will be to decide how missile weapons and magic latch onto this concept of "series" of rounds...

    The implicit creative nature of the process is also illuminating to consider, when thinking about the creative dynamics of D&D: as is often the case, this development of new initiative concepts happened largely through the agency the GM has in instructing the mechanical process: I never stopped to explain what I'd realized to the other players, I merely implemented it. I in fact don't know if the others noticed that I was drifting mechanically - either they accepted the way I parsed the fiction into mechanics, or they noticed nothing different, even as the principles behind the combat round logic were undergoing a revolution. Over the long term the players would presumably either tacitly accept the new parsing of the familiar concepts, even if I didn't get around to explaining myself, or they would complain, starting a judicial review process.
  • That being said, I have no idea how this fight got started. Were the disruptive henchmen only there because Bodigon decided to hang out with them and eat his lunch rather than join the others toward the tower of love, or were they always destined to rob the party's supplies and kill anyone in their way once we got out of town? Either way is fine, after all exciting things need to happen to the player characters, but I'd be interested to look into the procedure at work here. This kind of event makes me UTTERY PARANOID about hiring henchmen (without at least knowing their true disposition towards the PCs) despite how essential they are to low-level play. Is this the difference between a henchman and a retainer?
    A good question. As the scenario is over and done with, I can comment up this: these henchmen and their very specific relationship to Sir Fondleroy Addleton, your erstwhile patron, are carefully outlined in the scenario I was running. So I didn't need e.g. disposition rolls or such as long as we remained within the purview of the scenario, as I knew exactly what these particular NPCs would do in certain conditions.

    (Anybody wanting to read the scenario text upon which this adventure was based is welcome to find "The Tower of Duvan'Ku" in Fight On #3, I think. However, you should realize that reading that pretty much makes you non-eligible for entering the actual tower, should you be planning to do that later on. You can either read the adventure or play it, it doesn't make sense to do both.)

    It is notable that the nature of these men had in fact been foreshadowed heavily in earlier parts of the adventure; Addleton himself hired you guys to escort him specifically because he'd overheard the men speculating about robbing him earlier on their travels. It wasn't exactly a surprise to Bodigon what happened.

    Bodigon's remaining behind affected basically only one part of the events, and that was the fact that he decided to check up on the retainers, which ended up with him stumbling in the midst of their argument about what to do with Addleton's treasure now that the man himself was out of sight. Here Bodigon had many options as to how to approach the situation, including letting the men do whatever they wanted, but he decided to sort of float (refused to try a Charisma check to take control of the situation, for instance) until they got violent at each other, at which point he sided with the one guy who wanted to remain loyal to Addleton. Had Bodigon not been there, the two dishonest retainers would've knifed the honest one and left with the mule and the pearls, just like they did after finishing you two off.

    Also: I definitely have no critique for how Zizek acted, or how Mike played him - it was all just fine with me. I'm just commiserating philosophically when I speculate about Zizek perhaps not having been cut out for an adventuring career, after all. It was just a tragedy how such a frail yet just man ended up mingling with such a band of cut-throats.
  • edited March 2014
    Interesting stuff!

    I noticed the new imitative order but felt discussing it during play would only steal back the time it had liberated. It's a fine system, sure, but brutal as all getout. It was excruciating watching Mithryn stagger under the orge's blows, unable to act for 4 rounds (or suffer opportunity attacks trying to flee) while the orge let loose. In retrospect I feel Mithryn's death was a little unfair and feel the need for a review: having to sit and suffer 3-5 consecutive attack rounds is (a) dull and (b) unreasonably lethal even at high levels. Mithryn's only available action seemed to be to take the attacks or attempt to withdraw (and suffer AoO). A small change could be that for every "bonus" round the initative winner scores over 2 counts to another combat advantage (like disallowing withdrawl, or some other combat trick, disarming attempt etc).

    This kind of thinking leads nicely to the creation of a swashbuckler class (conceptually one of my favourites but usually poorly implemented esp. 3.5) that gets specific situational boons for rolls in the initiative round if fighting on his own (much like a Thief's skills to use the Moldvay sensibilities - which I think are a good frame work for finding common ground between players from different play-cultures). I like the idea of having a mutable class system, or at least the capacity for reasoned player invention.

    Coming late to play I was largely out of the picture in regards to what this adventure was and any understandings you'd come to with the other players. Perhaps this led in some way to Zizek's demise (which was always coming anyway and I'd rather die avenging another PC than to the proboscis of a random Sturge), but it's not too likely. The master strategy would have been to wait until the thieves took their spoils and withdrew, stabilising Bodigon if possible, then following their mule-tracks and harrying their retreat, hopefully fatally wounding them. Zizek could have then claimed the loot and XP (for ill or good).
  • Well, you're ignoring the default response of attacking back - it wasn't just one side getting "free" attacks on the other :D

    The only major difference here was the concept that breaking off a melee engagement has a price, you can't just decide at an arbitrary moment in close combat that you've had enough and leg it, not without risking repercussions. I feel that this is both pretty realistic, and pretty interesting.

    I should clarify, the available means of getting out of combat under this systemic model would be as follows:
    - Outright run, unheeding the present and immediate danger of your opponent. Because the opponent is on top of things and has initiative, they're going to have a chance at striking you in the back as you turn your back on them. In other words: they get an opportunity attack, you get to flee.
    - Retreat defensively, attempting to outpace and mislead the opponent to get that crucial few feet of distance that'll allow you to turn and run without suffering that opportunity attack. This takes an action, requires a roll to succeed, and also gives you +4 to AC (or something of the sort - could be +2 maybe) even if you don't succeed; only possible if you can trade space for security, of course.
    - Wait under their onslaught for a break in the action that'll allow you to slip away. In other words, wait for the current "series" to end, and declare retreat before the next initiatives are rolled.

    I don't think that this is that unreasonable, really. The traditional parsing with the miniatures logic feels much more unreasonable, in fact, as it assumes perfect balance, perfect footwork, and no combat friction of any sort. Of course under those assumptions it is always trivial to move out of combat - just move your miniature away from the enemy miniature. In real (open skirmish) combat it's not that simple, as you're moving all the time anyway, and the opponent is trying to actively kill you; you can't just wait for your turn and move away while they stand still waiting for their turn to occur.

    In the actual situation with Mithryn he could have escaped earlier, before he was too weak to safely disengage (a typical D&D player mistake regardless of mechanical details, by the way - players routinely play it too close in fights, leaving themselves open for an unexpected follow-up attack), or he could have had better luck on the dice.

    I should note that I definitely don't want to criticize Shreyas's conduct of the fight here - D&D is a wild and woolly game where situations change, and it was his first session with us, so it is entirely natural that he wouldn't know exactly what levers to pull there. Sort of like a newbie lawyer, they simply don't know when to call for that all-important objection to the opposition's dirty tricks. I admit that this sort of situation is inherently "unfair" - how could it be fair when the GM is experimenting with the combat system right in the middle of play, instead of carefully writing it down and sending it for approval in advance.

    Also, for clarity: I introduced these innovations on referee operative prerogative yesterday - it's a right you have due to the fact that it's not possible to run an entirely inimical system reliably, so we generally let GMs fiddle with systems until they feel comfortable with them. However, this does not imply that I would require other GMs in the campaign to utilize the same procedures, or even that I demand these innovations to be used in the future. As I said above, anybody may call for judicial review and have my ideas from yesterday overturned in reasoned debate, such as what we're having here. (I feel the need to clarify this social process because the alternative opinions seem pretty wide-spread in the OSR scene, such as the idea that the GM is king and it's his way or highway. Can't be that, I don't have any right to piss on the campaign like that with rules that other players don't like.)
  • I recognise the shifting nature of our experimental play and don't hold you accountable for "getting it wrong" or anything like that, I'd just like to advocate for a peer-review of this system. Once I manage to get back into the DM chair I will certainly be testing innovations that still reward a good initiative roll but translates into more nuanced results; I am sickened by the concept of multiple attack rolls per round (especially as fast monsters, etc, have multiple attacks figured into their stats already) and anything more than two/round gets me very hot and bothered on either side of the DM-screen. I would rather give a damage boost to a single attack roll on a good initiative rather than describe how its victim is incapable of action (which produces similar rewards for good rolling but cuts down on the number of rolls per combat significantly). Frankly, if you were looking to save time in the procedure, there are more balanced and interesting ways of doing it.

    Alternatively, perhaps Attack of Opportunity needs a dark twin: Something like "If a "to hit" roll is missed the victim can elect to seize the opportunity to withdraw from immediate range without suffering AoO." So, if the General had missed one of his blows then Mithryn could have interrupted the combat flow to withdraw from the immediate multi-attack being performed on him (although not from combat all together).
  • Unless you're referring to the attack-of-opportunity effect, I don't think there were any "multiple attacks" in play here. If I'm reading Eero correctly, his interpretation of the initiative roll was something like this:

    "Okay, the evil general [ogre] has won initiative. This means that there will be 1-5 rounds before Mithryn has an opportunity to slip away with ease... if he wants to slip away now, he's vulnerable and he could get hit as he does so."

    It doesn't limit his options against the ogre at all, it just means that he's entangled enough not to be able to simply step out of the ogre's way and run: the beast got the jump on him, after all.

    I like this interpretation of the initiative rules, grim as it turned for Mithryn. (This had to do largely with everyone else abandoning him, mind you: while Zizek threw a stone at the general - to great effect, as usual! the shot would have felled any one of us - everyone else, including Bodigon, the retainers, and Agador, left him to die. So Mithryn's fate here is largely on the group, not just a series of poor rolls.)

    Eero,

    I very much like your take on initiative here. I've always thought that the interesting aspects of initiative were not "who goes first" in a perfectly symmetrical system (although that does make a big difference in the very first round of combat), but rather the declaration of actions (i.e. ability to know what your opponent is doing and react), flow of information (how much do you know before having to make your decision?), and perhaps better control of battlefield conditions (the initiative winner might have a better chance to pick where the clash of arms will take place on the battlefield, and to position themselves accordingly).

    When I used to play Fudge, I always had a character ability called "Combat Reflexes", and it had to do with the character's battle experience. Someone rolling well would be able to collect information and make careful strategic choices; someone with poor outcomes might just be told, "Some dark shape is coming towards you, and there's a roar! What do you do?"

    This seems like a good representation of character experience, in my mind.

    However, I'd never considered the idea of extending initiative to a random "series" of rounds; this is a pretty neat idea. It sounds like it could be difficult to balance under certain circumstances, but very interesting, and represents the ebb and flow of combat well.

    The only issue I see (aside from working out the specifics of just how much of an advantage having the initiative gives you) is that it must be possible to break out of a series. There should be a number of ways to interrupt the series and/or force a new roll before it's over. Eero, you mention a few above, and I think this is a good and important direction to go. A group which is facing 5 rounds of lost initiative against an overwhelming foe must have some good strategic options on hand rather than being forced to weather the 5 rounds. Fighting back is one good option: essentially, accepting the conditions of the fight and engaging in it fully seems right and proper to me. But other options might be worth considering.

    For instance (and, for all I remember, maybe we even did this last night), when Zizek landed a powerful blow against the general (6 hit points of damage to the head has to be a pretty serious hit, as it would kill most men), I feel a good argument could have been made for that triggering a new initiative roll, perhaps allowing Mithryn to escape while the ogre was knocked off-balance momentarily. (Again, maybe this is what happened anyway - I don't particularly remember).

    For the readers and onlookers, yes, all the characters but Lark perished in the mess, while Fondleroy disappeared into the Tower of Love. Agador pursued him and entered the Tower as well. Alas, he hasn't been since. Hence, I've marked his status as "missing in action" on the character sheet.

  • I emphasize once more: my suggestion above does not give anybody multiple attacks per round. Everybody is still getting one attack per round. If you think that I wrote differently, then read again (or point out where I write thus, so I can go back and fix it).

    But insofar as the procedure goes, we're on the same page - test, implement, revise, see where the process goes. Imagining the D&D rules as a finished edifice is simply putting faith in the wrong elements of the game's system. Trust the process of revision, not the momentary state of the law.
  • edited March 2014
    Ahem, sorry sorry - not multiple attacks per round (per se), but multiple uninterrupted rounds in which one can attack once. This is functionally the same as multiple attacks per round, only it takes more game-time. They're synonymous to be, but I can see were my language is confusing. I'll restate the point in clear terms but I think Paul caught it nicely when he said...

    The only issue I see (aside from working out the specifics of just how much of an advantage having the initiative gives you) is that it must be possible to break out of a series. There should be a number of ways to interrupt the series and/or force a new roll before it's over. Eero, you mention a few above, and I think this is a good and important direction to go. A group which is facing 5 rounds of lost initiative against an overwhelming foe must have some good strategic options on hand rather than being forced to weather the 5 rounds. Fighting back is one good option: essentially, accepting the conditions of the fight and engaging in it fully seems right and proper to me. But other options might be worth considering.
    Yes, it's the lack of strategic options apparent that bothers me, truly. I keep putting myself in Mithryn's shoes: if the combat sequence is so engaging that I cannot end it without taking injury, what options do I have? The best option is to weather the attacks and hope your assailant misses, rather than to flee and suffer an auto-hit, and that seems unintuitive.

    Perhaps players could choose to loose ground or break formation, or a dozen realistic-sounding responses to being overwhelmed in combat? I don't think imitative success needs to always translate directly into opportunities to make a "to hit" roll.

    I hope you don't find my bolshie attitude about revision mean-spirited, I'm just keen to get to the meat of the issue - I think this is a product of my time as a DM, operating under a credo of "rule fast, rule light," and quickly barking out ruling tweaks in the manner of a combative auctioneer waiting for the subtle nods of players "buying in." It's a rude communication style and I should probably spend a little longer unpacking my thoughts on what and where feels off to me.

    I can see the balances you've put onto this - like allowing interruption of a 1-5 round sequence with certain actions - but I don't think those balances are strong enough or communicated to the players at their time of greatest need (at the time of writing, of course :P ).

  • The only issue I see (aside from working out the specifics of just how much of an advantage having the initiative gives you) is that it must be possible to break out of a series. There should be a number of ways to interrupt the series and/or force a new roll before it's over. Eero, you mention a few above, and I think this is a good and important direction to go. A group which is facing 5 rounds of lost initiative against an overwhelming foe must have some good strategic options on hand rather than being forced to weather the 5 rounds. Fighting back is one good option: essentially, accepting the conditions of the fight and engaging in it fully seems right and proper to me. But other options might be worth considering.

    For instance (and, for all I remember, maybe we even did this last night), when Zizek landed a powerful blow against the general (6 hit points of damage to the head has to be a pretty serious hit, as it would kill most men), I feel a good argument could have been made for that triggering a new initiative roll, perhaps allowing Mithryn to escape while the ogre was knocked off-balance momentarily. (Again, maybe this is what happened anyway - I don't particularly remember).
    I agree with this as a design strategy statement, we're in harmony on the proposed goals of this initiative system idea. While I personally don't think that initiative played in this manner would always be decisive, at times it might well be a very good idea to be able to force a new initiative roll to seize the advantage. A lot depends on if you're fighting a conservative stationary battle, or relying on complex maneuver, as the latter is much more difficult if the opponent is on top of things and you aren't.

    Regarding the General's reaction to Zizek's blow, it suffices to say that there are elements of the scenario in play there that influenced by judgement, but which I'm loathe to reveal before it's clear whether anybody's going back into that scenario. (I am of course discussing the specific mechanical abilities of the General here.) I will say that I considered the angle you're presenting, and judged it to my satisfaction, which holds in hindsight. In the situation that you think you saw, your judgement would be mine as well - such a surprising blow would well warrant a new initiative check.

    The next interesting question I'll have to ponder on regarding this new idea is whether it warrants adding some slightly better tools for initiative manipulation to the game. The Basic D&D initiative is basically a random roll, with few ways to influence it, but with the slightly increased importance it takes here it might be worthwhile to have a few basic ideas for how to guarantee a better initiative score. There are of course a lot of stock options in D&D's mechanical history, I'll need to see if there are some that resonate particularly elegantly with this notion of "round series", and the conceit of group initiative.
  • Seems like maybe you'd want an option to attack the opponent's initiative, throwing them into disarray or something, instead of attacking their hitpoint pool.
  • Yes, it's the lack of strategic options apparent that bothers me, truly. I keep putting myself in Mithryn's shoes: if the combat sequence is so engaging that I cannot end it without taking injury, what options do I have? The best option is to weather the attacks and hope your assailant misses, rather than to flee and suffer an auto-hit, and that seems unintuitive.
    I think that my suggested action for defensive retreat is entirely fair in this regard, and it's not either giving the enemy a free strike nor is it merely passively weathering their attacks: you spend your action, get a chance to break off the series, and if that fails, you still get a substantial AC bonus. Seems fair to me. It doesn't guarantee that you can escape every melee every time, but it's likely enough that after at most a couple of rounds of combat you'll be able to get out of underfoot and get the chance to run away. Frankly, to me this seems like the ideal balance: I want a melee combatant to be able to force combat on another, but I also want the other side to be able to run away if they don't want the fight.

    I guess it could be even more powerful, but if you could just declare action to get out of the exchange of blows, then that pretty much obviates the whole concept of battlefield control - we're back in the "you hit, I hit" paradigm, where fighters just trade blows until one side decides that it's time to run rather than be taken down.

    Of course, if the entire notion of melee being a dangerous pressure cooker doesn't entice, then I understand how this course of thinking doesn't seem appealing. I like having combats be sweaty, dangerous affairs where people can get confused, afraid, and otherwise irrational and murky - friction of war, as I like to misuse Clausewitz :D
  • +1 to Christopher's idea of attacking the opponent's initiative; pulling a maneuver that can disrupt the enemy's attention long enough to force a new init roll. One thing I like in particular about this: it would give tactical benefit to really minor spells and legerdemain. A sparkle of lights or a small sound off the enemy's left flank might be all you need to potentially throw him off his initiative.
  • edited March 2014
    you spend your action, get a chance to break off the series, and if that fails, you still get a substantial AC bonus.
    There's the concession that'll get be back around the table (so to speak, I wouldn't leave if you paid me). AC bonus going on seems a little clunky but it's a good sop to my sense of fair play. I reckon we can nuance this into something much more rewarding though.
    Of course, if the entire notion of melee being a dangerous pressure cooker doesn't entice, then I understand how this course of thinking doesn't seem appealing. I like having combats be sweaty, dangerous affairs where people can get confused, afraid, and otherwise irrational and murky - friction of war, as I like to misuse Clausewitz :D
    I think most everyone would agree. It's kind like saying "I like my comedies to be funny!" - that combat is supposed to be tense and suspenseful is a given, yo. Though it's probably safe to say that everyone interprets tactics and combat differently when you get down to it (we're armchair generals to a man after all). My general notion is that, while it feels realistic for you to be able to lock someone into combat, there should be a range of strategic options available to the defender - many of them negative but several preferable to loss of life that I would assume to be similar to "real world" events. It's at this stage that I think that forward thinking by the players about strategy, formation, command etc can be rewarded - that moment where the rat men are raining blows on your shields and the line's about to falter! Then the fighter leaps over the beleaguered henchmen's shield wall to stab the rat-king between his beady eyes! D&D perfection. But maybe that's the point we're at already? The fighter's leap-attack would be the interruption to the ratmen's initiative victory, permissable in the situation because the fighter in question chose to hid behind the shield wall for that very purpose. Maybe this just needs to be enshrined in a few good "creedos" or something.
    Seems like maybe you'd want an option to attack the opponent's initiative, throwing them into disarray or something, instead of attacking their hitpoint pool.
    I like this. Consider it filed away under "Iiiiinteresting..!"
    +1 to Christopher's idea of attacking the opponent's initiative; pulling a maneuver that can disrupt the enemy's attention long enough to force a new init roll. One thing I like in particular about this: it would give tactical benefit to really minor spells and legerdemain. A sparkle of lights or a small sound off the enemy's left flank might be all you need to potentially throw him off his initiative.
    INTERESTING..!
  • I experimented with a melee mechanic that had some similarities with this intiative series concept. Each player had a deck of playing cards, and the one with initiative played a card out; the opponent had to play a card in the same suit or suffer harm. If the defender could play same suit as well as higher value, the iniative switched. Obviously then, the attacker is best served by playing out their highest cards first, but in so doing they tend to run out of high value cards, while the defender only needs to play low value cards to stay out of trouble. Sooner or later the attacker plays a card which the defender can beat, and so the intiative switches. This is a fair way removed from D&D initiative, but it may have some relevance in the way the switch over emerged naturally from mechanical decisions.
  • I like that, Contra! My only grumble is that I hate mixing cards and dice - there's something about the physical change that creates mental turbulence for me and suggest we're entering a combat mini-game rather than a concordant extension of the world's rules as established.
    It's totally instinctive though, rationally your system sounds like a lot of fun.
  • Combining those two ideas, the hand of cards a player is dealt depends on the initiative and the duration of the "series". So, if you're defending yourself against the ogre for five rounds, you'd have an accordingly-sized hand of cards. As the ogre attacks, you wear down your hand, hoping to survive and/or turn the tables.

    Getting out of that situation somehow, or something happening which rejiggers the initiative, means you discard your hand and draw new cards, of course. (It doesn't make sense to keep your hand, which is depleted by lost initiative against the ogre, when you get the drop on a brigand and want to bash his head in.)

    In fact, the cards drawn probably should determine your initiative anyhow (e.g. compare your highest card).

    It's possible to do this with dice, too (most obviously if you have different colours of dice, for instance).
  • I just happen to open a thread about this, based on a card-based combat system Eero developed years ago.
  • this is actually a pretty neat idea and has me thinking. I have a strong feeling that 3–5 rounds of initiative is actually enough to swing pretty much any important fight in my game guaranteed. Not to mention that we roll d8s (and have our own homespun spell speed rules sitting awkwardly on top of it).
  • I have a strong feeling that 3–5 rounds of initiative is actually enough to swing pretty much any important fight in my game guaranteed.
    That's my misgiving in a nutshell. So much depends on a good initiative!

    Eero and I discussed my next character. Potentially a homebrewed "Shield Bearer" class that has some robust custom shield rules - perhaps the retro-inclusion of what we'd recognise as a "Tank" roll in a MMORPG in low-level OSR play.

    The current shield-rulings for Shield Bearers is being parsed as: "Shield Bearers fighting defensively gain 4 AC against 'to hit' rolls until they are injured by an attack, at which point the shield is considered 'knocked aside' and the SB looses their shield's AC bonus until their next turn when they can elect to fight defensively again."

    I can feel my routes in 4E coming through here, a bit, but I'm not sure that's a bad thing. ;)
  • I had gotten the impression that in the kind of OSR-play that Eero tended to engage in, this kind of character build stuff was de-emphasized? That characters started off very similar, and anyone could take advantage of, e.g., shield-fighting rules just by describing what their character was doing with a shield. Am I right, and this game is just different from the stuff that Eero has been describing previously, or have I misunderstood Eero's previous descriptions?

    I know that at least one of Eero's campaigns had Initiations (feats) that were gained in-fiction, but were loosely tied to 1/level. But I had assumed these were not the main focus, as characters rarely attained even 5th level, and so can't have had very many of these.

    Eero, perhaps you could talk more about how character abilities, feats, and progression have worked in games you have played? Some things that I would be interested in (answer as many as you like):
    1. How important are feats?
    2. Do you need to get feats in order to do certain actions? Or can everyone do everything, but feats improve your efficacy?
    3. Who invents feats?
    4. If feats are only available in-fiction, how do stop the GM from having too much control over PCs' progressions? (Not that I am expecting the game to revolve around players plans for their character's progression. Rather, my concern is that by making the GM responsible for providing opportunities for all these advancements the GM is overloaded and ends up stunting PCs growth by failing to provide enough interesting feat-learning opportunities.)
    5. Are feats defined mechanically or fictionally, and then worked out mechanically in real use? I'd expect the latter.
  • Ah, you were thinking of making that a class exclusive rule. Hmm.

    My own inclination would be to have the Shield Bearer be just a Servant or Fighter - I like to not have a separate class for every character concept, and it's not that strong of a concept. The Fighter could have access to an improved shield technique just because he's Fighter, the Servant by virtue of his skill-adaptation mechanic - be the servant of a great fighter, you learn to bear his arms and help him in a fight a bit.

    As for the shield rule, as we discussed, I much prefer stronger shields than standard D&D gives - that +1 AC is ridiculously piddly for such a central tool of war.

    My currently favoured alternative of the ideas we discussed, for the Moldway context, is this: "A shield provides its user +2 AC against a single opponent, or +4 for Fighters. This bonus goes away if the opponent knocks the shield aside; a hit that strikes the shield does it, or a maneuver. The shield can be reinstated in any break in the exchange of blows - either maneuver for the chance, or reinstate at the end of the series at the latest if using that notion."
  • Also, the initiative system is cool. I'd be interested to hear whether Eero feels like he has different aims for this system, as opposed to the 3E-style one he used previously. Or whether this mechanical flowering is simply an expression of the same goals under different constraints / different inspiration (namely, Moldway initiative as a starting point).

    What are those goals? One of them seems to be getting at the nature of melee as a pretty relentless thing that's difficult to disengage from. Another seems to be having interesting options generated from initiative, rather than just a first-round strike advantage.
  • I was considering how many variant builds have been forged more around the DPS, Tank and Support roles than aroung the Fighter, Rogue, Cleric, Wizard roles. Even to the point where the later mix as flavor with the former to create these builds. I've seen Dex based tanks, where the character distracts the enemy but keeps avoiding his attacks, I've seen Tank Wizards, who use magical shields and magic armor to withstand greats amount of damage. I know this is probably going too far from D&D roots, but do you think it would be viable to built class options around this instead?
  • As for my personal mechanical inclinations, you should note that we are not playing an "Eero is king and tells us poor peasants what to do" game here - if we were, many things would be different. Rather, we're re-investigating this subject matter from a fresh angle, with fresh interpersonal creative relationships in play. I would never have played with the Moldway rules, with demihuman classes in full and active use, were I going solely by my own inclinations. It's a fresh start!

    Specifically, the Moldway chassis immediately makes much of my homebrew system inapplicable - it makes no sense whatsoever to implement many of those ideas in a context where we have HP-as-physical-damage, 10 second combat rounds, ability modifiers referenced off elaborate tables, and so on.

    However, I do hold to certain precepts that I do not consider "mere game mechanics" - the actual system of ideal D&D as I conceive it is unitary, even if there are a multitude of mechanical directions one could take. In this wider context I consider the idea of character builds an unhygienic practice; it is very important that players do not desire, and can not, predesign characters and armchair speculate about their supposed combat effectiveness as a replacement for actually playing the game. Allowing character builds was the single greatest flaw in 3rd edition to my mind.

    Regarding your questions:
    1) Feats are as important as you make them. My theoretical answer is that D&D needs some way of phrasing the idea that individual characters may have a fictional position that translates into mechanical hooks specific to them; the old way is to have these arrangements be entirely informal (you write in the back of your character sheet that your guy got special training/blessing/whatever and now can do thing X), while the new way is to have some formalistic rules and constraints and processes that encourage and balance these things, perhaps. My homebrew with its "initiations" is an example of the feat-like style, with certain formal processes that both ensure that you get cool stuff, and ensure that you don't get too much of it even if you try for it religiously, and ensures that you can't prebuild your character despite cool stuff existing and being known.
    2) I think that the 3rd edition discussion about feats "preventing" people from doing things is somewhat ancillary to me personally - I dont' think that the criticism of 3rd edition is that well-placed in this regard. It suffices for me to say that the system in play has failed if a character who fictionally speaking should be capable of something is not.
    3) Mechanical innovation is the purview of everybody in D&D, I believe; specifically, D&D has so much stuff that can be done, and should be done, at the table, that there simply isn't any need to fight over who gets to do what. If your GM is a control freak who can't live with the players being proactive and suggesting things, that's his problem - make him see that new Lego movie, perhaps it'll help :D
    4) Because your play is not predicated on getting cool new feats in the first place, it is not a problem if the GM is somewhat stingy about it. Either the players push harder if they really, really need something (like I do on occasion in our current LotFP-based tabletop campaign arc - the GM is really not proactive about cool stuff in that one), or they make do without. It's a negotiation, as are most of the things in the game.
    5) I define a feat in fictional terms first, but I am only truly happy with feats that are also mechanically interesting and unique.
  • Also, the initiative system is cool. I'd be interested to hear whether Eero feels like he has different aims for this system, as opposed to the 3E-style one he used previously. Or whether this mechanical flowering is simply an expression of the same goals under different constraints / different inspiration (namely, Moldway initiative as a starting point).

    What are those goals? One of them seems to be getting at the nature of melee as a pretty relentless thing that's difficult to disengage from. Another seems to be having interesting options generated from initiative, rather than just a first-round strike advantage.
    My personal creative goals are the same, it's just a different campaign context here. Your points about the nature of combat are perceptive, I do indeed have ambitions there that run counter to the mainstream of D&D thought.
    I was considering how many variant builds have been forged more around the DPS, Tank and Support roles than aroung the Fighter, Rogue, Cleric, Wizard roles. Even to the point where the later mix as flavor with the former to create these builds. I've seen Dex based tanks, where the character distracts the enemy but keeps avoiding his attacks, I've seen Tank Wizards, who use magical shields and magic armor to withstand greats amount of damage. I know this is probably going too far from D&D roots, but do you think it would be viable to built class options around this instead?
    I dislike the video game combat role classifications personally because of their artificiality and resulting shallowness in their ability to speak about humanity; those roles mainly exist as an artifice of the way D&D hitpoint rules and combat rounds were transferred into the digital medium. That does not prevent other people from working with them, of course, if they're considered creatively interesting.
  • edited March 2014
    In regards to the shield bearer concept, I'm very fine with this be parsed more generally through a certain brand of fighter or positioning rather than being a bold-letters Character Class. The difference is a semantic one to me - the way they appear in-game is very much the same whatever you want to call it. If it makes you feel more OSRbadass, then I'm all for it! ;)

    Two reasons for Moldvay:
    a) Just brought the B/X books at my FLGS.
    b) Fight back against Eero's historicism with a more by-the-book yank-o-vision strange tales vibe. So for it's having great effects as Moldvay (me) and Ragi (Eero) do battle over the just about everything, maybe through compromise we can find D&D zen or locate the Platonic Ideal D&D?

    Although, having thought about it, in my opinion Ideal D&D isn't a set of perfect, infallible rules but actually the opposite - knowing the rules are crap and will always be crap and therefore constantly playing with our designer hats on, constantly striving to better the gameplay and experiment to that end. The zen isn't the destination but the method of travel. If I were to write a text about this experience (which, after all, is the subject of this discussion) it would be a primer on Playing while Building.

  • Yes, I definitely like that this experiment is proceeding with Moldway; it is a net positive. (I've especially enjoyed playing with honest-to-god nice woodland elves first time in 15 years, and I'm also fond of that idea I had for a new direction with the Basic D&D initiative system.) I feel that this bears emphasizing, as people don't seem to usually consider that something may well be a good thing even if e.g. I personally would not have made that choice. If I were a perfect monad, self-sufficient in everything, I wouldn't even play with you jerks.

    As for the role of rules, that's pretty much my stance, as I've been trying to explain it: the actually interesting element of old school D&D that is most relevant today is not necessarily in the specific mechanical conceits it happens to have (although there are interesting and highly relevant details there as well, among the should I say less successful notions), but rather in the systemic process behind those mechanics: the role that mechanics have in a rpg is conceptualized completely differently in older D&D than it is in e.g. trad games, new D&D or Forgite design. It's a fresh change of pace even if you've seen everything else already.

    And yes, go and write about constructive play whenever you feel you're ready. As I said at the start of the thread, it's one less problem for me if people write what needs to be written about this without my having to do it myself :D
  • A character role is not merely mechanical in an important way. My character, Bodigon, was a mechanically a dwarf. However, due to the character's actions, he became: 1) a well-connected individual that was a major connector for recurring NPCs - the kind of guy you go to if you want to meet a guy; 2) a sort of de facto caravan leader for various expeditions or trade routes - I've spent more time negotiating retainer wages and trying to collect advance payment for requested goods than I have dungeon-delving; 3) a budding alchemist - having encountered some green slimes, he made a homebrewed powerful base to fight them, with plans to catch some green slime itself for the acidic property and finally getting an ever-warm hellhound heart.

    None of this is a mechanical ability, but it is certainly a kind of character role. You get stuff like that not as part of chargen, though, but through play.

    A minor problem with that is, Bodigon having died to a mule-thief, the new character I rolled up is naturally significantly less interesting than the one with all the actual play behind him.
  • edited March 2014
    That's the beauty of it, DW, you have all these ambitions and ideas generated from playing a character and then -WHAM- 0 HP! It's an essential part of the game experience: ambitions and motivations for characters spawn really naturally even after a few minutes of fictional positioning. I think humans, generally, are really good at justifying information received into a motivation for new action very quickly - your connection to and plans for Bodigon are emblematic of empathy for a character and his world. It's what gives us our PC preservation instincts in dangerous dungeons and probably kept Bodigon alive much longer than the luck of the dice might've otherwise.
  • edited March 2014
    you should note that we are not playing an "Eero is king and tells us poor peasants what to do" game here
    Ya, I get that the game you guys are playing on IRC is not "Eero's game". Is this thread still the right place to ask about Eero's thoughts on OSR D&D? Or is this now just a thread for the the IRC game? For now I'll assume I can ask more about "Eero D&D" - as always, others are welcome to come in with their own thoughts on this.
    My theoretical answer is that D&D needs some way of phrasing the idea that individual characters may have a fictional position that translates into mechanical hooks specific to them; the old way is to have these arrangements be entirely informal (you write in the back of your character sheet that your guy got special training/blessing/whatever and now can do thing X), while the new way is to have some formalistic rules and constraints and processes that encourage and balance these things, perhaps. My homebrew with its "initiations" is an example of the feat-like style, with certain formal processes that both ensure that you get cool stuff, and ensure that you don't get too much of it even if you try for it religiously, and ensures that you can't prebuild your character despite cool stuff existing and being known.
    That's a helpful description of the aims here. One thing I wasn't sure about with your Initiations system was the 1/level rough limit. It seems to me that this is too limiting to describe all the different things that characters might be good at. Do you find with this limit that you also have a more informal character traits going on? So say my level 1 character has some "Healer" Initiation, but then it's also decided through play (say they ace a knowledge roll) that they know lots about currency. Also, in down time between the 1st and 2nd sessions they declare that they spend the time reading up on dragons. Does that character now get bonuses to rolls relating to currency and dragons? The first one seems too small for an Initiation. Perhaps the 2nd one would result in an Initiation, and they wouldn't be allowed to learn more things in between sessions until they've leveled up? Or perhaps there is just no mechanical benefit for these fictionally established facts?

    How practically do you handle the nuances of fictional positioning of character expertise? I'm happy to hear about other approaches, not just the Initiation one, although that's what I'm most interested in - how Eero has brought some kind of structured/mechanical system to this problem.
  • Ya, I get that the game you guys are playing on IRC is not "Eero's game". Is this thread still the right place to ask about Eero's thoughts on OSR D&D? Or is this now just a thread for the the IRC game? For now I'll assume I can ask more about "Eero D&D" - as always, others are welcome to come in with their own thoughts on this.
    Point. I understood your questions in light of the recent IRC game discussion. That game differs in many ways from the mechanical approaches I took a couple years back for a tabletop game.
    One thing I wasn't sure about with your Initiations system was the 1/level rough limit. It seems to me that this is too limiting to describe all the different things that characters might be good at. Do you find with this limit that you also have a more informal character traits going on?
    Yes. To be specific, the initiation system is predicated on "one big thing" structuration of fictional space, same as e.g. FATE aspects, D&D feats or such: it presumes that each initiation, feat, or whatever we call them, is a fictionally pretty interesting, "big" thing. It does not suit well for codifying smaller details, even when those details might be locally pretty important.

    A good example of this are languages: the way the initiation system would codify languages is by presuming whatever as the default case, and including an initiation such as "Multilingual", which might then e.g. allow the player to establish foreign languages equal character level that the character knows, writing them into a list under this initiation. This is obviously far from ideal in many situations (although that is a respectable initiation per se), as real linguistics are much more nuanced than that. It does, however, conform to the primary purpose of the initiation system - namely, control over the width and breadth of information.

    (The point of the information control thing is simply that the notion of "feats" or "initiations" enables us to provide constructive limits to how much information we need to or may encode about our characters - at some point you no longer gain mechanical benefits from establishing more identity elements, because you don't have any more feat slots to dedicate to the purpose. The rule tells us what information to preserve and what to ignore, in other words. That's the formalistic nature of the rule in comparison to a completely organical approach, in which you can theoretically gain an infinite amount of mechanical advantage, as long as you can establish your character as a member of every cabal, ethnic group, school of philosophy or whatever else that ever might provide some advantage.)

    Later on I've come to conclude that my system requires another step "down" from the big identity elements that the initiations offer. The game works well with these "small" things being informal and largely unwritten, but there are psychological and methodological advantages to keeping track of them as well. Some things are even practically mandatory to record, such as the exact list of spells your magic-user knows; these are really no more significant details than what languages your character knows, or whether or not he's read a book about dragons, but you can see how it'd be difficult to play the game if you didn't track whether or not your character knows Magic Missile.

    My latter-days solution to recording this sort of "chaff" about character has been a white space in the character sheet called "Notes" or "Details", and an instruction to the players to write down whatever things that they desire to maintain as records; such records will then form compelling evidence in the matter later on, should it come up for some reason. In other words, I punt the problem of what's important and what's not to the players, and let them act as their own curators. Some prefer lean character spec where they rely on oral tradition ("Hey, we found out ten sessions back that my character speaks this one language"), while others fill their sheet with minute scrawling about the most inconsequential details in the hopes of garnering some advantage from it down the road. Very similar to how inventory and encumbrance are handled, in fact.

    With this principle in place, and a clear delineation between the properly feat-slotted things and inconsequential "chaff", I've found it easy to be more liberal with the latter. Like, your character reads a book about dragons, hey you get +2 for dragon-lore checks - and it doesn't necessarily have to be just this one check. Perhaps that's something you'll just remember for this adventure and ignore later, or maybe you'll write it down. Maybe you'll stop writing them down after the tenth one, and just trust in that you'll find it easy enough to establish this condition anew if and when you actually need it :D

    My latter-days mechanical border-control "initiations" and "chaff" has pretty much focused on dropping some less useful initiations and making them into incidental details instead. This particularly goes for the skill initiation - an individual skill, even one classically used by adventurers, is just too boring to be a full-blown initiation most of the time. Players still can get that "Expert acrobat" initiation if they really want it, and they'll get that bonus die for it; however, they could just write it down in their chaff that they used to be an acrobat, and rely on the GM applying that as a modifier to checks or whatever.

    One important formalistic feature of the chaff is that the chaff can't have stable mechanical associations, by the way: you can write in your chaff that you used to be an acrobat (or that you know a language, or a spell, or are a member of the local Rotary chapter), but you can't write down mechanical consequences of this: if your feature is so special, specific, interesting and important that you need to have guaranteed mechanical representation for it, then that'll need to be an initiation instead. The chaff is basically just fictional positioning detail that's been given extra weight by writing it down.

    The chaff is at this point a bit too green a concept for me to be entirely certain where it goes - I should play actively with the system to find out, and that's not been the case for a while now, as I've been here in Helsinki playing with LotFP instead.
  • Thanks, that's helpful - I had basically been thinking along the same lines. Good to know that this is also something you ran into with that, even if you don't have a complete solution.
  • So, I have to ask:

    Has anyone actually started/attempted the task of rereading the various threads on this topic and trying to pull out principles, concepts, and rules? It wouldn't be hard to do, just time-consuming. Fortunately, Eero is very amenable to answering questions, and picking out specific details (the way we have with "feats/initiations" here) is an easy way to receive more concrete thoughts on any specific mechanical feature or conceit.
  • edited March 2014
    Me, Paul. I have. Oh, yes, very time-consuming. And Eero continuously spouts lore, makes amendments and radically disproves what I'd been assuming to be his design philosophies on a regular basis. And I have my own sense of what's important as a writer, too, so it's all getting very complex.

    In my view, the IRC game is an extension of the discussion here and feeds back into it. It's both entertainment, education and field-testing in regards to what's occasionally labelled "primordial play."

    I'd say some principals include (but aren't limited to):

    *D&D is a Wargame, the dungeon master is a referee.
    *Let go of intentionality. You can't think of "cool stuff" before it happens.
    *Justify and position within the fiction as it emerges.
    *Embrace the kibitz. Amendments to the procedure can come from all sides.
    *Writing It Down is important as a player, less so as a DM.

    Eero will now post telling me that (a) these principals aren't anything like what he's doing and (b) you can't shorten lengthy mental processes down into snappy little sentences.
  • Oh, that looks basically good to me. I would add that "letting go of intentionality" is something you need to do as a GM, if you're living under the impression that it is your task to predesign what the game will become. This is different from goal-oriented, intentional play, which should very much be an emphasis: in my eyes one of the biggest differences between the player role in old school D&D and the player role in traditional roleplaying games is the presumption of intentionality in D&D: the game assumes, rewards and supports players forming goals and striving for them. The game's procedures reflect this: the GM can do almost nothing, while the players can do almost anything, when it comes to actually initiating action. If the players aren't being intentional, if they just twitch randomly and spout nonsense at the game table, then that's the quality of your game right there.
  • edited March 2014
    I like to think of it as the DM being a computer (in both ancient and modern senses) with actually very few actions to perform (aside from the ability to wax lyrical about rose-bushes as a form of idling activity), but the DM-computer has to be operated by the players. I find that reminding the player-operator with an alarm helps keep input regular: What do you do? What do you do? What Do You Do?
  • edited March 2014
    That sounds about right to me. In Eero's vision of old-school D&D (and I'd say this is probably a common one among OSR group and goes way back to the roots of the hobby), the GM provides the material for play (in the form of adventure hooks, spouting off about rosebushes, and the like) and negotiates outcomes to actions, but it's entirely the players who drive the action forward.

    The players' job is to initiate action and decide on the pace of play. The GM responds to that and resolves actions as they are presented to her, quite in contrast to many more modern games, where the GM is a very active role and develops the story, which players then respond to (e.g. Sorcerer's Bangs). The idea that the GM is a "referee" is a very apt analogy here: not an initiator but a negotiator and resolver. The players control the pace of the game by the way they interact with the GM. (An important point to remember if the game seems to be stalling or moving along too slowly for your liking; for this reason, in many groups, an ability to generate active and even reckless play is considered to be a valuable player quality, simply because it makes the game exciting. Of course, balancing that against smart tactical decisions is always a challenge: maybe the biggest challenge for a player in this style, in fact.)

    So the players engage with the GM and the challenges of play at a pace of their choosing, and the GM responds to that by resolving their actions and giving them answers at the appropriate pace. (Note that this is not necessarily related to the fictional pace of events: you could gloss over the events of two days in a single roll, and you could spend 20 minutes debating the details of how your character tumbles down the stairs in the seconds before the oil is set on fire.)
  • Nicely said, Paul. I really don't have objection with anything you've said... which is new! :D

    I think this discussion is headed in a great direction, I'm really interested in going back, back, back to the primordial roots of story games, to the point where narrative is this embryonic, tangential thing, and then pushing back off perhaps, and seeing where we can build out of what we find in a new direction, or bring in tricks and solutions from further along D&D's timeline to try staunch the problem while the leakage is minor. It's very cool. Good work team.
  • The sun has set on the seventh day! Gather, ye brave, at Habavaara! And face dangers untold!
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