Quasi Old Schoolify and IAWA some 4e

edited October 2008 in Story Games
I'm invested in my group of players, and I'm trying to reconcile play styles. I know I should just abandon ship, and not try to hippy-game up their standard, traditional play, but I can't resist....

I'd like any thoughts on this mechanic.

I like 4e miniature combat fine.
I don't like skill checks, skill challenges or even 1v1 fights in 4e so much.
To fix that let me present the:

Quasi Old Schoolify 4e and then IAWA it system.

Get rid of skills.
Only use 4e rules in combat. (Skills are fine in combat).
Non-combat. Or 1v1 Combat use the following.

*Assign the IAWA as forms to your abilities (con, wis, dex, etc. +4 or above= 1d12, +3 =1d10 etc... 0 or below 1d4)
*Take some particular strengths that mirror feats, magic etc...
*Give your character a Campaign Power of 3 (when it reaches 0 your character is written out, dead or no longer of any import. Roll up a new Character).
*Use oracle to come up with some NPCs and Elements.
* Assign NPC and Non-Player Elements (NPE, eg, Storm, spell effects etc..) dice.
*give NPC's and NPE's best interests
*give NPC's and NPE's particular strengths if appropriate.
*Describe scenes.
* Have your characters do things you think they can reasonably do.
*Assume that whatever the Players describe represents what their characters can do. That is the limit of the scope of their skills--their own judgment.
*If you feel there ought to be opposition or conflict and some NPC or NPE could and would necessarily conflict, then go to the dice.
*Pick two abilities that you think best applies to the conflict.
* roll out, and do the normal negotiations as per IAWA.
* The Stick to threaten with. Instead of just damaging two ability numbers, also damage Campaign Power. NPC's and NPE's are damaged normally.
*owe list. If you're on the top of the list at the end of the session you can heal Campaign power score by one. Only way to repair it. *Ability damage can heal normally over time, or restoration spells.
*if two ability scores reach 0 dice power, the character is incapacitated, dead or somehow written out. Roll up new character.
* If Campaign power reaches 0 that character's story is done. Describe the end of the character.


  • My first reaction is that using skills only in combat introduces a lot of unnecessary overhead into the system and unbalances the skill allocation, being that some skills have much more combat applicability than others. My second reaction is that if you wanted to play IaWA, then you should, but this is sort of half-assed.

    More constructively: are you particularly wedded to the IaWA dicing mechanics, or do you just want the outcomes and simplicity of using those? It'd seem to me like the D&D skill check system could serve perfectly well as the basis for a conflict resolution system as well without messing up the game balance so badly.
  • Agreed. It is half-assed. But my players want 4e? I've tried several other options-- all have, predictably, failed.

    As I read the Old School Primer, I thought. Well IAWA just divvy's up the GM responsibilities across the board, no need to make the GM do all the work.

    Balance wise, you make a good point.
    I'm not married to the IAWA mechanic. It, and sorcerer, simply do what I think I want, the best.
  • How about using a totally vanilla conflict resolution mechanic? You know, just have players make their skill checks normally, just treat the conditions of requiring a check and interpreting the results in a conflict resolution manner; basically like you'd do in Sorcerer. For example, when the characters have to get through a social situation, you don't have to put in a skill challenge - just ask the player to pick a suitable skill, perhaps run some support checks out of the other characters or other skills, and then have a single check to resolve whether the character gets what he wants out of the social situation. You don't actually have to switch the dicing and skill system of the game to make this work, and it barely touches upon the game balance - it might even improve, considering that individual skills are much better balanced when the player has some say in picking the skills to use.

    To give this sort of approach some teeth, have failures cost Surges or, indeed, cause ability damage. The way I do this sort of thing in my own primitive D&D campaign is to count off degrees of success in steps of five points - so missing a DC by five is a level 2 failure, that sort of thing. Degreeing that failure costs the degree in Surges would be a simple rule of thumb to use, and it's easy to change that in individual situations to better match how perilous the situation is. And, of course, you can narrate all sorts of adverse conditions instead of the Surge loss; more enemies to an incoming encounter, an extra hazard, closing off a route of approach and so on. Lots of options.

    (Of course, successes give benefits of various sorts. In the context of 4th ed. you could give out information that allows the characters to avoid or weaken off encounters before the fight, for example - whatever basically was the stakes of the conflict is fine, I'd imagine. That's what conflict resolution is for, to determine why you're rolling the dice in the first place.)

    I'm not sure if it's a good idea to have characters get removed from play without an actual fight in D&D 4th. Actually, I think that it's probably a terrible idea - better to weaken the character and set him against a more difficult challenge, and then kill him off in the fight if he fails to escape or triumph despite the odds. D&D is not happy with easily killed characters, chargen is so onerous. Also, sidelining the combat mechanics to kill a character in 4th ed. seems perilously close to cheating.
  • Eero,

    Very wise words. You're probably right with all the balance issues.
    I'd like your ideas on how I could incorporate negotiation into the vanilla mechanic. What sort "damage" to the NPC would you suggest. Lets say the PC wins first roll of the conflict. I say, offer me a suggestion of outcomes. And If I don't think the NPC would agree, what would be the equivalent of damaging their forms?
  • Well, I personally probably wouldn't incorporate negotiation at all in D&D (I'd go with straightforward GM-narrated outcomes), but that's a higher-level issue. If I would, then I guess the baseline of negotiation for monsters and NPCs could be... I guess they don't do negative levels anymore? If it were 3rd edition, I'd give negative levels to the NPC equal to the degree of failure. Sounds pretty sweet, actually. 4th edition doesn't have anything similar off-hand, but perhaps simple hitpoint damage would suffice? The only powerful and ultimate conflict resolution system in D&D is combat, and hitpoints are the primary resource for that, so it kinda makes sense to just leech that power from the characters as cost for all sorts of conflicts. If it needs to be justified somehow, call it "humiliation damage" or "losing focus" - no stranger than losing hitpoints for exhaustion out in the desert, after all. Shame somebody in front of his family, and he'll make stupid mistakes in the fight to come, costing him his life... The formula for determining how many hitpoints are lost could be something as simple as the difference in check results multiplied by any force multipliers that were brought to bear in the conflict - so it's just x1 for speaking unkindly to somebody, but x4 if you managed to make him lose his honor in front of his father, or something of the sort.

    Of course, you could also make the default negotiation baseline be about benefits for the player characters instead of harm for the opponent. Heck, make the default benefit experience points, should put some zing into the players. "Take 200 xp for being cool or actually find the key you were looking for." Actually doesn't make any sense for the xp system as I understand it, though. In general, the negotiating idea is a bit of a problem in a game where you usually run the mechanics to overcome problems - if the player is rolling dice to get a door open, it's sort of weird to have the negotiation baseline be anything but getting that door open.

    I just realized, by the way, that interestingly enough my brother Markku runs his 4th edition campaign with at least some negotiation systems similar to what you're proposing here. He's sort of big on indie stuff like you, and consequently wants to engage the players more with the game. For example, he had the characters travel through a dangerous forest and pretty much just suggested possible encounters to the players, trying to find out what sort of content the rest of the group would like. Instead of declaring a random encounter he'd ask the others if they'd like to fight with wolves now, that sort of stuff. I find this extremely ass-backward in something like D&D (takes away the subgames and goal framework related to taking up a challenge), but perhaps it works for some groups.
  • RyRy
    edited October 2008
    Hey Rust, I can probably help if I can rub two braincells together. I'm pretty good at hacking d20 stuff, and I've played lots of IAWA.

    What do you want out of "old-school" and what do you want out of In A Wicked Age?

    Can you describe what would be happening at the table, and how that would be different from just playing 4e?

    Edit: if it applies, what would be different before play?
  • Ryan,

    Let me preface this once again, that I'm doing this for one particular group that I have gamed with for pretty much all my life. If I had a choice, I would not play 4e.

    I like the idea of abandoning skill checks, as promoted by that old school primer, and some of the stuff read on Grognardia.

    I like how IAWA distributes the GM's power with the use of "negotiation with a stick."

    I thought, "Well if I just took the power the GM has in the Old school style of play, and gave it to everyone...hey, wait, IAWA does that already...." Instead of GM makes judgments, the players, with their negotiations, makes the judgment as well.

    So I want no skill checks and distributed GM judgment authority.
    Can you describe what would be happening at the table, and how that would be different from just playing 4e?

    Just playing 4e, failed skill checks generally results in distractions and frustrating obstacles before getting to the big fight. I know, the mantra, to make failure interesting. But, somehow that just seems....silly, why not just make the investigation interesting (ala Trail of Cthulhu) and be done with it. (maybe Trail of Cthulhu has corrupted me).

    I would hope to be able to play the non-combat obstacles just as aggressively as I play the combat. Much as I play Dogs or IAWA. There is just a freedom to GMing that Dogs/IAWA/Sorcerer play, that I'm not getting in 4e.
  • That's useful elaboration. The part I missed on the first go-around was the notion that negotiation would be used to replace GM judgment. I don't know if it's a good idea, however, to put the judgment aspect into the negotiation pot, because the negotiation is essentially in-character priority shuffling, while the traditional GM judgment required in D&D is objective world-running. Perhaps this is not a problem (if, for instance, you don't really care about the neutral, referee-controlled world at all), but if it is, then you'll want to distribute the authority on some other manner than conflict negotiation.

    I've actually played a traditional rpg similar to D&D without a GM, with distributed power. We made it work by leaning heavily on "reasonableness" (and by playing with a strictly simulationistic, agenda, I might add) in our decisionmaking: all the normal GM stuff was just narrated by whoever felt like it, and the others questioned it only when there were reasonable grounds for that. I don't know that a group without lots of harmony could do this sort of thing without more rules, though.

    Also, about skill checks and such, I think you can make them interesting with a bit less drastic modifying of your technique. I'm just guessing here, but it seems to me that you're not staking your skill check situations with enough significance if they feel like distractions instead of a crucial part of the pre-combat maneuvers. When I call for skill checks (ability checks, actually, in my primitive D&D campaign), it's always, without exception, to either resolve a challenge, provide (or not, in case of failure) the players with more information to make reasonable decisions, or to provide (or not, again) the players with resources or other advantage for overcoming a challenge to come. So it's all geared towards the challenges. Taking that to 4th edition, perhaps the skill checks wouldn't seem so useless if the difference between success and failure were in facing three orcs more in the in-coming fight?

    (I should note that the sort of game I run deals with failure in this context by having the players make their own calls as to the pace and direction of their adventuring. One failure in the preparatory stage ability checks rarely leaves them with too little information or resources to encounter the challenge, but that call has to be made by them - I provide reasonable alternative courses of action, but if the players decide that they'll go into the dragon's cave despite screwing up their information gathering, resupplying, seeking allies and planning, that's on their heads and not mine.)

    The idea of making failure interesting is a bit awkward for D&D skill checks, by the way. Often enough that "interest" is something that messes with the flow of the challenge. Better to have the failures entail clear risks the players are aware of before making the check. For example, have the check cost time or money or other limited resources, and leave it up to the player whether he wants to make it. Or make the check determine who gets a surprise round in the in-coming combat. As long as the check has something real at stake, and the player has some basis on which to judge whether he wants to take the risk, I seem to have little trouble with it. I don't even need to balance the risk vs. reward in any way, because the player will certainly do that for me by refusing the deals that seem too hazardous. I might even say that it's the job of the player to do exactly this.

    Anyway, that's just some more random thoughts. I can certainly sympathise with being frustrated by D&D, I only managed to verbalize the basic principles of how to make the game work last winter.
  • Posted By: RustJust playing 4e, failed skill checks generally results in distractions and frustrating obstacles before getting to the big fight.
    Sounds like the dice just get in your way outside of combat, so what you want to focus on is creating situations which the PCs explore. In line with the old school document, my instinct would be to ban all the rolls outside of combat (or the immediate leadup to combat). Keep a list of PC passive perception checks and vision abilities so you can be sure to describe things appropriately. If your players trust your GMing this can work very well.

    This would let you play non-combat obstacles aggressively; you know the parameters, and because they can't try to roll their way through it, working it out becomes essentially an extended negotiation with the GM.
  • Posted By: RustI like how IAWA distributes the GM's power with the use of "negotiation with a stick."
    Maybe I don't understand this, actually. That on its own doesn't distribute the GM's power; it just limits the degree the GM can ask for in a given conflict, and even that is tied in with the limits on the GM to play to the scenario in the Oracle. So if my above suggestion doesn't help, can you expand how you see negotiation distributing the GM's power?
  • Eero,
    I figured players and GM could share objective world-running through negotiation?

    I have tried other methods of sharing authority (e.g., kickers, fate tokens etc...) and have had no response from players.

    My reaction to the, "well they went to face the monster without doing the research they deserve their fate.." is mixed. I agree with it to a point, but part of 4e's power is the balanced combat challenge. In the above instance, I don't think it is a balanced combat, which means I'm flushing the main compelling reason to play 4e down the toilet. The XP reward does not include the pre-fight roll play. So, I'd have to factor in other possibilities: If they win without the info do they get more XP? If they win with the info do they get less XP?

    Granted, I just drank a double mocha latte, and my brain is a bit freaking out now, so these are more quibbles than anything. Think of them as minor thoughts, points, ideas, but nothing I'm particularly vested in, nor something in opposition to your points.

    Using lists of passive perception etc.. I like, in principle, but -- to be honest-- sounds like a lot of work. I suspect this is where I'll end up. I just wanted more of a mechanic to balance it out, and make it easier.

    Negotiation doesn't replace the GM's content authority, but it does replace the narrative power (eg, high card in PTA) power of the GM.
  • Posted By: RustUsing lists of passive perception etc.. I like, in principle, but -- to be honest-- sounds like a lot of work.
    Can you break that down?

    The key wouldn't be the lists - it would be the "no rolls outside of combat".

    The lists are just so you don't forget that the players have darkvision, basically. And that the Rogue will notice a mouse in the dirt, standing still.

    As for the GM's content authority, IAWA's negotiation phase is pretty tightly tied to combat... i.e. the recourse to damage. IAWA is a cool game but I'm not sure that the pieces from it will be good solutions for what you're going for.
  • Ryan,

    I think you've made a pretty good argument that the methods from IAWA don't cross-hybrid with 4e very well.

    I'm going to try to Old school it (no dice rolls) unless I have a clear conflict of interest. Then I'll do some dice rolling.
  • By the way, I may be wrong, but I think:

    Rustin is interpreting "passive perception lists" as rolling a bunch of dice before playing, then using those results, or something similar.

    Ryan is talking about "passive perception lists" as "making a list of how perceptive each character is": how their relevant scores are, and whether they have abilities to detect certain things or not. So, in play, the GM uses those as guidelines: Jarn is very alert, so he notices the mouse; Alsa is sensitive to magic, so she notices the aura about the mask, etc.

    If I'm wrong, then ignore me!
  • Paul's right for what I'm tryin' to say.
  • If I use base scores and such to run the game, does that make it a Karma/Drama mechanic?
    What (other than Amber) examples of really good Karma/Drama mechanics are you aware of?
  • Rustin,

    Drama version: compare your judgement of the situation with the general concept of each character's alertness (or whatever). Tell the players which ones succeeded and which ones failed.

    Karma version: write down each player's average check result (d20 roll + skill, modifiers, etc). Set DCs for stuff normally in play, but instead of asking for a roll, just compare the average check result to the DC to see if a given player succeeds.

    There's a game called CORPS, where you always succeed at any task that is at your skill level or lower. You only roll for more difficult tasks.
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