13th Age Extended Challenges – Making Meaningful Choices

Carrying on from the last two weeks of talk about Extended Challenges (Introduction and Sharing the Spotlight)

So far we’ve been looking at these skill challenges as a series of checks – yes, ones which fit the characters and can be used to craft a narrative, but still simple stat+background checks that pass or fail. But the choice of what stat+background to use is not generally a meaningful one at this point – you use whatever you’re best at that will help in some way; and avoid repeating yourself once penalties for doing so kick in.

It’s a functional system, but not really inspiring; there’s no difference between taking positive action toward your goal and preparation for such action, and no real meaning to cooperation.

So that’s our next step – differentiating between the many ways you can aid your team in achieving the goal.

  1. Attempts
    This action category serves as the backbone of the whole system. Attempts are how you earn successes, they’re things that you do that get you closer to the goal – whether that be navigating through a few miles of swampland, or persuading one of the elven nobles to support your plan to prevent the apocalypse.
  2. Reaction/Mitigation
    When bad things happen, sometimes it makes more sense to try and prevent the consequences, rather than moving towards your end goal. If you’re running low on rations in the jungle and will lose health due to that, you might choose to spend a turn hunting for food rather than hunting for a path forwards.
  3. Preparation
    Another category is preparation – providing boosts to future rolls. Perhaps you need to cross a desert, but rather than just making survival and navigation rolls as you cross you decide to spend an action or two on finding a town and acquiring survival gear – appropriate clothing, sunscreen, water carriers and such like. These supplies will boost all sorts of rolls later in the adventure, whether they be attempts or reactions.
  4. Aid Another
    This category of action could be put as a subset of Preparation – you’re preparing things for your ally to stand the best chance on their roll – but I’ve split it off because it doesn’t work in the framework we’ve got.

Within the system we discussed last week we’ve got room for the first three of these categories – Attempts are simple; Reactions/Mitigation can be done in response to whatever harm comes with the passage of a round, whether that be guards getting more suspicious or supplies running low; and Preparation can give a bonus to many other players rolls allowing you to gather future successes faster – traditionally a +2 bonus to all future rolls (where it’s applicable) tends to work well – but in 13th Age it may pay to look at the Escalation Die used in combat, and consider whether preparation could add and/or boost said Escalation Die1)For those who’re unaware, the Escalation Die is a d6 that increases by 1 each round of combat, and that all players can add to their attacks. It encourages people to hold their big moves until later in the fight, and ensures that battles end climactically if they run long

We don’t, however, have room for the common Aid Another which only benefits one ally’s roll; if it requires you to spend your action for the round you’ll almost always be better off just making your own Attempt action.

We could drop it entirely, have all ways to help your allies fall under the other categories. It’s an elegant option, but in my experience some people like making Aid Another checks.

Instead I’d like to revisit a point from the last post: the idea that the penalties should come from rounds that passed, rather than attempts that failed – while acknowledging that if someone is trying something dangerous it may make more sense for a failed attempt to have negative consequences other than outright failing the Extended Challenge.

I put forward the rule that failures wouldn’t be penalised in place because otherwise you could end up in a situation where your presence actively made things for your team. But if we’re adding Aid Another actions they can still be safe even if the Attempt action isn’t. So perhaps that is the answer: if Aid Another exists failed Attempts can have penalties, but Aid Another cannot – at worst you’re not helpful.

But should all failed Attempts have negative consequences? Or only the ones that are particularly risky (like tightrope walking across a canyon)? And if it’s only the ones that are particularly risky, what makes those worth taking? Are extra successes a suitable enticement?

Perhaps the Aid Another action isn’t needed at all, and adding it just makes the whole system more complicated for a minor gain… it’s going to take a bit of pondering and discussion to work out which way works best!

What do you think? Should I lean towards the more tactical end where it matters whether you take the “risky+fast” or the “slow+safe” option, or keep things smooth and simple?

Takeaway from this step:

  1. There are a lot of complexities that can be layered on – but I’m not yet sure which ones are worth it.

 

Please follow and like us:

References   [ + ]

1. For those who’re unaware, the Escalation Die is a d6 that increases by 1 each round of combat, and that all players can add to their attacks. It encourages people to hold their big moves until later in the fight, and ensures that battles end climactically if they run long

Designing Extended Challenges: Sharing the Spotlight while Maintaining Verisimilitude

This carries on from last weeks post Designing Extended Challenges for 13th Age

I’d like to start by thanking people for their input into this development process – Burn Miller pointed me at their blog where I found out about The One Ring’s Tolerance Test system used for social situations in particular. A number of people on the Forge of the 13th Age brought up various aspects of how they run challenges, including introducing me to Blade in the Dark’s clocks – and shadowsofmind on Reddit pointed me at Matt Colville’s explanation of using Skill Challenges in D&D 5e

———————

In my last post I talked about the goals of our Extended Challenge system, and number one amongst them was that the system must encourage every player to contribute to the scene as a whole.

Its position as number one was not accidental – to me it is the most core part of what makes a good challenge subsystem for a cooperative roleplaying game.

The first step in getting everyone to contribute is getting everyone to take part at all. That step, at least, is so intuitive to F20 players that many assumed D&D 4e’s Skill Challenge system had it: Rounds. Each player gets one turn per round, meaning that everyone must act once before anyone takes their second go.

But just having everyone take part isn’t enough to have everyone contribute. Imagine a player character who, during combat, could only throw blunt wooden spoons at their enemies – hitting on a natural 20 for 1 damage. They get a go every round, but that go feels bad because they aren’t actually helping their teammates to defeat the monsters.

The same is true for our reclusive Half-orc Artificer at the elven ball. Sure, you’re making him take a turn now, but if all he’s going to do is add a failure to his team’s count they’d be better off without him.

So how do you let him contribute anyway?

For starters we could ditch the idea that failing at skill rolls is necessarily going to make things worse. When you miss an attack in combat you don’t hurt yourself or your team, you just don’t make anything better – meaning that the baddies have more time to spend stabbing you. Watching the description by Matt Colville put me slightly away from that perspective – in my home games we use penalties such as the idea of blocks falling he explores that don’t contribute to failing the challenge, merely hurt the person making the attempt.

Given as we’ve already implemented rounds, that seems to be the natural place to move the potential of failing the challenge – rather than keeping track of the number of rolls that have been failed instead we will keep track of the number of rounds that have passed. In cases where outright failure of the challenge is a good answer there can be a simple deadline, for instance “get as many successes as you can in three rounds” – while in other cases there could be a smaller penalty for each round that happens.

So the Half-orc Artificer isn’t making things worse for the party, and may even be contributing a little. For 13th age an 8 charisma and no backgrounds means a normal skill check DC has somewhere between a 1 in 6 and 1 in 3 chance of success, depending on level. Not great, but far from nothing – he may not be good at schmoozing, but there’s always a chance of hitting it off.

Still – we can do better. Any game I run becomes somewhat narrativist, it’s just part of how I GM, and 13th Age is very good at supporting that tendency, so we’re going to lean into that: If a player can come up with a way in which a more unusual background could be useful to the situation, they can roll it. 

On a success, that situation they imagined comes to pass and the skill comes in handy; on a failure it either never comes up, or they don’t manage to take advantage – for instance, the Half-Orc Artificer might be rolling Int+ “Official Master Craftsman in the Concord Consortium” to give an epic description of his latest inventions to an interested elf. If successful, the elf is impressed and moved to support the team that contains such a gifted inventor; if unsuccessful the elf they talked the ear off of has no interest in mechanical devices and was just too polite to say so.

In a similarly narrative vein, we like to allow flashbacks during the challenge, especially during the first round – something that they did prior to the challenge that turns out to be helpful now, such as acquiring the right clothing, or tutoring their allies in the niceties of elven dining.

You may notice that this has a lot in common with 13th age’s Montage System, introduced by Ashley Law – though with more of a possibility of failure – this is something of a case of convergent evolution, and I think is a good sign that what is being developed here fits the 13th Age ethos. Perhaps, then, the guidelines for these Extended Challenges should take a little inspiration from Montages – encouraging players to suggest challenges their allies are suited to overcoming.

Takeaways from this step:

  1. Skill challenges happen in rounds
  2. It’s bad for the players to take too many rounds to achieve success
    1. Failed rolls may have penalties, but won’t lead to failing the challenge
  3. Allow unusual approaches if properly justified
    1. Flashbacks can expand the range of justifiable actions, in interesting ways
    2. Players suggesting challenges that their comrades can overcome is fun.
Please follow and like us:

Designing Extended Challenges for 13th Age

Combat in 13th Age is very structured, but outside combat it is a lot looser. Most of the time, I find this flexibility useful, but occasionally it’s useful to provide more structured and defined challenges outside combat.

In the F20 family of games I first encountered this kind of structure in D&D’s 4th Edition – but it felt half-baked, and often functioned poorly in our games. So, inspired by that game’s Skill Challenges we developed our own style of Extended Challenge for home use; and now we’re developing it further in order to use it in future 13th Age work.

Our home system is a simple skeleton that gets fleshed out arbitrarily for any RPG we’re playing (from buffy to fate): Gameplay proceeds in rounds so that everyone is involved. How many rounds you took to reach your goal is likely to matter; repeating the same action over and over results in an increased DC, or is impossible if there’s no fiction justification; there’s no set list of skills that contribute – if the player has a good explanation for how their action aids the party then it can work; there are more options than just “roll to move towards victory” – ways to boost other players and mitigate downsides.

But that skeleton is held together by a set of assumptions that we’ve never written down, so rather than trying to work backward from that I’m here starting from scratch again over the course of these blogs – so as to ensure that the final product holds together in the wild, rather than relying on quirks of my own GMing style.

So here are the explicit goals that I’m going to work toward when creating the Extended Challenges system: 

  1. Sharing the Spotlight:
    In combat every player takes part regularly. In more loose-weave situations it’s common for one or more player characters to end up uninvolved – for instance when socialising with elves the mechanical genius half-orc probably won’t have much to say.
    When big stakes are in play it’s nice to make sure everyone gets some level of input into the outcome. 4th Edition’s skill challenges often punished you for doing so – if the half-orc made a skill check they would make the team more likely to fail, and so their best bet was to stay quiet so there was no chance they’d be called upon to roll.
  2. Verisimilitude
    If the Half-orc Artificer with 8 charisma and no diplomatic background contributes to your elven ball by charming the nobles, things start to feel out of place. It’s important for each character’s contributions to feel like they come from that character.
  3. Meaningful Choices
    At its most basic, combat is a constant repetition of “roll to attack the thing in front of you with your best attack” until either it falls over or you do. If you’re a 13th Age player that’s almost certainly not your preferred flavour of fun – even the simplest class has significantly more going on than that.
    At its most basic a skill challenge would consist of rolling your best background+ability combination repeatedly until you either succeed or fail. That’s no more fun outside of combat than it is in combat, so we need something more to play with.
  4. Non-binary Stakes
    Pass/fail is acceptable for a single roll, but when you’re going to be devoting a meaningful portion of your session to something it’s nice to have some middle ground – some possibility of an expensive victory where the resources expended (spells, powers, recoveries, etc.) put a significant crimp in your ability to move forward, or of a partial victory where you only achieve some of what you were aiming for – for instance, avoiding the guard patrol on your way into the archvillain’s castle, but not making it all the way to his bedchambers before the alarm is raised.
  5. Fitting the Game
    Different games have different feels, themes and mechanical underpinnings. While a skeleton of a system can exist outside of the game in which it is to be used – and indeed, if you follow this series of blog posts I’ll start by building such a skeleton – fleshing it out such that it belongs as part of the game is a vital step. And it’s a step that is far easier if you keep it in mind throughout the process.

Those are the goals, but how can we go about achieving them? I’ve got a few more blog posts coming talking about our approach, but we’d love to hear your thoughts on how to approach such a challenge. Let us know here, or on Facebook.

Please follow and like us:

Shards – Excited About Layout and Typesetting?

We are – we’ve just increased the size of the Zine by 12% without adding a single extra page.

With our experience of printing on playing cards and small leaflets in our previous projects we’ve become well aware of the cost of wide borders, and the dangers of small ones – just how important it is to get them as small as possible and no smaller.

Shards is our first major case of printed long-form text, and we’ve therefore been playing with the borders for a while now, working out what size they can be – but we missed one major factor that more experienced book-printers would have spotted immediately: The three outside borders and the inside border should not be the same size. We’d been working with them equal, and that was costing us a lot of space as it means the borders had to be a whole 6mm (quarter of an inch) wider. That’s a 4% increase of the usable height, and 3% on the width.

But that’s only a 7% increase in area – so why am I saying 12%? That’s where the typesetting aspect comes in: words rolling over the end of the line, and paragraphs rolling over the end of a page, take up a surprising amount of space.

But Wait, There’s More: We’ve also tested decreasing the font size from its past 12pt to a smaller 11.5pt text, on the upper end of what paperback books use – it’s still thoroughly readable for even low-quality eyes, but it saves another 8%, letting us fit in even more content.

We knew from the start that we wanted the text bigger and clearer than on our past Concept Cards projects – their space requirements were far tighter – but we overshot what was necessary. Partly this is due to our first test print being done on a printer with a slight misalignment – the text blurred in a way that made it slightly harder to read at small sizes – which has now been corrected.

And Another Thing: We’ve settled on cream paper stock for the zine. We had been considering “Natural” paper, the kind that many older novels used – as it is nicely yellow, and a little more environmentally friendly. However we decided to do a test run on that paper type, and were reminded that the nice yellow tint of a good book takes about a year to really kick in – and we’re not going to be using tea to artificially age the Zine…

Let me leave you with a final thought: There’s one week left on this Kickstarter – so now’s the time to back before you miss out!

Be Well

-Ste

Please follow and like us:

Shards – Table of Contents

With the changing numbers of pages we’ve been doing a bit of shuffling around, but we’ve worked out which of the pieces we’ve got written will be going in the first issue – and which are getting pushed back to issues 2 and 3.

So here’s the contents section – page numbers are not included, as art and typesetting may shift some things; or a “People’s Hero” backer might increase the size of the Zine still further.

Editorial: Introducing the authors and the concept of the Zine

The Grand Labyrinth: The world’s largest maze, which hosts three or four exits: The three below and potentially the more mysterious Hero’s Gate, if combining with Issue #2s Labyrinth of Time

↳   The Wayfarer’s Gate: At the northwest of the maze is an exit best reached through days of painstaking progress

↳   The Warrior’s Gate: At the northeast of the maze is an exit which can only be reached by battling mechanical beasts

↳   The Adventurer’s Gate: At the center of the maze is the most challenging exit to reach, one that will take cunning, combat skill and endurance combined.

Bokort’s Bar: A future tavern with alien patrons and bartenders, alongside some technological gambling games.

↳   Staff: The bartenders, bouncer and croupier.

↳   Notable Patrons: Interesting people who might be found here reasonably often.

↳   Hooks: Example ways to weave the location into a story as well as a world.

The Great And The Wise: Neasa Aranrhod: A fey queen with an interest in answering questions “helpfully”.

↳   In Other Genres: Exploring how to alter Neasa to fit in worlds beyond traditional fantasy

Using the 5 Ws in Worldbuilding: An introductory article looking at how to dig deeper into an aspect of your world by asking the standard questions: “Who?”, “What?”, “Where?”, “When?”, “Why?” and the honorary sixth w “How?” – using one of our past creations to illustrate the method.

Magpie’s Nest: Stealing Thieves: Some things you can take from history, mythology, folklore and fiction to craft your worlds thieves, and their gods.

Letter Lich: In this issue, she answers a questioner asking how to incorporate Drow into a roleplaying campaign without causing trouble for an arachnophobic player.

Credits & Thanks: Art credits along with thanks to our biggest backers and supporters in this project.

As always your comments and input are welcome – although in this case rather than on facebook or twitter we’d most like to hear them over on the Kickstarter page

Please follow and like us:

Shards: Worldbuilding Zine – 12/02/2019->04/03/2019

We now have a date for Shards launch – the 12th of this month. It comes with a set, and appropriate, end date – the 4th of March “GM’s Day”.

We’ll be doing 6 issues over the next 6 months, each with three shards of setting – at least one being sci-fi and one being fantasy – a fourth article on worldbuilding, and a letters section where our resident agony aunt The Letter Lich can help you solve your worldbuilding and game-running problems.

Each issue is a minimum of 36 pages long, but there’s also going to be a high-roller backer level that allows the backer to fund 4 additional pages for every copy of the zine, for all six issues; because sometimes it feels good to give!

We’re currently finalising the writing and art for issue #1, and will be launching with those in the bag and at least half of May and June’s articles already written – insuring against any future schedule slips.

p.s. our regular weekly blog is here

Please follow and like us:

New Monthly Post: Playtest Report

We’ve decided to add a bit more structure to the blog, and this is the first piece of it: Every month, on the 2nd monday, the Artemis Games blog will have a Playtest Report – talking about some playtesting we’ve done, and what modifications it has pushed into the games.

December/January Playtest Report

Over the past month we have been largely focused on playtesting Tinfoil Hat, our upcoming Conspiracy Theory game.

Overall the response has been positive, but there’s been some vital criticism.

The biggest of Tinfoil Hat’s problems is the beginning: at the start of the game, as it stood last week, you had to rant for 30 seconds on the connection between two pieces of a conspiracy. This didn’t really work – most of the 30 seconds was spent umming and ahhing as there simply wasn’t enough to go on.

Our first fix attempt was to make the 30 seconds timer only function as a maximum, not a minimum. But that resulted in a brand new problem: With no push to keep talking the ranter was a lot less likely to elaborate on their conspiracy in interesting ways, and to potentially back themselves into a corner.

We’ve worked on the problem again, and now have a working solution: In addition to the two cards played at the start by the judge, to start the rant, the first 30 seconds includes a completely random card from the top of the deck. The 30 second timer still functions as both minimum and maximum, but the game hits its stride far faster while allowing time for the players to make vital mistakes.

Please follow and like us:

Draconic Laziness

It’s new years eve, and the fifth monday of the month, so I’m going to practise the draconic virtue of resting and enjoying my treasures in my home.

No update today, but we will return next week; when we’ll be establishing a new pattern for the new year.

Please follow and like us:

Gifts for a Dragon

What can you give the beast that’s got everything?

More Shiny Stuff

No matter how large a dragon’s hoard, they always want more – dragons are greed personified. So even if they have everything, consider what they don’t have two of; and get them that.

Dragon Eggs

By gifting a dragon an egg you are providing them with one of three things: First it could be their own egg, in which case they will be grateful for its return, although unless you also provide the thief they may be somewhat suspicious.

Secondly it could be the egg of another dragon they tolerate, in which case you have given them powerful leverage for diplomacy.

Thirdly it could be the egg of another dragon they either don’t know or don’t like, in which case you have provided them with a rare and delicious meal.

Tartare Sauce

It is a well-known fact that one should not interfere in the affairs of dragons – humanoids are crunchy and go well with ketchup. By buying a dragon Tartare Sauce you can spur them to enjoy seafood for some time, distracting them from kidnapping princesses and devouring knights.

Laxative Tablets

Dragons consume a very mineral-rich diet, high in iron, steel, silver and gold. Unfortunately it is also very low in fibre, meaning that dragons can easily become constipated, rather grumpy and overproducing methane – which leads to town-destroying rampages. Give your neighbourhood dragon some mild laxatives to help them stay regular and happy in their lair.

Please follow and like us: