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[5E] Urban Intrigue Campaign - Gating the Sandbox

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
I wasn't planning on keeping the players in the dark. Part of what makes this whole endeavor work is the players knowing how the factions relate to each other. I want to leave the players a lot of latitude to figure out how to use the political currents to their own advantage, for which they definitely need information and lots of it. I'm also going to be hacking some mechanics specifically to allow information gathering in a variety of ways, so it's not going to be too fuzzy.

My faction mechanics are simple as pie, that's why I'm still working on them. Not to add layers or detail to the rules, but to pare the rules down to the absolute minimum necessary to accomplish what I want. There aren't actually faction mechanics btw, at it's root it's just a reputation stat, faction specific Reputation bonuses, and some rules for making contacts and what those can do in game terms (either exchange for a favor or keep to buff faction rep mostly). The detail that's added is to massage the current downtime and SIP rules to add favors/contacts as outcomes. It's not that different than what's in DMG already, I'm just streamlining things so that all the rules work together and have common outcomes.

In the broadest strokes Reputation gates access to NPCs and social events. You just compare scores and you know whether you can get invited to an event or get a meeting (or whatever), or whether you need to go about it in a different way (gain rep or confidence tricks). Rep will grow organically in the course of completing story arcs and also by specific design on the part of the PCs to further a plan of action. The story will be what drives PCs to try and gain access to person or event, not so much the mechanics. The mechanics are just there to keep score and to give the PCs a concrete handle on social encounter success and failure.
 

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77IM

Explorer!!!
Supporter
One of the things I like best about Blades in the Dark is how it surfaces information. The PCs know their standing with each faction, and they know their wanted level and heat (how much the law is actively investigating them). And in general I get the impression you are supposed to tell them when an action they take will affect these things. E.g., "Sure, you can slit his throat and dump him in the river, but your heat will increase by 2." People love to gossip, so it's really hard for a faction to keep their feelings towards anyone hidden for very long.

What the players don't know is the exact consequences of these numbers. Just because your faction status goes down by 2, that doesn't mean the faction is coming to get you... yet. It's kind of like knowing which areas of wilderness are rumored to be full of which kinds of monsters: the players are not sure what random encounters you'll roll, but they know that the table in bucolic farmland is different than the table used in the undead-filled volcanic ash-wastes.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
I like the idea of player mapping a lot. Even if they are familiar with, say, one part of the city, they wouldn't be or at least might not be with the rest. It's one more way to gate the sandbox. I like it.
 

Riley37

First Post
A novel you might raid for ideas, characters, situations: The Element of Fire by Martha Wells.

I rather liked the factions and faction NPCs in the city of Defiance Bay in the game "Pillars of Eternity". Also somewhat in its sequel, Deadfire.

A forged invitation risks turning out a bit like a certain scene in "Eyes Wide Shut": the protagonist gets in the door, but is way, way out of his depth.

Is there, somewhere in the story, a threat on a larger scale than just one faction? is the entire city at risk from an external threat?
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
One of the things I like best about Blades in the Dark is how it surfaces information. The PCs know their standing with each faction, and they know their wanted level and heat (how much the law is actively investigating them). And in general I get the impression you are supposed to tell them when an action they take will affect these things. E.g., "Sure, you can slit his throat and dump him in the river, but your heat will increase by 2." People love to gossip, so it's really hard for a faction to keep their feelings towards anyone hidden for very long.

What the players don't know is the exact consequences of these numbers. Just because your faction status goes down by 2, that doesn't mean the faction is coming to get you... yet. It's kind of like knowing which areas of wilderness are rumored to be full of which kinds of monsters: the players are not sure what random encounters you'll roll, but they know that the table in bucolic farmland is different than the table used in the undead-filled volcanic ash-wastes.
This sounds a lot like what I want to accomplish. I hadn't gotten as far yet as folding law enforcement into the system. I like the Heat idea a lot though, especially for a more rogue-style game. The idea that the numbers give you a concrete way to talk about and compare social standing, or law enforcement scrutiny, is exactly what I want though. As is the move from rumor and gossip to certain knowledge through investigation. Those are some excellent ideas, thanks.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
This sounds a lot like what I want to accomplish. I hadn't gotten as far yet as folding law enforcement into the system. I like the Heat idea a lot though, especially for a more rogue-style game. The idea that the numbers give you a concrete way to talk about and compare social standing, or law enforcement scrutiny, is exactly what I want though. As is the move from rumor and gossip to certain knowledge through investigation. Those are some excellent ideas, thanks.
If only someone had recommended Blades' tech before....
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
If only someone had recommended Blades' tech before....
Sure, be hurt about it.;) I've never played and couldn't find a copy online when you mentioned it (yes, I did look, rather hard). I also live thousands of miles from the closest FLGS. So unless someone gives me specifics...
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
[MENTION=58172]Yaarel[/MENTION] - Yeah, non-lethal combat is something that needs to be dealt with. So far I'm just going with declared non-lethal, at least conceptually, and I'm going to let the PCs decide, probably at the onset of combat. That part is easy. Subdual damage is a place where I can legitimately push nova damage builds too, up to a point. If you want to knock out the guard sergeant, who's a 3rd level fighter nothing short of a big nova, declared non-lethal, will get it done. Actual high nova builds aren't going to be a big part of my campaign, but I do think it's a great way for rogue dips to have a little niche utility and actually quite fluffy relative to what backstab is supposed to represent.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Sure, be hurt about it.;) I've never played and couldn't find a copy online when you mentioned it (yes, I did look, rather hard). I also live thousands of miles from the closest FLGS. So unless someone gives me specifics...
Really? I guess it could be a bit hard to find. Here's the URL for the SRD:

bladesinthedark.com

Hope that helps!
 



Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
You can buy the PDF from Evil Hat Games.
I do not purchase new RPGs sight unseen. If your bookcase is anything like mine it is littered with the dead dreams of hundreds of impulse RPG purchases. I try to be a little more discerning about that now than I was in my more intemperate youth. I'm combing through the SRD now though, and I will, as seems appropriate, purchase a copy if I like it. Again, thanks.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I do not purchase new RPGs sight unseen. If your bookcase is anything like mine it is littered with the dead dreams of hundreds of impulse RPG purchases. I try to be a little more discerning about that now than I was in my more intemperate youth. I'm combing through the SRD now though, and I will, as seems appropriate, purchase a copy if I like it. Again, thanks.
I'm confused. You were looking for a PDF, but to buy? Did you think that the publishers would just give it away?
 

Yaarel

Adventurer
@Yaarel - Yeah, non-lethal combat is something that needs to be dealt with. So far I'm just going with declared non-lethal, at least conceptually, and I'm going to let the PCs decide, probably at the onset of combat. That part is easy. Subdual damage is a place where I can legitimately push nova damage builds too, up to a point. If you want to knock out the guard sergeant, who's a 3rd level fighter nothing short of a big nova, declared non-lethal, will get it done. Actual high nova builds aren't going to be a big part of my campaign, but I do think it's a great way for rogue dips to have a little niche utility and actually quite fluffy relative to what backstab is supposed to represent.
I am in the D&D camp that views hit points as both physical and nonphysical (stamina, alertness, skill, luck, etcetera). So, for me,

ALL DAMAGE IS SUBDUAL DAMAGE

until the magical number of ‘zero’.

Zero is when the serious contact happens. Zero is when a lethal blow actually lands. Anything else is just fencing.

So, instead of a blade thru the heart − at zero − the attacker can instead land a punch in jaw to knock the opponent out − or whatever. Zero is when the opponent loses control, and the attacker has total control.

In this context, there are no mechanical conditions or consequences until reaching zero, and therefore no actual injuries, until reaching zero.

Especially in this traditional understanding of hit points (as articulated by Gygax), the more recent tradition of the ‘bloodied condition’ is useful. Bloodied is a kind of landmark, that separates the boundary from strictly nonphysical hit point loss, to semi-physical hit point loss requiring bandages and the medieval equivalent of sunglasses to hide a black eye.

In any case, using the zero as the moment of life-or-death, and of total loss of control, is excellent for an urban setting.



Because zero is the magic number, 5e already works excellently for urban campaigns and nonlethal combat. Making use of the bloodied condition is just an additional excellency.
 
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Yaarel

Adventurer
I want to point out, Gygax himself caused this confusion about what ‘hit points’ are.

Gygax had a double standard.

When it came to PLAYER CHARACTERS the damage was mainly non-physical (except the Constitution hit bonus were physical).

But when it came to MONSTERS, Gygax recommended making the hit points as gory and graphic − and physical − as possible for the sake of a vivid narrative.

So, traditional D&D was doing both nonphysical and physical simultaneously. In the interests of systematization is legitimate for different D&D camps to interpret hit points in a way that prefers one tradition over the other.

For me, I unequivocally prefer nonphysical until zero. But I appreciate the bloodied condition as a kind of narrative heads-up.

And for nonlethal combat and for urban ‘police’ settings, I strongly recommend the ‘nonphysical’ tradition.
 
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robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
Just dropping in to say that I've found this thread to be really informative for this style of campaign.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
I'm confused. You were looking for a PDF, but to buy? Did you think that the publishers would just give it away?
Not at all, but I'm not going to buy it with no idea what's in it either. This is why I miss my FLGS. I like to take a quick spin through a book before I buy it. The site you directed me to is perfect.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
I want to point out, Gygax himself caused this confusion about what ‘hit points’ are.

Gygax had a double standard.

When it came to PLAYER CHARACTERS the damage was mainly non-physical (except the Constitution hit bonus examples were pretty physical).

But when it came to MONSTERS, Gygax recommended making the hit points as gory and graphic − and physical − as possible for the sake of a vivid narrative.

So, traditional D&D was doing both nonphysical and physical simultaneously. In the interests of systematization is legitimate for different D&D camps to interpret hit points in a way that prefers one tradition over the other.

For me, I unequivocally prefer nonphysical until zero. But I appreciate the bloodied condition as a kind of narrative heads-up.

And for nonlethal combat and for urban ‘police’ settings, I strongly recommend the ‘nonphysical’ tradition.
One way to handle this that I've used in the past that I may reuse is to call the first hit die your 'meat', and the rest of it skill or whatever. At least for PCs. The only differnece between the two the last time I used it was to prevent healing overflow from one to the other. Meat first, then the skill, and resting only got you back a single meat point. It's not actually that much different from the system as-is, but i found it useful from a narrative standpoint. (so it sounds like we play that similarly)

My approach to the monsters vs PCs is pretty traditionally Gygaxian, with the exception in some campaigns of leveled Character Class NPCs.
 

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