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D&D General Story Now, Skilled Play, and Elephants

I did consider rolling a die on the side. Do you mean that you take say a '+' to mean that a 1 or 20 is more severe? That would still be only 10% of the range. What's key I suspect, is to find a way to differentiate the meanings of broader parts of the range. Suggested in the DMG is that failing by <6 has no downside, and failing by >5 has a downside. And that is used in some published adventures. It's just fiddly to implement. With AW the result is a 5 and I know what that means. With the DMG method the result is a 5 and I have no idea what that means until I also recall the DC and subtract 5 from it. Locking the nuance to the result is far easier to apply than varying it by the DC!
Well, PbtA isn't measuring your chances of success. It is providing a randomized input to the story in order to generate tension and keep things moving in unexpected directions. The bonuses you can apply in PbtA do represent your ability to 'be in control' as a character though, which is similar to what they do in d20. Anyway, HoML uses the "5 more than required for success" option to give you 'Complete Success' which means you get to achieve the objective of your check without any downside. On a 'normal success' you haven't usually completely dealt with the situation, or it left some complication. I don't have a critical failure rule, doesn't seem needed, though I toyed with it a while back. I think 3 levels is enough, KISS.
Looking then at the result on the die. One might picture (for ability checks, not attack rolls) -
  • die shows 5 or less, a failed check comes with a drawback
  • die shows 15 or less, a successful check comes with a drawback, a failed check is just a fail (the fail is the drawback)
  • die shows 19 or less, any success is just a success
  • die shows 20, any success is an enhanced success
In this picture, there are no guaranteed successes or failures on ability checks (accords with PHB RAW), but when you do succeed or fail, that might come with nuance. A feature that might bug people is possibly a disconnect between character skill (its modifiers to the check) and the outcome. Say I am an expert tier 2 rogue, with +4 PB and +3 from my ability score. So I have +11. If the DC is 17 I can fail only on 5 or less. So if I fail at all, 100% of the time that comes with a drawback. Possibly that will drive dissonance. OTOH it makes Reliable Talent more worthwhile!
It isn't a bad idea, not sure it is less 'fiddly' than the 'succeed by N or more' way though.
EDIT Another method I thought of, drawing inspiration from Bushido, is that if die shows an odd number then the outcome includes a drawback. That naturally scales with character skill. In the case above, our rogue has a 15% chance of fail with drawback, 10% chance of straight fail, 35% chance of success with drawback, and 40% chance of straight success.
This always struck me as a pretty simple method. A few games have used it over the years. IIRC Bushido has some pretty ridiculous failure consequences though. lol. OTOH Samurai are like gods and get all sorts of crazy power ups. Combat was pretty much a bad idea in that game though unless you WERE a Samurai, it was stupid bloody.
 

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clearstream

Be just and fear not...
As a mathematician I would just point out that there's no reason you cannot emulate the behavior of 2d6 with a d20, it is just probabilities. obviously you could say 17+ total success, 8+ success with complication, otherwise complication without success. That emulates the PbtA 2d6 throw pretty accurately. Heck, you have more freedom, you can tweak those numbers in 5% increments, which is a lot easier. While bonuses/penalties will indeed 'stack' in a linear vs non-linear fashion, the difference is not HUGE and IMHO it is easier to deal with. You also have to consider (dis)advantage, which already hands you a non-linear mechanism to use. I like PbtA games, they have their virtues. I'm not totally in love with 2d6, nor necessarily the dice pool mechanics of FitD or similar engines. They can be convenient, but they tend to break down in unusual cases due to non-linear behavior. d20 offers BOTH types of options. Heck, you can always stack more than 2 dice on a 'take the best' mechanism if you want REALLY non-linear.
Absolutely agree. 2d6 is kind of neat, and also kind of clunky. I like normal distributions. I dislike the effect of modifiers. When it comes to dice pools, I love using them. I just dislike that it's hard to intuit what chance you have.

I hoped to suggest something like what you are saying here in post #715 - in the bullet points. Do you think it's okay to just consider the number rolled on the die?

Say I its DC 15 and I have +7, so I need 8. I'm guaranteed 8+ on the result (die+mod). In this case, unlike PbtA, I'm guaranteed at worst success with complication, and I enjoy about a coin-flip for total success. Or we can look at the number on the die (per my post #715). Or we can look at something about the die, like its parity.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Well, PbtA isn't measuring your chances of success. It is providing a randomized input to the story in order to generate tension and keep things moving in unexpected directions. The bonuses you can apply in PbtA do represent your ability to 'be in control' as a character though, which is similar to what they do in d20. Anyway, HoML uses the "5 more than required for success" option to give you 'Complete Success' which means you get to achieve the objective of your check without any downside. On a 'normal success' you haven't usually completely dealt with the situation, or it left some complication. I don't have a critical failure rule, doesn't seem needed, though I toyed with it a while back. I think 3 levels is enough, KISS.

It isn't a bad idea, not sure it is less 'fiddly' than the 'succeed by N or more' way though.
Yup, its fiddly. What I fear most is the check - did I succeed or fail - and then the question - was that with complications? I suspect the added step - the tiers - will require enough parsing to cause hiccoughs in play.

This always struck me as a pretty simple method. A few games have used it over the years. IIRC Bushido has some pretty ridiculous failure consequences though. lol. OTOH Samurai are like gods and get all sorts of crazy power ups. Combat was pretty much a bad idea in that game though unless you WERE a Samurai, it was stupid bloody.
So far, it looks most promising to me. With a few tweaks such as 20 being an enhanced success. Some people feel nervous about parity, it seems. Again there is the question - parity of result, or parity on die. I suspect result will flow best in play.

In other news, what I liked about Bushido was that combat was such a bad idea, unless you were samurai (well, you could make some decent budoka and there were some neat things you could do with sai). Twin swords, piercing attacks, and iajutsu, were all terrific! Bows were decent. To me its combat had a superb feel.
 

As a mathematician I would just point out that there's no reason you cannot emulate the behavior of 2d6 with a d20, it is just probabilities.

You'd have to have repeated die rolls to do so completely, and it might well be tricky to rework the modifiers so it produced an equivalent result since their effect on 2D6 isn't linear.

It also depends on how fussy you are, of course; if you consider "close enough good enough" its much easier.
 

Yup, its fiddly. What I fear most is the check - did I succeed or fail - and then the question - was that with complications? I suspect the added step - the tiers - will require enough parsing to cause hiccoughs in play.
Well, Dungeon World feels pretty 'light weight'. There is NO CASE where the numbers are not 6-, 7+, and 10+, so you never have to go look anything up, there's no 'DC', nothing. You may have modifiers, they tend to be in the range of say -1 to +3. There are very few other mechanics to the game, and all of them relate to these rolls (hold and forward basically) or to damage. So things move right along.
So far, it looks most promising to me. With a few tweaks such as 20 being an enhanced success. Some people feel nervous about parity, it seems. Again there is the question - parity of result, or parity on die. I suspect result will flow best in play.
Well, parity is parity, mathematically.
In other news, what I liked about Bushido was that combat was such a bad idea, unless you were samurai (well, you could make some decent budoka and there were some neat things you could do with sai). Twin swords, piercing attacks, and iajutsu, were all terrific! Bows were decent. To me its combat had a superb feel.
The problem was character lifespan was brutally short. At some point in any story arc violence ensued and 90% of the PCs got turned into dissected character bits. There wasn't some sort of magic to fix that either! IIRC that was basically the rock upon which the Bushido campaign finally sank. That and the fact that the rules were so monumentally obtuse that only the GM understood even 1/2 of them (if that, I suspect he just made up a lot of it on the fly). Well, it was an early RPG, such things were par for the course back then.
 

That's kind of odd. I was aware of at least two Bushido campaigns back in the day, and the PCs didn't seem to die exceptionally often, certainly nothing like 90% per fight.
 

That's kind of odd. I was aware of at least two Bushido campaigns back in the day, and the PCs didn't seem to die exceptionally often, certainly nothing like 90% per fight.
Well, honestly, it was the 1970's. I would be hard-pressed to recall much of the details of any given session of play. I remember playing a Ninja, which was cool, but no match for any of the bushi types (but good at running away!). The trend was that PC attrition was pretty high. The game seemed to miss that what was considered COOL about 'Japan stuff' back in the day was basically Martial Arts and sword fighting, not obscure tenets of Buddhism. So, players WANTED to fight it out, but then they died, a lot. OA, for all its faults, was closer to the mark, though certainly vastly less flavorful. Bushido was fun, and we liked it, but it was more DESPITE the mechanics than because of them!
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Well, honestly, it was the 1970's. I would be hard-pressed to recall much of the details of any given session of play. I remember playing a Ninja, which was cool, but no match for any of the bushi types (but good at running away!). The trend was that PC attrition was pretty high. The game seemed to miss that what was considered COOL about 'Japan stuff' back in the day was basically Martial Arts and sword fighting, not obscure tenets of Buddhism. So, players WANTED to fight it out, but then they died, a lot. OA, for all its faults, was closer to the mark, though certainly vastly less flavorful. Bushido was fun, and we liked it, but it was more DESPITE the mechanics than because of them!
We were able to make some very effective budoka. My strongest bushi used sword (piercing) and sai. I must go along with @Thomas Shey in saying that our campaigns were nowhere near as lethal as yours seem to have been.
 

We were able to make some very effective budoka. My strongest bushi used sword (piercing) and sai. I must go along with @Thomas Shey in saying that our campaigns were nowhere near as lethal as yours seem to have been.
Well, it is quite possible that we were using different interpretations of the rules too. They are VERY complex and quite obtuse. I don't think there was much editing and when I go back and look at them there's a lot of stuff that I'm just like "I have no idea how this is supposed to work." It is kind of on a par with original D&D in that sense, and there aren't a lot of explanations of how the whole combat process as a whole WORKS. Clearly the author assumed readers would "just know" a lot of stuff!

So, it is quite possible you guys have interpreted things in a really different way than the GM (IIRC his name was 'Bill') did way back in 1978. I can say that in his interpretation it was QUITE common for a Samurai to get so many bonus actions right off the start line to just murderize the whole party before they even got their turns.
 

Well, I neither played nor ran those campaigns (though I wouldn't have hesitated if someone was interested in the latter), but those that did didn't seem to think the mortality rate was excessive. Mind you, we were also playing RuneQuest in that period, so our expectations were set by that more than by D&D.

But the third and fourth level characters people apparently had by the time those campaigns ended must have survived somehow, and I know there were no lack of bushi among them, so...
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Well, it is quite possible that we were using different interpretations of the rules too. They are VERY complex and quite obtuse. I don't think there was much editing and when I go back and look at them there's a lot of stuff that I'm just like "I have no idea how this is supposed to work." It is kind of on a par with original D&D in that sense, and there aren't a lot of explanations of how the whole combat process as a whole WORKS. Clearly the author assumed readers would "just know" a lot of stuff!

So, it is quite possible you guys have interpreted things in a really different way than the GM (IIRC his name was 'Bill') did way back in 1978. I can say that in his interpretation it was QUITE common for a Samurai to get so many bonus actions right off the start line to just murderize the whole party before they even got their turns.
Ah right, the zanshin rules, I think it was. You set up a character to get extra moves. And maybe they then also get to go first? It's been awhile!
 

Ah right, the zanshin rules, I think it was. You set up a character to get extra moves. And maybe they then also get to go first? It's been awhile!
Right, and then they can use Iaijitsu and some other techniques that amplify your damage and whatnot. I'd have to go back and reread it, but by the time you get a couple levels you can basically draw your weapon and blenderize before anyone else can blink.

I suspect that in the case of the campaign @Thomas Shey is talking about, either they players eschewed combat much, or they had a couple of these devils on their side (it sure cuts both ways) or maybe they played some characters that used other tactics. I seem to remember that my Ninja dude would kind of hide in the rafters, spit a couple poison darts, toss a bunch of flashbangs around and then leave, which did rather thwart the bushi types to a degree. Still, one mistake and things can get nasty in a hurry. Honestly, it was probably not too unrealistic in a sense!

This is a thing though. I mean, Traveller, depending on how you play it, can run into the same sort of problem. A PGMP-12 doesn't even leave ashes behind, and a guy with heavy weapons and power armor training can pretty much toast anything that isn't similarly equipped. Of course PCs rarely score that type of gear, it is completely illicit, etc. Since you don't actually gain anything akin to experience in that game its sort of a matter of time before that, or a nuke tipped ship-to-ship missile does for you. Obviously it pays to avoid violence in that game, but at some point the game kind of stagnates and just goes there.

This is one reason I think a strong agenda can be helpful. I mean, Bushido with a strong agenda, or likewise Traveller, would probably be a lot more interesting games, though perhaps less widely appealing. Hard to say for sure.
 

Right, and then they can use Iaijitsu and some other techniques that amplify your damage and whatnot. I'd have to go back and reread it, but by the time you get a couple levels you can basically draw your weapon and blenderize before anyone else can blink.

I suspect that in the case of the campaign @Thomas Shey is talking about, either they players eschewed combat much, or they had a couple of these devils on their side (it sure cuts both ways) or maybe they played some characters that used other tactics. I seem to remember that my Ninja dude would kind of hide in the rafters, spit a couple poison darts, toss a bunch of flashbangs around and then leave, which did rather thwart the bushi types to a degree. Still, one mistake and things can get nasty in a hurry. Honestly, it was probably not too unrealistic in a sense!

It wouldn't have been possible for non-spellcasters to both avoid combat and advance; Bushido split experience into Shugo (which applied to Shugenja (mages) and Gakusho (priests)) and Budo (which applied to everyone else). Budo was acquired almost exclusively through kills (which went to whoever struck the killing blow, to the point I still hear some people who played in those campaigns joke about someone "stealing the budo" when they'd been ineffective in a combat until they managed to get in the kill.

My guess would be that they only rarely ran into samurai with the necessary skills to pull off those sort of effects, and probably later in the day; there were a wide variety of opponents who were far from that dangerous (including most of the two varieties of mooks).

In other words, it was either overuse, or (if using the random encounter generation tables) bad luck of the die throwing up one of the most deadly opponents. Not a problem in those days that could be limited to Bushido.
 

pemerton

Legend
one mistake and things can get nasty in a hurry. Honestly, it was probably not too unrealistic in a sense!

This is a thing though. I mean, Traveller, depending on how you play it, can run into the same sort of problem. A PGMP-12 doesn't even leave ashes behind, and a guy with heavy weapons and power armor training can pretty much toast anything that isn't similarly equipped. Of course PCs rarely score that type of gear, it is completely illicit, etc. Since you don't actually gain anything akin to experience in that game its sort of a matter of time before that, or a nuke tipped ship-to-ship missile does for you. Obviously it pays to avoid violence in that game, but at some point the game kind of stagnates and just goes there.
In my Classic Traveller game I am just ignoring nuclear weapons. I think they add nothing to the game except the problems you identify. As far as ship-to-ship missiles are concerned, we just use the regular Book 2 ones. Space combat is already bad enough, in the sense that the cost to repair even minor damage to a ship is in the millions of credits. From memory we've had three space combats in 20+ sessions: in one the PCs defeated an enemy vessel; in one they abandoned their vessel and ended up being able to steal the NPCs'; and in the third they suffered one hit (to the vessel formerly belonging to the NPCs) before being able to escape, and had to sell the orbital laboratory that was one of the ship's vehicles in order to pay for the repairs to their damaged M-drive.

We do have one PC who has Battle Dress and a PGMP-13, but no Battle Dress skill (only Vacc Suit) which means that he risks injury when he discharges the heavy energy weapon. So far he's only done it once. Obviously if the PCs ever found themselves attacked by a troop of Imperial Marines similarly equipped they'd just all be dead: I keep this in mind when I'm framing encounters and conflicts in the game!
 

It wouldn't have been possible for non-spellcasters to both avoid combat and advance; Bushido split experience into Shugo (which applied to Shugenja (mages) and Gakusho (priests)) and Budo (which applied to everyone else). Budo was acquired almost exclusively through kills (which went to whoever struck the killing blow, to the point I still hear some people who played in those campaigns joke about someone "stealing the budo" when they'd been ineffective in a combat until they managed to get in the kill.

My guess would be that they only rarely ran into samurai with the necessary skills to pull off those sort of effects, and probably later in the day; there were a wide variety of opponents who were far from that dangerous (including most of the two varieties of mooks).

In other words, it was either overuse, or (if using the random encounter generation tables) bad luck of the die throwing up one of the most deadly opponents. Not a problem in those days that could be limited to Bushido.
I don't honestly recall much about playing casters. Aside from 'Kung Fu', the David Carradine TV show, where the the main character doesn't particularly evince any sort of mystical powers and beats everyone up, there really was nothing but Samurai and Ninja, and maybe a smattering of Yakuza as tropes that anyone in the US understood. Nobody could even tell you what a 'shukenja' or 'gakusho' was, let alone wanted to play it! Not saying they don't look like interesting character types to my eye today, but in 1978 we were 16, shallow, and wanted to kill things with curved swords, basically.

I suspect the people you are referring to simply played a bunch differently from that. My experience with Samurai in that game is that, unless you really built a sub-optimal character, you were kind of a combat monster after a few levels and out of everyone else's league in that department. So, NPCs, same way, if the GM unleashed such on you, you better run. Yes, there were 'mooks' and killing them was a cheap way to get XP, but also generated a lot of enemies, as the setting is after all one of a highly cultured, but violent, society where making enemies is both a bad idea, and inevitable.

Anyway, all I can say is, the campaign I played in was very interesting, to me at that time, but also super lethal. Surviving to even get one level of 'budo' was hard, and only a few players managed to ever hit level 3. I left after a couple years, but I think the GM eventually ran out of players and went back to running D&D or something.

If I was going to run a game of that ilk today, I'd consider starting with FitD and building a game based on clan/family competition and infighting. It could probably heavily mirror the factions architecture of games like BitD, but with different flavor and such. I'm not sure how much magic really belongs in such a game, at least at the PC level. Various types of spirits and such certainly factor a lot in stories, but they are generally defeated without resorting to 'magic' per se. A Shinto priest might be a sort of NPC you bring in to deal with specific problems, or perform necessary rituals, etc. and maybe to act as a patron. Certainly in later Medieval Japan the Buddhist institutions are more political than religious and might simply be considered factions unto themselves. As they tended to be egalitarian their fighters were a bit differently trained and equipped than the bushi, but not that much different.

Anyway, I wouldn't use Bushido, it is overly complex, probably not all that accurate a depiction to start with culturally, and just plain clunky and posessing all the characteristics of traditional GM-centered games of its time period. Reading over it now, I can see that the author was deeply engaged with the subject matter, but the game design feels amateurish and frankly obsolete. It would probably be best if some Japanese people actually wrote this type of game instead of some Americans who can at best claim 2nd hand knowledge of the material anyway.
 

In my Classic Traveller game I am just ignoring nuclear weapons. I think they add nothing to the game except the problems you identify. As far as ship-to-ship missiles are concerned, we just use the regular Book 2 ones. Space combat is already bad enough, in the sense that the cost to repair even minor damage to a ship is in the millions of credits. From memory we've had three space combats in 20+ sessions: in one the PCs defeated an enemy vessel; in one they abandoned their vessel and ended up being able to steal the NPCs'; and in the third they suffered one hit (to the vessel formerly belonging to the NPCs) before being able to escape, and had to sell the orbital laboratory that was one of the ship's vehicles in order to pay for the repairs to their damaged M-drive.

We do have one PC who has Battle Dress and a PGMP-13, but no Battle Dress skill (only Vacc Suit) which means that he risks injury when he discharges the heavy energy weapon. So far he's only done it once. Obviously if the PCs ever found themselves attacked by a troop of Imperial Marines similarly equipped they'd just all be dead: I keep this in mind when I'm framing encounters and conflicts in the game!
Right, it isn't all bad. In fact it is a bit 'realistic' in the sense that any society where a few individuals can operate with little probability of disaster no matter what they do would soon devolve into total chaos. So, unless you posit a basically lawless milieu then at best PCs might be able to get away with some stuff for a while, or perhaps ingratiate themselves with the power structure to a degree and skate around the worst of it. At least until their patrons decide they are too much of a liability!

I don't think it is hard to do in Traveller, though it seems like the party inevitably lives on the edge. As you say, repairs to ships are astronomically expensive. So space combat is not really much of an option except as a last resort kind of thing. I suspect it is reasonable to conceive of nuclear missiles as a thing that is not schlepped around by civilians or even police, given their obvious drawbacks if falling into the wrong hands. The books don't really say, but my approach was "If you are stupid enough to attack an Azhanti High Lightning class Imperial battlecruiser, it will just dust you off with a nuke, have fun." Your average 800 ton heavy police/local military type vessel? Probably doesn't carry a nuke at all, if it does its in the hold under lock and key and the captain lacks authority to deploy it.

I seem to remember I ran a couple of mercenary campaigns where the PCs got to handle some of the nastier weapons here and there, but they never OWNED them. Nor did they fight anyone that was equally well-equipped as it would be a blood bath! If you get into Striker and High Guard stuff, where the really serious military hardware lives, well, Imperial troops with Tech 15 Grav Tanks armed with rapid-fire FGMPs and such are pretty much starships flying around on the ground! And the REAL Imperial navy ships mass up in the 100k ton and up category, sport terawatt energy weapons, 1000's of turrets, bay weapons, etc.
 

Campbell

Legend
I think I'm just used to more lethal games. I had my personal settings calibrated by Vampire, RuneQuest, Burning Wheel, Apocalypse World and have never really been much into attrition. Our games usually do not have many fights, but they are usually pretty high stakes affairs.

I did really appreciate Exalted Third Edition's middle ground on lethality though.
 

I think I'm just used to more lethal games. I had my personal settings calibrated by Vampire, RuneQuest, Burning Wheel, Apocalypse World and have never really been much into attrition. Our games usually do not have many fights, but they are usually pretty high stakes affairs.

I did really appreciate Exalted Third Edition's middle ground on lethality though.
I haven't played it. However it seems like within that milieu you could kind of build a 'pick your lethality' sort of game. Same with maybe something like a 'Court Intrigue' game. Do you engage in lethal covert war to reach the pinnacle of power at any cost? Get into deadly duels at the drop of a hat? Or do you spend your time wining and dining the elite and investigating corruption? I think that might be one of the deals with the Bushido thing too, if you stick more to the less bloody side of politics, you've picked a less lethal sort of play.
 

I think I'm just used to more lethal games. I had my personal settings calibrated by Vampire, RuneQuest, Burning Wheel, Apocalypse World and have never really been much into attrition. Our games usually do not have many fights, but they are usually pretty high stakes affairs.

I did really appreciate Exalted Third Edition's middle ground on lethality though.

This was kind of my reaction, since this was also a period when we'd played RQ and things like Aftermath. You didn't lose people all the time, but you did lose them with some regularity.
 

I haven't played it. However it seems like within that milieu you could kind of build a 'pick your lethality' sort of game. Same with maybe something like a 'Court Intrigue' game. Do you engage in lethal covert war to reach the pinnacle of power at any cost? Get into deadly duels at the drop of a hat? Or do you spend your time wining and dining the elite and investigating corruption? I think that might be one of the deals with the Bushido thing too, if you stick more to the less bloody side of politics, you've picked a less lethal sort of play.

As far as I know, a big part of the games I saw reference to were hunting monsters and bandits.
 

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