Spicy Dice Roll Actual Play

We've played two sessions of a game using the methods discussed in this thread: one devoted to character creation, one of Actual Game. I'll talk about the character creation thread in this post, full group play a little later.

Quick summary of What Has Gone Before: Back in the mid-2000s, a poster on the Forge called Silmenume poured out thousands of words about his particular group's Middle Earth game, run by a Christian film-maker named Cary Solomon. I call these old posts the Canon. The group valued player skill (in the "knowing how the GM will react to what I say" sense), 1st-person immersion, acting with conviction and without hesitation, and deep involvement in the myth. There was no written system for the players, but the game seemed to revolve around the d20 roll, with natural 1s and 20s being particularly important. It often seemed like after the roll, the GM cary would just narrate whatever he wanted—as modulated by the character's particular abilities, the situation at hand, and personal & table gut reactions to very high or low rolls.

Before Play

Preparing for this game took a while, in a few ways. One, in the months after our last big campaign, while we did board games and one-shots, I got everyone on the same page about playing a long-running heroic fantasy game that puts a lot of trust in the GM, and a lot of weight on the game's Myth.

We talked about the mechanic—it was hard to find language to explain it eloquently, even though people took to it very naturally in play. We talked about how combat would be without rounds or formal action economy, without real to-hit numbers, fast and tactical in a first-person kind of way rather than a top-down way. We talked about the importance of acting quickly, of not hesitating to take up leadership roles.

And two, I poured a lot of work into that Myth, writing in a little notebook maps and lineages and histories and constructed languages and notes on how we'll be using historical languages. I love that kinda thing and put a lot of effort in, especially into languages.

I sent out two documents to each player: the full rules, and also a players' guide with rules and setting summaries, and lots of language resources. I think people most enjoyed the bits on making anglo-saxon names that didn't sound too Wagnerian, and making names in Giantish.

How We Made Characters

When we sat down for character creation, I tried to build the process out of what Silmenume had written about Cary's game. First we talked about who the player wanted their character to be at the end of the chargen process, and the outline of their lineage / birth / early life, and a name. Then the player divides a pool of 25d6 between six Ability scores, and rolls them to generate actual scores.

Next, we go through four life phases. In each phase, we start by chatting about what the player wants to get out of this phase. Where they want to be at the end, what they want to learn during it. ("I'm a slave now, but I want to gain the trust of the crew and rise to a position of authority!") We decide how old the character will be at the end of the phase.

Then we do a little one-on-one role-play—mostly freeform, but we resort to the core throw-a-d20 mechanic at least once each phase, sometimes quite a bit. Sometimes this play is more abstract, just hashing out where the character was, what they were doing, who was important in their life. Sometimes we got into playing through scenes in as much detail as we would in full group play.

A particularly high or low d20 could really swing the course of a character. For instance, Peter wanted to play a smith from Corgesse-town, whose forefathers had learned to sing to iron in the forging as the giants do. When we were playing through him learning this skill, he rolled a 2 or a 3—he just didn't have the knack, he couldn't learn it. He ended up apprenticing himself to an alchemist and learning metallurgy, as he strove to achieve through study what he couldn't through natural talent; and eventually discovering that he could only hear the true purpose of sky-iron from the heart of a fallen star, not the base iron divulged from the fiery bowls of the earth.

At the end of a phase, I hand out Wises (things the character knows a lot about, explicit permission for the player to ask me what their character knows, to make up minor fitting details, to learn about the subject matter out of game and bring it to the table), Manners (the styles of social interaction that are natural and comfortable for the character), new Proficiencies (like skills) at the lowest rating, and very rarely a special Gift.

Then, I give the player a few d6 (2 for the first phase, 4-6 for each of the next three phases) that they can allocate to advancement checks for their Abilities and Proficiencies. They divide up the dice, putting at most 2 into any trait, and then roll them open-ended to see how much experience they gain.

At the very end, the player answers twelve questions. Their answers can adjust the target number values of four saving throws by a few points: a save versus Dread, versus Hesitation, and versus Trauma. Then we calculate hit points and we're done!

So there's lots of negotiation, lots of role-play, lots of constrained choices, lots of randomness, lots of unexpected outcomes: we're discovering the character together as we go. I don't think anybody's character ended up as precisely what they or I expected at the start of the process.

Comments

  • The Actual Results

    It's a lot of fun but takes a long time. Between half an hour and an hour for each character. Though as one of the players commented, "It's a lot like just playing the game." I think by that he meant it's not "lonely fun" in the way that rolling up a D&D character is; it's a conversation where you negotiate the SIS.

    It's also a very good introduction to how the game will work in full group play. By the time character creation is done, you've already been playing for a while, pretty intensely. You've used most of the mechanics, gotten a feel for how the GM makes judgment calls. You've been immersed in your little corner of the setting, gotten a feel for how the world works, how names of people and places sound, seen a map or two, have some sense of who you are in the world.

    We actually spread character creation across three sessions, because it took so long. Two weeks ago, after board games, we made Austin's character and started Idan's and Greg's; last week we finished Gregs and made Peter's and David's; and yesterday, as people were arriving, we finished Idan's and made Yonatan's. Jeff asked if he could drop in and play an NPC at the last minute, so I handed him a pre-made character that didn't go through the full process.

    When we were working on multiple characters at once, we ended sort of going around the table—I'd do most of a phase with one person, give them some dice to assign out, then start a phase with the next person while the last allotted their dice and rolled for experience ticks.

    Lessons Learned

    The intended mechanic is: GM calls for a roll and privately commits to the most likely, expected result. If the d20 is in the middle range, that's what happens; if the die rolls high, something better; low, something worse; natural 1 or 20, something good or bad maybe outside the intended scope of the original roll.

    Here's the thing. That "privately commit to the expected result" bit? Is impossible. I just can't do it in the heat of the moment. By the time I've decided we need a roll, and said "roll", the die's already hit the table and the player's calling out a number. I don't have time to pre-commit.

    So I end up backing into the most likely result post-hoc, after I've seen the die and the table's reaction to it, and then adjusting up or down. All that intended high-minded methodological hygiene went out the window before we'd finished making the first character.

    And here we get to, I think, the essence of the spicy dice roll. We've talked about it before, but here it is in bold:

    The table's reaction to the roll constraints the GM's authority to narrate as they please.

    That's the real mechanic. That's the Spicy Dice Roll.

    Now, I think to make the real magic happen, you need a lot more. The table's trust in each other. The shared Myth, growing in richness and complexity over time. A few specific mechanics, used rarely, with definite and defined outcomes, where everyone knows that once they've been invoked the result is out of even the GM's hands. And a large body of technique around proper employment of the Spicy Roll.

    I'll talk about the first session of group play a bit later!
  • Thanks for sharing this! Looking forward to hearing more!
  • Yes, very interesting. It's nice to hear such a self-aware account of a playstyle.

    I think your insight into the nature of the Spicy Roll is right on the ball, as well.

    (Although I do think that the "mental hygiene" is possible; you might just need to create a pause in the flow. What if the player had a decision to make before making the roll, for example? Even something as simple as that could give you room to picture an appropriate outcome.)

    I'm particular interested by your comments on "a few specific mechanics" (is this getting away from "spicy roll" and into more formal game design?), as well as the "technique" involved in employing a spicy roll (which you hint at).

    Finally, your saving throw categories are genius. Why hasn't anyone done it like that before? Very evocative and logical, as well. Did you leave one out?
  • Re: Mental Hygiene I guess I should have written, it's impossible for me to do without that pause in the flow you mention. When I've the space of a slow breath to think, it's easy peasy. But man oh man is the flow important, especially in action scenes. Purposefully taking two seconds to mentally arrange an expected outcome, now that I've actually played the game, seems insane, counter-productive.

    And also a little orthogonal to the essence of the Spicy Roll. What I've privately committed to does not change the constraints that the players' reaction to the roll puts upon me.

    I think that more properly there are a whole battery of ways to reach an expected outcome. One of them is "when you can, privately commit beforehand." Another seems to be "do the obvious; no surprises." And yet another, "give them the benefit of the doubt." And, "move a small step towards something you have planned." I think that fairly well covers the range what I actually did during play.

    .

    Saving throws are one of those "few specific mechanics"; the others are damage and burden from using magic, and experience checks / trait advancement. (You're right, I left off a save category—the Save versus Fate, which we haven't actually used yet. It's equivalent to the canonical "Hero's saving roll.") And yeah, I think this is the game design proper bit: the few parts that are Not Spicy.

    I think these are important for two reasons. One, they give me a god damn break. I can say "Save versus Hesitation" or "Two dice of damage" and I don't have to think any more. We know what to do and what will happen.

    Second, they ensure that I do not have complete control over the game. They make things happen that I wouldn't think of. I didn't want one of Yonatan's pirate-captain's followers to be slain by a Deorwight, but the damage dice were high enough, so he died. That's something a few people touched upon in the last thread. It's another source of pressure working against my own creative goals (the others being: the players; particularly high/low rolls at unexpected times), and also a trust-building mechanism, showing the players on a regular basis that sometimes, it's out of my hands.

    We use the saves (other than Fate) in a specific way—they're not defenses against special attacks, rather, when you want to do something, but your character might not be able to carry out your will purely because of their own mental state (confusion or scattered wits, fear, pain), roll the save. They're fixed target numbers, so the player knows what to expect and mostly how to interpret the result.

    I'll note that the line between the few specific mechanics (saves, damage, burden of spells, experience) and the spicy roll is permeable, though. You can get a natural 1 or 20 on a save, and that calls for spice. A very high damage or burden roll calls for spice, too. But the circumscriptions around my authority there aren't just limited by the table reaction: the mechanical guarantees are iron-clad and take precedence.
  • edited September 2017
    We're six sessions into this game! It's going strong and picking up steam. I've noticed my mental state at the end of a session of this kind of play is less exhausted than at the end of a game of the old school sandboxy D&D we play otherwise. Less attention-splitting between procedure and the conversation, maybe?

    We're all still learning how to play it, and still drifting the mechanics and our techniques... this last game I've experimented with trying to immerse myself in an NPCs when in dialogue with a player. That was really interesting—for one thing it kinda astounded me that I'd never actually tried that before in my life. For another, my dialogue changed completely; it got a little bit less poetic and stilted, a little more natural, more and shorter interjections, I ended up revealing things and agreeing to things I'd intended to hold back on a bit.

    The "commit to a most likely outcome before the roll" has by this point pretty clearly become just one in a grab-bag of techniques around taking the temperature of the table and making sure the GM's decision around a roll is in line with player expectations. A few might be:

    - When you can, commit (privately or publicly) to a most likely outcome beforehand.
    - Do something similar to a previous, similar situation, with a roll in the same range.
    - On a moderate result with no obvious outcome, change the situation and stakes.
    - On a high roll, give them their goal or set them up to get it if they act fast.
    - On a low roll, hurt them or set them up to get hurt if they don't act fast.
    - Do the obvious, no surprises.
    - Give them the benefit of the doubt.

    And lots more, probably.

    .

    We had our first Save versus Fate yesterday.

    Greg's playing a bastard princess whose usurping elder brother wants her dead, and Austin's playing a young lady who's disguised herself as a man to become a knight errant, and has sworn herself to the princess. They were fording a river with a small band of scouts and archers, trying to meet up with an ally, but a natural 1 hit the table—in the middle of the crossing, a party rides out of the trees on the southern bank: the usurping brother, with half a dozen mounted knights and as many men at arms on foot!

    There are tense words and taught bowstrings; Austin's bodyguard is almost out of the river, trying to buy time by treating with the brother, but the prince is clearly about to order a massacre. Greg's princess is further back, hooded and unrecognized. The situation breaks, arrows fly; Greg's princess throws herself under the water and lets the current cary her downstream; men drop on both sides; the knights charge into the stream.

    Austin's bodyguard Egmon cuts the horse down from under the prince, and they wrestle in the water at the margin of the river. Egmon comes out on top, with his blade to a gap in the prince's armor; Austin shouts that he yells at the knights to halt or he'll slay the prince, buying time for the scouts to get away to safety back on the north bank of the river, and for the princess to flee. He holds the situation for as long as he can.

    Instead of fleeing, Greg has the princess creep out of the river onto the south bank and sneak through the woods until she has a clear shot with her bow at her brother the prince. When she can, she looses and puts an arrow through his shoulder from the back.

    Thinking the arrows was meant for her, Austin's bodyguard Egmon puts his blade to the prince, and after a brief struggle kills him. Now, Austin knows it's six mounted knights against Egmon; he tells us Egmon knows she's about to die here, sacrificing herself in service to her charge. Egmon takes a spear through the shoulder from one of the knights, and drops her weapons in surrender, but Egmon's just killed the prince: she doesn't expect mercy. The knight draws back his spear for the killing blow. I ask Austin to roll save against Fate.

    It passes, with a high score. The knight accepts Egmon's surrender, and she lives.

    .

    I'm not sure if I would have killed Egmon on a failure. I'm not sure. I certainly would have had to on a 1 or a 2 or a 3, but I don't know about a moderate roll. But after the fact, it came out that the whole table fully expected Egmon to die on anything but a clean pass.

    I decided not to tell them that I was considering mercy. Because I think they're right here, if Austin had failed that save against Fate, I needed to kill Egmon. Those are the stakes and consequences that they expect, and I've tried to cultivate, so that's what I need to deliver.
  • Your Spicy Roll method reminds me quite a lot of the core mechanic in both PbtA games ( although those have a more preset list of categories of outcome) and the Mythic M Emulator core mechanic ( although that main table has more group input into which range of numbers produce which results on any given roll).
  • I am loving this thread. Please keep going.
  • Yeah, fantastic writeup. (Although I think you switched a "he" for a "she" somewhere in there - Egmon is the woman pretending to be a knight, yes?)

    I was just writing in the other thread about how to determine what an appropriate miss is in AW, and this is a perfect example of how table expectations and precedents set the range for that.
  • edited September 2017
    (Right, Egmon is a woman pretending to be a man. We tend to refer to her as "he" at the table, since she's not out to anyone except Greg's princess.)

    .

    I've waffled often between feeling that what I'm doing in Spicy GMing is a lot like Moves in *World games, or could at least be formalized similarly—and on the other end feeling that Moves are in fact an entirely different sort of thing and trying to conflate them just muddies the thinking.

    *World GM moves have a few qualities: 1) The GM gets to use one when the players look to him to see what happens next, or a player rolls a miss. 2) They can be either "soft", setting up a threat, or "hard", with material consequences right now, and soft ones snowball into hard ones. 3) When the GM gets to use one, he can pick whichever he likes, but must choose a move that follows from the established fiction, and can only make a hard move if someone's ignored a soft move or rolled a miss. 4) Their outputs are purely in the fictional space... except for whatever variant on "Deal harm as established". 5) The moves as written are kind of... categories of narrative beat, I guess?

    The Spicy roll-interpretation techniques don't really have any of these qualities. 1) The GM gets to use one when the dice hit the table—just before or just after. 2) Whether they result in advantages, changes in the nature of the situation and its stakes, new threats, or consequences right now depends on the situation and roll and, critically, the tables' expectations around and reaction to the roll. 3) When the GM gets to use one, he is mainly constrained by the pace of what's going on socially at the table—does he have a minute to think, has the die already hit the table?—and by whether the fictional situation has manifestly obvious likely outcomes. 4) Outputs are purely fictional, except for damage. Hah! 5) Each one is... I think a micro-procedure for making a parsimonious judgment call?

    And then there's this other category of thing the GM does in Spicy play that isn't done in *World play: I can call for a roll with a target number; call for a roll without a target number; call for a Save; announce dice of damage or burden taken or dealt, or just describe what happens next. 1) The GM gets to do one of these when the players turn towards them to see what happens. 2) They can be soft, or hard, or defer their harshness to interpretation of a die roll. 3) When the GM uses one, he can pick whichever he likes, but it has to follow from the fiction. 4) Outputs are purely in the fictional space... except damage. 5) Each one is a mechanical procedure (or absence thereof) you can insert into the core conversational loop of play.

    Lastly we've got *World player-facing moves. 1) You use one exactly when they are triggered by the fiction. 2) The valence and strength of their consequences is either fixed, or determined by a throw of the dice. 3) You don't get a choice about using a player move. 4) Outputs are mixed fictional and mechanical. 5) Each one is a mechanical procedure that forces itself into the core conversational loop of play.

    .

    Yikes, wrote way more than I meant to, there. But that's the state of my brain on the relationship between Spicy techniques and Moves.
  • Very cool stuff, thanks for sharing.
  • I also want to thank you for these Spicy Dice threads. It really feels like you are picking at a neglected thread of the RPG tapestry.

    The comparison to World games is interesting and something that has been in the back of my head since I read the first Spicy Dice thread. It seems to me like the most important difference is that the spicy dice mechanic defers to the fiction for the interpretation of the roll, whereas World moves only defer to the fiction for when to initiate the roll.

    That is, on a medium roll, World moves give a medium result in an absolute sense, while the spicy dice roll gives a medium result relative to the established scenario. Therefore it looks to me like the spicy dice roll would more easily handle tasks with variable difficulties -- similar to how D&D modifies attack rolls with strength and armour class, though obviously in a more ad hoc manner.

    It sounds like your game has been going fabulously so far. I realize it might be hard to judge, but do you have any inkling of how much is due to the spicy dice roll mechanic in particular? As opposed to the other principles you are experimenting with -- acting with conviction, treating player hesitation as character hesitation, radical trust in the referee, putting great effort into the Myth, and so on. Do you think the same thing could be achieved with (say) AD&D if the same principles were embraced?

    If not, what do you think it is about this mechanic that makes it so perfect for this play style? Is it the speed of resolution it permits? The sensitivity to fictional positioning? The balance between railroading and, let us say, bricolage? All of the above? Something else?

    Do you think the same mechanic could be of any use in a different play style, or would it be a terrible mismatch?
  • Good questions! I'd like to hear about that, too.
  • edited October 2017

    I realize it might be hard to judge, but do you have any inkling of how much is due to the spicy dice roll mechanic in particular?

    My flippant answer is "None of it."

    I think we're never not operating under the spicy constraint—whenever anyone narrates anything, their authority is constrained by the expectations of everyone else at the table, as mediated by the fictional situation and whatever mechanical doodads have been used recently. I think that's true even in, say, a game with specific stakes-setting, or where the roll determines only who has speaking privileges, or a *World style game.

    When you're oblivious to that, then you get either a collapse of trust, painful railroading or whatever; or maybe the sort of gonzo off-the-wall stuff you see from first time players of Fiasco and its ilk.

    So I guess the less flippant answer is, what we get out of adhering to spicy principles, in this game and all other games, is the trust necessary to build the SIS together.

    And what makes this game different isn't, then, the spiciness. It's that we're putting the ritual of rolling the d20, and the techniques that surround and support spiciness, at the forefront of our minds, in the space most games' mechanical widgets would normally occupy.

    What do we get out of that? I suppose I can pour all the energy that a I normally spend on mechanics into technique. And I think that's what allows for the stuff you mention that makes it work, sensitivity to fictional positioning and never breaking conversational flow and so on.

    I'm not sure how I address a question like, "what do you think it is about this mechanic that makes it so perfect for this play style?" The play style and the spicy "mechanic" are kinda overlapping subsets of the collection of techniques we use.

    I definitely think you can achieve the same thing by using AD&D, or nearly any other trad game, as a substrate and focusing on these principles and techniques. After all, the Canonical game set in Middle-Earth run by Carey Solomon started as heavily drifted AD&D.

    (Aside: I found the website of the east coast sister group to Carey's group, which partially shared a player base.)

    And I also definitely think spicy play can support other styles... we're much less "in character" than the Canon, for instance. I can see a spicy group caring way less about immediate decisive action, way more about building deep interpersonal relationships. I think any spicily-supported style would have to share some features, though, hm. But I can also see it being pretty radically different from what my group is doing, in some ways. Like, if you and I trust each other enough, we could play a 1:1 spicy game where each of us GMs for the other but neither of us is in a position of greater authority.

    Actually I think Vincent Baker's old, old co-GMed Ars Magica game from the 90s may have worked like this. He wrote a lot about it in the early 2000s on The Forge and his blog. I'ma go look some of that stuff up again now.
  • edited October 2017
    Hah! Vincent posted this in 2003, after 14-year-old me asked how he and Emily and Meg all met:

    "Meg and I and some others played Ars Magica out of the 2nd edition book back in '90 and '91, which I'll call the "Caer Mearabourne" game. It was one of these where the GM (Meg) took the basic resolution dice thing and adapted it to her personal preferred techniques, in unspoken collaboration with the players (me and others). When we played with the Ennead (our Bohemian days indeed) the GMs (Kip, then Sarah, while I was playing) did the same, but to GURPS. Maybe Kip used GURPS dice and Sarah didn't even; I think she mostly just rolled 2d6, low bad high good, and interepreted them to the characters and situation. We had GURPS character sheets we never referred to. I'll call that the "Isrillion" game."

    EDIT: This was literally half my lifetime ago. I had totally forgotten about this interaction. I think later that year I tried an ill-fated disastrous collaborative game based on what Emily and Meg and Vincent wrote in that thread. So, I guess I've been thinking about this stuff for a while.
  • Thank you for the answers! It's given me lots to chew on (slowly, with cold milk). I am just going to repeat some of what you said in my own words to make sure I've got what you are saying:

    The spicy dice roll mechanic itself is mostly good because of the negative space it leaves where most other systems would put heftier mechanics. This leaves room to focus on other techniques and principles.

    In the case of your game in particular, this space is largely filled with the details of the fictional positioning. And this is apparent when looking at your rulebook, where the space that would normally be filled with discussion of action types and attacks of opportunity is instead filled with information (shared fictional expectations) about historical European martial arts. The same is hopefully true of the players' minds at runtime. And this is aided by the fact that the meaning of a spicy dice roll is explicitly relative to the most likely fictional outcome.

    Meanwhile, the underlying "spicy principle" is that -- in any functional game, not just when using the "spicy dice" -- what a player adds to the fiction is constrained by (a) the expectation of other players, which is in turn constrained by (b) shared knowledge of how to interpret mechanical results.

    So the beauty of the spicy dice roll is that it focusses everyone's attention directly on an issue that is already very important (what would the other players consider appropriate to add to the fiction at this time?), but which otherwise might be crowded aside by focussing on the mechanics directly.


    Sound about right?

    Laying it all out like that actually makes me a lot more sceptical about the idea of trying to apply the same principles while running AD&D something. But I think I see what you mean about how you could play a game with different goals and techniques. There are a lot of different things that could fill in that negative space. It could lend itself pretty well to a co-GM situation, since everyone is already looking at the oracular die and thinking about what the result suggests.
    Jeph said:

    I'm not sure how I address a question like, "what do you think it is about this mechanic that makes it so perfect for this play style?" The play style and the spicy "mechanic" are kinda overlapping subsets of the collection of techniques we use.

    Yeah, that was poorly worded on my part. I was simultaneously trying to ask, "Why does this dice mechanic so effectively serve your creative agenda?" and "What makes this dice mechanic mesh well with the other techniques you are using?" I think you pretty much answered both questions anyway.

    That Forge thread is super interesting, too! I love the discussion of troupe play, how they would portray different characters and how they would decide who should play each one. It definitely brings to the forefront the need for the right people and the right shared goals for a successful collaborative game. That's probably what I should be asking about instead of dice mechanics (even marvellous cargo-cultish ones). That "disastrous collaborative game" sounds like a good story for another time....

    How hard do you think this spicy dice system is for people to pick up and get used to playing? I am assuming you are playing with your trusted group you have played with for a long time. Would you dare try to run a spicy dice game for a group of strangers at a con? (Setting aside the fact your system is designed for long campaigns....) Do you think it would be especially difficult for people new to tabletop RPGs (compared to a traditional game)?

    Unrelated: I just realized I recognize your map drawing style in your little brown book from a thread you did on reddit once about your West Marches map. So I guess I am now The Guy Who Follows You Around to Different Websites and Asks You Questions About Your High-Concept RPG Campaigns.
  • edited October 2017
    (In my experience, a LOT of RPG play is actually "spicy roll" play, with the rules and character sheets being used as a little bit of a smokescreen. I wouldn't say that it's a rare or uncommon approach at all, and... in most ways, it's tremendously beginner-friendly. In a handful of equally important ways, however - mainly the opacity of the procedures - it's not at all beginner-friendly.)

    (What sets this game apart from all of those is the self-awareness being put into practice.)
  • I do see what you mean, Paul. (Though for whatever reason my experience has been almost the opposite; I have more often run into groups where the players and GM alike follow the written rules to the letter, even to the detriment of what everyone wants to get out of the game.)

    I should clarify then that in my post when asking about "this spicy dice system" I was meaning to refer to Jeph's whole system, with no smokescreen and with the other attendant techniques (written rules and unwritten procedures). I imagine "roll d20, high good" would not be the hardest part for players to get used to.
  • edited October 2017
    Vivicient I am very glad that you are following these threads, your rephrasing above reads more clearly than my own ramblings.

    Something maybe I haven't vocalized explicitly yet is that when the dice generate extreme values, it sets the player expectation that nearly anything can happen, giving the GM huge narrative leeway at that particular moment. Hence Cary Solomon's original "Dice add spice!" commentary, and the pacing effect.

    (And is it this map you're talking about? 3 of the 7 people in the Spicy game played that one as well!)

    .

    Paul, I agree that a lot of play is kinda degenerate / dishonest "spicy play". I think it also crops up a ton in traditional games inconsistently to fill in procedural gaps and gaffs. Say you have a Pathfinder DM who's usually very principled about defining the task and setting the DC, but every now and then sorta calls for a roll reflexively without first considering those things—they'll resort to the spicy "roll + situation sets table expectations constrains narration" thing for lack of other structure.

    .

    Last weekend we had a game I don't think I prepped for enough. I think it fell a little flat for some of the players—there ended up being one who sort of took center stage and had all the interesting decisions to make, two who kind of stood witness to that, and two who engaged in something of a side-plot with much lower stakes.

    Maybe I need more structure in my prep? Or at least to invest as much energy thinking about prep and prep techniques as I've been putting into play and play techniques. I want to be putting everybody in difficult situations that try the players' mettle every game, or at least building up investment and detail and fleshing out everyone's place in the setting/Myth.

    Lots of *World and turn of the millennium Forgey relationship map stuff to draw on. Kickers and bangs and fronts and R-maps are all great at keeping the action rolling and intense and relevant. Where do I turn for advice on the other stuff, prep techniques producing play that helps players discover their characters' place in the world and build up investment?
  • What you need to do then is look for the conflict. You may be tempted to introduce it yourself as a GM, but it pays more for everyone if the conflict comes from the PCs and players interests, as well as from the things they have already done.

    For the players interests: what did they introduced in the setting, the R-maps and on their own character sheets? those are the players concerns, the best plot hooks you could use for the game, like ever. It's all in the details: A PC uses a sword as their main weapon? Bring up all the things you can relate to it: Who trained the character? where's that person now? Who else learned from that same person? What about the sword itself, who made it and how it came into the hands of the PC? Good conflicts can be drawn from all that and you only need but a couple of those tops to get the players interest.

    For the consequences: what happened after the PCs did X? They may have moved on to the next adventure, but the place they visited and the people they met still exist and need to go on as well. What happened? When they die, BBEGs leave a hole that will probably be occupied by an opportunist BBEG. Perhaps it's the people that the PCs left in power the ones making trouble now. Does anybody behind the PCs trail wants revenge from them? Wants to make them responsible of the new situation? Have they set a precedent for future problems? Could they have now a bounty upon their heads?

    That's without mentioning player-set objectives, keys, bonds or flaws. Give them a chance or a clue to conquer those and let them choose their next step. Lately I'm using a simple trick to have players develop their own plot hooks: give them a couple random words and let them come up with rumours their characters could have heard at the inn. You could have all the players come up with different things and then let them choose one or try to relate all those rumours into a single quest. To earn some time we usually use the rest of the session to travel to the place, so I get until the next session to prepare the place properly.

    Hope any of these help!
  • Jeph said:

    (And is it this map you're talking about? 3 of the 7 people in the Spicy game played that one as well!)

    Yes, that's the very one! I have it squirreled away in my "inspiring maps" folder.

  • Lots here to read and I haven't yet read it all, but one thing I want to ask, @Jeph , is whether you're having any Cary fun. Are you gleeful imposing your will on the shape of the fiction as master of the setting and all its truths and master of the aesthetic and all its ephemera? Are you challenging the players to join you on the glorious perch of your vision?

    All this talk about reading the temperature of the entire table strikes me as entirely backwards from the perspective of Silmenume's play.
  • Excellent question.

    I have the opposite question:

    How much of the "mystique" of this sort of play depends on the mystery of the process?

    When the players are aware of it (and it is fully overt), does it carry the same punch?

  • David, I've been working on having Cary fun. This most recent game I think I got into that aspect more successfully than before—speaking in improvised verse, applying some subtle GM force to guide things towards an outcome I wanted when the opportunity arose.

    Paul, I can't say how much I'm losing out on by doing away with the mystique. But being explicit about everything, discussing the body of technique readily, has definitely allowed group buy-in from people who would completely shut down this kind of play if it were sprung on them without warning, or with false pretenses.
  • So rather than trying to get as close as possible to Silmenume's game, instead you're doing a version that's better suited to your group? Makes sense to me. I'd love to hear how much you've gotten what you originally hoped to out of this, and how much you've gotten other, different things. :)
  • Nice! I'd love to hear the answer to Dave's question, too.
  • Paul_T said:

    (In my experience, a LOT of RPG play is actually "spicy roll" play, with the rules and character sheets being used as a little bit of a smokescreen. I wouldn't say that it's a rare or uncommon approach at all, and... in most ways, it's tremendously beginner-friendly. In a handful of equally important ways, however - mainly the opacity of the procedures - it's not at all beginner-friendly.)

    (What sets this game apart from all of those is the self-awareness being put into practice.)

    (I'm just getting caught up on S-G after some time away...)

    It seems like a simple way to say this is, it's generally easy to be a player in a "spicy dice roll" game, but making the transition to GMing in that environment is super tricky.

    Although, there are some categories of player—and I'm one of them—who would actually never be all that comfortable in a SDR game, except maybe as an experimental one-shot or something. Because while it may be "easy" to play SDR-style, if you have any awareness at all of dice math, it can be very frustrating to realize there aren't really as hard and fast of rules as you've been led to believe. This is particularly true in "normal" SDR play, when there's some ostensible other system out there.
  • (All very true! Agreed totally.)
  • David, I think you're right that I'm not aiming dead-center for Silmenume's and Cary's game. My main goal is functional, sustainable, long-term, self-aware Spicy play, and my main reference for both things that work and things to avoid is the canonical Middle-Earth game.

    I've gotten a lot of what I'd originally hoped for! Players and learning to act with decisiveness and leadership. Character creation is deep and satisfying. Extreme dice rolls at moments of high dramatic tension result in some real gut-punches and cheers. I'm getting the hang of waiting for those extreme results during less-tense moments, so that I can use the broad narrative license they generate to apply subtle GM force. The bricolage thing, where the setting and play feed back on each other to constantly enrich the Myth.

    One thing that's worked incredibly well is completely unstructured combat. It works so well, you guys. It just flows beautifully, there's no jarring transition between "roleplaying mode" and "combat mode," and the action is really driven by the narrative beats. It's best when there's a lot going on, not quite as satisfying when you've just got two folks trying to kill each other. I've noticed that some of the best fights happen when the second or third roll basically determines which side wins, but there's a whole bunch of smaller things at stake at the same time that are still up in the air—whether the enemy captain escapes, if the vulnerable people on the front lines get injured, whether something is stolen or broken or someone is kidnapped.

    Stuff that hasn't materialized too much... the players in my group don't really "inhabit" their characters or completely assume actor stance. We only get little fits and starts of immersion. We haven't had those moments of intense emotion—partly I think that relates to the immersion thing, partly I haven't had time to plan scenarios that aim for that stuff.

    Things we've got that we didn't set out for... the character generation process has given rise to some really neat one-on-one play over email, playing through the formative events in a new PC's life.

    .

    Deliverator, I agree that it's really easy for players to pick up spicy play. We had a 100% newbie player last session, someone who'd never played an RPG before (but had watched D&D streams on YouTuve), and he took to it very naturally. (Before the game we had a long conversation about how this game was a really bad intro to D&D, and all the differences between D&D rules and Spicy play.) We've got another new player this weekend!

    I'm not sure about spicy GMing being difficult, though. I think that's probably a pedagogical issue, not an intrinsic one: nobody's ever really tried to make the skills of functional spicy GMing easily transmissible. (Maybe because nobody's really trying to discover what those skills are in the first place.)
  • I mean, they're not so far off from the AW engine Agenda and Principles, right?
  • Interesting stuff, as always.

    I would love to see an annotated transcript of one of those battles, to really understand how they play out. What things you and the players are thinking about, how the flow of actions and "seizing the initiative" works, and so on...
  • Yeah @Deliverator you could totally codify this GMing style in agendas, principles, and something kinda like moves. And on that note, @Vivificient I don't think the flow of the battles is super different from AW and related games, really.

    Like I said in the original thread:
    Jeph said:

    Like, none of this is really so far from Apocalypse World, right? This is a game where the players and the GM begin and end with the fiction. This is a game where the players, always, and the GM sometimes, plays to find out what happens. This is a game where we never speak the name of our move, and turns are determined by the natural ebb and flow of conversation. This is a game where a natural 1, or a miss on the d20 by a large margin, authorize the GM to make a move, as hard or as soft as he likes. This is a game where we deal Harm as established.

    There's quite a bit in that thread about the similarities and differences between *World-style and spicy play.
  • Hi Jeph,

    I've been quite enchanted by these Spicy Dice discussions since first reading them, and curious to try to start my own similar imitation campaign (especially after your outrageous boast about the "benighted fools" not playing in this style). Now at last it is looking like I may be able to get the game off the ground in the near future, so I've been re-reading everything on the topic with newly sharpened eye towards all the little details of how to set up the game. I've been looking a lot in particular at your "Apothecary's Laws" document as a model for setting up my own game, since it is such a clear rules text.
    I hope you don't mind me bumping this thread to pester you with some more questions about your campaign.

    1. I'm curious about your Wisdom Checks (experience advancement) system. In this thread we mostly talked about the "spicy dice" resolution system, but the wisdom checks seem like perhaps the heaviest "real game design" bit of your system. How did you decide where to set the advancement thresholds for skill levels, saving throws, etc., and were you happy with them once you saw the actual speed at which you started handing out the checks?

    2. To you, what does a "natural ten" tend to look like in combat? I've been test-running a few combats on paper, and finding that while the extreme results are fun and exciting, the middle results can be harder to adjudicate. I find that I'm not sure what I was expecting! Especially if my imaginary player says something unimaginative like "I slash him with my sword." Did you ever run into this problem? I'm never sure if I should be expecting him to deal damage, or to clash swords uselessly for a few seconds and roll again, or to trade damage like Hack & Slash in Dungeon World...

    3. What brought your game to an end? Did you reach the end of the story, or did it end for some other reason?

    4. Recently Jay has generously shared more details about his own game with many people on this board, including some fascinating actual play recordings. Any comments on the major differences between "Apothecary" and "Original Cary", and what you think they mean?

    5. Annoyingly broad final question: What would you change in your rules document if you were starting another campaign in the same system?
  • Hey Viv!

    1. Wisdom checks were mostly cargo culting from what I knew of Jay and Cary's game. I chose the thresholds by estimating how often a character would get checks in frequently used abilities, thinking about how long we'd be playing (I was intending a full year), and squinting. I didn't know at the time that the original Middle Earth game assigned checks on a 10. I'd add that rule in! In fact I just did! Yeehaw!

    I think I also wanted, like, another substrate to bricole. Cary seems to use "Check to X" as a way to signal "this is important" or "you learned something" or "I want to encourage that behavior". Just another abstract sign that can agglomerate some meaning through play.

    I was pretty happy with the pace of advancement in play. Which is to say, pretty slow. The chargen (which was one of the best parts of the game, actually! So intense, sometimes! It had a lot in common with the way Cary opens new scenarios, now that I think about it) resulted in a lot of characters starting with a proficiency most of the way towards advancing already, so most of the advancements we saw in play were from that.

    2. On "natural 10s" + the actual play recordings: One thing I noticed is that Cary often says "roll again" after a player announces a middling result. Sounds like it's a combination of giving yourself more time to think, and fishing for a more extreme result that'll help you make up your mind.

    I never got suuuper great at running combats. I think I had some trouble knowing when to stop building up someone's position and just tell them to roll a few dice of damage.

    Last time I ran this game as about 18 months ago, but lemme try to remember some of the things I did that I was happier with. If the PC outranks the enemy, then on a natural 10 I almost always just said, deal a die of damage. On a tie result, a middling roll for opponents of similar skill, there were a couple common things I did.

    If both fighters were being brash and aggressive, I'd have them exchange damage, either half a die or a die depending on how they were armed and armored.

    If both were being cautious and defensive and probing, getting each others' measure, I'd probably have them fight each other to a standstill, and then either say they they break apart to catch their breath and ask what they do next, or move the spotlight.

    If the combatants are trying to find and press and advantage, then I'd probably apply asymmetric disadvantages. His spear gets stuck in your shield and yanked out of his grasp, but the weight is dragging down your shield arm and you're becoming slow to lift it into position, what do you do?

    Or, a lot of the time, the fighters would get inside each others' reach, grapple, maybe go to the ground. I seem to remember a LOT of fights involving rolling around in the dirt, trying to get on top, trying to work daggers loose from their scabbards, grabbing the other guy's knife-hand and trying to force his own blade slowly to his throat, knee to the groin and scramble away, stuff like that.

    3. The game wound down because my wedding was approaching, and I had to spend a lot of time on that. Didn't have a free weekend for a couple of months.

    4. Cary is definitely much less shy about being the main narrator and speaking for the players' characters than me. He also calls for rolls a LOT more frequently. Like, he asks for one several times a minute. I was consciously trying to ask for a lot of rolls, but got maybe one every five minutes.

    5. I'd be more explicit about how rolls are used for more than just a way to help decide what happens next: as communicative gestures, as a pacing mechanism, as ritual, and so on.

    And I'd be more explicit about how damage, burden, and saves are hard points where the GM disclaims a decision: "Until now I've been making up whatever I want within reason, but this is a damage roll. It might explode. You can die right now. If the damage is high enough, I can give you a Hero's Saving Roll to survive, but if you fail that, you're dead, and there's nothing I can do to stop that."
  • Great answers, Jeph!

    I’m quite intrigued by your comment about chargen being “intense”, and having something in common with the way Cary “opens scenarios”.

    Can you unpack that some? That sounds really interesting, and I’m not at all sure what you’re talking about.
  • Thank you for the interesting responses and useful details!

    Those are some good examples for the "natural 10 problem", both as examples of specific moves and for pointing to the relevant deciding information. Overall they all point clearly to the principle of looking for the most subjectively salient feature of the fiction to colour the outcome. So character skill if relevant, or if not, perhaps approach, or equipment... Or, if nothing comes to mind, the most relevant feature is chance, so just narrate an uncertain result and hit the random number generator again to keep up the momentum.

    It makes me think a useful thing to stick to a GM screen for this game would be a list something like this:
    Combat factors:
    - Light/Vision
    - Weapon
    - Space
    - Armour
    - Footing
    - Reach
    - Skill
    - Morale
    - Wounds
    - Surprise
    - Mobility/entanglement
    - Height
    - Momentum
    But maybe stopping to look at a list for inspiration would kill the momentum too much...
    Jeph said:

    The game wound down because my wedding was approaching, and I had to spend a lot of time on that. Didn't have a free weekend for a couple of months.

    Well, that sounds like a good reason with no implications for game design!

    In fact, I just got married a few weeks ago, then looked around and said, "Wow, look at all this free time now that I don't have wedding planning to do. Guess it's time to start that D&D campaign!"
    Jeph said:

    He also calls for rolls a LOT more frequently. Like, he asks for one several times a minute. I was consciously trying to ask for a lot of rolls, but got maybe one every five minutes.

    Yeah, with you on that. It's certainly a lot more than I imagined. The idea of calling for a roll without strong stakes is a counterintuitive (but thus interesting) idea to begin with... thus in D&D normally I'd try to avoid calling for a roll if I didn't have a good consequence for failure. But Cary is always calling for rolls with no clear motive and then just using the result to tinge the colour of his narration. Like at some times basically -- "Roll." "4." "You feel sad. Roll again." -- but with better narration.

    Or even along the lines of "Roll." "4." "You feel sad. That says a lot about the kind of person your character is. You're the kind of person who feels sad when this kind of thing happens. We will have to explore this development further. Roll again."
    Jeph said:

    I'd be more explicit about how rolls are used [...] And I'd be more explicit about how damage, burden, and saves are hard points where the GM disclaims a decision

    Gotcha, good points.

    The question I also implicitly meant was, "Is there anything you would change about your procedures?" I think it sounds like the answer is, "Nothing large, a few details and iterative improvements with practice."

    I asked about the proficiencies and wisdom checks; how about the manners and wises? (Pig skills and book skills!) Did you find the "manners" were useful, for players deciding how to act or for you adjudicating results of their roleplaying? Did you have luck with getting players to research archery between sessions?
  • It's very true; I counted at one point, and there were stretches with 5-8 rolls per minute, often interrupting sentences.

    I'd say that a good technique for a "middle roll" (and I'd imagine Cary does this) is to narrate whatever you expected in the first place (almost as though you're ignoring the roll altogether) and, if that doesn't settle matters, ask for or describe some other detail and roll again. A long string of 10s could generate quite a bit of detail in this fashion.

    Example:

    A character is looking for a particular door, wandering down a dark street late at night.

    The GM figures that they will most likely find the door, but it will take a long time.

    -"Roll!"
    -10.
    -"You wander through the circles of light cast by the lampposts; the windows are all boarded up in this neighbourhood. Roll!"
    -12.
    -"The rain is coming in, a foggy drizzle which occasionally makes it down your neck, and the old bricks are wet, shiny, reflecting the yellow light of the lamps. Roll!"
    -19!
    -"You get the sense you're definitely in the right neighbourhood - the smell of the place is familiar to you, but it's hard to make out enough detail in the dark to find the right door. Roll!"
    -8.
    -"Finding your way in the rain, in the dark, isn't an easy thing. How are you trying to find the place you're looking for?"
    -I'm trying to remember the symbol that was hanging on the door; a sort of inverted triangle with swirly shapes engraved on it.
    -"Good. Roll!"
    -9.
    -"You spend another hour wandering the street, and you can feel the cold seeping under your clothes, into your bones, and your throat getting scratchy. Surely it's got to be here somewhere! Roll."
    -20!
    -"Suddenly, there it is, in front of you. In fact, you'd walked by here just minutes ago, but it's a rat's movement that alerts you to something on the ground: there it is! The symbol you were looking for, but not hanging on the door; it's lying on the ground. This must be the place!"

  • Manners, in play, hardly came up at all. But would I remove them? ...I think no. In character creation, saying "Write down Commanding Manner" was a really nice communicative beat. Similarly, "Check to Deceitful Manner" or whatever, during play. You've got these things that look kinda like game rules at first glance, but really they're just signs used for communication, just semaphore! That's part of the style.

    Wises were used (as in, I consciously took them into consideration) a lot more often.

    No luck with researching archery between sessions!

    Paul, by character creation being similar to how Cary opens scenarios, I meant there were points that were very heavy on GM narration, basically 5 or so minutes of me telling a story and setting a scene to present the player with a dramatic choice at some point in their earlier history, then they briefly give their decision, and I ask for a roll, and then more narration.
  • Ooh... so you mean you would "play out" character creation in this way? By playing through bits of the character's history?

    Would you this only at the beginning of an evening, to set the scene and introduce a character? Or would you also do this "away from the game", so to speak, like if someone had to make a character but no one else was there yet, or circumstances like that (maybe someone wanted to make a character for the next session, and you had some time to do it in advance)?

    What kinds of dramatic choices in earlier history do you recall working well? Would they always be relevant to the immediate scenario/adventure/situation, or not necessarily?
  • Yeah, we played out character creation with one-on-one roleplaying. We'd do 4 or so scenes from earlier phases of the character's life, starting in childhood or as a young adult. The player would tell me where they wanted their character to start and a general direction they wanted them to go in. Sometimes we'd pretty much get there. Sometimes we'd end up somewhere else. It was great.

    It was mostly away from game, one on one. We had a few chargen sessions where we basically did one or two scenes for this character, then one or two for that character, and so on, with everyone else casually looking on or doing other things, until everyone had a complete character. When adding a new character, the player would arrive early, and we'd work through chargen as others trickled in.

    .

    For an example of character creation:

    Greg was creating a character named Happi Simpleton, a hare-lipped hunter with a disfiguring birthmark covering half his face. Greg wanted Happi to be a skilled woodsman whom everyone would assume at a glance to be an ugly, diseased imbecile. He was abandoned as an infant to die of exposure, and taken in by ancient giants who cannot bear the light of even the dimmest stars, to be raised in their mountain halls. He'd go out and forage herbs for them, bring back news of the world and their kin. His adoptive giant-mother, Nurwafir, had sung for him a quiver of enchanted arrows that would burrow to the heart of any Troll.

    Now, giants are noble creatures but with a seed of twisted taint; they grow more susceptible to spite, greed, jealousy, and hate as they age. Nurwafir is beyond ancient. She learns that the queen in the fortress across the riverlands is wearing on her brow the most perfect black gem, which she had cut eons ago for her own daughter, and thought lost for an age. She brings Happi before her, commands him to retrieve it. Greg says "I refuse," and Nurwafir gives in to a jealous rage, becoming hateful and twisted, metamorphosing into a Troll. Greg says that Happi raises his bow and shoots her with the black arrow that she had sung for him; it pierces her eye and slays her.

    I think we had two rolls there, one for Nurwafir's response to "I refuse," and one for when Happi loosed an arrow at her.

    I'd had the gem in my prep notes; it was given to the queen by a vizier in service to a necromancer. Happi's relationship to the gem ended up being very important.

    .

    Another example:

    Idan was creating Adelith, a buffoonish fake knight, literally quixotic. In his character generation process, he challenged an actual knight to a duel and rolled a natural 20, slaying him. When dragged before the Lady to whom the actual knight was sworn for summary judgment, he pledged his life and honor to her in place of her slain man at arms. I ask for the roll, it was low-ish; she banishes him from the realm. He declares himself a knight errant, begins searching for wrongs to right in her name, and promptly gets lost in the woods for 7 months, accidentally crossing a mountain range without really noticing.
  • Of note:

    When Greg was creating Happi, most of the time spent was me narrating imagery and history of the giants.

    When Idan was creating Adelith, most of the time spent was me reacting to his ridiculous antics.

    Both were great.
  • edited June 23
    Hi Jeff,

    I'm sorry that I missed this thread. You've had some pretty interesting insights which have been of interest to me.

    The way you and your player played out the scene with Nawafir and her relationship to the gem was not only very cool but, I propose, vital to this mode of play. The gem was not just some lusted after bauble but rather a reminder of a long labor, love and loss (presumed but plausible that coming into possession of the gem was a Big Deal, her cutting the gem was presumably a major effort all for the love of her daughter then finally the loss of it being so traumatic given the reasons I just listed) sets up a powerful relationship between Nurwafir and the gem. Then you set up through play this powerful loving relationship between Nurwafir and Happi. Then as play progressed a powerful relationship was established between Happi and the gem at the cost of another relationship.

    These relationships are so important to drawing the players into the game. The really hard part in this is in portraying the NPC in such a way that the player is affected. Yes the relationship is supposed to between the PC and the NPC but what you really want to do is foster the forging of powerful relationship between the NPC and the player.

    I've also come to understand just recently that you, as the GM in this style of play, have to actually role-play the role of the GM. This sounds weird and I'm not sure how to describe it well yet, but part of role of the GM is to "sell" the Situation. In real life Cary is (if not as deeply) invested in seeing every player PC grow and evolve overtime. However it is his responsibility during play to make the player feel threatened by the potential loss of their PC all of the time. All of the time overstates the case but that pressure needs to always be there even if it's just a potential. Hence one of the reasons for the constant rolling of the die. Even in a relatively safe environment the rolling of two 1's in a row could bring disaster of one kind or another.

    Among other their other explicit roles dice rolling represents the constant threat of danger in the form of 1's. Though the stakes may not be explicit, implicitly death or some other very negative event is always one die or two die rolls away. It's the sound of foot falls in the dark hallway. It's part of the role of the GM to play on that feeling.

    On the other hand this "technique" of "playing the role of GM" is to play up the danger of battle through description, roleplaying the antagonist full of desire to kill the PC and in our case we use music (mostly from motion picture soundtracks) to really get at the emotions of the players.

    Finally the stakes of the battle are not so much set on a per die roll basis but on the relationships that are on the line while your PC is fighting for his life. Thus every swing, feint, parry, dodge has a lot riding on it. As the PC builds his relationships with the power players of the world then the more important the PC is to the world as a whole. Thus losing the character in a battle is more than a personal loss for the player but the world suffers the loss of the PC as well.

    Does any of this make any sense?

    Also remember that a natural '20' isn't the only way to succeed at some task but rather it represents a strong to a radical change in fate. The other numbers matter as well.

    Best,

    Jay
  • Well written, Jay. I think you're getting at some really useful and specific concepts and techniques in this post.
Sign In or Register to comment.