When the die roll does *NOT* determine what happens

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  • edited March 15
    That makes sense. It sounds like everything is pretty rules light and mostly handled by a combination of description, fictional positioning, and pantomime. It seems that the majority of the combat is lightweight and the main crunch comes from computing to-hit, damage, and stamina/hit points (correct me if I am mistaken).

    Personally, I'm fascinated by all this, and I wish I could witness a session in action to fully comprehend it.

    @David_Berg: I've been thinking extensively on how this whole process might be translated mechanically. In the interest of mechanics both simple and spicy, I would say that you could very well boil it down into something approximating PbtA.

    When you want to do something that is uncertain, hazardous, or interesting, tell the GM the following:

    1. What you're doing.
    2. How you're doing it.
    3. What you hope to accomplish.

    The GM will then what you can expect to accomplish, and he might list a few other requirements, too. (Insert AW list of requirements.)

    On a 6-, things go worse than anticipated. On a 7-9, there's a mix of good and bad). On a 10+, your efforts go very well indeed.

    The GM will tell describe how you achieve none / some / all of your intent, and he might also tell you how:

    1. You expose yourself to danger.
    2. You squander time / resources / money.
    3. Your efforts are weakened / short-lived / compromised.
    4. Others are influenced / affected / harmed by what you've done.
    5. Etc.
  • Jay,

    That's fascinating. It sounds so much more mechanized than most of the "spicy die" play we've been talking about. What other parts of play are similarly "mechanized"? What are "skill checks" for, for example?
  • edited March 18
    Hi @ValyrianSteelKatana,
    It seems that the majority of the combat is lightweight and the main crunch comes from computing to-hit, damage, and stamina/hit points (correct me if I am mistaken).
    You have the right of it.
    Personally, I'm fascinated by all this, and I wish I could witness a session in action to fully comprehend it.
    Our hiatus should be coming to an end in a few weeks. I'll try and get permission to record at least a portion of combat. No promises. If I could record myself in combat I'd be happy to do so and share.

    Hey Paul,
    That's fascinating. It sounds so much more mechanized than most of the "spicy die" play we've been talking about. What other parts of play are similarly "mechanized"? What are "skill checks" for, for example?
    I've mentioned in earlier posts that combat by necessity of the SJ process and the human condition is more crunchy than the rest of play. However, just because it is more crunchy does not mean that combat is not "spicy". What one does and says still has a powerful influence on outcomes. Hard target numbers are used extremely rarely and when used are more of a means to "communicate" in a shorthand just how difficult something is to accomplish rather than to actually set a number that is a pass/fail value. A die roll by a play that could reasonably be "interpreted" as a miss can succeed if the idea catches the GM off guard or is just to clever not to be allowed some level of "success". Conversely what might be reasonably interpreted as likely to succeed can "fail" due to other factors like playing an overhead swing and forgetting they are in a densely wooded area striking a branch.

    Again, while combat is far and away the crunchiest part of the game, it is still very "spicey."

    The only other area that might be considered "crunchy" might be the spell casting system, but again that's mostly a matter of book keeping. However, I've both read the notes on the how the magic system is supposed to work and seen it in play and it too is veeeeery "spicey" in practice. This works in our game because in ME as opposed to, say, "The Dresden Files," as magic is less an exercise in engineering and well, rather, magical!

    I'm not very sure what is meant by your question re: "skill checks". Are you asking do we use them? Are you asking how they function mechanically? In practice our GM very rarely calls for a specific "skill check." There are several reasons for this. First his memory is freakishly amazing. He remembers more about our characters numbers than we do. Many, many times he's called out a skill value on our sheet and been spot on. Bear in mind that we all have many characters, there are many skills on a sheet and a fair number of players at the table. When he's off its rarely by more than +/- 1 level. So when we're told to roll he already knows the skill value for each player. Another reason is that our game is an experiential process with him feeding us perceptual information and leaving it up to us to figure out what he's giving us. This forces us to really pay attention to everything that is happening to everyone and to listen very intently to what he is saying. If he specifically calls for a tracking check and the player rolls poorly we now have an objective fact rather than an experiential interpretable event. Finally there are certain skills such as intuition, perception or events like surprise that don't work emotionally if you know you're rolling for them.

    On occasion where it would make for the greatest dramatic impact he may call for a specific skill check where rolling hi/low would a strong moment of frisson. Near as I can tell, and I'll have to check with the GM, practically speaking skill checks can be used to limit PC effectiveness if the player is narrating attempting skills that only a much high leveled/skilled character would have. We all try to play at our limits but sometimes we forget in the heat of the moment that we are playing our 3rd level Ranger in training and not our 13th level Dunedain. I also suspect secondary skills and skills checks are used to help differentiate characters functionally within a group. There are a good number of skills that are common to all characters and there are those unique or unusual skills we create when we roll up a new character that helps color and differentiate the PC. FREX chess, card sharp, whistling, court etiquette, etc.

    Far more common is the player who'll "call" for a specific skill check. Let's say we have a group travelling through a forest tracking the MacGuffin and lose the track. Let us further say that one of the player's is an Elf who has Animal Empathy. The player indicates to the GM that he stops, closes his eyes and tips his head as if listening intently. The player might say, "Cary, I stop and open up my heart. Do I sense any grouping of animals in any particular direction that are agitated or upset in some way?" The player is cueing the GM that he wants to make an animal empathy check. We don't know the target number because a die roll may indicate a fail of the character to employ the skill effectively or it may be that there is nothing to detect. However the higher the skill level is the smaller the chance of a false positive/negative or an incorrect interpretation.

    I know I've been a bit vague but secondary skills and the perception/subjective nature of our game are intimately tied. It's very close to asking exactly how do we actually play and as you know that is a very complicated topic. I hope I've at least shed a little light.

    Best,

    Jay
  • Jay,

    More interesting answers! I'll have to ponder all this... it's still not easy to imagine without some kind of example.

    In the meantime, what about "marking skill checks" on your character sheets? What's that for? Is it a number that's added to a particular d20 roll when applicable? How and why do you accrue these? Is it GM whim, or can you do things as a player to accrue them or decide when and where they accrued, or some combination?
  • edited March 18
    Hey Paul,

    I know I was a bit vague but in the second to last paragraph I did give a very specific example of a situation and a piece of dialogue of how a skill check could be called for. I must be not understanding what you are actually looking for from me. Would be so kind as to clarify further how my example was not what you were truly looking for? It would help me tremendously!

    In the meantime, what about "marking skill checks" on your character sheets? What's that for?

    Many skills are listed on a generic character sheet. Most every character will have some facility in theses skills. This facility is represented by a number. These skills values are used in two different ways. The first way is fuel for the imagination. These values help us imagine and/or recall who and what our character is and can do. They also represent a kind of record of what a character has done and to what degree. FREX - if a character has a high value in dungeon lore that means that character has not only spent a significant amount of time underground but has survived that time. It's a very rare skill and rarer still is a high value in it.

    The second manner a skill value is used much more directly impacts play and does have a mechanical component - though still "spicey". The skill value is added to the die roll and any situational modifiers are added/subtracted and if the value is above a 20 some sort of success is noted. However as nearly all skill checks are FitB we don't know what skill is being rolled against, if a skill is even being checked in the first place. As you indicated earlier you noted just how frequently we roll during a sessions. I would estimate the vast majority of those rolls are "fate steering" rolls. IOW the DM is using to roll to determine if the current situation will move in a positive or negative direction. Maybe he's fishing for a '1' or a '20'. Maybe he's having us roll just to keep the tension high. But if a die roll is a straight up skill check then its d20 roll plus skill level plus/minus situational modifiers with a 20 total need for a "success". As crunchy as this might seem remember this is still SJ and all successes/failures are open to DM interpretation and player perception.

    Now onto "marking skill checks."

    The general rule of thumb in our game is the more one uses a skill the better one gets at said skill. The awarding of checks to a skill reflects this increase in ability. There are several circumstances that typically result in skill checks being handed out. Rolling "20's", "10's" and sometimes a "1" outside of combat represents the greatest opportunity to getting a skill "check." Sometimes during play the GM will hand wave a lengthy period of travel and will hand out skill checks to reflect the usage of applicable skills over that period of time. Sometimes he'll go through each appropriate skill and give out specific numbers of checks other times he might say, "Everyone roll 3d4, no more than 2 checks in any given outdoor skill" and we apply them as we see fit within his constraints. Sometimes a player employs a skill in such a unique and intelligent fashion that the GM will just hand out checks as a reward for clever thinking. Finally a PC can try and learn about a skill from another more skilled character (PC/NPC). This is fairly rare and to be honest I'm not entirely sure how this last method is sorted out but I do know that the relative skills values are important and die rolling (D20's) on the part of both parties is involved. Does this last paragraph touch directly on your question and did it help at all?

    A player who has since passed had a pretty good take on what all the values on our character sheets really meant - they represented the currency by which we purchased our fantasies. They were the tangible things by which we constructed the mental imagery and informed the creation of the character we were playing. Numbers aren't destiny but they do fuel the imagination.

    Best,

    Jay
  • The use is clear. And it adds a significant number : 10. In this reagard, making 20 "twice significant" is wasting. I picture this : "check a skill when you fail by 1 : you see what you can improve". Everybody now wants to fail by one...
  • @Silmenume, do you have any idea how much your GM prepares in advance for your sessions? From everything you've said, I imagine many hours of preparation with plot points, NPCs scripts, and scenes, or I imagine almost none whatsoever, with the majority of content generated spontaneously, but I don't imagine something much between the two.
  • Hey DeReel,
    The use is clear. And it adds a significant number : 10. In this reagard, making 20 "twice significant" is wasting.
    Remember that a player can roll a '10' failing the skill check while still possibly gaining a check in said skill. So rolling a '10' and a '20' are not the same as two different conditions are being examined at the same time.

    Did you gain any insight regarding the skill from the attempt at using the skill?
    Did you employ your skill successfully and learn something about the situation?
    I picture this : "check a skill when you fail by 1 : you see what you can improve". Everybody now wants to fail by one...
    As described above there are a variety of different circumstances where a player can get a check to apply to a skill. However, given that we play a game based on subjective perception as described by the GM, we rarely know what skill we are actually rolling against and even less frequently do we know the "target number". Did we fail our climb roll or did the branch break?

    When the GM has us roll a D20 and it happens to be a skill check one does not want to fail as that can lead to all kinds of Very Bad Things happening. And bad things happening to the PC's usually means bad things happening for the world in some lesser or greater fashion.

    Best,

    Jay
  • @ValyrianSteelKatana,
    @Silmenume, do you have any idea how much your GM prepares in advance for your sessions? From everything you've said, I imagine many hours of preparation with plot points, NPCs scripts, and scenes, or I imagine almost none whatsoever, with the majority of content generated spontaneously, but I don't imagine something much between the two.
    When we haven't played in a long while, there's a new player or he playing a "big" scenario he'll spend a couple of hours mulling things over, but not in the way you've described. He does not create plots, NPC scripts, scenes prior to play. What he does spend time considering is which PC's are going to be in the scenario, generating motivations for why they would be bound to the scenario (many times a game is the first time that the PCs are coming into contact with each other) what the "bad guys" are attempting to accomplish (their goal), who the "bad guys" are, what means the "bad guys" have at their disposal, names for NPCs and their motivations, where the scenario is taking place in ME, other encounters than might be bumped into (be they geographic or "monsters" or a magical item, etc.) He might guess at where the story might go but he does not plan out where the nights event will/must go.

    Other times, especially when we've been playing regularly, he'll just ask what characters we want to play at the table and go right from there.

    I hope that was useful.

    Best,

    Jay
  • I see, even if I can approximate it with something known, it plays very different in another system.
  • Ah! Interesting. I feel like I could have given the same answer Jay provided about the skill checks to DeReel; this means I'm starting to get a good handle on this game! (Even though there are still so many surprises!)

    (Jay, my earlier questions were about "marking skill checks", which you have now answered in great detail. Perfect! Thank you.)

    I have another question:

    In the session you and I have discussed elsewhere, one of the characters levels up and reaches 10th level.

    I have a lot of questions about that!

    * Why did he level up (I can't see anything nice particular happening in those circumstances, so what "triggered" it)?

    * How often do characters "level up", generally speaking, and what does that entail in terms of the game mechanics?

    * Does levelling up (and having levels, in general) carry specific connotations in the fictional reality, as well? For instance, if we were reading your game's story as a book, would there be some fictional changes to accompany that event? Are there certain positions in the gameworld a character couldn't hold without achieving a certain level, for instance?

    * There is a hearty round of "congratulations" when this happens. What is being celebrated? Is leveling up to 10th level (specifically) particularly notable, or just levelling up at all? Is it a question of time spent playing, certain player decisions, or something that it's possible to fail at, making success a rare thing (if, for instance, characters die regularly enough, achieving a high level could be a very rare accomplishment, even if it would be otherwise more or less guaranteed).
  • Hi Paul,
    * Why did he level up (I can't see anything nice particular happening in those circumstances, so what "triggered" it)?
    Leveling up is both a "simple" mechanical process tied in with a complex "subjective" process. Mechanically leveling occurs when a number of experience points is exceeded. Most XP is gained from combat. This character had rocketed up multiples levels on several occasions and was 1xp short of 10th level for quite a while. However to both prevent Gamist play and to encourage and reward play beyond just being murder hobos a player also needs "wisdom checks" to go up levels. The rate is 10 times the level you're going to, i.e., you need 50 wisdom checks to get to 5th providing you have the XP. Finally there are occasions when players do amazing things where they gain enough experience and wisdom checks to rocket up levels very quickly. So the GM institutes a kind of period of "reflection" for the PC who has experienced so much so quickly to process everything that has happened. (In short a player needs XP, wisdom checks and time to go up level[s]. Normally this happens slowly enough that the processing period is not needed). This was not the case with Dax's character.

    In this game the DM felt that the time was right and declared Dax's character as part of the night's celebration.
    * How often do characters "level up", generally speaking, and what does that entail in terms of the game mechanics?
    Lower level characters level up faster than higher level characters - if they survive. How often is a really difficult question as we don't play the same characters from session to session and we play so irregularly. If a player is hot and the scenario is hot a low level character can earn enough XP to raise up to 4 levels in a night (very rare but it can happen - e.g. Dax's character) where as high level character can take years to go up a single level.

    The actual roll up is a fairly quick process. Stamina is rolled as is Armor Class. The next thing rolled is "natural attack" and finally any appropriate weapon skills are rolled. "Natural Attack" is a reflection of an idea that a character that has been through a lot of combat is going to have a general combat ability no matter what weapon or circumstance. This is the foundation of all weapon skills. Individual weapons are then rolled depending on how much you used them and that roll up is added to the Natural Attack to come to a final composite value. This value determines your plus to hit with your weapon.
    * Does levelling up (and having levels, in general) carry specific connotations in the fictional reality, as well? For instance, if we were reading your game's story as a book, would there be some fictional changes to accompany that event? Are there certain positions in the gameworld a character couldn't hold without achieving a certain level, for instance?
    Reaching 10th is a difficult achievement given the lethality of the world as well as the time invested in getting there. In this case this was the player's first 10th level character. It is milestone at the social contract level that we feel truly marks a player as having "made it". Congratulation is in order! A job well done as it is no easy task.

    In game its bit more nebulous. Around 10th level a PC starts to come to the attention to the powers of the world. For better or worse. It's not a strict correlation but around this level (give or take) such PC starts to become involved in the councils of wise and becoming instrumental in the decisions that can influence the direction of the world. Such a character moves from just reacting to becoming proactive in the politics and the decision making of the world. You start entering into the councils of Gandalf, Elrond, Aragorn, the Steward, etc. You start to become a captain whose decisions and actions start to have far reaching consequences. Etc, etc, etc.

    Did I touch on everything? Let me know if you have further questions.

    Best,

    Jay
  • Wow, very interesting! (And I'm somewhat surprised that combat is the source of most XP in such a Middle Earth-centric game. Is this just a carryover from D&D - or whatever game system this is based on - or does it have some deeper rationale?)

    You answered all my questions, except for one: what is it in that particular session/moment/scene that leads to the character leveling up? The timing is entirely opaque to me. Is Cary simply distracted by this thought all of a sudden (to me, it seems like he is in the middle of narration when he makes the announcement), or is something happening in the fiction of the game linked to the character leveling up? What happened to "trigger" the leveling up, in other words? Why did Cary say it at that particular moment?

    (Thanks for all the thorough and thoughtful answers lately. A lot of the puzzle pieces are starting to slot into place!)
  • what is it in that particular session/moment/scene that leads to the character leveling up? The timing is entirely opaque to me
    A few days to actually playing Cary had told me that he was going to "give" Dax his 10th level.

    Why he chose that particular moment in the game to announce it, I don't have a clue. That Dax had achieved the level Cary had determined outside and prior to the session. The announcement was a formality executed before all the players so that everyone knew of his achievement. At some point in the future he and Dax will actually roll up the numbers as I had described in an earlier post.

    The determination of a player's level (The calculation of XP's, the checking of the wisdom checks, etc.) is always determined out of game. Game time is always far too precious to spend on bookkeeping and the like. Don't get me wrong, we like our levels and the increased survivability that comes from them, but what's the point of leveling if we aren't playing?
    And I'm somewhat surprised that combat is the source of most XP in such a Middle Earth-centric game. Is this just a carryover from D&D - or whatever game system this is based on - or does it have some deeper rationale?
    It's a combination of a holdover from D&D and from a scene from the Hobbit. In the Hobbit when the Dwarves had been captured by the Spiders in the Mirkwood, Bilbo kills a spider at some point. There is a description in the sequence somewhere that talks about a change that comes over Bilbo. A type of personal growth. So it's a combination of both.

    Best,

    Jay
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