Fate Points

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I have ever used Fate Points in a game before. I have mooted them to the players and generally the reception was not particularly possitive. As a consequence I had never really sat down and read the rules around them. They are not part of the core RM2 or RMC rules but I was familiar enough with the concept and the role they fulfilled.

There are times when you just do not want to fail that moving maneuver roll.

Last night I read the High Adventure Roleplaying (HARP) rules on Fate Points and I do think they are a good thing. It appears they are designed to help shove the story along where it would otherwise have stalled. Take for example the idea the the party have to resuce the princess from some deep underground orc fortress. The party come to a fissure in the tunnel floor and decide to jump it but the princess has swooned into the fighters arms some time ago and has not yet revived. The fighter takes a firm grip on her and leaps the fissure, and fumbles his roll. Dp you let the character and the princess fall to their doom?

In my game, yes I would. I would let him make a couple of other rolls to try and catchhol of some outcrop of rock and if he failed all of them I would have the pair of them crash into some ledge and take the appropriate damage. With Fate Points the player could choose to burn a couple of points and boost that leaping roll until he makes it. The player only starts with 3 points so you will not have the players skewing rolls all over the place but the onus is then on them to save their characters and not on me or you as GM to get them out of their predicament.

If they are on the ledge 100′ below the passageway with their escape just discovered by the orcs the party had better come up with a decent rescue plan pretty quickly. If they don’t then as a GM you could find yourself having to invent a new passageway along which they fighter and princess can escape. It could all unravel fairly fast if they are just having one of those bad dice rolling days. With Fate Points, the jump was made and the party escape, the princess was rescued and disaster averted and the universe did not have to be bent to save anyone.

I like the idea that the players have a distinctly limited supply and that although when they level up they can replenish them they can never have more than 5 in total.

I think in my face to face game this is pretty much happening already. There seems to me to be a fair amount of rolling the dice and then deciding which one is tens after the event. A practice highlighted a couple of years ago when one of the players accidentally picked up a D8 and a D10. He designated the D8 as the ‘tens’ and then managed to roll several open ended rolls during the session. Fate was truly on his side that day.

I generally do not live in fear of killing characters. I do not go out of the way to do it but I do normally give the players some sort of access to Life Keeping and Life Giving magic through either single use items, access to an NPC or herbs. There is a double punishment in there with the dead characters player now being on Tea Duty and there being some loss of assets to the party.

I was going to ask how people felt about Fate Points but I guess that those that like them will be using them and those that like me didn’t like the idea don’t use them and very few will have wavered between to two camps. I am defintely going to try them in the next game I run that is for sure.

You never know when you are going to need an army of mounted archers!

British Horseback Archery Association National Championships 2015
British Horseback Archery Association National Championships 2015

This is the sort of thing we get up to on a Sunday morning down here in deepest darkest Cornwall. When most people are reading the paper or having a late breakfast we are training the next mongolian horde. You never know when you are going to need an army of mounted archers!

It is one thing to discuss on the ICE forums whether this combat round model is realistic or not and (see the Beta 2 Arms Law discussions) it is quite another to see people who really can do these things for real. The thing is that role playing games are just that, a game. They are not realistic. If they were then characters would probably take a single hit and then roll around on the floor crying out for you not to kill them. No one is going to take a full on strike from a battle axe and then carry on adventuring for three more days!

In the same way what I was watching yesterday was not combat but sport. Yes they were drawing and firing five arrows in less than 12 seconds but they were not drawing the bow sufficiently to penitrate armour (mind you it took two people to get some of the arrows out of the wooden stands), they were not firing at dodging  and evading targets either.  On the other hand they were cantering unfamiliar* horses with no hands.

The point of this is that we get to pretend we are horsemen or women or warriors but it is actually very easy and relatively cheap to do many of these things for real (as long as you do not want to go running around killing people). You should look out for events and opportunities to give these things a try. I hope to be able to post a photo of me doing this in the new year!

*Horseback archery is carried out using a pool of horses which you are alloted by random draw. You do not get to use your own horse even if you have one. It is one of the things I like about the sport. The entry point is very low. The same is true of the Modern Pentathlon, another sport I am interested in.

Ship bound adventures

I have always thought this is the single hardest enviornment in which to run an adventure. The issue I have with ship bound adventures is how to deal with the long hours, days and weeks of plain sailing? It always feels to me that as soon as you mention a sail on the horizon the party leap into battle readiness because as a GM ou would not have mentioned it otherwise and besides they are adventurers and these things happen to adventurers.

How many times can you attack a ship with pirates, sea monsters, flying monsters and hurl it into natural storms, maelstroms and so on before the crew will be throwing the party overboard?

Twice before I have used ships successfully and both times the ship only featured in the very first session. In an introductory sessions for completely new roleplayers I had them start out on the deck of a ship hugging the coast. The players knew that was where they were going to start and so it was worked up into their character backgrounds as to why they were on the ship. This opening scene gave me an opportunity to show how the story telling element of RPGs work describing the landscape gliding by and letting the players talk to the crew and to each other in character. The captain explained the danger on this part of their journey were coastal pirates that paddled out to ships who were forced in tight to he coast because of the tides and currents. As night fell on their first day the lookout gave the call that canoes had set out from the shore. As so the adventure began with the players being lost overboard and making for a hostile coast where they knew they would be made slaves if they were captured while their ship sailed off into the night.

The second use was in a campaign I ran that shadowed the life of Thomas Pellow. He was a Cornishman that was captured by pirates and spent 23 years as a slave to a sultan. Her served in the army and had several adventures. In this campaign the party were bought and sold as a unit because of their curiosity value and used for many suicide missions because they had no choice but tot do as ordered. Again the ship was just a jumping off point and not really a part of the adventure.

There has to be a way of having epic voyages become part of the narrative without it just becoming a case of “20 days later you hear the lookout cry ‘Land ahoy'”, “Ten days after setting sail you see sails nick the horizon to the east” and so on; completely bypassing the entire life at sea element.

Has anyone ran successful ship bound adventures?

How Many Adventures Can You Have In A Tavern?

When I build anything from towns to taverns I always start with the people. Once I have created the people who provide the essential services to make the location work and then add their families I have a rough working population. That then tells me how large a place it is. In a tavern you need the landlord or barkeep, a chef/cook, a server or two. In a small out of the way place that could be a husband and wife with their own children or they could be staff and unrelated. What makes taverns though is the client base.

My first thought, inspired by the news that they are going to start filming the next series of Poldark this month was to have a couple of smugglers conspiring at one end of the bar. Whether any of the drinks being sold are contraband or not depends on the landlord I suppose but smugglers are a good way of introducing a sub plot.

Taverns are resting stops, the motorway services of their time so you are highly likely to encounter a royal/imperial dispatch rider or messenger or even two going in different directions. These two would have a natural affinity and are likely to be sharing what new and gossip they personally know regarding their missions even if they do not know the contents of the messages they carry. If something were to happen to one or more of these and the message simply had to get through…

Merchants are not that likely to sleep under the stars and depending on the nature of the world are likely to have a few guards or men at arms with them. Now whether they mix well and get on with their men at arms or not is a different matter. It may be that with those men at arms it has been nigh on impossible to rob any of these merchants on the road but now they are sleeping inside while their wagons are secured outside opportunity knocks.

I can also imagine a foolish young man showing off some valuable item for too many people to see. Maybe a jilted lover drowning his sorrows and showing off a betrothal ring to anyone who can answer why she won’t defy her father?

I think all of these are run of the mill and happening in every tavern in every game more or less. So what about some other less obvious adventure hooks?

So all of the above are happening in the tap room most likely but what about some fugitives hiding in the cellar? Why are they hiding? Probably because there is a gang of ruffians holding a dog or cock fight in the centre of the cellar. the ruffians are part of the smugglers crew who are too well know by the local law to drink in the tap room. There is of course also a secret passage from the cellar to either out on the road or down to a cove depending if the tavern is by the coast.

If any weapon is banned in the realm chances are there is a crate full of them down here somewhere. In my world swords carry a 1sp tax for any blade over 12″ long to try and discourage people carrying too many weapons. All it has achieved is to make 11″ daggers popular, made thieves conceal their weapons and created a black market for untaxed blades.

So that is the basement pretty full what about upstairs? The roof is where the homeless would often choose to sleep. They are out of the way of the law who may try and move them on. Heat rises so it is warmer than a doorway.

The attic is a really good place to have a secret meeting, hide bodies, store your deceased mother and her rocking chair and perform ritual magic and summonings. This would means that there is probably a dodge spell caster staying in the tavern. We may have met him or her in the tap room earlier or they could be keeping themselves to themselves in their room.

And so to the private rooms…

The best place to meet a thief or cut throat has to be when they are coming out of *your* room. At least at that point you can be pretty sure they are not just accidentally carrying off your saddlebags.

If the walls are pretty thin and you can hear everything then having someone performing an incantation or ritual all night and keeping the players awake is always interesting. If the party can identify it as some kind of ward against evil it is hard to complain about someone trying to keep you safe!

On the other side of the players room you can have two guys arguing, one plotting to murder a tyrant and the other against violence. This works well if at breakfast the next morning it turns out that the two people from that room are twins. Which one is the potential regicide and which is against it?

There are so many ways of offering your players adventures that this is just a selection of ideas I have had today. Any of these could spin off into a evenings diversion or a major adventure. It is up to them and you.

Too Much Treasure?

In a recent game I was in the party was walking around with something like 70,000gp in Diamond Notes (the Shadow World solution to mass currency transport). Depending on how you value a Gold Piece* that is the modern equivelant of between £8.3M and £350M ($13M – $539M) in cash. That was the cash surplus after four months of adventuring and treasure hoarding.

The first question is how much money do adventurers actualy need? They could retire quite happily and live out a life of luxury on that sort of money but then they would not be adventurers if they did that sort of thing. As a GM it sometimes becomes necessary to drain money from the players economy. One way is the herbalism method.

Imagine the scene, the party approach the doors of a remote monastry towards the end of their day firsst day in the foot hills. They ask for rest for the night which is given as well as food for their horses. While they are walking the grounds in the evening the players notice that there is an extensive herb garden. Furthermore they notice that the monks are growing some of the rarest herbs. Remembering the golden rule of “What the GM giveth the GM can taketh away” you let the party buy a quantity of otherwise rare herbs. Things like Ul-Naza. It is leaf that you eat and it is a natural antidote to any poison. The book price is 430gp a dose but what the monks charge is up to you. Other useful herbs that are expensive are things like Baalak that repairs shattered bones and Hugburtun that stops all bleeding. One dose of each of those is about 1,000gp. Vulcurax is a life giving herb and costs 1,000gp on its own.

So the party top up on some herbs before setting out to find the mountain pass. The next morning they somehow manage to upset a manticore and take a right kicking but luckily enough they had the means to cure the shattered bones, severed arteries and treat the poison barbs. It is just as well they had those herbs! If the party didn’t want to buy the herbs then of course they are now in deep trouble and may well have to turn back to the monastry to recover at which point you are not ony buying the herbs but also paying for the expertise in applying them.

At the end of the exchange I would always leave the party up on the exchange and having a dose of a life giving herb in the parties supplies is always useful but it also helps drain away some of that excess money. You could of course tell the party that they will be traversing Manticore Pass and the party may well choose to stock up on antidote before they even set out.

I like robust parties that I can give a real kicking to but they survive and win through. Herbs that are only really useful after the fight mean that you can really let rip during the combat knowing that you are not going to ruin the chances of completing the overall quest. When the party do win in the end, defeat the villain, rescue the damsel and so on they know it was because of their planning and ability and not because the GM spoon fed them. I used to play under a GM who would beat you down to 1hp and then suddenly no one could hit you and you would eventually win. It was obvious that the dice rolls were being skewed and it took the fun away from the game so some degree.

You don’t have to leave the party paupers and in fact most will not spend themselves down to the last tin piece but consumeables like herbs are a good way of lightening the purse of some of that excess treasure.


*I read somewhere in one of the RM sourcebooks that a typical peasant has an annual income of about 2gp a year. If you consider the National Minimum wage as ‘peasant income’ then 1gp equal £5000 and dividing down then a 1 Tin Piece is just 50p. On the other hand if you see a peasant income as those people surviving on a dollar a day then one Gold Piece would be worth £118 ($183) and a Tin Piece would be a Penny (nearly 2¢).

Dealing with player failure

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I don’t normally see death as a player failure. When you start waving swords around then people are going to get hurt. One lucky strike can take someones’ head off and occaisionally it wll be yours. That is just the nature of combat and random dice rolls.

It is not looking good for him

I am also not a fan of skewing dice rolls in the players favour or rerolling unfortuneate results. Earlier this week in my post on player death I was saying how my face to face group have a sponsor capable of life giving and it may be necessary to give out a rune of life giving in the future. If there was not sponsor then it is still possible to give out a prepared vial of a life giving herb. That gives the GM the option for the vial to ‘spoil’ if he or she wants to remove it from the game later. I would rather kill and raise a character so they know they are mortal then to make them invulnerable because no one hits them once they are down to their last five hit points.

So despite all the signs that it is not a good idea, the party charge into the mess hall and are suddenly out numbered five to one by off duty knights. The party have a round or twos grace while people trip over benches as they jump to their feet and try and draw swords and others rush to weapons racks and start handing out the spears. By round three the guards are getting organised and the party have taken down two or three of them but there are now twenty armed and angry guards encircling them.

This is an epic player failure but what do you do?

  1. kill the party
  2. all the knights fumble every attacl for the next five rounds taking half of themselves out of the combat
  3. Capture the party and throw them in the cells.

I would be tempted to go for 3 above.  Beat them to a pulp, take the kit and throw them in the cells. Any amount of time you want can have passed between the end of the beating and the party waking up which allows you to update the situation and reset the objectives. Maybe the party has now alerted the villain that the authorities are on the him, maybe the party has been missed and a rescue has been mounted, who knows.

I always develop just enough to a plot line to cover what happens if the party are captured for just such a situation. In the last adventure I ran the party were invading a Drow outpost. The Drow were using slave labour and if the party were captured then they would have been thrown in with the slaves. As the party are all spell users they would not have been completely helpless but also would have had willing allies prepared to assist in an escape and tools such as picks and shovels to use as improvised weapons. There was even a priest amongst the slaves who could have helped heal more serious wounds.

Success was not a foregone conclusion.

As it was the party pulled off their plan and rescued the slaves themselves but the point is that I was perfectly prepared to let the party fail but the story continue. Success was not a foregone conclusion.

I am certain that successes that have been hard fought and well earned are sweeter and more meaningful than those handed to you on a plate. I also hope my players feel the same way.