I ran a playtest of… a game last night. It is not Oro but uses the system I am planning to use for Oro. Before I get into the playtest itself, let me explain why I didn’t use the Oro setting. First, I am still struggling with the broad strokes of the setting, trying to get a clear picture in my head of what the setting is like; to this end I have decided that I might advance the storyline a little into the golden age of piracy – it is a setting that all gamers are familiar with, making it more accessible. The second reason I didn’t use Oro was because my group had talked about other settings for a campaign and I wanted to explore these. Finally, as I was wandering the library with my kids inspiration struck – setting, plot and title in one hit and I threw myself into this. I am going to give a brief “actual play” report to share the experience, then delve into the mechanics and my thoughts on them.
The Beast of Limfjord
So, the game we played was called The Beast of Limfjord and was a story set in dark ages Denmark. I wrote five characters because although I have some ideas about character generation I was more interested in presenting an interesting situation and testing the action resolution mechanics. The characters were
- Hrofgar Whitebeard, legendary warrior and Chieftain without a clan
- Signy the Fierce, his daughter and warrior woman
- Erlend the Younger, a young warrior seeking to win Signy’s heart and Hrofgar’s approval
- Brother Adfrid, a priest struggling with his own shortcomings
- Yngvild the Alfar, a frost-covered elf wandering the human lands
The last character I threw in to turn up the “fantasy dial” a bit and test a couple of parts of the system. As it turned out I only had two players so I offered them a choice of “combos” (Hrofgar and Signy; Signey and Erlend; or Adrfrid and Yngvild). Marty was keen to play the greedy, arrogant monk Adfrid, so Brad took the role of Yngvild – a fae creature with little understanding of human customs.
We started by going around the table adding “rumours” they had heard about Limfjord, the beast and the people that lived there. This was great because the players gave some cool suggestions about what they might expect -all the warriors are dead, men and women went missing but only the remains of men are found, smoke and flames. The characters then journeyed to the village of Limfjord. After narrowly avoiding a lynching from the suspicious locals they Brother Adfrid convinced the Cheiftain that a Christian such as himself could succeed where others had failed. Yngvild promised that a reward would not be necessary, much to the distress of the monk. They explored the local forest, were attacked by hungry wolves, found the lair of the beast and dispatched it before discovering the true horror of the situation. Let me set the scene;
Having just clubbed the beast – a human sized, scaly hound – the creature collapsed to the floor of the cavern and vomited up its last meal (the villager the characters had hired as guide). From the surrounding cavern tunnels and alcoves three village women appeared (one of them was Ingrid, the Chieftain’s daughter); each was heavily pregnant. This turn of events worried the characters as no mention of pregnancy had been made at the village, but the worst was yet to come. Before the characters could do anything Ingrid dashed across the cavern, threw herself to the ground and began to eat the vomited, masticated and dripping remains of the villager. The look on Marty and Brad’s faces was priceless – I live for these moments. BUT THEN, mistaking the womans actions for custom, Yngvild got down on the ground and joined her in the meal! I laughed my ass off. Marty and his monk were horrified. I laughed harder.
Brad further escalated the situation by describing the fire that they had thrown the beast onto actually regenerated it. It grew more heads; Ingvild went into labour; packs of wolves descended on the cavern; there was a run through the snow to the icy fjord before the beast was finally killed and washed away into the sea. The Chieftain, impressed, converted to Christianity.
We had a blast and the game mechanics worked brilliantly – far better than I had expected.
As I mentioned in my last post, the rules are a bit of a Frankenstein from a variety of games. This was my main worry, that the variety of different elements would not work together. Here is an overview of the system;
Characters are defined by Attributes, Edges, Keys and Legend
Attributes are Strength, Agility, Lore, Bearing and Prowess. Bearing is charm/will and prowess is combat ability. Each attribute is rated with a die typ (d4, d6, d8, d10, d12) which means every character will be really good at something and pretty poor at something. I really like the idea of characters not being “average” at lots of things and it automatically creates “niches” for each player (“I’m the good fighter”; “I’m the knowledgeable one”).
Edges are equipment, special abilities, skills and any other qualities that might be advantageous. Each Edge is rated with a die type (d10, d8, d6, d6, d4, d4). In the playtest I had these filled in, except two which the players filled in.
Keys are the goals and motivations of the characters. These are just like in Shadow of Yesterday or Lady Blackbird. When you roleplay your keys you earn “Spirit points” (or fate points, or luck or whatever). Spirit points are spent to roll extra dice and make declarations.
Legends are special powers and cool things that a character can have – a legendary qualities. In the playtest each character had three options and players had to just pick one. For example, Brother Aldfrid was able to “bless” other characters, providing a bonus to their dice rolls and Yngvild could turn an area she touches into slippery, freezing ice.
When attempting actions the GM sets a difficulty of 1, 2, 3 or 4. The player roles a relevent Attribute die, plus any Edge dice that might be useful and can spend Spirit points to add d6 into their pool. Every roll of 4+ is a “hit” and players are hoping to get a number of hits equal to or greater than the difficulty.
- No hits = complete failure and the situation escalates
- Hits don’t equal difficulty = action succeeds with a twist
- Enough hits = action succeeds
- Extra hits = remaining hits are “spent” by player to make declarations about action
Example: Signy is fighting off a pack of wolves. The GM sets the difficulty at 2. Signy will use her Prowess (d8), Steel Sword (d6) and let out her Battlecry (d4) as she fights. The player rolls all three dice scoring 2, 1 and 4). That is only one hit, meaning the action succeeds but with a twist. This might mean that Signy drives off the wolves but is injured in the process; or the wolves flee because something more dangerous approaches; or the wolves flee but take all her rations and supplies; or she escapes the wolves by falling into the freezing river; or any number of other possibilities.
I have to say that this system worked extremely well with my group. There were very few complete failures or complete success, but heaps of twists – which I really liked. When there was a twist I usually left the effects up to the players and Brad in particular was keen to really throw himself into the poop.
At the end of the game Marty, Brad and I had a chat about what worked and what might need tweaking. Both guys were very enthusiastic but Brad was worried that he never really felt threatened. Each character has a “Fate” track and when it is filled (there are only three spaces) you are out of the scene – unconscious, kidnapped, whatever. When you out-right fail (get no “hits”) you automatically lose a fate point and when there is a twist you might lose one. I might have been at fault, not inflicting enough harm on the guys when there was a twist, but this was because the suggestions for twists they came up with were so good. The guys made some suggestions on how to fix this (reduce your attribute by one die step when you get a twist, representing strain) but I am not sure if this is the solution. I also think that I could increase the Fate track (to 6, maybe) and cause you to mark a space for every complete failure and twist – that would really put the pressure on and might be too “deadly”.
On my side of things, I also need to clarify for myself (and all future GM’s) how monsters and other threats work. I was giving threats Fate boxes like players (1,2 or 3) and a Difficulty and each success or twist would reduce the fate box total by one. This works if players are just going “I attack the creature” becuase you can do the “you succed so it loses one Fate” thing. If players want to “drive off” or “scare” or “tangle” the creature though a single success (or even twist) is (by the letter of the rules I have written) enough to do this. So I need to think this through.
My next step is to write up a couple of pages of GM notes and example encounters and create a complete package for The Beast of Limfjord, just like Lady Blackbird. The idea being that I can solicit feedback from people about the system mechanics. I will get on this when I have nutted-out the Fate mechanic. Overall, though, I am pretty happy with this first iteration.