Sunday, 24 June 2012

When Dice Turn Bad

Mild spoilers for players in the Kingmaker Adventure path -- mild, because we're pretty far off the rails at this point.

In today's Kingmaker game the group faced a battle versus a small army of trolls, then an opportunity to root the bad guy out of his lair. The battle system laid out in the AP, and expanded on in the 3rd party "Book of the River Nations" -- a very useful supplement for those involved in this AP -- is very simple, units have stats, and battle is conducted in a series of contested rolls. The difference in results in applied as abstract damage to the units.

Out brave heroes have a force of their kobold vassals, their "best" unit, bow and axe wielding Streltsy, and their new and barely trained second unit, which formed their reserve.

And the players stopped rolling well. Again and again they rolled low, the only saving grace being the troll forces rolled low as well, not achieving the required target number.

The "encounter" was fairly well balanced, however in the end both of the human regiments were shattered, and the kobolds surrendered the field to the trolls.

The dice results created a palpable depression of mood. The characters had worked with, fought with, and achieved many victories alongside their first regiment, which was now gutted. It was as if a treasured NPC had passed away. It was a memorable moment. And I didn't arrange it, plan it, it wasn't part of "my narrative" or the story-arc. Instead it was all the dice. More importantly, it was the players' dice.

Dice turn bad? Not a bad thing.


  1. "I don't want to tell a story about my character's triumph, I want to gamble with his fortunes!" - The Gospel of Odie

  2. Adroitly put!

    I don't know if I'm "sold" on giving up all the narrative trappings I've used for the last couple decades. But I am interested in at least finding a compromise between the two play styles. We'll see how it works out.

  3. One of my favorite MC principles from Apocalypse World is 'Play to find out'. While we only played it for a handful of sessions, this one really loomed large for me. It eventually attached itself (in my fevered brain, anyway) to that old bit of GM advice 'Never pose the PCs a problem for which you only have one solution'. Instead of ensuring that I could think of three or four possible solutions to any problem, I found AW urging me to create problems with NO solutions at all.

    As soon as I let go of having even a single solution in mind, I found I was much more receptive to ANY solution the PCs came up with. And then I really was just 'playing to find out'.

    And. It. Was. Awesome.

    1. Although I think they occur at a different strata -- in OSR games they tend to be at more of a "strategic" level, while in games like AW they occur more at the "scene/conflict" level -- this is one of the intersections I was talking about earlier.

      The way they approach "obstacles" is a little different, of course.

      An OSR game's character Abel decides to look through Baker's hut. The referee decides what the obstacles are before hand (even if he's free-wheeling, and before-hand may mean seconds before he tells the player). "You find a lot of laundry, some common supplies, and a sturdily locked box."

      AW's Abel decides to look through Baker's hut. He rolls Sharp (presuming the creation of some kind of "Searching for Stuff" move) and rolling a limited success the MC gives him some complications to chose from. One might very well be a locked box.

      The MC didn't plan Baker's hut, like the OSR referee did, the results were determined by the player's choices and the player's roll. But neither referee nor MC assumed that hut would be searched, nor created a story which would lead to the searching of the hut, or require it.

      "Play to find out" exists in both worlds, albeit in slightly different ways.