Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Mask of the Emperor - dice rolling and experience

The "lose a roll to advance" idea below is something I haven't put into play yet, and for that matter, I have no idea if advancement is even going to be covered by the final rules. Most games have some kind of experience, or character advancement, and because that's been around for so long, some people expect it.

I ran a game of Changeling: the Lost that was intentionally only going to last about three months, and no more; one of my players complained once he realized that this was going to happen, and ended up quitting because the game wouldn't last as long as he would have wanted it to. In my defense, the game was going to end because I was moving across the country (Virginia to California), and I've internet play a total of twice, with poor results, so I decided I'd much rather end the game with a decisive, exciting finish, rather than end up with a weak echo of the awesome sessions we were having. I wanted it to end on a strong note, and we did, but I ended up losing a player in the process because character advancement (in terms of skills and the like) was not going to happen.

It's a nod to "realism", I think, one of the holy grails of Simulationist play. It doesn't have to be, of course, and in the below example, I'm attempting to encourage players to have "second act" big, fat failures on occasion, something they can rebound from and be all the more triumphant when they save the day. I suppose I don't want to be handing out more skill points every session, but in this post at the Forge, I'm considering bumping the size of the dice I use and putting in pluses and minuses to dice, which would increase the flexibility of PC options somewhat. I'll figure it out; we play again in 3 days.

And now, the last bit of the rulebook for Mask of the Emperor.

Dice Rolling 101
- Rule #1: never pick up the dice unless something interesting and/or important is at stake on this roll. It's not that MotE characters never trip, lace their boots wrong, or walk into doors, but it's not important enough to drag the dice mechanics into it. For that matter, remember: something has to be at stake in the roll. Even if something really interesting or important is happening, you don't have to roll for it if the whole group is cool with the outcome being assured. That's the point of dice: to settle these disputes over who shot first, so to speak.
- Rule #2: pick up the dice when a PC or NPC thinks aloud, "I really want to...". This is a cue for the g.m. and the players to encourage the person to do something about getting what they want. The expressed intent sets up the stakes: if you win the Challenge, you get what you (the player!) want, and if you lose it, something else, related, happens, not necessarily just the opposite.
- Rule #3: Fortune in the Middle. This is a technique in which you declare your intent, roll the dice, and then keep narrating, using the player/gm's intent and the dice result as guides to what happened. If the g.m. tends to be the one to pick up the tab here and say "So I think this happens...", that's cool, but it's equally cool for the players to say, "My Emperor, how about...?" Keep it open, let no idea go unheard.

Experience and Development
- You might find yourself in a situation in which the honorable thing to do is actually pretty stupid, given the practical considerations. You might think, "Why on earth am I doing this? Is this really worth another temporary Honor point?" Maybe, maybe not; but to tempt you into chancing it, I've devised an experience system.
- It's pretty straightforward: any time you do something ridiculous, dangerous (socially or physically), and in accordance with your deeply-held beliefs, and you lose, put a token or a chit or something next to the skill you used in that Challenge (or the stat, if you didn't have a skill in your dice pool). At the end of the session, bring up that little stunt you pulled associated with that stat or skill; if at least one other player or the g.m. gushes about how awesome that was, turn the chit into an extra die for that trait; limit this to only once in a while, but if you really can get people to be that amazed with you, why the Hell not? On the other hand, if you do something like this and you win, well, that's its own reward, isn't it?
- Breaking past the 5-point limit on stats and skills is quite difficult and rare, but not impossible. For one thing, your character is a major protagonist in this story, so why not take a shot, right? To temporarily exceed the 5-point limit on one of your traits, get a Sorcerer to channel a spell onto you. To permanently increase a trait past 5, it should probably be at 5 already, and then you'll need to consult a god, major spirit, or some such other entity and work out a bargain. This could very well become a character's story in its own right, if only for a while: hark to the tale of the skillful, humble sword-smith who yearned to be the very greatest in all the land, who bargained with a fiery god of metalworking for the power he sought! Good stuff.

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