lunedì 20 agosto 2012

Thinking about TOR - Moderate Difficulty (TN 14)
One of the things that strikes me as most odd when I see someone play The One Ring as the Loremaster (the GM), is how frequently the recommendations I put in the rulebook about not changing the difficulty level (Target Number) of an action are ignored. It seems coded into the procedures of many gamemasters to consider closely every occurrence requiring a die roll, to evaluate it in terms of how ‘objectively’ difficult a task should be (“this wall is very high”, “this door is very sturdy”, etc.)

Now, I understand perfectly where this line of ‘simulative’ reasoning comes from, and I am not really interested in debating the amount of power this way of playing gives to the Loremaster, as many people went that way before. What I am interested about is to weigh the pros and cons of such behaviour in terms of practical play, as it is part of the everyday business of playing The One Ring. Of course, my aim is to demonstrate that you should really just stick to TN 14 for the vast majority of times! But you are free to try and prove me wrong. ;)

To change or not to change the TN - that is the question

Greg Stolze’s ‘How to Run Roleplaying Games’ (found here) highlights some of the factors GM’s consider when deciding how challenging a task should be. The reason I find to be the less interesting is: How difficult is a task within the game setting? Unfortunately, in my experience it is also the most popular one.

Now, is it really important to consider how something is ‘difficult according to the logic of the setting’? And especially, is it so important that you feel like considering it every time someone picks up the dice? Should you really care about how ‘objectively’ difficult it must be to move that pile of rocks blocking the entrance of the cave? Maybe this might be interesting if the heroes are hard pressed by pursuers, but under less dramatic circumstances it is hardly so. So, why not go for a simple TN 14 roll?

You might ask why roll at all in those cases. Of course you have a point, but there’s a reason to, the main reason why you roll dice in the first place if you ask me - and that is to highlight the differences in competence between player-characters. If there’s heavy lifting involved, let the big guy do it; if what you need is persuasion, let the silver-tongued guy handle it. Etcetera etcetera. 

But to achieve all the above it is not necessary to change the difficulty of an action - more proficient heroes will have better chances to succeed than less proficient ones anyway, and they will be easily getting higher levels of success. Defaulting most rolls to TN 14 doesn’t mean you are making it too easy for your players. TN 14 is a ‘moderate’ challenge, meaning that you have 3 chances out of 10 to fail even rolling 3 Success dice. 

And what do you get in return for not minding about how ‘objectively difficult’ is a task? Faster gameplay. If 90% of the times a roll will be vs TN 14, everyone at the table will quickly develop the ability to ‘eyeball’ a die roll, and rapidly assess if they made it or not. Change the TN often, and you’ll hear the same question over and over again: “How difficult is the roll?” Small ‘speedbumps’ placed along the course of play, but ‘speedbumbs’ nonetheless.

Next time: if you really want to change the TN of an action, at least give something in return (or, tweaking how you gain Advancement points).

12 commenti:

  1. I'm one of those GMs who does throw out more TN16-18 tests. I don't think they're more than half overall, but they wind up being more and more prevalent as an Adventuring Phase goes on, until the last couple sessions are mostly TN16-18 tests. My rationale here is simple: Advancement Points. As per the written rules, only the first AP for a skill group during an Adventuring Phase can be awarded from invoking a Trait. Subsequent APs require EITHER harder-than-usual tasks (IE, TN16+) or greater consequences of failure.

    Given 1 AP in each skill group is, IIRC, not even enough to advance a skill from first to second level, I feel very strongly that players should have the opportunity to get at least 8 AP from an Adventuring Phase of reasonable length (4-6 sessions). If they try or stretch themselves, they should be able to obtain significantly more.

    (I also tend to get "how difficult is the roll?" fairly often, as my players are used to systems like D20 or classic Storyteller where that's relevant.)

    You also don't include Attributes in your analysis of failure chance. In my experience in actual play, characters with skills of 2-3 almost never fail a TN14 check unless they don't actually care about the results of the check. If they do care, they'll spend a point of Hope. And even with the above-described TN assignment style, my players' characters either have ample hope (IE, the Hobbit) or they get a decent chunk of the Fellowship Pool passed to them at the end of the session.

    I seem to remember that the printed adventures and tables in the books don't tend to follow this advice either. Yes, the journey difficulty table is listed as "optional", but I default to using it as there's no good advice on when to or when not to. And I remember the adventures in Tales of Wilderland being loaded with high-TN checks, particularly the last one or two.

  2. Hi Nick, thanks for chiming in. First, the last point: yes, published adventures do not follow my own advice. I edited out many TN changes in Tales from Wilderland for example, but not all of them.
    As for the general discussion - yes, I am considering the influence of Hope. If your players spend Hope to succeed in a TN 14 roll, then I'm happy, that's what the resource is for. The problem might be that they have too much hope, but that is another issue.
    As far as Advancement points are concerned, that is exactly where I was heading for... how would you receive a tweak that had players earn 1 Advancement point for all successful rolls with a TN higher than 14? And possibly for all failed rolls with a TN lower than 14??

  3. Yeah, I'm pretty happy with the function of Hope too. I've found it does a more reliable job than FATE points - at least with this group. The more predictable availability does wonders there. (We usually forget about the Fellowship Focus stuff) I just mentioned it because its effect on the chances of success seemed relevant.

    The biggest problem my group has with Advancement Points is that they take a fair bit of attention, either from the players (in terms of invoking Traits or attempting risky tasks) or the GM (in offering the right amount of increased TNs or risky tests). XP requires very little of their attention - they show up, work towards their stated goal, and it accrues. This means it takes a lot of work on their part to improve their Common Skills, particularly given how meagre and dull the benefits of doing so seem in comparison to increasing Valor or Wisdom. I've gotten a lot of complaints that the AP system (and the largely-theoretical 5th and 6th skill dots) doesn't seem to fit the core design of the game at all. I've got a few thoughts about how to fix that, but nothing that's really practical for supplements, house rules, or errata.

    Presuming AP gets kept, the awards you mention might be a good fix for it, provided you keep the AP-for-Trait mechanic. (Which I love) "Consequences" is a pretty tough thing to eyeball, unless you're talking about the instant-death checks in a couple of the Tales adventures. AP for a failed roll (under some circumstance) makes the decision about whether or not to spend Hope on "easy" checks after a bad roll a slightly more interesting one.

    I really like the "updated journey rules" you released a while back; we're going to be trying those (with some tweaks) in the current Adventuring Phase in my game. A similar "updated Advancement" document could be very neat!

  4. Your commentary about Advancement points is perfectly in line with my own reasoning. I agree that the rules right now are either too 'soft' or require paying to much attention to from some players. I am giving some serious thought about just having players gain APs by passing higher than TN14 tests and with the AP-for-Trait mechanic as you call it, also disregarding completely the need for tougher requirements for second or third checks. APs for a failed roll is a bit trickier though, so I'll ponder it for a while more. And yes, the idea is to produce some sort of 'living rules' updates, with the latest refinements made available to players via documents like the 'updated journey rules'.

  5. In practice, I have slightly tweaked the AP rules since my first game. I have always given the first AP in a skill category to all players who roll a great or extraordinary success, regardless of the TN.

    To really simplify the things, I would support allowing the reward of an AP anytime a player rolls a great or extraordinary success, or if they pass higher than moderate tests. I would also continue to reward an AP if they succeed on a roll and invoke a trait to explain why they succeeded.

  6. To give 1 AP for a great or extraordinary success produces a dynamic that is very reminiscent of BRP-based games. This means that I like it, as I played lots of those... :)
    I think that a good tweak might have the first (or maybe even second) check be awarded for great or extr. rolls, any roll with a TN above 14, and through the AP-for-Trait mechanic, and have the third check be given out only for the AP-for-Trait mechanic, thus awarding a more quality-based type of play. What do you think?

  7. I like the emphasis on the AP-for-Trait mechanic, since it's both the easiest to adjudicate and the most rewarding for my players. Great or Extraordinary Rolls means you get more AP faster as your skills go up, but to a ceiling... Which actually sounds pretty good, as it provides a reason for having a high Common Skill!

  8. So, we might have some sort of consensus here?
    1) AP-for-Trait: if a player succeeds at an action he may invoke a Trait to gain an Advancement point. Additionally, this is the only way to get a point if two circles out of three are already checked.
    2) if a player succeeds at an action with TN above 14, he gains an Advancement point (unless it's the third in a row)
    3) if a player succeeds at an action producing a great or extraordinary success, he gains 1 Ap as above (not third circle).

    Still too busy?

  9. Nah, that sounds nice and simple. I'll give that a spin next time I run the game (not until mid-September, alas :( ) and see how it goes.

  10. Francesco, I like it! As far as awarding AP for a failed roll, I have debated and think I have settled on an idea. I want to see what you think. Here goes...

    A player may request an AP after failing a roll if...

    1. The player has suffered a negative effect due to the failure, and...
    2. The player gives a good explanation as to why he is requesting the AP, i.e. he narrates what his character has learned in the process of failure.

    1. ...still a bit uncertain about awarding APs for failure. I like the concept, but not sure about the implementation. Yours suggestions are good, but I wish for a more straightforward (simpler) application.

  11. Someone has suggested that if a hero fails with an Eye, they may ask for an AP and provide what they have learned. If that is the case, the Eye should trigger some kind of setback or consequence.

    Perhaps heroes could be required to invoke a trait on a failure with an Eye to explain what they have learned. For example, a hero fails a roll of Craft showing the Eye. He invokes his Determined trait to explain that, even though he snapped the wood this time, he is determined to craft a magnificent bow before the month is up. Or a hero fails a Battle roll showing an Eye, meaning he gains no combat advantages, failing to gain a read on the land or the enemy's tactics. He invokes his Elusive trait to tell everyone that although he could not come up with great plans this time, he learned his lesson and will now evade the enemy long enough to study and research proper battle strategy so he won't make the same mistake next time. This might mean he has to take a Defensive or Rearward stance for a few rounds.