Friday, February 17, 2012

Tankards and Broadswords RPG: Playtest Session 1

So last night I ran my first playtest of the TnB rules.  It went well, better than I expected actually.  I'll provide a brief rundown of what happened and a few observations at the conclusion.

There were only two players in last night's playtest, Scott and Grace.  Both had been exposed to the rules before through casual discussion and a few much older tidbits, but this was the first time either had put pen to paper. 

Scott settled on a Fighter archetype, putting 4 ranks in Melee with a Focus on Longsword.  He also took a Defense of 3 with a focus on Armed Parry and a Reflexes of 3 with a focus on Melee Combat.  His Carousing of 3 had a Focus on Drinking, and Persuasion 3 with a Focus on Diplomacy.  In his Scholar skills his only real standout was a Research of 2.  There were other skill ranks scattered here and there but those were the really notable skills.  Interestingly, he gave his character 3 ranks in Resist, 2 in Endure, and 1 in Avoid, meaning he'd be quite resistant to mental attacks.  Finally, he put a single point in Wealth and two points in Infamy, giving his character a bit of a bad(ass) reputation.  Overall, Marikh of No Place in Particular was a young disenfranchised minor nobleman who was skilled with a blade and the ways of a noble's court.

Grace went the opposite route.  She settled on a Scholar, and put 3 ranks apiece in Healing (First Aid), Arcana (Magic), Linguistics (Magic) and Research (Magic).  She also took 3 ranks in Carousing, also with a Focus in Drinking, and two ranks apiece in Stealth and Thievery, and in terms of combat, put two ranks apiece into Defense, Ranged, and Reflexes.  Once the skills were squared away, she distributed her Peril ranks evenly across all three options, then put all of her Status ranks into Wealth, giving her a max of 3.  All her freebie Character Tokens went into a Magic skill of 3, and she picked up three Magic Books: Healer (which became her Magic skill Focus), Beastmaster, and Infiltrator.  In essence, her character is a Magical Healer/Thief, an interesting combo that complimented Scott's character quite well.

At the beginning of the game, I asked both players to make Intermission Rolls.  This is a random roll that provides the character with some boon or danger at the beginning of an adventure, carried on from their time in between "episodes".  In a lot of heroic fantasy, the story begins in medias res, with the character fleeing from some danger, or flush with victory from some event off camera that provides a hook into what is about to happen.  Since I had almost no idea of where I wanted the characters to go or do for their first adventure, I decided to leave the decision in the hands of the dice gods.

And the Dice Gods delivered, big time.  Both characters rolled 2d and got results of 9: Pauper.  This means the character starts the game with no starting currency and gets nothing from their Wealth stat.  Normally, at the start of every adventure, the character only begins with Signature Items; these are weapons or other pieces of equipment that the character has bought at character creation which are effectively part of the character - think Xena's chakram, or Elric's Black Sword.  Every other piece of gear is up to the whims of fortune as to whether the character will have it or not; the player rolls 2d6 and adds their Wealth rating; the result are the number of Treasure Tokens they have to spend on armor, weapons, and so forth.

Well, Pauper prevents you from doing that - you've got your Signature Items, and nothing else.  For Marikh, that was a longsword; for Jayne, that was just her spellbooks.  With their Carousing Focuses in Drinking, we decided the perfect way for them both to start the game would be to wake up bleary-eyed and penniless, sitting in a tavern at the crack of dawn.  They had agreed to start in Urgh, a very "Lawful-Neutral" city-state where there is a fine, tax, fee, bylaw, etc. for everything.  I related to the players that Urgh had such things as vagrancy fees, unemployment fees, and so forth, so it wasn't a good town to get caught in while penniless; the fighting pits, slave labor camps, or some other unpleasantness would be their fate.

So the PCs decided to make a break for it.  Outside the tavern, they ducked into an alleyway and stepped over a drunk; Jayne picked the drunk's pocket and found a coin.  They discovered the wooden manhole cover to the sewer, and Jayne used her Book of the Infiltrator to cast "Lockwork", popping the lock.  Both of them scrounged to find tools; Marikh fashioned a torch from a broken crate and straw, while Jayne got herself a makeshift club.  Down into the sewers they went, and after a couple of Survival rolls, aligned their bearings well enough to head for the outflow grate by the docks.

Down into the sewers, eh?  Doesn't sound like a particularly safe place to wander.  After splashing around for a while, neither PC noticed a large, predatory shape gliding through the sewer waters towards them.  With full surprise, a massive sewer alligator leaped from the water and latched onto Jayne's leg, hurting her badly.  Marikh jumped to her aid, plunging his sword into the creature's back, and causing it to turn on him, biting and inflicting an even more savage wound.  Jayne tried to cast a healing spell on Marikh, but the spell fizzles.  The Alligator strikes again but misses, and this time both Jayne and Marikh make contact; Jayne beats on it with her club, while Marikh hacks its head off with his sword.  Jayne takes a few rounds to heal them both, and they continue on to the sewer grate, and escape the city of Urgh.

The two characters make their way north along the shoreline, determined to seek the Blue Wizard's Tower and offer their services for employment.  During the day they both find sufficient food and water, and even discover a body washed up on shore, wearing a dagger and carrying a purse with two coins.  At nightfall, unable to find a good shelter, they decide to build a campfire on the beach and stay there the night before heading inland. 

In the middle of the first watch, Marikh hears the "flapping of leathery wings" in the air around the camp, and wakes Jayne.  Fears that it might be a larger creature are dispelled, and assuming they are bats, Jayne uses a Beastmaster spell, Beast Speech, to try and talk to them.  However, all they get are hisses and cackles from the air.  Deciding to make a break for it, they move away from the fire and head inland, only to be immediately pounced on and attacked by a pair of winged apes.  Jayne is badly mauled by one, but Marikh quickly kills his opponent, and after Jayne drubs hers with her club, Merikh slices it in half.  Further spellcasting brings Jayne back to full health.

Come the morning the two journey inland, and encounter no more troubles along the way.  Eventually they reach a mile-wide clearing and see, in the center, the thousand-foot high, hourglass-shaped blue crystal tower of the Blue Wizards.  Concerned that just walking to the tower might be ill advised, the duo make their way around the clearing to a watchtower at the point where the road to the tower enters the clearing.  Approaching, they are hailed by a half-dozen guards, each bearing a long sword, shield, and mail hauberk, and wearing the blue surcoat of their masters.  The duo introduce themselves, and Scott decides that Marikh will attempt to use his Infamy as an "in".  He rolls very well, and the guards have heard that "He's that guy, who did that thing, to that other guy, and the blood never came clean from the walls...".  The Sergeant-at-Arms decides to put Marikh to a little "test" and engages in a little swordplay; Marikh parries with laughable ease and knocks the Sergeant into the dust with the flat of his blade.  Credentials confirmed...

To conclude the evening, the chagrined Sergeant orders to of his men to escort the duo to the Tower, where they are given a change of clothes, allowed to clean up, are fed and watered, and provided any comforts they need.  An hour later, they are escorted to an audience with Herik, Wizard of the Fourth Circle, who welcomes them as guests and offers the two of them accommodations for the day, and an audience with his superior the next day.  A servant was assigned to handle their needs, and they were dismissed. 

This is where we ended the session.

A few observations...
  1. The Intermission Roll couldn't have worked better.  I designed them to be a possible jumping-off point for adventures, and in this case, that's exactly what it provided.  I came to the table with almost no idea of what the adventure was going to be, but the Pauper result for both characters gave us exactly what we needed; an impetus for action.  Perhaps it wouldn't happen every adventure, but the players liked the idea that it we were able to weave the result into their Carousing skills, which made everyone happy.
  2. Combat, while ill-equipped, can be very dangerous.  Only Marikh had a real weapon, Jayne had no offensive spells, and neither character was wearing armor.  The result was that in both fights, against opponents who weren't terribly powerful, one or both of the characters got mauled.  Typically it was because the attacker got a really good attack roll and the defender rolled terribly, giving the attacker a very high Balance for the attack, which gave the damage roll a massive bonus.  Having no armor to soak some of that damage hurt...a lot.
  3. Being able to give very generic skills much narrower skill Focuses helped make the skill feel more specialized.  Marikh wasn't just a good Melee fighter, he was a swordsman.  Likewise, focusing all of Jayne's Scholar skills towards magic, and her Magic skill towards Healer, kept a lot of flavor in the mix.
  4. I need to draft up some form of encounter rules.  I was just rolling 2d6 and if it was a really high roll, "something happened".  Having a 2d roll that went from "nothing", to "friendly", "neutral" and "dangerous" would help this.
  5. There was little problem with leaving most skills open to a broad interpretation.  Survival becomes crucial for any cross-country travel, useful for scrounging, navigating, finding food, water, and shelter - you name it.  And we were clearly able to differentiate between Survival and Naturalism; one was living off the land, the other was an academic understanding of the land, flora, and fauna.
  6. Aside from being dangerous, combat moved smoothly.  We would have to see how larger fights work out; perhaps having a Reflexes roll just once at the start of the fight would result in a lot less bookkeeping.
  7. One of the players was a little disappointed when told how long it takes to progress skills after character creation, but as the characters can start off with up to 4 ranks in a skill - "Veteran" status - the need to advance more quickly isn't, in my mind, much of an issue.  We'll see how that attitude fares later on in the gameplay.
Overall, I think things went well, and the players really enjoyed the session.  We may play again in ~2 weeks; once we do, I'll have another report.

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