|Shane - Way back in October of 2001, a few months after David started posting the Nolomar Rising logs, I took a plane trip. In preperation for that trip I printed out the 16 or 17 logs David had written and had a good read on the flight. When I got back home I emailed David straight away with some questions. The following is the relevent text of the email.|
October 31st, 2001
Shane: It’s wonderfully good. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
David: Thank you. Much of the credit goes to the players. This is not a linear campaign. I am not forcing them down a path; I’m setting up situations and they’re reacting. Or stirring up things on their own.
For instance, I was quite prepared for the party to stay with the caravan, rather than joining the mission to Fana. Clan Dyrak still would have acted, but the party would have heard about it second-hand, later. I must say, PC actions certainly changed the way things happened.
Shane: But I got a lot of questions.
David: Not exactly a surprise, Shane :-)
Shane: Mainly, I’m wondering if your games play like that or if you use your game as a basis and then flesh it out when you put it to paper. There’s lots of detail and internal thought you go into. Is that inferred or do your players bring that to the fore in character? How does the actual play compare to what you write?
David: The game largely plays like that. I do flesh things out further on paper; it gives me a chance to give the players more of the background, particularly narrative that would just slow down things in play. During play, I make sure to provide whatever data is relevant, and then expand later where I think it is called for. I’m becoming more and more aware that the players haven’t spent the last year digging through HarnWorld, even though I have. Even more immediately, I know several people that are following the story through the website postings (have I said ‘thank you’ lately for hosting that?) who have NO background with either Harn or RPGs. The additional narrative data has helped them a lot. (One of the non-gamer fans is a guy I work with, and I’ve gotten some interesting feedback from him.)
As for the internal dialogue, I do check with the players on how the characters think and WHY they reacted that way, rather than just guessing. The places where I’ve taken a shot at it and then showed the player the printout, they have largely agreed that I’ve been on track. Duff’s player says I know the character as well as he does. I disagree, but it’s a heartening reaction. Where I was off base, I rewrite per their markups. The intent is to put on paper the actions that happened in the game sessions, but with several weeks currently between the game and the writing, people forget nuances. I do try to keep as true to play as possible.
One of the reasons there is a delay in getting files to you is that I make sure to give the players a printout before each game session to read, critique and markup. I do try to give players with solo actions (Sif, mostly –) a separate printout with their solo actions where appropriate for privacy, and then re-organize the file back into chronological order afterward.
The intent was to play a session, and then get it written up before the next. On Saturday the players add markups and comments, we discuss changes, and I incorporate them after the session. This is tougher to do when the session writeups are hitting 20+ pages apiece. Writer’s cramp. Concerns about carpal tunnel (I’m an engineering designer/supervisor; I spend all day on the computer, then come home and start in on this. Sigh) Writer’s BLOCK, fer cryin’ out loud, and I’m just writing down what happened! I’m getting a fresh appreciation for people who do this for a living. I am still writing up Log 16, and we’ve played session 17. We would have played session 18 several players had crises and couldn’t show up, so we took last weekend off. Still, the players get a chance to read it and approve (or amend) the writeups.
There have been a few cases where I remembered / reconstructed a scene differently than the players remembered it. In several cases, the reaction has been “I like that better than the way it happened. Leave it.” But that’s up to them.
I keep considering one of those voice recognition systems. Our main computer is in the room where we game: set up the microphone, start the program, and play. Come back later and edit it down to the story. (“More Cheetos!” “I need another soda!” etc.) It probably wouldn’t be an accurate enough transcription, but what a neat dream…
I’ve been resistant to just running a tape recorder and then transcribing it myself. Machinery was supposed to make life easier –
Shane: Why did Duncan go into the crypts at Fana in the first place? Where they trying to find a back door? I wasn’t clear on that.
David: (Logs 4 through 8 )
First, they were looking for a place to stage an assault team from. It would have provided a second front, splitting up the gargun’s resources and giving them a chance to deny captured resources (like the forgeroom) to the gargun. They had already gotten data that the gargun wouldn’t go into the crypts, so it sounded promising. Had the exterior fight gone differently, they were ready to lower about 30 dwarven fighters with heavy weapons and set up the crypts as a resupply point for the interior team. Khuzan Kommandos; now there’s a moniker –
(Marvel Comics: Sergeant Fury and his Howling Khuzan Commandos! What an image –) Sorry, off-topic.
Instead, the data they got down there, partly from Karzak, shifted the entire attack strategy.
Second, it was a chance to gain significant reconnaissance intel. Clan Dyrak was particularly interested in the status of the smelters, for reasons which are no clearer to the party than to you. See the discussion on closing the smokestacks, in Log 8. That’s a point that may come up again. I’ve told the players they shouldn’t expect to have everything wrapped up nice and neat for them; I’ve tried to make sure the NPCs have their own lives and motives.
Third, Duncan had his own reasons to find out the status of the Khuzan dead. More on that in upcoming chapters. I hope.
Shane: Man, what’s the deal with Sif? She’s a freak! Very cool, though. I love the drug addict angle. That is so cool. She’s still a freak, though.
David: Uh, the term “psychotic bitch” has come up in-session, yes. The amnesiac personality, chunks of the recent background, and the drug addiction are all straight from the player’s imagination, right from initial character generation. She asked me to develop a full background and keep it to myself, so even the player doesn’t know the full story. But I do. Stay tuned…
And she does have some interesting special traits. Some are holdovers from a past she doesn’t remember. She doesn’t understand them, either.
I believe I sent you a copy of my ground rules. When she advances level (currently Ranger 3), she doesn’t get as many skill points for improvement as anyone else; the remainder go into a category just labeled “wild talent”. I’m keeping tabs on that. Sometimes, bits of old stuff leaks out and she gets a special bonus on a skill.
Shane: I notice the good guys often make their shots, especially bow fire. And they’re low level? Sif and Yang in particular seem especially good. Do you use a special mechanic or did the players just roll real well? Do you determine hit locations and injuries on the fly (make it up) or is that in your rules set anywhere? I also notice a lot of instant death blows. Special rules or just good rolls? Describe how the game play went when Sif and Yang were firing arrows at the bandits by aiming at their voices.
David: Rules issues. Well, okay, but this is gonna be kind of a long answer. Go get a soda – I’ll wait.
Remember, we’re using highly-modified d20 rules, hammered out through 20 years with the same core group of gamers. We’ve built our ground rules so that missile fire is pretty deadly. We think it should be, particularly at close range with well-trained specializing archers like Sif and Yang. The PCs use precisely the same mechanics as the NPCs, and the players all know it. Sif and Yang are indeed especially deadly with bows, because they have been concentrating their development rolls there. Having said that, some of their die rolls HAVE been pretty spectacular. I witnessed them.
As for hit locations, we do use them. Very briefly: we started with a classic longsword, doing 1d8 damage. We generally agreed that a full-damage wound from a sword should incapacitate (or nearly so) a normal man’s arm, then built up a hit point system to get that result. HP = Con + racial base + points per level (varies with class).
After determining if a particular shot in the target’s AC, we check location (also a d20 roll). Different parts of the body are hit on different die. 1-3 = left leg, 19+ = head, etc. Where AC varies by location, check location first.
Different parts of the body have different percentages of the total. Head and arms = 25% each, legs = 30% each, chest and abdomen = 60% each. This adds up to 255% of the target’s hit points. If you take your full HP in total damage, you are unconscious and unstable, losing points slowly until someone treats you (yes, after-the-battle care is important). If you go negative your Con, you’re dead. But notice that you don’t need to be beaten to a pulp to die. If you lose all your HP in a particular location, it stops working. If you lose twice the HP in a given location, it is removed. Note that if your central nervous system stops working, you are dead, so you do not want to drop to 0 HP in either head or chest.
This does mean that shots specifically called for the head are favored targets, because it is much easier to kill someone that way. Targeting a specific hit location is a –4 penalty, targeting a specific spot within that location is a penalty of at least –6 penalty. It made sense to us. Same mechanic for both sides, of course.
For example, assume a human fighter, 4th level, with a Con of 15. He will have 20 HP as a racial base, plus 15 for his Con, plus 2 per level for a total of (20+15+8 =) 43 HP. That’s 11 in the head and arms (always round up), 13 in each leg, and 26 HP in chest and the abdomen. But a single 12-point shot to the head (possible with a composite bow) drops him to the ground dead.
Also: incredibly good shots (10 points more than you needed) put you onto the critical hit chart. I use a bell curve (2d6 or 3d6, depending on the location hit). In the middle of the range, you get maximum damage; as you get towards the ends, you get a damage multiplier and specific results like broken bones, lost fingers, possible paralysis. Even if you survive a shot like that, results other than sheer damage are very hard to cure; it takes major healing magic that no one in the party has access to. Yet.
Proper first aid doesn’t do any actual healing, but it does stabilize the patient and greatly reduce the chance of infection. Half the party has the skill and supplies, but notice that Yin and K’Arandi are trained as healers.
Healing spells (Cure Light Wounds, etc.) work differently than in standard D&D. I liked the mechanic from HarnMaster, that you roll for healing every day and magic gives you more rolls. Instead of just making magically things better, the caster is boosting the body’s own healing system and using the same mechanics. We’ve done part of that for years. I’ve rewritten the spells so the provide x dice worth of healing rolls; then the patient gets to see how he does. Healing rolls occur once a day, and are 4d6 under your current Con, with modifiers. Several herbs change the roll, either reducing the roll or improving your effective Con rating. Roll under your Con, you get a point in your worst injury. Roll over, get nothing. Roll half your qualifier, get two points. Roll one-third, get three – etc. Metabolic healing leaves scars; certain kinds of ointments may change that. Curing spells leave less scarring. Stronger healing spells have other useful side effects.
Example: a Cure Light Wounds spell provides 1d6+1 healing rolls, over the course of the next ten minutes. Balm of Gresan provides one healing roll, over the next ten minutes.
The players did the math: a grizzly bear has a Con in the mid-thirties, a racial base of around 40, and still makes their healing roll on 4d6. If you let them live, they get better FAST…
Yes, combat is pretty deadly. Perhaps you’ve noticed there hasn’t been much of it –
This helps accounts for the instant-kill rolls, but the PCs have indeed been rolling very well.
Combat: everyone has a base targeting roll of 19 to hit AC 0 (jousting plate armor). It’s an easy way to remember the data: for every point under 19, you hit one AC poorer. Skills give you pluses to hit. So do range, strength, dexterity, and a bunch of situational issues. Whether you hit is determined by the die roll plus modifiers, against the qualifier determined by the target’s AC plus modifiers.
As for Sif, Yang and the bandits (log 12), bear in mind that I don’t record actual rolls – but it would have been something like this:
From ambush, hidden within the woods, bandit A fires at Yang. Range: 50 yards, using a poorly-made crossbow. An easy shot, +2 for range, -1 for the inaccuracy of the weapon, +1 for his (marginal) skill with the weapon. Yang on his horse is AC8 for buckskins, plus a 3-pt bonus for his Dex of 17 for a total of AC5. The bandit needed a 14 total to hit and had 2 pts of bonus. He needed to roll a 12 and got an 11. The bolt flew right in front of Yang, alerting him that something was up.
Yang spins his horse to face the most likely general direction and waits. Another bolt hits Heron (NPC). Yang checks his Awareness skill to identify where the second shot came from, succeeds. The roll is made on 4d6 versus his Intelligence, modified by the number of skill points he has in Awareness. At other times, the roll might be made on 3d6, or 5d6, etc., to reflect other degrees of difficultyand the kind of information being asked for.
In this case, Yang succeeded and had a general target area to watch. The player specifically noted that he was ordering the horse silent and concentrating on picking up noises from the bandits.
In the meantime, bandit A is changing to another crossbow, already loaded. Those weapons were too heavy and cumbersome for him to reload the same bow so fast.
Bandit A fired again, at Yang. Already watching for it, he saw where the shot came from. That dramatically narrowed his target area and he kicked his horse into a charge. When bandit A called out his attempt at a threat, Yang already knew where he was, within a few yards, and was cutting down the range fast.
We’ve already established that the Hodiri are phenomenal horsemen, riding before they walk. (skill points were mandated for horsemanship in the pre-game, and the player keeps adding more.) Expanding on that, we’ve established that they primarily hunt with bow and usually from horseback. In pre-game I further established that Yang was an experienced hunter, used to reacting to subtle cues.
With success on a difficult Awareness roll (5d6), Yang was able to establish within a couple of feet where the bandit had to be. He took a shot, targeting on the bandit and accepting a penalty for shooting at an unseen foe. Normally, that is –4, but with that kind of data I reduced it to –2. He rolled very well.
The bandit was AC7 plus full cover for a qualifier of 12 (which applies only if he becomes a target). Yang had the following modifiers: close range (+4), extremely high Dex (+3), knowledge of the target’s location (to permit an accurate roll in the first place), hidden target penalty (-2), skill with the weapon (+2) for a total of +7. With those modifiers, he could have rolled a 5 and hit the guy; his actual die roll was something like a 13. With his modifiers, he was clearly into the critical hit tables and scored additional damage on a chest shot.
And similar mechanics applied to Sif’s remarkable shooting. Look for a knife-throwing contest in Log 16; I swear the final die roll was honest and witnessed.
Shane: Did you make up most of that long list of drugs the apothocary was telling Sif or did those come from the Herblore article?
David: They are all either real-life herbs or straight from the Harnic source: http://www.harnmaster.com/alchemy.html, by N Robin Crossby, which is an update of his file alchemy.txt, c1989.
Shane: Are the PCs all going to stick together?
David: I certainly hope so; it would make things easier. But it’s up to them. So far, I have a general agreement that the party will be together until the caravan reaches Tashal and people deal with certain stuff there. After that, well, stay tuned. Tashal will be a turning point. I hope.
The whole group (the PCs) is rarely together at once. Do you split up your players? And some of the characters get way more action than others (Yin). Do they just not play as much? Describe your games and who shows up when, etc.
I pull people into the next room when privacy is needed. Characters getting less time in front are handling other things. For example, Yin’s time has been pretty full dealing with a hundred and fifty mules and horses; she’s short of time to go get into trouble. Her brother seems to be taking up the slack.
The original party has been cut down a bit.
Aerith’s player Alex has gone back to school a few hundred miles away, but is expected to make an appearance from time to time. He’s gamed for about 3 years.
Arlund’s player Theresa has changed jobs since the campaign began and is often working nights, hence unavailable. She’s gamed for about 20 years.
Duncan’s player Dwight is one of my oldest friends and used to practically live at our place on the weekends. He’s gamed for at least 23 years, and helped teach me the game.
Yin and Yang are run by my wife, Beverly, who has been present at every session so far. We met at a game, she’s been gaming for 20 years, and Gmed a home-built campaign for 18.
K’Arandi is run by my daughter, Debbie, whose social life is far more complex than mine. She’s a high school senior, need I say more? She grew up with gaming, but hasn’t participated until recently – the last year or so.
Sif is run by an old friend, Moondance; she has many years experience with playing roles, but not in games with structured rules. This is her first RPG game as most gamers use the term. We’re introducing her to game mechanics fairly gradually; we tell her what dice to roll and when – and why. She’s picking it up, but she’s more interesting in storytelling.
Duff is run by Patrick, an engineer I used to work with. He used to play AD&D, but burned out in a game with a truly horrible GM. He joined our group as a regular to try the hobby after many years away. That was three years ago, so he must like it.
House rule: we will continue with one active player absent. With two or more active players absent, we do something else for the evening.
Game schedule: we play at my home on Saturdays. People dribble in from early afternoon to mid-evening. We usually get started around 7:30 or 8, after a chance for food and being crabby about everyone’s workweek. Duff’s player usually arrives first. Duncan’s player arrives around sunset. My wife and I are already here, of course. My daughter Deborah’s arrival depends on little mundane details like her dating schedule, rehearsals for her various music groups, and her work schedule. If we’re missing someone, it’s probably her. Gee, I don’t remember having a social calendar like that when I was her age…
We play until people are falling asleep, or we get to an appropriate dramatic point where I stop the game. Some nights, that’s about midnight. At least once while we were handling combat on the Fana mission, that was about 4 am.
Shane: Do you research stuff or are you just good at making up details?
David: Um, yes.
My early interest (and my degree) is in architecture, so I’ve already got texts on that. Like several of the players, I’m involved with technical and engineering issues professionally, so I have that to draw on. I’ve always been interested in the middle ages, and I’ve done a bunch of research all through my gaming career. We have quite a library of stuff, and I do refer to it as needed. (There’s an old gamer’s joke about 12th century shoelace fashions being considered proper reference material by some GMs –)
And let’s hear it for the Internet, the best research tool around – once you figure out how to ask the right question. I try to do any heavy research before play, of course. Once play gets going, I try to keep it moving, so there isn’t time for research breaks; we have too much stuff to cover.
Sometimes you need to stop – when Duff was talking to the Admiral, I mentioned that the dwarf was working on a piece of scrimshaw. I knew Duff didn’t know what that was, but I hadn’t realized Duff’s PLAYER didn’t, either. Break time: ten minutes later, I found a site with some nice examples, explained what the Admiral’s piece looked like, and we moved on.
Bev gets upset about that sometimes; a question came up about falling time, and whether a spell could be cast before the mage hit the ground, in a different campaign. Three people (including me) pulled out calculators and started punching numbers. The formula was on an Excel spreadsheet ten minutes later, so we could generate maximum speed due to airflow and examine the results of assuming different values of g for worlds with different gravity. Hard to get some things past this group –
And, of course, after gaming for so many years, I’ve got a bunch of scenes tucked away in my head that came from one game or another. (If you copy from more than three sources, it isn’t plagiarism, it’s research!)