I made use of a product called Umberwell by Dolorous Exhumation Press to help me generate content for this playtest of a very very loose set of rules/guidelines I’m playing around with. It’s a system agnostic setting, but in reality it’s got D&D 5 in mind, I think.
None of that matters, because I’m using a adulterated version of the Trollbabe player-facing rules for task resolution.
A little primer on the task conflict mechanics for Trollbabe:
The one number concept: you pick a number between 2 and 9. You must roll over your number to succeed at Magic, and under your number to succeed at Fighting. To succeed at Social, you pick the worst of those two, but your roll must be equal to or less/more than your number. (I.e. if your number is 7, roll over 7 for Magic, under 7 for Fighting, and equal to or over 7 for Social).
When you fail a roll, you first become Inconvenienced. If you decide to re-roll, you risk being Injured if you fail again. If you decide to risk a third re-roll, you become risk becoming Incapacitated if you fail.
There’s more to it than that, but those are the concepts I’m using in my distored version. See this link for a more in depth idea of how Trollbabe works.
My bastard version:
It uses Fighting/Magic/General. General is a catch-all for any tasks not involving Fighting or Magic, and it always has the worst odds of the three (as opposed to Trollbabe’s Social, which is always in between Fighting and Magic in terms of odds). A smaller difference is that the rolls for Fighting and Magic are also >= or <= the Number.
It also uses the re-roll rules (Inconvenienced → Injured → Incapacitated).
Another unintended difference is that I switched Fighting and Magic around because I was doing it from memory, so Fighting needs to roll >= the Number, and vice versa for Magic.
The rest of my guidelines involve concepts that exist in my #WritingWithDice structure. It all boils down to Baseline Assumptions and making sure any advantageous fictional positioning is earned (usually by task resolution). Basically, the world looks and feels the way I presume a fantasy world looks and feels, and I use the random tables in Umberwell to set and adjust the Baseline Assumptions in my mind. Those Baseline Assumptions then drive how I imagine the world and its challenges.
Additionally, the idea that advantageous fictional positioning needs to be earned is also part of my Baseline Assumptions. My character also shares this idea, in-game, but the way he thinks of it is vaguely akin to Murphy’s Law (if anything can go wrong, it will) and the saying “there is no free lunch in this world.” It’s like a slightly pessimistic attitude that’s justified by how the world works: it’s always making things complicated for him.
I also decided to use a finite resource (in this case, a deck of poker cards) to determine the number of obstacles to my immediate goal. Basically, I draw cards until a card with a red suit shows up, which means no more obstacles to my immediate goal. I always assume at least one obstacle, and then I draw cards after that. I also use the D&D standard array as a random table to help me add color to the obstacle when needed.
I played it all fast and loose, so it needs tightening.
So anyway, I picked 5 as my Number and proceeded to generate a character around that using the Umberwell random tables. I ended up with:
Name: Vithra Valia
Occupation: Gang member
Ideal: Liberty (Chains are meant to be broken, as are those who would forge them. (Chaotic))
Bond: Authority (I’m trying to pay off an old debt I owe to a generous benefactor.)
I also rolled a reason he is in Umberwell: “Looking for an errant relative in the city.” For a background, I chose the Bandit background. I didn’t want to handle any NPCs, so I assumed the gang were bandits outside the city and he was here solo.
Equipment: a set of dark common clothes, burglar’s pack, belt pouch with 10gp
Feature: Criminal Contact
I decided that he has a contact in the city through his gang that might have some information to get him started on his search for his brother. I rolled the following on the Contacts and Information tables respectively:
Contact: The contact is visiting friends Information: The contact seems fearful of giving any information.
Most of this ended up unused or used as color as I'm not using the D&D system. For example, I did not play my character as particularly savage. I still had a few ideas right away, but while I let that percolate, I played around a bit with other tables:
Complications and Twists #1: An unfortunate theft (this became my inciting incident for the first adventure)
Tavern & Inn Names: The Hatter (outside which the inciting incident happened)
Encounter: A bawd, red faced, touting illicit pleasures (this added color to the above)
These were not used, but I kept them in the back of my pocket just in case.:
Adventure Generator: An artful agitator is trying to tyrannize an inexperienced sailor
Encounter: Private security, panicked, unruly
Encounter: An automaton, awakened, berserk
Encounter: a street fight turned into a bloodthirsty melee
Encounter: a sly seller of scrimshaw charms
Encounter: A demon, tempting with heretical beliefs
I rolled these during the adventure when I needed some location set pieces and athmosphere:
Neighborhood: Flooded Exotic Greenhouses
Street Names: Edgfield St
—-Vithra Valia’s Misadventure—-
Near a tavern called The Hatter, a lady of the night who was hawking illicit pleasures distracted me while a child (or was it a Hafling?) got hold of my money pouch (10gp). He or she ran away as soon as it yanked it away.That’s the only money I have, so I chased the thief.
The thief led me to the edge of a low lying block with exotic green houses. It was flooded and the water level was deep enough that I knew it would need to swim. I thought it might slow him down enough for me to catch up, but my usual bad luck meant that the thief found a makeshift raft. Of course, there was nothing for me nearby to use as a raft of my own.
I began to suspect that, my bad luck notwithstanding, this escape route was probably planned ahead, with the makeshift raft conveniently placed there ahead of time. It kinda made sense since I was pretty sure by now that the bawdy lady was setting me up.
I decided to climb the buildings and jump from roof to roof to try and catch up that way.
(General Skill check: need to roll under 5 -- rolled a 4 - success).
I was able to climb quickly and keep the raft in my sight for that moment.
(Draw a card to see if more obstacles. 7 spades yes).
The thief took a turn at an intersection. I had to jump across the street to be able to keep following through the rooftops.
(General roll: Rolled a 3).
I miraculously cleared the large gap.
(Draw a card to see if more obstacles. 8 clubs: yes. Type of obstacle “stamina “).
The thief felt comfortable enough at that point to lie down on the makeshift raft. There was a bit of current in the water that left him drift him down the street. However, while things got easier for him, it got tougher for me: the roofs in this block of buildings looked like an obstacle course: gaps, walls and other trash that I had to negotiate. None of them looked particularly tough for me, but there so many of them. I wasn’t sure I’d have the stamina to keep up. It also didn’t look like the thief was going be stopping in this block or any time soon so I needed to keep up or I would have lost him.
(I was wondering at this point if I could avoid this general test and use magic. I decided why not. I rolled a 6, though, and failed.)
I tried to levitate myself over the obstacles, but I was too worked up. I couldn’t concentrate.
(Second attempt succeeded (5).)
I tried again, and had a different idea too. Why keep chasing when I could bring the little bastard to me? I concentrated hard this time and lifted the thief, raft and all, to the roof where I was standing.
(Draw a card. Got a 4 of spades. I was thinking of catching the thief as a means to get my money, so I can’t really get what I want.) Murphy’s Law means that they lost the money in flight to me.)
(I also needed to know who the thief was now, so I use the handy character tables from the Umberwell setting. I rolled a Gnome for its race. I had unconsciously decided at the beginning it had a child like build so that fits. If I’d gotten a larger race, I would have made it a child of that other race. I also imagined him as a guy now)
(I decided at this point that the D&D reaction table would be great to use. I found a description in an Rpg net thread)
Reaction Table2 -- Immediate attack3-5 -- Hostile, possible attack6-8 -- Uncertain, monster confused9-11 -- No attack, monster leaves or considers offers12 -- Enthusiastic friendship
(I rolled a 6.)
The little guy wasn’t sure what happened when his feet touched the ground. It was scared enough at the time to be cautious but looked undecided as to whether he should have ran away. Maybe he thought it’d be of no use if I could so easily levitate him.
Angry, I asked it to give my money back right away. He searched his pockets and looked confused about that.
Me: “Great, you dropped it in the water!”
(As an afterthought, I thought I wanted to know what he looks like in more detail. I got “rough” and “muscular” and “vicious”.)
He gave me a bit of a “come do something if you dare” look. He did look a little rough and vicious. You’d almost say he was muscular-- for a gnome anyway. I doubted that he really thought he could take me on; he must have been trying to deter me by attempting to look threatening. I wasn’t scared, but at the same time I didn’t turn my back on the little jerk.
(I drew another card with a black suit and type of obstacle was “charisma”. I spent some time thinking about it until I settled on my first idea: a charm spell attempt of some sort. )
It would have been easy enough at this point to magically find my money, but the world has something against me.
(Random NPC: Alluring Satyr)
My first clue that something was wrong was that I laid my eyes upon a most attractive Satyr, but I knew in the back of my mind that I wasn’t particularly fond of hairy men, or goats (I didn’t grow up in a farm, if you can read between the lines). Later I thought that I must have been the victim of a thieving ring given all these people working together.
Either way, I know when magic is involved and you must fight magic with magic. So I did.
(Must roll 1d10 under 5. Rolled a 10. Now, per the Trollbabe system, i’m ‘inconvenienced’ as a consequence.)
At first, I wasn’t successful. You must understand that his good looks were rather a distracting inconvenience at the time. He’s was now asking me to be a dear, and go get the bag of coins for him. I really wanted to aid him at the time, but I still felt that something wasn’t right.
(I could try to re-roll this at the risk of being ‘injured.’ Why not. Rolled a 2, so I’ve beat the obstacle.)
With effort, I managed to break out of the trance he had me in.
(Will that be it as far as obstacles? Ace of Clubs says there’s more and I rolled “dexterity” for color. That means that the nature of the challenge isn’t really muscle, for example, so I won’t have to fight these guys. But let me roll a morale roll for THEM just in case:)
(I have more powerful magic, it appears, so that’s a -1 penalty for them. THey outnumber me 2:1 so that’s +3 for them. So a +2 bonus.
Satyr rolls a 17 and Gnome a 16. They both stand. So it looks like there’s a fight after all, and the “dexterity” bit just means they’re agile.
This is what I meant I was playing fast and loose. Trollbabe doesn’t have NPC stats, but in a pinch, using the morale stats from D&D made sense. It’s one of the things I need to tighten up.
For myself, I need to roll over 5 for a fight, and I roll a 10. )
They stood their ground. The gnome felt more confident around his Satyr friend. They chewed more than they could handle and I made short work of them.
(A 2 of clubs means another obstacle. And another “dexterity” obstacle was rolled. I decided it was a climb down without thinking too much about it. It would need a General roll, so I would have to rationalize in-character why I wouldn’t use magic.
I could either try to beat it with the general challenge number, or I can assume an extra obstacle in exchange for the slightly better odds of the magic stat as I couldn’t think of a way of using the fight stat to negotiate the climb).
I still did not have my money. I could have tried to climb down from the roof to the spot where the raft was and look under the water. The climb down was dangerous and tricky, however. It would be safer to magically find it and bring it to myself.
(I choose to deal with an extra assumed obstacle, and roll a ‘strength’ type. It can only mean more pests to fight. I decided it would be a small mob, and rolled a description: “Alluring”).
A small mob of their friends suddenly showed up. Because of that, I figured the ring’s home base was somewhere in this neighborhood, and so it would make sense they’d have lookouts posted around. They must have told the rest of their comrades that I was a tough cookie, so they came with more muscle this time.
I already felt them trying to ensnare me with mind tricks again as they prepared to try and dispatch me. I was bored of fighting them, though, so I decided to to risk the climb down after all.
(I decided to take on the original obstacle and avoid this new one out of boredom. I needed a roll under 4 but got a 6 and failed. I’m inconvenienced. I was already Inconvenienced before, but I’ve been assuming a reset for each obstacle, at least when I’m not Injured yet).
I could not get a proper foot hold fast enough, though, and the ruffians were closing in on me.
(Do I risk injury with a re-roll or just fight these guys so I can try my magic to get my coins back? Fight: Roll over 5: Another 6.)
It wasn’t as easy as the last fight, but I was able to teach them a lesson in a reasonable amount of time.
(After the fact, I wanted to know what they really looked like. A random roll told me, the group was mostly composed of Stocky looking Kobolds. So the mostly faceless mob I had imagined in a comic book like fashion, now has a more definite look. This thieves ring seems like a ragtag group of misfits-- Umberwell is very cosmopolitan).
(Now I can try a Magic roll to try and levitate the coins from the water. Need anything under or equal to a 5: a 10. Fail. Inconvenienced.).
Now it was peaceful enough again to try magic again. But, I failed my attempt since I didn’t really know where they were exactly.
(Do I risk injury over some 5gp? Yeah. I roll a 2 and Succeed.)
I floated the dripping wet pouch of coins towards me on my next attempt, however.
(But wait, a 5 of spades says there’s more trouble. Another dexterity colored challenge.)
Of course, as these things go, something had to go wrong: As I made my way back over one of the green houses my coin pouch fell through an open pane. I had not fastened it well enough.
(I could use magic again at the cost of another obstacle, but I’m curious about the green house anyway. I need to roll under a 5 (a 4 or less) and fail with an 8.)
I tried to lower myself down to the garden. But I slipped on the wet glass and almost fell in. I caught myself at the last moment.
(Do I risk injury? Yeah, cause it would be fun to have a pratfall and get messed up! I rolled a 4, though)
I eventually made it down safely. I needed to find my pouch again in all that foliage.
(A 6 of clubs still means that I’m not home free. A strength challenge. I pull more cards because I want to look ahead. 2 of clubs is next. Rolled a Constitution challenge-- stamina or health. I look ahead again and get a 3 of hearts. That means no more challenges after these two. I decided to combine them in the scene for color).
I ran into what I assumed was a guard (strength) but I had an immediate allergic reaction to some poisonous plants (health).
( I would expect the guard to be an automaton immune to poison, but will roll: Old Fashioned Aasimar. I have not much of an idea about Aasimar types but let’s go with that and I would expect it to be tied to some nature god given the location.)
I had to will my body to fight the poisonous attack before I could take on this angry fellow.
(Roll under 5: I’m able to resist long enough to fight -- a roll of 4 for General. I fail my first fight roll with a 3, -- needed to roll over 5.)
I was barely coming to my senses after the allergic reaction when the angry Aasimar was upon my intruding self. That handicap allowed it to land the first blow on me, which greatly annoyed me.
(Rolled a 9 next. Had I decided not to re-roll on the strength/Fight challenge, I would have forfeited my goal of leaving with the money. Basically turned myself in to the Aasimar.)
I was ready for the next blow with a counter attack she did not see. Soon it was all over.
(Since those were the last obstacles, I can assume I get my goal.)
I found my pouch on the floor not far from where the Aasimar lay sprawled. I began to look for a way back out of this green house and this neighborhood.
(I decided it might be fun to have that as a new goal, thus starting the challenge/obstacle cycle again. I draw them ahead of time, though, to make it short. 3 clubs , 7 spades, 8 diamonds. Challenges are constitution and wisdom. The Constitution challenge is overcoming a noxious gas released by a magical alarm triggered when I steamrolled the assumed guard. The alarm was “wired” magically to her. I pass the Constitution obstacle with a roll of 2 -- under 5.)
Almost immediately after the Aasimar was out, a noxious gas was released. I could feel the magic traces in the form of a tingling sensation. I was able to withstand the noxious air, however, while I continued to look for a way out.
(The next challenge is the Wisdom challenge, perhaps a Perception skill type of challenge. It seems to me that there might be another trap to watch out, since this place has already shown some security measures. Perception skill type of challenge it is. I need to roll under 5: another 4. Chaotic shiny to the rescue: “vines of some sort grow to trap character”. Well, makes sense given the greenery and the use of magic so far. )
I had been wondering what other surprises this place might have when out of the corner of my eye I saw some vines magically growing and they were coming for me. I saw them in time to roll out of the way before they ensnared me.
(Because those were the last challenges according to the cards, I can leave this neighborhood.)
Eventually, I found a tall tree inside the green house, which I climbed to get close to the ceiling. I managed to break open another panel in the ceiling after a few hard kicks.
As I made my way back out of the neighborhood, I began to wonder if I should try to find the thieves’ lair and look for the lady that set me up. Still, other matters started to gain more prominence in my mind, like my brother, who I needed to find.
In the back of my mind, I was also growing more curious as to why did a greenhouse would all that protection. I was even wondering if the Aasimar was just a guard as I had assumed. Could she have been the owner?
I finally got to the edge of the neighborhood, where I had entered, and shook my head. What a bizarre evening.