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Forge out of Chaos: Everyone is Lying

Jon, Robbie, and I are three sessions into Forge out of Chaos. Jon is the game master; Robbie is playing a Merikkii (humanoid bird), and I chose to play a Jher-em, which are weasel humanoids. This situation Jon has come up with for us to engage with is some fantastic sword & sorcery fare. I think it helps that neither Robbie nor I are humans and we are outsiders in the current situation. That plays to our benefit.

Before I get too much into that, let me talk about Wrosk, my Jher-em outcast. I knew Robbie was going to be a magician before I had too many details for my character, so I decided to not choose magic for myself. Against my typical choice, I wanted to play one of the animal-hybrids and I chose the Jher-ems. The Jher-em are a weasel-like race of humanoids who are short, misshapen, and have lung ailments that prevent them from running. They also have poor eyesight as you might have guessed. In compensation or this, Jher-em have a spiky tail that can be used to attack those behind me. Ironically, this is my most proficient weapon. Due to being misshapen, a Jher-em has a -1 on its AV or Attack Value for weapon use, so with all of my weapons currently I am at AV 0, except my tail, which is AV +3. The Jher-em also have a telepathy that allows them to communicate with, I think, any humanoid like creature. Essentially anything with a similar brain. This has proven to be an interesting ability and I will get to that in a moment. The heightened sense of smell gives bonuses to tracking.

Jher-em are described as peaceful and Wrosk, my character, has a number of useful skills. However, a peaceful Jher-em, if I am reading it all correctly, would not likely become an adventurer. So I decided to arm Wrosk with weapon skills and a bit of an attitude related to his older age and fear of heights, which was a disadvantage I took. Almost everyone is “too tall” for Wrosk, with Cyir being an exception. The people who invade Jher-em lands are too tall. Their buildings are too tall. Even their children are too tall after a time. Their stupid fortresses high in the mountains are just unnatural and no one should build things like this. So he is an old man with a bit of PTSD and this has lead to Wrosk shedding his peaceful nature.

In Play

I tend towards being a player who tries not abuse an ability, especially if I worry it might overpower the game. In some ways I worried that Forge might be like World of Synnibarr, with some character races being wildly out of balance with the others. However, this has turned out not to be the case. Wrosk’s telepathy has allowed Cyir and Wrosk to have a way to communicate out of earshot from others and has proven of tactical use. I think Jon is doing a great job letting us have fun with it, while not letting it subvert every situation by reading minds. Wrosk only gets surface thoughts; it is advantageous for sure, but not game breaking.

At the same time the fear of heights let’s me comment on everyone we meet and their unnatural tallness. And the enhanced sense of smell gives a different perspective on the world around us. Cyir can see; Wrosk can smell, and together it offers us advantages in dealing with this dangerous world.

Everyone is Lying

Cyir and Wrosk were part of a caravan that arrives in a town, whose name escapes me (It was not in my notes). They are summoned before the mistress of the town and she asks them to retrieve her child from the clutches of a necromancer and her cult. Our presence as outsiders does not sit well with everyone as the previous person to take on this charge never returned. But after asking questions and getting equipped, Cyrir and Wrosk set out to the old temple of Nercros (sp?) in the company of three locals. Eventually the youngest son of the magistrate shows up too, declaring that his brother will never come to them, only to him. This is (I think) the first inclination that things are not exactly as the magistrate / mistress said. Also, Wrosk likes the boy because he is “not too tall”.

After dark we snuck in and discovered some the strangeness in the temple, which is built into a mountain, with a dome peaking above ground. There was some secret doors, a magic effect that I think we saved against but one of the NPCs did not, a zombie that was chasing us, and a bit of treasure and provisions. Worried that the treasure would slow us and intending to come back for it, the group moved on and ran into a cultist who is digging up the old temple with the help of a skeleton. In exchange for not cutting him into pieces, the cultist takes us to meet the necromancer, who is a young woman, and the magistrate’s oldest son, who is no prisoner. My impression is that they are “together” in some way as he has some influence over her.

Cyir is a likable sort who people react well too. We listen to their story and it’s a bit different than the one we were told, but myself/Wrosk and I think Robbie/Cyir does not quite believe them either. All the necromancer wants is to find her father’s resting place. The father, former cult leader, was executed by the leader of the town. We manage to get out of the temple without a fight, but also without any of the people we came for.

On our way back we decide to ambush three figures who had left the temple earlier in the day. Turns out it is a cultist and her two zombies. We interrogate her, and again Cyir having favorable reactions from folks helps us. She tells us a little more of the story, which leads Wrosk to the conclusion that no one is telling them the truth. Some bandits show up near the end of this and we fight them. They are dinosaur riders and this is our first combat. It is bloody but we drive the bandits off and by saving the cultist, we may have curried some favor with her.

 Observations

The system is a curious mix of influences. A little BRP here, some D&D there. Add in a heavy dose of heartbreaker seasoning and Forge is a recipe that, frankly, works. At least it has so far. The game shows itself to have been played hard during development, though there is the occasional loose end not explained by the rules. One of these happened during the battle. A few folks dropped their weapons and there is a stomp skill that lets you step on a fallen weapon, preventing it from being picked back up. But otherwise there does not seem to be anything preventing you just picking your weapon back up and not losing an action.

Combat itself went smoothly, even with what amounted to three sides fighting one another. It was exciting, tense, and I especially like that damage goes to armor, with a little chipping away at hit points. But this could produce longer combats, which is fine with me but may not be everyone’s taste. Overall, I like the system as it is present when you need it and stays out of the way when you do not. I am having a great time playing. 

 

Link to the original Forge out of Chaos post

Department: 
Actual Play

Comments

Ron Edwards's picture

Given that the game is notably oriented toward knock-down, drag-out, gory confrontations, it's wild to see two out of two player-characters chosen from the more frail options ... and live through a fight.

I mean, you have barbarians, the ghantu, the snouty burly guys ... based on reading alone, I would have been reluctant to proceed anywhere without at least one of these bruiser types along. It's cool to see that there's more than one way to play, strategically speaking. Perception and interaction play a big role for you guys so that the fights are either elective or unavoidable.

I struggle to phrase this nicely:

I like the system as it is present when you need it and stays out of the way when you do not.

... phrases like this are vapor to me. What does it mean? When, or in what circumstances, do you know that you "do not need" the system? In that concept, what does "system" even mean? What would a system "getting the way" look like or play like, given the same fictional content?

Sean_RDP's picture

We are not your typical heroes, I will agree there.

I struggle to phrase this nicely:

I think you know me well enough by now that I am not bothered by blunt questions. I am not sure the answer will be more helpful. But I will do my best.

Forge feels like a car you don't have to constantly be on top of during a drive. New or old or scraped together it works for what it wants to do. All the lights turn on, there are no error or maintenance messages, there is no weird hum from the engine, or a constant clacking from the back breaks. You are always in the car / system and aware of it, but at least for myself, using the system does not stress me out or interrupt the flow of play. Compared to a system like RIFTS for instance, which groans under its own weight; it is not a plesant drive even if it gets you where you want to go. That is my experience. 

Ron Edwards's picture

That's much clearer!

In the never-ending discussions of vehicular metaphors, here's one that I came up with a while ago that managed to stay away from certain implications.

That system is like a rowboat that won't float, so you all have to put it on your shoulders and run together along the shoreline. Sure, your boat "moved," but don't fool yourself that this is "good play" or claim that it's evidence for "the system doesn't matter." Nor does it matter whether one person is holding the boat and running with the others all riding up top, or all of them are holding it and running together.

I'm sharing that for two reasons: first, that we aren't talking about how something drives but whether it even drives at all; and second, that this particular use of "driving" is focused on the engine and propulsion, not on destinations and control.

Sean_RDP's picture

The rowboat analogy works for me. I think it illustrates the points in a cleaar way. Forge may have its paint chipped and the oars are mismatched, but they work just fine getting you up and down the river. 

I realize I glossed over the experience through the underground temple (dungeon) a bit. It was exciting and there were a couple of moments where we had to make choices that I thought established some of our characters', character? If that makes sense. One of them was finding a mural / fresco on the wall that I think showed some of the cult's activites or Necros. The kind of thing might be of value or interest to some players / character archtypes in other games. Especially of late as people want to be archeologists and anthropologists. Behind the imagery was a secret door and to get to it we had to damage / destroy the mural, which we did. Because we are not archeologists or anthropologists; we are mercenaries. For me that moment established the tone of the game. 

I’m enjoying GMing this! Sean - I’d note, first of all, that I haven’t had any worry about the Jher-ems’ telepathic ability being game-breaking in any sense. In fact, I think it’s the opposite: it gives the GM a kind in fiction reason to provide a lot of extra context that makes the situation richer. Likewise, it provides an in game excuse for the PCs being able to coordinate actions with each other even in situations where they can’t talk to each other or don’t want to be seen talking to each other. It’s a neat feature! I hesitate to project too much on the designers in terms of intentions, but it does make me wonder if they put it in because they thought that kind of discussion/coordination was a problem in some sense and wanted to give players a way around it, knowing that they’d have to pay the price of the Jher-ems’ limitations. It also helps that the telepathy comes with constraints, so that there are some interesting tactical questions about putting it to use. We saw that in our game when the PCs were setting up the ambush: they could communicate telepathically, which would allow them to coordinate the ambush, but it meant they all had to hide relatively close to each other, which was relevant to the way things ultimately played out. As Ron notes, perception and interaction have ended up playing a large role in our game. The system support for interaction mainly comes down to the reaction roll, which helps to determine the disposition of NPCs towards the party. Robbie’s character, as a Merikkii, has a +25% bonus to all reaction rolls, which turns out to be significant, because it guarantees that things will never go completely hostile and has led to a positive disposition from most NPCs encountered so far. There is more support for the perception side of things. Along with skills for things like Observation and Hiding, as well as more advanced options that we have not seen in play yet (the Assasination skills, Blind Fighting), there is an interesting interaction among the different modes of perception: the different visions (regular, night vision, heat vision, and undead vision), and then, because we have a Jher-ems, telepathy and enhanced olfactory sense. Each of these senses works a little differently, and there is generally, on a creature/character-by-creature/character basis a difference in range within these modes. This has really allowed us to avoid murkiness in terms of initiating potentially dangerous encounters. That is, by paying attention to who can see farther than whom in a given situation (based on available lighting, etc.), it has been very clear who has the potential for starting the encounter in a more advantageous position (including possibility of surprise). I think I’m so comfortable using these rules in this way because of something I have learned from playing Champions Now and from interacting here at Adept Play this year about the role perception skills can play in setting up the immediate circumstances of a situation. This was something I did haphazardly/intermittently in my past role-playing, but it wasn’t something that I was particularly attentive to until this year. Since I have turned my attention to it, it has really made scene-setting (in terms of the participants’ positions AND their situational awareness) straightforward. Finally, I want to make a note of why I prepped things the way I did: we’ve ended up with more of a slow burn situation than is, perhaps, expected/implied by the straightforward dungeon bashing set up in the text. I’ve joked a couple of times that part of the reason I prepped the way I did was that I have been thinking about Runequest too much (and there is probably truth to this joke). Another reason, though, is that I recently GM’d an unsatisfying dungeon crawl -- which, on reflection, seemed to be unsatisfying in part because I hadn’t provided much in the way of context for the dungeon crawling (I would even say that for some reason while GMing that game I forgot everything else I had learned about GMing and started treating it like a video game). Because of that, I went a little overboard in THIS game, with multiple factions and NPCs with their own motives, and with monsters that, as it has turned out so far, have perhaps been too easily avoided. However, we did get to a big fight and the aftermath of this fight should lead to further complications (there’s also still a lot of treasure to be looted back at the necromancer’s temple).

Ron Edwards's picture

Here's a useful resource: the Fen Orc page for the game, including missing pages from the version available at DriveThru, tons of extracted and re-explained rules, plenty of analysis and interpretation, and more. Basically, the guy loves the game and is helping it to live.

One thing you'll see there is a list of all the Basement Games products. I own the GM screen and the World of Juravia sourcebook, but haven't seen any of the others.

robowist's picture

I’m glad to be digging into another Fantasy Heartbreaker, and the experience of Forge: Out of Chaos has been a satisfying one both as a result of the rules (which are clear and coherent) and because of the investment of Sean and Jon at the table. 

The game leaves plenty of choices open for the players, but it also uses some wicked principles of scarcity to force you into key decisions, which in turn leads to some compelling characters and game play. Here are a number of examples:

I was interested in giving the magic system a try, but doing so means essentially spending half of your skill slots. So this initially leaves you with many fewer talents (including less formidable fighting abilities) than other characters. I’m finding, however, that the game does allow you to compensate for some of that weakness through the spells it provides. 

I’ve had to give up useful skills like Hiding, Climbing, etc., but I can potentially replicate those abilities if I pursue them in my magic. This tactic came directly into play in our melee last session. During my initial character creation, I invested heavily in acquiring a Level 2 Spell called Rending: When this spell is cast, my character has to roll simply to touch an opponent (i.e. they don’t get armor defenses), and if that is successful, I roll 2d6 for damage taken directly off of hit points (again without the opponent getting to use the benefit of their armor). Casting the spell currently expends all spell-casting ability, but it proved pretty potent in our last session.

To understand the value of a spell like Rending, you have to realize that, within Forge’s combat system, armor is quite effective in minimizing Hit Point loss. Usually, when you score a hit and then roll damage, only one point per damage dice rolled is deducted from Hit Points. The other damage reduces Armor Points. Say your opponent has a modest 10 Hit Points but is wearing Chain Mail (which has 50 Armor Points): It is going to take a number of rounds to wear that opponent down under normal combat situations since most of the initial damage is inflicted against the armor. Jon (our GM) noted after our melee that the rules regarding Hit Points and Armor Points can easily lead to some extended rounds of combat.

My character (Cyir the Merikii) does have some combat abilities thanks in part to a high Dexterity and an ability to wield two small weapons (a racial benefit), but if combat goes south for him, he’s not going to be able to stand for long. So he’s got to approach fights strategically and look for some quick strikes early boosted by some key spells like Rending.

Another aspect of scarcity for beginning pagan magic users in Forge, is that spells depend on costly spell components. Right now, I can only cast Damage Spells, and in the upcoming sessions I’m going to have to be more active in pursuing some of the other more costly components that will allow me to cast spells in other areas. Yes, this is a hurdle, but it is also going to open up new avenues for us as Cyir starts seeking out such exotic objects as Giant Spider Fur or an Ivory Pendant sculpted from the horn of a Minotaur.

Jon has developed a politically rich situation for Cyir the Merikii and Wrosk the Jher-em to puzzle out. What initially seemed like a routine dungeon delve has evolved into more complex issues of city rulership, familial relationships, and a death religion. As Sean notes, our characters are decidedly outsiders, and their physical frailties requires them to play a more tactically oriented approach. The fact that none of us are sure how things are going to get resolved makes for an exciting experience at the table. Jon has also put some more peripheral NPC’s in the mix (such as a brother of the necromancers consort and a young female cultist whom Wrosk and Cyir have helped save) who may turn out to become important players in the unfolding situation.
 

Ron Edwards's picture

This always happens when people play Heartbreakers! Check out My Higmoni.

Sean_RDP's picture

I have been impressed by how much differentiation goes into each character that has real effects on play. The higmoni body odor for instance or the Jher-ems poor eyesight. In the latter case I took a benefit to increase the character's poor eyesight to something only half as bad as normal, and in exchange that is where I took the fear of heights. 

I also took a hard look at the Berserker but veered off into something that seemed more challenging for me to play and more interesting (to me). 

LorenzoC's picture

Agreed, Sean.

Over the years I've developed a strong dislike for "fantasy races" as a concept (it often ended up feeling like Star Trek to me, as in "humans with rubber ears/noses that have one unifying and compulsive cultural feature") but I'll admit that watching people play fantasy heartbreakers on Adept Play is making me question that.
I'm not sure I can share but I absolutely need to acknowledge the interest and passion people is showing in bringing these concepts to the table. It's inspiring and cause for reflection, because you constantly see these mechanics become kickers and not modifiers.

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