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Back to the Temple of Necros (more Forge: Out of Chaos)

We've played a number of sessions of Forge: Out of Chaos since our last update, here, and Robbie has started to record the sessions. The video below is from a few sessions back (we've had two since then - those recordings are on the way).

Since this video starts with the PCs and their allies heading back into the (or maybe just "a") Temple of Necros for the second time, some background is in order: they originally entered the temple in order to rescue a local villager (the son of the village's ruler) from the clutches of a necromancer, only to find that he was actually perfectly happy to be with the necromancer.

The necromancer had a beef with the ruling family of the village, and the son ended up being very sympathetic to her side of the story. Meanwhile the village ruler was being somewhat dishonest in her own presentation of the situation. At issue: the necromancer's father had been village ruler before the current ruler took over, and he was allegedly done away with by them. The necromancer, for reasons of her own, wants to find his burial place, and was trying to use the threat against the current ruler's son to get the ruler to reveal that information.

Anyhow, the PCs ended their first foray into the Temple by leaving the son with the necromancer and heading back to the village (they had also stumbled upon a hidden room with a very modest amount of treasure stocked away, but didn't have time to loot it). On the way back, they managed to save one of the necromancer's henchmen from an ambush by Higmoni bandits.

Once back at the village, the PCs secretly worked to discover the location of the burial place of necromancer's father (Sean's character Wrosk used his enhanced olfactory senses to do so): they dug up his corpse, hid it someplace else (so they would be the only ones who knew where it was), and found a replacement corpse to put in the place it had originally been buried. (I joked that digging up corpses was a sure sign that we were playing "old school" style). They thought having the father's remains would give them a bargaining chip if they wanted to intervene further in the conflict between the necromancer and the villagers.

They then decided to go back to the Temple to see if they could (a) get some of the loot they had to leave behind and (b) discover more about the necromancer's plan (as they suspect there is potentially some greater treasure there than they had already stumbled upon). A couple of the villagers who had been with them before were also exicted about the possibility of going back and looting.

There are, of course, more details, but that's the general outline of events leading up to their descent into the temple for the second time.

Some things to note about our play and some thoughts about Forge: Out of Chaos:

-As mentioned before, character creation choices led to us not having especially combat-focused PCs, and so we haven't really seen a lot of the more advanced combat rules come into play (i.e., we're all sad there hasn't been any Weapon Stomps). On the other hand, as can be seen in this video and as I've mentioned in previous comments, we've latched onto the different modes of perception, and a lot of the game is driven by differences among characters with regard to their various sensory capabilities. The game has been thoughtfully written to make those distinctions meaningful on both a tactical and strategic level.

-Playing by rules as written, you really have to use skills a LOT to get them to advance. You get a "check" on a successful roll, and each check gives you a chance to roll for advancement of that skill at the end of the session. Successful advancement of a percentile skill raises that skill by 1. While it is possible to check multiple checks in one session, and so have multiple chances for skill increase, you really have to be using skills a lot to get to the point where you'd be seeing increases of more than 1 or 2 points for only a few skills per session. Weapon skills work a little differently, and a solid combat could end up raising weapon skills by several points, but Magic skills, which are limited in how much they can be used by the characters' Spell Points, seem like they would take a very, very, very long time to advance. All of this is to say, the advancement rules (which owe a lot to Runequest's, but have their own twist) seem to be written with the assumption that you are going to be playing dozens if not hundreds of sessions of Forge -- at least if you want to get characters up to a state where they have access to the higher level spells and the more effective combat skills. If I were to start to house rule things, this is probably where I'd start (and may be the only thing I'd change): just speeding up advancement a little bit, so that it would be possible to meaningfully increase, say, the Magic skill after only 5-6 sessions or so. Alternatively, I could see doing something like in the Barbarian Psychedelic D&D game and jump to the next adventure with the PCs having jumped to the next tier of power without us actually having to have played it all through.

-Advancement issues aside, I think this is a really solid, thoroughly playtested game. A number of times I've scratched my head about how to handle certain edge-case rules issues, only to find that, on closer look, they were clearly spelled out in the text. In the last session I did have to come up with some rulings on the fly regarding figuring out how some of the NPCs might react to a dynamic situation where it didn't feel right for me to simply decide on their reaction without input of the system to give some bounce, but I'll bring that issue up again when that video is posted.

Department: 
Actual Play

Comments

robowist's picture

I've put up two more sessions of our game of Forge. Here is Part 2, and here is Part 3.

Following up on a discussion started over on Discord, I would point out that a driving force for the game has been Jon's attention to the background of the dungeon. One of Forge's great strengths is that it is designed with underground exploration and looting in mine, but as you can see from Jon's overview of our game, there are political and familial stakes involved in the scenario, and this has made our adventure more complex and satisfying. Yes, we are dungeon delving, but there is a specific edge and focus to our play due to Jon's previous creation of a history and context for the temple.

Jesse Burneko (who has a wealth of roleplaying experince, including of healthy dose of Sorcerer) has a terrific zine called Dungeons and Dilemmas which distills some of his thoughts about creating a rich dungeon experience. A centerpiece of his approach is the consideration of history and context. Jon wasn't drawing upon Jesse's ideas for his scenario, but if you like what you see here and are looking for a brief guide to this type of GM approach, with steps clearly outlined, I'd highly recommend Jesse's thin volume. It is incisive and wise, and at the end of it, he gives you one example of a scenario worked out applying his princples.

Both Part 2 and Part 3 (especially!) give you some examples of combat in Forge. Note that the showdown with the Necromancer involved some careful strategizing on the part of Wrosk and Cyir, and it depended on the previous grave-swapping heist they had pulled off. During that incident, they thought that it would be worthwhile to take an index finger from the corpse before reinterring it. They had no idea exactly how they would use their body theft, but here, they bring the fruit to bear.

Using the corpse of a skeleton and cultist whom they had previously defeated, they arrange the bodies to look like they had been fighting each other, and they position the cultist's arm outward with the finger of the Necomancer's father in hand. It is pointing directly to a small entrance leading further underground. We knew the Necromancer or one of her minions would discover the strange sight, and hoped that it would provoke her to some rash action. As Jon pointed out, he used his knowledge of abilities and skills to devise a percentage target that he could then roll against. Sadly for the Necromancer, she went for the rash course of action, which allowed Cyir to then take advantage of his superior night vision to begin the conflict with a distinct advantage. Wrosk's telepathy ability is also used to great effect, both in terms of communicating with Cyir but also in terms of confusing the Necromancer.

Ron Edwards's picture

I noted back in the 1990s that many new games' rules for character improvement became vague, muted, and slow. Not in every new game, but for most of them.

For games which used generic built points that you could invest more or less freely, I noticed that they "bought less" than in earlier games of this design, either intrinsically or due to increasing purchase-values at higher effectiveness. For games which used other, more specific methods, I noticed that they were very limited to particular situations of play so  were applied in spotty, scattered instances, and that what you "got" for them was often much less than I'd been accustomed to in 1970s and 1980s games. In other words, the games didn't really let characters improve very much - you'd have to play many, many sessions.

Times have changed again since then, and the D&D family especially seems to have returned to fast leveling-up. But if we stay with the 1990s and recognize that a lot of games since then have remained with those specific traditions of design, then I think it's important to rcognize the pattern which includes this effect.

This pattern is overwhelmingly clear, and I don't suppose I have to list relevant titles beyond a few obvious representatives like Deadlands, Legend of the Five Rings, Nephilim, the contemporary versions of the Hero System and GURPS, Changeling, et cetera; I'll let the aficionados debate SLA Industries so the blast radius doesn't catch me.

  • Low effectiveness against adversaries
  • Limited scope of player-character action (attacking something, noticing something)
  • Precise and option-heavy starting player-character concept, especially in terms of trade-offs
  • GM-driven and managed saga of events from session to session ("arc to arc")

You can see why, right? Together, they mean the player-character really cannot do much despite a lot of conceptual and organizational effort required to conceive of this character. You have a vivid, highly specific character portrait which, however, is capable mainly of going "dink dink" against a foe or noticing things once in a while.

Therefore character improvement in effectiveness, social presence, scope of activity, and proactivity are nothing but a threat to GM hegemony over the starting situations of play and their outcomes at any scale higher than a combat round. No wonder the improvement sections of the rules became short, often vague, full of strange constructions about who gets this or that extra point, full of weirdness about not improving too fast, and often placed as a subset to sections like character creation or GMing advice, instead of a section of their own ... the authors and star GMs for the system didn't want player-characters to improve, because for the goals of play to work, they should stay pretty much the way they began.

Anyway, I have no idea if these trends mattered to the Kibbe brothers in writing the published version of Forge: Out of Chaos, but I do know the incredibly slow and tortuous rules for improvement in the game are completely out of whack especially with the heinous foes filling the book and the amazing, numerous, and diverse options begging to be chosen and used at the higher range of magic.

Sean_RDP's picture

Considering how much of the game seems to be have been thoroughly tested, I cannot imagine the experience was added on purpose in terms of the designer thinking it was a good system As opposed to just adding it on as an afterthought or a proforma design decision. 

It was relevant in last night's game, where we wrapped up and began to go over success rolls. My character, Wrosk, had scored enough hits that I had managed to imrpove a little. And still, I have to not only hit successfully about 65 more times, but then successfully roll under my score to move up. Based on last night, I'll need at least 100 more successful hits with each weapon to raise my ability with them. And that is a lot of successes, 

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