Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Song of Ice and Fire RPG - House Rule Changes

So the other day I posted the following on google+:

Watching the Beowulf CGI movie from a few years and thinking about Dawning Star has made me want to run a Fading Suns game about a crew of Voldrok helping a previously lost world deal with an ancient AI and the monsters it creates using the genetic engineering facility under its control.  Lots of big heroics, doomed last stands, all that sorts of stuff but with plasma pistols, force shields, broadswords, and spaceships with draconic, gargoyles carved onto their prow.  But like I have enough time for that. 

Which Samhaine said was a tease. Fair enough. It has sort of highjacked my brain for the past few days, except I've been thinking about running it using a modified version of the Song of Ice and Fire RPG to make use of the house system. Samhaine has already done some work in that direction, plus a lot of the work in A Song of Dirt and Wind can be re-purposed towards that end. In the process of doing so it put me to thinking about the house system.

In addition to putting in some tweaks during my previous SoI&FRPG campaign, I've already done some work on the house system for A Song of Dirt and Wind. Plus I've dome some freelance work for Green Ronin, writing the wildling chapter of the sourcebook on the Wall and beyond, including modifications to the house system to better represent the nomadic tribes of wildlings. And on top of that, I've done some work for the setting-less Chronicle system books that involve the house system. So, in short, I've put a lot of time into thinking about the system, including what I would change about it.

Make no mistake, I love the house system. It's a great way to tell a story authentic to the Song of Ice and Fire novels, plus I love metamechanics that bring the party together by sharing a cause, resources, goals, etc. The SoI&FRPG campaign I ran a few years back was probably one of the best I have ever run. The system has been fun to write and create within, but all those positives aside, there are some aspects I would change (and will change within my own hacks of the system) given the chance.

And those are, in no particular order:

1. Comparison Tables: This isn't really a mechanics thing, but the tables displayed in the beginning of Chapter 6 regarding what various ranges of the house stats mean is way off. The point totals listed for the North, for the whole Seven Kingdoms, etc, are way too small if each land holding is only a few miles across. Those need to be revised or just taken out.

2. House History: The house history table is completely borked. You roll 3d6 on the table and see what historical event the 3-18 result indicates happened to your house, with the results naturally skewing towards the middle due to the probabilities of using three dice. This would be fine, but the table is in alphabetical order, not order of severity or rarity. So you've got some really awesome and terrible results right in the middle of the table among the most common numbers rolled, as opposed at the top or bottom where they should be to not screw houses so often. It's really easy to get a slew of punishing tragedies due to this table. Easy fix overall, but important. Definitely going to fix for A Song of Dirt and Wind.

3. House Stats: Some of the house stats are just counters that inflict penalties or bonuses on house fortune rolls dependent on their value (Law and Population), while others are pools that are used to buy upgrades for the house (Defense an Power), while others can be spent to gain specific advantages but also function as upgrade pools (Wealth and Influence). These need to be unified in some fashion, especially since Law and Population do pretty much the exact same thing. I think turning each into an upgrade pool in some fashion is probably the best bet, with those upgrades then providing some of the bonuses the stats previously supplied. For example, population holdings could add to house fortune rolls in much the same way that high population does. This would take some finagling to hit the exact benefit/drawback curves the stats currently have (like Population being bad if you get too much of it), but I think it would help overall. This would mean holdings like the following:
  • Population: Groups of people for specific social classes, cultures, etc.
  • Law: Judges, jails, and general reputation for the rule of law.
  • Influence: Heirs, alliances, trade agreements, wards (in the prisoner exchange sense).
If each could also have some sort of spend mechanic like Wealth and Influence that would be cool, but I can't see how that would work for Law and Defense (spending Population gets you militias, spending unallocated Power gets you unit upgrades). May spending Law could get you a short term benefit representing really cracking down, but costing you in the long run?

4. House Fortune Rolls: The current house fortune table is far, far too easy to succeed at. With a Status of 4 and Stewardship of 2-3 (I think) my group never suffered a bad result. It needs more terrible things further up the table, and I think having a more detailed table would not be a bad thing. Sure, just saying “lose X many points from the stats of your house” does let you tailor your results to your campaign, but it sure doesn't inspire any creativity. Some random tables to generate bandit raids, plagues, etc, could really help some spontaneous stories develop. Also I would probably change the check from every month to every season, and tie any random events and modifiers for the roll to the seasons. So Winter may have a penalty (that building a granary could help offset) while Spring has a bonus (assuming you are on a planet with normal seasons).

5. Units: The military units purchased through a house's Power stat are not created equal. In our campaign we learned pretty early archers were death machines, while scouts were all but useless. This is true of most of the units; they are either totally awesome or useless. This is because each unit has three skills that it is supposed to be good with, but no rules are given fore these skills aside from the combat ones. What can a unit do with Stealth? Or Survival? As mentioned above, there is no reason to get scouts as they get the Stealth, Survival, and Endurance skills, two of which are never mentioned in the rules of what you can do with units. Also you can combine units to get access to more skills, but this is almost never a good idea due to the point costs involved and the discipline adjustments. I would fix units in three ways:
  • Skill Usage: Give each skill a list of unit specific actions, like being able to use Stealth to sneak into a battlefield and place yourself before the battle begins, or using Survival to help feed units in the wild.
  • Special Abilities: Each unit gets some sort of unique power, like Scouts get a bonus attacking from Stealth or Raiders can generate Wealth if they destroy an enemy unit. Make sure each unit has a reason for a house to field it.
  • Special Commander Abilities: Currently the rules allow players to attach themselves to units to aid or command them, but the effects are pretty much always the same and only really effective of you are a combat or warleader character. If you are a healer or some other support profession you can only make your people good at killing. I would add a set of actions for most skills, allowing people to support units in ways that make sense for their characters. For example in the campaign I ran, the Septa (who was phenomenal at healing) could help units recover health, while the group maester (who was an expert in occult matters) could ward units from supernatural threats. The players actually did some commander juggling during field battles as situations and enemies changed, always trying to get the right character to the unit that needed them most.
I figure all these changes will find themselves incorporated into A Song of Dirt and Wind somehow, but it will take some time for it all. Now if I only had time to run a game to get these idea more testing; sadly my most frequent companions, my kids, are only four months old so I don't think they will be much help.   

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