Tag Archives: Arianrhod

4E: Extended Challenges

I’ve been saying for a while now that the skill challenges in D&D4e are a nifty idea that was poorly executed. The “extended challenges” rules are my attempt to fix that, essentially by adapting the Focus System rules from Arianrhod to the rules and general attitude of 4e. The result is a 3-page rules module that in theory should be easy to drop into a game with zero changes to how characters or anything else are handled.

I haven’t had a chance to try it out at all–our last attempt at getting back into 4e fizzled–and there are a few things I didn’t get around to fully fleshing out, but I figured I might as well fling it at the interwebs to see what people make of it.

4e Extended Challenges Rules PDF

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Arianrhod 2E: The Focus System

ara2e_jyoruI wound up getting a copy of the Advanced Rulebook (上級ルールブック) for Arianrhod 2nd Edition, F.E.A.R.’s dungeon fantasy RPG with an anime/JRPG style. The book includes advanced classes (that characters can take at level 10), prestige classes, new skills for the base classes, items, guild skills, monsters, traps, dungeon objects, and optional rules. The thing in it that I found the most interesting is what the designers call the Focus System (FS for short). The Focus System is something a lot like Skill Challenges in D&D4E, but better in pretty much every way. There’s even an FS Check Management Sheet, which isn’t quite as insane as it might look. It has spaces for three FS checks, and F.E.A.R. is just really big on making sheets for things.

An FS check goes in rounds, and one of the neat things about it is that you can have an FS check going at the same time as combat. Making a check for the FS uses your main action, so you have to choose between that and attacking. During the FS check a character can make Progress Checks or Assistance Checks. A Progress Check is a check[1] on the attribute (or other appropriate check) determined by the FS check’s specifications, and you gain or lose Progress Points according to your margin of success, anywhere from -2 to +4 (with a special bonus of +1d6 plus 1 per die that rolled a 6 on a Critical), and your ultimate goal is to accumulate enough Progress Points to complete the FS check. However, an FS check has a limit on how many characters can make Progress Checks per round (2-4 in the examples), so other characters can make Assistance Checks during the initiative phase, and if successful they give a +2 bonus to another character. A typical FS check needs 10 to 20 Progress Points to proceed (10 in most of the examples), but the PCs have a limited number of rounds to pull it off (in the included examples 3-5 rounds). When you design an FS check, you take the preferred number of participants times the number of rounds to determine the Progress Point objective.

Events are the other major thing that make an FS check more interesting. These trigger based on how many Progress Points the PCs have gained, usually around one event per 3 Progress Points (paced so you get one every 1-2 rounds). Events can change what stat you need to make a check with, alter the difficulty you have to beat, or also affect the FC check’s end conditions (giving you more or fewer rounds to complete it say). The book has 5 full writeups of example FC checks, and one of these is for disarming a particularly complex trap. It starts with Trap Removal checks (a special Thief skill, based on Dexterity), then the difficulty drops as you start to understand the trap, then thwarting a mechanism requires Strength checks, and finally at the end you’re left with the choice of the red wire or blue wire, and you need to make a Luck check. If the PCs get enough Progress Points at once to trigger multiple events, you take the most recent check requirements and retain things like modifiers to difficulty numbers from intermediate events.

If the PCs get enough Progress Points in time, they’ll succeed and get an XP reward at the end of the game session. The text also notes that you can have competitive FS checks basically by having two groups doing the same FS check in parallel and competing to be the first to get the required number of Progress Points.

That’s the basics in a nutshell. I find it pretty fascinating both as a game mechanic and for the simple fact that I don’t think I’ve ever seen this kind of thing from a Japanese TRPG before. I don’t know whether D&D4e played into its design (the Arianrhod 2E Advanced Rulebook did come out in 2011, and 4e is available in Japanese), but conflict resolution mechanics are about as nonexistent as GM-less RPGs there. Needless to say I want to use some ideas from the Focus System in Slime Quest’s Challenge system, though I think my take on it will have some elements of the Mouse Guard RPG as well. There’s a lot of interesting things in Japanese TRPG design, but sometimes there’s a certain rigidity at least in the rules as written, which shows here in how Progress Checks involve predetermined attributes and strategies. I’d much rather just ask the players how they’re tackling the problem and have that then play into the rules. On the other hand it’s substantially more developed than D&D4e’s Skill Challenges, and if I was going to run a 4e game I’d put together a houserule for improved SCs drawing from the FS check rules.


[1]In Arianrhod you make a basic check by rolling 2d6 and adding your attribute’s modifier (which is 1/3 of the base attribute number, and typically in the low single digits to start with). Snake eyes is a Fumble, and box cars is a Critical. The game doesn’t have “skills” in the Western RPG sense, but certain classes can have abilities that let them make special kinds of checks such as trap-finding or alchemy.

Slime Quest Thoughts

Lately I’ve been poking at Slime Quest a bit, and it has me really wanting to get into working on it in earnest. Of course, I have a bunch of stuff I need to get sorted out for Star Line Publishing, the Golden Sky Stories Kickstarter, and Raspberry Heaven. Still, I want to do a blog post to blather a bit about Slime Quest, which will probably include some stuff I’ve posted about before.

Slime Story is an idea I came up with around 2006, a world like ours except with the addition of magical portals spitting out MMO style monsters that people have taken to hunting for fun and profit. In some parts of the world corporations or warlords control the portals for the marvelously useful bits of monsters, but in suburban America monster hunting is mostly something teenagers do for fun. The system, which I think of as the “Slime Engine,”[1] owes a lot to Japanese tabletop RPGs like Arianrhod and Meikyuu Kingdom, plus a bit of Dungeons & Dragons and a drop of Apocalypse World. Making an anime fantasy game with the same rules was a pretty natural thing to do (and if I ever develop both enough you can be that the mystery of the portals in Slime Story will have something to do with the Slime Quest setting), but because it forces me to make the math a bit more rigorous I may end up finishing it first.
Continue reading Slime Quest Thoughts

New TRPG Stuff

So, the other day Jono stopped by to give me the TRPG books he was kind enough to pick up for me in Japan. So now I have FIVE new RPGs to read through (the others being Apocalypse World and FreeMarket).

貧乏姉妹の挑戦 (Poor Sisters’ Challenge)
This is an Arianrhod replay that I got basically because I want to read a full-length replay of a game I’m reasonably familiar with. The book starts off with an introduction to TRPGs and Arianrhod, and then goes through the process of the group creating and introducing their characters before starting on the actual gameplay. The most interesting thing so far is that it shows how the GM uses “handouts,” which are a regular part of playing Arianrhod. There are as many handouts as there are players, and each one gives a player character a place in the world and a connection to the rest of the party. For example, in this replay PC #1 is the child of a wealthy merchant who suddenly found himself deep in debt, and who is going into gladiatorial fights to pay that debt. PC #2 is someone very close to PC #1 (which ended up being her twin sister), PC #3 is a close associate of the father’s with an obligation to take care of the kids, and PC #4 is a trainer who wants to develop PC #1’s potential.

This isn’t something you’d do with every game of course, but in my D&D group, although we’ve largely mastered the actual rules, figuring out a solid reason for why exactly the PCs are adventuring together and will stick together seems to have become harder and harder. Of course, when viewed as part of a coherent world the “adventuring party” model is a bit implausible.

りゅうたま (Ryuutama, or “Dragon Egg”)
I now officially wish I’d gotten this game sooner. Ryuutama takes place in a world born from dragons. In the game the players take the role of ordinary people who are on the greatest journey of their lives (the closest thing to a combat class is the Hunter, and others include Farmer, Healer, Minstrel, Merchant, Healer, etc.), while the GM plays a dragon that watches over them. The GM’s dragon records their story and then feeds it to one of the seasonal dragons so that the seasons can be more abundant. There are four kinds of dragons, and as the GM you pick one of the types according to what kind of story you want the game to aim for, and you get some special abilities to help make it happen.

迷宮デイズ (Meikyuu Days)
This is a sort of modern-day version of Meikyuu Kingdom that I’ve been curious about for a while now. The book has minimal illustrations (which is weird compared to other MK books and Satasupe, though less so when looking at Shinobigami I suppose) and very dense text. The essence of the setting is that it’s the present day, and the Dungeon Hazard (that totally consumed the world of Meikyuu Kingdom) is eating up parts of the world, turning normal buildings into mazes filled with terrible monsters. In this changed world, only a select few have the skill, courage, and resources to become Dungeoneers, people capable of venturing into the dungeons and facing the monsters to protect the ordinary people caught up in them. Dungeoneers face great danger, but also can reap great rewards.

Meikyuu Days winds up being a somewhat simplified version of Meikyuu Kingdom, which is to be expected when its single book has the same page count but a smaller format than the two MK books. It leaves out the entire kingdom-building aspect (and thus the rules for managing citizens, building facilities, etc.), it pares things down to five classes (Hero, Mercenary, Majin, Mage, and Civilian) and drops the Jobs system from MK (which gave each character a “secondary class” with one Job Skill and access to one or more categories of general skills). (So with the exception of Civilians, Meikyuu Days classes have about twice as many skills as MK ones). It’s interesting in that it does get into letting characters use firearms (that’s the Mercenary class’ main focus) as well as magic (Mage characters are from hidden magic traditions that went public to help the people face the Dungeon Hazard). It also has guidelines for converting stuff from Meikyuu Kingdom, and in fact includes the stats for the common skills and all the monsters in a super-compact format.

Tangentially, I also got the まよコマ/Mayo Koma set, which is basically a collection of over 400 cardstock tokens/pawns. I’ve talked a lot about MK’s Battlefield Map and how I used something very, very similar for Slime Story, and these are a well-made visual tool for showing your monsters and PCs on the map (including the basic stats for the monsters depicted on them as such). Unless Slime Story becomes incredibly big I’m going to have to settle for making PDFs (or maybe a paper miniatures font like S. John Ross’ Sparks line), but this is one of those things where WotC totally missed out on making an intensely useful tool for playing D&D, and is finally kinda sorta catching on with the stuff in the Essentials boxes.

Double Cross 3rd Edition
Double Cross is a game that Andy’s been really enthusiastic about. I haven’t had time to do more than skim it, but it’s about teenagers with special powers in a hostile (contemporary) world. It’s in bunko format, so there’s not a whole lot of art, but what art there is is excellent.