Monthly Archives: February 2012

Not Courbefy

Plot-a-Day: Buy Your Own Village

Just stumbled across a video reporting about a French village that wants to sell itself for 300,000 Euro.

Not Courbefy, by Peter Whelerton, cc-attribution
Not Courbefy, by Peter Whelerton, cc-attribution

It looks like the people of Courbefy have tried this stunt three times already, and all attempts to develop the village have failed. Quite honestly it’s not hard to see why, the place is out in the middle of nowhere and your 300 grand buy you less than a dozen run-down crappy buildings. No offense, Courbefy, but that’s just the way it is.

However, it occurs to me that buying or inheriting an entire village may actually be an awesome hook for a campaign, or a piece of fiction. Hollywood, I am sure, will turn this into a chick-flick: The village is bought by the rich city-slicker, ideally a foreigner, who is tired of the hectic life. The villagers are at first resentful of the new owner, because he’s so different, but after they sabotage his efforts to renovate the village at first they learn to accept him as one of their own and together they can turn around the fortunes of the village. The rich foreign city-slicker, naturally, falls in love with the only pretty local young girl, and aren’t you getting the feeling that you’ve already watched this movie?

Anyway, we can do better than that.

  • The city’s inhabitants are secretly occultists worshiping Great Cthulhu or some other dark god.
  • If the village is by the sea, the Deep Ones come out at night.
  • There could be any kind of criminal activity – smuggling of firearms, drugs, or alcohol. The later works especially well for a Prohibition era story or game. Depending on the setting, the smugglers could be the heroes.
  • Space aliens have been using the village for their cruel experiments, which is why so many people fled in terror. The whole sale may even be a plot to attract new people – though why the aliens would need that instead of just abducting people from the neighboring village will be hard to explain.
  • If this were an Enid Blyton universe, the characters are children of the village’s new owner, and will stumble across a treasure hidden in some old ruins.
  • Two words: Zombie Apocalypse.
  • It’s 1940. A few weeks after the protagonists start working on their village, the Germans move in and take over. They decide to use the village for a small garrison, or perhaps for a prisoners’ camp. Our heroes my even be seen as collaborators at first, and must win the trust of the villagers to organize a resistance force. A similar plot should work extremely well for a Twilight: 2000 campaign.
  • Old Dungeons & Dragons even included setting up a small barony as a major element of a character’s life. Possible complications include all the above (even Germans, though that may be pushing it a bit) as well as Orcs, Dragons, and vengeful Gods.
  • Nuclear war or asteroid apocalypse destroys civilization while the protagonists are in their village; it survives due to its isolation and the players need to survive and then kick-start a new civilization while dealing with the hungry mob that’s left over from the previous one.
  • And you can also turn the tables around; the players are locals who have to sell out of desperation, but the buyer has some nefarious plan for his new village.

A village is, of course, a good default setting for this kind of adventure. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t spice it up:

  • Location makes a lot of difference – It could be a small village in Colonial USA (especially for something Lovecraftian), in the Old West, an Oasis town in a desert somewhere, or perhaps even a small island in the Caribbean
  • The settlement could be in space: The Ceres colony, a waystation orbiting some gas giant, or a small and forgotten out-of-the-way colony world.
  • An abandoned fort out in the wilderness or undersea city may also do the trick

For any of these ideas to work, you’ll want to spend enough time to prepare the settlement and its environs, as well as all characters. Since the players will spend a lot of time in a small area you can’t gloss over detail easily.

Update, 2012-05-23: Henry River Mill Village, in North Carolina, is up for sale at a 1.2 million US$ price tag. It probably has a better chance of getting sold, considering it was featured in the movie “Hunger Games“. The movie angle could be used as a red herring o distract from the actual plot at first.

I’ve been digging through old files all day working on… something. During that digging, I unearthed something very interesting. According to documents from 1998, Enderra saw its first game session on October 23rd, 1993. Now, I will probably never be entire certain if that’s right, but it was a Saturday – and the files and the folder look like they were evolved from my very first notes about the world.

It’s good enough for me. October 23rd is now officially Enderra Day. And it gives me 1.5 years to prepare some sort of celebration for its 20th anniversary.

Skill and Ability Modifiers

A few months ago I began to theorize on task resolution and dice mechanics for a hypothetical game system. In those two posts, I concluded that using 3d6 seems to be a good dice mechanic, and for task resolution I decided on the following difficulties/target numbers:

Difficulty Probability Roll 3d6
Trivial 100% 3+
Easy 95% 6+
Routine 74.07% 9+
Difficult 37.5% 12+
Very Difficult 9.26% 15+
Impossible 0.46% 18+

However, these decisions require that the bonuses given by skills, attributes, and so on stay within certain boundaries. Or, in other words, the capabilities we grant the characters need to be balanced against those difficulties.

So what happens when we modify dice rolls? We just shift the probability of achieving a certain result around. The following table shows the percentage of success for our difficulties for a range of dice modifiers of -6 .. +6:

Difficulty Trivial Easy Routine Difficult Very Difficult Impossible
Roll.. 3 6 9 12 15 18
Dice Mod.
-6 74,07% 37,50% 9,26% 0,46% 0 0
-5 83,80% 50,00% 16,20% 1,85% 0 0
-4 90,74% 62,50% 25,93% 4,63% 0 0
-3 95,37% 74,07% 37,50% 9,26% 0,46% 0
-2 98,15% 83,80% 50,00% 16,20% 1,85% 0
-1 99,54% 90,74% 62,50% 25,93% 4,63% 0
0 100,00% 95,00% 74,07% 37,50% 9,26% 0,46%
1 100,00% 98,15% 83,80% 50,00% 9,26% 1,85%
2 100,00% 99,54% 90,74% 62,50% 16,20% 4,63%
3 100,00% 100,00% 95,00% 74,07% 25,93% 9,26%
4 100,00% 100,00% 98,15% 83,80% 37,50% 16,20%
5 100,00% 100,00% 99,54% 90,74% 50,00% 25,93%
6 100,00% 100,00% 100,00% 95,00% 62,50% 37,50%

Judging by these numbers, +4 to +5 is the range that a trained, experienced professional will have. +5 turns Routine tasks into (almost) automatic successes, and lowers the chance of failure for difficult tasks to just under 10%. If our hypothetical trained professional can take things slowly, prepare, or otherwise gain a situational bonus, Difficult checks quickly become automatic successes for him.

At the same time, our +5 professional will still fail Impossible tasks 75% of the time. They are truly challenging, and will require good preparation or a lot of experience to complete successfully.

Freshly-created characters should probably have most of their skills no higher than +1 to +2, and their core skills – their specialization – should be +3 for a few skills, maybe +4 for one skill if they are really pushing it.

0 You took the basic course or picked up some basics informally, perhaps as a hobby.
1 You used the skill professionally for some time, or as a hobby for many, many years.
2 You used the skill professionally for a year or two.
4 Your professional specialization for several years, or a side skill used regularly for many years
6 Expert in the field
8 Top of the field

That’s not a very big budget for handing out numbers. It has to cover skills and, presumably, attributes. And we have to keep in mind that it has to allow for improvement during actual game play; if a character starts out “at the top of his field”, the players will quickly get bored with that.

It also means that attribute modifiers either need to be kept very low – if, say, an exceptional intelligence were to give +3 to all knowledge, science and similar skills it is easy to see that attributes would quickly dominate the game’s balance. That kind of bonus should be limited to exceptionally “gifted” individuals.

Perhaps there is another solution, though. For certain things, I will not argue that natural ability will give a person a head start. To continue our intelligence example: A really smart person has an easy time picking up mathematics. But math is not something you just invent for yourself (unless your are a Newton or a Leibniz, and even then you basically spend years teaching yourself). A less intelligent person who spends time studying math will outperform the smart person who has no training very quickly.

So instead of applying ability bonuses to skills, perhaps we should see the two independently from each other. A high ability score could make acquisition of associated skills easier, or it could perhaps allow for higher overall skill levels for this particular character. In the later case, though, we will have to allow a player fairly fine control over his ability scores, and the possibility to raise them in-game – doesn’t have to be easy, but it has to be possible.

However, this is getting to the point at which we have to formulate an actual character generation system and to actually play-test it to see if all this theory works out after all. And that’s for the next post in this series.