Season 3, Episode 9: "The Red Wedding"

In this blog, we take a look at the world of A Song of Ice and Fire through the lens of the hit HBO series A Game of Thrones and the game systems of A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying for some ideas on how to incorporate themes and elements of the show into your own SIFRP Chronicles. There may be spoilers for both the books and the show, so be warned!

Season 3, Episode 9: "The Red Wedding"

In Episode 9, “The Rains of Castamere,” we see the fallout of a number of events and personalities in the form of a brutal wedding day massacre of the North’s forces, and the persons of Catelyn Stark, Robb Stark and his new queen Talisa, as well as their babe-in-womb. Walder Frey’s bitter resentments and Roose Bolton’s treacherous nature find ample opportunity in the Red Wedding, with the support and assumed protection of Tywin Lannister and the Iron Throne.

It is possible that this scene more than any other in the A Song of Ice & Fire series embodies the brutal nature of violence and intrigue, played hand-in-hand, that Martin’s setting is best known for. And really, let’s be honest: it’s part of the reason why so many of us enjoy playing in this setting. There’s a sort of expectation while playing that bubbles to the surface among those of us who know the books even peripherally. Even at convention demos I’ve run, the jokes that surface first are about how presumably lethal such a game must be; it’s even been a point of shared experience among total strangers at such events, the in-joking about who is likely to be brutally betrayed and killed first.

So, then. What can your Narrator do to help foster that without totally destroying his game? Here are just a few ideas to help mine this style of brutal storytelling without sacrificing the actual fun in the game.

Identify the Enemies: Part of the horror of the Red Wedding was the rank betrayal required to carry it off. No one would be surprised that Tywin Lannister would do such a thing, of course. The betrayal from those the Starks considered allies, on the other hand, truly stung.

For such events, the Narrator should consider not just who the obvious enemy is, but who the hidden ones are. Characters might betray their allies for any number of reasons: to assuage their pride (Walder Frey), out of ambition (Roose Bolton) or a desire for revenge against the victims. But even these are, to some degree, predictable motivations for betrayal. Why else might someone who has been a good ally up until this moment take part in such deceit and brutality?

As a simple exercise, the Narrator is encouraged to take his roster of Narrator Characters who are considered allies by the Home House and determine what it would take to make that character betray his lords? Is she treated poorly? Perhaps he believes he is unappreciated, and someone else will acknowledge his contributions more. (How many players do you know who can’t be bothered to keep track of Narrator Character names, take them for granted and frequently forget they are even around? Use that.) A character whose loved ones are in danger certainly has solid motivation (see the end of this article for such situations in an Intrigue), but so might an otherwise loyal retainer whose family might be elevated or aided by the enemy, especially if the Home House never even gave second thought to that knight or chamberlain’s relations.

It may even be that some allies and retainers who are in place are simply willing to sell their loyalty to a high bidder, or were even put there by one’s enemies in the first place (particularly in the case of long-standing enemies of the House and the like).

Cunning Plan or In the Moment?: What is the best way to orchestrate such events? Ought the Narrator carefully plan such things, taking the role of an enemy’s own cunning, or should she take advantage of situations that crop up and make it seem as though the enemy is cunning enough to have thought of everything?

On some level, the Narrator should we willing to serve up from both options. Part of the craft of running a role-playing game is being willing to improvise on a carefully-crafted plan. It’s probably fair to assume that enemies are doing the same sort of thing, of course.

Keep an eye out for moments of vulnerability that an enemy might either have known about or at least could also watch for. Part of the horror of the Red Wedding was the fact that the Starks didn’t feel threatened in that moment: they were surrounded by allies and bannermen, in the hall of a banner lord who’d given them the bread and salt of the Guest Right, as their Houses were joined in matrimony. This is, of course, also the reason that the rest of Westeros was so horrified by the Red Wedding: it was a brutal violation of Guest Right, of honorable conduct between vassals and lieges and (considering that Houses Frey and Tully were joined in marriage moments before) an act of kinslaying. A violation of any one of these institutions would have been shocking. All three were unthinkable. In fact, it might be fairly stated that violation of the institutions of both fantasy literature and societal norms are a big part of A Song of Ice & Fire in general. Many of the most cunning characters in the series are the lateral thinkers who consider the “impossible” options no one else does.

Twisting the Knife: Part of the brutality of the Red Wedding lies in the fact that those so trapped were basically helpless. Not all physical conflict has to be resolved through use of the Combat mechanics. Simply put, Robb Stark was without arms or armor, and could do nothing against the crossbowmen. This sort of dynamic in play requires a willingness on the part of both players and Narrator to be willing to adjudicate these sorts of situations cooperatively.

Describing such scenes in play certainly can bypass the normal mechanics of Combat. Robb being shot with multiple quarrels, Talisa being surprisingly stabbed and the cutting of Cat’s throat all feel like they happen outside of the bounds of what we’d think of as Combat. In some situations, it is fair for the scene to develop out in such a way that the characters can’t really do anything against the violent deaths, but this is something that should be figured out cooperatively. And keep in mind the effects of burning Destiny Points for such situations; for those who’ve read the books, it is very likely that Catelyn’s player had the Destiny to burn (although likely did not anticipate the form that reversal might take…).

Troupe-Style Play: A practical consideration for this kind of game element, of course, is the obvious: chances are good that someone dies at a moment of betrayal. In a book, this means losing one of the narrative’s actors, but in a game, that often means that someone loses a beloved character. Dealing with character death has, of course, long been a point of game theory and design when dealing with roleplaying games. Practically speaking, the player is probably going to make a new character, at the very least.

Rather than waiting until such events occur, however, the Narrator might wish to think about implementing some elements of troupe-style play to her chronicle. In this style of play, each player has multiple characters available for play. Even outside of brutal treachery, having multiple characters has some benefits: no matter the style of character created, there are simply going to be situations where the character doesn’t make sense in a scene. It might be scenes away from home and the House’s maester who doesn’t leave the seat, the lowly retainer who wouldn’t find himself in the ballroom during a gathering of the elite or a lady of the House when the scene takes place in a tavern (or brothel!) in town.

These characters don’t have to be made all at the same time, either. I usually begin my own chronicles with the players each making a single “main” character, and then encourage them to either come up with other character ideas based on play or to even make note of Narrator Characters that they think might be fun to play occasionally. Something as simple as having the players make a list of three Narrator Characters they might like to try their hand at playing sometime can go a long way towards opening up the narrative potential…and leaving alternate characters in mind should the brutality of Westeros claim their primary characters.

Ruin or Revenge?: A sort of addendum to the above point, the question in the wake of such an event isn’t just “Who is left?” In fact, the juiciest question is actually “What do those who are left do?”

In many ways, a terrible event like the Red Wedding serves as what I like to call motivating investment. A motivating investment does two things: it makes players invested in the continuing story, and it acts as a motivation for their characters’ action. Readers of A Song of Ice & Fire know well this principle. The Freys and the Boltons earned themselves some significant hate from the readers in the wake of the Red Wedding. How many readers do you know who are just waiting to see what kind of revenge Arya takes for the Red Wedding? How many do you know that got goosebumps when Barbery Dustin assured a Frey that “The North remembers?” Even moments of possible revenge, such as the hints of what Lord Manderly’s pies were made of, bring a sort of joy.

How much more potent might this be when it is the players’ own characters who were betrayed and murdered most foully? There is a sort of point where player characters stop simply reacting to what is going on in the world around them and start to make plans and take actions of their own that sometimes requires a tipping point for the players at the table. This sort of horrifying event can be just such a tipping point.

A Parting Intrigue Tidbit

In honor of poor doomed Catelyn’s last-ditch attempt to Intrigue her way out of the killing ground that was the hall at the Twins, here’s what it looks like if one character in an Intrigue holds a hostage the opponent cares about. Of course, it helps if the one whose loved one is being threatened actually gives a damn about the hostage.

Holding a Hostage (Modifier): When you hold a hostage who can be threatened with harm if your enemy refuses to accede to your Intrigue goals, he treats you as though you had the hostage’s Disposition, rather than your true one. Using this technique invariably shifts the enemy’s Disposition downward by two steps, to a minimum of Unfriendly.

Season 3, Episode 8: "Marriage Between the Houses"

In this blog, we take a look at the world of A Song of Ice and Fire through the lens of the hit HBO series A Game of Thrones and the game systems of A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying for some ideas on how to incorporate themes and elements of the show into your own SIFRP Chronicles. There may be spoilers for both the books and the show, so be warned!

Season 3, Episode 8: "Marriage Between the Houses"

In Episode 8, "Second Sons," there is all manner of talk of marriage. Not only do Robb Stark and his allies journey to the Twins for the alliance of his uncle Edmure to an as-yet unknown Frey girl, but there is also a wedding in King’s Landing: an unlikely union between Tyrion Lannister and Sansa Stark.

Marriage in Westeros is more than just a man and woman finding one another and starting a life together. Much more. In many ways, it is how alliances are cemented between the Houses. As a result, the children of the nobility often have less say in their futures than do the meanest of the smallfolk they rule. Marriage is a pact between Houses, a way of creating allies for the future, and the whims of impressionable young men and women aren’t allowed to have any play in that.

Of course, the laws of the land say that no one can be married against their will. Ultimately, they themselves must speak the words that create the bonds of matrimony. The flip side of this, of course, is that there are many ways to force one’s children to agree to such a union. Sansa’s fear of what might happen to her if she refuses is an example of this. In the A Song of Ice & Fire series, Ramsay Snow actually captures the widow Lady Hornwood and imprisons her until she agrees to marry him.

Though small weddings that are not major affairs are certainly known, most of the Houses choose to make a major affair of their unions. At the very least, there is a grand feast where the two families may be in one anothers’ company. Many Houses go further, throwing great fairs, domain-wide celebrations (including a processional of the newly-married couple so the smallfolk can see them) or even sponsoring a tourney.

Weddings are also a great opportunity for intrigue, as it’s one of the few instances when nobles of different Houses meet together and have plenty of opportunity to pursue their own ambitions and desires. With that in mind, here are a small handful of rules and suggestions for facilitating such events in the A Song of Ice & Fire Roleplaying system:

  • Betrothal Negotiations (Complex Intrigue): Arranging marriages is a long process, filled with courtesies, negotiations and compromises. This is a Complex Intrigue, with one victory point required per individual in the other House who has a say. Frequently, this is a mother and a father, but sometimes other relatives or advisors must be convinced of the wisdom of the arrangement. If the Houses are from different realms, and thus serve different Lords Paramount, sometimes even their liege must be convinced to the union as well.
  • Wedding Preparation (House Action): During the month in which a wedding occurs, it is usually the major concern of the House. Accommodations for myriad guests must be arranged, lavish feasts planned and prepared, entertainment of all kinds must be secured and a household must be presentable before guests. All of these thing take effort…and coin. Part of this process are the invitations to one’s guests, as well, convincing them to attend. The roll for this Action is a Status (Steward) test, with a Routine (6) test for Minor Houses, Challenging (9) test for Major Houses and a Formidable (12) test for Great Houses.

Success indicates a wedding that is free from any sorts of embarrassments or disasters: no one is seated next to their arch enemies, there is plenty of good food to go around and the minstrels do not sing mocking songs about any of the guests or their allies. (This does not, of course, preclude any intentional havoc, planned by either hosts or guests.) A successful wedding costs 1 Wealth for Minor Houses, 1d3 Wealth for Major Houses and 1d6 Wealth for Great Houses, but they result in an Influence gain for the host equal to 1d3 Influence for Minor Houses, 1d6 Influence for Major Houses and 1d6+3 for Great Houses. This is, of course, in addition to the Resource gains that come from the simple act of Houses joining (see below).

  • At A Wedding (Intrigue Environmental Quality): Weddings create a certain type of environment. While at a wedding event, a Narrator might choose to grant a –1 Disposition Rating against the Charm and Seduce Techniques, as well as against Convince Techniques that attempt to forge alliances.
  • Newly Joined Houses Resources: Once a wedding has occurred, both the bride’s House and the groom’s House see a change in their House Resources. The bridal House loses an amount of Resources equal to the bride’s Status, given over as a dowry. However, they gain a point of Influence if their bride joined a House that is equal or lesser in Status, or gain one Influence plus one point of Influence per point of difference in their respective Status. So, a House of Status 4 that marries a daughter into a Major House (Status 6) gains 3 points of Influence (1 + the difference in their Status ratings).

The groom’s House gains an amount of Wealth equal to that lost by the bridal House. Additionally, if the daughter comes from a House of higher Status than the groom’s House, the groom’s House gains 1 point of Influence.

  • Wedding Vows (Destiny): When speaking their vows, a couple may spend (not burn) 1 point of Destiny. For the next year, until their first anniversary, they gain a +1B die on all actions they take to strengthen their personal union. This might be used to defend their beloved physically from danger, to engage in Intrigues to resist seductions or attempts to convince them to take actions to betray or harm their beloved or even in Endurance tests to survive difficult pregnancies or sicknesses.

In case you just can’t get enough about weddings in Westeros, why not check out The Wedding Knight? (In our newly-redone online store!)

Season 3, Episode 7: The Emissary from Yunkai

In this blog, we take a look at the world of A Song of Ice and Fire through the lens of the hit HBO series A Game of Thrones and the game systems of A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying for some ideas on how to incorporate themes and elements of the show into your own SIFRP Chronicles. There may be spoilers for both the books and the show, so be warned!

Season 3, Episode 7: "The Emissary from Yunkai"

In Episode 7, “The Bear & the Maiden Fair,” Daenerys and her new army of Unsullied are bivouacked outside the walls of Yunkai. She’s sent a message to the Wise Masters of the city, giving them the terms of their surrender, and in response they have sent Grazdan mo Eraz, an emissary to speak on their behalf.

The tense negotiation between Grazdan mo Eraz and Daenerys is a perfect example of an Intrigue in the A Song of Ice & Fire Roleplaying system. For today’s blog, we’ll use this scene as an example of the use of Environmental Qualities for Intrigues. Environmental Qualities can be the edge that makes a difference between winning and losing an Intrigue, and the concept of “home field advantage” is a very real one in such circumstances.

Daenerys has clearly very carefully arranged the scene in which she receives the Yunkish emissary. Let’s take a look at some of the elements of that scene.

The Gauntlet of Unsullied: Target receives a -2 penalty to Disposition Rating against all Intimidate Technique and Convince Technique used to get the city of Yunkai to surrender. First and foremost, the emissary was forced to traverse a gauntlet of some of the most feared warriors in Essos, a tunnel of hardened soldiers standing in battle-ready stance the entire way to Daenerys’ encampment. The emissary would no doubt remember that promenade with every threat Daenerys uttered, and desire to avoid battle if possible.

Lavish Surroundings: The owner gains a +1 bonus to all uses of Persuasion in an Intrigue. Surrounded with reminders of her wealth and station, Daenerys seems to be a gracious figure even when threatening war.

The Queen’s Dais: The owner goes first in an Intrigue. It might be argued that being seated upon a throne upon a dais is the social equivalent of having higher ground in battle, and Daenerys is only too happy to take advantage of the authority it seems to lend her. Her position is that of an authority receiving a supplicant, and so it is only natural that she be accorded the right to speak first.

The Herald: Gain a bonus equal to the Herald’s Language Ability rating to the Shield of Reputation action. Having a herald proclaim one’s titles and dignities is a great way to enact the Shield of Reputation action, and the better-spoken the herald is, the better it works. Missandei is nearly as well-spoken as they come, a fact that Daenerys recognized (among other things) when she demanded her along with the Unsullied.

Bribes: The wielder gains a bonus to Intrigues; this bonus drops by 1 for each exchange following the offering of the bribe. The exchange of wealth in exchange for service or favors is a long-standing tradition, a fact that the Yunkish were clearly aware of when they offered Daenerys boxes of gold and as many ships as she desired. Among the great powers of Westeros, a bribe gains a bonus equal to the Wealth rating that bribe would equal (remembering that a point of Wealth is worth about 200 gold dragons). As an Intrigue continues, however, the bonus that bribe offers drops by one per Intrigue exchange; a bribe may make a dramatic impact when it is offered, but soon loses its lustre as intriguers vie for their goals.

Dragons: Gain a +1D to uses of the Intimidate Technique in an Intrigue. An excellent example of using an Animal Cohort in a non-combat capacity, Daenerys allows her dragons to make her threats for her, gaining a bonus dice to those threats.

Summary: To sum up, Daenerys has set up her negotiation with the emissary distinctly in her own favor:

Grazdan mo Eraz loses 2 points from his Intrigue Defense against Intimidate and Convince Techniques intended to get Yunkai to surrender.

Grazdan mo Eraz gains a bonus of +5 (roughly) when he presents his bribe; this bonus drops by 1 point per exchange thereafter.

Daenerys gains a +1 bonus to all Persuasion tests.

Daenerys goes first in the Intrigue.

Daenerys gains a bonus (probably +4 or so) to her use of Shield of Reputation.

Daenerys gains a +1D bonus to Intimidate when she uses her dragons.

In the end, it’s fairly simple to see why Grazdan mo Eraz chose to Quit the Intrigue – he was distinctly outclassed, and probably in danger of giving in to Daenerys’ demands (assuming, of course, that he ever had the actual authority to do anyway).

Season 3, Episode 6: “Scaling the Wall Together”

In this blog, we take a look at the world of A Song of Ice and Fire through the lens of the hit HBO series A Game of Thrones and the game systems of A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying for some ideas on how to incorporate themes and elements of the show into your own SIFRP Chronicles. There may be spoilers for both the books and the show, so be warned!

Season 3, Episode 6: "Scaling the Wall Together"

In the episode “The Climb,” Jon Snow, Ygritte and the rest of Tormund Giantsbane’s raiding party scale the Wall itself, attempting to find a way into the green lands on the other side. Now, our Night’s Watch sourcebook has rules for scaling the Wall on page 43. Rather than reiterate those rules, we thought we’d take a look at using the Ability test mechanics as a way of framing a scene.

Nominally speaking, this task is basically an Extended Basic Test, as described in “Chapter 2: Game Rules” of A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying: A Game of Thrones Edition core rulebook. A perfectly acceptable way of running this scene is to make a flurry of rolls for each climber, award the appropriate Rewards all the way around, and then move on.

However, the climb is a major scene in Episode 6. The interactions between the characters (as usual) really tells us a lot about who those characters are: Tormund is at the lead, and devil take the hindmost; Jon and Ygritte stick close together, risking their lives for one another if necessary; and Orell is quick to cut those below him loose if there is the slightest hint of danger. So, it’s worth it to make this situation a bit more complex in the play to give the opportunity for those kinds of interactions.

Extended Degreed Tests: By the rules in the Night’s Watch sourcebook, it takes 8 successful checks (along with a flurry of other Endurance tests as well) to make it to the top of the Wall. Of course, this method doesn’t take into account individual degrees of success, providing no real opportunity for truly skilled individuals to shine.

Rather than using the Extended Basic Tests rule, in which a given task is complete with a certain number of successes, we encourage constructing tasks that instead require a certain number of degrees of success instead. Each roll of that Extended test still takes a certain amount of time.

This mechanic can apply in a number of ways: climbing the vast expanse of the Wall (20 total degrees of success, at an interval of 30 minutes per roll), exhaustively researching the lineage of House Baratheon (15 total degrees of success, at an interval of one hour per roll), brewing a batch of wild fire (40 total degrees of success, at an interval of one day per roll), or combing the dock ward looking for a refugee from the Night’s Watch (10 total degrees of success, at an interval of one hour per roll).

Cooperative Checks: The scaling party is roped together, providing them the opportunity to avoid tragedy should one of them fall, but also limiting their overall movement. They have to stick together, basically. Similarly, an Extended Degreed Test might be undertaken by multiple individuals who are aiding one another. There are a couple of ways of modeling different scenarios.

• Assistance: One might have characters all be considered to be Assisting the main character. This works well in scenarios in which one character is doing the bulk of the work while others undertake different tasks to aid her. If a master smith is doing the shaping of a fine blade, his apprentices might be working the bellows, working on the other parts of the sword and the like. In such an instance, use the basic Assistance rules: each helper adds half his appropriate Ability rating to the roll for the main character.

• Covering Weaknesses: In this scenario, everyone is basically engaging in the same sort of action, though some may be doing better than others. The situation is set up so that those with greater skill are able to help those with lesser. In this scenario, characters who generate multiple degrees of success can “give” some of their degrees of success to other characters. So, a group trying to sneak through a dark courtyard to the gate might have sneakier characters hissing instructions or moving alongside those who are less stealthy, ready to contribute some of their excess successes to cover the weaknesses of their allies.

This is a good model to use when characters can only go so far up the scale of success without their allies; for instance, a group of characters who are climbing the Wall while roped together may be disallowed from going more than 2 degrees of success from the next person down, for instance, so that when someone gets to the limits of their rope, they spend some time helping the person beneath them climb.

Milestones: A canny Narrator might decide to add interesting “milestones” into the ladder of progress, as well. By placing such interesting events at certain “points” along the scene’s progress, the Narrator breaks up the monotony of roll after roll. These are often hazards that might be bypassed or avoided through the use of certain Ability tests, or simply something that occurs.

For instance, in this episode, the climbers hit a patch of ice along the wall that fractures and causes an avalanche. If the Wall takes 20 degrees of success to climb, the Narrator may have placed that hazard at the 10th degree mark. Once the group reaches that point, everyone must make an Awareness (Notice) test. Tormund and Orell pass the test, but Ygritte does not, and she places her climbing spike at just the wrong point in the ice. The Narrator describes a cinematic avalanche that wipes out a few of the Narrator Characters across from them, and forces Ygritte and Jon to make quick non-Cooperative Athletics (Climb) tests or fall.

Consequences of Failure: Finally, because any extended test is going to carry the possibility of failed rolls, the Narrator should be careful to detail exactly what happens when such a roll fails. While this can be a large disaster, causing the entire scenario to go pear-shaped, it shouldn’t necessary do so all the time. It can be far more interesting to create events that are “triggered” by failed rolls. A group sneaking across a courtyard may encounter servants or guards that they need to deal with quickly and quietly, while a test to successfully find one’s way across the countryside may result in various hazards or dangers with each failed roll.

Alternately, a terrible mistake may spell doom for one member of the team, unless the others aiding them can spring to their rescue. Ygritte falls, and Jon catches her. Or a team of pyromancers act quickly to negate the chain reaction in their batch of wild fire when one of their number adds the wrong ingredient at the wrong time.

As always, thanks for reading.

Season 3, Episode 5: "A Duel to the Death"

Episode 5, "Kissed by Fire," opens with Sandor Clegane dueling Beric Dondarrion under a hollow hill, in a cavern lit by a roaring fire and under the watchful eyes of the Brotherhood Without Banners (and, possibly, the Red God R’hllor). Both men are skilled warriors, and unlike the fight between Bronn and Ser Vardis Egen in Season 1, the outcome is very much in doubt.

What happens under the hood when two fighters in armor decide to have at it? When the fight begins, Sandor is wearing splint mail (a cheap but effective heavy armor) while Dondarrion is wearing what’s equivalent to a breastplate (with some added protection for arms and neck). Let’s take a look at their combat statistics and relevant Qualities:

Sandor Clegane

Agility 3
Athletics 6
     Strength 4B
Awareness 3
     Notice 1B
Endurance 4
     Resilience 2B
Fighting 6
     Long Blades 2B, Spears 2B
Combat
Defense 12 (9 w/armor, +2 w/shield, AR 7, AP –3)
Defense 9
Health 14
Destiny Points 1
Benefits: Fury, Long Blade Fighter I, Long Blade Fighter II, Spear Fighter I, Tough
Drawbacks: Fear (Fire)
Weapons:
Longsword 6D+2B 7 damage
Shield 6D     4 damage Defensive +2

Lord Beric Dondarrion

Agility 4
Athletics 5
     Strength 2B
Awareness 4
     Notice 2B
Endurance 4
Fighting 5
     Long Blades 2B, Shields 2B, Spears 1B
Combat
Combat Defense 13 (11 w/armor, +4 w/shield, AR 6, AP –2)
Health 12
Destiny Points 1
Benefits: Armor Mastery, Long Blade Fighter I, Long Blade Fighter II, Shield Mastery
Drawbacks: Cursed
Weapons:
Longsword 5D+2B 6 damage
Shield 5D+2B     3 damage Defensive +2

From this, both men appear to be fairly evenly matched. Clegane is a little tougher, hits harder and more often than Ser Beric, and his armor protects him better. Ser Beric, on the other hand, is much harder to hit—he’s more skilled with a shield, and his armor’s lighter, affording more agility. Ser Beric’s got a single significant advantage when the fight begins, as we’ll detail below.

Step 1: Battlefield

The Hollow Hill is cramped and dimly lit, with a large cooking fire and a small personal fire inside the battlefield. The Brotherhood stands all around the combatants, cheering Ser Beric. The two fires are considered Battlefield Qualities, or salient features of the field that the Narrator has decreed to be relevant. These Qualities may offer bonus or penalty dice to certain actions (swimming along the current may grant a small bonus to Athletics tests, while trying to loose an arrow in a hurricane would incur a significant penalty). The Brotherhood and Arya are considered Bystanders. While none of them are injured in this fight, opportunistic fighters might try to use the crowd’s presence to their advantage.

Normally the dimness of the cave would be considered Shadowy Visibility. Everyone within would take –1D on all Agility, Athletics, Awareness, Fighting, and Thievery tests, and –2D on all Marksmanship tests. Fairly significant penalties! However, Ser Beric slices his palm with his sword, which then mysteriously, magically, alights with flame. The flaming sword acts as a torch, so the area of the fight is considered Lit (with no penalties suffered due to visibility). The Narrator also rules that while he can stand the presence of the cooking fires, seeing the flaming sword triggers Sandor’s Fear of fire. He’s at –1D on all tests.

Step 2: Detection

In this step, hidden characters may attack and gain surprise against their opponents. Since both men are completely aware of each other’s presence, however, we’ll be skipping this step.

Step 3: Initiative

Both men test Agility, to see who goes first. Ser Beric rolls 4D and receives a result of 10 (5, 3, 1, 1) while the Hound rolls 2D and receives a lucky 11 (5, 6). The Hound goes first! Normally he’d be rolling 3D, but his Fear stops him from testing at his full Agility.

Step 4: Action!

Both men start the fight in a situation called engaged, or being adjacent to a melee opponent. Since Clegane goes first, he lunges at Ser Beric and attacks. During a combat round you may make one Greater Action or two Lesser Actions, plus any number of Free Actions. Attacking is a Lesser Action, but may only be performed once a round. If the player doesn’t interpret the character’s action, the Narrator should describe the results of the player’s test in relation to the combat.

Sandor Clegane is one of Westeros’ best fighters, but his Fear makes him vulnerable. He roars and slashes at Ser Beric, and rolls 7 dice for his attack, only keeping 5. With a pitiful roll of 5, 4, 2, 2, 1, 1, he fails to beat Ser Beric’s Defense of 15, angrily slicing at empty air. Ser Beric, on the other hand, whips his sword around in a graceful arc and rolls 5, 4, 4, 2, 3, 4, 2, for a total result of 20, easily beating Clegane’s Defense by two degrees. Clegane would take 5 damage (12 minus his armor), but his player’s concerned about losing a chunk of the Hound’s health this early in the fight, so he opts to take an injury instead. His Endurance is 4, so he takes only 1 point of damage (but is at –1 on all his tests for the rest of the fight). The Narrator describes Clegane as taking the brunt of attack on his sword, straining his forearm and jarring him with the impact. Clegane’s player rolls a d6 but doesn’t get a 6, so his Fear stays with him.

Step 5: Rinse and Repeat

During the second round, Ser Beric’s player again tests fairly high against Clegane’s defense, but Clegane’s player spends a Destiny Point to have the damage affect a bystander! The Narrator describes how Ser Beric’s flaming sword kicks up sparks from striking a rock as Clegane nimbly dodges, sending a poor Brother toppling off the rock (the bystander suffers damage, but isn’t dead). Clegane opts to Catch His Breath (a Greater Action), to reduce his damage to zero.

Both men trade blows with one another in the third round, accruing injuries; Clegane takes one more with a few damage, while Ser Beric takes two and accepts no damage to his Health. During the fourth round, the Narrator states that Clegane knocks his shield on the other man’s and then slams his sword down hard, splintering Ser Beric’s shield and sending the knight staggering. Clegane’s hit causes more damage than can be absorbed with two more injuries, so Ser Beric’s player opts to take a Wound.

Ser Beric, however, chooses to sacrifice his bonus dice to activate his Long Blade Fighter II Benefit. Cleverly maneuvering Clegane by locking swords, Ser Beric slips behind the bigger man and bashes him into the small fire described in the Battlefield Qualities. The Narrator rules that the fire is a Campfire causing 1d6 of damage, so Clegane takes his third injury of the battle, the fire searing his legs and sending sparks soaring into his face. Ironically, Clegane rolls a 6 on his Fear test, overcoming his fright and restoring his full dice pool. While he narrowly avoids being set on fire with his Agility test, it’s on, now.

Clegane’s player decides to reduce Ser Beric’s defenses. He chooses to smash his opponent’s Weapon instead of Ser Beric himself. With 8 dice and keeping 6, he easily smashes Ser Beric’s shield into splinters (using the rules under "Smashing Weapons" in Chapter 9: Combat of the A Song of Ice & Fire Roleplaying: A Game of Thrones Edition rulebook. Ser Beric’s player, seeing his character’s primary defense stripped away, decides to Knockdown. Ser Beric’s player spends a Destiny Point, trying to remove the Wound penalty. Maybe it’s the resurrections, or maybe R’hllor doesn’t like Beric, but Beric rolls a d6 and gets a 1, causing the Cursed Flaw to activate. Beric’s Destiny Point is wasted! He attacks and injures Clegane anyways with a succession of quick blows (causing a fourth and final injury) and then sweeps his leg into the bigger man, sending him crashing to the ground and setting his shield alight with a final blow.

Clegane chooses to Stand and then Attack (forcing Ser Beric to take his second Wound), but the Narrator informs him that unless he rips his shield off next turn, he’ll take fire damage. Clegane chooses to activate his Fury Benefit, hoping to end the encounter quickly. It works; with a lucky roll, Ser Beric takes more damage than his Health can absorb even with injuries, so Ser Beric’s player takes a third Wound (and laments his earlier choice not to take injuries instead of a Wound!). Clegane suffers a Wound in return from Ser Beric, and the fire causes damage to the Hound futilely hacks at the flaming escutcheon, but his player wisely keeps the Defensive bonus. With a final roar, Clegane rolls 6, 6, 4, 2, 2, ending the encounter with a Critical Hit! Between the damage increase from Fury, the damage increase from the Critical and the two degrees of success over Beric’s Defense, Beric must take a fourth Wound (and die) or be defeated—and since this is a duel to the death, the consequences are the same for either option. Clegane’s sword shears through the flaming longsword of Ser Beric, cleaving deep into the elder knight’s chest. Ser Beric dies, but Thoros of Myr rushes over to him…

From this, we can garner a few items of note about SIFRP’s Combat system. First, it’s pretty deadly, and well-trained fighters are going to hit each other most of the time. Therefore, combat becomes a balance between maintaining high Defense (albeit to minimize the degrees of success the opponent achieves on damage, not to avoid the attack altogether) and good armor (to minimize the damage again). Failing that, a combatant must be willing to suffer injury, and nobody escapes unscathed.

Had Ser Beric not been Cursed, his negation of a Wound penalty meant potentially dealing a Wound to Clegane in return, rather than a mere injury. Ser Beric’s player may have done better if Ser Beric fought a bit more defensively, though a character as skilled as Clegane would likely have hit him anyway. Ser Beric was hampered by his armor rating (a single hit would allow Clegane to damage him), while Clegane’s armor could stop a meager blow cold. Ser Beric’s player gambled at Clegane running out of Health, but Clegane was willing to take damage to his Health while Ser Beric’s player took Wounds instead. The combination of Wound penalties and Ser Clegane overcoming his Fear spelled doom for the cursed lord.

Season 3, Episode 4: “A One-Handed Kingslayer”

In this blog, we take a look at the world of A Song of Ice and Fire through the lens of the hit HBO series A Game of Thrones and the game systems of A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying for some ideas on how to incorporate themes and elements of the show into your own SIFRP Chronicles. There may be spoilers for both the books and the show, so be warned!
Season 3, Episode 4: “A One-Handed Kingslayer”
In the episode “And Now His Watch is Ended,” Ser Jaime Lannister and Brienne of Tarth have been taken by the vicious Locke, who deprived him of his hand at the end of the previous episode.
At one point, Locke’s men begin tormenting poor Jaime unmercifully – tricking him into drinking horse piss, and eventually kicking him contemptuously over and over while he flails about, weak from injury and fatigue. They taunt him the entire time and basically begin to strip him down. By the time they’re done with him, he is a man beaten.
Since this form of torment and torture seems to make up a fair chunk of the story with a number of characters this season, let’s look at some mechanics for those type of wholly unsavory scenes. These mechanics are going to look at the infliction of injury as a form of Intrigue, whether that means is by torture or simply contemptuously beating down a weaker or less-skilled opponent.
A Word of Caution: Though we all know that Martin’s setting for A Song of Ice & Fire is a brutal, ugly place to live sometimes, please remember the main purpose of playing in a roleplaying game: to have fun. To this end, please respect the limits of your players. Before playing through any of the sorts of scenes these mechanics might inspire, check with your players. Figure out what their limits of personal taste are, and respect them. If necessary, resort to the mechanics and pull a “fade to black” for the precise details, and then get on with the good stuff. You know, like the player character’s revenge for what was done to him!
Torture (Intrigue Action)
If a target is incapacitated in some way, whether because they are defeated in battle, bound and imprisoned or for some other reason, a character might enact violations upon their physical well-being in order to mentally break them. Using this method, a character may utilize his Fighting or Healing skills as Intrigue skills. The torturer may substitute his Intimidate, Act or Bluff specialties in place of any Fighting or Healing specialties. This approach can only be used to mimic the Intimidate Technique.
Contemptuous Strike (Combat Action)
In battle, a skilled warrior might display his contempt for his enemy by casually striking out at that foe in such a way that demonstrates he might have greviously injured him, but simply chose not to. This is handled as a normal attack roll against the greater of the target’s Combat or Intrigue Defense, though the attacker may substitute his Intimidate specialty for any Fighting or Marksmanship specialties that might otherwise apply. The first degree of success applies as physical Damage; the remainder applies as Influence as though an Intimidate action were being taken. A character who is defeated through Influence or Frustration has no fight left in him or her, in addition to the other effects of being defeated in an Intrigue by the Intimidate Technique.

Season 3, Episode 3: “The Master of Coin”

In this blog, we take a look at the world of A Song of Ice and Fire through the lens of the hit HBO series A Game of Thrones and the game systems of A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying for some ideas on how to incorporate themes and elements of the show into your own SIFRP Chronicles. There may be spoilers for both the books and the show, so be warned!

Season 3, Episode 3: "The Master of Coin"

In Episode 3, “Walk of Punishment” Tyrion struggles to find himself a new place in the court of the Red Keep. Though his father Tywin has returned and laid claim to his position as Hand of the King again, everyone’s favorite dwarf still has something to contribute (a fact that his father clearly recognizes, even if he refuses to admit it out loud).

After a bit of jockeying for places at the Small Council table – including a bit of a triumph for Tyrion setting himself at the other head of the table – Tywin announces that his youngest son will be replacing Petyr Baelish as the Master of Coin for the royal court.

These kinds of titles and roles are important in the life of a character, easily important enough to warrant Benefits that reflect their power and prestige. With that in mind, we’re presenting a series of seven new Benefits, one for each of the traditional titles of the Small Council.

The Small Council

In keeping with certain Andal traditions, the Small Council of the King traditionally consists of seven advisors. Though these are the traditional roles, there have of course been times when some of the roles were vacant for want of a good candidate. Likewise, the King has the option of adding additional advisors (a particularly devout King might invite the High Septon to a seat at the Small Council, for instance).

A Note on Requirements: In an ideal world, the members of the Small Council would have Requirements that reflect their skill and aptitude for the job they’re being given. Sadly, the history of Westeros points out over and again the many advisors to the Kings who are woefully inadequate for the responsibilities they are given.

Status Increases: These Benefits all confer a tremendous increase in potential Status. Note that this is potential Status, however – the Benefits themselves do not raise the newly appointed councilor’s Status to that new rank, but instead simply increase the maximum Status that character can have. A poorly regarded man of low birth does not immediately gain the respect of those around him just because he is appointed Hand of the King. He must work to increase that Status (through the expenditure of Experience) in order to grow into that potential.

You may also download these Benefits as a PDF for free RIGHT HERE!

Hand of the King (Fate)

You are the king’s strong right hand, his advisor and confidant. You may also be tasked to sit in his place at Small Council and on the Iron Throne alike. They say “What the King dreams, the Hand builds.” But they also say “The King eats, and the Hand takes the shit.”

Requirements: Must be appointed by King

Effects: Your maximum Status increases to 7. You gain a bonus equal to your Status to all uses of the Bargain, Convince, Intimidate and Seduce techniques in an Intrigue. Additionally, you are automatically assumed to use the Shield of Reputation action without actually using an action to do so. You are also the master of the Tower of the Hand, with the authority to wear the Hand’s sigil. Your immediate servants may also wear the sigil of the Hand to show their duty to you.

Finally, you are also permitted to speak with the authority of the King. When you do so, your effective Status equals that of the King for the purpose of Intrigues, including increasing your Intrigue Defense. Doing so, of course, comes with the potential of inciting the King’s wrath if you use his name in a way he does not approve of.

Lord Commander of the Kingsguard [Fate]

You are the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, master of the White Sword Tower.

Requirements: Must be appointed by King, Man of the Kingsguard Benefit

Effects: Your maximum Status increases to 7. In an Intrigue, any attempt to Influence you towards an action that acts against the King or the royal family is hindered; reduce the Influence of all such actions by one for every bonus die you have in the Will specialty of Dedication. Additionally, increase the Man of the Kingsguard bonus you gain to fighting for the royal family to a +2. You also gain this bonus to all Persuasion tests in Intrigues when working to protect or aid the royal family as well.

You are also the head of the Kingsguard, able to command those who wear the white cloak, and master of the White Sword Tower. It is your responsibility to record the noteworthy deeds of members of the Kingsguard in the White Book; when you elect to do so, that knight of the Kingsguard gains one point of Glory immediately. You also council the King on new appointments to the Kingsguard (although the final decision remains his).

Master of Coin [Fate]

You are the King’s chief financial advisor. The ebb and flow of the material wealth of the Realm is your bailiwick.

Requirements: Must be appointed by the King.

Effects: Your maximum Status increases to 7. When making a House Fortunes roll for the royal House, you may use the King’s Status, with a bonus equal to your ranks in Cunning. You also gain a bonus equal to your Cunning for all uses of the Bargain technique in Intrigues.

You are the head of a large organization of those involved in the prosperity of the crown. You oversee the four Keepers of the Keys, the King’s Counter, the King’s Scales, the officers in charge of mints, harbormasters, tax farmers, customs sergeants, wool factors, toll collectors, pursers and wine factors.

Master of Laws [Fate]

Though the King decrees justice, it is your duty to see that justice is properly administered.

Requirements: Must be appointed by the King.

Effects: Your maximum Status increases to 7. When using the Incite technique on an Intrigue target, you generate Influence based on your Knowledge instead of Cunning, as long as you are attempting to convince your target that someone else is a lawbreaker.

You wield the power of the law in the Realm, capable of ordering the arrests of lawbreakers (genuine or otherwise). You are responsible for managing the dungeons in the Red Keep, supervising the chief gaoler and his respective undergaolers, as well as the King’s Justice (his executioner) and the City Watch of King’s Landing.

Master of Whisperers [Fate]

You dwell in the shadows, your tendrils of influence spreading far and wide, carrying information of all manner of things back to you. Your influence spreads like a weed.

Requirements: Must be appointed by the King.

Effects: Your maximum Status increases to 7. Once you have this Benefit, each time you purchase the Connections Benefit, it grants access to three lands or cities, rather than one. You also gain a bonus to all Deception-based Intrigue rolls equal to your Status, and reduce any penalties to your use of Deception by an amount equal to your Cunning.

Master of Ships [Fate]

The Royal Fleet is your responsibility. You are beholden to ensure the safety of the Realm from the dangers that might approach it over the waves.

Requirements: Must be appointed by the King.

Effects: Your maximum Status increases to 7. You gain a bonus equal to your Cunning to all Warfare tests meant to command warships and other naval units. Additionally, when you are awarded Glory at the end of a Warfare engagement, the royal House also receives a like amount of Glory.

You are the master of the royal fleets, including being responsible for building and maintaining warships, securing and training crews and commanding naval operations. In addition to all the above benefits, you are given command of a fine warship in the royal fleet to serve as your flagship.

Grand Maester [Fate]

You are the Grand Maester, the singular maester chosen to sit on the Small Council and offer your wisdom to the benefit of the one who sits the Iron Throne.

Requirements: Must be appointed by the Conclave of the Citadel, Maester Benefit

Effects: Your maximum Status increases to 7. Regardless of your respective Status, you may cause any Intrigue with any maester except the Archmaesters to be adjudicated as a Simple Intrigue. You gain a bonus equal to your Knowledge ranks in all uses of the Bargain or Convince techniques in any Intrigue involving those areas covered by your Knowledge Focus Benefits, so respected is your learning. Finally, you may substitute your Knowledge for Persuasion when performing the Mollify action in an Intrigue, offering learned words of wisdom to those you advise.

You have been appointed by the Conclave to represent the Citadel to the Iron Throne. This gives you a tremendous amount of influence not only in the royal court, but also in the Citadel itself.

Season 3, Episode 2: “The Three-Eyed Crow Is You”

In this blog, we take a look at the world of A Song of Ice and Fire through the lens of the hit HBO series A Game of Thrones and the game systems of A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying for some ideas on how to incorporate themes and elements of the show into your own SIFRP Chronicles. There may be spoilers for both the books and the show, so be warned!

Today’s guest blogger is Steve Kenson.

Season 3, Episode 2: "The Three-Eyed Crow Is You"

In “Dark Wings, Dark Words” we start to get our first real explanations for some of the supernatural gifts in the world of Westeros, gifts available as Qualities for SIFRP characters. In particular, we see warging in action amongst the Wildlings and Jojen Reed tells Bran some about the Greensight and Green Dreams.

How do characters in a SIFRP Chronicle learn about Qualities like Greensight and the various Warg gifts? After all, greenseers and wargs are little more than legend to most of the Seven Kingdoms. We see only a handful in all of the books, and even those are primarily in the North (where the Old Gods still hold sway). Bran Stark, a member of a noble Northern family, has only heard of skinchangers in stories, and knows nothing about wargs or greensight. Jojen Reed has the gift, but it’s clearly rare enough that he is self-taught, following his own intuition, guidance, and the stories of his people.

Greensight, in particular, allows the Narrator opportunities for side tales and omens told through the medium of the seer’s dreams. Given their symbolic nature, a green dream can involve more fantastic elements than are found even in the fantasy reality of Westeros, including beings like the three-eyed crow, or meetings between the living and the dead. It is a useful resource for Narrators to provide “hooks” for the players in the form of visionary guidance; Jojen Reed knows to look for Bran and his companions, and where he will find them, thanks to his abilities, which saves a lot of unnecessary narrative time.

Since the effects of green dreams in SIFRP are retroactive (that is, the player chooses the benefit, and then explains it through a premonition or portent) you can encourage players to help make up suitable dreams for their seer characters, to reflect how they’re using the Quality in the game. For example, if a group is trying to figure out how to find someone, and the player of the greenseer chooses to apply a portent to that task, you can ask the player to describe elements of the guiding dream, adding your own details as needed. Perhaps the player’s description will even inspire a new idea for the adventure!

Indeed, when it comes to information, you may even bypass the regular dice bonuses of Greensight and instead simply give the player an answer, perhaps couched in symbolism or a riddle. For example, when the party has to choose a direction at a literal fork in the road, and a player invokes a premonition, you might say: “The dream you had about archery practice where all your shots were veering to the left seems relevant here.”

Speaking of information, Narrators may find it useful to include a more experienced greenseer or warg in the Chronicle, someone who can serve as a mentor and guide to characters who might not be fully aware of their gifts, teaching them the basics of how to harness and use them. This character need not be a full-fledged companion of the characters. Given the nature of supernatural gifts, the mentor could be someone the character only encounters in dreams, for example, either living or dead. Indeed, it may be quite a surprise when the character discovers his or her “spirit mentor” is a living person, who may or may not resemble their visionary persona.

Lastly, given the retroactive nature of Greensight in game terms, you can permit players of greenseers to occasionally spend Destiny for a “do over” of a particular test or challenge, with the failed effort turned into a dream or vision the character had (providing the guidance to make a different choice). For example, the characters are investigating a “mad hermit” who is a former maester who may have information they need. One of the characters trips a crossbow trap and ends up impaled with a poisoned bolt. The player of the greenseer chooses to spend Destiny, saying that the unfortunate incident is, in fact, a vision about the dangers of visiting the hermit.

“Stop!” the greenseer calls out, pointing out the hidden tripwire to her companion. “I dreamed of this. Step carefully.” The companions then negotiate around the trap, although they may have to deal with others the hermit has set (to say nothing of negotiating with the madman for the knowledge they seek).

Season 3, Episode 1: “The Tent of Mance Rayder”

In this blog, we take a look at the world of A Song of Ice and Fire through the lens of the hit HBO series A Game of Thrones and the game systems of A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying for some ideas on how to incorporate themes and elements of the show into your own SIFRP Chronicles. There may be spoilers for both the books and the show, so be warned!

Season 3, Episode 1: "The Tent of Mance Rayder"

After what seemed an eternity, we’re into Season Three. There’s a lot of great material to choose from for this blog, but I thought I’d use this episode, "Valar Dohaeris" to model some of the Intrigue system’s nuts and bolts. Several scenes this episode make great examples of this mechanic, but we’ll be looking at an Intrigue early in the episode that occurs featuring Jon Snow in Mance Rayder’s tent. We’ll be using the traits of a variety of named characters from the series, most of which are derived from their stats in books from our A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying line.

When the Bastard of Winterfell is led into Mance Rayder’s tent, we’re presented with two distinct Intrigues. The first, between Jon Snow and (as it turns out) Tormund Giantsbane, is best handled as a Simple Intrigue. The Objective for each participant is fairly simple: Jon’s intention is to impress the King Beyond the Wall (Friendship), while Tormund’s is to convince Jon he’s the King Beyond the Wall (Deceit). The Disposition for each is probably Unfriendly, an excellent example of an Intrigue that begins adversarially.

Of course, this exchange works in Tormund’s favor—he’ll be using Deception in this Intrigue, while Jon is careful to not actually speak any outright lies, discussing the advice his father gave him and the like, allowing him to use Persuasion. A glance at his statistics in the Campaign Guide: A Game of Thrones Edition suggests this is a good tactic for Jon, who has the default Deception, but a Persuasion 3 (Convince 1B). Clearly, hewing as closely to the truth as possible is a good tactic for him. Of course, since both of their Dispositions are Unfriendly, this means that Tormund has a +2 to his Deception attempts, while Jon has a –4.

Because Jon is here to meet the King Beyond the Wall and Tormund is taking the newcomer’s measure (and thus open to liking him), the Objectives are not out of character for either Jon or Tormund. Thus, since the exchange is just between the two of them, it’s easily handled as a Simple Intrigue. Success occurs if the single roll exceeds the opponents Intrigue Defense—there is no need to calculate Influence generated and wear down Composure.

Both men clearly decided to use Intimidate Technique for their purposes: Jon Snow talks about his father’s advice on taking down larger opponents, while Tormund sneeringly comments on the number of skeletons of smaller men who thought that he’s responsible for. The mechanics for the Intimidate are perfect for this situation: it actually increases the Disposition to Amiable of the one you are Intriguing against for a short period.

Given the outcome, it looks like Tormund’s Persuasion roll was sufficient to overcome Jon Snow’s Intrigue Defense, as the young bastard ends up kneeling and calling the big wildling "Your Grace." The outcome of Jon’s roll is a little less sure, though I’d be inclined to say that given Tormund’s sudden shifting into a more humorous, joking demeanor, Jon may have made the impression he was shooting for.