SIFRP: Conflict

"Words are like arrows… Once loosed, you cannot call them back."
—Doran Martell
Taking on A Song of Ice and Fire was tough. Obviously, there’s the challenges of meeting fans’ expectations, covering the world in enough detail to run campaigns, and all the other difficulties in game design, but, like other adaptations, an RPG based on a series of books brings to the table its own challenges. We’ve already chatted about dice and their myriad uses, but I thought I’d also spend some time talking about the why behind the dice, and, specifically, how you resolve conflict in the game.
By “conflict,” I don’t just mean two people swinging sticks at each other until one falls down; conflict also includes arguments, discussions, research, and just about any other thorny challenge arising in the game. Conflict, in my mind, is a key method for characters to grow and evolve in the game, the way for the plot to move forward, and the necessary ingredient to telling interesting and engaging stories. Conflict puts characters (and players) in difficult positions and how they respond to those challenges informs the Narrator and other players about the character’s personality, values, goals, objectives, and all the other interesting bits that make roleplaying games so much fun.
There are lots of RPGs out there and each deals with conflict in its own way, so coming up with “yet another” system to drive this seemed a bit daunting. Resolving conflict in the game also needed more than just a die mechanism, some clever twist that would make the game stand up and scream. What we needed was a game that allowed conflict resolution to flow as much from roleplaying and character portrayal as it does from whatever shows on the face of the dice you just threw across the table.
As these thoughts crowded my attic, I spent a lot of time thinking about the primary modes of conflict presented in the novels, since my primary objective was to provide a system capable of emulating the books’ various scenes. Combat, of course, came first. Westeros chokes on violence and battle. Armies clash with the slightest provocation, cruel killers stalk the streets, and roving brigands prey on the weak. It’s a violent and nasty place. So, since we have combat, we also have war. Really, we can’t punt on war, so it had to be in the RPG. Treachery and intrigues are important too since the events in A Game of Thrones and A Feast for Crows all rest on a complex web of alliances and betrayals, of deals and treacheries every bit as shocking and engaging as the battle scenes.
But there’s more than kicking ass and telling isn’t there? What about internal conflicts, such as Jon’s struggle between his vows to the Night’s Watch and his loyalties to his family? Or, what about digging into the past, such as when Sam scoured the tomes held in the vaults beneath Castle Black? There’s also the supernatural conflict of Bran fighting to learn to control the budding powers and apprehend the new gifts that manifest with the opening of his third eye. Aren’t these all conflicts? I’d say so.
With a pile of examples staring at me from my monitor, I knew I had to make some hard decisions about what needed mechanical expression in the game and what could be resolved through character portrayal and roleplaying. What we didn’t want, and we all agreed, was an overly complex game shackling every aspect of the imagination to some dice roll or a corner-case rule; only the most diehard gamers enjoy complex rules systems (and before I’m burned in effigy on RPGnet or somewhere else, I’ll say that I like my crunchy games, but not for SIFRP). Challenges needed some method for resolution, some way to deal with all the unpredictable elements that crop up during game play, so I settled on three major methods.
First comes roleplaying. This is how we deal with the inner challenges, the personal struggles, the agony of decision that comes from exploring the game world. These challenges might represent the tough choices of allocating experience, tracking injuries, and the like. They can also come from the tough personal conflict that arises from finding oneself in a difficult situation, where every outcome is uncertain and with disastrous consequences. These sorts of challenges shouldn’t be reduced to dice rolls since they are best experienced as a natural outgrowth of just being true to your character. You don’t need to roll dice to see if your character is sad or angry or frightened; these emotions arise through normal game play. This may seem elementary, but formulating my thoughts in this way led to a few other realizations dissolved some of my game preferences and made manifest some of the ridiculous elements that act as barriers to having fun.
Since I obviously wasn’t going to let rules dictate emotions, I started really thinking about how this same freedom might apply to other game mechanics. At first, I had planned to put in the usual suspects: rules for climbing walls, some nightmare formula for jumping, riding, and all the other crunchy bits found in many games, but after some reflection (sitting in a bar, thick with a dozen beers, and a thicker bar tab), I realized most dice rolls involving basic checks/tests/etc. are really just opportunities to frustrate the plot. They create, in effect, roadblocks preventing access to the juiciest bits in the game. For example, if a character wants to climb a wall and they have a reasonable chance of doing so, why call a test? Because the rules tell you too? Because, you, as Narrator, want the character to fail? Is there some other reason? What I found, the more I thought about it, was that endless checks for every little task just paralyzes the player. Players are less likely to take risks or do things that lay outside the bounds of their character sheet if they have less than a 50% chance of success. If the player won’t risk his character, the game dissolves into a bunch of people waiting for the chance to do something inside their areas of expertise.
I recognized (and still do) that certain types of tests have a place in the game, but only if those tests have dramatic consequences. Going back to the above example, a character who wants to climb a wall to look out over the city and can take his time doing so probably ought to be able to, especially if what the character sees from the top grants information to help move along the story. However, if the same character wanted to scramble up a wall to gain an advantage of some kind over his enemies in the thick of battle, a test is a good barrier. In order for that player to get the “edge,” say a +1 bonus die on a Marksmanship test, the player must risk his resources against the consequences of failure, which, in this case, is a fall resulting in damage.
This sort of thinking liberates Narrators from having to micromanage each element while loosening the constraints on what players can do and how often they can do it. I think this goes a long way toward making folks feel like they are the true protagonists of the plot. Therefore, SIFRP embraces the notion that you only ever have to test your abilities when the outcome of that test has significant consequences. Does this mean that impossible stunts automatically happen? No, because doing something stupid, like balancing on a tightrope while playing a cello, could and should have dramatic consequences. What this does mean is ordinary tasks are possible without dragging the game into an exercise of dice-rolling.
Growing out of this madness was the realization that the next step above the narrative looseness was the simple challenge. A simple challenge has consequences but its resolution is binary: Yes or No, Success of Failure, Victory or Defeat. In general, I don’t particularly like these challenges because pure success versus pure failure isn’t altogether interesting or satisfying. I recognize there are instances in the game where these sorts of tests are important and so you’ll see them.
Of far more interest to me (and hopefully to you) are complex challenges. Simply put, a complex challenge is like any other challenge, but it involves grades of success and grades of failure. When you engage in complex challenge, you test the ability as normal–and there is a threshold of success/failure, but you get to measure how well you succeed, or, in game speak, the margin of your success. Complex challenges come into play in three of the major conflicts: intrigue, combat, and war, those times when you pit your talents against those of an enemy and vice versa, but they can also appear when a character is researching some plot element, riding a horse through a hailstorm to warn the outpost of wildlings, and so on. When your character’s life is on the line, it’s nice to be rewarded for a good roll aside from a simple success. So, the game rewards good rolls (and sometimes sticks it too you for bad rolls), by giving you greater success for rolling high. Since the maximum roll is determined by how many dice you can roll, and since the number of dice you can roll is directly affected by how good you are at something, the game system recognizes characters who are superior in an ability (or specialty) often perform better than those who aren’t. Again, this is pretty basic, but it does take the game a step further than one finds when your training and talent are outweighed by your luck.
So here we are, out of words again. I could go on about the psychology of conflict in the game, but I fear attention spans are withering. So, next time, we’ll look at intrigues and how all three methods I’ve described find homes in an easy-to-learn system designed to support roleplaying. Before we go, however, here’s a look at Jaime Lannister.
Ser Jaime Lannister Adult Fighter
Abilities and Specialties
Agility 4 —
Animal Handling 4 1B Ride
Athletics 4 —
Endurance 4 1B Resilience, 1B Stamina
Fighting 5 2B Long Blades, 2B Spears
Language (Common) 3 —
Persuasion 3 1B Taunt
Status 4 1B Breeding, 1B Tournaments
Warfare 3 1B Command
Base Attributes
Combat Defense 10 Intrigue Defense 8
Health 12 Composure 6
Superior Full Plate: AR 11; AP –2; Bulk 2 (Move 3 yds)
Excellent Longsword: 5T+1+2B (5 damage)
War Lance: 5T+1B (8 damage; bulk 2, impale, mounted, powerful, slow, vicious)
Large Shield: 5T–1P (2 damage; bulk 1, defensive +4)
Destiny 2 Points
Benefits: Blood of the Andals, Long Blade Fighter I, Long Blade Fighter II, Man of the Kingsguard, Talented (Fighting), Tourney Knight
Drawbacks: Ignoble, Reviled

SIFRP: Weapons

"If you are in need of new arms for the Hand’s tourney, you have come to the right shop… My work is costly, and I make no apologies for that, my lord… You will not find craftsmanship equal to mine anywhere in the Seven Kingdoms, I promise you. Visit every forge in King’s Landing if you like, and compare for yourself. Any village smith can hammer out a shirt of mail; my work is art."
—Tobho Mott, A Game of Thrones

There’s no denying Westeros is a violent place. The Seven Kingdoms were forged from conflict, starting with the arrival of the First Men who journeyed across the land bridge to settle there, wresting the lands from the children of the forest. The Andals who followed, and the numerous raids by the ironmen along the coasts, fouls things vomited from the lands of always winter, and the brutal defeat of these peoples at the hands of Aegon the Conqueror have shaped the people, culture, and identify of this storied realm.
Those who make the bloody business of battle their trade have a wide selection of weapons and armors to choose from in SIFRP, from the devastating longaxe to the common longsword, from Myrish crossbows to the Bravo blades used by the expert swordsmen of Bravos. To distinguish one weapon from another, SIFRP uses weapon qualities, all of which are described below.
Weapon Qualities
Qualities individuate weapons, providing traits that make a particular weapon stand out from the rest. Qualities can take the form of advantages providing a tactical benefit in combat, or impose drawbacks to make up for improved damage or another advantage. Most weapons have at least one quality, often more.
An Adaptable weapon is designed for use with one or two hands. When you wield this weapon in two hands, increase the weapon’s damage by +1.
Some weapons are heavy or awkward and, thus, slow you down in combat. If a weapon has a Bulk rating, it applies toward your total Bulk for the purposes of reducing your Movement.
Close Range
A Close Range weapon has an effective range of 10 yards, meaning you can attack opponents within 10 yards at no penalty. You can still attack opponents beyond this range, but you take a penalty die for every 10 yards beyond this range. Thus, attacking an opponent that’s 11 yards away imposes a penalty die on your Marksmanship test.
Defensive weapons serve a dual function. They can be used as weapons, but they are often more effective in turning aside your enemies’ attacks. If you are armed with a Defensive weapon and do not attack with it, add the weapon’s Defensive rating to your Combat Defense.
Many Defensive weapons also have the Off-hand quality, allowing you to wield them and a primary weapon at the same time. If you choose to add your Off-hand bonus to your damage, you lose the Defensive Bonus from the weapon until the start of your next turn.
An Entangling weapon slows and hampers your opponent. A foe struck by an Entangling weapon reduces his Movement to 1 yard and takes a –5 penalty on all tests. The target can free himself with a Challenging (9) Athletics test (bonus dice from Strength apply) or Challenging (9) Agility test (bonus dice from Contortionist apply). You cannot make further attacks with an Entangling weapon as long as it affects your target.
A Fast weapon is designed to slip through your opponent’s defenses and strike rapidly. When you make a divided attack using a Fast weapon, you gain a bonus die on each test. These bonus dice cannot exceed the number of test dice rolled per attack.
Grab weapons let you seize and hold onto an opponent, preventing him from moving away from you. Whenever you successfully hit an opponent with a Grab weapon and equal or beat that opponent’s passive Athletics result (Strength applies), you may, if you choose, grab that opponent.
A grabbed opponent cannot move until you release him (a Free Action) or until that opponent beats you on an opposed Fighting test (Brawling applies; A Lesser Action). A grabbed opponent can only make attacks using Brawling weapons or short blades. Finally, grabbed opponents take a –5 penalty on their Combat Defense (minimum 1).
While you grab an opponent, you cannot move, and may only make attacks against that opponent using a Grab or Off-hand weapon.
Whenever you get three or more degrees of success with an Impale weapon, you drive the weapon through your opponent! You must immediately succeed on a Challenging (9) Athletics test. A failed test indicates you are disarmed, as the weapon remains buried in your opponent. If you succeed, your opponent cannot move, but you cannot attack with the weapon, either. To yank the weapon free, you must succeed on an Athletics test against a Difficulty of 3 + the opponent’s Armor Rating. Success frees the weapon, and every additional degree deals the weapon’s damage again.
Pinning an Opponent: As a Greater Action, you can use an Impale weapon to pin an impaled foe to the ground, wall, or some other surface. Roll an Athletics test against your opponent’s passive Endurance result (Resilience applies). A successful test prevents your opponent from moving until he pulls himself free.
Getting Free: An impaled opponent may remove the weapon by spending a Greater Action and successfully rolling a Challenging (9) Athletics test. Removal inflicts one injury—or one wound if the victim cannot take any more injuries. An ally may remove the weapon safely by succeeding on a Formidable (12) Healing test as a Greater Action. Failure removes the weapon but deals 1 point of damage for every 5 points by which the test failed (minimum 1 point).
Long Range
Provided you have a clear shot, you can fire a Long Range weapon at targets up to 100 yards away. For every 100 yards of distance between you and your target, you take a penalty die on your Marksmanship test.
Mounted weapons are too large and bulky for use on foot and are thus intended for use while mounted on a horse or some other steed. Using these weapons on foot imposes –2D on your Fighting tests.
An Off-hand weapon can be wielded in your off-hand, allowing you to add your Off-hand modifier to your primary weapon damage on a successful Fighting test. To gain this benefit, you must spend a Greater Action to make a Two-weapon attack.
Piercing weapons bypass armor. Whenever you hit an opponent with a Piercing weapon, your damage ignores an amount of Armor Rating equal to the listed value.
Strong characters can put more muscle behind Powerful weapons and, thus, deal more damage on a successful hit. For every bonus die in Strength, increase a Powerful weapon’s damage by +1.
When armed with a Reach weapon, you can attack opponents that are not adjacent to you. You can roll a Fighting test with a Reach weapon at any opponent up to 3 yards away. However, attacking any foe inside 3 yards with a Reach weapon imposes a penalty die on your Fighting test.
A Marksmanship weapon with the Reload quality requires an action to reload the weapon after it has been fired. The weapon’s quality specifies what sort of action is required to reload the weapon, either Lesser or Greater.
Set for Charge
A Set for Charge weapon is too unwieldy for use in normal combat and functions only when used with the Set for Charge action.
Shattering weapons are designed to smash through shields, parrying weapons, and armor. Whenever you get two or more degrees on a Fighting test made with a Shattering weapon, you reduce the opponent’s Defensive Bonus or Armor Bonus by the amount indicated by the quality. The Shattering weapon affects weapons with a Defensive Bonus first. Reducing a weapon’s Defensive Bonus or an armor’s Armor Bonus to 0 destroys it.
A Slow weapon is cumbersome and difficult to wield with speed and grace. You may not make Divided Attacks using Slow weapons.
The force of a Staggering weapon’s hit can knock a foe senseless. Whenever you attain two or more degrees with a successful Fighting test using a Staggering weapon, you may sacrifice one degree to prevent your foe from taking a Greater Action on his next turn.
Large weapons need both hands to be wielded properly in combat. If you use only one hand, you take –2D on your Fighting test.
An Unwieldy weapon is tough to use while mounted, so when astride a steed, you take –2D on Fighting or Marksmanship tests made to attack with this weapon.
Some weapons are so good at what they do that fighting with them produces ugly outcomes. If you defeat a foe when wielding a Vicious weapon, the consequences of defeat are always death. A victim may burn a Destiny Point, as normal, to avoid this fate.

Weapon Examples
Weapon Specialty Training Damage Qualities
Battleaxe Axes Athletics</td

Crowbill Axes Athletics–1 Shattering 1
Hand Axe Axes Athletics–1 Defensive +1, Off-hand +1
Longaxe Axes 1B Athletics+3 Bulk 1, Powerful, Reach, Two-handed, Vicious
Mattock Axes Athletics+1 Powerful, Slow, Two-handed
Woodsman’s Axe Axes Athletics+1 Two-handed

SIFRP: The Noble House

With a world as large and rich as the world of Westeros, figuring just how to build stories in this complex framework of characters, places, and cultures can be a bit daunting. There are all sorts of tales you can tell: For instance, you might construct a brutish and violent saga of wildlings battling the horrors of the far-flung north. You might run a convoluted intrigue where each player takes the role of a noble house and conspires against fellow players to advance the house’s fortunes, or perhaps a mercenary campaign with the players taking the parts of cast-offs, exiles, and soldiers fighting for gold in the interminable wars of the Free Cities. The possibilities are pretty much open-ended.
When we sat down to design this game, Chris Pramas put forward the idea the players would all play parts of a single noble house. While I clamored for a Machiavellian-style game (I love drinking the tears of defeated rivals after all; Diplomacy tainted me I suppose), I couldn’t deny the merits of this approach: the players would have a ready-made reason to work together, they’d have a "base of operations," and they’d have something to fight for. It didn’t take too much convincing and we moved ahead. Here’s a heaping spoonful of the noble house rules from A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying:
House and Lands
Family, blood, and history are of paramount importance to the people of Westeros. A person’s family often says as much or more than do the merits of the individual, shrouding the person in the deeds, actions, and legends of a family’s past. A person born to a noble family with a history of honor, fairness, and courage often inherits those same attributes, at least in the eyes of those they meet. Similarly, an individual born to a house noted for being corrupt, brutal, and bloodthirsty bears these stains on their person even if actually kind, innocent, and peaceful. In many cases, the heritage of one’s family is so strong even those who have none of the inclinations attributed to their house develop them anyway, in response to expectations, necessity, or some other circumstance.
The element binding player characters together is the shared loyalty to a common family, be they blood relations to that family, wards, or retainers who swear their swords to the defense of a noble bloodline. This common purpose is what unites the often fractious and divisive interactions between those of powerful birth and gives the players a strong foundation from which they can explore the Seven Kingdoms and play the game of thrones.
The group’s noble house, though, is more than just a cement to bind the characters together; it is a means of grounding them in the setting, helping players to realize their characters are as much a part of the Seven Kingdoms as the Starks, Boltons, Freys, Liddles, and everyone in between. The noble house the players control gives them a thread in the grand tapestry of blood and relation, making their characters feel as though they have a place in the world—and the ability to change it.
Ultimately, the noble house is, in many ways, another character, a sort of "meta-character" controlled by all the players. It has a history, a place, and a function. It has quantifiable attributes reflecting its strengths and weakness, and can grow and thrive or wither and die. But for as much as the house is integral to the characters, it also stands apart, functioning in the background as they carve out their places in history. The house has lived long before the characters, and, unless disaster strikes, it will live long after they are all dust and legend.
Degrees of Focus
The rules are designed to help shape the attitudes and objectives of the player characters. While it’s possible to play in a campaign where the focus on the noble house is much greater, the rules are intentionally basic and serve to enhance game play rather than define it.
Thus, the extent to which a house influences the game depends entirely on the players’ and the Narrator’s tastes. Some games may dispense with the noble house entirely, focusing on the deeds and actions of the characters, and if the house exists at all, it does so merely as a background element. Other games may take a top-down approach, where the noble house is everything, and the individual characters are unimportant in comparison. In such games, each player might each control their own noble house and have a stable of characters to facilitate the interests of their house and its survival, and when game play focuses on characters, it does so using only those pertinent to the greater story. Most games, though, take a middle-ground approach, where the players interact with the setting with just one character, and their house, while important, is not as vital as the development of the individual characters and the unfolding of their stories.
The House in Action
A created noble house is not frozen in time; rather, the process of house creation is a moment in its life, defining it as it stands at the beginning of your campaign. As you undertake adventures, navigate the perils of intrigue, fight battles, wage wars, and more, your house will blossom and grow or wither and die. Your actions and choices determine the fate of your house. If you exploit its resources, wringing your holdings for every resource to increase your Wealth or Power, your lands suffer and eventually die. On the other hand, if you have care and cultivate your holdings, you can grow them through alliances, battles you win, and the acclaim your family achieves.
However, your house is a vehicle to creating adventures, a place to call home, and the inspiration driving you to reach for greatness, but it should not define the play experience, for SIFRP is a game about characters and not governance and shrewd accounting of one’s resources. Thus, most of the house rules are necessary abstractions designed to reflect change and to create consequences and rewards for your actions.
Months and Actions
Time is measured for the purposes of using your house in months. Each month is about four weeks long, and during that time, your house has one House Fortune roll and one House Action. House Fortunes are briefly described below, while House Actions are covered in A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying.
House Fortunes
A House Fortune is an event affecting your lands, either improving or diminishing one or more resources, revealing a complication or disaster, or awarding a greater turn of events or a boon. A house must roll for a House Fortune at least one month of every three, but no more than one House Fortune roll can take place for each month. You must decide at the start of each month. If you choose not to roll for a House Fortune, you may instead increase any resource by 1 point. Otherwise, the steward or acting steward must roll a Status test (bonus dice from Stewardship apply, plus modifiers from holdings) and compare the result to the House Fortunes Table. The table describes the nature of the fortune. The Narrator determines the specific outcomes of these fortunes, which manifest themselves sometime during the four weeks of the month.
Example: House Orlych of Rimehall
RimehallLiege Lord: Lord Karstark of Karhold
Defense 30
Rimehall (Hall, 20)
Vigilant Spire (Tower, 10)
Influence 35
Heir (20)
Daughter (10)
Expendable 5
Lands 46
Forested Coastline with Hamlet (19)
Woodland with Ruin (9)
Woodland (6)
Woodland (6)
Woodland (6)
Law 18
House Fortunes –5
Population 19
House Fortunes +0
Power 17
Household Guard (Trained Garrison; 5 Power); Easy (3) Discipline at home or Challenging (9) away; Awareness 3, Endurance 3, Fighting 3
Smallfolk Foot (Green Peasant Levies; 1 Power; Population –2); Formidable (12) Discipline; Awareness 3
Fleet (Green Warship; 11 Power); Formidable (12) Discipline; Awareness 3
Wealth 17
Godswood (5, 2d6–6 House Fortunes)
Maester (10, +3 House Fortunes)
Total House Fortune Modifier 2d6–8
Family and Retainers
NC Lord Brandon Orlych, Lord of Rimehall, a middle-aged man of 50 years
NC Lady Mercena, Lady of Rimehall, formerly of a lesser branch of House Karstark, a middle-aged woman of 44 years.
PC Ser Gerald Orlych, heir to Rimehall, a young man of 19 years.
PC Lady Rene Orlych, daughter of Rimehall, a young woman of 14 years.
PC Ser Byron Rivers, hedge knight, bastard son of minor house in the Riverlands, an adult of 28 years.
PC Mikael, master-of-the-hunt, retainer of Rimehall, a middle-aged man of 32 years.
NC Maester Tyren, formerly of a lesser branch of House Frey in the Riverlands.
NC Ser Deved Joren, household knight and master-of-arms, a middle-aged man of 42 years.