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.

Joseph Carriker is developer for A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying and the Chronicle System. He has worked in the gaming industry since 2000, and intends to keep doing that for the foreseeable future. He's an avid proponent of diversity in gaming spaces, and regularly runs LGBT-oriented panels at gaming conventions, including GenCon's "Queer as a Three-Sided Die." He recently sold a novel, Sacred Band, available this winter from Lethe Press.