SIFRP Designer Journal
by Steve Kenson
“Sorcery is a sword without a hilt. There is no safe way to grasp it.”
Magic has all but vanished from the world. The Children of the Forest are no more. Priests perform no miracles. The dark arts of necromancy no longer function, and even the pyromancers have lost much of their lore, reducing them to mere shadows of their past greatness. Magic has passed into legend and myth, alive only in the superstitious imaginings of the smallfolk . . . or has it?
From the opening pages of A Game of Thrones, it’s clear magic has returned to Westeros. Its effects are subtle at first, but as the books march on, stranger and stranger events occur. The Red Woman gives birth to hideous black shadows. Dragons live in the world once more. The dead walk the snowy north, and ancient relics of power have been unearthed from the vaults of the dead. Old spells woven into ice and stone grow in strength, priests find new power in their gods, and pyromancers recover secrets and powers long since lost. Magic may have entered its decline with the Doom of Valyria, but it has returned to the world once more, perhaps as a trickle, but there can be no doubt that it will soon become a flood.
Magic and the Game
SIFRP recognizes that magic exists in the world, but at the time in which this game is set, it has yet to make its return in any significant way. Wights and the Others stalk the land beyond the Wall, but they are a problem for the wildlings. For the rest of Westeros, they are a tale used to frighten children, a disturbing ghost story told over the campfires on chill nights in the long summer. Priests go through the motions of their faith but are no more adept at working miracles than a smallfolk leech farmer. Even the maesters, who make a practice of examining the lost arts of magic, have had little luck in finding power in the old spells inscribed in ancient books and scrolls. So while magic does remain, it is elusive, mysterious, and lacking the power it once held.
Even though there are no wizards with spells, no magical artifacts of fabulous power, magic does exist. Instead of shimmering curtains of eldritch energy or lightning bolts flung from the fingertips of sorcerers, magic is a mysterious thing, a power bound up in history, laying across the land invisibly, unseen and unfelt until time and circumstance demand its revelation.
Magic serves as a narrative tool, a device to propel your stories, to add color to places of historical significance, or to weave into your stories to add an air of mystery and fear to the plots as they unfold. In this way, magic can serve whatever need you might have, whether it’s to explain some unexpected flash of insight, a queer dream, or even a strangeness of architecture. As your campaign moves into the time of the novels, magic may return in greater force. Heirlooms may manifest great power. Characters may learn and master spells and rituals. Hideous demons and monsters of nightmares could stalk the lands once more. Whatever you decide, magic should always remain dangerous and mysterious, always beyond the reach of the common mortal to understand, let alone use.
Omens and Portents
One way in which the supernatural manifests in the world is through omens, portents, and dreams. Signs and warnings are everywhere for those who know where to look and what they’re looking for. Easily the greatest example of these signs from the novels is when Jon Snow and Robb Stark find the direwolf pups in the snow. There was one for each scion of House Stark, five around the decaying carcass of their mother and one alone, separated from the rest. The appearance of these direwolves signaled the import of the Stark children but also warned of the fate that awaited House Stark in years to come.
Omens are excellent ways to introduce a chronicle’s themes to your players. You need not create a circumstance identical to the one that affected House Stark, but some strange sight or unexplained event could encompass the challenges and threats arrayed against the players’ house. By establishing the omen early, you can set the tone for the entire chronicle, setting up the plot in a way that gives it the same gravitas as the one faced by House Stark in the novels.
The greensight is the ability once possessed by the children of the forest that allowed them to catch glimpses of the future. Called green dreams, the events witnessed in the mind’s eye always come to pass, even if the circumstances of the dream are not immediately apparent. The ability of greensight is rare in Westeros, and if it exists beyond the lands of the Seven Kingdoms, it is known by other names.
Since the greensight is always accurate, and the actions undertaken by the players rarely so, adjudicating greensight can be challenging, so much so that you may be reluctant to use it at all. Unfortunately, not using greensight for a player that has invested in this quality deprives that character of a resource that might be better spent elsewhere. So if any player has this quality, you should make use of it at least once every story or two.
A green dream does not need to map out exactly what will happen and when. Instead, it usually captures a particular scene, an important event related to the story that marks a turning point in its plot. So when using greensight, you should select a pivotal scene to appear in the dream sequence. Instead of describing in detail what will happen during the scene, you should couch the entire scene in symbols. Look at the scene’s setting and establish it as the background for the dream. Then, look at the principle Narrator characters related to the scene. Use their blazons or geographical locations to symbolize their presence. Finally, look at what’s at stake in the scene, and shape the dream’s action to represent the most likely outcome of the scene.
A good example from the books is Jojen’s dream about the deaths of Bran and Rickon Stark. Jojen was certain that the boys would die, but they didn’t. Instead, the lands believed them dead when Theon Greyjoy murdered two smallfolk boys in their stead to conceal their escape and cement his rule over Winterfell. From this example, you can see that while the expected outcome did not come to pass, the dream was still true because of what was believed to have happened and also what Bran and Rickon both would have to face.
Greensight Fate Quality
Your dreams sometimes come true.
Requirements: Cunning 5, Will 4, Third Eye
Effects: You have prophetic dreams, powerful portents of what is to come. The dreams are filled with symbolic meaning, images, and metaphors. The meaning behind the dreams is not always clear, but once you have experienced one, you will see the fulfillment of your visions in the unfolding of the events around you.
The greensight is not something you can will to occur. It comes to you when events significant to you and your allies are about to happen. The Narrator will take you aside, describe the most important elements of the dream, and give you the pieces to put together in whatever way you will. Regardless, the events you foresee using the greensight always happen.
Uncommon in the North, where the old gods still hold some sway, skinchangers are virtually unknown in the cultivated south. A skinchanger, sometimes known as a beastling or warg, is a rare individual capable of casting out his mind to fill the consciousness of an animal. At first, the link can only occur between the individual and an animal to which he or she is close, and even then, only with exceptional animals.
When a skinchanger first awakens this ability, confusion is the most likely result because th
e person experiences vivid dreams and impossible events. Such links are unconscious, and the skinchanger has no control over these sensations, though the effects on a skinchanger and the animal begin to manifest early, as they take on the mannerisms of the other. In time, with practice and often the training of another skinchanger, the skinchanger learns to control the experience, blending his consciousness with the animal at times of his own choosing.
Skinchanging is dangerous for numerous reasons. The beastling must ever resist the influence of the animal and must always fight to retain his own identity. As well, should the skinchanger be killed while inhabiting his host creature, he remains trapped in the mind of the beast, condemned to spend the remainder of his days lost in the mind of his linked animal.
There doesn’t appear to be any limits on the types of creatures a skinchanger can inhabit. Wargs, skinchangers who bond with wolves, are relatively common enough to color the opinions of most Northmen, but there are examples of skinchangers who link with shadowcats, eagles, direwolves, and even bears. It’s said that the greatest skinchangers were the greenseers, children of the forest who could wear the skins of any beast.
Skinchanger Fate Quality
You have mastered the method of skinchanging and can now freely leave your body for that of your Beastfriend.
Requirements: Will 5 (Dedication 2B), Animal Cohort, Third Eye, Third Eye Opened
When you sleep, you can wear the skin of your Animal Cohort. You use the animal’s statistics but retain your own Cunning and Will. You may remain in this form as long as you wish, though be aware your true body’s needs must be met, and extended trips into your Animal Cohort could cause you to starve to death if you remain out for a week or more. You can return to your body and awaken at will. If your Animal Cohort takes damage, you automatically return to your body as well.
In addition, you can now take the Animal Cohort benefit multiple times, thus allowing you the ability to wear the skins of multiple animals, though no more than one at a time.
by Steve Kenson
The rules in A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying are designed around a specific play style—but one that supports a broad range of tastes and interests. The noble house provides an excellent unifying element and offers opportunities for schemers and warriors alike, and can serve just about any kind of saga from warfare to intrigue and everything in between.
However, the world of Westeros is a big place, with many different stories to tell. The following alternate play styles are presented in the game as options for different kinds of stories, along with the necessary changes to facilitate these styles.
Although possessed of many unique characteristics, SIFRP is a fantasy roleplaying game—and one in which there is opportunity aplenty for the more traditional themes of exploration, high adventure, and quests employed by certain other games in this genre. Rather than explore the fortunes of a noble house, you can alter the tone of the game to support characters of a variety of origins, uniting them through some other common purpose, namely high adventure.
Stories in this play style see the characters traveling to remote corners of the world, exploring old temples, lost fortresses, and perhaps even, say, "dungeons." The characters might set out to find fabled Valyria to learn what transpired there and recover ancient artifacts and relics from this lost civilization. Another possibility is for the characters to all be crewmembers on a sailing ship. They may be pirates raiding merchant and military ships, smugglers, or even explorers, sailing to far-flung ports throughout the world.
Another option is for the players to take the roles of questing knights. They might be hedge knights or heirs to a noble house, but they seek fame and fortune in the Seven Kingdoms, selling their swords or undertaking courageous quests to right wrongs and save damsels in distress. Between adventures, they could participate in tournaments and rub elbows with some of the greatest knights in the land, all while preserving the tone and flavor that makes SIFRP the exciting game that it is.
To run an Adventurers style campaign, consider making the following changes.
House Creation: Ignore the house creation rules defined in Chapter Six. If any players have characters of noble birth, they may use the house creation rules to define their family’s heritage and background, but the mechanics of running the house are not used, as the assumption is the character do not control their house.
Rewards: Characters earn Experience and Coin in the course of their adventure. They do not earn Glory for their house, however.
Another interesting variant is for the players to take the roles of wildlings beyond the Wall. In this play style, the characters might be members of the same tribe, fighting to survive the perils of their unforgiving land and waging war against the Night’s Watch and the darker horrors skulking about the land in the depths of Endless Winter. The characters could be raiders, crossing the Wall to hit settlements and holds throughout the North, or they might be part of a small tribe as warriors, mystics, or hunters. Given the scarce resources, conflict is common.
Free Folk games are excellent for groups hungry for more fantasy since the lands beyond the Wall are rife with supernatural agencies, monsters of legend, and more. While contending with the Others and wights, giants and savage wargs, the characters could participate in the search for the Horn of Winter and other relics they might find to save their people from the doom that hunts them in the cold light of the moon.
To run a Free Folk style campaign, consider making the following changes.
House Creation: Ignore the house creation rules defined in Chapter Six. You might consider extrapolating some of the rules to come up with a similar set of guidelines for constructing wildling tribes, giving the characters control over their tribe’s fortune.
Rewards: Characters earn Experience and Coin. They only earn Glory if you are using a tribal system based on the house system.
The Sworn Brothers of the Night’s Watch broadens the game’s scope to encompass characters from all origins, from smallfolk to former princes. These brave men vow to take no wives, and sever all ties to kin and friendship to join the Brotherhood in defending the Wall against the enemies of the Seven Kingdoms. Originally founded to protect Westeros from supernatural threats, the Night’s Watch spends nearly all its time maintaining the Wall and fighting wildlings. A chronicle detailing the Night’s Watch might explore rangings beyond the Wall, scouting missions, and intrigues within the Brotherhood. Alternatively, you might focus on events that unfold at the same time as the novels: the characters could be Sworn Brothers at Eastwatch-by-the-Sea or Shadow Tower, doing their part to fight wildlings and Others alike.
To run a Night’s Watch style game, consider making the following changes.
House and Character Creation: Ignore the house creation rules. Instead, players are encouraged to come up with a history that culminates in their taking the black. If they come from a noble house, the player can choose an existing house or create one using the house creation rules. Otherwise, players are free to play whatever they like, from studious types that will become stewards or skilled warriors who might join the rangers.
Rewards: Characters earn Experience, but not Coin, as the Night’s Watch is about service rather than wealth. They only earn Glory if you wish to allow them to apply it to their castle or stronghold of the Brotherhood, advancing its fortunes.
The Game of Thrones
One of the most interesting themes revisited in the novels is the game of thrones, the intrigues and treacheries that define the political arena of Westerosi lords. A skilled player of the game can reach the heady heights of the great houses, while a poor player might tumble from whatever his forbearers achieved to find all has been torn from him. The noble house rules presented in this book exist to engage this dynamic in a way that’s not immediately destructive to the player characters and gives them at least the possibility of having a haven in the tumultuous arena of realpolitik as it applies to their house and those of their rivals.
An interesting variant that can explore some of the deeper tensions in the setting is to widen the scope so that instead of playing the part of a single character, each player takes the role of a house. Within the house are a number of characters—the lord, lady, heirs, sworn swords, maesters, and more—whom the player might use to interact with the setting. Any given story might feature characters from different houses, bound together by circumstance or design, and players might move their characters in and out of stories depending on their needs and the challenges presented by the story.
The benefit of this variant is that it allows you to tell a variety of stories, from intrigues in King’s Landing to thrilling battles as two houses—each controlled by different players—who settle their disputes on the battlefield. If you want to shift the focus to the Night’s Watch, the players simply have to come up with a character from their stable to participate. One might be a Sworn Brother, while two others might be visiting to inspect the Wall. Similarly, you could have the players unite for a time to face an external threat, pooling their resources to defeat an aggressive foe.
All of these advantages come with a price, however. The stories you would tell rapidly approach the epic, with numerous characters, plots, and developments. With the sheer number of characters present, it becomes much harder to keep everything straight, requiring a great deal more preparation and anticipation on your part. Finally, the game is always at risk of devolving into a war game rather than a roleplaying game, which can be very unattractive to players who would rather devote their time to developing one or two characters.
Therefore, before embarking on a grand game-of-thrones style chronicle, be sure to talk with your players to gauge their interests in such a game. While a challenging style of play, it does carry its rewards, so proceed with caution.
To run a game-of-thrones style campaign, consider making the following changes.
House Creation: Each player creates their own house. All houses should be in a realm of your choosing to avoid the inescapable contrivances bound to arise in games where the houses are on different sides of Westeros.
Character Creation: For every full 10 points of Influence, a player creates one character. At least one character must be of blood relation to the house. Other characters can be sworn swords, maesters, and so on, as normal.
A reasonable concern about playing in any setting based on a literary source is finding room for player characters to grow and develop while remaining true to canon. The closer you stay to the books, the less chance the characters’ house has of attaining greatness, of reaching beyond the sea of minor houses to add their names alongside House Baratheon and House Lannister. In a way, cleaving too close to the source material creates a glass ceiling for the characters, tantalizing them with the possibility, but forever barring their access to the greater power and greater influence over the lands.
One way to remain true to the novels while not denying your players the possibility of achieving greatness is to change the era in which the game takes place. There’s no reason why the stories you tell have to involve the reign of King Robert Baratheon; they might occur a century before, during the Targaryens’ rule, and heroes like Ser Duncan the Tall roamed the land with a prince at his side. You could also go further back, perhaps to the time of Aegon’s Conquest, the Rhoynar invasion, or even the Andal invasion. If you prefer more magic in the game, consider setting your stories in the time of the Dawn Age when the First Men carved the first human kingdoms out of the perfect wilderness of Westeros. The further back you set the games, the less chance you’ll have of contradicting the events of the books, thus giving you a great deal of freedom to explore and develop the game in whatever way you’d like.
To run a historical style campaign, consider making the following changes.
House Creation: When determining the house’s First Founding, ignore the examples. A chronicle set during the Andal Invasion could have ancient houses, as well as new houses. Simply modify the perspective of these houses to address the historical climate in which your game takes place.
"Words are like arrows… Once loosed, you cannot call them back."
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
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
"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.
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.
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).
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.
|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|
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.
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
Liege Lord: Lord Karstark of Karhold
Rimehall (Hall, 20)
Vigilant Spire (Tower, 10)
Forested Coastline with Hamlet (19)
Woodland with Ruin (9)
House Fortunes –5
House Fortunes +0
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
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.
One of the most important resources available to your SIFRP character is Destiny. In effect, Destiny, or rather your Destiny Points, let you to seize control of story aspects to control your fate and modify your fortunes. Your character is a protagonist after all, and it wouldn’t do to lose your hero (or villain) to an errant quarrel flung from a careless crossbow. Read on to learn more about how you can control your destiny in A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying.
Destiny is the ability to shape the outcomes of your experiences by subtly altering the story in ways to let you overcome adversity and lift yourself above the fickle fortunes of mere luck. As your character grows older and more accomplished, you may invest your destiny into qualities, which manifest as specific advantages, but also ground you, binding you to the fabric of the setting. Each time you acquire a quality, you bring yourself closer to realizing your destiny. Of course, you might resist, you might flee your fate, but then who’s to say your flight wasn’t planned all along?
Your fate lives in Destiny Points. Through them, you take control of the story, create opportunities where none exist, escape near certain death, or use them to advance their own cause. You may use your Destiny Points in one of three ways: Spend, Burn, or Invest. You spend a Destiny Point to change the game in a minor way. You burn a Destiny Point to change the game in a significant way. Or, you invest a Destiny Point to acquire a permanent benefit, a quality. Younger characters have more Destiny Points, while older characters have fewer, because they have invested or burned more of them. Investing Destiny Points is detailed in the A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying rulebook, while spending and burning Destiny Points are described here.
Spending Destiny Points
The easiest and most conservative use of Destiny Points is to spend them. When you spend a Destiny Point, you adjust your circumstances. You might alter the outcome of a test, or assume narrative control over the story in some minor way. Once you spend the Destiny Point, you cannot use it again until you achieve a story goal, the climax of a particular chapter in your character’s life. Since you should be able to achieve a story goal in one or two game sessions, you are rarely without Destiny Points for long.
You can spend a Destiny Point at any time, even when it’s not your turn, though it’s polite to let other players finish their turns first. You may only spend a single Destiny Point at a time for any one of the following effects.
- Gain +1 bonus die on a test. This die can exceed the normal limits on bonus dice.
- Convert one of your bonus dice into a test die.
- Remove a –1 penalty die.
- Bestow a –1 penalty die on an opponent for one test.
- Take an extra Lesser Action.
- Ignore your Armor Penalty for one round.
- Improve or worsen another character’s disposition by one-step (see the Intrigue section).
- Negate another character’s use of a spent Destiny Point.
Add a minor detail to a scene, such as a shoddy lock, a minor clue, or some other useful but small element to can help move the story along.
Burning Destiny Points
When spending a Destiny Point is not enough, you can "burn" a Destiny Point for a much greater effect. Burning a Destiny Point permanently reduces the number of Destiny Points you have. In effect, they function like "extra lives," giving you much more control over the dice when they turn against you. Destiny Points are rare and precious commodities, so burn them wisely.
As with spending Destiny Points, you may only burn one at a time. A burned Destiny Point can achieve any one of the following results.
- Convert all of your bonus dice into test dice for one test.
- Add +5 to one of your test results.
- Automatically succeed on one test as if you had rolled the Difficulty exactly (without any extra degrees of success).
- Remove all damage and injuries (though not wounds).
- When defeated, decide the consequences of your own defeat.
- Transform another character’s successful test into a failed test.
- Automatically compel another character in an intrigue.
- Permanently remove the penalties associated with a negative quality.
- Negate the effects of another character’s burned Destiny Point.
- Add a significant detail to a scene, such as gaining a major clue, finding a way out of a nasty predicament, or some other significant and useful element that shifts the story in your favor.
- Avoid certain death. When you use this option, you character is presumed dead and removed from the story until such time as the Narrator deems it appropriate for the character’s return.
Last time we looked at dice and how they’re used in A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying, specifically in how your "ability" determines the number of dice you roll whenever you take a test. This time, we’re looking at the abilities, the "nuts and bolts" of every character.
Abilities define how the characters interact with the world of A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying. They describe a character’s strengths and weaknesses. A character’s abilities also provide a glimpse of style, possibly motivation, and strategy in surviving the game of thrones or the battlefield. Of course, to the untrained eye, abilities look very much like a collection of numbers, but these numbers have meaning and in them, your character lives.
A character’s rating in an ability is measured by rank, a number listed after the ability’s name, like "Athletics 2" or "Fighting 4". The greater your rank, the better you are at using that ability. Rank says a lot about your character and knowing what it means can help you translate the numbers into useful descriptions. Abilities are ranked from 1 (the lowest) to 7 (the very best), as follows:
Rank 1 — Deficient: This rank in an ability means you’re deficient. Even routine tasks are a challenge for you. Generally, an ability at this rank is the result of some physical or mental deficiency.
Rank 2 — Average: Most folks in Westeros have abilities at this rank. Having rank 2 in an ability suggests you can handle routine tasks and manage challenging things, given enough time. Certain tasks, however, are beyond your ability. Abilities in SIFRP start out at rank 2 by default.
Rank 3 — Talented: A cut above the average, having rank 3 in an ability means you have a special knack or a minimum amount of training, such as a few hours put in with a practice sword or having ridden a horse a few times in your life.
Rank 4 — Trained: At this rank, you combine your natural talents with extensive training. Your skill exceeds that of the average individual. You can confidently tackle challenging tasks without trouble and, with a little luck, can pull off some pretty impressive stunts.
Rank 5 — Accomplished: Intensive training coupled with natural talent places you well above the common man. In fact, people with rank 5 are often the best at what they do in an area, having surpassed their peers in their craft.
Rank 6 — Master: By rank 6, you are considered one of the best in the world at the ability. People use you as an example, and seek you out to learn and improve their training, or simply to meet you.
Rank 7 — Paragon: Rank 7 is as high as any can hope to achieve. So rare is this rank, people with this level of ability are considered legends, once in a generation, if that.
Where abilities represents talent combined with training, specialties reflect a narrowing of an ability’s focus, the result of specific development in one of the many areas an ability encompasses. Specialties, like abilities, are ranked from 1 to 7. They are designated as a number followed by a B (for "bonus"). So, if you had rank 2 in the Axes specialty, you’d note it as Axes 2B. Your specialty rank cannot exceed your ability rank. Your rank in a specialty provides a number of bonus dice toward your ability test.
The following are brief descriptions of the abilities and what they do. The SIFRP rulebook, naturally, provides much more detailed descriptions and guidelines for the various abilities.
It’s worth noting that, because of the way SIFRP assigns ability ranks, characters in the game possess all of these abilities, but you generally only need to note those deviating from the "average" rank of 2, whether deficient or above average. If a character has no given rank in an ability, you can assume a rank of 2.
Agility: Agility measures dexterity, nimbleness, reflexes, and flexibility. In some ways, it describes how comfortable you are in your body, how well you master your movement, and how well you react to your surroundings.
Animal Handling: Animal Handling encompasses various skills and techniques used to train, work, and care for animals. Whenever you would regain control over a panicked mount, train a dog to serve as a guardian, or breed falcons for hunting, you test this ability.
Athletics: Athletics describes the degree of training, the application of physical fitness, coordination, training, and raw muscle. Athletics is an important ability in that it determines how far you can jump, how fast you run, how quickly you move, and how strong you are.
Awareness: Awareness measures your senses, how quickly you can respond to changes in your environment and your ability to see through double-talk and feints to arrive at the truth of the matter. Whenever you perceive your surroundings or assess another person, use Awareness.
Cunning: Cunning encapsulates intelligence, intellect, and the application of all your collected knowledge. Typically, Cunning comes into play whenever you might recall an important detail or instruction, work through a puzzle, or solve some other problem such as researching and deciphering codes.
Deception: Deception measures your gift at duplicity, your ability to lie and deceive. You use Deception to mask your intentions and hide your agenda. You also use Deception to pretend to be someone other than who you really are, to affect a different accent, and pull off a disguise.
Endurance: Endurance measures your physical well-being, your health and hardiness. Your Endurance determines how much punishment you can take as well as how quickly you recover from injury.
Fighting: Fighting describes your skill at arms, your ability to wield weapons effectively in combat. Whenever you would attack unarmed or using a hand-held weapon you test fighting.
Healing: Healing represents skill with and understanding of the accumulated medical knowledge throughout the world. Rank in this ability reflects an understanding of health and recovery, with the highest ranks representing talents held only by the greatest of maesters.
Knowledge: Knowledge describes your general understanding and awareness of the world in which you live. It represents a broad spectrum of subjects, including history, agriculture, economics, politics, and numerous other subjects.
Language: Language is the ability to communicate in a tongue, usually through speech, but among the best educated, also through the written word. The starting rank you have in this ability applies to your knowledge of the Common Tongue spoken throughout Westeros. When you improve this ability, you may improve your ability with the Common Tongue or choose to speak other languages.
Marksmanship: Marksmanship represents your skill with ranged weapons, to use them appropriately and accurately in combat. Whenever you would make an attack using a ranged weapon, you test Marksmanship.
Persuasion: Persuasion is the ability to manipulate the emotions and beliefs of others. With this ability, you can modify how others see you, shape their attitudes towards others, convince them of things they might not otherwise agree to, and more.
Status: Status describes the circumstances of your birth and the knowledge those circumstances grant you. The higher your rank, the more likely you will be able to recognize heraldry, the better your reputation, and the stronger your knowledge of managing people and lands.
Stealth: Stealth represents your ability to creep about unseen and unheard. Whenever you would move without being noticed, you test Stealth.
Survival: Survival is the ability to get by in the wild, to hunt, to forage, to avoid getting lost, and to follow tracks. The Survival skill is important for a variety of people in that hunting remains an important method of providing food for one’s family, especially in the more remote corners of Westeros.
Thievery: Thievery is a catchall ability for any skill involving larcenous activities. Examples include picking locks, hand tricks, and general robbery.
Warfare: Warfare describes a character’s talents at managing the battlefield, ranging from the ability to issue commands, strategic knowledge for maneuvering armies, and tactical knowledge for dealing with small engagements.
Will: Will is your mental fortitude, reflecting the state of your mind’s health and endurance. It represents your ability to withstand fear in the face of appalling violence or supernatural phenomena, and also serves as the foundation for your ability to resist being manipulated by others.
“When you play the game of thrones you win or die, there is no middle ground.”
One of the primary concerns in the SIFRP game design was to keep the mechanics and game play simple, to make sure gaming veterans and folks new to roleplaying games alike can pick up the rules after a few minutes and jump in to tell stories of their own in the Seven Kingdoms.
We kicked around a lot of ideas at the start, with different die-sizes, dice pools, die plus modifiers, and a bunch of other mechanisms, and while we were tempted to explore using different-sized dice—such as bunches of eight-siders—we eventually retreated from the more arcane concepts and embraced the simplicity of the classic six-sided die. Using the old six-sider removed the barrier of components from the game, since just about everyone has a pile of these lurking in boardgame boxes and, if not, they can find them almost anywhere, from drug stores to hobby shops. Plus, it’s a lot easier to add up six-siders than a bucket of twenty-siders, and so it was a fairly easy decision to build the system around these tried and true cubes.
The Roll of Dice
Whenever you roll dice, you test an ability. A test is successful when the sum of the dice equals or beats a difficulty, and is a failure if it is lower than the difficulty. (There are margins of success and margins of failure, but that’s a discussion for later.)
All tests relate to one of your abilities. The number associated with the ability (called its rank) tells you how many dice to roll. So if you have rank 2 Agility (average), you roll two dice, or rank 5 Fighting, you roll five dice. These dice are called “test dice” and when you roll them, you sum the numbers shown on the dice to arrive at the test result.
So, let’s say you’re going to climb the wall to get to the top in the hopes of finding the mechanism to throw open the castle’s gates. The Narrator suggests Athletics is the most appropriate ability, so you roll a number of dice equal to your Athletics rank. In this case, you have a 4, so you roll four dice. Say you get a 6, 5, 3, and 2. Adding them up results in a 16.
Bonus Dice: In addition to test dice, you may also get to roll additional dice called bonus dice. These extra dice differ from test dice in that they aren’t added to find the test result, but instead improve your chances at getting a better test result. You roll bonus dice along with your test dice and keep the highest dice equal to your test dice. So, let’s go back to the previous example. Say you gained two bonus dice to your Athletics test to climb the wall. In this case, you’d be rolling a total of six dice and keeping the best four rolled. So if you get a 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 2, you drop the 2s (the lowest two dice) and sum the rest for the result of 18 (a bit better than the previous 16).
Modifiers: Sometimes you have modifiers to your tests, bonuses or penalties applied directly to the test result, rather than the number of dice you roll. Modifiers come from circumstantial or situational factors. You might gain a modifier for poor vision, being injured, or having help from an ally.
Penalty Dice: Finally, there are penalty dice, a drawback imposed by wounds, flaws, certain actions, and so on. Having a penalty die forces you to drop one test die when you are adding up you test result, starting with the lowest remaining die. You apply the penalty die after you roll and after you drop any bonus dice. So, using the bonus dice example, if you also had a penalty die, you’d have to drop the 3 die on your roll, reducing your result from 18 to 15.
The Role of Dice
As mentioned, whenever you attempt something with dramatic consequences or when the outcome of the action is not certain, you test your abilities. A test is a roll of the dice with the aim of exceeding the action’s Difficulty. The number of dice you roll is determined by the most relevant ability, so if you try to stab a Gold Cloak with your sword, you use Fighting, or if you’re trying to scale a keep’s wall, test Athletics. Testing abilities is easy once you get the hang of it, with a few simple steps.
1. Declare the Action
Before you roll the dice, decide what it is you want to do. The Narrator determines whether or not the action even requires a test. As a rule, if the intended action has no significant risk or no consequences for failure, there’s no need for a test, though the Narrator is the final word on what requires a test and when. Actions that might require tests include—but are not limited to—fighting, climbing, jumping, recalling a bit of useful information, addressing the king, sailing a ship through inclement weather, and so on. In short, if the action’s outcome isn’t certain or may have dramatic consequences, it probably requires a test.
Example: Nicole’s character, Lady Renee, happens upon a pair of conspirators discussing their plans to kill her father, Lord Tybalt. Clinging to the shadows, she strains to hear their whispers.
2. Choose the Ability
Once the Narrator decides if a test is necessary, determine the appropriate ability. Abilities are flexible, allowing both you and the Narrator to use a variety of methods to overcome challenges in the game. A particular action may use one ability in one set of circumstances, and another in a different environment. For example, you might use Persuasion to bluff your way past a guard or Status to fall back on your notoriety and standing to remove the guard from your path. Even though these are two distinct methods, the intended outcome is the same—getting past the guard.
Generally, the Narrator determines the ability, but you do have some say in what ability you’d like to use. Just state what you want to use and how you intend to use it, and, if reasonable enough, the Narrator ought to allow it. Obviously, using Language to scale a wall or stab an enemy is ridiculous, so common sense must prevail.
Example: Since Renee eavesdrops on the conversation, the Narrator decides the relevant ability is Awareness.
3. Set the Difficulty
Once the ability is determined, the Narrator sets the test’s Difficulty. The Difficulty describes the complexity and challenge of the action. To help assess how hard a task is, a Difficulty number has a descriptor, such as Routine for Difficulty 6, Challenging for Difficulty 9 and so on.
Example: The Narrator considers the scene. It’s dark so Renee can’t see the conspirators, can’t read their body language. They’re also a bit distant and whispering. The Narrator decides the Difficulty is Formidable (12).
4. Roll the Dice
Knowing which ability to use and the Difficulty of the task, you roll a number of test dice equal to the ability. Many times, you may roll additional dice in the form of extra test dice or bonus dice.
Example: Lady Renee has Awareness 3, giving her three dice off the bat. However, she also has rank 2 in Listening, a specialty of Awareness, so she has two bonus dice. She rolls five dice, but only adds up the highest three.
5. Sum the Dice and Apply Modifiers
Once you roll the dice, sum the highest results equal to your test dice and add or subtract any modifiers. The total is the test result.
Example: Nicole rolls five dice (three test dice and two bonus dice from her specialty) and gets a 6, 6, 5, 2, and a 1. She discards the two lowest dice–the 1 and the 2–since they count for her bonus dice, and adds up the rest, getting a 17 as her result.
6. Compare the Result with the Difficulty
Now that you have a result, compare it to the action’s Difficulty. If the result equals or exceeds the Difficulty, you succeed. If the result is less than the Difficulty, you fail.
Example: The test Difficulty was Formidable (12). Since Nicole beat the Difficulty with her 17, she succeeds!
7. Describe the Outcome
Once the outcome of the test is determined, the Narrator describes the results, providing any relevant consequences of success or failure.
Example: Nicole’s roll was good enough for Renee to hear most of the conversation, which the Narrator summarizes. Although both conspirators are careful to keep their identities concealed, Nicole now knows how they intend to go about their treachery and with this information Renee may be able to stop their foul plan!
Robert J. Schwalb
This summer, Green Ronin is releasing A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying, a brand-spanking new roleplaying game for George R. R. Martin’s remarkable saga of betrayal, conflict, treachery, love, death, and destiny as told in A Song of Ice and Fire. Fans of both roleplaying games and the novels likely know this isn’t the first attempt at capturing this detailed and engaging world for use in adventure gaming. Dragon Magazine published a couple of articles describing how to adapt Dungeons & Dragons for use in this setting, and Guardians of Order produced A Game of Thrones, a massive tome that adapted the d20 System and the Tri Stat system for use with this popular world. Fantasy Flight Games also publishes a collectable card game and a fine board game, all set in this world. With all the stuff already out there, it wasn’t without extensive discussion, debate, emails, and hair-pulling that we finally came up with the design, vision, and structure for what would become A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying when Green Ronin Publishing secured the rights to publish a new game based on George R.R. Martin’s work.
Tackling Martin’s world was in some ways similar to working on The Red Star, The Black Company, and Thieves’ World, and in others, astonishingly different. On the one hand, there’s a certain process involved in sifting through pages and pages of text, scouring dog-eared novels in search of an elusive nugget of information: a description of a specific castle, place, or character hidden between stretches of character development and dialogue. Each discovery is rewarding and exciting, but also deeply satisfying, teasing out the secrets of an author from his words. In this regard, the work was very much the same. Sure, there are all sorts of websites, wikis, and message board postings, and each was useful in its own way, but any adaptation must exhaust the source for all its mysteries to avoid errors born from misunderstandings and erroneous documentation regarding a place, character, or plot development.
Where the process differed was that in addition to collecting, cataloging, and presenting the necessary information for gamers to use in their games, SIFRP (for short) used an altogether new game system, one created from scratch to best emulate and handle the needs of the property. We could have returned to the Open Game License, or used our own True20 rules, but, for a variety of reasons (one of which was the impending release of the 4th Edition of D&D), we opted to build something to capture and mechanically reflect what made Martin’s novels so compelling in the first place. We wanted a game for the types of stories, adventures, and experiences one might expect in exploring the lands of the Seven Kingdoms, while also individuating our game from those fine efforts that came before.
To this end, Steve Kenson, Chris Pramas, Nicole Lindroos, and I exchanged a flurry of emails, engaged in numerous chats, and eventually gathered around a table in Seattle and hashed out the mechanics. The result was an interesting fusion of ideas, a broad range of visions from different perspectives and expectations, everything from a diceless system to a super-crunchy "simulation" style game. My own crunch-tastic inclinations met with some tempering from a more flexible and freeform approach that embraced the story more than an exercise in simulation.
Another thorny issue was figuring out how players would interact with the world, whether we would adopt a traditional RPG approach—one character per player, of any occupation or background—or to utilize a troupe-style approach, where players would control noble houses and work together, or against each other, depending on the developments of the story as it unfolds in the game. On the one hand, players often prefer maximum freedom in character design, but on the other, the more concessions we made toward providing flexibility in this area, the more we risked diminishing or negating the lack of "script immunity" faced by the protagonists in the novels. Our discussions drifted at all points along the spectrum, and in the end, we came up with an interesting compromise, wherein we provided a possible link to bind the characters together, but also allowed for just about any kind of play style so gamers of all stripes could use the game in whatever way they liked.
These sorts of discussions led into other areas, from which we derived a number of precepts that were more or less followed until the end of the design process. We wanted the learning curve to be low to make the game appealing to a broader range of players, but without sacrificing the depth of game design in order to retain those gamers that prefer a more mechanical approach. We also wanted a game robust enough to address all levels of society, from nobles to the lowliest of smallfolk. SIFRP needed a game engine to handle combat, intrigue, and warfare simply and without becoming tangled up in a lot of complex rules. SIFRP also needed to support just about any play style, from bands of adventurers prowling the ruins of lost civilizations in search of fabulous treasures (old-fashioned door-kicking, monster-slaying, treasure-stealing fantasy), to complex struggles fought using diplomacy and treachery in the shadow of the Iron Throne (a far more appropriate sort of game in keeping with the novels). The game needed to handle the clash of armies, the brutal and bloody skirmishes of a mist-shrouded forest, and the splintering of lances before roaring crowds at one of King Robert’s tournaments. A tall order to be sure, but these, among other elements, were central to our thinking as we hammered out the mechanisms that would drive the game forward.
Over the next several weeks, we’ll be highlighting the various game systems to reveal the mechanical and narrative elements at work in the game, explaining the design and development decisions that went into the making of Green Ronin’s newest roleplaying game. So keep checking back for updates as we march forward to the release date. Until then, remember the words of House Stark… Winter is Coming.