SIFRP: Nuts and Bolts

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.
Ability Rank
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.
Ability Descriptions
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.

SIFRP: The Heart of the Game

“When you play the game of thrones you win or die, there is no middle ground.”

—Queen Cersei, A Game of Thrones

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!

A Vision of Ice and Fire

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.