Welcome back to the Let Thrones Beware design blog. This week, we’re taking a look at the Challenge, the core mechanic that underpins everything in this humble RPG. Before we get to that though, a quick retrospective. Last week I finished up a discussion on some of the inspirations behind LTB as a system. In particular, I spent a great deal of time rambling about Quest for Glory and the New Easy to Master Dungeons and Dragons. If you’re up for a trip down nostalgia lane, check it out!
Let Thrones Beware’s Universal Mechanic: The Challenge
This week I’m writing about the Challenge, which is the universal mechanic powering Let Thrones Beware; it’s used in both non-combat and combat situations, although there are some slight differences to each application. I’m also mixing up the format of this post a bit today. Rather than just write about what I think is interesting, I’ve gone to the community and asked what sort of things people want to hear about. I’ll start with just the basics, and then move on to the community content portion in the second half of the post.
At its most basic, the Challenge vaguely resembles Rock-Paper-Scissors played between two contestants – (as there’s no PVP, it’s almost always the player and the GM), with a few important caveats. As we roll through the rest of this blog post, just keep in mind that instead of rock, paper, and scissors, Let Thrones Beware calls the options Attack, Counter, and Interrupt when heroes are in combat, and Act, React, Overcome when the heroes are attempting to surmount a non-combat challenge. For clarity, I’ll just stick to using Attack, Counter, and Interrupt for this post unless I’m explicitly talking non-combat, but do keep in mind that despite the different names, the mechanics work the same way.
Heroes (the players), Adversaries (GM-controlled baddies), and Obstacles (GM-controlled non-combat stuff) all participate in the Challenge system.
In combat, there are a wide variety of adversary types, all of which present different types of opposition. Minions are weak, fairly ineffectual opponents that the heroes can dispatch easily, but who have a bonus action when paired with a commander. Standard foes are robust opponents, with a wider array of combat options and the health to stand up to the heroes. Commanders, more so than any other adversary, are fearsome fighters with the ability to call in reinforcements and direct minions around the battlefield.
On the non-combat side, Obstacles can be created to represent virtually anything the heroes must surmount. The abstracted nature of non-combat positioning means that you can build a challenge representing the stubborn, obstinate nature of a Noble’s opinions as easily as you can create a challenge for infiltrating a decrepit ruin or researching an ancient secret about the malevolent force that exists in the Deep Wood.
There are two big reasons why I went about creating the challenge system rather than using the more traditional ‘roll vs. difficulty’ approach one sees in most role-playing games.
First, coming from a combative background, I wanted a system that more accurately emulates the ebb and flow of information fighting an opponent. I recognize that attack and skill rolls are an abstraction, and in many systems represent the multitude of feints and attacks carried out in the heat of combat. It was my desire to bring the adrenaline and rush of committing to the attack and the potential for sudden reversal to the table. Each engagement injects opportunities for triumph and reversal because of the attack, counter, interrupt system.
Second, I had a very strong desire to significantly reduce the time between player actions during a challenge. We’ve all been in games where players whip out their phones and start browsing the internet when it’s not their turn. Some might say that those are bad players, but I contend that this kind of distraction is a natural extension of the lengthy time between finishing a turn and the next time she or he gets to act. If your table runs through a few fights in a session, there’s an awful lot of ‘dead time’ that each player individually experiences. Since each individual element of a challenge involves both a player and the GM, there’s a consistent level of engagement throughout every conflict.
Being engaged in a Challenge (whether you’re fighting or attempting to overcome a non-combat obstacle) means that you’re using a combination of your hero’s dice roll (which Let Thrones Beware calls Tier Dice, and begin at 2d6), Attack, Counter, and Interrupt power, and a Roll bonus innate to your hero to achieve the highest Force Score. Let’s look at how the Challenge works in combat.
Let’s pretend you’re in a fight, adjacent to an adversary, and see how it all shakes out.
Setting the stage
At the beginning of the round, all contestants roll the 2d6 Tier Dice and use this roll for the entire round (yes, this means that you can plan for your turn in advance). When your turn comes up you decide you want to deal some damage. You select attack power and determine your initial Force Score. You add your Tier Die roll, the Force bonus of the power you’ve chosen, and add your Roll Bonus (an innate bonus that begins at +0 and climbs as you grow in experience).
Making a Counter
The GM will attempt to respond with either a Counter or an Interrupt. In order to use either, your target’s total Force Score (dice + power; baddies don’t have roll bonuses) must meet or exceed your score. Counters can in turn be beaten by Interrupt powers, but have higher force bonuses. Because of this, Counters can be played in a wider range of situations. Interrupt powers cannot be beaten by any other power type, but have lower force bonuses. This means that their use requires careful timing.
Assuming your target uses a Counter power, you have an opportunity to use an Interrupt power (as long you have one available).
The Engagement is Won
When it’s not possible for either combatant to play another power, the engagement ends. The combatant with the highest Force Score applies the damage and effect of the power used to win the fight. In the event of a tie, both combatants apply damage and power effects.
The Challenge mechanic can be used to handle just about any situation, from fighting and brawling to social engagements and clever schemes. Still, are times when you don’t want to make use of it? Absolutely. The mechanic isn’t good for what we call Trivial Challenges. Trivial Challenges are situations that don’t contain an element of risk or danger. While it would still work, the mechanic takes time to resolve. The system is designed for meaningful situations. Your table will get a lot more out of saving it for substantial obstacles.
Whew, that’s a lot to digest! We’re not done yet, however. As promised, this next portion digs into a few of the questions fielded by the community.
How Do Tier Dice Change Over the Course of the Game?
Heroes use different dice in each Tier of Let Thrones Beware. Beginning in the Adventurer Tier, heroes employ a humble 2d6. After some adventures under their belt the heroes graduate to the Champion Tier and replace the 2d6 with the 2d8. Finally, having reached the height of their power at the Legend Tier, the 2d8 are upgraded to 2d10.
“Huh, why?” you might ask. A reasonable question! Progression could be denoted by adding numbers to the roll, but I love the tactile sensation of upgrading dice. It’s a great physical reminder that your hero is growing in power and capability. The other wonderful benefit is reducing the number of fiddly modifiers you have to remember.
Holy cow that was so much writing! Next week, we’re going to continue with more community questions that I didn’t have time to address today. See you then!
Try Let Thrones Beware for Yourself
As always, you can download the playtest packet and try it for yourself. Visit drivethrurpg to download the beta and introductory adventure for free.