Thursday, November 6, 2014

Notes from 4chan Interview

So the other day I was taking a break from the NaNoWriMo grind and as a reflex, I hopped on 4chan's tabletop games board. I hang out there from time to time when I get the chance - it's worth noting that my current gaming group is actually a skype-based group recruited from one of their Gamefinder threads.

I saw a Riddle of Steel thread and checked it out. To shorten a longer story, imagine my surprise when people were talking about Band of Bastards?

We had planned on making a big 4chan unveil for a long while now, but wanted to wait until our beta was in motion. With people actively asking "What is band of bastards?" in the thread though, there would be no better time to hop in and make an introduction. What followed was an impromptu four hour Q&A / interview that kept me up until nearly 5am. 

You can get the full archive of the thread here (Caution: NSFW), but I thought I'd post some of the better bits discussed. When it comes up, BotIT refers to Blade of the Iron Throne, SoS refers to Song of Swords, and TROS or RoS refers to The Riddle of Steel.

> Who are you?
Jackson Malloy, on the forum or dev page of our site, listed as Agamemnon (long story). I'm more or less creative lead on Band of Bastards, which you can get a healthy bit of information about at

> What is your game?
> What is Band of Bastards?

Without copypasta'ing the whole sales pitch: The GH team was part of the TROSfans forum that developed after Norwood sold Driftwood to George Thompson and the TROSforums fell apart. Ian Plumb (god rest him) basically kept the whole community together on his dime. When people started pitching a successor, something like 2000 threads were posted about what to do with the unofficial TROS2.0. The results of that work ultimately turned into two projects - Blade of the Iron Throne, and Song of Steel. We were on the latter team. When Song of Swords released its beta, we talked to Opaque and ultimately decided that some rebranding was in order. Along with it, we made some revisions and some design changes that, while significantly improving the game, set us back some time.

> So what do you hope to accomplish with Band of Bastards, and what do you feel you've accomplished so far? 
The original goal was "make TROS playable" but it kind of shifted away from that.

In practice, we wound up taking the things we liked about TROS - the HEMA/ARMA fetish combat, the extremely dangerous bloody wounds, the cinematic action, powerful protagonists from the beginning and player-driven narrative.. and then deconstructed everything and rebuilt it in a way we though would be more internally consistent, more streamlined, move more smoothly in play, and much easier to learn for a new player.

One of my biggest problems in getting people to play TROS back in the day was overcoming the system itself, so we tried to make that as easy as possible. So far, testing has suggested it's a success on all counts. The Beta will prove it one way or another. We'll drop it on our site and 4chan.

>How do you feel about your chances of success, making a game for such an unexpectedly-crowded niche market? 
We're pretty happy with the way things are going. We've changed enough that, while we keep the core ideas in place, we hope to aim our game at a broader audience than "old TROS vets." Michael (BotIT) mentioned in an email a while back that cleaving so closely to the original game was something he regretted for their release.  

> How do you plan on distributing the completed game? Will there be .pdfs or are you going with books?
We are researching our options for physical copies now, and nailing that down as we get closer. We have some friends who have been through all of this before, so they are being really helpful in that regard.

We plan to initially distribute a beta in pdf form through our website, and then look at kickstarter options. The end goal would be to have both physical copies and pdfs available.

> So, what is up with the wound wheel, How do you determine where exactly you've hit.
When you attack, in melee, you call what wheel you're attacking (head, shin, etc) and roll a d6 if you succeed in your attack. If it was a swing, use the outside results. If it's a thrust, use the inside. Go clockwise, starting with the top.

> This sounds just cumbersome enough in actual play for me to never want to use it
In practice, it's pretty effortless, particularly compared to the TROS way of doing it. It also means we don't need a dozen tables to cover every possible body structure to account for the angular momentum of the weapon (horses don't need separate location charts, etc) 

> It's the same thing as a bunch of hit location tables, just expressed visually.  
This exactly. 

> This is for melee, how do you do the ranged hits then?
> Can you not aim?

For melee, you get to specify your wheel. Thrust attacks actually allow you to expend dice to have more control over where on that wheel you can hit, making them by definition more accurate than swing based attacks.

For ranged, you roll 2d6. The first die determines the wheel, the second die determines the exact location, using the thrust table.

If you are close enough, you can choose high or low (thus only counting the top 3 or bottom 3 wheels. Treat the first die as a d3).

You can also make called shots with ranged attacks by expending dice from your ranged combat pool to cover up wheels you DON'T want to hit. So if you you wanted to make sure you didn't hit Shin or Thigh, you can drop two dice to cover them up.

> So, why should I pick this game instead of SoS?
Personal preference?
Really, there's no edition war to be had here. I've talked to the guys at Opaque, they seem pretty cool - even if we were briefly arguing over possession of an acronym in an extremely obscure and surprisingly overcrowded sub-niche of RPG.

Song of Swords seems set out to accomplish very particular things in a very particular way. It's got a bundled setting, and is designed to model a particular kind of fantasy. I won't comment on their approach, and as I haven't been keeping up on the current state of the game (sorry, James) I won't try to compare mechanics.

What I can say is that as of the version I had read (1.7? maybe?), they went for a much crunchier, much more simulationist kind of feel than we did. At the time, they were also designing a game that had encouraged you to "build" a character in a way that reminded me of d20 systems. I apologize up front if this is an unfair characterization - it's been a long while since I've read up on their work. I should do so again sometime soon.

Comparing now directly with TROS: we didn't want a system where you were concerned with your build. We didn't want there to be any Edges/Perks/whatever that you felt compelled to take to make your concept work. Accuracy was practically the default Gift choice in the original game, and the Companion and Flower of Battle only made this worse.

We wanted a game where the outcomes of actions were based as much on player choice as possible, rather than any kind of cultivating bonuses (no +1 this, +1 that stuff floating around). We wanted the system itself to be as unobtrusive as possible, and to have as little book-keeping as we could get by with.

So, in a lot of ways I would argue that we went the opposite direction of Song of Swords - the impression I had was that they saw tros and wanted to add more crunch, detail, and customization options. We saw TROS and wanted to make it smoother, and in some ways more narrative focused.

If anything, I'd say they are different systems aimed to produce different kinds of experiences. We aren't a rules-light game by any measure, but I would say it is fair to argue we take a lighter, more narrative approach than Song of Swords.

Which one you might like better is largely a matter of what you like in your games.

> So how do you kill a man in plate, then?

I'd go get a pollax, mate. Maybe a nice mace. Would certainly be easier.

That said, if you insist on fighting him with a sword - remember that bit earlier, where thrusts can spend dice to be better aimed?

Your best tactic is to get some good whacks in on his helmet - you won't cut through him, but you might be able to ring his bell enough to get a dice advantage. Then you need to spend some of that dice advantage to get in a precision thrust to the joints. Plate protects you, but you aren't invulnerable.

This is all much, much easier if you're using a longsword than a one-handed sword, as you can then take advantage of half-swording to more easily overcome maille, or nice murder-stroke to the face.

Of course, if none of the above is an option, you always have the ability to straight up go in and grapple - as we have a system built in for modeling limb locks, choking, etc etc...get in there, get him down and knife him in the throat, or outright break his neck.

The goal we keep coming back to for these questions was "How did it work in real life?" Our bar for success is when the answer that worked in real life is the answer that works in the game.

> What's your favorite kind of berry?
Blueberry, actually. I realize this may be a controversial choice. 

It all went fairly well, I think. I always have a kind of dread of these things, and in 4chan I felt a bit like I was stepping into Song of Swords' home turf, but I was pleasantly surprised. I look forward to checking in there again when we've got something of substance to show them.

Until next time,

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