Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Nuts & Bolts #30 - Fun(neling) with Tier Zero


Last week I wrote about my first experience with the Dungeon Crawl Classics funnel system. Granted it was Stormtroopers instead of sword and sorcery heroes but the idea was the same, and out of fifteen 0th level Stormtrooper newbs eight perished. I think each player was left with at least one living character, and, in theory at least, we could totally go on to become a squad of red clad imperial royal guard ... or not.

My point is that surprisingly playing a bunch of mediocre weak characters resulted in some pretty awesome game play, and gave the survivors some memorable backstory. In short, where I had been skeptical before, I was now converted.

There's only one problem; I don't usually play DCC. Not that its a bad system, I rather liked my time with it, but it's not what I play regularly and I don't know that it would jive with my group at home. What's a GM to do? Steal rules shamelessly and use them in their preferred system of choice, that's what!

For me that's Cypher System. I like how quick and simple it makes the mechanics, how I can "kitbash" an NPC or creature in seconds flat, and how I have a nice equitable system for screwing with the players via GM Intrusion. But Cypher doesn't use levels, and it doesn't roll stats, and it's both simpler and more complex than any class based system. OY! Now what?!

We build our own system.

I don't think that this is the only way, or even the best way, to do this. I know that's not true, but this is how I think I'd do it. Below is how I would have players create Tier Zero characters for Numenera. With a little effort & modification this could work for The Strange pretty well.
  1. Build a list of Descriptors that you are going to allow in your game. Trim it to some convenient to roll against number and build a random roll table.
    1. As a note, there is not a neat and tidy total number of Descriptors. As such, creating a random determination method may require leaving some out, and or using sub-tables so that the distribution curve will be flat. 
  2. Grab some scrap paper. Note that each of your pools Might, Speed, and Intellect, start with 7 points each. Note your Effort as 1. 
    1. tier 0 characters don't yet have a Type and so don't yet have any edge ...
  3. Roll 'dem bones, reference your table, write down the resulting Descriptor.
  4. Read your descriptor, note the skills and inabilities they provide on your scrap, add the bonus to the appropriate pool, note any other bonuses, and write down the additional equipment provided.
  5. Make four boxes for your recoveries, note that you only regain 1d6 points (zero tier, zero bonus). 
  6. Roll a d6, on a 1-2 roll a d20 on the Glaive Connection table (Numenera Core Rules pg 28), on a 3-4 roll a d20 on the Nano Connection table (pg. 36), and on a 5-6 roll on the Jack Connection table (pg 43). This is your background, you might be able to leverage it for an asset or two. (Note: rolling on these tables shouldn't lock you into that type, its just a quick and easy way to generate a background.
  7. Pick a name. Write it down. 
  8. Repeat steps 2 through 7 two or three times according to how much meat the GM wants to feed the grinder.
As an example ...
  • I note my starting pools of Might 7, Speed 7, Intellect 7, and starting Effort of 1
  • I roll on my theoretical table and get the descriptor Dishonorable ... hmm, I'm a dirtbag ...
  • I note my skills and pool bonus. Dishonorable doesn't have any bonus equipment so other than clothes I've got nothing of note (yet).
    • I'm not detailing the bonuses or skills for Dishonorable here. Go buy Character Options if you want to know.
  • I roll a d6 and get a 4, so I then roll a d20 against the Nano Connection table and get a 14. My result is "You worked the gardens in the palace of an influential noble. She wouldn’t remember you, but you made friends with her young daughter." 
    • since I am also dishonorable, I am thinking that I may have been working as a gardener to spy on this noble (or possibly worse).
    • I discuss with the GM that as a gardener I should probably have a shovel/spade and some gloves. A small spade would be a light weapon, a proper shovel would be a medium weapon. Both are improvised and may not last long. 
    • I note the name of the noble "Baroness Juutal" and her daughter "Kenit Juutal" on the off chance it comes up during play, or in the future if this character survives.
  • I pick a name "Rendarr Kalush" and I'm done.
I do that a couple more times, depending on how many PCs the GM wants to kill ...

After you play, any character's that survive get to become real PCs, they pick a type and a focus. They update their pools according to their type's base and then add the 6 bonus points. Note new skills, and abilities, and you're off to the races. 

+Jeremy Land suggested a different method in response to last week's column:
  1. Choose a Type and take the base starting pools, but do not add the 6 bonus points yet.
  2. Note your Effort, skills, and abilities. 
    1. Tier 0 characters do not start with their Type's normal Edge.
  3. Pick one Move/Esotery/Trick as appropriate.
  4. Roll on the appropriate Connection table.
  5. Repeat for each Type (3 total characters).
  6. Survivors get to add the 6 pool points, pick a second Move/Esotery/Trick, gain Edge, select a focus, and select a descriptor that fits how that PC played.
These characters have a little more oomph what with having a Move/Esotery/Trick, and a little bit more in pools (around 5 points more). However, without a Descriptor or Focus these characters will be far weaker than a full Tier 1 character, and would be appropriate for a funnel. 

I should note I haven't tried either of these, but I think I'd like to, and will probably look to do so in the relatively near future just to see how well they work.