Last weekend I spent some time with old friends, catching up and trying out some one shot games. It was great for a change of pace from my usual weekly game, and I took away some great experiences and fresh ideas. However, as a dyed in the wool D&Der I was always going to be looking for things to add to my game, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Pete ran Duty & Honour for us and it was cracking game. For those who don’t know, it’s basically Sharpe the RPG. I wasn’t hugely familiar with the source material, but that didn’t stop me getting stuck in with musket and bayonet. There’s a naval version too, Beat to Quarters (Hornblower the RPG) which for my money is even better.
There were a few parts of the game that really reminded me of skill challenges and quests from D&D, though I’m sure they were created without any direct reference or even influence. The way it works is like this; the GM sets a military mission (what would be termed a major quest in D&D) and it’s broken down into challenges, discreet chapters that combine to tell the tale of the mission (encounters). There’s a set number to pass, and a deadline too, which is a number of failures that will end the mission (essentially, a fleshed out skill challenge). The players are also encouraged to be working on personal challenges (minor quests) which are generated by the players and may or may not have a bearing on the main mission.
The mechanics of these challenges are not imprtant to this post, it’s the structure I like so much. In D&H each ‘roll’ (actually card flops in this game) is a major event. In a D&D skill challenge each roll is quick and part of a succession of quick rolls too. So if I were to take this structure into D&D I would make some of the challenges combats, and some non just to keep the timing right. Each encounter as a whole would be regarded as a success or fail to the major quest, essentially making the whole scenario a skill challenge (but not always based on skills).
In D&H everyone gets to contribute to the military mission in a kind of solo effort. I wouldn’t replicate that part myself, I still want party play. Where D&H does include the group is in laying out the challenges in the first place. The players take some of the authorship of the session by brainstorming ‘scenes they’d like to see’ in the upcoming mission. I like that approach very much. In our game we asked for a rolling cart of hay on fire, a drinking challenge, some field surgery and a duel at dawn. There’s nothing to stop this happening as soon as a major quest is announced in D&D as far as I can see. It means the DM has to have a little mental agility, and the ability to improvise and alter any preplanned encounters, but actually it’s easier than it sounds. When the scenes did occur, they merited a little golf clap at the table. Nice.
I also really liked the personal missions. These were dreamed up on the spot, or Pete would encourage us to turn our statements into something a bit bigger and more story oriented. So, a bit of banter between my character and G2’s became a festering grudge that became mechanically supported and a vital part of the story. Over four hours we completed the military mission and one or two personal missions each. With four players that was a whole lot of stories resolved.
I’d play it again in a heartbeat, but perhaps more telling, I wwant to take some of the structures and blend them into my scenario creation. I’ll let you know how that goes.
In the meantime, please head over to Omnihedron Games website if you’re interested in checking out these great games.