We were playing Burning Wheel and the pirate-city of Luskan had a problem. Winter was coming and their ships had been burned into the bay by a Cormyrian War Wizard. Their economy had tanked and their food stores were barren. They needed enough grain to make it through the winter but had no way to pay for it.
The went before the Captain’s Council and argued with the pirates for a night. Finally, Aaron looked at his character’s skill list, went before the captains and said, “Show me your books.” He looked over the accounting ledgers and found the money. Luskan was saved because of an adventurous accountant.
Aaron looked at me, “What’s the ob?”
“I have no damned idea. No one actually rolls on their Accounting skill (not true). Give me the damned book.”
This was back in the olden days of Burning Wheel Revised and every skill didn’t have example obstacles but it so happened that Accounting did. Balancing the books for a city was Obstacle 8. Wow, rock. Perfect.
It an epic Accountant roll, obstacle 8. The other obstacle 8 roll I can remember was a Command roll that kept an army of Black Legion Orcs, Dwarven axe-bearers and human mercenaries all working together in a vicious battle.
It wasn’t the high point of our game but it was pretty damned cool to see a mundane problem solved by mundane means at the hand of a nigh-immortal elven community leader.
Burning Wheel Gold has example obstacles for every skill in the book. I don’t look up every single skill for every roll, even for the play-by-post game where time and pacing isn’t the factor that it is at the table. But it is a great reference for when players do something way outside the bounds of your normal heroic fantasy and coming up with an obstacle for them to roll over is puzzling.
This brings us to this week’s Legend and Lore column.
It feels like a straw man. Option 1, Option 2, then an overbearing Option 3. It is like asking if you’d like your cousin to come over for dinner, or your aunt to come over…OR your obnoxious uncle who makes off-color jokes and asks you why you aren’t married yet every time there’s a lull in conversation.
The offers on the table are:
No rules, DM makes it up.
Some more rules.
Some ridiculous amount of rules that offer lots of boring bonuses.
There aren’t elegant rules that inspire the DM.
…any time a designer puts a rule in a rulebook, he is saying “no” to the DM. The rule takes away the DM’s ability to make a judgment call in her game.
Any time a designer puts a rule in a book it isn’t denying the DM some kind of right but offering an interesting path, inspiring the DM to look at the players’ character sheets in a way that builds adventure that the players find intriguing. Rules don’t deny, they focus and inspire.
Bad rules can cause all kinds of annoying problems, killing the pace of the game, helping friends be annoyed and eroding one’s ability to enjoy a pleasant evening among friends.
My creative contribution to the adventures in Luskan wasn’t setting the obstacle for the accounting roll but the consequences of the roll’s success and the debates with pirates that led to the roll. That is where I was spending my energy.
The interesting part of a climbing roll isn’t the target number the player needs to roll in order to succeed but what is chasing them up a mountainside causing them to roll and whatever fantastic mysteries await them at the top when the climb is done.
NOTE: “Oh my gawsh, did you see Judd’s post on his blog where he skewers Monte Cook?” “Holy cow, URL? I have to see this!”
I like Monte Cook. I’ve interviewed him for podcasts and he is always a lovely guy, friendly and without ego. Arcana Unearthed and the Diamond Throne setting were probably my favorite things to come from the d20 boom.
I like his Legends and Lore articles, not because I agree with them, but because they get people talking. He’s putting himself out there on the most public stage gaming’s got and I dig his courage for throwing his ideas around to be the target (his ideas are the target…that’s clear, yeah?) for some good ole fashioned public howling.
And by howling, I mean conversation.