A while ago, I wrote an article on buddy adventure in roleplaying games — loosely defined as two characters alone against a sea of troubles. Swords and deviltry, to put a very fine point on it.
How can we build a fantasy adventure game which takes two heroes, two players, and sets them against the world with only their wits and their swords? Something that really captures the action of a Fafhrd and Mouser story?
To quickly recap my earlier post, the necessary elements of buddy adventure1 are push and pull.
Internal pull is made up of the common traits that keep the two heroes together. External pull is what draws the characters through the adventure — the prize(s) they seek.
Internal push is the contrasts and competition between the two characters. External push is the trouble that manifests during the adventure.
So, our game needs to encode each kind of push and pull into the story. Characters (and players) need to both cooperate and compete (teaming up and trying to top each other in feats of daring), while facing adversity heaped upon them (by such things as evil priestesses and dastardly wizards).
I’ve always been a big fan of the introductory scene in The Swords of Lankhmar, where Fafhrd and the Mouser alternate describing the scene before them, and Leiber seamlessly segues into a great action sequence. Let’s make that kind of riffing back and forth the basic rhythm of our game.
We’ll start with a core mechanic, as the core of the adventure is the aforementioned feats of daring. Let’s offer a mechanical advantage for describing them, a la Wushu.
When you describe your hero performing a feat of daring, take a red die.
“I vault across the table, scattering the drinks and lunging for my foe’s heart!”
The most effective source of adversity is another player — this is the origin of the traditional GM. With two players and no GM, let’s encourage the players to create adversity for each other’s heroes. Let’s make this a details-for-dice situation as well.
When you describe a difficulty for your partner’s hero, give your partner a black die.
“The drinks spill, causing you to slip and land face first at your foe’s feet.”
Obviously, red dice should help your hero. Let’s say that they contribute to resolving a conflict. Each red die that comes up higher than a target number reduces the conflict’s “hit points” by one.
Each red Success reduces the scene’s Challenge Rating by one.
Less obvious is how the adversity should work. In order to prevent players from either being total jerks or total softies, we need to make players glad to receive adversity.
Well, red dice do “damage” to the conflict, right? So let’s give the conflict the ability to do damage in return. We’ll make red failures (“Misfortunes”) deplete our heroes’ hit points.
A red Misfortune takes away one point of a hero’s Luck (the hero’s ability to dodge trouble and stay in the conflict).
That means that every heroic action carries the risk of mechanical adversity. So let’s have our black dice mitigate that adversity, effectively converting mechanical adversity into narrative adversity.
Each black Success cancels one red Misfortune.
We want a quick back-and-forth between players, so let’s put that into the structure of the round…
On your turn, take a red die or give a black die.
…and make sure that dice get rolled every so often, so that we don’t end up with a giant pile to be rolled at the end of the scene.
When you and your partner have each taken or given a total of three dice, roll your accumulated dice.
So, let’s sum up:
- You have three turns in a round.
- On your turn, pick one:
- Describe a bold action for your hero and take a red die.
- Describe a nasty complication for your partner’s hero and give a black die.
- When both you and your partner have taken all of your turns, roll your dice.
- Each die 1-3 is a Misfortune. Each die 4-6 is a Success.
- Each red Success reduces the Challenge Rating of the scene by one.
- Each black Success cancels one of your red Misfortunes.
- Each remaining red Misfortune reduces your hero’s luck by one.
We now have a core mechanic for push and pull between two players. Players are rewarded for both describing bold actions for themselves and narrating trouble for each other. Next, we’ll look at tying this to scene framing.
What do you think?
- And lots of other things! ↩