Campaign of the Month: October 2017
Blood & Bourbon
Playing the Game
“The secret we should never let the gamemasters know is that they don’t need any rules.”
Blood & Bourbon is a mostly freeform text roleplay. Players sometimes roll dice to decide the outcomes of their characters’ actions.
That’s the TLDR of how Blood & Bourbon plays. The longer story is that B&B used to be played as a traditional tabletop RPG campaign. Over time, we found that having exact rules for what characters could and couldn’t do was impeding our fun rather than enhancing it. So, we discarded rules and transitioned to a mostly freeform style of play. Tabletop gamers could fairly describe B&B as a Free Kriegsspiel style game. (Link if that term is new to you.)
Several things govern how players can and can’t interact with the world:
• There’s a GM. Players have exclusive creative control over their PCs’ (independent) choices and actions. The GM has final creative control over the rest of the world. (I say “final” rather than “exclusive” because players have creative input on the rest of the world—more on that later. I also say “independent choices” because mind control is a thing.)
• We roll dice. If a PC attempts a risky or dramatic action with multiple plausible outcomes, we roll dice to decide what happens. The higher the roll, the better (for the PC). The lower the roll, the more dramatic complications ensue.
• Character Sheets: Players write character sheets to determine their PCs’ capabilities and social connections. Unlike in traditional tabletop play, we don’t give players an arbitrary number of points to spend on those things during character creation (or require players to spend “experience points” to improve those things over time). Players simply detail the character they want to play and the GM designs challenges accordingly.
• Wiki Rewards: Players who write material for the wiki get rewarded with meta-currency we call Story Points (SP). Players can spend SP to change the story’s narrative in ways beneficial to their characters. For example, a player could spend SP to say that the lock on their PC’s cell is flimsy, or to retroactively declare that an adversary’s lieutenant owes them a favor.
To come up with a character, hash out their personal strengths and weaknesses with the GM, and detail their most significant social connections and supernatural powers.
Create a page for your character over Obsidian Portal. To do that, select the “+ New” from the menu bar, then “Character” under that. Use this template to fill out your character’s Description field and this template to fill out their Biography field.
If you’re introducing new personae, organizations, or similar connections to the setting (e.g., a new character who works for your PC as a butler, or a new company that your PC is the CEO of), write up those connections somewhere on the chronicle’s wiki. For instance, you could create a blurb or character page for the butler, or a new wiki page for the company.
If it would help you to conceptualize your character, and you’re familiar with the World of Darkness’ game mechanics, you can (optionally) put together a character sheet. Fill in as few or as many traits as you feel like.
The GM will only use a sheet as a reference point: there’s no actual benefit to saying your PC has Intelligence 5 over Intelligence 4. It’s mainly a way of communicating to the GM that you see your character as brainy. You can give your PC 10 Backgrounds or 28 Backgrounds or 2 Disciplines or 20 Disciplines for all the GM cares, so long as it makes sense for their character concept. It’s all relative in the end, as more “powerful” characters will face more difficult narrative challenges.
If you’re not familiar with WoD game mechanics and/or don’t feel like putting together a sheet, feel free to skip the above. They’re not required for us to play.
When a character attempts an action that is dangerous or uncertain for someone of their capabilities, and the GM thinks there are multiple compelling outcomes, you roll a six-sided die (d6). The result determines what happens.
|1||“No, and…” You don’t achieve your objective, and something else goes wrong.|
|2||“No, or…” You don’t achieve your objective, or you achieve it at a heavy cost.|
|3||“No, but…” You don’t achieve your objective, but it’s not a total loss.|
|4||“Yes, but…” You achieve your objective at a moderate cost.|
|5||“Yes.” You achieve your objective.|
|6||“Yes, and…” You achieve your objective, and something else goes right.|
If the GM doesn’t want to deal with six potential outcomes, he can also have a 1-3 be a “No, or” and 4-6 be a “Yes”. He’ll tell you if this is the case ahead of time.
If you want to forgo rolling dice, tell the GM so, and (if he’s amenable) he’ll narrate the action’s outcome. This is likely to hew closer towards a 3 or 4 than a 1 or 6. Getting a really good outcome requires risking a bad one.
The game has three difficulties where dice get rolled.
The game’s “default” difficulty. The task before you is difficult but not impossible. The odds are a coin toss.
Example: A trained hunter fighting a tiger with a spear.
The odds favor you. Maybe you’ve stacked circumstances in your favor. Maybe you’re just punching below your weight class. Things could go south, but you’re the horse to bet on.
Example: A lone trained marksman hunting a tiger with a rifle.
Roll twice and use the better result when you have Advantage. If you Forgo Rolling, you’ll probably get a 4 or 5.
The odds favor the other party. Maybe they’ve stacked circumstances in their favor. Maybe you’re just punching above your weight class. Things are likely to go south and you’re not the horse to bet on.
Example: A trained hunter fighting a tiger with a survival knife.
Roll twice and use the worse result when you have Disadvantage. If you Forgo Rolling, you’ll probably get a 2 or 3.
Don’t Bother Rolling
Finally, the game has two more “difficulties” where dice don’t actually get rolled.
• Automatic: The task is so likely succeed that rolling dice is superfluous. Your character would look silly or inept if they didn’t come out ahead.
Example: Hunting a tiger with a team of trained marksmen.
• Impossible: The task is so unlikely to succeed that rolling dice is superfluous. It would strain, and possibly break, disbelief for your character to come out ahead.
Example: A human of any training level fighting a tiger with their bare hands.
There are countless ways that PCs can make an action easier (or harder) for themselves by adjusting their approach.
For example, suppose that rather than try to kill a tiger bare-handed, you try to jab it in the eye and cause enough pain that it backs off. “Make it back off” is a more achievable goal than “kill it bare-handed.” The GM is likely to say that’s a Challenging roll for a character who’s a trained fighter, but imposes Disadvantage on someone with little to no combat training. If your character has a spear, then it’s a Challenging roll if they have no combat training, or a roll with Advantage if they do.
Your character’s background matters, too. There are some Indian tribes who’ve perfected the art of hunting tigers with kukris and trained extensively at it. For them, killing a tiger with a kurki might be Challenging rather than imposing Disadvantage. Still risky, but not more likely to result in death than not.
Character Tools and XP
Beyond their characters’ capabilities and relationships, players have several in-game and metagame tools they can use to influence their PCs’ storylines.
Many of these tools can be purchased with Story Points, abbreviated as SP. (Is that pretentious? Maybe, but it’s accurate. They have nothing to do with your character’s experience.)
For every 250 words words of content you write for the game’s wiki, you earn 1 SP (or 0.004 SP per single word) to spend on things. You can also downgrade the result of dice roll for 1 SP per downgrade. For example, turning a 5 into a 2 would earn 3 SP.
You can declare a fact into being about the game world, such as “a ghost haunts the house next to mine” or “the lock on my cell is loose” or “I bribed my enemy’s hired goons to actually work for me.” Your PC must know about this declared fact, and it can’t be narratively boring or contradict an established fact. There are two ways you can make a Declaration:
• Roll Dice: Roll a die to see how it pans out. The bigger its scope, the more ways it can go wrong if you roll low. You have less control over how the Declaration pans out, but it’s free.
• Spend XP: You can spend XP have the Declaration just work, exactly how you say it does. This costs 2 to 10 XP, depending on the Declaration’s scope and plausibility. “I bribed my enemy’s treacherous goon” will cost less XP than “I bribed my enemy’s devoutly loyal goon”.
Debts are favors owed to your PC by NPCs (and vice versa). You can earn them through play. You can also retroactively declare at any point that an NPC owes you a Debt for a past service rendered. Tell the GM what the service was. If he approves, you can obtain the Debt in one of two ways:
• Roll Dice: You can roll a die. This is free… but you might owe a Debt too, if you roll low.
|1||“No, and…” The NPC already repaid the Debt, and you owe a Debt to an equal-Status NPC.|
|2||“No, or…” The NPC owes you a Debt, and you owe another Debt to an equal-Status NPC.|
|3||“No, but…” You’re owed a Debt by another NPC than you’d intended, but they might still be able to help.|
|4||“Yes, but…” The NPC owes you a Debt, but they either can’t help right now, or you owe a Debt to a lower-Status NPC.|
|5||“Yes.” The NPC owes you a Debt.|
|6||“Yes, and…” The NPC owes you two Debts, or you’re owed a Debt by a higher-Status NPC than you intended.|
• Spend XP: You can spend XP to automatically hold the Debt, without owing anything return. This costs 2 XP x NPC’s highest Status (or 1 XP if they lack any Status). If you share a type of Status with the NPC, use that if it’s lower. For example, your Brujah PC could acquire a Debt from a Camarilla Status 4 and Brujah Status 3 NPC for 6 XP.
You can ask GM for insight into an in-game situation. Examples might be, “Is this NPC being dishonest with me?” “What do I know about this supernatural phenomenon?” or “What’s the proper etiquette in this social situation?” Basically, anything that was fodder for a WoD Empathy/Occult/Politics roll, or a D&D Knowledge/Inight/Sense Motive check. Depending on the scope of the insight sought, and its appropriateness to your PC’s background, there are three ways you can find out.
• Freebies: The GM may just outright tell you something, if it makes sense that your PC would know it. For example, your aspiring harpy PC probably knows the correct term of address to use with the Ventrue primogen’s childe at Elysium. A dirty street urchin PC is unlikely to know how to behave in such refined company, but they can probably rattle off the names of local drug dealers and prostitutes. The GM may or may not give you information as a freebie, but it never hurts to ask!
• Dice Roll: If it’s possible your PC would know something, but it’s not a sure thing (or possible their knowledge could result in dramatic complications), the GM may call for a dice roll. For example, perhaps the street urchin PC wants to know where to find a drug dealer who’s currently laying low, or the the aspiring harpy PC wants to recognize an obscure name in the genealogy recited by a newcomer Elysium-goer.
• Spend XP: Finally, you can spend XP to automatically gain insights into things your PC wouldn’t know by default (such as the above examples). You can also ask the GM for advice and feedback he might not normally provide through dice rolls, such as pointing out details you’ve overlooked or the strengths and weaknesses of a plan. These still must be insights your PC could plausibly arrive at on their own: it won’t produce answers to long-standing mysteries out of thin air. This costs 2 to 10 XP depending on how much insight the GM gives you.
Rapport is a way of tracking NPCs’ attitudes: how much they like you, how much they dislike you, and how much they fear you. It ranges from Loathing to Devoted. The more an NPC likes you, the more aid you can expect from them, and the easier they are to influence… though also vice versa. There are two ways you can earn Rapport:
• Roleplay: You can probably guess what this involves. Some NPCs may also be friendly (or hostile) to your PC based on their background.
• Spend XP: You can spend an XP to declare an NPC already likes you (when they normally wouldn’t). This must happen with an NPC your PC hasn’t met, or after an off-screen event could occur to change the NPC’s attitude. This costs 2 x NPC’s Status dot x number of steps you shift their attitude. If you share a type of Status, use that if it’s lower. For example, shifting a Status 2 NPC’s attitude from Indifferent to Amiable would be 4 XP.
What if there’s a dice roll you really want your PC to succeed at? Roll another die and use the better result. There are two ways you can pay for this:
• Narrative Debt: At any future point, the GM can make you re-roll a die and use the worse result. You’re more likely to succeed now, but you’re more likely to fail in the future.
You can do this multiple times, if you like (and the GM permits), re-rolling until you get a result you’re happy with. Every additional re-roll now means the GM can impose another re-roll on you in the future. If you accumulate five dice of Narrative Debt, you can’t go into further Narrative Debt until the GM spends some of it.
• Spend XP. You can buy a better result with XP. This costs (12 – doubled roll result) XP. Thus, it’s 2 XP to reroll a 5, and 10 XP to reroll a 1. It’s cheaper to reroll a 5 than a 1, but you’ll probably have to buy more re-rolls to actually improve your result, so the costs balance out.
You can do this any number of times, although the GM may impose limits on significant enough dice rolls. If so, he’ll tell you before your first roll.
You can’t spend more than half your character’s earned XP on rerolls. You also can’t spend XP to reroll dice against other PCs. (This is to avoid games of chicken where players spend XP until someone blinks.)