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Solar Blades & Cosmic Spells - When to Roll Dice and Social and Intellectual Challenges

One of my fevorite principles that govern Old School play is "challenge the player, not his character sheet". I wanted it to be part of the mindset and, why not, rule set of Solar Blades & Cosmic Spells. Not everything should or need to be resolved using dice.

So I wrote these 2 segments in the draft text of the Rules of the Game chapter. I hope you enjoy the read!

When to Roll Dice

Player characters are competent adventurers that often get into problems much bigger than themselves. This means that most of the time they will be trying to accomplish feats that are not easing done, and that the consequences of success and failure are both interesting. But that may not always be the case.

Some actions are just mundane and don’t require an Attribute Test, like cooking a meal, driving a car through a calm street, using the radio to send a message to an ally. Unless something else is happening to make these actions more interesting and dangerous, making the outcome of both success and failure important. Trying to cook an extravagant meal to impress a foreign diplomat, driving a car when meteors are falling from the skies, and using the radio to transmit a message through a secret channel, however, might warrant an Attribute Test, since the consequences of failure are equally interesting and there is a significant chance things can go wrong.

Usually, simply adjusting the engines of her starship to perform a Star Jump doesn’t require much effort from Kaylia. However, since the Voidkillers ships are blasting their laser cannons at her, she will need to do this quickly, and the Overlord asks for a Difficulty 5 Intellect test!

Social and Intellectual Challenges

There are rules governing many aspects of the game, but for some of them, we left blanks (such is the way of Old School gaming). You roll dice to see if you hit your enemy with your pistol, if you managed to dodge the asteroids on your path, or to see if you find the files on the Galactic Overlord’s mainframe. But we suggest you don’t roll dice for every challenge, especially social and intellectual ones.

When the player characters decide to interact with someone, the Overlord asks them what are they saying. What are they hoping to get out this interaction? How are they trying to accomplish that? If they are making a proposition, what is it, and why do they think the other party would agree to that? If they are threatening someone, what is the threat? Players don’t need to make theatrical performances (although speaking in characters and gesturing like he would can be a lot of fun for everyone at the table). But using their creativity and ingenuity to solve social challenges instead of just rolling dice can be one of the best parts in a game session.

The Overlord will take that information and will make a judgment call based on the NPCs motivation, personality and overall disposition. He should, however, keep in mind that in an Old School game, we are hoping to encourage player’s creativity and problem solving, so if he sees the players making an effort to come up with a solution, he should give it a chance to work.

Similarly, an intellectual challenge, like a puzzle, a riddle or even a maze can be presented during the game for the players to solve, instead of their characters. It’s part of the Old School style to challenge the players instead of their characters. The Intellect Attribute in Solar Blades & Cosmic Spells represent the knowledge and perception of the character, but not his reasoning and ingenuity. That’s where the player comes in. It’s part of the fun of the game to solve this situations with other resources instead of simply die rolling. Figure out the puzzle, think about what the riddle means, trace a path to escape the maze.

In the end, however, this is up to the Overlord and his group of players. How do they want to tackle these situations? If they prefer to resolve everything with a die roll, it’s their game now. But I strongly suggest giving this method described above a try. Different challenges can have different ways to resolve. As they say: “Variation is the spice of life” (and, why not, games).

As Kaylia was trying to access the Galactic Overlord’s mainframe through the neural interface, the security measures throws her into a virtual maze, and now she has to figure out a way to get out of there, without touching the walls, which will send neural shocks in her mind. At that moment, the Overlords gives her a maze printed on a piece of paper and a marker. Alice, Kaylia’s player, has 1 minute to trace a path to escape the maze and every time the path touches a wall, Kaylia will suffer 1d3 points of damage.

If you like what you've just read, check out my books over RPGNow and Lulu.

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