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What's Rivers of London's "special sauce" for its RPG mechanics?


Travern

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As standout RPGs have "special sauce" rules that thematically drive their gameplay and reflect their genres or settings (e.g. D&D's XP/levels for heroic adventuring, CoC's SAN-Mythos skill death spiral, or Night's Black Agents's Conspyramid-Vampiramid structures), what's The Rivers of London's? 

(DriveThruRPG previews a brief guide to character creation/quick start rules, but this is obviously not in sufficient depth to answer that question.)

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Luck. The Luck spending rules are part of the main game as opposed to optional (as they are in Call of Cthulhu), and also because Luck (and spending it) powers the way demi-monde "magic" works.

And, of course, the Newtonian Magic system - the spells, how you learn them, what happens to you if you overdo things, etc.

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41 minutes ago, Lynne H said:

Luck. The Luck spending rules are part of the main game as opposed to optional (as they are in Call of Cthulhu), and also because Luck (and spending it) powers the way demi-monde "magic" works ...

Are the RoL Luck rules largely the same (or at least closely-related to) the CoC Luck rules (other than the changes needed for becoming a core mechanic)?
Or is this an entirely New Thing within BRP?

 

41 minutes ago, Lynne H said:

...

And, of course, the Newtonian Magic system - the spells, how you learn them, what happens to you if you overdo things, etc.

I haven't grabbed it yet -- I will probably wait for hardcopy, at least:  I'm still working my way through the novels, and I don't want any accidental hints/clues/spoilers from the RPG.  But I recall reading somewhere that Aaronovitch was particularly-involved in this element of the game.  This was going to be my own guess as to the "secret sauce."

But honestly, I often find BRP itself is the Secret Sauce.  The core Crit/Special/Success/Fail/Fumble mechanic just natively leads, IME, to interesting high-tension narratives arising from most rolls of the dice.


Oh, and BTW @Lynne H -- congratulations on this project!

Edited by g33k
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Thank you very much for the design insights, @Lynne H. It’s quite helpful to receive these as Chaosium rolls out Rivers of London.

I’m also interested in hearing more about RoL’s Luck system and how it distinguishes itself from CoC’s. It likewise appears to be a metacurrency that can be spent to alter skill rolls (like the Magic skill) as well as to offset wound conditions. I remember Aaronovitch saying in an interview he was a CoC fan, and I was wondering what his input on the game system was like on mechanics like this.

You also mentioned RoL’s magic system, which sounds intriguing. What’s mechanically unique or distinctive about the spell system as it relates to the novels’ setting and the urban fantasy genre? The quick rules preview—which of course is a glancing first impression at best—suggests it runs off a Magic skill and Magic Points with degrees of success. Newtonian spell casting is effectively ranged combat, right?

Incidentally, what are RoL’s special GM tools and mechanics? (It would be terrific to see a preview of the table of contents to get a fuller overview.)

Congratulations on RoL’s publication and good luck with its launch!

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12 hours ago, Lynne H said:

Luck. The Luck spending rules are part of the main game as opposed to optional (as they are in Call of Cthulhu), and also because Luck (and spending it) powers the way demi-monde "magic" works.

Actually, even if optional in CoC, I believe CoC's secret sauce is composed of Sanity/Mythos, Luck, push rolls and crit/extreme/hard/success/fail/fumble, RoL does not use Sanity/Mythos or extreme successes but retains the rest.

To some degree, the way combat works in CoC only drives "CoC type" stories, as it is simple enough that it is not the focus of a game session and yet textured enough to enable interesting choices and results in dramatic outcome. RoL essentially retains the same system with the twist that it does not use Hit Points! Not sure how it works at the table, but I suspect it makes combat quicker and characters being "one-shot'd" more often.  

As a side note Dodge does not trump Fighting in an opposed roll (on same success level, fighting wins). Aside from the fact you have a limited number of "Fighting Back" maneuvers in a fight (1 or 2), there is no reason to use Dodge over Fighting Back in a fight. Not sure how I feel about this as it seems to remove options. 

12 hours ago, Lynne H said:

And, of course, the Newtonian Magic system - the spells, how you learn them, what happens to you if you overdo things, etc.

I am not quite there yet but looking forward to it.

11 hours ago, g33k said:

Are the RoL Luck rules largely the same (or at least closely-related to) the CoC Luck rules (other than the changes needed for becoming a core mechanic)?

It seems to work like in CoC with some tweaks. As an example, you can try your luck using an expert skill that you do not have by spending 10 Luck and rolling a Hard Characteristic roll instead. If you succeed, you can spend another 10 Luck and retain the skill (at "Hard Characteristics"%)!  

11 hours ago, g33k said:

But honestly, I often find BRP itself is the Secret Sauce.  The core Crit/Special/Success/Fail/Fumble mechanic just natively leads, IME, to interesting high-tension narratives arising from most rolls of the dice.

Agreed!

11 hours ago, g33k said:

Oh, and BTW @Lynne H -- congratulations on this project!

Yes, congrats!

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Thank you for your questions, everyone. I'll try to go through them all here.

Luck is largely the same as CoC, in that you can roll it and spend it. I love the spending Luck mechanic in CoC and I really wanted it as part of Rivers. If you're a human, spending Luck can be to improve your skills rolls or alter your level of success (Paul simplified those down to Regular and Hard to make the system simpler and faster for those new to gaming). As @DreadDomainmentions, in addition, if no one present in a scene has a particular expert skill, you can also "try your Luck" to use it - if successful, think of it as revealing a hitherto unknown area of expertise! If you use the optional rules and allow lower fae investigators, Luck powers their abilities. And, if you end up with a genius loci as your benefactor, you may even end up being granted a boon in the form of an additional Luck pool!

 

@g33kWe've tried to avoid spoilers as much as possible. The ones we couldn't avoid are, for the most part, marked with superscript numbers so you can spot which pages and sections might have them. I don't blame you if you'd rather get up to date with the novels first, though. I hope you enjoy them!

 

The Newtonian magic system for humans uses magic points and the Magic skill. We had two options when designing the magic system: something akin to Ars Magica where you had a list of individual formae and it was up to the player and GM to bolt them together to create off the cuff effects, or a level based system determined by the number of formae used to cast a spell. The former is closer to the books in many ways but it's also pretty intimidating - something we wanted to avoid as we hope the game will encourage new gamers - and also requires a pretty good understanding of the novels; again, something we didn't want to assume or expect. Thankfully, the system in the books also supports the spell levels idea, and we felt that having set spell descriptions was more accessible if you were just building your confidence with either the game or the setting. Importantly, anyone can take the Magic skill during character creation (as long as they're not lower fae), as long as they take the Magical advantage.

 

You can still push rolls in RoL:RPG but we've foregrounded Luck as the preferred option. Always nice to have pushing there as a back up option, though! And while we don't have a Sanity system, trauma is mentioned in the books - the characters do see some awful things, so we do have a bespoke system top deal with it: Impairment.

 

We streamlined combat and removed hit points to make any fights that happen faster and more narrative. Fights aren't the big thing in the novels - they happen every now and again with the occasional big set piece, but the game's focus is the investigation and the magic. Of course, we still have to have combat rules in anticipation of future books in places where the tone may be different. It's also harder to die in Rivers than CoC. Peter is often in grave peril but he survives - often rather battered and bruised, but still going. We wanted the system to reflect that, too.

 

Hope that helps!

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3 hours ago, Lynne H said:

And while we don't have a Sanity system, trauma is mentioned in the books - the characters do see some awful things, so we do have a bespoke system top deal with it: Impairment.

Impairment is only mentioned as asides in the quick rules preview (I don't see it listed on the character sheet, unless I'm missing something). Could you please elaborate on that? Are the impairment rules optional, for instance?

Thanks again for the insights,

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There's a box on the character sheet for Impairment. Under certain circumstances, described in the full rules, the GM can ask for an Impairment roll. Depending on how that goes, you're either impaired or not. Ticking that box causes a specific mechanical effect which reflects the issues your mental state causes you from that point until you recover. You can also become impaired through physical injury.

How you recover from impairment depends on what caused it in the first place.

The rules aren't optional but how you apply them in your game may vary from the way someone else does.

 

 

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1 hour ago, Lynne H said:

There's a box on the character sheet for Impairment.

Thanks - I now notice the "Impaired" box under "Damage" (I was instinctually looking for a separate section). What are those "certain circumstances" that call for an Impairment roll?  Thematically, does RoL consider "Impaired" (mental state) to be on a par with "Bloodied" (physical state) (or "Hurt" or "Down")?

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15 minutes ago, Travern said:

What are those "certain circumstances" that call for an Impairment roll?  Thematically, does RoL consider "Impaired" (mental state) to be on a par with "Bloodied" (physical state)?

That is essentially it. Impairment can be caused by mental stress (the player makes a POW roll to try to avoid it) and what considers "mental stress" is pretty much up to the GM (or even the player). Conversely, someone who is bloodied is automatically impairment (no roll).

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For reference, @klecser postedYoutube video with an invaluable overview of RoL's rules, which are like BRP Accelerated.

 

On 11/30/2022 at 4:41 PM, g33k said:

But honestly, I often find BRP itself is the Secret Sauce. 

To switch to a slightly different culinary analogy, roleplaying games are like cake, with the general rules system as the foundation, and then the special ingredients, filling, icing, etc. as the distinctive mechanics. Call BRP chocolate cake, and d20 angel food (maybe GURPS is fruitcake to extend my metaphor). The SAN-Mythos skill death spiral is the cherry jam-whipped cream filling of the rich black forest cake that is Call of Cthulhu. Some cake recipes are plainer but still perfectly tasty, of course, just as not all BRP games have standout mechanics (say, ElfQuest). For something special, the Flashback mechanic from the "tea loaf" of an RPG titled Blades in the Dark is the Earl Grey blend that makes it taste like a Soderbergh-flavored heist.

On 11/30/2022 at 4:41 PM, g33k said:

The core Crit/Special/Success/Fail/Fumble mechanic just natively leads, IME, to interesting high-tension narratives arising from most rolls of the dice.

Much as I like crits (introduced in Empire of the Petal Throne) and fumbles (The Fantasy Trip (1977), AFAICT), they aren't especially unusual in RPGs, not enough to be a "secret sauce". These days the mechanics of partial successes and failing forward in RPG design have moved beyond this. 

On 12/1/2022 at 2:50 PM, Greg said:

Well, the special sauce is NOT the Resistance Table. 😉

The Resistance Table is the "sugar substitute" for people who don't want to do math in their heads. 😅

On 12/1/2022 at 11:51 AM, DreadDomain said:

Impairment can be caused by mental stress (the player makes a POW roll to try to avoid it) and what considers "mental stress" is pretty much up to the GM (or even the player). Conversely, someone who is bloodied is automatically impairment (no roll).

Mechanically, that's straightforward enough, from a freeform approach. My question is how this treatment of the categories of the conditions affects the gameplay thematically, as an adaptation of the Rivers of London novels. Similarly, how does Luck, as a metacurrency, affect the gameplay thematically as a literary adaptation?

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There are various interviews where Ben and I discuss changing from hit points to levels of damage and why that was done to thematically reflect how fights happen in the novels. There are also interviews where we talk about why Luck was chosen to do the things it does (it's also discussed on page 243 of the core rules).

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9 hours ago, Lynne H said:

There are various interviews where Ben and I discuss changing from hit points to levels of damage and why that was done to thematically reflect how fights happen in the novels.

Although I haven't tried it, I can see it works well for fight in RoL. They are never really the focus in the novels so having them de-emphasized is probably not a bad thing. 

What I am most surprised about is the that social interactions were also de-emphasized (no CHA/APP characteristics and only one skill - Social). There are lots of interactions of various forms in RoL and the stories seem to be driven by them. I would have assumed (and preferred) to have more focus on it with Charisma and skills like Persuade and Fast-Talk and Intimidate and Charm.   

9 hours ago, Lynne H said:

There are also interviews where we talk about why Luck was chosen to do the things it does (it's also discussed on page 243 of the core rules).

I might be missing it but in the section it explains how Luck is used when it relates to demi-monde but not really "why" Luck was chosen.

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Will there be an option, some time down the line, for a Newtonian Magic supplement that can expand the magic system a little more towards that used in Ars Magica?

I get that the core game is looking to be accessible to beginners, but the idea of a modern day setting utilizing an Ars Magica style system is too good. 

 

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15 hours ago, TrippyHippy said:

Will there be an option, some time down the line, for a Newtonian Magic supplement that can expand the magic system a little more towards that used in Ars Magica?

I get that the core game is looking to be accessible to beginners, but the idea of a modern day setting utilizing an Ars Magica style system is too good. 

 

We may decide to look at that in a future supplement as an optional system but we have no firm plans at the moment.

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3 hours ago, Lynne H said:

There are various interviews where Ben and I discuss changing from hit points to levels of damage and why that was done to thematically reflect how fights happen in the novels.

Wound/damage conditions are trend that have been around for a while—certainly since the narrativist movement, though I believe the D6 Ghostbusters RPG may have touched off the concept back in 1986—and it's intriguing to see them implemented in BRP. Grant Howitt's one-page RPG Dead Channel (2017) has an amazing breakthrough mechanic of how damage conditions advance character arcs/plot—that's some spicy special sauce!

On 12/6/2022 at 4:24 PM, DreadDomain said:

What I am most surprised about is the that social interactions were also de-emphasized (no CHA/APP characteristics and only one skill - Social). There are lots of interactions of various forms in RoL and the stories seem to be driven by them. I would have assumed (and preferred) to have more focus on it with Charisma and skills like Persuade and Fast-Talk and Intimidate and Charm.

That's an astute observation about social interactions, which tend to have more, not less, mechanics in police- or detective-style investigation systems (c.f. Mutant City Blues' wide selection of Interpersonal skills, including BS Detector, Cop Talk, Flattery, Influence, Interrogation, Negotiation, Reassurance, et al.). What was the design decision to reduce this aspect in the rules, @Lynne H?

3 hours ago, Lynne H said:

There are also interviews where we talk about why Luck was chosen to do the things it does (it's also discussed on page 243 of the core rules).

That sounds very interesting—could you please let us know which interviews we should look at? What's the postcard pitch for how RoL's Luck mechanic works thematically?

On 12/6/2022 at 4:24 PM, DreadDomain said:

I might be missing it but in the section it explains how Luck is used when it relates to demi-monde but not really "why" Luck was chosen.

That "why" is the key to a great game mechanic. CoC's Sanity, to use a familiar example, differs from other fear mechanics since it reflects HPL's attitudes toward psychology (for better or worse).

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DreadDomain said: What I am most surprised about is the that social interactions were also de-emphasized (no CHA/APP characteristics and only one skill - Social) [*£€@ quote failure]

This is a lose-lose for skill based game designers. One of the complaints about CoC is there are too many social skills, they eat up valuable skill spend points and imply the PC can only intimidate and not charm, for instance, even though they may want to. Fewer social skills, and now the complaint is reversed.

My take is that in the first case, multiple social skills, it defines the character's general style of interaction – they're a thug, they'll intimidate. The latter case, there's now the option to interact as seems appropriate to the situation - thug meets bigger thug, now they can try to fast talk their way past them. 

 

On 12/6/2022 at 9:24 PM, DreadDomain said:

I might be missing it but in the section it explains how Luck is used when it relates to demi-monde but not really "why" Luck was chosen.

I don't expect rule books to tell me why certain decisions were made, that's for designers' notes, if they choose to include them. But let's think about this case and see if we can get 5 from 2+2.

2 What does Luck do? It helps the character get their own way, tweak the vagaries of the world (the dice) so that it gives them what they want.

+

2 What is notable about the demi-monde? They do seem to have an easier path through life, things fall into their hands, the world complies to their needs, whether they are aware of it or not. Hell, we all know people like that, who wander through a charmed life somewhat oblivious of the fact. I can't think of any examples from the books off the top of my head, but Beverly certainly has the toast land butter-side up more often than not. (That may actually be an example from the books.)

=

5 How do you emulate that in a game? Give them plenty of Luck points to spend to change results in their favour and have those points refresh far faster than normal folk. That's what's been done. 
 

Edited by Cloud64
Removed statement whose intent could've been misinterpreted.
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1 hour ago, Travern said:

That sounds very interesting—could you please let us know which interviews we should look at? What's the postcard pitch for how RoL's Luck mechanic works thematically?

There's not many out there, AFAIK. The ones I've seen, after a simple YouTube search for 'rivers of london rpg', are on the Chaosium channel or the Rookery's. 

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3 hours ago, Cloud64 said:

I don't expect rule books to tell me why certain decisions were made...

Me neither but since I was replying to this...

On 12/6/2022 at 9:05 PM, Lynne H said:

There are also interviews where we talk about why Luck was chosen to do the things it does (it's also discussed on page 243 of the core rules).

... it led me to believe the "why" was explained on page 243.

Having said, I agree with your interpretation of the why.

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On 12/6/2022 at 4:24 PM, DreadDomain said:

I might be missing it but in the section it explains how Luck is used when it relates to demi-monde but not really "why" Luck was chosen.

Maybe this Rookery interview with @Lynne H and Aaronovich explains it (here are the timestamps and transcript for those who don't have time to watch for an hour and a half interview for a few minutes game design):

At the 28 min. mark: "The Fey and the rivers, they all have a completely different magic system which they do in the books and so therefore we had to come up with something much more kind of free-flowing and kind of uh whimsical. […] I think we ended up driving that half of the Luck system that was one of Ben's suggestions was, 'Well, can we not just use Luck for that?' And it's like, well, yes that makes perfect sense. I love the Luck mechanic in Call of Cthulhu [but] it's not optional as far as I'm concerned. I always use it and it fitted perfectly for this, but also the idea that the the more powerful of the demimonde can bestow Luck upon you. You can get Luck from but only for the kind of purposes that  particular person wants you to use it for so you can get extra Luck points providing you do what Number 10 says."

At the 1 hour 31 min. mark: "I had already had the the idea that the people like Beverly Brook are actually slightly changing the world[…]. The world is actually organizing itself to in that kind of way around the goddess and goddesses in a way that they're not really aware of most of the time. They don't even think about it, so Beverly Brook has never had a little red man pop off a light in London ever in their entire life. It's always green when Beverly arrives to cross the road, it's always the Green Man. And the Luck system just really really handles that really well. And the idea that they can give Boons to people and stuff that I think that really elegantly allows you to do a wide range of effects you can do a wide range of effects with this mechanic and cover all sorts of things you might want the supernatural sort of events you might want to do that are not covered by the spell system and I'm really pleased with that. […] I think I think the elaboration because they take basically took the idea and ran with it and now I think the system works really really well and I'm kind of looking forward to seeing it in action."

So, that seems to boil down to: Luck is a metacurrency that reflects the fantastic and fateful nature of magic in RoL's world as an urban fantasy. And it was the handiest existing mechanic in BRP's rules to expand and adapt.

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40 minutes ago, Travern said:

At the 1 hour 31 min. mark: "I had already had the the idea that the people like Beverly Brook are actually slightly changing the world[…]. The world is actually organizing itself to in that kind of way around the goddess and goddesses in a way that they're not really aware of most of the time. …"

I expect that's where I got my interpretation (above) from. Nice to know something sticks in my ageing head, even if I don't remember where from.

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