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[Interview] A Neo-Trad Take on BRP


clarence

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5 hours ago, Simlasa said:

I've been civil.

But I do see your proposed game as fitting Clarence's description of 'neo trad'... based on your own descriptions elsewhere. I'm not using it as a pejorative... I'd never heard the term before this thread... but labels ARE useful for following interests and tastes in games. I don't think you can really expect to exert much control over how your game gets labeled once you put it out there.

Then I suggest you investigate deeper into the subject. It sounds really weird that you apply the same label to two games that go in exactly opposite directions on so many points, doesn't it?

On a more concrete basis, the sheet seem to show basically what the interview already stated: no non-percentile stats, only skills. It will be interesting to understand whether the game moves further away from the D&D paradigm of resource attrition.

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Järn is a great, trim and flexible game with a lot of features that haven't been touched upon in the interview above - such as the clan system. And I think it's right to place it in the BRP family - it's not just the D100, there's a lot of (great) ideas inspired by Runequest and Pendragon.

I can see how this thread might look like a plug for the game, but I don't think that's what it is. I think the OP is sincere in saying that he wanted to share an interview looking into the underlying design issues. It is also the case that BRP is historically very dominant in Sweden, so in a way BRP is taken as a base line for what standard RPGs are - much like DnD is internationally - so it is perhaps not surprising that swedish game designers often define their systems in terms of how they differ from baseline BRP.

 

EDIT: Just realised this is my first post on BRP central! I've been lurking for some years I was sure I had posted before. Anyway - Hi Forum! Brought up on BRP and great fan of almost all of the games you cover/support :)

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23 minutes ago, Etepete said:

EDIT: Just realised this is my first post on BRP central! I've been lurking for some years I was sure I had posted before. Anyway - Hi Forum! Brought up on BRP and great fan of almost all of the games you cover/support :)

Welcome, then.

And don't worry, we understood that it was not a plug but an attempt to explain the differences.

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CR: Yes, "fail forward" is a beautiful concept! 

The clan-making rules have been highly appreciated since the release. Could you describe how they work and the role they play in the game?

KS: The clan has two distinct roles. From the characters’ perspective, the clan is home, family, insurance policy and retirement home, as well as a political battleground. It’s where you belong, but also your greatest opponent. A lot of the stuff that happens to the characters happen inside the clan.

In the meta perspective, the clan is a source for stories, an extention of the characters, and the players’ property. The players create the clan, so they invest in it and care for it. That means that any story that the GM digs out of the clan is a story that the players will care for and be motivated to participate in, as opposed to any mission that an NPC may offer to the characters. 

Basically, the clan is about mapping relationships. There are some nodes already on the map, to give the players somewhere to start. With a blank sheet of paper, players are often stuck at the beginning. But give them a few seeds and their shared creation will grow. 

So, the relation map starts off with the characters at the center, and some important clan NPCs around them – the thane, the war master, the weaponsmith, the godi (speaker of the gods), the völva (spirit caller), the shipwright, and so on. At the edge are some important things from the surrounding environment, like the Governor from the Empire, the Underworld, the Mountain, the enemy clan, etcetera. 

Participants, including the GM, take turns to define these roles and draw relations between them and the player characters. This goes on until the GM can identify at least one conflict that can be used to initiate the first adventure. That first adventure is given in skeleton form: have a conflict – the one that the GM identified – have the conflict lead to a journey, travel, have a fight, and return home.  The GM can fill in the blanks using the relation map and all the stories that evolved with the map.

The clan is also a living breathing entity that changes and evolves over time. When the characters return home from that first adventure, the fight and the conflict will both add something to the relation map. Until the next session, the GM uses the scheme to come up with the next story, which in turn will evolve the relation map even more. 

And since the new adventure is firmly grounded in the relationships that the players created, there will not be any problems starting the next session. You will never have to accept the previous unknown uncle inviting you to his mansion, because he was never unknown to you in the first place – you invented him!

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2 hours ago, clarence said:

In the meta perspective, the clan is a source for stories, an extention of the characters, and the players’ property. The players create the clan, so they invest in it and care for it. That means that any story that the GM digs out of the clan is a story that the players will care for and be motivated to participate in, as opposed to any mission that an NPC may offer to the characters. 

Basically, the clan is about mapping relationships. There are some nodes already on the map, to give the players somewhere to start. With a blank sheet of paper, players are often stuck at the beginning. But give them a few seeds and their shared creation will grow. 

I would love to see an English version of this. It's the sort of thing that gets players involved other than "you all meet in a bar and decide to go kill a dragon". My own 40K rules need something like this for creating a Rogue Trader dynasty, for example, or maybe even a Space Marine chapter.

Colin

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CR: As you mention, collaborative creation and storytelling are big parts of clan construction. Can you elaborate on that; what effects have you noticed around the gaming table in actual play?

KS: Well, it’s their clan. They care about it as much as they care about their own characters. They’re emotionally invested in every aspect of it. 

So when I use a particular person as a villain, they hate that NPC, and they love to hate her. But then, there are the entanglements to people that they like, and those will have consequences, so they can’t just kill her. They stop and interact with the villain, rather than just go “off with her head” at the first opportunity. Instead, they go to political manoeuvering and emotional manipulation to destroy the villain’s character before they can kill her.

In a similar manner, if some NPC that they like sides with the villain, they take it very personal. It’s a betrayal of trust. 

One effect of this particular implementation is that the players get to slot certain labels on relations, for instance “despises”, “is lover to”, “has a debt to”, “hates”. Nobody loves or is loved by everyone. There will be tensions in the clan, and they’re a godsend to GMs. Adventures write themselves in a way, or perhaps the players unwittingly write them for the GM. They’re all there in the relation map, ready for you to pick up. Sooner rather than later, there will be repercussions from the characters’ actions, causing a response from other clan members or from the enemy clan or even the Empire, and boom! you have a new adventure for the next session. 

I have seen parts of this before, when good GMs pick up on cues in characters’ background stories, when players pick up on the GM's recurring NPCs, or when the campaign grows complicated and you have to build relation maps for NPCs to see the big picture. But unless you start with doing relation mapping at character generation with the players, you rarely get these emotional investments from start. You get it eventually, but not from the start.

The drawback is that it’s trickier to publish adventures for a player-generated clan. You simply don’t care about the old mysterious man in the corner of the inn holding an old mouldy map. You have to build tie-ins to the clan for him instead, and as an adventure author it’s hard to make tie-ins to a clan that you have never seen.

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5 hours ago, ColinBrett said:

I would love to see an English version of this. It's the sort of thing that gets players involved other than "you all meet in a bar and decide to go kill a dragon".

While there are somewhat similar elements in other roleplaying games, like the Brotherhoods of Runequest 6, the Tribes of HeroQuest, the Factions of Stars Without Number or the Janus-Gesellschaft of the German version of Call of Cthulhu, this Clan idea really is most interesting, and so I would also very much like to see an English version of it. 

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CR: I'm quite picky when it comes to art in roleplaying games, and to me Järn is treading a bit of new territory with its striking graphic illustrations and gender conscious content. But, taking a broader view on illustration, will RPGs in general ever get out of the habit of depicting women as sexualized objects? I read a comment by Neil Gaiman that superhero comics are male adolescent power fantasies - is that where RPGs are stuck too?

KS: I think that Neil Gaiman is quite right about superhero comics, and you’re right too: RPGs are to a great extent male adolescent power fantasies. But that is slowly changing.

One problem is that the makers of RPGs in many cases are fans of the adolescent male power fantasy, often the same fans that made games in the naughties or nineties, in some cases even the eighties. Many simply do not see the problem since you can choose your character’s gender and do whatever you want. Some even think that they would lose customers. They got it completely wrong. 

First, both superhero comics and RPGs can be a lot more than just adolescent male power fantasies. Look at Marvel’s X-men for instance: the longest running relation drama in comics ever, and itself a commentary on minorities civil rights (sadly, many never realised)! In RPGs, this realisation is slowly coming from indie games and story games, that actively look to explore a premise rather than just murderhoboing. 

Second… let me go back to the first edition of Vampire: The Masquerade. It didn’t sell that well to the regular RPG audience at the time. It sold well, yes, but not to D&D players. Nobody could touch that mammoth. By trying to play for the same market, they just couldn’t compete with the gorilla. D&D owned the market. 

But Vampire did something different: it opened up an entirely new market, incorporating the aesthetes, the goths and the romance novel readers – the other group of lonely outsiders at the time. And half of them, if not more, where female. Yes, Vampire was a power fantasy too, but the point is that it was aimed at a new unexplored market. I still don’t know if it was marketing genious or a happy accident.

The lesson from Vampire is that when RPGs (and comics, for that matter) are just **male** adolescent power fantasies, they effectively cut out half of the potential market. 

It’s not that hard to change. You don’t even have to leave the power fantasy. Pick up your D&D5E PHB, and read that section on gender on page 121 that includes transgender characters. Look at the illustrations: the illustration of humans feature a coloured woman in a role of power and agency. 

Having people across the entire spectrum of ethnicity, gender identity and many other aspects – not just in illustrations, but in example characters and important NPCs – invites to your power fantasy and enables them to create their own. One person of colour told John, one of the illustrators of Järn, “finally I found myself in a game!” Open up your games like that, and you have practically doubled your potential market overnight. To not do that is just plain stupid from a market standpoint. 

We’re still not good at it, but we are learning. I learned a lot from Ronja and John, the illustrators of Järn.

The only thing I’m not willing to give up is the adolescent. I’m still 13 at heart.

Edited by clarence
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CR: Final question. After a very successful crowdfunding campaign Järn has recieved excellent reviews in Sweden - what are the plans for the future of the game? 

I’m not completely finished with the crowdfunding campaign. There are still stretch goals to be written, but that’s coming along nicely.

We’re looking at translating the book to English, but the cost is rather high. I could translate it myself, but I would need an editor – cheaper than a translator but still a big cost – and it would tie up my writing time to that project. 

In the future I want to write more books for Järn – adventures, campaigns, setting books, that kind of stuff. I’m not done exploring the world-tree in Järn, not even with the stretch goals. That will just be the introduction. 

I like Pathfinder’s adventure path concept: a series of adventure books that comes together as a campaign from level 1 to 15ish, with a corresponding setting book and player’s guide. If I can find additional writers, I would like to have a rather high publish rate, like a new book every two months, but as long as I’m the only writer, I think the rate will be limited.

I think that the future books of the Järn line should be thin, 64 pages at the most and preferably thinner. One of Järn’s main selling points is that it is not a 500-page tome, but rather 112 pages. 

I don’t think that I will write an official world book for Järn. The core of the game is the clan and its surroundings that the players create by themselves. It’s their world. I don’t have to dictate how the world is in detail. Instead, I want to give them resources and inspiration, a smorgasboard that they can pick and choose from. I think this approach, and thin books, will work nicely with the adventure path concept. 

I leave our conversation with a feeling that Järn is a game very close to Krister Sundelin’s heart and that we will see a lot of support for it the coming years. The combination of a stripped down BRP engine together with collaborative storytelling elements, makes it a very compelling offer on the contemporary RPG scene. Let’s hope it will make its journey into the English language soon.

If you have any more questions for Krister, I'm sure he will show up here to answer them.

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On 31.5.2016 at 10:18 AM, rust said:

After a little research I found the link to Järn's character sheet (which is of course in Swedish). In my opinion it does not look that much simpler than the usual BRP character sheet, for example the number of skills seems to be almost the same.

https://rollspelssmedjan.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/handlingsval-2-17.pdf

I don't understand a word of Swedish, but just having a look at all these swedish words makes me feel like wanting to play a Viking-like game :D. Much more inspiring than playing a Viking, let's say, in French.

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Q1: Any changes to the BRP core skill system? Crits, specials, fumbles? How are opposed skills handled?

Q2: How does the move from hit points affect combat? Are fights resolved faster or slower? Is it more deadly or less deadly for the players?

Thanks for the interview clarence! I heard that Järn came from a BRP background, but not much more before now. 

 

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11 hours ago, Zit said:

I don't understand a word of Swedish, but just having a look at all these swedish words makes me feel like wanting to play a Viking-like game :D. Much more inspiring than playing a Viking, let's say, in French.

If it gets translated, I will push for keeping the title "Järn". Metal umlauts and all.

Also, woo! My first post here! Hello everyone! Nice to meet you all!

Edited by Krister Sundelin
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11 hours ago, Trifletraxor said:

Q1: Any changes to the BRP core skill system? Crits, specials, fumbles? How are opposed skills handled?

Q2: How does the move from hit points affect combat? Are fights resolved faster or slower? Is it more deadly or less deadly for the players?

Q1: I have tried to reduce the number of calculations. Instead, I use comparisons. Also, I like when crits and fumbles happen often.

So crits works a bit like Unknown Armies: if ones and tens on the die roll are equal (as in 11, 22, 33 etc), the roll is a crit. A critical success means that something nice happens, a critical failure means something bad happens. No special rolls – I didn't think they added enough to the experience to motivate additional complexity.

Opposed skill rolls is similar to Pendragon: you roll under your score, but over your opponent's roll. I love the elegance of the Pendragon opposed roll.

 

Q2: There are hit points. They're just not depending on SIZ+CON.

Instead, there's a tiered hit point system akin to Wounds/Vitality in Star Wars d20. There are two hit point pools, Guard and Health. Guard measures energy, momentum, defensive posture, balance, breath etc, and Health is, well, your health. Each race have a base value representing an average adult civilian without any combat experience, but you can increase them by allocating dice to them in character creation.

An ordinary hit reduces Guard, and if Guard runs out, the rest reduces Health. An exceptional hit reduces Health directly, bypassing Guard. Guard is quickly restored: take a moment to catch your breath, or get support from a friend, and Guard goes up a bit. Guard is completely restored when the scene is over. Health heals slower: even with care, it could take weeks to recover from serious injury.

Balancing wound systems is tricky. Wound systems tend to make wounds either inconsequential in the long term (either naturally or by magic inflation), or halting the story or removing the character from the story while recovering. I think I have found a nice balance with Guard/Health: you're capable of participating even after being hurt, but you're still hurt. And I think that it's way cooler to be hurt and still struggle on than to be magically completely restored. 

My experience is that Järn is less deadly for unarmoured characters compared to BRP, and more deadly for armoured characters. Also, fights between very two experienced fighters, or between two noobs, tends to resolve faster because there are fewer rounds where nothing happens (neither fighter hitting the other, or the other fighter always parrying) because of the Pendragon-style opposed rolls. For matched armoured reasonably experienced fighters, I think fights are resolved at the same speed as in regular BRP.

Edited by Krister Sundelin
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46 minutes ago, Krister Sundelin said:

There are two hit point pools, Guard and Health. Guard measures energy, momentum, defensive posture, balance, breath etc, and Health is, well, your health.

First of all, welcome to the forum. :)

This seems somewhat similar to the German roleplaying game Midgard, where characters have AP ("Ausdauerpunkte" = "Endurance Points") and LP ("Lebenspunkte" = "Life Points"). A loss of AP basically means that the character is getting fatigued, while a loss of LP shows that the character's health is seriously reduced and that he will need some healing (time or spell). I think this is how Guard and Health work in Järn, too ?

A very interesting feature of Järn is the Clan element. There are similar elements in other games, and they are often treated like a kind of meta-character, with their own attributes and skills and their own range of possible actions. Are the Clans in Järn also meta-characters or purely social networks ?

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4 minutes ago, rust said:

First of all, welcome to the forum. :)

This seems somewhat similar to the German roleplaying game Midgard, where characters have AP ("Ausdauerpunkte" = "Endurance Points") and LP ("Lebenspunkte" = "Life Points"). A loss of AP basically means that the character is getting fatigued, while a loss of LP shows that the character's health is seriously reduced and that he will need some healing (time or spell). I think this is how Guard and Health work in Järn, too ?

A very interesting feature of Järn is the Clan element. There are similar elements in other games, and they are often treated like a kind of meta-character, with their own attributes and skills and their own range of possible actions. Are the Clans in Järn also meta-characters or purely social networks ?

From the looks of it, Guard/Health represents about the same as AP/LP in Midgard. I wonder if this is the start of a trend in iron age/viking age RPGs? :)

The clan is purely social network. In the second iteration, the clan had its own attributes and skills, but I dropped it. It had too much book-keeping and too little story and drama. I wanted more focus on the characters' roles in the clan and the clan's intrigues. So I went for the current relation mapping system instead, after finding a similar system in Smallville RPG. 

("Index I copy from old Vladivostok telephone directory…" – well, not really.)

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To me, the point of the Clan is to establish NPCs and to create plot points and motivation for the PCs. You could quite easily run a campaign just on the dynamics and challenges facing your Clan - and this is indeed how the game is set up. In this way it's rather different from f.ex. Cults and Brotherhoods etc from other BRP iterations.

On the language - to me, it evokes the sagas (things like Fylgja and Skaldekonst) without resorting to faux-icelandic. An earlier Swedish game (Trudvang) that tried to evoke a norse-flavoured setting was a lot more heavy-handed - employing norse-flavoured fantasy-esque. Järn by comparison has clear and elegant writing (neither game is purely norse but rather broadly 'migration era' fantasy with a big helping of steppe and other cultures).

Krille mentions allocating dice - this is how you create your characters. Rather than assigning points to a skill you a assign a number of d6, thereby getting both randomisation and a certain level of control.

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21 minutes ago, Etepete said:

To me, the point of the Clan is to establish NPCs and to create plot points and motivation for the PCs. You could quite easily run a campaign just on the dynamics and challenges facing your Clan - and this is indeed how the game is set up. In this way it's rather different from f.ex. Cults and Brotherhoods etc from other BRP iterations.

I see - and I have to admit that the only use I ever made of meta-character organizations with attributes and skills, etc., was in solo play.

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4 hours ago, Krister Sundelin said:

Instead, there's a tiered hit point system akin to Wounds/Vitality in Star Wars d20. There are two hit point pools, Guard and Health. Guard measures energy, momentum, defensive posture, balance, breath etc, and Health is, well, your health. Each race have a base value representing an average adult civilian without any combat experience, but you can increase them by allocating dice to them in character creation.

An ordinary hit reduces Guard, and if Guard runs out, the rest reduces Health. An exceptional hit reduces Health directly, bypassing Guard. Guard is quickly restored: take a moment to catch your breath, or get support from a friend, and Guard goes up a bit. Guard is completely restored when the scene is over. Health heals slower: even with care, it could take weeks to recover from serious injury.

Balancing wound systems is tricky. Wound systems tend to make wounds either inconsequential in the long term (either naturally or by magic inflation), or halting the story or removing the character from the story while recovering. I think I have found a nice balance with Guard/Health: you're capable of participating even after being hurt, but you're still hurt. And I think that it's way cooler to be hurt and still struggle on than to be magically completely restored.

This sounds much like the Hit Point system in "Into the Odd", a free Old School RPG. It is extremely simple, elegant and effective. I am still puzzled that mainstream D20 games have not adopted it more widely, as it solves a gazillion problems while remaining true to Gygax's core assumption of "Hit Points are a measure of your ability to endure a sustained fight".

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On June 2, 2016 at 3:42 AM, Krister Sundelin said:

If it gets translated, I will push for keeping the title "Järn". Metal umlauts and all.

Also, woo! My first post here! Hello everyone! Nice to meet you all!

Welcome Krister!

What is the likelihood of a translation?  

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29 minutes ago, Chaot said:

Welcome Krister!

What is the likelihood of a translation?  

Ehrm… 36 %, but modified by circumstances. 

Actually, I don't know – first priority is to get all the stretch goals done. After that, some content has to be made. Then it depends on funding (translation is not cheap) or time (I could translate it myself, but I need an editor, and it will tie up my time).

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