Monday, June 24, 2024

You Got Your Boot Hill In My Flashing Blades! Reputation and Non-Player Character Reactions

Other gamers are suprised sometimes when I'm asked about my favorite roleplaying game and I tell them it's original, "classic" Traveller. In fact, I've played more Traveller over the years than any other game, roleplaying or otherwise. As a result, I've internalized a lot of Traveller's rules, which is why when I need something like a reaction table or encounter ranges or something, I tend to default back to the system I know so well.

When I returned to Flashing Blades about thirteen or fourteen years ago, I brought in Traveller's reaction table; random non-player reactions are something of a cornerstone to how I referee roleplaying games, and I can recite the little black book table and its modifiers from memory. In the years since I last ran FB, however, I played in a three-year Boot Hill campaign, which has my favorite reaction table in roleplaying games, full stop.

The first thing to understand is that 2e BH doesn't have a "social attribute" for player characters: no Charm, no Charisma, no Fellowship. It also lacks social skills, or really any skills at all, and the original rules include only one social rule, minor (non-player) character morale. Boot Hill's NPC Reaction Table was introduced in its first published module, BH1 Mad Mesa, and it was included again in BH2 Lost Conquistador Mine. For a game with no social attribute or skills, it's absolute genius, a rule based on the adventurer's reputation, built from the player character's actions and standing in the setting.

So as I start a new Flashing Blades campaign, I'm changing up my reaction table. Now there's one important difference between BH and FB; the lattter has attributes and skills affecting social interactions, so the challenge before me is to incorporate those while keeping the essence of a reputation based system. First, there are a few small changes to the reaction tables as published in Mad Mesa and Lost Conquistador Mine - we made some of these same changes when we played our Boot Hill campaign years back.

NPC Reaction Table
Roll Reaction
2 or less Deadly - NPC will attack at slightest provocation
3 Hostile - NPC will attack if player makes slightest threatening move
4 Insulting - NPC tries to pick a fight
5 Suspicious - NPC watches character closely
6 Undecided - NPC watches character
7 Undecided - NPC is cautious
8 Friendly - NPC is off-guard
9 Trusting - NPC is friendly and does not suspect character
10 Helpful - NPC will give reasonable aid
11 Helpful - NPC is willing to join character
12 or more Loyal - NPC is willing to risk his or her life for character

Reaction Roll Modification
-4 Character has killed a friend of the NPC
-2 Character has killed someone known to the NPC
-2 Character is caught performing a criminal action
-1 Character is a known criminal
-3 Character is a known enemy
-1 Character is a stranger
-2 An argument is currently in progress between the character and the NPC
-1 NPC is drunk
+1 Character has previously helped the NPC
+1 Character and NPC are together in the same group
+1 Character refrained from killing a friend of the NPC when given the chance
+1 Character is an individual known to have performed a heroic deed
+2 Character has saved the NPC's life
+2 Character is a known friend
-3 to +3 Character skill check results

Now, Flashing Blades has six social skills: Bargaining, Bribery, Captaincy, Etiquette, Oratory, and Seduction. As presented in the adventures, social skills are pretty straightfoward rolls against an attribute, as seen in thie example from An Ambassador's Tales.
The player-characters must be fairly tactful about dealing with the explosive cake and saving the Ambassador. The Bavarian chocolate cake is the Emperor's pride and joy, and any violent destruction of the pastries or ill-concealed removal might result in a bad scene. Clever characters may think of special excuses for removing the cake (e.g. saying that M. de Bienvenu has been advised by his doctor to avoid sweets, or, perhaps, that he is allergic to chocolate). Similarly, they might 'switch' cakes with him. Otherwise, some player-character with Etiquette skill must make a successful roll against Charm to avoid a scene. - "Habsburg Hospitality," An Ambassador's Tales, p. 8, emphasis added
One of the problems I have with a system that depends on an attribute or skill roll is that the universe comes to be defined by the character sheet. Persuade the count to loan the adventurers four horses? Oratory roll against Charm. Make sparkling small talk with the baroness over supper? Etiquette roll against Charm. Bribe the guard captain to overlook a transgression? Bribery roll against Wit. This is very unsatisfying to me. I jumped through a variety of hoops to make this work in my last FB campaign, but given how smoothly the combination of reputation and morale worked together to create nuanced social system for BH, I want FB social skills to fit into this framework.

The solution is, a social skill check becomes another modifier to the reaction table. Taking a cue from Flashing Blades' combat rules, a social skill check is a simple attribute check but the results will be handled similar to extra damage (4.53 Weapon Damage, p. 17) for serious wounds.

Modifier Social Skill Check Result
+3 Roll of 1 exactly, at referee's discretion
+2 Roll of one-half or less of skill value
+1 Roll of more than one-half of skill value to skill value exactly
-1 Roll of one more than skill value to half-again skill value
-2 Roll of more than half-again skill value
-3 Roll of 20 exactly, at referee's discretion
Example: Jacques has Charm 12 and Etiquette skill. He wants to impress a potential mistress with his manners. The referee determines the skill check number is 14 - Charm 12 with +2 bonus for Etiquette - and Jacques' player rolls a six on 1D20. In addition to whatever modifiers he has for reputation, Jacques gets an additional +2 modifier to the reaction roll to see if the mistress is indeed impressed by Jacques' rizz.
Flashing Blades lacks a Bravery score like Boot Hill, but for purposes of rounding this into a social system, a Wit check will work; if the situation is especially complex, or the non-player character is particularly significant, the referee can even call for opposed Wit checks. Together the skill-influenced reaction roll coupled with a Wit roll produces something comparable to what we used for BH while maintaining the role of FB social skills and skill checks:
  • Negative reaction, fails Wit? Cowed
  • Neutral reaction, fails Wit? Resentful compliance
  • Positive reaction, fails Wit? Possible ally
  • Negative reaction, passes Wit? Possible enemy
  • Neutral reaction, passes Wit? Disinterested
  • Positive reaction, passes Wit? Willing to negotiate
  • And this avoids the situation of a player character's attribute score defining the universe, my personal pet peeve.

    1 comment:

    1. That's pretty interesting, I am hoping to play more Traveller, and may drag this off the back-burner when I can


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