Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The scale of epic adventures

The other night, as I was falling asleep, I found myself thinking about how Trollbabe did have a level mechanic. The characters are basically made up of one number, plus some adjectives and relationships.

But then I realized that scale is actually the equivalent of levels in Trollbabe.

When an adventure is completed in Trollbabe, one of the options players have is to raise the scale of the adventures. Interestingly, if one player chooses to do this, it affects everyone. You also can't raise it more than one increment, by the way.

Scale is literally what it sounds like. The scope of what the players can affect. A starting Trollbabe has a scale of personal. Their direct actions can only affect a couple people. However, as players choose to increase the scale, their actions and therefore the scope of the adventures can become bigger and broader. At the top of the scale ladder, you can affect whole lands, which can mean continents.

This also helps determine what kind of relationships characters can have. With greater scope, villages or armies or whole countries can become allies or adversaries. This isn't quite as power gaming as it sounds. Using relationships to reroll failures can damage or even kill the other party. So, with great scale can come great sacrifice and loss.

Scale, while a very important concept of playing Trollbabe, isn't the most brilliant or innovative idea in the game. No, breaking up the usual responsibilities of game masters so that the players have a hefty part is really what makes Trollbabe so impressive and innovative.

However, as I sat up in bed, thinking about Trollbabe's use of scale, I realized that this was an amazingly simple but effective way to handle epic level adventure and campaigns.

Epic level campaigns can be really tough. I've known dungeon masters who don't like to run Dungeons & Dragons past tenth level. Epic means more power, bigger scope and probably higher complexity. 

Mind you, the Trollbabe method wouldn't work for Dungeons & Dragons system. In D&D, every action is a discrete one. Combat, for instance, tracks every blow and spell and any other kind of action. (Which is why I have seen epic level fights last three several hour sessions) 

Which is a big part of why epic level D&D can be so tough. Even a narratively simple action like slugging it out with a demon lord becomes very complicated mechanically. In a broad strokes system like Trollbabe, it has the same level of mechanical complexity as fighting some goblins. In fact, that is why one of my friends switched a campaign to Dungeon World when the characters got high-level and it worked very well.

Furthermore, using the system that allowed more broad strokes actually about more complicated narratives. In my experience, the more discrete systems ended up getting bogged down by the mechanics. We had to spend so much time on the minutia but it was tough to get around the big picture.

What is nice about Trollbabe and handling those big, earthshaking  storylines is that you set the scale and you have the scale as a guideline. Honestly, I can see using the Trollbabe rules for other genres or at least porting the scale system.

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