A Game of Dice

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I’ve mentioned in passing a few times that, aside from my concerns as a Game Master for my own campaign, I’m also playing in another D20 game, set in the A Song of Fire and Ice series by George R. R. Martin. We’re using this book from Sword and Sorcery, which is nice, but I’m not sure the D20 system is suitable to capturing the feel of something like the A Game of Thrones books.

Not that I am totally dissatisfied with the system, and the game itself is excellent, but it seems unusual when the greater part of the game consists of dialogue and yet the rules for handling interaction of that sort is sorely lacking. To the credit of the game designers, they did try to add rules to handle this very significant aspect of game: Instead of leaving social interaction to be handled by, as D&D does, primarily the Diplomacy skill, the game has “Influence” checks which impact information and favors received from other characters. Typically this is an opposed roll between your character’s influence on a person and the influence another person or faction may have on them. Success and failure follows in varying degrees.

While this is a decent idea, it strikes me as a tacked-on idea. The Song of Fire and Ice series is one whose defining characteristics are, to me: Deep and complicated intrigue, gritty realism, and emphasis on culture and customs.

(1) Deep and complicated intrigue: This is fairly self-explanatory. Every character has complex motivations and characters cannot be expected to act in ways that easily conform to the various factional divisions of the game world. The noble family is the basic factional unit, but even within the family there are political maneuverings.
(2) Gritty realism: Even main characters are not exempt from death or grievous injury. Foolhardy heroism leads to death. Intrigue is emphasized because no combat is trivial.
(3) Emphasis on culture and customs: Martin spends significant time detailing heraldry, clothing, and other minutiae. Characters have reputations that strongly impact their relationships with others, such as when a character breaks a vow and is thus haunted by that reputation for the rest of his life. All of these are supporting elements of intrigue.

In the future I’m going to be fooling around with creating a more appropriate ruleset for interactions in this vein.

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