Refereeing a climb down a cliff

Discuss the Traveller RPG and its many settings
nats
Lesser Spotted Mongoose
Posts: 428
Joined: Sun Sep 27, 2009 5:34 pm
Location: Pocklington, East Riding of Yorkshire

Refereeing a climb down a cliff

Postby nats » Mon Oct 23, 2017 7:37 pm

I have always been a bit shaky on refereeing things like obstacles or tasks that you want to be quite interesting for the players but not drag on too long but be more than a single throw.

For example in my present game my player has come to a cliff and he needs to get down. Now obviously I could just have him role once with athletics task check to see whether he made it down successfully but thats really dull if just done purely mechanically. I could have him throw several times as he went from ledge to ledge or something but that would be repetitive. I could make it a task chain but would previous throws really affect the succeeding ones? And how would I make that any more interesting that rolling several times one after the other?

So what I am asking is how would you Referee this little obstacle? How would you make it interesting for the player without making it too simple or overly complex? Its not like combat or vehicle chases where we have proscribed rules for those things. This is a typical sort of event or obstacle that the player might come across several times in a session whilst adventuring. And there are no set rules for how to referee it.
6A6AB9, Citizen(Corporate), 8th Term, Rank 3, Cr Enough
Trade(Architecture)3, Art(3d Illustration)2, Computers2, Admin2, Leader1, Drive(Wheeled)1, Advocate1, Art(Painting)1, Flyer0
Comm(TL7), Computer(TL8), Binoculars(TL6), Tent(TL7), Ground Car(TL7)
PsiTraveller
Lesser Spotted Mongoose
Posts: 653
Joined: Thu Dec 04, 2014 11:47 pm

Re: Refereeing a climb down a cliff

Postby PsiTraveller » Mon Oct 23, 2017 8:08 pm

OK Bob: You see a cliff you need to get down. You have had training on rope use and all in your background as a "X" (Marine, Army or whatever else might cover scaling down a cliff, or just athletics as a hobby task. )

BUT Bob, it's been a while since you did it. How fast do you want to set up for the descent? (This is to instill some tension in case the player is being chased.)

OK Bob give me a Task Chain check for rope use and setup. If you are going slower and methodical you can get a bonus of X
Your first descent section goes quite nicely and everything goes smoothly. There is a bit of a rough patch here so give me another roll. How fast do you want to tackle this section (again, if there is a chase).

Nicely handled and you keep your lines from snarling and tangling. (GM rolls dice). A bit of wind is picking up, make a last roll vs my windy effect modifier that I am not telling you, and see if you get down gracefully or if you end up with flat fleet on impact.

OK, you made it down safely and now have to coil up all your rope, or run away from the folks chasing you.
paltrysum
Mongoose
Posts: 186
Joined: Mon Mar 20, 2017 11:16 pm

Re: Refereeing a climb down a cliff

Postby paltrysum » Mon Oct 23, 2017 9:54 pm

You might consider constructing a task chain that includes Athletics (Strength) and maybe Survival. Perhaps Recon could be used to scout the cliff terrain for dangerous obstacles. In this way, it would either require a traveller with all of the above skills, or the teamwork needed to descend the obstacle.

On a personal note, I want to share that one of the most exciting moments in my running of Last Flight of the Amuar was when I decided that the dorsal surface of the ship was slippery and the travellers had to make fairly easy die rolls to maintain their footing. Two snake eyes rolls later and we had an equal parts dangerous/comedic situation unfold with players falling off an eight-deck-high crashed starship into a murky swamp below. :lol:
"Spacers lead a sedentary life. They live at home, and their home is always with them—their starship, and so is their country—the depths of space."
ochd
Stoat
Posts: 88
Joined: Sat Aug 18, 2007 10:33 am
Location: Wantage, Oxfordshire, UK

Re: Refereeing a climb down a cliff

Postby ochd » Tue Oct 24, 2017 7:47 am

Along the lines of other suggestions, present a mini-encounter on the way down, so that it's not just a repetitive athletics check.

For example:
- a third of the way down, the climber disturbs an insect nest. Or some flying creature thinks the climber is after its eggs.
- a section of the cliff face has particular sharp rocks or snags that might tear vacc suits or cut exposed skin.
- some electromagnetic weirdness suddenly sends a piercing noise or blinding flash in the climbers comms, momentarily disorienting them
- a sudden dust or electrical storm rolls through, or tremor occurs, or sudden eclipse plunges the land into darkness.

Dan.
Last edited by ochd on Tue Oct 24, 2017 9:35 am, edited 1 time in total.
Sigtrygg
Lesser Spotted Mongoose
Posts: 745
Joined: Sat Aug 12, 2006 9:23 am

Re: Refereeing a climb down a cliff

Postby Sigtrygg » Tue Oct 24, 2017 9:12 am

Every time you roll the dice for a task like this you are increasing the odds of failure.

Consider - you say yo need to succeed on a climbing task - final chance after all DMs etc 6+

72% chance.

You decide to spice it up with a leap to a ledge 6+, a difficult handhold 6+, a crumbling foothold 6+

You now have to succeed on 4 rolls to climb down the cliff:
0.72x0.72x0.72x0.72 = 0.27

You have a 27% chance of success.
AnotherDilbert
Duck-Billed Mongoose
Posts: 2434
Joined: Wed Dec 23, 2015 2:49 pm
Location: Sweden

Re: Refereeing a climb down a cliff

Postby AnotherDilbert » Tue Oct 24, 2017 9:53 am

Sigtrygg wrote: You now have to succeed on 4 rolls to climb down the cliff:
0.72x0.72x0.72x0.72 = 0.27

You have a 27% chance of success.
Exactly.

And if three characters are climbing and each roll four times the chance of them all succeeding is

0.27 × 0.27 × 0.27 ≈ 0.02 ≈ 2%

With many repeated rolls even simple tasks becomes nearly impossible.

So, generally only roll once... (and run the mini-encounter if they fail?)
Linwood
Stoat
Posts: 55
Joined: Thu Jun 29, 2017 12:41 am

Re: Refereeing a climb down a cliff

Postby Linwood » Tue Oct 24, 2017 9:56 am

The mini-encounter is a better way to add drama. But you could also drive additional checks by dangling something shiny out there. Maybe the Traveller spots a lost gadget - or a human bone? - caught in a crevice that’s just out of reach, for example. Amazing how easy it can be to tempt a player into taking greater risks that way....
Sigtrygg
Lesser Spotted Mongoose
Posts: 745
Joined: Sat Aug 12, 2006 9:23 am

Re: Refereeing a climb down a cliff

Postby Sigtrygg » Tue Oct 24, 2017 11:18 am

I don't think the average player or referee understands statistics well enough to realise that multiple dice rolls per task are a recipe for disaster.
I remember a game of RuneQuest once where the ref decided it would take five consecutive climbing rolls to get to the top of a cliff - everyone died.
paltrysum
Mongoose
Posts: 186
Joined: Mon Mar 20, 2017 11:16 pm

Re: Refereeing a climb down a cliff

Postby paltrysum » Tue Oct 24, 2017 3:30 pm

Wow. Two percent is pretty harsh! Maybe only incorporate the task chain for a particularly perilous descent, and then allow for failure to only indicate a setback rather than a death plunge. It will still add to the drama and enable the group to exhibit teamwork to make the climb.
"Spacers lead a sedentary life. They live at home, and their home is always with them—their starship, and so is their country—the depths of space."
dragoner
Duck-Billed Mongoose
Posts: 1695
Joined: Sat Sep 29, 2012 8:37 pm
Location: Indiana, US

Re: Refereeing a climb down a cliff

Postby dragoner » Tue Oct 24, 2017 3:31 pm

nats wrote:
Mon Oct 23, 2017 7:37 pm
I have always been a bit shaky on refereeing things like obstacles or tasks that you want to be quite interesting for the players but not drag on too long but be more than a single throw.

For example in my present game my player has come to a cliff and he needs to get down. Now obviously I could just have him role once with athletics task check to see whether he made it down successfully but thats really dull if just done purely mechanically. I could have him throw several times as he went from ledge to ledge or something but that would be repetitive. I could make it a task chain but would previous throws really affect the succeeding ones? And how would I make that any more interesting that rolling several times one after the other?

So what I am asking is how would you Referee this little obstacle? How would you make it interesting for the player without making it too simple or overly complex? Its not like combat or vehicle chases where we have proscribed rules for those things. This is a typical sort of event or obstacle that the player might come across several times in a session whilst adventuring. And there are no set rules for how to referee it.
Just one roll, narrate most of the climb, and if they miss the one roll, then give them another for a save; mostly narrative though, such as have they prepared with rope? Things like that.
Epicenter
Banded Mongoose
Posts: 256
Joined: Thu Jan 22, 2009 6:37 pm

Re: Refereeing a climb down a cliff

Postby Epicenter » Fri Oct 27, 2017 11:21 am

nats wrote:
Mon Oct 23, 2017 7:37 pm
So what I am asking is how would you Referee this little obstacle?
A suggestion as a GM:

Never make your players do anything that requires die rolls unless you are prepared for what happens if they fail.

Tabletop RPGs are a group activity; it's always more fun to play some first-person video game if you just want individual coolness. Try and aggregate success and failure across the entire party instead of singling out individual characters if at all possible.

It feels natural as a GM to make a player roll to scale a cliff. But what happens if the player fails the check? If the player dies from scaling a cliff, is that fun for your player or you? Will this enhance the fun for you and your players? If not, you might want to reconsider the consequences or the need to make a skill check at all. For instance, even if you go down the less lethal route and on a failure, the player falls and breaks a leg (for instance) how does that contribute to the adventure you're running? Or did you just force the entire party to withdraw to get the injury treated or will the player have to sit out the rest of the adventure at some camp? Did that enhance the game?

Traveller with its vaunted (?) 2d6 skill check system has an extremely high chance of failure; in fact the failure rate is so high it cannot model many real-world situations. Assuming you will fail on at least a total of 2 on 2d6, that's a 3% failure rate (actually it's like 2.77%). Often it'll be much higher, making games like Traveller ill-suited to playing truly skilled characters (for instance, to qualify to be a sniper in the more demanding real life militaries today is impossible with Traveller's skill system). It's a limitation of the 2d6 system.

What this means as a GM is that you should only make your players roll skill checks in situations where there is a high chance of failure (higher than 3%). Many potentially risky tasks should not be rolled at all if you don't want them failing. For example, it's pretty routine to make the pilot of a starship roll to do something like Gas Giant refuelling. What happens if they fail? Do 3% of all starships trying to refuel in a gas giant fall in and get crushed? How about 2%? 1%? Even a 1% failure rate would be so suicidal nobody would do Gas Giant refuelling if it meant that 1% of all the ships that try it run into some complication and are crushed like a bug as they fall into the Gas Giant. Nobody would do such a ridiculously hazardous thing. To use an example from the real world you might be better able to relate to, the rule of thumb with the chance of a parachute failure during skydiving (assuming you're using a professionally packed chute) is 1 in a 1000 (0.1%). If you pack a reserve chute that chance drops to 1 in 1000000. Yet most RPGs require you to make a skill check, usually with fatal consequences if you fail for parachuting. In Traveller, if you forced a die roll for the parachute opening, you could never hit 1:1000. It'd always be 1:33. Although parachuting sounds like it'd be risky, I wouldn't require a die roll for it - most die-roll systems just can't account for anything less than 1% failure rate.

So back to the idea of scaling a cliff. I'd only make them roll if you're:

* Doing simulationist timekeeping. Some GMs do this. Many GMs don't. They figure out when the players set out, how many hours of daylight they have, tracking player fatigue levels, and so on. The cliff is not necessarily a fatal obstacle, but a time waster. Everyone makes a roll. If it's utterly ideal (all the players succeed) they the cliff scaling incurs no additional time; its as if the cliff didn't exist. Each player who fails means they spend an additional 1d6 x 10 minutes scaling the cliff; this does not mean that a particular character fails, it just is an aggregate of the trouble the cliff gives them as a group; perhaps it is very windy and they spend time waiting for the wind to die down or one character who failed basically loses his or her nerve and the other players work out a method a lift the character up on a rope - it takes time to prepare the rope and so on.

* The players are under imminent threat. The players are running at full tilt, pursued by an enemy. The players come to a cliff on the side of the road they're fleeing and decide the best way to shake their pursuers is to climb up it. They're in a hurry, the enemy might show up at any minute. Sure, by all means, the players are under intense stress, they may be tired, and so on. It's part of combat as far as I'm concerned. If everyone succeeds, the players successfully shake the enemy who continue to pursue them down the path or whatever they would have taken. If one or more characters fail, then any other character who succeeded on the check with a success that would have qualified for the next higher tier of success may "lower" his or her success to help the failing character move up to a normal failure. If a successful player scored particularly well, the player can boost up the failing character's result even into success by dropping his or her own success down to bare level necessary to succeed. This simulates more skilled or lucky characters helping those less fortunate from falling or just helping them out in various ways. This incentivizes players to take a variety of skills and reinforces the group nature of RPGs - the player who took Climb-4 feels useful now, not just for him/herself but can extend the benefit to the rest of the party. After all of this, if there are still one or more players who failed, the enemy get a perception check to see if someone actually looks up to notice some evidence of the party's action: They might notice the last character just vanishing out of sight, or they might notice the climbing ropes still dangling there that the party didn't have time to gather up; regardless the enemy are aware of the misdirection and will react to it. If one or more players are still in a state of critical failure, they don't fall, but are still physically on the cliff face when noticed. The enemy will automatically hit these vulnerable characters with ranged weapons unless the other party members can provide covering fire with any ranged weapons they have.
Sigtrygg
Lesser Spotted Mongoose
Posts: 745
Joined: Sat Aug 12, 2006 9:23 am

Re: Refereeing a climb down a cliff

Postby Sigtrygg » Fri Oct 27, 2017 11:45 am

I couldn't agree with a post more.

Consider what CT said about rolling dice:
The following terms and conventions for dice throws apply to the game.
Saving Throw (also called Throw): That dice roll required to achieve a stated effect.
Consider - how often do you use saving throws in D&D?

Once Traveller became a task based skill use system the chance of PCs failing in their endeavours skyrocketed. It's one of the reasons I have dropped DGP's task system, MT's task system and MgT's task system in favour of going back to only rolling dice during critical situations, rather than the routine task library the game became.
ochd
Stoat
Posts: 88
Joined: Sat Aug 18, 2007 10:33 am
Location: Wantage, Oxfordshire, UK

Re: Refereeing a climb down a cliff

Postby ochd » Fri Oct 27, 2017 3:45 pm

To be fair to Mongoose, their rules on task checks opens with "Most actions undertaken by Travellers do not require a skill check. A player does not have to roll Athletics to run through a forest, or roll Electronics (computers) to access information from his ship’s library."

I would include climbing down a cliff in that category, unless there are particular circumstances such as those listed above. But in this thread, the question was about how to make a particular climb more interesting, and in such situations I think task checks can be a good tool for generating suspense and making the session fun. Skill checks can be overused, though, and I agree with Epicenter's point on being prepared for the consequences of a failed dice roll.

Likewise the point about the odds involved with a 2d6 system, but for me I have had more problems the other way -- that is, it is relatively easy for players to accumulate +3 or +4 to a roll, making checks relatively easy by comparison to other systems I have had experience with. But I am only relatively new (less than a year) to both Traveller and refereeing in general, so still learning how to handle the mechanics.

Dan.
dragoner
Duck-Billed Mongoose
Posts: 1695
Joined: Sat Sep 29, 2012 8:37 pm
Location: Indiana, US

Re: Refereeing a climb down a cliff

Postby dragoner » Fri Oct 27, 2017 7:07 pm

Epicenter wrote:
Fri Oct 27, 2017 11:21 am
Traveller with its vaunted (?) 2d6 skill check system has an extremely high chance of failure; in fact the failure rate is so high it cannot model many real-world situations. Assuming you will fail on at least a total of 2 on 2d6, that's a 3% failure rate (actually it's like 2.77%). Often it'll be much higher, making games like Traveller ill-suited to playing truly skilled characters (for instance, to qualify to be a sniper in the more demanding real life militaries today is impossible with Traveller's skill system). It's a limitation of the 2d6 system.
Thus the reasoning behind T4-5's nd6 system to increase the granularity of rolls.
Epicenter wrote:
Fri Oct 27, 2017 11:21 am
What this means as a GM is that you should only make your players roll skill checks in situations where there is a high chance of failure (higher than 3%). Many potentially risky tasks should not be rolled at all if you don't want them failing. For example, it's pretty routine to make the pilot of a starship roll to do something like Gas Giant refuelling. What happens if they fail? Do 3% of all starships trying to refuel in a gas giant fall in and get crushed? How about 2%? 1%? Even a 1% failure rate would be so suicidal nobody would do Gas Giant refuelling if it meant that 1% of all the ships that try it run into some complication and are crushed like a bug as they fall into the Gas Giant. Nobody would do such a ridiculously hazardous thing.
Thus people have commented that I play my Mongoose Traveller game like CT, probably because I only call for rolls about half as much as other GM's do; that's also probably because I cut my teeth on CT back in the 70's. With the example of the gas giant refueling, even if I called for a roll, it would only mean the ship took a hit of damage, and not a catastrophic failure, I generally do not like a catastrophic to hang by a single roll, or any roll, really.
ShawnDriscoll
Cosmic Mongoose
Posts: 2523
Joined: Sun Dec 13, 2009 6:13 pm

Re: Refereeing a climb down a cliff

Postby ShawnDriscoll » Sat Oct 28, 2017 2:28 am

nats wrote:
Mon Oct 23, 2017 7:37 pm
So what I am asking is how would you Referee this little obstacle?
The same way cliffs are handled in movies. How much time needs to be spent on a character climbing a cliff? Does it advance the story any? Does the character learn/gain anything? Should the other players take a smoke break and come back when it's their move (this would be a really bad movie, not worth matching)?
nats
Lesser Spotted Mongoose
Posts: 428
Joined: Sun Sep 27, 2009 5:34 pm
Location: Pocklington, East Riding of Yorkshire

Re: Refereeing a climb down a cliff

Postby nats » Sat Oct 28, 2017 9:19 am

Thanks everyone for your help it has cleared my mind.

Especially the comments about being prepared when the roll fails - I do like the idea of having failed rolls mean some lesser consequence like being noticed by enemies or being delayed on the climb or taking a very long time to do the cliff etc rather than falling off the cliff. I think only if the character rolled a -6 effect would he be penalised badly but even then I do agree that its a good idea to give him a chance at redemption for example getting a hand from someone at the last minute or catching a ledge. It is the need for fun that must drive the game but I must admit I dont much like games where they are just narrated/discussed and not rolled.

Matters like failing gas giant refuelling might just result in getting a reduced fuel load, or damaged fuel scoops, perhaps very tainted inefficient fuel, being delayed/taking a long time, or perhaps getting a damaged ship rather than catastrophic damage and death depending on the effect of the roll.

But I do like the idea of giving characters rolls to make. After watching that Ashes of Exodus:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jloOW14z5Kg

I was surprised how little the characters are rolling and how often a few of them are left being uninvolved with the gameplay, I do like my characters to feel more involved and rolling for consequences etc than just narrating and discussing the whole gameplay.
6A6AB9, Citizen(Corporate), 8th Term, Rank 3, Cr Enough
Trade(Architecture)3, Art(3d Illustration)2, Computers2, Admin2, Leader1, Drive(Wheeled)1, Advocate1, Art(Painting)1, Flyer0
Comm(TL7), Computer(TL8), Binoculars(TL6), Tent(TL7), Ground Car(TL7)
Epicenter
Banded Mongoose
Posts: 256
Joined: Thu Jan 22, 2009 6:37 pm

Re: Refereeing a climb down a cliff

Postby Epicenter » Sat Oct 28, 2017 1:03 pm

nats wrote:
Sat Oct 28, 2017 9:19 am
Matters like failing gas giant refuelling might just result in getting a reduced fuel load, or damaged fuel scoops, perhaps very tainted inefficient fuel, being delayed/taking a long time, or perhaps getting a damaged ship rather than catastrophic damage and death depending on the effect of the roll.
I've personally moved away from making players roll things like gas giant refuelling. I know there's a task for it in Traveller, but frontier refuelling is supposed to be a routine thing in-universe. I feel that making players make checks like this is vindictive -- players will fail the rolls and I feel it makes them look like those hapless actors on late-night infomercials who fail in messy and inconceivable ways to do routine things like open up a jar, operate a blender, or cut tomatoes.

For newer players, I might describe the sequence and how it works once, narrating how bumpy the ride gets, the shrieking sounds, and so on. But afterwards, gas giant refuelling is routine - it's simply a proceedure on a trip from A to B; it's no more rolled for than landing or lifting off with a starship, or making the pilot make hourly rolls. It only time I'd make players roll is if there was an extraordinary situation - the player ship is heavily damaged, typically.
nats wrote:
Sat Oct 28, 2017 9:19 am

I was surprised how little the characters are rolling and how often a few of them are left being uninvolved with the gameplay, I do like my characters to feel more involved and rolling for consequences etc than just narrating and discussing the whole gameplay.
There's a very uncomfortable truth about RPGs and the "roleplaying as opposed to roll-playing" thing: Unless your GM is some supernatural miracle worker, the only time all of the players are typically involved is during individual combat. In any other kind of scene, some players are going to be left out; haggling with merchants, negotiating with a naval patrol, even trying to orienteer themselves in the outback, whatever. One or two players are involved, everyone else as might as well be playing on the Xbox in another room. The more of these kinds of scenes you have, the less time players spend involved (it gets even worse in starship or vehicle combat where only the pilot and gunner truly participate with everyone else at best getting "token player rolls" as an "engineer" to "adjust power levels" now and again, yet everyone has to deal with the deadly consequences should the pilot or gunner fail rolls).

It can be argued this is why D&D is an enduringly popular game while Traveller is "niche." Because D&D has this outrageously unrealistic combat system, players can remain in combat and involved for an entire evening. Injuries are swiftly healed using magic. The action keeps moving. On the other hand, Traveller has a supposedly more "realistic" combat system (eg; it's more lethal). Injuries are lasting and a major inconvenience. Death, obviously is even worse. (Let's not even begin on the "ping or splat" issue with "realistic" combat systems - your armor either makes you invulnerable or you're a red smear, nothing inbetween.) Many GMs and players profess to prefer "realistic" combat because it makes players avoid combat. The issue for me is what I've described above. It also results in the GM having to come up with non-combat challenges to keep all of the players engaged, which inevitably boils down to die rolls (literally Players vs. Environment combat). Often with what feels like very arbitrary or even summary penalties for the die rolls when failed, something I don't particularly enjoy as a player; honestly even if I fail on a -6 ... it's not really fun for me to die from falling off of a cliff.

As a side note, if you do feel you should be giving your players rolls for just trekking about, if you don't do it already, I'd seriously suggest trying out the 'simulationist' route of travel and putting your players into such situations, keeping track of things like fatigue, when the players wake and sleep, how much food they eat (and where it's coming from) and so on. It's a LOT more work for you and your players, but well-run it can be enjoyable. Rolling to see if the Air/Raft breaks down on some TL12 thriving ecumenopolis world is a bit petty. Rolling to see if the TL8 "range rover" the players bought from some outback farmer to go check out ruins and they're now a week from any kind of aid in the high saltpans on a world that is so "outback" it has Starport Type X is a lot more interesting. God forbid the players get into a gunfight and nobody is hurt or killed...but their range rover now is shot up and there's damage to the engine, the mechanic in the party thinks he can baby it along for perhaps another 50km of easy driving but ...

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Yatima and 7 guests