An Example of Play

By | December 29, 2012


For our last post of the year 2012, having narrowly averted the apocalypse 8 days ago, I’d like to share with you the “Example of Play” section from the Introduction to Infinite Earths. It might still be subject to some changes before all is said and done, but it’ll give a good example of how scenes can play out in this game:

In this example, Ray is the Adventure Guide. Brandon is playing Harman, a stealthy dervish with some magical training. Bryan is playing Quinn, a powerful and socially adept spellcaster. Evan is playing Jared, a holy warrior of his ancient faith. And Sarah is playing Tala, an orphan taken in by hermetic monks and taught both martial and healing arts.


Ray: As you approach the Rivervoice Woods, you hear the rushing sound of the Saren echoing through the trees. It sounds almost like whispers, almost like you can hear the trees speaking of the things they’ve seen through the centuries. It has a strangely creepy effect, and your skin crawls even though it’s before noon on a sunny, cloudless day.

Evan: Jared shudders, then genuflects.

Bryan: I roll my eyes. “It’s just water.”

Evan: I don’t care. It’s still creepy.

Brandon: I want to look around. Did anyone follow us from town?

Ray rolls some d20s, hiding the results from the view of the Players. This is a feint; he knows that no one has followed them from town, but he wants the players feeling suspicious and uncertain, so he pretends to roll Stealth checks.

Ray: Not that you can tell.

Sarah: What about in the forest? Are we being watched?

Ray rolls two d20s this time, again hiding the results from the view of the Players. This time he isn’t feinting: there is an elf, thirty feet away and hidden behind the leaves of the trees, watching them. It is broad daylight, but he has almost complete cover, is camouflaged, is sitting still and is well-trained in stealth. Ray determines that the difficulty for the elf sentry remaining hidden is 15 using the Stealth DC chart, and rolls two dice because the elf is a stealth expert. He rolls a 5 and a 12, takes the higher roll, and adds the elf’s Stealth skill bonus, an 8, to it, giving the elf a total roll of 12 + 8 = 20. This handily beats the difficulty.

Ray: You only see the trees rustling in the wind and hear the rush of the water and the chirps of the birds.

Sarah: Huh. I would’ve thought they would have someone watching the road at all times.

Bryan: “They probably do. They’re elves, they’re good with forests. And hiding in them. Come on, there’s no point standing around. Brightwind is in that forest, we need to talk to him, and he’s not likely to come out on his own.” And I’m going to wave to some random spot in the woods, as if I see who’s there.

Ray wants to see if Quinn randomly picks the right spot to wave to, and asks Bryan to roll an Observation check. Quinn’s Observation is very high, he has a total +10 to the roll. Bryan rolls a d20 and gets a 15, making the final roll a total of 15 + 10 = 25. Because this check won’t get Quinn any additional information, Ray decides that it is a high enough roll that Quinn correctly targets the right area of the woods completely subconsciously, and unwittingly waves directly at the sentry. Ray jots down in his notes that when Quinn next interacts with that sentry, his first Speech roll will be bolstered because the sentry is impressed.

Bryan: What was that for?

Ray: You’ll see. Maybe. Okay, you guys head into the woods, and you can see that almost as soon as the road crosses the border of the forest it becomes much narrower, barely a trail. The canopy overhead blocks out most of the sunlight, and the whispers of the trees seem to come from all around you now, much louder than they were when you weren’t among the trees.

Evan: So what are we going to do, just walk around in the woods until we trip over some elves?

Bryan: That was the plan, yeah.

Brandon: Seriously?

Sarah: Brightwind has lived here for 400 years. Elves control the forests. We’ll know if he wants to see us if we encounter any elves. And if we find ourselves on the edge of the woods without meeting any, we’ll know he was not receptive.

Bryan nods and shrugs.

Evan: That’s kind of. . .passive, don’t you think?

Bryan: Eh. Pick the battles you can win.

Brandon: If you had told me before we got here that the plan was just to wander around in the woods like Hansel and Gretel—

Ray knows his Players well enough to know this could go on a while, so he starts rolling dice. The first is another feint; he has decided that there is a hedgehog rustling around in the nearby bushes, and that it will be loud enough to draw the Player Characters’ attention. He doesn’t need to roll dice to determine if the hedgehog is quiet enough to go unnoticed, because it’s not trying to be stealthy.

The next two dice are not a feint: these 2d20 are a bolstered Stealth roll for the group of six elven bowmen who are in the trees, waiting to ambush the Player Characters. Because the elves work together in a Fellowship, they have a special ability which allows them to use the highest roll from their most-skilled member for the Stealth skill. Their most-skilled member happens to be the sentry from the entrance to the forest. Ray rolls a 4 and a 20, takes the higher roll and adds the same skill bonus, an 8, to it for a total of 20 + 8 = 28. The difficulty for the elves remaining hidden is still 15: they are much closer to the Player Characters, but there is more noise to help them stay hidden.

Ray: You hear a rustling in the bushes.

The Players turn to face their Guide. Bryan sits back and crosses his arms behind his head with a smug grin.

Brandon: I take out my swords and approach the rustling.

Evan: Jared readies his mace, but he won’t take it out until he sees a threat.

Ray looks at Sarah and Bryan.

Sarah: What? I’m a monk, I don’t need to do anything until I need to do something.

Bryan: It’s the elves. I steel my jaw, preparing for the heavy burden of saying hello.

Ray: All right, roll Initiative, please.

Three players roll d20s. Sarah’s character, Tala, doesn’t need to roll initiative, as she has the Chi Reflexes talent which means she always goes first in any fight. Evan rolls an 8, which is modified by Jared’s Awareness of 5 for a total of 8 + 5 = 13. Brandon rolls 2d20, as he has the Quick Witted talent which bolsters Initiative rolls. He rolls a 5 and an 18 and takes the higher roll, which is modified by Harman’s Awareness of 1 for a total of 18 + 1 = 19. Bryan rolls a 3, and Quinn’s Awareness is 3, for a total of 3 + 3 = 6.

Ray, meanwhile, rolls Initiative twice: once for the hedgehog rustling around in the bushes, and once for the six elven archers in the trees. The hedgehog rolls a 17 and, with an Awareness of 0, that is his total. The elves roll a 14 and have an Awareness of 4, so they get a total of 18.

Ray records initiative thusly: Sarah (Tala), Brandon (Harman), Ray (Elves), Ray (Hedgehog), Evan (Jared), Bryan (Quinn).

Ray decides that the Elves will hold their action until the Hedgehog has startled the Player Characters, then will jump down and surprise them.

Ray: Okay, Tala. You go first. Brandon, you’re on deck.

Sarah: I’ll stay where I am. I’m readying myself to attack anything that attacks Quinn.

Ray: Okay. Harman, you’re up.

Brandon: I’m going to draw my swords and step toward the bushes where I hear the rustling. I’m going to say, “Come on out of there.”

Ray: Anything else?

Brandon: Yeah, if anything attacks me I’ll stab it. A lot.

Ray notes that Brandon is reading an action to attack anything that comes out of the bush in a threatening manner.

Ray: The bush continues to rustle, and then it stops as you see a hedgehog shuffling out from under it, snuffling the ground.

Brandon looks incredulous. Sarah starts laughing.

Evan: Wait. Hedgehogs are nocturnal.

The Players look at Evan.

Ray: Let’s find out if Jared knows that. Make a Knowledge (Nature) roll, Evan. That’s common knowledge, but not too common, so the Difficulty is 12.

Evan rolls 1d20 and gets a 10. Jared has no ranks in Knowledge (Nature), but he has an Intellect of 1, so he adds that to the roll for a total of 10 + 1 = 11, missing the difficulty by 1.

Evan: Crap! By one!

Ray rolls six d20s, one for each of the elves. They will be jumping down out of the trees and landing without rolling, keeping their bows trained on the PCs. He determines the Difficulty for that should be 20 on an Athletics check. The elves have Athletics bonuses of 7, so he needs to roll 13s or higher. A quick glance at his dice assures him that his lowest roll is 14.

Ray: Jared seems unusually surprised at seeing the hedgehog, for some reason. As you guys turn to look at him, you see six elves jump down out of the trees around you, surrounding you with bows out and at the ready. They land with practiced ease, not taking their aim off of you for a heartbeat.

One of them raises his chin and says, “Drop your weapons and keep your hands where we can see them.” His voice is heavily-accented with Elvish lilt, but his words are clear and you sense the firm intent behind them.

Ray rolls 1d20 openly. Now that the threat is revealed, he no longer needs to hide his rolls. This is a Speech check to determine how convincing he is to the PCs. Ray’s luck on the Athletics checks catches up to him, and he rolls a 3. The sentry elf’s speech bonus is 4, for a total of 7. Ray already knows that none of the PCs have a Will score less than 10.

Ray decides the other elves will hold their actions until one of the PCs is hostile.

Ray: He’s not very convincing. Evan, it’s Jared’s turn.

Brandon: Wait, no, it’s my turn.

Ray: No, it’s not. You were ready to attack anything that came out of the bushes.

Brandon: No, I wanted to attack anything that attacked me. And I figure this is an attack.

Ray thinks about this for a few seconds. On one hand, Brandon could have been clearer. On the other, Ray could have misinterpreted his intent. Ray decides that either way, it’s not worth slowing down play, especially in this tense moment.

Ray: Okay. Evan, you’re on deck. What does Harman do?

Brandon: And what are they doing? Just standing there?

Ray: Yes. With arrows notched and aimed at all of you.

Brandon: Like hell! I charge at the one who told us to drop our weapons.

Bryan: What the hell, dude? These are the people we’re here to see! Don’t attack them!

Brandon: If they didn’t want to be attacked, they shouldn’t have started with weapons out. I slash at the leader.

Ray: Okay, a couple of things happen here at once. Harman leaps toward the lead elven sentry, weapons out, roaring for blood. And the other elf sentries, who have their weapons trained on your group, fire at him with their readied arrows. Brandon, what’s Harman’s Defense?

Brandon checks his character sheet and sees he has a Defense of 17 thanks to his Brigandine armor and Agility of 2.

Brandon: It’s 17.

Ray rolls five d20s openly. Each roll represents a different elf’s attack. Each elf has identical stats, as this makes Ray’s job easier on him, and they all have a total Strike bonus of 6. Ray will need to roll 11s or better in order for the elves to successfully harm Harman.

He rolls a 12, 20, 2, 8, 14 and 7: three misses, two hits and one critical hit. Critical hits deal double damage.

Brandon: Crap. I only have 50 Resolve. Looks like this was a bad move.

Bryan: You think?

Ray now rolls four d6s. The elves are wielding shortbows, which deal 1d6 damage with each shot. Two of the dice represent the two hits, and two of the dice represent the critical hit. He rolls a 3, 3, 4 and 5, adding them up to 15. The elves also had an Agility of 4 and, as they are Archers, 4 is their Combat Attribute and is added to all damage they deal. The Combat Attribute is also doubled for the critical hit, so Ray adds 4 x 4 = 16 to the 15, for a total of 31 points of damage to Harman’s Resolve.

Ray: You take 31 points of damage as three arrows drive into you, one burying itself pretty deep inside the meat of your arm.

Brandon: Ah! I’m down to 19. Let’s see who goes down first. I’m going to slash at the leader now.

Ray consults the lead sentry’s stat block and sees that he has 18 Defense and 26 Resolve.

Ray: His Defense is 18.

Brandon: Red is sword, black is dagger.

Brandon rolls two differently-colored d20s. His red d20 represents his attack with his longsword, and his black d20 represents his attack with his dagger. His total Strike bonus, according to his character sheet, is 10, so he will be adding 10 to each die roll. He must therefore roll 8s or higher on his attacks in order to successfully damage his opponent. He rolls a 5 with his longsword and a 15 with his dagger.

Brandon next rolls the damage for his dagger. Daggers are a Quick Weapon, so they deal 1d4 damage plus the Combat Attribute of the wielder. Harman’s Combat Attribute, as a Dervish, is Brawn. Harman’s Brawn is 4. Brandon rolls a 3 for a total of 3 + 4 = 7 points of damage.

Brandon: He takes 7 points of damage.

Ray: You slash at him, but the pain from the arrows in you slows you down and he dodges out of the way. He’s quick, but not quick enough – your dagger catches him, scratching across his belly. He seems only slightly pained by this. Evan, Jared’s up. Bryan, you’re on deck.

Evan: Jared pulls out his mace and steps up behind Harman, then casts a Restore spell on him. I’m going to spend 10 mana to heal him almost back up to full, 30 Resolve.

Ray: Harman, you hear Jared murmuring prayers behind you, and as he touches you on the shoulder, you feel stronger. You look at your wounded shoulder and see a faint green glow around the arrow as it pushes its way back out of you, and the wound closes. You hear the other two arrows fall on the rocky ground beneath your feet. Bryan, bottom of the round, it’s your turn.

Bryan: You just had to make this into a fight, didn’t you? Quinn’s going to raise his voice. “ENOUGH!” And I’m going to run over and put myself between the elf commander and Harman, holding my hands out to both to keep them separated.

“STOP THIS FIGHTING AT ONCE and PUT your WEAPONS DOWN!” I’m going to stare at Harman like he’s a bloodthirsty idiot until he calms down.

Brandon: Fine. I’ll straighten up and point my swords to the ground so it doesn’t look like I’m going to keep fighting. I’m not putting them away, though. I’m still ready to fight.

Bryan: Once he does that, I turn to look at the elf leader. “We came here in peace. We came to speak with Brightwind. We’ve done no harm to the forest or to your people, and this is a damned poor way of saying hello. You will aim those arrows somewhere else and you will take us to Brightwind.” And I’m using my Voice of Command.

Voice of Command is a talent which allows Quinn to bolster any Speech roll once per encounter when giving an order. Bryan has invoked it to give himself a higher chance of success at defusing the situation.

Ray consults the lead sentry’s stat block for his Presence, and sees that it is 0. The elf’s mood started at Unfriendly, but is now Hostile since he was attacked. However, this is the sentry that Quinn had earlier waved at. Ray decides that he’ll do something different when the bolster he’d written down in his notes since Bryan has declared he’ll bolstering his first Speech roll. Ray decides that, instead of a bolster, this elf will be more receptive to Quinn’s words because Quinn didn’t attack, and so will simply be Unfriendly to Quinn instead of Hostile. This preserves the benefit from earlier, but adapts it to the situation at hand. The difficulty of a Speech roll to build rapport with an unfriendly NPC is 20, plus the NPC’s Presence score. So the total difficulty of this check for Quinn is 20 + 0 = 20.

Ray: Okay. Roll your Speech, his Will is 20.

Bryan rolls 2d20. Because Quinn is as good at speaking as Harman is at fighting, he has a Speech bonus of 10, so he must roll a 10 or higher in order for his command to be successful.

Bryan rolls an 8 and a 19. His total for the check is 19 + 10 = 29.

Bryan: Whew.

Ray: You’ve earned one rapport.

Bryan: Spend it.

Quinn has earned 1 Rapport with the elf sentry, and he spends it immediately to have his order partially followed. Because he gave two commands – “aim those arrows somewhere else” and “take us to Brightwind” – he only has enough Rapport to get the elves to lower their weapons.

Ray: The elf sentry has the courtesy to look a little embarrassed as he nods to the other elves to lower their weapons. Their bows, already nocked again with fresh arrows, are now aimed at the ground between their feet. They’re still surrounding you, though, and it doesn’t look like they’re about to move.

Sarah: I’m going to pick up the arrows from next to Harman and give them back to the elves.

Brandon: Seriously? Those were in me.

Sarah: And now they’re not. I make sure to give each arrow back to the elf who fired it.

Ray: Give me an Observation roll to see if you get it right. That’ll have been pretty hard in the heat of the moment, so the DC will be 20.

Sarah rolls a d20, getting an 11. She has a total skill bonus of 12 to her Observation according to her character sheet, so her final roll is 11 + 12 = 23, beating the Difficulty.

Ray: The elves look at each other in surprise as you hand the arrows that landed in Harman back to the correct elves who fired them. They seem pretty in awe of that, like maybe they’re glad the fighting’s done.

Bryan: Well? I’m ready when you are. Let’s go.

Ray: The elf is willing to not fight you, but it seems it’s still going to take some convincing for him to take you to their leader. He looks down at you and says, “Brightwind does not receive visitors. Especially of your kind.”

Brandon: Friggin’ elven racists.

Ray: Do you say that out loud?

Brandon: Uh…

Bryan shakes his head at Brandon in a don’t do it motion.

Brandon: I kinda grumble it under my breath.

Ray: They’re elves, so they pick that up. The lead sentry’s ears twitch and he looks up at you.

Bryan: Lovely. And he can go back to not seeing my kind once we’re gone. But we’re here, and we will see him. Now.

Ray: Roll Speech.

Bryan rolls a d20, getting a 12 and making his total Speech 12 + 10 = 22. The elf is still Unfriendly, but this still beats the established difficulty of 20.

Ray: One rapport. The elf narrows his eyes. “Why?” He asks.

Sarah: Because he’s one of only two people left alive who know what really happened five hundred years ago in Varell.

Ray: Roll Speech.

Sarah rolls a d20. Speech is her weakest ability, and she only has a bonus of 2. She rolls a 6, making her total 6 + 2 = 8.

Ray: The elf raises his eyebrow and seems intrigued, but makes no moves otherwise.

Evan: Jared steps forward and says, “We need to know what happened at Shadowfall. Because we think it’s about to happen again.”

Ray doesn’t need to have Evan make a Speech roll, because now all the key words Ray was looking for – “five hundred years ago,” “Varell” and “Shadowfall,” have been said by the PCs. In his notes he wrote that the PCs mentioning these things to the elven sentries of the Rivervoice Woods would get them a free pass to Brightwind, no Speech roll is required.

Ray: The elf looks disturbed, but nods. “Very well,” he says, “we will take you to Brightwind. But you must sheathe your weapons. And prepare yourselves. You will not like what you will learn.”


The example above demonstrates the Players playing through a typical scene in an Infinite Earths game. You’ll note several important aspects of play in this example:

  • When to hide the dice, and when to show them
  • When to roll, and when not to
  • Announcing Difficulty before the roll
  • Using non-combat abilities in combat
  • Handling Player-Guide disputes

You’ll also notice that each of the players spoke about their character differently. Bryan generally referred to his character in the first-person, while Evan spoke much less and generally referred to his character in the third-person. Brandon waffled between the two techniques. You’ll also notice that some players spoke more than others, or tried to do more than others.

All of that is fine and okay! All roleplayers approach roleplaying differently, and there’s no “right” or “wrong” answer on how to roleplay. Immerse yourself to whichever degree you’re comfortable, and be sure to have a great time!