Let’s Talk Fellowship

By | September 21, 2013

Hello once again all, and thank you for stopping by.

This week, I want to dive right into the Infinite Earths Fellowship rules.  Everybody who’s played in a tabletop RPG has probably experienced, at some point, a group where you just had to ask yourself the fundamental question why the hell are we even adventuring together?  Whether it’s because one of the members of the party was a kleptomaniac about your stuff, or because the barbarian just couldn’t not hit things, or various and sundry other reasons, you may have asked yourself “why is my guy here?”

Infinite Earths tries to answer that up-front through the Fellowship.  One easy way to think of the Fellowship is as “a class for the whole party.”  As a part of Session Zero (which we’ll be diving more into next week), before you even create your own character, you and your fellow gamers around the table discuss what types of adventures you would like to go on, and what type of people (in general) you would like to be.  For example:

  • Defenders of the Realm:  You have a duty to your home or nation and work to protect it from both internal and external threats.  This is an ideal Fellowship for groups that want to play soldiers fighting for their country or diplomats working to ensure the stability of their homeland.
  • Explorers:  You are fascinated by other places and other times, and travel to discover the unseen and the forgotten.  This is an ideal Fellowship for groups that want to spend most of their time away from civilization or learning about the history of the game world.
  • Fortune Hunters:  You adventure to find that one big score, to make yourselves famous, to stand tall at the top of the hill.  This is an ideal Fellowship for groups whose main interest in events in the game world is to further their own goals.
  • Heroes of Destiny:  You are the right people at the right place at the right time.  This is an ideal Fellowship for groups that want to fight against world-spanning threats and forge lasting empires of peace and prosperity.

We’ve selected the Fellowship types and their names to best represent certain types of play.  For instance, Final Fantasy games tend to be about Heroes of Destiny, while Explorers fit in nicely with hexcrawl-style play and Fortune Hunters neatly encapsulates the “kill baddie, get loot, rinse-repeat” cycle.

The purpose of the Fellowship is fourfold.  First, it helps identify for the Guide what type of play the party is interested in, so the Guide can craft a story for the Players which will keep them engaged and interested; it is another way Infinite Earths helps Players identify what they want to play, and acts as a rough blueprint for the Guide so that the Guide understands Player expectations.

Second, it helps identify for the Players what everyone is interested in, so they can build their own Characters appropriately.  If, for instance, the majority of Players around the table want to be Defenders of the Realm, the shifty steal-from-everyone and stab-them-in-the-night kind of character would not be appropriate for the kind of themes generally explored in a Defenders of the Realm game.

Third, it helps clearly identify why the Player Characters are together.  Rather than trying to shoehorn “here’s how you first met” into the first session of gameplay, Session Zero and Fellowship creation allows Guide and Players to presume the Player Characters have already met and allows them to tell the story of how the characters met.  The type of Fellowship also explains why the characters are together: they all share approximately the same goal and want to help each other (and themselves) achieve that goal.

The first three benefits of the Fellowship are in character and story interaction.  The labels Players choose to place on themselves are powerful things, and tend to define their behavior quite well enough without a structure needing to be in place that benefits or punishes certain actions that the Guide does or doesn’t want happening.  But that doesn’t provide 100% lock-in.  That’s where the fourth purpose of the Fellowship comes in.

One of the things we wanted to do with Infinite Earths is provide a structure which means that Players have a greater benefit for working together rather than going off and Lone Wolf-ing things.  Part of the traditional reason why Players feel the need to go off and Lone Wolf is the fact that characters traditionally have their own niches and no one else can be good at that niche, so characters have to go off and do it alone or risk failure.  Ray talked about this fairly extensively back in February.

So the fourth purpose of the Fellowship is to keep Players working together.  The Fellowship provides this through Talents that are accessible to all the members of the Fellowship while they are working together.  These Talents are thematic, based on the type of Fellowship the Players selected.  Mercenaries get the ability to sneak around better and earn more money from their Fame.  Defenders of the Realm are more likely to force opponents to Break and run when they take the field.  Explorers are more likely to know what the ancient glyphs on the side of that ruin say, and why the locals seem so upset about it.  But that’s not all.

One of the frustrations we wanted to remove from the game was the “heal-bot.”  That poor guy at the table who has to play the healer because nobody else wants to, and just about the only thing he gets to do is heal because somebody needs to keep everybody else alive.  Early on in our design process, we decided that everybody would have the ability to heal.  We originally tied this in with the Persona role, but more and more we saw that this only acted as a substitution for the healbot.

Then it hit us.  The Fellowship is what provides healing.  The reason your characters can keep each other going in the face of overwhelming odds isn’t because he or she has a great personality, but rather because you care about each other and you know it.  You have Fellowship.

So the first ability every Fellowship gets (at level 1) is Rally.  Each member of the Fellowship can, once per Scene, heal any member (including him- or her-self) of the Fellowship for 1d8 + Presence as a Swift Action.  At level 3, Rallying Cry enters into the mix.  Rallying Cry allows, once per Scene, a single member of the Fellowship to heal all members of the Fellowship for 1d8 + Presence as a Swift Action.

Recall that Presence is the Social Boost (so that great personality of yours does help), and that Swift Actions are a negligible amount of time for your character.  What this means, effectively, is that no single character is required to heal (although a Fellowship may only want one specific guy to use the Rallying Cry), because all characters can heal.  Furthermore, it would be a waste for a character to not use the Rally, because he literally can’t let someone else in the Fellowship use it.

Also, it allows a character to heal and still attack, or heal and move, etc, without subsuming too much of the character’s autonomy to the needs of the group.

(As an aside, we tried letting characters heal as a Reaction instead, but that very quickly became too gamey, and ultimately led to the removal of Reactions as a concept from Infinite Earths.)

At every odd level for the Fellowship thereafter, the amount of healing done by Rally and Rallying Cry increases to keep up with gains in “hit points” (now called Vitality).  At every even level, the Fellowship gains one of its thematic abilities (such as Polyglot for Explorers, Shadow Training for Mercenaries, etc.).

Unlike character Talents, the talents provided by the Fellowship are set.  While we originally considered a design wherein the Players would select from a list of thematic talents, we quickly realized that this could lead to discontent within the Fellowship.  That ability would really be beneficial for my guy could, potentially, lead to You don’t want my guy to succeed if the ability in question wasn’t selected.  Rather than risk introducing strife to a mechanic that’s meant to remove it, we locked the abilities into place.

The Fellowship levels up with the characters.  So, a level 1 Fellowship has level 1 characters in it, on up the line to level 10.  This is further tracked by a Fellowship Sheet that allows Players to identify their Fellowship’s name and sigil (if they want one), Fellowship type and membership, Talents (10 total, 5 healing and 5 thematic non-healing), group possessions (such as any house or building they use as a base), and Relationships.

Relationships are established connections with NPCs in the game world that the Players can call upon for aid and succor.  These can be friends, mentors, people whose lives or livings they’ve saved–anything that can cause people to have social connections.  These were originally tied to the individual characters, but in playtesting that proved unwieldy and awkward, and tended to force players to have Bob go speak to this NPC, because that NPC is Bob’s friend, while Jill went to go see some other NPC because that NPC was Jill’s friend.  Because that design sundered the Fellowship, part of the Fellowship has become the friends all the characters have being mutual friends of all the members of the Fellowship.

Thus, if Thorm Silverbeard is Gronk’s friend, Gronk’s friends are also Thorm’s friends.

Ah, fantasy names.

Finally, the Fellowship gains access to the Crisis Chart.  Let’s say Gronk went down in one massive hit, before any of the rest of the Fellowship could heal him, right before his turn in combat.  And now it’s Gronk’s turn.  Gronk’s player isn’t now sitting at the table playing with his smartphone until somebody nudges him on the shoulder and says “I healed you.”  Instead, Gronk’s turn consists of rolling a naked d20 and consulting the Crisis Chart.

The Crisis Chart reflects how the character and the Fellowship reacts to the crisis they are presented with–specifically, one of their members being down.  A roll of 1 through 9 on that d20, for example, means that the Fellowship soldiers on and is unaffected by the crisis.  A roll of 11, though, might mean that one of the fallen character’s allies is Rallied, gaining Vitality because he wants revenge for the fall of Gronk.  Or a roll of 19, for instance, can Hinder all enemies because they realize they’ve really stepped in it now.

Each Fellowship type interacts with the Crisis Chart a little differently based on their theme, but the point of the Crisis Chart is to allow downed characters to still have something to do and to help mitigate or outright prevent the dreaded Death Spiral, wherein once characters start failing they just fail faster and faster.

Thanks for sticking with us through this very long and very detailed post.  We hope you enjoyed this taste of our Fellowship rules.  Next week, we’ll be talking more about Session Zero and how to get an Infinite Earths game off the ground.  See you then!

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