Actual Play: Abstract Dungeon

Just a short while ago, Zach Best released his new solo engine CRGE, Conjectural Roleplaying GM Emulator (aff) as a Pay-What-You-Want-product. It’s a complete GM Emulator but is much simpler than the classic Mythic GME (aff).
The CRGE doesn’t take probability into account. Instead, you decide what kind of scene you play: a Knowledge scene, a Conflict scene or an Ending scene. The results of each category differ somewhat. For instance, Ending scenes are less chaotic to allow closure. There is also a Surge Count which adds a random element (that’s like rolling doubles in Mythic GME).
I also bought the game Abstract Dungeon (aff) after being a bit disappointed by Tiny Dungeon (yes, they really have a similar name). AD is a fast lightweight fantasy game with a twist: players roll their dice pool at the beginning of the game. Afterward, they spend their dice to overcome the challenges set by the GM. It’s a bit similar to Cortex+ (aff): players need to narrate how they use their abilities and traits to justify using their dice as a resource.
AD sounds like a good fit for solo role-playing as it minimizes the dice rolling and thus allows more focus on story. Here is my playtest, a review will follow.

Setup

Setting

  • basically D&D-like heroic fantasy
  • The city (Nebury) is loud, crowded and dirty; the wilderness out there is dangerous and remote.
  • Everyone has a secret.

Characters

Aeban Dun, Warrior
Toughness: 4, Agility: 3, Spirit: 2, Intellect: 1
Traits: Wicked Scar, World Domination, Good Sense of Balance
Bonus Dice: 1

Wifra Heller, Druid
Toughness: 1, Agility: 2, Spirit: 3, Intellect: 4
Traits: Scheming, Runaway squire, Has a pet wolf Bonus Dice: 1

Quest

Protect Endangered NPC(s) (via Donjon) One or more NPCs are in danger, and the characters must protect them. They might be doing this for a reward, or because one or more of the NPCs is a friend or relative of the character. You need to decide what the characters are protecting the NPCs from. The NPC might be a wealthy or powerful person being sought by assassins or kidnappers. The NPC might be a whole village of peasants who are being terrorized by a bandit chieftain.

So, who’s the NPC? (via 3 Line NPCs)

Appearance: Old hunched man who walks with a stoop. He is short and always wears brown robes.
Portrayal: He is part of a network of scholars who collect, translate, and transcribe rare and ancient books for sale to the general public.
He is a consummate businessman and always appears serene.
Hook: […]?

Let’s give him a name: Geoffry Wyne.

Question: To Knowledge: Did Geoffry hire the party?
Yes, but (Surge Count (SC): 0)

Yes, but he was reluctant. He doesn’t say why.

Actual Play

Exposition

Story Threads
– Who threatens Geoffry
– Why is Geoffry threatened? What does the danger want?

I choose who threatens Geoffry as the main story thread for this scene.
As per Abstract Dungeon rules I will make it an Obstacle.

Obstacle: Find out who’s threatening Geoffry (i.e. interrogation, searching for clues etc.), 4 dice

[While the players rolled beforehand, the GM rolls each challenge individually. Roll of: 6, 4, 6, 5]

Wifra: Let’s see what I know about this network of scholars, their potential enemies, and the political situation in Nebury.
As I am a scheming (die: 4) type of person I keep track of the places I find myself in and I use reason and deduction to make my own conclusions (Intellect: 6).

[That knocks out two challenge dice, a 6 and a 4. Still left: 5, 6]

Question: To Knowledge: Are there hints to a rival organization to the scholar network? (SC: 0)
Yes (SC raises by 2)

Ok, so we’ll find out that there is also a College of Mages in Nebury. Most likely they don’t like that normal humans (nonmagic-users) dabble in the translation of ancient (and sometimes magic) books.

Let’s find out if it is the organization itself or some sub-group or an individual mage.

Aeban: Interrogation! With my Wicked Scar and my bulging muscles (Toughness) I’m pretty good at intimidation people so we check out the College and threaten some folks.

[That takes care of the rest of the challenge (Aeban spend 3 dice in total).]

Question: To Knowledge: Is it a sub-group/individual that threatens Geoffry? (SC 2)
[roll of 16, substract 2 from the SC = 14] No but (SC resets to 0)

So, generally it’s sanctioned by the head of the College but there is political infighting and some sub-groups work against the head for different reasons: some don’t dislike resorting to such lowly means and others want to gain more power within the College. They might help the characters.

Wrap-Up: – Who threatens Geoffry? The council of the local College of Mages. It might be because they dislike the competition in town or perhaps it’s another reason. Perhaps it’s a rare book they want to have?

Rising Action

Story Threads
– Who threatens Geoffry? – the local College of Mages
– Why is Geoffry threatened? What does the danger want?

So, the first thread is answered. Now let’s see why the College of Mages wants Geoffry’s hide. It will still be a Knowledge scene because I want to investigate.

Let’s question Geoffry himself. I will make that a Social Challenge.

Challenge: Question Geoffry (Social), 2 dice per PC Attack: Threatening to fire the PCs: 2 damage Spirit to all PCs; Going around in circles: 1 damage Spirit or Intellect to all PCs

[roll of: 1, 2, 3,6]

Wifra argues that it would be better if they knew what’s going on here (spends a 6 from Intellect and a 3 from Spirit).

[That knocks down two challenge dice.]

When Geoffry still doesn’t cave in, Aeban intimidates him with his scary presence (a 2 from Toughness and a 2 from Spirit).

Question: To Knowledge: Is it a rare book that causes trouble? (SC 0) No and (SC stays 0)

Geoffry tells them that he hasn’t had any work on rare books in some time. His wife is nagging him to retire. She doesn’t want him to spend all the time with translating old stuff but he really likes it. To do her a favor, he’s pausing his work for the moment.
His daugher, Eveth, will soon marry one of the mages from the College and the family wants him to stop doing his work for the scholars to reduce the tension.

So, who’s the groom? Let’s ask Short Order Heroes: He is a jaunty but honest fellow called Vyncent Maycey. He has a slightly melodramatic streak.

So perhaps the upcoming marriage is the reason for all the drama?

Question: To Knowledge: Is it the marriage which causes trouble for Geoffry? (SC 0)
Yes (SC +2)

Vyncent is a promising young apprentice and Geoffry’s daughter is of lower status. Vyncent’s mother, Atrin Maycey, a mage herself and part of the College’s council, wants to prevent this marriage. Geoffry should disallow his daughter from marrying him. With clever political maneuvering she got the council to do her bidding.

Wrap-Up: – Why is Geoffry threatened? What does the danger want? Atrin Maycey, the mother of Eveth’s groom, wants to prevent the marriage between the two star-crossed lovers.

Climax

Story Threads
– Who threatens Geoffry?- the local College of Mages/Atrin Maycey
– Why is Geoffry threatened? What does the danger want? – Geoffry isn’t allowed to give his blessing to the marriage

Aeban and Wifra will confront the henchmen when they show up and get a confession out of them. So, the next scene takes place when some ruffians knock on the door. They look a bit confused when they spot the PCs but take an aggressive stance right away. “We want to talk to Geoffry in private.”

Aeban: “No chance. Leave your weapons out and you may come in. But we won’t leave Geoffry’s side.”

That’s not what they want to hear. The leader roars and draws his sword.

Challenge: Human Thugs, 1 die per thug Attack: Sword or Crossbow, 1 damage to Toughness or Agility

Let’s say there are 5 of them! [roll of: 1, 1, 3, 5, 6]

Aeban throws some daggers at the leader, then tackles the next one (Agility: 2, Good Sense of Balance: 3) [That knocks out two thugs.]

Wifra: Lupus, attack! (Attack with pet wolf: 4 + Bonus Die: 2) [3rd thug goes down.]

Now, one of the brutes attacks Wifra with a sword (1 damage, Wifra chooses Agility). The last one tries to hack’n’slash Aeban while he is still down from tackling (1 damage, Aeban chooses Agility).

Aeban evades the blow and sinks his sword into the belly of his foe (Bonus Die: 5).

Wifra throws one of her darts (Agility: 2).

So, one dead, the rest are unconscious.

Question: To Endings: Can the thugs be convinced of ratting out Atrin Maycey? (SC 2)
[roll of 37, substract 2 =35] No (SC+2 = 4)

The PCs tie the goons up and usher them to the College to confront the lady themselves. Let’s say that the friendly contacts they made earlier will clear the path so they can enter the College.

Challenge: Confront Lady Maycey and get her to stop her shenanigans, Boss Monster: 6 dice
Attacks: ??? (will depend on the type of conflict), damage 2 to ???

[roll of: 1, 1, 2, 2, 3, 4]

Ok, the heroes don’t have so many dice left anymore, this will be tough.

Aeban: “You will stop threatening Mr. Wyne. We have defeated your minions and will not tolerate your scheming! You shouldn’t mess with us or we will make sure of that in our way!”
(World Domination: 1)

Wifra: “Think about your reputation. At the moment nobody knows about this but this could change and that will weaken your political status.”
(Intellect: 1 and Ex-Squire: 5 (knows nobility and their motivations))

[Still left: 2, 2, 3]

The mage doesn’t give in yet. “Hah, you are nothing and I will wipe the earth with you.” Frost bolts shoot out of her hands (2 damage to Toughness or Agility).

Aeban attacks her with his sword and a battle cry.
Wifra casts Animal Form and sweeps down at the mage in the form of an eagle.

[Still left: 2]

The sorceress casts more frost bolts and defends herself against Wifra’s attacks with her staff (2 damage to T or A).

Wow, that brings our heroes to the brink of defeat but now it’s their turn and Wifra can still cast…

Wifra loses her Animal Form and entangles the mage with Entangling Vines. Hah, eat thorns!

Question: To Endings: Does Atrin Maycey give up? (SC 4) No and (SC resets to 0)

No, she can’t stand to be defeated by some random would-be-heroes and throws herself down the balcony. Oops.

Wrap-Up: The College of Mages is now one council member short but nothing (and no one) stands in the way of the marriage of young Vyncent and young Eveth anymore. Happy End.

That’s 2 XP for each hero, so they can level up to level 2. That means they increase the dice pool of a Trait.

Musings

That was fun and a bit over-the-top. I didn’t use CRGE a lot but it worked fine so far. Abstract Dungeon was enjoyable, too. It’s really fast and I like how I needed to come up with explanations to use the dice. As a player the game is pretty easy but you still need to think on your feet. As a GM I found it a bit tough to set the difficulty of the challenge. If you want to know more about the system, you can read the review here at my blog.


Links:
Abstract Dungeon (aff)
CRGE, Conjectural Roleplaying GM Emulator (aff)

and more:
Mythic GME (aff)
Tiny Dungeon
Cortex+ (aff)
3 Line NPCs
Donjon
Short Order Heroes

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