What’s a work-in-progress ttrpg system without a good old-fashioned example of play …?
Four friends have gathered around a table to play The Aether Throne.
Sam is the games master (GM). They have a good understanding of the rules, and are using a pre-written mission that they will run for the players. Sam will tell the players what they see and hear, play the parts of any non-player characters (NPCs) they meet, and carry out the actions for any opponents they encounter during combat mode. Sam will also make decisions on when the players need to make dice rolls, as well as deciding what the outcome is if something unexpected happens.
Deepa, Elsa and Thom are playing adventurers. Deepa is an enigmatic mystic, able to tap into the strange powers of the Aether Court. Elsa is a daring fortune hunter, skilled with a sword and willing to take risks if it means doing the right thing. Thom is an engineer, able to understand machines as if they were able to whisper to him.
Together, they have formed a band of heroes and collectively decided to name themselves The Triumphant Trio. Sam takes note of the name, already thinking of how some of the NPCs will react when they hear that …
Play is underway, and Sam is describing what Deepa, Elsa and Thom see when they step into a busy skyship station in the centre of London, after having followed an enemy Agent of the Republic inside.
Sam: The station is abuzz with activity. Passengers form orderly lines at the boarding gantries leading into the gondolas of two huge skyships, the steel cables attached to their landing rings groaning with the effort of keeping them steady.
Porters hustle along the platforms, guiding mechanical trolleys piled high with luggage. Urchins clutching bundles of newspapers cry out the latest headline, something about the latest machines of mass destruction being assembled in France.
Ahead, open to the sky above, a sleek sky yacht of the Empire is approaching the station, being guided into position by floating columns of flashing arclight globes. Steam is being periodically expelled from the docked skyships, shrouding the place in white clouds that give it an almost ethereal atmosphere, were it not for the jarring cacophony of voices and machines.
Deepa: Do we see the agent we were following?
Sam: The station is crowded, and the steam makes it difficult to see in some places. Make a Detect roll against a target number of 15.
Detect is one of the skills in The Aether Throne, aligned to an adventurer’s Wits value. Sam has set the target number based on the relative difficulty of being able to make out individual people in the busy station
Deepa: Just me?
Sam: No, anyone who’s trying to locate the agent can try.
Deepa: Okay, I’ll go first.
Deepa looks at her adventurer’s log sheet. She has a Wits of +1 and is trained in Detect, which gives her a skill modifier of +2 to the roll. She looks at her hand and, although she has a pair of sevens, she decides not to play the trick, saving it for a more important roll. She picks up a D20 and rolls it, getting a 12. She adds her Detect skill modifier of +2, for a final result of 14 – not enough.
Sam: You don’t see the agent. Is anyone else looking?
Elsa: Yes, definitely. I scan the crowds, looking for anyone suspicious.
Elsa checks her log sheet. She has a Wits of 0, and is also trained in Detect, giving her a skill modifier of +1. She has no cards in her hand she can play, so she rolls the D20 and gets a 1 – a critical failure!
Elsa: Um …
The rules advise Sam that a critical failure on a Detect roll mean that the adventurer suffers a complication. Sam thinks for a second, then smiles.
Sam: You make it very obvious you are staring at people. You catch the eye of a large and rather grumpy looking deckhand, who is wielding a large metal hook on a steel chain.
Sam: (playing the part of the deckhand NPC): Oi, you! What the devil are you looking at?
Elsa: (playing the part of her adventurer): Sorry sir, I mistook you for a dear acquaintance of mine. Please, I meant no offence!
Sam: That sounds like you’re trying to convince him to me. Give me a Convince roll against a target number of 12!
Elsa checks her log sheet and sees that she has a Charisma of +1, but is untrained in Convince. Her skill modifier is +1. She rolls the D20 and gets a 14, giving her a final result of 15, a regular success.
As she succeeded on the roll, Elsa draws a card from the top of the draw deck and adds it to her hand. She now has six cards, and her hand size is 5. She picks one that isn’t likely to be useful any time soon and places it face up on the discard pile.
Sam: The deckhand mutters something under his breath that it’s probably just as well you can’t hear, then goes back to his work.
Thom: Can I check if I can see the agent?
Sam: Of course! Make a Detect against 15!
As the players get more familiar with the way the game works, they begin to stop referring to terms like target number and skill roll, especially in situations like this where it’s clear what they’re doing.
Thom: Great. I lower my eyeshields and click the magnify switch on the side of them!
Sam (checking Thom’s item description): Very good, that gives you an extra +1 item modifier to the roll.
Thom (checking his hand and laying out the four of clubs and four of diamonds in front of him): And I play a pair!
Sam: Awesome! That gives you a +2 trick modifier as well!
Thom checks his log sheet. He has a +1 in Wits and is trained in Detect, giving him a skill modifier of +2 . He then adds the +1 item modifier from his eyeshields, and the +2 trick modifier from playing a pair. His total modifier is +5.
He rolls the D20 and gets a 10. With his +5 total modifier that’s just enough for a regular success. Thom takes a card from the draw deck and adds it to his hand. His hand size is 5, and he now has 4 cards, so he does not need to discard any.
Sam: You see the agent you were following slipping through a door near one of the docked airships.
Thom (speaking to Elsa and Deepa): Should we follow him?
Elsa: I’m already hurrying towards the door. Back me up here!
The adventurers walk quickly to the door.
Deepa: Maybe we should be careful here —
Elsa: Caution be damned! I push the door open!
Sam: Elsa, you push the door and it swings open. Before you can make out what’s inside, something comes hurtling towards you! Make a natural Dexterity roll!
Elsa: Curses! What’s the target number?
Sam: I’m not going to tell you!
The GM can decide to tell the players what target number they’re aiming for, or keep it secret. Not telling the players can sometimes make rolls more exciting.
Elsa (laughing): Not fair!
She checks her log sheet and sees she has a Dexterity of 0. As it’s a natural roll, she doesn’t get any skill modifiers, though she can still play tricks or get modifiers from other sources if she can. In this instance, she has no useful cards in her hand or any items that might help.
She rolls a D20 and gets a 9.
Sam: You’re not quite quick enough! A bottle slams into your chest and deals you 1 point of harm!
She marks the point of inflicted harm on her log sheet. As she had not suffered any harm previously, she now only has a single point of harm, which doesn’t give her any penalties. If she suffers another 3 points however, she’ll be wounded.
Deepa: What was that? Can I see what happened?
Sam: You can see the enemy agent you were following standing inside a small store room. He has a knife in his hand and is goading you to come and face him.
Elsa: Well, if it’s a fight he wants, he’s asking the right person! I draw my sword and run forward!
Deepa: I’m getting ready to cast my Peace Be With You aether invocation.
Thom: And I suppose I’d better see if I can help … I’ve got something of my own I can throw … but I’m not that great at hitting things with it.
Play then continues with Sam announcing the start of combat mode …