Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Fear the Treasure. Fear IT!

About four sessions ago, in the 13th Age campaign that has developed into heroic efforts to reclaim the legacy of the magically suppressed Elf King, I decided to give out some treasure.

Not just any treasure. I told everyone that it was time to use the Optional No Math System on page 191 of 13th Age. It's a small table you can use to hand out occasional healing potions and runes without worrying about tracking loot piece-by-piece.

We'd never bothered using it in this campaign, mostly because we haven't cared much about one-shot items. True magic items are what we've cared about, especially with some of the character development that has played out through items devoted to particular causes or liberated from other time streams.

So I thought it was time to give the one-shot items a chance. In retrospect, telling the players I was about to give them treasure was the wrong way to set-up the situation. Because when the players realized I wasn't giving them "true" treasure, but was instead about to make them roll for potions, well, there was some grumbling. Probably cursing. Cue the classic paternal GM-voice, "Well if you don't want any treasure you don't have to roll," lecture. Of course they wanted to roll.

For some reason Jonathan rolled first. Maybe because I wanted him to try the system, I don't know. As he rummaged for his favored d20, I decided to set up the story by saying that the PCs were searching the enemies' bodies after the battle they'd managed to squeak through the previous session. In this case, the enemies had been extremely well-equipped ogres from an alternate timeline in which the Dragon Empire was ruled by ogres instead of humans. I'd originally intended to just stay abstract about the looting as the system suggests, but I got carried away with details. I described the many bandoleers hanging from the ogres' broad backs, all ready to be looted, and Jonathan rolled. I think he was excited about the roll but he rolled just a 6 and he reacted like he'd blown the roll. I lost track of the fact that I was trying out the Optional No Math Treasure system and asked Jonathan to tell us how he had managed to bungle the looting operation. I can't remember his exact story, but he made something up about poking his finger where it shouldn't have gone, otherworld magic not acting like he thought it would.

"Right. It was booby-trapped. The thing blows up on you. OK." I rolled a couple d8's, the first dice that came to my hands, and said, "So you take 7 damage. No, wait, 14."

Jonathan's mouth dropped and he was so very far from his happy-rational place. As he leaned forward to record the HP loss on his sheet and to voice a reasonable protest, I sensed the enormous shadow of the mistake I was making. But Jonathan's outrage was so hilarious I couldn't resist thrusting the comedic dagger. "Also you get an adventurer-tier healing potion." Kept my straightface for a few seconds. Then laid my head down on the table and laughed, as everyone else howled and carried on and called me a terrible person and a worse GM.

Paul, who was supposed to have been rolling next, said, "I was told there would be no math. And that . . . that looked like math." He threw his d20 aside. "Y'know, I think I'm fine. I don't need any treasure. No treasure here. Treasure hurts."

Four sessions later, people are still scrambling for cover every time I use the word "treasure."