Collaborative Play · GURPS

Town Adventure System (very rough pre-alpha draft!)

This is the first very, very rough draft of a possible system for town adventures.  Much work remains to be done, of course, but at this stage I’d just like to test the basic mechanics as “proof of concept.”

A few points to bear in mind:

  • Relative to “dungeon” adventures, “town” adventures are less centrally focused on killing things and taking their stuff.

I’ve assumed that Towns are relatively civilized places, and that the adventures that take place there tend to be more social and less combat-heavy than the typical fantasy “dungeon’ adventure.  I’ve also assumed that the rewards also tend to be social, plot-related, or to do with character development, rather than piles of lost treasure, magic items, etc.

  • This part of the system is for active town adventures

In the future, I’m hoping to have sub-systems for two different kinds of things that might happen in town adventures: active things, where the PCs pursue their own goals, and passive things, when the adventure just arrives at the PCs’ doorstep, and gets them involved.  The stuff I’m posting here is just the active part of the system – the part where you nominate a goal, and then try to pursue it.  In the long run I think it would be most fun to have both active and passive elements running at the same time, so that the PCs can pursue their goals while having all sorts of unexpected and interesting stuff thrown at them, in a narratively coherent (rather than totally random) way.  We’ll see if I ever manage to reach that goal!

So, without further ado…

Overview of the Town Adventure System (pre-alpha version!)

In this draft system, town adventures basically proceed as follows.  First you nominate something that your character is trying to gain or accomplish in town (the system calls this the “Reward” for the Town adventure).  Then you play out a scene, which will pose various challenges (usually skill rolls, but other things might be involved, too).  If you succeed, you’ll be presented with a few different leads to follow, toward other kinds of scenes.  And so on, scene after scene. If things go well, then you’ll eventually reach the Climax Scene.  If you succeed in the Climax Scene, then you’ll win your desired Reward.  Simple!

Now, this is just the basic mechanic.  For the moment, I’m just hoping to test it.  Once I have a basic mechanic I’m happy with, then I hope to make things more sophisticated (for example, by introducing more passive events, when adventure just comes up and smacks you in the face, despite your best intentions; and by making Climax Scenes more special and unique, and by adding the possibility of further plot twists… and so on.)

Beginning a Town Adventure

You need at least one character, obviously.  You’ll also need to have at least some rough ideas about what kind of town you’re in.  (You can use the Town creation system for that, if you like, though you probably don’t need to: you can always just make it up as you go along).

Then think about what your characters’ goals are, and nominate a desired Reward.  The Reward is the benefit that you will (okay, might) receive if you complete the adventure successfully.  At present your options here are:

  1. Try to make some money (gain money equal to Peril x 5% of your character’s starting wealth).
  2. Try to improve your social standing, whether by making a name for yourself, helping a friend, earn the favor of a patron, or otherwise (gain Peril/2 social points, rounded up).
  3. Try to learn something (gain Peril/2 points in any relevant skill or ability, rounded down, but min 1. Plus any points you earn during the adventure itself, of course.).
  4. Try to pursue the plot (if you successfully complete the adventure, you have a chance of earning an additional Plot Element. At the end of the adventure roll 3d6 and subtract Peril.  If the result is 6 or less, you earn a Plot Element.   Note that this is in addition to any plot elements you might earn by the usual means).
  5. Try to get access to a special reward. A “special reward” has no explicit monetary or point value, but brings other benefits. Examples include an introduction to a local noble, or the opportunity to buy or sell a particularly rare item, or a chance to access unusual magical healing, or whatever. If everyone agrees, then one of these can be treated as the Reward.  Note that such rewards ought to be roughly equivalent to the other rewards in value – and quests for really special rewards demand higher peril ratings!

Once you’ve nominated your Reward, then nominate a Peril Rating.

Once you’ve nominated both a Reward and a Peril rating, you’ve committed yourself to the adventure.  But you might find that the advnegure surprises you…

Roll on the table below to see if the adventure is really at the nominated Peril:

How Perilous is this Town Adventure Really?

Roll 3d6. (Need a die roller?)

3-5 It’s more rewarding than it might seem. Use the nominated Peril rating, but calculate the Reward as if the Peril were one point higher.
6-10 Use the nominated Peril rating.
11-12 +1 Peril
13-14 -1 Peril (min 1)
15-16 -2 Peril (min 1)
17-18 +2 Peril

Once you’re certain of the Peril, you’re ready to begin!

Side Note: Rewards for Groups

If you have more than one PC, then you have to decide whether everyone is going to nominate the same Reward, or if you want different PCs to be getting different Rewards.  There are three options here:

1)     Nominate the same Reward for each PC.  This makes things easy – they each get their own copy of the Reward, if the adventure is successful.

2)     Nominate different Rewards for each PC.  This also makes things easy, but take care to make the outcome narratively plausible – i.e., come up with good explanation for why the same adventure could plausibly lead to Frank Fighter gaining a point in Broadsword, Clara Cleric making 500 silver pieces, and Mary Monk improving her Reputation.  If it’s not plausible, then do something else!

3)     If your desired Rewards really are narratively incompatible, and you’re up for a real challenge, then I think it will be ok to run multiple “town adventures” simultaneously – Frank Fighter can try to find a master good enough to teach him some new tricks with a blade, while Clara Cleric tries to drum up some donations for the Temple, at the same time as Mary Monk searches for a way to atone publicly for that time she smashed the Sacred Beam of Bregginton with her Chinbreaker Chop.  I haven’t tried to do this; it might involve keeping track of too many things, and thus not be that much fun.  But I have hope.

How to Play Out Scenes

Overview of Scenes

Whenever you’re called upon to play out a scene, you’re going to follow these steps:

  1. Determine what kind of scene you’re heading into by rolling on the “Where Do We Go From Here?” table (see below).
  2. Begin to play out the scene! During the scene, you will have to complete at least one challenge of a kind determined by the nature and Peril rating of the Scene.  If you succeed by 1 or more, then you can use your Margin of Success to purchase Scene Gains.  If you fail, you must suffer Scene Losses (see below!)
  3. After you complete the first challenge in the scene (regardless of whether you succeed or fail), roll to see “What’s the Next Challenge in this scene?” The scene may end up consisting of many such challenges.

Once you’ve completed a scene, return to Step 1 and play out another scene.  Continue to do so until you reach the Climax scene, and complete the adventure.

That’s the overview.

Let’s now follow those steps again, one at a time, in a little more detail.

Step 1: Determine What Type of Scene You’re In

This system sorts scenes into various types, based on what kinds of challenges they pose.  When you begin a new scene, the first thing to do is to determine what kind of scene it is.  To do so, roll on the “Where Do We Go From Here?” table.

Where Do We Go From Here?  Table

Roll 3d6. (Need a die roller?)  Subtract 1 for every scene you’ve successfully completed during this adventure.

3-5 You’ve reached the Climax Scene!
6-8 A choice of between three scene types. Roll three times on the Scene and Challenge Types Table (see below…)
9-13 A choice between two scene types.  Roll twice on the Scene and Challenge Types Table (see below…)
14-15 There’s only one option here – roll on the Scene and Challenge Types Table (see below…)
16 A standard Social scene.  If failed, a standard Combat.
17-18 A standard Social scene.  If failed, a deadly Combat.

(For results that involve rolling multiple times on the Scene and Challenge Types Table, if you roll the same scene type twice, then don’t re-roll – you’ve just got a smaller range of options.)

Step 2: Determine the  Challenge 

Each scene is made up of a number of challenges.  These are generally skill rolls, but they may be other success rolls (such as attribute checks), or simply opportunities to use a particular advantage.  All success rolls are made at a penalty equal to the current Peril.

How do you know what the challenge is?  Well, it depends on the scene type. Each scene type has a number of different challenges associated with it.

If you’re just beginning a new scene, roll for a Challenge type on the Scene and Challenge Types Table.

The Scene and Challenge Types Table

The table below helps you to determine new scene and challenge types.  It looks a little tricky, but it’s actually easy to read once you understand what’s going on.

The numbers in the columns are d6 rolls.  Which column do you roll in?  Well, to find out, you consult the numbers along the top row.

Along the top row, we have the numbers 2-3, 4-7, and 8+.  This represents the number of PCs, plus Peril.

Why?  Well, when you have a small group trying to complete a simple adventure, the system will pose very general challenges, and thus give you a lot of freedom in choosing which specific skill or ability to use.  But when you have a larger group, and/or when you’re completing a more challenging adventure, then the system will pose very specific challenges.

Example: let’s say you’re trying to determine the scene type.  You have just one PC, and Peril is 2.  That total is 3, so you’ll be using the first column (marked 2-3).  You roll 1d, and get a 1.  Reading across, you see that you’re in a “Social” scene.  This means that you can attempt any  of the “Social” challenges in the far right column, from “Carousing” down to “Streetwise”.  You have a lot of options!

Second example: Once again you’re trying to determine the scene type, but this time you have three PCs, and Peril is 3.  The total is 6, so you’ll begin in the first column as usual, but this time you’ll keep rolling until you reach the more specific scene types in the third column (marked 4-7).  Let’s play that out.  You begin by rolling 1d in the first column; once again you get a 1, which puts you in the “Social” bracket.  You then roll 1d in the third column; you get a 5, which means you’re in a “Fitting In” scene.  If the party was very large, or the Peril very high, then you’d need to roll a third d6, to specific a partiuclar challenge – the system is telling you that this situation calls for Disguise (or whatever) – nothing else will do!  Of course, if no-one in the group has that skill, then you can always fall back on defaults, or try any workaround that seems plausible.  (For example, maybe no-one has Disguise, but the wizard can cast Alter Visage, which is just as good.)

Note: This table is not yet complete – the numbering is a bit whacky, for instance.  I’m leaving it that way for now, since I’m sure that more things will need to be added and/or overhauled, so any fancy numbering I come up with now is bound to be thrown out later anyway.  Hopefully I’ll get a chance to clean it up properly when it’s in a more final form.

Scene and Challenge Types Table

(Need a die roller?)

2-3   4-7   8+  
1 Social 1-3 Persuasion 1 Carousing
      (Get a Good reaction) 2 Diplomacy
      3 Fast-Talk
      4 Intimidation
      5 Sex Appeal
    4-6 Fitting In 1 Acting
        2 Disguise
        3 Savoir-Faire
        4 Streetwise
2 Covert 1-3 Sneaking 1 Camouflage
      2 Holdout
      3 Observation
        4 Shadowing
        5 Smuggling
        6 Stealth
    4-6 Skullduggery 1 Counterfeiting/Forgery
      2 Filch
      3 Lockpicking/Forced Entry
      4 Pickpocket
      5 Sleight of Hand
        6 Traps
3 Mental 1-2 Knowledge 1 Archaeology
      2 Architecture
        3 Area Knowledge
        4 Current Affairs
        5 Expert Skill
        6 History
    3-4 Lore 1 Alchemy
        2 Herb Lore
        3 Hidden Lore
        4 Occultism
        5 Thaumatology
        6 Theology
    5-6 Deduction 1 Criminology
        2 Interrogation
        3 Tracking
        4 Psychology
        5 Research
        6 Detect Lies
4 Physical 1-3 Movement 1 (2xBasic Speed)+2
        2 Acrobatics
        3 Climbing
        4 Running
        5 Swimming
    4-6 Endurance 1 ST
        2 Will
        3 HT
        4 Per
5 Combat   (Use combat system)    
6 Specialist   (See Specialist Table)    


Extra Table for Specialist Scenes

The following table is really just a grab-bag of challenges that don’t fit in elsewhere, but calling them “Specialist” scenes makes them sound a bit more exciting.  This table is a little different to the main table – it has a very wide range of challenge types, and so I’ve broken down the categories in a different way to avoid getting too specific too quickly.

(Need a die roller?)

2-4 5-6   7-8   9+  
Specialist 1-2 Daywork 1-2 Perform 1 Dancing
  2 Performance
  3 Public Speaking
  4 Musical Instrument
  5 Singing
  3-4 Work 1 Animal Handling
  2 Cooking
  3 Crewman
  4 Driving (Cart)
  5 Fishing
  6 Freight Handling
  1 Housework
  2 Lifting
  3 Masonry
  4 Packing
  5 Panhandling
  6 Professional Skill
  1 Riding
  2 Savoir faire (Servant)
  3 Scrounging
  4 Teamster
  5 Urban Survival
  5-6 Play 1 Driving (Chariot)
  2 Falconry
  3 Games
  4 Gambling
  5 Riding
  6 Sports
  3-4 Craftwork 1-2 Create 1 Artist
    2 Connoisseur
    3 Musical Composition
    4 Poetry
    5 Writing
    3-4 Craft 1 Armory
    2 Carpentry
    3 Masonry
    4 Jeweler
  5 Leatherworking
  6 Smith
  5-6 Trade 1 Connoisseur
  2 Merchant
  3-4 Sagework 1-2 Heal 1 Diagnosis
  2 Esoteric Medicine
  3 First Aid
  4 Pharmacy
  5 Physician
  6 Poisons
  3-4 Scheme 1 Administration
  2 Politics
  3 Propaganda
  4 Psychology
  5 Public Speaking
  6 Leadership
  1 Intelligence Analysis
  2 Strategy
  3 Tactics
  5-6 Manifest Power More detail to come here!

Attempting the Challenge

Usually attempting the challenge involves making a success roll of some kind, at a penalty equal to Peril.  But there are times when it will seem both fun and narratively appropriate to use something that doesn’t require a success roll (e.g. many advantages).  That’s fine!  If it seems fun, fair, and appropriate, then do it!  The system is meant to support your storytelling, not get in the way.

The Benefits of Success: Scene Gains  

If you succeed by 1 or more, then each point by which you succeed can be used to purchase one of the following “Scene Gains.”  (Critical success counts as a Margin of Success of 10).

You may purchase a “Scene Gain” immediately after succeeding at any success roll.  You can also save the points to spend later in the scene, if you prefer.  Points cannot be saved between scenes.

Scene Gains

Cost Scene Gain Effect
1 Seize the initiative! Choose the next challenge within this scene, rather than rolling for it.  You must choose a challenge within the current scene type.
2 Improve your position! Gain +3 to your next challenge during this scene (you can only benefit from this once per challenge)
2 Try to change the scene type! Change the scene type.  Spend 2 success points, and then roll 1d for a random scene type.  1 – Social; 2 – Covert; 3 – Physical; 4 – Knowledge; 5 – Combat; 6 – Specialist.   If you roll the same type as the current scene, re-roll.  If you get a scene type that you would prefer, then you may change the scene to that type.  If not, your points are wasted.
2+Peril Win the scene! Win this scene.  Proceed to the next scene by rolling for a new scene type.  If you spend an additional four success points, you can choose the next scene type.
2 Gain something that might be useful later! Gain something that will prove useful later in the adventure.  This might be information, insight, or it might be an object important to the narrative, such as a key, letter, or map.  It’s important to declare what it is right away!  Mechanically, this provides you with either a +2 or a re-roll that can be used later in the adventure, either on any success roll, or when rolling on one of the tables in this system, as long as you can work it into the narrative in a fun and plausible way.  It’s a good idea to store up a few of these for the Climax scene, if you can manage it!
4 Grab the loot! Acquire goods worth up to $5xPerilxPeril
4 Increase the Reward! Increase the value of the Reward for the adventure as a whole, by the initial Reward amount.

The Price of Failure: Scene Losses

When you fail a roll, you must suffer the consequences!  Immediately after failing any success roll, choose appropriate “Scene Losses” from the following list.  You must choose Losses worth a total number of “Failure Points” equal to your Margin of Failure.     Critical failure counts as 10 Failure Points.

Scene Losses 

Cost Scene Loss Effect
1-5 You’re off balance! Your next success roll is penalized by the number of failure points you spend.
1, 3, 5 You’re tired! Lose Fatigue points.  You cannot regain these FP until the end of the following scene (i.e. you’re down FP during this scene, and the next).  The number of FP depends on how many failure points you spend: (1) Peril; (3) 2xPeril; (5) 3xPeril
3, 5, 7 You’re hurt! Lose Hit Points (DR doesn’t protect). The number of HP lost depends on how many failure points you spend: (3) Peril; (5) 2xPeril; (7) 3xPeril
2 You must spend resources! Damage or lose property worth $5 x Peril x Peril
2 You’ve made this scene more difficult! Add 1 to the Peril rating for the remainder of the scene.
4 You’ve made this whole adventure more difficult! Add 1 to the Peril rating for the remainder of the adventure.
3 You’ve compromised the Reward! Reduce the Reward for the adventure by half its initial value.
1, 3, 6 You must fight! The difficulty of the combat depends on how many failure points you’re spending: (1) trivial encounter; (3) standard encounter; (6) deadly encounter
3, 6 People think less of you! Suffer a social disadvantage worth -Peril pts.  (Example: a negative Reputation with a particular group, an Enemy; a loss of Status; Social Stigma (Criminal Record).  This is worth three failure points if the disadvantage is temporary, and can be cancelled by winning a single Social Scene at the current Peril. (Run that extra scene whenever seems most fun and appropriate).   This is worth the full six failure points if the disadvantage is permanent, and must be bought off with experience points.
4, 6, 8 You are captured or imprisoned! If you want to keep playing, you’ll have to run an Escape adventure.  The Peril of the Escape adventure depends on how many Failure Points you spend: (4) current Peril-1; (6) current Peril; (8) current Peril +1
5 You’ve failed the adventure! Fail the adventure, forfeiting the Reward.
Deferring Payment

Normally you suffer Scene Losses immediately after failing any success roll.  However, if it seems more appropriate to the narrative, you can defer payment until later in the scene, at the cost of accumulating an additional Failure Point.  If you Win the scene before paying, lucky you!  You don’t have to pay.  But if you ever accumulate 3 failures, you must pay right away.

Step 3: Determine the Next Challenge

Maybe you just won the scene at the first challenge – if so, great!   Head back to Step 1 to find out the next scene type.

But probably you have a ways to go before finishing the scene.  If so, use the table below to determine the next challenge you’ll face during this scene, and then head back to Step 2 to face that challenge.

What’s the Next Challenge in this Scene?

Roll 3d6.  (Need a die roller?)  Subtract 1 for every challenge you’ve successfully completed during this scene.  If you succeeded at your previous skill roll during this scene, subtract your Margin of Success.  If you failed your previous skill roll during this scene, add your Margin of failure.

(Don’t forget that all skill, attribute, and ability rolls called for on this table are made at a penalty equal to Peril.)

3-4 You’ve won the scene, and you’ve gained the initiative as well.  Roll on the “Where do we Go From Here” Table – but if you don’t like the result, then you can choose any of the six scene types, and make it the next scene.
5 You’ve won the scene.  Roll on the “Where do we Go From Here” table to see what’s next.
6 Attempt the same challenge as last time, but with a +2 bonus.
7 Choose any challenge within the same scene type.
8 Choose any challenge within the same scene type, except the one you just used.
9 Attempt the same challenge as last time.
10 Either attempt the same challenge again at an additional -1, or attempt a different challenge within the same scene type.
11 Attempt any challenge within the same scene type, as long as you haven’t attempted it yet during this scene.  If you’ve exhausted all the options, choose any, but roll at -2.
12 Attempt the same challenge as last time, but base your skill roll on a different attribute.
13 Roll for a different scene type, and attempt any challenge appropriate to it.  (The current scene type remains the same.)
14 Either roll against Will, roll against Per, or make a Fright check.  All are penalized by Peril.
15 Something happens to trigger one of your disadvantages. Choose a disadvantage that seems appropriate to the scene.  If it has a self-control roll, roll for it now.  If you fail, or if the disadvantage has no self-control roll, then suffer the effects.  The mechanical effects of this are up to you – do what seems like the most fun, but make sure the disadvantage is disadvantageous!  To offer a good rule of thumb, though, it would be fair to declare that for every -5 pts the disadvantage is worth, you suffer a -1 penalty to something significant for the rest of the scene, or half that penalty for the rest of the adventure.  But other cases may vary.
16 The scene type changes.  Roll for 1d twice to determine two random scene types.  1 – Social; 2 – Covert; 3 – Physical; 4 – Knowledge; 5 – Combat; 6 – Specialist.  Choose one of those types, and then attempt any challenge within it.
17-18 Roll 1d  for a random scene type.  1 – Social; 2 – Covert; 3 – Physical; 4 – Knowledge; 5 – Combat; 6 – Specialist.  Either change the scene to that type, or keep the scene the same, but raise effective Peril by 2 for the rest of the scene.  Either way, proceed by attempting any challenge within the appropriate scene type.

The Climax Scene

Once you reach the Climax Scene, you’ve nearly made it! In the current draft of the system, Climax Scenes work exactly the same way as other scenes, except that if you win the scene, you receive the Reward and conclude the adventure.  I’m hoping to make Climaxes a bit more unique and special in the next version – but for now, they’re just a sign that you’re reached the last scene, in which the Reward is at stake.

Concluding the Adventure

I include this heading as a bit of a placeholder – at present, there’s nothing special to do at the end of the adventure, except rolling for XP (see below).  But once I get the basic mechanic ironed out, I’d like to add some sophistication here – perhaps something akin to the “Plot Twist” and “So, How About that Reward”? tables from the existing Adventures system (though neither can be used as-is, since the mechanics of Town adventures are different).

Earning Experience

At the end of the adventure, a GM would usually award some experience points to the characters on the basis of how well they did during the adventure.  If you’re playing without a GM, how do you know how may XP you’ve earned?

Yes, this system solves this problem using a table.  Surprising, no?

When everyone agrees that an adventure has come to a close, for good or ill, roll 3d6 once on the table below.  The result applies to the whole party.  As you can see, the table is fairly harsh on those who are not willing to Raise the Stakes during the adventure!

(Note: this table is meant to be used in conjunction with the rules for Plots, which are an additional way to earn character points.  If you’re not using those rules, you may want to increase these values.)

“How Many Experience Points Do We Get?” Table
Roll 3d6, and factor in the modifiers listed below.  (Need a die roller?)

2 or less  3 character points each.
3-6          2 character points each.
7-11          1 character point each.
12+          No character points.

Subtract 4 if everyone agrees the adventure was a raging success.
Subtract 2 if everyone agrees the adventure was a success.
Add 2 if everyone agrees the adventure was a failure.
Add 4 if everyone agrees it was a complete disaster.
If the adventure was a success, the group can also subtract 1 for every time they “Raised the Stakes” during the adventure.
If the adventure was a failure, all those bonuses are worthless.
Subtract 1 for every full session of play that was devoted to the adventure.


5 thoughts on “Town Adventure System (very rough pre-alpha draft!)

  1. On the “ehere do we go from here” table, shouldn’t it be “remove 1” where it reads “add 1”? Currently, it seems the more scenes you complete, further you get from the climax.


    1. Nice catch, Grifo! You’re entirely right – that’s a terrible typing error that ruins the whole system! I definitely meant “Subtract 1” rather than “Add 1”, and I’ve edited the post to reflect that.

      This just shows what happens when I post a rough draft, without proofreading at all 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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