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Any system can be a challenge to run and Fray is no exception. Despite a fairly simple core mechanic, there are a wealth of options for characters and GMs and it can be difficult to know how and when to use which options. In this section, there are some helpful hints and tricks for GMs on how to run Fray.
The first and most important rule to remember to keep the game fun. If there is a rule you and your players don’t like then don’t use it. If you feel like home brewing up some new Skills or Perks you should go for it. The Fray system is here to help you and your friends have a good time and if you find ways to make your game more fun outside of the rules written in this book you should feel free to go for it.
There are many ways to run Fray. The most important thing to try and do is keep all of the players engaged and make sure every character has a valuable role in the game. There are three types of play that work best with Fray and most successful campaigns incorporate all three types of play into them.
Dungeoneering campaigns are based around the characters fighting monsters and obtaining wealth. With this wealth, they gain more powerful items and perhaps training for more powerful Perks. The game progresses with a series of fairly random dungeons, fortresses, or other structures for the characters to invade and loot. Dungeoneering games are good for players who enjoy crafting tactically superior characters and don’t care too much about the role-playing aspects of the game.
Political campaigns are based around the characters acquiring power. This doesn’t necessarily mean that acquiring wealth is not a part of the game but usually acquiring rank and prestige are more important. This could lead to characters being in charge of large armies or running massive guilds as they slowly try to spread their dominance over the world.
Base Building campaigns focus on the characters building a home for themselves. They might be building a settlement on the edge of the wilderness or trying to create the greatest castle the world has ever seen in the center of the greatest city. Base building games often involve characters seeking out rare items and recruiting powerful NPCs to live in their base.
No matter what kind of game you and your players decide to play you will most likely throw some NPCs, items, or plot at the players that they are simply not interested in. Rather than try to push this plot on the players it’s usually better to alter it slightly to make it more appealing to them or ditch the idea entirely and come up with something new and more appealing.
Many campaigns have one overarching plot with several subplots along the way. For example; an exiled noble, guild assassin, and cultist form a party together. While each session should have a little bit for each character some sessions might focus more on the exiled noble’s past. During that session, it’s best to tie the other characters into the exiled noble’s past in ways they didn’t know existed. Perhaps the exiled noble’s uncle was a member of the same cult as the cultist. Perhaps the assassin’s guild was partially responsible for the murder of one of their relatives. By tying these aspects of the characters together you help to solidify their personal plots into one storyline, instead of multiple storylines all vying for power every session.
In any game, it is also a good idea to allow for recurring NPCs. Generally speaking, NPCs should be less powerful than the characters and have less agency in the game than the characters. Campaigns in which the characters are weaker than every NPC are rarely satisfying, but in the same vein some NPCs, such as kings or powerful wizards or even powerful Beasts, should be stronger than the characters and give the player’s pause before they meddle in that particular NPC’s affairs.
Low Fantasy is a genre that is set in a mostly normal world with mystical elements just under the surface but generally out of view. Fray wasn’t designed to be a low fantasy setting but it can be easily adjusted to be just that. There are a variety of fantasy races but none of them are imbued with mystical powers so no adjustments are needed there. Anywhere in the Setting that allows for magic, you can simply replace with witchcraft, alchemy, or apothecia. Low fantasy games are especially fun for players and GMs who enjoy a more realistic feel to the game but still want a bit of the supernatural in it.
Heroic Fantasy is the genre that is best suited for Fray and the Restless Sea setting. Heroic fantasy has mystical elements scattered throughout the world. They generally do not interact with people and most normal people can go their whole lives without ever seeing magic or being plagued by mythical monsters. Magic is rare but not unheard of and is often sought out by those in dire situations. Practitioners of magic are usually given a fair amount of respect or distrust.
High Fantasy is a genre where magic runs rampant. Normal people interact with magic on a nearly daily basis and mythical creatures can easily be a part of society. Magicians are an everyday occurrence and there are even magical schools in most sizable towns.
Mystery is an important element of every story. It’s no fun if the players always know what they’re getting into. The best way to craft a mystery in something as fluid as an RPG is to put the characters on the path and introduce a wide variety of unexplained incidents or phenomenons and let them decide what the solution to the mystery is. Characters seeking out a sunken treasure in the ocean might find that the captain, who was presumed dead, is actually alive and imprisoned. Perhaps coins from that mysterious sunken treasure appear in odd places, such as in the belly of a cow or in the bottom of one of their drinks at the local tavern. While the GM throws out multiple hints and has a general idea of what is happening let the characters come to their own decisions and then integrate their theories into the game.
Interesting Combats are sometimes difficult to come up with. A good way to make combat interesting is to add an extra element that is not controlled by either side. Have the characters fight onboard a ship during a storm and every round at the end of the turn they’re moved 1d4 hexes. Have a valuable artifact stolen from the characters and the entire combat is both sides trying to maintain control of the artifact. Every combat doesn’t have to be a hack and slash battle to the death, throwing different objectives or obstacles in keeps the combats fresh and interesting and also gives the characters a chance to “lose” without the fear of death.
Take their strengths away once in a while. Every character excels at one thing or another and while most of the time you want to let them excel it can be fun to take that power away from the character and put them out of their element. Give an assassin a mission where they aren’t allowed to kill. Force a seasoned politician into a jousting match. Put a preacher into enemy territory where they have to stick to the tenets but not show their faith. Give characters challenges they can overcome but might not be well suited to.
Any RPG has a lot of give-and-take between players and the GM. In most sessions, the characters should come out on top, but that doesn’t mean their victories have to be total victories. Let characters have what they’re after but sometimes it’s a good idea to make them pay a high cost for it. Normally the cost should be something that impedes the character later on but doesn’t necessarily push them past their moral code too far.
Governments exist in any civilized area and operate in the open with anyone under them at least somewhat aware of how they work. Any settled area the characters enter is going to be governed by some group of people. When characters enter an area you should decide how much access to that area’s leaders you want the group to have. The more access the group has to leaders the more influence they will have over that area in the game. Larger cities and countries might make it more difficult for the group to access their leaders but even small villages can make it difficult. The mayor of a hamlet might decide he doesn’t wish to meet with the group, or the chieftain of a small tribe might only send an emissary to speak with them. In the same way, a king might be more hands-on and greet the characters on their arrival into his kingdom.
Mercenary organizations range in size of a small group of specialists to large armies. These organizations hold no allegiance to any belief or nation and will sell their steal to the highest bidders. Most mercenary organizations are run by a single leader but when they grow large enough or separate branches begin to develop the internal governing might become more complex. Most mercenary groups have a formula for splitting their pay among the members of the organization. It is not unheard for adventurers or even criminals to fall in with mercenaries in order to make good steady coin.
Merchants come together for one reason; to increase profits. There are many types of merchant guilds. Some guilds focus on only one aspect of commerce, such as farmer’s guilds or blacksmith guilds. Others become larger conglomerates like trading companies or supply chains for multiple goods and services. While governments control the military might of a region merchants often control the economics and can use their power to influence the government and the people. Merchant guilds will often hire mercenaries or guards to be their muscle and protect their goods. It is not unheard of for governments to offer them protection as well.
Criminal organizations usually cover a vast swath of crimes and are led by a single leader or a small group of specialists. Criminal organizations specialize in making a profit off of the crimes in the city. They might charge pirates an extra fee to allow them to secretly dock and make sure the harbor master looks the other way. A thief who isn’t up on their dues could find the guard knocking at their door at any second. An assassin who hasn’t cleared his mission with the local crime syndicate could very well find themselves walking into a trap. Criminal organizations are often hard to find and become interested in individuals when said individuals go looking for the organization.
Churches, temples, shrines and even covens are littered around the setting in the Restless Sea. The Setting part of this book describes how most of the world believes the gods came to pass. It is, however, entirely possible for you to change the history to suit your game. Perhaps the gods always existed and always will, or perhaps the gods need the faith of sentient beings to give them power and continue existing. How the gods operate and what religions are popular are entirely up to you.
The setting is designed with religion heavily in mind. Most people follow some sort of religion or ethos and pay tribute to it. This is because the gods do actually control parts of the natural world. Sometimes faiths will even go to war with each other to determine whose god has dominance over what aspect of the world. Very few people adhere to the Tenets of gods or believe strongly enough to acquire Religious Perks, but it is not unheard for the gods to bless their followers in times of need.
There is little strife between the various religions in Valan’s Rest. This is partially because it is demonstrable that every god exists and therefore every religion is legitimate and truthful. It is not unheard of for followers of one religion to pay homage to gods of another. For example, a follower of Haifelia, the Mistress might also go to a shrine at a certain time of year to celebrate the local tree spirit there. Worshipping across different pantheons is rarely heard of, however.
Churches are usually described as large organizations that have places of worship all across the land. There is usually a hierarchy to the church with a group or single person making most of the decisions for how the religious organization operates. Most of the religions described in the settings chapter have churches. For example, there are churches to the Dorak the Stormbringer from the Bulwark Pantheon.
Temples are for lesser known gods or philosophies that have a small following. There might be just one temple to a local philosophy where patrons gather to discuss and adhere to the philosophy. Temples usually operate internally and do not often confer with other religious organizations. Examples of this would be a Temple to the War Philosophy in Aledar controlled mountains, or the Temple to Orphis, Deago, and the Jackal in Pelias.
Shrines are small structures that mark a holy place. Most of them have one or two attendants from a town or nearby settlement who see to their upkeep. Shrines can be erected to pay homage to a water spirit that lives in a beautiful waterfall or to mark the site of a massive and glorious battle. Most shrines have a few holidays out of the year in which people pay homage to them.
Covens are small groups of people that worship an almost unheard of entities. Most covens are considered cults and shunned by polite society. Some covens, however, are a mark of prestige and are very difficult to get into. Very few covens operate in the open and they can be difficult to find.
A Non-Player Character (NPC) is a character that you will be running for your characters to interact with. While your players only get to play one character throughout the game you get to play as many as you want.
Most of the time characters will be rolling against NPC’s CRs. A good way to handle this is to imagine the NPC and what they would be good or bad at and assign CRs appropriate to their Body, Mind, and Personality Stat Blocks. For example; a dim-witted but very strong guard might have a Body CR of 4, and a Mind and a Personality CR of 2. This would mean that should characters attempt to lie to the guard they would have to roll Deception CR: 2. However, if the guard is chasing them they would have a CR: 4 roll to escape him. Giving NPCs which the characters interact with different CRs gives the NPCs a little more depth and forces the characters to really think when dealing with them. The following list should help to give you some ideas for most of your NPCs.
Should the NPCs need to actually roll for an Action, either against or for the characters, you can easily give them a number of dice equal to their Stat Block’s CR and decide how high their skill would be. If the NPC is going to continue to be a part of the game you should probably make a note of their Skills somewhere.
Major NPCs are NPCs that are going to come up quite often and the group will usually find some use for. These type of NPCs might need to be statted out completely. You should completely write up an NPC if they are going to be in combat, or if they become a member of the group. Major NPCs might come from Backgrounds such as followers or allies. There are several statted out NPCs in the Bestiary that you can easily use.
First and foremost, this is your game. There is a wealth of system and setting resources in this book but if you want to add or do away with anything it is entirely your choice. All rules are optional. Most games should start with a 0 Session game. The 0 Session is when the group comes together and discusses the characters they’re going to play. The 0 Session allows for players to make characters that don’t overlap too much or have incredibly contradictory goals.
Narrative games are games where the GM decides the story arc and the plot of the game. The plot and NPCs continue and adjust to the actions of the characters but the game generally continues in the direction the GM set out at the beginning.
Sandbox games are dictated by the characters actions entirely. The GM can generally handwave most planning and simply react to what characters do within the game.
Most games are a combination of the two. The GM provides some narrative but there is some leeway for the characters to diverge from the plot, or completely disregard it if they see fit.
Theming a game can give the characters a common goal and help to make the group feel more united. As the GM you should feel free to theme your game however you see fit, so long as your players are amicable to your theme. If you want to run a game where all the characters are wealthy nobles you can give them all Nobility: 2 and Wealth: 2 as starting characters. If you want them to all have an innate magical ability you can let them choose up to a Tier 2 Essence Ability for free. So long as your players are on board with your theme and you don’t make them spend their own resources to meet the theme’s requirements these games can help unite the party and give characters a common purpose. Here are some possible themes for you to consider:
There are many types of rolls to make in Fray. Here is a list that should help you quickly and easily decide which roll is called for in the given situation. These rolls are listed in order of the frequency they are likely to occur in your game.
Normal Challenge Roll: This roll has a CR and is a simple pass or fail roll. It is one of the most common rolls that your players are going to make. Roll this when there is no need for a degree of success or failure. For example: picking a lock or sneaking past a guard. In these situations, characters with either succeed or fail.
Open Roll: This is to measure a degree of success or failure. Many Open Rolls will also have a Minimum CR. You can use Open Rolls to determine not only if a character succeeds or fails but also the degree to which they succeed or fail.
A character decides to go hunting in the tundra. Hunting in the tundra is no easy task so you set the CR at 4.
Involved Challenge: These rolls are great for when players decide to take on a long term project and you don’t need to roll out every detail. Most of the time Involved challenges are going to be rolled for building things or creating things. They can also be quite useful for when a character goes on a solo mission. Rather than playing through the entire mission and the rest of the players sitting around bored you can instead call for an Involved Challenge and let the player dictate the montage of events based on whether they Succeed or Fail.
Opposed Challenges: These are good for PC vs. PC or when PCs go against Major NPCs. Most of the time Opposed Challenges are good for when a Major NPC initiates a roll against the PCs. The character with the most amount of successes is the victor of the roll.
Everyone receives 5 XP at the beginning of character creation. This is the recommended amount for beginning players. It allows them to build a character that is still more powerful than common folk but also doesn’t give players the chance to overload with Perks and other powers. This makes it easier to learn the system as their character progresses.
You can, of course, give player’s extra XP at the beginning of a game, as well as additional Backgrounds. Keep in mind that every 3 XP gives a player a chance to invest in a powerful Tier 3 Perk. If you decide to give out extra XP at the beginning of the game be sure to think about what kind of game you want to run and how powerful you want the characters in it to be.
It is recommended that players receive 1 XP per session. As characters progress they might buy newer and more powerful Perks, Spells or Maneuvers that supersede previous ones. In these cases, characters can simply pay the difference in XP between the two Perks, or substitute the old Spell or Maneuver for a new one after getting a better one.
This can be a difficult thing to regulate in game. Basically, you want a Scene to go on for as long as possible, especially if characters are using Perks or expending resources during that Scene. Combats should end as quickly as possible, especially if characters are drawing them out or “gaming” the system.
If players use a lot of Perks or Spells during Scenes you should consider occasionally tossing a Combat into the game where they would least expect it. If an Enchanter is using all of their Essence at every social event it might be a good idea to have them mugged by a group of brigands on the way home. This shouldn’t be used as a form of punishment, but rather a tool to introduce more drama and tension into the game.
Sometimes players might want to use their Combat Perks in creative ways outside of Combat. They might shoot a fireball into a tree to add to their Intimidate roll or use the Shinobi Ashi Perk to try and hide where they would normally be exposed. You should encourage characters to use these abilities and grant them Advantage or even sometimes +1 Success to their rolls. Keep in mind any resources they use, such as uses per combat Perks, are consumed and do not refresh until the end of the Scene.
In the setting
The Restless Sea and Valan’s Rest are designed to be a low magic setting. While everyone in the setting has Essence only around 1 in 1,000 can actually access their Essence and make use of it through magical skills or lower level Essence Enhancers. Only one 1 in 10,000 actually learns to harness their Essence through Spells or advanced Essence Enhancers. Of course, if you wish to make your game a high magic setting you can always adjust these numbers as you want.
Any character that uses magic should have a specific style for how they use magic. Some characters could wield it through weapons, others through song, and others through bits of fairy dust and tongues of newt. Based on how the character uses magic you can come up with ways to stop them from using magic. The ways in which you stop them from using magic should be discussed with the player before implementing them and should be consistent with the character’s theme.
As stated before this system is not balanced with Magic Items in mind. In fact, you could pretty much remove magic items from the game and nothing would change. Due to the mechanics of the system there really are no small bonuses in Fray so if your group does get magic items, be sure to stress how important they are and do your best to be sure everyone receives some kind of equal bonus.
Remember, magical items don’t have to be only swords, armor, and flying carpets. You can also give them in the way of mystical tattoos, powerful pets or even a customized Perk that can represent a mystical martial arts style. It is recommended you use magic items with caution in your game.
It also makes sense for magic items to be valuable and highly sought after. If a character has a magic sword and it is known to be magic then other warriors might seek them out for their sword. Even trinkets such as brooms that sweep or a door that only unlocks when a password is spoken are extremely valuable and will probably draw the interest of local thieves.