The Glorious Butt System

At long last, #Greenwoodnesday finally brings us around to #LincolnGreen‘s much vaunted Butt System. So, let’s talk about butts.

Here we shall consult that most sage of the merry folk, Maid Merriam-Webster for the third and fourth definitions of butt:

(3) butt


Definition of butt

  1. : a large cask especially for wine, beer, or water
  2. : any of various units of liquid capacity; especially : a measure equal to 108 imperial (see 1 imperial 4) gallons (491 liters)

Origin and Etymology of butt

Middle English, from Anglo-French but, bout, from Old Occitan bota, from Late Latin buttis

First Known Use: 14th century


(4) butt


Definition of butt

  1. a : a backstop (such as a mound or bank) for catching missiles shot at a target
    b : target
    c butts plural : range 5c a shooting butt

Origin and Etymology of butt

Middle English, partly from Middle French but target, of Germanic origin; akin to Old Norse būtr log, Low German butt blunt; partly from Middle French bute goal, target, mound, from but target

First Known Use: 14th century

14th century is a bit anachronistic for the original Robin Hood tales, but so is Prince John, King Richard, Maid Marian, and Friar Tuck, really.  So I’m not going to worry too much about that, especially when so delicious a phrase as “Robin Hood won a butt of stout ale by shooting a butt in the sheriff’s tourney” can be used.

The Butt System in #LincolnGreen is all about competitions, be they wagers, contests or tourneys. It is a way to resolve those moments when one of the merry folk tests their mettle against some other champion or boastful traveler. These events are so very common in the folklore. Modern adaptations like to use battles and action to feature Robin’s legendary ability with the bow, but it could be argued that originally, aside from hunting the king’s deer, the focus of Robin’s prowess was archery as a sport.

It is vital, then, that #LincolnGreen possess a system to resolve all manner of sport and contest. But it is equally as vital that this system only be used for such competition. I want a system that can resolve a foot race in a swift, tense, engaging way; but also a system that does not lend itself to resolving a chase. If you’re being chased by the sheriff’s guard, that’s between you, the Game Warden, and your saving throws. Leave the Butt System out of it.

How the Butt System Works

You being by establishing the important points of the competition. If it is a wager, what is on the line? If it is a tourney, what are the rules and what can be won? Who is there to witness it? Who is favored to win and why? Who, if anyone, has home field advantage? Once these have been settled, you are ready to begin.

Favor & Advantage

The answers to these questions and your character’s Experience Points will determine two important things going into this: how much Advantage you have and who has Favor?

Advantage is a resource that you spend during a butt. You start off with a number equal to:

  • The number of Experience Points that explicitly grant Advantage for this specific sort of competition.
  • Plus one if you are proficient in this sort of competition or the tools used within.
    • You only get one advantage from this, regardless of how many ways you are proficient.
  • Plus one if the competition is taking place in your home village or town and your foe is not from around here.
  • Plus one if your Experience Points indicated that you have more Beloved Reputations among the audience than your foe.
    • You cannot gain this advantage if you have even one Nefarious Reputation among the crowd or if you are competing in disguise, but in either case you can still prevent your foe from gaining it if your Beloved Reputations equal or outnumber theirs.
  • Plus one if you have Favor.

Favor allows you to start the competition in the best possible position. The Game Warden chooses who has Favor by looking at all the established points and making a judgement call. Favor is only granted in clear cases. If the two contestants are relatively evenly matched, neither has Favor. But if someone is in a different class altogether, or is competing while overly drunk, or is deliberately hampering their abilities by, say, tying one hand behind their back; then it should be clear who has Favor.

More on what Advantage and Favor get you in a moment. But first…

The Butt

Start by drawing a butt with three arrows sticking out of it, one to the left and two to the right. Like this one:


The Swift & Long Roads

To the left represents the Swift Road—perhaps the quickest way to victory. To the right represents the Long Road—the steady slog towards victory. Each side of the butt has a number of tally marks associated with it at the beginning of the competition. If you expect a quick, straight-forward resolution, then your Swift Road will start with 2 tallies and your Long Road will start with 3, as above. This is ideal for archery competitions which are resolved in one or two shots and for things like arm wrestling where the back-and-forth action is not particularly dramatic in the retelling.

If you expect a competition with twists and turns, something that would hold an audience’s attention as you sing of it in detail, then your Swift Road will start with 3 tallies and your Long Road will start with 5, as below.


These tallies are your goals. Each contestant will have a coin side associated with them (either crosses or piles). On your turn, you will usually place a coin that has already been thrown next to one of the arrows. Place enough to reach the tally goal on either side before your opponent reaches a tally goal on either side and you win.

The difference between the two roads is not just the tallies. When a coin of either facing is first placed in the Long Road, it is placed by one of the arrows. From then on, only coins of that facing may be placed by that arrow, and coins of that facing may only be placed by that arrow. That arrow is yours to conquer. When the Swift Road is empty, a coin of any facing may be placed next to its arrow. But if there’s already a coin in the Swift Road, any attempt to place a coin of the opposite facing will wipe both coins out, leaving the Swift Road empty again.

  • Long Road: You have your own path & your progress is generally preserved.
  • Swift Road: There is only one path & you lose all progress when a foe’s coin is played here.

The Purse

Decide now, before anything is thrown, which of you will be crosses and which will be piles.

The Cunning Favor Option: If you have favor, you may spend one Advantage now to make everyone wait until after the purse is thrown and then you decide who is crosses and who is piles.

Take a number of coins equal to the tallies in the Long Road and throw them. This is the communal Purse. Leave these coins as they lie. The number of crosses and the number of piles you have to work with are now set. You and your foe will be making your moves with these coins and unless a move specifically says otherwise, these coins will remain facing this way as they are moved.

If you have Favor and you invoked the Cunning Favor Option by spending an Advantage before the Purse was thrown, you may now choose whether you wish to be piles or crosses. Your foe is stuck with the other.

We are now ready to begin.

Moves & Questions

Starting with contestant with the least amount of coins in the purse, you take turns making moves and asking questions.

The Daring Favor Option: If you have Favor and you did not invoke the Cunning Favor Option, you may spend an Advantage now to make the contestant with the most amount of coins in the purse go first instead.

There is no Favor option available after this. But even if you don’t invoke either of them, you still have the bonus Advantage you get from being Favored. So there’s always that.

On your turn you first make a move and then you ask a question. The moves are listed below. Some are always available. Some require that you spend an Advantage to use them. Some are risky and will require a saving throw to avoid a result that would prematurely end the competition (and possibly injure you or get your run out of town). Some have even more specific requirements.

The questions are always chosen from a list. This list is built from questions specific to the type of competition (whether it is a wager, contest, or tourney) and the nature of the competition (archery, wrestling, song, quarterstaves, storytelling, drinking, jousting upon the backs of your companions). The Game Warden will assemble these. Additionally, characters may have Experience Points that grant them unique questions for certain competitions.

These questions drive the story. Questions about the glorious drama of the competition are asked of the contestants. Questions about the world and audience are asked of the Warden. Questions about your character are asked of you and questions about your foe are asked of your foe’s player. The answers to these questions should reflect the moves that just occurred and how they changed the tide of the competition.

More on these specific questions in future #Greenwoodnesday posts. But I do have some moves for you!

The Moves

Unless specified otherwise, coins retain the facing they had in the Purse when moved to a Road. Also, keep in mind that if you are placing a coin in the Swift Road and there is already at least one there of a different facing, throw both coins out and empty the Swift Road. Discarded coins are set aside and not considered part of the Purse.

Free Moves

These moves do not require the spending of any Advantage.

  • Move 1 coin from the Purse to either Road.
  • Throw a number of coins equal to the Swift Road’s tally.
    • Add them to the Purse.
    • Then add a tally mark to the Long Road.
  • First choose the Road you wish to place a coin in.
    • Then throw a new coin and place it in that Road.
    • If the result of the throw is your side, you may make an additional move before asking your question and passing the turn to your foe.
  • If none of your coins are showing in the Purse, you may re-throw all of the coins in the Purse.
    • Then you must move one coin from the Purse to either Road.
  • Risky: Move one coin from the Purse to the Swift Road and move one coin from the Purse to the Long Road.
    • Then tell us how you are cheating or risking your health or reputation and the Game Warden will demand a saving throw, the result of which could go very poorly for you.

Advantage Moves

These moves require that you spend 1 Advantage.

  • Remove 1 coin of your choosing from the Purse.
    • Then throw a number of coins equal to the Swift Road’s tally and add them to the Purse.
  • Remove 1 coin of your choosing from the Purse.
    • Then reduce the Long Road tally by 1.
  • Remove 1 of your coins from the Long Road (you must have at least 1 coin in the Long Road to begin with).
    • Then move 1 coin (of either facing) from the Long Road to the Swift Road.
  • Move 1 coin from the Swift Road to the Long Road.
  • Risky: Choose one coin in the Purse and flip it over.
    • Then tell us how you are cheating or risking your health or reputation and the Game Warden will demand a saving throw, the result of which could go very poorly for you.

Hail Mary Move*

This move is for when you so outclass your opponent that you have a chance to vanquish them before the contest really gets under way. You must choose to make this move after you have already made a move and before you ask your question for this turn. This move requires that you have at least 3 more Advantage than your foe. To use it, you must reduce your Advantage total to 1 less than your foe’s total, or to 0 if your foe is already at 0 Advantage.

  • After you have already made a move this turn, throw 1 new coin.
    • Then you must place that coin in either Road.

* Fret not, gentle reader! While it does please me to name a move after Mary, whom good Robin held in the highest regard, and while American football has been a part of the Robin Hood canon for as long as tabletop roleplaying games have existed, the name of this move does not settle well in my ear either. It is very likely that I will change it before the game is published. And it is best that you spend your time worrying if I am as devoted to the name Butt System as Robin is to the Virgin Mary.

Rhythm & Pacing

And so it goes. You look at the Purse, get the lay of the land, and decide if you want to spoil your opponent’s trip up the Swift Road or make headway on your own journey down the Long Road. Make your move and ask a question like, “How do you guard yourself against my onslaught?” or “How far from the mark do I stray?” or “What openings do I leave my foe?” And then it’s your foe’s turn. Repeat until one of you finds your way down either the Swift or the Long Road.

It plays out a bit like a montage, hitting the pivotal points in the contest. A game with only 2 tallies in the Swift Road and 3 in the Long Road is tense and tight. One misstep is all it takes. Current playtests suggest it’s over after just a couple exchanges, taking between 10 and 15 minutes at the table. Surprisingly, 3 tallies in the Swift Road and 5 in the Long Road makes for a much longer exercise, with a lot more ebb and flow. Current playtests suggest such a competition will take over twice as long to resolve at the table.

More to Come

This is actually a pretty bare preview of the Butt System. The questions are a rather important part, and also perhaps the most extensive part. There are rules for audience participation, and for why you’ll want someone proficient in gossiping, storytelling, or balladeering to witness your glorious victories! What happens when your risky move turns wrong and you end up in the drink? The rules above are focused on a contest, which will differ a bit from those for a wager, and a bit more for those of a tourney. There’s how this system relates to the whole advancement system and why you may want your opponent to outspend you in Advantage. And then there’s how to randomly generate the opposition.

But this should be enough for one #Greenwoodnesday.

It’s Not Enough for One #Greenwoodnesday

How about an example of play?

Agatha is unknown outlaw who, in her wanderings, has come across the Blue Boar Inn. A tinker and two carpenters are singing and drinking just outside. Penniless, thirsty, and more than a bit hungry, Agatha challenges the best among them to a archery match for the prize of a good pot of beer and hearty crust of bread. Though none of them are in need of such reward, and none are archers by trade, the carpenters and tinker agree it was be an amusing way to pass the time. They elect the tinker who is generally thought to be the best among them in all manner of sports and games, but he’ll have to borrow Agatha’s bow.

The target is a sapling, two fingers’ breadth wide, standing at the edge of a sun-dappled sward over 100 paces from the contestants.

At the beginning questions are asked and answered that set up our butt. Agatha is proficient in archery, granting her 1 Advantage. The tinkerer is from around here and Agatha isn’t, so he gains 1 Advantage. And the tinkerer has a Beloved Relationship among the audience, which Agatha does not have, so he gains a second for 2 total Advantage.

However, the Game Warden, who would normally be inclined to grant Agatha Favor in this case, since she is an outlaw and practiced with the bow, decides that she has been traveling too long and is too hungry to keep that edge. Likewise, though not completely drunk, the tinkerer is perhaps too many cups in to receive Favor. So no Favor is granted.

Advantage Totals
Agatha: 1
Tinkerer: 2

Being a good, stout outlaw, Agatha insists on being Piles PileSmall and the tinkerer will be Crosses CrossSmall. It’s a short game, so they’re going to use the butt with 2 tallies in the Swift Road and 3 tallies in the Long Road.

They start by throwing a Purse of coins equal to the tallies in the Long Road (3), which results in 2 Piles and 1 Cross.

Purse: PileSmall PileSmall CrossSmall

Since the tinkerer has less coins showing, he goes first. He steps up, borrows Agatha’s bow and an arrow, takes aim…

The Game Warden is playing the tinkerer. The purse doesn’t look great for the tinkerer, and the Warden feels the tinkerer might be a boastful drunk, so he chooses to gamble with the move that let’s you choose the Road first, then throw a new coin, and if you’re lucky you can get a second move out of it.

The Warden chooses the Long Road and throws a new coin. Bad luck! It’s a Pile!

Purse: PileSmall PileSmall CrossSmall
Swift Road: Empty
Agatha’s Long Road: PileSmall
Tinkerer’s Long Road: Empty

Now the Game Warden must ask a question and chooses to ask Agatha’s player: “What is it about my effort that worries you?”

Agatha’s player thinks about the move just made. It was a gamble, but not a giant gamble. By choosing the Long Road instead of the Swift Road, the tinkerer clearly hoped to create an advantage for himself, but wasn’t willing to risk it all on a 50% shot at the Swift Road. She interprets that caution: “As brazen and as boastful as you are, you know well enough to shut up before letting loose your arrow.”

Now it’s Agatha’s turn. She’s in a good spot. Things are fairly straightforward for her right now. She graciously accepts her bow back, lines up her shot…

Agatha’s player takes it easy. Her eyes are on that bread and beer. So she chooses to simply move a coin from the Purse to her Long Road. Not enough to win, but enough to grant her a hefty advantage.

Purse: PileSmall CrossSmall
Swift Road: Empty
Agatha’s Long Road: PileSmall PileSmall
Tinkerer’s Long Road: Empty

She asks the Game Warden: “How far from the mark do I land?”

The Warden notes that she hasn’t won yet, but she’s clearly just about to. He interprets that progress: “You graze the sapling, exposing a green sliver beneath the young bark. Close, but you have not convinced your audience.”

Now it’s the tinkerer’s turn, and he’s really backed into a corner. Not quite ready to give up, he chooses to spend 1 of his 2 Advantages go for the risky move. He figures the reason that he’s behind is not his lack of skill, but lack of strength. A stout archer like Agatha carries a bow with a mighty draw. The tinkerer hasn’t been pulling as far back on it as Agatha has. So he puts he spits in his hands, puts his health on the line, and draws that bow as far back as he can!

This move allows him to flip one of the coins in the purse. So now we have.

Purse: CrossSmall CrossSmall
Swift Road: Empty
Agatha’s Long Road: PileSmall PileSmall
Tinkerer’s Long Road: Empty

But it also means he must make a saving throw or suffer as that bow string shaves the inside of his arm. The Warden throws a coin and our tinkerer survives the risk. But perhaps it’s a pyrrhic victory.

Now he asks Agatha: “How have I impressed you?”

This answer is simple, “Though you hit nothing, you did almost draw my bow as far back as I do. Not an easy task. Whatever the result of this contest, the tinkerer has earned by respect.”

Agatha’s turn and she has an interesting choice that is not quite present in my post. In last week’s #Greenwoodnesday post about the advancement system, you can see that engaging in a wager in which you were out-matched helps you advance your outlaw.

“Out-matched” here means that your opponent spent more Advantage than you. Agatha can spend 1 Advantage here and win the butt by using the move that removes a coin from the Purse and reduces the Long Road tally by 1-down to 2, a goal she has already met. But then she couldn’t mark off that gest and get a step closer to advancing.

She’s in a really good position and it may be worth it for her to prolong this, but her opponent still has 1 Advantage left and the Purse is filled with his coins.

Plus, beer and bread are on the line. So she spends the Advantage and ends the butt. She asks the Warden: “How does the audience react sure and steady shot?”

“They cheer as the sapling far across the way shakes from the impact of your arrow. Twas a finely played match and a well earned pot of beer and crust of bread!”

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