On 22 November, we played our--I think--seventh or eighth session in a world a friend of mine has devised. In this campaign, I am a player and experience the Stage from the other side of the Game Master’s screen. The logs on this campaign will be a bit different from the Verden ones, as I just want to distil the important lessons. This will get quite technical, so consider yourself warned.

 

Background

Without giving too much away about the world that my friend has designed (that honor will be his when he publishes his first novel on it), the game is set on several islands in an otherwise water-covered world. Although this world’s surface is covered in water, actual drinking water is pretty rare. The Game Master has introduced his own rules on magic, which he has called ‘Rune Magic,’ so the Supernatural Rules are not being tested here; only the Core Rules. Another testament to the adaptability of the Stage!

Since the second session or so, our group has been part of an underground resistance that fights against the oppressive island authorities. We were first sent off to a remote island to find a scholar and Runemaster, which we have, and are now engaging directly with the resistance’s leader to find (and ultimately reinstate) the deposed king’s son.

During play, a few situations arose that gave me food for thought.

Disguising

I used to be an avid player of D&D 3.x, which has a Disguise skill. So far, I’ve avoided implementing a comparable Skill application in the Stage and, so far, we have not really needed it. My idea used to be that if you want to appear as someone else on the Stage, you should use the Guile skill. If you want to impersonate someone else verbally, you should use the Manipulation skill.

The topic came up during this session when my character (who has Manipulation skill level 5 but Guile skill level 0) wanted to disguise himself as a guard or servant to infiltrate the heavily guarded house of one of the local authorities’ representatives. In the end, we didn’t have to do any disguising, but the question lingered in my mind.

There seem to be three options:

  1. disguising is part of the Guile skill;
  2. disguising is part of the Manipulation skill;
  3. disguising is part of the Creativity skill.

Option 1 seems closest to the truth for the physical act of disguising as “[t]he Guile skill determines a character’s capabilities in physical deception through secrecy or misleading body language” (Core Rulebook, page 59). If I expand a little on the definition of the Guile (feign) application to make it include all misleading body language, then I could argue that physically disguising oneself falls under that Application.

Option 2 is adequate for the verbal part, as “[t]he Manipulation skill determines a character’s abilities in verbal deceitful manipulation” (Core Rulebook, page 61).

Option 3, the Creativity option (using the Creativity (perform) application), appeals to me for three reasons: (i) I like the idea that great impersonators are often great actors; (ii) it increases the usefulness of the Creativity skill, which is one of the Skills I really like and spent a lot of time giving a place on the Stage; (iii) it’s a rather original take on disguising in a table-top RPG.

My current conclusion is that it may be best to leave this undefined. If I expand the definition of Guile (feign) as above, then it would be up to the player and the Game Master to decide on the most appropriate skill together. This is fun, because it gives players options and doesn’t constrain them too much. I could consider adding a Bonus to any Skill checks for a superiorly crafted disguise.

The Defense skill

As a Game Master, I use pre-rolled or averaged Defense points for the creatures that I pit my players against. When a Game Master doesn’t do that, he has to roll a lot of dice whenever an armored NPC is hit. What’s worse, he has to compare the result of that dice roll against the NPC’s armor set’s Maximum Defense points and then keep track of that NPC’s Defense points for the remainder of the Round. As if that’s not enough, he also has to track an armor set’s Integrity points and the resulting maximum number of dice that an NPC can roll on each Defense skill check. For individual players this is manageable, but a Game Master that has to do this for several characters may even require an excel sheet or table and--in some cases--a Master’s degree in accounting.

Needless to say, I am not happy with this.

The concept of the Defense skill allowing armor to generate a number of “extra hitpoints” has always been something I liked and is--I think--a great part of the Stage. But it needs to be simplified. . .

A few things I am considering:

Change the whole armor mechanic around. An option would be to make it like the Agility (dodge) skill (see Core Rulebook, page 52): armor would allow characters to ‘nullify’ the effects of an attack if the attacker doesn’t defeat them in an Opposite check. The big difference with Agility (dodge) would be that using the Defense skill costs no AP, whereas the Agility skill does. This will be offset by armor weighing a lot, costing a lot, that armor does not stop attacks from physically connecting (which is especially important when the attacker is using magic), and that the Defense skill cannot be used for anything else (whereas the Agility skill has several other applications). This might have some serious balance issues though.

Remove the Maximum Defense points per Round mechanic. That way, armor just generates a number that should be subtracted from the Body damage of every attack. This would mean characters get to roll a Defense skill check against every successful attack. There would be balancing issues as this is fairly powerful: characters could thwart up to 6d damage on every attack.

A combination of the above would be to give armor a base Resistance score (see Core Rulebook, page 126). That way, armor absorbs an amount of damage on every successful attack at no AP cost. However, if a character wants to optimize the use of his armor, he can perform a Defense (absorb) skill check for 1 AP, and the armor will also absorb a number of Body damage equal to the Skill check result (as if its Resistance score were that much higher). Players would have to announce whether or not they want to do so before hearing how much Body damage the attack dealt.

The result of this mechanic change will be that armor becomes valuable to everyone, even if they don’t have the Defense skill. That is, in itself, quite realistic. To not make it too overpowered (and still beneficial to forego armor), I could let all heavier armors impose a Penalty on certain skill checks. This will change a vital mechanic of the game though, namely that armored players get to spend less AP (like their unarmored compatriots) as they’ll spend more time responding to attacks. But I don’t think that would be a big problem.

I like the last idea most, but will give it some more thought. As I have a lot riding on the Defense skill as it is right now, including the Powers of the Warrior power tree and Group powers of the Warband power tree, changing this would be quite a bit of work. But I do feel it’s necessary for the next iteration of the Stage.

The Agility (tumble) skill

Some Powers and the use of the Agility (tumble) skill allow players to set the Action difficulty to hit them. This represents that certain methods of movement (e.g. pattern movement, tumbling, sneaking around) inherently make it more difficult to hit a target. At some point in the game, we were attacked in a sandstorm (we couldn’t see anything) with sharp rocks. We were allowed to dodge the attacks with an Agility (dodge) skill check. My character has Agility skill level 4 so he should manage with relative ease, but the attacks were vicious and I got hit twice. So I decided to use the Agility (tumble) skill check to set a higher Action difficulty to hit me (see Core Rulebook, page 53) and then use Agility (dodge) on top of that to easily double my result.

However, the way this Skill is phrased right now, it just lets me set the Action difficulty for attacks against me: that is, on Opposite checks only. It shouldn’t work if I had to dodge a hazard (like a trap), in which case the Game Master sets an Action difficulty for me instead (a Flat check). In this specific scenario, I was unsure if we were dealing with an attack or a trap (like I said, we couldn’t see anything).

Whether something is a trap or attack may not always be as black or white as the rules make it out to be. I’ll have to consider simplifying this. One way to do it is to make sure that even traps are an Opposite check: the Game Master will have to roll a predetermined set of dice to determine if the trap hits. Maybe that would be the most elegant solution, and the most fun solution as well, as it adds an element of randomness to traps.

Hitting moving targets

I have, for some time, considered making it more difficult to hit moving characters. During this session, it came up again. The latest idea I’ve had is to add a Skill application comparable to Agility (tumble) to the Athletics skill. That way, characters that spend at least 2 AP moving in a Round will be more difficult to hit. The problem is that this will be a lot of administration for the Game Master, as he’ll have to roll Athletics skill checks for all of the NPC’s and keep track of the results every Round. It would be best to use a flat bonus, I think, but will consider this (and the necessity of the mechanic) some more.

Dice bonanza

This session and the previous one have made me worry about the sizes of Dice pools, especially in combat. Having a Close combat skill level of 4, the Item affinity power, the Improved specialization power, a racial bonus, and a brutal, two-handed weapon could result in a Dice pool of anywhere between 10d and 12d, not even considering non-dice bonuses. Such a Dice pool is likely to kill most things in a single attack. Ideally, a Dice pool for any 1-AP-attack should at best (so with Close combat skill level 6) not exceed 10d.

I’ll need to cut back on the effects of the Item affinity power and the Specialization power to achieve this, perhaps even remove them altogether. This might coincide with my idea from the previous session to lower Power requirements as well, as the Specialization power is now the required Tier 1 power in every Power tree. Removing that and lowering everything by 1 Tier might be best. If necessary, I can consider increasing the Character point cost of Powers to rebalance.

I would also have to lower the Bonuses granted by weapons, as these can pile up to 4d. Ideally, this should be 3d for the really heavy two-handed stuff.

In conclusion, it was a great session. Plenty of stuff for me to get to work on!

Lessons learned!

  • Deal with disguising, possibly by tweaking the Guile (feign) skill application a bit and leaving the rest to the imagination;
  • Consider a solution for the Defense skill's 'bookkeeping problem'. Perhaps the best would be to add a basic Resistance score to armors for passive use and then making the active use of armor cost 1 AP, so that players can a) not use it actively and still receive a benefit through the Resistance score and (b) use it actively at the cost of 1 AP and receive an additional benefit (i.e. subtracting their Skill check result from Body damage dealt);
  • Have a look at the Agility (tumble) skill and Powers with comparable effects (such as the Catstep and Pattern movement powers) and how they deal with non-Opposite checks, such as traps. Consider making all traps (and other things that may deal Body damage) into Opposite checks to solve this;
  • Think about a penalty to hitting moving targets;
  • Deal with the 'dice bonanza'. Perhaps remove the Item affinity and Specialization powers and lower the Bonuses granted by weapons.

Read about the next session here!

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