Playtesting has revealed a lot of stuff in the Stage that needs to be fixed or improved. One of the major things that came up during the previous sessions is the issue of compounding and stacking Bonuses. I’ve come up with a solution for the problem.

The problem of compounding and stacking Bonuses is best explained through an example.

Example

We have two characters. One of them (the Bard) has the Inspiring art power (see Core Rulebook, page 92) and Creativity skill level 4. This character build requires at least 24 Character points. The other character (the Mage) has the Soul splice spell (see Supernatural Rulebook, page 111) and Animism skill level 3. This character build requires at least 24 Character points.

The Inspiring art power allows the Bard to use his Creativity (perform) skill to grant a target a Bonus to his next Skill check with a Body or Soul skill. This is a Leveled check. The Action difficulty is equal to the added Intellect and Sanity points of the target. For every Effect point scored, the target(s) gets a +1 Bonus to his next Skill check.

The Soul splice spell grants the target a Bonus to two Skills of the Spellcaster’s choice. Casting it requires a Leveled check. When you cast it on yourself and don’t resist, the Action difficulty is 4. For every Effect point scored, the target gets a +1 Bonus to the chosen Skills. The effect last for a number of Rounds equal to the Spellcaster’s Animism skill level.

The Bard uses his Inspiring Art power on the Mage. Let’s assume the Mage has 2 Intellect points and 2 Sanity points. The Action difficulty is then 4. The Bard has a Dice pool of 5d+1 (4d for his Skill level, 1d because of a racial/cultural Bonus, and +1 because of the Specialization power). He commits 2d to beating the Action difficulty and 3d+1 to scoring Effect points. Suppose he beats the Action difficulty and then scores 11 Effect points (the average of 3d+1).

The Mage now gets a +11 Bonus on his next Body or Soul skill check. Suppose that next Skill check is his Animism skill check (Animism is a Soul skill) to cast the Soul splice spell. The Mage has a Dice pool of 4d+12 (3d for his Skill level, 1d because of a racial/cultural Bonus, +11 from the Inspiring art power, and +1 for the Specialization power). He commits 2d to beating the Action difficulty, and 2d+12 to scoring Effect points. Suppose he beats the Action difficulty and then scores 18 Effect points (the average of 2d+12). He now gets +18 (the equivalent of the average rolled with 5.14 Dice) on two Skills of his choice for 3 Rounds...

Compound and stacking Bonuses allow a non-combatant to fight as if he were a fully trained Spetsnaz operator; it can allow nearly illiterate characters to build a Large Hadron Collider without breaking a sweat; and it can allow the most introverted, socially awkward dolt to deliver speeches as if he were Martin Luther King or JFK.

It’s even worse when you consider that, in the above example, the Bard can use Inspiring art again to add another Bonus on top of the +18 Bonus that the Mage already has; that could be another +11 Bonus right there. The total Bonus of +29 is higher than the average roll on a maxed Skill level. Similarly, other characters can use Powers and Spells to increase the compound effect even further, buffing the Mage to a godlike level of ability. And to think, these are builds that can be achieved at the start of a game, as most players begin with 40 Character points.

Awesome? Yes. Unbalanced? Quite so.

Throw ‘m out?

No way. I love the Inspiring art power. It’s the hallmark of the traditional bard and basically the raison d’être for any musician or artist from an adventurer’s perspective. I also love the Soul splice spell (inspired by Rich Burlew’s Order of the Stick comic) because it’s just such an awesome idea. No way are any of these going out. And the same goes for the other Powers and Spells that grant Bonuses; they’re all great fun.

I also want to hold on to the possibility to compound and stack Bonuses, because I think people can have a lot of fun coming up with characters that complement each other in such a way. But it needs to be balanced: limited and linked to ability.

Solution

There are two things that need to be done:

  1. Limit Bonuses/Penalties granted by Powers or Spells by not allowing them to surpass the Skill level of the key Skill (that is the Skill associated with the relevant Spell or Power). That means that every Power or Spell that currently grants a Bonus will never grant a Bonus higher than 6 (6 is the maximum Skill level in the standard rules). In the example above, the Bonus granted by the Bard would have been +4 (instead of +11) and the Bonus granted by the Soul splice spell would have been no more than +3 (instead of +18). This would apply to Spells or Powers that grant a number of Bonus dice as well.
  2. Limit total Bonuses any character can get to that character’s Body, Mind, or Soul level. That would mean a player can never have a Bonus or a number of Bonus dice to a Body skill that is higher than his Body level. The same would apply (with the necessary modifications) to Mind and Soul skills. In the example above, the Bonus granted by the Bard would have been no more than +4 (due to the Mage having a Soul level of 4) and the Bonus granted by the Soul splice spell would have been no greater than whatever the Body, Mind, or Soul level of the Mage is, depending on which Skill the Soul splice spell enhanced. In both cases, the Bonuses could never be extended beyond that maximum, despite the Powers and Spells of other characters. 

Fluff

There needs to be an explanation for this maximum Bonus. The first maximum can easily be linked to the ability of the character that is casting the Spell or using the Power. The second maximum should be linked to the innate ability of characters. You can improve someone’s abilities, magically or otherwise, but you can never do more than maximize their innate talent in accordance with their physical, mental, or spiritual capacity.

In terms of administration, I don’t this would be too much work for players or the Game Master. Skill, Body, Mind, or Soul levels are visible at a glance. In terms of balancing, it will reduce the effectiveness of Spellcasters and some Powers and increase the importance of Spells and Powers that grant Dice as Bonus instead of just flat numbers; after all, if a character’s key Skill level is 6, he would prefer to grant/have a +6d Bonus over a flat +6 Bonus.

Exceptions

Rule 1 and 2 should not apply to Powers and Spells that set an Action difficulty, such as the Intimidating stance power (see Core Rulebook, page 92), the Tactical positioning power (see Core Rulebook, page 102), the The shell power (see Core Rulebook, page 103), the Deflector spell (see Supernatural Rulebook, page 81), the Mass deflector spell (see Supernatural Rulebook, page 96), the Phasing spell (see Supernatural Rulebook, page 102), and the Spell ward spell (see Supernatural Rulebook, page 113). These modify an Action difficulty, instead of granting a Bonus; the difference is subtle, but it’s there, and I’m quite happy with these Powers, provided that the Powers need to be amended to introduce a point cost per Round and a maximum number of Rounds. However, if point cost per Round and a maximum number of Rounds are introduced, the AP cost of these Powers could be reduced to 0.

Rule 1 should not apply to Powers and Spells that grant a one-off Bonus (this includes the Inspiring art power). These can remain powerful and not be limited by the key Skill level due to their limited duration. However, the recipient of the Bonus will still have a personal maximum Bonus to Body skills that is equal to his Body level; to Mind skills that is equal to his Mind level; and to Soul skills that is equal to his Soul level (rule 2).

Let me know what you think, here!

Impact assessment

This change in mechanics would affect a lot on the Stage. My first review has revealed the following required changes:

  • General rules on Bonuses and Penalties (see Core Rulebook, p. 23) should introduce a character’s personal maximum Bonus linked to Body level, Mind level, and Soul level. It might be worth introducing the maximum Bonus on the character sheet as well, so players will be reminded of it at first glance.
  • Powers that should include a maximum Bonus equal to Skill level are Inspire heroism and Inspire zeal. These are all Powers whose effects last for multiple Rounds.
  • Powers that should not include a maximum Bonus/Penalty equal to Skill level are Inspiring art, Motivate, and Scold. These are all Powers whose effects last for a single Round or Skill check.  Please note that a character’s individual maximum Bonus would still apply (rule 2).
  • Powers that need a point cost per Round, a maximum number of Rounds for their effects to last, and their AP cost reduced to 0 are Tactical positioning, the Shell, Environmental analysis, and Intimidating stance. (However, note that it might be interesting to play with these three factors to create some differences between these otherwise similar Powers.)
  • Group powers that see their effectiveness reduced to the point they may need to be reconsidered completely are Rally, Art of War, Heroes’ speech, and Hooligans. These Group powers allow characters to combine Dice pools for the purposes of the Motivate, Inspire zeal, Inspire heroism, and Scold powers. This is pretty useless if these Powers have a maximum Bonus as the whole point of these Group powers was to knock the Bonus out of the ballpark.
  • Spells that should include a maximum Bonus/Penalty equal to Skill level are Enhance, Stunt, Suppress, Soul splice, Ghost, Animate, Golem, Sanctuary (only the Resistance score granted), Ward, Orb of protection, Surface reading, and Deep reading. These are all Spells whose effects last for multiple Rounds. The Ghost, Animate, and Golem spells should have a maximum Skill level for the created/summoned creatures.
  • Spells that should not include a maximum Bonus/Penalty equal to Skill level are Guide attack, Intuition, and Precognition. These are all Spells whose effects last for a single Round or Skill check.  Please note that a character’s individual maximum Bonus would still apply (rule 2).
  • A Spell that otherwise needs to be amended is the Create consumables spells (the number of consumables one can create should be limited).

I think this will solve the problem. I’ll think about it some more in the coming days and come up with some wording where necessary. I’ll most likely test this in the Verden campaign. We have a few upcoming sessions in January that we can use for that.

UPDATE (18-Dec-15): I've received a lot of valuable feedback on this (thanks!). Read the outcome of the discussion in part 2 of this development update!

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