Beyond the Wall: Criticals and Gear Damage

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Beyond the Wall doesn’t normally have any rules for criticals (success or failure) or for gear damage. But, pursuant to my last couple of posts, I’d like to increase item turnover and adding those seems like a good first step for doing so. These are optional rules for Beyond the Wall (or any other low fantasy d20 game, particularly ones that don’t already have critical rules). They add some extra combat complication, but are likely to be rare enough occurrences (and mostly player-directed) that it shouldn’t slow down play too much to reference them when they do come up.

Critical Results

The Success Hierarchy

Whenever the rules below refer to stepping up or down a level of success, they’re referring to the following progression:

  • Critical Success: Usually has twice the normal level of success
  • Success: A normal successful result
  • Partial Success: Usually has half the normal level of success, or success with consequences
  • Failure: A normal unsuccessful result
  • Critical Failure: A really bad failure

When rolling normally, a partial success is only possible if a result steps up a failure or steps down a success. If you’re using the rules for acting cautiously, it also occurs when one die succeeds and the other fails. Remember that, when acting cautiously, you have to get double 20s or double 1s to trigger a critical result.

According to the normal Beyond the Wall rules, an extreme result automatically succeeds or fails (e.g., 20 always succeeds on attacks and saves, and always fails on ability checks). Under these rules, an extreme result also triggers a critical result, unless there was no chance of success or failure except for the automatic one. For example, if your modified target number for an ability check is 20+, a 20 still fails but is not a critical failure. Similarly, if a low ability and high difficulty modifier have reduced your chance of success to 0 or less, a 1 still succeeds but is not a critical success. This will usually not come up for attacks and saves, but applies if it does.

Critical Success

A critical success usually has twice the normal effect.

  • For ability checks, it has twice the normal effect: either significantly better success, half the normal time, or half the normal materials depending on what makes the most sense to the GM.
  • For saves, not only was the dangerous effect avoided, but the character gains a +2 bonus that can be used within the next round to attack or circumvent the source that triggered the save (e.g., +2 to attack the caster of a spell,  +2 to a check to disarm or bypass a trap, etc.)
  • For attacks, it does double damage (just double the rolled total rather than rolling twice).

Critical Failure

A critical failure may result in something unusually bad happening from a failure.

For ability checks and saves, it presents the GM an opportunity: if the GM offers the failing character a fortune point, and it is accepted, the GM may narrate a particularly bad level of failure. Players may not spend fortune points to reroll after accepting a critical failure opportunity, and are stuck with whatever the GM describes. A player in direct opposition to an NPC may pay one of her own fortune points to trigger an opportunity caused by that NPC (the NPC does not get the fortune point, it is just spent); this will usually only happen when the player does something that forces the NPC to save, or the player is in a contested ability check of some kind with the NPC.

For attacks, a critical failure forces the character to roll for a fumble result. Roll 2d20 as if acting cautiously, attempting to get 11+ for a success, and compare the result to the following chart:

  • Critical Success: You are knocked fortuitously off-balance, and gain a +2 to your next attack against the same target within a round.
  • Success: Your failure is a normal one, with no additional effect.
  • Partial Success: You are knocked off-balance, and take a -2 to all attacks until you spend a round recovering your balance (this is cumulative if you suffer multiple off-balance results before taking time to recover).
  • Failure: You are disarmed. It will take you a full round to recover your weapon (and certain terrain may make this even harder).
  • Critical Failure: Your weapon is broken and useless until repaired.

Other Sources of Gear Damage

Sacrifice Weapon

After rolling an attack (but before rolling damage), you may choose to have your weapon break to increase the level of success by one step (i.e., a failure becomes a partial success, a partial success becomes a full success, or a full success becomes a critical success). The attack does its damage and then the weapon is broken; you are essentially breaking your weapon for additional force or advantage. At the GM’s option, this may not work for weapons harvested from the environment for free (because they’re not brittle enough to shatter, and also because this is a rule designed to actually cost the player something), or weapons that are unbreakable.

Sacrifice Shield

After an attack is rolled against you (but before damage is rolled), you may choose to have your shield break to decrease the level of success by a number of steps equal to the shield’s AC bonus (e.g., a +2 AC reinforced shield turns a critical success into a partial success and a partial success into a critical failure, while a regular +1 AC shield only reduces a critical success to a regular success or a partial success into a failure). The GM may choose to have this not work against certain attacks that would bypass the shield

You may also use this option on saves made against a source that could logically be blocked by a shield (e.g., breath weapons, traps, etc.). In that case, step up your save’s level of success by the shield’s AC bonus.

Sacrifice Armor

After an attack deals damage to you, you may choose to have your armor break to reduce the damage. Divide the dealt damage by the AC bonus of your armor (e.g., by two for +2 leather armor, by four for +4 chain, etc.). You lose the armor’s AC bonus for subsequent attacks until the armor is repaired.

Attack to Strike a Weapon

As a combat option, you may make an attack to strike your opponent’s weapon instead of the opponent. Make an attack against the target’s Strength or Dexterity (whichever is higher). Use the opposite of the fumble chart for your result (i.e., fumble gives the target a bonus, failure has no effect, partial success knocks the target off balance, success disarms the target, and critical success breaks the target’s weapon). If your weapon’s damage die is smaller than the target’s, reduce your success by one step (it’s hard to disarm or break a sword with a dagger). If you’re wielding your weapon in two hands and the target is not, increase your success by one step (it’s easy to disarm or break a dagger with a greatsword).

The “Fragile” Quality

Some weapons may be considered “fragile.” This is common for primitive materials like glass, bone, and stone. Treat all “disarmed” results on fragile weapons as “broken.”

Nonsensical Results

Some results may not make sense for certain weapons. If a target has claws or other natural weapons, a disarm result doesn’t make sense. If the target’s weapon has the unbreakable ability, a break result doesn’t make sense. In these and similar cases, step down the result to the first result that does make sense.

Repairing and Refitting Gear

Repairing

Weapons can only be repaired in the field if it makes logical sense (such as for hafted weapons in a forest with available woodworking tools).

Shields cannot be repaired in the field if broken.

Armor can be partially repaired in the field with an Intelligence (Smithing) check; in this case, it regains half its normal AC bonus. If the wearer chooses to sacrifice it again, it can only be repaired up to half that AC bonus, and so on (e.g., you can sacrifice a +4 AC chain armor twice in the field before it’s down to only +1 AC after repair and no longer worth sacrificing).

In town, a broken weapon, armor, or shield costs about half its normal value to repair (possibly less with a friendly smith or if the character has the skill and tools to try to repair it herself).

Refitting

Found weapons and shields are generally usable by anyone (unless they are sized for particularly small or large creatures). Armor, however, is generally customized for an individual. Unless the GM decides that the armor was fitted to someone with almost exactly the same proportions as the character using it, treat it as broken when found (this is particularly true if it was looted from a slain opponent, who probably took some hits to it in the fight). As normal, the character may make an Intelligence (Smithing) check to try to “repair” it in the field (adjusting it so it can be worn with some benefit), and it costs half its base value to refit it in town.

Minor Weapons

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Related to last week’s post, one of the big issues with item loss is that 3.x created very attractive magic items that had bonuses that could be worked directly into the sheet. When you have a +3, Flaming weapon, everything about that is permanently incorporated into your weapon block. It feels like a part of your character. Taking it away feels like losing stats.

In addition, it creates an impetus to price every magical effect (exacerbated by 3.x‘s formalized item economy), and there are definite winners and losers when you do that. Interesting but highly situational effects get comparison-shopped out of use. You’d only deliberately create a Ghost Touch weapon if you were fighting a ton of incorporeal creatures, and you might use it on a weapon that you got as treasure, but each time you have a downtime you’re going to think about selling it to get something with a more consistently useful bonus.

So for my upcoming Beyond the Wall campaign, I’m thinking about placing a flat moratorium on enhancement bonuses and any item abilities that provide some other kind of reliable bonus (of the kind that can easily be tagged to a stat line such as +1d6 fire). Instead, items will hopefully be completely focused on their abilities, and a cool item with an ability you like might be something you hang onto throughout your career (meanwhile, items you use less often won’t cause emotional pain when they’re lost).

Below is some tinkering with how this will work for weapons.

Minor Abilities

Most 3.x weapon abilities that don’t provide a flat bonus to attack or damage are probably directly useful, particularly Brilliant Energy, Dancing, Distance, Ghost Touch, Keen, Returning, Seeking, Spell Storing, and Throwing. New abilities could include:

  • Bane: This ability is usually contingent. Creatures damaged by the weapon suffer a penalty of 2 to all d20 rolls the subsequent round (this penalty stacks from multiple hits from bane weapons). If the weapon is held to a creature’s skin (or a contingent creature tries to wield it), the penalty is ongoing and the creature takes one point of damage per minute.
  • Blessed: This weapon can harm creatures that are only vulnerable to holy items, and may be useful for various story-related reasons.
  • Elemental: This weapon sheds an energy of some type (e.g., fire, cold, electricity). Its damage is treated as that type against creatures vulnerable to it, and it may, at the GM’s option, deal more damage than a normal weapon against creatures resistant to physical damage (e.g., a cold steel sword may do nearly as well as a silver sword against lycanthropes, but does nothing extra against a winter fae). The wielder may also use the energy for utility purposes (e.g., a fire weapon emits light and ignites things like a torch, a cold weapon can be used to slowly make ice, and an electricity weapon could be used to power ancient mechanisms).
  • Functional: This weapon is especially useful for a named function as a tool. A slashing weapon may be especially good at cutting underbrush or felling trees, while a bludgeoning one may be particularly good at smashing through obstructions. It grants a +2 bonus to skill checks to perform the task when the GM doesn’t let it succeed automatically.
  • Life-Drinking: A creature slain by this weapon heals the wielder a number of HP equal to the creature’s hit dice or level.
  • Lightweight: This weapon can be wielded far more easily than its form-factor implies. Two-handed weapons can be wielded in one hand, and one-handed weapons can be treated as light (sufficiently to be used by smaller characters or easily off-handed).
  • Magic: This weapon can harm creatures that are only vulnerable to magic items, and may be useful for various story-related reasons. Unless an item specifically references this ability, possession of other abilities does not imply that it is sufficiently magic for bypassing resistances.
  • Puncturing: This ability is usually contingent. The weapon’s attacks ignore the target’s bonus from worn or natural armor (but not from a dexterity or other bonuses to AC; i.e., make a touch attack in 3.x parlance).
  • Slaying: This ability is usually contingent. After rolling damage against a target, if double that amount of damage would drop the creature to 0 or fewer HP, the creature immediately dies; if it would not, the rolled damage is applied normally. For example, against a target with 10 HP remaining, attacks that deal 4 or less damage work normally, while attacks that deal 5 or more damage kill the target.
  • Unbreakable: When wielded in combat, this weapon cannot be broken (by directed attacks or misfortune). It is up to the GM whether this effect can be used for utility purposes (e.g., bracing something to keep it closed or otherwise stuck).
  • Warning: This ability is usually contingent upon type. The weapon glows or otherwise does something to notify the wielder of nearby threats.

Contingencies

Many abilities are contingent on something. A weapon can have different contingencies for different abilities.

  • Charged: The weapon must be charged through some action, and retains the ability for a certain period afterward and/or until a certain action expends the charge.
  • Code: The ability only functions while the wielder maintains a code relevant to the creation of the weapon.
  • Desperation: The ability only functions when the wielder has been reduced to half or fewer HP.
  • Environment: The ability only functions in a specific terrain (e.g., forest) or other environmental condition (e.g., outside in a storm).
  • Inherited: The ability only functions if the wielder is of a particular race or specific lineage (possibly including being trained in particular class or order rather than bloodline).
  • Situational: The ability only functions under some other quantifiable situation (e.g., during the day, against an oathbreaker, etc.).
  • Type: The ability only functions against a particular race or other specific description of target type. If the target is usually only vulnerable to a particular material, the weapon is almost always made of that material (e.g., lycanthrope-bane weapons are almost always made of silver).
  • Unbowed: The ability only functions when the wielder is unwounded/at full HP.

Example Weapons

  • Blood Drinker: This weapon (usually a sword or dagger) may be charged by the wielder taking damage as a free action (cutting oneself on the blade). While charged, it is slaying and life-drinking until it has slain a target or the blood dries. The damage taken by the wielder starts at one HP, and increases by one for each time it is used in a day.
  • Coffin Nail: This iron dagger may be charged by leaving it buried under a crossroads during the night of the full moon. While charged, it is bane, ghost touch, magic, and slaying against undead. The charge ends after a full cycle of the moon or once it has slain a single undead. Due to its bane property, undead that cannot be permanently slain can at least be buried under a crossroads with the nail in their hearts (the ongoing damage of the weapon keeping them quiescent).
  • Commoner’s Holdout: This small, concealable weapon is slaying and puncturing when the wielder is suffering desperation.
  • Family Weapon: This weapon is unbreakable while the wielder maintains the family code, magic when wielded by an inheritor of the family, and may also have other powers related to the family’s history.
  • Hedgecutter: This functional weapon (a sword or axe) is extremely good at cutting through vines, thorns, and other undergrowth to harvest them or forge a trail. It is bane and puncturing against plant creatures.
  • Sidhe Sword: This silver blade was forged for fae nobility. It is unbreakable against any situation other than cold iron. When wielded by an inheritor with fae blood, it often displays other powers.
  • Siegebreaker: This large mace or mattock is functional at destroying doors, walls, and other fortifications. It is slaying and puncturing against construct creatures. Some say it is lightweight for those that follow the right code.

The Karma of Item Loss

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I recently read the Paksennarion novels, on the recommendation of Jim Butcher when he was asked in a Q&A about good literary examples of non-abrasive paladins. One of the most interesting things to me about the series is that, even though it seems very inspired by AD&D, the protagonist acquires magical gear rarely and, when she does, she loses it within a few chapters. Sometimes she gets captured and stripped of all her gear, never to see much of it again. Sometimes she realizes the provenance of an item and returns it to its rightful owner. Sometimes she needs to turn over an item as proof of her good intentions. Either way, she uses an item for a few significant scenes, and then it’s gone.

This is very different than the standard D&D playstyle that I’m familiar with, particularly in 3.x-era games. Magical gear is integral to the game math, and it’s not fun for players to lose the mechanical advantage it represents. Players might sometimes give up a piece of incidental gear, and regularly try to trade in weaker gear plus cash for an upgrade, but if the GM engineered Paks-style situations to relieve the players of their gear and send them back to non-magical items, they’d riot. If they discovered an item actually belonged to someone else, they’d expect a reward in exchange for not just keeping it. If an NPC demanded one of their prized items as proof of their intentions, they’d also expect the payoff better well be worth it. Players hate the idea of being captured anyway, and would hate it more if they could never recover stripped gear.

And yet, some degree of regular item turnover would go a long way to fixing the Christmas Tree Effect (the tendency of PCs to become festooned with miscellaneous gear such that they glow like the holidays under Detect Magic). When players are constantly getting new gear and retaining it, it’s hard for any particular item to become interesting or significant the way they are in most fantasy literature. The newest edition of D&D has tried to counter the problem by just giving out much less magical treasure, and limiting how many significant items a single character can attune, but that has its own issues. Like it or not, the magical item cycle is deeply wrought into the flow of D&D: if players go whole adventures without getting new gear, it can feel like they’re not accomplishing much (particularly in a game where XP awards are also standardized).

However, actually losing items (while still gaining them regularly) could have a number of benefits. Firstly, players could prioritize which ones they refuse to give up (and ideally have plot protection against getting stolen): this immediately creates a more traditional fantasy feel where the character has items of significance that stay with her for long stretches. Secondly, items coming and going could slow the need to create an upgrade path: “These monsters were easier to fight when I had a magic sword, and hope to get a new one soon,” is more interesting than, “I’ve had this stupid +1 sword forever, and I need an upgrade.” Finally, it creates more room for experimenting with the varied options for items that are so dense in D&D: there are often items that are mechanically optimal for a particular body slot and character build, keeping players from bothering to try anything that’s more interesting but possibly less effective unless they’ve lost the optimal item.

You could handle this kind of thing with a simple inclusion in the play contract: “Listen, guys, I’m going to give out more magical gear than expected, but I’m also going to engineer a lot of situations to take it away.” But I think it might go down even easier with a carrot, and I’d use something like the following:

  • Add in character bonuses similar to the backgrounds, merits, advantages, edges, etc. so common to skill-based systems. These include social bonuses (allies, contacts, mentors, retainers, and that kind of thing) and more esoteric bonuses (supernatural or at least unusual benefits not easily accessible through D&D character options).
  • The GM can award these directly when desired (often as quest rewards, or natural outgrowths of actions within the world).
  • They are primarily gained though item loss: the value of a piece of gear translates to points that can be spent on bonuses. This translation only happens when an item is disposed of through gifting (allowing the player to spend the points on a relevant social bonus) or through theft (allowing the player to spend the points on the more esoteric bonuses).
  • Thus, as characters fluctuate in practical power as they have different amounts of items at different times, each piece of previous gear is reflected in increased character options. Since players tend to value NPCs more when they add them to their character sheets anyway, it’s a win-win.

Ultimately, the benefit given for a lost item doesn’t have to be directly balanced with the mechanical value of the item itself, as long as it’s something the player couldn’t have easily gotten while still keeping the item. It just needs to be enough of a transaction that the player doesn’t feel like a piece of the character was lost without benefit, but was instead exchanged for something else.

D20: Advantage as Caution

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The mechanic of rolling 2d20 instead of one is very helpful in both the newest edition of D&D (where it’s used for Advantage and Disadvantage), and for other games that use an uncurved die for a single roll. By rolling 2d20 (or even more), you’re essentially adding a curve to a roll whose results would otherwise be linear. Particularly if you read the dice independently, you’ve made the results much more similar to a dice pool or iterated series of rolls. This serves to reduce swinginess, by further reducing the chance of fluke successes or failures (I suspect most players are more likely to try rolls on their high skills when given the option than their low ones, so are going to have a roll swing into a failure on a high skill more often than it swings into a success on a low skill).

Ultimately, there are a decent number of traits on a character sheet that get rolled far less often than others (e.g., you make attack rolls and perception checks all the time, but other skills maybe only a couple of times a session unless you’ve really built the character to make use of it as part of a combat mechanic). For frequently-rolled traits, averages are likely to kick in, but for something you roll once a session, you could wind up having a disappointing tally of failures over time on something that ought to regularly succeed. Particularly when something important hinges on your once-per-session roll of a high skill, it might be preferable to have some way to accentuate the curve.

This house rule adds the following options to a D20 game (particularly low-powered, high-whiff stuff like Beyond the Wall):

A player may roll a single d20 normally if not acting particularly cautiously.

A player may instead choose to act cautiously, rolling 2d20. The player can only do this in non-surprise situations (e.g., not on saves unless the source is obvious and the target is not flat-footed, or on rolls to notice something if the character isn’t actively searching).

When acting cautiously:

  • If both dice are successes, it’s a full success.
  • If both dice are failures, it’s a full failure.
  • If one die succeeds and the other fails, it’s a partial success/success with consequences (glancing blow for half damage in combat, resist the worst but not everything on a save, etc.).
  • Both dice must be a critical result for the action to count as a crit (success or failure).

Essentially, acting cautiously means that you’re lowering your chance of a crit (from 1 in 20 to 1 in 400), reducing the chance that you’ll fail outright, but adding in a decent chance of partial success. For rolls you’d normally fail 75% of the time, you drop total failure down to a 56% chance (but most of your successes are only partial). For rolls where you’d only have a 50/50 shot, you change full failure and full success to both be 25%, with partial filling up the middle 50% of results. For rolls with only a 25% chance of failure (which is still pretty risky on a roll that a lot hangs on), you lower full failure to only around 6% (but move 40% of your successes to partial ones).

Better Angels Rules Summary

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Better Angels is a One Roll Engine game where the PCs are conflicted supervillains: conflicted because the source of their powers is a possessing demon gleefully trying to get them to sin so it can drag them bodily to hell. It’s a way to justify classic four-color supervillain shenanigans. Of course you put the hero in a death trap and then leave the room rather than just shooting him, and make sure you commit crimes with high property damage in front of the cameras rather than quietly in the dead of night: it appeases the demon with your grandstanding without actually killing anybody.

I’m running this soon as well, so here’s the rules summary I put together for my players’ reference.

Basic Rules

Dice

Characters take actions by assembling a pool of d10s. Roll all dice and look for matches. In a matched set, the number of dice in the set is the Width and the number on the dice is the Height. For example, four 6s is a set with width 4, height 6, or 4×6.

The width of the set is the most important element, and indicates speed and power. Wider sets go first if timing is important, and have a greater effect.

The height of the set indicates quality, and is often used only to break ties or for miscellaneous rules effects. In many cases, a 3×5 is better than a 2×10.

Some powers grant Master Dice, which allow you to add a die of any value after rolling (essentially widening any set you rolled).

Contested actions use the defender’s set to remove dice from the aggressor’s set. A set must have an equal or greater height to cancel dice (e.g., 3×5 cannot cancel a 2×6). In combat or other fast-paced situation, a set must also have equal or greater width (or the attacker just goes too fast to be stopped).

You can make a Called Shot by dropping one die and setting another die to a fixed number before rolling, hoping to roll more of the same number as on the fixed die.

You can take Multiple Actions by dropping one die per extra action and hoping to get multiple sets.

If timing matters, players declare actions in order of Cunning (using Knowledge to break ties).

Extra Time, Weapons/Tools, Surprise, and Secrets can grant Advantage of up to +3. Advantage can be added as extra dice for your pool before rolling, or saved to increase the width of a rolled set (and you can split it between uses if you have multiple points of Advantage). The amounts of advantage are:

  • Extra Time: 2x as long (+1); 3x as long (+2)
  • Weapon/Tool: Small and concealable (+1); serious and noticeable (+2); really big and/or nasty (+3)
  • Intellectual Surprise: Circumstantial evidence (+1); conclusive evidence (+2); damning evidence (+3)
  • Surprise Attack: Cunning Greed/target’s Cunning Espionage; both get sets (+1); ambusher set 2x vs no set (+2); ambusher set 3x/no set (+3)
  • Secret: Minor secret (+1); Secret worth effort to conceal/deny (+2); Life-endingly horrible secret (+3)

Strategies and Tactics

Instead of attributes and abilities, characters assemble their dice pools based on Strategies (bolded green) and Tactics (italicized purple). These are personal virtues and sins that can and will frequently fluctuate in play due to damage. Permanent character abilities are limited to Specialties and demonic aspects and powers. In the examples, the sin is on the left, the virtue on the right:

Cunning/PatientGreed/GenerosityEspionage/Knowledge

These are generally used for mental conflicts. Running out of Patient makes you go berserk.

  • Patient Generosity: Making long-term investments
  • Patient Greed: Long cons, forgery, hacking, cracking
  • Cunning Generosity: Buying illegal goods, bribery, conspicuous spending
  • Cunning Greed: Petty larceny, lockpicking, hotwiring, shoplifting
  • Patient Knowledge: Research, knowing things
  • Patient Espionage: Investigating, casing, bugging communications, staking out
  • Cunning Knowledge: Defusing bombs, jury-rigging, quiz games
  • Cunning Espionage: Spotting ambushes, noticing opportunities, other quick perceptions

Sly/OpenCruelty/CourageCowardice/Endurance

These are generally used for physical conflicts. Running out of Open kills mortals (and isn’t ideal for hellbinders).

  • Open Courage: Making a melee attack against superior* foes or overwhelming numbers
  • Open Cruelty: Making a melee attack against equal or inferior foes
  • Sly Courage: Making a ranged attack against superior* foes or overwhelming numbers
  • Sly Cruelty: Making a ranged against equal/inferior foes, making any kind of attack from ambush
  • Open Endurance: Chasing, endurance athletics, bracing a door/wall, pinning a target in combat
  • Open Cowardice: Kicking down a door, outrunning someone, blocking an attack
  • Sly Endurance: Tailing, juggling/tightrope walking, disarming someone in combat
  • Sly Cowardice: Climbing, escaping from pins/bonds, passing an object, dodging in combat

* For hellbinders, foes only count as superior when they’re supernatural but the binder’s demon isn’t currently invoked

Devious/InsightfulCorruption/NurtureDeceit/Honesty

These are generally used for social conflicts. Running out of Insightful removes your base defense against manipulation.

  • Insightful Nurture: Understanding someone’s better nature, resisting temptation/seduction
  • Insightful Corruption: Understanding someone’s weaknesses, temptations, and urges
  • Devious Nurture: Persuading (to do something good), inspiring
  • Devious Corruption: Seducing, cajoling, bewildering
  • Insightful Honesty: Defending against attacks on the truth, riposting against manipulation to sense what was true
  • Insightful Deceit: Resisting appeals to better nature, riposting against manipulation to sense motivations
  • Devious Honesty: Gaining Advantage from a difficult truth
  • Devious Deceit: Gaining Advantage from a believable lie

Damaging Strategies and Tactics

Conflict generally has an intention to reduce a targeted tactic or strategy. You pick a particular tactic to target (which is usually limited by the type of tactic you’re using), and do damage based on the result:

  • Width 2-3: Slide a dot of the tactic into its opposite tactic. If it’s already empty, slide a dot of the parent strategy into its opposite strategy.
  • Width 4: Remove a dot from the tactic. If it’s already empty, remove a dot of the parent strategy.
  • Width 5: Remove a dot of the parent strategy, even if there are still dots in the tactic.

Aspects and Powers

Aspects

Aspects are remnants of the possessing demon’s diabolical heritage strong enough to affect the body of the host. The player of the mortal will pick one and the player of the demon will pick the other.

They’re powerful but costly to activate. The demon half always controls activation, there must be at least one point in the aspect’s governing Strategy for it to work, and there are two ways to turn them on:

  • The mortal requests it, the demon agrees, and the mortal slides a point off a Virtuous Strategy in payment.
  • The demon makes it happen without request, rolls the aspect’s governing Strategy (no Tactic), and turns on the aspect for free if this roll gets a set. If there is no set, the aspect still turns on, but the demon must slide a point from the governing Strategy.

The available aspects are:

  • An Utmost Foulness* (Cunning): Turns you into an amorphous (and flexible) blob of nastiness
  • Aqua-Form* (Sly): Turns you into living water
  • Carapace (Sly): Grants armor that reduces attack Height
  • Cloven Hooves (Cunning): Lets you forge demonic pacts with mortals to give them a bonus and you a Tactic upgrade whenever they use it
  • Darkness-Shrouded (Devious): Swathes the area around you in inky darkness only your allies can see through
  • Flame-Wreathed (Devious): Covers you in fire that deals damage to melee attackers and improves your own attacks
  • Ghost Form (Cunning): Grants intangibility that you can selectively turn on and off
  • Giant (Sly): Makes you big and super strong
  • Glory* (Devious): Makes you incredibly beautiful/terrifying
  • Hell’s Engine* (Sly): Replaces a body part with a hellish contraption (chooser picks the contraption, non-chooser picks the body part)
  • Horned (Sly): Gives you an intimidating natural weapon
  • Invisible (Devious): Lets you turn invisible and get a surprise bonus on attacks
  • Legion* (Cunning): Creates unpowered doppelgangers of you
  • Non-Euclidean* (Devious): Turns you into a cloud of concepts, allowing shifts in which Tactics get targeted by attacks
  • Wings (Cunning): Lets you fly and also temporarily sacrifice the wings to negate an attack

Powers

Powers don’t necessarily have a permanent physical structure, and they’re under the total control of the mortal. However, activating them counts as invoking the demon (allowing it to start paying attention and talking for the rest of the scene). The player of the mortal will pick one and the player of the demon will pick one.

Powers typically have a (fixed dice pool) to activate them. The available powers are:

  • Alchemy (Greed): Turns items (or body parts) temporarily into gold (Cunning Greed), and grants a Master Die to use Generosity for bribery (if Greed is not less than Generosity)
  • Animal Control (Deceit): As Body Control, but affects animals
  • Animal Form (Espionage): Lets you turn into the form of a (usually terrifying) animal, with more powers the higher your espionage (Cunning Espionage)
  • Armor (Cowardice): Grants you a defense that reduces the Width of physical attacks (Open Cowardice)
  • Arrogance (Cowardice): Provides a passive social defense based on your Cowardice
  • Babel Babble* (Corruption): Lets you start a spiel of jargon that attacks listeners’ Knowledge or Nurture (Cunning Corruption)
  • Banish (Cowardice): Lets you send something (including a touched target’s body part) somewhere else within line of sight and thirty feet (Sly Cowardice), and grants a set of dedicated items you can send up to thirty miles away
  • Body Control (Deceit): Turns human targets into your puppets that you can give orders to (Devious Deceit)
  • Clairvoyance (Espionage): Lets you see up to miles away (Patient Espionage)
  • Crime-Time* (Greed): Gives you a minute pause in which you can move and everything else is frozen but invulnerable (Cunning Greed)
  • Dark Ritual* (Knowledge): Satisfies your demon to grant advantage for the rest of the scene (Devious Knowledge)
  • Dead Ringer (Deceit): Lets you copy the appearance of another person you’ve spent time with (Insightful Deceit)
  • Dominator Strike (Cruelty): Gives you a customizable ranged attack (Sly Cruelty)
  • False Memories* (Deceit): Implants a false memory into a touched target (Patient Deceit)
  • Hanging Curse* (Corruption): Curses a target with a ban that will damage a Virtuous Strategy if violated (Patient Corruption)
  • Impossible Beauty (Corruption): Gives you advantage to social rolls to influence people (Devious Corruption); could be artistic skill rather than physical beauty
  • Ineffable Defense (Espionage): Reduces advantage granted by surprises or secrets used against you based on your Espionage
  • Oracle* (Knowledge): Allows you to question the GM about the future or possible actions (Devious Knowledge)
  • Psychic Objects (Greed): Lets you create useful objects with size and complexity based on your Greed (Cunning Greed)
  • Regeneration* (Cowardice): Recovers damage or shifts to your Open and Sly suffered during a scene (Open Cowardice)
  • Retrocognition* (Espionage): Lets you see what happened in a location previously (Patient Espionage)
  • Soulless Materialism* (Generosity): Animates objects to fight for you (Cunning Generosity)
  • Summon (Greed): Lets you summon visible objects within thirty feet to you, including target body parts (Cunning Greed), and grants a set of dedicated items you can summon to you from up to thirty miles away
  • Telekinesis (Deceit): Allows you to move objects/people within line of sight and range based on Deceit (Insightful Deceit)
  • Teleport Self (Corruption): Transports you somewhere else within a few miles based on Corruption (Insightful Corruption)
  • Terror (Cruelty): Drains Courage at range (Devious Cruelty)
  • That Hideous Strength (Cruelty): Gives a melee weapon bonus and lets you perform feats of strength based on your Cruelty
  • The Evil Eye* (Cruelty): Allows you to apply a curse at range that reduces target’s dice for several scenes (Cunning Cruelty)
  • Wither (Corruption): Shrivels, wilts, corrodes, etc. a touched/grappled object/person (Devious Corruption)

Innate Abilities

The player of the demon controls access to several other innate abilities common to all demons:

  • Devilish Creativity: All hellbinders can make infernally cunning devices (often disguised as scientific inventions, but possibly just obviously magic items). These use a customizable system that costs points from Virtuous Tactics to create the item.
  • Appreciating the Numinous: The demon can recognize other hosts of angels or demons (special campaign rule: only when both possessing spirits are invoked).
  • Spying: If the demon’s primary Sinister Strategy is higher than its opposite, the demon can perceive all the time. If it’s not, the demon perceives only when invoked. The demon cannot talk to the mortal, even if it can perceive all the time, unless invoked by being given permission to speak or the mortal activates a power.
  • Sinful Perfection: The demon can turn one die in the mortal’s pool into a Master Die for a particular roll by sliding the related Sinister Tactic for that roll into the Virtuous Tactic (e.g., if the player is rolling Courage or Cruelty, slide a point of Cruelty).

* from the No Soul Left Behind campaign book

Savage Star Wars Notes

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It looks like I’ll be running the Alternate Clone Wars game I outlined earlier this year, which requires finalizing the game system. I’ve chosen to go with Savage Worlds. I’ve looked into work others have done online, particularly this one, but I found them overly thorough for the pulpier game I want to run, and I would have had to change rules to fit my personal conception of the setting and desires anyway. However, I did find that the official Science Fiction Companion covers just about everything needed (with some minor hacks). So all the information below assumes you’re using the Savage Worlds Deluxe Core and Science Fiction Companion, and may not make a lot of sense if you don’t have those as a basis.

Setting Rules

For Star Wars, I suggest the following setting rules (from page 94 of the core book):

  • Heroes Never Die
  • High Adventure
  • Joker’s Wild
  • Multiple Languages

For Multiple Languages, I suggest charging the player for all languages out of the free ones (e.g., an alien with Smarts d4 spends the two languages on Basic and the cultural language of the race; essentially, you really only get bonus languages for higher than minimum Smarts). See also the Monolingual hindrance and Languages focus of Knowledge, below.

Races

The race-building options in the core and sci-fi companion books should be adequate to build pretty much any alien race your player desires. As examples:

  • Human: Gains the usual bonus Edge
  • Wookie: Strength Increase (2), Size +1 (1), Reach (1), Cannot Speak (-1), Hindrance: Outsider (-1)
  • Droid: As per the construct race, but see Droid Mods, below, and droids cannot be Force Sensitive nor can they be affected by mind-altering Force abilities

Most characters are assumed to be insensitive to the Force. They cannot buy the Force skill, but they get to use their full Spirit die to defend against any Force abilities that allow such a defense. For 0 points, any non-droid character can instead add the following racial option:

Force Sensitive (0):

  • Bonus Edge: Arcane Background (The Force)
  • Hindrance: You are more open to the Force than others. You may only use your Force skill die to defend against attacks that insensitives could use their full Spirit die against. You may find yourself targeted by effects and enemies that are drawn to Force users.

Edges and Hindrances

Most Edges and Hindrances from the core book are probably appropriate, except for those reliant on Arcane Backgrounds other than The Force. You may wish to allow Champion, Holy Warrior, and Wizard based on Arcane Background (The Force) and the Force skill, instead of their existing background and skill.

From the sci-fi companion, most of the new Edges and Hindrances seem designed for harder science fiction; Star Wars never seems to care enough about gravity and atmosphere to justify traits that affect interacting with them. Of the additions in that book, I’d only suggest using Low Tech/High Tech and Outsider as Hindrances and Cyber Tolerant, Cyborg, and Rocket Jock as Edges (you could also allow Geared Up, but it seems like a much worse long-term investment than the core Rich edge).

The following are additional for Star Wars:

Edges

Arcane Background (The Force)

Arcane Skill: Force (Spirit)

Starting Power Points: 10

Starting Powers: Special (see Force Powers, below)

Sensitive: The character sometimes receives visions and intuitions with a raw Spirit Roll

Jedi

Requirements: Arcane Background (The Force), Force d4+

You gain a lightsaber that does not count against your starting funds. Attackers must defeat your Parry score when firing blasters (instead of the normal base ranged difficulty) if you are using a lightsaber. You gain any allies and enemies of the Jedi order.

Additional Force Trick

Requirements: Force d8+, must be trained personally by the inventor of the trick

You gain an additional Force Trick (see Force Powers, below).

Additional Mods

Requirements: Droid

Gain an additional two points of Mods (see Droid Mods, below). This edge can be taken multiple times to gain further mods.

Hindrances

Monolingual (Minor)

You only speak Basic. You gain no additional languages for the Multiple Languages setting rule, and cannot buy the Languages focus of Knowledge until you have bought off this Hindrance.

Skills

Uncommon Skills

There are several skills that are unlikely to be used often in Star Wars (particularly in my conception of the alternate Clone Wars). Players should likely not take them at all, and should pay half cost for them if they do purchase them:

  • Boating (Agility)
  • Driving (Agility)
  • Lockpicking (Agility) (use Knowledge (Computers) instead)

Suggested Knowledge Focuses

The following are suggested focuses for the Knowledge skill:

  • Battle
  • Computers
  • Electronics
  • History
  • Language*
  • Planets
  • Science

* While using the Multiple Languages setting rule, this is taken as a single skill instead of one per language. Gain additional fluent languages equal to the die size, and roll the skill to interpret languages in which you are not fluent.

Etiquette (Smarts)

This skill works very similarly to Streetwise, but for the complicated politics of high society and Republic bureaucracy.

Force (Spirit)

Roll this skill to activate your Force powers and to defend against such attacks. At d8+, you originate your own Force Trick (see below).

Force Powers

For simplicity, I’ve chosen to frame all Force powers as modifications of existing powers in the core rulebook. They have the same costs and statistics unless otherwise noted. As a global change, any power that uses the caster’s Spirit or Smarts to set a variable (such as range) instead uses the caster’s Force skill die. Force powers do not generally have specific trappings (though their activation may be obvious to nearby Force sensitives).

Basic Powers

All Force sensitives can activate the following six powers:

  • Boost Trait (core page 110): This can be used on the caster only, and can only be used for Boost (not Lower). It cannot be used to boost the Spirit attribute or Force skill. It can only boost skills that the GM agrees are suitably athletic or intuition-based that relying on the Force for guidance would help. This power is essentially a catch-all for minor Force-user advantages, and a way to use up power points in combat other than Telekinesis.
  • Detect Arcana (core page 111): This can be used to Detect only, not Conceal (though adding in Conceal would be a good Force Trick).
  • Divination (core page 112): This requires a whole meditation period rather than just a minute. Answers are presented as a cryptic vision. Trying to learn something useful about an enemy or otherwise unwilling target may be opposed by that target’s Force defense (Spirit if insensitive, Force if sensitive).
  • Mind Reading (core page 115): This is opposed by an unwilling target’s Force defense.
  • Puppet (core page 115): This is opposed by an unwilling target’s Force defense (and may be hard-stopped if the target’s defense die is equal to or higher than the caster Force die, if you want to make the Mind Trick reliably ineffective against certain targets like in the films). It can only be used to convince the target of a fact, or compel them to take a simple series of actions, not to take combat control (as per the normal Puppet power).
  • Telekinesis (core page 118): The Telekinetic Weapon option can only be used for a single attack (i.e., saber throw) rather than an ongoing floating weapon. Damage of dropping/throwing objects is based on the caster’s Force instead of Spirit. To better reflect the movies, you might want to put the weight limits on an exponential scale rather than a linear one based on Force die size (such as die size squared, rounded down to the nearest 10 pounds, so the progression is d4 (10), d6 (30), d8 (60), d10 (100), d12 (140)); a raise still multiplies the allowed weight by five.

Force Trick

Once a Force Sensitive raises the Force skill to d8, he or she invents a unique Force Trick, and can train others in this trick if they take the Additional Force Trick edge. See the original post for more information on the logic behind this. In general, the player and GM should work together to come up with something that either expands an existing power’s capabilities, or adds a whole new power (likely based on unused Savage Worlds powers). Force Tricks that modify an existing power stack with one another; the caster can always choose to activate all relevant tricks.

Recovering Power Points

Force sensitives can recover power points in two ways:

  • Light Side: After a protracted meditation, recover all power points to full. The length of this meditation is whatever makes sense to the GM, and may require a Force roll to tune out distractions. As per the original post linked above, dabbling with the dark side should extend the time required to benefit from meditation. Jedi can, rarely, achieve this level of calm during conflict; if the GM and player agree that it makes sense due to roleplaying, the player can take an action to make a Force roll and recover two power points on success plus two per raise.
  • Dark Side: The character may choose to channel strong emotions into power, including anger, fear, and pain. Doing this is considered using the dark side, and affects time to meditate. The character may do this reflexively on any round he or she attempts to remove Shaken, and by taking an action otherwise. Wound penalties are flipped and become wound bonuses to this roll. The character rolls Force and regains one power point, plus one per raise. The GM may adjust the difficulty higher or lower based on interpreting how strong the emotion seems to be (stronger emotions have lower difficulties).

Gear

Lots of the gear in the sci-fi companion makes sense for Star Wars. Use your judgement as to what fits and what doesn’t. In general, the pricing for most items seems relatively close to the pricing in other Star Wars sources like Edge of the Empire, such that you can take the Savage Worlds dollar values and use them as credits. One specific exception is starship prices: Star Wars tends to think of them as costing tens or hundreds of thousands, while Savage Worlds prices them at millions or billions. The Savage Worlds prices are probably more realistic: a starship includes lots of expensive components, such that it should probably cost more than 100 times the cost of a blaster. On the other hand, starships in Star Wars aren’t really starships, they’re boats that haul the player characters between adventures. It makes sense to price them more like cargo trucks or luxury cars, so a player team can reasonably own and maintain one.

I would suggest coming up with a consistent monetary theory that makes everyone happy, and sticking with it. This is easier if you just give the players a ship, rather than making them purchase one, and include enough economics to drive interesting play (e.g., very little for traditional pulp heroics, more if your PCs are smugglers trying to save up enough money to get out from under a crime lord’s sluglike thumb). If you’re going to be more loose with available funds, pay careful attention to the prices of some of the items in the sci-fi companion, as they may be game breaking if they’re too affordable. In particular, if you use the basic robot rules you could purchase some pretty nasty combat droids for your party with only a few hundred thousand credits (see Droid Mods, below).

The following are my suggestions for specific Star Wars combat gear:

  • Lightsaber: Treat this as a Katana with the Energy Weapon template. It does Str+d12 damage, has AP 6, and its AP should probably counter the Parry of someone with a physical melee weapon (e.g., against someone with Parry 4 and a physical weapon, attack against Parry 0, break the weapon, and deal damage at AP 2 against any remaining armor on the target). The Savage Worlds pricing places it at 1,500, but you might increase that for the ability to chop through weapons, and just flat out make them only available with the Jedi edge during A New Hope era games.
  • Lightbayonet: A useful addition to Clone Wars era games where lightsabers are more common, treat this as a module that allows a blaster rifle to emit a short lightsaber from its barrel in order to defend against lightsaber-wielders cutting up your firing line. It takes an action to switch the weapon from bayonet mode to blaster mode. While in bayonet mode, it’s a melee weapon that does Str+d8 damage, AP 4, Reach 1, requires two hands, and can parry lightsabers (that’s applying the Energy Weapon template to the Bayonet stats; it may be too good with those stats, and might need to be reduced accordingly). Savage Worlds pricing places it at 525.
  • Blasters: A New Hope era blasters should use the Particle Accelerators (Blasters) stats on page 21 of the sci-fi companion. For Clone Wars era blasters, if you’re using my suggestion that they should be much more primitive, I would start out with drastically lowered range (or slightly lowered range and an inherent inaccuracy penalty), reduce the damage by a die size or two, and drastically lower the shots per clip.
  • Ion Weapons: These can probably just be statted as blasters that deal electricity damage, and have a die size lower damage. This means they’ll be less effective than a blaster against organic targets, and more effective against droids (since they take +4 damage from electricity).

Droid Mods

If you’re allowing droids as characters, I think the rules in the sci-fi companion (and the Savage Star Wars PDF linked at the top of the post) that link robot options to purchases and maintenance costs are very risky. It means the GM has to be very careful handing out monetary rewards to make sure that the party’s droids aren’t much better or worse than the other party members. So I’d instead suggest just handling droid modifications as customizable racial features. Each mod has a cost comparable to racial mod costs, and you can take them until you get your droid set up the way that makes sense to you and the GM.

Each droid starts off with one point of mods, and can gain two additional points for each time he or she purchases the Additional Mods edge. The following are the allowable mods from the sci-fi companion, with their mod cost in parenthesis (this may be different from the mod cost in the book, as it takes price into account, and any mod that normally grants more mod slots does not for these purposes):

  • Android (2)
  • Aquatic (1)
  • Armor (1)
  • Data Jack (1)
  • Flight (2)
  • Immobile (-1)
  • Magnetic Pads (1)
  • Pace (1)
  • Power Pack (1)
  • Sensor Suite (1)
  • Size Increase (2)
  • Size Reduction (-1) (also reduces Toughness by -1 as per the racial)
  • Stealth System (4)
  • Targeting System (1)
  • Trait Bonus (2)
  • Wall Walker (1)
  • Wheeled or Tracked (0)

The following are additional mod options (either taken from the other racial mods or invented for Star Wars):

  • Binary Communicator (-1): The droid can only speak in the binary language
  • Environmental Hardening (1): +4 to resist a single environmental effect (heat, cold, etc.)
  • Frail (-1): Flimsy construction imposes -1 Toughness
  • High-Speed Processing (3): Gain one extra non-movement action without a multi-action penalty
  • Integrated Equipment (*): Can have reasonable integrated weapons or tools; costs 1 mod slot per 500 cost of the items, and includes the purchase of the item
  • Noncombat (-2): The droid cannot buy the Fighting or Shooting skills
  • Restraining Bolt (0): The droid is disabled if it exceeds a designated range from the controller, or the controller is activated
  • Slow (-1): -1 Pace and d4 running die (cannot buy the Pace mod).
  • Specialized Appendages (-1): The droid has no generic manipulation appendages (like hands), and must use other mods (integrated equipment, data jack, etc.) to manipulate most physical items

Example droid configurations:

  • R2 Unit: Binary Communicator (-1), Data Jack (1), Frail (-1), Integrated Equipment (3; 1,500 credits worth of misc tools), Magnetic Pads (1), Noncombat (-2), Sensor Suite (1), Size Reduction (-1), Specialized Appendages (-1), Tracked (0), Trait Bonus (2; Repair)
  • Protocol Droid: Frail (-2), Integrated Equipment (4; Language Translator from sfc p. 15), Noncombat (-2), Slow (-1), Trait Bonus (2; Etiquette)

Chuubo’s Quest Sorter App

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One of the key interactions in Chuubo’s is that each quest fits into multiple arcs, but at different stages of the arc. Something that works for step 2 of a Knight arc (exploring a problem) might also work for step 3 of a Mystic arc (putting together a doomed plan to move forward). When you get to a new step of your arc, you need to figure out which quests make sense for that step. You could use a static index to figure out these associations, but that’s less fancy than an application. The app also lets you open a .pdf directly to the page with the quest you select, and add your own quests.

Quest Sorter Windows App

As always, I solemnly promise that this is doing nothing but what’s described in this post to your PC.

What It Does

Select an arc from the combo box. Slide the tracker bar from 1-5 depending on what step of the arc you’re on. Click Search.

All quests that match that arc step appear in the list, indicating their name, XP value, book, and page number.

Select a quest and click Open PDF to jump to the indicated book and page number (this requires setting up the right file names).

Click Copy All to Clipboard to copy the list so you can paste it into another application.

Installing the App and Editing Resource Files

Extract everything in the .zip file to its own folder. Run the .exe file; it’s looking in its own folder for the .txt files. It’ll save you effort if the .exe is in the same folder as your .pdf files for the various game books (or one folder down).

There are two important .txt files that you should edit:

FileLocations.txt

This file is essential to making the Open PDF button work.

The first line (that begins with //) explains what each pipe-separated entry means: the name of the book (that is included with the quest), how many pages the pdf’s page count is off from the printed page number, and the path to the .pdf file (“..\” means go up one directory from the folder where the program was opened; you could also just paste in the absolute path to your file).

The second line is the path to your Acrobat Reader installation; most people on Windows probably have the same path as mine, but if it doesn’t open the file, check to make sure your copy of Reader is where this path says it is.

The third and subsequent lines match the books as listed in the Quests.txt file (and which appear on the app’s output). I renamed mine from their defaults, so you have to change these entries to match whatever your .pdf files are named. Additionally, if you add any quests from books I don’t have listed, you need to add them as a new line to this .txt file (and remember to leave a blank line at the end of the file).

Quests.txt

This file is a summary of every quest. The first line shows you what each field means, but to expand on that:

  • The first field is the quest name.
  • The second field is the XP value of the quest.
  • The third field is the book name (and must match a book name in FileLocations.txt if you want it to open the .pdf file).
  • The fourth field is the page number of that book the quest appears on.
  • The fifth-ninth fields are the arcs the quest matches for steps 1-5. If the quest matches multiple arcs at a step, they’re separated by a semicolon.

If you want to add new quests, just copy the format (and remember to leave a blank line at the end of the file). If you want to remove quests, just delete the whole line.

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