Capping off Spirit of the Century so we can move on to Dresden Files next week, here are the last couple of systems I want to talk about.
Minions and Teamwork
SotC fights against named foes take a long time, as discussed last week. However, you can run a game where your PCs mow through a ton of bad guys without ever touching a named NPC through the power of minions. A familiar accent to any action RPG, and obviously something I’ve been inspired by, minions are designed to be taken out by the handful. To accomplish this, minions:
- Have Stress that works like regular hit points (e.g., 2 Stress damage against a minion with 2 Stress takes it out, even with no prior damage)
- Have a fixed (small) bonus to any actions that make sense (e.g., a +1 minion rolls against anything at +1 unless it wouldn’t make sense for that minion to have such a skill)
- Automatically group together with other minions in the fight until there are no more groups than PCs (e.g., 10 minions vs. 3 PCs would likely attack as two groups of 3 and a group of 4)
- Group with named NPCs if they are present
- Link stress boxes when grouped (e.g., a 5 Stress hit against a group of 3 minions with 2 Stress each takes out the first two and leaves the third with 1 Stress left), and this serves effectively as ablative armor for a named NPC grouped with the minions
- Gain a Teamwork bonus based on their group size (+1 at 2-3, +2 at 4-6, +3 at 7-9, and +4 at 10+)
Minions are super cool. While I became quickly very hesitant to deal with named NPCs, as combat would slow right down, my games never lacked for two-fisted action because of minions. They’re the popcorn of the pulp adventure world. And they’re not just fluff that players can ignore: when grouped together, minions become a very serious threat that becomes very satisfying to players as hits begin whittling the group down to manageable size.
And then you have more minions dive in at various points in the fight and rearrange the group sizes. Good fun to be had by all!
However, as much as I love minions, this is one small flaw related to them: the teamwork rules for minions are the only teamwork rule in the game. When attempting to assist another person, the first PC (or friendly NPC) with the same skill grants a +1, the second helper does nothing, the third raises the bonus to +2, and the acting PC needs six helpers to get up to +3. And the bonus doesn’t change regardless of whether the acting character has a bunch of helpers close to his own skill or way below it.
This essentially creates a weird result in planning out skills. If there’s a skill that is likely to only be rolled by one player in a lot of cases (Investigation, Art, Engineering, etc.), you should either be the best in the party at it or have it at +1: if most of the time you’ll only be on assist duty with the skill, a +1 is just as good as a higher rating. In a party with one player with such a skill at +5, as a GM you’ll have to constantly work to keep the player with that skill at +4 from feeling like he wasted the points.
But this is ultimately a small wart: most systems have a hard time striking a balance between making teamwork too weak or too powerful. The grouping system for teams works very well for minions.
Car chases (or, infrequently, foot and biplane chases) are another nifty system in SotC, and another one from which I’ve taken inspiration. The gist of the chase rules is:
- Lead character (target) describes a maneuver and picks a difficulty; if he fails the roll, the car takes a hit equal to the margin of failure
- Following character(s) attempt to meet the same difficulty; a success deals the Shifts as damage to the target, a failure deals the MoF as damage to the follower
- One passenger in each car can attempt a roll that would make sense as helping the driver, and use that result if higher than the driver’s
There are also rules for extended chase scenes where the GM can throw in reinforcements, special cars, etc. These are tied to a point mechanic, which is kind of arbitrary and mainly serves as a rough guideline, but they’re neat ideas for complicating the chase whether or not you use the points.
And… I have nothing bad to say about the chase rules. They’re really fun, and I was sad that I only had one player take much in the way of Drive, so I couldn’t contrive ways to use them very often. But the one time I did they delivered exactly as intended: a classic car overflowing with pulp heroes weaving through traffic, driving off of parking structures, and snarling traffic across a New York City block. Good times.