As promised last week, this week’s post is a discussion of my changes to the rules draft for my table.

Overall

This list of changes shouldn’t be seen as an indictment of the new Storypath system from White Wolf/Onyx Path. They’re testing it in Scion, and also using it for the updated Aeon line. I’d also expect miscellaneous developments from it to find their way back into World of Darkness games over time.

Overall, it’s a very nice job at taking the sacred cows of the Storyteller system and updating them with modern design ideas. In particular, the move to using successes to purchase effects from a menu is woven pretty well throughout the system (though admittedly some systems are just like “we couldn’t think of anything granular, so just use it as margin of success” which is always a danger with a universal mechanic). This really shines in combat, as simply dealing as much damage as possible has been downplayed in favor of miscellaneous stunts, which seems like it will result in more tactical play.

Adding Difficulty vs. Complications

One of the areas I think the rules need some more revisions are in the idea of Complications. It seems very much like different sections of the draft were written by people that didn’t agree on what the rule does (which is, of course, likely in this type of development). The core idea of Complications are that they’re “you succeed, but…” thresholds on the action. A test could have Difficulty 1, Complication 2: If you only get 1-2 successes, you still succeed, but you need 3+ successes to get a success without suffering a drawback. With the stunting system, you could even decide that you’d rather buy a 2 point stunt and take the drawback, even with a lot of successes.

Unfortunately, a lot of rules later in the book say things like, “…or take/add a 1 point Complication” as if the writer thought “Complication” was a mechanic unto itself, or just increased difficulty, rather than the formal rule. I cleaned up several of those instances throughout my summary. I expect they’ll be cleaned up in the official book once revisions are complete.

One core bug in the system is that the generic stunts value “add a Complication” and “increase Difficulty” the same: you can spend 2 successes to give someone Complication 2 or just bump their difficulty by +2. Raising difficulty is objectively superior in every case except the weird one where you think your opponent can barely succeed, and would rather she succeeded with a drawback than fail outright. I’ve just altered it in my summary so raising difficulty is something you can do to defend yourself, but you have to add a complication to otherwise interfere with an opponent.

Botching

Botching is the sacred cow of the Storyteller system that I’d most love to go away forever. The version on display in Scion is the somewhat defanged version: 1s don’t cancel successes, but if you have 1s on a failure, you botch. This variant has the known issue that, as you increase in skill, your failures get rarer but they’re more likely to result in a botch when you do fail. In my house rules, I just edited it to a Cortex-style purchase opportunity, where you don’t botch unless you accept the GM’s offer of extra plot currency. I’d just as soon remove it entirely, but they sometimes actually hang mechanics off of botching that are useful and hard to attach to something else if you remove botching outright (this is my major complaint about the Changeling 20th rules).

Actions

Scion has a Standard/Move/Free action system. It’s a fine action system. Many games have been perfectly happy using the D&D model over the last couple of decades. Unfortunately, Scion refuses to admit that it has this system. It thinks it has a Standard/Free action system (it’s calling free actions Reflexive). But then there are a lot of rules about movement and things that prevent you from moving or alter your movement just sprinkled throughout the Standard action options. I think it would be cleaner to just break them out (as I’ve done in my summary).

Initiative

I replaced the existing system entirely with Balsera-style initiative in my summary. The default system is the same as the Fantasy Flight games (Warhammer 3e, Star Wars, and I assume the Genesys generic system). In it, everyone rolls initiative and creates a fixed order similar to the more common initiative systems, but then PCs and NPCs can freely trade slots each round (e.g., one PC rolls really well and goes first, so any PC can take that first slot each round).

It’s fine, and I like it better than fully fixed initiative (particularly in a system where there aren’t any “until your next turn” effects), but Balsera-style seems like it’ll be smoother at the table. The default system doesn’t include, for example, any kind of mechanic for PCs arguing over which of them should take the next slot, whereas Balsera-style still lets players be like, “pass to me/no me!” but it’s still the active player’s final choice.

Moreover, Scion does away with the old workhorses of Wits and Alertness (which is probably for the best, since Alertness is otherwise the single most-rolled ability), so there’s nothing that’s being diminished in power by taking away rolled initiative. The default system just uses whatever combat skill you’re probably going to use. Meanwhile, they had this really cool group currency called Momentum that seemed like it would obviously affect the pacing of combat, so it was a no-brainer to me to use that as the governing number instead.

Defense

Speaking of Momentum, the default rule assumption is that players roll their defense pool once every round they’re attacked, with successes setting the difficulty to hit them. That’s a lot of extra rolling to create minimal swing (the average PC is going to have 3-5 dice for defense, so rarely 0, usually 1, sometimes 2, and rarely 3+ defense difficulty). After realizing I wanted to base initiative on Momentum, it made sense to me to give players a good reason to spend Momentum up front (and maybe let the NPCs go first) in order to set a fixed Defense for the whole combat. Two birds, one stone.

Stunts and Gear Tags

These are largely really cool. My changes were minor, and mostly to streamline verbiage (I expect it will be similarly streamlined in official revisions). I added several ranged stunts since I don’t like lists that only have one entry (necessitated by my moving the stunts available to every weapon to a generic combat stunts section, when they’re individually reprinted for each weapon type in the official document).

The gear tags system is cool. I like that they’re moving away from the weapon porn of old Storyteller, where we need to dither over exactly how to model the difference between a Desert Eagle and a .44 Magnum in capacity, damage, range, and difficulty. I expect that my player that, in every game, is constantly dropping his weapon to slam an opponent into the environment is going to be excited to have a game where that’s a fully valid tactic. Everything does an injury for one point and an additional injury for four more points, and that’s it.

That said, looking at the example gear lists, I think they’re going to have a hard time selling the rule of thumb that most standard gear is worth three points of tags. Most of their examples aren’t. I think they’re going to want to add a few more tags if they’re serious about balancing the gear based on the numbers in this system.

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