Tuesday, December 15, 2009

AC: Tests and Resolutions

Actions which require drawing a card for resolution break into two types: Tested and Contested. Tested actions means the player draws against a set difficulty. Contested means the player draws against a result drawn by the GM or another player.

For simple actions-- with no active opposition, players state their goal and method. The GM assesses the difficulty and the player draws. If, after any narration, the final result matches or beats the difficulty the action succeed. The GM narrates the results.

The process is a little more complicated than that, but not much more

Goal and Method
The player should tell the GM what they're trying to achieve through the action and how they're doing it. They can mention any relevant abilities at this point, in case the GM decides to simply negotiate and determine success.

Experienced Actions
Some actions require the character to have some training or background in the area. If the player lacks that, they may not be able to attempt the action at all. For example, someone who has no knowledge of technology can't attempt to program a computer. They need to find another way around the situation. The GM decides what kinds of experience is necessary to perform any action.

If a character doesn't possess the experience the GM has a number of options. First, decline that attempt and ask the player to try another approach. Second, check if the player has any abilities which might be tangentially related to the action. If they do, then the player may attempt the action at an increased difficulty. This is a “stretch.” Third, in a low-realism, highly cinematic game the GM may allow players without relevant abilities to try anyway and increase the difficulty and the potential negative consequences. This should be spelled out to the players.

Note that the Drama Point system allows players to spend a point to justify some relevant knowledge or background for situations like this. Such a spend isn't automatic, the player still have to narrate both how they actually gained such experience and how it fits into their background. These drama-point bought knowledge should be very narrowly defined and don't give any kind of redraw. The GM should still feel free to apply a stretch penalty for them.

Gaining Success
For an uncomplicated, unpressured action, players need at least an OK result in the appropriate area to succeed. The GM determines which of the four areas the result must come from.

Physical: Athletics, Riding, Running, Climbing, Dodging, Moving Stealth, Resisting Damage
Combat: Strikes, Shooting, Combat Maneuvers, Tripping, Grabbing, Parrying, Blocking
Social: First Impressions, Performance, Reading Emotions, Streetwise, Diplomacy, Merchant
Knowledge: Lore, Analysis, Homework, Resist Compulsions, Perception, Careful Stealth

Possible results have a hierarchy (from lowest to highest):
Egregious Humiliation (special)
Unique Player “Lose Big” Cards (unique)
Catastrophic (standard)
Bad (standard)
Just Missed (standard)
OK (standard)
Good (standard)
Sacre Bleu! (standard)
Player “Win Big” Cards (unique)
Moment of Glory (special)

Other cards in a player's deck have differing results depending on circumstances:
Crawling from the Wreckage: The action succeeds, but something breaks. If the player manages to narrate this, then the result should be considered Good, if the GM narrates it, then the result is just OK.
Deadlock: Often this card results in a loss for the player, but they may attempt the action again on the following turn without penalty. They've gotten stuck or become distracted. This can be a problem where they're working against time. In some situations, it can work to the player's advantage: as a defensive card it trumps all other results. If, for example, the player draws deadlock to resist damage, then nothing changes for them, so they take no damage.
Other Player Unique Cards: While these cards vary from player to player, generally they have some situations where they work well and others where they function less well. This depends heavily on the player's narration of events. If a player manages to narrate success from the card, the level should be Sacre Bleu! or higher. Otherwise, it should be OK or Good. Conversely, the player can reduce the level of failure on successfully narrated card, giving a Just Missed or Bad, rather than a Catastrophic.

Determining Difficulty
The GM assigns the difficulty for an action based on the situation. The primary factor for determining difficulty should be the drama of the moment. Failure should raise the dramatic stakes in an interesting way and success should help move the story forward.

To that end, the GM has a number of “justifiers” for choosing a particular difficulty:
Lack of Experience
Lack of Tools
Environmental Factors
Time Pressure
Under Fire
Complexity of Obstacle
Scope of Attempt
Previous Failures

In most games, there would be some charts to gauge all of these things and come up with an objective formula for needed difficulty. Action cards doesn't have that. Difficulty serves the GM's needs and those of the story itself. The GM doesn't have to tell the players what success they're looking for, but ought to if they ask or take the time to assess it.

Difficulties can go above the Sacre Bleu! level if many factors conspire against the attempt. In this case players need Moment of Glory; really successful Unique cards; or edges on their standard success cards which push them up past that.

As a game progresses and players gain more abilities and greater raw talent from their cards, difficulties will increase to match that. At that point the GM should have more negotiated resolution for simple tasks while placing greater dramatic emphasis on more dangerous or complex ones.

Final Success Level
Some cards allow for a player to narrate their success which the GM should keep in mind and reward appropriately. Standard result cards include the factor of “Edges” which can raise a character's success above the base indicated under the appropriate area. Edges on a card can be applied to any task, so long as the player can justify their relevance.

Each edge acts as a +1 bump to the success level when applied. Up to +3 three can be gained in this way. Each bump moves the level of success up by one, so a Bad to a Just Missed or an OK to a Good. If this raises the level of success up above Sacre Bleu, GM's will have to consider how that balances out against Unique Cards. That's a judgment call for the GM which should be based on how well the edges fit with what is going on. Note that a Moment of Glory still stands above a Sacre Bleu! with +3 from edges.

Some edges will obvious fit with the situation and the player can apply those freely. More marginal edges will have to be explained. The GM has the right to veto any edges he deems which are outside the range of the action or overly broad. A good rule of thumb for the GM is to consider that edges can cancel out the justifiers listed above on a one to one basis.


Consequences of Success
If a player succeeds, their final level will determine how well they did. An OK result means they just managed to do it. A Good result means they did it with some skill and speed. A Sacre Bleu! means they won by a strong margin and might gain additional benefits. Other successes will have to be narrated by the GM (with player input possibly. A Moment of Glory should give significant benefits to the players immediately or in the future.

Consequences of Failure
Some tests have obvious consequences, for example failing a Climbing check will result in no progress, some added complication, or damage from falling. The GM should base results on the level of the failure. Failure in these cases allows the player to try again, at a cost of time and shattered confidence. For more discrete tasks, like Lockpicking, failure indicates that the lock or task is beyond their abilities.

Repeated Attempts
Once a character has attempted an action and failed, like say hacking a computer or pick a lock, that action may not be attempted again in the same way. The players will have to find another approach or else another player will have to tackle it with a different ability. Generally any ability used in subsequent attempts must be narrower than the original ability used or else come at it from a completely new direction.

Group Effort
While having everyone at the table make some kinds of checks can be effective in some cases, in others it slows things down. For example, if the group is ambushed, a check to see who might be better able to react than others can differentiate between members of the group. If however, the group is searching a location, then either the GM or the players should nominate one or two members of the group to make those checks. This should vary from scene to scene to keep the group from relying on one player too much. Other kinds of checks, like survival, might be done in the same way, with the group in this case assigning a trained person who can help the others-- represented by that person's pull. The GM should switch up these techniques to create some uncertainty and tension.

There are several ways to model group contributions for those challenges in which multiple people can participate. These options are mutually exclusive:

1. Have a single person pull the relevant check and give them a bump to their result to represent the aid.
2. Have a single person pull the check, with other members of the group with relevant abilities granting that person an additional repulls.
3. Have the single person make the check, but the additional members negate negative circumstances or reduce the time needed to complete the action.

Players who take the time to creatively describe how they are aiding another person's action, perhaps even making a risky test to do so, should be rewarded-- granting more significant or consistent bonuses to relevant tests.

Probably the most relied on ability in an rpg is some form of Perception check-- be it as Awareness, Alertness, Spot Hidden Object, Search, Notice, Listen or whatever. Most perception checks are Knowledge-based. GMs should give the advantage to players who choose a narrower ability (like Sharp Hearing or Low-Light Vision) over those who take a broader skill (like Perception or Senses). These players should have first check at such checks. GMs should also consider applying area-specific abilities to perception checks (like Savior-Faire to notice who seems uncomfortable in a group, or Engineering to notice oddness in the construction or layout of a building). Perception as a broad ability should be the last resort.