Thursday, December 31, 2009

My Year in Gamemastering 2009

Libri Vidicos
By my calculations we've only had two sessions skipped this year for Libri Vidicos, which means we've had 24 sessions this year. We started out this year still a little bit into the first half of their PCs second year at school. While we did finish that game year, the last few sessions have been devoted to some of the sidebar adventure work of the group-- in specific a trip to investigate leads they'd uncovered about Khinsai. That also overlapped with their summer break. What that means is we will be starting Year Three of the game timeline right at the beginning of the year, giving me a nice yardstick to measure real-world time against the game timeline. I know the players might disagree, but ideally, I'd like to be able to do one game year within the span of one real time year give or take a month. That's probably unrealistic- especially since that means that end sessions would hit around the holidays.

At least from where I'm sitting, I'm still really pleased with the game. I'm still nervous about it as I have a lot of plots and details juggling in the air. Each session that goes off strongly surprises me. Like most GM's I tend to focus on the negative about the play after a session and how it could have gone better. I find myself doing that less with LV. Again, in great part this arises from it being the best group of players I've ever run for. That's not a knock on anyone else at all, but this group maintains a high level of trust and interest for each other-- they know each others' characters and enjoy them as much as their own.

We had some great sequences this year. I did a scavenger hunt that ended with a pretty significant shocker of a student NPC death. We had some great bits during the mid-semester break, including Scott's battle with the Hypno Toads. Some great combats-- the battle on the train, the fight on the airship, the showdown with the Queen of Eyes, and others. Some strong revelations about backgrounds-- for Valmont and Sokka and particular, but just about everyone else as well. Some NPCs came more to the forefront, getting more focus while others faded back a little. I'm looking forward to starting Year Three. I'm not introducing entire new years of students as I did last time, since at this point first year students would seem like faceless fodder to them. However, I do have visitors from other schools, so that's a new group of NPCs. Plus I have a new regime on campus with the assassination of the headmaster last year. Plus new instructors, new classes and the showdown between the rival Student Councils.

Count tonight's session, I will have run 29 sessions of Changeling this year. That means they somehow managed to pull three extra sessions out of the deal. We'd only had five sessions in the game before we rolled into this year, so it is mostly a 2009 campaign. There's a lot to like about this campaign-- the backstory from the White Wolf material is strong, I have a lot of great NPCs, I have some distinct arcs for the story in mind, and I like what I've done with the Midwest location. It is a modern game, based on character internal tensions and choices, which can be tough to handle-- making sure to divide between player and character. But overall I'm still very happy with the campaign.

Which isn't to say there haven't been rough spots. In great part I started the campaign to bring in two new players to the group. They seemed fine but that turned out to be an incorrect assessment on my part. I'd been warned by a couple of people about that, but Sherri and I didn't listen to their judgment. The game seemed to be going well but eventually inter-player tensions developed, with one of the players really blowing up at the table. I thought we had that settled, but then in the middle of my own crisis with a mess of things, not least of which was my mother's surgery for cancer, they decided to leave the game in an unpleasant way. There was a strange streak of narcissism I should have picked up on earlier. I think selfishness about play is one of the most destructive elements for a group. I'm not talking about the “Loner” archetype, which can work, but a degree of self-absorption, irritation at others having attention, and willingness to crap on other people's scenes that seems just petty. I hadn't realized how unhappy the other players were really until after those players left. In any case it has made me seriously gunshy about making an effort to bring other players into the group. I'm going to have to be much more careful in the future.

That aside, we had some really great moments in the campaign-- mostly built around character interactions. I've been loose and slow with the development of the big arcs, although the first Campaign Season ended with wrapping up some significant things. That was one trick I tried, using a strong marker to signal the break between “seasons” in the game. More than other campaigns, this one functions like a television series, so I've been trying to use that model. I have some big arcs out there, some medium arcs (season length) and some short ones. I've also been pretty happy about how my Action Cards system has held up when shifted over to another campaign setting. Adapting the Changeling rules over took some work, but I think it has been worth it. There's a transparency to the rules-- in the sense they don't get in the way of play-- that I think is vital to this kind of character centered game.

Third Continent
It took me some time to finally get this campaign up and off the ground. In 2008, when I was finishing off the Scion campaign, I gave the players a list of campaign seeds. I had them vote on them. Strangely (at least from my perspective) the campaign that got the strongest rating and had the least number of negative votes was one returning to the Third Continent fantasy setting where they'd played before. I originally planned to use Storyteller, and then maybe a modified version of GURPS, and then finally decided to use Action Cards after having rammed my head against the wall on design decisions for the other two. I took the risky step of adding dice for damage, which I think has come out pretty well in the context of this kind of high-fantasy campaign. I certainly wouldn't want to do that for other genres however. I also polished the magic system-- it is better but still not the best and added a set of profession tracks to echo classes from Final Fantasy Tactics.

We've done around a dozen sessions of this campaign, I believe. I started them out as youths, with little development and then destroyed their home village-- as I warned them I would do. We then took up five years later with the group being drawn together once again with the goal of finding a way to destroy those who had destroyed them. It is an interesting group-- with a mix of players driven by character interaction, plot and table play goals. That's often hard to manage. We have more combat in this game than I usually do which can be hard. But we've also had some great moments-- in particular Candy's various Plum Wine incidents, Ori's cheerfulness, Raythe's dive and Zot's lowlife hunt. My goal for the next part of the campaign arc will be to develop more on the HeroQuest and gods side of things-- each character is the last bearer of their particular divinity and they are shaping that figure through their actions and adventures.

White Mountain, Black River
I believe we've done eight sessions so far of this wulin-themed fantasy campaign. We have three regular players and two sit in players for when they can come in from out of town. I've tried to deliberately structure my plans so that the sessions with the smaller group are focused on general development, NPC interaction, and development of resources with a few incidents thrown in. They when we have extra players we can pull up a particular episode or directed story which can be run to ground in that session alone.

I'd have to say the session with both fighting the Hopping Vampires and the tournament contests was the highlight for me. We had a nice mix of things happening there and got quite a bit in. But I've also really enjoyed the slow character developments and connections which have been going on. I've got some threads for each of the players' “flaws” that I hope to bring into play over time. Like the wulin/wushu television series, I see this game as an extended soap opera interspersed with investigations and combat.

I did a pretty hefty homebrew for this campaign, drawing on the Storyteller system to put into play the Crouching Adjective, Hidden Noun martial arts mechanics I'd worked up some time back. I find it a strange switch to move from running rules light games to more crunchy ones. I like what I've done with the mechanics, but I also see the limits of it pretty clearly. Mechanics are fun, but what helps a good group play well is better. So this will probably be the last game I run using Storyteller or any high-crunch system. The exceptions will be for one shot or short-run games; superheroes (in which case I'll use Mutants & Masterminds); or if I do another arc of the Scion campaign. For everything else I'm going to use Action Cards, HeroQuest 2e, Gumshoe, or an equally rules lite set of mechanics. And Sherri will likely hold me to that.

Lyceum Aegis
I ran (I think) five sessions of this pick up game for my niece and Sherri. It is still ongoing and I hope to get another session in over her holiday break. It uses a school setting, drawing a little on Mage: the Ascension, Persona, and the Orphans of Chaos series. We've only been able to play this infrequently, but I do have a lot of details I've built into the game. I need to start playing out some of the story arcs more strongly soon-- I've hinted at a couple of them already.

I also ran only one session of the Arkham Harbor all-girls supers game. Schedules really haven't permitted us to do more than that which is too bad. I ran a quick one-shot horror game which was the spiritual successor to the All-Flesh Space game I've run at conventions. It went over pretty well-- with the various PC deaths being dramatic and horrible.

What's Missing?
The most glaring absence from this list is, of course, my Dragonblooded Exalted campaign set in Crux. We have one player who hasn't been able to make it and she's really core to the campaign play. Normally I'd run with a single player missing, but she serves as the heart and engine of the group. The players agreed that not having her there would feel wrong. That's really too bad as I love that campaign, as do many of the players. I'd like to get back there, but at this point, I'm not certain we can. If it happens in 2010, that would be great otherwise I think I simply have to write it up as an unfinished story which just kills me.

In Conclusion
So, in total, by my count, I ran 80 sessions in 2009.

Monday, December 28, 2009

AC Combat Styles: Detailed

The last bit (I think) on Action Cards combat system. Next post will be a game year in review and then I hope to finish out this revision throughout January. I'm more behind than I'd hoped I'd be at this point.

COMBAT STYLES (Optional, Detailed)
The basic Combat Styles system allows players to abstractly add effects and options to their combat actions. Gamemasters who wish a more detailed and specific set of options may want to break down maneuvers into sets with very specific effects. These rules assume the use of dice based damage. In this case players learn Combat Styles which have specific elements. A character may apply elements to their actions-- some work with attacks and others with defenses-- to enhance them. In the beginning, a character may apply one element they know to any applicable attack or defense action.

These kinds of style can be used to simulate genre or to balance out the available options between classic warrior types and those using magic in a fantasy campaign. This option does add a level of complexity and option tracking for the players which may slow combat down.

In this option, players may learn additional styles and may eventually raise the cap on the number of elements they may add to any individual attack or defense. If the campaign uses the Profession Tracks option, then new styles and the increase on the cap for elements will have to be bought through those tracks. If using a straight point based system, then each Combat Style costs 10 points. Raising the cap to two elements costs 10 points and raising the cap to three costs 20. The GM may want to limit which combat styles a player may buy or how many they may know. They may also limit when players may raise those caps.

A character can change what they're adding to which action from round to round or action to action. There's no additional skill roll required, no spending of fatigue or focus. Primarily these elements are intended to add color and provide a broader range of choices without detailing all the possible martial arts or having individual rules for maneuvers. Some elements apply strictly to attack, some to defense, and some to more particular forms (grappling, unarmed, ranged attacks, and so on). Combat Styles apply to both Armed and Unarmed combat, some can apply to Ranged Attacks as well.

If a character has learned the same element from more than one style, they may double up the effects-- the exception to this is Enhancements to Dodge, Block or Parry which may not be doubled unless conducting a Full Defense. Some effects, like Trip, substitute for dealing damage.

Gamemasters may simply list the four or five elements (depending on the genre) for any particular style or they may add descriptive names for the elements within the style to add color to the game.

Defensive Combat Elements
Attack Awareness: Negate Gang-Up penalties to defense
Enhanced Block/Parry: +1 to Blocks/Parries.
Enhanced Dodge: +1 to Dodges.
Escape: +1 to contest for escaping grapples
Evasion: If targeted in melee, reduce chances of being hit from randomization
Missile Parry: May parry ranged attacks
Riposte: If defense is successful, lower attacker's Defense pull by -1 for your next attack.
Roll with Blow: If defense fails, add +1 to your DR.
Root: Gain +1 to resist being knocked down, tackled or moved
Turn Blow: May parry normally unparryable attacks-- i.e. a battle axe with a dagger.

Offensive Combat Elements
Accuracy: +1 to attack pull
All-Around: May attack any target in surrounding area without penalty
Armor Destroying: Successful attack reduces the target's DR 1 for the duration of the combat (min 1). Some armor may resist.
Armor Piercing: Halve target's DR vs. attack
Beast-Slayer: +1 die damage and attack versus animals and monster creatures
Breaking: Enhanced strength for breaking inanimate objects.
Called Shot: +1 bonus to offset difficulty for hitting a particular location..
Choke: May attempt to KO a held target- target must make a Physical resistance pull. Must follow grab.
Clinch: May grapple with one hand, keeping other hand free.
Coordination: When attacking with an ally, target has a -1 penalty to defense pulls
Critical: Switch one successful damage die to a ten.
Crush: +2 dice damage when inflicting a crush in a grapple
Damage: +1 die damage
Disarm: +1 bonus to disarm contests
Feint: Successful attack means target suffers a -1 penalty to defense pulls on following round.
Grappling: +1 bonus to Physical contests to hold target in a grapple
Ground Fighting: No penalty to attack or defense while prone.
Knockback: Target makes test or be knocked back
Lock: Grappled target takes damage with unsuccessful breakout attempts.
Mook Killer: If attack hits a Mook, KO Mook
Precision: Always hit chosen target when firing into melee.
Running Strike: +2 dice damage if full move made before attack
Sharpshot: Reduce Range penalties
Silent: Attack makes no noise.
Stun: Successful attack forces Stun test on target.
Subdue: Gain bonus when attacking to subdue/KO without injury
Surprise: Gain +2 dice to damage when making a surprise attack
Sweep: May target up to three adjacent targets with an attack-- cumulative -1 penalty.
Throw: +1 die damage when throwing a target. Greater control and distance for throwing.
Trip: Successful attack forces target to make check or be knocked down instead of damage.
Unbalance: Target must make Physcial check or lose either their Move or Standard action on following round.
Weapon Lock: May attempt to grapple target's weapon.

Advanced Combat Elements
Area: Attack affects a mega-hex
Blind: Target makes Physical check or be blinded (or deafened) on following round.
Cone: Attack has a short, cone area
Create Weapon: May create a magical or makeshift weapon instantly
Disrupting: Target check or suffer a Physical result penalty for the combat
Explosion: Attack explodes out from character with diminishing damage
Flying/Leaping: Move action with Attack/Defense may be vertical without test or penalty.
Range: HTH may be made at range
Tracking/Trick: Ranged attack ignores cover
Unhealing: Damage takes double time to recover or must be healed with magic

Example Styles (From a more wushu style setting)

Storming Master’s Form
Lightning: Attack Awareness
Thunderous: Armor-Piercing
Whirlwind: Accuracy
Rain-touched: Precision
Hurricane: Silent

Seeking Pilgrim’s Style
Reaching: Enhanced Block
Collapse: Attack Awareness
Directed: All-Around
Center: Running Strike
Distant: Beast-Slayer

Way of the Waters
Ocean: Enhanced Dodge
Cascading: All-Around
Tidal: Armor Destroying
Wave: Sharpshot
Depths: Breaking

Taunt of the Monkey
Lashing: Escape
Gift: Enhanced Block
Endless: Armor Piercing
Echo: Silent
Crying: Called Shot

Secrets of the Earth
Splinter: Evasion
Rippling: Armor-destroying
Pressure: Beast-Slayer
Stillness: Stun
Unconquered: Choke

Thursday, December 24, 2009


For Action Cards--back after Xmas-- with detailed combat styles, basic and advanced magic, profession tracks, character creation, gamemastering notes, equipment, and alternate power systems.

Happy Holidays to everyone.

Monday, December 21, 2009

AC Combat: Social, Mass, Styles

Continuing the discussion of AC Combat

Other Combat (Basic, Optional)
Since the basic system for combat in Action Cards is abstract, it can be adapted over to other forms of conflict easily. The question becomes one of scope, stakes and consequences.

Social Combat
Normally social conflict can be resolved with a simple contest, player-GM interaction and/or negotiation. However if a campaign focuses on court situations, influence, reputation and honor, the GM may want to allow players who have taken the 'diplomat' or 'courtier' role more depth to their actions. Debates, rumor mongering, accusations and crowd manipulation can be handled in this way. Generally Social Combat works on a different scale of time from standard combat and probably shouldn't be mixed.

The scope of such conflicts depends on the situation: it may be to force someone to accede to a player's will; to level an accusation against someone in public and have it stick; or to sway a group over to a cause. The GM should clearly determine the objective, method and form of the combat. Then the actual battling can be done with contested Social pulls, with the usual edges, descriptions and abilities being used to modify them. In this case the damage and wounds suffered by the opponent can take several forms, but with the usual six point scale. Wounds can represent a shift in position with regard to the audience, a loss of self-confidence, depletion of allies or support and the like. A victory might restore some of that damage, but their ought to be consequences. In other words, until work has been done to repair (i.e. heal) those losses, the character may suffer penalties. Temporary loss of abilities (like Contacts or Wealth) might come from that. The player might also suffer shaken confidence which can be handled in other ways: limits on drama point spending or the inability to move past personal “Lose Big” cards for a time.

Characters on either side may withdraw, leaving them with the wounds they have taken. In this case the advantage goes to the least wounded side. If a player is 'killed' in such a combat, the GM can apply fairly severe penalties: permanent loss of abilities, removal of NPCs or Allies, social sanction, and the like. Death can even be permanent retirement or removal, with the character having had their reputation completely destroyed or their confidence completely shattered. If the character represents a group or institution, some of those consequences may wash over to there, resulting in additional losses.

Magical Combat
In combat, Magic can be used to create standard effects: directed spells, barriers, compels, and the like. As an option, and depending on the campaign frame, if players engage other mages in direct magical conflict then the stakes might shift. In this case players who suffer damage might lose meta-abilities like the use of particular schools. This can represent them overtaxing their reserves in the struggle. The same thing can be applied to Psionic or Super-Powered combat where powers come into direct conflict. They might lose other kinds of abilities, such as social or knowledge-based one, if they find their psyche shattered. The GM should consider whether to track damage separately for these forms or have it stack with physical damage. The former creates some balance problems, while the latter increases the risk.

Mass Combat
Typically in a mass combat, players will represent leaders or significant members within an armor force. A “unit” can be represented as an NPC with qualities in the following four areas:
*Attack: The standard combat strike and defense
*Maneuver: Marching, changing formation, doubling speed
*Morale: Resisting the stress of combat
*Expertise: Ability to follow orders, to perform combat specialist tasks (like sappers), and to react to unusual situations.

Units are rated as Trained, Skilled, Masterful, or Boss. Units also have abilities and possibly global edges as with any NPC. They will also have a variable number of wounds. When a unit takes an action the GM pulls for both sides and tells the players the results. In a combat round leader players can attempt to make pulls to aid their unit to be more effective or even to grant them a repull for failures. The GM can also break out of the mass combat sequence to resolve individual duels and other dramatic moments.

STYLES (Basic, Optional)
Action Cards encourages and, in some cases, requires players to describe their character's actions. The style optional rules give the players some additional tools to help them with action descriptions. Basically styles are groups of associated elements for certain kinds of actions. When a player works one of those elements into their action description they can gain a bonus. Styles help differentiate between characters-- some players (and GMs) have a secret (or not so secret) love for complicated class, fighting, and maneuver systems. This system works to provide the chrome of those mechanics without the work.

While the most obvious use of the Styles option is for Combat Styles, they can be developed for any kind of grouping of techniques or abilities with a thematic. They could be developed for particular kinds of social roles; professions- like thieves or spies; magic or even for scientific, scholarly or investigative. Thiefly Styles can give players a number of options to help refine and focus their character particular subterfuge forte. Diplomatic styles could allow players to modify social actions and could also be used for social duels and contests of popularity.

Combat Styles can give the feel of a world with a highly developed set of martial styles. Each style has four elements which are thematically related. When a player learns a style they learn all of the keywords. Generally styles can used with weapon, but the GM may create some for specific forms or types- for example, gunplay exclusive. When creating a set of styles, elements should not be repeated between the different styles. While some of the elements might practically be the same, having different terms players have to work in avoids the problem or doubling up and forces creativity. Some of the fun of creating a style lies in coming up with obscure or different words that push the players to explore the possibilities.

A style will look like this:

Revolution of the World
Elements: Flourishing, Appraising, Decoy, Unerring
A true swashbuckling style said to have been created by weapon masters disillusioned with local governments and corruption. They retired into the jungles of a particularly forbidding island, designing a style which would go against all forms and also be a tool of revolution. Many years later, rumors began to appear of bandits and pirates using a new style to attack fat merchants and corrupt officials. It is said that the students of this style are taught in secret and indoctrinated with new social ideas, most of which are anti-monarchical and generally anarchist.

Style elements range from the fairly concrete (Disarm, Feint, Climb, Bluff) to the more descriptive (Evasive, Cautious, Gain Favor, Gossip) to the quite abstract (Extricate, Compensate, Fear, Precision). A player must work the element (in some form) into the description of their action to get a bonus. Just stating the element should never be enough. Elements should be considered generally. Someone with the Extricate keyword might provide an argument about how that refers to “extricating” a weapon from someone’s grip. They might later make an argument that the extricating elements makes it easier for them to escape from melee without being struck. On the other hand, GMs should be ready to say no if a player seems to be applying a element so broadly that it affects every situation.

Once a player has described their action using an element, the GM has to interpret the effect. Combat Style elements generally do one of two things:
-Provide a bump for the action: the attack pull, damage, defense or related test.
-Help offset the complications for an action.

The former uses the element to boost the general action-- adding a dramatic flavor to their description. The latter is about offsetting the difficulties the GM sets when trying to do something more effective or involved with the action. For example, the Decoy element mentioned above could be used to help offset penalties for trying to distract with an attack. Unerring might be used to offset the complications of poor footing or bad lighting.

Elements stack with the effects of edges on cards. Generally players should reasonably be able to apply up to two elements to any action: with the second one requiring a move involved description. GMs should feel free not to give benefits for elements if the player keeps falling back to the same description of effects.

A Note on Styles (A GM Topic)
Styles work to give flavor and encourage interaction. They aren't a way to get really crunchy combat out of this system. For example, I don't think a Wushu game would necessarily work using these rules. Where combat and combat mechanics form a core part of the genre, I think another system might be better. So things like a Zombie Invasion, Martial Arts, Superheroes and Modern Warfare lend themselves less readily to this unless they are made very cinematic rather than crunchy.

None of these styles are 'balanced' in the classic sense. Clearly players can see that some have more easily applied or obvious terms. However if your players are hunting through the lists for things like that then this system might not be right for the.

Six Swordplay Styles

Crantylean Houseguard
Elements: Head Butt, Extend Parry, All-Out, Cloakplay
This style was developed in Crantyle and came out of the experience of generations of Houseguards fighting in the multigenerational wars. It has a practical component, dedicated to protecting one’s wards or patron. This style is popular in the East, especially among bodyguards.

Swan’s Wing
Elements: Riposte, Precise, Sacrifice, Sweeping
Developed by a Houseguard of House Forge, he created the style after two decades of serving as a mercenary in various campaigns across the continent. He called it the Swan’s Wing Style, claiming that he based his sense of the motions upon a group of swans he used to observe upon his estate. This style is still relatively new, but is becoming popular because of its novelty.

The Golden Fleche
Elements: Disarming, Gliding, Fancy Reflexes, Quick
The merchants of Merdain have one of the oldest established schools of “modern” swordsmanship upon the continent. Early on. Merdain exported their knowledge in the form of instructors. Many of these went on to form the basis of many schools including Atlantae and Miremal. Although Merdain style has changed much since its early days, many nobles turn their noses up at it, considering it a dated and archaic art.

Elements: Rolling, Close In, Evasive, Lunging
This is an example of the typical arts taught among sailors and pirates, at least those who either have a good instructor among their number or can afford to pay a discreet one.

High King Elf Styles
Elements: Leaping, Pin-point, Hang On, Trickery
The High King Elves have a number of styles, all built around a central form. This style represents that of House Wyvern, House Aperkitas and House Sea Drake and is the one most commonly found outside of the borders of Shaddai.

Tooth and Nail
Elements: Last Ditch, Mercurial, Keep Away, Acrobatic
In recent years, a set of instructors from the Wild Lands have begun teaching a rugged style which supplements straightforward sword-fighting with rough up-close attacks. It is especially popular among non-humans in the region.

Thievery Styles Examples
(Designed by Steve Sigety with modifications)
Elements: Light Step, Escape, Leap, Twist
The Acrobat uses his or her superior balance and athletic prowess to assist in larcenous activities. Money can also be made as an entertainer, or the Acrobat can provide a distraction so other can use their skills (the Pickpocket, for example).

Elements: Anonymity, Fear, Poison, Surprise
The Assassin is trained to kill and uses these skills for a fee. Most often, this must be accomplished quietly, without warning, and without a trace of the killer or any connection back to the contractor.

Box Man
Elements: Patient, Anticipate, Precise, Tools of the Trade
The Box Man is an master of cracking safes and chests. His or her skills run more to the technical side of the Arts.

Elements: Teamwork, Dupe, Sense Weakness, Bluff
The Extortionist is an expert in demanding a one-time payment from an individual or group with the implication of a future threat. This may either be violence to someone's person or business, or the disruption of an important occasion such as a festival or party. In a typical scheme, one person makes the contact and the threat. The second, the "bagman" of the pair, collects the payment at an agreed-upon time and place. This is obviously the most dangerous position of the team.

Elements: Cunning, Infiltrate, Observant, Deceive
The Spy deals in a valuable currency -- information. This could be as an infrequent informant or as a long-term deep-cover agent. The majority of Spies work for one particular organization because of the difficulties of reputation and loyalty in hiring freelance operatives.

Elements: Persuasive, Beguile, Trickery, Nerves of Steel
The Swindler is a confidence man, using charisma and wits to separate gullible people from their money. The con is as different as the individual Swindler -- fixed games of chance, selling fake healing oils, or intricate political schemes against the nobility. The Swindler may not have a fixed territory of operation as a quick escape is sometimes necessary.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

AC Combat: Healing, Dice-Based Damage

More on AC combat, including the dice-based damage option

Healing time varies depending on the wound level, with each level having its own cost in time. This time can be modified up or down depending on the kind of game being run. Natural healing (with rest) for Death's Door is two weeks; for Bloody Heap- one week; for Cut Up- three days; for Injured- one day; for Hurt- twelve hours; and for Grazed- two hours. Medical Treatment can cut this time in half-- being heavily active can increase it.

Characters with first aid can reduce wound levels for the first three states (Grazed, Hurt and Injured) with a check on the fly. More advanced medicine (like field surgery) can reduce these states by two levels or one level for Cut Up and above. Magical healing can do the same. Generally these kinds of emergency interventions or applications to reduce wound levels immediately can only be applied once. So you can't try to further reduce through multiple applications of magic or even by combining magic and advanced medical treatment. The GM has the right to modify these times and restrictions depending on the campaign frame.

Abilities which have been temporarily knocked out or disabled by damage return at the rate of one per hour resting; half that time with healing or medical attention and double that time if the character remains active. These are bruises, stiffness and funny bone injuries which can fairly quickly recover. Other kinds of damage of effects will be assigned a recovery time by the the GM depending on the severity and the overall damage the character has taken.

Death and the Character
Once a character gets to Death's Door, the GM should begin having them make Physical Checks to remain conscious. The difficulty should be based on what the character is attempting to do. Generally, characters at this state can move or act, but with constant checks. Some characters may have abilities which help them resist pain, perhaps negating some of the action penalties, but they still need to make checks against passing out from the damage.

If a character takes a wound pushing them over the threshold of Death's Door, they should go unconscious unless they can narrate a strong argument against it and make some amazing pulls. At this point, the character needs to make physical checks against death. The GM has two options here-- depending on the nature of the game. Have the player make checks every round or else have them make one check now and others if they take further damage. Other players may spend an action stabilizing dying characters to keep them from having to make death checks. A character who misses such a check dies and the rest of the party gets their stuff.

Note that these rules generally apply to PCs-- NPCs have less leeway and the GM may put the thumbs up or down for them depending on the story.

Killing PCs (A GM's Topic)
The style of campaign ought to determine how easily death comes for the PCs. Action Cards does require a significant investment in character creation, so killing a PC has both in game and out of game consequences. My generally rule of thumb is that I have more leeway to kill PCs if they've walked into the situation with eyes wide open. If the plot or other circumstances have forced or railroaded them into the deadly place, then I give more leeway or apply other consequences. The death of a PC ought to be a momentous occasion or have dramatic impact.

But the real trick is that killing a PC isn't the worst thing you can do to them. Players who get to these deathly states under their own power can suffer a variety of other consequences: loss of limbs, horrible scars, loss of equipment, failure in their goals, deaths of NPCs, reduction of valuable resources and so on. Abilities may suffer longer term loss until the character recovers from the horrific damage they have taken. They may suffer limited mobility while recovering. Characters may not ever recovering or have to spend points to “buy off” their death. Another option you may want to give players is the accumulation of “bad stuff” against them for having cheated death. This bad stuff acts against them, with the GM applying the whims of bad luck against them in the future-- if someone randomly gets targeted, it will be the character with bad stuff. Or more mechanically, the GM gets a free drama point (or points) to apply against the character each session until some benchmark is passed or points have been paid.

Killing them is easy, making them suffer is artful.

Some campaigns require a slightly more detailed system for damage-- combat heavy games or those wanting a like more precision. These options bring dice into the game, but for a narrow section of resolution. Action Cards focuses on ownership of actions, and allowing the players to roll for their own damage in a detailed way allows that.

In this system, characters do not have wound levels, but instead have wound points. Each character begins with twelve wound points (WP); extra wounds may be bought at a cost of five points for two wounds-- up to a maximum of 24 WP. When characters successfully make an attack, they roll damage using d10's. Weapons have a class (light, medium or heavy) used with detailed initiative. They also have a set number of wounds they inflict and a number of dice they roll for possible additional wounds. So a broadsword has the following stats:

*Broadsword (Medium): 4 Wounds +4 dice

Armor, on the other hand, also has a class (light, medium, heavy) which affects defense rolls (see Defense Types and Limits, above). It also has the number needed to roll to do damage against that armor as well as a damage resistance value which subtracts from damage done. So Full Fitted Chain has the following stats:

*Full Fitted Chainmail (Medium): 7+ Damage DR2

When the swordsman hits, he rolls four dice, trying to get a four or better on those dice. So if the attacker rolls 3, 3, 7, 9 on the dice, a total of 6 WP will be done-- minus 2 for the DR of the armor, resulting in 4 damage done. If the attacker rolled 3, 3, 4, 5 then a total of 4 WP will be done (from the base damage of the weapon)-- again minus 2 for the DR of the armor, resulting in 2 damage done.

Attacks with a wide margin of success gain an extra die to roll for damage; a Moment of Glory or player “Win Big” cards give an extra +2 dice. The GM may also add or subtract dice depending on the circumstances, the use of combat styles and so on. Some circumstances may modify the target number needed on the dice to cause a wound. Better weapons, certain damage types against certain armor, and special abilities may lower the number needed. Better armor may raise the number needed. The GM tracks and adjudicates these effects. Some weapons and armor may have additional abilities or factors with them.

If a character takes more than half of their total wounds from a blow, they must make a Physical Pull or be knocked down and Stunned-- requiring them to spend an action or a drama point to recover from. A Stunned character can only move and opponents gain a +2 to attacks against them. When a character has 1/3rd or less of their wounds remaining, they apply a -1 drop to all actions. When a character reaches 0 or less wounds, they must make a Physical test or pass out. If they remain conscious, they may Act or Move on their turn, but must continue to make tests at an increasing penalty or pass out.

Criticals and Combat Effects
If a player rolls three or more tens on rolled damage then his attack will cause a Critical Effect. The GM resolves this by GM pulling a from the GM deck to check the effect. The Gamemastering section has notes on how to prep the resolution deck to determine criticals:

Bleeding: the target loses 1 wound each action they take.
Extra Damage: add +1 damage for each 10 rolled.
Stunned: the target may defend and move, but may not take a standard action on their round until they blow an action or spend a drama point.
Knockdown: the target is knocked down.
Unbalance: the target may move or make a standard action on the following round.
Funny Bone: a limb is temporarily disabled until the end of combat or he spends a drama point
Crippled: a limb is permanently disabled until healed.
Killed: target dies nastily

On Weapons and Damage
The weapons tables have been tuned for particular campaign frames-- so the high fantasy table has all the detail intended for that kind of campaign. If a campaign is modern, say a SWAT game or espionage, the frame of the weapons table will differ. So a kevlar vest doesn't have to be calculated against what Chain mail does in a fantasy game, just what the relative available types of armor for the new frame are. [Provide fantasy, modern and sci-fi armor tables]

In a setting with other powers, like magic, psionics or the like, the base damage for such effects is 3 wounds plus four dice. Boost effects or increased levels add +2 dice per boost or +1 if they can some unusual effect (like ignoring armor).

Combat Example with Detailed Damage
Scott, Sherri and John have engaged a Lieutenant and his two Mook thugs. The scene shifts to resolving the combat.

First the GM determines Initiative. John, Sherri and the Lieutenant all have light weapons, which means they will go in the first part of the round. Scott has a Volter pistol which is considered a medium weapon. The GM might allow him to go faster if he wanted to do a wild unaimed shot, but Scott doesn’t say anything about this. The Mooks have sabers which are medium as well.

John will go first since he has a Light Weapon and the ability Quick Reflexes. The Lieutenant has the ability Fast, but the GM rules that John’s ability trumps the less specific one. Sherri will go third, then Scott, then the Mooks. Mooks always go last in their particular initiative category. Initiative is set for the combat and will not be changed unless a player decides to do something to change things. Changing weapons, casting spells, or anything doesn’t change a character’s initiative order unless the GM really wants to deal with that and slow things down. This GM does not.

John goes and decides that he will take up a defensive posture with his invisible pocketknife given that his character as a tender young thing. The GM rules that this will give him either a bonus or an extra pull when dodging this round. The Lieutenant, looking around, sees that Scott has a Volter and decides he’s the obvious threat. He makes a lunging strike at Scott. He pulls an OK result, but he has a +1 Edge with Sword attacks, giving him a Good result. Scott opts to dodge—he could parry with his pistol and probably break it. Scott pulls an OK Combat result. Even though they are tied, the Lieutenant has an Edge which means he wins the tie here.

The Lieutenant's weapon does 3 wounds, plus four dice for damage. He also has the ability Strong which gives him an extra die to roll. Scott is wearing Leather Armor, which means the Lieutenant needs 6+ to do a wound on each die. He rolls four successes, and checks to see how many 10's he rolled. He only rolled two, so there's no additional combat effect. Scott's leather armor has a DR of one so subtracts 1 from the damage, and so takes 6 wounds [three wounds base + four rolled, minus one for DR].

Sherri goes now and she decides to take out one of the Mooks. She draws a Good (combat) result for her attack, but the Mook miraculously draws a Sacre Bleu (combat) for his defense. Irritated, Sherri spends a drama point to make a repull on the off chance she’ll get a betterresult. She draws her Sacre Bleu! Defenders normally win ties, but this is a Mook—so, I mean come on. She rolls four dice for damage plus three base wounds and gets three successes, all of which are tens. She will cause a Critical Effect, which since the target is a Mook the GM decides will simple take the target out.

Someone then points out that Mooks don't get defense pulls and Sherri gets her drama point back.

Scott goes now and lets off his Volter in the Lieutenant’s face. He took the Weapons Attack: Volter ability and so gets to pull twice if he wants. His first result is Vagaries of Fate, a generally negative special card, so he opts to draw again. This time he draws Crawling from the Wreckage, where the action happens, but something breaks. Scott immediately says- before the GM can take over- that his gun breaks when he shoves it in the Lieutenant’s mouth and he bites down reflexively on the barrel. The GM agrees and says he’ll give Scott a damage bonus of +3 dice and won’t give the NPC a dodge pull. Scott rolls eight dice and gets six successes with five of them being tens. This causes a Critical which the GM pulls a Crippled result for. Since we've already established where Scott's shooting the target the moment gets gory.

Friday, December 18, 2009

AC: Combat Continued

Continuing my revision of Action Cards-- draft of more material on combat.

Aiming and Prep
If a player spends an action setting up an attack, say by aiming or holding back by observing an opponent, they should gain a bonus on their next attack. The GM can determine the benefit (attack bonus, damage, and/or redraw) depending on how dramatic the description is.

Mooks are the wondrous hordes of nameless and faceless minions who serve actual named adversaries. Called agents, henchmen, extras or whatever, they form a staple of cinematic games. Mooks do not get defense pulls; if the attacker pulls a success then the Mook is hit. Mooks have two wound states: Wounded and Out. If a Mook takes a hit of Injured or less (see Damage, below) they become Wounded. A second wound of any level will take them out. If a Mook takes of hit of Cut Up or more, they are taken out.

All-Out Defense
Characters may take an All-Out Defense action, giving them an additional repull for defense. This stacks with other abilities. Characters may not attack or move when taking an All-Out Defense.

All-Out Attack (Optional)
GM's may allow players to do an All-Out Attack, sacrificing any defenses in order to gain a benefit. Character's performing All-Out Attacks gain a +1 bump to their attack result, a +1 bump to damage and an extra repull. However they may not make any defense tests until their next action.

Groups and Coordinating
As mentioned under Contests, if characters end up opposed by more than a single opponent, the GM can handle this in one of two ways. If the adversaries are named characters, rather than Mooks, then handle each contest in sequence, with a bump to the result of each successive opponent. The single target gets the choice of who to engage with first. If the opposition is generally Mooks, then handle them as a single opponent, with the additional persons granting bumps and/or repulls depending on their skills and quality.

Players may spend an action aiding another player or NPC. Such aid can provide bonuses to off-set difficulties and grants a combat test repull in addition to other abilities. Alternately, the players can use the aid action to increase damage done, useful against adversaries with strong armor or large numbers of wounds.

Defense Types and Limits (Detailed, Optional)
Players have the option of one of three defense types against attacks: parry, dodge or block. A parry requires the use of a weapon, is based on a Combat pull, may not be used against ranged attacks, and may be used once per round. A block requires the use of a shield, is based on a Combat pull and may be used twice per round. Dodges may be used against any attack and may be used an unlimited number of times per round. Characters only get one defense pull against any particular attack.

Characters compare the result of their defense pull to the attacker's result. Ties usually go to the Defender. However, a character's armor affects their dodge. A character wearing medium armor, loses ties; a character wearing heavy armor, loses ties and has a -1 drop to all dodge attempts. Depending on the armor system, wearing heavier armor may additionally affect a player's general physical actions.

Using this option, a character taking an All-Out Defense action may use a number of parries, blocks or dodges each turn. The GM may allow players to purchase abilities to gain extra parries.

Gamemastering Combat
Action Cards is a high-trust system. It relies on the GM to work with the players to tell an interesting story. That doesn't always mean the players win and combat can be one of those places where real tension can be introduced to the story. On the other hand, it can also introduce tension to the group. The GM should be fair-- and while keeping the combat fast-paced is a priority, take the time to slow down if players get lost or become uncertain about their actions. (For more on this see the section on GMing AC in General).

As you'll see in the section on damage, Action Cards can be deadly-- or at least can take players out of the combat relatively easily. GM's ought to play with the damage system-- substituting or complementing damage with other effects like temporary ability disabling or situational changes.

In general, players don't like to get penalties. In general a penalty for one side in a contest is equivalent to a bonus for the other side. Therefore when players would get penalties, instead apply those as bonuses to their adversaries, stressing the difficulty to up the dramatic stakes. The exception to this rule is for wound penalties, which players start taking at the highest level of damage. These should be applied and stressed to players to reinforce their current situation and the danger they're in.

Special and Unique Cards have their own effects, modified by narration from the GM or player. These cards don't generally get affected by bonuses or penalties. However the GM should keep them in mind when judging final results, using them to break ties or give one side the benefit of the doubt.

Once characters have successfully hit, they pull for damage. Damage pull uses Physical for muscle-powered weapons; Combat for devices like guns; and Knowledge for Magical attacks.

Characters have six wound levels
1 Grazed
2 Hurt
3 Injured
4 Cut Up
5 Bloody Heap
6 Death’s Door

Past this, characters will go unconscious and begin to make death checks.

The attacker's pull is modified as follows:
+1 for a light weapon
+2 for a medium weapon
+3 for a heavy weapon
+1 for a wide margin of success on the original attack
+2 for a Moment of Glory on the original attack
-1 for light armor
-2 for medium armor
-3 for heavy armor
+/- X for talents, edges, and other modifiers

If the attacker fails with the modified result then no damage is done. Keep in mind that Egregious Humiliation, “Lose Big” cards and Deadlock are not modified, and if drawn then no damage is done. Crawling from the Wreckage begins from a Good result and can be modified, but something breaks. For everything else, consider the hierarchy of results:

OK (standard) Grazed
Good (standard) Hurt
Sacre Bleu! (standard) Injured
Sacre Bleu!+ (from edges) Cut Up
“Win Big” Cards (unique) Bloody Heap
Moment of Glory (special) Death's Door

If characters are at X level and takes another wound equal to or less than X, their wound level increases by one. If they're at X level and take another wound greater than X, they go up to that new wound level. The GM may also decide a minor damage result doesn't raise a wound level, but instead temporarily knocks out one or more of the character's abilities. Repulls may not be made using those abilities until the damage is healed. For meta-abilities, this may mean temporary lose of the power as well. The GM may also apply ability knock outs based on the narration of the cards or circumstances.

Characters can attempt to shake off injury during a round of combat by spending a full action to do so. This may reduce your wound level. Players make a physical check with the wound levels currently take as a penalty against the check. Players may also opt to lower a wound result if they can narrate a longer term crippling injury or loss (like having an arm taken out of commission, being temporarily blinded, armor breaking, etc).

Wound Effects
Once a player gets to Bloody Heap they suffer a -1 penalty to all actions. At Death's Door they suffer a -2 penalty. This penalty applies to future soak-- so the more banged up a character is, the easier it is for someone to knock them out. The players should feel free not to calculate this into their actions. The GM will either notice and put apply the penalty himself or else he'll forget about it-- how will you know if he's clueless or merciful? Best to not think about it too hard.

Once a character gets to damage rank 5 and above, the GM reserves the right to start creating complications for the player based on their wound level. At the Bloody Heap stage, the GM reserves the right to make the PC make a Physical check to stay up if they strain themselves or do something crazy. At the Death’s Door stage, the GM reserves the right to make the player make constant and irritating checks to stay conscious every time they try to do something. The GM also reserves the right to cackle manically at this point.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

AC: Combat Overview

Continuing my revision of AC-- now I finally get into more complicated stuff: handling combat.

Combat is where the rubber meets the road in most role-playing games. Time gets broken down into discrete segments, more details get pulled out and abilities focused on those kinds of situations finally get play. Combat can be a satisfying part of the games-- especially if it serves the dramatic interests of the game and creates tension. Action Cards provides a little more detail for handling combat-- but with a focus on ease of use, cinematic play and pacing. These rules have several optional systems associated with them, allowing the GM to fine tune the game to a higher level of detail.

Combat is essentially a series of contested rolls. These follow the same rules as other actions, but with additional complications and details. While the framework here describes physical combat, with a little work and change of terms, this system can handle social, magical, mass or psychic combat as well.


The strategic considerations of who goes when matter less in Action Cards. The GM may find it satisfying to have the players goes around the table and act in seating order, followed by the bad guys.

If the group wants a more detailed system, then all characters in the fight begin with a base initiative of 1. Add +1 to this value for using a light weapon and for each ability which represents speed or reflexes (like Quick or Agile). Subtract 1 for wearing heavy armor and/or using a heavy weapon. If some characters have the element of surprise, they can add +2 to their value. Count down from the highest value to the lowest, with players acting on any individual count before bad guys. This breaks out the order of actions somewhat.

Option: If the group wants even more variability, a card pull can be made at the start of the combat. The result is added to the numbers listed above. For positive Physical results, add +1, +2 or +3 depending on the draw. For negative Physical results, subtract 1, 2 or 3. Other win cards add +4 and other fail cards subtract 4. Initiative is only pulled once at the start of combat. Using this system, a player may spend a drama point to repull their initiative later in the combat.

Players may delay their action. However they must take their action by the end of the round. If using the informal initiative system, players may wait until the bad guys go-- however, they will act last after all other players on subsequent rounds. If using an initiative count system, delaying on a round resets the players initiative to the count they delay to.

A character may only interrupt another character's action if they've declared they're “covering” that character or the target of that's character's action. Otherwise delayed actions may be taken once the GM has resolved the current acting character. Players have an obligation to track things-- if the GM moves on to the next round, they can lose their action.

On their turn, players may move and take an action. If the move is especially complicated, long, involved or crazy the GM may require the player to pass a test or have the move be their only action that turn. Actions cover pretty much everything else: casting a spell, attacking, operating a computer, aiding another person's efforts, and so on. Some actions are trivial: pulling something out of your pocket, drawing a weapon, cocking a gun, shouting something. These things don't count towards a person's action.

Since players can gain an advantage from narrating their actions, they should do so-- explaining what they want to have happen and how they want to do it.

Resolving Attacks
The attacker declares target and makes a Combat pull. The target, if aware of the attack, may then make either a Parry (Combat) or Dodge (Physical) pull to resist. The attacker has to make a successful pull and beat the defender's result in order to hit. If the attacker hits, the defender takes damage and effects (see Damage, below)

Note that ranged attacks must be dodged, unless the character has a meta-ability such as Missile Deflection or Catch Arrow. Area Effect attacks must be dodged as well-- the GM can rule if the dodge completely evades effects or merely reduces damage taken. Characters with tiny weapons cannot parry gigantic weapons unless the game is highly cinematic.

That works for the most basic kind of strike and defense, but with a cinematic approach, many other things can happen. The GM assesses what kind of additional difficulty such circumstances bring about. Two guidelines shape that judgment:

* First, if characters try to do something else with their attack and it is purely cinematic, it should happen if they actually hit.

* Second, if a character tries to do something else with their attack and it will have an additional effect, either on the target or elsewhere, there should be an additional difficulty.

The GM has three flavors of difficulty increase which can be mixed and matched:
* Defender gains a bump to their defense pull.
* Attacker must make an additional test to have the effect go off.
* Defender can make a test to resist/avoid the effects.
* Reduced damage.

Generally, the greater the potential combat effect, the greater the difficulty. GMs should allow excellent and new narrative description to help offset these difficulties. If a player repeats themselves and it doesn't seem interesting, then it shouldn't get a benefit. In their descriptions players should consider the campaign frameworks. What works in a swashbuckling frame, doesn't work in a hard-boiled noir game. The level of 'realism' helps determine the limits of actions. A character might be able to bank bullets off a wall in a superhero game, but not in a police procedural.

Also note that when facing mooks or unnamed NPCs, players should be given the benefit of the doubt about these kinds of complications.

The Many Flavors of Complications
Players may attempt to weave a variety of different effects into their attacks. Below are some examples, but this list should not be considered exhaustive. If the effect applied is modest, only a single difficulty should be applied; for moderate effects apply two; for major effects apply three or more. The GM rules how severe those effects are.

Attacking While Prone: This can apply to any disadvantageous circumstance-- granting the defender a bump.
Called Shots: The difficulty depends on what the player wants to do. So a one-hit kill would apply several difficulties, while reducing the target's movement via shot to the leg applies less.
Disabling: As with Called Shots above, the intended effect should govern the difficulty.
Disarm: Disarms can have more or less impact depending on the circumstance. At the very least, the defender should get a resistance check and a bonus to defense.
Distraction: Trying to set up a target for another person's attack (giving them a penalty). The defender should gain a test to resist and/or reduced damage.
Grabbing and Throwing: Trying to do this in the same action should require and additional Physical test by the attacker.
Knockback: Trade off damage and/or give defender a test to resist.
Pinning: Trying to shoot an arrow to pin a person to the wall or a hand to a table is definitely cinematic. The difficulty should be based on how much it affects the target.
Range: If a target is at the far distance of effective range, the defender should get a bonus and/or reduced damage.
Subdual: If the player's trying to do non-lethal damage, there shouldn't be an increase in difficulty. If the player's trying to knock-out a target in one shot, there should be a hefty set of penalties-- which decrease the longer the fight goes on.
Sweeping Multiple Opponents: Each defender gains a bonus to their defense, with that bonus increasing by one for each defender (so second defender might get a +2).
Trick Shooting: Bouncing shots, firing around cover and so on should give the defender a bonus and might require an additional test by the attacker.
Tripping/Knockdown: Give defender a resistance check and/or attack does less damage.

Combat Styles
The optional Combat Style system gives players access to “elements” they can add into their action description. These elements can be used to help offset relevant difficulties on a one to one basis. (See Combat Styles, below).

Other Factors
Some factors can impact the defender as well-- if the defender is unaware of an attack, they do not get a defense pull. If they're surprised, the attacker gains a bonus. Attackers have a bonus for attacking knocked down, pinned or held targets. Large targets give the attacker a bonus to hit. Small targets give the defender a bonus to defend. If the attacker is making a shot into melee, randomize who is hit unless the attacker has an ability to negate that (like Precise).

On a grab or grapple attempt, if the attack is successful, there's an immediately Physical contest to see if the grapple is successful. On the held target's action, they can make another breakout Physical check. If they win by a wide margin, they breakout and can take an action.

If a character wants to escape from a melee combat, they should make a Combat contest. If they fail, they blow their action and remain there. If multiple attackers are on one target and an attacker wishes to leave, they can do this freely however.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

AC: Contests, Choosing Resolution Types

The third and last part of the section on resolving actions in AC. Again, everything still in draft stage.

Contests involve two or more active parties struggling. The same basic mechanics apply except that both sides draw results and compare those. If one succeeds (OK or better) and the other fails (Just Missed or worse) then the result is obvious. If both sides succeed, then the relative level of that success determines who wins. In some cases one side can be described as the aggressor, attempting to cause a change in the state of a defender. The aggressor must beat the final result of the defender's pull.

For example, Cerise finds herself engaged in a public debate with a Senior of another house. A large crowd has gathered around. The Senior attempts to insinuate that Cerise had something to do with recent troubles and turn the group against her. Both make Social pulls. The Senior must beat Cerise's result in order to cause that effect.

Some contests concern themselves more with quality of success or can end in a stalemate. For example, dueling musical performances or a race. If a winner must be determined, for example in situations where a tie isn't possible, the winner is generally the character who applied the greater number of edges.

Contests Against the GM
The GM draws from the Gamemaster Resolution deck which functions differently from that of the individual players. NPCs and other active opposition have three characteristics:
Area Ratings: For each area (Social, Physical, etc) they are rated as Trained, Skilled, Masterful, or Boss. For Standard Results, the GM consults that area of the card to see what the character's final result is. As the ratings go up, both the relative chance and quality of success rises.
Abilities: Just like characters, NPCs have Abilities, generally used to denote powers and possible redraws.
Global Edges: Since marking and cross-indexing edges on cards for each NPC would be unworkable, NPCs have edges which can be applied to any card draw. Generally NPCs can only apply up to +2 to any particular action. These edges must still be relevant to the action at hand.

Judging Results
The gap between the final results of the two parties should serve as a benchmark to determine how effectively the winner has defeated the loser. If the victor wins by a single level of success, then it is a narrow scrape, with victory unsure until the last moment. If the victor wins by a gap of three or more levels, then the victory is pretty clear cut and certain. If the winner was trying to gain some advantage or reward, that gap should be applied to the GM's resolution. Depending on the results, the loser in a contest may suffer consequences as well. Shaken resolve or mental fatigue can be represented by the temporary loss of abilities for example.

If multiple contestants are involved, the same procedure applies, with the comparison of each parties results. If two groups battle against one another, the GM may wish to pair off the individuals for separate resolutions, with the total number of victories and their quality as the final result. Alternately the GM ought to consider breaking down the task into separate parts and assigning different players to different roles. For example, if the group is playing a sports event against another group. This can help the players manage their abilities effectively.

If characters end up opposed by more than a single opponent, the GM can handle this in one of two ways. If the adversaries are named characters, rather than Mooks, then handle each contest in sequence, with a bump to the result of each successive opponent. The single target gets the choice of who to engage with first. If the opposition is generally Mooks, then handle them as a single opponent, with the additional persons granting bumps and/or repulls depending on their skills and quality.

NPC Support
NPCs can aid in contests, but they're represented abstractly. The GM can use them to negate bonuses for ganging up, have them carry out secondary tasks or have them grant a bonus through aid actions. Generally NPCs shouldn't show up the results of the players unless the GM wants to make a point about the situations.

Generally players reshuffle their deck at the end of every non-combat scene. If a player looks through their deck for any reason, they should reshuffle that part of the deck (but not put back in already discarded cards). If players get to the last card in their deck, they should immediately reshuffle all of their cards-- that last card is not drawn, but is instead shuffled back in before drawing next. Players may spend a drama point at any point to reshuffle their deck completely.

The most involved form of contest is, of course, combat which is discussed under its own section. Combat doesn't have to be simply physical, it can be social, magical or of other forms.

Player Role
The player has the responsibility to bring up relevant narrative or character details (like abilities or edges) when describing their result. Once the GM's moved to narration, they should avoid doing take backs or add ons unless the situation has shifted significantly from their initial impression.

Action Cards doesn't have any particular scale for time and space. Instead it is flexible depending on the situation. The GM should feel free to move these factors around to increase the drama of a scene. Combat works a little bit differently, with a little more specificity, depending on whether the group is using miniatures or maps.

Using the Detailed Ability System
If using the detailed ability system, most rules remain the same. Skills provide redraws and can be used as support in arguing for bonuses applied to another person's action. Traits serve as “global” edges which means if the player can work them into the narrative of the skill use they provide a +1 bump. This bump counts towards the maximum +3 bonus from edges, but only one Trait may be applied to any action.

Tested resolution is, obviously, the default mode for most games-- declare an action, make a roll, add factors from character sheet/circumstance and have the GM assess success. While this is still true in Action Cards there remains room for negotiation, even in that kind of resolution-- if it is a special card, the player has an opportunity to make an argument about what happens. If the card has edges on it, they have the chance to explain how those edges apply to the action at hand. And it can also be that the negotiation may come from the GM's side-- if the player can't make an argument from the special card in a timely fashion, or the GM draws his own special card or so on.

Negotiated resolutions, on the other hand, involve the player interacting without making a card draw resolution. The GM is the arbiter of when the risk or challenge of a situation demands the move to tested resolution-- with the idea being that failure would be dramatically significant, appropriate and or dramatic. Here the drama of the narrative aids in making that choice.

Negotiated resolutions involve the player making an argument about why they should be successful about something they're trying to do. They state their goal, their method and then present support for why they should be successful at that. What serves as support for an argument? The situation- if the player has worked to set things up- so we'll call all of that the rp side of things, background, equipment, but obviously abilities. In these cases, things written on a players character sheet-- usually abilities-- serve both a mechanical purpose and as support in an argument.

Equal weight (at least) needs to rest on negotiated tests. Some players may see that falling back to those is a GM “gimme” or not really part of the game. Instead they should view that as a strong part of the game play. Sometimes negotiated arguments don't work-- if the situation is a stretch, if the argument seems weak. At that point the GM has the option to say no or to move to tested resolution. Generally where there's an organized opposition, tested resolution makes more sense, but where there's an impersonal force or circumstances, then negotiated ought to work. Negotiated also works best where the players are working to set something up as support for future activities.

Some examples--

The group is trying to climb up a mountain. What does the mountain mean? Is it intended to be a real physical obstacle, possibly preventing passage or causing injury to the group? If so, then we're talking about tested resolution. “OK, everybody make Physical Pulls for climbing up the mountain. You've got the right equipment for doing it, so you just need an OK result.”

On the other hand is it a set piece just to illustrate the scene- in which case you may just move to negotiated resolution. “OK, you've got a modest climb ahead of you. What does everybody have ability-wise for this?” From the players' answer the GM resolves “OK, Raythe and Ori both have experience as hunters, plus Raythe has the Climb ability, so they can get you guys up the mountain with no problem.

Or as a variation on that same situation, where time is a central concern to the group-- that could be dine as a tested resolution to assess their speed. Or the GM could still follow the negotiated route. “OK, you've got a modest climb ahead of you, but you want to get up quickly. What does everybody have skill-wise for this?” From the players' answer the GM resolves “OK, Raythe and Ori both have experience as hunters, plus Raythe has the Climb ability. They'll be able to get everyone else up decently, but they are slowed by having to make sure of everyone's status, you move on at a modest pace.”

Or if has placed the mountain there to make a point about everyone's different levels of abilities, then the GM can mix it up. “OK, you've got a modest climb ahead of you, but you want to get up quickly. What does everybody have ability-wise for this?” In this case from the players' answer the GM resolves “OK, Raythe and Ori both have experience as hunters, plus Raythe has the Climb abilities. They'll be able to manage this without a pull. The rest of you make straight physical pulls and let's see what happens.”

The same kinds of consideration and switches can be applied to other situations. Consider a group of PCs going into a formal court situation. Cerise suggests that she will try to set up some contacts among the people they group does know (method) in order to provide some support and resources if their interactions at court go badly (goal). She presents her strongest key pieces of support in favor of the argument. A) The whole group will circle out to do this, which means they can talk to a fairly large group, even focusing only on people they have close ties to; B) She has Networking and Asset Management as abilities so organizing this won't be difficult; C) on a personal level she, like many members of the party, has Charming and Diplomacy.

At that point the GM can decide in their favor, have Cerise make a pull to test success, or have the group make individual pulls. What kind of resolution occurs here ought to be determined by the following two things.

1. Did the player present good support, without making a reach? If yes, then move to question 2, if not go to tested resolution.
2. Is failure in this scene dramatically interesting or demonstrates some stakes at hand? If yes, then maybe a test ought to be pulled.

Negotiated resolution has a strong place in interactions with NPCs obviously. As suggested before, if a player doesn't want to go through a full exchange with an NPC, they can state their case as an argument. For example: Beletan wants to convince Prof. Morgandine to teach him some normally restricted magics (goal) and he wants to do that through charm and demonstration of competency (method). Beletan states that he's been working with Prof. Morgandine for some time, he has the diplomacy ability, and he has built up significant levels in a variety of magical areas- including banish which ought to allay any concerns he might have. That makes good sense-- and depending on the reward outcome Beletan wanted from this, the GM should accept the argument. Weighing whats to be gained from this serves as a guideline for the GM's decision.

Negotiated resolutions fit especially well with character with social or diplomatic skills. Often those kinds of skills get lost in the shuffle-- players forget to bring them up or feel embarrassed that they have to fall back to those if face to face table conversations don't go well. Players ought to be willing to bring those skills to bear before engaging in conversation, or even at crucial points in the dialogue itself. One of the things this does is force the players to state up front their goals for the conversation.

For example, Valmont states that he wants to plant the rumor in the mind of Nisa Ocalan about a particular incident. She has some serious abilities and pull, so Valmont wants to play if carefully. Before talking with her in character at the table, Steve (Valmont's player) states: going into this I want to play it cool, but over the course of the conversation subtly suggest that the recent incident ought to be blamed on House Malbrect. (So we have a stated goal, and an implied method of subtle implication). He states that he has Rumor-Mongering and Diplomacy as abilities, and he's spent some time asking and gathering information on her beforehand.

Now there are a couple of ways to this to play out-- we'll can play out the face to face interaction, Steve's conversation with the GM. But Steve's argument will serve as a filter for how the GM will read what Steve says. Since players don't necessarily have the skills of their characters, the GM can account for that here-- keeping in my that what Steve's saying is actually coded to a particular effect. Unless he makes a faux pas in the discussion, the GM probably going to have that result desired occur. What Steve says goes into the black box of the argument and come out translated on the other side. On the other hand, if if the GM is going to make tests during the conversation-- then the GM has to take into account the argument Steve's made beforehand and add that in as bonuses and bumps.

Action Cards campaign should place a strong emphasis on the variety of resolution methods available, especially those which value interactivity. Rolling the dice and winning can be satisfying, but at least as satisfying ought to be the ability to make a case based on your character's actions and buys and have it go off successfully. At the same time, pulls can be satisfying because the often give player's the chance to grab narrative control of the situation. A balance should be struck between these two methods.

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.