ROLL TO VOLTRON
I’ve run a lot of superhero games: Champions and Mutants & Masterminds campaigns across multiple editions. Plus I’ve had shorter dalliances with ICONS, Villains & Vigilantes, Aberrant, Venture City, DC Heroes, Superhero 2044, and more I’m forgetting. Teamwork’s a classic element of these stories. Players use it from time to time, especially when facing down Big Bads. But one group I ran for took it to another level.
Four women, mostly non-comic fans, destroyed my villains.
They always acted to support one another. They always coordinated attacks. They split their builds, so they had all of M&M’s support feats on hand. They had a dedicated healer. They discussed plans and carried them out, working systematically through foes. They operated like a dedicated Raid Team in an MMO. It was at once glorious and disheartening.
Luckily my online players mostly don’t listen to one another.
This is the second in my series on “Game Tech”: how games handle particular sub-systems. I talked about Mooks last time. Today I look at how characters collaborate, coordinate, support, team attack, and assist one another. 7th Sea started me thinking about this; it has a sharp system that rewards helping other players. My list covers a broad range, including both combat and non-combat situations. I present a non-exhaustive cross-section with arbitrary labels. I provide an example or two each. Obviously these aren’t the only ones that use these approaches.
If you know of some mechanics or variations I haven’t mentioned here, please leave a comment.
- Ease: How easy is it to help? (requires a roll, costs resources, takes an action)
- Effect: How effective is the assistance? (cost/effect, opportunity costs)
- Incentive: Does the system encourage or discourage this? (often gauged from above details, but the rules or genre may offer additional pushes)
Assistance Special Action: In many PbtA games you can make a move to assist another character. Often you roll based on a relationship value. The classic version gives a +1 Forward to the target with a full hit. But with a mixed hit, the assisting character also suffers any consequences of the attempt. More recent PbtA designs give the target “advantage,” meaning they roll 3d6 and take the two best for the action. Overall PbtA games differ in whether the helper can roll before or after the target’s check.
Assistance Special Action (Other Effect): As above, but the results can be used in unusual ways. In Masks, the support action can clear a condition or shift a character’s labels (stats). This can help set them up for their next action.
Collaborative Pool Build: For contests in Wild Talents, each acting player rolls their pool. If one gets a set, any other player who rolled that number can add it to that set.
Creating External Bonuses: The assisting character creates an “advantage” which others can make use of. These are usually free-floating and can be invoked by any ally. Fate uses the Create Advantage Action for this. Certain abilities in 7th Sea allow players to create Opportunities for other characters.
Dedicated Teamwork Abilities: In Coriolis, the Command skill helps others. Each success rolled can be added to another character’s action, provided they follow the Command character’s instructions. Mutants & Masterminds has advantages dedicated to being better at helping (Inspire, Leadership, Teamwork). It also has a talent where characters can Feint for others, reducing a target’s defense.
Defender Penalty: For combat situations. Instead of granting a bonus to the attacking ally, the defender gets a penalty to their relevant check or rating. Functionally, this is how classic Rolemaster operates. It has no mechanics for helping allies or even bonuses for multiple foes. But if a character wants to defend against several enemies, they have to divide their Parry among them. The same thing happens in classic World of Darkness and Exalted. The best way to aid an ally is to burn off your foe’s defenses. Each additional defense attempt reduces the target’s pool.
Enhancement Talent (Combat): Successful team up actions result in a greater effect. Silver Age Sentinels and Mutants & Masterminds do this for combined attacks. If players delay and coordinate, the damage from successful attacks adds together before being applying to defenses. Typically this reduces the effectiveness of a target’s armor or resistance. This is especially effective in M&M where landing a single +25 damage attack can be much better than landing five +10 damage attacks.
Enhancement Talent (Non-Combat): Each player rolls their check. The end result pools all of the successes. Aberrant, among classic WW games, does this. Fate contests work the same way in the end.
Fictional Positioning: The game is diceless or has super-light mechanics. Any teamwork’s about establishing the scene or giving fictional justification for events.
Flat Bonus: Each extra hand adds a flat bonus. In Fate Accelerated helper characters can add a +1 to a test (limited to one or two assistants). This offers a chance to help without the risk of making a test to Create Advantage.
Leader Testing: If multiple persons work together in a common task, i.e. climbing a cliff, the person with the highest rating rolls. If successful, this grants a bonus to everyone else’s check.
Miscellaneous: The game includes no explicit rules for players assisting with others’ actions. Instead that might fall under modifiers determined by the GM. Classic Rolemaster does this. It has static maneuver charts, tables, and modifiers, but no discussion of multiple persons working together on something. Ars Magica says nothing about collaboration on non-magical checks. It also frames combat as usually occurring between groups, rather than individual actors.
Multiple Actors Reduce Difficulty: Team Attack in DC Heroes works this way. The more characters involved with an attack, the more the target’s resistance is lowered.
Piggybacking: In GUMSHOE multiple persons can work together towards a goal. One character is the lead and makes the test. Additional players who want the benefits of the action spend 1 from their relevant pool. Unskilled or non-contributing characters raise the difficulty of the test by 2.
Reversed: The player taking the action gets to declare if another character assists them. This can be indirect. In Worlds in Peril, characters can burn bonds with their allies (as well as NPCs or institutions), to bump their result up by one degree. This uses up a limited resource.
Roll to Assist (Set Difficulty): Helper characters make a test against a default difficulty. If they succeed they enhance the check of the person they’re assisting. M&M 3e does this, with the assist having a DC 10. In combat, failures from assistants have no effect. Out of combat, they subtract 2 from the result.
Roll to Assist (Target's Difficulty): One character acts as leader. Other characters make same roll against the variable difficulty. Success increases effect or adds bonus to lead character’s roll. Team Attack in M&M 3e does this. It has some additional restrictions, such as shared damage types. Savage Worlds has the helpers make the same test, with a flat +1 gained for each helper’s success (up to a max of 4).
Rolling for Others: A character has a stunt, feat, or power that allows them to make a particular test for some or all of the group. For example a ranger making survival tests or an infiltrator making stealth checks. Some systems give this as a benefit for good rolls. Some skills In Mutant Year Zero let you choose to add one ally to the effect for each extra success.
Special Circumstances: Players have talents or abilities to assist other characters when certain events trigger. For example, M&M 3e has Interpose. This allows a character to take a hit for a nearby ally. Other abilities may allow characters to perform defensive actions (Dodges, Parries) in place of nearby characters.
Spends for Boost: Players can spend a resource to give another player an advantage. For example, in 7th Sea players can spend a Hero Point (with fictional justification) to give another player 3d10 to their roll (versus 1d10 if they spent it themselves). In GUMSHOE players can increase spends from an ability to increase the chance of success. Others can spend to assist, but with a -1 to their contribution.
Spend for Boost (Shared): Players can spend to assist, but the resource comes from a shared pool. In Masks, this is the team pool. Many moves can add more to the pool. If an ally declares they’re helping, they saw how and spend one to add +1 to the roll. Players can also “selfishly” use the pool to give themselves a bonus.
Substitution: The assisting character allows the target to use their stat, value, or power for something. For an example, allowing them to use their defense value or save bonus against an effect. Certain talents in 13th Age do this.
Time Reduction: One of a class of “alternate benefits” to teamwork. Assisting characters can reduce time it takes to complete an action, usually a project. SpaceMaster notoriously had a system where each additional helper halved the time it took to do research or a major construction. With enough people, you could build a spaceship in a day.
What approaches did I miss?