Monday, November 29, 2010

The Cost of Madness

Last time I introduced the idea of madness points as an alternate reward for invoking insanity "hubris." But in that post I said that I wanted madness points to be darker than drama dice, to have a few thorns of their own that make handling them uncomfortable. Even the boons of madness come with a price. Let's talk about that now.

Mind you, said price can't be too steep. Madness points are supposed to ultimately be a good thing, remember. As much of a good thing as any reward for slowly losing your mind can be, anyway.

There's one other consideration when coming up with these rules of which I remain cognizant: simplicity. If I overly complicate the rules the player who dives most fervently into these madness rules will let me hear about it. He's a big fan of simplicity, not because he's lazy, but because he thinks overly involved rulesets detract from gameplay and, ultimately, are stupid. He still touts red box D&D as having 14 pages of rules and being a complete game unto itself. We argue over "complete" all the time, since he says filling in the gaps is a GM's job, but that's not a discussion germane to this post.

So, bad but not too bad, and mechanically simple. That's a pretty broad set of parameters. What can we do with that.

After much pacing and conversation with Boaz, my dog, here's what I've got: Boaz is very supportive but not a deep well of ideas. In the end, his contribution was a request for a belly rub. As for the game, I'm thinking that madness points have two stages to them:

Mad Strength/Clarity
These are the unspent madness points. Until they're spent they don't do anything. They just sit there. If you never want to use them, don't. They won't hurt you. The way I figure it, these are the things that take a little of the edge off the pain of suffering a madness attack. If you're willing to suffer those penalties without reaping anything for the bother, that's bad enough. So hoard your points all you like.

The Grip of Madness
Once you spend madness points, they go into a separate pool. Put them in a cup or a bowl or something like that to separate them from the unspent ones. This represents the downside of the madness rush that granted you a bonus. If the 1k1 bonus they gave you on a roll is like an adrenalin rush, the grip of madness is like the weak, trembling comedown off that rush. You will overcome this eventually, but in the meantime it eats into your capacity to function. 

Every time you roll a drama die, remove one die from the cup. Don't roll it, just take it out. That drama die doesn't explode. Note that you only reduce the madness dice in the grip for rolled drama dice, not drama dice spent on sorcery or swordsman techniques. If you don't roll the die, and thus don't have the opportunity to see it explode, this penalty isn't a penalty, and thus doesn't apply.

You also remove one die from the grip each time you roll a 10 on any other die. For each normal die that comes up 10, take one madness die out of the grip and throw it away. That 10 also doesn't explode because of this.

Once your grip is empty, all of your dice explode normally.

Now, there's one other part to this that I should note, because it's a way around the penalty for being in the grip of madness: spend a madness point. 

That's right. Any roll in which you spend a madness point, and thus tighten the grip, you're not subject to the penalties of the grip. Sure, it dooms you to a spiral of accumulating and spending madness points until you're largely incapable of accomplishing anything but the most basic of tasks without resorting to that gibbering strength you've been cultivating, but hey, that's voluntary insanity for you.

It's important to note that madness lingers. This means that your madness pool, along with your grip, carry over from session to session. So there's no sidestepping this penalty by hoarding your madness points all night and then blowing through them in the last few rolls of the evening, filling up the grip right before packing it up for the night and then starting the next session with a clean slate. It doesn't work that way. 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Madness Points

Last post I talked about introducing a creeping insanity system into 7th Sea, and how I modeled it after the hubris system. In that, I said a player would have to spend extra in order to counter my offer of a drama die. I'm currently rethinking that. While the underlying idea is sound (make madness more insidious than any other purely human character flaw), the mechanics still feel like they softpeddle the idea they're trying to convey. Drama dice are all about heroism and drama. Something about giving a madman the ability to jauntily vanquish a cluster of inquisitors seems wrong to me at a fundamental level.

Clearly, there should be some kind of benefit to having an insanity attack; being able to roll a mythos lore knack now and again to recognize certain rites or translate arcane texts is not tradeoff enough for suffering an ongoing malady of the mind. Yes, yes, I understand that Lovecraftian horror stacks the deck against the investigators and that Call of Cthulhu is one of the most fundamentally unfair games on the market because the genre itself is very much unfair. I know that. But I'm not running CoC. I'm running 7th Sea, and I'm bleeding in mythos elements gradually. Therefor, I want a more give and take kind of mental flaw system. Yeah, I really want to pound foolhardy scholars in their frontal lobes, but I want to give them a hard candy afterward to entice them to do it again. More than that, I want to give them that sucker to make the overall experience fun. If all that waits for them is madness and death with nothing good along the way, they'll do that annoying player pragmatist thing and stay away from the death trap.

Players, man, all looking to preserve their characters. I tell ya....

I'm sure my work with Fate's aspect system has no small part in this desire. The idea that if you offer the right incentive, players will willingly crank their own thumbscrews is one that resonates deeply with me. I love anything that promotes greater player investment in the game and their character. I have what I think is a largely typical group of players. Nearly all of us cut our teeth on red box D&D and moved through the early TSR offerings, ultimately each picking unique paths of later games from other companies. One thing that nearly all these games of the 80s and 90s had in common, however, was the game structure that the GM was in charge of everything, and the PCs played their character. Good players were ones that picked up on the crumbs the GM threw out and played nice with one another.

It's a tried and true method of gaming, one that goes all the way back to its roots, but it's one that leads to player passivity. Even today, most of my players tell me things like "this is your story, and I'm really interested in seeing where it goes." That's great that they're into it, but it's not supposed to be my story. It's supposed to be theirs, and I'm just helping tell it. At least that's where I am right now.

What's this got to do with giving out drama dice? Aspects, drama dice, these things are rules designed to encourage greater player activity in certain ways. They're rewards for playing penalties, and they're rewards that happen right then and there, on the spot, that can be used immediately or stored away for later. Bonus xp is great, but if the flaw gets you killed, you'll never get to use it. But bonus dice, well, you can use them whenever.

So I want to give out dice for madness penalties, but I don't want them to be bright and shiny things indistinguishable from drama dice. I bought a handful of gold colored dice just to hand out as drama dice last time I ran 7th Sea, so we're talking literally bright and shiny. Madness dice should be darker. They can provide a bonus, but I want them to feel edgier, prickly, less wholesome and maybe not entirely safe.

This brings us to madness points. They'll work like drama dice, but they're separate because the devil, or in this case the Old Ones, are in the details. Spending one still gets you 1k1 to a roll, but you can't use them to buy off a madness attack. You can still use drama dice for that, but I have a feeling in the end that'll be all you're using drama dice for in that case.

You can use madness points for just about anything, but not quite everything. They can apply to nearly any physical action, representing a sudden manic burst. You might not look suave when bolstered by insanity, but it can get the job done. You're in a fight and the shadows flicker in just the wrong way. Suddenly the mask of sanity slips and you glimpse the true face of your opponent. These aren't church men after you, but deep ones. You fly into a berserk rage, madness flooding your muscles with insane strength as you rip your foe apart. It's not pretty, but it works.

Similarly, you can use madness points to help you in any mythos check, be it recognizing a particular beast, deciphering some scrap of foul pictographic script, or gleaning some buried truth from historical record. In this, it's a simple matter of your mind becoming more accustomed to the alien thought patterns necessary to make sense of the sanity blasting truth that most remain blessedly blind to.

You can also use madness points when making fear checks, provided the check's not against some mythos monster. You've had a peek of the true horror of the universe. How can a master of the Rogers school possibly stand against that? You're so numbed by the overwhelming truth, nothing else can make you quake.

You can even use madness points to assist in wound checks. Sure, those wracked with madness in Lovecraft's stories tend to be frail and ill of health, but if we expand our view to something a little wider than Lovecraft's own world we find many examples of the mad exhibiting not only great strength, but great resilience as well. Again, this is 7th Sea, not CoC. I'm willing to make that stretch in this game.

Monday, November 22, 2010

On Madness

You knew this was coming. You can't play any game with Lovecraftian mythos involvement and not eventually talk about losing your mind. To leave that part out is simply inappropriate.

I knew I'd have to deal with some kind of sanity system in 7th Sea eventually. What I didn't expect is that one of the players would latch onto forbidden texts right away and spend every last moment of free time plumbing their blasphemous depths for every kernel of forbidden knowledge he could dig out. Serves me right for beginning yet another campaign without having every last mechanical contingency planned out.

So far I've been winging it. I knew that I didn't want the mythos lore skill to be something that you picked up like anything else in the game. Spending xp and getting additional points in it made the entire thing too mundane, too normal. So I tied it to an open research roll. The player's been rolling his research knack and I've been keeping tabs on his total across all the rolls. As he hits certain benchmarks, I award him with a new dot in the skill. So far he's managed to get two dots.

As for the downside, well, that turned out to be a little more elusive, but as of our last game I believe I've gotten it. Each point in mythos lore now comes with its own arcana. As soon as you gain the point, you also gain the arcana. These are like hubris, in that I can toss a drama die at the player and he'll suffer the effects, but unlike normal hubris, he can't buy these off with a drama die of his own. I might allow a 2 for 1 buy off so as not to remove all control from him, but I'm designing these to be deeper and darker than your standard heroic foibles.

I have a little work left on the list of madness arcana, but here's what I've got so far:

  • Obsession - you've uncovered something. You don't know exactly what yet, because you don't know enough to make sense of it, but it's clearly something, and something big. It gnaws at your thoughts constantly with the promise of amazing knowledge, especially when you're doing something else. When this arcana activates, you must drop whatever else you're doing and devote yourself fully to furthering your research into the unknown. 
  • Fear - you've uncovered something, and now what has been seen cannot be unseen. You still don't know what's out there exactly, but you understand enough to know that the world is nothing like you thought it was, and it's not safe. Anywhere. There's something out there, something sinister, unresistable, and while your prior ignorance didn't protect you, it did protect your peace of mind. Things, crawling, sucking, things lurk... somewhere, and one day they're going to, well, that's not entirely clear, but it won't be pleasant. This arcana functions similarly to the Cowardice hubris, but can be activated at any time, since it's not man you're afraid of, but things far beyond his ken. 
  • Insomnia - your mind won't stop anymore. It runs through the litany of blasphemy you've learned in the day, and puts on plays of horrors in your dreams every time you sleep. You awake not refreshed, not even exhausted by night terrors, but trembling to the core from the sensation that every time you dream they can see you, and they draw you to them. The dream world is theirs, and you are sucked closer to their forbidden cities awash in nightmares and insanity with every slumbering breath you take. When this arcana activates, you cannot sleep that night. You do not rest, and therefore cannot heal.
  • Illness - The forbidden lore you've uncovered inflames your mind. The knowledge is so overwhelming, so conceptually difficult, that it takes tremendous amounts of will and mental contortion to make sense of what you're discovering, and even then you only get half of it. Perhaps it's the late hours and little sleep, perhaps it's a physical reflection of your fevered mind, but you're not well. You're pale, bedraggled, you have a fever, and might be a little shy of lucid sometimes. At least that's what others tell you. In those fugues you feel you're at your clearest, and the jumble of knowledge begins to crystallize. When this arcana activates, you lose 1 die from all Wits tests other than mythos rolls but gain 1k1 to mythos rolls. This adjustment lasts for the scene. However, every mythos roll inflicts (1+x)k1 of flesh wounds, where x is the number of raises you make. 
The list isn't in a set order, though I think the order presented above is pretty good. That leaves me one short, but I've got a little while before I'll need all 5. Back to the notebook....

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Changing Raises

One of the things that the roll and keep system introduced to our group was the idea of raises, deliberately increasing your own target number in order to get better results. It was revolutionary for us at the time. All of us had grown up looking to see of that magical "natural 20" popped up on the attack roll, and while other games, among them Shadowrun, had long ago introduced the idea of incremental success, putting that power in the players' hands was wholly new. Needless to say, my group took to it immediately.

The problem I've had with it as a GM is that players often refuse to stop when they hit their target number. When rolling 5k3 and looking for a 15, it's been my experience that they'll reroll every 10 they get and tabulate the result all the way to 63, even though all they need is that 15, and in fact it doesn't matter mechanically if they rolled 15, 16, 63, or 163. Hit you TN or don't. All that incremental stuff got taken care of when it came time to raise.

I get the thrill of the high roll. Really. It doesn't happen often, but I do occasionally play an RPG instead of run one, and my luck with dice is such that any time I break into double digits I'm elated. So I do understand how awesome it is to roll high. But the thing is that it takes time to tabulate those towering results, and if you already know whether you've succeeded and how well, everything else is wasted time. I've tried to push on as soon as I know that the player made the roll, but I've actually been shushed with a "I'm not done yet!" before.

And then there's the fact that even though the roll and keep system has been around for a decade now, it's still close to unique, which means that my players consistently forget to do it because it's unlike any other rule they're exposed to. This often leads to much head smacking and cries of "I should have raised," right after the dice clatter on the table.

So I took a page from one of Mr. Wick's more recent games: Houses of the Blooded. In this, there's a still a raise mechanic. It's called wagering, but in effect it's the same thing. However, instead of inflating your target number, you remove dice from your pool. Your target number remains unchanged.

I began using this rule for a few reasons:

First off, it keeps target numbers low. The average target number is 15, and it's always 15. You want to raise 5 times? Drop five dice out of your pool and look for a 15. You don't have to calculate that 5 raises on a 15 makes the TN a 40, and then begin adding your dice toward that number.

By extension, it makes high raise rolls faster, not slower. Since a pool in which you made a lot of raises is now smaller than normal, there's less dice to count. And my players like to raise, a lot. They're good at what they do (by my design; I prefer stories about competent heroes, not bumbling idiots, though I do know some people who prefer the latter), and they want to show it off. It's not unusual for them to call 4 and 5 raises in their area of specialty.

By requiring the player to modify his die pool before he rolls, it places the focus of the raise not on an abstract target number, but on a collection of dice he holds in his hand. Every time he picks up those plastic bits, he's got a physical reminder to raise. Since we've switched over to this method, some players have complained that they didn't raise high enough, but no one's forgotten to raise on a roll.

Finally, and this is purely a taste thing, it places a limit on raises. I don't have a problem that 7th Sea lets people raise to the heavens, and sometimes I even encourage a little outrageous raising as the GM. However, this particular campaign swings back and forth between two tones. Most of the time they're galavanting about the globe on missions for the Explorer's Guild. However, they're actually members of Die Kreuzritter, and they occasionally have to bury artifact finds or make scholars hewing too closely to a dangerous discovery disappear. More than that though, they've discovered some cult activity that's far more sinister than the typical Legion cults. These cults have sporadic appearances in obscure historical records, such as an ignored field report found in Explorer archives about something called the LeGrasse expedition to the Midnight Archipelago. It seems LeGrasse encountered natives performing blood rites while chanting about something called Cthullhu, or R'yleh, or something like that. My own party stumbled onto this only after rescuing someone from a group related to some sea beast called Dagon.

I do love me some near-super swashbucking action, but when horrors from beyond time and space begin to creep in, I like that the die drop method of raising places some mortal limits on the players. It's something I can play up as they sink deeper into the horrors they uncover in an attempt to protect the world.

Monday, November 15, 2010

And Now for Something Completely Different

It had to happen eventually. I haven't run a session of Shadowrun in about a month, maybe six weeks. We're in that long rear view that makes specific dates a little hazy. On top of that we're now into November, which means holiday season. Between now and sometime after New Years, my group won't have a single weekend available to them. I think we're at a point where we won't be laid up until after Valentine's Day, though that used to happen too.

I can tinker with Shadowitz more, but I've already played around with a lot of fundamentals of the game. I've adjusted target thresholds, wound penalties, and healing rates. I've also expanded the rules associated with the heal spell, for all the use that'll get. After I tossed out my take on technomancers and physical mages I started running dry on ideas. At this point I can't realistically revise the system without playing it, and for that I need a group. I won't have a group for another 3 months at the earliest.

That doesn't mean I haven't been gaming, however. It just means I haven't been running Shadowrun. I'm actually running a pair of games at the moment. Shadowrun meets on weekends, when it does, and the other game meets every Wednesday after work. We play for 3 hours, then go home. The sessions are short, but they're frequent, which lets us make progress. It's less tolerant of messing around because of the short game time, which means that sometimes the group doesn't make any appreciable progress, but by and large they chug along just fine. It's a schedule that's worked out a whole lot better than meeting on weekends. I might be kissing the idea of a weekend game goodbye next year and only run something on weeknights (one game at a time though; I've got limits).

What this means is that I've been running a 7th Sea game pretty consistently for the past several months. In fact, it's seen a ton more action than Shadowrun has, by a lot. I didn't redesign this system from the ground up like I did with Shadowrun. I have made a few adjustments to the rules, but we all went into this game thinking the rules worked just fine. They were, after all, designed by the esteemed Mr. Wick, and our group tends to like his mechanics (even if they'll rib me about saying so).

While I don't have a ton of material to post about modifications to the mechanics of this game, I figure it's worth posting about, given that it's most of what I'm doing in gaming these days. So, the next few posts will involve the tweaks we've made to that system and why.

Friday, November 12, 2010

New Post Schedule

Scheduling games has been difficult for me, and I don't mean a little bit of a hassle. I mean full on war against multiple difficulties. Between the ever more busy weekends for my players, and demands of my own (like a last minute unannounced family visit or requests for help with taking care of nephews), I haven't gamed in a while, a month I think. Maybe more.

When I do get to run a game, the one that runs is the one that I haven't written. I'm actually running a game more or less out of the box. Yeah, there are some little tweaks to the mechanics here and there, and I'll be discussing that in the near future, but for the most part the system's not mine, and it's tried and true. The group's happy with it, and in fact asked me not to spend time redesigning it from the ground up. They'd like to just sit down and play this time.

That means I'm running out of material. Sure, I've got lots of ideas yet, but I can only progress so far on theory. At some point you need to play the game to really review and revise it. I can do some crappy alpha testing on my own, but that's all. The only playtester I have available to me is me, and I'm hardly objective or diverse. Now, I have discovered quite a few things by sitting down with some dice and a set of rules and running through some scenarios, so I'm not about to dismiss self-testing by any means. But if I've learned anything from this Shadowrun campaign it's that there's a lot that only comes out after you've sustained play for a period of time. On light contact, for example, both the resolution and combat system worked perfectly well. And they do work, but they're not quite right as is; that only came out after I got to witness a large number of combats over a myriad of situations. That's not something I can do by myself.

In light of that, I'm going to adjust the blog posting schedule. It will continue to update routinely, and it's not going away by any stretch. However, instead of a M/W/F schedule, I'm going to post on M/Th. That gives both you and me time in between to actually use the material in our games, and come up with substantial things about which to write and comment, instead of resorting to filler that doesn't do anyone much good.

So, check back on the new days and I'll continue to have material on the various RPGs I continue to tinker with, and any other projects that happen to crop up.

See you then.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Recovering from Stun

With all this talk of wounding and healing, it dawned on me that stun damage gets left out in the cold a little bit. There's a note in the healing section of the book that notes you can drop a stun wound by 1 per hour of rest, but outside of that, nothing.

The primary reason for this is because my group doesn't deal in nor receive a whole lot of stun. That's partly my fault. After all, I could design opposition that's not using kill tactics, but so far lethal responses have been par for the course in the team's runs. Whether they're breaking into a clinic that's secretly doing blood magic in a secure basement level, taking down a bigoted policlub, or breaking into a megacorp site, lethality seems to be the proper way of things.

Actually, there was one place where tazers and gel rounds were appropriate, which was when the team broke into a publisher's building to steal a manuscript, but they so overwhelmed the opposition between fast talking and local Matrix control that they were in and out without firing a shot, so they didn't deal with stun in that run either.

In fact, since we lost the mage, stun's pretty much disappeared from the game. But it shouldn't, and that's certainly no excuse not to have clearer rules on how to recover from it anyway, because it's a fundamental mechanic and the need for it will arise eventually. Sooner if said rules aren't in place, I'm sure.

The thing is, recovering from stun doesn't have to be hard, mechanically I mean. Stun damage knocks you around a bit, maybe leaves some light bruising, and either gives you a headache or leaves you exhausted, but in the end even the worst of it is still superficial damage. You can drop from it, yes, but you're going to snap back from it pretty quickly.

Recovering from stun wounds is automatic with rest. No rolls needed. How about stun injuries though? I think the easiest thing to do is take the recovery rates for physical injuries and translate them from days to hours. As long as you rest in that time, your injury drops a level automatically. So if a physical injury takes a week to heal, it takes 7 hours as a stun injury. Laid up for a month? That same injury on the stun side sticks with you for 30 hours. In other words, take some ibuprofen and take a very long nap.

And that's stun. Simple and about as complete as you'd ever need. Done and done.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Changing Penalty Dice

Last time I talked about increasing the number of penalty dice a wound slaps you with. This time around, I'm going to throw out a small rules tweak mostly geared toward cleaning up play a little, but that also adds a splinter  to the pain wound penalties inflict.

Penalty dice are d9s. Roll a d10 and reroll if you come up 10. Just ignore it and roll again. We did this because my group thought d8s didn't inflict enough of a penalty and d9 was 33% worse than a d6. Sure. Okay.

But why not just make it a d10? Mathematically speaking it's a little less clean, but in gameplay itself it's smoother. I've seen a lot of rerolls to get around those 10s, and while some people have die roller apps that they can program to use a d9, there's still plenty of people who like picking up oddly shaped plastic pieces and tossing them on a table. I'm one of them.

So let's skip the rerolls. Penalty dice are now d10. Yes, that worsens your odds a little more. They're penalty dice. They're supposed to hurt. And hey, it's not like you're rolling pools of d12s. That would hurt for all sorts of reasons. You ever notice those dice have a tendency to keep rolling right off the table? It does so more than any other shape, except for maybe that golf-ball looking d100 one of my players has.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Bigger Penalties?

Something I've noticed in combats is that some of my characters are very good at what they do. I mean very good. No one's got a knack higher than 7, but between cyberware and aspects, some of them can chuck some mighty die pools indeed.

Now, when they get hurt some of those dice transform into penalty dice, and this does cut into their odds of success. But let's face it, when you've got 12 dice in your pool, transforming 4 of them into penalty dice doesn't have that much of an impact. Especially when those penalty dice can come up successes, just less often than regular ones.

We've been playing this system for a little while now. I've given out karma a number of times. I don't think anyone's bought anything with it yet. At all. The sam at one point asked about getting an implant upgrade, but outside of that, everyone is so confident in their abilities that they've not even considered trying to learn what it takes to increase anything on their sheet (even though it's not hard, I swear).

Clearly, being hurt doesn't hurt enough. I wanted to avoid a death spiral situation where the heavily wounded had no chance of ever succeeding in anything, but in so doing it looks like I've soft-peddled the characters to the point where they aren't bothered by wounds at all.

What to do?

I like the idea of penalty dice instead of straight up die pool reductions. Penalty dice mean that the player will always have something to roll, even when badly hurt. The odds go down, certainly, but they never go down to nothing, and with a decent method they even stay pretty reasonable. This means that a horribly wounded character can still accomplish some of the simpler tasks as long as he stays within his strengths. If he needs to venture into unfamiliar territory, he might be hosed. But hey, I'm okay with that. As long as the character has some recourse available to him, it's up to the player to leverage his remaining strengths.

So I'm pretty committed to the idea of keeping penalty dice for the moment. This means the easiest way to make wounds matter more is to increase the number that each wound category inflicts. Right now it's a simple 1-4 for light through deadly. Clearly that's not enough. So I'm proposing a new scale:

  • Light = 1
  • Moderate = 3
  • Serious = 6
  • Deadly = 10
That ought to bring the pain much harder without installing a death spiral. It also makes the prospect of taking an injury more interesting again. When I made injuries worse, it took away their appeal. After all, you can just suck up the wounds and just deal with it until you think you might get taken out, and then take the injury. Now you're looking at way more die penalties. Maybe taking the injury early is a better idea. Of course, taking that injury means more now as well, since it'll stick you with any subsequent wounds for that much longer...

My real hope? Making both more painful makes combat itself more meaningful and promotes a slightly more defensively oriented combat style. Months of play and the only person to ever generate yin dice on a roll was the mage when he cast spells. We'll see.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Heal Spell Revisited

When I first converted the much valued heal spell from Shadowrun rules to Shadowitz, I left it largely unaltered.

  1. Choose the wound box you want to heal and roll your dice. 
  2. Divide your hits between yin and yang.
  3. Each yang die drops the wound by 1.
  4. Each yin die drops your drain by 1 (drain equals the wound you tried to heal).
And that's that. Truth be told, it means that magic's pretty good for dropping a single wound down to more manageable levels or getting a single low to mid ranked wound off your grid entirely. But if you're really chewed up and have more black on your condition monitor than white, magic's a pretty poor alternative to medical treatment. I liked that. Not only does it keep the science aspect of the sixth world up there in importance, and along with it street doc contacts and DocWagon contracts, but it also balances the load contained within my own party. We had a mage at one time (he's since left us, though we don't take it personally outside of one player looking at the empty chair every game and saying "douche"), but we also have an adept with a skill focus on doctor. This breakdown of ability made both mage and medic important in their own ways, with neither better than the other. 

Except that the heal spell didn't have any rules in it for healing injuries. With the ratcheted impact injuries have on the healing process, that's a question that's going to come up, if we ever get a mage at the table. But hey, I'm an optimist, and I've got some time to spend answering these potential questions, and in general it fills out the game even if we're not using those rules at the moment. So I'm going for it. 

Injuries are supposed to be a big deal. Wounds hurt. They replace your normal dice with penalty dice and make it harder to succeed. Injuries hurt in more ways. Though they don't change your die pool at all, they are negative aspects that can give your opponents bonus dice when whupping up on you. They also make those wounds, which give you penalty dice, stick around for much longer. And they themselves have abysmal recovery times, so you'll be carrying them around for a while.

So why would I want to make them easier to get rid of? I want to give the players options. More than that though, I think that magic needs to be able to deal with injuries in order for it to remain anything close to respectable when compared to modern medicine. Still, I intend to keep the cost high.

If we're going to do this, we need a couple of things:
  1. How to assess the target threshold
  2. How to assess drain
The rest, factoring in the target's essence, rolling the dice, etc., can follow the existing procedure. No need to completely reinvent the process. 

So, threshold. When healing wounds this was really easy, since each wound has its own number. Subtract the yang of the spell from the wound number and drop it that many levels. Injuries, however, don't have numbers. They have levels. Still, these levels represent a range of wound boxes they encompass, so let's say that the threshold for healing an injury is equal to the lowest wound box in the injury's range. 

Why the lowest? Honestly, it's because of one thing: I want there to be more than a single point difference between serious and deadly injuries.

This makes the target thresholds for injuries as follows:
  • Light = 1
  • Moderate = 5
  • Serious = 8
  • Deadly = 10
Now, there's a big difference between magically healed wounds and medically treated ones: success on a magical healing check means the wound is completely healed. As in all gone. Medicine drops it by a level, where it can be treated again. Magic makes it all go away at once. It's a pretty hefty difference, but that's part of the reason for those target thresholds.

Yes, this means a light injury is ridiculously easy to heal, but a medic can heal these without making any roll at all, so I'm okay with the low threshold there. On the other end of the spectrum, you need 10 hits to get rid of a deadly injury. 10 hits is a lot. Even if you do manage to make that, it means you probably aren't saving any of those hits to help you with drain. And that means you're taking some hardcore mana burn to pull that off. 

On that topic, let's talk drain. While the idea of being taken out trying to heal an injury has its appeal, for the sake of simplicity let's say healing injuries causes injuries, in this case stun. So drain for healing injuries is a stun injury of the same level you are attempting to heal. Your yin dice can reduce this, however it's not a 1:1 reduction in drain the way it is for wounds. Again, injuries have ranges of wounds they encompass. For drain reduction, start at the highest wound rating within an injury, and drop it by 1 for each yin. When you run out of yin, find the corresponding injury level. That's what you take in drain.

For example, let's say your friendly mage chummer is trying to heal a serious wound. He generates 3 yin on his test. He starts at a serious stun injury in drain, which includes box 9 at its high end. Subtract 3 from that for the 3 yin, which brings him to 6. Wound 6 falls within the aegis of a moderate injury, so he takes a moderate stun injury in drain.

Since a mage doesn't take any wounds from healing injuries, he's never going to be taken out by doing so. While that may seem weak, it also means that it locks his stun boxes in place, meaning that a simple rest after combat might not have him up to full capacity when it comes time to start slinging the mana again. This means that the party needs to judge whether it's worth knocking their caster down a few pegs for the next few scenes every time.

Monday, November 1, 2010

More Healing Pain

I've been going over the new healing rules I laid out a few weeks ago. The ones designed to make injuries more painful, and I'm wondering if they need an even sharper edge. I don't want the entire party sitting in traction for the duration of every session, but clearly making combat something from which you can bounce back with ease has robbed violent altercations of any sense of danger. Most times it's all guns and attitude from your best mindless action movie. That's cool every so often. Really. I'm a big fan of big action sequences. But when that's all you've got, like anything, it tends to get old.

So, a few weeks ago I tossed out the idea of making injuries lock all wounds in that level in place. A serious injury would prevent any wounds in the serious range from healing, for example. Moderate and light wounds would recover normally during that time, however.

How'd that work out? Well, honestly, I'm hoping someone could tell me, because I haven't had an opportunity to playtest those rules yet, and right now it's looking like my Shadowrun group won't have some communally open time on the weekends until next year. We're looking at another 2 months before we get together again at the earliest. Bummer.

In the meantime, however, I'm giving some serious thought to tweaking those proposed and entirely theoretical rules again. It's a simple tweak, easy to implement, but with an even greater impact on injuries and wounding. It is, simply, this:

Injuries lock in place all wounds at their level and lower.

Thus a moderate injury prevents not only moderate wounds from healing, but light ones too. A deadly injury means none of your wounds can begin healing until you recover a little and at least drop the injury a level, at which point your deadly wound can drop to a serious, but is again stuck until that injury drops another level.

This makes injuries hurt. The bonus dice I can get by tagging the condition is a mechanical price players have to pay, but they're willing to hand me that capacity quite readily. It gives them a few extra rounds of action, and then they'll drop anyway. Following the fight, they hole up for a few days, clear out their wound track and head back out there to bust some caps and some heads. Couldn't be easier.

Now, it's entirely possible that with this set of rules in place the players will continue to engage in frequent, all offense combat with no thought to self-preservation and just sit as invalids for longer stretches of in-game time. Getting hammered in rough combat isn't always a deterrent. I remember a supers game in which I was a player. I was the most violent member of the group (always against the bad guys though), and when confronted with tough opponents, I'd frequently just continue to hammer away at them even when it didn't work. That, however, was largely because I was frustrated with the game and it's complete lack of consequences and character.

I've talked to my players in this campaign, and they assure me they love the story and the developments that have arisen with certain NPCs recently (a character's daughter who had been missing turned up as a new member of the Universal Brotherhood), and they really look forward to what else is in store.

So if I take them at their word (and I've got no reason not to), I have to conclude that their combat actions are a result of mechanical implication. That is, getting hurt doesn't matter. You might drop in the fight, but you'll be back up in no time. If I want fights to be tenser, I need to make the damage matter more. And since I'm not willing to introduce harsher wound penalties (death spirals have never proved fun to play in any game I've tried), I'm left with making the characters suffer their wound penalties for longer periods of time. Using this new method it's entirely possible that the characters will enter into a second combat still wearing the marks of the first.

My own playtesting begins whenever I can gather the troops again next year. Until then, if anyone else gives this a whirl, drop a comment and let me know how it worked for you.