Monday, January 31, 2011

Getting Bloody

The Pool is the central mechanic you use in managing your character in Heroes of Destiny. That's true of taking action. It's also true in taking damage. You don't have a damage track or hit points or anything else like that. Your Pool is your capacity to take damage as well as act. It ties all of that up into a single, tidy package.

Damage in this game doesn't have to be physical. It represents your ability to endure punishment and function in a situation, but this can be mitigating the effects of a retort in a debate as easily as it might be a punch to the face. Thus the damage rules apply to any kind of situation where one character is attempting to remove another from a situation.

You deal and receive damage in points, which are generated by effort like anything else. You create an effort pool to successfully strike someone, and you create a second effort pool to deal damage. You generate both in the same exchange, by the way; there's no spending for hit and then a separate spending for damage. It's a gamble to see how little you can spend on landing the blow so you can channel the rest into damage. Spend too little and the blow doesn't land, thus doing no damage. Overspend and you might hit reliably, but it'll be a fight of papercuts.

Apply damage to your Pool. As in generating effort, Hope and Destiny have different exchange rates, and here's where Hope finally starts catching up to Destiny. Each point of Destiny can absorb one point of damage. Hope, on the other hand, is all about what you dream of, what you're living for, and thus each point of Hope can absorb two points of damage. When you've got a lot of Hope, you can push on and keep going because you've still got so much waiting for you at home once this is all over, and nothing's going to keep you from it.

When a point from your Pool absorbs damage, it becomes bloodied. Bloodied points are useless. You can't spend them to generate effort, and you can't use them to absorb any more damage. They're done. Pull them aside as soon as you absorb the damage; you won't be using them again this exchange. If your entire Pool becomes bloodied, you're taken out. This might mean you're dead, unconscious, completely flustered and unable to continue debate, or anything else you and the GM agree is appropriate. The only hard rule here is that you're unable to act effectively anymore.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Skills and Potencies

When generating effort from your Pool, Hope has limits, and those limits are defined by your skills. And really, that's all skills do. They define what the limit is when you assign Hope points to actions. If you have a sword skill of 3, you cannot put more than 3 Hope toward it. Maybe that sounds a little harsh, but remember a few things:

  1. You can allocate a second group of effort to an additional action with the skill. Your sword action might be capped at 3 Hope, but you can take a second swing for another 3 Hope (at a different target, of course).
  2. Your attributes aren't tied to Hope, and so they can add to an effort group even if you've maxed out the skill limit. Your sword skill might be 3, but if your Sword attribute is also 3, you can pump that effort total as high as 6.
  3. Destiny is not affected by skills. You can use it to generate effort toward any effect regardless of your skill rating.
So while skills are actually limitations, not boons, there are a number of ways to get around them.

As to potencies, they are special abilities that you can activate by spending effort on them. I have a small list of them, but it clearly could use some beefing up. To give you an idea of what they are and how they work, however, I'll provide a few examples. Note that the one common theme they all share mechanically is that they all require effort; there are no passive potencies.

  • Flashing Blade - effort placed into this potency generates an attack. You can use this attack to hit a target you've already attacked this exchange. 
  • Unflinching - effort placed into this potency sets the number of Pool points that go straight to bruised when injured, instead of going to bloodied and recovering. 
  • Riposte - effort placed into this pool generates an attack, but you can only launch the attack after you successfully defend yourself. When that happens, you may declare this action immediately. Not only can you attack an opponent you've already engaged this exchange, but you can add the margin of success of your defensive action to this attack.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Other Attributes

So we've got The Pool and how to generate effort from it, but outside of a different list of hopes, every character is the same. Clearly we need something else to differentiate them.

Enter attributes.

These were actually a part of the game I created first, even before The Pool. Let's face it, most die pool games since the early 90s have generated die pools from a stat + skill merge. This one began the same way, but as I mentioned earlier, I started messing with how that worked to minimize the amount of die rolling by introducing fixed values. That leads us to what attributes do now. In short, any action you take that's governed by an attribute gets that many free effort points.

So what are they? They're broad and few, and they are:

  • Sword - obvious force, physical and social. If you're being direct and exerting pressure on something or someone else, it's probably a Sword action.
  • Cloak - shiftiness, avoidance, misdirection. If you're avoiding a situation, or somehow manipulating it though guile instead of strength, it's probably a Cloak action.
  • Cross - resilience, steadfastness, perseverance. Of the three, this is the only passive attribute. It involves not being affected by an external stressor. 
So, for example, if you're trying to get past a guard by drawing your blade and promising him a painful death if he doesn't step aside, that would be Sword. If you instead try to sneak past him without him noticing, that's Cloak. Cross would come into play if he in turn attempts to intimidate you into backing down.

Let's take this to combat. You can bolster your attacks with Sword, since your attack is an application of force on an object. You use Cloak to augment your defense, since it takes you away from an oncoming attack. Cross comes into play when you've been hurt and need to get back up, meaning it's good for recovery (we'll talk more about that soon).

Each of these gets a rating, and you can apply it each exchange. However, you can only apply an attribute once an exchange. So even if you make 3 attacks at once, you only get your bonus from Sword one time. You can split it up if you like, but you don't apply your full rating to every action.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Destiny Creep

We've now established how to bid points from your Pool to accomplish things, and gone over the options available to you for managing both your Hope and your Destiny. But there's one other aspect to the interplay between these two scores that's essential to playing Heroes of Destiny.

Your Pool begins with a Hope of 9 and a Destiny of 1 (remember, your Pool always equals 10). Right now you're probably thinking that Destiny sounds so much cooler than Hope. It's not limited by skills, it gets a better effort exchange rate, basically it's just the point kind to pick whenever you want to do anything worth talking about. So, the natural question is: how do I get my Destiny rating up?

As it turns out, it's pretty easy. Just spend your Destiny points. Really, that's it. The more you use Destiny the higher it gets. It's called Destiny Creep. During each session you track the most Destiny points you used in a single exchange. At the end of the session you add that number to your Destiny Creep. When that equals 5x your current Destiny score, your Destiny goes up by 1. It's that easy.

But remember, your Pool always equals 10, so every increase in Destiny means a decrease in Hope. And every point in Hope is tied to a hope near and dear to your character. That means that as your character climbs the ladder to becoming a legend, he loses ties to his hopes for a simple life. This doesn't doom everything he cares about to fire and pain, but it does mean his chances of having these things in the end fade away. They might be destroyed, or his relationship with them might simply fade.

In the end, every time you spend Destiny, you are actively making the decision to turn your character's back on those things he loves most in life. He's placing something heroic and noble above his wife, children, siblings, friends, and whatever else you put on that sheet. There's a price associated with being a hero, and by spending Destiny, your character has decided to pay it.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Moment of Destiny

You can get more Hope points by putting your hopes in danger, but Destiny isn't tied to anything like that, so how do you get more Destiny points? So glad you asked.

You invoke a moment of destiny.

These are those big scenes where everything's come to a head and the music either swells or cuts off dead, and there's probably a slow motion shot somewhere in the immediately future. In short, it's a BIG deal. In this moment, you can accomplish the stuff of legend, but you may exceed a greatness that can be contained in a mortal frame. In short, your glory may cost you your life.

When you invoke a moment of destiny, you double your Destiny rating. The whole thing in one chunk. There's no breaking it up like you do when endangering your hopes. With this, you invoke your moment and every Destiny point in your Pool becomes two. Just think about how much effort you'll be generating with that. You'll probably be running around doing three and four things in an exchange, and still racking up big effort scores.

I've already hinted at the price for this. In almost any epic film or story worth looking at (epic in the classical dramatic sense, not the used-until-meaningless Hollywood epic) the protagonist makes his great play, and then dies. It's not always the case, but it's pretty damn common. Thus, invoking your moment of destiny makes you very fragile. You'll kick ass all over the place, until someone actually manages to touch you.

That's probably when we go to slow mo and cue up Adagio for Strings. But hey, if you did it right, your death doesn't mean anything in terms of the cause anymore. You accomplished a major milestone, maybe even completed what you needed to do and set everything right. You're a hero who will live in legend forever and people will invoke your name for generations. That little house on the hill with the pretty girl and faithful dog though? Not so much.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Second Attribute: Destiny

We've gone over what Hope is and what you can do with it. Now let's talk about the other half of your Pool: Destiny. Destiny is that spark of greatness that every budding hero has. It's that thing about him that makes the camera settle on him. It's what makes him a leading player in this story as opposed to a supporting cast member.

Okay, so what can you do with it. First, every Destiny point you spend it worth 2 effort. That means that by using Destiny you can accomplish much more than by spending Hope. Destiny is the stuff of greatness. Dig deep here, and you'll blow the doors off any normal person.

As an added bonus, Destiny isn't concerned with skill limitations. You can spend Destiny in any amount for any action. Got a sword skill of 3? You can spend 3 Hope on any sword action, maximum. You can spend any amount of Destiny though, and get double the effort for it to boot. Hell, you can spend 8 Destiny on a sword action even if you don't have a sword skill. Let's face it, when's the last time you saw an awesome hero in an epic be faced with something he couldn't do because he lacked the training? Characters with a big Destiny rating aren't limited by things like a poor education, be it academic or physical. They're limited by clever and powerful opposition actively putting roadblocks in their way. When you start tossing Destiny around, trivial matters like "did you take the skill" get thrown out the window.

Destiny isn't tied to any of your hopes. It exists as a free pool that transcends such mortal concerns like a quiet life. I'm very tempted to give destinies some kind of flavor, like Revolution, Revenge, Justice, Sacrifice, Salvation, etc., but for the moment I don't have anything like that. It sounds like a neat idea, and likely one I'll return to sometime. For right now though I'm not sure how it would work. So, for the moment, Destiny isn't tied to anything.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Endangering Hope

Remember last time when I talked about losing your hopes by going off and being all heroic and stuff? There's a basic mechanic in the Pool that brings that out, but there's a Hope specific player option that's available to you that can do that as well.

Why oh why would you ever do that? Because it helps you in the moment, of course. Probably in a moment you're looking to be all heroic and stuff, which drives your wife into another's arms or gets your kid clapped in irons and strapped to the Wheel of Pain.

We've now established that all your Hope points are assigned to character hopes. Things and people he wants to settle down with and live very much drama free. Well, if you ever find yourself short on points and you need a bigger Pool, you can endanger a hope. Put an X next to it and queue the ominous music as we cut away from the action for a moment and look in on your child playing in the field or your brother romancing his childhood love. You just intentionally placed them in danger. Something bad is going to happen to them, and it's somehow going to be your fault. This could be as transparent as enemy troops rampaging through town to beat/kill/capture your family (think Gladiator or the series Sparticus), or something a little less direct. Maybe your child gets mauled by wolves because you weren't home to protect him or drive the roaming packs from your village like you normally do. Whatever it is, it's going to happen. Maybe you'll have a chance to help out or to make things right, protecting your family when the enemy comes, rescuing them if they're captured, etc. No guarantees though. It might all happen off camera and there's nothing you can do to right it. All you know is that it's going to happen.

But you don't know what, and you don't know when. The GM's under no obligation to drop the hammer immediately. He can hang onto that danger for as long as he likes. However, since you can't endanger a hope that's already endangered, he probably shouldn't sit on it for too long. Keeping the tension of the inevitable strike going for a little bit, however, is perfectly kosher.

So, what do you get for this? You get to double the Hope points attached to that endangered hope. If you've got 3 points bound up in your wife, you now get 6 points from her, which adds 3 Hope to your pool. Your friend across the table who's playing the guy with a codependent relationship with his wife would jump his 9 Hope rating attached to his wife to an 18.

Yes, this bonus Hope can, and will, push your Pool over 10. Endanger enough hopes and it'll push it way over 10. But these extra points only last for a single scene. After that, they disappear; your Hope score returns to normal. That danger though, that sticks around until the GM figures out how to best use it. Oh, and he's encouraged to remind you that it's your character's fault this is happening. You did, after all, ask him to do this to these NPCs you supposedly care about.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The First Attribute: Hope

Last post talked about The Pool and how you use it to generate effort toward various ends in an exchange.

Sidebar: Exchange is my word for a round in this game; I use a different term here not for the sake of being different but because I envision most actions being opposed, and thus order, and initiative, aren't as important. Heroes of Destiny doesn't have a mechanic where each person finds his place in a list and acts on his turn. Instead, all action is simultaneous, with the higher effort winning. If you really want to go before someone else (and it might matter mechanically), you can spend effort to do so.

Alright, with that out of the way, let's talk about the first of the two attributes that make up a player character's Pool: Hope. Hope is what he starts with more of, and it's what he stands to lose by being a big damn hero. His love of his wife and child, his simple desire to harvest his crops, his drive for all the things a person who is not caught up in quests and movements is all wrapped up in his Hope score.

To that end, a player must assign every Hope point in his Pool to a specific hope. This doesn't have to be a 1:1 thing either. If his character really, and I mean really loves his wife he could assign every Hope point in his Pool to her. This means he's got nothing else to live for outside of her. It also means he's probably clingy and annoying and it's only a matter of time before she gets fed up with his needy ass and moves back in with her folks, but hey, that's your character, not mine. Play what you like.

These hopes you define are important for a few reasons. First and foremost, these are the things that your character stands to lose by going off and being exceptional and heroic and all that cool stuff that most players hope for their PCs in fantasy games. You still can. In fact, you probably still should, because if your GM is doing his job there's some nasty stuff coming and only mighty men such as you can stand against it. But when you do, look at that list of hopes. Each and every item on that list gets put at risk when you make that choice. They may not die, burn to the ground, or otherwise be completely ruined, but your future with them could very well disappear. You beloved wife could get false word that you're dead, and by the time you come home  she's already got a new family started with Farmer Joe from across the way. Farmer Joe might not be worthy to have you piss on his boots compared to what you've done and what you've become, but he was there for her during the last harsh winter when you were out destroying the goblinoid horde that was raging through the Irontooth Pass. You were there holding the line for the good of everyone, but he was the one taking care of her. Now you've got the fame, but he's got her.

So now that you know what Hope is, how do you use it? When generating effort pools, Hope points get you 1 effort for every 1 point spent. However, you can only spend Hope up to a given skill rating. I'll talk about skill ratings later. Right now let's leave it with they create a cap that you can't exceed with your Hope.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Pool

Last post talked about coming up with a diceless core mechanic and briefly touched on blind bidding. Let's get more into that this time.

All characters in Heroes of Destiny have, at their core, The Pool, which is made up of 10 points (simply because 10 is such a nice, round number). It's from this pool that you can bid on actions you want to perform. If you bid enough points toward your goal, you succeed. If you don't, you fail. It's that simple.

Well, it's mostly that simple. There's a few layers on top of that basic idea. But before we get into that, I want to define a term that gets used a lot in resolution: effort. Effort is the final score you create toward accomplishing something. It's your effort that needs to beat the target number of a task in order to succeed.

The reason for coining the term "effort" is because not all points The Pool are created equal. I'll get into hope points and destiny points later, but right now it's enough to say that when you spend your points you can get better than a 1:1 point to effort rate if you spend the right kind of points in the right way. So if you spend 3 destiny points to dive tackle the enemy general off his horse, you could generate 6 effort from that expenditure. If you spent hope points for that, you'd only get 3 effort for the points.

So, there's one layer of complexity to the system. Not too bad, right? We might be dealing with a little multiplication here, but it's a far cry from Mekton. No offense to Mekton players, by the way. A friend of mine loves that game with every part of his body (including his pee pee), and he tried running a game with us once. I like to consider myself both pretty astute and open minded, but I will never again play a game that requires a scientific calculator to resolve die rolls.

I digress. In addition to the favorable exchange rates you can claim, you can allocate points to multiple actions and effects in a round. For example, in combat you can allocate 3 points to one attack, 3 points to a second attack, 2 points to damage, and 2 points to defense. In this case, you'd be making 2 attacks, raising the difficulty of an opponent to hit you, and you'd have some additional damage you could apply if either of your attacks hit.

I found that when characters had only one thing to do, there was nothing stopping them from allocating their entire pool to accomplishing it, which meant if it was at all in their grasp, they'd accomplish it every time. An example one of my friends gave me was "what if they needed to get past a locked gate?" His argument was that with dice, it was still an iffy gamble, since you could always fail the roll. With a diceless mechanic as I'd laid out, you'd either get by or you wouldn't. This, by the way, is my friend who extols the virtues of ye olde Red Box D&D, which explains the hypothetical situation he produced.

My answer came not in adding variance to the mechanics, but in changing the way you structure your games and scenes. He was absolutely right. Presented with a locked gate, the party was either getting past it or they weren't (as in the target was above the highest effort they could generate by spending their entire pool). But, as the example above showed, you can spend your points toward a number of ends in a single round, and those points go fast when you're trying to get a lot done and you've only got 10 points to spread around.

Thus, the answer wasn't to put variance back into the game, but to not place a safe, static challenge like that in front of the players. Instead, put something more dynamic in their way, something that requires them to split their attention, and thus their pools.

Sticking with the old D&D-isms, what if they needed to get past that locked gate, but there were goblins behind it armed with crude javelins and shortbows? Now the gate's still there, and unlocking it, ripping it open, or however else you want to bypass it still has a target number. But in addition to creating an effort pool to accomplishing that, you've got defensive actions to consider unless you want to be a sitting duck and let the goblins stick you full of sharp wooden things probably smeared in filth. And, of course, there's always the option to try sticking them back while you're at it (though I'll assume you don't smear your own weapons in filth; that's what makes you better than them). Sure, you could wipe them all out first and worry about the gate later, at which point you just open it without trying because you can spend your entire pool on it, but in my mind that's still different. At that point the gate still provided an obstacle since it created a complication in the encounter with the goblins, and addressing it or ignoring it both came with peril. By the time the goblins are all dispatched, the gate's no longer a concern and you can open it without risk and not have the game suffer for it at all.

It's a neat, unintended side effect of going diceless, but one I find I like quite a bit. It's a new kind of thinking in scenario construction, especially for those solidly entrenched in the old ways that rely on the variance of dice and possible random failure to create difficulty (which, I imagine, is most of us), and thus it will take some getting used to this new way, but I'm convinced it's a better way that will lead to better scenes. Guess we'll see in time.