Thursday, October 13, 2011

ToEE 4E Session 2 - Bandits!

After the vicious battle with the deathrattle vipers our heroes staggered out of the ruins and returned to Hommlet to rest and regroup. Over the next few days the makeup of the party changed. Headed for the Moathouse we now have a Dwarf Druid (the Essentials one with a Bear for an animal companion), an Elf Bladesinger, an Eladrin Swordmage, and a Dragonborn Paladin. In-game the dwarf and the dragonborn are the same characters, we just had a profession tweak for each.  The bladesinger and the swordmage are completely new to the party.

Arriving at the ruins the group crosses the rotting drawbridge once again and heads straight for the great hall only to discover the bandits waiting in ambush there! The ambush fails to a degree as everyone notices it (all made DC13 Perception checks) and a big fight breaks out. The bandits are in several clusters and some cover with crossbow fire while others move in. The initial move-in is met with a blast of dragon breath that fries several of them, and a solid line forms as Po the Panda moves up to fight next to the Paladin and the Swordmage while the Druid and Bladesinger fight from behind them as needed. In one exchange of blows the Swordmage launches a vicious attack that is completely countered by a bandit lieutenant but the bear next to him delivers a crushing blow. 

The lesser bandits, a poorly trained rabble of thugs, prove to be no match for the deadly heroes and they are all down in less than a minute. Even the leaders, possibly former soldiers of some type, are quickly overcome by the skills of the party. The last leader and the bandit captain break and run and the leader makes it outside through a collapsed wall but the captain is caught and hauled down by the bear. As the last bandit flees across the moat he too falls to a magic missile from the Bladesinger, the final shot in this brief skirmish, and the bandit menace is wiped out.

Excited about their victory, the team decides to spend some time searching the rooms occupied by the band. After uncovering some coinage and some mundane equipment they decide to stay the night in the main room. Watches are posted and then they settle down for the night.

The interlude does not pass uneventfully however as the watcher eventually notices movement in the ruined upper works and sounds the alarm as five giant rats emerge from the shadows and charge in amongst the bedrolls and packs. A short and vicious fight erupts in the camp as the rats attack, converging on the Druid's bear companion and wounding him with several nasty bites. The bear gives as good as he gets though, and with the rest of the party in the fight it's only a matter of time. A lone rat survives to flee into the upper ruins, pursued by a magic missile and some thrown rocks unti lhe vanishes into the darkness. The heroes finally lower their guard and resolve to finish their interrupted rest, planning to explore the rest of the Moathouse in the morning.

DM Notes: This was our first session following the revamp of the characters. It's going to be interesting having a party with two defenders, a controller, a leader (the new Druid is a leader not a controller) and an animal companion. The lack of a striker doesn't mean much right now but I think as they level up that it will probably become an issue. At the very least some of the fights are going to last longer. The upside is that they should be tougher, something that has been a problem with some of their party mixes in the past. Hopefully it all works out. 

I do like this Druid better - leave the melee to the animal companion, let the druid focus on healing, buffing, and ranged attacks -that's a better approach than trying to multitask a melee and ranged capability into one character. The bear's +2 to defenses to adjacent characters in a party with two defenders is just nuts. They're both around an AC20 to start with and pumping that to 22 means Tough with a capital T. The natural reaction would be to concentrate on the bear and its lesser AC but when he's sitting next to two characters that mark then it becomes difficult to do that without taking all kinds of damage, which somewhat mitigates the lack of a striker in the party. They may have hit on a really strong combination of effects here - time will tell.

They are having fun with the Temple. They know it's a "legendary" adventure so they are pumped about going through it and I'm pumped to have that aspect plus having a set campaign plan all the way through level 10 is a nice feeling as well. Schedules have been interfering again as school activities have ramped up, but we should be able to work in another session soon and perhaps even finish up the upper level of the Moathouse.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Inspirations for ICONS

Icons: Now here we already have the Determination mechanic so it's debatable whether we need another hero-point type of system but let's experiment. Some thoughts...

Determination is gained through Qualities and Challenges and is pretty flexible. To me the highest and best use of Determination is for Focused Effort, Power Stunts and Retcons - things outside the mechanical framework of the game, or the "do cool stuff" points. To encourage more of this, I'd like to offload many of the straight mechancial effects onto Inspirations, making a clear separation in the minds of the players and the DM.

One of the rationales for Determination is that it represents how Batman can keep up with Superman when the going gets tough. The problem is that "Batmen" can get sidetracked and end up burning their Determination on bonuses to die rolls trying to keep up with Supes' damage output instead of retconing some holy water, sleeping gas, or shark-repellent out of the lab next door or happening to personally know the world's foremost expert on Black Holes  or power-stunting into Intellect 7 to convince the lethal computer it is flawed and imperfect and should therefore self-destruct (instead of trying to punch  its armored CPU with Strength 4). I see Determination as a sort of wild card option that in some ways works outside the mechanical framework of the game, but mechanics can be fun too so we need an option for that too - hence, Inspirations!

Inspirations are gained during encounters regardless of the character's abilities and grants a specific, limited bonus. Also, I'd like to get away from the strictly mathmatical concept and and the three levels and go instead with a result shifting approach. I'm fine with defining them by mechanical effect, I just don't want a bunch of +1 to this or +2 to this.

 Insight (Accuracy) - This would shift the result of any one attack up by one level - turn a miss into a hit, turn a normal hit into a possible slam or a possible slam into a possible stun

 Enrage (Damage) - For one attack the power or attribute counts as having a rating of 10

 Luck (Defense) - +2 to any one attribute check

 Back in the Fight (Endurance) Endurance is not used in ICONS so we could leave this one out but why not make it a free Stun avoider? Play it when hit with an attack that requires a Slam/Stun/Kill check and the character automatically passes the check

 Resurgence (Healing) - Regain the higher of Strength or Willpower

 Sturdy (Resist Damage) - Ignore all but one point of damage from one attack

 Break Free (Resist Effects) - Remove any one condition such as restrained or immobilized or blinded or deafened

 Awaken (Resurrection) - Remove the Unconscious/Stunned/Dead condition. After use the hero is fully conscious and at 1/2 Stamina

I would begin by limiting each character to 3 Inspirations at a time - it allows us to give them some impact, as outlined above, and it forces players to make interesting choices as to which ones to keep ready. Do you go all-offensive and keep an Accuracy, a Damage, and a Luck? Or do you go defensive, and keep a Heal, A Break Free, and a Resist Damage? Maybe a mix? As a reward for some particularly inspiring mission one could up the capacity to 4 or 5 at once, but I would definitely limit it to 5 or you may end up playing a completely different game where the dice have much less impact. Plus, not being able to keep one of everything reigns in the hoarders. I would not tie it into each character's starting determination because that means a lot of them are going to be running around with only 1 or 2 inspirations and these are supposed to be the same for every character regardless of powers, attributes, or levels.

Awarding Inspirations: In general, I would make sure each character had a chance for at least one new inspiration per "Encounter" by which I mean a fight or some kind of threateneing challenge. Inspiration effects are mostly combat oriented so that's mostly where they should be earned. Note that one Chapter might contain several fights or challenges, so one per Chapter means the heroes run out quickly or hoard them for the Big Fight. Don't do that - hand 'em out for each fight and watch them get used. How should you decide which ones to award? Random rolls!

1- (1-3 Awaken, 4-6 Break Free)
2 - Insight
3 - Luck
4 - Resurgence
5 - Sturdy
6 - (1-3  Enrage, 4-6 Back in the Fight)

...or you could just draw them out of a cup, but that's tomorrow's post.

I considered revising the system to tie one type of inspiration to each of the Attributes in ICONS but it devolves into a boring "+2 to any Prowess check" and "+2 to any Intellect" check kind of thing and that's not what I want to do in an ICONS game. We can cover the generic bonus in one type of Inspiration and have some fun with the rest. It's not hard to figure out if that floats your boat.

I can see some utility here in con games or any run with pregenerated characters. If you know the scenario and you know the capabilities of the characters in advance, then you could "pre-load" them with certain inspirations to try and help them through some of the tough spots. You could also go the opposite route and let the players pick three themselves based on their own take on the character. To complete the triangle of versatility, you could also have the players roll randomly at the beginning which would especially fit if you're making them roll up random PC's in the first place.

One interesting question - should players be able to trade inspirations? They aren't technically gear, in fact they aren't really physical at all, but it could make things interesting and it certainly would promote some player interation. I would say "try it" and see how it works in your game.

Finally, should NPC's have Inspirations? No. If you start awarding bonuses to your bad guys, all you're doing is negating the player bonuses and you end up back in the same place you were without Inspirations but with this little subsystem added to your game and that seems pointless. Leave it as a heroes-only kind of thing and assume that they're probably going to win most of the time. If you want to let your villains get away with something then award determination instead.

I'm going to try these out in my next ICONS adventure and I'll let y'all know how it goes.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Cool Things from Other Games: Inspirations Part 1

Adapting Inspirations from City of Heroes for tabletop play

Inspirations are a type of free random bonus mechanic used in City of Heroes, the superhero MMORPG. It's an interesting little system, and I think it's worth considering how it could be used in a tabletop game.

Inspiration Types:
Defense Bonus
Resistance Bonus
Accuracy Bonus
Damage Bonus
Endurance Bonus
Health Bonus
Break Free
The Basics
Inspirations are something that a character collects in almost every encounter, even a fight on the street against random gangers/robots/aliens - they are not some special kind of loot. They are intended to be acquired and used regularly and in a running fight through a city street or a warehouse or an alien mothership one can burn through quite a few of them. Defense, Resistance, Accuracy, and Damage boosters have a limited duration - 60 seconds - which is plenty of time for most fights. The Endurance, Health, Revive, and Break Free inspirations have a one-time effect instead. Low level characters can hold 3 at a time, while high levels can have 20 of them ready to go. There are also three levels of inspiration, bringing a +12.5%, +25%, and a +33% bonus to the relevant activities.
Adapting the Concept
Inspirations would be a secondary, smaller hero-point type mechanic useable in-game.  
Inspirations are mainly a combat booster in COH but they don't have to be in your tabletop game.
Adaptating the Mechanics - Part 1: MSH
Using a percentage based system makes the effects of each type of Inspiration pretty easy:
Defense Bonus -10/-20/-30 to a foe's attempt to hit on one attack
Resistance Bonus -10/-20/-30 to the damage from one attack
Accuracy Bonus +10/+20/+30 on one to-hit roll
Damage Bonus +10/+20/+30 to damage on one attack
Endurance Bonus - there's really no Endurance mechanic in MSH so this one probably goes away
Health Bonus +25% to Health/+33% to Health/+50% to Health up to maximum Health
Revive - Recover from a Knockout or any type of unconscious status
Break Free - Removes any kind of immobilization condition from webbed to grabbed to girdered
I've presented these as one-time bonuses or effects because I think that would work the best in play. I would propose a system where beating up thugs would grant the lowest level of inspiration, beating up enemies with powers would grant the secondary types, and beating up master villains or major threats (Octodroid!) would grant the highest level of boosts. I think a cap of 10 would be a reasonable start, letting a character build up a nice little stock of one-shot bonuses