Saturday, July 17, 2010

House Rule : Conflicts & Story Points

The Big Issue

The DWAITAS rules mention that, during a conflict, characters can spend Story points to turn a failed roll into a Success (or at least into a lesser form of failure) may be negated by a similar expenditure from their opponent. During actual play, I found that this rule was not as crystal-clear as it may seem at first and left some important questions unanswered.

What if, for instance, a character spends Story points to escape from harm and his opponent then decides to spend some of his own points to negate this first expenditure ? Can the opponent go back to his original Good or Fantastic result or can he only raise things back to a simple Success, as the general rules would seem to suggest ? And what happens next ? Is each character involved limited to a single expenditure only or does the hero have the possibility of raising the stakes by spending some more Story points – which may work very well in play for some types of conflicts but may also “freeze the action” in a very artificial manner in situations which call for quick, nearly-instantaneous resolution.

As a GM, I prefer the rules of the games I run to be as crystal-clear as possible, so that they can become nearly "transparent" in play - and the last thing I want during a high-drama moment (such as, for instance, a crucial, climactic Conflict) is to have the action bogged down, interrupted or frozen in time by the sudden need to clarify or adjudicate some ambiguity in the rules. This is the raison d'ĂȘtre of the following house rule.

Competition vs Reaction

The rules as they stand already make a clear distinction between two types of conflicts :

1) Conflicts in which two characters (or sides) are actively competing against each other – things like tennis, chess, arm wrestling or any other form of direct contest. Such situations usually involve making the same roll on both sides, with victory going to the highest total.

2) Conflicts in which one of the characters (the ‘attacker’) is actively trying to affect the other, (the ‘defender’) who is trying to avoid or resist the action with a reaction roll. This includes all forms of attacks and all situations in which one of the characters is trying to influence, trick or manipulate the other in some way.

These two types of conflicts tend to work very differently in play, especially in terms of pacing and narration – and this difference should also be reflected in the way Story points can be used to affect their outcome. For the sake of clarity, the following paragraphs will refer to the first type of conflict as competitive conflicts and to the second type as reactive conflicts.

In both types of conflict rolls, the loser may use one or several Story points to lessen the extent of his defeat or even turn it into a Success, as detailed in the rules. What happens next varies according to the type of conflict involved.

Raising the Stakes

In a competitive conflict, if the loser has spent Story points to alter the result in his favor, the original winner may decide to raise the stakes by spending a single Story point (but no more) to shift the result back by one degree in his favor; the original loser may then shift things back in his favor by spending another Story point – and so on until one of the character either backs down or runs out of Story points to spend.

Since characters engaged in such a stake-raising march can only spend one Story point at a time, such confrontations can only result in a simple Success for the winner. Each character is free to ‘back down’ at any time - indeed, letting your opponent get away with his simple Success and keeping your Story points for later may often be the wiser move (or the more dramatic option).

In Extremis

In a reactive conflict, the character making the reaction roll (the ‘defender’) always has the last word. If he was the one who spent Story points in the first place to shift the result in his favor, then this result cannot be ‘shifted back’ by the attacker. If, on the contrary, the Story points were first spent by the attacker, the defender may spend 1 Story point (but no more) to shift the result back in his favor and escape from harm (or any other unwanted fate, such as possession etc). In both cases, once the defender has spent his Story points, fate is considered to be sealed and the outcome of the roll cannot be affected further.

In keeping with the spirit of the Doctor Who stories, this rule clearly favors the defender, making Story points more valuable when used as a means of escape (or survival) rather than as a sure way of walloping the other guy.

Addendum : The Sniper Situation

This is another house rule, about another potential glitch about Story points - and one which has no direct connection with the above stuff - but since this entry was all about Story points and their use in dramatic situations, I decided to include it here as well.

In the rules, the use of Story points to reduce (or negate) injury is explicitly defined as a regular application of the general rule allowing characters to shift the result of a failed conflict roll in their favor. This works perfectly well in play - until you run into the Sniper Situation. As the rules stand, nothing can prevent a player-character from being killed outright by an ambushed attacker armed with a "L" weapon - even if your character still has lots of Story points !

Why ? Because, as stated on p 27 of the Gamemaster's Guide (under Learned Skills and Instinct), attacks made against unaware or defenceless targets are NOT resolved as Conflicts but as straight rolls against a fixed difficulty. In such a case, there seems to be no way for the ambushed victim to reduce the effectiveness of the attack, since there was no "failed roll" from his part - only his opponent's successful roll.

Since snipers do tend to miss their first shot in shows like Doctor Who (at least when aiming at the heroes !), we can be pretty sure that this was not the way things were intended to work in the first place. Fortunately, this potential glitch can be easily fixed by always allowing characters to use their Story points to reduce or negate injury (at the usual rate of 1 Story point per degree of injury) even when this injury results from an attacker's unopposed roll.

Thus, if a sniper shoots at you versus a set difficulty and gets a Fantastic result, you CAN turn this into a failure by spending 3 Story points, even though your character was caught completely unaware by the attack.

1 comment:

  1. It should be noted that none of the above stuff affects chases in any way since - despite what the rules sometimes imply - chases are not really resolved as direct conflicts between protagonists but as separate rolls against a fixed difficulty reflecting the environment.